April 2014 Visiting Teaching Message: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Savior and Redeemer

The visiting teaching messages of the past many months have all focused on one or two aspects of Jesus Christ’s role. This month, the focus is on his role as Redeemer and Savior.

When discussing stories or attributes of Christ, I try to ask myself, “How does this affect my relationship with God? And how does this affect my relationships with others?”

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Fix This!

Recently the mission president of the Denver North mission came to our ward to inform us that elders would no longer be able to visit single women investigators without a priesthood holder from our congregation going with them. Our ward has many capable sisters, many who have served missions themselves, who would be excellent chaperones for these types of appointments but apparently this is unacceptable. He told us that this was standard church policy, that it is written in the handbook and that there could be no exceptions.

Unsurprisingly, this has proved to be a significant hardship for our inner city ward that struggles with a lack of priesthood holders to fill all the callings reserved for men. These are good men but they are already spread too thin. They simply do not have enough time or energy to take this on. Which means that my husband, as bishop, is the one that has to go out with the elders so that they can share the gospel with women.

Mr. Mraynes already has a demanding career which the church has now put a second, unpaid full time job on top of. The nights and/or weekends he has to go out with the elders is time away from his children–time that is already in too short supply. What does it profit the church if they potentially gain one soul but lose the souls of our four, young children because their father is never home?

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Talking about our Faith – in the Faith

Aspiring Mormon Women recently published a post about getting to know other women by asking good questions.  The author, Christanne Harrison, encourages women to discuss dreams, interests, and aspirations beyond the usual “church questions”.

This got me thinking.  I wondered: “Are we truly authentic in our discussions with other church members when we talk about our faith, our concerns, our feminism, our ideas about scriptural references, our spiritual experience?” and “Do we ask others to share their authentic feelings, ideas, and experiences with us?”

Even more important:  ”Do we seek to understand another’s spiritual point of view with an open heart?”  and “Do we seek to communicate our feelings in a language that will be understood by others?”

My guess is that we don’t talk about our faith – in the faith – as authentically as we could.  I know I don’t.  And maybe that’s OK.  For example: I am very involved in the Ordain Women movement – and, for me, it’s an integral part of my faith and my worship.  I share my feelings often, but not always.  I don’t hold back because I fear judgement, but I do hold back when I sense it will be upsetting to others.

If you hold back your authentic faith in discussions, why?  What questions could be asked to explore faith more fully?

 

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Ah! Turn Me Not Away

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Stephanie Lauritzen, an OW action participant, being turned away from Priesthood Session. Photo taken by Josh Johnsen.

On Sunday morning I flipped through picture after picture of women being turned away from the doors of our worship places. The Mormon Tabernacle choir sung in the background. Tears streamed down my face; many of those women are my friends. All are my sisters.

Ah! Turn me not away, Receive me tho unworthy. Hear Thou my cry, Behold, Lord, my distress.

I have performed this song countless times but the cry remains with me always. Hear Thou my cry.

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Ritual Inclusion

My body has born four children. And I have watched as the men I love have taken each of these little bodies in their arms–bodies that I have grown, birthed and bled for–and conferred upon them a name and a blessing. I deeply love this Mormon ritual. I love watching as my husband, fathers and brothers encircle and cradle my babies in their love.

This time, however, I wanted more than to just passively watch from the side. Perhaps because this is my last child, I found myself grieving my exclusion from the ritual where I never had previously. A dear friend in charge of our ward’s music graciously allowed me to choose the hymns and because it was Fast and Testimony meeting I was able to bear my testimony and give my baby a mother’s blessing of sorts.

It was mr. mraynes who came up with the idea of holding the microphone. I was resistant–balking at the symbolism of being the instrument to give voice to my husband while being silenced myself. But I have sisters who have asked for this small thing and been denied. In the end I could not let the opportunity pass. An opportunity I knew I had only because my husband is in a position to ensure I had it.

So yesterday I found myself in a circle of men. A space reserved for masculine authority.

For the first time I was witness to the incredible beauty and power that resides within the blessing circle. As I held the microphone to my husbands lips, I could see the overwhelming emotion and love he has for our son. For the first time I saw my son watch his father intently and smile because of the security and happiness he undoubtedly felt. And I was able to feel the love these men had for each other and this sweet little baby. I could feel their hope in the possibility of his life and their desire to give him every gift they could.

This is a powerful ritual and in arguing that women’s participation is unimportant we sell ourselves short.  Baby blessings are the literal expression of our joy in the creation of life. When we try to make this blessing, and any blessing, less than what they can be we loose half of the creative possibility and power that God intends us to have.

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Is God Omnipotent?

Last week the three women who were held captive for a decade in a Cleveland house spoke out to thank people for supporting them as they recover from their ordeal.  You can watch them speak here.  I admire their courage in sharing their thoughts, even as I admit it was a little hard to watch the clip because it meant letting their horrifying story into my consciousness again.  I thought they were brave, poised, and insightful, and I hope their healing will be full.  One of the women, Michelle Knight, spoke about what is giving her strength and commented that “God is in control.”

This is a sentiment I’ve heard a lot, and it seems to give a lot of people comfort.  But I don’t know what it means.  In control of what?  Certainly not the behavior of humans, who consistently hurt one another.  In control of nature?  Maybe, but then what to make of natural disasters?  The statement assumes that God is benevolent, since a cruel and capricious God wouldn’t provide comfort, and it assumes that God is all-knowing and omnipotent, since how could God control what God is not aware of and has no power over?  There is the old theodicy problem again, and it all hinges on omnipotence.

In The Oxford Bible Commentary, John Barton and John Muddiman write, “The assertion of God’s omnipotence underlies all theodicy; if God controls human action, then human evil itself must originate in God.  Negating this conclusion requires a limiting of God’s omnipotence…The problem is as old as the book of Job an remains as intractable.”

Secular philosophers sometimes enjoy pointing out this problem.  In Timothy Ferris’s book on cosmology The Whole Shebang, he writes that if God is omnipotent, then obviously he has free will.  If so, he was free to make the universe in any conceivable way.  But, Ferris writes, if God was constrained in some way in making the universe, for example if He could only make it in the most reasonable way, or a way that promoted human existence, then God can’t be all-powerful.  The philosopher Keith Ward wrote, “The old dilemma – either God’s acts are necessary and therefore not free (could not be otherwise), or they are free and therefore arbitrary (nothing determines what they shall be) – has been sufficient to impale the vast majority of Christian philosophers down the ages.”

Well, only if you insist God is omnipotent.  Am I, as a Mormon, supposed to believe God is omnipotent?  The word appears only once in the Bible: in Revelations 19:6, “Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” (Words made famous by Handel).  My recollection is that the “omni” attributes were assigned to God by post-biblical thinkers, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong, but does give me pause.  Omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipresence don’t present any problems for me (although, as a Mormon, I’d attribute omnipresence to the Holy Ghost).  But if omnipotence means God can make anything happen at any time this is troubling, because it can’t easily be reconciled with  omnibenevolence.

As it happens I don’t take Bible completely literally, and I don’t feel bound to the word omnipotent.  It sounds cavalier to say “I don’t think God is omnipotent.”  But, there it is.  In the Pearl of Great Price God tells Abraham that human spirits are eternal in nature.  Since they have no beginning, God couldn’t have pre-dated them, or created them.  According to Doctrine & Covenants 93:29, “Man was also in the beginning with God.  Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.  All truth is independent…to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.”

So if spirits/intelligences have an inherent ability to act, then agency is not a God-given thing, but is sovereign unto itself.  And if omnipotence means an ability to control everything, including the choices of other beings, then God is not omnipotent.

I also believe the physical laws of the universe are sovereign unto themselves.  I don’t have any authority to back me up, this is just my sense of things.  I don’t think God could have significantly varied in the way He made the universe and still have it turn out the way it did – able to support human life.  Our physical environment is too perfect to be arbitrary or random.  This is another thing that would limit God’s omnipotence, I suppose.  But to the salvation of His benevolence.  If the earth has a kind of agency, founded in the physical laws of the universe, then when natural disasters and illnesses plague us, we can’t blame God.  It’s the universe acting according to its nature.  God is a resource to us in difficulties like these, but not the source of our pain.

Finally, by rejecting omnipotence I don’t mean to reduce God’s power to nothingness.  It think it is real, and in relation to us, awesome.  Paul wrote in Romans 9:21, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”  The potter has power over the clay, and so it is with God.  We depend on the gifts he gives us to become the vessels we hope to be.

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