Contemplating the Reason for the Season

nativity-scene-mary-joseph-baby-jesus-1326846-wallpaperEvery year around Christmas we are told by many different voices to “remember the reason for the season.” This call for perspective is understandable. Much time and thought is spent dressing up homes with lights, trees with ornamentation, and buying gifts as a matter of consumerism rather than true charity. No wonder religious people worry why a time that should bring spiritual renewal and contemplation ends up seeming like a secular celebration.

worse still is how soon a religious holiday is advertised for sale in stores a month or more before December where Christmas lands. Some of this is a personal dislike of bypassing some holidays, like Thanksgiving, with overexposure to others. Familiarity can breed contempt the saying goes. The celebration can go on for so long that the main focus becomes blurred. It isn’t even a constant enlightening celebration, but a burst of materialism centered on fun and spectacle. Too many Christians have turned over their religion to marketing campaigns and department stores.

Those who call for remembering the reason for the season are preaching to an inattentive choir. Most people understand perfectly well that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior. Even the non-religious recognize this fact, and simply ignore it or fight against it by seeking to suppress recognition. The war on Christmas is real. Often times those who participate in the celebration are their own enemies giving in to secular practices. Continue reading

Review of BYU Joan of Arc Docudrama

Jeanne d'Arc, An artist's c. 1485 interpretation.

Jeanne d’Arc, An artist’s c. 1485 interpretation.

She is one of the greatest women in history, with the most documentation of any Medieval personality, but perhaps the least understood. Secularists can’t deny her importance to history, but have a hard time evaluating the spiritual claims. The miracles attributed to her gave her the status of Saint after a lengthy trial ending in burning as an heretic. France has given her a hero’s honor for saving the nation, but even past enemies celebrate the strength and convictions of an unlikely leader. It is no wonder that BYU picked Joan of Arc for the recent annual holiday spiritual docudrama series.

Unlike the offerings in the past, the story of Joan of Arc is much more epic. It covers what is known as 100 years war between two powerful nations. There is a lot of history and territory to cover for a small production. For the most part the docudrama succeeds as a primer, explaining how events in the past contributed to England taking over most of France. Anyone who wants to learn a more detailed historical context will be disappointed. Hints of a more complex narrative are dropped throughout the story. As an example, it never explains how a young girl from the bottom of society could be the fulfilment of prophecy. What the prophecy is or how she fits in was quietly passed over without comment. Despite a lack of the deeper contextualization, the narration has a logical flow that allows those less familiar with the history to follow along. Continue reading

Myth of God’s Changing Mind

Whenever a controversial position is held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, detractors point to what they see as changes made in its history as evidence pressure tactics can work. They believe if there is enough “agitation” from without, with help from within, that doctrines become malleable. All it takes is for the prophet to “get a revelation and God’s mind will change on a dime.” Get the government involved, such as threatening tax exemption, and its a sure thing. Views like this are understandable for non-Mormons who have tentative grasp of Mormon history and doctrine. Members who believe this have no excuse other than blind devotion to personal presumptions. They set themselves up as wiser than the Prophets and Apostles chosen by God to be His representatives. Looking closer at the end of polygamy and Priesthood ban used as examples to prove LDS doctrine can easily be changed, it becomes less obvious there really was much of a difference.

Revelation is the foundation of the Gospel. This is not in dispute. A belief in prophets opens up the possibility of new understanding and the changes that can come with greater knowledge. To study the Doctrine and Covenants is to learn of doctrinal and procedural growth and expansion. Priesthood did not come out of whole cloth, but line upon line as the membership increased requiring new needs. Even up to the late 20th Century Priesthood organization was transformed as one set of positions were discontinued and another developed. Theological changes are not outside the realm of possibility, with questions about the afterlife following a pattern of questioning and then learning more. Damnation to an eternal lake of fire is transformed into a period of punishment and refinement before the final judgement. Heaven has multi-layered meaning with the traditional dichotomies of the soul’s fate a temporary condition. Too many mistake learning more as a sort of repudiation of former beliefs. The two most abused examples don’t prove this notion. Continue reading

Religious Halloween Stories from Scripture

01259_All_Saints_Day_Sanok,_2011Everyone knows that Halloween is a time of spooks, monsters, and witches. What has been lost in the costumed time of begging for candy is the religious foundation of the festival. Some Christians, including Latter-day Saints, have a hard time with this season as they consider it a celebration of evil. There is truth to that, but only because of cultural transformation. It actually has a Christian devotional relationship.

From a William Hamblin and Daniel Peterson article about the holliday roots:

The word “Halloween,” or “Hallowe’en,” dates to about 1745. It’s a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve,” and it denotes the evening before the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day (i.e., “All Saints’ Day”) — a time, in the Catholic calendar, for remembering the dead, particularly saints, martyrs, and departed Christian believers. (It’s akin to the Jewish “Yizkor” prayer and the Hindu period of “Pitru Paksha.”) . . .

All Saints’ Day became a Christian holiday in A.D. 609, but it was originally celebrated on May 13. By the end of the 12th century, all of Europe observed it. Churches rang their bells, and criers dressed in black paraded in the streets, summoning others to pray for the deliverance of the souls in Purgatory. (Act 2, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” recalls the sound of “a beggar at Hallowmas.”) Skulls and skeletons were commonly depicted as reminders of death and the transience of human life. “Soul cakes” were baked and distributed in memory of all christened but departed souls, which suggests one possible origin for the treats given out at Halloween.

In 835, though, Pope Gregory IV changed the date of All Saints or All Hallows to Nov. 1. Some readers will be familiar, in this connection, with the common Hispanic observance of the “Dia de Muertos” or “Day of the Dead.” . . .

Curiously, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his famous “95 Theses” to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg — and, thus, to have launched the Protestant Reformation — on Oct. 31 because he knew that the church would be packed with worshippers on All Hallows’ (or All Saints’) Day the following morning. Hence, Oct. 31 is also celebrated as “Reformation Day.”

In honor of the religious aspects of Halloween, I present Scripture stories that would fit in with the season. They can frighten and enlighten. Perhaps these can be a step in inviting back the spiritual aspect of the holiday. Another option is spending time contemplating the struggles and triumphs of family history before dressing up and celebrating. Continue reading

Mourning With Those Who Mourn, Not Murmur

murmuring-2Every six months a General Conference comes and goes, and along with it the usual gripes from those who are not satisfied. That isn’t only non-Mormons who don’t believe in Prophets and Apostles, but some members of the Church. They will claim that the right words weren’t said, too much was asked of them, or the leadership just doesn’t understand. Whenever it is pointed out that the Lord is in charge and not them or their desires, they make accusations of heartlessness or lack of caring. Invariably they will insist that doing what they ask is a way to, “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” (Mosiah 18:9) whether the requests are deserving or not. It becomes a spiritual extortion by pointing fingers at those who don’t agree with their concerns. Too often they confuse the emotional turmoil of mourning with the selfish sin of murmuring.

As was said on another mourning related discussion, “Mourning with those who mourn is an important Gospel principle, but like any Gospel principle, it can be distorted and used to serve incorrect (should I say “problematic” instead?) ends.” The mixing up of mourning for murmuring is more than a social misplacement of scriptural injunctions. In the past the Lord has become displeased enough that he condemned the whole of Israel for what amounts to ungrateful insolence. Continue reading