The scandal and offense of Jesus’ crucifixion lies mostly buried under 2000 years of familiarity. Isaiah writes of the shock that the nations experience when Israel, that no-account postage stamp of land they were used to running over en route to fighting more important peoples, turns out not only to be exalted and lifted up on high, but also the means of their salvation, in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant. Similarly, that a minor Jewish political threat hanging like a ragged corpse on a cross outside Jerusalem—just like so many others, before and especially after—should turn out to be the Savior of the World ought to surprise us, or at least inspire a little incredulity. We often say that the Jews were expecting the wrong kind of messiah, but really, who can blame them? According to the Gospel accounts, even Jesus’ closest associates did not expect him to die, and certainly not like this. Their shock still resonates through the stories recorded many decades later. [Read more…]
Joseph Smith called friendship “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism,” so it’s fitting that friendship should resonate so deeply with one of the most sacred days of Jesus’ mortal life: the day when, according to the synoptic gospels, he instituted the sacrament, bathed his disciples’ feet, and went on to pray in Gethsemane while his closest friends slept nearby, and when, according to the Gospel of John, he gave those whom he addressed as friends the vital commandment to love one another. [Read more…]
As we approach Easter, the Lenten anticipation of a new creation rises to a new pitch. We hope for the healing of all the injustices we see around us—including those smaller things we’ve tried to leave behind for Lent. Sometimes those hopes hinge on what we expect to be a grand and mighty act, but Easter offers something different: the shame of the cross and the quiet, publicly unheralded resurrection. Easter, in other words, teaches us to look for redemption in the small things–the servant who, instead of crushing the nations, will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax. Jesus, rather than shedding the blood of others, spilled his own—once for all. On the side of this redemption are not the mighty, but the meek. [Read more…]
We are sorry for the occasion of this post, but grateful to Hal Boyd of Eastern Kentucky University for this tribute to someone whose work many of us at BCC have learned from and deeply appreciated.
The man who so often contemplated eternity has now stepped beyond its threshold. Dr. Stephen H. Webb passed on this weekend.
A protestant convert to Catholicism, Dr. Webb increasingly dedicated his immense intellect to Mormon theology.
For him, the Latter-day Saint doctrine of an embodied God held the potential to rejuvenate what he saw as moribund mainline theology. The Mormon notion of the material essence of “spirit” was a novel breakthrough. [Read more…]
We are over halfway through the season of Lent, and today, Mothering Sunday, is named after a 16th-century tradition of attending the church you grew up in, the place where you were baptized, or the church your mother attends. “Going a-mothering” meant traveling to your home church, the place where you came from.
It was just the two of us at the dinner table. We were eating my daughter’s favorite meal and talking about the kinds of things that concern preschoolers.
After a lull in the conversation–part of which took place in a make-believe language–about her stuffed animals, drawing, playing in the gym and funny things other kids said at preschool, she turned to me and said: “I don’t want to die.” I was taken aback–her closest brush with death was when her grandmother died nearly two years ago when she was, I thought, too young to remember. [Read more…]
Even though Lent can be a time for drawing closer to God, sometimes our wanderings in the wilderness leave us feeling abandoned—even when God has promised to stay with us! We can share Abraham’s incredulity: when God promised him a great reward, he replied, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” And yet, as with Abraham, God can take the occasion of our realism or even skepticism to create bonds of covenant faithfulness, making the promise of progeny that prompted this response: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s example isn’t about willing belief against the absence of evidence (“I think I believe, I think I believe, I think I believe”), but rather about affirming loyalty to God when God affirms loyalty to us. [Read more…]
Today begins Lent, the season of preparation for Easter. Lent is a time of fasting, known even to many who don’t observe it for the things that people give up. I believe that giving something up is important, but that giving something positive is even more important. What’s the good of giving up whatever it is if we can’t give God the broken heart and contrite spirit that constitutes a true sacrifice? Joel reminds us to rend our hearts, not our clothes during this time, and I think he’s right: Lent should send us inward, calling us to prepare our hearts to receive the risen Jesus, who forgives our sins and redeems us from the grave. [Read more…]
John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 4-More on Community-Feasts-Doctrine and Covenants 7.
You can find the whole series here.
Another unfortunate thing about this divorce between John’s group and the synagogue: they lose a powerful and fulfilling tradition. The feasts, celebrations, and cultural links with the past that acted as a continuing force of discipline, values, and stability drifted away, their meaning diminishing over time. You lose your own identity when something like this happens in some respects. That seems represented in the Gospel.
You can find the whole series here.
In Paul, and later in the Synoptics, the central act is that Jesus died for us, and God brought him back in resurrection. John keeps much of this certainly, but he draws us back to the Prologue (John 1) in statements like “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son.” That is, God sent Jesus into the world, from a preexistent state. It’s not a reference to the end of Jesus’ life, atonement/resurrection, it’s a reference to its beginninglessness, it’s a passage about Christmas—Word became flesh. God’s Son came down, and brought God’s life with him (life in himself)—the life that he can give (here and now!) is God’s own life—eternal life. That seems to be John’s message, and it’s a message that Joseph Smith extracted and sacralized-sacramentalized. In John’s Gospel, Jesus offers people eternal life while he’s in conversation with them and with the disciples. John never uses the term “apostle”–he’s virtually anti-clerical–this tells us something of his presentism perhaps and the ecclesial nature of his community. The Book of Mormon carries the terminology of John when Jesus chooses Twelve and in many other places.
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…]
The Last Day of Advent.
May the sun of righteousness rise for you, with healing in its wings!
The 25th Day of Advent.
Return to me and I will return to you.
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?
The 23rd Day of Advent.
Careful. Will the Lord find pleasure in us?
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.
The 20th Day of Advent.
On that day you shall not be put to shame.
The 19th Day of Advent.
Be silent before the Lord God!
The 18th Day of Advent.
Beware the envoys from Babylon!
The 17th Day of Advent.
Does God intervene in human lives? Does he answer prayer?
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.
The 13th Day of Advent.
Could Lebanon really wither away?
The 12th Day of Advent.
What is righteousness but the ordering of society so that fairness and equity prevail?
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.
In Matthew 6, there are several behaviors called out as public displays of righteousness:
- Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them (v. 1)
- And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. (v. 5)
- Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. (v.16)