As Mormons we believe strongly in the principle of agency. Modern scripture tells us that the War in Heaven was fought over it.  And yet this belief sometimes leads us to believe that, as W. E. Henley famously put it, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”  Aside from the doctrinal insistence that Jesus should be the captain of our souls, and acknowledging that Henley’s poem can be of use when we need to rouse ourselves against the troubles that surround us, the reality remains that much about our lives remains outside our control.  It may be true in the ultimate sense that we control our destinies, but in many ways we simply don’t have such control in the short, medium, and even the long term of our mortal lives. The unexpected has a way of occurring, no matter how righteous we may be. And in this respect, it sometimes seems as though Life—or its nefarious human agents—is out to get us.
Does Mormonism have a theology? My gut response, as someone who reads 17th-century theological debate for fun, is to say “no.” We do not, as a people, engage in the sort of definitional arguments that characterize formal theology. Ask someone after sacrament meeting what kind of Christology Mormonism has and you’ll probably still make it to Sunday School on time (unless that someone is Blake Ostler). This isn’t to say that your typical Mormon is stupid for not knowing what Christology is, or for not being able to place Mormon belief within the historical arguments about it. The typical Catholic probably couldn’t do that either. The difference is that Catholicism has a long history of philosophical engagement with these questions, and Mormonism doesn’t. Our engagement tends to be more ad hoc, with an Orson Pratt here and a Sterling McMurrin there. At present, in addition to Ostler (and approaching theology in a quite different way), we have the triumvirate of Jim Faulconer, Adam Miller, and Joseph Spencer.
I’ve been a little . . . ill disciplined in continuing this series (sorry, Melody), but the next one seems very appropriate.
Of all the Spiritual Disciplines, none has been more abused than the Discipline of submission (Richard Foster).
The recent LDS General Conference has served another reminder that Mormons greatly value submission to God through his prophets, which submission is admitted to sometimes be difficult but always right. As the Lectures on Faith suggest, “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”
One does not need to look far, however, to see the evils to which religious submission can be bent. Foster is probably right: “Nothing can be put people into bondage like religion, and nothing in religion has done more to manipulate and destroy people than a deficient teaching on submission.” Let us be careful. [Read more...]
I have two memories of war as a child. The first was during the Falkland’s Conflict in 1982. We were on holiday in France and my father would listen to BBC World Service Radio to hear reports about the battle to reclaim the Falkland Islands from Argentina.
The second was in 1991 when the First Gulf War against Iraq began. School stopped as we watched images of the air war on the TV.
In both memories, war was a very big deal. [Read more...]
As spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (collectively, the “Days of Awe”), the Selichot — prayers and liturgical songs of repentance — are recited and sung on four days before Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year or Day of Judgment/Day of Remembrance  that began today at sundown and extends until Friday evening at sundown. This year, the first Selichot (according to Ashkenazik tradition) was on Sunday, September 21 in penitent anticipation of Rosh Hashanah. In fact, Rosh Hashanah falls within the period of repentance known as the “Season of Teshuva” or “Days of Favor” lasting 40 days from the first day of the month Elul until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During Rosh Hashanah, we hope that our names might be written in the Book of Life; whether written in that book or elsewhere, the Judgment entered on Rosh Hashanah is sealed (though most believe not permanently!) on Yom Kippur. In anticipation of this, the “Sheima Kolenu” is often sung at first Selichot: [Read more...]
If you know a story about Mary Fielding Smith, odds are it’s one of these four: she blessed an ox that was about to die on the pioneer trail; when, on another occasion, a search party had been unable to find her lost cattle, she prayed and was told the cattle’s exact location; when Captain Cornelius Lott gave her a hard time about attempting the trek as a widow, she swore she’d beat him to the Valley, which she did; or, later, she insisted on paying her tithing because she would not be deprived of the blessings.
While these stories have the benefit of being more or less true—on Lavina Fielding Anderson’s search of primary sources, they seem to agree that Mary asked her brother and another elder to bless the ox—the fact that they represent the sum of what we as a people generally know about her ought to give us pause.  To say that she was more complicated is obvious, and complicating details aren’t hard to find: letters between her and Hyrum indicating some disagreement over her tactics as a step-parent, as well as other evidence suggesting that her marriages to Hyrum and, later, to Heber C. Kimball as a plural wife left her feeling lonely and not altogether satisfied.  I share these details not to point out with gleeful cynicism that Mary Fielding Smith wasn’t all she’s been made out to be, but rather to reflect on what it means for us as Latter-day Saints to honor our forebears.
A word today in praise of Brother Brigham (d. August 29, 1877). Brigham Young was a man of his times, and those times were, by all measures, rough. With an iron will he and the Saints endured the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, finished the Nauvoo temple sufficiently that ordinance work could go forward there, and then worked day and night so that the Saints could be endowed and sealed there before their departure into the wilderness. In the semi-desert of the Great Basin, Brigham Young and his followers planted their crops and commanded them to grow with irrigation water channeled from the rivers and lakes, then raised up more temples, and sought for Zion.
It’s a commonplace to note that in the Church nobody chooses her calling. Rather, God, through the mediation of priesthood leaders, calls us to serve, typically only for a limited time, in any of a wide variety of capacities. There is much to be said for this approach: sometimes, by doing things we never would have chosen for ourselves, we, like Moses, learn things “we never had supposed.” Having this potential for divine surprises built into the system is a good thing.
Still, this approach comes at a price: we lose the concept of vocation—the idea that God calls us individually to walk a particular path of divine service. (Angela C recently wrote an excellent post about this.) To be sure, patriarchal blessings can provide something like an individual call, but in most cases there are not formal institutional venues for performing the things that we in the depths of our souls feel that God has called us to do. If a person in another denomination feels called to the ministry, in many cases there are formal processes of discernment and training to guide that person in working out whether this is really what God wants him or her to do. In Mormonism a person who feels so called must either wait for a formal calling or figure out some less formal way of acting as a minister. This latter option can mean “doing much good of [one's] own accord,” but it can also lead to tensions with the institutional Church. [Read more...]
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...]
The Feast of William Wilberforce, 1833
Leviticus 26:12-13 (KJV), Psalm 146:5-10 (NRSV), Jeremiah 22:13 (KJV), Micah 3:5-12 (KJV), Matthew 25:31-40 (KJV), Galatians 3:23-29 (KJV), James 5:4, 1 Nephi 17:24-26, Mosiah 29:40, Doctrine & Covenants 101:79
The Collect: O Father, Thou who hast raised up Moses to lead Thy Children out of bondage, let us take inspiration from Thy servant, William Wilberforce, a latter-day Moses, to devote our lives in Thy Church to Thy righteousness in accordance with the universal moral law, becoming instruments in Thy hands to advocate the cause of those who are in bondage and learning that we must never become an obstacle to others’ inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]
Collect: Generous God, whose Son Jesus Christ honored the service and discipleship of Martha and Mary of Bethany: Guide our hands likewise to serve thee in serving others, and open our hearts likewise to know thee and Jesus Christ our risen Lord; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Read more...]
The Collect: Heavenly Father, who through Thy Son hast led Thy Chosen People into many wildernesses with the promise that they will blossom as the rose, make us pioneers willing to crucify our old self in Christ’s death to find life with Him in that Undiscovered Country that is Thy Kingdom so that we may then speak peace to those in fear, strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, through Thy Son Jesus Christ, who reigns with Thee in Thy Kingdom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]
Collect: We thank thee, O God, for the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr., who opened the heavens with his simple faith, and opens our minds that we should do likewise. Grant us, therefore, grace in Christ, that we may ask of thee, seek, and knock, as Joseph did, in faith believing that we may receive through the liberality of thy Holy Spirit, Amen.
Late in the afternoon on this date, exactly 170 years ago, a mob stormed the second story chamber of the small jail at Carthage, Illinois, and killed Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his older brother Hyrum. John Taylor, who was also present and wounded in the attack, eulogized him in print shortly afterwards: [Read more...]
Trinity Sunday, Year A
The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who as the Father and the Son, aided by the presence of the Holy Spirit, appeared to thy servant Joseph Smith, jr.: grant that we may be one with each other, and one with thee, as you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one God forever and ever.
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.”
The Collect for Peace
O God, whose love surpasses all understanding, we thy wandering sheep plead that thou wilt reach into our hearts and, by the power of thy Holy Spirit, give us the peace purchased in the Garden and on the Cross by Jesus Christ thy Son; bless us that we may no more rend the body of Christ with our contentions; grant us the full measure of patience and love, that we may fulfill our covenants to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those who stand in need of comfort; pour, dear Father, into the chasms of our souls the charity according to which thou, with thy Son and the Holy Spirit, art one God, for only in the gift of that charity can we find the unity that will lead us into the eternal peace of thy everlasting kingdom.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.
The Collect: Almighty God, who showed thy servant Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J., the glory of thy creation, brought him through spiritual desolation, and gave him strength of words for his wrestlings with thee: grant that through his verse we might grow in our capacity to reckon with both beauty and loneliness, by the grace of thy Son, Jesus Christ, and through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, who are, together with thee, the One True God. [Read more...]
Mormon Lectionary Project
The Day of Pentecost—Whitsunday
Collect: Thanks be to thy name, O Lord God of Israel, who keepest covenant and showest mercy unto thy servants in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of thy bosom, lending us grace to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even tongues to sing thy praise and to proclaim thy lovingkindness in all the Earth: Hallelujah to the Father! Hallelujah to the Son! Hallelujah to the Holy Spirit! Amen.
Readings: First Reading: Acts 2:1–21; Psalm: Psalm 104:25–35, 37; Epistle: 1 Cor 12:3b–13; Gospel: John 20:19–23; Small Plates: 1 Ne. 31:11–13; Mormon’s Plates: Helaman 5:20–50; Later Revelations: D&C 109:34–37.
Anciently the children of Israel celebrated the time when God delivered the law to Moses upon Mt. Sinai during The Feast of Weeks. It was upon such an occasion, falling fifty days after the celebration of Passover, that the disciples of the Lord were gathered at Jerusalem following His miraculous post-mortal appearances and ascension into Heaven. Now the kingdom was committed to their keeping, and He had promised them the gift of the Holy Ghost as a comforter or advocate (Greek: paráklētos). On this occasion, an outpouring of the Spirit occurred and was attested by signs both external (a sound as the rushing of a mighty wind), and internal (the speaking in tongues) to the disciples. It is, thus, in the gift of the Holy Ghost that we recognize God as fully transcendent (beyond us) and immanent (within us). [Read more...]
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: Heavenly Father, who revealed Thy Gospel through Thy Son so that all who believe and are baptized could become the seed of Abraham and heirs to the promise, grant that we may learn from the process involved in receiving the 1978 priesthood revelation, accepting that Thou hast yet many great and important things to reveal concerning Thy Kingdom and renewing our gratitude and respect for the priesthood power that Thou hast restored and once again made accessible to all, Thy own power which blesses our lives continually, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [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...]
The Collect: Beloved God, who revealedst thy love for Emily Dickinson in the midst of her wrestlings with thee, and who hast now made that love known to us through her verse: grant that we also, in our strivings, may find thy love for us revealed in thy Son through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dame Julian of Norwich
The Collect: Almighty God, who through thy servant Julian of Norwich showed us the Ground of our being, sustain us we pray with the sweet milk of thy Spirit through the everlasting nurture of thy Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
With this post, the MLP inaugurates something we’ve been meaning to do for a while: use the lectionary format to celebrate specific LDS figures. In the spirit of the 1978 First Presidency statement noting the contributions made by non-LDS religious leaders and philosophers to the spread of light and truth, we’ll also be expanding the series to honor a broad spectrum of people who have contributed to the advancement of the human family from a smaller capacity to a greater one. We’re also increasing the amount of LDS scripture in each post, to include selections from the Small Plates, the abridgments of Mormon and Moroni, and the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price.
Emmeline B. Wells
The Collect: O God, thou who givest us both daily bread and holy light to feed our minds and spirits, grant that we, like thy servant Emmeline B. Wells, may, through the grace of thy Son, Jesus Christ, write, teach, serve, and lead, that our sisters and brothers might forever be established in the strength of thy Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Collect: Heavenly Father, who gavest power to Thy Son, Jesus Christ, to rise in resurrected glory on this holy day: let our hearts be changed through faith in His name so that we of Thy latter-day Church may live as spiritually begotten sons and daughters of Christ, adopted through Baptism in His name, that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, may live and serve Everyman as though he were Christ, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]
Eric Huntsman concludes his series on Holy Week.
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!
Christ is risen. Hallelujah! Christ is risen indeed. That is how Christians all over the world have been greeting each other all over the world this morning, and it is how I wish to greet you as I bring my brief stint guest-posting here at BCC to an end. [Read more...]
The Collect: Almighty God, who through your Son overcame the world and conquered death, grant that we might not only live in him, but that we might daily rejoice in this gift of life through thy Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
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...]
The Collect: O God, thou who sawest fit to try our faith on this day between the death and resurrection of thy Son: lift up our hearts with the hope of his rising, by the power of thy Holy Spirit. Amen.