Jesus

Easter’s Promise

Posted on March 31, 2010. Filed under: Belief, Changes, faith, hope, Jesus, Mormon Life |

by Heather

One of my favorite writers is the very irreverent David Sedaris. Because I taught English as a second language, I get a big kick out of his tales of studying French–especially the story about the difficulty Easter.  “What is an Easter?” asks a Muslim student.  As Sedaris and some of his fellow Christians attempt to explain the crucifixion, the atonement and resurrection of Jesus, they find their vocabulary sadly inadequate (and indeed absurd).   A Polish student says Easter is “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus.”  Another chimes in, “He die one day and then go above my head to be with my father.  He nice the Jesus.” So, as Sedaris puts it, “Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, [they] did what any self-respecting group of people might do.  [They] talked about food.” 

Even as a native speaker, I can relate to the difficulties of explaining abstract religious concepts.  If I examine my own Easter vocabulary, phrases like “solid dark chocolate,” “lovely decoupage eggs,” “marshmallow Peeps”, and “funeral potatoes” are more common than  phrases like “only begotten son,” “atoned for our suffereing,” and “He is risen.”   One set denotes Easter as holiday, the other, Easter as holy day. 

My earliest memories of Easter reflect this dichotomy. 

When I was a little girl, we knew Easter was coming when my mom did two things. First, she took my sister and me to Sears to get new dresses.  It was so exciting to try on fancy pastel frocks with scratchy lace and skirts that swung out when we’d twirl. Sometimes Angela and I matched. Sometimes not. We never got hats or gloves. New dresses were sufficient–anything more was just showing off. 

The other marker of Easter was the visit to my Grandma Jessie’s grave.   I enjoyed those visits.  The grass was velvety to lie on, the air smelled of roses, and the grooved letters of my grandma’s name carved into stone were fun to trace.  I never knew Jessie. I was 2 when she passed.  Perhaps my parents used the opportunity to speak of the resurrection. I don’t remember. My mother has never been one to sermonize. Yet a connection was made for me that Easter was a time to look forward to reunions.  My mother mourned her loss each April; Jessie was born on Easter Sunday in 1903.  But I also think my mom chose early spring as the time to visit because she cherished Easter’s promise of resurrection, the holy day reminded her that she would indeed embrace her mother again. 

Something else I have observed of my mom in the spring is that her heart turns to the soil.   When I had gone through a particularly hard time a few years ago, some dear friends sent me 4 dozen mixed bulbs. Life in a box.  I don’t share my mother’s green thumb and had never planted anything before and feared nothing would grow for me.  I read and reread the instructions before tentatively planting the first bulb that fall.  I found I enjoyed planting things and imagined the beautiful flowers that would grow.  But a few days later I went outside and saw that my garden was pock marked with hole after hole where squirrels had dug up and stolen my floral treasures.  I cursed those rodents and sobbed my heart out.  It was as if the squirrels had taken my hope from me along with the daffodils and crocuses. But to my surprise, come spring, I had the loveliest flowers in my front yard.  It was a little miracle. Flowers and faith can survive decimation.  

Last spring the kids helped me bury bulbs.  One of us would scoop out dirt with a little shovel, one would plop in a bulb, one would sprinkle it with Tabasco or “spicey wicey” to keep away the critters, and one would replace and pack the dirt.  I can’t describe the joy I feel when the first little green sprouts show themselves.  And these beautiful flowers keep coming back.  Sometimes in winter, when my sweet flower beds are buried under 3 feet of packed, salty snow, I just know nothing can survive. But not too long ago, when it seemed winter would never end, I went out my front door and saw little purple crocuses poking their heads out of the ground.  It called to mind a favorite primary song that beautifully parallels gardens and the resurrection:

 On a golden springtime, underneath the ground,
A tiny seedling lay asleep until the sun shone down.
Awake, awake, O little seed!
Push upward to the light!
The day is bright. With all your might,
push upward to the light!

On a golden springtime, Jesus Christ awoke
And left the tomb where he had lain; the bands of death he broke.
Awake, awake, O sleeping world!
Look upward to the light,
For now all men may live again.
Look upward to the light!

On that first Easter Sunday, that holy day, women came to Christ’s tomb, found it empty, and were heart broken.  Our hearts too are broken by our losses, large and small,  tangible and intangible. Yet that empty space can be filled with hope. Faith can survive a dormant season.  Easter means that the tomb is empty, because He is risen. He is risen. He is risen.

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Jesus Remains the Same

Posted on March 24, 2010. Filed under: Jesus | Tags: , , , , |

by Stella

Believing Christians often conceive of Jesus as static. Jesus was born divine in a stable in Bethlehem and remained that way for the rest of his life. While I feel that the LDS doctrine goes a bit farther than most religions, I still find myself trapped into thinking of Jesus in a very one-dimensional way. I have a hard time believing that he never “sinned,” at least, by standards of my old definition of the word. Now, I tend reflect deeper what “sin” actually means for me, free from religious input. Did Jesus never hit his siblings? Did Jesus never argue with his father? Did Jesus skip school occasionally? Did Jesus swear? Did Jesus get a crush on a girl and have thoughts about her that he might need to confess to his Bishop? Did Jesus ever feel competitive? Did Jesus ever let his ego get in the way? And if he didn’t, well, then, how can he understand me when I do all of these things? And if he did, well, can he REALLY be sinless? Was Jesus able to repent?

A static Jesus tends to serve religion because you can’t REALLY equate him with true human experience (like all the little things mentioned above). He has to be unique—the one and only Son of God—that is what makes him special, isn’t it? But, in my mind, it creates a gap that seems impossible to cross.

Think about it, “for over two thousand years millions of people have worshipped Christ with out really being transformed. With the exception of a handful of saints, Christianity has not turned believers into the ‘light of the world’ even though Jesus clearly intended the Kingdom of God to descend to earth in his lifetime. Like Buddha and every other enlightened person, Jesus wanted his followers to become enlightened too.”

Jesus was the product of transformation, and he wanted others to be transformed also. Lately, I’ve been reading books on Jesus written by non-Christians. In the most recent one, Jesus, a Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra (where the quotes come from), I have thought about Jesus in a way that I never have thought about him before. What if he wasn’t really born of a virgin birth, what if his birth and life were just like mine–only he started to understand deeply his own divinity—which is JUST like mine? What if he heard prophecies of a Messiah and decided to step up and fulfill those prophecies—not because he was any different or more divine than I am, but because he was willing to act. What if his life choices and teachings were simply a reflection of the power of enlightenment, conviction of who he is, and faith in his own ability? What if everything that Jesus taught and was, I can learn and be—not in heaven, but RIGHT NOW? What if he was just a man—a man who tapped into some higher part of himself that WE ALL HAVE? Somehow, these ideas seems to spur me to action more than the idea that he was part divinity, perfect, unchanging, and always clear about who and what he was. These thoughts make me drawn to his life path as something more conceivable for me to achieve right now. What if millions of people connected to these aspects of Jesus’s path on a deeper level (instead of the concentrating on all the miracles surrounding his calling)?

“What, then, is the path that Jesus laid out? Parts of it are already familiar. Jesus told his disciples to pray. He asked them to trust God. They were to rely on faith to accomplish miracles. Their attitude toward the world was to be one of peace and love. Millions of Christians still attempt to live by these precepts, yet something crucial must be missing, because we don’t witness a large-scale transformation of human nature among Christians. Like the rest of us, they seem just as tempted to be unloving, violent, selfish, and narrow-minded, the difference being that they are tempted to use their religion to justify their behavior. (In that, they aren’t alone—every organized religion creates an ethos that covers human flaws with self-righteous rhetoric).”

There must be more to the path that Jesus outlined. There must be more to his life mission as a man on this earth. There must be a greater world transformation that can happen. There must be some part of a static Jesus that just isn’t resonating with the Christian population as it was meant to. How can we view and follow Jesus in a way that will actually bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth? What do you think it is?

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Relief Society Lesson 3: Jesus Christ, Our Chosen Leader and Savior

Posted on February 2, 2010. Filed under: Jesus, Pre-Existence, Relief Society Lessons | Tags: , |

By Kelly Ann (“Chapter 3: Jesus Christ, Our Chosen Leader and Savior,” Gospel Principles, (2009),13–16)

[I have written this lesson as I might present it.  I hope the various parts and links are helpful primers for other readers and teachers’ lessons.  Only the italicized text is taken from the manual]

“I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.”

I have always enjoyed the Book of Mormon passages like the above from 2 Nephi 33:6 that testify of Jesus Christ.  Having belted the words to Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam all through primary, I was surprised as a child the first time I was told that I was not a Christian by my best friend who was the daughter of a minister.  I remember quoting the first Article of Faith to her to prove that I was.  “We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in his son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”  I later found various scriptures to prove my point.  I always believed in Jesus Christ and found that in sharing that tenet with other Christian friends, who at times mocked my Mormonism, we found common ground (although I generally did not quote scripture ;-p].  I learned to love Jesus although my understanding of him changed over time.  I began to see the complex theological differences that some people use to differentiate Mormons from classic Christians.  However, I knew that I believed Christ was my Savior and always preferred the lessons like these that focused on understanding what that meant, rather than on other aspects or tangents of the gospel.  As I was preparing for my mission, I devoured two addresses

The Living Christ by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Jesus the Christ: Our Master and More by Elder Russell M. Nelson

that I will incorporate into this lesson/ discussion.

In the spirit of the Book of Mormon’s 2 Ne. 25:26 which reads “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, [and] we prophesy of Christ,” Elder Nelson testifies and teaches of “Jesus the Christ, Our Master and more.” He focuses on ten distinguishing attributes/ titles of Jesus Christ including Creator, Jehovah, Advocate with with the Father, Immanuel, Son of God, Anointed One, Savior and Redeemer, Judge, Exemplar, and Millenial Messiah with the caveat that “He (Christ) has numerous names, titles, and responsibilities, all of eternal significance.”

Therefore, I find it intriguing that the Gospel Principles manual introduces the Jesus Christ, usually known as our Savior, also as our Leader, focusing on the pre-existence and our need to choose to follow Jesus Christ to return to live with our Heavenly Father.

When the plan for our salvation was presented to us in the premortal spirit world, we were so happy that we shouted for joy (see Job 38:7).  We understood that we … would sin and some of us would lose our way … [and that] we needed a Savior to pay for our sins and teach us how to return to our Heavenly Father. Our Father said, “Whom shall I send?” (Abraham 3:27). …  Jesus was willing to come to the earth, give His life for us, and take upon Himself our sins. He, like our Heavenly Father, wanted us to choose whether we would obey Heavenly Father’s commandments …to prove ourselves worthy of exaltation. Jesus said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2).  Satan, who was called Lucifer, also came, saying, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). …Under his plan, we would not be allowed to choose. He would take away the freedom of choice that our Father had given us. Satan wanted to have all the honor for our salvation. Under his proposal, our purpose in coming to earth would have been frustrated (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay [2003], 207).  After hearing both sons speak, Heavenly Father said, “I will send the first” (Abraham 3:27).   When Jesus lived on earth, He taught: “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. … And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:38, 40).

• Points for discussion: What does it mean to you that Jesus Christ was chosen to be our Savior?  How does he lead us back to eternal life?  How does having a Leader who emulates the will of the Father help us? How do we choose to follow Christ? How does knowledge of the pre-existence help us understand the role of Jesus Christ?

Because our Heavenly Father chose Jesus Christ to be our Savior, Satan became angry and rebelled. There was war in heaven. Satan and his followers fought against Jesus Christ and His followers. The Savior’s followers “overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).  In this great rebellion, Satan and all the spirits who followed him were sent away from the presence of God and cast down from heaven. A third part of the hosts of heaven were punished for following Satan (see D&C 29:36). They were denied the right to receive mortal bodies.  Because we are here on earth and have mortal bodies, we know that we chose to follow Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Satan and his followers are also on the earth, but as spirits. They have not forgotten who we are, and they are around us daily, tempting us and enticing us to do things that are not pleasing to our Heavenly Father. In our premortal life, we chose to follow Jesus Christ and accept God’s plan. We must continue to follow Jesus Christ here on earth. Only by following Him can we return to our heavenly home.

• Points for discussion: Why do you think so many spirits chose to follow Satan?  Does it motivate you to continue to follow Christ by knowing you already chose to follow him?  How does it feel to know that Satan has an army to dissuade us from following Christ?  How is the concept of the War in Heaven unique to Mormon Theology?

I am going to share a story from Gospel Principles Lesson 3 at Times and Seasons by Julie Smith [another great resource for lesson prep].

“”Story from Carlfred Broderick, a former stake president and professor of marriage and family therapy. There was an LDS family he knew who needed help with a wayward teen but they lived on the opposite side of the city, so he sent them to another therapist (who happened to be Jewish) who was a friend who he trusted:

“After only a couple of weeks, I got a call from my friend. ‘Carl, I need some help with this couple you referred to me.’ ‘What’s the problem? They probably just need to loosen up the parental iron fist a little.’ ‘That’s right. If they don’t, this kid is about to run away from home or attempt suicide or do something else drastic. But, Carl, every time I suggest any movement in the direction of loosening up, they patiently explain to me that I just don’t understand their religious obligation, as Mormon parents, to keep this kid in line. Frankly, I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t want to attack their religious beliefs, but the situation is explosive.’ I thought a moment and then said, ‘Here’s what you do. First, tell them that during the time you have been working with them, you have developed a real curiosity about the Mormon religion. This will serve to get their attention. Then say that there is one issue that keeps coming up when you ask about it that has you mystified. You keep hearing about some ‘war in heaven,’ but you can never quite figure out what it is about.’ ‘That’s it? I just ask them to explain the ‘war in heaven’?’ ‘That’s it.’ ‘Carl, what’s the war in heaven?’ ‘It doesn’t matter; just do what I said and let me know how it goes.’ A few days later he called. ‘Carl, I can’t believe it. I did what you said, and it was like magic.’ ‘So tell me about the session.’ ‘Well, as you suggested, I told them that since I started working with them I had gotten sort of interested in the Mormon religion. You wouldn’t believe the response. Even the rebellious teenage kid promised to give me a copy of some book on the Church with the family picture in the front. Then I said there was just one thing that kind of confused me about their beliefs. . . . What was this war in heaven? Well, the mom didn’t as much as take a minute to collect her thoughts. In seconds she had launched into some story about a council in heaven and two plans and she gets about three minutes into it and she stops cold in her tracks and gives me a funny look and says, ‘All right, Doctor, you’ve made your point.’ From that moment on they were like putty in my hands. It was like magic.’ . . . Of course, there was no magic. This good LDS woman simply had the unnerving experience of explaining Satan’s plan to an ‘investigator’ and, in the midst of her explanation, recognizing it as substantially her own version of responsible Mormon parenting as she had outlined it to him the week before. She understood the gospel principle fully; she just had been blinded to its applicability to her everyday challenges as a parent.’” “”

• Points for discussion: Have you ever had a similar experience in which you needed to be unblended? How can you remember the big picture when life gets complicated?

In the Living Christ, The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared “As we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ two millennia ago, we offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice. None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth. He was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New. Under the direction of His Father, He was the creator of the earth. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Though sinless, He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), yet was despised for it. His gospel was a message of peace and goodwill. He entreated all to follow His example. He walked the roads of Palestine, healing the sick, causing the blind to see, and raising the dead. He taught the truths of eternity, the reality of our premortal existence, the purpose of our life on earth, and the potential for the sons and daughters of God in the life to come.

• Points for discussion: How does the Christ’s example motivate you?  What can we learn from our attributes/ titles that Christ has [if time, discuss]?  Why do we need to first remember that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Leader?

I love being able to follow Jesus Christ.  Although I have declared my belief in him since I was little, I do not pretend to understand everything he did or to be a perfect follower/ believer.  As I said at the beginning and as witnessed through out, I can not be the same knowing that he is my Savior.  And so,

“I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.”

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Other Links of Interest that could be incorporated:

Conference Talks
Our Perfect Example by Elder Henry B. Eyring
None Were With Him by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Bloggernacle Articles
http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2009/12/whatever-happened-to-jesus/
http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2004/03/the-mormon-jesus/
http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com/mormon_inquiry/2006/11/the_real_jesus.html
http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/on-christ-the-advent-of-belief/comment-page-1/
http://bycommonconsent.com/2004/12/15/popular-views-of-jesus/

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My Twisted Sister

Posted on January 20, 2010. Filed under: faith, Jesus, spirituality, Women in the Scriptures |

A few years ago when I was Relief Society President,  we started out meetings with a scripture, preferably one in which a woman featured. Here’s one of my faves.

It’s found in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath. In the crowd is a woman who has been debilitated with pain and a crippling sickness for 18 years. She’s all bent over and can’t even lift herself upright. (more…)

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Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear: A Look at Motivation

Posted on August 6, 2009. Filed under: Family, Jesus, mental health, Mormon Life, religion, suffering | Tags: , , |

 DSCN2399  by Alisa

In Relief Society last month, the teacher said we should encourage our kids “to only marry someone who comes from a family where both parents have stuck it out together, so that our children will be encouraged to stick through whatever trials their marriages bring.” Not having read the General Conference talk she was speaking of, I was unsure whether that was her counsel or the counsel in the talk. Either way, I cringed as I quickly counted that at least 20% of the women in that room had been divorced at some point, and wondered what they were thinking about the marital success of their kids. I realized that the lesson, while attempting to teach good principles, was coming from a place of fear, particularly a fear that adults are too shaped by their childhoods to choose their path for themselves. It wasn’t an atypical lesson for Relief Society, and I do not blame the teacher for the motivation of fear. As a lifelong Mormon, it’s a motivation that I resonate with all too well.
 
I had a recent late-night chat with my terminally-ill father and my siblings. My dad explained how his views of the nature of our motivation for living the gospel has changed over time. He said that while he believes that teaching and keeping the 10 Commandments, the Word of Wisdom, observing the sabbath and fasts, obediently paying tithing, etc. (essentially living the gospel out of duty, fear, or in search of reward), was all the “Gospel 101” class in our lifetime, that he felt that the upper-division course is all about being motivated by mercy and love, which are the motivations he ascribes to Jesus and God. He talked of how the way of explaining the Savior as the mediator and God as the harsh justice-seeking money lender didn’t make as much sense to him when it appears that God is actually very good at blessing both the wicked and the righteous. Because Jesus says that everything he did he saw his father do, my dad has come to the belief that God is very, very compassionate and loving. And I’ll tune my ears to that. Since my dad is dying from his second round of cancer in five years, he has plenty to fear, plenty to feel punished for. Yet he feels overwhelming love.
 
My dad is quite a different man in his 60’s than the 30-something man who raised me to wake up at 6:00 am to read scriptures, who never allowed caffeine or playing cards into our home (nor allowed us to come into contact with these things), and who banned Sleepless in Seattle for promoting cohabitation. We lived in a very strict system where all commandments were to be obeyed to the jot and tittle, and where nothing was excused. We did these things because they were the commandments, because they were a test to see if we’d follow everything the prophet asked of us. And because we didn’t want God to be disappointed or to forfeit our right to be an eternal family.
 
Whether it was intended or not, the message that I received was one of rewards and punishments. I believed it was entirely up to me to earn my salvation, my exaltation. I had a great start. My parents showed that it was somewhat possible to do every single little tiny outward thing. They certainly tried, and I have to give them credit. But for me, I was lacking in the spirit of why we did these things. As a teenager, I began to experience deep depression that I interpreted to be God’s rejection and disapproval of me. I did some desparate things to try to make up for the infinite number of imperfections I had. I became a perfectionist, wishing to cleanse myself of sin, to suffer as Jesus suffered, to shed my metaphorical 1,000 drops of blood, so that the Savior would not have to suffer for me. I convinced myself that I did this out of love for the Savior. But now as I look back on it, I think I was actually trying to cover my bases in case the Savior rejected me. I’d never really had a spiritual manifestation of his forgiveness, so all I had were my works to speak for me.
 
In the New Testament, Jesus uses the motivations of punishment, reward, and love. He occasionally talks of hellfire, holds out reward of heaven an earth in the beatitudes, and lets us know that when we really are in tune with love, we’ll have peace, friendship/neighborliness, and spiritual feasting. I recognize that Jesus is able to live in a meld of seemingly conflicting ideas much better than I am, as I tend to experience one at a time.
 
In graduate school, one of my colleagues introduced me to the idea that we don’t keep the commandments to earn a reward such as salvation, but that we keep the commandments because we love the Savior and have faith that he will take care of our salvation—afterall, that is his job. This was a radical shift from the way I had structured the whole system in my mind. Taking the idea of earning rewards or punishments out of my hands and filling myself with love and faith at first seemed to completely remove my control over my spirituality. Could love really be enough of a motivation to live a good life? Over time, I let this thought of love slip into my heart more and more. Eventually, it’s became my primary motivation for doing what I do. It’s even why it has taken me this long to feel good about conceiving this child I’m expecting in January—I waited until I felt so full of love and so devoid of fear that this monumental change seemed to work in my life.
 
When I look at the world, there is plenty to fear. At the same time, there is plenty to bless. Those two flip sides are enough to keep me engaged for a long time as I go back and forth. But focusing on love is like a peaceful respite through that process, a rest which takes me right to the core of where I need to be, centered and grounded. As John said in his first epistle: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear… We love him, because he first loved us.”

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“Merry Valentine’s Day?”

Posted on February 4, 2009. Filed under: Belief, Christmas, death, Family, Jesus, Mormon Life, motherhood, spirituality |

By Heather

22012-valconvhearts-copy4

 

I had a big epiphany this December that sounds sacrilegious but I think is one of the most spiritual “ahas” I’ve ever had. For me as a Mormon mother, Christmas is one of the most stressful times of year. There’s that whole Santa as a Trojan horse trying to hijack the holiday from Baby Jesus; there’s trying to buy presents that people will enjoy without going bankrupt or spoiling kids too much; there’s the whole “it should all be about service and what am I doing to serve” guilt; and on and on.

So one night as I’m getting the advent box together, putting Christ based scriptures in each of the 25 boxes along with enough candy to keep the kids excited about the whole thing and feeling awful that it’s already December 6th and we haven’t even begun to get the Christ in Christmas, I start to realize how ridiculous I’m being.  Just as I am cramming a scripture reference and 4 mini Twix into a 2×2 cubby, I am similarly trying to cram our Christianity into one month of the year.  By going so nutty about keeping the spirit of the holidays, I am forgetting that we actually spend a good deal of the entire year celebrating Christ: we pray over our food, we pray at bedtime, occasionally we read scriptures, we go to church and we drag the kids with us to home and visiting teaching.  My kids know who Jesus is and that their mother has faith in Him.  What the hell is wrong with being excited about Santa and getting goodies from neighbors and singing non-religious holiday songs like “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”?  

The conclusion I came to is there’s room in the stable for Rudolph.  In fact, I think the secular mythologies that surround religious holidays don’t have to be antithetical.  For the rest of the holidays, I felt so much freer to just enjoy the season and not try to constantly “stay on message.”  I brought religious books to read to my 11 year old primary class, but I also brought in a game to play that had absolutely nothing no doctrinal value and made no attempt to justify it.  This is not to say I didn’t have my struggles with balancing the sacred and secular. But when I found my yuletide panties getting into a bind because St. Nick was taking over, I thought about that poem Emily Dickinson wrote about keeping the Sabbath at home as opposed to attending church. In the final stanza she observes:

God preaches,–a noted clergyman,–

And the sermon is never long;

So instead of getting to heaven at last,

I’m going all along!

I like that notion; it reminds me of “line upon line.”

In short, I surrendered to the season and experienced many moments of peace and joy. I was surprised when the highlight for me, like so many kids, was opening a present on Christmas morning. I had no idea what to expect when I unwrapped the box from my mother with a tag on it that said, “To Heather, Love Mom & Dad.”  As my father had passed away in March, I assumed she’d just written both their names out of habit. Inside were my dad’s favorite spurs. The leather was scraped from wear and the silver dull from dust that still clung to them. It was like a gift from the grave. Inside was a note: “Dad hoped one of the boys would share his love of horses and riding. When that didn’t happen you fulfilled his dream. It was a sad day when he had to ‘hang up his spurs.’ Keep the dream alive.”  Those sweet words were such salve to me; they acknowledged the pain of never feeling I measured up, but that I also gave something to my father of immeasurable value. Grieving is a process, and on Christmas morning I felt a piece of my heart mending with that gift. What a blessing to receive.

As I reflect on the holidays I am heartened that I can bring that spirit into our everyday lives.  This December I decided not to make cookies for friends and neighbors. I could have, but only at a great cost to my family. So instead, the kids and I are planning to make Valentine’s cookies. As I see it, we are bringing Christmas into February.  A heart is as easily a symbol of God’s love as a star. My 7 year old said she wished everyday could be Christmas. I’d like to think we are trying.

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thoughts on christ…

Posted on January 23, 2009. Filed under: Belief, Jesus |

by G

(I wrote this a while ago after reading The Faithful Dissident’s wonderful post on the subject.)
fish
It was about a year and a half ago that I sat with the Teach My Gospel manual in my lap, and realized that I was in serious trouble in regards to my relationship to the church. I was a ward missionary preparing a new member discussion for a recent convert. Lesson number 3, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

For several years I had been struggling to hold together a crumbling belief in The Church. Usually called to teaching positions I found myself having to edit and adapt the lessons more and more to be true to my own beliefs, it was disconcerting to keep being faced with more and more topics and doctrines that I could no longer toe the line for. But there was one doctrine that I clung to with a riveting obsession and that was the healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I had a gripping hope in and affinity for a savior who would be with me in the deepest pit, lending me strength beyond my own to help me up. The concept of being empowered, being cleaned because of this mortal god who bled in a sacred grove of trees under the weight of my pain was a powerful notion for me, because I had a lot of pain and felt chronically filthy.
And so I held to the church out of the strength of that belief.

But the beliefs that were changing for me had unavoidable repercussions: I was losing my belief in the literally defined precisely explained thoroughly cross referenced version of the Life and Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I was losing belief in the claims of The Church as the only organization with the real authority to speak for Christ and the only organization with the real priesthood to perform all the ordinances that make us one with Christ. And so when I opened that teacher’s manual to prepare a lesson about Jesus Christ, and realized that I didn’t believe a single thing that the manual taught…. Well it was a bit devastating. As a short term remedy I cancelled the appointment for the lesson and got released from my calling (citing ‘personal
reasons’). Then I continued to attend church and find non-doctrinal ways to participate… but I think that was the beginning of the end for me. I no longer believed what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught about Jesus Christ (finally added to that list of everything else I didn’t believe).

I still find myself riveted by the story of Jesus, this social agitator who stood for the poor and downtrodden, pissed off religious leaders, and shared meals with sinners and women. And I still have a longing for a healing presence during my low times. But I no longer hold to The Church as a way to connect to those concepts.

So, perhaps, for me as with the faithful dissident, it all boils down to Jesus. Just with different results. For her, He is the reason that she continues to pursue an uncomfortable participation in The Church. For me, He is (a good part of) the reason that I made the uncomfortable decision to take a break from The Church.

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Relief Society Lesson 25: Truths from the Savior’s Parables in Matthew 13

Posted on January 10, 2009. Filed under: Jesus, Mormon Life, Relief Society Lessons | Tags: |

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by Lynette from ZD

From the Life of Joseph Smith

Among other subjects, Joseph Smith and the other brethren studied Hebrew, the language in which most of the Old Testament was originally written. The Prophet’s journal for this period shows that he studied Hebrew nearly every day, often for many hours a day. His journal entries include words such as “Spent the day in reading Hebrew” or “Attended school and read Hebrew.” On January 19, 1836, he recorded: “Spent the day at school. The Lord blessed us in our studies. This day we commenced reading in our Hebrew Bibles with much success. It seems as if the Lord opens our minds in a marvelous manner, to understand His word in the original language.” A month later, he wrote: “Attended the school and read and translated with my class as usual. My soul delights in reading the word of the Lord in the original.”
Why would someone who had the ability to translate by the power of God be interested in learning ancient languages, and understanding the Bible better through secular training? What might this suggest about the relationship between spiritual and academic learning?Joseph Smith’s experience in the School of the Elders is just one evidence of his love for the scriptures. He studied the scriptures diligently, finding in them solace, knowledge, and inspiration throughout his life. Significantly, it was a passage from the Bible that led him to seek wisdom from God and receive the First Vision when he was just 14 years old (see James 1:5).

Can you relate to this love for the scriptures? What methods of scripture study have you found most helpful?

Teachings of Joseph Smith
The Savior taught in parables so that those who believed in His teachings could gain greater light, while those who rejected His teachings would lose the light they had.

This sounds pretty harsh. Why would the Savior teach in a way that would cause some to lose the light they had?

We again make remark here—for we find that the very principle upon which the disciples were accounted blessed, was because they were permitted to see with their eyes and hear with their ears—that the condemnation which rested upon the multitude that received not His saying, was because they were not willing to see with their eyes, and hear with their ears; not because they could not, and were not privileged to see and hear, but because their hearts were full of iniquity and abominations; ‘as your fathers did, so do ye.’ [Acts 7:51.]

The problem with those who are condemned seems to be lack of belief, a lack of willingness to see. Why is this quality so important? Why might people be unwilling to listen? Do you listen to everyone you encounter who says they have a religious message to share? Should you?

“… Men are in the habit, when the truth is exhibited by the servants of God, of saying, All is mystery; they have spoken in parables, and, therefore, are not to be understood. It is true they have eyes to see, and see not, but none are so blind as those who will not see; and, although the Savior spoke this to such characters, yet unto His disciples he expounded it plainly; and we have reason to be truly humble before the God of our fathers, that He hath left these things on record for us, so plain, that notwithstanding the exertions and combined influence of the priests of Baal, they have not power to blind our eyes, and darken our understanding, if we will but open our eyes, and read with candor, for a moment.”

How do you understand Jesus’ use of parables? Are they supposed to be confusing? What do you make of the fact that Jesus uses examples from his listener’s everyday lives (wheat, seeds, etc.)? (An interesting point here is that the parables include both male and female protagonists.)

Are there times when it’s legitimate to say that something is a mystery, and we can’t understand it?

The parable of the sower shows the effects of preaching the gospel; it also shows that the Savior established His kingdom in the meridian of time.

“But listen to the explanation of the parable of the Sower: ‘When any one heareth the word of the Kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.’ Now mark the expression—that which was sown in his heart. ‘This is he which receiveth seed by the way side.’ [Matthew 13:19.] Men who have no principle of righteousness in themselves, and whose hearts are full of iniquity, and have no desire for the principles of truth, do not understand the word of truth when they hear it. The devil taketh away the word of truth out of their hearts, because there is no desire for righteousness in them.

Why do some people have a “principle of righteousness in themselves,” and others don’t? If someone doesn’t have a desire for truth, is there a way to develop such a desire?

The parable of the wheat and tares teaches that the righteous and wicked will grow together until the end of the world, when the righteous will be gathered and the wicked burned.

“Now we learn by this parable, not only the setting up of the Kingdom in the days of the Savior, which is represented by the good seed, which produced fruit, but also the corruptions of the Church, which are represented by the tares, which were sown by the enemy, which His disciples would fain have plucked up, or cleansed the Church of, if their views had been favored by the Savior. But He, knowing all things, says, Not so. As much as to say, your views are not correct, the Church is in its infancy, and if you take this rash step, you will destroy the wheat, or the Church, with the tares; therefore it is better to let them grow together until the harvest, or the end of the world, which means the destruction of the wicked, which is not yet fulfilled. …

Why doesn’t God keep the wheat “pure” by removing the tares?

In this parable (and others), people seem to be either wheat or tares, righteous or wicked, in one camp or the other. Does this mean we should categorize people in this way?

“ ‘As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of the world’ [Matthew 13:40]; that is, as the servants of God go forth warning the nations, both priests and people, and as they harden their hearts and reject the light of truth, these first being delivered over to the buffetings of Satan, and the law and the testimony being closed up, … they are left in darkness, and delivered over unto the day of burning; thus being bound up by their creeds, and their bands being made strong by their priests, [they] are prepared for the fulfillment of the saying of the Savior—‘The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’ [Matthew 13:41–42.]

“We understand that the work of gathering together of the wheat into barns, or garners, is to take place while the tares are being bound over and preparing for the day of burning; that after the day of burnings, ‘the righteous shall shine forth like the sun, in the Kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear’ [Matthew 13:43].”

What are our responsibilities now, in the time before the judgment? Do we have responsibilities regarding the tares as well as the wheat?

The parable of the mustard seed teaches that the Church and kingdom of God, established in these last days, will spread throughout the earth.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a mustard seed. Behold, then, is not this the Kingdom of Heaven that is raising its head in the last days in the majesty of its God, even the Church of the Latter-day Saints, like an impenetrable, immovable rock in the midst of the mighty deep, exposed to the storms and tempests of Satan, that has, thus far, remained steadfast, and is still braving the mountain waves of opposition, which are driven by the tempestuous winds of sinking crafts, which have [dashed] and are still dashing with tremendous foam across its triumphant brow; urged onward with redoubled fury by the enemy of righteousness? …

Why do you think the kingdom is compared to a seed growing into a tree? It’s interesting that Joseph Smith shifts the metaphor to that of a rock. What do these images make you think of?

The testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the latter-day scriptures are like the leaven that was hidden in meal; the parable of the net teaches about the worldwide gathering.

“ ‘Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind, which when it was full they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.’ [Matthew 13:47–48.] For the work of this pattern, behold the seed of Joseph, spreading forth the Gospel net upon the face of the earth, gathering of every kind, that the good may be saved in vessels prepared for that purpose, and the angels will take care of the bad. ‘So shall it be at the end of the world—the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire, and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus saith unto them, Have you understood all these things? They say unto Him, Yea, Lord.’ [Matthew 13:49–51.] And we say, yea, Lord; and well might they say, yea, Lord; for these things are so plain and so glorious, that every Saint in the last days must respond with a hearty Amen to them.

What does it mean that the net gathered “every kind”? This is often discussed in terms of geography and the gospel going throughout the world—are there other ways of thinking about it?

(more…)

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Jesus as Mother

Posted on February 27, 2008. Filed under: Jesus, motherhood | Tags: , , , , , |

by Caroline

Recently I’ve discovered Julian of Norwich, a 14th century female mystic and theologian. I love her optimistic view of a loving, compassionate God and her radical ideas about universal salvation.

And I particularly love the way she talks about Jesus as mother. Listen to this:

“The human mother will suckle her child with her own milk, but our beloved Mother, Jesus, feeds us with himself, and with most tender courtesy, does it by means of the Blessed Sacrament, the precious food of all true life…. The human mother may put her child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus simply leads us into his blessed breast through his open side, and there gives us a glimpse of the Godhead and heavenly joy, the inner certainty of eternal bliss.” *

Julian also describes Jesus as our mother in whom “we grow and develop,” and our mother in mercy and grace who “reforms and restores us.”

This liberated mixing of male and female are exhilarating to me. By describing Jesus with female traits, she both exalts women and emphasizes Jesus’ ability to transcend typical gender boundaries.

Does Jesus transcend gender when you think about him? Do you question whether a male Jesus can understand concerns and sorrows that are particularly female? Are you comfortable thinking of him in mothering imagery?

*quotes taken from Eleanor Mclaughlin’s essay, “The Christian Past: Does it Hold a Future for Women?”

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Relief Society Lesson 3: Jesus Christ, the Divine Redeemer of the World

Posted on February 6, 2008. Filed under: Jesus, Relief Society Lessons | Tags: , |

by Caroline

This lesson is often focused on J.S.’s testimony of Christ’s reality and his existence as our redeemer. There is not as much here about Jesus’ earthly ministry or about him as our examplar, so I made a conscious effort to play up that angle in this lesson plan.

First section: Joseph (and Oliver) saw Jesus“the veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us;…His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth; I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” p. 47

What are your feelings when you hear testimonies like this from the prophets – that they saw and heard Jesus? Are they compelling to you? Do they influence the way you look or feel about Jesus? Why or why not?

(Personally these sorts of testimonies are less compelling to me. I am far more inspired by JC’s moral teachings and his example of unconditional mercy and love. I might be unusual on that front, but I do think it might be interesting to discuss why certain people are inspired by accounts like the one above and why others are more inspired by his earthly ministry.

One possible direction the discussion could take – Could this be related to gifts of the spirit? D&C 46 :13-14 “1To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful. “ Are accounts like these meant to appeal to those whose gift is to believe others’ testimony of Christ?)

Second Section: Jesus as a sacrifice for all humans

This section talks quite a bit about animal sacrifices. “Certainly the shedding of the blood of a beast could be beneficial to no man, except it was done in imitation, or as a type or explanation of what was to be offered through the gift of God Himself – and this performance done with an eye looking forward in faith on the power of that great Sacrifice for a remission of sins… ” p.48

The above quote emphasizes this idea that ancient people sacrificed animals as a symbolic gesture to point to Jesus’ sacrifice. This is no longer part of our practice (Thank goodness!), but in your life today, what has similar symbolic power to remind you of Jesus and the great gift of his atonement. Why?

(Expect the usual responses of the sacrament and baptism. Encourage the class to go beyond Church ritual and think of things like a sunrise. A new baby. A new beginning. As an example, you could talk about Mother Teresa and tell this story, a story of how she found Jesus in unexpected places.

“Would you like to see Jesus?“ asks Mother Teresa, to a visiting Bishop.

Mother Teresa takes Bishop Curlin around a few walls to a man lying on a black leather pallet who has clearly visible things crawling on his body. As the bishop stands there in shock, Mother Teresa kneels down and wraps her arms around him, holding him like a baby in one’s arms.

“Here he is.” She says.

The bishop asks “Who?”

“Jesus. Didn’t he say you’d ‘find me in the least person on earth?’ Isn’t this Jesus challenging us to reach out and love?”

This would be a great time to invite someone in advance to prepare a few words about seeing Jesus in her life. Is there a social worker in your RS who sees Jesus in troubled people she serves? A beleaguered mom who sees Jesus in the women who help her? Is there a woman who went through a painful divorce, and came to know the comfort and unconditional love of Jesus through her trials? A single career woman who feels she doesn’t fit in, but feels the acceptance of a Jesus who spent his life reaching out to and loving those who didn’t fit in?)

Section Three: All will be resurrected (I’d skip this part.)

Section Four: We can be joint heirs with Jesus

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God and if children, then heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, if so be that we suffer with him in the flesh that we may be glorified together.” p.52

Most LDS have a special understanding of this idea of being “joint heirs” with Christ. We often take it to mean that we have the potential to eternally progress towards divinity. What role does the concept of eternal progression play in your life? Has it affected any major life decisions? Does it give you peace to know that all of us imperfect humans, LDS or not, will have an eternity to grow in our humanity, compassion, and charity?

Section Five: Jesus is perfect

“ When we reflect upon the holiness and perfections of our great Master, who has opened a way whereby we may come unto him, even by the sacrifice of himself, our hearts melt within us for his condescension.” P. 54-55

The term condescension often connotes patronizing behavior, but a secondary meaning lacks this pejorative idea. The dictionary defines it as “a voluntary assumption of equality with a person regarded as inferior.” I think this is an interesting way to think about it. A voluntary assumption of equality. A total respect and love for a being still working on getting better. I love that, and I love the idea of our hearts melting because of this.

Conclude with a story of a person’s heart melting because of the atonement. One of my personal favorite stories of a person’s heart melting because of Jesus Christ is that of sea captain John Newton, who spent many years captaining slave ships. Later, as he lay wracked with guilt over the thousands of human souls whose lives he had helped to destroy, he was overcome with despair. The only way he could live with himself was to focus on God’s amazing gift of the Christ’s atonement – that grace that allows even the most guilt-wracked human the opportunity to become whole again. Devoting his live to Jesus and going blind, he became a clergyman and wrote the timeless words to the hymn Amazing Grace

End with singing the first couple verses of Amazing Grace. You might want to photocopy a couple of verses and pass them around, since the hymn isn’t in our book.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!

Songs: I stand all amazed. (opening)
Songs: Amazing grace (closing)

Additional quotes on Jesus by women:
Chieko Okazaki in Sanctuary p. 14. “The Savior is with us, ready to shelter us under his own wings and to lift us, soaring with him, on the wings of eagles. May we seek his face, hear his voice, be grateful for the shelter of his wings, and praise the power that sends us soaring.”

Chieko Okazaki in Aloha p. 134. The message of the Atonement is that Jesus suffered and died for us while we were still sinners. He is willing to meet us where we are. Christ’s redemptive sacrifice was for all humankind, but it was also for each of us individually.”

 

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