Sunday, April 25, 2010

I am an illegal immigrant

This post is in response to Arizona's new law authorizing police to demand that people provide proof of legal immigration status. I am speaking especially to Arizona Mormons.

I am an illegal immigrant.

When the LDS Church sent me on a mission to the Dominican Republic, it sent me in on a tourist visa, which I then overstayed, meaning that for most of my time in the Dominican Republic, I was in that country illegally. That's how the Church did things—applying for proper visas required so much paperwork and time, and the government might not have allowed so many missionaries to enter the country officially. Near the end of my mission, the mission office did begin applying for visas for missionaries because an election was coming up, and there was concern that a new administration might crack down.

So: I was an illegal immigrant. I was—am, if we're going to use the essentialist terms in which some rhetoricians like to frame this issue—a lawbreaking person who entered a country under false pretenses and lived there in disregard for that government's efforts to regulate the passage of foreigners across its borders. I committed the offense that so offends supporters of Arizona's new law. And so did all the other American missionaries I served with.

How many of the Arizona Mormons who support this new law have similarly been illegal immigrants while serving LDS missions abroad? How many of them have sons or daughters who are currently serving LDS missions as illegal immigrants? How would they feel if their sons or daughters were serving their missions in countries that had laws like Arizona's—where they were constantly vulnerable to being harassed by police demanding to see proof of their legal alien status because, after all, they clearly look foreign?

I've seen supporters of the law try to evade charges of racism by insisting that this law is simply about enforcing the law. To Mormons who have adopted that party line, let me ask you this: If you are truly so zealous about obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law, where is your outrage over how your church routinely operates outside other countries' immigration laws? Or is this, in fact, about something other than your innocent devotion to the rule of law?

D&C 164 continued

Let me start this post with a prayer that I ought to have prayed before writing my last post (which ended up being more impassioned than I’d expected when I started—though I ought to know myself well enough by now to have expected that).

God of reason, Spirit of truth—
You have taught the Saints to listen to one another so that all may be edified of all.
Help me find words to communicate clearly and effectively what I’m thinking and feeling.
I don’t lack for zeal; give me the spirit of temperance.
In Christ’s name, amen.


I’ve been thinking for several days about the various comments posted in response to my last posting on D&C 164. They’ve all had an impact on my thinking, but I’m going to frame my comments as a response to David, specifically.

I think you’re probably right, David, about my misreading the intent of the revelation—more precisely, of the prefatory note from Stephen Veazey about female genital mutilation, child brides, etc. I take this as symptomatic of what John Hamer called D&C 164’s “deliberate ambiguity,” as result of which, he noted, the document “as written, could be open to all sorts of wide-ranging interpretations.” While that ambiguity troubles me considerably less than what I originally thought the document was implying, I want to propose, from my vantage point as an outsider, that the ambiguity of D&C 164 has the potential to create problems of its own.

Let me offer an attempt to get precise about what makes D&C 164 ambiguous. Question: When the World Conference voted to accept this document as revelation, what did the Conference understand that it was doing? Here are some options that occur to me:

Option A. The Conference affirmed that gay ordination and gay marriage are consistent with the fundamental gospel principles of “Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness” (D&C 164:6a); but the Conference also recognized that implementing this commitment would require different timetables and approaches in different parts of the world. If you understand D&C 164 this way, then the document becomes a “gay rights revelation.”

Option B. The Conference affirmed its commitment to the fundamental gospel principles of “Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness” (D&C 164:6a); but the Conference did not weigh in on what those principles imply about gay ordination or gay marriage. Instead, the Conference left those questions open for continuing discernment at the national or regional level, with the implication that the Conference was content to have members in different parts of the world arrive at different conclusions about those questions. This was my understanding of what D&C 164 accomplished—and note that it’s very different from Option A.

Option C. Conference delegates didn’t presume to understand what exactly D&C 164 was asking them to do; their vote to canonize the revelation was simply an act of faith and trust in their inspired leadership. I presume this option is merely hypothetical; i.e., I presume that the conference’s decision-making process was not so Kierkegaardian or authoritarian.

Option D. Conference delegates were not agreed in their understanding of what the revelation was asking them to do. Some understood that they were signing onto Option A; others, Option B.

John Hamer’s remarks about the multiple interpretations of D&C 164 he’s encountered suggest that Option D may be the best way to characterize what happened at World Conference. That raises for me the question: Did delegates realize that when they voted overwhelmingly to accept D&C 164, they appeared to be in consensus but in fact remained quite significantly divided in their understanding of what this vote implied?

Creating a kind of unity by having people sign onto a statement which they understand in different ways certainly isn’t without precedent in the lives of churches. It’s something I’ve seen religious conservatives fault liberal ecumenists for: papering over persistent differences with a deliberately ambiguous statement of common faith or commitment. Unlike many of ecumenism’s conservative critics, I’m not convinced that there isn’t value in that kind of “papering over” of differences: the ability, and willingness, to affirm together even an ambiguous formula is a step toward becoming more perfectly one in heart and mind.

At the same time, I want to underscore that if I’m correct that something like Option D most accurately describes what happened at World Conference, then this is a very limited consensus—a very limited kind of “common consent.” The ambiguity of D&C 164 may have been necessary to secure the document’s canonization; in that sense, its ambiguity could be regarded as a clever parliamentary tactic. But it doesn’t seem like the most forthright approach to developing common consent—one might even suggest that the intention of this tactic was to create the illusion of common consent. (I suspect that bewarethechicken may favor that reading of what happened.)

While my preference would have been to see the World Conference achieve consensus around Option A, even Option B would have been a significant accomplishment because at least delegates would have been agreed in their understanding of how the church was going to move forward on these contentious issues. But if you couldn’t create consensus even around Option B—if Option D was the best that the World Conference could do—then wow, your community must be holding together by its fingernails. Under those circumstances, a standing ovation doesn’t really strike me as the most appropriate response to the World Conference’s acceptance of D&C 164. A very anxious prayer of “Dear God, let this work out” would seem more fitting.

And now let’s turn to the question of female genital mutilation, child brides, exploitation of widows, and so on. (I feel creepy that we’re even talking about these issues—but there they are, in the document, their presence needing to be explicated.) First off, let me clarify, David, that I think the parts of the document which are presented as revelation are much less susceptible to being interpreted relativistically than Stephen Veazey’s prefatory note, which was the part that set me off. As you noted in your response to me, the document is firm about rejecting “selfish, irresponsible, promiscuous, degrading, or abusive relationships" (164:6b).

At the same time, though, the prefatory note is there to help guide the interpretation of what follows. So: How are we to understand what the prefatory note is saying about FGM, child brides, etc.? As above, there are different options here. In fact, the options correspond to the options I’ve laid out above, since the prefatory note links the questions of gay ordination and gay marriage to FGM, child brides, etc. The note makes that link when it lists all these as examples of issues which “are complex and difficult to understand outside their particular settings because of strikingly different cultural histories, customs, and understandings of scripture” and which are therefore relevant to “previous counsel [which says] that we have been given the struggles and joys of diversity for divine purposes.” So let’s label these options A* and B*.

Option A*. Veazey means to say that FGM, child brides, and exploitation of widows are practices inconsistent with the fundamental gospel principles of “Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness” (D&C 164:6a). But Veazey recognizes that the most effective solutions to these issues will be developed on the ground by people who are immersed in the cultural contexts where these issues arise. You seem, David, to understand the prefatory note along these lines; and it’s an approach to these issues to which I would say, “Amen!”

Option B*. Veazey means to reaffirm the church’s commitment to the fundamental gospel principles of “Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness” (D&C 164:6a). But he is leaving it an open question, for continuing discernment at the national or regional level, whether or not practices such as FGM, child brides, or exploitation of widows might be consistent with these principles. This was my initial understanding of what the prefatory note implied, and I found it an appalling proposal.

Note that because the prefatory note links all the issues together, how you understand D&C 164’s implications for FGM or child brides will go hand-in-hand with how you understand its implications for gay ordination and gay marriage. The reason I understood Veazey’s prefatory note as implying B* (i.e., FGM and child brides are subjects of ongoing discernment at the national or regional level because the church is prepared to accept that people in different cultures will reach different conclusions about whether these practices are right or wrong) was because I understood D&C 164 to be implying Option B about gay ordination and gay marriage (i.e., these are subjects of ongoing discernment at the national or regional level because the church is prepared to accept that people in different cultures will reach different conclusions about whether these practices are right or wrong). If we are to understand A* as D&C 164’s attitude toward FGM and child brides (i.e., these practices are clearly wrong, but we need to leave it to people in different cultural settings to figure out how to implement that understanding), then by implication we need to understand Option A as D&C 164’s attitude toward gay ordination and gay marriage (i.e., stigmatizing gay ministries and committed partnerships is clearly wrong, but we need to leave it to people in different cultural settings to figure out how to implement that understanding).

In other words, with his prefatory note, Stephen Veazey has, perhaps unintentionally, tipped his hand regarding how he understands D&C 164. It would seem that John Hamer is right about how Veazey (and other leaders?) understand the implications of the document: D&C 164 affirms gay ministries and relationships in the name of “Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness, against which there is no law,” and the rationale for shifting decision-making to the national or regional level is simply to let those bodies implement that vision on whatever timetable seems prudent. The problem here is: What about those delegates who understand D&C 164 as calling the church to continuing conversation about whether or not gay ministries and relationships are consistent with the principles laid out in the revelation? Veazey (and other leaders?) seem to understand that conversation as over—what’s at issue now isn’t whether God approves of gay ministries and relationships but how long it will take to implement that understanding in different parts of the world.

It looks to me like you have the potential here for a sense of betrayal on the part of delegates who thought they were signing on for Option B if the leadership proceeds as if the church just agreed to Option A. This is messy. I’m not a stakeholder, but my reaction is: I certainly hope, for your sakes, that the Spirit is in fact leading you down this path, but I have a hard time seeing this as a course inspired by the spirit of wisdom.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

D&C 164 and the dangers of relativism

"On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a woman is lying mutilated, and Stephen Veazey is passing by on the other side murmuring about the need for intercultural respect in approaching these complex and difficult issues."
The Community of Christ added another section to their Doctrine and Covenants this week. The document accomplishes two major things: It accepts the validity of baptisms performed in other Christian denominations—which now sets them up for a debate about whether LDS baptisms are Christian baptisms. (Wry smile.) The other major thing it does is declare that certain controversial issues, including homosexuality-related issues, should be handled at the national or regional level rather than at the level of the world conference.

John Hamer interprets the revelation—and he's close enough to CofC leaders at the highest levels that I have no reason to doubt his assessment—as clearing the way for gay ordination and gay marriage to be advanced in developing nations without imposing more liberal policies on members in places such as (John's list) "Haiti, Africa, India, SE Asia, and China," where there's evidently concern that liberal policies around homosexuality could endanger members given the conservative policies of their governments. John also speaks of D&C 164 as allowing members in the areas named to "move more slowly as the members become more familiar with the issues involved"—which I take it means that members in those areas are less likely to have liberal views on homosexuality-related issues.

I suppose that as a gay LDS man I should be feeling a combination of excitement and envy about what the Community of Christ has just done. But something about it doesn't feel right to me—and I mean that in the "still small voice" sense of something not feeling right. I'm still trying to make sense of what doesn't feel right, but here's what I'm thinking at this point.

First, despite John's enthusiastic description of D&C 164 as a "gay rights revelation," the revelation does not take a bold, shall we say "prophetic," stance in favor of equality for gay/lesbian people, their ministries and relationships. I think it's pretty clear that the document is pointing the church in that direction (see especially 6a-b), but the language is cautious and open-ended. The message, basically, is: Bear in mind gospel principles, and you'll be able to resolve these issues the way God wants. The document doesn't say how the church should translate those principles into action as decisively as it did in instructing the church to recognize the baptisms of other Christians.

Which makes sense given that the point of the document is to let national and regional decision-making bodies decide what they think God wants them to do in relation to these issues. But that's precisely why I say this document doesn't take a bold stance in favor of gay/lesbian equality. What this document says, in effect, is: It's acceptable in this church to conclude that homosexuality is wrong, or not.

Maybe, pragmatically, that's the way for the Community of Christ to move forward on these issues. But I can't get as enthusiastic about it as I could if the World Conference had unequivocally said: Our understanding of scriptural teachings about Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness lead us to conclude that God is pleased by gay/lesbian relationships built on those principles, and as a community, we feel moved by the Spirit to recognize and bless such relationships. But that's not what D&C 164 gives us.

I'm troubled by what seems to be a well-meaning but uncritical cultural relativism underlying this document. How can I explain this? D&C 164 is essentially an attempt at conflict avoidance: it's letting nations and regions make their own decisions about these hot-potato issues to avoid a potential schism—but it makes that pragmatic strategy seem less pragmatic, and more principled, by invoking the need to respect cultural diversity in the context of the mandate to develop common consent. Here's how President Veazey introduces the portion of the revelation that addresses homosexuality-related conflicts:
Serious questions about moral behavior and relationships continue to arise in many nations. These issues are complex and difficult to understand outside their particular settings because of strikingly different cultural histories, customs, and understandings of scripture. For example, the issues include female submission, female genital mutilation, child brides, forced marriages, and sexual permissiveness. They include cleansing and exploitation of widows, harsh conflicts over same-gender attraction and relationships, and varying legal, religious, and social definitions of marriage, to name just a few.

Over the last several years the need to resolve various moral and justice issues has intensified and become more complicated because of the growing international diversity of the church. The church has been told in previous counsel that we have been given the struggles and joys of diversity for divine purposes (Doctrine and Covenants 162:4). In response to my prayerful pleas for light regarding God’s purposes being worked out through our difficult struggles over various issues, God graciously blessed me with the following counsel:
When I first read these words, they left me feeling vaguely unclean. There's something "icky" about those words, and here's what I think it is. "Female genital mutilation," "child brides," "forced marriages," and "exploitation of widows" are emphatically not "complex and difficult to understand outside their particular settings because of strikingly different cultural histories [and] customs." They're just wrong, and a prophetic people should have no hesitation about saying so and doing what they can to see that those practices are ended.

Now why is Stephen Veazey talking about female genital mutilation and child brides in connection with debates about same-sex marriage? That's not readily clear, actually. What does seem clear is that he's invoking them in order to paint a larger context for the same-sex marriage debate (which he mentions at the tail end of that list of supposedly "complex and difficult" issues). In other words, he seems to understand the same-sex marriage debate as one of a number of issues requiring the church's intercultural sensitivity and tolerance—alongside female genital mutilation and the exploitation of widows.

If I'm reading that correctly, then we're looking here at a case of liberal relativism run amok. The impulse to tolerance is overwhelming the mandate to bring justice to the marginalized and exploited. On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a woman is lying mutilated, and Stephen Veazey is passing by on the other side murmuring about the need for intercultural respect in approaching these complex and difficult issues.

I'll tone the drama down now and pull this closer back to the issue we started with. I don't think that the injustice of treating gay/lesbian couples as second-class begins to compare, in degree, to the injustice of female genital mutilation or the other cases with which Veazey lumps it (which is probably another source of the "ick" factor I feel). But I do think that the marginalization of gay/lesbian couples is a question of justice, as are the other issues Veazey names; and I think that on these questions of justice, Veazey and the church he leads are in danger of letting an impulse toward relativism silence what could, and should, be a loud, ringing call for justice in the name of God.

I'm reminded of churches that prior to the Civil War tried to avoid schism over slavery by leaving it a matter of private conscience and thwarting resolutions that would have required them to take a firmer anti-slavery stance. Again, I hasten to clarify that I don't consider the injustice of denying full equality to gay/lesbian couples anywhere close to the degree of injustice represented by slavery. My point is: Slavery was not an issue on which Christian churches should have been making diplomatic compromises. Those who did were "not valiant in the testimony of Jesus" (D&C 76:79); in the language of Revelation 3:16, they were lukewarm. And while it's not so heinous a form of injustice, I'm inclined to view gay/lesbian equality as another issue on which Christian churches ought not to be lukewarm. Maybe you disagree with me. Certainly churches have to tolerate some range of diverse opinions and practices: I've opined in the past that the LDS church ought to be more tolerant of theological diversity and ought to decentralize its decision-making in the interest of respecting cultural diversity. But there comes a point where tolerance ends and a firm commitment to certain non-negotiable truths and values begins. I think gay/lesbian equality is one of the non-negotiables, and I think Christian churches ought therefore to be willing to contend for it at the risk of schism. Maybe you don't think gay ordination and gay marriage fall into that category of issues—in which case I think you're wrong, but at least we both understand what's at issue.

That's the discussion that needs to be had: Are gay ordination and same-sex marriage important enough to fight over? Why or why not? The Community of Christ has decided (intentionally or by default) that the answer is no, at least not at World Conference: they're willing to be a church where gays and lesbians can marry or serve in priesthood ministry in some places but not others. What keeps me from applauding that as at least a step forward is that I can't tell if the church sees the implications of its decision. D&C 164 presumptively places gay/lesbian equality into the category of issues where tolerance, rather than contending for truth and justice, is the trump value. Did anyone at World Conference, or in the discussions of this document that preceded it, question whether gay/lesbian equality does, in fact, belong in that category? (That's not a rhetorical question—I would sincerely like to know; it might make me feel a little better about the situation.) And then there's the ick factor: Stephen Veazey seems to believe that female genital mutilation, child brides, forced marriages, and exploitation of widows fall into that category as well. Does anyone in the Community of Christ find that appalling? (Again, I'd really like the answer to be yes.)

Maybe national or regional decision-making is, for pragmatic political reasons, the best way for the Community of Christ to advance gay/lesbian equality in at least some areas of the church. What troubles me is the, to my eyes, uncritical cultural relativism that D&C 164 offers as the rationale for this way of handling those decisions.

A DRAMATIC ADDENDUM: Let me put a finer point on this to clarify what troubles me. When Stephen Veazey places same-sex marriage alongside female genital mutilation, child brides, forced marriages, and exploitation of widows, with the implication that these should all be regarded as complex issues that require cultural sensitivity and a willingness to tolerate diverse moral viewpoints, it looks rather like a tacit deal is being struck with church members in the developing world: e.g., if Africans won't make a fuss about liberal Americans wanting to perform homosexual weddings, the liberal Americans won't make a fuss if Africans decide their consciences are at peace with cutting their daughters' genitals or marrying them off as children. As a gay man, I could not possibly consent to be married in a church where my marriage was possible because of such a bargain.

I realize I'm framing the issue in radical terms: but my point is that it looks to me like these are the unintentional implications of statements made in this document. And hopefully you can see why I find that very troubling.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

New kittens, new garments

From time to time I've mentioned the wild cats we feed; they live in the gully between our apartment complex and the neighboring one. We started a couple years back, when we realized that one of the cats (they would hang around our dumpster at night) had birthed a litter and was looking very malnourished. Since then, we've seen, I don't remember exactly, four? could we be up to five? more litters born. The dog sniffed out the den where the latest litter had been hidden, just on the other side of the chain link fence separating our apartments from the gully. A week after we discovered them, mom moved them someplace else, we don't know where.

Anyway, one of the things I want to do with today's post is offer a "baby blessing" for the new litter. So here goes:
God of creation,
Father and Mother of all living—

Your Son taught that not one sparrow falls without your noticing.
In his name, I ask you to bless this latest litter of kittens.
Let them be well nourished.
Let them grow up without disease.
Keep them safe as they begin to explore their world.
Teach them to avoid accident.
Let them have joy in the measure of their creation.

In Christ's name, amen.

The other thing I wanted to mention today is that I'm now wearing homemade garments. I'd gotten to the point where my Beehive-manufactured garments (which I last bought 15 years ago!) were literally in tatters. So I ordered some exercise shorts online that come reasonably close to knee-length, and then for the tops I'm using just regular undershirts. I had considered taking them to a Latina seamstress here in the apartment complex and explaining what I needed to have stitched onto them, but when push came to shove I was too embarrassed. So little by little I've been stitching marks onto them myself. The results are quite clumsy—my sewing skills are at the level of "Look, Mom, I can sew on my own merit badges"—but I feel pleased and self-reliant. All that sewing is a pain in the ass, though, and we'll have to wait to see how long my stitching holds.
Cleave to the covenants you have made . . .
This is my voice to all.
(D&C 25:13, 16)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

John Chrysostom's Easter sermon--updated

It's just before midnight on Saturday night. Hugo and I just returned from the Easter vigil. At the Advocate, it's tradition at the vigil to read St. John Chrysostom's fourth-century Easter sermon. (Follow the link for a traditional translation.) It's a miscellancy of mixed scriptural metaphors: the parable of the wage-laborers, the banquet of the Lord, Christ's victory over death and hell, etc.

For a couple years now, Hugo has toyed with the idea of creating a new "equivalency translation" of the sermon that updates the ancient metaphors with contemporary equivalents. I think of it as a "remix." This year we finally did it, and we got to debut it at the Easter vigil. People seemed to enjoy it—they laughed appreciatively or hmm'ed thoughtfully in appropriate places. The point of the "remix" wasn't just to be cutely novel. It was to get people to pause and think about the meaning of metaphors that are so familiar they've become clich├ęs.

Anyway, here's our "remix" or "updated translation" of St. Chrysostom's easter sermon. Again, if you're not familiar with the traditional text, you may want to follow the link to read that first.


Are you a fan of God?
Go on in to the backstage party—no pass required!
Have you been working for the Lord?
Call it a day—time for a well-deserved celebration!

A hard day’s work on an empty stomach?
Punch out—the Boss is taking us out for dinner!
If you’ve been clocked in since eight this morning—
by all means, come and eat.
If you didn’t arrive at work til ten—
that’s fine, meet us at the restaurant!
You only worked a half day after lunch?
No problem, you’re still invited.
You’ve only been at work since three?
Don’t worry about it—you come, too.
You showed up a half hour before closing?
Believe me, really, there’s no reason you shouldn’t join us.

That’s how the Lord works: There are no privileges for seniority.
New hires get the same retirement package
as those who have been with the firm for years.
The perks flow freely to everyone—
the Lord is thrilled just to have you working for him.
And he rewards your intentions, not just your accomplishments.

So join the party, everyone—the Lord’s joy is contagious!
First or last—the same bonus waits for all!
White collar or blue collar—mingle, rub elbows, dance together!
Whether you’ve been hard at work or you’ve been procrastinating—
you’re welcome to the party either way.
Whether you fasted or forgot—it doesn’t matter now, the buffet is spread.
Dig in—no one is allowed to leave hungry!
Eat your fill, everyone, at the banquet of faith.

Charge whatever you need to God’s corporate account.
Don’t worry about what you lack—the fullness of the kingdom has come among us.
Don’t beat yourself up over your failings—forgiveness has leaped out of the tomb.
Don’t be afraid of death—the death of our Savior has set us free.

He let the Grim Reaper take him—then splintered his scythe into pieces.
He plunged into the underworld—and wreaked havoc!
Hell swallowed him whole—and discovered it had eaten poison!
Isaiah put it nicely: “Poor Hell, what an unpleasant surprise
when he popped down to say hello!”

Hell is throwing a fit because it has received notice that it is being shut down.
Hell is blowing its top because it has become a laughingstock.
Hell is freaking out because its mortgage has been foreclosed.
Hell is going ballistic because it has been marked for demolition.
Hell is screaming mad because it is being hauled out of the building in handcuffs.

Hell grabbed what it thought was one more corpse—
and found itself in hand-to-hand combat with God.
Hell seized possession of earth—
and found itself face-to-face with an insurgency from heaven.
It took the bait, and failed to see the fishing line.

Where’s that creepy knife of yours now, Grim Reaper?
And you, Hell—you called the race too soon!

Christ is risen—and you, Death, are entombed!
Christ is risen—and Hell’s goons are knocked flat on their backs!
Christ is risen—and the angels are dancing in the streets!
Christ is risen—and life is walking out of prison!
Christ is risen—and all the graves are empty.
For Christ is only the first to rise;
his empty tomb is just the beginning of an abundant harvest.

Glory and power are his forever! Amen!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday 2010

Taught in the morning, then drove home just in time to participate in the Advocate's customary Way of the Cross. They process through downtown Carrboro, taking turns carrying a large wooden cross, stopping on the way at organizations that serve different kinds of needs in the community, and ending at the old town cemetery.

In the evening, I led the customary first Friday Taize service. In observance of Good Friday, the central focus of meditation for the service was an icon of Jesus wrapped in his burial shroud, which was created for the Advocate by Miranda Hassett, a former member of the congregation, now a priest. (Miranda created for me the Liahona icon that appears on the banner of this blog and the other icons at The icon was placed on a low table at the center, with everyone sitting around it, as if at a wake. At one point early in the service, as we sang, people were invited to come forward and light candles around the icon.

Pasted below are the scriptural texts I prepared for use in the Taize service. The reading from John ended up being especially moving because the person who read it gave a powerful delivery, though I'm at a loss to put my finger on what exactly he did that made such a difference. I teared up unexpectedly, and a woman sitting across from me broke down a little.

After the readings came a long period of silent reflection (several minutes), followed by intercessions. I adapted the intercessions from part of the Book of Common Prayer's rite for Good Friday. For the concluding collect, I combined material from the prayer book with Alma 7:11-12. I've pasted the intercessions below, with the readings.

As always with these services, I hope I'm helping to create a space where people can have an encounter with the Spirit.


HEBREWS 4:14-16

My friends, let us not lose faith,
for we have a great high priest,
Jesus, the Only Begotten of God,
who has passed through the veil of heaven
to plead on our behalf.

We do not have a high priest
who is unable to empathize with our frailties.
For though Jesus was without sin,
yet in every respect
he experienced our human weakness.

Therefore, let us approach God’s throne with boldness,
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help in time of need.

JOHN 19:16-30 (selections)

They took Jesus,
and made him carry his cross
to what is called the Place of the Skull.
There they crucified him,
and with him two others.

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus,
they took his clothes
and divided them up among themselves.

Standing near the cross of Jesus
were his mother,
his mother’s sister,
Mary, whose husband was Clopas,
and Mary Magdalene.

When Jesus saw his mother
and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her,
he said to his mother,
"Here is your son."
Then he said to the disciple,
"Here is your mother."
And from that hour, the disciple took her into his home.

After this, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."
A jar full of sour wine was standing there.
They put a sponge dipped in the wine on a branch
and held it to his mouth.
When Jesus had received the wine,
he said, "It is finished."
Then his head fell forward
and he died.


Let us pray for all who suffer
and are afflicted in body or in mind.
[Brief silence]

For the hungry and the homeless, the destitute and the oppressed.
[Lengthy silence]

For the sick, the wounded, and the disabled.
[Lengthy silence]

For those in loneliness, fear, and anguish.
[Lengthy silence]

For those who face temptation, doubt, and despair.
[Lengthy silence]

For the sorrowful and bereaved.
[Lengthy silence]

For prisoners and captives, and those who are in danger.
[Lengthy silence]

Christ our God,
you took upon yourself the pains of all who suffer,
so that you would know in the flesh
how to comfort your people in their infirmities.
Give to those who suffer the knowledge of your love,
and give to us the will and patience to minister to their needs.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday 2010

Just got back from a footwashing-and-Eucharistic-supper service for Maundy Thursday. Played the guitar. Spent supper sitting next to an elderly woman whose cup I had to lift to her lips for her whenever she wanted to drink because she didn't have enough motor control to handle it without risking a spill, though she was able to shakily handle a fork. I found her very difficult to understand when she spoke; but once I was able to make something out, my impression was that she was lucid and intelligent, perfectly aware of what was happening around her—able, for example, to follow the conversation I was having about my dissertation with the person seated on the other side of her—just trapped in a body that she could no longer use well. That must be maddening, especially when the first worst impulse of people like myself is to treat her like a child.

The layperson who gave the sermon tonight spoke about how Jesus loves us with our ugliest, or even just our most annoying, traits, and that we experience that love in a community that embraces us on similar terms.

There was this strangely, unexpectedly moving moment at the end of the service. The priest was reading the post-communion prayer, which normally the congregation would recite together, except at this service we didn't have prayer books, so the priest was reading it by herself. But little by little people started to chime in, and by the end pretty much the entire congregation was reciting the prayer from memory. I'm not sure how to articulate why that moved me so much. It was like I was watching this community discover that they shared this common knowledge, this common way of relating to God. I felt like I was watching this community come to consciousness—or maybe just I was coming to consciousness—of one dimension of their community-ness, their communion with one another. I'm not communicating well what I felt.


They should look forward with one eye,
having one faith and one baptism,
having their hearts knit together
in unity and in love one towards another.
(Mosiah 18:21)

As I have loved you,
so you also are commanded to love one another.
(John 13:34)