“For I created all things spiritually…”

Animism is the belief that “gods” and “spirits” — and the anima that imbue them with their god and spiritliness — inhabit things both living and inert. Eurocentric anthropologists originally used the term negatively, believing animism to be a stage in the evolution of religion from primitive belief to more “advanced” monotheism. This view should be rejected.

I am definitely an animist. I don’t mean that as some kind of poetic characterisation of my love for nature. No, I definitely believe nature — rock, animal, and tree — is animated by more than just the material sum of its parts. Crazy stuff.

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These are the hills and trees near my home. Should I get a good death, they may be the last thing I see as I lay dying at home as an old man. The hill is North Hill in Malvern and it looms both over the house I was born into and the house in which I now live. I believe that this hill is more than its granite and grass. It is “North Hill,” the animation of that granite and grass. It — and the things that live in it and around it — has, to borrow a Japanese idea, kami-nature (more on kami below). [Read more…]

The problem of God’s whiteness

Here’s a form of white supremacy: the belief that God is white. Holding that belief does not necessarily make you a supporter of neo-Nazism and white terrorism but you should know that it does make you a white supremacist. Sorry if that offends. [Read more…]

Four queer folk

I no longer go very often to the LDS church. This post partially explains why.

One: J

When I was dating the woman who would become my wife, she struggled to tell me something. It took her a while before she eventually said, “my brother J is gay.” I wasn’t bothered at all but Rebecca was scared it would scupper our relationship. After all, if her brother was gay, the idea that I — a Returned Missionary — might contemplate marrying a woman from anything less than the perfect Mormon family was in danger. It seems silly now but that’s what she thought. I’m not sure why it didn’t bother me. I am no font of tolerance and charity . . . I just didn’t care. Plenty of other Mormons don’t either but she had this idea from somewhere, I suppose. Perhaps it was from some of the people in our branch whose virulent homophobia was on display in Sunday school? And where did that come from? At the time, I would have absolved the church. Bigots are everywhere, I thought. It’s not the church’s fault. [Read more…]

I take refuge in the Sangha

At 3pm today, think of the tearing of the temple’s veil. This is the apex of everything.

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I take refuge in the Dharma

Standing orders in Jerusalem — given by Pilate and understood and supported by Caiaphas — required the immediate arrest of troublemakers at Passover. If we want to understand Jesus’ execution, then, we must pay attention to what Jesus did at the temple. His was a total and visceral rejection of the high Jewish theocratic order, whose high priest had been appointed by Rome.

You see it with the fig tree. In leaf and inviting from afar but barren and curse-worthy in fact. You are full of the bones of the dead and all manner of filth. [Read more…]

I take refuge in the Buddha

Which Buddha?

Down the road from where I live, an old Victorian hotel has been converted into a temple of the Amida Buddhist order. Here, the chant Namo Amida Bu (“I call out to Amida Buddha) calls upon the mercy of Amitābha/Amida, the celestial Buddha of compassion.

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Amida in the Pure Land

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Caldey Island, Wales

On Easter Monday, the Mormon Society of St. James will be embarking on its fifth annual major pilgrimage, this time to Rome. Pilgrimage has become something of a “hobby” for me and while one of the highlights of my year is the long yomp with the MSSJ crew, I also enjoy mini-pilgrimages whenever I have the chance.

Last summer I spend a day roaming around Caldey Island off the coast of western Wales. Caldey is home to a community of Trappist monks. Herewith a few snaps taken with my cheap phone: [Read more…]

Receiving Grace: Mozart’s Great Mass

51nbxoelzl-_ss500Becoming familiar with Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor (K.427) is a good way to both deepen one’s appreciation for WAM, especially his church music, but also to find a way into understanding the rich and ancient eucharistic liturgy of the western church. The Great Mass, composed in 1782/3, is unfinished* but the missing parts are often added for modern performances and recordings.

In the Great Mass we proceed in stages through music until we receive the grace of God in the Eucharist.

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On not correcting mistakes

I don’t think I believe in bibliomancy but when I randomly opened my Essential Dogen today, I opened to a teaching that spoke directly to a problem I have been mulling over for a while now, viz., how one should, in this new world of fake news, best respond to misinformation and its amplification via social media. I would like to know what the BCC community thinks:

Even when you are clearly correct and others are mistaken, it is harmful to argue and defeat them. On the other hand, if you admit fault when you are right, you are a coward. It is best to step back, neither trying to correct others nor conceding to mistaken views. If you don’t act competitively, and let go of the conflict, others will also let go of it without harboring ill will.

My whole soul rebels against this. If you are clearly wrong, and if the wrongness matters, I have this overwhelming urge to correct you. The thing is it generally seems to be a futile exercise and has this unwelcome outcome of tieing knots in my own wellbeing. Maybe Dogen is right . . . ? (#zen)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

e6b50358faa97c5f2c9a889a5d3ea8f5On the second of June, 1953, around 20.4 million people in the United Kingdom crowded around only 2.7 million television sets to watch the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey. This was a watershed moment in the modern era, a day on which the ancient rituals of an ancient kingdom were open to the public in an unprecedented way. [Read more…]

God has not vanished

For Ascension Day 2016.

Luke Skywalker has vanished.

These are the opening words of the opening crawl of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

Luke Skywalker—Jedi Knight, conqueror of the evil empire, redeemer of his father Darth Vader—has vanished. If you have seen the film you will know that this vanishing has been wholly bad for the galaxy: in his absence, a new empire, a new Death Star, and a new dark lord have arisen.

Luke Skywalker has vanished and the galaxy is suffering.

The gospels also tell the tale of a vanishing and vanished hero. The original ending of the gospel of Mark has the women come to Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty. Jesus has vanished and this leads to shock: the women “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8). [Read more…]

Before we watched #ldsconf, we were still Mormons

Mormons in my neck of the woods first saw live General Conference broadcasts around 1993. A few members of the church had satellite receivers powerful enough to pick up a very poor reception of conference. It got better over the next few years. By the end of the 90s, most stake centres had dishes. Now everyone watches it on the internet.

Prior to the 90s, conference here was not a big thing at all. Sometimes we watched taped versions but without a huge amount of zeal. There was, of course, the printed version in the Ensign.

We knew that there were prophets leading the church but they were distant. The big stuff got through — like President Benson’s talks on pride and the Book of Mormon — but mostly the leaders who mattered were local. No-one hung on every jot and tittle of every word of every speaker of conference as if it were all big stuff. This was ok. We were still Mormons.

The Need for Roots

simone-weilI read Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots at a time when life around me made its thesis particularly stark. I had been contemplating how deeply rooted most of the things are that give me joy and support in life: the work place founded half a millennium ago, my Christian faith, the LDS community, my family, my experience as an economically liberated citizen of a centuries’ old constitutional democracy. Even quirky things like the custodianship of my father’s stamp collection, stamps he has collected since the 1950s. So many good things in my life are rooted: old but not stale, secure but still dynamic.

Contrast this with the uprootings causing turmoil in the Middle East. To take one example: the plight of the Christians of Syria and Iraq whose once anciently-rooted communities have been torn up by war and terror. Writing as a French woman at the end of the Second World War, Simone Weil (1909-1943) has much to say about our societies’ current ailments while also offering us a glimpse of a nascent France in her own time.

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Iconoclasm

Elder Holland has it right: “It is not our purpose ever to demean any person’s belief or the doctrine of any religion. We extend to all the same respect for their doctrine that we ask for ours.”

It is therefore a shame to have this statement appear a few sentences before: “We agree with our critics on at least that point—that such a formulation for divinity [an unflattering amalgam of the doctrine of the Trinity] is incomprehensible.”

It is also to be regretted that the full context of Serapion’s lament — “Woe is me! They have taken my God away from me, … and I know not whom to adore or to address” — is not given, either by Holland, Paulsen, or Robinson). The Anthropomorphite heresy Serapion clung to had its crux in the veneration of icons. As an iconoclastic religion, Mormonism would no doubt also have frowned on Serapion’s use of icons in prayer and sought to take them away.

Tithing and Zion

If one characteristic of Zion is that there are no poor (Moses 7:18), and if one means to improve the lot of the poor is to place fewer financial burdens on them (Isaiah 3:15), then the law of consecration and tithing as given in D&C 119 seems to be perfectly aligned with that vision.  [Read more…]

Introducing This Christian Life

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Loyal readers,

BCC is branching into photo-blogging and going beyond our Mormon neighbourhood at the same time. Please visit This Christian Life where we aim to capture a small visual essence of the Christian world we come across day-to-day. You can also follows us on Twitter (@TChristianL), Instagram (this_christian_life), and Facebook (facebook.com/TChristianL).

Please feel free to send us your own photos via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. The best will be posted on the TCL blog (see also the sidebar here at BCC).

An order for sacrament meeting to last one hour

The content is Mormon but the pattern is inspired by the Book of Common Prayer, which has been preparing people to receive the Lord’s Supper for 450 years. Scroll down for a version without the BCP headings (I have initially given the headings to show the order’s methodology). The intent is to place the sacrament in the centre of sacrament meeting, to bring greater focus to our prayers and talks, and to better offer due praise to God.


 

The Gathering

Prelude music is sung or played.

Announcements are given by the relevant quorum and auxiliary leaders.

The Greeting

The presiding officer greets the congregation.

Opening hymn. [Read more…]

O God, speak to me through yarrow stalks

How does God speak to us? Let us say he speaks in our minds and we must worry no more about it. Except I will worry because that is me.

I am speaking in my own mind right now as I form these words and type them. Somewhere in my Wernicke’s area, some chemical magic is doing something that I perceive as language. Does the Holy Spirit enter my brain and stir that soup? [Read more…]

Christmas has just begun!

Every year the same thing happens. Once Christmas week arrives, the profane calendar stops. No more Thursday or Friday, just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The effect lasts until about New Year when we return again to the rhythms of the sun and the times and seasons bequeathed to us by the Romans. This is why marking sacred time is so important, not because we are fundamentalists who despise the secular calendar but because we are Christians who need to find some way to extricate ourselves from its utter dominance. Christmastime offers a glimpse of how this works. [Read more…]

Last Day of Advent

The Last Day of Advent.

May the sun of righteousness rise for you, with healing in its wings!

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Advent Day 25

The 25th Day of Advent.

Return to me and I will return to you.

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Advent Day 24

The 24th Day of Advent.

Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another?

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Advent Day 23

The 23rd Day of Advent.

Careful. Will the Lord find pleasure in us?

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Fourth Advent

Isaiah 7:10-16

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

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Advent Day 21

The 21st Day of Advent.

Rejoice and exult!

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Advent Day 20

The 20th Day of Advent.

On that day you shall not be put to shame.

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Advent Day 19

The 19th Day of Advent.

Be silent before the Lord God!

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Advent Day 18

The 18th Day of Advent.

Beware the envoys from Babylon!

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Advent Day 17

The 17th Day of Advent.

Does God intervene in human lives? Does he answer prayer?
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Advent Day 16

The 16th Day of Advent / John of the Cross, Poet, Teacher of the Faith, 1591.

The four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell. But first, death.

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