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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International Series: The Trumpet Shall Sound

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Rahel.

How it eluded me for 35 years of active church membership, I do not know. In a recent conversation in my current ward in Pittsburgh, USA, I discovered that brass instruments are deemed “not appropriate for sacrament meeting” churchwide (Handbook 2, p. 115). Possibly, this personal discovery was avoided for so long through a succession of rogue bishops in my old ward—Basel, Switzerland—who allowed members to enhance the meetings on a variety of instruments with “less worshipful sound” (ibid.). I left the conversation with a tongue in cheek comment: “How else are you supposed to instill in people the fear of God if not by the piercing sound of trumpets?” (It might help with staying awake too.)

I am somewhat perplexed by how much this discovery affected me. Even though I like jazz and other music that involves brass instruments, I would be just fine with never hearing brass instruments during sacrament meeting again. Maybe I would have never even noticed the lack of trumpets and trombones in my new ward if it were not pointed out to me specifically. Why, then, do I feel the need to dwell on this seemingly minor point? I wonder if my discomfort might not stem from the content of the rule itself but rather from its apparent arbitrariness.

There is no universal principle stating that certain instruments are not worshipful. Arguably, certain sounds are more calming and soothing, while others are more stimulating. However, reverence does not equal calmness. It is possible to worship God in many differing states of agitation. I’m reminded of the case of Saul, who was given the following promise by Samuel:

After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, at the place where the Philistine garrison is; there, as you come to the town, you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the shrine with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre playing in front of them; they will be in a prophetic frenzy. Then the spirit of the Lord will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with them and be turned into a different person. (10:5-6, NRSV)

If Saul could be at his most worshipful in a “prophetic frenzy” accompanied by tambourines, there must be a range of moods appropriate to the worship of God. Besides, we already have many songs in the hymnbook that elicit exuberance appropriate for those “other” instruments. Should we get rid of those songs as well? Somebody might get too exited! If calmness truly were a measure of worshipfulness then being asleep might be the most worshipful state of all.

Generally, Mormonism seems to have adopted a certain idea of worship that is not only expressed in its use of specific instruments. It is also conveyed in the style of its music, in the particular way the melodies flow and the tones merge into one indistinguishable sauce. Or you might recall instances of talks given in very aspirated voices, the “spiritual voice,” as my husband calls it. Aren’t you glad that they are not mandated by the Handbook?

I have come to refer to this particular style as the Walt Disney brand of worship, a brand where no dissonances, abrupt sounds, or unhappy endings are allowed. This is not to say that there is no merit to this kind of worship. Personally, I have found myself manipulated to tears by meetings in this vein. But, as someone who leans towards a more Lars Trier-oriented style, I also want a turn.

I find arbitrary rules harmful, and not just out of a belated teenage angst. They cause the power imbalance between those creating the rules and those having no part in making them to be more tangible. Of course, rules will only seem arbitrary to a person who was not part of creating them. In terms of the Church, I believe that the arbitrariness of certain rules is more blatant and therefore also more bothersome to people from cultures other than that of the rule-setters.

If the leaders of the Church ever come to me for advice about the handbook—and I’m sure they will—I will counsel them to allow more flexibility to the rules by being less specific. These rules are not about the Truth, so there is flexibility to be had. And if I was already at it, I would suggest less micromanaging and more self-determination. If the Church is big enough to accommodate the Swiss as well as the American, it is big enough to accommodate the horn as well as the organ.

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International Series: The Mormon Messiah Complex and the Worldwide Church

The American woman stood at the podium in my mid-sized Australia ward, yet paused before uttering a word. The Mountain by BalthusThe bishop had asked her to speak, because it was her last Sunday in this ward. She and her husband were finishing their mission and this ward fell in the boundaries of the mission office where they had driven admin desks for 18 months. They were not in the mission presidency, yet had held office jobs that removed them from everyday interaction with the locals. In a way that I can only describe as Marilyn-Monroe-ish, she swished her perfectly styled and coloured hair then breathlessly said, “What words can I leave the people of Australia with?”

I looked at my husband and snickered as he rolled his eyes. “She is in a solitary, expat-heavy ward in all of Australia! Who does she think she is talking to?…. and who does she think she is?” we both said.

She went on with her testimony (which sounded more like a brag-a-mony) about how great her influence was on us locals, how humbled she had been to “serve all of you,” and how she hoped she’d left Australia a better place. Right? Because of all her desk work at the air-conditioned office where she pushed the papers of “the American church,” to its predominantly American missionaries…that was her idea of feeding my spirit?  

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Comfort Box: The 72 Hour Kit that will save you from becoming a zombie.

 

readyforzombies

Am I prepared? Anytime I am watching a zombie apocalypse roll forth on television I question if my emergency preparedness supplies are sufficient. Would I survive or become a zombie? The ward emergency preparedness guy hides from me the week after an especially violent episode of The Walking Dead. To be fair, he has already helpfully referred me to the CDC guide to surviving zombies.

I don’t have any life experience in surviving disasters of the natural or zombie variety, but another kind of disaster rolls through my life routinely. Emotional earthquakes, fire, tsunami, tornado, or sometimes (on a slow news day) a muddy puddle are enough to knock me out. I am regularly afflicted with unwanted feelings of depression, anger, loneliness, betrayal, sadness, boredom, jealousy, or confusion.  Some days I have no idea what I am feeling. I only know that bad stuff happens and keeps happening. Too often the tornado sets me down in my own emotional zombie apocalypse.

When faced with emotional disaster, my first response is to become a zombie. I was raised in a home without healthy models of how to express and positively cope with challenging emotions. My inclination is to eat my feelings while numbing out on a binge read or a mindless Facebook game. As I compare my response to family traditions of alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, or child abuse; being an emotional zombie doesn’t seem so bad. Unfortunately, the zombie life fails to bring me lasting relief and harms my health through impaired sleep and weight gain. The unwanted feelings remain and eventually demand attention. These are the times when I turn to my emotional 72 Hour Kit: The Comfort Box.

How prepared are you for the next emotional tsunami? Will you become a zombie? Read on to learn how you can get your very own Comfort Box!

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Young Women Lesson: Why are ordinances important in my life AND Why are temple ordinances important?

These two lessons, “Why are ordinances important in my life?” AND “Why are temple ordinances important?” go along nicely with the lessons about covenants and baptismal covenants.  You could easily couple this lesson plan with last year’s post on covenants for two to three weeks of rich discussion.

I think this lesson on ordinances (especially coupled with the one on covenants) has a lot of potential – first, I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between a covenant and an ordinance, as I think we often use the two interchangeably in our discourse.  It’s also an opportunity to revisit baptism and what it means to actually perform baptisms for the dead, especially as the youth are encouraged to both perform these ordinances and research the names of their ancestors to stand in proxy for them. I also think there’s a great opportunity to teach the young women, particularly the Laurels, about the ordinances in the temple in preparation for them going there.  While we want to maintain reverence for the temple and the sacred ordinances performed there, and to not reveal anything that we have covenanted not to, we do our girls a great disservice by not explicitly teaching them about the covenants they should prepare to make.  Especially with the mission age being lowered to 19, our girls need to be studying the temple and the sacred work that is performed there.  Talking about these ordinances and covenants in a reverent and appropriate atmosphere does not violate the sanctity of the temple; instead it shows that we respect the covenants that we hope they will make, and that we desire their spiritual success.  One helpful guide I found for teaching about the endowment can be found HERE.

On that note!  Let’s get this lesson going.

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Relief Society Lesson 13: Baptism

Guest Post by KMeldauc

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

The last couple of weeks The Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith manual has hit the topic of priesthood HARD. Honoring Priesthood Keys. Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. With priesthood being such a hot topic within the Church right now, I hope we all feel a little more familiar with what it is and how it works. Lets be optimistic and say that we did.

So now that we recognize all this great priesthood power and authority in our midst, what are we going to do with it?

Give Birth.

Wait. What?

Did you think I was going to say baptism? Baptism is the beginning of our new spiritual life. In that way, baptism is a birth.

Baptism is the third principle and first ordinance of the gospel, performed by immersion using the authority of the priesthood. Baptism is a richly symbolic ordinances with beautiful layers of meanings. It is symbolic of not only birth but also death and resurrection. So lets talk about these symbols.

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