Remembering Joseph Smith, Reclaiming a Saint

December 23 is the 204th birthday of the great prophet of the restoration movement, Joseph Smith, Jr. Perhaps it is unfortunate that his birthday is so close to Christmas. One almost feels a bit sacrilegious thinking about Joseph at a time when we remember the birth of Jesus. Nonetheless, if we affirm that God is present and at work with many different peoples (and indeed, I would say, at work with many different religions), we also need to do the hard work of thinking about how God has been at work with us. Appreciating the truths that others have should lead us back into a conversation about why we are true. And that leads us back to Joseph Smith.

What really got me to thinking about this was reading an edited volume Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals after Two Centuries. I highly recommend this volume. Some of the essays are brilliant, while others, well, leave much to be desired. Nonetheless, several essayists offered reappraisals of Joseph Smith that I thought could be useful for Community of Christ members. And Joseph needs some serious reclamation by members of our tradition. We need to move beyond the stage of adolescent critique that we’ve been stuck in for the last few decades (that stage where we find out that our spiritual parents were not perfect and we act a lot like judgmental teenagers after this revelation) to a more mature appreciation for our ancestors. And Joseph has shaped us in too many ways for us to ignore him. Continue reading

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Googly-eyed Lions and Lambs: Material Objects and Community of Christ Identity

Two pairs of googly eyes stared at me day after day as I practiced the piano as an elementary student. These eyes were mounted to a small, plush lamb and a slightly larger golden lion. Both sat on a lacquered piece of wood that bore a white-lettered sticker saying “Peace.” Even as a nine-year piano student, I was being reminded that I was part of a specific church, back then the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Objects all around my house told me about this identity—from a full-color framed print of Lehi holding the Liahona with a curious Sariah looking on, to a black-and-white print of Jesus painted by RLDS member Nida Vincent King, based on an RLDS member’s vision of Christ. Even though we rarely attended church by the time I was nine, my home was a deeply traditional RLDS home.

Religious material objects are bearers of memory, identity, and evidence our participation in modern consumer-driven economies. Before we get too dour on how Christians have simply “sold out to culture” with loads of “Jesus junk,” it might be good to reflect on why we fill our homes with religious material objects. Continue reading

Call for Papers: 2010 Mormon History Association Conference in Independence, Missouri

MHA_2010 Call for Papers: The forty-fifth annual conference of the Mormon History Association will be held May 27-30, 2010, at the Kansas City Sports Complex Hotel in Kansas City, MO. It has been twenty-five years since the last MHA conference was held in Missouri. The 2010 theme, “The Home and the Homeland: Families in Diverse Mormon Traditions” recognizes the family as a central social and religious institution within Mormon traditions. Tanner Lecturer Catherine Brekus of the University of Chicago will address the topic of “Women in Early Mormonism.” Continue reading

Reunions as Sacred Spaces, Sacred Metaphors

As the weeks of summer slip by, Community of Christ reunion grounds have sprung to life across North America and Europe. Tens of thousands of church members will attend reunions this year, giving us pause to consider the theological and historical connections that reunions share with the wider Christian tradition as well as our own unique understandings of sacred space.

As noted in a previous post, annual Community of Christ reunions in their earliest incarnations resembled the camp meetings familiar to so many Protestants in the early 19th century. Indeed, the history of reunions parallels the evolution of the camp meeting among American evangelical Protestants. For instance, early 19th century Methodist-style camp meetings evolved from tent meetings that varied from place to place to settled meeting grounds where people camped during the summer and engaged in recreation beyond simply prayer and preaching. Continue reading

Community of Christ Reunions: A Very Brief History

Since the fall of 1883, Community of Christ members have gathered annually to attend reunions, or family camp gatherings, in their local areas. Listen to this 1911 description by Elbert A. Smith (a grandson of Joseph Smith, Jr) of a reunion that occurred on the grounds of Kirtland Temple.

I reached Kirtland the second day of the reunion and found that I had been elected to preside . . . Some 25 or 30 tents were on the ground just back of the temple, and a great many people had taken rooms in the hotel and private houses. . . . Our meeting passed off very pleasantly and profitably. The meetings were spiritual and the solemn and sacred atmosphere of the temple seemed to influence the minds of those who were present. Continue reading