Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Nephi cried to his God
on behalf of his people.
And the voice of the Lord
came to him, saying:

Lift up your head
and be of good cheer.
See--the time is at hand!
On this night, the sign will be given,
and tomorrow I come into the world,
to show the world that I will fulfill
everything that I have caused to be spoken
by the mouths of my prophets.

(3 Nephi 1:11-13)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent 4

Keep the commandments
and the covenants to which you have bound yourself,
and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good.
The Evil One will tremble,
but Zion will rejoice on the hills
and flourish.

Then will come the time
when my people will be redeemed.
They will be led by my power,
and nothing will stand in their way.

Lift up your hearts! Be glad!
Your redemption is close at hand.

Do not be afraid, little flock.
The kingdom is yours until I come.
And I am coming quickly.

(D&C 35:24-27)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3

In former times,
we were slaves to the powers of this world.

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.

(Gal. 4:3-7)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent 2

A voice calls out:
Prepare a path for the Holy One through the wilderness!
Pave a road for our God through the desert!
Fill in the gullies; level the hills;
smooth out the rugged ground and the rough places.
Then the Holy One will appear in glory.
All who live with see it!
So God has decreed.

O Zion, herald of glad tidings—
climb to the highest peak!
O Jerusalem, herald of glad tidings—
shout with all your might!
Do not be shy, do not hold back.
Let everyone for miles around hear you proclaim:
Here is your God!

(Isaiah 40:3-5, 9)

12/4/91 - La Romana

On this day 20 years ago I was serving as a missionary in the town of La Romana, out on the eastern end of the Dominican Republic. The red dot on the map below.

Wikipedia informs me that La Romana is the third largest city in the Dominican Republic, after Santo Domingo and Santiago (which is the headquarters of the LDS mission that covers the north of the country). I find that claim fishy, though, since according to the 2002 census, the population of La Romana was 191,000, which put it 9th on the list of cities ranked by size, after various cities in the Santo Domingo metropolitan area, Puerto Plata, and San Pedro de Macoris. I suspect someone's trying to inflate La Romana's importance for the sake of attracting business to the Zona Franca (which I'll be talking about in next month's post).

Anyway, let's go with an estimate of 200,000 for the population, though it could conceivably be closer to 250,000 now (which is the estimate Wikipedia gives). To put that in perspective, it's twice, or more, the size of Provo, which has a population of about 110,000. That surprises me because La Romana wasn't as crowded as I'd expect a city of that size to be. Of course, it's bigger now than it was 20 years ago, but when I look at YouTube videos of people driving through the streets, it still has the look of a town, not a big city. Low buildings. The streets not too crowded. And clean.

I wonder if that has to do with the fact that La Romana is a company town, owned mostly, as I understand it, by the Central Romana Corporation. They own the gigantic sugar factory at the south end of town, at the bottom of the hill the city is built on. During the months of peak production, the lower part of the city fills with this sugary smoke which as missionaries we tried to avoid; people who actually live in that part of town don't have that luxury, of course.

I'm going to poke into the economics of La Romana more in next month's post. For now, let me just try to give you a more concrete picture of the city, as I experienced it.

First, a map with places that loomed large in my experience of the city.

1. The stake center.
2. My apartment, near the downtown city park.
3. The meetinghouse where my branch met. It's now located next to a jumbo supermarket, which wasn't there 20 years ago.
4. The sugar factory.
5. The Zona Franca—the Duty Free Zone. Apparently there's a newer one operating as well just north of the city (a little beyond the upper border of my map).
6. Casa de Campo, the major tourist resort. A common P-Day destination for missionaries.

The outlined area was my assigned mission area. The easternmost part, the neighborhood across the river, was so affluent, we never worked there—too intimidating. There was a very poor neighborhood hugging the western bank of the river—we also didn't work there. The area around the city park represented a typically developed area. The westernmost part of our area was the least developed. Twenty years ago, its streets hadn't been paved, though satellite images suggest they may be now. I would certainly hope so.

Here are a couple YouTube videos of people driving around the streets. I can see signs of development—e.g., new businesses—but otherwise it looks not too different from my memories. In the first video, the camera operator is riding a motoconcho (motorcycle taxi) downhill from the part of the town where the stake center's located in the direction of my apartment. In fact, the video ends about a block from my apartment. In the second video, they start not far from my meetinghouse, near the sugar factory, and drive uphill toward and around the city park where we missionaries used to go to buy breakfast from Freddyburgers, an egg sandwich vendor. (Oh, how I want one right now.)


To finish today's post, let me list the first names of a few people who stand out in my mind from my time in La Romana.

Isabel. A convert. A young mother of two children. She lived with her brother, who repaired TVs out of their home though he never seemed to have much work. A former Pentecostal. Later in my mission, I met her at a regional conference, where I learned she was in the Primary presidency. Then she disappeared. I asked a missionary friend to look her up, and he reported back that she had dropped out of church because she became pregnant. I assume her relationship with the man was driven by economic necessity; I was—and am—sad about the situation, not that I think she made the wrong choice, but sad that she had to make that choice.

Of the people I knew in La Romana, Isabel is the only one I've seen since my mission. That was during a trip in 1998. She had moved from a hut in the back patio to a narrow apartment looking out on the sidewalk—an economic step up, I presume.

Irma. My maid. A middle-aged woman with children who were young adults. She cried when I left and quit the next day, which I take to mean that there was a mothering thing going on. One of her sons was getting ready to try to sail to Puerto Rico by yola, a small boat. Quite dangerous, though I can think of two people I know off the top of my head who succeeded, then got caught and deported back to the DR.

A great story about Irma: When she was a young mother, she worked as a maid at Casa de Campo. One day she took her children with her. The security guard didn't want to let the kids in, but Irma said, "These are my children, and this is their country, and I want them to see how beautiful it is." The guard backed down.

Luisa. One of those investigators who likes having the missionaries over though she isn't interested in converting. She ran an illegal lottery: I never understood how that worked (I thought it better not to ask), but it had something to do with a lottery in Venezuela.

Rando. A friend, though never an investigator. He was of South Asian descent. I don't know what he did for a living, but he had what I would consider a comfortable middle-class life. (I don't know how he himself would describe his socioeconomic situation.) He was Hindu, a devotee of Krishna.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving - Advent 1

MARK 13:31-36

All my words will be fulfilled,
but only God knows when that day will come.
Do not lose hope, then.
Watch for the promised hour, and pray.

You are like the servants of a householder
who has gone away on a journey.
He has assigned each of you your work
and has instructed the doorkeeper
to be on the watch for his return.

Stay awake, then,
for you do not know
when the master of the house will come.
It might be in the evening,
or at midnight,
or in the dark hours of the early morning,
or at daybreak.

If he returns unexpectedly,
will he find you attentive at your post?

************

I saw my mother for the last time, alive, at Thanksgiving a year ago. Memories of that Thanksgiving and the one before that, which I also spent with my parents, are jumbled up in my mind.

I feel sad, but less so than when she was alive.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Contemplative prayer - November

This post is a week late, but here's the Gospel reading from the first-Friday contemplative prayer service for November. The theme was the Communion of Saints, in honor of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. I reused the same readings from last November, except that I created a new rendering of the Gospel reading.

It was a very small service—me and a cellist—but I hope God was honored by the offering.

Next month's theme: "Christ the son of Mary."

************

LUKE 6:20-23, 27-28

Jesus said:
Congratulations to the poor!
You have God’s kingdom for your inheritance.


Congratulations to the hungry!
God promises that you will eat your fill.


Congratulations to those who grieve!
God will give you cause to laugh for joy.


Congratulations to those who are hated,
excluded,
reviled,
or defamed in my service.
When this happens to you—celebrate!
They are treating you
the same way they treated the prophets;
therefore, God will award you the same compensation.


But listen:
Love your enemies.
To those who hate you—do good.
Those who curse you—bless them.
Those who mistreat you—pray for them.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

11/6/91 - My first day in the Dominican Republic

Twenty years ago today, I woke up for the first time in another country. We'd flown into Santo Domingo late the night before, drove to the mission home through dark streets. At the mission home, we elders, 8-10 of us as I recall, slept on mattresses in an upstairs room. I remember lying there in the heat, listening to the night noises outside, feeling as if I was drowning in the humidity, and realizing there was no way to escape it. I was in another place now, thousands of miles from home. (Or is it just hundreds?) It was sink or swim for me here.

I imagine that immigrants must experience something like that.


Here's a map I created that shows the Dominican Republic in relation to the continental U.S. I've highlighted various places important in my life, in addition to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. (I visited the latter in 2007.) The San Francisco Bay Area, where I was born; Seattle, where my mother died; Idaho and Utah, where I spent most of my growing up years; North Carolina, where I did my doctorate; Ohio, where I am now. The idea here was to give myself a picture that integrated the DR into my mental map of other locations important to me, to prevent the DR from being a far-off, foreign place detached, in my imagination, from the place where my "normal" life occurs.

For example, I'm a bit startled to realize, as I look at this map, that when I flew from North Carolina to Seattle to be with my mother, I traveled farther than I would have if I'd gone from North Carolina to the Dominican Republic. Seattle "felt" closer to me because it was in the U.S., whereas the DR was an ocean and a customs transit point away.

So here's a satellite view of the part of Santo Domingo where I woke up twenty years ago, the way it looks today. I know this probably means very little to anyone else reading this blog, but I never cease to be amazed that I live at a time when I can do this.


And here's a "cleaner" map of the same area:


Let me identify some places. For future posts in this "mission reflection" series, I promise I'll hunt up somewhat more interesting things online, like YouTube videos or photos.

1. The Santo Domingo temple. I've never been; in fact, until today I wasn't entirely sure where it's located. It's built just a few blocks west of the major avenue that marked the border of my mission (which had the east side of the city).

2. The Olympic Stadium. During my mission, Thomas S. Monson and James E. Faust came here to speak at a regional conference. I just had a "Duh" moment: Monson is now church president. So in an anticipatory kind of way, I saw a church president speak in the Dominican Republic. Whatever that's worth.

3. The location of the mission office, at least 20 years ago, when I was there.

4. The location of the mission home. That's where I woke up this morning 20 years ago.

5. The stake center where missionaries serving in the capital typically gathered to watch General Conference. I don't know how old this stake center is in the scheme of Dominican Mormon history—I wish I did.

Let me point out here that the mission office and home and the stake center are located in Gazcue, which is one of the older, nicer neighborhoods in the capital. It's adjacent to the colonial zone (the eastern end of this map), which is a major tourist attraction. Gazcue includes or is in proximity to government buildings. It's the kind of place where government officials would have lived in the Trujillo era—they may still, for all I know. Some of the nicest hotels are located on Gazcue's stretch of the coastline. In establishing its presence here, the LDS Church was making a bid for social respectability.

6. It's not clear to me if it's still there, but 20 years ago, there was a Marriott hotel here, where my parents stayed when they came to come pick me up after my mission. Next door is the Jaragua, a posh hotel where the mission's Christmas conference was held one year. In the mission photo we took outside the hotel, the hotel itself takes up most of the picture: the missionaries' faces are little specks. It makes for odd iconography. At some level, conscious or unconscious, the elderly American missionary who took the photo was keen to show off our relationship to this luxury hotel.

7. More or less here was the Hotel David, a tiny hotel that I stayed at during a return visit to the Dominican Republic in 1998. More on this below.

8. Location of the first cathedral built in the New World, 500 years ago.

9. Location of the Columbus house, now a museum: A big tourist attraction.

Let me say this about the Hotel David, and I'll end this post. I was searching online just a little while ago, trying to find the exact location of the Hotel David. And I learn that it's apparently changed hands, and a new hotel is being built on the spot. And then I Google my way to a reference to that new hotel on a discussion board for gay men vacationing in the DR. And one of the topics they're discussing is hustling, and whether and where you can meet Dominican men who will sleep with you without expecting you to pay for it. A couple posters made these sober comments about how where there's a sharp economic disparity between the sexual partners, it's to be expected that money will trade hands.

No. No. No no no no no. I am sitting at my desk, spluttering. Whoa. I know I'm naive about the ways of the world. But my God. This is not... the DR is not your sexual playground, you assholes. That someone can be so... sober about the fact that you're paying for sex because you're richer than your partner—which is to say that you know this is an exploitative relationship, but you're just shrugging your shoulders over it because that's just how things are... I can't finish that sentence by describing what I think you deserve to have happen to you, because I'll regret it.

The first person I ever baptized in the DR was a young ethnically Haitian man living in La Romana, a town on the eastern peninsula that has a big resort attached to it. We'll call him N. N was a huckster; he used me in various ways that I'm still rather angry about. But at one point he got a job working for the resort. The fact he spoke English was key to this job. The way he explained it to me was that he was supposed to hang out, basically, at the resort, approach vacationers, make small talk... I don't remember if I suspected at the time that he was supposed to make himself available for sexual favors, but I've suspected that for many years now, at least.

God cannot be pleased by this. But I figure God has to be a lot more unhappy with the people who are paying than the ones who are being paid. Caveat emptor.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Westboro Baptist Church

The Westboro Baptist Church picketed at my university today. Those are the "God hates fags" people, though what seems to set most Americans off about them is not their homophobia but the fact that they've taken lately to picketing funerals of soldiers with the message "God hates America."

In the afternoon, I attended a celebration of love and diversity being held at the same time as the picket as an effort, basically, to draw people away from the protest. The idea, in other words, was that people would attend this alternative event instead of trying to engage with the WBC picketers.

Despite the attempted distraction, there was a huge crowd surrounding the "cattle cage" that the police had set up for the picketers. I was standing at the periphery of the crowd, observing before joining the alternative event, when the three or four picketers showed up, entered their little fenced-off area, and silently held up their signs. Many of the young men in the crowd (perhaps women were doing this, too, but masculine voices dominated) started chanting "USA! USA!" in a hostile fashion. Eventually that was followed by chants of "Fuck this shit!" and "Suck my dick!" and various other heckling catcalls, some cleverer than others.

I have to say that I was more repelled—and unnerved—by the crowd's reaction than by the WBC's signs. The picketers just stood there silently, holding their signs, quite unperturbed (at least visibly) by all the animosity being hurled at them. It takes guts, I'll give them that. They are standing up for what they believe in the face of opposition that would make me shake if not back out.

There were quite a few signs being held up in the observing crowd supportive of LGBT people. However, I was left with the distinct impression that the lion's share of the crowd's anger toward WBC was born of offended patriotism. I say that based on the "USA! USA!" chant, along with the cheering that greeted motorcyclists and pickup truck drivers who kept driving by the scene waving American flags. In other words, the great sin of the WBC in the eyes of the surrounding mob (held back from committing violence by barriers and police officers), was not so much the WBC's strident conviction that God condemns homosexuality. WBC's great sin, rather—their heresy—was suggesting that God doesn't love America.

The LGBT student group that organized the alternative event, eager to establish that they did love America, brought out an American flag and asked us all to sing the national anthem. Not being a fan of obligatory religious practice or loyalty oaths, I silently declined to join that particular act of worship and praise.

Afterward, in the car on the way home, I felt unexpectedly drained by events.

************

I understand why the "God hates..." rhetoric is inflammatory. And I certainly think the WBC tack the wrong object onto that subject and predicate. But here are some endings for that sentence that I believe are true.

God hates homophobia.
God hates racism.
God hates sexism.
God hates sexual assault.
God hates child abuse.
God hates human trafficking.
God hates ethnic cleansing.
God hates violence.
God hates cruelty.
God hates torture.
God hates terrorism.
God hates suffering.
God hates callousness.
God hates greed.
God hates corruption.
God hates fraud.
God hates hypocrisy.
God hates exploitation.
God hates waste.
God hates pollution.
God hates injustice.
God hates inequality.
God hates the rich-poor gap.
God hates empires.
God hates tyranny.
God hates war.

God is love, yes. And I was careful to make all those sentences end with things, not people. But there are things God hates—deplores, is passionately opposed to—and teaches us to hate as well.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Prayer on the death of Muammar Gaddafi

I'm reblogging here something I wrote for the Mormon Worker. A few people have posted responses over there.

************

Heavenly Father and Mother–

I’m grateful that Gaddafi is no longer in power. I pray that this can be the beginning of a better life for Libyans. I pray for peace, and justice, and democracy in Libya. I pray for an end to the violence.

I’m not grateful that he’s dead. I’m sorry that he’s dead. I mean that in the sense that I take accountability for being complicit in his death. I spoke out in support of the war in Libya. And that makes me–I was about to say “in some small way,” but I take that back; minimizing my guilt is Your judgment to make, not mine. Let’s try this again: I spoke out in support of the war in Libya. And that means I share responsibility for the vigilante actions of the soldiers who killed him instead of bringing him to legal justice.

Gaddafi’s death should not have happened. I don’t know, really, what You would have regarded as the ideal way to end his regime. I know You hate tyrrany, so I assume You hated the violence of Gaddafi’s reign. I know You also hate war, though I operate on the assumption that You recognize it’s necessary at times. But I also know You would not have wanted things to end like this.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that I feel guilty about Gaddafi’s death because that’s the one that’s been publicized. But if I share responsibility for Gaddafi’s death, because of my support for the counteroffensive against his regime, then I also share responsibility for I-don’t-know-how-many deaths carried out by the rebel forces and their NATO allies, or for whatever other atrocities the rebels have committed on the way to power. I also share responsibility for whatever injustices the new regime commits from this point forward.

I started off this message feeling repentant, but now I’m actually feeling rather angry at You for putting us in situations where we have to make these impossible choices, while You sit up there and judge us and cry over our failures.

I don’t want to end on that note. I pray that somehow what has happened can lead to good for Libyans. I pray for all those who are suffering, whatever “side” they’re on.

In Christ's name, amen.

************

As a follow-up to the above, let me add this: I favored intervention in Libya because I felt the U.S. ought to support the Arab Spring and because the action, unlike in Iraq, was a defensive, not "preemptive," measure and had international support. I'm not sure how an intervention that began as an effort to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone and ceasefire ended up becoming NATO-backed support for a civil war. I also still can't explain in a non-cynical way why there was a political will to intervene militarily in support of rebels against Gaddafi's regime, while there is apparently no will to intervene militarily on behalf of protesters in Syria, or Yemen, or in Darfur.

The bottom line is that I feel used by my government. I'm also humiliated to realize how uninformed I am about rigorous thinking on non-violence. I don't know enough to be entitled to an opinion about how the situation in Libya, or any of the places I've mentioned above, could have been handled in a different way that might have minimized violence and avoided civil war.

What I do feel opinionated about is this: I want to live in a society where articulate, pragmatic voices for non-violence are more prominent in the media and in government. When I've heard proposals for a "Department of Peace" in the past, I've smiled at them as admirable but utopian wishing. I'm prepared now to seriously advocate the creation of some version of such an entity.

************

I pray for Libya.
I pray for Syria.
I pray for the Arab Spring generally.
I pray for the Occupy Wall Street movement and the similar movements it has inspired.
I pray for a better government, which means I pray for an electorate inspired by a spirit of wisdom.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

10/9/91 - Entered the MTC

Today is the 20th anniversary of my entering the Missionary Training Center. Since there are now approaching 20 MTCs, including one in Santo Domingo, I should specify that I attended the MTC in Provo.

Being historically minded, I'm intrigued to realize that I am the first person in my family to enter the MTC. My father served a mission in 1969-71, if I'm not mistaken about those dates. That means he probably attended the LTM (Language Training Mission), which would have been recently established at BYU. The MTC I attended—the big complex west of BYU, across the street from the Provo Temple, didn't start operating until 1978.

I see the Provo MTC has a website now. That shouldn't surprise me, but I wasn't expecting it.

I've been poking around a little online for info about the Santo Domingo MTC. The Deseret News has a photo. I believe it's located adjacent to the Santo Domingo temple, which I've never seen.

According to the folks at Cumorah.com, Dominicans now account for half of the missionary force in the Dominican Republic. When I served, 1991-1993, they were about a third of the missionary force in my mission. I never had a Dominican companion, though I shared apartments with a couple. They had a reputation among the Americans for being difficult—for having sullen or arrogant attitudes—which based on my own observations, I would be inclined to chalk up to:
  • Resentment over how often the Americans excluded them by speaking English around them (even though we weren't supposed to).

  • Resentment over the way the mission was dominated by foreigners and generations-long church members who thought they knew best. (As the child of converts, I experienced a similar kind of marginalization in the States.)

  • In at least one case I know of, a sense of dismay over the American missionaries' First-World lifestyle and expectations. The Dominican elder I'm thinking of resented the way missionaries spent what to him were exorbitant sums of money on recreation; he was trying to save money for attending the temple after his mission.
When I served, the Santo Domingo MTC didn't exist, nor did the temple. Dominican missionaries were supposed to go to Guatemala to be endowed and trained. Partway through my mission, the office began having difficulties obtaining visas to send new missionaries to Guatemala, so we had missionaries serving who were unendowed. That was a very problematic symbol of the American-Dominican differential.

Another symbolic status differential that I'm glad was later removed is that at zone conferences the mission president would give his closing "pep talk" in English on the premise that this was the first language of the majority of missionaries, and he wanted to be sure even the American greenies would benefit. This meant the Dominican missionaries received simultaneous translation from someone sitting behind or beside them. Eventually the mission president shifted to Spanish, which I'm glad of: however defensible his intentions, privileging English had the effect of converting Dominican missionaries into a second-class minority in their own country—and, no less, in an institution where all missionaries were supposed to know or be learning Spanish.

These are the kinds of signals by which American Mormons unthinkingly advertise their privileged status in the church—and in the world more generally. (It's a hell of a lot easier for an American to travel wherever they want than for a Dominican.)

I think there was one Dominican AP (assistant to the mission president) the whole time I served.

My mission (Santo Domingo East) is currently led, the church newsroom tells me, by a Puerto Rican, Heriberto Hernandez.

I'm floored to discover that in 2010, my mission was combined with the Puerto Rico San Juan East Mission, essentially bringing that part of Puerto Rico under my mission's jurisdiction. Not much must have been happening in Puerto Rico. That's ironic since immediately after the lifting of the priesthood ban in 1978, missionary work in the Dominican Republic began under the auspices of Puerto Rico.

UPDATE: I realized after writing this that the merger of the Dominican and Puerto Rican missions reduces the likelihood that the missions will be led by a Dominican in the future, since the mission president needs to be able to travel to both countries. It's easier for a Puerto Rican to travel to the DR than for a Dominican to travel to Puerto Rico. :(

Enough. I need to wrap this up.

**********

Heavenly Father—

I'm grateful for the experience of my mission,
for the way it immersed me in a different society and culture,
for the way it brought me into close contact with poverty,
for the way it opened my eyes and softened my heart to forms of suffering, discrimination, and exploitation.

I'm grateful for the people who allowed me to enter their lives while I was in their country.
I hope I brought them something worthwhile.
During this two-year meditation on my mission experience,
show me what else you would like me to do by way of serving individuals in the Dominican Republic,
whether that's people I already know or people I don't.

In Christ's name, amen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Contemplative prayer - October

This evening I led a first-Friday contemplative prayer service. The readings and prayers are pasted below. I've used the readings before, at a similar service, but the intercessions are new, based on language and themes from the readings.

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PSALM 63

O God, my God,
you are the One I seek.
My soul thirsts for you;
my body longs for you
as in a dry, weary land
where there is no water.

Your love is better than life;
therefore my lips will speak your praise.
I will bless you as long as I live.
I will lift up my hands in your name.
You fill my soul as with a banquet;
my mouth praises you with joy.

On my bed, I remember you—
through sleepless nights, my thoughts turn to you—
for you have been my help;
you shelter me beneath your wing.
My soul clings to you.
With your mighty hand, you bear me up.

************

ACTS 2:42-47

Those who believed
devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
God performed many wonders and signs in the community,
which filled them all with awe.

Living together, they had all things in common.
They sold their property and goods
and distributed the proceeds to all,
according to their needs.

Every day, they spent time in the Temple
and broke bread at home.
They ate with glad and generous hearts,
praising God and winning the goodwill of all around them.
And the Lord added to their numbers daily.

************

MARK 6:34-44

When Jesus reached shore,
there was a large crowd waiting for him.
Moved with compassion, he began to teach them.

When it grew late, his disciples said to him,
“Send the people away to the villages
so they can buy themselves something to eat.”

But Jesus said, “Feed them yourselves.”

They replied, “Where are we supposed to get enough money
to buy bread for all these people?”

He said, “See how many loaves you have.”

They came back and told him, “Five loaves, and two fish.”

Then he told them to have all the people sit down in groups on the grass.
Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish.
He looked up to heaven,
blessed and broke the loaves,
and gave them to his disciples to set before the people.
He also divided up the two fish to share among them.

Everyone ate their fill.
There were enough leftover pieces of bread and fish to fill twelve baskets.
Over five thousand people were fed from that meal.

************

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Jesus Christ, you are the One we long for.
You are the bread we share.
You are the water that quenches our thirst.

We pray for all who hunger for your love.
May they be filled.

We pray for all who are in want—
who lack food, water, or shelter,
employment, education, or health care,
comfort, safety, freedom, or hope.
Bear them up with your hand; shelter them under your wing.

We offer you our energy, our abilities, our possessions.
Show us how you would have us use our gifts for the benefit of others.

We pray for all your church.
Give us grace to live in fellowship with all whom you are drawing to yourself,
including those whom we would prefer went away.

We thank you for all the ways you have nourished and sustained us.
We praise you for your love.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kirtland pilgrimage

I just returned from the Affirmation conference, which was held this year in Kirtland and Cleveland, and I want to "debrief." This was the first Affirmation conference I've attended in something like seven years.

The highlight for me was the Sunday morning events held at the Kirtland Temple, which Community of Christ very hospitably made available to us. I went early in the morning, sat in the garden on the temple grounds, and chanted most of D&C 109, the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer (minus some petitions to which I can't say "Amen" in good conscience). Then I attended a testimony meeting in the lower court of the temple, which was rather raw, as you might imagine. I gave the closing prayer, which went like this:
Holy God,
our spiritual forebears built this place to be a sanctuary of your holiness.
They built it in the faith and hope
that here you would endow them with power from on high,
so that they could go forth from this place in the power of your Spirit,
to carry out your work in the world.

Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to do your work,
to love and to serve,
to magnify our talents,
to be a blessing in the lives of others.
In Christ's name we pray, amen.
The testimony meeting was followed by a devotional, near the end of which everyone stood to sing "The Spirit of God."

When we had toured the temple the day before, I'd felt underwhelmed by the building, which didn't look as "polished" and elegant as it does in photographs. (I suspect it's a trick of how the photos are lit.) But sitting in the temple this morning, during the devotional, I felt I better appreciated what a lovely building it is, white and full of sunlight. The pulpits are quite distinctive. And it was weird to think that Joseph and Emma and others actually sat in those pulpits or in these pews.

************

On a more sour note:

The devotional was attended by at least one LDS missionary couple from the historic Kirtland village, down the hill from the temple. I was surprised to see them there, and the more I think about it, the less pleasant I find that surprise. Their presence casts a shadow on the conference experience for me. A positive reading of their presence is that we're building bridges. A more suspicious reading is that this, like the Tabernacle invite to gay activists last Christmas, was a cheap way for the church to build goodwill. It was a cheap way to try to prevent further embarrassing protests outside their temples.

Unfortunately, I've seen too many people get screwed by church officials, myself included, not to be suspicious. The LDS Church is going to have to work a hell of a lot harder to win my trust. I feel like Prior in Angels in America: "Answer me: Inside. Bruises? . . . Come back to me when they're visible. I want to see black and blue, . . . , I want to see blood. Because I can't believe you even have blood in your veins till you show it to me."

I'm a little surprised to realize how angry I feel about this.

************

And then a sad, wistful note:

At the temple gift shop, I bought a lovely little illustrated history of Community of Christ whose coauthors included David Howlett and John Hamer, two young scholars I know. It made me feel jealous. David and John are doing work for Community of Christ that I would love to be doing for a liberal LDS Church, which of course doesn't exist. I've known for a decade that this is what I want; I accept that like most people who have lived and do live in this world, I can't have what I want. But I still feel jealous and sad and self-pitying about it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Anniversary

Creator, Sustainer, Peacegiver,
Crucified and Risen One,

Dona nobis pacem. Grant us peace.

Grief for the loss of all who died on 9/11 and for all who have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Prayers for all those who have lost loved ones during this decade of violence.

Prayers for all who have been wounded in body or spirit.

Prayers for all who are trying to rebuild lives broken by terrorism and war.

I mean all. Not just "ours." All.

Including my enemies, whatever that means. I add that part because you told me to. I don't really understand what I'm supposed to be thinking or feeling or asking for, exactly, when I pray for them.

God bless America. God bless Afghanistan. God bless Iraq. God bless Iran. God bless Libya. God bless Syria. God bless Saudi Arabia. God bless Israel. God bless Palestine.

Risen One, I pray that destruction may somehow be transformed into genuine lasting good.

Give a spirit of wisdom to the leaders of the nations, if in fact that prayer corresponds to anything you can actually do. Give them a spirit of respect for justice and the rule of law.

In Christ's name, amen.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

9/4/91 - Waiting to serve

I don't remember exactly what I was doing twenty years ago in early September. I was in the holding period between my mission call (early August) and actually departing for my mission (early October). I'm annoyed that I can't remember what I was doing that period. I assume I was living at home? Was this the brief period when I worked as a bagger at the supermarket?

I do remember I attended the temple rather frequently. Loved the endowment. In the year leading up to my mission call, I attended the temple every Thursday afternoon using a baptisms-only recommend. Since I wasn't endowed, I could only be baptized, not baptize—though I remember being the voice for confirmations once. The baptistry director told me they'd put me to work officiating as soon as I was endowed. But once I'd been endowed, I never went back to the basement; all I did after that were endowments and the occasional session of initiatories and sealings. I feel a little bad about that.

Anyway, I attended the temple pretty frequently in the two months before my mission. What I didn't do during those two months, and wish I had, was learn more about the Dominican Republic. The problem was, my parents were encouraging me to do that, and since the mission was supposed to be my transition to adulthood and independence, I resisted doing what they wanted.

So here are the kinds of facts I wish I'd read up on.

First, a map of the DR—or rather, of the island of Hispaniola. I've made a point of including Haiti, though it usually gets cut off the left-hand side of most maps of the DR, and what little of it you see is often left blank. Out of sight, out of mind. A good number of Dominicans would like it that way. Actually, finding a map online that included both countries was harder than I expected.

Quick history: Inhabited by Tainos before Columbus; they get wiped out pretty quick after 1492. The Spaniards' first New World settlements are here. In the late 1700s, the island passes to French control and after the Haitian Revolution becomes the site of the world's first independent black republic. The Spanish-speaking population declare independence from Haiti in 1844 (a few months before Joseph Smith's death). Subsequently, the Dominican Republic's political history is tumultuous until the efficient but brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, 1930s-1950s. At the time I served my mission, one of Trujillo's cronies, Joaquin Balaguer, was president. The DR was invaded by the US twice, both times to quell political instability perceived as incompatible with US interests. The first time was in 1916, the second was 1965.

The CIA World Factbook (if you can't trust them to know, who will?) tells me that 70% of the Dominican population is urban. This is part of a global trend toward urbanization. Considering that Mormon tradition has a special focus on God as a city planner—as Someone who has definite ideas about the kind of city human beings ought to create—I'd love to see Mormons talking more about urbanization and the gospel. How can we contribute to building up cities that come closer to the pattern of Zion?

The population of the DR is currently just under 10 million. For comparison, that's about half a million more than the population of North Carolina, the last state I lived in, and about two million less than Ohio, where I now live. The DR is five times as populous as Utah. That's a lot of people on a small island. About a third of them live in the capital, Santo Domingo.

Over 40% of Dominicans live below the poverty line. The comparable figure for the U.S. is a little over 10%, but I understand that the measure of poverty isn't the same: I suspect that the DR starts out with a lower standard of poverty than the U.S. It's a poor country, is what I'm saying. However, in Haiti, on the other side of the island, the population living below the poverty line is 80%.

Does this all seem dry? I have mental pictures to go with these statistics. Neighborhoods. Homes. Families. Individuals.

There may be a million Haitians living illegally in the DR. Note that's about a tenth of the figure I gave for the DR's population. They work shit jobs, sometimes (e.g., in the sugar fields) as virtual slaves.

Meanwhile, there are over a million Dominicans and Dominican Americans in the U.S., with New York being the biggest population center.

Internet service is apparently widely available in the DR now. Electricity, I understand, is still irregular (i.e., frequent outages) but improving. UNICEF tells me that 86% of the population has access to safe drinking water, but I don't know if that means you can drink tap water yet or not. You couldn't when I was there—safe water meant bottled water.

There's a subway now in Santo Domingo—I was blown away to learn that. It's been operating since 2009. The pictures I've seen online look so . . . contemporary. Which is strange because of how it clashes with my memories of the run-down taxis and buses we used to ride in.

Enough. I'm having doubts about the utility of this exercise. What do these facts really tell you about the place? Maybe you do just have to get there and see these realities before they become meaningful.

************

ADDENDUM: Rising into consciousness this morning as the dog demanded her walk, I had an epiphany: Part of what bothers me about this exercise is that I don't have a good sense of the historical "Why's." Why do 40% of Dominicans live below the poverty line? Why did the public transportation system consist of run-down taxis and buses? Why hadn't the government created drinkable tap water? Why does electricity remain intermittently available? How did all these realities come to be?

The answer would be complex, I presume, and would involve slavery, Spanish feudalism, colonialism, perhaps the terrain and the difficulties it presented for creating a stronger central government, corruption, foreign debt, the power dynamics of international commerce. I have this vague sense that my country, and other First World countries, are largely to blame—we're indifferent, or we're interested in the DR for the wrong, selfish, exploitative reasons. But I don't carry in my head a succinct historical account for the origins of Dominican poverty—or Haitian poverty. I wish I did. I presume economic historians could give me an answer, or multiple competing answers, to that question. Is there somewhere I could find that readily, as close to my fingertips as Wikipedia? There ought to be.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

8/1/91 - Mission call

Twenty years and one month ago today, a letter was signed by a machine replicating the signature of Ezra Taft Benson, calling me to serve in the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission.

I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around how much time has passed since then. More time has passed between that mission call and today than passed between my birth and my mission call. My God, I'm middle-aged.

I don't feel it because I don't have kids. I probably have mission companions who are within just a couple years of sending their first sons on missions.

Or let's put this another way: Almost as much time has passed between my mission and now as had passed for my father between the time he served his mission and I served mine.

That's weird to think about because, of course, my father served his mission before I was born, and anything that happened before I was born is ancient history. But 1991—that feels like just a decade ago.

A real decade ago, 2001-2003, I "relived" my mission over that two-year period by rereading every day the journal entry I had written exactly ten years previously. (I kept a voluminous missionary journal. Which no one will ever see if I have anything to say about it.) Then, every Sunday, 2000s me would write a letter to 1990s me commenting on what had happened to 1990s me during that past week—offering advice, consolation, etc.

Weird as it might sound, I found it a fruitful spiritual discipline. It helped me see how I had changed over those ten years. It helped me get clear about what I valued from my past Mormon experience and what I was glad I had left behind.

I've decided that I want to do a similar kind of extended observance of the 20th anniversary of my mission. But this time around, I don't want it to be so much about me. I want this to be an occasion to reconnect with the Dominican Republic. Hell, maybe I'll even move past the computer screen and try to reconnect with some actual people. That should be feasible with missionary companions at least, even if it's tougher with Dominicans.

This will be a fast Sunday discipline. Once a month, I'll blog about where I was and who I was with 20 years ago. And with the continuing democratization of technology, it's easier now than it was 10 years ago to do things like find satellite images, and even YouTube videos, of the places I lived 20 years ago. So you'll be getting that kind of thing.

It should be as interesting to readers as missionary slide shows have ever been. (Which is to say: it won't be.) But let's be frank, this blog has always been a pretty selfish endeavor—I do this mostly for me—so that won't be new.

Why reconnect with the past like this? Because my mission remains the spiritual highpoint of my life. Or to use a different metaphor (at the risk of getting rococco or New Agey or something), my mission is a well of spiritual energies that I've drawn from in the past and would like to draw on again. It was the time in my life when I was most intensely focused on other people and their needs. It was the closest I ever came, and ever will come, to full-time ministry. It was the time in my life when the LDS Church came closest to working for me—when I came closest to experiencing the kind of Christ-infused community that the church can be at its best. It was the time in my life when my testimony was formed—when I became convinced that the Spirit works through Mormonism.

So I keep looking back to my mission. But I don't want the next two years to be so much about looking back as looking back out. Back out at the Dominican Republic, not as it is in my memories, but as it is now. Back out at the people I knew then, who have gone on living outside my memories, with their own transformations and challenges and joys.

That's the idea, anyway. It will be what it will be. Whatever it ends up being, I ask God to consecrate this performance for the welfare of my soul.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene

There shall be a tabernacle
providing shade from the heat in the daytime
and a place of refuge and shelter from storm and rain.
(2 Nephi 14:6)

I'm praying for those in the path of Irene, especially in North Carolina.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New school year

I teach my first classes of Fall 2011 tomorrow. It's been a crazy few days, finishing up syllabi. With the last-minute dissertation defense and the out-of-state move, I haven't had as much time as I normally do to put my classes together, so it's been an unusually hectic process this time around. I still have to finish getting the online components of the course in place.

It's very late, and I need to get some sleep. But I want to do a virtual version of my old custom of dedicating my classrooms. I used to do this back when I taught at the University of Utah: I would go into each of my classrooms a couple days before the beginning of the semester, while there was no one around, and pray. Then the custodians tightened up security and started locking the classrooms, so I couldn't do it anymore, at least not as physically present.

So here's a "distance" version. If we can have distance learning, why not a distant classroom dedication?

God of Light, Master Teacher, Spirit of Truth—

You have taught your children to seek learning by study.
You have urged us to seek words of wisdom from the best books.
You have urged us to gain a knowledge of history and of countries; things which have been and are; things at home and abroad; the conflicts and perplexities of the nations.
You have taught us to magnify our talents and to use our gifts in the service of our fellow beings.

I pray for the students I will serve this semester as their teacher.
I pray that I can inspire them with enthusiasm for the subjects we study; that I will be guided to discern clearly the connections that will make this material relevant and useful for them.
I pray that I can help them develop their intellectual gifts, their critical acumen. I pray that I can help them pursue their interests in ways that they find fruitful.
I pray that I will be inspired to provide them with effective feedback.
I pray that I will be led to be appropriately demanding and supportive.
I pray for the gifts of effective communication and discerning judgment.

I dedicate the classrooms in which I will teach this semester to be temples of the Spirit of knowledge.
I pray these rooms be filled with the Light that illuminates the mind and enlarges the understanding.
I pray these rooms be dwelling places of the Spirit that reasons and edifies.
I pray that here there be no influence maintained except by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness, and love unfeigned, without hypocrisy.

May my performance this semester be consecrated for the welfare of my students.
May their performance this semester make some lasting difference in the magnifying of their talents and in their ongoing progress into their full potential.

In Christ's name, amen.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Catching up

The past couple of weeks have been crazy—we just moved out of North Carolina to Ohio, where I'll be teaching for the next year. I haven't been online in several days as a result, so let me do some catching up.

First, gratitude for a safely completed move: "Eternity was our covering, and our rock, and our salvation, as we journeyed" (Abr. 2:16).

On our last night in North Carolina, I fed the cats for the last time, then stood there in the dark and prayed for them in the most powerful way I know, making the signs of the holy priesthood, as in a temple prayer circle. I named the cats individually, I thanked God that my friend Jill put me in touch with the organization that's going to take over feeding them . . . and then I really didn't know what to say beyond that except to commend the cats into God's hands. But that's already where they are, so that prayer makes no practical difference in their lives. The prayer left me feeling powerless: this was the most potent kind of prayer in my tradition's repertoire, and it still doesn't change anything. I do it because I can no longer do anything else for these animals. And then I sat on my steps and blubbered for a little while as one of the cats, Huga, stood a couple feet away, staring at me with those enormous yellow eyes of hers, mewing plaintively and waiting for me to do for her whatever it is she's always hoping I'll do.

And speaking of grief and loss, I read this morning that Marion D. Hanks and Chieko Okazaki have both died. Why is it the liberals die young while decrepit conservative patriarchs just go on and on? Bargains with the devil, I assume.

I once had the opportunity to have dinner with Chieko, at the home of a friend who had served his mission in Japan under the leadership of Chieko and her husband. I couldn't figure out if she was savvily resisting the church's dominant conservative ethos, or if she was naively doing her thing without recognizing that people in high places would find it problematic. It's hard to imagine that she could advance as high as she did in church leadership if she were simply naive rather than savvy—but then again, maybe a liberal needs to be naive to function in the system. I really don't know. Of course, she wasn't all that liberal—neither was Marion Hanks—but she was about as liberal as you can probably be in the LDS Church without having your faithfulness become suspect. I hope there are great things for both these individuals to do beyond the veil.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thanks for the Advocate

Today the Church of the Advocate bid a liturgical farewell to Hugo and me in anticipation of our impending move. Some of the songs that were chosen for today's service were related to the two of us in different ways, including the new lyrics Hugo and I wrote for the hymn "Earth and All Stars" (which I don't think I've ever posted to this blog, have I? I'll have to do that sometime). Since today was Pioneer Day, and since I was cantor, I also slipped "Come, Come Ye Saints" into the service—it appears in the Episcopal hymnal, but the lyrics have been revised to make it less pioneer-y and more generically Christian.

At the end of the service, everyone gathered in close to lay hands on Hugo and I (or to lay hands on someone laying hands on us, like a big net), and there was a final blessing to send us forth. (Hugo and I had had the vicar's family to our home for dinner a week or so before, during which he and I had given her a Mormon-style blessing as gratitude for her ministry.)

The Advocate has been our spiritual home while we've been in North Carolina. I'd been quite active in a Hispanic Episcopal congregation back in Salt Lake City, but then that ended in a contentious way, and when we came out to North Carolina, I wasn't looking for a new church. But Hugo found the Advocate's website, and we liked what we saw. They were a new mission—just completing their first year—and they talked on the website about their commitment to "radical hospitality," which both attracted me and made me nervous: I anticipated we'd be worshiping alongside schizophrenic homeless people. It wasn't quite like that. But the congregation has been rather eclectic, with all kinds of people passing through: young families, seniors, graduate students, gay/lesbian couples, interfaith marriages, multiracial families, Obama zealots, quiet Republicans, prisoners on furlough, a very vocal young adult with autism. Plus a pair of Mormons in exile.

I don't have time right now to gush about the Advocate the way I'd like to. It's been a welcoming community for us during our time here. The Advocate was happy to be my home even when I didn't want to claim it as my home. For the first four or five years, I was standoffish: I was a Mormon in exile, not an Episcopalian, and I guarded that barrier by abstaining from communion. Eventually, I started communing because I didn't feel right holding people at arm's length who were making a point of welcoming me, though in my head I always recited the LDS sacrament prayers at the same time the priest was blessing the bread and wine. When I was being excommunicated, a member of the Advocate's liturgical community, who was also a pretty close friend, called me at home to say that the Advocate was available to help me ritually mark this transition in my life in some way if I'd like that. I didn't take them up on that offer, but I appreciated it.

The Advocate has given me opportunities to use my gifts to serve others and to glorify God in worship. I'm grateful for that. I've been surprised and moved by what a big deal has been made of our moving away. Hugo and I were hardly pillars of this community (certainly not financially: we could have done more on that front than we did, I'm ashamed to say). But people have evidently valued what contributions we've made to the community's life. As I'm writing these words, I'm realizing this can be read as calculated modesty. And I won't deny that my ego derives gratification from the discovery that we're valued. But it has been a genuinely surprising discovery, which leaves me feeling more grateful and embarrassed and sad and ashamed than anything else.

Blessed be the name of my God,
who has been mindful of us,
wanderers in a strange land.
(Alma 26:36)

Blessed, honored pioneers!

Pioneer Day, and the first day that same-sex marriages are being performed in New York state. As if that weren't already queerly appropriate (get it, get it?), one of the very first people to be married under the new law, Kitty Lambert, is apparently from a Mormon background.

I love it.

I think I hear the sound of gnashing of teeth in Salt Lake City.

But let's end this post on a more positive note than that:

They, the builders of the nation,
blazing trails along the way;
stepping stones for generations
were their deeds of every day.
Building new and firm foundations,
pushing on the wild frontier,
forging onward, ever onward,
blessed, honored Pioneer!

As an ensign to the nation,
they unfurled the flag of truth,
pillar, guide, and inspiration
to the hosts of waiting youth.
Honor, praise, and veneration
to the founders we revere!
List our song of adoration,
blessed, honored Pioneer!

Lame poetry, but it's the sentiment that counts.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

God's word for job creators

In line with the Republicans' new strategy of referring to the rich as "job creators"—as in, "Don't raise taxes on the job creators"—here are some things the scriptures have to say to that group:

God has pulled the mighty down from their seats
and has raised up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things
and has turned the job creators away empty-handed.
(Luke 1:52-53)

Congratulations to the poor: God has named you heirs to his fortune!
Congratulations to the hungry: you will eat your fill!
Tough luck for the job creators: you already received your compensation package!
Tough luck for the well-fed: it will be your turn to go hungry!
(Luke 6:20-21, 24-25)

Note that the poor inherit the kingdom simply because God deeds it to them—like when someone leaves you an inheritance in their will. The poor don't earn the kingdom through their ingenuity and enterprising spirit and hard work. To those who do get ahead in life through their ingenuity and enterprising spirit and hard work, God says, "Well then, since you've already made your fortune, I don't need to include you in my will. I'll leave the kingdom and its riches to those who don't have so much." That's the way Jesus' God works. He doesn't buy into Ben Franklin's "God helps those who help themselves" philosophy.

Wo to the job creators,
who are rich as to the things of the world.
For because they are convinced
that they earned their wealth through their effort,
they despise the poor and persecute the lowly.
And their hearts are upon their treasures;
therefore their treasure is their god.
And with their treasure, they will perish.
(2 Nephi 9:30)

And it came to pass
that the people were all converted to the Lord.
They had all things common among them;
therefore, there were neither job creators nor poor.
(4 Nephi 1:2-3)

Capitalism—the economic system of an unconverted people.

And then there's this classic story from the New Testament:

A certain job creator said to Jesus,
"Good Master, what should I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus said to him,
"You know the Ten Commandments."
The job creator said,
"Yes, and I have kept all of them since I was young."
Jesus said,
"Then all that remains for you to do is this:
Restructure your business as a co-op
and deed it to the workers, with no compensation to yourself.
Then liquidate all your other assets
and donate everything to programs helping low-income people—
all your wealth will be in heaven!—
and come follow me."
When the job creator heard this,
he was bitterly disappointed,
for his business was very profitable,
and despite the validating capitalist mythology that says profits go back into the company,
he had become filthy rich.
When Jesus saw how disappointed the job creator was, he said,
"How hard it is for a job creator to enter God's kingdom!"

I'm aware that because I'm a First Worlder, all the scriptures' warnings to the rich apply to me by default.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Consummatum est

Today I turned my completed dissertation over to my committee. The past several weeks have been hectic: Finishing the last chapter. Writing the intro and the conclusion and various prefatory matter. Cleaning up the footnotes—a big operation: there were over 700 of them, and I'd just been sketching them really roughly as I drafted. Compiling the bibliography—which I still do by hand, rather than with these newfangled automatic programs, which strike me as more bother than help (though check back in for a second opinion as soon as a publisher makes me reformat all my citations).

It's a relief to be done. I wrapped up around the same time as the four-year anniversary of my excommunication (July 17), whatever significance that has. I celebrated (the dissertation, not the excommunication) by buying myself a bottle of merengue, this Dominican cream soda I liked on my mission, which is now available in the Mexican foods aisle at my local Food Lion.

And now I wait for the defense and start working on revising the manuscript and shopping around for a publisher. Oh, and finalizing the classes I teach in the fall and gearing up for another round on the job market.

I owe thanks to—and for—a whole lot of people and institutions who helped me get to this point. In my mind, I'm placing the acknowledgments section of my dissertation on the altar and praying on behalf of the persons whose names are listed there.

July Taize service

This post is weeks late, but here are the readings and prayers I created (adapting, as usual, from other sources) for the first-Friday Taize service earlier this month. That was the last Taize service I will lead in North Carolina since we move to Ohio at the beginning of August.

I was drawn to an oceanic theme.

**********

JONAH 2:2-7, 9

Out of my distress, Holy One, I called to you,
and you answered me;
out of the abyss I cried,
and you heard my voice.
When I had been hurled into the ocean,
into the middle of the open sea,
the floods engulfed me;
breakers and billows swept over me.

I thought I was far from your sight.
I thought I would never again see your holy temple!
The waters closed in over me,
the depths swallowed me up.
I sank to the roots of the earth,
seaweed twined around my head.
I descended to that land from which no one returns—
yet you brought me up again, alive, from the pit!

When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered the Holy One.
From your holy temple, far away,
you heard my prayer.
And so, with shouts of thanksgiving,
I bring you a sacrificial offering!
What I have vowed, I will perform,
for the Holy One has delivered me!

************

ROMANS 8:35, 37-39

Can anything separate us from Christ’s love?
Hardship?
Distress?
Persecution?
Famine?
Poverty?
Peril?
Violence?

No!
Over all these things, we are victorious
through the One who loved us.

I am convinced
that neither death nor life,
no power in the heavens or on the earth,
nothing present or future,
in the heights or in the depths—
I say, absolutely nothing
can ever separate us
from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

************

MARK 4:35-40

When evening came,
Jesus said to his disciples,
“Let us sail over to the other side.”

So they left the crowd
and got into the boat.

A terrible storm arose.
The waves crashed over the boat
and began to swamp it.

Yet Jesus was in the stern,
sound asleep on a pillow.

The disciples shook him awake.
They cried, “Rabbi!
Don’t you care that we are about to die?”

Jesus got up.
He rebuked the wind and the sea.
"Enough!" he commanded. "Quiet down!"

The wind stopped.
A dead calm came over the sea.

Jesus said to the disciples,
"Why were you afraid?"

************

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Jesus Christ, holy and mighty—
by your Spirit, give courage to all who face adversity.

To all who face illness, disability, or death—
give them courage, Mighty One.

To all who face financial distress or uncertainty—
give them courage, Mighty One.

To all who are reorganizing their lives
after the loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship—
give them courage, Mighty One.

To all who face new challenges they are not confident they can handle—
give them courage, Mighty One.

To all who feel trapped in circumstances they are afraid to try to change—
give them courage, Mighty One.

To all who stand against injustice or oppression—
give them courage, Mighty One.

To all who are afraid of the new world that you are bringing into being—
a world of broken barriers and overturned traditions—
give them courage, Mighty One.

************

CONCLUDING PRAYER

Jesus—
We live in the midst of uncertainty and danger.
At times our fears and anxieties overwhelm us.
Yet we know that we are never outside of your loving embrace.
You say to us: "Do not be afraid."
And we trust you.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cats


"Adam, Eve—we have caused this earth to be filled with all kinds of plant and animal life. We give all these things into your care and charge you to be wise and faithful stewards of them."   (Endowment 2010)
The photo (click to enlarge) shows most of the feral cats I've been feeding. From left to right: Leo, Tiger, Chaplin, Hugolino, Tom, Huga, Cinnamon, Sam, Scampers, Grouchy Mama. Not pictured: Lucifer and her three kittens: Spunky, Leopard, and Oscar.

Tonight some folks from Independent Animal Rescue came out to trap several of the cats; they'll be back in a couple nights for the rest. Jill, a friend of mine, who's a cat lover, put me in touch with IAR. They'll spay or neuter the cats and return them. There's talk of setting up a feeding station (!) which the organization will tend once we've moved away. It's what they call a "managed colony."

Tonight they trapped Lucifer and all three of her kittens, as well as Hugolino, Grouchy Mama, and Scampers, plus Tom, who didn't really need to be trapped since he's a domestic stray: they just picked him up and put him in the carrier. Hugolino will be neutered and returned, but Lucifer's kittens are young enough that IAR is going to try to get them adopted.

Hugolino, by the way, appears to be a sibling of the kitten Hugo and I tended for a day about a month ago. That kitten, Hugolina (note the feminine ending), has disappeared. I don't know if that means she didn't make it, or if she managed to win over some other human.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Various news

Same-sex marriage is legal in New York state. The stone may not be rolling forward, but it's at least creaking forward.

I watch footage of gay and lesbian people talking about how excited they are now to be able to marry in their home state, and I think: How can LDS leaders and other conservative Mormons not be moved by this? I get, cerebrally, all your arguments against homosexuality and gay marriage: I understand your world view. But I really don't get how you can not be touched by the joy of people talking about how they want to formalize their intimate relationships. "How is it that ye are so hard in your hearts?" (1 Nephi 7:8).

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Continuing prayers for the Saudi women drivers. Prayers of thanks for the expressions of support they've received from world leaders, Hillary Clinton and the EU's Catherine Ashton among others.

Continuing prayers for those fighting oppressive regimes in Yemen, Syria, Libya. I pray that despite being conscious that some of the people that prayer covers may not represent great alternatives. But I have faith, or at least hope, in change.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Saudi women protest driving ban

Read the story


Since hearing a story about this protest on NPR last night, I've been thinking about the protesters and the men (e.g., husbands) who support them. It's mind-boggling that there's still a country where women are legally banned from driving. And of course that ban is just symbolic of a host of restrictions to which Saudi women are subject.

As a lefty-ish academic, I hear that voice in my head chastising me for being a cultural imperialist who presumes to judge other societies by my values. But no. "Male and female are alike to God," say my scriptures, and that's the standard by which I'm going to judge. If the Gods will gender equity—and I believe They do—then They are on the side of the protesters. Which means that the clerics who legislate female inequality and the government officials who enforce it are on the wrong side of heaven, as are the supermajority of Saudi women who reportedly support these inequalities. On this subject, I am not going to subordinate my ethical judgments to majority rule in the name of cultural pluralism. The little minority of troublemaking women drivers are doing what's right.

God be with them as they take the risk of pushing the envelope. Historically, the character arc for that role involves things like ridicule and imprisonment and beatings and even martrydom—so say my scriptures again. Hopefully, the situation in Saudi society is "thawing" enough already that this story can end more happily.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost

The Church of the Advocate held its Pentecost service as a picnic, so I went to church in a t-shirt today. I chose the "Kirtland 1836" t-shirt Hugo brought for me from a visit he made a little while back to the Kirtland Temple. I chose it for two reasons: (1) It was burgundy, which was the closest thing I had in my wardrobe to red, the liturgical color for Pentecost. (2) The Kirtland Temple dedication was Mormonism's reenactment of the Pentecost outpouring.

A couple Sundays ago, I had the opportunity to preach at the Advocate. The Gospel reading for the day was John 14:15-21. It's a passage particularly relevant to this worshipping community because it's the first passage in which Jesus promises to send the Paraclete, a word that the KJV translates as "Comforter" but the NRSV translates as "Advocate." In my sermon, I pointed out that Pentecost is the feast that celebrates the fulfillment of that promise. The Spirit dwells in Jesus' disciples—in all who love him. How richly we experience the Spirit's indwelling depends on how fully and conscientiously and whole-heartedly we keep Jesus' commandments, especially his command to love and serve. But from the moment we said "Yes" to Jesus' call, we became part of the Christian community, the community in which the Spirit dwells by definition.

That means the Spirit dwells in me, even if it isn't always readily apparent from my behavior. The Spirit dwells in all who have come to Christ by coming to the Church of the Advocate. And while I didn't say this in my sermon, the Spirit also dwells in all who have come to Christ by coming to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Have received that same Spirit, we have become Christ's body—all of us together. That's a mystery I don't understand.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gay marriage drama--plus kittens

There's a rally planned at our state capitol in a couple days to protest a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, depending on the final language, could not only define marriage as "the union of one man and one woman at one time" (hmm... would Mormons in this state even blink before voting in favor of that definition?) but could also rule out any kind of legal recognition for domestic partnerships. The state university I've been attending here has allowed me to purchase health insurance for my domestic partner as if he were a spouse: would the university be able to keep allowing that if this amendment passes? I can certainly see how the proposed language could be cited in court to squash it.

I probably won't be able to attend the rally, so I've spent part of this evening sending the following letter to my state representatives and senator:
Dear ------ :

I'm writing to urge you to vote against HB 777/SB 106.

North Carolina has been my home for the past seven years, since I moved here accompanied by my partner of over ten years. Last year, the two of us were legally married in Washington DC. If we were an opposite-sex couple, our marriage would be recognized by the state of North Carolina; because we are a same-sex couple, it is not. Consequently, we live without a host of benefits--and obligations--that accrue under the law to married couples in this state. We've had to go to lengths that heterosexual married couples don't have to go to in order, for example, to try to secure the legal right to make life-or-death decisions for one another in the case of incapacitation.

HB 777/SB 106 reinforces prejudice against same-sex couples in this state. Underneath whatever positive spin its supporters put on it, this proposed constitutional amendment is prejudicial, plain and simple. I plead with you--please say no to this attempt to perpetuate discrimination against couples like my husband and me.
Yes, we're legally married--or as legal as we can get at this point in time. It happened just before New Year's. I didn't post anything about it at the time because my mother was still alive, and I didn't want her to know, since I suspected it wouldn't please her. I was planning to formally announce it to cyberspace in a blog post on our 6-month anniversary. But--cat's out of the bag now.

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Also this evening, I signed an online petition for people of faith against LGBT discrimination. When it came time to identify my religious tradition, I put "Latter Day Saint." No hyphen, capital D. It seemed like the most precise way to identify. I think it's the first time I've formally claimed that label.

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On a different subject: kitten drama. Another litter was born recently. A couple days ago, some neighborhood kids found them, took them home, parents wouldn't let them keep them--so they just turned them loose again, but not back where they found them. Two have now disappeared as far as I know. A third found its way to our downstairs neighbors. I took it off their hands and kept in the apartment through the rest of the day, with the idea that when I went out to feed the cats in the evening, I'd try to return it to the mother. The kitten was sociable and cute. She spent a good part of the day sleeping wrapped up in a towel, which she evidently enjoyed--she would burrow deep inside it.

That evening I returned her to mom, who after some uncertainty was ready to take her back. But then the kitten didn't seem to want to go back. I'd set her down in front of mom, and she'd turn around and toddle right back to me. It was like a damn Disney movie, and the cussing is because, yes, I admit it, I got misty. Finally, mom got a hold of the nape of her neck and carried her off to their hiding place under the sidewalk. The next morning, as I was walking the dog, the kitten popped right out to say hello, and I beat a hasty retreat. I haven't seen her since; mom seems to have moved her.

However, this afternoon I stepped out of the apartment and found mom standing on the steps, staring at me. Since she's never done that before, I take it to mean she thinks I have her other kittens, which is heart-wrenching. Damn meddling neighborhood kids.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why is there blood on your skirts, Sharon Slater?


If you don't get the title of this post, read Helaman 9:26-35 and this news story.

I'm so angry, I find it hard to talk about this coherently.

It was not unpredictable, but it's still appalling, to see Mormons forging an alliance with a paranoid, violence-inflaming homophobe like Martin Ssempa.

I can empathize right now with the anger that produces a prayer like this:

Have mercy, O Lord,
on the wicked mob who have driven your people,
that they may cease to spoil,
that they may repent of their sins
if repentance is to be found.

But if they will not, . . .
and if it cannot be otherwise,
that the cause of your people may not fail before you,
may your anger be kindled,
and your indignation fall upon them,
that they may be wasted away,
both root and branch, from under heaven.

(D&C 109:50-52)
The problem is: God doesn't answer prayers like this. He doesn't intervene like this. That's the price we pay for agency. If we don't keep the Sharon Slaters and Martin Ssempas of the world from having their way with gay and lesbian people, no deus ex machina is going to save the day.

But if I thought God answers prayers like this, I would be praying it right now.

Of course, people on their side are praying right now that God will do these things to people like me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Courage Campaign's "Testimony Video Contest"

The Courage Campaign, a progressive organization in California that's been prominent in the anti-Prop 8 movement, has launched a "testimony video contest" in partnership with Dustin Lance Black, a former Mormon who is one of a handful of gay rights activists to whom the LDS Church has recently made symbolic friendly overtures. They're asking people to submit homemade videos of themselves telling their personal stories, which Black will then review to find the "new face" of the marriage equality movement.

That particular public relations aim pretty much rigs the contest in favor of affluent professionals who are conventionally masculine and feminine (no gender transgressiveness or ambiguity, please!), since despite the horror it generates on the right, the LGBT movement has become quite conservative in its understanding of what counts as "respectability." But that's not the main point I wanted to make here.

What intrigued me about this initiative is the way that Black overtly invokes the LDS practice of bearing testimony. In a video promoting the initiative, he describes how growing up Mormon, he was encouraged to bear his testimony in front of the congregation, which, he explains, means "getting up in front of everybody you know and saying what it is you know to be true."

One of the aspects of Mormonism that has always made me proud of the faith is this practice--this very democratic notion (at least in theory) that everyone is entitled to stand at the pulpit and declare the truth as they have come to understand it. When I first started speaking at rallies back in the run-up to the Iraq war, I was conscious that I was doing the same thing I had done back in my days as a missionary: publicly proclaiming the truth as I knew it. Whatever radical critique there is to be made of the LGBT movement today, it tickles me to see this Mormon ideal being placed in the service of progressive politics.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thanksgiving

Your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.
(Matt. 6:32)

It's not that I believe in providential intervention—that would absurdly, even atrociously, presumptuous in a world where so many people don't get what they need. I'm fortunate, in the sense of lucky, and my soul's natural response is a feeling of grateful relief. So I give thanks.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thanksgiving for Community House

Earlier this week, the Chapel Hill town council passed a vote that allows Community House, a transitional housing facility, to proceed with plans to build a new location. The Episcopal church that Hugo and I attend has been part of the interfaith coalition supporting the move, which has been opposed by some residents of the neighborhood where the new facility will be built.

I give thanks that the vote passed, and I pray that residents' continuing concerns can be effectively addressed as the project moves forward. I pray for those in my community who have lost their homes or are in danger of losing their homes.

The lowly will thrive and progress,
and the Lord will give them joy;
the poor will rejoice in the Holy One.
(2 Nephi 27:30, adapted)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden is dead

Rejoice not when your enemy falls,
lest the Lord see it and it displease him.
(Prov. 24:17-18)
I say this as someone who has fantasized perfectly seriously about celebrating the (hopefully imminent) death of a certain apostle with champagne and a rousing chorus of "Ding, dong, the witch is dead."

That's a shameful thing to admit—and that's precisely my point.

I had mixed feelings when I heard that bin Laden was dead. Relief, of course. But also regret that the justice administered was vigilante justice, not legal justice in an international court.

But then I saw footage on the news of people basically dancing in the streets outside the White House, and I thought: This is perverse.

This is not an occasion for celebration. It's not an occasion to be waving our flag and chanting, "USA! USA!"

This man's death doesn't end jihadism. His death doesn't bring back the dead—in this country and others; all the dead on all sides of the conflicts unleashed by and leading up to 9/11. His death doesn't undo the abridgment of civil liberties or the outright atrocities that agents of this country have committed, and in some ways are still committing, as the fallout of 9/11.

People are cheering and chanting the death of Osama bin Laden because they feel avenged. I can empathize. There are people whose deaths I will be tempted to cheer and chant. And it's wrong.

I'm speaking here of Americans in general. I'm not going to presume to speak to the pain of individuals who lost loved ones at 9/11 or in the wars.

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God of justice, God of life—

This was far from an ideal ending, though maybe it was the best that could be had.

If I pray that good may be brought out of this, does that make me complicit in what was done? I'd like to be clean from the blood, but maybe that's wishful thinking. Maybe it's supercilious.

I pray for all who have suffered, all who have lost loved ones, or homes, or limbs, or have been tortured, or imprisoned without due process, or suffered any kind of loss, because of 9/11, and the wars that followed, and the further terrorist attacks that followed.

I pray for all the dead, including your son, Osama bin Laden, whom you love and who has gone home to you. I have faith that's true, but I'm also sensing the cost required to make that statement true.

I pray for my enemies, though I don't know what to say more concretely than that.

In Christ's name, amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

SLC March for Immigrants' Rights

March For Immigrants’ and Workers’ Rights Tomorrow May 1 In Down Town SLC
(God bless the Mormon Worker!)

If I have my time zones correct, this march is just about to begin. What a great way to observe May Day—and, may I say, the Lord's day. I mean that seriously.

"Inasmuch as you do it to the least of these,
you do it to me."
(D&C 42:38)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

For the Callejas family

Immigration officials may deport Mormon branch president and family

Remember all your church, O Lord,
with all their families,
and all their immediate connections,
with all their sick and afflicted ones,
with all the poor and meek of the earth. (D&C 109:72)

Especially:
Felix Joaquin Callejas-Hernandez
Luca Margarita Castillo de Callejas
Jose Moroni Callejas-Castillo
Margarita Concepcion Callejas-Castillo

In Christ's name, amen.

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I'm reminded also of these passages. Okay, granted, the Callejas family's situation isn't as drastic as the situations to which these texts allude; but when it comes to the pain this family's experiencing, the difference is more of degree than kind.

We owe an imperative duty
to ourselves, to our wives and children,
who have been made to bow down
with grief, sorrow, and care,
under the damning hand of oppression . . .
It is an iron yoke. (D&C 123:7)

[As usual, oppression is defended with pious claims about obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.]

Although you will be cast into trouble,
and into bars and walls,
your God will stand by you forever.
If your enemies fall upon you,
and tear you from the bosom of your wife,
and of your own offspring,
and your oldest son clings to your clothing,
saying, "My father, my father,
what can't you stay with us?"
and if then he be thrust from you,
and you be dragged to prison—
know this my son:
the Son of Man has descended below them all.
Hold on your way,
for God will be with you forever. (D&C 122:4, 6-9)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday

The Omnipotent Lord,
who was and is from all eternity,
will come down from heaven
among the children of Adam and Eve
and dwell in a tabernacle of clay.

He will suffer temptations
and pain of body—
hunger and thirst and fatigue.

They will scourge him
and crucify him.

On the third day
he will rise from the dead,
and look! he stands to judge the world.

All these things are done
so that a righteous judgment
may come upon the children of Adam and Eve.

(Mosiah 3:5-10)

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He will be led, crucified, and killed,
the Flesh becoming subject to death.
Thus God breaks the bands of death,
having gained victory over death,
giving the Flesh power
to make intercession for mortals—

having ascended into heaven
with the bowels of mercy,
being filled with compassion for mortals,
standing between them and condemnation,
having broken the bands of death
and purchased their freedom.

(Mosiah 15:7-9)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Good Friday

Strictly speaking, it's Saturday now; but I forgot to post earlier. No Way of the Cross this year. It was cancelled at the last minute—evidently we'll walk under heat but not rain. In the evening I attended a Taize service at which I read part of John's passion narrative.

I encountered this icon online a few days ago. No information was available regarding the painter.

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I looked and saw that the Lamb of God
was taken by the people;
the Son of the everlasting God
was judged of the world.
I saw and bear record.

I saw that he was lifted up on the cross
and killed...

After he was killed,
I saw that the great and spacious building,
which was the pride of the world, fell,
and its fall was exceedingly great.

(1 Nephi 11:32-34, 36)

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He becomes the victim of empire to destroy empire.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day and green garments


Okay, a little break from the somber tone of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I want to do my bit to promote the Green Garment Campaign, which was conceived by "Tophat" over at the blog "It's All About the Hat." The campaign is encouraging environmentally minded Latter-day Saints to send messages to the feedback link at Church Distribution (feedback@store.lds.org)proposing that the church expand the range of garment fabrics to include "green" options like wool or a cotton/hemp blend.

In a more literal sense, "green" garments are already available, i.e., in the color green, for LDS folks in the armed services. So, let's see... What are the odds that the church will be as solicitous toward members with environmental concerns as it has been to the needs of its members in the military?

That was a snarky question—and I will sincerely repent for that, in a spirit of humbled thanksgiving, if events prove that my snarkiness was unfair. But speaking seriously, it's hard to predict how church leadership might react to this campaign, assuming it gets off the ground enough to attract their notice. On the one hand, now that "going green" has become a respectable part of the corporate culture from which church administration often takes its cues, the church recently developed a "green"-certified model for meetinghouses. On the other hand, given the predominance of conservative Republicans in Mormonism and therefore in church administration, I really do suspect the campaign will tend to elicit within the bureaucracy a kneejerk reaction of, "Silly tree-huggers." Of course, even if there's sympathy for the proposal, the corporate machinery could decide it's not cost-effective, too little demand, etc.

Still, despite my natural pessimism, it's heartening to see folks anxiously engaged in a good cause, so I wish the Green Garment Campaign well. "O Lord, give them success" (Alma 31:32).