Rescuing Jesus From The United States: A New Zealand woman’s missive to America

Guest Post by  Gina Colvin

NZ postage stamp

It’s no secret that people’s lives have long been expunged in the name of Christianity. Pagans; Saxons; peasants; Turks; the Gaelic Irish; Hungarians; Jews; Muslims; heretics; ‘witches’; protestants; and Catholics, from Palestine to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to Tenochtitln, women, children and men have died in the name of the church that bears His name. Persecution; ethnocentrism; colonialism; patriarchy; capitalism; slavery; illicit invasions of sovereign states have all been underwritten in one way or another by an appeal to Jesus Christ.

 

Its called ‘bending the narrative’ – this habit of pulling Jesus into national politcs and shaping military and economic discourses around and through Christianity – like a branding strategy. I understand the motivation. If you make Jesus a citizen of your country, or the head of your political campaign He makes it easy to recruit followers. Christians love Jesus and if you can push him out in front, everything you associate him with ends up feeling divine.  Not that Jesus would have been complicit in the above atrocities – far from it. In any event the ‘Jesus’ card has been played continuously in the game of Western empire building, and Jesus’ effigy has been paraded relentlessly to justify all manner of evil. And this Jesus (by American reckoning in general, and Mormon calculations specifically) currently resides in the United States.

 

As a non-American member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I grew up having to crane my neck to watch out for the American Jesus. We New Zealand Mormons are permanently calibrated in that direction, we face a North East direction toward the Pacific ocean and over the rocky mountains to Salt Lake City where the American Jesus is in charge of our eternal salvation. From somewhere on Temple Square, he stands at the head, guiding, directing and fully in charge of Mormon affairs.  This American Jesus has been continuously on the lips of the American Mormons who get to speak, instruct and direct the rest of the Mormon world from large podiums festooned with flowers or from the pages of glossy monthly magazines.  American words have been landing in the ears of the non-American Mormons throughout my entire lifetime – and it’s wearing thin.

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Representing Christ

The Good Shepherd by Waiting for the World

The Good Shepherd
by Waiting for the World

 

 

 

By Jenny

I looked out the window of the bus at the dreary grey sky, as we winded down the long road from Hitler’s Tea House on the top of the mountain.  It had been another dismal workday and I was ready to crash.  I was nineteen and living alone in a mountain village in Southern Bavaria, doing an internship that I had gotten through BYU.  Up until the point that I boarded the airplane for this secluded place, I had barely left my own mountains of Utah.  I was sheltered to say the least.  Now I was the lone Mormon kid, an hour away from the nearest LDS church in Salzburg.  In my immature and naïve mind, I was also surrounded by heathens who might be contagious.  I would come to love the people I was surrounded by and lose most of my self- righteous attitude toward them, but at this point I was spending too much energy trying to keep myself unstained from the sins of the world.  That left me with little capacity for love.

This day had been a particularly hard one.  When I finally arrived at my apartment, depression seized me and I threw myself on the bed and pulled the covers over my head.  I was ready to give up.  I lay there crying and praying.  In my loneliness that summer, God had become my  one constant companion.  I knew that if I got up and ran in the hills behind my apartment I  would feel better, but I couldn’t pull myself out of my bed.  I lay there in misery until I saw  something curious on my back door.  I got out of bed to see what it was and found that it was a note from the Sister Missionaries.

Liebe Jenny, We had a crazy desire to visit you today—unfortunately the budget didn’t take us to the top of the mountain. Na, ja—we picked the second best thing and hiked up here to your house.  Above all, we have been thinking about you—it’s tough being the only Mormon kid in a foreign country but buck up trooper—we know your example will have many lasting effects—the Lord even gives us pep talks when we need them, here’s Sister Nuttall and I’s favorite. D&C 6:34-37. The Lord knows each one of us very personally—even those of us wandering around Salzburg or sitting atop a mountain in Germany!  The Lord is also most pleased in how strong you are growing in this experience—spiritual muscles!  We are sorry that we didn’t plan this adventure to Berchtesgaden well enough—don’t worry, we will get together another time. Wir haben Sie Lieb Schwester Jensen and Schwester Nuttalls

 

That note was everything to me at that moment, and it got me out of bed.  I put on my running shoes and ran through the lush forested hills.  I wondered why the missionaries would take so much time and energy to travel an hour by train and then hike all the way up to my apartment just to leave me a note.  They could have been searching for converts, but they spent the greater part of their day just to make my day better.  That day was not a successful one for them by any outward appearance.  They didn’t find a golden contact, they didn’t convert anyone to the gospel, they didn’t even get to see the one person they spent their day travelling to see.  As a missionary it could have been considered a wasted day.  But their efforts meant everything to me, one lonely nineteen-year-old girl far from the comfort of her tribe.  That day, my missionaries chose to represent Christ.

That was the loneliest time of my life because I was in an unfamiliar culture with people who weren’t like me.  I have felt a similar loneliness over the last few years.  This time I am not alone in a foreign country where I struggle to use the language to express myself.  I am not different from everyone around me because I grew up with different beliefs and values than they did.  This time I am in the culture of my birth.  I should fit in.  But after a life-changing faith transition and feminist awakening, I am different.  I believe differently.  I speak differently and I do struggle to find a common language with which I can fully express myself.  Now I am the heathen whom others are struggling to be around for fear that what I have is contagious.  In the very culture of my birth I don’t fit in.  I am different.

So naturally I am thinking about those missionaries so many years ago and the effort they made to help me feel like I was okay in a culture that I didn’t belong to.  And I am thinking about the ideal we set in the church for every member to be a missionary.  What does that mean?  The typical Sunday School answers are to pray for missionary experiences, give Book of Mormons away, and talk to our friends and neighbors about the church.  But my wise sister missionaries knew that it wasn’t just about getting converts.  What good does it do us to convert people to our church if our church is not a place for many people with differing beliefs and levels of orthodoxy to feel welcome.  If our church is not a church of love and inclusion, then converts will profit us nothing.

We worry about our image, we worry about our numbers, we worry about our rules.  We don’t want to get too close because what that person has looks like apostasy.  We bear our testimonies in an attempt to convert them back to our way of thinking and believing.  We live in a cold and delusional world of Sunday school answers.  It’s time to shed our rules, shed our agendas, and shed the self righteousness that makes us believe that we have all the right answers for everyone.   If we truly want to be representatives of Christ in our member missionary work, then it’s time for us to climb the mountains to find the one.  To find the one who is lonely and feels out of place.  To find the one who is giving up on the church because the church has given up on her.  To find the one who needs to know that she is loved no matter what she believes or how she lives her life.  We can spend our energy worrying about apostasy and trying to keep ourselves unstained from the sins of the world.  Or we can give ourselves fully to loving the way Christ did.

 

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I Hope You Stay

It’s not very politically correct these days in the feminist or progressive Mormon community to make a plea like this. We’re expected to honor every woman in the place she stands, to wish her well wherever she goes. And I do. I also want to be able to say what’s in my heart and on my mind.

Political correctness has never been my strong suit. And I’m not sure how to say this except in very simple words. I could say I’m asking out of love, but that may not be entirely true. Except that I love this church. With all its sexist, puritanical, hierarchical insanity, I love it. And I love you too. People like you are making Mormonism better, so even if it’s selfish of me to expect you to listen, I’m going to come out and say it anyway:

I hope you stay.crazyquiltjanicevaine

 

Please stay.

Please don’t go.

Can I help you?

How can I help you?

What can I do to help you stay?

If you’re thinking of leaving Mormonism, please reconsider.

Maybe none of this matters to you anymore. Maybe you’ve reached the breaking point or your therapist has advised you to go. Maybe your wounded heart or your guardian angels are leading you away for your own good. And what can I say to that?

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The Gospel of the Beloved Companion: A Review

The Gospel of the Beloved Companion by Jehanne de Quillan, published in 2010, is the first English translation of a gospel that was preserved by the author’s spiritual community based in the Languedoc region of France. Originally written in Greek, the text came from Egypt to Languedoc in the first century, and was kept at great cost since that time. de Quillan’s book provides an English translation of the text, followed by commentary that compares it to the Gnostic gospels of Thomas and Mary, and to the canonical gospels. The Gospel of the Beloved Companion (GBC) is most similar to the canonical Gospel of John. I would like to review the book as a whole, then provide my own comparison of GBC to the Gospel of John.

In the introduction to the book de Quillan writes that the original text for the GBC is extant, but protected and not available for public view. Therefore, there is no way to verify whether the text is a translation or an invention; she invites readers to determine whether the text is authentic based on its content, rather than on empirical evidence. In this sense it’s like the Book of Mormon; readers are invited to make up their minds about its veracity based on what they feel. My point of view here will be one of accepting the text as what it claims to be, a gospel written by Mary Magdalene.

The GBC is unique because it tells the story of Jesus’ life from the perspective of a woman. The Beloved Companion is Mary Magdalene, sister of Lazarus and Martha. Overall the message of the GBC is the same as the canonic gospels: Jesus is the way to eternal life.  The stories of the GBC are mostly identical to the stories in John.  So in many ways the message is not significantly different because it came from a female author, which is what I suspect may be true of what would happen if we had female prophets and priests in the church today: the message would still be “Come unto Christ.”  But it matters that the messenger can be female, and it calls into question whether an authoritative account by a woman could have been included in the canonic gospels but was excluded.

de Quillan uses textual analysis to argue that the companion whom Jesus loved, mentioned in the Gospel of John, was Mary Magdalene, not John. She argues that the GBC is actually an older text than the source documents for the canonic gospels, as well as older than the gnostic gospel of Thomas. She uses historical and textual evidence to argue that Mary Magdalene was the beloved companion present at the Last Supper, and points out that after Jesus’ death Joseph of Aramathea begged his body from Pilate, and would have given it to Jesus’ family. Traditional Jewish funerary conventions gave women the duty of preparing bodies for burial, and giving the body to Mary Magdalene’s care should mean she was family, possibly his wife. This idea would have been very unpalatable to the Roman church, which could explain Mary Madgalene’s reduced status in the canonic gospels.

An interesting feature of the GBC is the scarcity of the words “God” and “Father.” Whatever word gave rise to “Father” or “God” in the canonic gospels, de Quillan translates “spirit” and she uses the feminine pronoun for it.  Her reasoning is that in Hebrew the word for spirit (ruach), is feminine, in Aramaic the word (ruah) is feminine, and in Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter. The GBC refers to Jesus as the “son of humanity” not the “son of man” or “son of god.” It doesn’t use the word “father,” but instead “spirit,” for example John 5:19: “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.”  GBC 13:9: “For whatever things the spirit does, these the son does likewise.”

The GBC is perhaps somewhat lower in christology overall.  It does not include the mystical beginning of John 1 about Christ being the Word.  The GBC uses softer language when it comes to Jesus’ personhood and resurrection, for example GBC 24:1 “I bring light to the world” compared with John 8:12 “I am the light of the world.”  And when Mary Magdalene meets Jesus at the tomb, John 20:17 reads, “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.” GBC 40:6 says, “Jesus said to her, Mary, do not hold to me, for I am not of the flesh, yet neither am I one with the spirit; but rather go to my disciples and tell them you have seen me, so that all may know that my words are true and that any who should choose to believe them and keep to my commandments will follow me on their last day.”  But the GBC is clear that Jesus points the way to eternal life.

The GBC follows the gospel of John very closely until about John 20, after which it differs. The GBC concludes with a sermon by Mary Magdalene, after which Peter and Andrew say her words are untrue, and Matthew defends her. de Quillan makes the point that Peter had a different understanding of Jesus’ teaching than Mary and Matthew, and perhaps the very first split of what would become Christianity happened very soon after Jesus’ death, and that this also represented the first attempt to silence the feminine from Christianity. This is an interesting idea to me as a Mormon, who has always been taught that a falling away from Christ’s full gospel happened fairly soon after his death.

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Now here, for what it’s worth, are some comparisons I made between the GBC and the gospel of John.

 

GBC starts with John the Baptist, not with the Nativity, just like the Gospel of John does, and proceeds directly to the calling of the disciples. Next is the miracle at Cana.  In attendance it mentions brothers of Jesus: Jacob and Joseph, and a sister Mary. Mary (the beloved companion) and Martha, sisters of Lazarus.  Also Matthew, and Thomas (a friend to The Companion).  However the GBC adds an interesting detail GBC 6:9: “This beginning of his signs Jesus did at his wedding feast at a place near Cana in the land of Judah, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believe him” (emphasis mine). I’ve heard speculation that this was Jesus’ own wedding feast, and in this text that is explicit.

Next we have the story of the overthrowing the moneychangers at the temple, in John 2. The GBC adds a striking commentary by Jesus.

GBC8:6: “You are like a dog sleeping in the cattle manger.  The dog does not eat, nor does it let the cattle eat. You have stolen the keys to the temple and locked and barred the door.  You have not entered yourselves nor have you permitted others who wish to enter to do so.  Instead you have become as dishonest merchants, selling that which does not belong to you and over which you have no power.”

The stories of Nicodemus, the woman at the well, healing a nobleman’s son, and healing at the pool of Bethesda (John 3-5) are nearly identical. Next is the feeding of 5,000, as in John 6.  He goes out on the sea of Galilee with the disciples, but in GBC he does not walk on water. Jesus said he is the bread of life, and that their father’s ate manna and are dead, like in John 6, but the GBC text is more verbose.  It continues into John 7, where the disciples argue about whether a prophet could possibly come from Galilee.  Instead of concluding just with “every (man) went to his own house,” GBC adds, “But Jesus went back to Bethany to the house of the Beloved Companion near the Mount of Olives.”  There is something dear about the possibility of Jesus returning to beloved friends for comfort. The exchange with Pharisees about being Abraham’s children and the story of healing a blind man follow closely (John 8 and 9). Unique to the GBC is a passage about the Pharisees wanting to stone Jesus for claiming to be the messiah. John 10 has no correlate in the GBC.

John 11 contains the story of raising Lazarus from the dead. The miracle is somewhat downplayed in this Gospel.  Jesus says, “Your brother is not dead but sleeping,” without the clarification in John 11:14 “Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” The part about Lazarus stinking and being dead four days is not there.

Next comes a passage that has no correlate in John.  It’s reminiscent of passages in Matthew that talk about the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed, or treasure in a field, or a pearl of great price, or leaven.  But also unlike anything I can think of in the New Testament.

GBC 30:3-5: “The kingdom is like a man who had a treasure hidden in his field but did not know it.  And when he died, he left it to his son.  The son did not find the treasure, nor did he use the field, but sold it on to a neighbor.  The new owner then, desiring to make best use of the field, set to plowing the soil in preparation for planting a good crop, and struck the treasure.  Have I not told you that the kingdom lies hidden within you?  Then the disciple Salome, the woman who had given Jesus water to drink at the well of Jacob, asked him, ‘Rabbi, who shall I find my treasure?’ And Jesus said to her, ‘If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the kingdom.  Only from the truth I tell you, unless you overcome the ruler of the world, you will never know the spirit and discover that which lies within you.”

GBC 38:8 “If your leaders say to you, look, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds of the sky will precede you.  If they say to you, it is in the sea, then the fish will precede you.  Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.”

There’s nothing in the New Testament that says the kingdom of God is within you.  That seems like a pretty modern sentiment to me.

John 12 (Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet) follows closely. But instead of John 12:7: ‘Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this”  the GBC relates,

GBC 32:4 “But hearing this Jesus said to them, “Leave her be.  She has anointed me for what I am come to do, and done what she is appointed to do.  Only from the truth I tell you, whenever they speak of me, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.  You do not know or understand what she has done. I tell you this: when all have abandoned me, only she shall stand beside me like a tower.  A tower built on a high hill and fortified cannot fall, nor can it be hidden.  From this day forth, she shall be known as Migdalah, for she shall be as a tower to by flock, and the time will soon come when her tower shall stand alone by mine.”

Note the difference between the two accounts of the last supper:

John 14:18-21: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

GBC 35: 16: “I will not leave you orphans.  When a father goes away, it is the mother who tends the children. Only from the truth I tell you, there is one amongst you who has had my commandments, and keeps them.  That one is the one who loves me, adn that one who loves me isa lso loved by me, and by the spriit.  To that one will I reveal myself so that you will know that what I have said to you is true, that I am in the spirit as the spirit is in me.  And that same one will the spirit complete in all ways, so that by this sign you may know my words are true, and that my testimony is of the spirit, the one who sent me… Those amongst you who understand and keep my commandments will not taste death.”

John 15 is mostly the same, but John 16 and 17, in which Jesus teaches of the Comforter, of his death and resurrection, and offers his intercessory prayer, are not found in the GBC.

John 18 and 19 align – this is where the Roman soldiers come for Jesus and Peter smites off one of their ears.  Mary Magdalene appears again, it says she is the one who let Peter in at the gate where Jesus met with Caiaphas (this is where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.)

John 19:25-27 is interesting.  It replaces Mary Magdalene for John the Beloved at the cross:
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”

GBC 39:3 – “But there were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary the beloved companion, also called Magdalene.  Therefore when Jesus saw his mother and the companion whom he loved standing there, he said to his other ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the Companion, ‘Woman, behold your mother!’ From that hour, the companion took her onto her own.”

The GBC expands on the “they” in John 19:40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.  GBC says it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jacob, Joseph, and Salome.  The Joseph is apparently Joseph of Arimathea.

After the scene at the tomb, the GBC relates a scene not found in the canonic gospels.

GBC 41:5 “Simon Peter said to Magdalene, ‘Sister, we know that he loved you more than any other among women.  Tell us the words of the Rabbi, which you remember, which you know and understand, but we do not, nor have we heard them.’”  42:1 “Magdalene answered and said, ‘What is hidden from you, I will proclaim to you.’ And she began to speak to them the words that Jesus had given her. My master spoke thus to me. He said ‘Mary, blessed are you…There is a great tree within you that does not change, summer or winter, its leaves do not fall.  Whosoever listens to my words and ascends to its crown will not taste death, but know the truth of eternal life.’ Then he showed me a vision in which I saw a great tree that seemed to reach unto the heavens; and as I saw these things he said, ‘the roots of this tree are in the earth, which is your body.  The trunk extends upward through the five regions of humanity to the crown, which is the kingdom of the spirit.  There are eight great boughs upon this tree and each bough bears its own fruit, which you must eat in all its fullness.  As the fruit of the tree in the garden caused Adam and Eve to fall into darkness, so this fruit will give to you the light of the spirit that is eternal life.  Between each bough is a gate and a guardian who challenges the unworthy who try to pass.  The leaves at the bottom of the tree are thick and plentiful, so no light penetrates to illuminate the way.  But fear not, for I am the way and the light and I tell you that, as one ascends the tree, the leaves that block one from the light are fewer, so it is possible to see all more clearly.  Those who seek to ascend must free themselves of the world.  If you do not free yourself from the world, you will die in the darkness that is the root of the tree.  But if you free yourself, you will rise and reach the light that is the eternal life of the spirit.”

It goes on to describe passing through the boughs, gaining wisdom, strength, courage, clarity, and truth, power, healing, and grace.  At the top of the tree, Magdalene says,

“I felt my soul and all that I could see dissolve and vanish in a brilliant light, in a likeness unto the sun.  And in the light, I beheld a woman of extraordinary beauty, clothed in garments of brilliant white.  The figure extended its arms, and I felt my soul drawn into its embrace, and in that moment I was freed from the world, and I realized that the fetter of forgetfulness was temporary.”

The GBC then relates that some of the disciples did not believe that Jesus said these teachings, including Andrew, and Peter. Matthew defended her.  And they were divided, and it says they went to teach what they understood of Jesus in their own ways.  This concludes the Gospel of the Beloved Companion.

 

 

 

 

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A Golden Thread

Remember when we were children? Remember how sometimes when we were sad we stopped what we were doing, plunked ourselves down in the dirt or on the grass and just cried? We didn’t have to explain it to anyone and most especially we didn’t explain it to ourselves. We just experienced the sadness when it came. And after it was over, we got up and went back to doing whatever we were doing. I did that today. I sat at the edge of a river where the dirt was cool and damp. My sit-bones felt like they met an old friend in that dirt.

I can’t tell you how many times I sat in sadness while I was growing up. But I can tell you that the act of acknowledging grief healed me then as it did now. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t try to figure it out. I just felt it. Maybe the sound of the water helped. Maybe making space for solitude or the prayers of loving friends gave me a soft place to land on the riverbank. Whatever it was, I felt both wounded and healed in the space of an hour.

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What Would Jesus Do

We prioritize the feelings of men over the actual lived experience of women

This is a problem throughout society but since this is a Mormon feminist blog I want to discuss how this problem exhibits in the Mormon church and its culture. I will provide two examples that illustrate the problem and then show how we may, consciously or not, perpetuate the problem:

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