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.