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?

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?"



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.



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.