Friday, July 24, 2009

Celebration of Pioneer Day

Here in Utah today we are celebrating the most significant holiday in the state, and in Mormon culture, Pioneer Day, which remembers the great trek of Mormon pioneers to eventually settle in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. I appreciate the hard work of these pioneers as they sought escape from oppression, and I join with my Mormon friends, neighbors, and this culture in the celebration of this day.

For those interested in more information on Mormons and Mormonism I recommend the Pew Forum's portrait available here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

TV and Parables of our Time

A recent program from Speaking of Faith caught my attention with the title "TV and Parables of our Time." Excerpts from the description of this program are as follows:

"We explore television as a center of storytelling in U.S. culture — and listen in on intriguing, important themes of our time being played out in a new generation of shows like Lost, The Wire, House, and Battlestar Galactica that now have eternal life online. Our guest, Diane Winston, appreciates good television, studies it, and brings many of its creators into her religion and media classes at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California."

Under the subheading of "Reenchanting the World Through New Styles of Storytelling," we find this:

"Yet, happily, as much as this conversation confirms my sense of the gravitas of the new shows — on medical ethics; "the other"; the human encounter with its own technology; religious fundamentalism; and the human condition — it also helps me relax and enjoy them. Diane Winston reminds me that there is an innate value and pleasure in the very act of storytelling, a pleasure we need as human beings and have lost in much of Western culture. The power of stories to engage, provoke, disturb, and delight — to "reenchant the world," as Winston puts it — are precisely what make them so resonant in the realms of human relationship, politics, war, and peace. Television series do this differently than other media and institutions. But they may play an essential role alongside newspapers and religion if the story of our time is to evolve and yield new possibilities."

In my view three aspects of this program are worth reflecting on by evangelicals. First, we need to recognize the significance of storytelling in communication and in the inspiration of the human imagination. We need to create space for this alongside our tendencies toward propositional communication forms. Second, television and the stories it relays are significant aspects of people's lives beyond the mere entertainment value. Indeed, it presents narratives through which individuals situate their own lives and navigate the world around them. Third, more imaginative and fantastic forms of programming are significant in their facilitation of a re-enchantment process that moves us beyond secularization. We should be asking ourselves how such considerations should inform our expression and living of the Christian narrative.

This radio program can be listened to here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oquirrh Mountain Temple Tour and Dinner

Regular readers may recall that about a year and a half ago we started a dialogue group in our neighborhood that brings together Mormons and evangelicals that we call Food, Fellowship, and Faith. We get together every other month, and as the name of the group indicates we enjoy a potluck meal, build on our relationships, and discuss aspects of our respective faiths. For the month of July we did something a little different in that we included a "field trip" in this get together in the form of a tour of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple in South Jordan, Utah.

I have seen photographs of temple interiors before, and have spent some time studying the ritual, symbolism, and theology associated with them, but this was my first experience in actually touring a temple. For me the aspects that most stood out were the layout of the architecture wherein the ascension from one level to the next, each room with certain functions moving upward provided a symbolic confirmation and reminder of the Mormon idea of progression and return to Heavenly Father. Another interesting feature that struck me was the large dual mirrors in the Sealing Room, the place where "a bride and bridegroom are married not only for this life but also for eternity." The mirrors stand opposite each other in the room, and when the viewer gazes into them it produces an effect of one mirror mirroring the reflection of the other mirror in repetitious fashion that produces the illusion of infinite regress. This appears to symbolize the eternal nature of families sealed in this specific room. After the temple tour we all went to dinner, enjoyed each other's fellowship, and continued our discussion of our differing understanding of temples in traditional Christianity and Mormonism, a topic first broached in May in anticipation of the temple tour.

Some of the feedback I received during our dinner after the temple tour indicated that our dialogue get togethers are enjoyed quite a bit by all involved. This means that they appear to be successful and my hope is that the dialogues can serve as an example to be repeated elsewhere. In fact, during a recent lunch meeting with Charles Randall Paul of the Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy, who is starting chapters of the foundation within differing religious traditions for the purpose of facilitating dialogue, thought that our dialogue dinners might serve as something to be pointed to and replicated among other Latter-day Saints and evangelicals.

The good experience with the temple tour and dinner, coupled with the positive response to my guest post at the Wild Hunt Pagan blog made for a nice weekend of interreligious dialogue.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Guest blogging on The Wild Hunt

I have received an invitation to be one of several guest bloggers at The Wild Hunt blog of Jason Pitzl-Waters, considered by Witchvox to be a Pagan leader. This invitation is humbling, and my day to post will be tomorrow, Saturday, July 18. I will put my post up in the morning and hope that it represents a positive contribution to understanding and ongoing dialogue between Pagans and Christians.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

religion dispatches: Michael Jackson, Perfect "God" for the Media Age

The current edition of religion dispatches includes an article comprised of a roundtable discussion by religion scholars who address the "potential religious significance of the life, work, and death of one of the most influential pop stars of all time," Michael Jackson. Unfortunately, the participants spend most of the time addressing other aspects of the pop star's life and influence, but one section best summarizes the topic in terms of the sacralization if not divinization of Jackson:
"Finally, I do think Michael-as-seeker is the most important 'religious' aspect that he brings to the table. The hopefulness, the Utopian visions of the world in his music, point to the hopes and dreams of people, especially the 'nones' who do not find fulfillment in traditional religious expressions. In that sense, he was the perfect 'god' for the media age...always morphing, seeking the camera, and assuaging his loneliness by courting the one thing he always knew would be trained upon him: a lens."
This aspect of Jackson's pop cultural legacy is worth reflecting on within the broader context of the transformation of celebrities into spiritual icons in the late modern West, something seen with the passing of Princess Diana of Wales, and with singer Elvis Presley. The religion dispatches article can be viewed here.

Friday, July 03, 2009

WIIS Seeks Seminar and Resource Coordinator

WIIS Seminar and Resource Coordinator
Position Description

The Western Institute for Intercultural Studies (WIIS) is an evangelical non-profit ministry devoted to assisting the church in its understanding of new religious movements such as Mormonism, the New Spirituality (“New Age”), and Neopaganism. It accomplishes its vision and mission in part through the creation and distribution of educational resources. Some of these resources include Bridges, a multimedia training program that helps Christians understand Mormonism as a culture and to be more effective in sharing their faith with cultural sensitivity and effectiveness. Another resource is Grounded which is designed to help junior and senior high school students as they understand their own Christian faith and to make the most of their relationships with Latter-day Saint friends.

WIIS is looking for someone who can serve as a Seminar and Resource Coordinator in the promotion of these resources to churches, denominations, and parachurch organizations. Ideal candidates will be evangelicals who understand and share the missions ministry philosophy of WIIS, understand the Bridges and Grounded resources, and have an understanding of the communication strategies necessary in working with diverse church denominations. A strong sense of interpersonal communication and a possible background in sales are also helpful. An ACT! contact management database with church leads, as well as a marketing strategy and training are available for those suited for this position.

Further information on the ministry of WIIS is available at

Inquiries can be directed to Ken Mulholland at or John Morehead at and (801) 728-0334.