Being a peacemaker in tumultuous times isn’t easy. Most people like to think that they are on the side of civility and decency, and yet the disagreements we have with one another often turn out to be more substantive than we’d like to admit. Sure, people can be petty, but if pettiness were all that divided us, “common sense” would prevail more than it does. That efforts at peace tend to involve an ecumenical search for common ground illustrates the problem, because such ecumenism tends not to be terribly compatible with ideological purity, which can make self-appointed peacemakers look suspect to people who understand themselves as true believers, which can in turn provoke resentment and defensiveness from the erstwhile peacemakers. And so the merry-go-round keeps spinning: it’s easy to pray, with the Psalmist, that God will “destroy those who speak lies,” believing of course that the scripture refers to someone other than ourselves. [Read more…]
The 10th Day of Advent / The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
See, the name of the Lord comes from far away.
The 9th Day of Advent / The Feast of Ambrose, 397.
The Lord waits to be gracious to you.
We haven’t been left alone in this fallen world. In his grace and mercy, God has sent us true messengers to communicate his love and righteousness to us, his mortal children. Their job is to lead and guide us, walk beside us, as we encounter the brute reality of the natural world.
On Second Advent we contemplate those who prepare the way of the Lord as his messengers. John the Baptist is the model. His was a consecrated life, preaching nothing but faith in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and repentance for our sins, so that through Christ’s grace we might experience his righteousness, both externally as our tutor in this mortal test and internally as we learn to align our thoughts and actions with that moral compass within that corresponds, through the light of Christ, with God’s righteousness. [Read more…]
The Sixth Day of Advent
I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing!
The Fifth Day of Advent
Hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers!
The Fourth Day of Advent
Beware the fading flowers of past beauties!
The Third Day of Advent
What songs of justice might we sing this Advent?
Once upon a time, Judaism and Christianity were one. That is, Christians were seen as a Jewish sect. You can see this in Luke’s account of what Paul says at Rome, Acts 28. The Jewish community there (it was pretty important, some Jewish high priests ended up there) speak about the believers in Jesus as a sect, a division of Jews. While Paul does a lot among Gentiles, it’s mainly because he can’t get Jews in the diaspora to listen to him. And of course then he grows angry over Jerusalem Jews coming into to his Gentile branches and breaking the rules agreed to about preaching to Gentiles—a long story I won’t engage here.
The Second Day of Advent / The Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle
Are we, like Andrew–who was often in his brother’s shadow–to become alive in the death of the ego?
Today, the First Sunday of Advent begins a new liturgical year, the third for the Mormon Lectionary Project. I promise that some devotional content will follow, but in true Mormon fashion, there’s business to attend to first. [Read more…]
Most of us have times when we feel like crying out, with Joseph Smith, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” We can wonder why, if God is good, oppressors prevail; we plead for justice, our cries rooted in the firm belief that God our Creator stirs with compassion for his suffering saints. [Read more…]
Aside from Easter, which is (or should be) the heart of the liturgical year for all Christians, All Souls Day may be the most Mormon of the traditional Catholic feast days. After all, D&C 138 gives us a vision of the faithful dead joyfully gathered in anticipation of the day when Jesus would arrive in the spirit world announcing their liberation from the bands of death, and we make this belief central to our ongoing vicarious work for the dead in temples around the world. We believe, with the Gospel, that the dead will hear the voice of God—and that we can act as conveyors of that voice to them. Although Mormons do not accept the Wisdom of Solomon as canonical, we, believing that Jesus has called us to assist in the deliverance of the dead, can affirm its declaration that, although to earthly eyes the dead seem lost in punishment, “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.” [Read more…]
It’s not often that an angel chooses the lectionary scriptures for the day, but that’s exactly what Moroni did when he appeared to Joseph Smith three times during the night of September 21-22, 1823. In addition to instructions about where to find the plates that would become the Book of Mormon, Joseph reports that Moroni’s visit consisted largely of the angel’s reciting scriptural texts focused on the dawning of a messianic age when the wolf will lie down with the lamb (Isaiah), when God will, through prophetic calling (Acts) and the spirit of Elijah (Malachi), gather his scattered people (Isaiah) and pour out spiritual gifts on them (Joel) before judging the earth (all of them). [Read more…]
Lula Greene learned the power of the word when, at the age of 22, she needed money to travel from Salt Lake City back to her home in Smithfield. To raise the funds, she stayed up all night writing poems, which she then sold to the Salt Lake Daily Herald for $7.50. By that time she’d already been writing verse for years, and she’d even served a brief stint as editor of the Smithfield Sunday School Gazette. These two activities—writing and editing—would shape the course of her life, enabling her to use words to empower women and children in the Church. [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. When Rosh Hashanah falls on a Monday or Tuesday (as this year, on September 14, or rather September 13-15 to be technical), the first Selichot begins after midnight Saturday night nine or ten days before (so, this year, the early morning hours of September 6). 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…]
Along with her close friend (and sister wife twice over) Eliza R. Snow, Zina D. H. Young was part of the power duo of Mormon women in the second half of the nineteenth century. Popular wisdom held that Eliza was the head and Zina the heart, complementing each other as they traveled indefatigably around Utah (and beyond) to do the work of the Relief Society. (Picture two women in their late 50s, traveling alone through the deserts of Utah, camping together under the stars when they didn’t manage to reach a settlement.) [Read more…]
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. (See Angela C’s 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…]
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.