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.  

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