Blogging about Blogs

Blogs are everywhere now, and the number of people who have their own personal blog grows constantly. Its only logical that the subject matter on blogs should by now cover virtually every topic imaginable. Search any imaginable term in Google Blogs, or your search engine of preference, and undoubtedly someone’s blog will come up talking about it.

It is only fitting then that the amount of people blogging about the Community of Christ is growing. This site is merely just one example of people, some members/friends/associates/curious observers, blogging about their views and opinions on issues related to or involving the Community of Christ in some form or another. Many of the bloggers on Saints Herald blog elsewhere, too. Even Grant McMurray has his own blog:http://grantamused.blogspot.com/ Will it ever stop? Does it ever need to?

Community of Christ blogs are not only about the church from the inside, but growing more and more prevalent are blogs of others looking in on the church and examining it to varying degrees from their own set of life experiences. Personally, I see this most often in blogs from visitors to Community of Christ historic sites. People visit Nauvoo or Kirtland (mainly) then go home and blog about their experience with Community of Christ guides, or about their attempt to understand us. In a bizarre phenomenon, many of these visitors seem far more willing to pour their inner souls out to the entire world over the internet than they ever would on an anonymous comment card or simply to one volunteer.

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Community of Christ and the telos of the Restoration

I want to introduce a word: telos. Telos is a Greek word that means “aim” or “purpose.” However, the “aim” or “purpose” in the meaning of telos is not the goals and objectives that defines today’s business or organizational thinking. Telos refers to the purpose or aim unfolding,  guiding, and innate within a thing or an event.

Telos indicates the essential aim of purpose of a thing as it comes to fulfillment in a process of growth and change. It points to the deep, even divine, purpose that is unfolding and fulfilled in the outcome of its evolution. Considering something’s telos is a way to grasp or understand how the change at work in something works itself out and is fulfilled in its life.  This telos connects a thing to its true being, its fulfillment, and origins. Continue reading

Is Mormonism Christian?

I’d like to revisit the theme of the most recent Restoration Studies, while keeping my comments largely to the LDS Church (although with obvious implications for Community of Christ).

For most Mormons, to be “Christian” means being a believer in Christ.  But orthodox Christianity has higher standards, not unlike the standard of “the one true church” of the Latter-day Saints: Christian churches are true expressions of salvation through Christ; and to admit a church into this elite category requires recognition that it falls within the doctrinal, spiritual, and sacramental traditions of the universal church, handed down and preserved from Christ to the apostles, the apostles to the bishops, and the bishops to the present-day.  Before being recognized as part of this “one true church,” Christians are as exclusionary as Mormons, for, for both groups, salvation is on the line. Continue reading

“I would present to you, my brethren, Joseph Smith”

Joseph Smith III

In traveling to Amboy, Illinois 6 April 1860, Joseph III shared these words (150 years ago today) with the gathered conference preceeding consideration of him to the prophetic office:

I would say to you, brethren, as I hope you may be, and in faith I trust you are, as a people that God has promised his blessings upon, I came not here of myself, but by the influence of the Spirit. For some time past I have received manifestations pointing to the position which I am about to assume.

I wish to say that I have come here not to be dictated by any men or set of men. I have come in obedience to a power not my own, and shall be dictated by the power that sent me.

God works by means best known to himself, and I feel that for some time past he has been pointing out a work for me to do.

For two or three years past deputations have been waiting on me, urging me to assume the responsibilities of the leadership of the church; but I have answered each and every one of them that I did not wish to trifle with the faith of the people.

I do not propose to assume this position in order to amass wealth out of it, neither have I sought it as a profit.

I know opinions are various in relation to these matters. I have conversed with those who told me they would not hesitate one moment in assuming the high and powerful position as the leader of this people. But I have been well aware of the motives which might be ascribed to me,—motives of various kinds, at the foundation of all which is selfishness,—should I come forth to stand in the place where my father stood.

I have believed that should I come without the guarantee of the people, I should be received in blindness, and would be liable to be accused of false motives. Neither would I come to you without receiving favor from my heavenly Father.

I have endeavored as far as possible to keep myself unbiased. I never conversed with J. J. Strang, for in those days I was but a boy, and in fact am now but a boy. I had not acquired a sufficient knowledge of men to be capable of leading myself, setting aside the leading of others.

There is but one principle taught by the leaders of any faction of this people that I hold in utter abhorrence; that is a principle taught by Brigham Young and those believing in him. I have been told that my father taught such doctrines. I have never believed it and never can believe it. If such things were done, then I believe they never were done by divine authority. I believe my father was a good man, and a good man never could have promulgated such doctrines.
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Comparing the Missouri Mormon War with Contemporary Conflicts

UPDATE 11 January 2010: Kenny and Jake Ballentine, two brothers who make films together, have just announced the upcoming release of a new movie ‘Trouble in Zion’, a documentary on the Missouri Mormon War. Several years ago, Kenny Ballentine read the essay attached to the below posting and talked with me about it while making the film. Click here to find out more about their movie.

The 1838 Missouri Mormon War (see LeSueur’s great book) resulted in at least 22 fatalities, millions of dollars worth of property destruction and the displacement of 15,000 people. Fought in a context of fierce rhetoric, sectarian and paramilitary violence, weak governmental authority and a privatization of military force, it actually bears significant resemblance to what some security scholars (e.g. my former PhD supervisor Mary Kaldor) have called the “New Wars.” These contemporary conflicts in places like the Former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Columbia, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan are characterized by the targeting of civilians; powerful non-state actors; prolonged, seemingly intractable, hostilities; connections to organized crime; and exclusivistic ethnic, religious and sectarian ideologies.

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What does the Community of Christ believe? Vol. II

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”  I grew up hearing that as a campfire song, and took a certain meaning from it through my own interpretation as something along the lines of the little things you do can have a big impact.  That has become clear with visitors at the CofC historic sites. 

Sometimes this “spark” lights a fire of tension between visitors and guides.  Starting off tours in Nauvoo, we traditionally show a 12 minute video before heading off to visit the homes.  In this video is a line, one which I had heard many times but never gave a second thought about, which seems to infuriate many visitors and leave them permanently annoyed throughout the visit.

Talking about Joseph Smith’s first vision: “In a quite grove of trees near his upstate New York home, Joseph prayed for guidance and there had an experience with the divine.”

Harmless to me, but borderline blasphemy to others.   In my experience, no single question has more often accompanied the start of the tour than a visitor asking for clarification about that point and why the Community of Christ chose that language to describe it. 

I’m well aware of the multiple versions of what happened out there in the grove, which is why I believe it is worded the way it is in the video. ( http://en.fairmormon.org/First_Vision/Accounts  This is the best website I could find with the different accounts in a quick search, I’m sure there must be a better option out there.) That’s the point I try to explain, but it rarely (if ever) makes it across the way I intended.  It usually just gets crossed arms and a glare, with an occasional nod of understanding, even if in disagreement.

My wondering is: why does this even matter?  Why is this such a big deal to some, and a seeming non-issue to others?  Does the Community of Christ even care about what did or did not happen in the grove, if anything happened at all?

Taking the tour through the Independence Temple sometime back, I remember the entrance to the worshipper’s path was designed to replicate the grove in New York.  Clearly it had some significance to somebody at that point.  It was chosen as the starting point for entrance to the sanctuary.

Does the “First Vision” matter in the present-day CofC?  What, if anything, might it mean?  Why’d we put it in the Temple?  Did this vision even happen at all?  Does any of this debate even matter or is it all a waste of time?  What does this event (in whatever understanding you may have of it) mean to the CofC in late-June 2009, or what did it used to mean to the Church or to you?

Unity in Diversity: Congregational Life

It’s an odd thing to move to a new congregation. I think that most Community of Christ members expect change, subtle to dramatic, should they move and change congregations. But with my previous background as a Latter-day Saint where everything—and I mean everything—was correlated at the general (or world church) level, I knew exactly what to expect when we moved. While the people are different from congregation to congregation, the programs, buildings, and worship are all consistent.

So when a Mormon moves into a new ward (congregation), they can expect that their Sunday School and other class instruction will be from the exact same book, and often the lesson plans will be the same from week to week no matter which church you attend anywhere in the world. Worship formats never change, and the physical spaces where the worship is held, the actual buildings, are often identical to other buildings of the same period for the last thirty years or so (with most of Mormon growth occurring in the last three decades). Older buildings exempted, I can walk into a Mormon chapel just about anywhere and know exactly where the bathroom is, the bishop’s office, the chapel, etc. Continue reading