Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow for Christmas

So in addition to an imprisoned former dictator, I also received the gift of snow for Christmas—how thoughtful of God! It really was amazing waking up this morning, the day after Christmas, to find that the dusting of snow that had started to fall last night had turned into several inches.

I've probably posted this before, but it's worth repeating:

Soon, this . . . ruination will be blanketed white. You can smell it—can you smell it? . . . Softness, compliance, forgiveness, grace. (Tony Kushner, Angels in America)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A glimmer of justice

The great pit that has been dug for the destruction of human beings will be filled by those who dug it . . . according to the justice of God upon all those who will work wickedness. (1 Ne. 14:3)
I saw online today that Jorge Videla, head of the military government that waged the dirty war in Argentina, has been sentenced to life in prison—a real prison, not house arrest. He deserves death, of course—he deserves torture, actually—but that's not a kind of justice a civilized state should administer, even when it's so richly deserved.


I come into the world, to show the world that I will fulfill all that I have caused to be spoken by my prophets. (3 Ne. 1:13)
Of course, the Christmas story shows us that the fulfillment of the promises doesn't necessarily look like you think it's going to.

I'm not sure what the mood of that last sentence is. A little bitchy, I guess. But there's a hopefulness in the bitchiness, I suppose.

Over the past few nights, Hugo and I attended the tail end of a series of nine posadas that Latino families staged in different apartments here in Abbey Court. It was nice to see residents organizing themselves in that way, preserving traditions. Watching the children sit more or less patiently through the rosary so they could get their aguinaldos afterward (little bags with candies and peanuts and cookies and usually a tangerine—as Hugo remarked, it's like Halloween nine nights in a row), or watching the older ones play video games on whatever these new-fangled little handheld devices are called, I wondered how invested the Americanizing generation will be in this tradition when they have kids of their own. Will they want to organize posadas for them? I hope so.

For that matter, might we get to a point, multiculturally, where the posadas are integrated into the broadly held American sense of how Christmas is celebrated? Might the posadas become, in other words as conventionally "American" a Christmas tradition as Christmas tree lightings, caroling, or department store Santas? I'd like to see that.

If we're still here next year, Hugo and I have offered our apartment as the site for a posada. Or perhaps we could revive the celebration of the posada as a community event, as the Church of the Advocate attempted our first two years here. We have the networks now, perhaps, to pull that off as a genuinely joint endeavor between gringos and Latinos.

Anyway. A nostalgic, daydreamy stream-of-consciousness for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beware LDS PR reps bearing gifts

Let's start with a little history: In 1834, Joseph Smith leads a little ragtag would-be militia called Zion's Camp to Missouri, apparently convinced that God is going to empower them to rout the Saints' persecutors there. Once they arrive, it becomes clear that's not going to happen, at which point Smith receives a revelation (now LDS D&C 105) in which the Lord says: Oh, guess what, I can't redeem the Missouri Saints right now, they've been too wicked, you'll have to wait a season. Meanwhile, the Lord says, he has a secret plan, which the Saints should not reveal "until it is wisdom in me that [these things] should be revealed."
Talk not of judgments, neither boast of faith nor of mighty works, but carefully gather together, as much in one region as can be, consistently with the feelings of the people;

And behold, I will give unto you favor and grace in their eyes, that you may rest in peace and safety, while you are saying unto the people: Execute judgment and justice for us, according to law, and redress us our wrongs.

Now behold, I say unto you, my friends, in this way you may find favor in the eyes of the people, until the army of Israel becomes very great. (D&C 105:23-26)
The Lord also tells the Saints they should keep buying up all the land in Jackson County that they can. Once they've done that, and once "my army [has] become very great" (D&C 105:31), then the Saints can stop all this mealy-mouthed pleading for redress according to the law and strike at their enemies with force—administering the judgments they've prudently been keeping their mouths shut about in the meantime:
And after these lands are purchased, I will hold the armies of Israel guiltless in taking possession of their own lands, which they have previously purchased with their moneys, and of throwing down the towers of mine enemies that may be upon them, and scattering the watchmen, and avenging me of mine enemies unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. (D&C 105:30)
I recount that little history lesson as a caution for the present: A facade of friendliness may conceal more aggressive power ploys. Which is how we ought to interpret the recent report about the LDS Church inviting Bruce Bastian, Dustin Lance Black, Troy Williams, and other gay activists to a Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert. According to the news report from ABC4, this appears to be part of a larger effort at outreach to the gay community that might include getting involved with the problem of gay homeless teens.

I'm going to sound cynical and ungrateful when I criticize the church for this—which is precisely what troubles me about this latest p.r. move, as I'll explain below. So let me start by saying that it's a pleasant surprise to see the church reacting to its gay critics in a way that departs from the more customary "circling of the wagons." It will be wonderful if the church starts taking seriously the gay homeless teen problem and directing some of its resources to addressing it. Something similar needs to be said for the church's official support some months back of a nondiscrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City based on sexual orientation.

These shifts in the church's response to gay activism should be understood as a political victory. This is what protests outside LDS temples can accomplish.

But Mormon liberals need to resist our (note I said "our") propensity to get overly optimistic about what shifts like this mean. If the church is engaging in outreach to the gay community, this almost certainly isn't because church leaders' hearts are being softened (with perhaps the occasional decent exception like Marlin K. Jensen). The church is making these moves for self-interested, political reasons.

As support for gay rights, up to and including same-sex marriage, increases in the United States, religious conservatives have been working hard to revamp their public image. Gay activists have gotten used to characterizing the opposition as hateful, prejudiced, trying to impose their beliefs on the rest of the country. Now religious conservatives are trying to turn the tables: It's gay activists who are bigoted, threatening people with boycotts if they don't vote the way the gays want. It's gay activists who are using judicial activism to impose their beliefs on the rest of the country in spite of democratic referendums. It's gay activists who are hateful, standing outside Mormon temples screaming and flipping the bird.

Religious conservatives have taken to presenting themselves as people who want civil conversation; who want to make sure all viewpoints get heard, not just the politically correct ones; who are trying to preserve the freedoms—especially the religious freedoms—of people who disagree with the gay activists.

The LDS Church's latest p.r. moves need to be understood in that context. Inviting your gay critics to a Motab concert is a brilliant response, actually: whoever came up with that one over at LDS Public Affairs is definitely earning their salary. It's brilliant because it doesn't really cost you much symbolically—they're just guests at a public concert, after all—but it lets the church cast itself as the good guy. While gay activists are staging protests outside temples with signs accusing the church of "H8" and homophobia, the church is quietly rebutting the accusation by extending a hand of friendship.

I hope that Troy Williams, Bruce Bastian, and others are savvy enough to recognize that by inviting gay critics into the Tabernacle, or opening up lines of communication with gay activists, or speaking out on issues like discrimination, bullying, and homeless youth, the church is making it harder for activists to stage protests in the future without looking like belligerent assholes. And I respect the intelligence of the folks at LDS Public Affairs enough to assume that this is exactly what they intend.

Embarrassing the church publicly is one of the few ways activists have of placing any kind of pressure on the church. By playing the nice guy, and thereby making it harder for us to stage protests without looking like the bad guy ourselves, the church neutralizes one of the few effective political weapons in our quiver. Maybe these new attempts at outreach, these new channels of communication, will prove politically useful in a different way—one has to hope that, at least. A more pessimistic view (and recent LDS history provides ample reason to take a more pessimistic view) is that these new channels of communication will let the church give the impression that it's hearing our people out, while it then continues to propound its fundamentally heterosexist doctrines and works to prevent gay/lesbian equality in whatever ways it finds feasible. The church gets to look and feel like it's being civil and compassionate and open; and if the strategy is particularly successful, the gay activists with whom they've opened lines of communication will turn around and urge the rest of us not to raise any public criticisms of the church that might threaten the new openness.

You know what they say about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Bottom line: Mormon liberals, don't get too excited about this new development. And for heaven's sake, gay community, don't stop thinking of the LDS Church as an opponent, even if on some issues that opponent can be pressured (let's say it, "shamed") into acting as an ally. Stay vigilant. Stay political.

The church has a history of using shows of friendship to advance its interests—to improve its public image and win over its critics. They were doing it in Missouri back in 1834. They've been doing it for the past decade or so with evangelicals. Now they're applying the same tactics to the gays. Yes, in some ways this is an improvement. But it needs to be approached as the ploy that it is. Don't be too trusting. As Jesus says, be wise as serpents.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Yesterday (Sunday) was the feast day for the Virgin of Guadalupe. On Saturday, while I was doing my laundry, I saw that someone in the apartment complex had posted an announcement for a novena in honor of the Virgin, with a list of which apartments they'd be meeting in on which nights and a general invitation to attend. So I attended the Saturday night devotional—the only gringo present, of course, and one of just a handful of men (all of whom had accompanied wives). They recited the rosary, followed by a litany, interspersed with various songs to the Virgin, some of which I knew.

At one point in the litany, they referred to Mary as "la Esposa de Dios el Espiritu Santo"—the wife (or spouse) of God the Holy Spirit. I dimly remember having heard that title before on some other occasion, but it struck me.
Remember the greatness of the Holy One,
who opens to whomever knocks.
(2 Ne. 9:40, 42)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Taize service--and snow

An unexpected snowfall yesterday. It fell fast and thick and beautiful in the darkening afternoon. The dog and I went romping a little. By noon today, it was largely melted.

I led the monthly Taize service this past Friday. Because we're in Advent, I chose the theme "Christ, the Son of Mary." I'd invited people to bring images or statues of Mary or the Madonna and Child—we ended up with a nice, eclectic collection on the icon table. Here are the readings and prayers.


THE SONG OF MARY (Luke 1:46-55)

My soul proclaims your greatness, O God!
My heart rejoices in you, my Savior,
because you have showered your servant with blessing!
From now to the end of time,
all generations will know the great things you have done for me,
O Mighty One!

Your name is holy!
From age to age, your mercy flows to those who honor you!
With the strength of your arm,
you have blasted the presumptions of the proud.
You have deposed the mighty from their thrones,
and have raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things
and have turned the rich away empty-handed.

You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
in fulfillment of the promise you made to our ancestors,
when you spoke blessing to Sarah and Hagar
and all their descendents, to the utmost generation!


Once we were slaves to the powers of this world—
to the elemental forces that impel and restrict mortal beings.

But when the time had waxed full,
God sent the Begotten One,
born of a human mother—
born, like us, in subjection to the law,
yet with power to set us free.

Through him, we have been emancipated!
We have been adopted into God’s family!
God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of the Begotten One,
so that we, like him, may call God, “Abba! Father!”

Once you were slaves;
now you have become God’s children.
And because you are God’s children,
you are also God’s heirs.

LUKE 1:26-45

God sent the angel Gabriel
to a Galilean village called Nazareth,
to a young woman named Mary,
who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendent of David.

The angel came to Mary and said,
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!”
Mary was perplexed and troubled by this greeting.

The angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary.
God’s blessing is upon you!
You will conceive and give birth to a son.
You will name him: ‘God liberates.’
He is destined for greatness!
He will be called the Son of God.
God will set him in the judgment seat
promised to David’s line,
to govern the descendents of Jacob forever.
His reign will never end!”

Mary said, “How can this be? I am a virgin.”

The angel said to her,
“The Holy Spirit will rest upon you;
the power of God will overshadow you.
For this reason, your child will be holy
and will be called the Son of God.

“Does it seem hard to believe?
Listen: your kinswoman Elizabeth
has conceived a son in her old age.
She who was called barren is now six months pregnant!
You see—with God, nothing is impossible!”

Mary said, “I am God’s servant.
I accept what you have said—may it be.”
Then the angel left her.

As soon as she could,
Mary traveled to the house of Elizabeth
in the hill country of Judea.
As she arrived, Mary called out to greet Elizabeth,
and Elizabeth felt the fetus kick inside her.

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
She exclaimed to Mary,
“Blessed are you among women!
Blessed is the child you will bear!
And what have I done to deserve to be blessed
by a visit from the mother of my Lord?
I knew it without your telling me,
for as soon as I heard you calling,
the child inside me leaped for joy.
Blessed is she who believed
that the Lord’s promise to her would be fulfilled!”


Abba, Father—
you sent your Son to free us from all that limits us,
and to reconcile in himself all things.

Son of Mary—
you shared our humanity
and gave your life for the salvation of the world.

Jesus of Nazareth—
you shared our suffering,
so that you would know how to succor your people.

Promised Advocate—
by the indwelling of your Spirit in our hearts,
you have transformed us into God’s children;
teach us to love our human condition.

Emmanuel, God-with-us—
you came into the world
through the courage of the one who agreed to be your mother;
give us the courage to say “yes” to your call.

Word made flesh—
we encounter your image in every person we meet;
by your grace, equip us
to minister to them on your behalf.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Watching 11

More watching over Thanksgiving weekend—in person this time, not long distance. Miscellaneous reflections:
On asking for forgiveness: Romans 3:23. We're all assholes.

Our tragedy is the hospice nurses' job. What is for us a massive disruption, a giant rip in the fabric of our lives, is for them one stop in their daily routine.

I hate the metaphor of "fighting." Terminal illness isn't a war to be won; it's a natural process taking its course. Why should she be made to feel that she needs to be "a fighter"? That she needs to "be brave"?

You stay up watching because it makes you feel like you're doing something when you know in fact there's nothing you can do.

Watching makes me a witness—the connection is right there, in the visual metaphor. But to whom am I witnessing? And what for?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Watching 10

God answered me in the day of my distress,
and was with me in the way I went.
(Genesis 35:3)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Watching 9

Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I
when my heart is overwhelmed.
From the end of the earth
I will cry to you,
for you have been my shelter.
I will trust in the covert of your wing.
(from Psalm 61)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Watching 8

I will send you the Comforter,
which shall teach you the way
whither you should go.
Therefore, fear not.
(D&C 79:2, 4)

Watching 7

Remember the promises that were made to you:
that God would extend his arm and support you,
and be with you in every time of trouble.
(D&C 3:5, 8)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Watching 6

The life of my servant will be in my hand.
I will go before you, and I will be your rearward.
(3 Nephi 21:10, 29)


God of life and death—

It seems that a crisis has passed,
but we are all still waiting for the end.
I don't know whether to ask you to take her,
so that her suffering will end,
or for you to give her the time
to do whatever she still desires to do.

I'm understanding why silence can be prayerful—
real honest-to-God silence,
not talking to you voicelessly in my head and calling it silence.

So I'm silent.
That is my prayer.

In Christ's name, amen.

Watching 5

I will go before you and be your rearward.
(D&C 49:27)

I will bear you up as on eagle's wings.
(D&C 124:18)

Watching 4

He is above all things,
and in all things,
and through all things,
and round about all things,
forever and ever.
(D&C 88:41)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Watching 3

I am the Lord your God
and will be with you
even to the end of the world
and through all eternity.
(D&C 132:49)

I am the same who leads you to all good.
(Ether 4:12)

Watching 2

O Lord,
according to their faith,
which is in you,
give them strength.
(1 Ne. 7:17)

Watching 1

He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee.
He began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
He said to them:
My soul is extremely sorrowful,
to the point of death.
Stay here, and watch with me.
(Matt. 26:37-38)

When they came to the place call Calvary,
they crucified him . . .
And the women who followed him from Galilee,
stood at a distance, watching.
(Luke 23:33, 49)


You wanted people to watch with you at the end.
I am watching and praying, from a distance,
because apart from that—
and apart from letting them know that I am doing it—
there is nothing else I can do.

I pray that she will feel your presence accompanying her.
I pray that her pain will be controlled.
I pray that he will have the strength and discernment he needs.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Taize service, November

I led the usual first-Friday Taize service this weekend. Here are the scriptural readings I rendered and the prayers I composed for the occasion. The service was oriented toward the feast of All Saints and therefore toward remembering all those who have served God.

Next month's service will fall in Advent. I'm working on preparing a service that will focus on Christ as the Son of Mary. Christ doesn't just drop out of heaven into the manger: he grows in a womb, he enters the world by way of a birth canal. In other words, Christ enters the world through Mary. I hope this won't prove too abstract a connection, but I want to create a service that will invite reflection on the people and communities through whom Christ enters our lives, and the ways in which God calls us to be instruments through whom Christ enters the lives of others—through whom Christ is born in the lives of others.



All your creatures give thanks to you, Holy One!
All your saints extol you!
They proclaim the glory of your reign
and tell of your power.

Your people make known to all your mighty deeds
and the splendor of your rule.
Your reign is everlasting,
and your dominion endures through all generations.

To all your promises, you are faithful, Holy One,
and all your deeds reveal your kindness.
You catch all who stumble;
you lift all who struggle under heavy loads.

All your creatures look to you
to feed them in due season.
You open your hand,
and their hunger is satisfied.

All your ways are just, Holy One;
all your deeds are done in love.
All who call to you from their hearts
will find you there beside them.

You hear the yearnings of all who worship you;
you hear their cries and take action.
For this I will praise you!
I will join with all your creatures in blessing your holy name forever!



I pray that God,
by a spirit of wisdom and revelation,
will illuminate your heart
with a vision of the hope to which you are called—
a vision of the abounding glories
which God has promised to the saints.

May you glimpse the immeasurable greatness
of the power with which God works on our behalf!
It is the same power
by which Christ was raised from the dead
and elevated to sit at God’s right hand,
far above every other authority on earth or in heaven.

For our sake,
God has placed Christ above all things.
Christ is the head; we are the body.
Christ fills all—and we are that fullness.


LUKE 6:20-23, 27-28

Jesus said:

To be poor is a blessing—
you have God’s kingdom for your inheritance!

To be hungry now is a blessing—
later you will eat your fill!

To grieve now is a blessing—
later you will laugh for joy!

It is a blessing to be hated,
excluded, reviled, or defamed
for the sake of the Promised One.
Be glad when that happens! . . .
They used to treat the prophets the same way.

But listen:
Love your enemies.
Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you.
Pray for those who mistreat you.



Holy One, we praise you for all your saints—
for all those in whom your righteousness shines.

For all who provide care to others—we praise you.
For all who speak and work for justice—we praise you.
For all who promote peace and break down walls of separation—we praise you.
For all who teach words of life and proclaim good news—we praise you.
For all who provide models of prayer and contemplation—we praise you.
For all who labor in tedious or thankless causes for good—we praise you.
For all who have been instruments of your love in our lives—we praise you.

For the grace to serve you in compassion, courage, and power,
we pray to you, Christ our God.



Christ our light,
your grace shines
in holy lives and holy labors;
and as far as the light reaches,
the flame of your love
is kindled in human hearts.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Protesting Packer's comments

LGBT Community to Protest Packer's Speech
HRC to Mormon Apostle: Your Statements Are Inaccurate and Dangerous

This certainly isn't the first time that people have protested LDS statements or actions around homosexuality. (I participated in one myself some years back when I lived in Salt Lake, joining other mostly silent protesters standing outside Temple Square during General Conference.) But with the caveat that what I'm about to say reflects perceptions that need to be corroborated by research, the rapidly organized protests in response to Packer's General Conference address strike me as representing something new in the history of the Mormon politics of homosexuality. For one thing, I can't think of a situation where people organized so quickly in response to a specific address. For another, I can't recall off the top of my head a time when a national organization like the HRC weighed in on a LDS sermon.

Here's an adaptation of a familiar parable (D&C 101:81-84; cf. Luke 18:1-5) that reflects, at the moment, my feeling about these protests:

There was in a certain city a small group of self-selected, middle-aged to elderly religious leaders who were highly confident that they understood God's will regarding same-sex relationships. They were men who feared only God and had no regard for the contrary opinions of mere mortals.

There was in that same city a number of people—some gay or lesbian, some straight—who were dismayed by what they saw as the insensitivity and prejudice of the religious leaders' pronouncements.

At first they wrote private letters to the religious leaders, courteously and deferentially worded, expressing their dismay and sharing personal stories of pain and heartache that they hoped might move the leaders to empathy.

Then they began to voice their heartache and dismay more publicly at quiet events such as vigils—still avoiding anything that might be construed as an attack on the religious leaders.

Then they wrote petitions calling for reconciliation and healing, and delivered them to church headquarters, carrying carnations and singing hymns about loving one another. The religious leaders didn't read the petitions, of course, but they sent public relations officers to meet the petitioners at the door, smiling politely for the news cameras.

Then the petitioners organized loud, angry protests outside church headquarters and enlisted the help of national LGBT organizations to publicly criticize the religious leaders' statements.

The most stubbornly pious of the religious leaders still didn't give a fig about critics. But some of their colleagues began to murmur, "Doctrine is doctrine; but all this bad p.r. is getting wearisome." And they began to think that it might be a good idea to back off the subject for a while.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Taize service, October

I organized the customary first-Friday service, held two days ago. We had cello and flute accompaniment, in addition to the guitar. These were the scriptural readings.



When the Lord delivered us from captivity,
it seemed like a dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter;
on our lips there were songs.

Foreigners said:
“What marvels their God has worked for them!”
What marvels the Lord worked for us indeed!
For this, we were glad.

Deliver us, Lord, from our captivity
like streams rushing forth into a dry land.
Those who now sow their fields in tears
will sing when they reap the harvest.

They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing.
They come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves.


1 CORINTHIANS 13:1-8, 13

If I speak in tongues—even the language of angels—
but I do not have love,
my speaking is nothing more than noise.

If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries,
and have faith powerful enough to move mountains,
but I do not have love,
I am nothing.

If I give away all my possessions—
if I hand over my very body to be martyred—
but I do not have love,
I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind.
Love is not envious, or boastful, or arrogant, or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way.
Love is not irritable or resentful.
Love takes no pleasure in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.
Prophecies? They will come to an end.
Tongues? They will cease.
Knowledge? It will pass away.
But faith, hope, and love—these three go on forever,
and the greatest of the three is love.


JOHN 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

The Word was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through the Word—
without the Word, not one thing came into being.

In the Word, life came into being—
life and light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness could not overcome it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book of Mormon anniversary

Tonight is the anniversary of the Moroni visitations. Last night (Monday, FHE), some Mormon grad students got together with their families at a local park, and I led an interactive telling/reenactment of the story of the angel's appearance. It was good.


More than a hundred years ago,
there lived a boy named Joseph Smith, with his family:
his mother, his father,
his sisters Sophronia, Catherine, and Lucy,
and his brothers Alvin, Hyrum, Samuel, William, and Don Carlos.
They were a big family, and they loved each other very much.

Joseph and his family worked hard, but they were poor.
They didn’t have a lot of money.
They lived in a tiny house, and they wore old clothes, and sometimes they didn’t have very much to eat.

In the place where Joseph lived, people liked to tell stories about pirates and buried gold.
Sometimes Joseph thought to himself:
“If I could find buried gold, then I would be rich.
Then I could buy my family a bigger house, and new clothes, and anything we wanted to eat.”

One night, Joseph’s family went to sleep like they always did.
The only person who didn’t go to sleep was Joseph.
He stayed awake, praying.

While he was praying, something amazing happened!
An angel appeared in front of Joseph, floating in the air.
The angel wore a robe that was whiter than snow,
and he shone with a light that was brighter than the sun.

The angel said:
“Joseph, Heavenly Father has sent me to you with a message.
Remember this message:
Near your house, there is a hill.
On the hill, there is a rock.
Under the rock, there is a box.
In the box, there is a book written on golden plates.”
Then the angel disappeared.

After the angel went away, Joseph thought to himself:
“A book written on golden plates must be worth a lot of money!
If I find the golden plates, and sell them, I’ll be rich.
Then I can buy my family a bigger house, and new clothes, and anything we want to eat.”

While Joseph was thinking this,
suddenly the angel appeared a second time, floating in the air.
The angel wore a robe that was whiter than snow,
and he shone with a light that was brighter than the sun.

The angel said:
“Joseph, the golden plates are not to sell.
Heavenly Father wants you to read the book written on the golden plates,
and share what it says with everyone you know.
This book is more valuable than all the money in the world.

Remember the message I gave you:
Near your house, there is a hill.
On the hill, there is a rock.
Under the rock, there is a box.
In the box, there is a book written on golden plates.”
Then the angel disappeared.

After the angel went away, Joseph thought to himself:
“So I can’t sell the golden plates.
I can’t use them to buy a house, or clothes, or food.
What’s so special about this book
that makes it more valuable than all the money in the world?”

While Joseph was thinking this,
suddenly the angel appeared a third time, floating in the air.
The angel wore a robe that was whiter than snow,
and he shone with a light that was brighter than the sun.

The angel said:
“Joseph, the book written on golden plates
is more valuable than all the money in the world
because it teaches about Jesus,
and about loving one another,
and about Heavenly Father’s plan.

Remember the message I gave you:
Near your house, there is a hill.
On the hill, there is a rock.
Under the rock, there is a box.
In the box, there is a book written on golden plates.”
Then the angel disappeared.

By now, it was morning.
Joseph’s family all got up and started their work for the day.
Joseph, and his father, and his brothers went out to work on their farm.
But Joseph was very tired because he hadn’t gotten any sleep.

His father said, “Joseph, what’s wrong with you?”
So Joseph told his father all about the angel,
and Joseph repeated to his father the message the angel had given him:
“Near your house, there is a hill.
On the hill, there is a rock.
Under the rock, there is a box.
In the box, there is a book written on golden plates.”
Joseph’s father said to him:
“If Heavenly Father sent an angel to give you this message,
then you need to go right now to find the book written on golden plates.”

So Joseph went looking for the place where the angel had told him he would find the book.
Near his house, there was a hill.
He climbed the hill, and there he found a rock.
He lifted up the rock, and underneath he found a box.
Inside the box he found the book written on golden plates, just as the angel had said.

Joseph read the book written on the golden plates.
He read what it said about Jesus, and about loving one another, and about Heavenly Father’s plan.
He started sharing what he had read with everyone he knew.
He shared it with his mother, and his father, and his brothers and sisters,
and with his friends;
and they all shared it with their friends;
and those friends shared it with their friends,
so that little by little, people began to learn about the book written on golden plates.

The name of the book written on golden plates is the Book of Mormon.
And that’s the story of how we got the Book of Mormon,
which is more valuable than all the money in the world
because it teaches us about Jesus.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11 prayer service

As I announced in an earlier post, I led a prayer service this evening in observance of the 9/11 anniversary. The initial impetus had been to provide a counterpoint to the much publicized Qur'an burning scheduled in Florida for the same evening. That event was cancelled, of course. (Thank God!—though it's unfortunate that the publicity has raised that man's public profile the way it has, a process in which I have been complicit.) But since that event had been a symbolic focus for a larger set of concerns, we went ahead.

About fifteen people came. I'd selected eleven mostly short Quranic passages to read; people read them aloud, with silence in between for reflection. Then I read a prayer I'd prepared, with periods of silence on the way in which other people added their own petitions. That all lasted half an hour, after which people sat and talked—intensely at first, then gradually the mood lightened and people dispersed.

I'm posting here the Quranic excerpts we read, along with my prayer. The renderings of the passages are my own, based on consultation of several English translations.


In the name of God, the All-Gracious, the Merciful—

All praise be to God,
Lord of all creation,
the All-Gracious, the Merciful,
the Sovereign Judge.

You alone we worship;
to you alone we pray for help.

Guide us to the straight path,
the path of those on whom you have bestowed your grace. (1:1-7)


God alone is worthy of worship,
the Eternal One, Sustainer and Protector of all that exists.

God revealed the Torah and the Gospel as guidance for humankind.
God revealed the standard for judging between right and wrong.

Surely, Lord, you will gather humankind together
on a day of whose coming there can be no doubt. (3:2-3, 9)


Say: “O God! Yours is the kingdom!
You give the kingdom to whom you will,
and you take it from whom you will.
You honor whom you will,
and you humble whom you will.

All that is good is in your hand,
and you are able to do all things.
You cause night to pass into day, and day into night.
You bring the living out of the dead, and the dead out of the living.
To all whom you will, you give sustenance without measure.” (3:26-27)


Speak of the wife of Imram, who said:
“My Lord! I vow that the child in my womb
will be consecrated to your service.
Accept this offering from me,
you the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.”

When she delivered, she said:
“My Lord, I have delivered a girl.
I have named her Mary.
In you I seek refuge, for her and for her descendants—
refuge from the Evil One, who was cast out.”
So with grace, her Lord accepted her,
and in grace, he caused her to grow.

Speak of the angels, who said:
“O Mary, God sends you glad tidings of a divine word!
He will be called the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary.
He will be honored in this world and in the world to come.
He will be among those who are near to God.
From cradle to adulthood, he will speak to the people
as one of the righteous.

“God will instruct him in the scriptures and in wisdom,
in the Torah and the Gospel.
God will make him a messenger to the people of Israel.
He will say: ‘I have come to you with a sign from your Lord.
By God’s will, I heal the one who was born blind, and the leper,
and I restore the dead to life.
I confirm the Torah, which was before me,
and I make lawful for you some things that were forbidden to you.
Truly God is my Lord and your Lord;
therefore worship God alone.
This is the straight path.’” (3:35-37, 45-46, 48-51)


This is the truth:

Those who believe,
and those who are Jews,
and Sabians,
and Christians—
whoever believes in God and the Day of Judgment
and works righteousness—
all will have their reward with their Lord.

They will have nothing to fear,
nor cause to grieve. (2:62)


You will not attain righteousness
until you spend what you love
in the service of God.

Whatever you spend,
God knows it. (3:92)


You who have believed:
render to God due reverence,
and live out your days
in perfect submission to God’s will.

Hold fast to the rope that connects you to God,
and do not become divided.

Remember God’s grace—
how when you were enemies to one another,
God joined your hearts together,
so that by his grace you became family. (3:102-103)


Have you seen those who live in denial of divine judgment?
These are people who turn away orphans
and who do not advocate for the care of the poor.

Woe to those who perform the motions of prayer
but pray without thought.
Woe to those who make a grand show of good deeds
but withhold simple assistance from people in need. (107:1-7)


God, the Supremely Gracious,
the One who taught you to recite these words,
created human beings
and gave them the gift of speech.

Sun and moon follow the courses God calculated for them.
Stars and trees bow down in worship.

God, who built the heavens,
has set the scales of justice
so that you will know the standard
to which you must conform.

Therefore, let your scales be just,
and give the full measure of what is due. (55:1-9)


O humankind!
We created you all
as descendents of a single pair.
We made you into multiple peoples and tribes
so that you may know one another.

Who is most highly favored of God?
Those who are most righteous.
God, the All-Knowing and All-Seeing,
makes no other distinction. (49:13)


Who knows but that God will forge friendship
between you and those you regard as your enemies?

Surely he has power to do it—
God the Oft-Forgiving,
the Merciful. (60:7)


God, the All-Gracious, the Merciful,
God of the whole earth—

It is good to hear your voice.
It is good to be in your presence.

We praise you for the many ways you have revealed yourself to us:
in the words of prophets,
in Jesus,
in the instruction we continue to receive from your Spirit,
in the words and deeds of people—family, friends, strangers—through whom you touch our lives.

We gather tonight in a time of division and fear and anger.
We are mindful that you have called us to be witnesses of your love,
which knows no bounds.

We are grateful and relieved that one hostile act directed against our Muslim neighbors,
which was scheduled to occur tonight, did not occur.

We are mindful of the continuing tensions that currently surround Muslim citizens and residents of our nation.
We are mindful of the terrorist attacks carried out in this country nine years ago today by al-Qaeda.
We are mindful of similar attacks or attempted attacks, here and in other countries.
We are mindful of the wars that our nation waged in the wake of September 11 in predominantly Muslim countries—Afghanistan and Iraq.
We are mindful of actions taken by our government in the name of waging a war on terror.
We are mindful of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and of our nation’s relationship with Israel.
We are mindful of tensions inside and around the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We are mindful that you have taught us to pray for our enemies.

We long for peace.
We long for safety.
We long for interreligious understanding.
We long for justice.

We pray for all who suffer because of religious conflict,
and especially for those who suffer because of the conflicts we have named tonight.
We pray for civilians,
for combatants and their loved ones,
for those in authority,
for refugees,
for prisoners,
for the wounded,
for the dead and the loved ones who survive them.

We pray for those who suffer discrimination,
for those who are objects of suspicion and hostility,
for those who are afraid,
for those who act out of prejudice,
for those who act out of rage,
for those who seek to harm others,
for those who are in danger,
for those who feel desperate and oppressed.

God of all wisdom,
we are tangled up in a web of violence, and fear, and complicity,
and it is very hard to see a way out.
We pray to you for help.

Show us how to build bridges.
Show us what we can do to mitigate fear and prejudice and hatred.
Inspire the leaders of the nations to find ways to bring about a just peace.
Plant compassion, and a zeal for peace,
in the hearts of all who speak in your name and desire to serve you.

Among those who call upon you
are people whom we regard as our enemies
or who regard us as their enemies.
Teach us and them—all of us—
how to serve you in truth and love.
Teach us and them
what we need to do differently
so that this world of oppression and violence and terror
can be transformed into your kingdom.

In Christ’s name we pray, amen.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Response to the September 11 Qur'an burning

The folks at the Dove World Outreach Center (an Orwellian name, that) in Florida are apparently still planning to proceed with their International Burn-a-Koran Day on the evening of September 11. Thanks to the Internet, the plan is known and sparking protests in various parts of the Muslim world; no doubt the folks at Dove World are thrilled by the attention.

As a counterpoint to the Qur'an burning, and to the wider expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. that this event symbolizes to my mind, I'm putting together a Qur'an reading and prayer service to be held Saturday evening in the same church house-office where I lead the monthly Taize service. I originally conceived it as just a personal thing, for myself, but I've announced it to other members of the congregation in case others might want to join in. We'll see. If nothing else, I hope it will reorient my reaction toward the Qur'an burning away from helpless anger toward something more spiritually healthy.

The plan is to sit in a candlelit room, read some ecumenically appropriate selections from the Qur'an, reflect, and then spend some time praying. Afterward, I'll return here and report.

Until then, here's an explanation I've prepared of the philosophy and intentions behind this prayer service:
Dialogue between Christians and Muslims must grapple with difficult issues. Among these is the fact that each group’s scriptures contain passages that make exclusive claims to truth and damn those who reject these claims.

This evening’s gathering does not pretend to resolve such difficulties. Rather, our goal is to lift up points of commonality at a time when voices around us are crying division. This gathering invites us to hear in selections from the Muslim scriptures a Voice that rings familiar and true from our Christian encounter with God—a Voice that calls us to peace, justice, and compassion.

After we have listened, we will speak. In dialogue with the One whose voice we have heard, we will express our longing, our grief, our frustration, our hope. We will pray for peace and understanding. We will pray for people who suffer because of religious conflicts. We will pray for our enemies. As you feel moved, please add aloud your petitions, giving utterance to the groanings of the Spirit in your heart.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Infant baptism--by immersion

Today at the Episcopal church Hugo and I attend, a couple's baby was baptized. This congregation baptizes infants by immersion, which is quite something to watch. They set up a big tub outside. The baby is entirely undressed and placed in the priest's arms. As the priest says, "I baptize you in the name of the Father..." she sort of sweeps the baby backwards into the water, just enough to immerse the baby's back. At "and of the Son..." she does another pass, this time deeper, usually with the result that water splashes over the baby's face, at which point he or she starts, um, voicing reservations, shall we say. With "and of the Holy Spirit," the baby passes entirely under the water, just for a second, and comes out howling in unknown tongues.

Immersing infants is very important to the priest here in order to preserve the death-and-resurrection symbolism of baptism. In her sermon today, just before the baptism, she talked about how in baptism we plunge into the life of Christ. Actually, she said something about how people "choose" to be baptized when they're ready to plunge into the life of Christ. Nicely put, I thought—and a great argument for why infants shouldn't be baptized. They're not choosing to plunge into anything.

I don't mean to be sanctimonious here. Back when I was at the MTC, they brought in some middle-aged man in a suit to talk to us; and one of maybe two things he said that stuck with me is that when he was on his mission, contacts would sometimes invite him to witness their child's christening, and he could never share their joy because he knew what the Book of Mormon says about infant baptism and the gall of bitterness. Then and now, I thought the guy needed to dislodge the iron rod he had stuck up his _____.

(Well, okay, I wouldn't have phrased it that way at the time I was in the MTC. The J.-Golden-Kimball-esque language and full-on disdain came later.)

Nevertheless, watching today's baptism, I was reminded of how traditionally Mormon my sensibilities are on this question. (Also Baptist—this is a question on which Mormons and their Baptist opponents would see eye to eye.) I understand the liberal theology that reads infant baptism as a way to welcome children into the church, the family of God. I understand that, sociologically, these events are an occasion for families to celebrate the newborn and to pass on tradition. And whenever I witness these events, I always think: A baby blessing could accomplish the same purposes. Save the baptism for when the child is old enough to remember the immersion experience and everything it symbolizes and to perform some modicum of self-conscious identity work and meaning-making.

Anyway. Wanted to get that little soapbox off my chest. In any case, the baby was cute, he got over the shock quickly (they generally do), it was a great moment for the family, and they served a fantastic cake afterwards. Chocolate cream frosting and raspberry filling take the gall of bitterness right out of your mouth.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


There was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be an equality among all... (Mosiah 27:3)
As a historian, I should know better than to be surprised. I know that nativism is a recurring phenomenon in this country's history. I know that American Protestants have a history of rallying against religious Others, and I can even give you a sociological theory to explain why contemporary evangelicals do that. (It has to do with the way strong boundaries generate religious vitality.) I know history doesn't roll smoothly forward in Hegelian fashion, though I have faith the Spirit can make it do that if we're willing to bend as it blows.

Despite all that, I am wearily taken aback by the intensity of anti-Muslim sentiment that's been stirred up around the proposed Islamic center near the former World Trade Center. And it's not just that, of course, though the "Ground Zero mosque" has become the cause celebre, partly because opponents find it easiest in that case to squeeze away from the accusation of intolerance. (It's just about being sensitive; they have nothing against Islam in general, it's just that the location of this particular mosque is so provocative, etc.) But protests against the building of mosques and Islamic centers are going on in different places around the country. And now we've got this bigoted minister down in Florida planning a Qur'an-burning for the September 11 anniversary. ("You want religion, do you? I will have preachers here presently.")

I read in the news the other day that over 60% of respondents to one poll opposed the building of a mosque at Ground Zero. Language is key, of course: I've noticed that opponents tend to talk about building a mosque at Ground Zero, which has left me wondering if it's possible that there are people out there who actually imagine that the proposal is to erect a mosque on the site of the Twin Towers? Consider the sign that one person is reported to have been carrying at the meeting where the Manhattan community board voted to approve the project: "You're building over a Christian cemetery!"

If a statement like that reflects "sincere" ignorance, there's a chance of being able to communicate. But if the statement is sheerly an expression of Christian entitlement—I don't know if it's possible to communicate with that.

Don't misunderstand me: I'm prepared to believe that there are people out there who really aren't particularly Islamophobic but who believe that the "Ground Zero mosque" is unwisely provocative. I'm willing to read the ADL's opposition, for example, with that kind of presumptive generosity. (Though I still agree with the New Yorker columnist who called their opposition "shameful.") For me, this isn't even so much about the "Ground Zero mosque." It's about watching how the "Ground Zero mosque" debate is helping to bring out anti-Muslim sentiment all over this country, sentiment that gets expressed in ways which simply cannot be excused in the nuanced way that some people explain their opposition to the Islamic center in Manhattan. And the fact that you have people offering nuanced opposition to the Islamic center in Manhattan emboldens the people who are just plain bigots, because it makes it easier for them to imagine that their position is similarly sophisticated and respectable. It gives them a respectable language behind which to conceal their prejudice.

I am so angry, which does nothing to help. The anger is, rather, a symptom of how helpless I feel.


God the Compassionate, the Merciful—

Through a latter-day prophet, Jesus says: "Do not be afraid."
I want to see the light of truth dispel ignorance.
I want to see prejudices broken up and swept away as with a flood.

I give thanks for the voices of reason who at this time are speaking up
on behalf of the constitutional principles which must be maintained
for the rights and protection of all.

(I thought my country's president was one of those voices,
but now I'm not so sure.)

Teach me what I can say
that will constructively help to change minds and hearts
of people in my orbit.

In Christ's name, amen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A prayer of thanksgiving

Praise the Lord with a prayer of thanksgiving. (D&C 136:28)
I give thanks that the Deepwater Horizon well appears to have been successfully capped—and I pray it holds. I give thanks that the oil appears to be dissipating more rapidly than feared and hasn't spread far as it was originally feared that it might.

I don't mean to be sullen, but I just don't find it in me to feel very grateful about either BP's or the U.S. government's reactions to the spill. I'm sitting here, actually, having an epiphany about how much antipathy I feel toward Congress and the Obama administration, not just over this issue but in general.

I pray for people whose lives are still affected by the spill and its aftermath. I pray for the wildlife living in affected habitats.

I remember the dead. I was thinking of animals when I wrote that, but there are people to remember, too—those killed during the explosion.


I give thanks for the federal ruling against the constitutionality of Proposition 8. There's no telling, of course, how this is going to end. But it's one hurdle past. A ray of hope.

I have been surprised—baffled, really, to the point where I would start talking about Providence if I didn't think that were philosophically problematic and prematurely optimistic—by what a poor showing the proponents of Prop 8 made in court. It's weird. I don't know what to make of that. Ineptness? Overconfidence in the strength of their case? (I felt "our side" had made that mistake when Prop 8 was challenged before the California state supreme court.) Possibly resignation? Did they figure they couldn't win before a gay judge, but the Supreme Court would save them? (Which it could.) Or even, perhaps, a sense of fighting a losing battle? Obviously I'd love to think the last, but who knows.

I'm grateful for the very important irony that none of the government officials named in the suit, including Schwarzenegger and the state's attorney general, were willing to defend Prop 8. I'd like to see there a lesson in the limits of populism: groups may be able to get what they want by passing propositions, but if you thrust such things on elected officials, they may not go to bat for you. This case has shown that gay marriage isn't so neatly a Republican vs. Democrat issue anymore, which is a good sign in terms of shifting public opinion. The fact the judge is, evidently, gay is also an encouraging sign of the times: Imagine back in the Sixties trying to defend racial segregation before a black judge. The kind of case that the religious right is accustomed to making against gay/lesbian equality really only works when you're talking about gays and lesbians as the menacing Other. When the person to whom you have to make your case is the Other . . . you've got a problem.

Of course, if/when this case reaches the Supreme Court, we'll be the Other again. No direct representation on the bench. So . . . we'll see. But for the moment, I give thanks.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Feast of the Transfiguration

Today was the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Western Christian liturgical calendar. Today was also the usual first-Friday Taize service, so I made the Transfiguration our theme. I used the scriptural readings listed for today in the Book of Common Prayer (they included a Gospel account of the Transfiguration, of course), and I wrote prayers that worked with themes from those readings.



Mighty are you, God of Zion!
You reign supreme over the nations.
Let all the peoples praise your name.
Holy are you!

Mighty governor, lover of justice,
you rule with equity.
You have executed righteous judgment
and established justice among your people.
You are worthy of worship and praise.
Holy are you!

Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were among those who served you;
Deborah and Samuel were among those who called on your name.
When they cried to you, you answered them;
you spoke to them from a pillar of cloud.
They carried out your instructions
and observed the law you taught them.

You answered them, holy God.
Though you decree judgment for wrongdoing,
yet you showed them you are a God who forgives.
You are worthy to be praised
and worshipped on your holy mountain.
Holy are you!


2 PETER 1:16-19

When we told you about the coming of Jesus, the Chosen One,
and his power and majesty,
we spoke from our own experience,
as eyewitnesses.

For we were there when Almighty God gave him honor and glory—
when a Voice from out of dazzling glory said,
“This is my Beloved, on whom my favor rests!”
We ourselves heard this Voice from heaven
when we were with Jesus on the holy mountain.

Because of this experience,
we believe even more firmly in the words of the prophets.
So we urge you to take up their words
like a lamp in the darkness,
until the daybreak comes
and the light of the morning star shines in your own hearts.


LUKE 9:28-36

Jesus went up on a mountain to pray.
He took Peter, James, and John with him.

As he prayed, his face began to shine,
and his clothes became dazzling white.
Suddenly two other glorious figures appeared—
the prophets Moses and Elijah.
They talked with Jesus about what was going to happen
when he journeyed to Jerusalem.

Peter and the other two had been dropping off to sleep,
but now they were wide awake.
They saw Jesus, shining in glory,
and the two prophets standing with him.

When the prophets began to leave,
Peter said to Jesus:
“Teacher, it is good that we are here!
Moses and Elijah don’t need to go—
we can set up tents, one for each of you...”
He was babbling.

While Peter was speaking,
a cloud appeared and enveloped them.
They were filled with fear.

From inside the cloud, they heard a Voice say:
“This is my Son. This is my Chosen.
Listen to him!”

As soon as the Voice said this,
they found themselves alone with Jesus.



Christ our God—
on the mountaintops of our lives,
in our places of retreat and our times of prayer,
you have revealed yourself to us,
sometimes in glimpses,
sometimes with a force that leaves us babbling or speechless.
We yearn for the experience of sensing your presence.
Open our eyes to recognize you in all the ways you come to us.
Response: Teacher—it is good that we are here!
Christ our light—
you have caused us to hear the voice of God:
through prophetic words and inspired writings,
through the voice of conscience,
through divine light shining in our hearts.
We hear, but at times we cannot see, or we are afraid.
Help us discern our Creator’s will,
and give us faith and courage to do it.
Response: Teacher—it is good that we are here!
Risen Christ—
we are eyewitnesses of your glory.
We know by our own experience
that you give light to those who seek;
that you are a God who forgives, heals, and comforts;
that you are at work in our lives.
Show us how to share your light
and to work blessing in the lives of others.
Response: Teacher—it is good that we are here!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thanksgiving and remembrance

This week Argentina became the first Latin American country, and the second country in the Americas (O Canada!), to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. ("Viva!" to Mexico's Distrito Federal for legalizing it locally.) The LDS Church made what strikes me as a token effort to stir up opposition among its members in the vicinity of Buenos Aires. I'm not sure, actually, how to explain why they refrained from organizing a more assertive opposition, something more on the scale of Prop 8. Scared cautious by the Prop 8 backlash? Worried about a backlash from the Argentine government? A largely American leadership just not so invested in what goes on outside the United States? Who knows. Anyway, justice won, though I'd be more encouraged if it had won by a larger margin.
The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
lo, Zion's standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day,
majestic rises on the world.

The clouds of error disappear
before the rays of truth divine;
the glory bursing from afar,
wide o'er the nations soon will shine.
"Zion's standard" because one of the defining values of Zion is social equality and an end to discrimination (D&C 38:26-27).

Hope flickers on.


It appears—fingers tightly crossed—that the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has been successfully capped. My feeling about that actually isn't so much gratitude, to be honest, as it is: About frickin' time. I still want to see heads on stakes. Well, no, I don't believe in capital punishment as a matter of principle. So let me revise my vindictive fantasy: I want every BP executive, and anyone else in that company whose job responsibilities make them accountable for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, along with every person at the MMS ever guilty of taking gifts or allowing oil companies to bend the rules, to be compelled to work in oil cleanup for however many years it takes until the job is done.

One can only dream.
The angel brought me again to the door of the temple;
and look! water flowed out from under the threshhold toward the east. . . .

He said to me:
These waters flow down into the desert and into the sea,
and when they come into the sea, the waters will be healed.
Then every living thing that moves will live,
and there will be great schools of fish,
because of these waters.
They will be healed, and everything will live.

(from Ezekiel 47: 1, 8-9)

Yesterday was the three-year anniversary of my excommunication. I'm sitting here looking at the screen, with absolutely no idea what more to say about it than that. I'm not even sure what kind of scriptural passage to quote at this point. Well, no, this feels right:
I will ask my Father to send you another Advocate,
who will remain with you forever . . .
I will not leave you orphaned:
I will come to you . . .
Then you will know that I am in my Father,
and you are in me, and I in you.

(John 14: 16, 18, 20)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Taize service, July

I led the first Friday Taize service as usual two days ago. Here are the readings as I re-rendered them (working from the NRSV and the JTS translation of the Hebrew Bible). I took this set of readings from the Taize website; they weren't the readings recommended for this week but for a different week in ordinary time. When I chose them, I recognized that Psalm 103 and Isaiah 40 were being paired together, at least in part, because they both refer to being given power like an eagle's. But it didn't occur to me until we were in the middle of the service that the eagle metaphor resonated weirdly with the iconography of the Fourth of July. Since I'm not thrilled about alliances between American nationalism and Christianity, I think the resonance was unfortunate.


PSALM 103:1-12

Bless the Lord, my soul!
All that is in me, bless God’s holy name!
Give thanks to the Lord, my soul,
and remember all God’s kindnesses.

Who but the Lord forgives all your sins?
Who but God heals your maladies?
Who pulls you back from the precipice?
Who encircles you with tender arms?
Who fills your life with good things
and gives you power like the eagle’s?

The Lord is a righteous judge,
administering justice to all who are oppressed.
This is the God who spoke to Moses—
who liberated Israel with wondrous deeds.

The Lord is merciful and kind,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
God does not treat us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our faults.
As high as heaven is above the earth,
so deep is God’s compassion for the penitent.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far does the Lord remove from us our sins.


ISAIAH 40:27-31

My people,
why do you say,
“The Lord does not see me;
God ignores the injustice done to me”?

Don’t you know?
Have you not heard?
The eternal God,
who created the earth from end to end,
is endless in power
and limitless in knowledge.

In God, there is strength for the weary,
power for the powerless.
Beyond the limits at which the energy of youth is depleted—
past the point at which athletes collapse from exhaustion—
those who trust in the Lord will find their strength renewed.
They will soar upward as if with the wings of eagles.
Running, they will not become tired;
marching, they will not grow weary.


LUKE 6:27-32, 35

Jesus said:
Listen, all of you—

Love your enemies,
do good to those who despise you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.

If someone slaps you across one cheek,
offer the other also.
If someone takes away your coat,
turn over your shirt as well.
Give to everyone who begs from you.
If someone takes what is yours,
make no effort to get it back.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What is so virtuous
about showing love to those who love you?
It hardly takes a saint to do that much.

I am setting for you a higher standard.
Love your enemies;
do good, and lend expecting nothing in return.
That is how you will grow into the image of God,
who showers blessings even on the ungrateful and the wicked.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I'm feeling moody at the moment, so I'm taking a break from other tasks to do a little journaling. My moodiness is partly worry: Hugo's trapped out-of-town because of car trouble, and we don't yet know what the trouble is (or how expensive it will be).

My mood is also a carry over from last weekend. Two members of the Episcopal church Hugo and I attend here were ordained deacons as the next step in a journey which will end with their becoming priests. That was on Saturday at an old fancy church in Raleigh. On Sunday, there was an outdoor Eucharistic service at a campground where the two new deacons preached and assisted with communion, which was celebrated by a former member of the same congregation who became a priest a couple years back (the same person who created for me the Liahona icon you see on the top of this blog).

It was a homecoming, and the congregation was very happy, and I felt selfishly depressed. Watching these individuals, all of whom I know quite well, move into their vocations reminded me that I do not have a faith community that's willing to help me live out what I perceive to be my vocation. A few weeks ago, I was asked to orchestrate the reading from Acts at the Pentecost service, which in this congregation's tradition involves people reading in multiple languages. I organized something that hadn't been tried in previous years but that I hoped would enrich the spirit of the celebration, and afterwards the vicar asked me if I hadn't been gay, would I have become a Mormon priest. She was assuming that Mormons have a professional clergy, like the Christian groups she knows, so what she was saying was: You seem to have certain pastoral gifts; before you came out and had to leave the Mormon church, did you contemplate entering the ministry? It was a depressing question, and I was reminded of it again last weekend as I watched the new deacons exercise their new roles.

I don't think I've told this story on this blog before, so here goes: In 2001, I did a three-day retreat at a Trappist monastery. Doors that I'd thought had been standing open as options for my future had closed, and I was trying to figure out what God wanted me to do with my life. I had these loves and yearnings—to teach, to go back to the Dominican Republic, to do ministry, to explore new ways to tap into the spiritual resources of Mormonism. What was God trying to tell me about my vocation?

So at one point I'm walking down this snowy road, reflecting, and all of a sudden the question comes into my head: What would you ideally like to be doing, if you could do anything? And I knew immediately what the answer was: I would like to be a full-time missioner, like I'd seen in other denominations, working in the Dominican Republic, helping to build up the LDS Church, which in my imagination was more like a liberal Christian church. That, I thought, is what I yearn to do. That's my calling. And of course, it's a calling that can never be.

Whether I would actually have the skills and the stamina to do the kind of full-time missioner work I was envisioning is a whole different question—and working through that question is what discernment of vocation is all about. But the point of this story is: I realized at that moment that I yearned to do with my life something that I simply couldn't do because the possibilities just didn't exist. You might think that would be a depressing realization, but it was actually liberating. I didn't have to wonder anymore what these yearnings of mine were calling me to do. I knew—and I knew I couldn't have it. And I'm hardly the first person to live and die in this world yearning for opportunities they simply couldn't have. Think of all the women suffragists who didn't live to see the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Think of all the slaves who never obtained the freedom they dreamed of. Etc., etc., etc.

So the pressure's off. My task now is simply to find little ways to lay the foundation for a day when, hopefully, someone who wants the things I want will have realistic possiblities for achieving them. Maybe that day won't come. But the hope by which I live—as in "faith, hope, and charity"—is that God can somehow make the little seeds I sow grow into something else.

Which doesn't, however, stop me from indulging in a narcisstic self-pity about the fact that other people do get their wishes. Last weekend, I started a moody little prayer about my dreams deferred, but then I stopped and thought: Oh for God's sake, John-Charles, pull your nose out of your navel and pray for people whom life has really robbed.

My prayers are with Hugo, dealing with this mess with the car. One of my nephews was baptized this weekend. My mother continues to be slowly devoured alive by the tumors taking over her body. I derive an angry, dark, helpless satisfaction from the thought that when the resurrection comes, she will rise again, but the tumors will not. We may not be able to keep you from taking her down now, you s.o.b's, but someday we are going to take her back. Now is all you get.

Friday, June 18, 2010

This is what prophecy looks like

I was reminded of the street theater of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

UPDATE: Ancient scriptures (for that matter, modern LDS scriptures) leave us the names of far too few female prophets, so I should name this one. An NPR new story identified her for me as "Diane Wilson, a 61-year-old fourth-generation fisher from Seadrift, Texas, near the Gulf Coast." God bless her for her courage.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wo to BP...

...and to the corrupt federal officials who collaborated in their deception. Kudos to the AP's Justin Pritchard, Tamara Lush, and Holbrook Mohr for doing what journalists should be doing: digging through the bull**** shoveled out at us by the powerful to uncover truth. Their exposé of BP's bogus spill response plan and risk assessment is here.

I really am trying to cut back on this kind of ranting, but the ongoing disaster in the Gulf is too infuriating. So here goes:
Wo to those who are deceivers,
for thus says the Lord:
I will bring them to judgment.
(D&C 50:6)
Let's see heads roll already!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A spiritual fellowship in exile

Lord, you have commanded us to call upon you,
so that from you we may receive according to our desires.
(Ether 3:2)

Those who have been scattered shall be gathered.
(D&C 101:13)
I have a desire—a vision, if you will. On this Pentecost, the day that liturgical Christians commemorate the pouring out of the Spirit on the body of believers, I want to lay this desire before God publicly in the hope that there may be others out there, within the sound of my online voice, who share this desire. Despite the optimism of the verse from Ether I quoted above, I know that we don’t always receive according to our desires. So perhaps my vision will never be anything more than a pipe dream. But for what it may be worth, I offer the following.

I envision a spiritual fellowship of Mormons in exile. It’s nothing as organized as a "church" (or as preoccupied with questions of ecclesiastical authority). It’s a fellowship, or a loose network of local fellowships, composed of people from the LDS tradition who remain committed to Mormons symbols, texts, and practices as means of encountering God, but who are alienated from the conservative-dominated institutional church.

This fellowship exists to worship together. This is a spiritual fellowship. It’s not a therapeutic support group or an intellectual study group. Members come together to be nourished by the good word of God, to fast and pray, to speak with one another concerning the welfare of their souls, to partake of bread and wine in remembrance of the Lord Jesus (Moroni 6:4-6).

This fellowship offers the full range of Mormon ritual practice. This fellowship in exile believes it is empowered to perform cherished Mormon rituals for its members, independent of LDS Church authorities: baptism, the sacrament, baby blessings, health blessings, patriarchal/evangelist’s blessings, sealings, the endowment, priesthood ordination if that’s something the fellowship decides to do.

This fellowship explores the untapped possibilities of Mormon tradition. The fellowship’s primary goal is to discern what the Spirit has to teach them through Mormon texts and practices. Because Mormon tradition includes an invitation to embrace truth wherever it is to be found, the fellowship might embrace teachings, practices, symbols, music, etc., from other traditions as these seem to resonate with aspects of Mormon tradition. But the fellowship is distinctively, centrally, richly Mormon in character. It isn’t a fellowship of people who are in the process of moving into some other tradition or for whom Mormonism is just one of a number of traditions from which they mix and match. If a Jewish analogy makes sense to you, what I’m envisioning is Reconstructionist Mormonism, not Reform Mormonism.

This fellowship seeks innovative ways to understand and live Mormon tradition. In response to the invitation to conduct their meetings according to the promptings of the Spirit (Moroni 6:9), the fellowship experiments with different worship styles—liturgical, contemplative, charismatic, contemporary. They write new songs, or chants, or liturgies, based on Mormon texts. They forge new traditions for commemorating events in Mormon sacred history or for sacralizing major life events. They find imaginative ways to enact gospel principles such as service and consecration. Acting in the faith that God unfolds truth line on line, precept on precept (2 Nephi 28:30), in ways adapted to our limited understanding (D&C 1:24), the fellowship develops new ways of reading and interpreting the LDS scriptures, and they revise rituals and other traditions to reflect changes in their theology.

This fellowship operates democratically—ideally, by consensus. This fellowship is not for would-be prophets in search of a following, nor for followers in search of a new prophet. Discerning God’s will for the group is the privilege and responsibility of all members of the fellowship, equally and collectively. There is no hierarchy of authority, except to the extent that the fellowship may agree to temporarily delegate certain responsibilities to individuals as “stewardships.”

This fellowship does not insist on the historicity of Mormon claims. My personal preference would be to see the fellowship simply reject historicity, but at least they should develop ways of engaging with Mormon scripture and ritual that don’t depend on historicity—that don’t depend, in other words, on the Book of Mormon being an ancient document, or on the literal, historical reality of priesthood restoration, or the resurrection, or the Atonement, or pre-existence, etc. The fellowship is prepared to welcome those who approach these traditional teachings as symbolic rather than literal truth.

This fellowship is committed to the full, equal participation of women and of GLBT people. Among other things, this means rejecting a male-only priesthood. What to do instead is a question on which the fellowship will have to arrive at some kind of common consent. I’m prepared to adopt a radically “Protestant” position: In baptism, we take upon ourselves the name of Christ; thus all baptized people are empowered to act in the name of Christ, which is the same power that priesthood ordination is supposed to confer. Priesthood ordination is therefore entirely superfluous, although it may offer practical benefits as a way of organizing an institution. The fellowship might agree on a less radical solution than this, but somehow the fellowship needs to break down exclusions based on gender.

I want to reiterate: What I’m envisioning here is a fellowship in exile from the LDS Church. This is not a fellowship of people who are hoping to reform the LDS Church from within. This fellowship is not worried about staying within the bounds of what LDS authorities would find tolerable or about avoiding offense to orthodox sensibilities. It’s a fellowship of people who are prepared to follow the Spirit wherever they decide, collectively, that it is leading them—with the understanding that what they are asking to Spirit to teach them is how to more creatively use the resources made available to us in the Mormon tradition.

Maybe there’s no one out there interested in this vision. Maybe it’s just a quirky, idiosyncratic dream of my own. I often suspect that the majority of Mormons—conservative or liberal—aren’t as passionate about devotional practice as I am; their attachment to Mormonism has more to do with social bonds, or heritage, or intellect. (Or maybe that suspicion is just a kind of arrogance on my part.) Possibly most Mormons who have become as theologically liberal as this vision requires have also moved beyond such an exclusive interest in Mormonism as this vision requires. But I’m going to keep operating on the assumption—the faith, the hope—that someday, somewhere, a fellowship like this might come into being.

The first thing I want to do is develop a new version of the endowment, with which I have been in love since I was first endowed in 1991. I’m creating this new endowment in the faith that someday there will be a community to whom I can take it and say, “Shall we try it out?”—and they’ll read it, discuss it, revise it, perform it, discuss it again, develop yet other versions that innovate in different ways. I’ll be working on this in my Sabbath reflection time, little by little, over the next several months, I would imagine. So I may not post to the blog as regularly for a while, though I’m sure I’ll want to post in response to current events that strike my nerves, and I may post updates to the new endowment project as it comes along.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Helaman 5, edited

For today's Sabbath reflection, I'm posting an edited version of the story of Nephi and Lehi in prison, from Helaman 5. This edit follows the same priniciples as the edit of 1 Nephi 1 I posted earlier: I excerpted phrases to whittle the chapter down to a basic narrative core, then I did some light stylistic edits, mostly to make the language less archaic.

The one major license I took is that I replaced the word "repent" with the word "turn." The idea of "turning" or "re-turning" toward God is at the heart of one of the words used to convey repentance in the Hebrew Bible. I liked the way that word resonated with how the text later has Aminadab and the Lamanites turn to look at Nephi and Lehi. (Watch for it as you read.)

I've shared my reflections on this Book of Mormon story in an earlier post. Next Sunday is Pentecost, so the story strikes me as thematically appropriate for the season.


Nephi and his brother Lehi went out to teach the word of God.
They were taken by an army of the Lamanites and thrown into prison.
After they had been imprisoned many days,
the Lamanites came to take them to be killed.

But Nephi and Lehi were encircled as if by fire,
so that the Lamanites did not dare to lay hands on them.
When Nephi and Lehi saw that they were encircled by a pillar of fire,
and that it did not burn them,
their hearts took courage.
But the Lamanites stood dumb with amazement.

The earth shook, and the walls of the prison trembled
as if they were about to tumble, but they did not fall.
The Lamanites were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness,
and an awful fear came upon them.

There came a Voice as if from above the cloud of darkness.
It said, “Turn, turn.”
It was not a voice of thunder or tumultuous noise
but a voice of perfect mildness, like a whisper.
Yet it pierced the soul,
and the earth shook, and the walls of the prison trembled.

The Voice came again: “Turn, turn.”
Again the earth shook, and the walls trembled.

The Voice came a third time.
It spoke to them marvelous words that no human being can utter.
The earth shook, and the walls trembled.
But the Lamanites could not flee
because of the cloud of darkness that overshadowed them
and the fear that paralyzed them.

There was one among them who was a Nephite by birth,
who had once belonged to the church of God.
He turned and saw, through the cloud of darkness,
the faces of Nephi and Lehi—
they shone like the faces of angels.
They had their eyes lifted to heaven,
and they appeared to be talking to some being whom they saw.

This man cried to the crowd to turn and look.
They were given the power to turn,
and they too saw the faces of Nephi and Lehi.

They said to the man: “Who are these men talking with?”
The man’s name was Aminadab.
He said: “They are talking with the angels of God.”

The Lamanites said to him: “What should we do
so that this cloud of darkness may be removed from us?”
Aminadab said to them: “Cry to the Voice.”

So they all began to cry to the Voice—
they cried until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.
When they looked around,
they saw that they were encircled, every one, by a pillar of fire.
They were filled with unspeakable joy.
The Spirit of God came down from heaven and entered their hearts;
they were filled as if with fire,
and they could speak marvelous words.

There came a Voice—a pleasant voice, like a whisper.
It said: “Peace, peace be to you.”

They lifted their eyes to see where the Voice came from.
They saw the heavens open, and angels came down and ministered to them.

There were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things.
They went out and ministered to the people in all the surrounding regions.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Priesthood restoration

Today is the anniversary of the date on which, according to Mormon tradition, the priesthood restoration began with John the Baptist's visit to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith. For me, this is a day to reflect on the commission that all Latter-day Saints have received—irrespective of gender or ordination to any particular office—to carry out the work of God in the world.
Magnify the calling to which I have called you,
and the mission with which I have commissioned you.
(D&C 88:80)
And what is our calling and mission?
To share others' burdens so that they may be light,
to mourn with those who mourn,
to comfort those who stand in need of comfort (Mosiah 18:8-9);
to succor the weak,
to lift up the hands that hang down,
to strengthen the feeble knees (D&C 81:5);
to feed the hungry,
to clothe the naked,
to visit the sick and administer to their relief, both spiritually and temporally (Mosiah 4:26);
to plead the cause of the poor and needy (D&C 124:75);
to declare the truth with a loud voice, with a sound of rejoicing (D&C 19:37);
to do the works we have seen Jesus do (3 Nephi 27:21).

God of holiness—

You have made me a priest after the order, and in the likeness, of your Son.
You have commissioned me to do your work and to help enact your vision for creation.
You have called me to serve you by serving my fellow beings.

I want to serve you more faithfully and effectively.
I don't want to be a hypocrite who basks in a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment derived from knowing that you've called me to a mission, but who's stingy and lazy about actually going out and opening myself up to people and their needs, and giving up time and money and energy to serve.
I don't want to be that, but I confess that's what I am.

Give me the grace to serve you better.
Please keep calling to me, even though I don't pay attention like I should.
Please keep working in me. Fill me with the love of Christ.

I praise you, and give thanks, for the people I know who serve as examples of faithful service.
Bless their labors, and give them strength and comfort.

In Christ's name, amen.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Calling God "Mother"

An interesting thing happened at the Advocate today. In connection with Mothers Day, the vicar invited us to participate in an experiment in which we referred to God as Mother instead of Father, Christ as Daughter instead of Son, Queen instead of King, Her instead of Him, etc. The point was to pay attention to our reactions as we did this. Were we comfortable calling God "Mother"? Why or why not? Since Episcopalians don't understand God as a physical being with a penis, it's not self-evident that God needs to be spoken of as male (though of course theological conservatives offer various explanations as to why we should). In an open-ended way, the vicar was inviting the congregation to reflect on why people seem to find it so uncomfortable to speak of God as female.

On this blog, I tend to favor gender-neutral language for God, though I'll refer to God as male or female or both ("Heavenly Father and Mother") as I feel moved by the Spirit in a given context. I don't believe literally that God has a physical body and therefore a gender, though the icon of God as such a being is extremely important to me—one of the things I prize about the LDS tradition that's lacking in other Christian traditions. As we went through the service today plugging in female language where the prayer book and the hymns come with male language, I found it meaningful to recite the Nicene Creed with God as "the Mother, the Almighty," or to begin the Lord's Prayer with "Our Mother in heaven, hallowed be your name." When they started calling Christ "Daughter," or to say "she" in reference to Jesus, I found that distracting, for aesthetic reasons more than theological ones. At, I've made the case for there being resources in the LDS tradition that let us envision Christ as female, and on this blog I've used gender-neutral language when speaking of Christ as a heavenly being or the incarnation of God. But when we start talking about Jesus as a mortal being, that's the point at which I'm just going to say "he."

It was an interesting experiment, though, adding a new dimension to today's worship. When I blessed the sacrament for myself today, I decided to continue the experiment. So the sacrament prayers (which I normally recite in a tweaked version anyway to trim out archaic King James language) came out like this:
O God, Eternal Mother,
we ask you in the name of your Child, Jesus Christ,
to bless and sanctify this bread
to the souls of all those who partake of it,
that they may eat in remembrance of the body of your Child,
and witness to you, O God, Eternal Mother,
that they are willing to take upon them the name of your Child,
and always remember him,
and keep his commandments which he has given them,
that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.

O God, Eternal Mother,
we ask you in the name of your Child, Jesus Christ,
to bless and sanctify this wine
to the souls of all those who drink of it,
that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of your Child,
which was shed for them;
that they may witness to you, O God, Eternal Mother,
that they do always remember him,
that they may have his Spirit to be with them.
BTW, if you find it artificially p.c. to refer to Christ as God's "Child," that language actually appears in Moroni 8:3.

A species of f***ups

I'm thinking about this disaster with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I've been doing some reading which has somewhat mitigated my apocaplyptic impulses—believe it or not, there have been worse spills in history. Not that that's all that reassuring, of course.

I know it's a cliché to talk about human beings "killing" the planet. But . . . we're killing the planet. Civilizations before ours have collapsed because they destroyed their environments; we have the technology to do damage on an even bigger scale. God made us stewards and free agents, and if we f*** it up, there's no divine bailout, no deus ex machina to rescue us from ourselves at the last minute. We're on our own, except to the extent that we open ourselves up to the guiding, transforming influence of the Spirit. Those are the terms of our existence in this lone and dreary—and dangerous—world. A combination of literalist Christian fantasies about the millennium and a secularized myth of progress have lulled Americans into what the Book of Mormon calls carnal security. We're like kids playing with guns—and in this case we ended up shooting a big hole in the bottom of the ocean, and now we can't stop the bleeding. And Mom and Dad aren't coming home anytime soon.


Enoch heard a voice from the bowels of the earth:
"Woe is me, the mother of humanity!
I am pained, I am weary,
because of my children's atrocities.
When shall I rest
and be cleansed from the filthiness that has gone forth out of me?"

When Enoch heard the earth mourn, he wept.
He cried to the God of heaven:
"Sovereign One! Will you not have compassion on the earth?
When will the earth rest?"

(Moses 7)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

1 Nephi 1, edited

Back on Easter Sunday, I travelled to Charlotte to meet up with a couple other liberal Mormon types from this neck of the woods. We spent part of the day together, and at one point the conversation turned to the literary quality of the Book of Mormon. One person—an English professor and writer—complained that the book overexplains things, hitting you over the head with who's good and who's bad and what the moral is.

That got me thinking. Part of what makes the Bible interesting, from a literary point of view, is that its narratives are often compact, sometimes to the point of cryptic, and characters may act in ways that at least to a contemporary reader seem ignoble or otherwise dubious, which can give the narratives an air of moral ambiguity. With perhaps the occasional exception, none of that can be said about the Book of Mormon. But what if the Book of Mormon were written that way? What would it look like? And more to the point for the purposes of spirituality—what would it be like to engage devotionally with a Book of Mormon written that way? What kind of theologizing would it invite you to do if the authorial voice weren't doing so much theologizing for you?

What was particularly intriguing to me about this conversation was that at the Easter vigil the night before, I had originally been scheduled (before Hugo and I were tapped to read our remix of St. John Chrysostom) to read the creation story from Genesis. And in preparation of that reading, hoping to shorten the tedium of the Easter Vigil (where people read scripture at you for about an hour) I had created what I hoped would prove a subtly edited version of Genesis 1—trimming out words and phrases to streamline the narrative but making no other alterations to the text.

So I thought—what if I tried to do the same thing to a Book of Mormon narrative? The result is what you see below. It's a "trimmed back" version of 1 Nephi 1, the opening narrative of Lehi's first visions. Unlike in other postings where you may have seen me freely re-render scriptural texts, this edited text has been created simply by omitting material but not otherwise altering the original, except for just a few minor instances where for stylistic reasons I replaced a word in the original text with a synonym or transferred a phrase from one place to another. My goal was to winnow down to the gist of the narrative, without overexplaining things (i.e., letting the text have a certain air of mystery) and avoiding, as much as I thought I could, overt theologizing or moralizing around the narrative. Of course, with a project like this, you run the risk of omitting a detail that another reader finds particularly meaningful. But the edited text represents, for me, at this moment, the heart of what speaks to me from this particular narrative.


In the first year of the reign of Zedekiah,
there came many prophets,
declaring that the people must repent,
or Jerusalem must be destroyed.

My father, having dwelt at Jerusalem all his days,
as he went forth prayed with all his heart
on behalf of his people.
As he prayed, a pillar of fire
came and dwelt on a rock before him;
and because of the things he saw and heard,
he trembled.

He returned to his house
and cast himself on his bed;
and being overcome by the Spirit,
he was carried away in a vision.

He thought he saw God sitting on his throne,
surrounded with numberless concourses of angels.
He saw one descending from heaven,
whose luster was above that of the sun,
and twelve others following him.
They came down and went forth upon the face of the earth,
and the first came and gave my father a book.

As my father read, he was filled with the Spirit.
He read: "Wo, wo, to Jerusalem,
for I have seen your abominations!"
Many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—
that it should be destroyed,
and many of its inhabitants perish by the sword,
and many be carried away captive to Babylon.

So my father went forth among the people
and began to prophesy—
to declare to them the things he had seen and heard.
And they were angry with him, and sought his life.