Monday, November 17, 2014

Community of Christ

For the past two weeks, Melanie and I have attended Community of Christ church services. Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the second largest church group that traces its origins back to Joseph Smith, Jr. After Joseph Smith was killed, there was much debate as to who, if anyone, should be his rightful successor. Many felt that Joseph’s son, Joseph Smith III, should be the next president of the church once he got older (he was only 11 at the time of his father’s death). There were claims that Joseph had even ordained his son to be his successor a short time before he was killed. Brigham Young argued that Joseph could not and should not be replaced and that the church should instead be led collectively by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, of which he was senior member. A larger group followed Brigham, who eventually changed his mind about there being no single person at the head of the church and filled that role himself. (Today, most people who identify as Mormon trace their religious heritage through Brigham, including those who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.) Almost 16 years later, Joseph Smith III, who had declined to lead the church until he felt inspired of God to do so, embraced what he regarded as a divine call to serve as prophet and president of the church. Most of those who hadn’t already yoked themselves to a competing would-be leader—and even some who had—accepted Joseph Smith III as their new prophet. Both those who followed Brigham and those who followed Joseph Smith III would consider the other group to have broken off from the original church organized under Joseph Smith, Jr.

But enough history. Melanie and I have been interested in visiting Community of Christ ever since attending a couple of lectures at the downtown Salt Lake City Library by a historian of Mormonism who converted from the LDS Church (the predominant “Brighamite” church) to Community of Christ. I had no interest in converting, but I did want to see what they were like. Everything I knew about them, I liked. In fact, their general ideas and attitudes seemed much more in line with my way of thinking than what I typically encounter at LDS church services. More in line with Mormonism as I understand it, really. And so, I was curious.

On our first visit, the contrast between Community of Christ and LDS services was striking. In Sunday School, we were reminded by the teacher that he isn’t trying to get us to think some particular way or another. He just wanted to get us to think, and if willing, to share those thoughts. He said that if nobody commented on anything, he would say increasingly radical stuff until we felt like we couldn’t take it anymore and had to speak up. As we went through the lesson—more of a discussion, really—on the parable of the ten virgins, the conversation focused on what we could get out of it, what it might mean, and even how we might get it wrong or abuse it. Priority was given to finding meaning and enriching and improving our lives, rather than to confirming what we already believe and showing how we are right. Quite a difference from what you get at LDS Sunday School, in my experience.

The worship service also had a very different tone to it than LDS worship services. Community of Christ had fewer “talks,” but its solitary sermon was more thought-provoking than what you usually hear from an LDS pulpit. There is a lot more singing at Community of Christ, and I found the music rather enjoyable. They have a much more expansive hymnbook—something like 600 songs in total—and at least a few of their hymns had an almost contemporary show tune feel to them. I liked it.

One cool feature of Community of Christ’s worship service is that they had a time dedicated to children. They called up all of the children and addressed them in particular, giving something of a mini-lesson. Eddie, Peter, and Creegan were with us, but I didn’t know if they’d want to go up, because they never want to participate at our normal LDS church. Eddie sat this one out, but Peter and Creegan were very enthusiastic about participating. The pastor talked about creation and how everything we see is a manifestation of God’s glory and work. He then had the kids draw a picture of something from nature while the adults watched a worshipful video. The pastor then shared the kids’ drawings. Beegy went first, holding up his picture of a woman falling into water, screaming. “She says, ‘Aaaaahhhhhh!’” Beegy explained. Everyone laughed. Peter shared an impressive drawing of a fox. When all the kids had shared their pictures, the congregation applauded their work. I really appreciated that we acknowledged the kids in this way, rather than meeting their efforts with dead silence, as is customary at LDS services.

I don’t want to spend too much time recounting details of my visit. Suffice it to say, there was much to enjoy about Community of Christ. The people seemed like really good people. In comparison to LDS services, their services seemed very humble, sincere, open-minded, thought-provoking, and inspiring. Admittedly, I left feeling like it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to reject their community for my own, just because my own is supposed to be the “right” one. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I could imagine talking to LDS family and friends, telling them all the reasons Community of Christ felt so much better than LDS services, and having them respond, “Well, that doesn’t matter. We’re still the true church. They’re not.” These are the same people who would probably tell visitors to the LDS church that if they feel anything good or positive during their visit, they can interpret those feelings as coming from the Holy Ghost, who is testifying to them that the LDS Church is “true.” So hypocritical.

Although I hadn’t originally expected to revisit Community of Christ so soon, we returned the next Sunday. The service was atypical because someone was being ordained to the priesthood. This afforded Melanie and me an opportunity to see some other aspects of Community of Christ that differ from the LDS Church. Most notably, although it was a man being ordained to the priesthood, all four of the people who ordained him were women. (The LDS Church does not allow the ordination of women to priesthood offices, and so in turn has no women doing any ordaining of others.) Seeing four women gathered around a man, their hands on his head and shoulders, did not strike me as offensive, blasphemous, crazy, or otherwise “wrong.” I was actually impressed by how unremarkable it seemed. I was thinking about my boys seeing this and potentially asking, “Why don’t women do that in our church?” and how damn absurd it would feel to say something like “because it’s wrong” in response. “God doesn’t want that to happen.” It just sounds so silly when you’re watching it take place and it is nothing more than a loving and serviceable act. It wouldn’t be altogether different from seeing a man baking a cake and telling your kid, “God doesn’t want that to happen.” The preposterousness of it all strikes you in the face.

We also had the chance to take communion with Community of Christ, which is normally once a month and so hadn’t been offered the week before. They have an “open communion,” meaning they don’t consider membership in Community of Christ a prerequisite to taking communion. The LDS Church views the blessing of communion (called simply “the sacrament” in LDS vernacular) as a priesthood ordinance that must be done by authority. I imagine some LDS folk would consider it a sin that I partook of Community of Christ communion. But I’m not sure why. By Community of Christ’s own accord, it’s not a symbol of my belonging to their church. Plus, if Community of Christ doesn’t have any legitimate authority, which would be the typical LDS way of looking at it, then there was nothing special about what they were doing. If that’s the case, then who cares if I participated? Anyway, I did partake and tried to direct my thoughts in the same way I would if I were taking the sacrament at an LDS church. There was no reason not to. Unlike the LDS Church, which uses water, Community of Christ uses grape juice in place of sacramental wine. My kids loved that. I myself found the symbolism more pronounced through the use of grape juice. Not just the color, mind you, but the fact that grape juice lingers on the tongue. When you drink your thimble of water at LDS services, your tongue is wet for a second. That’s about as far as the sensory experience goes. Grape juice, on the other hand, coats your tongue and remains. There is an aftertaste and a residual velvety sensation on the inside of your mouth. It’s not entirely unlike blood, oddly enough. I think it’s easy to see how this might have a more profound effect on the person who partakes of juice as opposed to water. It’s not such a fleeting experience, and not something you can easily do without giving it much attention.

Now, it may surprise you based on everything I’ve said above, but I left Community of Christ this most recent Sunday feeling eager to return to my regular LDS church services next week. It’s a funny thing, but as much as I get inspired by other traditions, I seem always to find myself desirous to return to my own tradition. It’s not because something is lacking in these other traditions. On the contrary, I think it might just be that I find so much lacking in my own church culture that I want to infuse it with some of the good I am finding elsewhere. This is something I seem unable to shake. At Community of Christ, there was a good deal of talk about being “called” to something. The person being ordained an elder that day had felt called to that office, in and of himself, by God, which is actually how Community of Christ does things. In LDS circles, being “called” is synonymous with being asked by someone in authority to do something or to serve in some capacity. It’s meant to be an inspired “call,” but whether or not it is, LDS folk rarely (and in most cases never) use the phrase “being called” to refer to something a person feels is communicated from God directly to the individual him/herself. Anyway, on the way home from church, I thought of myself as called—in the sense familiar to Community of Christ and most other Christians—to the LDS Church. I am not your typical member of the LDS Church, and sometimes I come close to hating my time there, but I embrace Mormonism wholeheartedly and I feel like the LDS Church is where I am meant to serve. It’s where I want to serve. And I can see a lot of room to serve there. Not in the help-set-up-chairs way that LDS folk are so often keen on serving, but in a deeper, more theological sense, with opening minds and softening hearts. Maybe that sounds prideful. Or maybe it just is what God puts in my own heart to do.

Maybe, just maybe, being LDS is my cross to bear.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Religion and Morality

I posted the following as a kind of rant in a private FB group yesterday. As such, it’s not what I would consider a finely-tuned piece of writing. It leaves open the question of what the relationship between morality and religion should be, and yes, I think there is a relationship to be had there. But I trust that my general point and concerns will come across if I post this as is. The post seemed to garner a good response in the group, so I trust it’s not entirely incoherent. Here you go.

Maybe religion shouldn’t be in the “morality” business.

This might sound cuckoo crazy, but bear with me a minute.

As I think about all the things religion tells us to do or not to do, it all begins to look quite silly. Birth control, R-rated movies, tattoos, sleeveless shirts, mothers working outside the home, same-sex marriage. Do this, don’t do that. Is this really what religion is for?! It seems so shallow and meaningless! And yet that’s how we so often approach religion, as an authoritative guide to not being naughty. Really?!?! That’s what I’m supposed to get out of all of this?!? “I”m so grateful for a living prophet, so I don’t wear two sets of earrings and unknowingly sin.” For reals, people?!?!??!?!

I’ve heard people talk about how the church can infantalize people. I think this is almost unavoidable when we’re so obsessed with right/wrong actions (an external focus) instead of embracing and becoming (an internal focus). In many ways, we invite this upon ourselves because we want someone to tell us what to do and we want to be able to say, with all the ease and simplicity of glimpsing at a checklist, that we are good people doing things right and pleasing God. But the result is that we’re babies, crawling around on the floor, with the looming parent ever there to remind us, “Don’t put that in your mouth!” That’s what religion tends to do ... often quite literally! “Don’t put bacon in your mouth!” “Don’t put coffee in your mouth!” “Don’t put cigarettes in your mouth!” And I think we’re all aware of the famous First Presidency letter of 1982 that forbid us from putting other things in our mouths.

I was reading about the Cutlerite movement in Mormon history and the list of things they forbid on Sundays. The list includes reading newspapers, reading novels, playing checkers, and having conversations that are not spiritually-based. We look back and laugh and think it’s so ridiculous. But we latch onto our own rules and applaud ourselves for doing things right and flourishing spiritually. Well, I look back at the Cutlerites and think they probably wasted a lot of their time and missed a lot of happiness because they were following these rules. Why would we be any different today? What will we look back on in 150 years and laugh at because it so clearly has absolutely nothing to do with being a morally upstanding person?

Joseph Smith said something about teaching correct principles and letting the saints govern themselves. That makes sense to me. Teach truth and goodness, insofar as you are able, and let people embrace those things that they want to embrace or that benefit them. Don’t just give us a list of what to do or not to do. How do we learn what makes those things good or bad if you’re just telling us what to do? Help us to understand the whys, and then we won’t need you to tell us what’s good or bad. We’ll know for ourselves! The funny thing is, Jesus tried to tell us what makes things good: love, on which supposedly hangs all of the laws. And yet we refuse to believe it. We really do refuse. Instead, we villainize those who endorse this approach as embracing a “comfortable God.” We shame those who dress differently than we do, because we assume personal righteousness and hemlines can be measured with the exact same yardstick. And we shake our heads in disapproval at parents who allow their children to attend birthday parties on Sundays, because we assume we should be willing to follow rules at the expense of nurturing friendships, showing fellowship, and giving our support.

Boy, do we sell ourselves and our religion short.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


My family has done quite a bit of hiking lately. Tallahassee wasn’t exactly conducive to hiking, so I guess we’re making the most of our local Utah mountains and whatnot. Soon enough, it will be snowy and we’ll wait to stay indoors 99.9% of the time, but for now, we’ve being quite adventurous—which isn’t very adventurous at all, by most standards, but why quibble?

Our first hike was on the Temple Quarry Trail, located at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon. It’s a paved trail, and a very short trail, but we got some nice photos.

For our next hiking adventure, we sought out Lisa Falls, a waterfall located just slightly more up Little Cottonwood Canyon than was the Temple Quarry Trail. I had inconsistent directions on how to get to Lisa Falls, but even my Google Maps directions didn’t quite pan out. We did pull over and hike up the mountain a little bit, but not in a place that would lead to Lisa Falls. It led nowhere, in fact. But once again, we got some cute pics out of the deal. And I’m quite proud of my boys’ hiking abilities, considering we weren’t really on a trail of any sort.

Our most recent hike maybe shouldn’t be called a hike. It was a completely flat walking trail, called the Porter Rockwell Trail. We had gone to church in the morning, where we told from the pulpit that one way to keep the Sabbath day holy is to wear church clothes all Sunday long. Why, Melanie and I were so spiritually fed, we couldn’t possibly eat another bite. So we left before church was over, changed into our heathen clothing, and went on a walk. So, we did take a hike—from church—but we walked a trail that was named after the loyal bodyguard to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. He was also a prolific killer, but that’s beside the point. I bet you’ll never guess what happened during our hike. That’s right! We took some awesome photos!

We were quite surprised to see a residence that was home not only to horses, but to a zebra.  There was also an ostrich or emu or something, but I didn't get a pic of that.

This and the next two photos were my attempt at getting some artistic shots.  I keep wanting to take a photography class or something.  I honestly don't know a dang thing about photography or photo editing, but I like to think some of these have turned out looking pretty nice (and nicely pretty).  The final photo below is my fave.

The end!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Halloween 2014

Being the stay-at-home parent I currently am, I had the privilege of attending the Halloween parade at Eddie and Peter’s elementary school. Beegy went with me. He spent some time playing with the kid standing in the hall next to us, and also some time trying to get that same kid to leave us alone. It was an on-again, off-again friendship during the hour or so that we were there. Overall, we had fun.

Beegy and the unknown boy whom he loved to hate and hated to love.

After the parade was over, I realized how many costume types I didn’t see. When I was in elementary school, you were always guaranteed to see at least a few doctors, babies, punk rockers, 50s outfits (greasers or poodle skirts), hippies, flappers, mobsters, and devils. I wasn’t thinking about it during the parade, so maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t recall seeing any of those costumes this time around, with the exception of one baby (a boy). I guess times have changed. As Melanie pointed out, kids dressing like the 1980s today is equivalent to kids dressing like the 1950s when we were young. Weird, but true.

At night, we went trick-or-treating. Melanie’s brother Tom came with us. Creegan was really into it, which was fun. This was the first time he’s been old enough to be this enthusiastic. Melanie and I wore Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man costumes we ripped off from our good friends in Tallahassee. I didn’t mind the plagiarism because the costumes were so cute and reflective of my personality (because of the old school video game motif, not because Pac-Man is a glutton). We ran into one of Eddie’s school chums while trick-or-treating and ended up walking with the friend’s family for a while. The friend’s name is Dakota, and Eddie has nicknamed him Koko. Beegy seemed determined to stick next to Koko and kept running up to him, calling, “Koko! Koko!” whenever they’d get separated. It was cute.

Uncle Tom, dressed as some sort of character from something called Magicus (I'm guessing at the spelling).  Our kids have decided that anybody with a staff is Jack Frost, and they insisted on calling Tom that, much to his chagrin.

The end!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Creegan Turns Four

Creegan turned four this week. Living in Utah, we’ve now got enough extended family nearby that we can celebrate birthdays several times over. We started with my side of the family last Saturday. My mom served hot dogs, pasta salad, and then some, and we brought over a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (per Creegan’s request). Beegy opened gifts. It went well.

The next day, we had a birthday dinner with Melanie’s side of the family. We had … drum roll, please … hot dogs, pasta salad, and then some. Creegan had requested hot dogs for his birthday dinner before we even knew my mom had coincidentally chosen the same food to serve us on Saturday. So, we had nearly the same meal two days in a row, but I suppose that was just a bonus for Beegy. We also had a brand new chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, because Beegy insisted on having the same kind of cake at both parties. He knows what he likes! After dinner, we opened gifts. It was all very déjà vu.

"I'll be more impressed when I see fire."

"That's the ticket!"

Beegy tries out his new pen and pad of paper.

On Creegan’s actual birthday, we started the morning out with gifts from Melanie and me. We gave him Hungry Hungry Hippos, Count Chocula cereal (which he eyed suspiciously), 500 sheets of paper, a piggy bank that can count and digitally display how much money you’ve put into it, and a VTech Switch & Go Dino. The cereal was meant to be fun for that morning. Beegy’s enjoyed chocolate cereal when he’s had it, but he wasn’t familiar with this particular brand and initially expressed disinterest. Of course, before long, all three boys were eating it for breakfast. And lest you think blank paper is a lame gift for a four-year-old, Creegan was quite pleased with it. He is constantly asking for blank paper on which to draw, so I’m figuring 500 sheets should last him … oh, about a week.

"Are you frickin' kidding me?"

Once Creegan’s older brothers were at school, I took him to Chick-fil-A. We were there for probably 40–45 minutes, but it felt short and I was surprised he didn’t want to stick around longer. He told me they didn’t have much to do in their playland. While there, I took a few photos of Beegy. A stranger came along and asked if I wanted him to take Beegy’s and my picture together, so that worked out well.

After Chick-fil-A, I took Creegan to Pet Smart. This time, I was surprised at how long Beegy wanted to stick around. Which was fine by me. Creegan was very cute enjoying all the animals. He seemed especially fond of the five cats they had on display from the Humane Society. His favorite was a very fluffy calico named Charity, whose face was almost perfectly evenly split between gray fur and orange fur.

That evening, we took the boys to Village Inn. For months now, Creegan has told us that on his birthday, he wants to go to Chick-fil-A and Village Inn. Mission accomplished. Melanie and I both opted for non-breakfast items, which is highly unusual for us when going to Village Inn. The boys stuck with things they could drench in syrup: funny face pancakes for Eddie and Peter, and a Belgian waffle for Beeg. I got a double bacon cheeseburger that was too big to fit in my mouth and that was so meaty it was difficult to taste anything other than ground beef (without any discernible seasoning to make it interesting). It was somewhat disappointing. I should’ve had the omelet I’d originally planned on having.

And that’s that. My youngest is four. In my opinion, this is a great stage to be at as a parent. Happy birthday, Beegy!