Saturday, July 29, 2017

Baptism

Several months ago our oldest son was baptized.  In some ways the Episcopal ceremony is very similar to a Mormon baptism.  Both ceremonies involve joining a community of faith, establishing a covenant relationship with God, the forgiveness of sins, and receiving the Holy Ghost.  Of course they differ in many ways.  For example, in a Mormon baptism you specifically join the Mormon church, whereas in the Episcopal church, baptism joins you to the Christian faith.  Also, unlike the Mormon church, the Episcopal church allows people to officially join the community of faith at any age.  In the Mormon church, active participation in a baptism ceremony is limited to the person being baptized plus three priesthood holders, whereas in the Episcopal Church the entire congregation participates by praying for and making promises to help the person being baptized in their life in Christ.


The most obvious difference in the ceremonies, whether or not immersion is used, seems to me one of the least significant.  While I appreciate the seriousness with which immersion baptism takes the baptismal symbolism, the aesthetic completeness of a symbol isn't all of what make a symbol meaningful.  I find changing the amount of water used in baptism no more objectionable than the LDS temple initiatory ceremonies changing from including a full literal washing to a symbolic drop of water.  From the moment John the Baptist performed ritual washings at the river instead of in the temple, the baptism ceremony has been changing, so I'm less concerned with imitating a specific moment from the past.  Episcopal baptisms can actually be by immersion or not, as desired and as is convenient.  While the architecture of our church doesn't easily allow for immersion baptism, this spirit of flexibility showed in other adaptations our priest offered that might help our autistic son participate comfortably in the ceremony.  As long as the symbols and covenants of baptism are understood, I think flexibility in how exactly it is done is admirable.

The covenant making in baptism is one portion of the service that I found particularly meaningful.  While there is much I honor in the Mormon vision of the baptismal covenant, I do have serious concerns about it.  For example, while covenanting to obey God's commandments is an idea that makes good sense, there can be a problem in my view when that covenant is interpreted by an organization that wants to have all the answers to life's questions and all the questions as well.  Also, while it makes some intuitive sense that it is easier to be guided by the Holy Ghost if you are trying to be obedient, I believe this concept often leads a misunderstanding of God's love.  I can remember that I was taught in preparation for my baptism that sin was like dirt in the electrical contacts of a flashlight keeping the battery from working.  Just like the the flashlight can't guide you in the dark if dirty electrical contacts are in the way, the Holy Ghost won't guide our lives if we are sinful because the Holy Ghost just doesn't like being around sinners.  Another way I was taught this concept came out of the Book of Mormon.  In 1 Nephi 10:21 it says: "...no unclean thing can dwell with God..."  Also in Alma 36:30 it says "inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence."  Since uncleanness can't dwell with God and God cuts off the unclean from His presence, the Holy Ghost is forced to limit His contact with sinners.  On the contrary, in Mark 2:16-17 we find Jesus intentionally seeking out sinners:
When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
I appreciate that the Episcopal baptismal covenant theology places fewer limits on where we might expect to find God's love and presence operating in the world.

To really understand the Episcopal Church's baptismal covenant coming from a Mormon perspective, it is important to realize that even the style of how the covenant is made is different.  In the Mormon church, with the prominent exception of the sacrament (or communion) prayers, covenants are rarely recited in public.  If the sermons made at the time of baptism failed to explain the baptism covenant, a non Mormon could attend a baptism or watch Mormons remake their baptismal covenants during Sunday worship and learn almost nothing about the covenant being made.  Of course, the Mormon baptism covenant is no great secret and anyone can learn the basics with a quick review of a Sunday School manual posted on the internet.  However, the specific words of the covenant are not culturally emphasized.

Unlike the Mormon baptismal covenant which is made without being spoken, the Episcopal baptism covenant is spoken publicly during the baptism service.  On a daily basis, Episcopalians may review the beliefs they have committed to during their morning and evening prayers.  The covenant is also recited publicly when it is renewed during special church services.  Perhaps because the covenant is designed to be spoken out loud, it is much more detailed than the Mormon version, which doesn't even officially exist in a spoken form.  The only written form of the Mormon baptismal covenant is two sentences in a sermon on baptism found in the Book of Mormon and a discussion of who is to be baptized in D&C 20:37, rather than a directly enacted covenant.  The physical act of baptism, not a spoken promise, is the method of covenanting.

I believe the focus on the specific details in the Episcopal Baptism covenant invites contemplation and decision making in what it means to live the covenant.  Without the specific details, the Mormon covenant of obedience is harder to turn into concrete action and depends overly much on interpretation from leaders.  In the Episcopal baptism ceremony, the following are the commitments made, omitting commitments made by parents and by the congregation, starting with the examination of the candidate for baptism that comes just before the covenant:
• Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
I renounce them.

• Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
I renounce them.

• Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.

• Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
I do.

• Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
I do.

• Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
I do. 

Then later in the ceremony is the actual baptism covenant:

• Do you believe in God the Father? I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 

• Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended to the dead.  On the third day he rose again.  He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 

• Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 

• Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? I will, with God's help. 

• Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will, with God's help. 

• Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God's help. 

• Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God's help. 

• Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God's help. 
Part of what I love about this covenant is the rich variety of ways that this covenant commits you to loving and serving other people.  Not that the Mormon baptismal covenant doesn't have that idea, but it sums it up as follows: "bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light... to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort"  While serving, empathizing, and comforting others are wonderful commitments, they seem inadequate on their own to describe the radical love that Jesus taught.

There is one last difference from the Mormon baptismal tradition that stood out to us as especially important.  After the baptism, while anointing with oil, the priest states:

You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever. Amen.

There is something beautiful about the relationship with God established in baptism being permanent.  Perhaps it is knowing that any local Mormon leader without even knowing us could try to "cancel" our relationship with God at any time that makes it especially meaningful to be a part of a church that views baptism as being something that can't be taken from you.  Because really, nothing can come between us and God's love.  When I consider my son's baptism, my hope is that I have brought him to a place where he will be able to understand this simple fact about God.  Nothing can come between us and God's Love.  Not for us.  Not for anyone else.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What can Prayer be?

As an Episcopalian, many of my prayers fall into what Mormons refer to as "set prayers".  The Mormon community I grew up in didn't have a high opinion of this kind of prayer, preferring prayers that try to hold a conversation with God.  Looking back, it seems odd that in the culture of Mormonism there are so much talk of how spontaneous "prayer as conversation" is superior since Mormonism has many set prayers, especially in baptism, sacrament, and temple work which are all seen as perfectly legitimate despite being set prayers.  I don't think this criticism of set prayers is really about whether Mormons believe in set or spontaneous prayers since they believe in both.  I think the criticism occurs because Mormons find that a "set prayer" used outside of an LDS "saving ordinance" simply doesn't fit their expectation of what prayer is supposed to be.

At a fairly basic level, Mormons and Episcopalians don't define prayer in the same way.  Here is an except on prayer from the LDS Bible Dictionary
.... As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings....

We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ—when His words abide in us (John 15:7). We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent His mind but spring out of the selfishness of man’s heart.
If, as in the Mormon perspective, prayer is supposed to be a conversation between a literal Father (in heaven) and a child (on earth) to bring their minds together so that the child knows what to ask for to be able to get what the father really wants to give, why would you use predetermined phrases out of a book?  It would be like trying to ask your parents for a birthday present by reading quotes out of Shakespeare.  Except in special circumstances it simply wouldn't make sense.

For contrast, here is a description of prayer from the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer:
Q. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.  
Q. What is Christian Prayer?
A. Christian prayer is response to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  
Q. What prayer did Christ teach us?
A. Our Lord gave us the example of prayer knows as the Lord's Prayer. See page 364.
Q. What are the principal kinds of prayer?
A. The principal kinds of prayer are adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition.  
Q. What is adoration?
A. Adoration is the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God's presence.  
Q. Why do we praise God?
A. We praise God, not to obtain anything, but because God's Being draws praise from us.
Q. For what do we offer thanksgiving?
A. Thanksgiving is offered to God for all the blessings of this life, for our redemption, and for whatever draws us closer to God.  
Q. What is penitence?
A. In penitence, we confess our sins and make restitution where possible, with the intention to amend our lives.  
Q. What is prayer of oblation?
A. Oblation is an offering of ourselves, our lives and labors, in union with Christ, for the purposes of God.  
Q. What are intercession and petition?
A. Intercession brings before God the needs of others; in petition, we present our own needs, that God's will may be done.
Obviously intercession and petition are very similar to the Mormon definition of prayer, but that that is only one portion in a much larger picture.  Obviously a definition is only a definition and in real life most all Mormons do more in their prayers than just ask for things.  However, I believe the emphasis in the definitions represents a real cultural difference.  Contrasting with this idea of prayer being a form of work used to earn conditional blessings, Episcopal Priest Christopher Weber in his book "A Users Guide to Morning and Evening Prayer" describes prayers known as the Daily Office as follows:
...we are sanctifying time by framing each day with prayer.  No matter the setting, the goal of the Daily Office remains the same: to provide opportunity for every Christian to offer each day to God.
In some respects the daily prayers of a Mormon and an Episcopalian have similar roots, both going back in some sense to ancient Jewish rituals of regularly praying at different times of the day.  These traditions were in new forms passed into Christianity where they later became highly developed in the prayers of monks and nuns.  During the Reformation when monasteries were dissolved, the English church adapted these prayer rituals for use by every day people.  The Episcopal church, like many others, carries on a beautiful version of this tradition.  For an example of the beautiful prayers that can be found in these services, consider the following from an Evening prayer:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.
or another example from evening prayer:
O gracious light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.
While this prayer is not asking for anything it works beautifully to sanctify the day.  This particular prayer is often set to music.



Another form of prayer that I am fond of is the Christian meditation practice known as Centering Prayer.  The deep sense of calm I gain from this practice makes it one of the spiritual highlights of my day.  Of all the kinds of prayer I now enjoy, it is probably the farthest from the Mormon experience because it isn't focused on trying to speak with or for God.  Instead it is resting one's mind in God.  What is that like?  This video provides some perspective.



I still at times practice prayer as conversational requests, but only as one dish in a much larger spiritual feast.  My prayer life has changed so much I'm not even sure my coworkers can tell I am praying when I make my morning and noon prayers.  Instead of the typical Mormon posture of bowed head and closed eyes I perform these prayers consulting either a physical or electronic copy of "The Book of Common Prayer."  Instead of taking care to be inventive in how I phrase of my daily requests to avoid meaningless repetition I worry whether I am pondering the my words sufficiently to recite them with full intent of heart.  Instead of worship through moving my body only happening in temple ordinances I worship that way regularly.  Prayer can be many more things than it used to be.  Instead of judgement regarding whose prayers are best, I wish the Mormonism I grew up in had been more open to exploring the diversity of spiritual practices in the world.  I am not sure how this would have been possible.  Most of the cycle worship I practice now would need some modification to work for Mormonism, though not very much.  The one piece I very much wish was shared more broadly is Centering Prayer.  While the chief proponent of Centering Prayer is a Catholic monk the practice and generally the theology of centering prayer is non denominational.  There is no good reason that I can see why Mormons could not participate in the Christian meditation tradition.  If I could give a gift to the prayer life of the Mormons that I know, that would be it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cultural Bilingualism

One of the advantages I have heard of being bilingual is that each language has its own peculiar way of defining the world and so learning a new language helps you think more flexibly.  I think the same thing can be said of learning to think in more than one cultural language.  I think the first time I discovered this was when I took a tour through the beauty of Le Guin's books, particularly the Hainish Cycle, and started to understand the beauty and possibility of looking at the world from a secular humanist viewpoint.  It didn't mean that I chose not to be religious, but instead of viewing the ideas of humanism with angry suspicion, humanism became another layer of potential and alternate meanings.  I could start to look at many given situations and understand them from both a conservative religious outlook and also from a liberal humanist outlook.  This was by no means a comfortable transition, but it increased the richness of how I saw the world.

Later, I found that I was studying myself right out of the radical conservative extremism I had been brought up in.  Things that had seemed impossible to question about the Mormon brand of Dominion theology politics I had grown up with (the theocratic idea that Jesus did not fulfill the political structures and commands in the Law of Moses and therefore to favored by God government should be changed to reflect the Old Testament) simply failed to work anymore.  I can still understand the value of much of conservative politics and appreciate many of the noble goals involved, but I became more of a centrist liberal.  Maybe if I had gone to a higher quality conservative school I would have been perfectly happy being a more moderate conservative and it is the radicalism that really broke the system for me.  Perhaps knowing this is what keeps me a centrist, I can understand political problems from conservative and liberal mind sets without assuming either one to be completely invalid.

Later, as Mormonism no longer held its meaning for me and I have become an Episcopalian, there is a whole new religious language that I am learning.  There is a whole new vocabulary involved, even when the words are the same the definitions change.  When I discuss Mormonism these days it can feel distinctly odd, I either have to intentionally switch back to speaking in Mormon speak or I end up discussing Mormonism from a religious vocabulary that simply doesn't match.  Even though it hurts to change, I believe I have become a fuller human being from the experience.

Fundamentally changing your sense of self hurts.  Finding that entire aspects of your culture or sub culture no longer accept you and you no longer accept them hurts.  It isn't something you could really wish on anyone.  However, I believe there is a value in that sort of pain.  It can force you to learn the language of a new cultural outlook.  Even if you don't accept that outlook as your own, being able to understand the richness of possibility in the world brings its own humility and sensitivity to the wonder of all that might be.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Funerals

Growing up LDS I heard a lot of stereotypes about funerals.  About how LDS funerals were very happy because supposedly LDS people felt so secure in their knowledge of the Resurrection.  By contrast all the other religions had super sad funerals because their belief in the Resurrection was defective in some way.  I even once heard it suggested that it was common in other religions that people were in such despair that they became overly dramatic and upset because of this failing.

Growing up it was hard for me to accept these stereotypes as real, because the first funeral I ever attended was a Salvation Army Church funeral where the tragic despair and sadness I had been taught to expect simply wasn't there.  As a little kid I was confused.  I had been told that funerals were sad and that non LDS funerals were sadder.  The people I was seeing were smiling, happy to see each other.  It felt like a family reunion.  As the years have passed it seems the happiest funeral I can remember.

By contrast the first two LDS funerals I ever attended were for people who died young in tragic circumstances.  While I have no doubt as to the faith and belief of the people in these situations, I also observed that they were intensely sad.  Who wouldn't be?  I have attended funerals conducted in at least four, maybe as many as five different religious traditions.  Specifically coming to mind I have been to Salvation Army funeral's with traditional hymns sung along to a brass band, an informal Catholic funeral held with the eulogy structured around the rosary meditations of the mysteries of light, LDS services, a non religious service focused around people coming together and sharing memories of the deceased, and an Episcopalian funeral mass.  Each funeral service is unique, and how happy or sad people are in response is very individual.  Generally each has its own mix of steadfast faith and hope mixed with the very real tragic sense of loss.  Generally I have seen much to honor and little to criticize about most of the funerals I have attended.  It is unfortunate that a lack of interfaith contact allows myths about non LDS funerals to be perpetuated.  If Jesus can weep at the tomb of Lazarus then it is perfectly acceptable for family to be sad at a funeral.  People who are sad are in need of comfort, not judgements about how much their believe in the Resurrection or not.  No matter what someone believes about the after life, their loved one for now is gone.  While of course there is nothing wrong with being attached to your own cultural traditions surrounding funerals, if you find yourself making assumptions about other people, maybe try attending a funeral from another tradition.  From what I have experienced, I expect that if you do it with your eyes open and an open heart, you will come away touched by what you see and feeling more charitable towards people who are different than you. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lent, Community, and the Workplace

I was sitting in my car, staring at my reflection in the mirror, looking at the cross of ashes on my forehead.  I wanted to keep it there as a way to claim and hold onto the sense of the sacred in Ash Wednesday and as a physical reminder of the sense of belonging that comes from worshiping together.  I wanted a reminder of why Ash Wednesday is a special day and to contemplate preparing for Easter.  But the bible verses quoted in the service were still ringing in my ears:
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
How do you walk into the office with a face marked advertising that you attended worship services on your lunch break after hearing that?  Sadly, I wiped my jacket sleeve across my forehead, and headed back into work.

There are many ways piety can be publicly displayed, some more quiet, some more loud.  Each religious tradition seems to have its own characteristic ways of building community with visible markers.  Despite being hesitant to walk around with ashes on my face, I have my own religious identifiers that stay visible at work.  I wear a ring with a cross on it to replace the CTR ring I used to wear.  To encourage my coworkers not to speak in tactless ways about other religions around me I have an 8 inch tall glass cross ornamenting my desk and a copy of the Book of Common Prayer.

A few days ago at the office, the head of one of the other accounting teams was walking up and down our row of cubicles with a stack of Ensign magazines.  In preparation for General Conference, she wanted to form a group that would meet once a week on lunch break to focus on different self improvement goals every week.  For the first week she wanted to focus on spirituality and was inviting us all to read the Ensign magazine together as a group devotional activity.  Since I am typically somewhat invisible in social spaces I was at first totally unsurprised that she walked right past me without extending an invitation but invited everyone else in our row, including others I am fairly sure are not Mormon.  I watched, wondering if I was socially invisible enough to escape the whole situation.  As she returned from the back of our row I think she noticed me watching and out of a desire to be inclusive (or at least avoid the awkwardness of having invited everyone but me), she invited me as well.  I had been so busy wondering whether or not to feel sorry for myself for being so invisible again that I hadn't come up with a witty response.  So I just said simply, "No, I'm not interested."  I'm not sure why, but she seemed to grow a touch defensive or confused and stated perhaps she was just weird that she wanted to do things like this.  I cut in and stated that I didn't think it was weird at all, that I thought it was a great community building activity, but I wasn't interested.

I spent a good part of the rest of the day either chuckling at the absurdity of the situation or feeling  stressed that I I didn't know to respond.  The desk cross was in part supposed to prevent weird interactions like this by making it obvious I wasn't Mormon.  Perhaps the desk cross is too small to be noticed and I need a larger one... 😉 Or maybe I should start wearing a cross necklace at the office to make my brand of Christianity much more obvious?  I felt pleased not to have been ignored as so often happens, but at the same time worried that I had rejected this offer of community participation without softening the rejection with more graceful words.  Part of me also pondered that this special preparation for General Conference wasn't too far off of a Lent observance.  Even if the focus of the preparation is a human meeting instead of Easter, the basic concept is still the same, to have a special time of spiritual practice before a special occasion at about the same time of the year.  The similarities are strong enough you could argue that the difference is mostly just that we belong to different faith communities.  Offering to read the Ensign magazine with people is a way to build community with people based on spirituality, not totally unlike what I experienced attending church on Ash Wednesday.  It is worth asking, if building community is such a great thing, what is the problem?  Why did it stress me out?  Beyond not wanting to parade my piety, why else did I feel a need to hide my own signs of spiritual community?  A lot of it comes down to that religion is a subject that involves a lot of social power imbalances.

Some of the power imbalance just comes from living in Utah.  Mormons have a lot of social power.  In an office where most of the staff are Mormon, Mormons to some extent can expect more social legitimacy than non-Mormons and much more than ex-Mormons.  This causes inherent problems for me, not dissimilar to what I'm sure atheists experience in most of the country.  Social power and legitimacy can express itself in a lot of ways.  If there was any conflict connected to religion, the dominant group can be expected to have their concerns taken more seriously.  If someone starts a malicious rumor or spreads speculative juicy gossip about a member of a minority group, it will be believed more easily, especially if it ties in to the stereotypes the dominant group commonly believes about the minority group.  In any kind of discussion of religious opinions, the dominant group will have a harder time understanding when they are behaving in an unwelcome manner, while the minority group's unique opinions or needs might be unwelcome from the start.

Growing up, I was raised to believe that social norms that secularized the work place were somehow a reflection of the degradation of society.  I was given to believe I should be open and often feel defensive about my right and need to pray, proselytize, and visibly practice my religion publicly.  Now that I have the experience of being a religious minority, I have a different perspective.  While I appreciate that belonging to and participating in religious communities can make up a large part of personal well being (or detract greatly from it), the power imbalances between religious communities makes any discussion or assertively public practice of religion in an interfaith space very tricky and time consuming to do right.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Some things never change...

I can still remember being excited for the first times I helped to pass the sacrament in my LDS ward growing up.  I'd get all dressed up, be excited to participate, and I can recall once even crying when we didn't make it to church on time for me to participate in my assignment.  I recall taking a copy of one of the hand drawn instruction maps showing where we all were supposed to walk and deciding I could do better.  Even though I held no special position of responsibility to take charge, I went home and made a line drawing on my computer to replace the rough sketch, one that could be printed out 9 copies per sheet, easily distributed to everyone involved, small enough to be kept in a pocket, and small enough to look at without drawing attention to yourself.  They were so popular that when I was an older teenager and a new young men's leader tried to take charge and make his own official map for everyone to use, there were immediate requests from the other young men that he should change the one he made to look like mine- he tried to make the map cover an entire page -- much too large.

One of the disappointments I encountered as I transitioned out of the LDS church is that I discovered that the LDS sacrament, which I had dutifully passed, prepared, blessed, memorized blessing prayers for, and even on occasion taken to people who couldn't attend church because they were sick, represented a theology of how God expressed love towards and interacted with the world that didn't seem to match the way Jesus reached out to people in the New Testament.  The sacrament went from a highlight of my week and a memorial of a lifetime of devotion to something that I could only hesitantly participate in.  It was a joyful experience to discover a new way to understand and participate in worship to hear in the Episcopal Church the words of communion after the breaking of the bread:
Priest: "Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us"
People: "Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia."

Priest: "The Gifts of God for the People of God."
Instead of the Sacrament representing a theology dividing people - the kinds of people the Holy Ghost would spend time around and the kinds of people the Holy Ghost did not spend time with- communion was a gift to be received joyfully.

Today was my first Sunday volunteering to be a chalice bearer.  During communion the priest presented the bread to those gathered around the alter and I followed after him carrying the chalice, a wide brimmed ceremonial cup, filled with wine for those gathered around the alter to drink from or dip their bread .  The priest presented the bread, saying:
 "The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven."
I followed after saying:
"The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation."
With everything that has changed in my life, one thing that hasn't changed is the value I place on being able to participate in and perform religious rituals.  I look forwards to continuing to participate in church services and as my kids become older I hope to find new ways to do so.  Some things never change.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

If I could change one moment in time... talking about the temple

I was in early morning seminary at the time and someone said "what about the changes in the temple?"  Let's just freeze that moment, press pause.  There is so much awkward tension at that moment, the temple is so sacred that it is mostly secret.  So I knew practically nothing about the temple and had virtually no way to learn about its history.  I knew supposedly there were "anti-mormon lies" circulating about the temple but had been taught to ignore them.  I had picked up a few tidbits from searching in an electronic LDS reference library, but knew virtually nothing.

Press play, the teacher is responding, a man I look up to tremendously as an extremely educated and as a religiously mature man... "The wording of the temple ceremony has only been modernized and the words of the covenants themselves has never been changed."

Let's stop.  One reason I've managed to keep from feeling as angry about my time growing up Mormon is that there are very few times important to me where I feel like I was intentionally deceived.  Many of the untrue things I was taught, I fully believe the people who taught me them believed them fully and were acting with good intentions.  Unfortunately, this is one situation where I'm honestly not sure if I was intentionally lied to or not.  Significant changes to the covenants had been made within recent living memory when this moment happened.  Unless you define some of the covenants as not covenants, because they don't feel important enough to count, this statement should have been obviously not true.  Maybe that was how he viewed the subject, feeling that unedifying covenants should be viewed as ceremonial in nature and not truly part of the covenants as he understood them.

If you go back through the history of the temple there are many changes, covenants added and removed, doctrines added and removed, elements that no longer seemed helpful or useful being removed or replaced.  I would have expected that if anyone knew the basic history of changes to the temple, he would, since he claimed to know answers to questions about it.  You don't normally make bold proclamations like that regarding anything unless you have actually studied up on the subject.  But maybe that is my own personal bias showing up... I know this teacher was fully capable of forming very strong opinions about historical events that no one has any way of knowing about based on his feelings.  Typical Mormons have virtually no access to information about the temple's history, so maybe he thought he knew about the temple because of how his idea of the past made him feel but hadn't ever learned the real truth.  One way or another, I'd never really felt betrayed except by that one moment.

As a result of believing what he said, I assumed the temple ceremony had been preserved pristine as handed down from the mind of God.  Why wouldn't I?  If it had only been "language modernized" then of course the influence of man and the culture of man should have had almost no effect.  When I went through the temple the first time, I imagined the ceremony existing in a chain of unbroken existence back to Adam, imagining the sacred secrets being passed down in caves or on mountain tops, imagining everything being perfect...  But the one place I expected to find virtually uninfluenced by man had so many changes and man made influences, I was astonished.  The temple fell dramatically from representing the very pinnacle of what it meant to be LDS as I understood it to, well, I wasn't sure what.

I wish I could rewind back to that cursed moment and change it.  Here is what I wish someone had told me:

God speaks to us through and knowing the culture we are in.  Our culture is imperfect.  So, historically many things in the temple have inevitably been of human origin.  As a result, human imperfections affect it and our leaders try to respond to those imperfections by fixing them.  So yes, the temple has changed, generally in ways you'd appreciate if you knew the details.  In general the changes have allowed the ceremony to focus more on God and less on cultural things that the early church leaders found fascinating or influences from their personal flaws that they tried to project back on God.  Church leaders are human and make mistakes even sometimes in how they set up the temple.  The important thing to realize is that God accepts and redeems us despite our tendency to make mistakes.  So if something in the church past or present, even in the temple, doesn't seem right and you wonder whether  God or man is responsible, feel free to wonder.  Maybe its a genuine mistake, maybe you simply don't understand enough yet.  We don't know all of where God is leading us or where he might still be finding us lacking.  But the journey to God that we undertake in life and through the temple is a beautiful and a vital journey to undertake.

I know there are many reasons conversations like that don't happen in the LDS church.  It would undermine the entire concept of why the leadership needs to be taken as seriously they do.  But I wish it could have happened that way.  That kind of humility in teaching about leadership and history would heal quite a few of the problems in the LDS church.  I might still have left the LDS church, but it wouldn't have been anywhere near as traumatic to have tried to have stayed in.  And if I felt the need to leave, it wouldn't have been so traumatic.