Building Up Zion with Blood and Jerusalem with Iniquity: The Moral Clarity of William Wilberforce’s Career Against Slavery
The historical basis for Pioneer Day celebrations is the 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley of wagon trains of Mormon pioneers fleeing religious persecution in the United States. They first left their prosperous city of Nauvoo on the banks of the Mississippi River in Illinois in the Winter of 1846 and traveled a 1,300 mile route on foot and with covered wagons through the inhospitable American outback to reach an isolated desert valley on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. Mormon pioneers from around the world continued to make this or other similarly arduous journeys of migration from their homelands in the heart of civilizations to this far flung frontier settlement throughout much of the rest of the nineteenth century. Theirs was a pioneer spirit, as evidenced not only by how they accepted their lot as refugees forced from civilization into what was, at the time, a remote, harsh, virtually uninhabitable wilderness, but also by virtue of their conversion from among many nations to the truly radical religious movement known as Mormonism, which laid claim to a Restoration of Christ’s Gospel and of all things. [Read more…]
Sometimes we ourselves are the greatest obstacle to the realization of our gifts. Such was the case with John Coltrane in 1957. He was at the peak of the jazz world, playing in Miles Davis’s first great quintet in addition to some historic gigs with Thelonious Monk, but his alcohol and heroin addictions were hindering his ability to participate, and he had to leave Davis’s group for a time. Enter God’s power of redemption: Coltrane later wrote, in the liner notes to A Love Supreme (1964), that in 1957 “I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.” Like Alma the Younger, Coltrane went from being “racked with eternal torment” to singing the song of redeeming love. He spent the next ten years of his life trying to make good on God’s gift to him. [Read more…]
The notion of a “prophetic witness and martyr,” as the Episcopal Lectionary styles Jan Hus, resonates deeply with Mormonism, which reveres Joseph Smith for having “sealed his mission and his works with his own blood.” That prophetic witnesses often become martyrs indicates just how dangerous such figures are, how threatening to established orders and comfortable hierarchies. Hus, like Smith, developed considerable authority and social capital within certain circles while arousing significant animosity from others. Prophetic practice seems threatening precisely because it is powerful, hinting at the possibility of a world turned upside down.
Much as the future is, by definition, leaving the past behind, the past finds its ways to linger on. Life layers us with habits of mind—some good, some bad—that not only color our choices but also shape our sense of what choices we even have. The limits of the future are laid, it seems, only by our bounded imaginations. Might we not leave the past behind too precipitously, though? Mormon writes with regret about the youth who forgot the traditions of their fathers, as taught by King Benjamin, and yet Jesus frequently criticized those who “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” A great difficulty, therefore, lies in discerning which of our traditions to carry with us into the future and which to leave behind. [Read more…]
“And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her. (Psalm 87:5.)
Those who join God’s people in Zion leave the world and all its distinctions behind. Though a man be born in Rahab or Babylon; Philistia, Tyre, or Ethiopia — that is, heathen, black, white, or of a tribe traditionally hostile to God’s chosen people — it shall be said of him once he has joined himself with the cause of Zion, “this man was born there” (Psalm 87:4). We are assured that “[t]he Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Psalm 87:2). For this very reason, “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God” (Psalm 87:3). All who join with Zion are of Zion: “this man was born there.” Joseph Smith seems to have understood this intuitively, authorizing the ordination of several black converts, including most famously Elijah Abel, to the priesthood. [Read more…]
Born in the year of Joseph Smith’s death, and gone himself only forty-four years later, Gerard Manley Hopkins lived a rich and difficult life. As a young man, he had the gift of seeing the Creator’s hand in nature. This sacramental view of nature drew him to Roman Catholicism and eventually to a vocation as a Jesuit priest. Not just the heavens, but everything in the world declares the glory of God, and Hopkins could see even a leaf as a “tabernacle for the sun”—or, perhaps, a tabernacle for the Son.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves—goes its self; myself it speaks and spells, Crying What I do is me: for that I came. I say more: the just man justices; Keeps grace; that keeps in all his goings graces; Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is— Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men's faces.
One of the traps into which religion can fall is that it often makes the thing into the thing signified. There is “God” — theological debates, Del Parson paintings, doctrinal pronouncements, even the scriptures — and there is “God above God,” the noumenal thing that is never quite the phenomenal thing. [Read more…]
This post is a slightly revised version of last year’s Trinity Sunday post. For more recent BCC discussion of the Trinity, start with J. Stapley’s “Mormon Jesus?”, which links to other posts by BCC authors.
Early in the Book of Mormon, Nephi receives some information that seems to have been all at once exciting, shocking, and confusing. After Nephi affirms his belief in Lehi’s vision of the tree, the Spirit who had carried him away responds with praise: “Hosanna to the Lord, the Most High God; for he is God over all the earth, even above all.” Then comes the intriguing part: “And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God.”
This is intriguing not only because Nephi has not affirmed any such belief, but more profoundly because the text has not hitherto mentioned any such Son (except when the narrator Nephi, writing 40 years after the fact, attributes his father’s vision to “faith on the Son of God” [1 Ne. 10:17]). The book opens with Lehi, likewise carried away by the Spirit, seeing God enthroned (1 Ne. 1:8), after which he sees “One descending out of the midst of heaven” and “twelve others following him” (1 Ne. 1:9-10). While we are justified in understanding this “One” as Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon does not at this point identify him as God’s Son; nor does it clarify the relationship between this One and God at all. [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.
This post will be less biographical than is usual for the Mormon Lectionary Project. After all, Emily Dickinson pretty much affords the quintessential case for the idea that biography doesn’t tell the whole story, for out of her superficially quiet life burst a vast and lively treasury of verse. Accordingly, this post eschews narrative in favor of putting Dickinson’s poems tactically into conversation with scripture both ancient and modern. It will be terse and epigrammatic, leaving readers to develop connections further in the comments (and to suggest other of her poems that resonate with Mormonism). [Read more…]
Although Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-c. 1417) was the greatest of the medieval English mystics, we know little of her life. At about age 30 she was cured of mortal illness through a vision she experienced while gazing at a cross brought by the priest who had come to administer last rites. By the 1390s she was a well-known anchorite (a person bound by vow to sacred confinement) at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich.
We know her primarily through her book of Showings, which makes her the first identifiable female author in English literature. This book exists in two forms: a shorter one recording what she called “the revelations of divine love” and a longer one that expands and meditates upon these experiences.
Although, as with many of our own spiritual experiences, Julian’s first vision seems to have come unbidden, she was exemplary in showing us what riches can come of meditating upon what the Lord has taught us. In this way she provokes us to love and good deeds, giving us confidence to enter (and re-enter) the sanctuaries of our own hearts. [Read more…]
On Palm Sunday our direction turned to the Herodian temple and it is there where it must remain if we are to properly understand Jesus’ atonement. 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 and unambiguous. 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: Jesus’ acts are an 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 does not wait for God to act, he is God. The temple is symbolically torn down. Note the tearing of the veil at his death.
On this day we honor the example of Emmeline B. Wells, whose deep commitment to the gospel drove decades of devotion to the cause of women’s rights.
Her faith was tested severely at a young age. After joining the Church in Massachusetts and marrying while still a teenager, she came to Nauvoo, only to be abandoned by her husband. Then, when Joseph was killed, her in-laws decided to return to Massachusetts, but rather than leave the Church with them, Emmeline made Ruth’s choice:
Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!
The Restored Gospel was her Naomi. [Read more…]
In a 2010 General Conference address, President Uchtdorf told of when he, as a newly called General Authority, was riding in a car with President James E. Faust, who talked about how members of the Church would behave toward him because of his calling:
He said, “They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you.” He laughed a little and then said, “Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.”
In practical terms, a worldwide Church needs General Authorities to administer it, and yet such “high” callings bring the risk, as President Faust pointed out, of going to the heads of those who hold them. [Read more…]
Felix Mendelssohn, Psalm 114 Op. 51, “Da Israel aus Ägypten Zog” (1839)
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The Resurrected Christ brought this universal message to the people described in The Book of Mormon:
9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.
10 Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me.
At last the day of rejoicing has come! Our Lenten afflictions now past, we echo the Psalm: “The LORD has punished me sorely, / but he did not hand me over to death.” Indeed, through Jesus we have been handed over to life! Whatever satisfaction we found in anticipation during the dark days of Lent has now become reality with the risen Jesus. “[We] shall not die, but live, / and declare the works of the LORD.” [Read more…]
Many Christian traditions celebrate an Easter Vigil. The version I have experienced is the Episcopal one, from the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not sure I have a lot to say about it, except that it’s beautiful, and that it seems familiar to me. It reminds me of the temple endowment in many ways–it is a retelling, recreation of salvific history from Creation to Fall to Atonement to Exaltation:
Let us hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how
he saved his people in ages past; and let us pray that our God
will bring each of us to the fullness of redemption.
One of my favorites of the sermons I’ve been able to publish in Dialogue is an Easter Vigil sermon; I think it gets at both what might seem familiar to Mormons and what might be strangely, newly lovely in it. [Read more…]
Holy Saturday represents the time in between, the time when Jesus had died, but before he had risen again. We read in the Gospel that two of his disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes” and then “wrapped [the body of Jesus] with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.” Having thus laid him in the tomb, how might they reasonably expect to see him alive again? [Read more…]
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The story of Christ’s passion recorded in John 18 and 19 makes for riveting though heart-wrenching reading, especially on Good Friday. In the Garden, Jesus’ Apostles both betray (John 18:4-5) and loyally defend him (John 18:10). [Read more…]
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…]
In the Anglican tradition, a service called Tenebrae is often celebrated on Wednesday in Holy Week. According to the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services,
Apart from the chant of the Lamentations (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), the most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains. Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil. At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2), the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.
Part of the punitive appeal of crucifixion lies in the fact of public display: nothing says “remember who’s in charge” quite like a bunch of corpse-bedecked crosses outside the city gates. So, too, with Jesus, crucified as a troublemaker alongside two thieves and atop a hill, such that the scene might be visible from a distance. The message from the Romans: “We will not tolerate that business about destroying the temple and raising it up in three days, no sir, so don’t even think about it.” [Read more…]
Sometimes church (like so much else) looks like a place designed for extroverts. Gregariousness, if not a virtue exactly, at least seems like the sort of thing that could come in handy, since the realities of lay ministry so often oblige us to give talks, teach lessons, or otherwise act in semi-public ways. What, then, of the shy among us? Perhaps their (ok, our) patron saint could be Louise Yates Robison, who notwithstanding deep shyness served effectively as the General Relief Society President during the difficult years of the Great Depression. [Read more…]
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
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Jesus likely knew that he was sealing His fate when he “cleansed” the temple by casting out the money changers after his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In the Gospel of Mark, this cleansing of the temple occurs on the Monday of Holy Week (Mark 11:15-19). [Read more…]
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: [Read more…]
In celebrating a great post-structuralist thinker through lectionary readings and a homily, it seems only appropriate to “go meta.” What, then, can Roland Barthes teach us about how to read the scriptures, as we try to use the scriptures to read Roland Barthes? In what follows, I’m going to put today’s readings in conversation with key works and concepts from Barthes’s varied career.
If the Third Sunday of Lent marks, as Ronan wrote, the point where our observance flags, today’s readings allow for the hyperbolic suggestion that by now we’re just a pile of dry bones, crying to God from the depths of misery. Looking upon such histrionics, even a good friend might suggest that we just go and eat some chocolate already, if only to relieve others from the burden of witnessing our embarrassing display. [Read more…]
When several Nauvoo women gathered on 17 March 1842 to organize a society devoted to good works in the community, Joseph Smith read the revelation to Emma Smith now contained in D&C 25, emphasizing that she had been “ordained … to expound scriptures, and to exhort the Church” (D&C 25:7). The establishment of the Relief Society on that day, and Emma’s election as its first president, brought this ordination for the first time into the formal structure of the Church.  To what, then, does Relief Society as an organization exhort the Church—not just the women, but all of us? [Read more…]
Harriet Tubman’s life is one case where reality exceeds the legend. Although she led “only” about 70 slaves out of bondage (instead of the hundreds sometimes attributed to her), she lived for a half-century after her last liberation mission and continued to work in the same spirit of fiery determination for the betterment of African Americans, and African-American women in particular. [Read more…]