Quit Counting!

3in1On many occasions I’ve had the opportunity to chat with members of other Latter Day Restoration factions (often including members of the Restoration Branches, the Temple Lot, LDS, and others). Many of these conversations have left me with the impression that a lot of members of these other groups tend to think that the purpose of the Restoration is to be the Restored Church. I also happen to know that a lot of members of Community of Christ feel the same way. However, this is in fact not the case.

Let me state at this early point that I do believe with all my heart that Community of Christ is the Restored Church; and that the very concept of the Restoration is integral to our existence.

However, we do not exist to be the Restored Church. The Restored Church does not exist to be the Restored Church. Or to be the Restoration. Say it anyway you want, but the simple fact is, we were not restored to be the Restored Church. That is, quite simply, just what we happen to be, as a result of the Restoration having taken place.

This might be a bit of a mind snap, so let me try to clarify what I mean. What is “the Restoration” a restoration of? Or, what is the Restored Church a restoration of? Quite simply, Christ’s church. That’s it. However, its an important distinction that I feel is often overlooked.

I’ll say it again. We were not established to be the Restored Church. We *are* the Restored Church, but we were created to be, and are, first and foremost, “the church”. If you have traditional Restoration beliefs, you have to accept this as valid.

I feel this all warrants highlighting, because, as I mentioned above, many people in Latter Day Restoration factions (again, including a large number of us) tend to overlook this foundational truth.

And it generally manifests in this manner: Counting.

Counting how often Restoration concepts are used. In the conversations I’ve had, many people have said to me “Your church (Community of Christ) is no longer a Restoration church” or “We are ceasing to be a Restoration church”, etc.

The same rationale for such thinking is presented over and over: “Your/our publications and your/our World Conference sermons seldom, if ever, quote from the Book of Mormon, early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Inspired Version of the Bible; or reference Joseph Smith Jr., the sacred grove, the restoration of priesthood authority, etc.”

This kind of thinking always makes me smirk, because I know with all my heart that we are not called to count such things. The original twelve apostles did not have the Book of Mormon. They did not have Joseph Smith Jr. They did not have the various unique features of the Restoration. Christ did not make such things the heart and soul of the church. They are not the spiritual foundation of Christ’s church, nor are they the purpose for which it was created, in any era.

The church was, I suspect, established for many reasons – but not for *any* the above. The church today is meant to be a restoration of the ancient church. It is, after all, not a new church, but a restoration – a new iteration, in modern times, of the ancient church.

However, a new iteration is not a new church, anymore than a reorganization of a church does not make it a new church; and we must always remember, we are, first and foremost, the church of Jesus Christ, not Joseph Smith.

We are called to be “the church”, not the Restoration. Our primary concerns should be ensuring that we are in alignment with the mission of Jesus Christ, that we are driving the Great Commission; that we are helping to further the cause of Zion by (among other things) feeding the poor, tending the sick, helping to diminish tyranny, protecting the environment, encouraging animal conservation and promoting communities of joy, hope, love and peace as we proclaim Jesus Christ.

The people who tend to count how often Community of Christ makes use of Restoration concepts or Restoration resources also tend to believe in the concept of the one true church. While this concept is no longer a focus item for Community of Christ, it is a doctrine that I personally believe in.

Yet, I find the combination of “church truists” and “counters” to be ironic because, I’m quite convinced that if the doctrine of a one true church really is of God (as I believe), then the church so recognized as the true church in the mind and will of God will be so viewed, by Him, for a plethora of reasons which will include the various causes I mentioned above (mission of Christ, feeding the poor, cause of Zion, etcetera).

If there is a true church, it will not be, in my opinion, regarded as the true church (by God) for how often it references the sacred grove. Or (ahem) priesthood keys.

It is also my conviction that any church that is obsessed with counting the usage of restoration teachings (in itself or others), or which is primarily focused on ensuring that it is the Restored Church, above all other considerations, will never be regarded by the Lord as His one true church.

In other words, once you start counting how often others reference Restoration theology, and/or become prideful of how much of a Restoration faction your own denomination is, you can kiss any claim you feel you have to being the one true church goodbye.

I don’t wish to give the impression that I reject Restoration concepts, doctrines, or resources. I embrace them, I celebrate them, I use them and I believe in them.

In fact, it is my deep conviction that our Restoration heritage is what makes us so awesome (and we are awesome).

Nonetheless, I tend to regard all of our Restoration characteristics as tools, to help us spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, to help people encounter God and Reflect Christ. Our Restoration heritage is what keeps us relevant; and we need to recognize that our Restoration beliefs resonate with a larger number of seekers.

There is just so much tremendous value in our various Restoration concepts and resources. The more we embrace them, the more relevant and redemptive I think we will be.

However, they are meant to help us drive the Great Commission, and the mission of Jesus Christ. They are not meant to be our very purpose, the reason for why we exist. Christ’s mission has never been to promote the Book of Mormon, or the Inspired Version, etc. His mission has little do with such things, but as we have been reminded, his mission is our mission.

It is however not just our mission. It is the mission of all Christians, including all the other factions of the Restoration.

So, let us all work together in furthering Christ’s mission, let us remember to “let contention cease” and let us stop counting!

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Eternal Life: Leaving the Mystery A Mystery

one with god

It seems that for as long as mankind has been externally and internally conscious, there has been speculation about eternal life, or an existence beyond this current state of being. Our recognition of finitude has naturally led us to posit various ideas of the afterlife and/or immortality. From ancient literature to Swedenborg to blogposts today, fascination with the mystery of mankind’s potential is clear.

Interestingly enough, much of ancient Jewish literature before the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE had little to do with life after death. Sheol was simply a place where just about everyone ended up. The focus was on this life. Take, for example, Qoheleth, the philosopher of Ecclesiastes, who concludes somewhat depressingly, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” and that life is often a “chase after wind.” Yet all was not lost. We could still live fully in this life, an ideal which he captures by stating that one should “eat, drink, and be merry.” I am not encouraging constant partying, however metaphorically, that ideal emphasizes the value which can be taken out of this life. The Jewish apocalyptic genre changed Jewish conceptions of the afterlife, such as in Daniel which touches upon the resurrection of the dead. At the period when Daniel was written, Hellenistic thought was influencing Jewish doctrines, and a transformation began to occur. The timing was ripe for new conceptions of God, the adversary, and the afterlife, all of which would become more objectified.

Christianity, of course, has led to vivid depictions of the afterlife. During medieval times and especially in response to the Enlightenment era, Christianity became a religion focused on the afterlife. Dante Alighieri’s lucid descriptions of heaven, hell, and purgatory is perhaps the most well-known example, however others, such as the mystic Meister Eckhart contributed to the images as well. As I mentioned earlier, Emanuel Swedenborg wrote widely publicized descriptions of the afterlife, with some of his ideas perhaps even influencing Joseph Smith.

The point of this brief historical discussion is to illustrate how much the mystery of eternal life has influenced the speculative thought of mankind. In keeping with this tradition, now seems as good a time as any to offer my thoughts.

The short answer is that I don’t know what any state of post existence may contain. Though I may be unsure of its exact nature, I like to believe that there is eternal life. Yet the most I am willing to say is that when I die, I believe it will be into the immanent and transcendent, accepting and sustaining God at the ground of my current state of being.

Eternal life can be experienced even now. What is eternity, but the confluence of time without time or limits; paradoxical on paper, but such are the limits of language. I would like to speculate on the exact nature of that which is beyond existence but language prevents me. I digress. The blessings of eternal life in this existence can be attained by overcoming the powers which serve to bind our actualization and fulfillment. As the theologian Bruce Epperly has written, the ultimate goal of life in terms of achieving fulfillment is growth in God, or as Paul wrote, growth through a life in Christ.

The Christian message should not be focused on the afterlife, as that leads to a focus on creeds and requirements. The Christian life should be one of cultivating a relationship with God in this life. With any relationship, there are ups and downs. In our imperfection, we may be unfaithful. Eternal life, however, cannot be distorted with images of reward and punishment in the form of eternal joy for some and torment for others. The imperfections of our finitude will never render us cut off from God, though we may be estranged. As I must include Paul Tillich into this post somehow, we can always accept that we are accepted. God as love means that God accepts us, trying to unify all that is, and working to bring about our individual and collective fulfillment. Our existential despair can be overcome not just as an individual, but also through experiencing the joy of others as they strive to grow and actualize themselves. The offer of acceptance and the ability to grow is, to modify Paul’s statement in Romans, limited to neither Christian nor Jew, atheist nor believer, rich nor poor.

(https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/everlasting-life-a-progressive-perspective/)
(http://www.marcusjborg.com/2010/03/17/agnostic-about-the-afterlife/)
(http://mysticalseeker.blogspot.com/2007/10/borg-and-afterlife.html)

Miracles Reappraised

I feel as though my prior, cursory treatment of spiritual experiences and the miraculous was inadequate, especially since it only addressed healing. In this post, I will seek to define a miracle, lay out modernist/philosophical objections, and conclude with a postmodernist/perspective-based model of miracles with God in the panentheistic sense being assumed.

The courage of being even in despair.

The courage of being even in despair.

What is a miracle? Assuming a theistic deity, a miracle today involves a God who intervenes from “out there” (outside of the universe?) in order to alter apparent laws of nature. The interventions occur randomly, often appearing to have little rhyme or reason; but more on this in a moment. Thus a miracle today consists of outdated perceptions of deity, in which accruing God’s favor through supplication is the primary vehicle for effecting a miraculous occurrence.

The modern era has yielded scientific and philosophical objections to this concept of a miracle. Scientific objections include a Newtonian-based reality in which the universe operates mathematically and is therefore closed to intervention. That is the primary reason for the emergence of deism in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a God of science. Although the Newtonian worldview has been challenged, the idea that there are scientific laws in the universe still retains a level of legitimacy. Beyond laws of nature, the problem of the potentially infinite vastness of the universe poses another problem to traditional ideas about miracles. From where does God intervene? As I alluded to earlier, is it outside the universe? How distant is God? Such is the problem with the theistic emphasis on divine objectification and transcendence, rather than a balance between immanence and transcendence. Finally, and perhaps most critical, is the philosophical problem of evil. Why does God let people suffer continually? How can God help some while letting others suffer? Though it has been stated before, how could God have allowed the Holocaust to happen without preventing millions of deaths? What about the genocide in Darfur today? Perhaps the words of the Epicurean Paradox will summarize best the conundrum of the theistic deity:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Perhaps then, the miraculous needs to be reappraised and understood differently. In this sense, phenomena deemed inexplicable due to the boundaries of science and the modern worldview are instead seen as “marvels” (see Crossan, “Birth of Christianity”). The postmodern understanding which I propose sees the miraculous in light of both the modern worldview and the power of perspective. In illustrating the power of perspective, the late author DF Wallace recounted a story of an atheist and a believer:

“There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.'” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was, was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

In sum, the miraculous is in the eye of the beholder. However, I believe this dichotomy can be transcended. For one thing, God as both immanent and transcendent addresses the problem of where God is located. To illustrate this concept of the divine, I use this analogy (I think Marcus Borg has used it as well):

All that is (ie all that is part of being) is represented by a circle. God is represented by a larger circle which surrounds the first one.

This also addresses the issue of the Newtonian worldview. Marvels occur within the creative structure of being. In other words, the Newtonian world is merely the product of being itself. As I discussed in a prior post, they come about in moments of grace in which a person experiences the power of the divine through courage (which I use synonymously with faith).

The problem of evil also becomes irrelevant, as instead of the onus being placed on God to act as we endeavor to manipulate through prayer and other methods of gaining favor, the onus is on us to courageously move beyond all anxiety and experience the divine within; or, in a different sense, we experience the full potential of our humanity. With the theistic understanding, God interfered with free-will. However, with a panentheistic understanding, our free-will both enables us to experience (and exude) the divine, and, unfortunately, make us responsible as agents of suffering and tragedy. One who choses the latter option has surrendered to the despair of existence and only serves to spread it on to others. Natural tragedies as well are the unfortunate products of the structure of being. Suffering is a part of existence. Yet an immanent God is always within and around us when we suffer. We have the ability both within and without of ourselves to overcome 1) the negativity of anxiety and 2) estrangement from the divine throughout. That is the meaning of a participatory Kingdom of God, in which we transcend the perceived limits of ourselves to overcome the evils which appear to dominate.

Balanced Stewardship

“Stewardship is the response of my people to the ministry of my Son…”
-Doctrine and Covenants Section 147:5a (CofC)

This blog is based on a sermon I preached, which you can read here.

A few years ago my congregation decided to identify six ministriebalances that we would focus on. After an extended period of consideration, the team that spearheaded this initiative decided that one of these six ministries had to be stewardship.

However, we recognized that the term stewardship has some baggage in our church, and is also limited in scope. We therefore wanted to rejuvenate and expand the meaning of stewardship.

As a result, we decided to gave this particular ministry, as we envisioned it, the term “balanced stewardship”. The aim of this ministry was defined as follows:

“Focus the careful and responsible management of time, talent, and resources to support the long term plan of the congregation…”

We also attached two primary objectives to this ministry:

1) To be a congregation made up of people who are individually and collectively inspired to joyfully offer their gifts in response to God’s grace.
2) Embracing a whole-life stewardship that is not limited to monetary responses.

However, I felt that it would be a challenge for many of our members, even with the above statements, to get their heads around the concept of stewardship being an aspect of all expressions of their discipleship, not just generosity.

Therefore, in a sermon I preached, I described five *possible* forms of balanced stewardship, which are as follows:

One: Fiscal Stewardship (A Disciple’s Generous Response)

This is the traditional understanding of stewardship. Financial contributions to the church…because as much as we felt that the concept of stewardship needed to be expanded, tithing and offerings, etc., are still critically important.

Fiscal stewardship is of vital importance to the mission of the church, both locally and globally, and it’s reflective of our generous response to the needs of others. Additionally, generosity is an expression of charity, and charity is an expression of love.

Your loving and generous contributions to your congregation, to your mission center, and to World Church, and to various programs such as World Accord, touch the lives of people all around the world, truly having a beneficial impact on those whose ministerial needs outweigh our own.

Our current tithing program is termed “A Disciple’s Generous Response”. This program teaches us that generosity is a spiritual discipline. It also encourages us to respond faithfully, spend responsibly, save wisely, and give generously.

These are all wise words, and we need to embrace them. Yet in a system that promotes balanced stewardship, fiscal stewardship is but one form of our call to be good stewards. And its important to remember that fiscal stewardship is not about guilt. No one is expected to give beyond their means, or to give when they can’t.

Two: Earth Stewardship (Environmental/Conservation issues)

This is perhaps a more recent expression of stewardship, at least, for many of us, but it is an ancient discipline among aboriginal communities. Yet now the rest of the world has finally caught on; and God is encouraging us to embrace our call to be custodians of the whole world.

One of my favourite scriptures is the following :

“The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.”
–Doctrine and Covenants 163:4b (CofC version).

This passage truly resonates with me, and I am eager to explore ways in which our church, and our congregation can help protect the world on which we live. This planet is a gift from God, as are all things in creation. We can’t take anything, even the world itself, for granted.

Three: Zionic Stewardship (Peace & Justice)

This is the responsibility that we have, beyond our charitable gifts, to help improve the conditions of all people throughout the world. To care for one another.

A very, very, very, long time ago, God asked a rather short and simple question: “where is your brother” and the reply that He received was this: “am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that question is “yes!” you *are* your brother’s keeper! You are a keeper of all children of God.

We are reminded of this calling, this aspect of our stewardship, by another verse from Section 163:

“God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.” -4a

So you see, God has charged us with the task of helping to improve the lot of others, building a better world, living our mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ, and promoting communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. This is Zionic stewardship.

Four: Ministerial Stewardship (time, energy, resource management)

This is sort of a catchall. This is the stewardship of our own blessings; or, to put it another way, our time, energy, gifts and talents, and how we use them, our willingness to use them, our willingness to risk; to move beyond our comfort zones.

This type of stewardship could also be understood as an expression of our discipleship; and it deals with our willingness to identify those things that we are passionate about, and finding opportunities to give expression to those things in a church context.

Five: Temple Stewardship (physical, emotional & spiritual wellbeing)

The name of this form of stewardship comes from First Corinthians, in which we read the following:

“…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own?” -19 IV (adapted)

This verse reminds us that our bodies are gifts from God. They are temples of the Lord. They are not ours, but His. As such, we would do well to take very good care of them. Therefore, we must always be attentive to our personal health, in all it’s many forms. Our health is multi-dimensional, and therefore, so must be our efforts to take care of our health, our temples of the Lord.

And this also includes our spiritual wellbeing. We must be careful to ensure that we don’t experience burnout. And if we do, then we need to recognize it, and appropriately cope with it. This is also a key aspect of our temple stewardship.

***

A member of my congregation decided to use the five examples of balanced stewardship by creating a “spring cleaning challenge” for our membership, which was as follows:

IT’S TIME FOR SOME SPRING CLEANING!
spring

Free yourself up to connect with God! (via the following five goals)

1. Earth Stewardship
Set a goal to find a way to look after the earth. Achieve the goal!

2. Fiscal Stewardship
Set a goal to manage your money better. Achieve the goal!

3. Ministerial Stewardship
Set a goal to cultivate your blessings. Develop your use of your time, talents, energy, and gifts. Achieve the goal!

4. Temple Stewardship
Set a goal to improve your health and lifestyle. Achieve the goal!

5. Zionic Stewardship
Set a goal to find a way to improve the lives of others. Achieve the goal!

Breathe Clearly Again!

***

I hope, after prayerful consideration, that you will agree that balanced stewardship, however one might define it, is important. There are many reasons. For example, it could be neglectful, or even maladaptive, to focus on only one expression of stewardship.

Plus, we are encouraged to broaden our ministry, to become more diverse in our witness of Jesus Christ. This promotes our own spiritual growth, not to mention the positive impact that may transpire in the lives of those to whom we minister, which may not occur if we are not willing to render new forms of ministry.

The church needs balanced stewardship. From each of us. That need has never been more urgent. Our discipleship and stewardship must be flexible, and relevant. We must be open to change, because the church has changed, and the church has changed because the world has changed, and that is perhaps the most important reason why balanced stewardship is so vitally important.

***

What does stewardship mean to you? Is it appropriate to envision stewardship in a broader manner than previously understood? Do the five examples above resonate with you? How do you envision balanced stewardship?

authority of scripture

This post is an abbreviated version of a post on my own blog.  The fuller version can be found here: http://mattfrizzell.com/2013/11/10/the-authority-of-scripture-or-how-not-to-read-it/

I’m teaching Restoration Scripture this semester at Graceland University.   When I teach this upper division undergraduate course, I spend more time thinking about the role of scripture in normal life more than I usually do .

I teach Restoration Scripture in a way that brings knowledge about scripture together with critical thinking about truth and authority.  I attempt to help students think critically about scripture, yet have respect for its tradition.  The point is to develop a creative openness to scripture.  I believe my approach fits well with Community of Christ’s Statement on Scripture.   It’s a relational approach in which students combine critical thinking and respect for its purpose as a communal authority.  This allows scripture to become a tool with which to think, imagine, feel, and learn the Spirit at work in the church and its sacred writings, present day and in the past.  It takes more time, effort, and discipline to think about scripture this way.  But, it is also what connects scripture with lived-life in community with others in an intellectually honest and life-giving way.

Putting practical questions first, we start by asking the implicit question, “What is scripture good for?”  This question is important because many young adults simply haven’t developed an understanding of scripture outside their personal exposure (or lack of exposure) to it.  Like us, they see how too many Christians obsess over religion and scriptural authority in a way that alienates others. Christianity that worships the authority of scripture has alienated many of us from what it means to be Christian.  The humble call to walk and learn from the person and work of Jesus is quickly lost.  This is even truer with young adults in my experience.

bible-silentThe problem is that most Christians get way too caught up in the “what” of scripture.   More fundamentalist and conservative Christians do it by overemphasizing the literal word and authority of the Bible.  Liberal Christians and pan-religious folk do it when they dispense with scripture by labeling it as personal devotional material, simply stories and moral teaching, or irrelevant historical documents.    When “what scripture is” becomes more important than what scripture points to, the “who” of scripture is eclipsed.  The message and purpose of scripture are lost.

The future of scripture will grow out of a fuller understanding of its past.   Interestingly, Restoration Scripture lends itself well to this approach. Community of Christ has an open canon of scripture that evolves.  (Other traditions also have an evolving understanding of scripture and its interpretation; its the canonization of new scriptural material that makes the Community of Christ unique.)  With all the traps and dangers of having an open canon of scripture, it also has its advantages.  The same traps and dangers that come with an open canon also illuminate the all-to-human processes from which the scriptures come. Because of historical proximity, the emergence of Restoration scripture helps us appreciate how scripture emerges as crystalizations of collective (and collected) human experience.  They do not drop out of the sky or emerge pristine out of an arc or from the ground.  Scriptures are products of divine-human encounter.  They are a human endeavor.  They come out of the circumstances that created them and carried them to us.  And, they testify of God’s activity midst human experience in ultimate proportions.   “God,” in scripture, is a sign and object of ultimate meaning.

When we read scripture, we commune with the dead.  We glean their wisdom and read their witness of ultimate concern in their lives.  In scripture, diverse voices and circumstances come together to convey a semblance of God’s active presence in the mess and mystery of life.   They are stories and life-lessons of survival, life’s search for meaning, the waxing and waning of civilizations, war and peace, and life and death.  All come to us through scripture.

Scripture is also a particular kind of literature.  It is literature that personifies God.   In scripture, God is personified because God and human beings constantly interact.  They fight, deny, adore, return, struggle with and depend deeply on God.  God is strangely present and beyond these entanglements.  God is wily and faithful, powerful and vulnerable.  God is vengeful and gracious.  God is the beginning and the end, whose name is simply “I am.”  (Exodus 3:14)  This God communes with human beings and  is terribly interested in our lives and welfare.  God persistently reaches out to us at great personal expense.

When we approach scripture with narrow personal interests or uncritical assumptions about its authority and content, so much gets lost.   Any reader can slip right past the message within scripture, finding only what they set out to find. This is how we approach restaurants and government – expecting to get what we’re promised and what we want.    But approaching scripture this way avoids a deeper relationship.  I avoids questions about who it comes from, to whom it testifies, and who it’s for.  So much of what scripture is comes from our relationship with it.

Practically, scripture contains wisdom of the ancients and a living message for today.   The ancient church is always also us and not us.  The faith community that practices reading and discerning scripture together will be shaped by its message.  Reading scripture together is a particular experience that shapes a common memory and a community.    This living memory is lived and repeated in the sacraments and rituals that shape the community.  This approach to scripture gets much closer to its purpose and message.   Jacob wrestled with God; I wrestle with God.  Jesus was baptized; I was baptized.   The disciples broke bread and drank in Jesus; we break bread and drink in Jesus.   Job suffered and searched for meaning; we suffer and search for meaning.   Israel longed for a messiah; we do, too.

jesus gift bagsConsumer culture tends to make us think that religious resources are actually spiritual consumer goods.   This, too, influences how we see scripture.    Consuming scripture goes beyond using scripture as personal devotional material.   Scripture becomes only good for “what I get out of it” and “what it means to me.”    This diminishes the community-shaping power of scripture.   But, it can also lead to abusing it.    When scripture is a consumer good, it’s authority is in what I can get out of it.   In an anxious world, we have all seen alarmists and charlatans use scripture to propagate fear, manipulate persons, and create false security.   Used as a consumer good, the ultimate nature of the human problems and difficulties addressed in scripture can become a weapon.   Consumer culture does not cultivate a relationship with scripture or shape the kind of community its message conveys.

Practical wisdom leads to an understanding of scripture that liberates us from extreme and uninformed approaches.   What is scripture good for?  It’s good for reading.  It’s good for reading in community with others.  The authority of scripture is not in literal truth or infallibility.  Nor is the authority of scripture limited to what you or I can get out of it for our own benefit.  The authority of scripture lies in our ability to encounter, grasp, and be changed by its message.  In scripture, diverse voices and circumstances come together to convey God’s active presence in the mess and mystery of life.   The stories, testimonies, and life-lessons of survival, our search for meaning, the waxing and waning of civilizations, war and peace, and life and death all come to us through scripture.   Reading it together forms relationships and a common memory of stories, life-lessons, and language to express the meaning and mystery of life – which otherwise is nearly impossible for us to express.  Read this way, scriptures do not exert authority.  Their authority is evident.

Healing: Saying Yes to Life

What is healing? It seems like a simple enough question. Healing is what happens when a doctor prescribes medicine and recovery follows. Healing is when a religious figure blesses a person and God intervenes to make them physically healthy again. I reject those meanings; the first is too simple and the second is based on a misconception of the nature of healing by faith.healing

As I have made clear in prior posts, I reject the theistic understanding of God, in favor of God as the ground of being, immanent and transcendent, engaged in a relationship with each of us. This God cannot be defined or fully grasped, but can be related to in Martin Buber’s I-Thou sense of the divine-human encounter. With the traditional understanding of deity, the problem of evil enters into the realm of faith healing. If a God within the structure of being, a God who is up there or out there, created the universe and, more specifically, earth, how can this allegedly intervening deity manifest itself in certain instances and not others? Wouldn’t it seem as though this God arbitrarily picks favorites? Thus, healing miracles in the traditional sense must be abandoned as part of an older worldview. A new way of viewing their revelatory nature must be revealed.

Faith healing is the resolution of an existential crisis. When we are sick and suffering, we often arrive at a point of despair; despair about life and a loss of the will to fight. The certainty of despair over fate and meaninglessness, which is the root cause of suffering, provides a shelter from the unfortunate realities of existence. Anxiety becomes a haven, yet at the same time, we are saying “no” to life. The power of healing within each and every one of us is rooted in our ability to give ourselves up to the grace of God. By this I mean that we say “yes” to life, overcoming the anxieties of existence. We have, as I have mentioned before, “the courage to be,” the courage to accept the negative components of existence into our own being. The faith aspect of healing has nothing to do with beliefs, but in accepting the reality of our relationship with God. Through this faith, we can become whole again, and the root causes of our illnesses can have no power over us.

A brief interlude: It is important, as John Crossan has pointed out, to distinguish between an illness and a disease. An illness is healed by what I described above, while a disease strictly refers to a physical ailment. The healing of illnesses can sometimes lead to the healing of diseases, but faith healing in and of itself is not directed towards disease. Although, physical suffering becomes less potent as the affirmation of life brings joy and peace. In this way, we can forget our suffering, as it ceases to be of primary concern.

The version of faith healing as outlined answers two questions posed by the modern worldview, namely: the problem of evil (as discussed above) and disruption of the so-called natural order of the universe. Both are answered by the realization that healing involves an act on the part of the person suffering, rather than through an intervention by God. God as the power of being cannot and does not intervene contrary to perceived laws of nature within this model. God does not intervene for specific people, but becomes manifest through the healer as the victim becomes responsive to the natural presence and reality of God as the core of their being.

We’re Still Listening

I’m a believer in the Restoration. I do not subscribe to a conservative story that Joseph Smith Jr. restored an ancient church, but I’m a believer that many blessings, customs, and ordinances of the past were “restored.”

joseph-smith-first-visionI often find myself in dialogue with other believers of the Restoration; I listen intently to what they believe is the most significant blessing of the restoration. (Please feel free to share below what you believe is the most significant blessing) I enjoy the dialogue because to me the Restoration is a journey not an event. The principles of the Restoration are the same, but our understanding of those principles is ever changing.

Following the death of the apostles, there was a movement to canonize the apostolic writings. Many of the writings out there were not apostolic in origin, but drew upon the inspiration of their ministry. For centuries, debate and discussion took place on what should be considered scripture and what shouldn’t.  By the end of the 16th Century, most Christian communities had canonized their scriptures and closed their canons.

Essentially, the Christian world had found their scripture and believed that no further dialogue was needed.

The Restoration changed this thinking. The early church adopted the concept that God has revealed in the past and he has more to reveal. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was significant. Not just because of the witness that it bore, but because it helped prepare the early saints for the coming of additional scripture.

I have found it to be a delight that the spirit of the Restoration is alive in Community of Christ. God continues to speak to us just as he did in Moses’ time, Christ’s time, and Joseph Smith’s time. Community of Christ has been blessed with the revelation that has been given. Over the last 180+ years the church has seen: Women ordained to the priesthood, two temples built, an open communion policy, an opening of the priesthood and sacrament of marriage to our gay brothers and sisters (this has only been accepted in some counties) and so many other blessings which have resulted from our continual dialogue with God.

President Grant McMurray in Section 161:1b counseled the church to “Be faithful to the spirit of the Restoration, mindful that it is a spirit of adventure, openness, and searching…”

I’m happy to testify that the Community of Christ is continuing to live the spirit of the Restoration. I believe that the biggest blessing from the Restoration is the opening up of the heavens and the continuing dialogue between us and our God. May we all continue to be faithful to the Restoration’s spirit!