Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I'm Still Percolating

Still percolating. Updates though, while percolating.

 Baptism for the dead. I am coming to appreciate that this is indeed one of the rituals that LDS members do hold sacred, for reasons having to do with ensuring all have opportunity, living and dead. Also their belief that it among the commandments to make upon earth conditions as described in the scriptures. Although I'm not yet inclined to embrace all the scriptures they are using, preferring still bible as scriptural basis by which to begin to build foundations, and baptisms for the dead is but one verse in the New Testament referencing a practice done at that time in history, I am inclined to think about adopting the ritual in support of the fact that it is considered a sacred rite to LDS membership. Having now learned that the performance characteristics of this ritual are safe and do not include touching of the body beyond a laying on of hands on the head, that element is out of the way. Still a barrier and in the way - the issue of tithing equates to whether one can or cannot enter temple. Right now it is my thought that this church is putting up barriers that will impede my progression, something the leadership and membership desire for me, yet it seems I will need to pay my way to that progression.

 ....................... Sidebar, and in observing one bit of information, leads me to relating more of my (our) faith journey. Skip this part if you aren't interested in reading through 4-5 paragraphs, and I may well have related some part of our journey in previous blog postings.

 Interestingly, side note, there is an Occupy London (OWS) gathering at the St Paul Cathedral in London, Anglican (Episcopal) Church of England, which has been sourced as reason for two high ranking clergy stepping down from their positions in support of not banning the Occupiers from camping out at St Pauls. What has this to do with my blog subject? Just my observant following of the Occupy movement and my affiliation with the Episcopal church. I'm a bit of a dual citizenship Christian in that regard, actually more than dual citizenship but for now I'll reference just the two faith citizenships, Episcopal and LDS.

 I was baptized in Methodist church when I was a baby. In my young teen years I attended a neighborhood church when we lived in the South - probably a Baptist church and the minister called people to come down, and in the feeling of the moment, I went down which led the minister to herd me immediately into baptism - something I wasn't fully ready for, more was in touch with the feeling than knowledgeable about the practices or beliefs. Once again, as a young adult, via home lessons from the Jehovah's Witnesses, I began attending that church, was once again herded into baptism. By then I had our firstborn child and was looking for a spiritual home in which to raise her. That lasted two years, and I credit myself for a bit of perseverance in wanting good for my child, yet finding something not quite in line with what I was looking for, I left that church within two years. late into our adult years, after my divorce and marriage to my current husband, we were confirmed in the Episcopal church (church of my mother's formative years) where we found a church home where we felt welcome, wanted and needed. In time we came to see that the members were older and looking for younger energy to continue the offices of the church, which put us in the path of studies towards being licensed lay preachers, and further down the road unpaid Priests.

 The invasion into Iraq put us on a different footing, with a stronger discernment of ministry in activism to end the Iraq war, a call to Peace. With a military background and both of us having experienced some aspect of the earlier Vietnam war, we spoke as a military family and veteran calling for the troops to be brought home, the Iraq war brought to a close. This necessitated conflicting schedules with our functions at the church on Sundays and our public activism engagements. We advised the membership, spent years between 2004 and 2008 in intense activism efforts. Returning to our home church no longer quite felt like home to us. Years had passed with our country in turmoil, and we found it difficult to settle back into a quiet Sunday worship service routine as the expression of our spirituality, beliefs and recent activism energies.

 We had opportunity to visit a Lutheran worship service, as the Episcopals and Lutherans are in communion. It was not a lot different than Episcopal service and I loved the church building, a quaint building of Norwegian styled architecture. Lutherans have a quite extensive and somewhat impressive social services outreach. Thought it might be a bit too much though, husband still doing social work in his profession, and adding more social work outreach in his leisure hours after the years of intense activism might be a bit of overload. I chose instead to spend some time on the Boards of local non-profits, one that was being smeared badly and unfortunately given their history of good work in the community, and the other a church start-up food bank for local town. As it turns out on the Board of the food bank start up was the same individual who participated in badly smearing the other organization. I remained on both Boards until the inevitable demise of one organization had reached completion, in the hopes I might bring something to the table that would aid in turning it around. Not to be. In the diminished need of the existence of one board, I no longer felt comfortable being on the other board, taking my leave and still wanting for their endeavor to be a successful one.

 A few more years passed, we visited a church in our immediate community, good people, and perhaps a bit of the Evangelical coloring making it somewhat uncomfortable for us. By the time of the year 2010, we felt calmed enough to visit other of the local churches, still seeking a church home for our later years. We agreed we would visit the local denomination churches one by one, and some of the further distance churches based on what was attractive to us in their belief sets and practices, ie Quakers, Unity Church which we had enjoyed in our visit to congregation in Vancouver, WA. We started with a visit to my husband's church, local Mormon church in the area. I was impressed enough with the talks to believe I could make my personal spirituality work within context of this church, his church and I yearned for him to find some place of inner peace with his cultural heritage and identity vs the doctrines the church impressed upon him. I rather knew giving a thumbs up and announcing desire to proceed to baptism would generate the baptism preparedness activity which I by then knew every church denomination seems intent on insisting, thinking we could get it done and out of the way rather than the cat and mouse dance of being convinced to agree to baptism. I had years of life with my husband, exposure to his perception of Mormon beliefs and practices, and felt ready to make this dive for where it might take us. end sidebar............................

  Sunday talks at Sacrament Meeting. Conversion or Convert as a process and not an event. Speaker, a long time member of the church, and also holding an academic and skilled profession as an administrator of school system, spoke of being converted in some areas while still waiting for conversion in other areas. A relief to me to hear. The 'process' of conversion as a process as in over years, maybe decades, maybe a lifetime. Shares the out take from the parable of the wage earners with the late arrivals being paid the same amount as the all day workers. He used just a few sentences, it was a part of his talk, not the subject of his talk. Loved how he gave the parable a green light and ended that part of his talk as the end of his talk with those familiar phrase to 'get over it'. Gives me another sense of relief, that I have a place at this table even if I have arrived late to the party. Bishop talk, and he wrapped his talk up with the phrase to 'suck it up'. Another familiar phrase to me.

  Sunday School - Gospel Doctrine I just can't get into the teacher's teaching style. Asks the open ended questions and seems to me with an expectation of 'correct' responses, not shared thoughts of many. It feels to me like he is wanting people to read his mind as to what the correct response is, or at least based on my feeling/reaction when I do share a response which it feels like he pretty much writes off. I was resolved to provide no response at all, not to let my spontaneity overcome my resolve. I was successful. Bishop fulfilled his promise to sit with me, and again encourages me to share and respond. I'm thinking about this often. Knowing I bring different perspective since I've been exposed to different disciplines, I am coming to understand though, this is not about discussion, dialogue or sharing. It's pretty much rote, routine responses, even if the teacher has worked hard in preparing the lesson. Maybe it's his personal perspective that he brings to the lesson and since he and I would likely not see eye to eye on many of the New Testament readings, because he is in the role of 'teacher' it changes the dynamic as perhaps would not be in a private conversational exchange. Leaving this one as perplexing to me for now, likely will return to it from time to time in this blog. I am not doing well with the Sunday School class, nor the teachers called to teach it. Or at least that is my feeling about it, although I have not had any members call me out on it.

  Joint Priesthood and Relief Society Meeting (men and women meeting together) Four Talks - every one of them about Tithing (capital T intentional). Lay it off to it's that time of year, with tithing settlements sessions with Bishop coming up or can't help but feel like because I did bring the issue up with the Bishop in Bishop interview last week, it brings the topic back to the forefront. One of our newest members (moved here from another Ward) pointed out the distinction of 10% of income or 10% of increase and don't other contributions as strength, time, talents, gifts count as increase. That was not dismissed as not having merit, but given that all the other talks were firm on the 10% of income, I didn't get the impression that the point of increase was considered to be the correct application. Discussions with husband and he assures me that talk is not aimed at me (us) specifically and there are others in the Ward membership who are not paying tithing regularly or fully or at all.

  Community of Christ church meeting We had bumped into website for Community of Christ Church earlier in the week, and read through the website for several hours. It appears that while they are the product of Joseph Smith teachings that did not make the trek to Utah under Brigham Young leadership, remaining instead in East Coast states, the formation of the religions have quite different beliefs. Listening to Mormon Stories podcast; John Hamer, The LDS Succession Crisis of 1844 and the Beginning of RLDS (Community of Christ) we got a feel for the formation and beliefs of the Community of Christ church. Interestingly, when we lived on Samish Island in Skagit County, there was one road in and an RLDS sign was posted showing direction to what we presume was an RLDS campsite. As it turns out, that is correct, it is one of the Community of Christ campsites. I recall at the time, not knowing the difference between Fundamentalist LDS with polygamy, I had mistakenly thought RLDS to be that, and was always put off by seeing that sign, thinking it pointed direction to a polygamous compound. I was wrong about my perceptions, confused about the acronymns. RLDS means Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a name they changed to Community of Christ in 2001 more in keeping with original name of the Joseph Smith church - Church of Christ. Community of Christ church follows the Revised Common Lectionary with the liturgical years A,B, C. Familiar theme via our confirmation and activity with the Episcopal Church. Core message of the Community of Christ church is Peace. From the website, it certainly appeared that the hybrid blend of Mormon/Protestant beliefs might be a better fit for us, we contacted a congregation closest to us and were invited to come.

 We drove the hour drive and met with the people of that particular congregation, very small, newly forming and sharing church building with Methodist church in that particular neighborhood, diaconal Minister (meaning unpaid minister). The people were pleasant, warm, welcoming and inviting enough, sharing their meal with us, followed by their service. We tried to bring to the sharing some of our positive LDS experiences, yet I didn't get the sense there was familiarity to them of LDS community. It was, not as I might have thought, LDS Light, but seemed more of a start up congregation of what could easily have been any Protestant faith, or for that matter, a community non-profit reach out group. Were this what we were looking for, we can find it much closer to home, and we have found it in many of our church and community affiliations. Since they are a quite small group, their focus is on their immediate community needs, ie, holiday baskets, adopt a family, clothing and food drives, helping with holiday community dinner. Bless them and wishing them well in their endeavors, it is not quite what we were thinking it would be and if anything rather validated that I am more pleased than I realize with the LDS church and Ward we attend.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Baptisms for the dead - an early Christian practice?

It remains on my mind that the Bishop said to me with a degree of emphasis on it being in the bible (he knows I have a strong leaning towards biblical text which I consider to be the gospel, having not yet fully embraced the BoM, D & C, PoGP as 'gospel') so much so, that I wanted to do my own follow up and see what I think the bible verse, chapter and context is trying to say.  Verse; 1 Corinthians 15:29  29Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? 

Given that I am not taken to use of one verse as a methodology to create an entire concept or doctrine based on that verse, I was curious about the entire chapter and what was being said, to whom, by whom, along with some sense of the era or period of time in which it was being said as well as some of the customs/practices of that time.  It is a given that I cannot possible know what were customs/practices of an era of antiquity and must rely on scholarly studies, which of themselves are seldom in agreement.  More sorting, more puzzle pieces and I've long since abandoned an idea that with enough puzzle pieces I would be able to piece together an entire picture, rather a composite of fragments of customs/cultures and belief sets that have been shared, borrowed, confiscated, supplanting and/or augmenting the existing cultural belief sets.

It is my belief that it is impossible to gather enough information or ideas or concepts to glue together an overarching belief set thus having at last driven down to the 'truth' as a singular foundational underlaying of the many years of layers upon layers.  I think my mental approach wants to be a bit like an 
archaeological dig, getting down beneath the surface to find out what was buried over the eons.  And even then knowing whatever is found will still be subject to interpretation based on the finder's perspectives given his/her period in history. 

excerpt at ORB    (more closely matches my understanding of the Christian narrative, and I appreciated  as well as recommend reading the entire article)

Early Christian doctrines developed and were shaped over time; they were neither fixed nor stable. Once a doctrine was established it often necessitated a subsequent doctrine to define more precisely what was meant and to clarify the subtle nuances. Lived experience and understanding was the basis for the emergence of forming and re-forming doctrine. In other words, the need to develop doctrine about Jesus Christ emerged from the need to sort out what was truly Christian experience and life. In the words of the early church historian, Joseph Kelly:
The story of the Church begins at Pentecost with a frightened group of disciples wondering what will happen to them; it progresses through an almost frenetic attempt to win over the outside world before the Second Coming; it focuses on an epic struggle with the most powerful empire of the ancient world; it reaches its high point with the conversion of that empire to the new faith; it closes with the gradual decline of a great civilization and the emergence of a new world. It has a large canvas and broad brush strokes. While we must pay meticulous attention to the particulars, we must never forget the generalÅ (Kelly, "Why Study Early Church History?" 5)

I read the entire chapter of Corinthians for context, and continued to be nagged by the sense that this one particular verse pointed to something I had not yet explored for myself.  Further that it is not of substantive value to be mentioned in the Protestant narratives to which I had been exposed, nor the Episcopal narrative, meaning to me that it has been discounted as not relevant to the Protestant or Episcopal narratives.  If I bypass Protestant and Episcopal narratives, what do the religious studies have to say about this verse, being that it does point to some kind of custom being practiced in that time.  What practice, why, and from where does that practice stem? 

Chasing it down, I gain some knowledge of what is believed among some scholars to be the custom pointed to in the verse (along with a lot of sifting through the usual and typical finger pointing to the Mormon belief as heretical, false, misguided, etc.).  That is not what I'm after, I'm after some concrete sense of what custom, what practice, for what reason, why is Paul pointing it out at all unless it was being practiced and he knew of it.  And if so, is he finding a commonality he can point to in preaching the Christ resurrection or is he admonishing against something suggesting a replacement of belief sets, what he is preaching instead of the practice of what they are doing?   

It would be presumptuous for me to write that I found answers to what I was looking for as if that is the explanation.  Rather I would state that I did find thoughts about what I was looking for that cause me to pause a bit and let that information percolate a while.  Nonetheless, it becomes evident to me that somewhere in the Mormon history, the meanings attached to this verse, whether from Gnostic or otherwise belief sets, this verse brought the Mormon practice of baptisms for the dead alive as a ritual practice imbued with sacred meanings for those who teach it as well as those who believe it as well as those who practice it.  Iconography has sprung up with it to further imbue sacred meaning to the practice.  It is therefore real enough as it is practiced in the LDS church among the membership.

 I'm not having a problem with approaching it from that perspective.  I'm still stuck though on the a,b,c  element that ties tithing to temple, therefore ties tithing to the Mormon sacred ritual practice of performing baptisms for the dead, as it is performed only in the temple, not in the chapels and access to the temple requires a temple recommend which requires approval from a bishop which means responding with an honest degree of integrity to the questions posited by the bishop in which the question of 'do you pay a full tithing' requires an answer of yes or no.  The matter of defining what is a full tithing, as in one tenth of your personal increase has considerable wiggle room, and were we agreeable to paying some part of a tithing, could easily respond to the question with a yes with a personal degree of honest integrity.  The church has not been unclear in restating repetitiously it's requirements of members to pay tithing at a rate of ten percent or 1/10th of their income/increase.

It seems that I do not yet have a testimony of tithing, which is in fact prohibiting and impeding gaining a testimony of the temple, a testimony of baptism for the dead, a testimony of sealing, and as yet unknown to me other testimonies that involve temple, ie, personal endowments, ordinances and in truth because it is absent in my experience, I really don't yet know what else will be kept from me for the lack of temple experience.

It's an odd thing, because I have a belief in sharing, compassion, generosity of spirit, empathy for humankind, community, communion, and belonging.  While I recognize there is usually some sort of price to be paid for admittance to the tribe, be it initiation rituals, practices, customs as shared among the tribe, I have not yet encountered a must pay cash contribution situation.  Appreciating that it does take funding for most organizations, religious or otherwise, to function well, I'm not opposed to contributing for the sake of well being of the organizations ability to function.  I am not sold on a specific contribution amount being set as the price of admittance though - that concept troubles me.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Krista Tippet of On Being interviews Joanna Brooks in program titled 'Mormon Demystified'.  Joanna is a scholar and journalist, sharing a compassionate, loving view of her perspective of Mormonism.  In time of political elections that includes two Mormon candidates, along with the other elements that have contributed to this time in history as a 'mormon moment', it is my sense that public at large has a healthy curiosity about what it is to be Mormon.  A juncture in history that perhaps moves beyond the typical mockery of some of the rituals that are considered sacred among the Mormon culture.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Creedal Christians - all ?

Creedal Christians which oft recite the Nicene Creed in their worship services and Mormon Christians while having their own perspective do seem, imo, to share many similarities in what they believe to be inviolate truths.  For myself, while I'm not a believer in inviolate truth, rather that we (humans) have fragmented fragments of history on which we build tenets of faith, sacredness, worship, it seems more logical to look at some of the similarities even as we clearly see the differences.  Often times I experience a communion with my husband, believing we are talking of the same things and seeing them in the same light only to discover at a later time that the very words we have shared have different defining concepts for each of us.  Yes, we shared words in common, and sometimes we were sharing thoughts in common, and other times we realized we were looking at some of the same image concepts yet taking away different meanings.  I believe this to be the condition we find amongst the wide variants found in Christianity.

As he and I once enjoyed the Eucharist  worship service and the taking of the Communion in the Episcopal church, we both found we had objections to some of the elements in the Nicene Creed we cited, just as we find we have objections to some of the elements taught in the LDS church.

From the Book of Common Prayer we recited in Episcopal worship services - Nicene Creed.  (note this is also in the Lutheran Book of Worship
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. 
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. 
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen. 

Read talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland,  in 2007 at General Conference, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Jeffrey R. Holland, (of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles )who stated:
Now, to anyone within the sound of my voice who has wondered regarding our Christianity, I bear this witness. I testify that Jesus Christ is the literal, living Son of our literal, living God. This Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer who, under the guidance of the Father, was the Creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are. I bear witness that He was born of a virgin mother, that in His lifetime He performed mighty miracles observed by legions of His disciples and by His enemies as well. I testify that He had power over death because He was divine but that He willingly subjected Himself to death for our sake because for a period of time He was also mortal. I declare that in His willing submission to death He took upon Himself the sins of the world, paying an infinite price for every sorrow and sickness, every heartache and unhappiness from Adam to the end of the world. In doing so He conquered both the grave physically and hell spiritually and set the human family free. I bear witness that He was literally resurrected from the tomb and, after ascending to His Father to complete the process of that Resurrection, He appeared, repeatedly, to hundreds of disciples in the Old World and in the New. I know He is the Holy One of Israel, the Messiah who will one day come again in final glory, to reign on earth as Lord of lords and King of kings. I know that there is no other name given under heaven whereby a man can be saved and that only by relying wholly upon His merits, mercy, and everlasting grace can we gain eternal life.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tithing/Temple, a barrier - either/or - not much gray here

Well we knew this time was going to come, and we thought it would be when Arthur and I had our one year interview with the Bishop, me the newcomer, him the returnee.  And something came up sooner -- for me.  It had been suggested that it would be time for me to accompany the young people and new converts in the various Wards in our Stake in their trip to the Temple to perform baptisms for the dead.  And it was set up for me to go with them this month, Oct 29.   I've heard and read about this ritual, performing baptisms for the dead, and the reasons for it, and I have to say it has a sound of peculiar to many who are non-mormons, myself included.  So close to Halloween, and the very name of the ritual, and images do float across my mind, even though I know that is not the aim or intent of the practice.  It is though, one of the unique features of this church, as there are not many other Christian based churches that have this kind of a ritual.  I do know when we lived in Japan, in a Japanese village, not on the military base, that I learned of an annual practice required of the families which involved going into the tombs that dotted the hillsides to perform the ritual of washing the bones of their dead ancestors buried in those tombs.

Later in my life experiences, learning of other faith belief sets that honored ancestors as part of their spirituality.  Putting these together, I don't see the Mormon practice of performing baptisms for the dead as bizarre as it might seem at first glance.  Further that the members feel it is with a great degree of a sense of sacredness that this practice is performed and observed.  In that regard when I was invited to participate, I did feel it was intended as an invitation to participate in an honored and sacred ritual practice.  I would liken it to be invited to participate in a Sweat Lodge ceremony or something along those lines that is a intended as a welcoming gesture to enable a person new to the culture to become more fully part of that culture.

The LDS church has tied Tithing to Temple in a way that affords no or seemingly no wiggle room.  My reaction to it has been strongly in opposition.  My husband's reaction, while somewhat different from mine for different reasons is also strongly in opposition.  While I'm favorable to the concept of generosity, supporting the organization/church/affiliation doing outreach in an effort to help humankind, I'm not comfortable with the monetary amount being identified as an exact amount.  I'm very much not comfortable with tithing being a requirement to enter a temple.  I've had too many years within other faith beliefs, and organizations which also need to be funded and those contributions being both voluntary with the amount being voluntary.  Although, having said all that, I was so very taken and impressed when we visiting the Bishop's tithing house many years ago in Chesterfield, Idaho (a restored and preserved historic town of the Mormon pioneer era).  The building was were food products and such were stored,  intended for use by the community.   It was such a beautiful concept, a concept which lifted my heart and a practice that certainly seemed somewhat lost to this time gone by period in history.  Actually is is not a bygone concept, in historic times, members who could not pay in cash could pay their tithing in kind ie, milk, butter, eggs, produce, meat, grain, hay, etc.  In it's more modernized form, it feels much more industrial and organizational although the generosity underlying the concept remains the same.  Thus is the value of tithing among the membership.

Part of the requirement to enter an LDS temple is an interview with the Ward Bishop in which he has a list of questions to ask and the responses will cause him to make a determination as to whether the person will be given what is called a 'temple recommend'.  In this case, he advised me it would be a one day only temple recommend for the purpose of permitting me to be in that part of the temple in which the baptisms for the dead are performed.  Our Bishop is a loving, compassionate, caring man, and it is obvious in how he handles various sensitive situations.  We moved along through the questions well enough, until he asked me the question about tithing, do I pay a full tithing.  No, I answered.  No, he said with a bit of surprise, but somehow I rather think he would know either outright or subliminally which members are or are not paying a tithing.  He explained that perhaps it was not yet time for me, and that he could not give a temple recommend at this time, that it would be confidential information, and some members might be curious enough to ask him why I was not going to the temple this trip, and that he would indicate that it was just not time yet.  I explained to him that I do respect his sense of confidentiality, and that I have respect for the concept, and that in this instance it was not required.   That I thought it to be a topic of discussion and conversation among the membership as I was not yet satisfied that I had heard enough reasons to justify the practice which I felt was very damaging to some of the membership who were already struggling with the very basic fundamentals of life - shelter, clothing, food.

I wanted this to be a discussion/conversation with the Bishop, not a justification or explanation of why I wasn't in compliance on my part. He asked if I understood the premise of tithing and  I pointed out that I had given a lesson on tithing recently, so my head understands the concept, and my life experiences tell me otherwise.   He spent a great deal of time with me after, and I very much liked that he was not moving in a heavy handed direction, rather was very much attempting to find different approaches that might resonate with me, including some personal experiences of his own.  It felt it was a productive shared discussion and exploration of this particular topic, and I'm fairly sure it will come up again soon.  

I shared some of that conversation with my husband afterwards on our way home, he was quiet and said to me that he was very proud of the way in which I handled myself in this interview, as well as the approach I chose to use.  We spent a great deal of the evening later discussing tithing/temple again; we have discussed it often and many times before.  To me it feels like an absolute - a non-wavering obstacle in the path for me ahead.   It equates one to the other, we don't pay tithing, there will be no temple, and Temple is a Big part of the Mormon/LDS experience.  I'm also intuiting that the path the Bishop, Stake President, and membership would like to see me take leads directly to the temple, capital T.

Can one be a practicing Mormon, a participating member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not participate in the tithing/temple joining experience, I wonder?  

The experience in my Ward, in communion among the membership has felt to me to date spiritual enough in it's own right without the temple experiences.   As I explained to the Bishop in the ensuing discussion, many other of the religions have beautiful Cathedrals and do not prohibit people from entering that sacred space; this being the only church I know about that has these beautiful sacred building in which people are not permitted to enter without having paid for the privilege via first having a temple recommend, of which tithing is a requirement.   I will leave it at that for now.  It is a thing to continue to ponder and time, Holy Ghost, spirit of the soul will guide me in this one.

What's my contribution to my Ward community?

It's never been easy to be the new person entering into a community, be that school, work, church, or affiliations within the community where a person lives.   Having been raised a child in a military family, moving from military base to military base, some of the time overseas, I like to believe I developed some of those characteristics of what are known to  'third culture kids', children raised in cultures, communities, nations different from their birth country.  I appreciate that I can enjoy a new community, looking at their belief sets, customs and cultures with a fresh viewpoint.  Obviously different, and sometimes even strange, yet for the most part there seems to be some thread of logic, tradition to the customs of their culture.   Sometimes though, there are customs or practices within a culture that are just unfathomable and seem to have very little in the way of logic to them, so that all one can conclude is that it is a custom of tradition held and handed down through the generations.  Who knows where it started or even why it started, nonetheless, it is a treasured tradition within the culture.

I find myself then the 'new kid' in this faith tradition.  And I have been communing with these people for what seems to me a short while, but long enough that some have formed thoughts or a sense of who I am or maybe better said who I am to them.  I think in the anxiety of being a new kid and trying to fit in while keeping my own identity, integrity and sense of ideology, I forget it is a two way street and as much as they are influencing me, I am influencing them.  So aside from the 'callings' that define what I will 'do' in this church, and my efforts and performing well in these callings, it surprises me when someone comments on how I may have had an influence on them.  So it was last Sunday when one of the sisters gave a talk that I thoroughly enjoyed exactly because it was somewhat unconventional.  I mentioned that to her after the service, and it surprised me when she said to me, thank you, and yes, I had Sister Ruger in mind this morning knowing I would be giving a talk at church.  Now honestly, I don't know if it was a compliment or otherwise, but I do know that it caused me to realize that this communion is not one way, lest it wouldn't be 'communion'.  Another sister in an earlier Sunday had referenced something to effect of gotta love that Sister Ruger in a way connoting I did bring something to the church community.

Given that I am taking this all so very seriously, with enormous amounts of research, reading, comparison, discussions and conversations with my husband and a few others, it is nice to come up for air from time to time and recognize that it really is about sharing with others in communion and community and while my mind may be seriously engaged, that is not the presentation that my personage makes in my 'new' community.  While I may see myself as the awkward new kid busily learning everything there is that I can learn, some others are seeing me in an affectionate light, as the new kid, yes, but not necessarily the awkward new kid.  It's a nice change of pace.

Visiting Teacher - that's me

Visiting Teacher - what does it mean?  I've been assigned my list of Sisters and their families to visit, along with a companion Sister.  Now what?   Connecting with companion sister in an effort to coordinate schedules with her and how to go about setting up the visits.  She agrees to phone the sisters and set up appointments, we agree to a date and so it's on ... my first experience (in this context anyway) with visiting teaching LDS style.

I'm inserting a video here that I viewed today .. After  .. my day long experience earlier this week with my companion sister in visiting teaching sister families.  As I watched the video, I enjoyed laughing at the different ways to short cut in visiting teaching experiences and then somewhere about 3/4 into the video a shift in direction happened and what had been amusing examples became something else, and my laughter shifted to tearing up and crying.  My husband, sitting across from me on his laptop, engaged in his own online endeavors, looked up in surprise to ask me what was wrong, and I found it impossible to explain that while nothing is wrong, I also cannot explain why I am crying.  He was touched and moved that I was touched and moved.  Some things just really don't have words in the moment that explain or describe the emotion/feeling level.  If the video moves you in similar direction, maybe you can add a comment as to how you experienced the video.  My post will resume after the inserted video.

Resuming my post.  I receive surprise phone call at end of the month from one of the sisters, and I recognize her name.  She announces she along with her companion are to be my visiting teachers.  I'm taken off guard, didn't expect the reverse, with sisters visiting me in my home.  It's a bit of a drive from town to our outlying community, and I go into immediate concern for the cost and time factor for the sister.  I know, I know - - that's not my piece to be concerned about, even so, I am startled by how quickly I shift gears to having concerns about her.  Explaining that this month has been all about family visiting us and us visiting them, we aren't going to be available this day nor likely till next month.

 I'm also a bit taken aback as I have one of those quirky things about people visiting my home which I consider my sanctuary and safe place from the rest of the world.  Okay, I think to myself, I can manage this - once a month, the sisters will call in advance, it will be fine.  After all, we have had the Home Teachers, the Missionaries, Relief Society President, and drop by visit from member couple who live in the community -- much more visitation than I'm use to having in my home.  Typically our social connections (unless immediate family) are conducted outside of our home, making this a bit of a different approach to me to have people in our home.  I'll adapt.  Interesting.  So, once a month visits from 'my' visiting teachers might actually be kind of fun.

Meeting up with my visiting teacher companion, she has scheduled our visits with our families to take place most of one day.   We meet up and get started.   She gives me a bit of overview of each family, and I'm pleased she has phoned them to arrange the scheduling as they will know her whereas it is  unlikely they would know me.  It is a good easing into it arrangement for all parties.

First visit, an elderly couple, her Mr. having health difficulties and they have an in home care worker who gives Mrs. some respite.  She uses that time to get done her personal things that are not about caring for another.  Good arrangement for all, I think to myself.  She is very focused while still being quite gracious about getting our visit completed so she can move on with  the other things she has scheduled for this respite time.  I recognize from having seen them at church on Sunday meetings that she is also supportive to her daughter and daughter's first born baby.  

Second visit, a blended family.  Mr. has health difficulties to the point of being disabled, therefore Mrs. is the primary income-producer in this family.  Both have children from previous marriages as well as their children together.  He has had a couple of earlier marriages and is heavily invested in characteristics leading to his disabilities.  Mrs. seems okay with the nature of their relationship, has substantive enough earnings, does lean on church resources.  

Third visit, grandparents caring for one of their children's children.  Mr. and Mrs. long term marriage, hardy couple, retired from their respective employments, have seen a lot of living and life situations, seem strongly independent.  As they are advanced enough in years, it is astonishing to me that they have taken on 5 children this late in their own lives.   

Fourth visit which did not happen that day will involve a long time married couple in the midst of divorce. 

Fifth visit happened accidentally with a social visit on Sunday with elderly couple members who live in our outlying community.  Another couple, long time friends of theirs and new grandparents, had stopped by and we all shared a pleasant visit.  Recognized Mr. as Counselor to Bishop and when he is sitting in the front, looks quite forbidding to me.  Learned from his wife that he is actually very shy and the talk he gave a few Sundays ago was the first talk ever that he has given.  That completely changes the picture for me, and in the future as I see him sitting in the front by the Bishop, I will not register his composure as forbidding, rather a degree of discomfort.   As it turns out Mrs. is one of the families I've to home visit, she received phone call while we were there from my companion sister to set up appointment, inquires of me if I have been called to be visiting teacher; yes, I reply; and she tells me to consider this visit as a home visit, says does not need anything.   

My sense of the visiting teaching experience is strongly colored by my former career as social worker, and making home visits are not foreign to me.  I sense a need to find a proper blend and balance with my honed skill set nudging me in a pattern familiar to me to assess family situations in line with church resources.  In my mind there might be a small challenge for me in recognizing and appreciating this is a membership community not as comfortable with community or government resources, preferring instead resources as outlined by the church.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Summer Time, Social Time

What has happened since I last posted to this blog in July?   Lots.  Summarizing.

July we attended Pioneer Picnic at church member's home, that home being on a large property bordered by a creek.  Sunny day, casual fun. July also is the month of my birthday and my oldest daughter's birthday, and we made arrangements for family weekend get together with stay over at cottages on the ocean.  Another 3rd Sunday in teaching the lesson in Relief Society for me.  I did a stand in for vacationing teacher for a Primary class for a couple of Sundays.  Fortunately for me, the lesson plan was about Missionaries, so I invited the two Missionaries into the class to share their experiences with the children.  Afterwards we did a make believe with the children being missionaries visiting potential investigator.  They had some fun defining who would play what role.

My husband was taking a stint as stand in for the vacationing Primary pianist.  I rather knew where he was going with that and sure enough, after a few weeks he was given that 'calling', releasing the woman who had held that calling for 3 years.  She was pleased with the respite.  I understood, and also felt he had abandoned me to the Sunday School sessions.  I use the word abandoned because I still have many questions about the manner in which this church chooses to interpret New Testament gospel.   I'm struggling with finding the established protocol for asking the questions respectfully, and in meaningful way without it being a challenge to the Teacher or confrontational or contentious.  Sometimes though, things need to be said aloud, and I'm still struggling some with saying such things in a tone that reflects respectful dialogue.  My husband knows much about my viewpoints and I have appreciated having him sitting next to me in the Sunday School period.  Now I am sitting alone, and feeling like he rather abandoned me before I was ready to be alone in that particular class.

Still July and we participated in a community meeting regarding the potential closing of a Dept. Social and Health Services Community Service Office in our area.  Resources our community can ill afford to be without, and with a senior aged population, the geographical terrain to get to another region is prohibitive. It is part of our activism efforts to alert the community and encourage their participation in keeping the much needed community resource office.

August was all about my husband, his birthday coupled with his retirement at end of the month.  Birthday celebration, retirement celebration, getting all those last minute preparations completed to transition health insurance, pension, medical and dental visits, paperwork processing.  An unusual event did happen in that four of his children arranged a surprise get together for his birthday/retirement.   Another 3rd Sunday in teaching the lesson in Relief Society for me.

Moving into September and Labor Day celebrations with our new friends in another Ward who come up annually for Memorial and Labor Day camp outs.  I felt moved to give my first 'testimony' at the first Sunday Fast and Testimony service to thank Sister A. for the helpful way she explained her understanding of Priesthood as an office separate from the men.  Somehow her explanation of how she viewed it clicked with me as I have had problems with the separate roles of male and female in this church, males seeming to hold the 'authority' type roles, which is contrary to my experiences in the world working side by side with men holding jobs with equal responsibilities, holding supervisor positions instructing men in their responsibilities.  The structure in this church has felt like steps backwards in time to the pre-feminist era of the gains women made in the 1970's with the galvanized feminist movement. While many have tried to reassure me that women do not hold subservient roles in this church, and are in fact, highly regarded, I still see that as having limitations for women in the expectations for women's roles in this church.  I hope to expand in sharing my thoughts on this at another time.

His sister from Utah came for her annual week visit.  Our schedule that week had several social activities, joining our out of town friends in a camping dinner, an evening wedding and reception of  young members of our Ward, and we had been asked by the Bishop to attend Stake Conference, he to play piano, me to sing with our impromptu 'choir'.  Also our Ward was to provide dessert for the Stake Conference, about 300 people.  We had a quick practice after services Sunday before Stake Conference weekend.  He sat at piano and we, as the improvised choir surrounded him at the piano.  All appreciated his playing, and the choir leader (she does have a degree in music) showcased him by asking him to play the third verse of the song with the trills, twinkles and extras that he does that makes the music more than a straightforward hymn.  His talent and ability as pianist is well regarded and I think our Bishop was eager to showcase him at Stake Conference.  Sure enough, he played beautifully and many came up to thank him and express how taken they were with how he played, something he possesses within himself that makes itself known spiritually in how he plays the piano, and it resonates strongly with people when they hear him play.  I know, I have heard it often from many who wish to express to me how they react and respond to his music.

I'd say August into the first week of September was the month of my husband.  And I'm pleased, happy, and take pride in his humility that indeed, this has been his moment.

Granddaughter to visit at our home this week.  We will spend a few days at my mother's home, supporting her as she deals with a medical procedure. We will be spending weekend with my son and his fiance, then a day with his son as they put together music for his daughter's wedding at end of the month.   It's been a summer filled with family and social activities. As the Autumn season makes it's way, we will close out the summer having experienced fullness of spirit with loving friends, family and our new church family.  New chapters ahead in our lives with him retired now, and us with new opportunities as well as new challenges straight ahead.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Landslide - Caving In

Internally my landscape is shifting and I can feel it.  Internally I can feel the strong walls of resistance I have built for myself starting to crumble.  Which means what, I'm not exactly sure, as I also recognize it wouldn't take much to patch them back up to once again stand strong against .... what  .....  influences I think I prefer not to be built into my internal castle.  Lying deeper though, protected, insulated is a waking part of my self yearning to fully embrace and take it into myself to own, to cherish, to love, to adore, to nurture, to care for, to share, to give.

Since I last wrote in my blog, I have had opportunity to substitute and fill in teaching for Primary Class for two Sundays.  We have had a weekend of family get together and sharing weekend to celebrate mine and my daughter's July birthdays.  Last Sunday was 3rd Sunday which is my time to teach the lesson in R.S. and the lesson was a challenge for me; families together for eternity.  Knowing I could not teach the 'ideal' of the lesson without also including the reality was the challenge for me in giving the lesson.  I think it went as well as could be expected in the framing of the lesson.  The women were responsive, engaged, and actually quite helpful in bringing their own material to the lesson.

My husband was called to be pianist for Primary where he has been substituting for past three weeks, which gives release to the woman who has fulfilled that responsibility for years and desirous of release so she could take in other elements of the Sunday services.  He is happy with this calling.  I am pleased for him, and also feel a bit abandoned as I am left to my own devices in Sunday School lessons and Relief Society lessons.  But it is my time of learning, assimilating, integrating, and he is content to learn anew as he sees it through my eyes.  I would hazard to guess he is doing his own internal integrating.

Yesterday I listened to another podcast at Mormon Matters, subject was on keeping the weirdness of Mormonism.  Somewhere in the middle of the podcast though, as the guest panelists were talking about what works for them, their love of certain doctrines, certain idiosyncrasies, even certain folk lore in what comes together to make up Mormonism, I found myself embracing instead of resisting what I was hearing.

This morning in our typical start the day morning routines, one of which is to start up the laptops and do a quick rundown check of email, I found myself chasing links to Mormon related blogs.  In a moment where I spoke aloud thoughts circulating in my mind normally not spoken aloud, I reflected to my husband that I wish I had been raised Mormon, and that I had been able to raise my family in the LDS church.  I'm not sure what his internal reaction to my thought was but his face registered surprise, maybe even approving surprise, didn't seem to be startled surprise.

I tried to explain to him that I was appreciating the protective and insulated environment created against distractions from the larger world scope.  I was particularly thinking of my years of dance training and the environment of focus created in the dance world.  I was thinking of family that could nurture each other and build each other up, appreciate each other for their talents and contributions.  I was thinking how I yearned when I began my family to have a better family environment than the one in which I was raised.  How I wanted for my children to have the nurture of a close family, none of the emotional onslaughts that wracked my formative years in a hellish dervish.  I was thinking that the map laid out by the LDS church, while too tightly woven in some areas, nonetheless provides an 'ideal' to aim for with demonstrable steps in how to at least aim for the ideal.  Obviously I don't agree with many of the steps or the ways suggested by this church, but I don't take exception to the effort at community, communality, and working towards achieving nurturing connection points.
This morning in our few moments before he goes off to his workplace for the day, we share a few quiet moments in prayerful reflection.  It isn't always a reverential bowing of the heads in respectful worship kind of prayerfulness.  Sometimes it is a brief exchange of deeper thoughts reflected in a few sentences that each of us may take with us into our thoughts while attending to the tasks of the day. Today mention was made again of our appreciation of the Native American spirituality which does not seem to offer condemnation, more ways to be in loving community with each other.  Perhaps that is why it has appealed to me, the quiet, steady focus on being a 'people' together in community.  A tribe of belonging, a place of knowing to whom one belongs.
I think of Mormonism in that way, a people having formed a tribe held together by beliefs shared in commonality, not necessarily their genetic heritage as a people, but their desire towards a tribal community.

I'm idealizing, and I know it.  I'm remembering the insular environment of being raised in military setting.  I'm remembering the 'ideals' of that environment.  I'm feeling a deep sadness of a history for myself that was more strongly about cutting ties with heritage than reinforcing and growing that much needed tethering.  I wanted to give my children that very tethering.  To the degree that I was successful, I also know there were many areas I could well have been more successful, given them more.  I forgive myself in knowing I did the best I could do at every step of the way, even so, I ache in knowing I could have given them more.  I'm not sure that giving them the map of Mormonism/LDS would have been the answer, even so, it would have been a map with high goals to aim for, given them a bit of the insular against the oft times chaotic waves tossing us to and fro less the  benefit of a map by which to steer and guide our ship.

 Destiny being what destiny is, we are in the places we find ourselves given our life circumstances.  Someone once described how she saw me as a person punching at paper bags in my efforts to take on the world on the terms dealt to me.   I think I understand what she meant with the paper bags analogy.  So much time spent punching at paper bags, time that could have been put to better use in other endeavors.

No Mormonism is not the answer, it is not the sum all or be all and often falls short in helping people who have faced challenges based on their differing realities.  Even so, even with all the peculiarities in the history that makes up Mormonism, even with the out and out wrongness that sometimes permeates the messaging people receive, there is a thread of desire that runs through it all in wanting to be a safe, nurturing, loving community, a people caring for one another, a tribal people.  There is much in the map of Mormon life that is good, wholesome, decent, and while I don't believe that the Mormon way holds a monopoly on those kinds of values, I am coming to believe that it would be a great loss if the Mormon way were to be lost in the landslide that seems to be crushing us globally in these times.   I have a feeling of relief in sensing my internal shift as one of being willing to embrace and letting go of punching paper bags.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Seriously though,

Finding it difficult to post in my blog the enormous amount of information I've digested this past six months, from sources on internet, seemingly both kinds - acceptable LDS and less acceptable LDS.  I have no need to go to the anti LDS at this time, having already walked that part of my husband's journey many years ago.  I read recently somewhere that Mormons, having learned their truths in the fashion that because they 'feel' it (via gift of the Holy Ghost or imo the normalcy of human feelings when one is feeling connected to a sense of something greater than self) then 'it' must be true; conversely because life may not unfold as promised in great disappointment and hurt they feel it must not be true after all and they have been misled, deceived, falsely taught or any variation on that theme.  Both approaches being different sides of the same coin.  Extracting from my own experience, it seems to me that it is the 'feeling' aspect in this belief set that is the the largest element of the messaging.

Lacking expertise to properly articulate an evaluation, I'm content to allow my observations to be more an internal space, less an outward articulated space.  Content for the time being to allow my observations to serve as personal markers bubbling up in my learning to both gain and own my own definition of my spiritual self in context to LDS/Mormon religion.   I use the combination LDS/Mormon sometimes to mark that I have come to learn there are marked distinctions between current day LDS teachings and historical Mormon teachings.  Some carry forward over the history of time and remain part of current LDS teachings (correlated) while some teachings fall into the shadows of history, not quite removed, but not hailed among current LDS teachings.  Ghosts of the past wafting to haunt the present teachings.  I can't help but be somewhat amused as one who has stood on the peripheral edges looking in from the outside and looking out from the inside.  I doubt there is another religion, church, belief set that doesn't have some history to it which might prove awkward, embarrassing, shameful, disturbing in light of examination.

Given that many religions define belief sets specific to the community they serve, the era in which they serve, and location in which they serve, I feel fairly confident that it is safe to say humankind makes their own definitions of the 'Greater'.  I've certainly heard the Greater defined in many different ways, enough so that along the lines of Joseph Campbell's, 'The Power of the Myth'   it makes more sense to me that the commonality of the multitudes of myths is that there does seem indeed to be a need for a Greater among all cultures of humankind.  It would be difficult to discount another's Greater as less great than one's own Greater, and yet one holds in high regard their own spiritual connectedness to their Greater, enough so that someone else's explanation of a different version of Greater might feel somewhere on the continuum as threateningly off putting to invitingly attractive.

Having been somewhat careful with the content of my blog, to date the this blog has covered some of my thoughts about Mormonism with regard to my husband's journey in and out of it, to writing about my own experiences in choosing baptism and the walk for both of us into this church, me as being inside rather than looking at it from outside, him with  a return to heritage roots.   Shifting gears somewhat, I think there will still be much in store for me to delight in with regard to association with this church and I will wish to blog about those finds.  And there will be less delightful elements that are not likely to dissipate for me even with continued participation in this church, these I also wish to blog about.

Being newly baptized, the rule is that a year must pass before I can be readied for a temple recommend, and my husband, being a returnee also must allow a year to pass.  In some way it feels like a probation period, and that actually is a two way street.   I don't feel a need for the temple part of the church experience to round out my understanding, appreciation, admiration and my consternation for elements of what defines this religion.  I'm 60 years old this week, been married to my Mormon husband for 15 years now, this after both of us have had 24 years each in previous marriages, his LDS based, mine non-mormon.   We both have adult children, eight between us, with eighteen grandchildren between us, sixteen living, two not living.  It feels a bit foolish to me that the church wants us to walk that same path assigned to young, new adults, newly  entering their path as temple married LDS couple just starting their lives and families.   At this time, I can't see that the effort towards becoming (in the vernacular) temple worthy, recommitting our vows in a temple marriage ( I really loved our wedding, borrowed from a Native American Cherokee theme and the vows of eternal pledges to each other that we exchanged ), doing the work of the temple strengthens what our life experience has already taught us, nor causes us to become more spiritually connected to Greater.  It seems more like satisfying the requirements of this church's outline or doctrine than a needed element that will enhance our life experience.   So it could well be said (again in the vernacular)  that I have yet to gain a testimony of the temple.  I don't have such a testimony, nor am I sure that I need or want one, and  I'll leave it at that for now, even while I understand the manner of the plan by which this doctrine has been laid out.  

I don't yet have a testimony of a few other elements and I am beginning to imagine what kinds of conclusions  might be drawn by others from that statement.   Somehow, despite 'feeling it', that it is being suggested feels more to me like being pushed into something I'm not yet ready to embrace, and while I know I do not have to commit to taking the steps in that direction, I don't like the feeling of being pushed.  Bishop, Stake President, Missionaries have all made statements to both of us pointing in that direction as the expected and desirable direction for us to proceed.  I understand that as leaders, they do need to identify what they understand and know to be doctrine - that is the job of leaders.  My job, as I see it, is to value that they have leadership positions and as such will be required to point to present day understanding of doctrinal elements and encourage members in those directions.  My job is to also simultaneously hold my own ground as to my feeling about my own spirituality and connection to Greater without giving in to being pushed into actions that embrace a Greater I may not yet be ready to embrace. Their job, as I see it as leaders, is to understand this about me as a member as and when I present it, and respect the space I need to carve out for myself.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Getting familiar with the layout of the church building

I came across this link which I'm sharing here.  It is a pdf which shows the basics of the interior set up of LDS church buildings.   As I understand it, the LDS church building that we attend is not the same building that many of the long term members attended back when it was the 'white chapel building on the hill'. Since I don't have an earlier history to compare it to, I am getting acquainted with the church building as it relates to other church buildings where I have spent time, ie, the Episcopal Church, other Protestant denominational churches, Methodist, Baptist, community churches, Buddhism, Shinto, Native American.   Having grown up a child of military family, there was a lot of moving around, and attending churches in the proximity of where we resided at the time.   I am initially struck by the absence of many elements that I am more familiar with, as the cross icon,  alter, candles, banners, but otherwise there are striking similarities.  The pews, the chapel part, the dais or choir section, the hospitality room.  The LDS church includes in it's buildings what is called a cultural hall which serves as a multi-purpose room, has sports (basketball) markings on the wood floor, foldable round tables and chairs, so the room is used for social, holiday, funeral, children's and family activities.  It also has separate rooms where the lessons are held separately for children; women; men.

It continues to take me some acclimation to get used to what is not there, while also embracing what is there that hasn't been there in other churches I've attended.  I do miss the candles.  Lighting a candle in  prayer for someone or something happening in one's personal life.  I do miss the ritual of the Episcopal Eucharist.  While the LDS Sacrament is ritualistic, I do prefer the elements of the Eucharist. I can easily get used to the absence of the cross, but unlike the views of the LDS church, which state they do not wish to worship His suffering, I have too long a history in viewing the cross in a quiet, personal spiritual manner that is not likely offensive to Him or others in that it is merely a different way to show reverence and respect.

However, there are many elements in the LDS services that I find I am appreciating as also a show of reverence and respect in a different format.  I do a lot of mental translation in trying to recognize similarities while appreciating differences.  On the one hand, as I understand it the earlier Mormon church did not want to replicate elements of Catholic worship services and were opposed to rote repetitions.  On the other hand, whenever anyone in the LDS church in these modern times gives a 'testimony', I often hear rote repetitions along the lines of bearing testimony that has some stock phrasing (those who know it will know what I mean).

I value the parts of those personal testimonies that tell a bit of story the person is wishing to share, and I value that for the most part the person sharing is quite moved by what he/she is sharing.  I value that others are moved by their testimonies, enough sometimes to generate tears of sympathy or empathy or both.  I appreciate the efforts at respect that are demonstrated one to another.  Where that falls down, in my opinion, is in the reinforcement of what is considered 'doctrinally correct' which has the effect of shutting down further discussion/conversation.  For me developing the conversation requires differing views be shared respecfully, which is a process whereby people can consider varying view points and get to a place of arriving at personal conclusions, which are subject to change in accordance with their own life experiences.

Back to the church building.  Overall I am pleased to arrive at the building, knowing a bit more about what will take place in the building.   I am pleased with the concepts of the attentiveness to who will be using the rooms and for what purpose.  I love the concept of the cultural hall, even while I'm not sure that I like socializing in a basketball court.   A familiar concept to me is that for the most part what I am participating in that day is what is happening in LDS churches internationally.  For the most part there is some similarity to the Episcopal rotational study for services used internationally, even while doctrinally the beliefs of the two churches are quite different. I like the antiquity of the Episcopal church building we attended, and I like the modern convenience of the LDS church building we attend now.

 I like church buildings in general, and often think I wouldn't mind living in one, a sacred space in which to have a home.  I've seen church buildings converted to restaurants, and occasionally converted to a home space.   I've seen church buildings abandoned, and feel sadness knowing that their time of useage has passed, wondering who will purchase the building and how it will be used.  I think I feel the sadness of the loss of the sense of the sacredness of the space, even while I appreciate the cathedral nature provides us, mostly free of charge. Somehow though, I don't think  LDS church buildings would convert so easily to another kind of space useage.  Maybe I need a bit more time with the building so that it takes on the intimacy for me that I have found in other church building spaces.

Father's Day Sunday, a particularly special Father/Daughter gift

It was Father's Day Sunday, and my husband had been asked to fill in playing the music in the combined Primary classes.  He was also asked to fill in playing music at Sacrament meeting.  Interestingly enough, his firstborn adult daughter, who was visiting for Father's Day weekend, agreed to stay overnight and accompany us to church, once she learned her father was playing piano.   It was also third Sunday, which is when I teach the lesson in Relief Society.

A bit of background.  His daughter, born in the covenant, raised LDS is no longer practicing LDS or in the vernacular, inactive. Of his five children, four of which are daughters, none are currently what is described as active.  At least two have found and participate in their own faith denominations.  The family had gravitated to inactivity when his daughters entered their teen years and the family began to face the typical dilemnas of having teen daughters.  At the juncture that his and my life came together, he was not only inactive but thoroughly angry, hurt, and disappointed the promises of his church were not being realized in their family life.  He with his 24 year LDS marriage, me with my 24 year marriage (non-Mormon) and divorces which had the kind of fall out for all the family members which can follow the rupture of divorce.  Needless to say, after 15 years of marriage to him, assimilating that his heritage is a big part of what formed his character, the decision of baptism and his rebaptism was a bit of surprise to his adult children.  Which makes this part of the story with his daughter accompaying us to church on Father's Day a bit more significant.   

I can't know his daughter's inner thoughts during the three hours, and she was entirely gracious during the services, however, when I explained that normally he would be sitting with us in the pew, she commented that she was used to him not sitting with them in the pew, he was usually playing piano in the choir loft.  She seemed quite comfortable with the service, right up until her Dad, playing one of the hymns caused her to cry. I can guess at what some of her emotional feelings may have been.  

Interestingly enough, with the change in our normal routine, staying for Sunday School, we instead went to the Primary class with the little ones.   His daughter was almost transported to an earlier time in her life when she did attend Primary classes, reciting the recitations, singing the songs, enjoying her Dad's light hearted piano tunes to accompany the children hymns.  It was precious for me to witness, giving me a bit of a sense of how it might have been for her when she was a child growing up LDS in her parent's home.   

Some women from the Relief Society came to get me, worried I might not realize I was to give the lesson.  Oh, yes, I did indeed realize, had the lesson prepared, and was ready, just not sure when this Primary lesson ended.  In other words, with the change in routine, I was off in the timing, unsure of the timing of Primary lesson.   His daughter accompanied me to Relief Society where I did deliver the lesson, receiving her welcome compliment on the nature of my presentation.  The lesson, being on talents, was a less challenging topic than some other topic might have been for me to present knowing his daughter was part of the sharing that day. 

Our ward has initiated what is being called Linger Longer once a month, where those that wish to stay (linger) a bit longer to socialize, enjoy informal potluck food stuff.  This particular Sunday was such and his daughter was agreeable to staying to meet people, eat and socialize.   An added element to the day.  I was pleased that she was able to meet our Bishop, his wife, the Missionaries, along with some of the other members. 

In view of the family story, I really can't think of a more special way for Dad and Daughter to have spent this Father's Day than the way it unfolded.  We didn't and couldn't have planned it to unfold in the way it did, and with that might well conclude that blessings did indeed abound via the grace of Heavenly Father (the Beloved, Heavenly Family, Holy Spirit). 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Babies, Blessing and Memorial in the same week

She was dressed with care, and sleeping soundly when Bishop announced a Blessing for new baby to be performed and called up several of the men.  Much like the confirmation that follows a baptism, the men formed a circle, hand on shoulder of the next man.  One person spoke the blessing for the new baby.   It was another of those rituals that capture my attention, observing it being played out before me, getting my rapt attention.  Which is not to say I haven't seen babies baptized and blessed before in other churches I have attended.  This was not, however, a baptism, it was a Blessing for a newborn who (if my understanding is correct) will not be baptized until she is eight years old.   While the structuring is different, the similarity lies in the loving that comes through in any of the services performed for babies and children.  

Announcement later in the service of a Memorial for another baby, stillborn to her family.  Immediate thoughts for me going back to a time when my daughter was faced with dealing with her own stillborn child.  Amirra, she named her, and there was a service for her, she lives in memory.  Last night, was the Memorial service for this stillborn child, Lilly is what her parents named her.  Bishop phoned to ask is Arthur would play piano for the service.  We arrived early so that he might play prelude music as people arrived in the chapel.  I was taken aback upon entering the chapel, as the parents had a Memorial Board for baby Lilly, pictures of her with father holding her, and mother and children holding her.  A picture of tiny feet, tiny fingerprints.  I did not anticipate seeing a visual of the child.  That brought it even closer to home for me.   I learned later from the mother that the hospital put that together and that one of the nurses who attended the mother at the hospital came to the Memorial to be with, comfort and help the family.

Arthur played beautifully, giving a calming atmosphere to the service, helping people to quiet their thoughts, be in the moment with the family.  When the service began, there were two letters read aloud, one by a friend of the family, the other by an older child in the family.  Then Bishop gave a talk on the Plan of Salvation, families rejoined in celestial kingdom. I remembered the time of Amirra, the time of Jordon's passing, and how Arthur already carried this concept of where the children would have gone, a concept I did not know or have, nor did my daughter.  We did have concept of a heaven, knowing her two children were in that loving space, wondering privately why they could not stay with us.

 I could empathize with how difficult it must have been for the Bishop to give that talk.  He and his wife had lost a child of their own, not stillborn, many years shared as part of their family.   Afterwards, people gathered in the cultural room to share together in the communing act of sharing food, giving what comfort could be given to the grieving family.  I had chance to speak to the mother as the gathering was winding down with tables and chairs being put away.  I shared with her that I could not know how she was feeling, relating the story that my daughter had lost a child, stillborn, and shortly after lost another child who had lived 9 months.  She empathized through her own pain with mine, and I felt somehow that was transferred to my daughters.  I say daughters in the plural because my older daughter and her family were there with the passing of Jordon, doing what they could to revive her.  Jordon had already gone, and they were left with a different kind of hole in their hearts.

Having recently visited our two babies grave sites, somehow this week with the Blessing of a living baby and the Memorial for the baby that did not live, it is on my mind to consider these two very different experiences and how the people of our church responded to both of them within the same week.   I am left with leaving in the hands of the Beloved the matter of bringing comfort to my daughters, to my family, to myself.   Years have passed, and perhaps there is a healing over, each in our own way; the memories remain, always there, sometimes close to the surface, sometimes at a safe distance, but always there.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Caring for Newborn

My husband just left for work.  We have a morning routine where we exchange thoughts, prayers, blessings for a few moments before he heads out the door.  This morning he played a couple of hymns I like on the piano and I sang along.  Feeling cheerful and uplifted, I told him I am beginning to find my niche within this Mormon structure.   Afterwards, when we shared our together time he said in passing he liked what was happening for me and it was our 'baby'.  Oh so much more profound than he could have known when he said it, I stopped in my tracks to consider it and told him that is exactly what I have been doing since February, like tending to a newborn, I have been giving full borne attention daily to nurturing this newborn, leaving off attending to other elements in my life that for the moment have taken on a lower priority.

A symbolic concept, to be sure, and I like it.  It is our baby, our newborn, and deserving of the attention being given to care for, nurture, and give time for this child to become the center of our lives.  A labor of love,  in the woman's way of creating life, giving birth, attending to the new child.  I love the symbology and it does indeed reflect the loving time we have shared and given to creating this new life.  I hold it dear, we hold it dear.  Amazing what a few words will inspire in imagery.

Last weekend was Memorial Day weekend.  We had a lot of activity in different yet similar arenas over those four days.  We had made plans to meet his son's new baby and it was rescheduled several times - their scheduling conflict, ours, and a holiday in between the original weekend date and when we finally were able to come to a mutually agreeable weekend date.  In between, we have had our baptism, and family coming from out of town and out of state to participate in our baptism.  His daughter was among one who came from out of town to be at our baptism.  She knew of our plans to visit new grandchild, and had offered to have us stay overnight with her and her fiance.  We were appreciative of the offer, and had a thoroughly pleasant visit with both of them.  Next day we went to his son's home to meet new grandchild.  His children were there and it was pleasant enough. There has been a long term estrangement from or with his children so when I say pleasant enough, it means it was awkwardly pleasant for all.  Except for the grandchildren, they are, as most all children are, spontaneous and engaging for their own reasons.   We then visited the cemetery where two of my granddaughters are buried.  Somehow appropriate for Memorial Day weekend.  Drove home again, off to the church for the chili feed.

At the chili feed we met new friends who are from the visiting Ward, had some fun exchanged with them when we explained why we were not going to be at Sunday services in that we planned a drive up the Washington coast to the new town Seabrook or south down the Oregon coast.  Explaining the concept of Seabrook as a new coastal community designed  to be a walk about community and our new friends trying to imagine it brought up the word commune, which became a running joke for all of us over the next two days.  We also met  a young man from the visiting Ward who is stationed at Fort Lewis and will be deploying to Afghanistan in next two weeks.  He shared conversation with my granddaughter and I asked if I could send him letters, post cards, care packages while he is deployed.  He agreed, although, I'm sure he is surrounded by family who will be sending him all those things and more.  Since my granddaughter has her stepfather deployed in Afghanistan just now, it was meaningful to me that this chance encounter with another young soldier headed for the same destination should fall into our laps.

The lovely elderly couple who live in this little village where we live have befriended us and taken us with some affection as a part of their family.  They were charming to my granddaughter as were our newly met friends at the chili feed Saturday night at the church, and again at the camp out Sunday night at the KOA.  At the Saturday chili feed, he quietly gave my granddaughter a Book of Mormon and another book 'As A Mustard Seed' which is a history of the people of our local Ward back to it's formation days. She quietly and graciously accepted his offering.  I'm proud of how gracious she has been with the members of our's and the visiting Ward.  This is not likely quite what she would have put on her list of things I'm going to do on Memorial Day, and yet, I think she thoroughly enjoyed the contact and community on both days.  And we shared a 'Girls' day on Sunday, she and I, with a drive partially down Oregon coast, she did the driving, her car and I think she enjoyed the curves and twists with the enthusiasm of a young driver.

 Our affection for this lovely elderly couple is growing, and since they are in their spry 80's, we know our time with them is short, and we know it will be meaningful.  He is WW 11 veteran, and I made a mental note that he was wearing his cap to the camp out on Memorial Day weekend. We must invite them to dinner at our house soon, they have twice now had us to Sunday dinner at their home.

My husband will be going with his home teaching companion (the same man of the elderly couple I mentioned) early this month and surprisingly (or not) enough their lesson will be on tithing.  Which is the lesson I had to instruct on 3rd Sunday last month.  A person could start to think there is a message we are to be receiving and assimilating.  Since he and I spent a lot of time processing the preparation I put into giving the lesson, he will be using some of that material and reassembling it in his own manner for his home teaching assignment this month.  He and his teaching companion agreed to trade off every month in who would give the lesson, and this month it will be my husband's turn to present the lesson.

I'm still waiting for my visiting teacher assignments, there has been some sort of  interruption for Relief Society President who is taking some time off just now and her newly called Counselors are picking up the slack.  I'm in no hurry, all in good time.  Meanwhile, the studies, podcasts, reading, blogs, books keep my time fully engaged.

'Be Still My Soul'
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