Vision of the Heart

15 07 2013

By Maria Ramirez, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Vacation Bible school in the Dominican Republic works to Invite People to Christ.

Vacation Bible school in the Dominican Republic works to Invite People to Christ.

I have been a Community of Christ member since the ’80s, when I was an adolescent. I have been greatly blessed from the beginning as I’ve worked with children, youth, and adults. My family also is involved in congregational life.

I especially identify with the Enduring Principle of Worth of All Persons. God sees each person of inestimable worth and equality.

We can practice this principle with the Mission Initiative of Invite People to Christ. Every year our congregation has a vacation Bible school for children, with the goal of putting this initiative into practice. During the week we share about being a community through games, crafts, and music based on scripture.

In the last few years God has spoken to me through a special child, one with a disability.

Sometimes we ask ourselves, “What does God want to teach us through these special people?”
In sharing with this special child I see one major difference between us. I see with my eyes. He sees with his heart. His naïveté, loyalty, and pure soul bless us all.

On one occasion during our vacation Bible school, this young boy suddenly went up to a sister. Without saying a word, he hugged her. The sister became very emotional. They both needed that hug.

How many of us have a hard time demonstrating our feelings? How many people do we let pass by without so much as a look or smile, much less a “God bless you”? There is so much need to demonstrate affection. We need to demonstrate that we care to so many people, beginning with our families. How much time passes between telling our children or spouses how much we love them?

Let’s not let a day pass without smiling at someone or saying a warm hello to a person forgotten by others. Only when we put into practice the Worth of All Persons will we become the people who God has called to proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace.

Advertisements




Praying the Worshiper’s Path

13 07 2013

By Kathy Shockley, Independence, Missouri, USA

As we go through the entrance of the Worshiper’s Path we see etched into the wall of black granite two figures inspired by Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.

It is the story of a rebellious young man who wastes all he has been given on worldly pleasures. Eventually he is destitute and reduced to feeding pigs. For the Jews hearing this story, pigs are unclean, which makes the man’s circumstances especially low, even offensive.

It is here—in the pigpens after the world has failed him and no one will help him—the man realizes his father’s hired servants have a much better life than he does. So a humble and repentant son returns home. He knows he has lost any right to be treated as a son and is seeking nothing more than a servant’s job.

Instead, he is met by a father who is filled with compassion, who embraces him and reclaims him as his son. Captured here in stone is that reconciliation. It is the moment when instead of rebuke the man is received with rejoicing. The father announces to the household, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (Luke 15:24 NRSV).

Jesus is trying to tell us that repentance should be met with joy, that heaven rejoices when the sinner repents and returns to the ways of God. Throughout his ministry Jesus presents a God of unconditional love and infinite mercy, ready to receive us with open arms if we will but turn to him.

Like on the Worshiper’s Path, where the polished surface of the stone allows us to see ourselves reflected in these images, this scripture story can be our inner reflective surface. Find a quiet time and place where you can prayerfully read this parable from Luke 15:11–32 NRSV. Then reflect on your own life, looking for parallels between yourself and the characters of the parable.

Here are a few questions to stimulate your meditation:

  • When have you been like the prodigal?
  • What is the role of repentance in this story?
  • What does repentance mean to you?
  • When have you been like the father?
  • How does the father demonstrate forgiveness?
  • When have you been like the elder brother who was offended by how the father received his long-lost son?
  • When and how do you show forgiveness to those who have offended you?
  • What does reconciliation mean to you?

As we move along the Worshiper’s Path and its images, we are reminded of the purpose of the Temple as given in Doctrine and Covenants 156:5a:

The temple shall be dedicated to the pursuit of peace. It shall be for reconciliation and for healing of the spirit.

In the parable of the prodigal son we receive rich teaching about reconciliation brought through repentance, compassion, and forgiveness.





Praying the Worshiper’s Path

13 07 2013

By Kathy Shockley, Independence, Missouri, USA

As we go through the entrance of the Worshiper’s Path we see etched into the wall of black granite two figures inspired by Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.

It is the story of a rebellious young man who wastes all he has been given on worldly pleasures. Eventually he is destitute and reduced to feeding pigs. For the Jews hearing this story, pigs are unclean, which makes the man’s circumstances especially low, even offensive.

It is here—in the pigpens after the world has failed him and no one will help him—the man realizes his father’s hired servants have a much better life than he does. So a humble and repentant son returns home. He knows he has lost any right to be treated as a son and is seeking nothing more than a servant’s job.

Instead, he is met by a father who is filled with compassion, who embraces him and reclaims him as his son. Captured here in stone is that reconciliation. It is the moment when instead of rebuke the man is received with rejoicing. The father announces to the household, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (Luke 15:24 NRSV).

Jesus is trying to tell us that repentance should be met with joy, that heaven rejoices when the sinner repents and returns to the ways of God. Throughout his ministry Jesus presents a God of unconditional love and infinite mercy, ready to receive us with open arms if we will but turn to him.

Like on the Worshiper’s Path, where the polished surface of the stone allows us to see ourselves reflected in these images, this scripture story can be our inner reflective surface. Find a quiet time and place where you can prayerfully read this parable from Luke 15:11–32 NRSV. Then reflect on your own life, looking for parallels between yourself and the characters of the parable.

Here are a few questions to stimulate your meditation:

  • When have you been like the prodigal?
  • What is the role of repentance in this story?
  • What does repentance mean to you?
  • When have you been like the father?
  • How does the father demonstrate forgiveness?
  • When have you been like the elder brother who was offended by how the father received his long-lost son?
  • When and how do you show forgiveness to those who have offended you?
  • What does reconciliation mean to you?

As we move along the Worshiper’s Path and its images, we are reminded of the purpose of the Temple as given in Doctrine and Covenants 156:5a:

The temple shall be dedicated to the pursuit of peace. It shall be for reconciliation and for healing of the spirit.

In the parable of the prodigal son we receive rich teaching about reconciliation brought through repentance, compassion, and forgiveness.





God’s Justice

11 07 2013

By Susan Oxley, Council of Twelve Apostles

dreamstime_l_1607961Humans, indeed, need justice. Statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization and Children’s Defense Fund color a bleak picture.

There are seven billion people in the world. An estimated 925 million are hungry. On average 10.9 million children die each year, half because of malnutrition. Genocide in Darfur, Sudan, resulted in more than 200,000 deaths and more than two million refugees. Every three hours a child or youth under 20 is a homicide victim.

Other justice issues in various countries include: race relations, immigration practices, health care, international relations, children’s rights, gender issues, human slavery, armaments, political oppression, religious abuses, limited education, and rights for the physically, mentally, or emotionally challenged.

What responsibility do followers of Jesus Christ have in addressing injustice? What kind of justice is “God’s justice?”

Paul Tillich, a German theologian, identified three levels of justice in Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analyses and Ethical Applications:

We often understand justice in relation to power. When two people meet, they are seldom equal in power. Wherever one person dominates another, injustice can occur. Justice seeks to reestablish equality in relationships.

Later writers explored Tillich’s categories and added others. In this article, I will blend Tillich’s basic ideas with later concepts to explore four types of justice:

  1. On the most basic level, all created beings have the right to be what and who God created them to be. I call this intrinsic justice because it is “built in” to all creation.
  2. The second type of justice is proportional justice or “earned justice.” When people say, “He got his just rewards,” they are referring to this kind of justice. You get what you deserve.
  3. The third type is restorative justice. It seeks to restore wholeness, especially in situations where proportional justice has failed or been misused.
  4. The fourth type is shalom justice. It combines the grace of restorative justice with the accountability of proportional justice.

Let’s explore each of these.

Intrinsic Justice

Be who God created you to be. To explore the relationship between humans and God, note the idea of justice in fulfilling God’s intent in creation. This type of justice is reflected in God’s covenant with the Jews: “I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Exodus 6:7 and Jeremiah 31:33 NRSV, adapted). One can almost hear God quietly adding, “And let’s not confuse the one with the other.” Treating non-divine objects, people, or activities as divine, denies God’s right to be fully God. This is idolatry, a form of injustice against God.

One of Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount reflects intrinsic justice. Jesus told his followers to “Be perfect, even as God is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NRSV, adapted). The Hebrew word teleios translated as perfect, but it meant “to achieve an end or goal.” Therefore, the verse could read “fulfill the potential of your being, just as God fulfills the measure of divine Being.” Community of Christ’s Enduring Principles affirm the built-in value and worth of each individual. Repeatedly, we uphold intrinsic justice:

  • All human beings are created in God’s image for divine purpose (Genesis 1:27)
  • …Humans find their truest selves and deepest joy and peace by relating in love to God, others, and the whole creation (Doctrine and Covenants 163:2)
  • “God is always seeking to restore us to our true created natures…” (“Theological Foundations: God,” Herald, August 2012)
  • When all creation fulfills its potential, intrinsic justice occurs.

Proportional/Earned Justice

Give to every person what he or she deserves. We tend to support proportional justice as a worthy goal. A worker receives a fair wage because she earns it. Reasonable punishment is exacted in proportion to crimes committed. In an ideal world, standard and fair rules would distribute honor and punishment in proportion to what each person deserves.

But the world is not ideal, and we often don’t receive what we have earned. Standard guidelines for spreading wealth are inadequate or not carried out. Mechanical rules overlook individual needs. Honors can be bought and sold. Heroes are overlooked. Criminals may go free; innocents may be convicted. Intentional manipulation and abuse upsets the balance of power between people, groups, and nations.

“Obedience theology,” a form of proportional justice, says God blesses the obedient and curses the disobedient. Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament warn people that God’s vengeance will follow disobedience. “For he will avenge the blood of his children, and take vengeance on his adversaries…” (Deuteronomy 32:43).

Many passages in the Book of Mormon express obedience theology and emphasize God’s judgment on sin. Doctrine and Covenants 81:1 speaks of the penalty of God’s judgment. Other sections identify God’s punishment as the justly earned rewards for those who persecute God’s people or do not believe as we do.

Jonah (4:10–11) and Ecclesiastes (8:10—9:12) question obedience theology and hint at a larger mystery surrounding God’s justice. The Book of Job directly confronts obedience theology. It presents a dialogue between Job and his friends in which the friends insist Job has sinned greatly and deserves the suffering he experiences. Job denies knowledge of such overwhelming disobedience and instead tries to reframe who God is. Perhaps God is not a loving creator, but an evil, arbitrary divinity.

Yet Job’s experience of the beauty of creation and the bounty of God’s blessings testify against that notion, and Job always returns to a defense of the divine goodness of God, even if suffering is not explained.

An emphasis on repentance and forgiveness demonstrates how Jewish ideas about God’s justice were moving toward the third type of justice: restorative justice.

Restorative Justice

It seeks to correct the errors of proportional justice. God is not bound by human laws and concepts of justice. God’s intent for human beings is wholeness, so divine grace overlooks what a person has “earned” and gives unbounded love, forgiveness, and restoration instead. “Therefore the divine justice can appear as plain injustice…creative justice is the form of reuniting love” (Tillich).

Hosea forgave unrepentant Gomer when she was unfaithful, simply because he loved her. This undeserved mercy is like the grace and love of God toward Israel (Hosea 11:7–9). Isaiah assured Judah of God’s blessings despite the faithless people (Isaiah 30:18–26). The prophets continually called Israel back into covenant relationship with God. This message of hope, mercy, and illogical grace becomes the foundation of Jesus’ teachings and reveals God’s shalom justice.

Shalom Justice

This combines mercy plus accountability. Shalom justice combines the creative aspects of restorative justice with the accountability of proportional justice (Perry B. Yoder, Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace). Shalom justice means liberation for people who have been oppressed or marginalized.

What was the earned justice for the woman caught in adultery, the prodigal son, Peter’s denial, and those who crucified Jesus? Jesus taught that God’s grace and forgiveness exceeded God’s judgment. Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom reveals a God who replaces injustice with justice, transforms social structures, and defends the weak and those on the margins of society.
The beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–11) would have been shocking to the people of Jesus’ day.

Obedience theology said the poor, the mourners, the meek, and the persecuted had received their just dues. Yet Jesus assured them of the blessings of God’s favor. God’s shalom justice does not follow human expectations.

Matthew 5:38–48 affirms that God’s love can break the cycle of violence, and God’s shalom justice is both restorative and revolutionary.

Here Jesus transforms the ancient Holiness Code of limited retaliation into shalom responses to restore wholeness. He quotes Exodus 21:23–24, which stipulates proportional justice.

In contrast, Jesus tells his followers to turn the other cheek. In that day, a person of power would strike a subordinate on the right cheek with the back of the right hand. Turning the cheek away presented the left cheek, both a sign of forgiveness and an invitation to strike with the open palm—as equals do. Jesus’ teachings transform the insult. His teachings challenge the system and provide opportunities to restore wholeness and balance.

A man could be sued for his coat, an inner tunic, and be required to give it up to pay a debt. But he was allowed to keep his cloak, a long outer garment, to cover his nakedness and protect against the elements. To give the cloak with the coat as payment showed greater self-denial, but it left the giver naked in public. In that culture, this result shamed the cloak’s receiver more than the giver. It sent the message, “I give you all I have to restore right relationship—but aren’t you ashamed it has come to this?”

Roman law allowed soldiers to force any passerby to carry gear for a mile—but only one mile. If a soldier requested a second mile, the soldier was breaking the law. Going a second mile was more than just a generous offer. It spared another person the burdensome task. It forced the soldier to think again about the justice of the law he had invoked.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Returning good for evil shames the enemy, gives the persecutor a bad image, and takes control out of the hands of the opposition. Here is the transforming power of love at work, delivering justice and God’s shalom. Prayer is transformative, an opportunity to align our will with God’s initiative.

For theologians Glen Stassen and David Gushee, enacting God’s justice requires prayer, plus action to: (1) help the poor and powerless; (2) confront oppressive power; (3) stop violence and establish peace; and (4) restore outcasts to caring community. This is what God did through Jesus, as he modeled God’s kingdom and shalom justice.

God’s justice seeks to restore both victim and perpetrator to wholeness and worth. It repairs broken communities with grace and generosity. It considers individual differences and shows partiality.

Shalom justice recognizes the power of evil, names it, and seeks to restore right relationships. It combines forgiveness, accountability, transformation, and grace. It allows second chances, third chances, and resurrection as responses to crucifixion.

God’s justice creates shalom. That is exactly the kind of justice each of us needs in response to the brokenness in human life. It comes with accountability balanced by grace. It provides an ethic of peace to live by. It is love, delivering justice.





It’s a Peace and Justice Issue

8 07 2013

By John S. Wight, senior president of seventy

While having lunch with a friend recently, our conversation turned to the Mission Initiative of

Invite People to Christ and its first point, baptize/confirm many new members. My friend suggested that perhaps witnessing and inviting that lead to the waters of baptism could be seen as peace and justice issues.

The suggestion intrigued me, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. My conclusion: Of course, they can and should be seen in such light.

Jesus quoted Isaiah to explain that his mission was (and is) to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.

There is little doubt he was thinking of those who literally were in such conditions. But it seems equally clear that Jesus’ mission is to all people. Thus, this reference can be understood metaphorically as well as literally.

We often feel moved to support ministries that provide food and clothing for those without. We look for ways to bring healing to those who suffer. Such actions are also part of the Mission Initiatives: Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

Many have written letters, demonstrated publicly, and otherwise stood against oppressive and unjust behaviors of individuals, groups, and governments. Others have spoken boldly and acted against violence and war. Again, these efforts fit into the Mission Initiatives: Pursue Peace on Earth.

If we are moved to fight poverty, oppression, and blindness in these ways, should we not be equally moved to share through words, as well as deeds, the good news of Jesus Christ? Should we not intentionally invite others to enter into sacramental, covenant relationship with him through baptism and confirmation?

People of all walks of life and socio-economic conditions suffer from spiritual poverty, oppression, and blindness. We unhesitatingly would share a loaf of bread with a person suffering the pangs of physical hunger. What a blessing we can be to those suffering the pangs of spiritual “hunger” as we share the bread of life—the knowledge of God’s immeasurable love for each life and the inestimable Worth of All Persons.

Intentionally and purposefully witnessing and inviting people to Christ is not about filling our churches with people. It is about freeing people from guilt, self-doubt, and other oppressive and blinding emotions. It is a peace and justice issue because by doing so, we help

to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.—Luke 4:18–19 NRSV

By not doing so, we leave people to suffer.

 





Are We Ready?

6 07 2013

By Sanna Rogers, La Grange, Kentucky, USA

Last December I walked into a halfway house for drug- and alcohol-addicted women. Could any of us from the Rubies for Life prison ministry relate to their imprisonment? What does the elder sister have to offer the prodigal daughter?

When I read Christ’s proclamation, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18 NRSV), I am mindful there are many ways to be imprisoned. That morning, sitting in a room with 34 women, each hungry for hope, we listened.

Our stories are different; our fears are not. We all have been held captive by circumstances and choices, and we all want release. As sisters in faith, we were there to testify how Christ delivers us daily from our own prisons of guilt and doubt.

It’s easy to imagine God’s presence as Paul and Silas sang praise hymns in prison and the doors flew open wide. But God’s Spirit is in all prisons because God’s people are crying for release from their destructive lives.

“God set me down!” is how several women described their arrests. God intervened in love so that their physical captivity was the beginning of their spiritual freedom.

One mother shared that she began abusing drugs as a preteen because she always had been told she was worthless. She has two daughters, and this mother needs to know God has plans for her and for her children; “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV).

These fractured women are reentering our society, our neighborhoods, our churches. Are we ready to receive them in love?





A Need for All of Us

3 07 2013

by Stephen M. Veazey, president of the church

The following is an excerpt from the April 19 sermon by President Stephen M. Veazey on the first day of the USA National Conference in Independence, Missouri. For more information on the conference, visit http://www.CofChrist.org/usaconf.

During my 2010 World Conference sermon, I highlighted challenging issues before the church. Then, a question was posed: “What is the Spirit trying to do by placing these difficult questions before us?” By implication, I suggested there must be a blessing somewhere in all this!

It often takes difficult questions, not easily answered on one’s own, to see the inadequacy of current viewpoints and approaches. It is very difficult to effectively resolve a complex issue if we quickly personally approve or disapprove and then spend our energy defending our viewpoint.

Furthermore, it was proposed that maybe what the Spirit is trying to do with us by placing difficult questions before us is to help us understand better how to interpret and apply scripture today.

A blessing from the national conference process is that, where people have taken advantage of the opportunity, healthy conversations have occurred about the nature and responsible use of scripture.

Also, by placing the challenge of conducting loving discussion about divisive issues in our path, the Spirit may be working to turn us away from the polarizing, uncivil religious and political fights raging in some nations.

As a result of accepting this challenge, we will experience an innovative process designed to support fair, civil discussion and decision-making. This process holds great promise for use throughout the church. That is a blessing!

I also am pleased the document, Faithful Disagreement, is available to help prepare, participate, and respond to the national conference activities and outcomes. This document affirms the importance of differing views and how people can stay together in community while strongly disagreeing about issues. It creates intellectual, emotional, and relational space for diverse viewpoints without labeling them “unfaithful.” It stresses that what we hold in common in Community of Christ is always greater than any differences individuals may have.

This document is a blessing for the church. It probably would not have emerged without the press of the issues being addressed by national conferences.

In addition, I sense this whole experience is refining us as a community being equipped to present a relevant witness to the world about how human diversity can be lovingly acknowledged, embraced, and harmonized through the Spirit of Christ. Quick, ready-made “yes” or “no” answers to big questions without substantial informed discussion and Spirit-led reflection do not typically produce the kind of growth needed to present a relevant witness.

Actually, we have been successful in avoiding a quick response! We have discussed the questions before this national conference in one form or another for nearly 40 years now. There have been committees, subcommittees, task forces, reports, articles, resolutions, debates, listening circles, question-and-answer sessions, official statements, and so on.

We are now in a time when, as stated in Section 164:7c, “…timely resolution of pressing issues in various nations is necessary for the restoring work of the gospel to move forward with all of its potential.” By approving Section 164, we approved a process whereby “pressing issues” in some nations, which are not possible to address in other nations, can be resolved.

In my opinion, the most promising way to proceed, using the decision-making process designed for this national conference, is to rely heavily on our Enduring Principles. The Enduring Principles, when used properly, serve as a corporate spiritual compass to guide us through unfamiliar landscape in a changing world.

As mentioned earlier, this nation is the birthplace of the church. The forest grove that is the locus of the founding prophet’s encounter with divinity is in the northeastern USA. That grove has seen many seasons come and go since the prophet first bent his knees in prayer there.

As a church in the USA, we are going back to the grove to ask for wisdom and guidance. This time, however, the grove is not an actual forest. It is a living community of deeply devoted, gifted church members and leaders gathered in this place, which is also a sacred place for us. Our seeking is occurring in a spiritual grove of cherished relationships defined by love, mutual respect, and deep trust.

This community grove was established and enlarged over time through response to prophetic guidance, experimenting on the word, faith, sacrifice, difficult decision-making, loss, reconciliation, growth, and simply fiercely holding on to each other because we cherish the greater blessings of community in Christ more than anything else.

Future historians, long after we have passed from this Earth, will evaluate how we handled the difficult issues before us and what the eventual consequences were. I believe such judgments will include recognition that we did our best; that we passed through this time with some wounds and then healed; and that what occurred in this conference significantly contributed to our continued transformation toward oneness, equality, and true community in Christ.

I suspect they also will conclude this conference helped us better understand that our unity in Christ is not based on unanimous agreement, but firm commitment to the Living Christ who most often reveals himself in the struggles and joys of community.

It is for divine purposes 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 162:4b

My personal commitment is that whatever outcomes occur, I’m not going anywhere. I will stay actively involved in the church’s life. I will stay in relationship with others, especially those I seriously disagree with. There is space and need in the church for all of us.

I wish we could symbolically covenant together in that regard right now. I have discovered that making such a covenant frees one to experience this conference and its outcomes without placing oneself in a rigid position from which it may be difficult to return.

But, I know it is not wise or even fair to press for that kind of mutual public commitment.

However, in the Spirit of love, hope, and peace that is already blessing this national conference, we can make that covenant in our hearts.

So, let the aspen tree grove [as represented in the worship setting] be our wise teacher. The strength, life, and future of living community are in genuine relationships that run deep and wide. Single trees do not survive apart from the community that nourishes individuals while connecting and strengthening the whole.

Doctrine and Covenants 162:5c promises, “Reason together in love, and the Spirit of truth will prevail.” Let this be our common goal at this conference.