A Challenge of Faith

28 02 2011

The faith shown by the people of Malawi inspires Apostolic Assistant David Waring.

BY DAVID WARING, Africa and Haiti
Mission Field apostolic assistant

Thirty five years ago—baptized less than two years and recently ordained to the office of deacon—I sensed God’s call to me. But I struggled how best to respond.

I decided this was a good time for my evangelist blessing. After appropriate preparation, early in the quiet of a Sunday morning, I met with an evangelist and shared in a time of blessing. I remember the experience vividly and have read on many occasions the words of blessing prayed that morning.

Most things prayed are personal, but those words have influenced my life many times. They have reassured me and continued to reassure that it is God who called and God who continues to call me. And, if I remain faithful, I will continue to receive blessings beyond measure.

During the blessing, the evangelist shared that I needed to learn a foreign language. This caused some questions because none of my family had traveled any great distance from home. I certainly never had traveled to a country where I needed another language. As time passed I often thought of the words spoken, but I never acted on them, even though by then I had traveled to many countries.

Almost three years ago, I began to feel restless. I had worked for the church almost nine years and had enjoyed the leadership roles that had come my way. But I was becoming uncomfortable, and I sensed God was calling me to something new. So I spent time trying to discern what this might be.

To cut a long testimony short, in September 2008 I accepted the role of field apostolic assistant for the Africa and Haiti Mission Field. Those who know me know I have a simple faith. When told I would have to learn French to be effective in this new role, the words of my evangelist blessing immediately came to mind as confirmation that I should accept.

Over the last 18 months, the people I have met while traveling in numerous African countries have helped me to remember my simple faith. In my home culture, life has become complicated, as we have become more reliant on material things and less reliant on God.

As I write this, I am traveling in the beautiful country of Malawi. I am meeting people who do not have the materials things on which we rely. I have just seen a sticker on a minibus. It said, “Relax— God Is in Control.” What a wonderful and reassuring thought! It does not take away my responsibility, but it challenges me to give a rightful place to God in my life.
The church in Malawi is growing quickly. Can we learn anything from this?

Maybe we should echo their mantra. No matter what happens to them in their lives, their cry is “God is good—all the time.”

I continue to be challenged by their simple faith.

Diversity Will Be Our Strength

26 02 2011

BY RALPH K. AONA, Pacific Islands Mission Centre president

The richness of cultures, the poetry of language, and the breadth of human experience permit the gospel to be seen with new eyes and grasped with freshness of spirit. That gift has been given to you. Do not fail to understand its power. It is for divine purpose that you have been given the struggles as well as the joys of diversity. So must it always be in the peaceable kingdom.—Doctrine and Covenants 162:4a–b

I often visit shopping malls, not necessarily to spend money but to watch and meet people. The malls are fun and interesting. So I sit on a bench, sip a soft drink, and begin to watch people.

Often someone will sit next to me, and we begin to talk. Usually, we discuss community events, politics, and sometimes religion. I hear diverse thoughts and perspectives, and sometimes I begin to look at situations in a different way.

Recently, I heard languages new to Hawaii. I heard one group speaking an African dialect and others speaking languages from the Micronesian islands and Southeast Asia. As I talked to some new arrivals, some said they study at the University of Hawaii. Some moved to Hawaii for medical care. Others said they enjoy living in a multicultural community.

They were interested in the cultures of Hawaii and attending ethnic festivals. They told me it was important to learn about other ethnic groups, as well as to share their own culture and customs.

I thought this was great. The peaceable kingdom of God was here. Diversity enriched our community, allowing us to be healthier and vibrant.

Oh, how quickly the joys of diversity were dampened.

I shared with others how I had met people from other countries and how wonderful it was to hear about their cultures and listen to their languages. But I was told those people shouldn’t be here. They will take our resources and live on our welfare, people said.

There was fear as they shared concerns. They feared having new people, new cultures join our community.

Perhaps, they feared changes to our cultural landscape. Perhaps, they feared losing our identity, customs, and practices.

Interestingly, most people who shared concerns had ancestors from other lands who settled in Hawaii many years ago.

Fear is a struggle and barrier to embracing diversity. I believe we can overcome our fears only when we allow ourselves to meet and share with people from cultures and places other than our own.

So take time to meet new friends. Embrace diversity and experience God, face to face.

Years, Fears, Tears…and Faith

24 02 2011

BY MICHELLE IBERG, Arkansaw, Wisconsin, USA

We met when we still had to ask our moms for permission to spend time together. We spent years in school, whispering secrets and giggling. Now we live thousands of miles apart, but not much has changed between us. So I was among the first to know when Lindsey and her husband decided to start their family.

After two years of trying, Lindsey had beautiful Ian Alexander one morning in May. He was perfect, healthy, and sported a head of hair just like his mother’s.

The afternoon of his birth, Ian stopped breathing. The staff arranged to airlift him to a children’s hospital.

The months and years swept over us in seconds. Lindsey could say little, aside from yes or no. She was spiritually hyperventilating. How could we imagine life without this little gift?

Faith. I was consumed with thoughts of Ian and whether God meant for us to be able to leave it to God’s will. Faith is not easy or natural because it doesn’t beg, moan, or ask why. Faith just is. Faith is peace. Peace is the last focus during emotional chaos.

Even after the communal sigh of relief when we learned Ian’s airway simply had been temporarily blocked, even when we knew he would be fine, Lindsey’s faith teetered. Medically, she was unable to travel to be with Ian. For the next three days they were without each other. The days were painfully long, and Lindsey cried most of the time.

I was thousands of miles away, but also on her nightstand—on a speakerphone—listening to her endure emotional torture between the beeps of hospital machinery. Ian was healthy and happy, but Lindsey’s healing was on pause until she could hold him again. Nothing could help her until those minutes and hours crept by.

Time passed, and I realized faith is not nearly as tangible or grand as we’d like it to be. Faith is not about whether a baby will live or die. It isn’t about what we want to happen. And it isn’t always about these confounding epiphanies when the Creator proves to us God does or does not agree with our plans.

Faith is about the tiny moments God gives us that allow us to push through. They are moments from a God who doesn’t need a profound gesture of thanks.

They come from God, who loves us and hurts with us. Faith is knowing God will give us those moments even when we don’t know we need them.

And so this is how I came to realize a part of faith I hadn’t known before. I realized that out of the blue a frizzy-haired girl asked a pimply faced girl if she wanted to sleep over for a reason.

Not because of the next 12 years of friendship, love, and appreciation, but for that one moment when a mother, without her newborn child, didn’t want to cry alone. God rarely is obvious, but God’s plans always come together.

The Third Cup

23 02 2011

By HOWARD SHEEHY,Independence, Missouri, USA

Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, recently received the Community of Christ International Peace Award at the Peace Colloquy in the Temple. He took the book’s title from a social tradition practiced widely in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

When a “stranger” visits a home, as an act of hospitality the host offers one cup of tea. When a “friend” visits a home, the host offers two cups of tea to honor the status with that family. If the visitor is a family member or a highly trusted friend, the host offers three cups of tea.

For most of my life, when “strangers” visited our congregations, they received one cup of tea. We greeted them with friendliness and invited them to return.

But if they stayed around long enough, someone would need to tell them we practiced “close Communion.” And they would not be welcome to join in that sacrament because it held a special meaning for us. Most strangers missed the nuance of being “close” and viewed us as practicing “closed Communion.”

At the 1994 World Conference, delegates considered a resolution to allow other Christians to take the Lord’s Supper with us. It was one of the few times delegates did not sort things out well. They finished the day with an action the First Presidency did not feel it could live with.

We spent the dinner hour working together on a substitute resolution to present the following day. In essence we decided we were not changing the doctrine of the church. We simply were allowing other Christians to bring their own meanings to the Lord’s table and share in the sacrament service. With that, we began to offer our “friends” two cups of tea.

Doctrine and Covenants 164, approved by the 2010 World Conference, allows some people to become Community of Christ members without being baptized again, contrary to our tradition from the beginning. We now are willing to welcome into our fellowship other Christians while recognizing their previous experiences of membership in other denominations. They will be part of our family, and we finally will serve three cups of tea.

Another “formula” for peacebuilding discussed by Mortenson is to “listen, respect, and honor.” We need to allow our new friends to tell their stories—to listen to what their earlier commitment to the Christ meant to them. We need to accept those stories and how they blessed them.

If we can free ourselves of concern for mechanics, forms, and long-held traditions in other faiths, we will honor who they are and know they are family and trusted friends. The mural of the sacraments in the Temple Chapel teaches us that while the Doctrine is the duty of World Church leadership, the Covenants, or sacraments, have been globalized. They will come under the administration and authority of the local pastor and the congregation.

Praying the Body Dimension

21 02 2011

by Kathy Shockley, Spiritual Formation Team

For many, prayer is a mental exercise occurring while the body is doing other things: driving, dishes, mowing, etc. But when we want to be completely at prayer, the body needs to be intentionally included, as well. Praying with all four dimensions of our being means giving God our undivided attention.

In Romans 12:1 Paul issues this challenge: “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” In body prayers we present our bodies to God as a living prayer.

Smelling a rose can be a prayer if we do it in the spirit of prayer. In the same way, fixing a meal, walking, washing the car can all be an act of prayer. What makes an action a prayer is our attitude and intention. Our ability to see, hear, touch, taste, smell, move, and even breathe all have prayer potential.

The following prayer exercise uses movement and the senses to engage the body in prayer. You will need a small bowl of water and a place without interruptions.

Place your bowl in front of you, close enough to reach easily. In your mind, be intentional about preparing to pray. You are creating a worship space. When you have prepared your space, take a couple of slow, deep breaths. Reach out with your heart and soul to imagine purifying your space, including your bowl and water. They symbolize the Holy Spirit and the living water of Jesus’ teachings. Invite God’s presence.

When you are ready, dip some fingers into the water (do not use just one finger). Slowly and intentionally do the following prayer:

  • Touch your forehead, praying: “Help me love you with all my mind.”
  • Touch your lips, praying: “Help me love you with all the words of my mouth.”
  • Touch your heart, praying: “Help me love you with all the affections of my heart.”
  • Touch your wet fingers to your dry ones. Open your hands and hold them palms up, praying: “Help me love you with all my acts.”

Remain with your palms up for a few moments as you take in all you are feeling.

When you are ready, dip your fingers into the living water again. You will use the same motions, but this time substitute “Help me serve you…” for “Help me love you…”

Once again, after you complete all four motion prayers, remain with your palms up.

When you are ready, dip your fingers a final time into the water of the Spirit. This time substitute “Help me praise you…” for “Help me love you…”

Remain with your palms up and simply be in the presence of God.

These prayer exercises offer various forms. Embrace the ones that work for you and leave the rest behind. Go where God’s Spirit leads.

National Council Approves Church for Membership

19 02 2011

Apostle Dale E. Luffman, ecumenical and interfaith officer, recently talked about Community of Christ receiving approval for membership in the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC).

Q: Can you tell us about the approval?

A: We were pleased to communicate to the church on Wednesday, November 10, 2010, that delegates to the General Assembly of the NCC, meeting in its historic Centennial Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, approved the application of Community of Christ as a member.

By that action, Community of Christ became the 37th communion [denomination] in the NCC, which has headquarters in New York City. The NCC has been and continues to be a leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christian denominations in the USA, representing a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, African American, and Living Peace churches.

Q: Why did Community of Christ seek membership in the NCC?

A: Community of Christ’s application was a response to scripture and to World Conference legislative actions. Doctrine and Covenants 161:1b states: “Claim your unique and sacred place within the circle of those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ.”

Also, Doctrine and Covenants 151:9 instructs: “You who are my disciples must be found continuing in the forefront of those organizations and movements which are recognizing the worth of persons and are committed to bringing the ministry of my Son to bear on their lives.” World Conference Resolution 1275, approved in 2002, expressed the support of the World Conference for the church to enter into membership with the NCC.

Q: What are the financial commitments or expectations involved in NCC membership?

A: There are no required fees or dues for those accepted as members in the NCC. Each member church is invited to make an annual contribution according to its capacity and desire. Consideration is being given to what amount is appropriate, with the understanding that the NCC contribution will not increase the limited funding budgeted for contributions to partner organizations.”

Q: Is this a recent development in the church?

A: Many are aware there has been an ever-increasing interest in, and involvement with, ecumenical [promoting worldwide Christian cooperation] and interfaith [involving different religious traditions] ministries in various communities and locales throughout the church. Some involvement and leadership has been quite significant, with ecumenical and interfaith leadership provided by church members and leaders in various communities and state councils of churches throughout the USA—such as Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico, and California.
Membership in the NCC began to be considered in earnest following legislative action at the 2002 World Conference.

Q: Who represented the church in the meeting where the NCC granted approval?

A: Besides me, participants in the General Assembly were Becky Savage of the First Presidency and Gail Mengel, former ecumenical and interfaith officer. They communicated the beliefs and practices of the church.

Consideration of Community of Christ’s membership was the culmination of extended dialogue with NCC leadership and others over the last several years. Community of Christ representatives have participated on NCC commissions and boards. They also have contributed to fostering an understanding of Community of Christ and its identity, mission, message, and beliefs in the ecumenical community.

Q: How did the approval process take place?

A: The delegates of the General Assembly, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, received the report of the Membership and Ecclesial Relations Committee. This report was informed by consultation with Community of Christ leadership.

The gathered communions and delegates voted unanimously to receive Community of Christ as a member. In all deliberations and conversations with NCC representatives, Community of Christ leadership openly shared its traditional faith and beliefs as articulated in We Share: Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs and Scripture in the Community of Christ.

Before the votes, communions comprising the NCC and the delegates carefully reviewed those resources.

Q: We know the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, the NCC general secretary, spoke at the opening session of the 2010 World Conference. Did he support our application?

A: He welcomed the church’s. “They bring gifts for this whole body,” he told delegates. “They have experience as a church that has known marginalization, and out of that comes a witness that they share to our benefit.”

Following the unanimous vote our delegation was received and warmly greeted by all present, a testament to the fact the Holy Spirit has brought us together with other Christian communions in Christ.

Leading the effort for membership in the NCC as the ecumenical and interfaith officer, I expressed thanks to the delegates. I said, “We’re all having a hard time holding back the emotion because our hearts are filled with gratitude for the grace and compassion of this body. We are here because of you and because the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, at work in your lives, and at work in God’s world. We know our witness is informed by your witness, and we hope our witness will be in partnership with yours. We join you as brothers and sisters—saying simply, thanks be to God.”

“In Christ There Is No East or West”

16 02 2011

President Steve Veazey and his wife, Cathi Cackler-Veazey, recently completed an important trip to Asia. Below are excerpts from a blog President Veazey offered of their experiences in Tokyo, Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Korea. For the complete blog, visit www.SteveVeazeyBlog.com  

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

We arrived at Tokyo Narita Airport after a nearly 13-hour flight. Over the years I have tried to find every possible way to be comfortable in economy seating on long flights, but none is successful!

The next morning we went to Seijo, where our congregation is. Leaving our shoes at the door, we put on slippers for walking inside the building.

After formal introductions we went to the Seijo Nursery School, sponsored by the church. Soon, an excited line of children, 3–5 years old, entered. They sang, “Good Morning to You” followed by a prayer of appreciation for the beautiful day.

Following formal introductions with courteous bows, Cathi and I shared with the children. We produced lamb and lion puppets. When the lion roared and the lamb turned away in fear, the children looked on with concern.

We then told of Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom and our hope one day the lion and the lamb would be comfortable with each other, and a little child would lead them to peace. Then we invited a child to complete the “picture.” A small Japanese boy joined the lion and lamb.

In the afternoon, Cathi and I were invited to speak to the PTA, about 35 mothers. Most, if not all, had no real association with the church. Cathi told them about the Children’s Peace Pavillion, Young Peacemakers Clubs, and the four concepts of peace: peace for me, peace for you, peace for us, peace for the world.

Afterward the staff discussed starting a Young Peacemakers Club. It is amazing how these opportunities open up when we are simply willing to be present, share our witness, and let the good Spirit make connections.

A Favorite Hymn

November 6 and 7, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Community of Christ being organized in Japan. The leaders in Japan have planned the celebration for three years. We gathered at the Seijo Congregation on Saturday. Much of the day was devoted to remembering the beginning and growth of the church in Japan. Hearing the Japan church story reminded me of how important it is to capture and record the history of the whole church, especially the story of our international expansion.

A profound moment was when Saku Sekine, wife of the late Apostle Kisuke Sekine, told about coming to Graceland University as a young lady. After traveling from Japan by boat, and then by train to Lamoni, she was greeted by a choir organized by Doc Cheville.
The choir sang a hymn she was familiar with: “In Christ There is No East or West.” She immediately felt welcomed and included.

Another moving moment was the presentation of a gift from Howard (former apostle to Japan) and Florine Sheehy and Don (former East Asia administrator) and Kay Ewing to the Seijo Congregation. It was a copy of the painting in the Independence Temple’s Meditation Chapel of the sacrament of marriage.

I was struck again with how sacraments are the “international language” of the church, as Apostle Andrew Bolton has defined them. The sacraments transcend culture and language to tie us together.

The second day of the anniversary celebration in Seijo included an opportunity for me to address the congregation. I spoke about “God’s covenant of peace,” as presented in the scriptures, and the call of Community of Christ to “share the peace of Jesus Christ” wherever we are.

Afterward, we shared in that most-essential of all church functions: a major meal in the assembly room!

Church Is like Family

From Tokyo, we went to Okinawa, a three-hour flight south. Michiyo Sekine, former Apostle Kisuke Sekine’s daughter, met us at the airport.

I was invited to address parents of the church-sponsored kindergarten (called Zion Kindergarten) about my life. Michiyo translated. As I reflected on my parents, family, and faith, I found myself holding back emotion because during the last three years I have lost my parents and only sibling through death.

That evening we shared in a meal with the small group of church members in Okinawa. After formal introductions and polite bows (very important in Japan) we settled into table fellowship. Among those present were a young couple assigned by the US military to Okinawa. We reflected on how the church is like “family” wherever you go.

The next day was an experience in contrasts.

The morning ended with children in traditional Okinawan attire presenting “drumming” and carefully choreographed dancing. It was a delight, and at the end there was “free dancing.” We all joined in!

Then the children gave me an envelope with an offering to help “other boys and girls around the world.” The offerings gave me pause. How can it be that in some parts of the world generosity is the norm, while in other parts (especially in my home culture) we constantly have to work to help our members and priesthood understand the spiritual link between discipleship and generosity?

In the afternoon we traveled to the Okinawa War Memorial park. A very serene place now, it commemorates the suffering on all sides during the World War II battle for Okinawa.

I am still trying to sort out my intense feelings from reading, seeing, and listening to the accounts of indescribable suffering. The visit concluded with a stroll through a “garden of stone slabs.” They list the names of soldiers on all sides and the civilians who died in the battle.

To go from the innocence and generosity of the children that morning to the stark reminder of the terrible toll taken by war that afternoon left me with deeply conflicted feelings.

Hiroshima, from Horror to Hope

We do not have a church presence in Hiroshima. We are here to visit sites associated with the first use of an atomic weapon and its aftermath.

We began our “pilgrimage” by going to the “A-Dome,” a building with the skeletal remains of a dome in the center of Hiroshima. It is sobering to see the twisted steel, charred brick walls, and gutted interior.

A short walk past the “A-Dome” is a children’s peace memorial. Many will be familiar with the story of Sadako Sasaki, a teenage girl who contracted “A-Bomb” disease (from radiation).

Lying in a hospital bed, she began to fold paper cranes as an expression of her desire to be made well and her hope for peace. She did this in reference to a Japanese legend that if one folds 1,000 paper cranes, one’s greatest desire will come true. As she weakened, friends helped.

Sadako died as a teenager, and her story became a worldwide peace movement. In 1958 a statue of Sadako holding a paper crane was dedicated in the Hiroshima peace park. At the base of the statue a plaque is inscribed: “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth.”

Next we entered the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I was not prepared for the emotional impact. The museum is not about assigning blame or debating politics. It is about helping humankind comprehend the destructive power…in the hope nations will ensure such devastation never happens again.

The first part of the museum tour focused on facts and figures from the bomb blast on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m. Then, the focus shifted to the suffering and deaths of those who survived the blast but were burned by the heat and radiation.

Each display told a poignant story: a charred lunch box; a singed, tattered child’s school uniform; pictures of people with burnt skin literally hanging off their arms; and mothers carrying limp, lifeless, blackened babies.

The scenes will haunt me the rest of my life, as they should. If enough people could see what we saw and feel what we felt…we would do whatever is necessary to ensure that nuclear weapons never would be used again.

The second day in Hiroshima we met an A-bomb survivor. On the day the bomb dropped, she was 14 and working in a factory about 2.5 kilometers from ground zero. She recounted seeing a bright blue flash, diving under her work table, hearing and feeling the blast concussion, and then working her way from under rubble.

Outside she saw buildings and hillsides on fire. She described a “black rain” that fell, extinguishing the fires and coating everything with an oily film. Some people were so thirsty, they opened their mouths to catch the drops. Later people learned the “black rain” contained radiated particles. She said all of the surviving cows stopped making milk that day.

Tears brim in her eyes as she tells about friends and family who did not survive. She asks only that we do not forget and that we do all we can to create a peaceful world without nuclear weapons.

That evening we visited a Temple not far from the Peace Memorial Park. The leader and his wife talked about their commitment to regular prayers for peace in Hiroshima. When I told them about Community of Christ’s Daily Prayer for Peace in the Independence Temple, they were delighted!

On to Seoul, Korea

We arrived at the new church building in Seoul. Several stories high, it provides meeting rooms, an English Academy, apartments, a fellowship hall, classrooms, and a beautiful chapel.
It was easy to forget we were only 50 kilometers (about 32 miles) from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which separates South and North Korea.

In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, we visited the Korean War Memorial and Museum. The museum graphically displays the conflict. It was sobering to realize North Korea had an arsenal trained on Seoul, even as we were visiting. (Hostilities stopped with a truce in 1953, but officially the war never ended.)

In the afternoon, we began commemorating the 50th anniversary of the church in Korea. Andrew Ikegami, pastor of the church in Seijo, Japan, made a presentation. He spoke in Korean, to the delight of the Korean members, and presented gifts.

The overtures are significant, given the difficult history between the nations. It is remarkable to see “reconciliation in Christ” occurring between two proud nations through the fellowship of Community of Christ. I think sometimes we do not understand the full power and potential of our church’s vision and message.

Following my sermon Sunday, a senior member of the congregation said the members deeply appreciated the help they had received from the World Church. In response, they wanted to present a financial gift to help an “emerging congregation” somewhere else. If only we could catch this generous spirit throughout the whole church!

The final day in Korea was a time for meetings, sightseeing, and packing. While we were strolling near the ancient imperial palace in the center of Seoul, air-raid sirens shattered the peacefulness of the day. I assumed it was a drill, which happens frequently in Seoul. But I found myself peeking at the sky for signs of missiles.

Tomorrow, we head home. I find myself longing for my children and granddaughter, Bailey, who, my daughter writes, has been crying for her grandma and grandpa. Being gone is always worth the coming home!

A Calling to the Soul-work of a Lifetime

14 02 2011

by Tony and Charmaine Chvala-Smith, Disciple Formation Ministries

Faced with difficult questions, many properly turn to scripture to find insight and inspiration. Search the scriptures for the Living Word that brings life, healing, and hope to all. Embrace and proclaim these liberating truths.—Doctrine and Covenants 164:6c

…the exploration of Holy Scripture takes a lifetime… —Dietrich Bonhoeffer
(Bonhoeffer’s Works, 16:494)

In a world awash in Bible quotes, Doctrine and Covenants 164:6c cuts through the hypocrisy. We’ve all seen the ubiquitous John 3:16 of stadium fame. Citations from holy writ adorn bumper stickers and billboards, t-shirts and political campaigns, book bags and websites. They appear in the windows of storefronts and cluster on church marquees.

“The Bible says…” is widely used to close down conversation, while others cite texts to underwrite ideologies of all kinds: from bombing clinics to subjugating women to justifying invasions. Our world seems scripture-sodden. What shall we make of all of this Bible-quoting?
Quoting scripture says little about the state of the quoter’s heart. In the temptation story, one of the devil’s chief weapons for testing Jesus is a pair of one-liners from the Psalms:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”—Matthew 4:6 NRSV
Had billboards been invented, surely the devil would have rented one in the  Judean wilderness. Frankly, it is sobering to see that quoting scripture can be a demonic, as well as a divine, art.

We often tell an old rabbinic story to seminary students who are learning to do biblical exegesis. A pupil came to a rabbi and exclaimed, “Rabbi, I have gone all through the Torah. What more should I do?” The rabbi gently replied, “My child, the question is not whether you have gone all through the Torah, but whether Torah has gone all through you.”

Anyone can quote scripture, and with effort, they also can learn about scripture’s origins, contexts, and meanings. But to be formed by the Word, to let the substance of scripture seep into icy hearts and unredeemed minds, is quite another matter.

Doctrine and Covenants 164:6c restates a two-fold truth. On one hand, it reaffirms that it is proper for us to turn to scripture. In every era the church has refreshed its theological imagination and moral vision by revisiting the sacred story. That is where we are re-rooted in the revelatory saga of God’s mission in the world. Honestly engaging with scripture is intrinsic to Christian identity and is neglected at great peril.

On the other hand, 164:6c warns us not to value the wrong things in scripture. The Bible is not a list of proof texts, and searching it for the biggest hammer to win arguments is to miss the point utterly. To say we love the scriptures, but hate our neighbor, is to reveal a contempt for what the books are about. Only that turning to scripture that opens us to life, healing, and hope can be called “proper.”

Disciples never have lacked difficult questions and puzzling dilemmas. Amid such struggles, turning to the scriptures has always been a productive discipline. Yet 164:6c invites us to a deeper way. It calls us to ponder two questions that should accompany any use of scripture: “How shall we come?” and “What are we seeking?”

How Shall We Come to Scripture?

A phrase from the 20th-century theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, began this article. As Bonhoeffer sought to bear witness to Jesus Christ by resisting Nazism, he discovered the Bible flooded totalitarian darkness with light. Regular reading of the Bible sustained his ministry from 1935, when he helped create an underground seminary, until the SS hanged him in 1945, within days of war’s end.

In some of his handwritten lecture notes we glimpse an answer to the question, “How shall we come to scripture?” In a fast-food world, we may not like his answer: “The exploration of Holy Scripture takes a lifetime.”

Bonhoeffer had little time before him. Yet he knew that when it comes to grappling with scripture, haste is a deadly spiritual disease. The canon presents the Living Word to its readers only in slow-motion. We must accommodate ourselves to its glacial speed.

To approach scripture as if it were a drive-up ATM is to demand it to bend to our dysfunction. We don’t like to hear that it takes time—even years—to deeply understand scripture. How will we shore up our political and religious agendas? How will we teach our youth? How will we get that sermon ready? How will we solve our issues? Don’t we need answers now?

Probably not. If we’re going to really hear the sacred story, we need to follow the lead of Bonhoeffer and scores of saints. Lectio continua is “continuous reading,” a slow, patient, prayerful, discerning, reflective, communally engaged reading of scripture, day after day, to which we bring every resource to bear on the sole goal of being transformed by the Word in the words.
Help for this work can come from the desert. Beginning in the fourth century, Christians singly and in groups left the churches and the large cities of the Roman Empire for the deserts of Egypt and Palestine. They went to the desert in imitation of Jesus.

In solitude they cultivated constant prayer, faced their inner demons, and served others in uncompromising obedience to the way of Christ. Collections of their sayings have emboldened radical discipleship in all the centuries since.
A story from these sayings illuminates what it means to turn to scripture. St. Anthony was a towering figure of the desert. Once, he received a visit from some other desert-disciples and decided to put them to a test.

He quoted a passage and asked each to offer an interpretation. The youngest monk gave his opinion first, then each in turn. To each one Abba Antony said, “You’ve not understood it.” Abba Joseph, the oldest one, had yet to speak. Antony asked him what he thought the text meant. Joseph replied, “I do not know.” “Indeed,” said Antony, “Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: ‘I do not know.’”
That answer ought to give us pause. Seeking the Living Word means waiting for its slow trek through our lives, our attitudes, and actions. These desert Christians pondered scripture day and night, but learned never to assume the meaning was patent. Instead, they practiced persistent meekness before the text, and, unwearied and uncomplaining, waited on God for insight, clarity, and charity.

Doctrine and Covenants 164:6c offers an antidote like this desert medicine: Getting quick, easy answers is not the same as embracing costly, liberating truths.

What Are We Looking For?

When we turn to scripture, what are we looking for? This seemingly logical question contributes to the misuse of our sacred texts. Looking for “whats” often treats scripture as a magic oracle that will tell us what diet to go on, what plumber to use, what candidate to vote for, and, if we’re especially ingenious, what the furniture in heaven looks like.

Looking for such stuff in the scriptures is sure to do one thing: leave us untouched by its real witness.

What if the question, “What are we looking for?” is the wrong question? When Mary visited the empty tomb on Easter, the as-yet-unrecognized Lord did not ask what she was looking for, but “Whom do you seek?” (John 20:25). This is exactly where Doctrine and Covenants 164:6c redirects our vision: We search the scriptures in hope of being encountered by a whom. “Search for the Living Word,” we are counseled. The Living Word:

Jesus Christ—who lived, was crucified, was raised from the dead, and comes again—is the Living Word of God. It is to Christ that scripture points. It is through Christ that we have life. It is Christ whom we must hear.—Scripture in Community of Christ

We yearn to be addressed and transformed by this Word. This Word is not information to be manipulated, but a relationship to be entered. Our old-time missionaries used to preach about ongoing revelation with the gospel text, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Their instinct was right on target. The “what” of scripture must not sidetrack us from one thing needed, encountering the Who of scripture.

For many years we had a Bible-study group in our home. Once we studied the Gospel of John, working slowly through it week by week.

Participants reflected a wide spectrum of belief. Some struggled with the book, but everyone persevered. Reaching the end of John, one member announced that as the group was exploring this gospel, she had felt a persistent tug. She insisted that this Jesus (whose story the Fourth Gospel so uniquely interprets) was calling us all to do something for the community—like build a Habitat house.

Typically, John’s meditative, symbolic gospel is not associated with a call to just action, but that is due to faulty assumptions. Through John’s witness our friend had heard the Living Word call her to a strange new work. With her vision, and the help of many people, a group of young adults built a house that summer. And the person who heard the Word call to her from the pages of John found a life-vocation: She now works full-time for Habitat for Humanity.

We come to scripture to risk standing before the Risen One, who would infuse us with life, healing, and hope. Doctrine and Covenants 164:6c

© Rui Matos | Dreamstime.com

calls individuals and the whole church to the soul-work of a lifetime: to turn repeatedly to the sacred story. There we will savor psalms and epistles, admit all that we don’t know, and humbly wait on the Word in whose service is perfect freedom.

The Blessings of Community

10 02 2011

The Jacksonville Congregation's Family Fun Day helped students, built community, and provided opportunities for ministry.

by Jane Watkins, Florida USA Mission Center

On August 7, 2010, the Enduring Principle that calls us to create community took life in Jacksonville, Florida.

The Jacksonville Congregation sits next to two public schools, providing unique opportunities to minister to children and youth. Two years ago the congregation received grants from United Way to create a computer lab for after-school tutoring, opening pathways to meet neighborhood children and families.

These connections led the congregation to celebrate “back to school” with the community by hosting a Family Fun Day with a backpack giveaway. Pastor Leonard Dantzler and congregational leaders networked with merchants, whose generosity made it possible for the congregation to pack 100 backpacks with school supplies for children from preschool to high school.

The congregation offered several attractions, including waterslides, a basketball court converted to a dance floor, and a Christian disk jockey. Four congregation children performed song and dance routines while onlookers enjoyed hot dogs, cotton candy, and snow cones. While children played, adults socialized and met other neighborhood families. Nearly 600 attended.

“As I walked around that day and saw the smiles on the children’s faces and families interact, I felt the Spirit of God in our midst,” said Bill Lancaster, one of the organizers. “The word ‘community’ came alive for me, and I celebrated the role our congregation had taken in creating caring community.

“It was a spectacular day. Planning already is under way for next year’s Family Fun Day.”
The Jacksonville Congregation has claimed the power in Doctrine and Covenants 161:1b to “be a joyful people. Laugh and play and sing, embodying the hope and freedom of the gospel.” 

Isn’t that the Whole Point?

7 02 2011

People in a series of community financial-managment workshops enjoyed food prepared by a woman who declined a higher fee for cooking to ensure the program would continue.

by John Wight, president of seventy

American actor Will Ferrell, in response to landing on the Forbes magazine list of most-overpaid actors, recently told a newspaper: “Isn’t that the whole point? I mean, aren’t we all striving to be overpaid?”

But in Kansas City, Missouri, at least one person sees helping others as more important than being paid as much as she can get.

Gabriella was asked to cook for a series of workshops planned by the credit union of which my wife, Carole, is president. The credit union sits in an area with large numbers of low-income people. It held the classes to help members learn how to manage.

It offered Gabriella $75 to cook for an estimated 35 people at each of six sessions known as “Building Your Bright Financial Future.” Though my wife was insistent, Gabriella declined. She preferred to receive only $50.

Gabriella needed the extra money far more than the credit union’s budget. But she wanted to make sure her fee would not cause discontinuation of the workshops. She feared people in her community might lose the much-needed financial-planning information.

Gabriella is not a Community of Christ member. But she is a good example of what it means to live out several Enduring Principles. Her unselfish attitude certainly recognizes the worth of persons and shows her willingness to give to her community according to her “true capacity.”

Similarly, she made a responsible choice that contributed to the purposes of God. Finally, her sacrificial giving helps provide the blessings of community.

Put in scriptural terms, Gabriella is a good example of what Jesus describes in Matthew 25:40 (NRSV): “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

She could have made more money, but she instead sought to help “the least of these” in her community. And isn’t that the whole point?

I am grateful for Gabriella’s example of sacrificial and sacramental living. I pray I will remember it in my own efforts to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.