Another correction: I said in my previous post that a “partially-standing” portion of the original Liberty Jail is housed in the LDS visitor’s center at Liberty, Missouri. The implication was that some of the original Liberty Jail remained intact and has remained in its original state until today. However, I believe that is incorrect. They did indeed use some of the original Liberty Jail materials to recreate a portion of the Liberty Jail, but as I now understand it, what is in the visitor’s center is a reconstruction. Thanks to Melanie for clarifying that.
Wednesday, July 22nd was a full day of sightseeing in Independence, Missouri. After eating our hotel’s complimentary breakfast and getting checked out, we took to the Community of Christ Independence Temple. I had driven past the temple in the 90s, when it would have been brand new. I remember thinking it looked like something out of the Wizard of Oz. I wasn’t impressed, but good Mormons rarely are impressed by anything that other religions do, especially religions as blatantly apostate as what was then called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Returning to Independence some 20 years later, as a recent convert to Community of Christ, I was so excited to enter the temple. The unique spiral roof of the temple was now a symbol that held great and beautiful meaning to me, rather than just appearing odd. I was elated to be there, with my entire family in tow, no less. The significance of being able to enter the temple as a family, no one excluded, was not lost on Melanie and me. Having my children with me made it all the more holy and divine, not less so.
Beating Peter into a plowshare. I love the sense of humor on this kid.
When I approached the main desk and explained a little bit about who I am—one of the interns in Nauvoo, here with my family, recent convert, etc.—I quickly realized that they had been expecting us. My boss must have called them and let them know I was coming. We were treated to a lovely tour of not only the temple, but the large auditorium across the street that is something like the LDS tabernacle. One thing I really appreciated about the temple was the diverse aesthetics. Lots of different art is used, from sculptures to paintings to stained glass to a zen garden atrium. Even when it comes to the different sculptures or paintings, the styles vary. I think this is really neat. It naturally promotes reflection as things resonate with you in different ways and for different reasons. One thing I always loved about the LDS temple is that, despite being surrounded by other temple patrons, your time feels very personal. You are very much in your own head, meditating, praying, having your own thoughts, etc. The Community of Christ temple is conducive to that, and perhaps more so since there isn’t a particular narrative that is presented within a strict time frame. Things needn’t be done in any particular order, although “The Worshiper’s Path” is a symbolic spiritual journey that has a more precise flow to it. I found The Worshiper’s Path quite neat, although I’d like someday to return and walk the path while not on a tour. That would make it more meaningful, I think. To tell you a little bit about The Worshiper’s Path, you begin by entering through an archway comprised of stenciled glass. The images on the glass are of trees (and a few animals) and are meant to symbolize one’s entrance into the sacred grove, which itself is symbolic of the beginning of a spiritual journey.
The atrium of the temple, zen garden style.
The entryway to The Worshiper's Path.
As you walk The Worshiper’s Path, you are gradually working your way, in an ascending spiral, to the center of the temple. You pass various pieces of art as you go, reminding you of such things as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Atonement, etc. There is a great deal of symbolism here, some of which our tour guide pointed out and some of which I recognized myself. As you walk the path, you are ascending. You can’t see too far ahead at any given time, but it gets progressively brighter. The walls are made of rough granite. The journey takes you inward, until you reach the center of the temple—perhaps the center of your own soul. There is illumination here—the sanctuary is the brightest room you enter—but it is also here that one visually encounters the interior of the spiral ceiling and sees that the journey toward Heaven has only just begun. As you pass out of the sanctuary, you begin your trek back into the world. Explicit images of Christ become more prominent, and a sign above one of the sets of doors reminds you that “the fields ... are white already to harvest.” Leaving the building, you may notice that the granite walls are now a little more polished, a little smoother. They are not altogether smooth, but some refinement has occurred. You exit the temple onto a map of the world, with flags from nations all over the planet flying high above you. What will you take into that world after the spiritual journey you’ve just had?
This piece represents the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Walking the Worshiper's Path, one must pass through the shadow of the cross.
The Tree of Life.
I really, really liked this display and wish I had gotten a better photo of it. Just below these words is a fountain with water continuously pouring over the edge into a lower basin that then recycles the water. But the water is so still and calm, even as it overflows, that you can hardly tell it's there unless you dip your hands into it.
An interior view of the spiral roof of the temple.
The sanctuary marks the center of the temple. It is directly above this that one can see into the spiral.
Melanie poses next to an image of Christ she found particularly powerful. I quite like it myself.
Melanie, Eddie, and Creegan pose alongside the row of flags outside the temple just before entering.
The Community of Christ Auditorium as seen from the temple.
The Auditorium as seen from the Stone Church (see below).
Peace and Quiet. Or, in this case, Quiet and Peace.
By this point, I was starving. It was nearing 2 PM. My boss in Nauvoo had recommended we eat at a place called Dave’s Bakery & Deli, which was only a few blocks from the temple. I got a turkey club and added both avocado and cucumber to it. It came on some good, toasty bread. It really was quite yummy. Melanie got a veggie sandwich that she quite enjoyed, and the kids got chicken fingers (Eddie and Creegan) and a cheeseburger (Peter). We went all out and got dessert, which was ice cream for the kids, a couple of chocolate-dipped coconut cookies for Melanie, and a cream cheese danish for me. Mine wasn’t bad, but the cheese danishes at the Casey’s gas station are way better. Go figure.
You can see the temple between the trees in the background. As you can tell, our lunch spot was very nearby.
After lunch, I wanted to hit a few of the tourist destinations surrounding the Independence Temple. Our first stop was what’s called simply the Stone Church. It’s a very old RLDS / Community of Christ church located kitty-corner to the temple. Joseph III would have attended church there, as well as countless others. The inside looks rather traditional for an old church, but the outside is very cool. In the 1970s (or thereabouts), some stained glass windows were replaced. The windows now on the building include scenes of significance to the Restoration tradition, which was kind of cool to see in stained-glass form. The on-site pastor was very gracious in letting Melanie, the kids, and me wander around the building. The kids went a little manic, which added some stress to our visit, but overall, it was good.
After leaving the Stone Church, we crossed the road to the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). This branch of the Restoration movement is sometimes called the Hedrickite church, so-called because its origins (after Joseph Smith) lie in a man named Granville Hedrick. During my time here in Nauvoo, I have regularly hung around a man named Dave who was raised Hedrickite. He had informed me that the Hedrickites are very traditional. Wendy, one of my co-workers here in Nauvoo, said she was chewed out by one of the Hedrickite apostles and told by that same apostle that she is going to burn in Hell once he learned that she holds a priesthood office in Community of Christ. (Being Community of Christ wasn’t the problem so much as her being a woman who claims to hold the priesthood.) All things considered, Melanie and I were treated quite cordially by the man at their visitor’s center, which is really just a room with some postcards and pamphlets located in the basement of their church. The Hedrickites reject the notion of having a president of the church and instead follow what they believe is the Biblical precedence of being led by twelve apostles. They reject temple rites, such as baptism for the dead and eternal marriage. Their official canon consists only of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, which are to be the measure of all doctrinal matters. The Book of Commandments (which would later become the Doctrine and Covenants in the LDS and Community of Christ traditions) is used sparingly and is not considered authoritative. The Hedrickites do believe in continuing revelation and prophecy, but anyone can theoretically prophesy and it doesn’t make that person the prophet in any ultimate sense. There is no single leader. There are no high priests in the Hedrickite church, because Jesus was and is the final high priest (a common understanding in Christianity, by the way, and I think a rather fair interpretation of what the Bible actually says).
The Stone Church (left) and the Hedrickite church (right) as seen from the Community of Christ Auditorium. The grassy area in front of the Hedrickite church was designated by Joseph Smith as the site of a future, Millenium-era temple. Hence, the official name of the Hedrickite church: Church of Christ (Temple Lot).
The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) from a slightly different angle.
The Hedrickite church as seen from the opposite side. Just inside those doors is the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) visitor's center.
The guy at the Hedrickite church kept going on and on about things and was a bit hard to break away from. He wasn’t being pushy or seeking to convert us, he just had a lot of stories to share. When we finally did break away, I wanted to visit the LDS visitor’s center. My boss here in Nauvoo had led me to believe that the LDS Church actually has some pretty good displays in the downstairs of their visitor’s center. Melanie had no interest, so I dropped her and the kids off at the CofC Auditorium so they could go to the Children’s Peace Pavilion, a kind of children’s museum with lots of interactive displays located within the Auditorium itself. I then went to the LDS visitor’s center on my own. When I walked in, I was immediately greeted by a sister missionary who told me everything the visitor’s center had to offer. She said that the downstairs had more of the “history stuff.” She then asked if I knew what I wanted to do there. I said the history stuff sounded good, and that’s when she informed me that another tour was starting up right then. I hadn’t realized it was a guided thing. I wasn’t 100% against it at first, but by the end, I was rather disappointed. Not disappointed because it was a guided thing, per se, but because I got so little out of it. The history was kept to a minimum. What I got instead was moved from room to room, where we would watch these short, feel-good videos. It did me no good, and I quickly felt really sad that I wasn’t with my family and that I wasn’t seeing what the Children’s Peace Pavilion was like and what my kids were doing and how they were enjoying it. It didn’t help that, once again, my visit to an LDS site contained some really questionable content. On the less egregious side, the sister missionary guiding us spoke of the early Saints living in Independence by saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to live in a place where everyone is trying to keep the commandments? That's why I love BYU!” Another winning comment was when she identified the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon as the principle ancestors of the Native Americans (an outdated mode of thinking that has been officially disavowed by the LDS Church—I guess she didn’t get the memo). But the one that made me scoff the most was when she spoke about the Law of Consecration. Her words: “The Law of Consecration was a trial of faith. But they did it!” Um, no. The early Saints did not live the Law of Consecration, which required that all property be given to the Church and then meted out based on individual needs as ascertained by Church authorities. They failed to live that law, which is precisely why they later introduced the Law of Tithing in its place—a law that required only 10% of one’s increase. I’m sure I sound like I’m nitpicking and complaining over trivial things—but are they trivial?? Is the proper response to just shrug and not care that the information is so woefully inaccurate at these places that are pretending to give you historically accurate data? I see it as a problem because it is stuff like this that perpetuates a mindset that cannot handle more complex and unpolished, but more truthful, accounts of church history. Mindsets like this are what led LDS historians in the past to be excommunicated for writing about things that didn’t fit the Disneyized version of church history favored by the institutional church. This isn’t some conspiracy theory I’m waving around here. It’s just the way it’s gone, and it’s stuff like this that eventually made me feel very unwelcome in my own religion. I didn’t want to go to church to listen to fairytales and make crap up. But the alternative of informed and thoughtful discussion just wasn’t welcomed. It truly wasn’t. Yes, I still feel sad about that—sad for me, but also for the potential that is lost. Mormonism is beautiful, and church history is fascinating. I wish the LDS Church would embrace both, without so many filters and so much whitewashing. It’s a real shame.
The Christus at the Independence LDS visitor's center. A very similar Christus is at the SLC visitor's center, but this one has a softer, more smiley face. I found that interesting and couldn't help thinking of Elder Holland's recent general conference talk in which he chided those who picture the Lord as someone who would "pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds." It seems they consciously decided to make Jesus appear a bit more like such a being with this statue.
Walking out of the LDS visitor’s center, you get an awesome view of the Community of Christ temple. It felt invigorating to see it—a sight for sore eyes, I said to myself as I headed to my car. I went and picked up Melanie and the kids, and we then drove around snapping a few photos of other nearby churches that are part of the Joseph Smith Restoration movement. It was then getting rather late in the day, and we decided we better start heading back to Nauvoo. We didn’t have time to visit any of the Harry Truman sites that were of secondary priority to us. That’s okay. I really do hope to be back to Independence sometime in the not-too-distant future. As it turns out, it was good we left Independence when we did. It was midnight before we got home. I didn’t much enjoy driving winding highways in the dark. Until last week, I’d never hit an animal with my car. I’ve now hit two. Last Monday, on the way home from a baseball game in Burlington, Iowa (about 30 minutes away), something that looked somewhat large came wobbling out on the highway and immediately got run over by us. I screamed, but was extremely relieved when our car passed over it with ease. It wasn’t much of a bump at all, and I was very grateful for that. I assume it was a raccoon, as those are fairly common out here and I don’t know what else it would have been. Then, on our way back from Independence, a frog came hopping out into the road as I barreled down the highway. It was promptly flattened. I wasn’t happy about it, of course, but fortunately I didn’t scream this time.
The Community of Christ temple as seen from the parking lot of the LDS visitor's center.
The Church of Jesus Christ (Zion's Branch) is one of several groups to break off from the RLDS Church in response to the RLDS Church's 1984 decision to allow women's ordination to the priesthood.
The Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is yet another church to spring from RLDS Church members who were dissatisfied with the decision to ordain women. This building used to be a high school and is where one of my fellow tour guides went to high school in the 1960s.
And that’s my trip to Independence. The end.