I have not been to the Mount of Transfiguration, but I have seen it. The view from the ruins of the ancient church at Umm Qais in Jordan (ancient Gedara) is of Tabor some twenty miles away in Israel. At Umm Qais, the connection with the miracle of the Gedarane swine is most prominent, but as I visited I found that my attention kept turning to Tabor and that strange event we call the Transfiguration. [Read more...]
I suppose my patron saint should be St. Ronan, an Irish Saint whose journey to Brittany and subsequent miracles make him a figure of minor celebrity in Celtic Christianity. With a middle name of James, I can also turn to James the Just, brother of Jesus, or James the Great, son of Zebedee (he of the Camino de Santiago), or the “other James” (son of Alphaeus). Regular readers of the blog will know of our experience on the road to Santiago, and so James the Great it shall be. [Read more...]
One of the most haunting books I have read recently is William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain in which he describes and experiences the decline of Christianity in the Middle East. What makes it so arresting is that he wrote the book in 1997; the dire situation he describes has only deteriorated in the years since. Headlines such as “Christians take flight in Mosul” add to the gloom. We are fast reaching the point when Christianity may die out in much of its homeland outside of a few monasteries and expat churches. Turkish nationalism, Zionism, and Islamic fundamentalism are killing it. The irony is that one of the best guarantors of Christianity in the region has been secular pan-Arab nationalism, the dismantling of which has been the project of the (Christian) West for the last decade. Here is the salient statistic: “The percentage of Christians in the Middle East was just 5% of the total population as of 2010 — down from 10% in 1900. ” A million Christian Iraqis have fled their homeland since 2003, many to Syria where, if they live under ISIS rule, life is going to look increasingly grim. The plight of all people in the Middle East is certainly a tragedy, but if even Christians in the West cannot muster any concern for their fellow believers, all hope is lost. For that reason, I support the Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action on Behalf of Christians and Other Small Religious Communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. More importantly, please consider asking your elected leaders to support it.
The campaign for women’s suffrage is one of those things, like abolition or civil rights, that makes you wonder why on earth anyone opposed it. And yet many women and men suffered, and sometimes even died, to secure something which everyone now takes for granted. This serves as a reminder that our current moral and political certainties may one day be disowned by our grandchildren.
Emmeline Pankhurst was the doyenne of the movement in England. She died on June 14, 1928 and so it seems appropriate for the Mormon Lectionary Project to mark her death this weekend.
Her speech in Hartford, Connecticut on November 13, 1913 is a remarkable thing. The rhetoric is both simple and devastating:
“Suppose the men of Hartford had a grievance, and they laid that grievance before their legislature, and the legislature obstinately refused to listen to them, or to remove their grievance, what would be the proper and the constitutional and the practical way of getting their grievance removed? Well, it is perfectly obvious at the next general election the men of Hartford would turn out that legislature and elect a new one.
“But let the men of Hartford imagine that they were not in the position of being voters at all, that they were governed without their consent being obtained, that the legislature turned an absolutely deaf ear to their demands, what would the men of Hartford do then? They couldn’t vote the legislature out. They would have to choose; they would have to make a choice of two evils: they would either have to submit indefinitely to an unjust state of affairs, or they would have to rise up and adopt some of the antiquated means by which men in the past got their grievances remedied.”
In 1971, Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng published his Infallible? An Inquiry in which he declared his opposition to the doctrine of papal infallibility. This represented a very vocal apostasy from a core Catholic doctrine by a man who occupied an influential position as professor of Catholic theology at Tübingen. Küng was not excommunicated but was stripped of his missio canonica, the licence to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian. He was able to remain at the university as professor of ecumenical theology, however.
In 1983, the Code of Canon Law revised its statement on excommunication: no longer did it sever someone from the Church. Excommunicated Catholics are still Catholics. At no point does it cancel the sacraments — Catholics readmitted into communion are not required to be re-baptised, which is impossible anyway, given the Catholic theology of baptism. Of course, in Küng’s case this was all moot anyway. Despite his heresy, he was not excommunicated.
I point this out for two reasons. First, to remind readers that excommunication in a Mormon setting is the nuclear bomb of Christian excommunications in that it cancels the saving power of the sacraments. When you have the beating of the Catholics in the severity of your censures, it should give you pause. Second, excommunication for heresy is a rare thing in Christianity today. I do not mean to suggest that Mormonism needs to follow Catholicism in its modes of discipline, just that we should recognise the incredible significance of what is being proposed when we speak of excommunication.
Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon Him in yourself (Teresa of Ávila).
By “solitude”, Foster means also to include “silence” and as usual warns against excess and vanity:
“The person who views the Disciplines as laws will always turn silence into an absurdity: ‘I’ll not speak for the next forty days!'”
Finding peace in the desert places is key to hearing the voice of God, but this does not mean to literally move to the desert. For most of us, that is not our calling. [Read more...]
The Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ descended below all things and ascended above all things that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to see that he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Filmed versions of the Ascension tend to be badly done. The New Testament tells us that “as [the disciples] were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 10-11). The literal image of Jesus ascending into the sky may well reflect what happened, but expressing this in art runs the danger of overly reifying what was essentially a mystical experience. One also runs the danger of farce: on his way to heaven, how did Jesus escape the atmosphere? Where is heaven? Is a resurrected body capable of flying? In space? How did he generate lift? Silly. The BBC/HBO Passion sensibly avoids all this by simply having the ascending Jesus disappear into a crowd in Jerusalem. He is gone but he is also all of us. [Read more...]
Numbers 31: In which Moses provides inspiration for Boko Haram. @bycommonconsent
Ignore the ceremony that surrounded it and you may find that the recent canonisation of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII had more in common with Mormon religious impulses than you may at first have thought. Ignore also what Rahner and Vorgrimler call the “unbridled sentimentality and religious trash”* to which we all succumb and instead judge the veneration of saints in Catholicism as generously as you can. Herewith a quick comparison of veneration, intercession, and canonisation in the Catholic and Mormon traditions.
The Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he died, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in this holy ordinance gives us a pledge of eternal life. Holiness to the Lord. Amen.
On Palm Sunday our direction was turned to the Herodian temple and it is there where it must remain. Jesus’ first act in Jerusalem was to visit the temple. With the cursing of the fig tree, the parable of the wicked tenants, and the violent cleansing of its precincts, his rejection of the temple was total. By driving out the money changers he was certainly making a statement about financial corruption in holy places, but more to the point was that by doing so, the rituals of the temple were disrupted. This seems to be the central purpose of Holy Week — the apocalyptic rejection of the Jewish temple and its replacement in his own body. Here he goes beyond the Qumran community who had fled to the desert to await the new temple; Jesus destroys it himself. Note the tearing of the veil at his death. [Read more...]
Alongside Eric Huntsman’s excellent Holy Week posts we will be continuing with the Mormon Lectionary Project, thus bringing adaptations of Cranmer’s Anglican collects to our worships, as well as the designated lectionary readings.
Palm Sunday, Year A
The Collect: Heavenly Father: In your love towards the human race you sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his atonement; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
On Palm Sunday the Messiah is finally revealed. No more preaching in the Galilean backwaters. No more Messianic Secret. On Palm Sunday, Jesus publicly enacts the prophecy of Zechariah concerning the Messiah:
“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” [Read more...]
Third Sunday in Lent
Collect: Heavenly Father, we have little power in ourselves to help ourselves, so keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
There is a much arid earth between Egypt and the Promised Land and thus the complaint to Moses sounds reasonable, given the circumstances: [Read more...]
Mormon Lectionary Project: Ash Wednesday, Year A
The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Like Advent, Lent signals new life on the horizon. Shorn of all the secular trappings of Easter, the beginning of Lent is thus, along with First Advent, perhaps holier than the holiday it precedes. It is a day worth paying attention to, but in doing so, we admit our Anglo-Catholic tendencies. We Protestants (and Mormonism, whatever its doctrinal divergences, is culturally Protestant) have had an uneasy relationship with Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Henry VIII, for example, allowed the eating of dairy products, hitherto forbidden during Lent, in his new English church. The Puritans abolished Lent altogether before it was reinstated by Charles II in 1664. By Victorian times, it had almost disappeared from English custom as one Yorkshireman ruefully noted in 1865: [Read more...]
The average adult Sunday School class is far too superficial and devotional to help us study the Bible (Richard Foster).
Funny how last month’s discipline was fasting, something I’m usually pretty good at, and yet I had a real shocker. I started the year with a 40 hour fast but have been pretty rubbish ever since. Foster warned about letting the disciplines become vainglories. I think I fell into the trap.
And so to the discipline of study, something else I’m pretty good at. It’s kind of what I do, as a teacher and a scholar, and it’s one of the Mormon “Big Two” along with prayer. Good Mormons read the scriptures . . . a lot.
The Mormon Confraternity of St. James is busy organising its annual pilgrimage, this year to Trondheim in Norway on St. Olav’s Way. Join our Facebook group for more details and for news of smaller (less ambitious!) pilgrimages and gatherings. All are invited!
2013: El Camino de Santiago de Compostela: [Read more...]
1981 (aged 5): My first outing to the cinema with my big sister. We watched a re-run of Empire. Images I remember: Luke’s sandy Bespin outfit, an ice planet, Vader’s big head against the stars (which I thought was disembodied).
1982 (aged 6): Playtime at Matthew’s house. I brought my two figures: 2-1B and Bespin Luke. He had more, including an AT-AT. Having a Star Wars figure in my hand and playing with it on Matthew’s living room carpet brings me a new experience of happiness.
1982, Christmas (aged 6): AT-AT. My joy is full. [Read more...]
Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason; and others have utterly disregarded it (John Wesley).
At the risk of breaking Jesus’ injunction to keep schtum about one’s fasting habits, I am pretty good at fasting. I generally fast twice a week, meaning 2×24 hours without food, and began this year with a two-day fasting (non-)binge. I do this for health reasons, because I simply cannot do moderation — I cannot eat moderately, it is either all or nothing. For five days a week it is all, for two it is nothing. This way I am able to keep my weight down. It works.
So when Foster talks about epic multi-week fasts I think I could do it. I am a faster. Hooray! [Read more...]
Holy Innocents, Year A
The Collect: We remember today, Heavenly Father, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. [Read more...]
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A
The Collect: Heavenly Father, purify us through the Spirit, that thy Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; and if not a mansion, then a manger . . . for there is room for him with us. [Read more...]
“Like the most precious diamond . . .The Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless” (Desmond Tutu).
“Prayer — secret, fervent, believing prayer — lies at the root of all personal godliness” (William Carey).
Happy Advent! This is my favourite time in the Christian year. We enter a new time in the calendar, one mercifully shorn (unlike Christmas and Easter) of commercial excess. Just remember that Advent is not yet Christmas, so hold off on the New Testament for now and concentrate more on the promise of the renewal of the covenant made in the Old. If you are in Salt Lake, you could have joined with the MCSJ at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. I am sure they will plan some Christmas activities.
I have had reasonable success with last month’s discipline (meditation). I have certainly meditated more than I usually do, so I’ll take that as a win. I must admit to being worried about this month’s focus, mainly because when it comes to prayer, my faith is weak. I am with the disciples, who had prayed all their lives but still said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Foster’s chapter on prayer is a challenge because he seems to accept the power of intercessory prayer . . . and I don’t. [Read more...]
With Advent, and thus the beginning of the Christian year fast approaching, now is a good time for our annual liturgical year post. In years past I have attempted to create a Mormon calendar, but given the hassles inherent in the moveable feasts, I will simply suggest here some resources for fashioning your own:
1. The LDS Sunday curriculum readings make an excellent lectionary. As a supplement suited to the rhythm of the Christian year, I recommend the readings found in both CommonPrayer.net and Oremus (both of which can be downloaded to your electronic device). The aesthetic is Anglo-Catholic.
2. You can also follow the Christian calendar via the above resources. Both offer prayers and thoughts appropriate to the day.
3. A Mormon holiday supplement would be good, and might include General Conference, April 6, the restoration of the priesthood, the birth and death of the Prophet, Pioneer Day, and the visit of Moroni. The marking of national holidays can also be appropriate, provided they are not excuses for jingoism — in our family, the liturgy there is to make such days Flag Days. When I remember, I try to mark the holidays of other major religions, not as a religious tourist, but as a way to educate my children. Family Home Evening is perfect for this kind of thing.
4. What I don’t have, and would like, is some kind of musical resource tailored to the calendar. Kristine Haglund is excellent at suggesting music. What I need is some kind of Kristine-app to automate the selection!
Last year’s discussion of the Christian calendar and its Mormon iteration follows:
Were I a Roman Catholic and prone to pondering the power of the magisterium and/or the worthiness of the doctrine of papal infalliblity, and were I of a liberal mind, I would lend every hermeneutic muscle I had to promoting this formulation in the Cathechism:
“Christ . . . fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy . . . but also by the laity” (904).
This would confirm my belief that Christ is revealed in the entirety of his Body, not just in the Head, and that with the Body united, the will of God is secure . . . infallible, perhaps.
I would therefore welcome any attempt to discern the will of God as revealed to the laity, not in order to accept it without question, but to listen to that billion-strong voice with humility and wonder.
True contemplation is not a psychological trick but a theological grace (Thomas Merton).
I’ll admit to a disappointment. Foster states that Christian meditation “involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness.” Alas. It is as I said before — discipline as vainglory is a major temptation for me. Personally, I would love to fly into the cosmic consciousness, but such is not the purpose of Christian meditation.
I go through life as a transient on his way to eternity, made in the image of God but with that image debased, needing to be taught how to meditate, to worship, to think (Donald Coggan).
In reading the scriptures suggested by Richard Foster, I was most struck by Romans 8:18: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” As one raised Mormon, I have tended to avoid Romans, so beloved as it is by the evangelicals who are most critical of Mormon works-based soteriology (as they see it). And yet, it is Mormon scripture that reminds us that “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). So, I’m with St. Paul: I know what is right but I’m terrible at doing it and in my natural state, I cannot help that. [Read more...]
It’s a well-worn trope that Mormons don’t do theology. To the extent that this is true (it probably is), it is to be regretted. I believe that “doing theology” is essential and its absence leads us into all kinds of religious dead ends.
Absent theology — i.e. reasoned argument about the truth of God — we are left with little more than noise and counter-noise. To apply this to a current controversy, here are some rather ad hoc thoughts on the usefulness of a theology of women: [Read more...]
One of the unfortunate consequences of Mormon Great Apostasy rhetoric is that it causes an almost complete disregard for two millennia of Christian debate about the sorts of issues with which we currently wrestle. Let me be the first to point out that there are, of course, some small corners of Mormonism that are conversant with, and appreciative of, the Church Fathers or Aquinas or John Wesley, but these are voices largely missing from official Mormon discourse.
Let me also point out that the solution to the problem of women in Mormonism will not come because of a meditation upon St. Gregory Nazianzen. For Mormons to accept any change in women’s status, the means must be Mormon, i.e. be believed to come through authoritative revelation. All that said, there is no compulsion to believe that such revelation comes unprompted. Herewith is one potential prompt from the Church Fathers. [Read more...]