Latest Entries »

Viva los weirdos!

Reposting a piece from Exponent II.  Mormon society has become so efficient, streamlined, slick, correlated, chrome-shiny, procedure-devoted (and yes…remember that devoted comes from devout), lock-stock-and-barrell, strateically-planned, corporatized, brass-buttoned, single-file, color-in-the-lines that we seem to have forgotten that weirdos give life.  That Jesus was
a weirdo.  Great column from Jess R:

On Being Strange

I cringed when she said it, the young sister missionary exuding “greenness” who stood up in my son’s singles branch and bore her testimony that our church is the “only” one that really knows about Jesus Christ.  Her language hurt.  It embodied what Terryl and Fiona Givens referred to in The Crucible of Doubt as the”notion that Mormonism has a monopoly on the truth…”1

I immediately thought of the number of people I know who are not Mormons, but who are clearly and, in some cases, emphatically Christian.  I thought one of my coworkers, Father Peter, University Archivist and Campus Chaplain at Saint Martin’s University and monk at the Saint Martin’s Abbey.  Father Peter has a caring and enthusiastic heart motivated by his belief in Christ.  Students, faculty, and staff seem to recognize the goodness of his heart.  I thought of Sister Laura, a lecturer in Religious Studies at Saint Martin’s University and former prioress of the Saint Placid Priory.  I have gotten to know Sister Laura through working with her and actually plan on taking a class from her sometime soon.  I have been inspired in my faith by her recent book on the Beguines, a long-standing affiliation of Catholic lay women all across Europe who

…courageously spoke to power and corruption, never despairing of God’s compassion for humanity,” who “used their business acumen to establish and support ministries that offered education, health care, and other social services to the vulnerable,” and preached “of a loving God who desired a relationship with each individual person while they criticized those who used God’s name for personal gain.2

In reading her book I sometimes wished I could travel back in time and get to know some of the remarkable women she wrote about.  I thought of Dr. John D. Roth, a Mennonite professor of history at Goshen College whom I met six and a half years ago at an NEH seminar on the Reformation.  He wrote about Christian non-violence, noting

In a world filled with violence, the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ cannot help but bring us face to with Christ’s clear and consistent teachings on love, a love that extends even to the enemy.3

I thought about Jennifer Stadler, a math teacher at the high school where I taught.  She made no bones about her faith in Christ and I sometimes referred to her as my “Jesus buddy.”  Even though we may not totally see eye-to-eye theologically, each of these people and probably hundreds of others I have met have great trust and faith in the Savior.  They not only know about Jesus, they know him as well and I feel blessed by having my path meet up with theirs.

It occurred to me that there is a connection between some Mormons monopolistic truth claims and the ethic that John the Baptist railed against on the shore of the Jordan River:

And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.”  I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham.4

His words were, of course directed at the Pharisses and Sadducees who claimed righteousness and moral superiority by right of their heritage.  Their claims to be saved (to use contemporary language) because of their lineage constituted a repugnant ethnocentrism, a kind of cultural arrogance.

I have to admit that I felt a bit of discomfort over over my reaction to the missionary’s comments.  After all, I do claim Mormonism as my faith community (as uncomfortable as that can sometimes be), which itself makes large truth claims.  I had to ask myself whether I was somehow being “unfaithful” to my religious community.  Essentially, by connecting this young woman’s statement and John the Baptist’s, I accuse my own community of a kind of institutional arrogance.  Mormons may have subtly different beliefs about Christ from other other denominations, but that does not justify a claim that other conceptions have no significance or validity.  On the contrary, other religious communities have a good deal to say to us about Christ, I have long felt.

I was thankful to find a validation of my discomfort in Givens’ book.  They note that such claims of exclusivity are rather problematic:

…both the Lord and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have emphatically indicated a contrary perspective.  In other words, the idea of Mormonism’s monopoly and God’s inaction during the pre-Restoration centuries would strike Joseph Smith and the likes of John Taylor as absurd…5

John Taylor, speaking of earlier ages, said

There were men [and women] in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world…There were men [and women] who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world.  If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness.6

Mormons, they observed, “do not have a monopoly on righteousness, truth, or God’s approbation.”7  As a matter of fact, such a conception actually denies a fundamental truth about God, what they call God’s “cosmic generosity.”8

As a mighty God, our Heavenly Father has the capacity to save us all.  As a fond Father, He has the desire to do so.  That is why, as Joseph taught,”God hath made a provision  that every spirit can be ferretted out in that world” that has not deliberately and definitively chosen to resist a grace that is stronger than the cords of death.  The idea is certainly a generous one, and it flows naturally from the weeping God of Enoch, the God who has set his heart upon us.9

They quote several other more recent church authorities who taught the same concept.  Unfortunately, in the early days of the church, there were members who could not accept this generous view of God.

Brigham Young recorded that “when God revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that there was a place prepared for all, according to the light they had received and their rejection evil and practice of good, it was a great trial to many, and some apostatized because God was not going to send to everlasting punishment heathens and infants, but had a place of salvation, in due time, for all.”10

There seem to be such Mormons around today, who seem to look forward to watching others burn, but a common concept of Mormonism holds that God is perfectly loving.  If we truly believe this, then we cannot claim exclusive understanding of Christ.  To do so would be to draw a circle around God no larger than our own limited view of the eternities.


 

  1. Givens, T. & Givens, F. (2014).  The crucible of doubt: Reflections on the quest for faith.  Salt Lake: Deseret Book, p.87.
  2. Swan, L. (2014).  The wisdom of the Beguines: The forgotten story of a Medieval women’s movement.  Katonah, NY: BlueBridge,  pp. 8-9.
  3. Roth, J. D.  (2002).  Choosing against war: A Christian view: “A love stronger than our fears.”  Intercourse, PA: Good Books,  p. 10.
  4. Matthew 3: 9 (New International Version)
  5. The crucible of doubt, pp. 87-88.
  6. Ibid. pp. 90-91; Sister Laura’s work clearly illustrates this.
  7. Ibid. p. 91.
  8. Ibid. p. 93.
  9. Ibid. p. 92., italics in original.
  10. Ibid. p. 93.

I was once asked what my “greatest hope for salvation” is.  Two things came to mind quickly, almost simultaneously as I remember.  One was a passage from the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon in which the prophet Alma is speaking to his son Corianton whose poor example had made the spreading of the message of Christ terribly difficult where he had been working as a missionary.  According to his father, he has been boastful and slept with a well-known prostitute.  Being a wise father, Alma decided to deal with his son by teaching him more about the future life and mission of Christ, in the hopes that strengthening his son’s faith might help him become a better follower of Christ and example of the Good News.  As part of his lesson, he taught his son “that which ye do send out shall return unto you again” and admonished him to

…see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.  (Alma 41: 14-15)

In effect, Alma wanted his son to understand that his standing with God depends to a great deal on how he treated his fellow sojourners on Earth.  The present and future are inextricably tied to each other.

The other thought that came to mind was my favorite story of Jesus, that of the woman taken in adultery.

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery*

Whenever I read this story or see depictions of it, I cannot help but see myself in the shoes of the adulteress.  I have not been unfaithful to my spouse like her, but I have been unfaithful to the Lord in that I am a sinner despite my best efforts to be better than that.  Whenever I read Christ’s invitation to the woman’s accusers, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8: 4; NIV), I cannot help but feel some sense of fear.  Like her, I too am vulnerable before the Law.  Not surprisingly, not one of them casts a stone, all being pricked in their conscience so much so that all walk away.  When just the two of them were left,

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (v. 10-11)

This story has taught me a great deal about how I need to deal with others, about what I “send out” in the world.  The Great Exemplar, the Son of God, had every right, according to the Law, to denounce the woman and pronounce punishment on her, but He did not.  Instead, He showed mercy and admonished her to abandon her sin.  Whenever I read this, I feel a great sense of relief!  I feel a sense of escape from what the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob called the “awful monster…death and hell” (2 Nephi 9: 10).  I feel deep gratitude to the Lord.

However, Alma’s teaching tells me that that is not enough.  Gratitude to the Lord is, of course, appropriate, but I also need to extend that graciousness to others.  If I want the Lord to tell me that He does not condemn me, then I must not condemn others.  I must treat them with the compassion, patience, and grace He showed the woman and I must be very liberal in this attitude; in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says that He will “forgive whom [He] will forgive, but of [us] it is required to forgive all” (D&C 64:10; italics mine).

This Christmas, I have been thinking about this.  To be sure, I am concerned about how much more I have to do to become “good” at this.  I have to learn to have compassion and forgive not only those that I love who are close to me (which can be quite a task in and of itself), but those I do not know, those whose lives affect me only in distant and abstract ways.  Sometimes I even find that I am the one most in need of forgiveness.  A humbling realization.  The glad tidings, though, are that I can keep striving, that the Lord will forgive.  For that, I thank the woman taken in adultery.**

* From the workshop of Guillaume Lambert in Lyon, France, late 1400s.   Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.
** I must say here, that I am bothered that we do not know her name.  It bothers me that I only know her by the sin she committed.

Good Debt

I had an interesting experience this afternoon in Portland.  I’ve been attending a library conference and afterwards, my friend, Michael, and I walked around the city center.  It was a wonderful walk!  He and I first met when we were serving our missions in Germany.  Afterwards, we were roommates at BYU.  We got married to our respective wives around the same time–in fact he met and started dating his wife while Julie and I were on our honeymoon and proposed to her very quickly after we returned to Provo.

Today, while walking around the Saturday Market, we were approached by a woman who was soliciting funds for a community kitchen.  Since I had no cash on me, I could not make a donation; my friend, however, did have some on him and put in $10.  The woman, who vaguely reminded me of Jane Goodall for some reason, thanked him and said, “That makes $5 for each of you.”  She then turned to me and said, “That means you owe him $5.”

In thinking back on that experience, I can see that I actually owe him far more than that.  I owe him for 25 years of friendship, for games of pool and listening to Billy Joel on the Jukebox.  I owe him for many times when I needed a dollar or two or three or five at the store.  I owe him for his reserved manner, judgment, and wisdom.  I owe him for planting the seed of becoming a librarian in my mind, a step that was so obvious to others that when I finally decided to go to library school many responded with a resounding “duh.”  I owe him for good advice while I was in library school and for good advice in helping me learn the profession now that I have a position.  I owe him for the Rush ticket for the concert coming up in July (I’lll get that paid for sure). 

Heaven knows what I’ve put into the relationship.

As I thought about it, for almost every person dear to me, I feel like I owe him or her something.  A kind of spiritual/psychological/emotional etc. debt.  It’s a good debt, though.  It’s the kind of debt that draws us to each other, that makes us loyal to each other.  To take it one step further, these good debts are analogous to the good debt we owe the Savior.  We, of course, can never repay that debt and he does not expect us to fully pay it off.  He asks that we make payments of “following” him and trying to be like him to whatever degree we can: “What manner of men ought ye to be?…even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).  We will always fall short, but the efforts will always raise us to some degree.

It does seem a bit odd to hear the emphasis on “self-reliance” in much of the communication from the Church, nowadays.  While I understand and accept that rhetoric to a degree, I think it also significant to recognize the good debt we owe to family members, friends, and fellow congregants.  These good debts are a significant part of our lives and communities.  And, the more we owe, the stronger our love for our “creditors.” 

Isn’t this one lesson of the story of Christ and the sinful woman?  If you will recall, when he entered the house of a Pharisee, she came in after him and cried, washing his feet with her tears and kisses, drying them with her hair, and then perfuming them; the Pharisee questioned his patience with the sinful woman, but the Savior responded with the parable of the forgiven debtors, the one owing 50 denars, the other owing 500.  Since neither debtor could pay, the creditor canceled both debts.  Christ then asked, “Which of them will love [the creditor] more?” (Luke 7: 42; NIV).  The Pharisee replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled”; and the Savior responded, “You have judged correctly” (v. 43).

This parable is rightly spoken of in terms of forgiving and having mercy, of offering grace to others as the Lord offers grace to us.  But, I think that its aspect of the debtor loving the kind creditor is just as salient.  We are indebted to those who offer us the grace of love and constructive attention and it is our privilege to offer the same grace to others.

Unlimited Fish and Grace

I just read the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and saw it in a subtler light than I have seen it in the past (Luke 9: 10-17; I am currently reading the NIV).  It occurred to me that Christ performed this miracle as much or more for the Apostles’ sake as for the crowds’.  When the Savior told his followers to feed the crowed, they answered, incredulously, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish” (v. 13).  They responded phenomenologically; the phenomenon, or the “experience” or “fact,” of such limited quantities shaped their reading of the situation.

But Christ needed to teach them to see “beyond the phenomena,” if I may put it that way.  He needed them to learn to take that Kierkegaardian step into the darkness, the leap of faith.  This story shows that “material” limits are not constraining to the Lord. 

What occurred to me tonight, however, was the fact that we sometimes respond like the Apostles when it comes to grace.  I remember being told as a child to not contribute to Christ’s pain through my own sins and transgressions (I’m still not clear on what the distinction there is all about).  But, the thing is, that statement seems to treat Christ’s grace as a kind of finite resource.  This is not true.  Christ’s grace is infinite.  His grace has already covered our sins and the sins of everyone, if we will turn ourselves to him.  This, of course, is a well-known concept.  What struck me tonight, though, is that this miracle may have been performed as a deliberate material manifestation of this concept.  God’s grace cannot be limited by our phenomenological experience of the world.

Today in Sunday school, we looked at the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 and a number of thoughts came to mind. 

1)  We talked about the concept of nurturing, noting that sometimes our soil isn’t always receptive just as others’ soil is not always receptive.  We often/always need to nurture soils–ours and others’.  As we talked about this, I made a linguistic connection: in German, the verbs for planting and nurturing have a common root.  One  verb form of to plant is pflanzen, while one verb form of to nurture is pflegen.  It seems to me that just as there is a linguistic connection between these two concepts, there is a strong connection between nurturing others with the Word and helping to plant the Word.  In fact, it seems that we are often doing both at the same time.

2)  It occurred to me that the concept of “wayside” is perhaps more crucial than we often times may recognize.  The wayside is the part of a path that is not part of our goal, it’s what at the side of the road, so to speak.  The sower in this parable manages to sow in the wayside, meaning he sowed where he did not “mean” to sow.  It struck me that one of the way to read this is as a reminder that our actions and words are the action of sowing, even when we don’t intend to do so.  Are our words and actions spreading the Word?  There’s a kind of philosophical distinction between “acting” and “being”that comes into play here.  Action is the surface, while being is much deeper.  One can act compassionately, without being compassionate; but, if one is compassionate, then they can only act compassionately.  If we are always sowing, through our actions and words, then we must ask ourselves whether we are merely acting like disciples of Christ or are we disciples of Christ in essence.  If we are essential disciples, then we will sow good seeds.  If we merely act the part, then the quality of our seeds may be wanting.

3)  I think sometimes we read the parable in a kind of “one-shot” fashion.  The Word was sown and “they” either accepted it or did not.  The action of sowing, however, is cyclical.  A farmer has to sow a number of times if he/she is going to remain a farmer.  Similarly, we, as sowers of the Word, must sow over and over again.  One implication of this is that we need to think of sowing, or sharing the Gospel, as a process, rather than an event. 

4)  Related to the preceding observation, the element of the soil is perhaps more complex than I had appreciated earlier.  Soils change over time.  Good soil can be made barren, while barren soil can improve.  In the parable, several different types of soils are named, but there is nothing to say that these kinds of soils could not change.  The discussion made me think of my grandfather who had been born in Salt Lake City and raised in the church, but had an “uneasy” relationship with it throughout his life.  However, over time, he became a rather solid member of the church who received a remarkable patriarchal blessing rather late in life in which he was basically told that he would be received of the Lord because he had never given up and would end his life faithfully.  His soil needed to be pflegt, or nurtured, for many years before the seed finally took root.

Struggles of Faith

Just read a rather thought-provoking post about the struggles many younger, astute Mormons go through in their struggles of faith: http://youngmormonfeminists.org/2013/08/14/youngermormonsandleavingtheldschurch/

The responses make for thought-provoking and sometimes rather disturbing reading. I sometimes wonder if an Athanasian/Arian conflict might erupt in the Church.

Here’s my response…for whatever it’s worth [please forgive the errors…I’m rather tired and did not put this response through multiple drafts]:

Thank you, Hannah, for this thoughtful consideration. There are indeed some vexing questions in today’s Church history/culture. Sometimes, I have similar concerns… and I’m from an older generation–I was at BYU in September 1993 and remember the anxiety and even anger felt and expressed by some of the English faculty.

I often times find some odd sense of comfort in the fact that Alma 5 and Jacob 2 & 3 were delivered to the members of the church and that the narrative arc of the Book of Mormon and the two Testaments is actually one of failure (structurally, they are very similar [a group is called from the world to be “separate” and “chosen” but ultimately cannot live up to the charge]) . Those societies ultimately failed to really embrace the Gospel and be transformed by it. Certain generations or groups seemed to “get it”–for example, the People of Ammon–but the majority did not. I think the odd comfort I find in these realizations is that despite the odds, transformation can, in fact, happen.

In my spiritual life, I find myself focusing on those times when the Spirit touched me and I am convinced it was something beyond me and I try to let those moments guide me. I feel that Joseph Smith was, indeed, a prophet…an imperfect man, by his own admission, and a prophet. I feel that the priesthood is real…though I don’t understand why women are denied it outside the temple and it disturbs me deeply that many worthy brothers were denied it for so long (I believe that had more to do with the imperfections and blindness of the members than with anything else). I believe that homosexuality is a far more complicated issue than we heterosexuals can really understand (and I’m grateful that a BYU professor, whom I shall not name, expressed this thought as well when I became concerned about the topic and brought it up in an office visit). I believe the Church can offer the world a lot of good in spite of the fact that we tell a rather uneven story to ourselves and the rest of the world–there are, thankfully, many Mormons who are willing to pitch in and try to help alleviate acute suffering…would that more would be as concerned about chronic suffering as well.

I have come to believe that we are operating in a “by the skin of our teeth” drama. I believe that the Gospel and Truth (yes, I’m using the capitals consciously) will win out eventually, but that the victory may be rather messy and we may not recognize it as such in the actual playing out. I always keep in mind a wise insight a fellow missionary once said. I was having a very, very difficult spell and was struggling with some deeply “existential” questions (I still have yet to find an apt adjective), and this elder said, “You know, God is infinite in love and mercy. We don’t even really know what that means since we are so imperfect in those two qualities. It will probably be worth hanging on to find out what that means.” In my life since then, I think I’ve had fleeting glimpses of what a perfection of those qualities may be like; just enough to keep me going. (Yes…God is also perfectly just, but the Atonement was wrought to give us the chance to escape perfect justice.) I also try to keep in mind that the Lord has instructed on many occasions that love and mercy are supposed to be the guiding principles in our existence and I clumsily try to follow the Savior’s injunction.

That’s part of the view through my glass darkly. I think that sticking with the Church requires and will continue to require an act of will. Those of us who do stick with it trust that this act of will shall eventually be born out by the eternities/universe.

Serving, Not Leading

Interesting set of thoughts here! A few years ago, my wife ran for city council and was often asled about her thoughts on leadership. We talked about it and decided that when it comes to communal action, the more important questions have to do with cooperation. Will we see cooperation seminars and workbooks? It would be nice…but probably not as profitable…so maybe we won’t. Darn!

My friend alerted me to this great column from Henry Rollins on the Stubenville convictions.  I can’t say I really respect a lot of famous rock musicians, but Rollins is one of them.  He thinks deeply about issues and he considers many angles.

I think what bothers me most about this case is the depth of failure on so many socio-cultural levels.  In thinking about the Book of Mormon, it feels like this is nudging towards the absolute depravity of both the Nephites and the Lamanites at the end of the chronicle.  True, the idiots who performed this rape did not kill her and feed her flesh to her family, but in taking pictures and making videos about it, they symbolically cannibalized her by making her an object of consumption.  The thought is father o the act.  Will we see the sickening depravity of the last days of the Nephites any time soon?  Crap!  I hope not.

I read about the results of the rape trial today and wanted to puke!  Thought I would just let you all know I have no sympathy whatsoever for what you are experiencing right now.  The convictions of Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond are, frankly, not even close to justice for the crime.  The crime itself is bad enough, but the fact that your community tried to cover it up all for the sake of your petty civic pride and love of football are practically inexcusable!  This kind of utterly disgusting incident should have been dealt with harshly and quickly, but your institutions tried to sweep it under the rug.  According to the accounts I have read, even more young people should be on trial…I recall reading that one of the stops on this atrocity parade was an assistant coach’s house.  Really?  How is it he was also not convicted for contributing to the delinquency of minors?  Turning a blind eye towards this kind of abomination (and all that that word implies) is revolting to the highest degree! 

Dave's Corner of the Universe

Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide

Girl with a Turquoise Bike

pedaling about, gathering a synthesis of musings and tidbits with which to marry language and images

Wordgirl80

A blog about being an imperfect mother and author.

ILAGO

Information Literacy Advisory Group of Oregon

The Bibliobrary

On Libraries and Media

Cole Ryan

A Few Thoughts On Christianity

The Mormon Left

Mormonism from a non-conservative perspective.

Great Things

All things are possible to him that believeth.

The Mormon Worker

A blog devoted to Mormonism and Radical Politics

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 419 other followers