“Be a Joyful People”

31 01 2011

BY KRIS JUDD, president of seventy

I’ve had a long history of getting into trouble for laughing. I laugh too loud. I laugh too much. I laugh at the wrong times and in the wrong places.

I learned early on if you dig your fingernails into your palms you can keep yourself from getting sent from the dinner table for laughing. Telling people you are just thinking funny thoughts can stop the endless questioning of what you are laughing about during a meeting.

There are times when I get dirty looks in restaurants. As college students my friend, Nancy, and I once were asked to leave a truck stop because our laughter was disturbing the truck drivers. Laughter can get one into trouble.

Laughing in church is not always appreciated, nor is it in the Temple. How ironic, considering our mission statement not only proclaims Jesus Christ but promotes communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. While joy can be a silent experience, like that inner glow you feel in encountering the Holy, it also can erupt in giggles, guffaws, and laughter that flows like light into dark places. Laughter can heal.

Recently, I had the privilege of sharing a weekend with 100 women at a retreat in eastern Canada. The weekend theme was “Dancing in the Son-shine.” While I had a focus to my class, I had no idea what the Holy Spirit really had in mind for our time together.

Using a portion of Psalm 149 we focused on the spiritual practices of gratitude, joy, and play. We used scripture, storytelling, and prayer to guide us, but it was the laughter that healed us. As we became more transparent, sharing our flaws and weaknesses, we empowered others to become freer. The more freedom we felt, the lighter we became, and the more we laughed. Burdens lifted. And though circumstances did not change, perspectives did.

We sing of laughter’s healing art and read scripture.

Walk proudly and with a quickened step. Be a joyful people. Laugh and play and sing, embodying the hope and freedom of the gospel.—Doctrine and Covenants 161:1b

The gospel is good news, and joy is a natural expression of our living as beloved, forgiven, and free children of God.

So laugh. Laugh loudly. It makes people wonder what you know that they don’t know. And if they ask, tell them.





A Dangerous, but Joyous, Road

29 01 2011

BY DUANE ANDERSON, Northwest of South America Mission Center

A few months ago an article circulated on the Internet entitled, “The Most-dangerous Roads in the World.” As my wife, Marlene, and I looked closer, we realized among these roads was one we had taken to a Peace Corps work site.

The assignment was in an Andean mountain country, Bolivia, in 1964. After experiencing the trip, we tried to not return to the capital city, La Paz, during the whole two-year tour. The road was narrow, just enough room for one truck or bus.

Traffic coming up the road had the right-of-way. Downward traffic had to park on wide spots on the side of the road and wait for the slow-moving uphill traffic to pass. The worrisome part was parking precariously on wide spots cut from the cliff’s rock face. They were just ledges, some with sheer drops of 3,000 feet.

What we didn’t know was the road—as dangerous as it was—would lead us to a new world of wonder and fulfillment. The Peace Corps opened doors to serve in the Philippines with Apostle Charles Neff, in Mexico with the American Friends Service Committee, and eventually back to Bolivia.

Our minds opened, and we saw people, their cultural diversity, and the country differently than if we hadn’t gone on that road.

The assignment expanded our vision and broadened our understanding of ministry. We were just a couple of Graceland University graduates from rural Midwest USA.

We learned by experience what most oppressed cultures of Bolivia endure. By working shoulder-to-shoulder, we grew to know rural teachers and farm families. The teachers felt a special calling to the homesteading communities, called colonias. They taught children and supported the total community by counseling families much as priests and ministers.
 
We worked in community development with supportive agencies. We focused on helping families adjust to the tropics.

The families were from the highlands of Bolivia, which offer cool weather and low humidity at an average altitude of 13,000 feet.

At the end of the “most-dangerous road” we learned a dimension of missionary work and evangelism beyond the traditional view. I would call it community-based ministry or holistic ministry. It nestles in people and diverse cultures, working with all sectors of a community, including other denominations, for the good of all.





“Crossing the Road”

27 01 2011

Blake SmithBY BLAKE SMITH, Eastern Great Lakes USA Mission Center

Over the last couple of years, I have tried to retrace my journey and figure out how I got to where I am about “what matters most” to me as a follower of Jesus.

Sure, part of it is simply the natural process of growing up and responding to the nurture of those who loved and guided me. However, that doesn’t explain the changes in me since leaving my home area nearly 20 years ago.

Recently, I spent a little time in a bookstore, and I felt drawn to a particular book. It didn’t have a flashy cover. And, no, it didn’t have pictures. I can’t say it held incredible insights I had not considered. But I can say the simplicity of its title, Why Jesus Crossed the Road [Bruce Main, Tyndale House, 2010], gave me the words to begin answering my own question.

I am where I am because of the love of many faithful people, but also because at times I “crossed the road.” The noteworthy thing is that crossing the road as a child taught me some of my greatest lessons.

When I was a little boy, I spent many afternoons across the road from my house, playing with friends in a park. Our imaginations had no limits. We climbed trees, played ball, rode bikes, and built clubhouses of straw. We became the characters we saw on television and in the movies. We lived out our fantasies as the superheroes we read about in comic books.

In that world, on the other side of the road, we were anything and everything we wanted to be, and life was good. Nobody told us of the dangers “over there.” In that world, we saw through different eyes, and the things we learned about each other unknowingly became part of our worldview.

Unfortunately, at some point as I grew up, my imagination became limited. I gave in to labeling others based mostly on what I thought (and little of what I knew) about them. For too long, I avoided crossing the road for fear of what I might find or how it might influence me to change my beliefs.

I hadn’t thought about it until I saw the book, but somewhere as I heard stories of the life-changing experiences of others who crossed the road, I started crossing the road again myself. And, I can’t lie. What I believe about some things definitely has changed, and no doubt, I have changed as well. But that’s OK.

What I’m learning is that crossing the road is about more than just getting to the other side. It’s about realizing that my brothers and sisters across the road have a story to tell. I will be able to hear it only if I am willing to cross the road and be with them for a while.

Whether I’m visiting with someone in their home, hanging out at a coffee shop with young adults, or serving at a food pantry, my imagination comes alive again. I get the chance to be with characters and superheroes I might have missed had I stayed where I was.





“I Will Not Abandon You”

24 01 2011

By Mary Jacks Dynes,World Church Special Projects

I always said that if my mother died soon after my husband, I didn’t know if I could handle it.

Thankfully, it wasn’t until almost seven years after Dave’s death that my mother died—a week ago today as I write this. I had journeyed a long time, going through the grief process with Dave’s death, and I thought I was over most of it.

But when I stepped down from the Council of Twelve last April, I opened myself to grieve on a much-deeper level. Through the help of my therapist, I got in touch with the emotion of abandonment. I knew some of my family had experienced abandonment, and I needed to be there for them. So it surprised me that I, too, felt abandonment, this time from Dave.

About a month ago, I was reading Margaret Guenther’s book, Holy Listening. She mentioned that abandonment is the fear of us all. With the passing of time after infancy, we learn to control or at least conceal it. We all feel abandonment. We expend great and frequently misplaced energy trying to deal with our grief and rage at parental desertion or in my case, at a spouse along with this parental desertion.

Guenther says we misplace this fear because we do not tap deep enough. The root of our fear is that God will abandon us (Cowley Publications, 1992, 99).

As I read this, I resonated with Guenther’s words and began to journey with this awareness. Soon after, I awoke with the words of a hymn, “I will not abandon you, Mary!” “I will not abandon you, Mary!”

They repeated over and over. I couldn’t figure out where the tune and words came from. Then, as I made my usual early morning walk along a lake I repeated the name of Jesus to go with my breathing.

The other words came to me that went with the words given me: “My promises are true. You are gifted, called, and chosen; you are mine.” I couldn’t recall singing this song for maybe six months to a year.

The hymn, “I Have Called You by My Name, You Are Mine,” by Daniel Charles Damon, was in my heart. It had been there quite some time, addressing my fear. Now it seems people are singing it everywhere I go, whether on a ministry trip or in my home congregation. And I didn’t ask them to sing it!

Robert V. Dodd says in Praying the Name of Jesus:

Prayer is something more than that which we do with our minds. It involves our hearts and spirits—that deeper part of our personalities to which only the Spirit of Jesus has access. Prayer in its highest form requires more than conscious effort. It also requires the surrender of our innermost selves to Jesus, giving him permission to make our lives a continually flowing fountain of unceasing prayer. When we have learned how to do that, we will have discovered the secret of the prayer of the heart.

Now as I journey with my mother’s death, I know I have received such a gift! “Mary, I will not abandon you.” I take these words in and sing them daily, integrating them in my mind, for I already know them in the deepest part of me. My heart and spirit know!

My life is a continually flowing fountain of unceasing prayer! God will not abandon me!





Praying in Four Dimensions

22 01 2011

BY KATHY SHOCKLEY, Spiritual Formation Team

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.—Mark 12:30 NRSV

This is the great commandment, which tells us to love God with our whole self, defined as our heart, soul, mind, and strength—the four dimensions of our being. If we can love God with our whole self, shouldn’t we be able to pray that way, too?

To pray with all four dimensions puts our whole self in communion with God. It means giving God undivided attention.

Praying with the mind is about engaging the word, whether it is written, spoken, or thought. With our minds we use our intelligence, form our intentions, and integrate our experiences of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit to expand our understanding.

Names are meaningful and powerful, especially our names for God. They reflect how we know God and how we want to know God. The following practice invites you to pray on names for God. The following list of names is included for possible use.

  • Almighty God
  • Creator of the Universe
  • All Merciful
  • Source of all Life
  • Infinite Love
  • My Shepherd
  • Everlasting to Everlasting
  • Our Father
  • The Most-high
  • Fountain of Compassion
  • Perfect Wisdom
  • Alpha and Omega
  • Wonderful, Marvelous
  • Painter of Sunsets
  • Sustainer and Protector
  • Great Guardian of my Soul
  • Master Gardener
  • Grandmother
  • Author of Salvation
  • • All-seeing, All-hearing

What we do with our bodies (our strength) can help focus our prayer. For this prayer you will need prayer beads, a knotted cord, or a small pile of stones. Read the following scriptures as preparation.

“Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.” —Nehemiah 9:5 NRSV

You are blessed, O God of mercy! May your name be blessed for ever, and may all things you have made bless you everlastingly.—Tobit 3:11 NJB

Your name, O God, like your praise, reaches to the ends of the earth.—Psalms 48:10 NRSV

Bow your head. Breathe slowly and deeply. Be aware in your mind, body, heart, and soul that you are moving from ordinary time to sacred time. Be intentional about claiming the space around you as sacred space for the next several minutes.

Holding one bead, knot, or stone between your finger and thumb, speak aloud a name of God. Continue to hold the object as you pray the name with your heart and soul. Allow the name to fill you completely. Pay attention to how it makes you feel. Where does the name take you? Move to another bead, knot, or stone only when you are ready to move to the next name.
 
When you complete your prayer time, take a few moments to record the names that particularly connected you to God. Record anything else you especially want to remember about your prayer experience.

As you cultivate your prayer life, remember we each have a unique relationship with God, including how we pray. Through these articles, you are invited to try different prayer practices. Embrace those that work for you and leave the rest behind.





“Can I Have This Book?” “Yes!”

20 01 2011

STORIES BY PAUL DAVIS, Presiding Bishopric

“Can I Have This Book?

I was in Greenville, Liberia, last July to talk with members of our church about the differences Doctrine and Covenants 164 would bring for them.

However, before talking about Section 164, we had a more-basic task: understanding there is a book called Doctrine and Covenants and that it applies to us.

Some people in the room had heard of the book, but others had not. None owned a copy.

It might be helpful to know that since arriving in Liberia, I had been trying for days to get a piece of paper. My laptop computer battery had died for lack of electricity, and I wanted to make some notes. No one had any paper to give me.

In this one-room church, the only written documents present were the Bibles of our members and one copy of the current Community of Christ Worship Resources.

Having to begin a class on a book of scripture without being able to assume any prior knowledge of the book is grounding. It’s radical, in the real sense of that word—getting to the root of the matter.

It also was grounding to be able to assume all people present knew the Bible from beginning to end and were staking their lives on it. Every person in the room already had decided, firmly, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

They also had already decided to be a disciple who walks in the discipline of Community of Christ. Now they wanted—eagerly, hopefully—to know as much as they could.

For example, several pastors in the room were women. These women were excellent students, listening closely, asking good questions. They had become strong leaders in their villages, as well as their congregations.

One female pastor’s question was, “How can we have female pastors when Paul says women should be silent in church?” She had no awareness of our long struggle—through years of Conferences, discernment, and prophetic insight about the nature of scripture, giftedness, the worth of persons, and divine calling—to answer that question.

She had been willing to serve as pastor despite her concern with Paul’s writing. But receiving illumination on how her church works through such questions—and knowing the answers are being written in a book we consider so vital to our mission that we dare to call it scripture—lit her up.

At the end of the day, she had only one question: “Can I have this book?”

“Yes!”

The answer to the question from one of our Liberian pastors, “Can I have this book?” is, of course, “Yes.” We want every member of the church to have a full understanding of the Doctrine and Covenants.

When I see our Enduring Principles coming into the light as a class reads these scriptures for the first time—when I see what “worth of all persons” means in a setting where that has not been true before—I know this is a good book. We need to share it.

What needs to happen to share Doctrine and Covenants with all of our members? We need to translate it into all the languages of the church. We need to deliver it into the hands of our members, one way or another—printing it in the USA and shipping it is only one option. It also could be printed locally or distributed electronically.

Placing the book in the hands of members is only part of the process. We affirm that responsible use of scripture requires understanding and interpretation, which means our missionary task includes teaching about the book—how it relates to the Bible, how it came to be, how it will guide us in our mission.

If you have had unlimited access to Doctrine and Covenants all of your life, think about the way you have learned what is in it and what it means in your life and the life of our church.
Now imagine receiving a copy for the first time. Would you start by reading it from Section 1 through to Section 164? How would you know what to make of it?

And as you think about these questions, remember that many of our members do not know how to read.





Your Way? No; My Way? No; God’s Way? Yes!

17 01 2011


Jake DavisBY JAKE DAVIS,
Thompsonville, Illinois, USA

My great-grandmother, Bessie Hause, was born to a poor Pennsylvania Dutch family in 1899. In 2001, Bessie passed away at 102. During her lifetime, 19 US presidents served in office, and six of our eight prophets led the church. She was born when people traveled by horse, friends communicated through telegraphs, women could not vote, and blacks were segregated. In her life, automobiles replaced buggies, humans walked on the moon, people carried phones in their pockets, all American citizens could vote, and the words computer, Internet, and e-mail joined the English language.

My great-grandmother witnessed major cultural, social, and technological advances. I imagine she sometimes felt disconnected with the present generation. The world today is much different than the world Bessie left, just as our church today is much different than it was 50, 100, or 150 years ago.

Just as Bessie may have felt disconnected with younger generations, some in our church may feel the same about my generation—young adults. We dye our hair funny colors, wear strange clothes, spend too much time on our cell phones and computers, don’t call enough when we move away, focus too much on social and environmental issues, and don’t tithe enough or at all.

We appear unreliable and disloyal at times. We have trouble committing, especially to church. We are frustrating and appear disrespectful because we multitask while talking. We seem to have endless skepticism.

If I have not given you my undivided attention during a conversation, I apologize. If  I have not called enough to express how much I love you, I apologize. If I have not visited when you fell ill, I apologize. If I have not expressed how much I appreciate the heritage and legacy you created by joining this church, I apologize. If I have been impatient with the pace of change and neglected to appreciate how much transformation you have undergone, I apologize.

For too long there has been tension between the young adults and the greater generation. For too long it has been “your old” way or “my new” way. As Tony Chavala-Smith once said, if we evaluate our history theologically, the focus shifts from prophet-centered during the founding of the church, to church-centered during the Reorganization, to becoming Christ-centered, with one result being the change of our name to Community of Christ.

Doctrine and Covenants 163:1 reminds us, “Community of Christ, your name, given as a divine blessing, is your identity and calling.” The time has come for it to be God’s way that calls young adults and the greater generation to reconcile, to unite by the power of the Holy Spirit, and to work together within the mission of Jesus Christ. We are called to be a God-centered, multigenerational, multiracial church.

The future of congregations depends on whether multigenerational stalwarts, well-versed in church history and scripture, can unite with converts who never have read the Book of Mormon and have no idea who Joseph Smith Jr. is. Our future depends on whether people who prefer traditional worship, prayer, testimony, and classical hymns can worship with contemporary-minded, technology-loving, campfire-singing, and service-oriented young adults.

Our future depends on whether generations that worshiped in beautifully sacred buildings on Wednesdays and Sundays can blend with a generation meeting to drink coffee and discuss the mission of Jesus Christ or a generation playing basketball in a church where the gymnasium towers above the sanctuary.

The future of our congregations depends on our ability to place Jesus Christ at the center of our mission and our ability to embrace diversity in unity through the creation of blessed communities.

If we are to unite as one body we must begin by righting our relationships with God and with each other. If we are to exist in community that upholds the worth of all persons and promotes the peace of Jesus Christ, we must reevaluate who we are. We must look to Jesus Christ as our model.

When we strip away all the names ascribed to Jesus, such as Lord, the Word, Messiah, Christ, and Rabbi, he simply was the Son of God. Jesus is a child of God. Jesus’ relationship with God reminds us of our relationship with God—we simply are children of God.
 
The good news of the gospel is that persons no longer are defined by their nationality, race, gender, education, socioeconomic status, or culture. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:27–28 (NRSV):

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Our prophet, Steve Veazey, extends our understanding of the Galatians scripture with a verse from our newest addition to Doctrine and Covenants, Section 164:5:

It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.

It is no different for us here today. When we walk through the doors into this sacred community we undress ourselves of our titles and our ages. No longer am I defined by my occupation. No longer am I judged because of my past behavior or how I dress. No longer am I limited by my age.

This does not mean that our history, individually and collectively, is not important. Rather, because of Christ our history is not our identity. Is this not the testimony of the prodigal son, the woman at the well, and Paul? My identity is a child of God. If we walk into church and do not experience right relationships with God, with each other, and with ourselves, we are not walking into a community of Christ, but an empty building.

As expressed in the Enduring Principles, a church is an accepting community that expresses “compassion for and solidarity with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed” in response to the divine grace found in Jesus Christ. We are all children of God and must share this message with those who call themselves by another name.

Someone at some point in our lives shared about Jesus and explained our sacred name to us. Someone challenged us to be vulnerable to God’s grace.

My grandfather, an evangelist, taught me about the mission of Jesus Christ and how the church lives out Christ’s mission. We would sit at his table with our scriptures open, and he would explain their meaning. I cannot remember his words, but I remember that I was so important to him that he had to teach me about God’s love and Christ’s mission to the church. I know his teachings changed my life. I know without his instruction, interest in my life, and passion for the gospel message, I would not be a church member today.

My grandfather shared with me a lifetime of disciplined discipleship, a passion for study and scriptural knowledge, a rich heritage of faith, and a legacy to continue. His life bore witness to this community, the Community of Christ, and its ability to provide eternal joy. To him, I am forever indebted.

It is my prayer that all generations may experience validation of our heritage, which has caused many to join the cause of Zion, reconciliation of issues, and the challenge to right our relationships with our God, ourselves, and each other.

May the love of God expressed through Jesus Christ be at the center of who we are and what we do daily as an individual and church. May the words from II Nephi 13:29 in the Book of Mormon guide us:

Wherefore, you must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men.

For Further Reflection and Discussion