Showing posts with label The Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Bible. Show all posts

Holy Week: Resurrection

Touch Me Not, Minerva K. Teichert

Mary Magdalene is among my favorite women in all of scripture. She is blessed with a personal interaction with the resurrected Christ that any disciple would love to have, as told in John 20:

 11 ¶ But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

The Greek in verse 17 properly translated from Greek doesn't mean to refrain from touching me yet. It is better rendered as "Hold me not," to refrain from holding me, which you are already doing. Mary Magdalene threw her arms around the Savior, greeted him enthusiastically and without restraint. She had received an undeniable witness of the Resurrection not just with her eyes, but with her own hands. She was the first person after the death of Christ to have such a witness.

She was not the only one to receive such a witness ahead of the apostles. There were multiple women who then saw Jesus after their interactions with the angels at the garden tomb. From Matthew 28:

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is arisen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

These women also received an undeniable witness by touching Christ. They could not know with a greater certainty that Jesus had risen from the dead.

When they did as they were instructed by the angels, to tell the Twelve what they had seen and experienced, the Twelve didn't believe them. They did not trust the women as reliable sources of truth.

From Mark:

 9 Now when Jesus was arisen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

From Luke:

10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

And because of that refusal to listen to the women in their lives, the women who were closest to Christ and who had received that witness before them, they had to wait until they got all the way to Galilee to see him. Which really is incomprehensible when you consider that he walked with them to on the road to Emmaus and none of them recognized him. He had to baby step them into being able to see him, then cajole them by eating something in front of them, and eventually break down what they were seeing for them in scriptural terms for them to finally receive the witness, the truth the women already had. (See Luke 24:12-48)

In almost two thousand years, this has not changed as much as it should have by now.

Believe women. Believe our words. Believe in the power of our faith. Believe in the gifts and talents God has given to us. Believe in our potential. Believe in our ministries. Believe our leadership. Believe in us the same way Christ believes in and trusts us.

What happens to church that dishonor and disgrace their women by withholding this love and trust from them?

They have the fullness of truth and power withheld from them, their access to Christ curtailed, the same way the Twelve did. And in the Book of Mormon, Ether 12 explains why:

12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

It's not just faith in God that matters. It's also the faith we have in ourselves and in each other. When that faith falters, no one can help us, not even the perfected and resurrected Christ. If we want to be in a condition where Jesus Christ CAN help us, it requires us to confront and dismantle our own unconscious biases, the disrespect and prejudice we hold for other people. There is no room for any of that in the kingdom of God, and that spiritual deprivation begins here and now, on Earth. It will last as long as it takes us to do the work to overcome that way of thinking.

Where is the power of Jesus Christ on this earth today? It's in many places. Wherever there is love, wherever there is compassion, wherever there is faith in the future, wherever there are sincere souls who see wrongs and are trying to make them right, there is Christ. And it stands to reason, and shouldn't go without saying, that the power of Jesus Christ is in the hands and hearts of women.

What does learning the lessons of the past, the lessons in the ministry of Jesus Christ this Easter?

Among many of the valuable lessons that others will teach today, let this one be included: Believe, and believe in, the women who serve him.

Holy Week: Atonement

A section of the modern garden in Gethsemane

I've been in interfaith spaces enough to know that Latter-day Saints have a different relationship with the Atonement of Jesus Christ than the rest of Christianity. While the idea that Jesus sacrificed himself to meet the demands of the Law of Moses, what the Book of Mormon calls "the great and last sacrifice," we have a different understanding from the rest of Christianity of when that happened. (See Alma 34:13-16)

In every other Christian tradition I've seen and interacted with, the belief is that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins. In Latter-day Saint tradition, we believe that this act of intercession and our Savior's achievement of perfected compassion in the Garden of Gethsemane. Note these verses from Luke 22:

41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

For us, this is the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is what it meant for him to be the Messiah. It wasn't a physical rescuing, although he did that for many throughout his mortal ministry. It was the defeat of loneliness, the conquering of sin, and deliverance from evil that defined Jesus Christ as our Savior. The blood he shed during that moment of intercession for the entire human family—past, present, and future—that would crown his ministry as the Only Begotten Son of the Father.

For me, this dual emphasis on Gethsemane and the de-emphasis of the Crucifixion is one of my favorite aspects of my faith. It allows me to have a more expansive view of Atonement that transcends sin. Our scriptures teach of the intercession of Jesus as an act that grants him perfect access to perfect empathy with each of us, in every experience I will ever face.

Some examples of that perspective from the Book of Mormon: 

  • 1 Nephi 19:9
  • 1 Nephi 21:16
  • Mosiah 14:10
  • Alma 7:11-13

In contrast, the Crucifixion to us is a tragic miscarriage of justice, a product of Roman brutality in capital punishment. That Christ was willing to suffer that is significant, but the Crucifixion itself has no inherent holiness to us—let alone being the focal point. That is why Latter-day Saints, for the most part, don't give emphasis to the Crucifixion in our iconography with crosses. Having spent my early years going to Catholic Mass with my mother and seeing the large Crucifix with an emaciated Christ carved and hanging from it at the front of the room, I do prefer my current traditions over the fear and guilt that inspired in me as a child

When people have asked me about why the pain and anguish of Jesus Christ was necessary, it has usually come from people in other Abrahamic faiths outside of Christianity. Why is that level of suffering required to appease God and to meet the demands of divine law?

When the Atonement of Jesus Christ is reduced to the legalistic demands of sin and its consequences, I can understand the confusion. It's not a satisfying explanation to point to the depravity of human kind and say "It was necessary to fix that." I’ve particularly had wise Muslims ask me how a totally innocent person suffering the consequences for a guilty person could ever possibly be just. And when your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ begins and ends with sin, it's hard to know how to respond.

Latter-day Saints have an understanding that would say instead that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice simply because he wanted to. He didn't want any of us to be alone in all the struggles we would ever face. It's not just for sin—it's for every heartache we will ever experience, including those we haven't even come to yet. The total defeat of evil and its power over our lives. He has a perfect knowledge of every need we will ever have, and has received that knowledge into himself so he knows how to comfort and guide us. He was the only one who could do that for the human family. Such access requires "an infinite and eternal sacrifice," and Jesus Christ was the only one who was willing and able to pay the price on our behalf. (See Alma 34:9-12)

That's what makes Jesus Christ special to me: he can see the worst of what humans can do to each other, bearing the collective burden of all of our pain, and survive it without succumbing to hopelessness and despair. He isn't a convenient scapegoat, or (even worse) an enabler. He is a friend to the friendless, the hope to the hopeless, and the last resort to someone who would otherwise be left totally alone and defeated in this world.

I have never been to Gethsemane. I wasn't there when Jesus did this for me. I can't prove to anyone else that it was real or that it happened. All I can do is be the living witness of that kind of love, health, healing, and wholeness in my own life because that's who Jesus Christ has been to me.

Everyone needs that kind of friend in their lives, especially when they don't deserve it. Each and every one of us, no matter who we are or what we've done, have that kind of friend in Jesus of Nazareth.

Holy Week: The Sacrament

Where is the exact moment Jesus Christ stopped being a Jew and became the founder of a new and separate religion?

Was it when the Sanhedrin rejected him? When enough other Jews decided he was a heretic, rather than a teacher? Was it the first time he claimed to be the Son of God? When he called his Twelve Apostles, and called Peter the rock upon which he would build his church?

Personally, I think it was the last time he celebrated Passover with his disciples. I'm switching over to Luke 22 for this one.

The celebration of Passover included the eating of unleavened bread and drinking wine. But what Jesus does with them here is where I think the break between Judaism and Christianity begins:

19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

To have a new testament signifies the formation of a new covenant. This is the moment where Jesus uses the authority he has from God to form a new community with a religious identity separate and distinct from Judaism. While Jesus was a Jew, followed Jewish law, observed Jewish customs and holidays, and worshiped the same God as the Jews, he intended to create a church and a community that would break from Jewish traditions. The institution of the Sacrament (our terminology for Holy Communion or the Eucharist in other traditions) was the initiation of this break.

Because Latter-day Saints haven’t celebrated Holy Week historically, and this is something our currently leadership is inviting us to change, it’s been really special to see what other Christians do to make this time special. It has been a great reminder that Easter is the opportunity for all Christians, including us, to celebrate the relationships we've personally developed with Jesus Christ. We have more in common with other Christians than we might think we do, and it’s because we all have this common belief in how much Jesus Christ and his ministry changed the world.

I’m still contemplating what it means for me to celebrate Holy Week. I’ve thought about the choice I made at Easter time many years ago to be baptized. I went to the temple yesterday. I’ve been studying scriptures for these daily meditations, which I’ve enjoyed very much. And tomorrow, my husband and I are going to an orchestral performance of Rob Gardner's Lamb of God. There isn’t really an established program for any of this for our people now, and we’re each contemplating how to do this and make it personally meaningful.

My favorite part of sharing these has been the ways you all have shared how my thoughts are helping you to develop your own Holy Week messages and traditions with your own families. I’ve deeply enjoyed those messages, and I think this was the wisdom in having us begin participating in these traditions: the way we would help each other and celebrate our faith in Christ together. 

It truly doesn’t get better than that. And I hope that becomes a key feature of what Latter-day Saints celebrating Holy Week looks like going forward.

Holy Week: The Cleansing of the Temple

Jesus Cleansing the Temple, Carl Bloch

I have seen multiple people on Instagram talking about Jesus cleansing the temple in the final week of his ministry and misinterpreting the motive Jesus had for doing it. So let's talk about the details we can glean from Scripture to better understanding this story.

The temple complex had merchants who would sell animals to people they could use for sacrifices. The law of Moses in Leviticus 5 (see also Leviticus 14-15) talks about how the sin offering involves sacrificing a lamb or a kid goat. In the case of extreme poverty, two doves were the acceptable alternatives. These offerings would be bled on the Temple altar and burned.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves. —Matt 21:13

The act of selling these animals was not the problem. It was a necessary part of the temple functioning, especially as people traveled from far distances to participate in temple worship.

The problem that caused Jesus to walk through the stalls turning over tables brandishing a whip was price gouging. Theft, of both money and access to God.

Everything that happened in the temple complex was under the direction of the high priest, the most important figure in Judaism at the time. The animals provided would've been inspected and assured that they would meet the requirements of the law. In a world where various monies were in use, weighed with scales to meet the established exchange rates, nothing would've prevented the high priest from requiring bribes from the privilege of operating in the temple market. Nothing would've prevented the scales from being turned against those who price gouged the public to provide for those bribes, as well as to line their own pockets. All of this happened at the expense of the people who were required by divine law to make these sacrifices to achieve forgiveness of their sins.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly demonstrates his disdain for the senior-most leadership of Judaism in his day. He had condemned the love of money and status over people so many times. He had disrupted ceremonies and insulted the priests to their faces. He had criticized their poor understanding of the law and their duties to others in their community. He had called them hypocrites, a den of vipers, vessels that were clean on the outside but filthy within, whited sepulchres full of dead men's bones, predators akin to wolves in sheep's clothing, and unprofitable servants. And here, he engages in his most pointed and unapologetic criticism yet for those in power:

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. —Matt 21:13

The agitation of Jesus Christ culminated in this exact moment, where he struck back against the Establishment not only in thought, but in their pocketbooks. In the destruction of the temple market, he restored access to the ordinances for all by front the animals to those who were present. He liberated the money to the oppressed in society by flinging it outside the reach of those who had taken it from them. He upturned the power structure and social order which placed the high priest as a wealthy superior over, rather than a humble servant to, the Jewish community.

Make no mistake: Jesus was a Jew. He loved his community and his faith. He loved God. He respected the law, which called his people to be the best versions of themselves to serve God. But this love didn't stop him from publicly criticizing and condemning moral failure in the leadership around him. Love does not enable abuse. And it was abuse that allowed Jewish leadership at the time to limit access to the most important, the most sacred ordinances in Judaism only to those who were willing and able to pay enough money.

What do we learn from Jesus, from his destruction of the temple market?

That some evil forces in society cannot be reformed. Reasoning with abusers in ways they don't have to acknowledge, that doesn't cost them anything, isn't a solution for the powerless. That people are more important than money and the economy. That there is restorative justice waiting for the oppressed, in the form of destruction for their oppressors. And when this happens, a greater increase of faith, healing, and power from heaven will follow.

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. Matt. 21:14

This Easter season, this is the hope and prayer for many: that God will remember those who have been shut out of their communities because of the exorbitant prices set by their leadership for their participation. That God will restore access to the holiness and forgiveness that has been stolen from them. That there is still a Savior, a Deliverer from the greed and pride that drives this world. And most of all, that there is healing and rest for those who have been exploited against their will, that all that has been stolen will be restored to them one day.

The Unimpressive Origins of Anti-Queerness in the LDS Church

"Sister Collins, why don't you believe being queer is a sin like the rest of the righteous, obedient Mormons?"

Because despite what you've been told, the rejection of LGBTQIA+ people is not a foundational gospel principle to Christianity. It's not part of some consistent, eternal sexual ethic that has been passed down to us unchanged since the dawn of time. There is no such consistent sexual ethic taught in scripture. Any biblical scholar with a decent grasp of Hebrew and Greek would be able to tell you that. What the Old Testament teaches about sex is not what Paul teaches in the New Testament, is not what the Book of Mormon teaches, is not what the Doctrine and Covenants teaches.

Sexual ethics change. They're one of the things in scripture most likely to change and morph according to the man-made cultures surrounding them. They've changed drastically within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints alone over the nearly-200 years the institution has been in the earth. The idea that Latter-day Saints would advocate for a strict sexual ethic that isn't subject to change is comically ridiculous. It's an untenable position for anyone in a religious community community that went from not polygamy, to polygamy, and back againall in a 70 year period.

The idea that the current sexual ethic as it exists in the Church isn't subject to change to become inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community is nonsense. We have less authority than anyone else in Christianity to make that kind of assertion, which is why I'm continually baffled that our community has even tried at all.

The idea that homosexuality is sinful didn't enter the Church until after it showed up in the rest of Christianity in 1952 with the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. An edition, I'll point out, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not use. It was the first edition of the Bible to ever assert that the Bible explicitly condemned homosexuality. Before this point, no edition of any Bible that has ever been published interpreted or translated any of the texts to refer to homosexuality. While these perceptions existed culturally before this time, no one had ever gone so far as to translate the Bible in this way because such assertions and translations are completely inconsistent with the text.

Once the RSV team did include such a translation, an error they later tried to disavow, it became the source of these interpretations throughout the rest of Christianity. The Living Bible, the New International Version, and the New American Standard Bible all adopted this perspective from the RSV. While such doctrinal drift can't be traced through Latter-day Saint use of the King James Bible, we can review general conference talks to see how these line up with these perspectives and who introduced them. A full collection of indexed conference reports was uploaded by the Church History Museum to the Internet Archive in 2011, so this is not a difficult question to examine.

The first instance of this kind of queer condemnation, beginning with J. Reuben Clark in 1954, is in lockstep with conforming with the RSV's translation error. (Clark, Conference Report October 1954, pg. 79) It's also worth noting that the second condemnation, also from Clark in 1957, asserts that scriptural injunctions against "fornication" relate to men engaging in homosexual relationships, with a simultaneous admission that he isn't sure if those same passages included queer women or not. (Clark, Conference Report April 1957, pg. 87)

The idea that the Church's condemnation of its own queer community is an organized, ancient message that has been consistently taught and enforced throughout time the same way we do now is objectively false. We can point to our own conference reports and see the image of past church leadership guessing and speculating as to how to apply these condemnations from the rest of Christianity to our community. 

The question no one has been able to answer for me is why, if such messaging were inspired by God, there would be a need for guesswork or speculation on the part of J. Reuben Clark or anyone else.

I fully believe this is exactly the kind of Biblical mistranslation and manipulation we preach against. This is the apostasy I personally left evangelical Christianity to avoid. I don't believe in the rationalizations for anti-queerness in the Church for the same reason I don't believe the racial priesthood and temple restrictions were inspired, regardless of what any prophet or person has ever said about it: 

Because God is not a bigot.

God does not endorse bigotry. He doesn't endorse violence. He doesn't endorse division, ostracizing, indifference to suffering, the abandoning of children, bullying, and excluding people from his community because they are different. He doesn't participate in human rights abuses. Humans do that. God does not.

Jesus taught that it's "by their fruits" that we can know the truth of anything. We have had decades to see what the fruits of LGBTQIA+ exclusion from the Church have been. From mixed orientation marriages that fail to child abandonment, homelessness, conversation therapy, violence, and suicide. To say nothing of bullying and divisions in families throughout the Church.

The fruits of these policies of LGBTQIA+ exclusion have been evil because the policy is evil. The policy is evil because it came from the selfishness and ignorance of man instead of God.

And in that same breath, it needs to be said that you cannot collect good fruit from an evil tree. You cannot expect to teach people to love and accept queer people non-violently at the same time you close off participation to them in our community. Those two things cannot coexist together. You either follow the admonition of Peter when he taught that the command to take the gospel into all the earth includes all people, to call none of them unclean or common by condition off their birth, or you don't. (See Acts 10:14-15 and Acts 11:17) There is no room to negotiate people out of God's kingdom based on man-made prejudices. This is a lesson God has already taught.
I was in evangelical Christianity before I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I left that community because I didn't want any part of their teachings anymore. I have no loyalty to queer hatred any more than I have for original sin, infant baptism, or biblical inerrancy. My loyalty is to Jesus Christ—not the dungheap of human errors people have done in his name to justify their own actions, to amass power for themselves, or to lift themselves above others in vanity and pride.
I don't need a cafeteria lunch table to exclude people from to feel good about myself or to convince myself that God loves me. If that's something you need, that's not because of anything queer people have ever done to you. So stop blaming and hurting them and go to therapy.

Becoming Found Family within the Church

Growing up in an unstable home environment with parents who struggled with a host of issues that included poverty, addiction, alcoholism, domestic violence, and racial violence, one of the skills I learned early on in my life is gathering and assembling found family. I had so many adopted mothers, tied to so many different communities who cared for and about me.

The reason I made it out of poverty and avoided becoming a statistic was because of the support and mentoring I received from people who were my chosen family, rather than being limited to the support my biological family could provide.

While the Church is not the only group capable of forming these kinds of relationships, it's especially important for members of the Church to know how to do this, and know the meaningful distinction between found family and "ward family" or "church family."

Let's start off by talking about that distinction.


Not All Church Family is Found Family

I've been in the Church as a convert for almost seventeen years now. I joined as a teenager, the only member in my family. I've been in enough congregations to know the difference between ward family and found family.

Ward family is conditional. It exists within the shared identity of being members of the Church, and therefore only fully extends to members of the Church. Those who aren't members and are unlikely to ever become members, or who were formerly members and are no longer fully engaged with the Church, are often seen as being unworthy or undeserving of that network of help and loving care. The reason for this is because with church membership comes the expectation of reciprocation. In this line of thinking, the church member will pay it forward at a future time through ongoing service through the Church. The issue is not that people are receiving benefits to which they have not previously contributed. Rather, it's the boundary setting that happens with those who have no intentions of paying it forward through the same network of finite resources.

Church family also often centers around the formal administration overseen by local leadership on the ward council. It may or may not be facilitated through delegated assignments, volunteered service, or shared resources extended through church social networks. Because no one person has total control over this council and the causes it chooses to undertake and how, the help that is given through it is shaped by the personal beliefs and life experiences of many different people. Because of that, mileage and results will vary wildly based on geographic location and the cultures (and politics) of the surrounding areas.

Anyone who is familiar with the concept of found family, or comes into the church with the expectation that church family will function like found family, is going to be confused by what they see happening in many places. And because it's important for church members to understand the difference, to be willing and capable of doing both kinds of giving, this comes with acknowledging those differences honestly.

Found Family is Unconditional

Found family is an ongoing, personal relationship between individuals that isn't bound by shared identity, social networks, or life experiences. It's a much closer relationship than a casual acquaintance at Church. It's a friendship where a person is fully integrated into a family's embrace as one of their own. The exchange of love and gratitude is mutual, flows in both directions, and exists solely within the individual family. There's no expectation for anyone else outside of that relationship to be benefiting from it. So while two different communities may be coming together and sharing in a mutual space with one another, there is no expectation that their communities will directly benefit from that exchange.

For example, if an LDS family decided to sponsor a family of refugees and developed a found family relationship with them, there would be no expectation for the refugee family to join the Church. If an LDS family took in a queer person who was also a former member of the Church, there would be no expectation for them to come back to church because of that association, or in exchange for resources. The relationship itself is the reward, not anything monetary or otherwise valuable that the relationship could be used for.

Found family relationships often materialize spontaneously through already existing friendships. But through my own reflection, I'm realizing they exist when people create space in their families, their homes, and their lives for those relationships to materialize.  It's one where the jump has been made together from acquaintance or casual friendship to actual family. Those relationships are grown, nourished, and are sincerely cherished on both sides.

Not every relationship in the Church should be one of found family. I'm not suggesting it should be. But recognizing the ways that God works through found family is an important one for people of faith to understand and embrace. There is a kind of good that only be accomplished through found family relationships and in no other way, including by the a church or ward family. There are families who have space in their lives at different seasons to create found family relationships, and some who don't. It's important to be able to assess situations impartially and to understand which is needed.

In Psalms 68:6, David taught that "God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains." I've seen that ministry work through my own life in the Church. The trajectory of my life changed completely because members of the Church facilitated both found family and church family relationships. Knowing how to do both is good discipleship and allows those who belief in Christ to follow his example in moments where it can do the greatest good.

Xenophobia, Nationalism, Propaganda, and the Death of Jesus Christ

After a conversation with my husband in which the root of some of my current religious struggles took shape, I was reading in John 11. I found some interesting material I've never noticed before.

Source: Lazaro, Ven Fuero, Jorge Cocco Santangelo

In that chapter, Lazarus gets sick and dies. Jesus gets to Bethany after Lazarus has been dead for four days. Because Bethany was so close to Jerusalem, it wasn't safe for Jesus to come any sooner. As it was, the apostles thought they would all die there. 

Lazarus being restored to life is such a beautiful story, I've never paid attention to this subtext of personal danger on the Savior's part. But in our current political climate, it's hard not to see it above all else. In my mind, the rational for why the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus was a power struggle born of jealousy. But the scriptures we have clarify that it goes much deeper than that.

48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation...

52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

Their response to power they could neither understand nor control was not just jealousy. It was the irrational, but deeply-held belief that they would lose their nation and identity as Jews to Rome. They were afraid that Jesus would reunify the lost tribes of Israel, reunifying the kingdom and thereby challenging their power and superiority.

It was an anti-immigrant, nationalistic stance born of fear, hatred, and ignorance.

How did the Pharisees and their supporters justify the decision to kill Jesus, through which they would break any law, enter into any conspiracy, and shed innocent blood?

Nationalism. A rotten fruit of the human spirit, from which no good has ever come.

If the Pharisees were alive today, they'd be wearing red hats that say "Make Jerusalem Great Again." They followed Caiaphas, who couldn't be a better parallel for many of the leaders on the world stage today. Caiaphas was willing to justify murder for the sake of his nation, because "it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."

Jesus was arrested illegally, given an unjust trial, sentenced against the law of his people, and killed because of a vocal minority's fear mongering and manufactured narratives. No one understands nationalism and the injustice that comes from it better than he does.

Like the rest of us, Jesus was a man of many good intentions living in an unjust world. Nothing he could do in mortality could ever make life just. He suffered and died because he tried to make life just a little more fair for the disadvantaged and the outcast. He believed in equality. He believed, and hoped against hope, that he could make a difference. It was exhausting to him. The more he gave to the poorest in his society, the more some people hated him. And even he couldn't change that.

We all will experience that same ugliness of spirit, because evil is timeless & has a habit of repeating itself. But we can't give up, the same way Jesus never did. We can't make things fair. But we can make things better than they would be if we did nothing at all.

Now that Jesus is no longer mortal, has risen from the dead, and sits in judgment over the entire human race, he has the power to right all wrongs. He has the power to achieve justice and fairness. We will have our day in court. We will all have justice.

The injustice and unfairness that surround us are not God's doing. But with his help, we can travel on the same long, arduous road where he walked to create change. It won't be easy, but nothing worth the time ever really is.

Was there truly no other way?

It's one of the oldest and most debated questions when discussing the Fall of Adam and Eve.

Did Eve make a mistake by eating the forbidden fruit? Was there any other way?

With the latter question, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might wonder if the answer to that question is a reliable "No" or not because of the reenactment of the Creation during the temple endowment ceremony. Largely because the one saying there was "no other way" is Satan, and he's not exactly intended to be a reliable character in that story.

The first place I'll point to for an answer is another line from the Creation reenactment. Before Adam and Eve had ever fallen, God says "If they yield to temptation, we will provide a Savior for them." This line represents the Plan of Salvation as it was always intended to play out. 

The only way for Adam and Eve to make a valid choice would be to let them break a law, then providing an escape from the consequences. We, as the human race, were always meant to fall and need a Savior, whose role was always meant to be filled by Jesus Christ. This was the plan from the very beginning.

Does this mean God set them up to fail?

In order to understand the answer to that, it's important to understand what God was trying to save humanity from. Was it Satan? Or was it the demands of the law that govern moral agency and consequences of sin?

To answer that, it is valuable to review 2 Ne 2:22-24 and Moses 5:11 and consider that the "never" here is literal. Adam and Eve were never, ever leaving the Garden of Eden until one of them broke the law. And if you don't believe me, Bruce R McConkie echoes that same sentiment in his talk The Pillars of Eternity. He says Adam would still be in Eden today if not for their transgression.

And unlike some of the other things Bruce R. McConkie said without any sort of scriptural foundation, this one isn't one of those.

Gems of Heaven

--originally posted on Waters of Mormon on August 30, 2007--

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke 23: 34

This scripture has been the source of my strength this week because I've been dealing with people and disappointment in excess lately.

Being the book-oriented person that I am, I took to the scriptures very easily, and I love them because they are so timeless. For just about every struggle you could possibly have, there's a scripture that gives succinct pieces of advice and comfort for that struggle.

The first time I experienced this phenomenon was before I was baptized. I was looking for a scripture that I wasn't certain I had ever even read before. I knew that my Baptist youth leader had one from Jeremiah that she liked a lot, and I thought that hers was the one I was searching for. But when I read it, I knew that scripture wasn't the one I needed. I was thumbing though the Bible that her husband had given me, and I prayed to find whatever it was I was looking for.

I opened to Psalms and began to read. Eventually I came to Psalms 27:10, and I was floored. That scripture is proof that God knew there would be teenagers, and He loves them very much. That spiritual experience was by no means the strongest of my life, but it was the first that led me on my quest for gems of knowledge; the scriptures that touch your heart the second you read them.

I consider myself a treasure hunter when I read my scriptures. My gems of knowledge are color coded based on how they've touched me. If they're from/about the Savior they're yellow. When they relate to women, Zion, YW or RS (light blue); my patriarchal blessing (dark blue); the temple (green); scripture mastery, warnings, or references to Satan (brown); war and fighting, agency, or contrast (orange); and references to the offices or functions of the priesthood are in red.

It sounds really compulsive, but it works for me. Each gem has a reason why it's precious, and each color reflects a different gem. I have a treasure trove of sapphires and rubies, emeralds and amethysts, garnets, amber, and topaz, and its a special kind of treasure that I will never lose because they're written in my heart. (3 Nephi 13: 20-1)

I have always believed that you can tell a lot about someone from their favorite scriptures. When I go to another person's home, one of my favorite things to do is to search for refridgerator magnets, pictures, wall hangings, trinkets, or any other kind of knick-knacks that might have scriptures on them. Going past churches in my daily travels is fun too because their roadside signs sometimes have a scripture that I rehearse immediately in order to look up later.

To me, seeing a scripture at times like that is never a coincidence; I believe that Heavenly Father talks to us through these scriptures that are all around us, if we would just look them up and ponder them in our hearts. I had that happen with a scripture in a actor's playbill bio once.

And since I've comitted to reading the Book of Mormon cover to cover, my treasure chest is overflowing. I invite any of you who lack such treasure to begin your quest anew; to become as a child and remember all of the times you played pirates, and the buried treasure was just an adventure away. Our Father in Heaven not only believes in such adventures, He encourages you to seek them out.

To my more seasoned explorers (and even the not-so-seasoned,) what are some of your favorite scriptures? Why are they your favorites? What quests have you had that have led you to the prescious gems of Heaven? And if you have not begun your quest yet, how can we help you find what you're looking for?

Non Sequitur

The Bible in pop culture is an interesting subject to analyze, especially when the forum in question is the funny papers.

A few samples of my favorites:

Adam and Eve. . .

. . .and the Fall

Moses. . .

. . .and Noah

And the imagery. Can't forget the Biblical imagery.

Part of what I hope to accomplish as a writer will be to preserve the Christian tradition of the English language. Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Austen, Eliot, Steinbeck; these writers have solidified the role of the Bible in literature. But because we live in a nation that views tradition, morality, and self-discipline as a worthless burden, I wonder how much longer that will last.

All I can do is refuse to give in. As long as I am writing, my prose will honor the standards that define me. My verses will have substance because I will not rely solely on my reader's hedonistic pleasures. The human experience is not so shallow as to be reduced to an image of Eliot's Waste Land. But my faith alone will not be enough to preserve the values that can save our nation from self-destruction. I must use my writing to be that example if I wish to glorify my God with my writing.

The gentle humor of Non Sequitur in these strips provides an example of how to keep our Biblical tradition alive and well. Certainly other ways have proven effective and have stood the test of time. Part of what my task will include will be to analyze what these other rhetorical strategies have been, and to learn to use them for myself.

And, as always, having the Holy Ghost as inspiration helps more than anything else. Call it a trump card, but I'll take what I can get.

Gold Plates

Today, I took place in branch conference, which was an interesting experience. I believe it was the stake president that came to speak to us, as well as other gentleman from the Stake High Council. I met with them this morning when they had a meeting for new members, and they were wonderful to talk to. I got to share my conversion story, and the stake president mentioned me later during his talk. I'm unusually active and verbose in my appreciation of the gospel, so that's not the first time I've ever been mentioned in a talk.

The highlight of the day came when I got to sustain the Prophet! That was truly an experience! By raising my right hand, I sustained the wise and wonderful Gordon B. Hinckley to be the leader of our countless members unto righteousness. I have the utmost respect for President Hinckley. He's in his 90's and he's as active as he ever was in his youth, travelling around the world to help perfect the saints. We are blessed for his leadership, and I'm proud to have raised my hand to sustain him and the other general authorities.

My last thought that I will share before I work on my US History homework is a thought that occurred to me multiple times today. As each speaker stood at the podium today, scriptures in hand, I noticed that the pages on all of them were lined in gold. I pondered that, and wondered how the world would view us if we still had the original gold plates. I truly don't think we would be any better off, such is the world and its capacity to be faithless. And then the spirit made me realize, we DO have the plates. That's what my scriptures are...

And as I left my boyfriend's house today, I hugged them to me a little tighter. My scriptures are bound in emerald green leather, and are my most prized possession. They give to me the same spiritual witness that was given to Joseph Smith, and I am blessed to live in this new dispensation with them available to me.

I stand all amazed. . .

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