Obedience as Gratitude

(This is a talk I gave at this year's Women's Conference at Brigham Young University.)For Thanksgiving each of us in the family has to make a pie—because you can never have too many pies—and this year I tried for the second year in a row to make a banana cream pie. My pie the year before had been too runny. I was determined to follow the recipe exactly this time, so determined that I failed to notice I used a half cup of salt instead of a half cup of sugar as instructed. My custard was cre … [Read more...]

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Literature and the Art of Friendship

I didn’t ever expect that in 2016 we would be struggling as a nation with the very idea of the universal brotherhood of God’s family. Of course, I expected that we would still have difficulty rising up to the standards such an idea implies, but we are seeing such naked and bald assertions of hatred of late and many of us understandably are recoiling in a state of shock. Let us not recoil. If we wish to stand for something, let us stand for kindness, decency, and the courage to model civil dis … [Read more...]

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On Disagreements at Church

Tone can make a great difference in how effectively we communicate, especially when we are trying to offer correction or criticism. We might be right and we might have the truth on our side, but if we don’t have love and we don’t have the trust of the one we wish to correct, we are not ready to speak the truth. When there is love and trust, the same truth can be said with much more positive results. My experience has taught me that if criticism isn’t offered with love, it will perhaps effec … [Read more...]

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The Gift of Friendship

I can remember my mother’s boisterous laugh when I was a little boy. I can remember my older brothers teasing me at the ripe age of five about a girl I liked who lived next door. I remember us wrestling with our dad in his bed on Saturday mornings. I remember the sycamores that lined our street, their unforgettable peeling bark. I can still see the kitchen counter in our house on Hubbard avenue in Salt Lake City, high above my head. The counter, like all things in my world at that time, was a s … [Read more...]

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My Journey as a Scholar of Faith, Part III

I wouldn’t have gone to Stanford, majored in Comparative Literature, or taken my career path as a professor without my brother Bill’s example, encouragement, and brilliance that lighted every step of the way for me through my education. He was and is my intellectual soul-mate. My freshman year at Stanford included a year long dorm-based intensive course on the Western tradition, perhaps the single-most valuable educational experience of my life. In the haIlways and in class, we debated the mea … [Read more...]

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My Journey as a Scholar of Faith, Part II

My first experiences with criticism, compassion and charity were in family life at home. As Mormons, we lived as a very small minority outside of New York. We were taught to love human diversity and that God must too. Dinner table conversation at my home was free-flowing, covering politics and culture and the church. We went to concerts and museums in the City and we hosted friends of other faiths at our home. I was the youngest of three brothers, and the older two were exceptionally bright and … [Read more...]

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My Journey as a Scholar of Faith, Part I

I was invited by the Faculty Center to share my journey as a scholar of faith. I share here, in three parts, the content of the talk. I have wrestled with my feelings these past few weeks because I am not sure how much of my experience is applicable to others nor am I entirely sure that I have enough wisdom. I do know that I want to communicate honestly and, most importantly, I want to edify and strengthen your faith. The challenge is that my journey is idiosyncratic. However, I take comfort in … [Read more...]

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Led by Revelation

It is a clear and central tenet of Mormon belief that we are led by revelation, by living prophets. It is less clear perhaps to everyone what this means. I know it probably baffles many of my academic colleagues. I would like to suggest here, however imperfectly and briefly, what it means to me.My understanding is no doubt incomplete, not only because I am learning and growing in my own ability to receive personal revelation but because I am not privy to the process at the highest levels of … [Read more...]

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On the Spiritual Joy of Academic Work

(Adapted from comments I shared recently with the College of Humanities at BYU)Grading, I am convinced, is a circle in hell. And maybe an even deeper circle in hell is dealing with student complaints and anxieties about grades. But as much as we professors like to moralize about this, we all know that we have helped create the problem by being part of a system that treats students like rats in a maze, chasing the elusive cheese. To try to direct my students’ anxieties away from their GPA, I a … [Read more...]

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The Quest for Renewal and the Religious Life

There is a paradox at the heart of the practice of religion. Religion is designed to produce rich experiences of spirituality both individually and in communities—experiences that are often characterized by their renewing power—but it relies on repetition, ritual, and habit in order to produce such results. My LDS religion provides a variety of stratagems and exercises to assist me in cultivating the discipline and practice of such spirituality. For example, I am encouraged to pray and read the s … [Read more...]

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