Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent 1

I spent Thanksgiving with my parents. At dinner time, we did our "five kernels of corn" tradition to express thanks for our blessings, and my father said he was thankful that all of his sons have been able to start families of their own, with companions who support them.

We spent Friday setting up my parents' Christmas tree and my mother's many nativity scenes.

On Friday night, the last night of my visit, I lay alone in the darkened living room beneath the Christmas tree, looking up through the branches at the lights, like I used to love to do as a child. While I lay there, I prayed for my mother, who's sick. There's more to say about that experience sometime, but not now, at least not in this forum.

This evening I was cantor at an Advent service. During communion, I was leading the congregation in a Taize song (a contemplative, repetitive style of liturgical music). The text was "Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. / Wait for the Lord; keep watch, take heart," and several repetitions in, the singing triggered something limbic in me, and I broke into sobs and couldn't come back in until communion was finishing and the song was winding down.


Jesus Christ—

you are the light that shines in darkness
you are the love that warms cold hearts
you are the peace that reconciles

you are the truth that shines through falsehood
you are the holiness that shines through sanctimony
you are the passion that shines through schmalz
you are the devotion that shines through orthodoxy

you are the promise beyond disaster
you are the kingdom beyond the present regime
you are the home beyond exile
you are the embrace beyond loneliness

you are rest beyond exhaustion
you are relief beyond pain
you are life beyond death

come, Lord Jesus

Sunday, November 22, 2009

D&C R145-R153

(About this reflection)

Well, just in time for Advent, which starts next Sunday, I finished my plan for an ecumenical D&C study this week by reading sections R145-R153, which form the distinctive canon of the Remnant Church, a 10-year-old organization formed by disaffected conservatives from the Community of Christ. They pick up the numbering of the D&C after 144, the last revelation of Israel A. Smith, since they consider W. Wallace Smith to be the leader who set the church down the road to apostasy. Their revelations have all been produced since 2002 by Fred Larsen, who is president of the Remnant Church by virtue of his being a lineal descendent of Joseph Smith, Jr. (I met Larsen briefly at Restoration Studies in Independence this last year.)

The revelations have an eschatological/millennial bent: these are the last days, the foretold calamities are coming, Zion as the central gathering place must be built up. I don't want to exaggerate that aspect of the revelations, though. This isn't the kind of wild-eyed apocalypticism you encounter in the rural West, i.e., let's head out to a cabin in the wilderness with our guns so we'll escape the nuclear fallout or the long arm of the United Nations. These people, rather, are living in the middle of Independence, Missouri, evidently trying to build some kind of planned community in accordance with the law of consecration, if I'm understanding the revelations correctly. I was struck, though, by a certain tendency to invoke the opposition between Zion and Babylon, reminiscent of 19th-century LDS rhetoric.

As long as I'm talking about rhetoric and imagery, I also noticed that these documents seem partial to the metaphor of Christ as Bridegroom and the Church as Bride. The sexism of that metaphor stands out inescapably in light of the fact that this is a community that rejects ordination of women.

On a more positive note, though, I was struck by the emphasis these revelations placed on the idea that Zion must be built so that Christ can return. "I, the Lord, await the coming forth of my Zion . . ." (R150:8b). "There is a marriage supper waiting. The bridegroom is ready, but the bride is not prepared" (R151:4a). "The time to prepare for my Zion is now, and I desire to come quickly" (R152:7b). In this same strain, the revelations emphasize the need for the Saints to respond so that God's purposes can be accomplished: "The Kingdom of God awaits your response" (R145:7b). "My endowing power awaits your response" (R148:5c). That emphasis accords with (or at least runs parallel to) my personal understanding of Mormon millenarianism, which I read in postmillennial rather than premillennial terms—i.e., it's incumbent on us to bring about the millennial world; Jesus isn't going to come swooping down at the end of time as a literal deus ex machina to do it for us.

A couple other elements of these revelations which resonated with my spirit: First, we get the image of Zion "unfolding" (R147:6b; R148:4b) like "a blossoming flower" (R150:8b). Of course, this is just a reiteration of JS Jr.'s language (in turn borrowed from Isaiah) about "blossoming like a rose." But something about the way the image was used in these documents was particularly vivid to me and gave me a novel image for the coming forth of Zion. Perhaps because I'm accustomed to hearing the "blossom as a rose" language used in connection with Lamanites rather than with Zion. Anyway, I was also struck by what a surprisingly gentle, "feminine" image it was—by contrast, for instance, with the image of the rolling stone from Daniel 2, which shows up here as well (R146:6b).

Second, I was impressed that in his introductions to the revelations, Larsen refers on a couple of occasions to his process including the seeking of confirmation for the revelations. In the intro to R147, for example, he writes that he received the revelation "in response to what I perceived as divine guidance in the early morning hours of September 1, 2003"—kudos for acknowledging the subjective nature of revelation—"and additionally confirmed in direct petition to our heavenly Father on September 19, 2003." A reference to seeking confirmation for a revelation appears as well in the intro to R151. Obviously I think there's more material in these documents that reflects the false traditions of the fathers than Larsen would recognize as such; but I commend the recognition of the possibility of error implicit in the process of seeking confirmation, as well as in the use of expressions like "what I perceived as divine guidance." That seems to me a healthy approach to seeking revelation.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

D&C 163

No post last week because I was in Montreal, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. While I was there, I crossed paths with a friend I know from Mormon history conferences. He's in the Community of Christ, and on Sunday I accompanied him to the worship service of a Community of Christ congregation of Creole-speaking Haitian immigrants. The service was very evangelical in tone, by which I mean there was loud praise music, with guitars and drums and people raising their hands, for about an hour, followed by a very long, very emphatic sermon. A small congregation—maybe 50 people, a lot of whom were children—though apparently that's pretty vigorous for a Community of Christ congregation. We ate lunch afterward with the pastor, whose day job (or "night job," more precisely) is working security at the airport.

I'm not sure what to say about the experience. From an academic point of view, I found it a fascinating "field visit." At a more spiritual level, I'm grateful for the congregation's hospitality in allowing me to visit them. It made me want to go back to Haiti that much more. I'm not sure it helped me decide whether or not to make the trek back to Jackson County, if you know what I mean, which was part of my reason for going.


As I've been promising for a few weeks now, here's my reflection on D&C 163, the most recent addition to the Community of Christ's canon. I don't feel moved to add commentary of my own, just reproduce some of the passages where I can testify that I hear the Spirit speaking.
The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness. (163:3a)

Prepare new generations of disciplines to bring fresh vision to bear on the perplexing problems of poverty, disease, war, and environmental deterioration. (163:4c)

Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture . . .

It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings . . .

God's nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied. (163:7a-c)

That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. (163:3c)

The Temple calls the entire church to become a sanctuary of Christ's peace, where people from all nations, ethnicities, and life circumstances can be gathered into a spiritual home without dividing walls. (163:8c)

God is calling for a prophetic community to emerge, drawn from the nations of the world, that is characterized by uncommon devotion to the compassion and peace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. (163:11a)

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ's vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace. (163:3b).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day

Later this afternoon I'll be offering the Old Testament reading during an All Saints service at the Episcopal church where Hugo and I worship. The assigned passage is Isaiah 25:6-9, and when I looked it up, I got a little misty when I realized that the first verse in that passage is echoed in one of my favorite passages from Restoration scripture:
For this cause I have sent you—
that you might lay the foundation of the Zion of God;
that a feast of fat things might be prepared for the poor—
a feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined—

that the earth may know that the mouths of the prophets will not fail;
a supper of the house of the Lord, well prepared,
to which all nations will be invited—
first the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble.
And after that comes the day of my power;
then shall the poor, the lame, the blind, and the deaf,
come in to the marriage of the Lamb
and partake of the supper of the Lord,
prepared for the great day to come.
Behold, I, the Lord, have spoken it.
(D&C 58:6-12)
On that theme, I was offered the chance this week to go back to Haiti with a group during the coming spring. I don't know yet if the schedule will be feasible. God, I hope so. I'm already thinking about what I could do this time around to better connect with people.


It's been an insanely busy month for me, finishing up conference papers and writing applications for jobs and fellowships. It's stressful, worrying about whether I'll have a full-time academic position of some kind next year, or whether I'll be scrounging for work. On Friday night, after I'd emailed off one last document, I finally had some breathing room, so Hugo and I drove up with the dog to spend a couple nights at a little lakeside cabin owned by some very generous friends.

On Saturday afternoon, we drove to a city across the Virginia border where there's a thrift store we like to visit to find old books. I found this incredibly funky "street-hip" paraphrase of the Bible that for three dollars I had to own, and then there were a few other books I was tempted by, but they didn't have prices clearly marked. So I was hovering by the counter waiting to inquire with the cashier, a thirty- or forty-something man I'd not seen there before. He was talking with two other men, apparently about either the Iraq or Afghanistan war, and complaining about how in the liberal media all you ever hear about is how many of their little kids got killed, and frankly he doesn't give a damn because this is war, and we ought to just drop the bomb on them, and the three of them agreed that there are no true conservatives anymore...

This rage came over me, and I turned and reshelved the books I'd been going to inquire about. I wanted to just walk out altogether—except I really wanted that funky Bible, so I walked up to the counter and paid for it. The cashier was polite, and I was polite, even though I was thinking I ought to say something, but I didn't, I just grabbed Hugo and got the hell out of there. In the car, I fumed to Hugo about what had happened. "You should write them a letter," Hugo suggested. And I thought: Sure, I guess, but isn't that the coward's way out, since I didn't have the guts to say something in person?

I feel like I used to back on my mission, when I'd feel this impulse to talk to someone, but then I wouldn't, and then I'd keep thinking back on it guiltily, with "Open your mouth, and it shall be filled" running through my head.


Speaking of opening your mouth and having it filled: On Friday morning, sometime between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., I was jolted awake by men shouting on the floor below and banging on someone's door. I looked at the window, but didn't see cop cars (no flashing lights), so I listened from behind our front door to figure out if the disturbance was still going on, and whether we ought to call the cops. And then somehow—I was sleepy, so my memory of all this is fuzzy—it dawned on me that there were cop cars outside: three of them, plus a white van, but all unmarked. What was going on downstairs was a raid, with men in bulletproof vests and big rifles and a dog barking in one of the cars.

Hugo and I knew immediately who they must be coming for: the young guy living with the Mexican family downstairs who smokes pot in the stairway practically every morning. Always very polite; asked Hugo for help jumpstarting his car one morning. We'd often see him out behind the apartment building, watching the kids of the family he lives with—his sobrinos or primos, I assume. He was clearly unemployed, and we guessed he might be a dealer.

Still, the raid came as a shock, and as much as I appreciate the law's interest in helping clean up crime in our neighborhood, I also feel kind of... I dunno... creeped out by it. How long has our building been under observation—which in a way means, how long have I been under observation—without my knowing it? It feels very Foucault, very "panopticon power of the state"-ish. And I feel badly that men with guns were shouting and breaking down the doors of an apartment where children live. At one point, as I was listening from behind our door, I heard one of the cops say something about how the hallways are clear, they're all in the front room, and I immediately had this image of the poor mother and her sobbing children huddled in the living room while the cops tromp around.

I have this impulse to go down and make some kind of effort to reach out to the family (that's the connection to "Open your mouth, and it shall be filled"), but I have no idea what to say or do.


I read D&C 163 this week, the latest addition to the Community of Christ canon. Lots of highlighting, lots to talk about, potentially, but I don't really feel that words are being given to me yet, so I'll wait until next week.