Mormon Mysticism and #ldsconf

Given the way that Mormonism often seems to privilege certainty, I was intrigued to notice hints of mysticism in several of Saturday’s talks. The vein of mysticism I’m talking about involves apophatic or negative theology, which means defining things by what they are not rather than what they are. Such theology draws attention to the limits of human understanding and encourages ascetic practices, often centered on prayer, designed to bring worshipers toward experiences of the divine that transcend rational description—or at least the usual categories of certainty. Mystics are people who experience God’s “dazzling darkness” in this way.
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Christopher Waddell: Sometimes it’s just hard to think about Jesus #ldsconf

Bishop Waddell tells us that we must not expect our faith to protect us from sorrow. But peace of mind can be present during the storms of life. The key is to keep our focus on the Christ.
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Elder Snow’s Talk on Humility and Reflections on Certainty #ldsconf

Nearly every day I have occasion to cross the busiest street in the city. Given its eight lanes, I usually chose to do so at a convenient crosswalk that is regulated by a traffic light. As is the case with most of Vienna’s 1,286 traffic lights, this one is controlled by a timer. It also features an audio and tactile system for guiding visually impaired persons over the street. Basically this system consists of raised lines on the sidewalk and across the street for guiding the tip of a cane  and a box about a meter off the ground that has a raised pictogram of the number of lanes to be crossed and, hidden from plain view, a button that can be depressed to activate an audio signal that sounds while the light is green.This is important–the box pictured below does not turn the light green or in any other way influence the timer; it simply activates an audio signal whenever pedestrians are given the right of way according to preprogrammed intervals. [Read more…]

Ski Lessons with E. Stevenson #ldsconf

Dude, Where’s My Car Keys?

Elder Stevenson starts his talk by sharing a rather banal incident of getting back to the car after a day of skiing to find the keys to the car missing.  He then describes his hypothermia-induced hallucination about the priesthood keys.  Well, not exactly.  Actually, at first I thought this was going to be another story about finding lost keys.  I mean, that’s practically a rite of passage for Mormons in our spiritual journey.  Who among us has not had an experience when we lost our keys, we prayed, and then we found our keys?  It’s practically like shave and a haircut. [1] [Read more…]

Elder Donald Hallstrom: All are Children of God. #ldsconf

“In real life, we face actual, no imagined hardships.” Elder Hallstrom noted that there is real pain in life, physical, mental, spiritual pain. There are heartbreaks, when circumstances are different from what we anticipate. Social and personal injustice and it can be disorienting. There can be times of questioning, when doctrine or history is beyond our understanding at present.
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Good Friday

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…]

Friendship (Maundy Thursday)

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…]

Monday in Holy Week

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…]

Honoring Stephen Webb

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…]

Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent)

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.

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Talking with Children about Death and Resurrection

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…]

Our Faithful God

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…]

Ash Wednesday: Repentance toward a New Creation

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.

[Part 3 is here. Part 5 is here.]

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.
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MSSJ Swiss Pilgrimage, 2016

12th century frieze of pilgrims on the Via Francigena heading toward Rome (Fidenza Cathedral, source: http://tinyurl.com/j7c7x8w)

12th century frieze of pilgrims on the Via Francigena heading toward Rome (Fidenza Cathedral, source: http://tinyurl.com/j7c7x8w)

The Mormon Society of St. James is pleased to announce its fourth annual[1] pilgrimage in 2016, the Swiss Road of the Via Francigena (St. Francis’s Way), the ancient trading and pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome. [Read more…]

John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 3-John and his Community-and the Jews.

[Part 2 is here. Part 4 is here.]

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.
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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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Advent Day 14

The 14th Day of Advent.

Let us travel the Holy Way.

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Advent Day 13

The 13th Day of Advent.

Could Lebanon really wither away?

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