The Call of the Nativity

2 12 2013
Linda Booth

Linda Booth

by Linda Booth
Council of Twelve Apostles

Christmas reminds us again of the joyful yet surprising arrival of God’s Incarnation in the birth of a baby placed in a stable manager.

As a small child I remember our family’s Nativity with three figures: Mary with a blue cloth draped around her head, Joseph in a brown robe, and the baby Jesus in a fold-out manger with straw glued inside. The Nativity sat in the front room on a table by the Christmas tree.

I always wanted to hold baby Jesus. I could only cradle him in my hand if mother supervised. I loved holding him even if he didn’t look like a real baby. He had a yellow halo around his head and was flat underneath so he snugly fit in the manger. If mother would have allowed it, during the Christmas season I would have carried the baby around with me. However, my mother knew best. A clumsy child could break the ceramic Jesus. And besides, she told me the figures were holy and not toys.

When our sons were young, I collected several Nativity scenes that included all the characters and animals that would have been in the stable or followed the star to worship Jesus. One sat on a square table between the kitchen and great room, a path often traveled by our family. Mary, Joseph, and the baby in the manager were housed in a wooden stable with a few shepherds, a cow, two lambs, and an angel that hung by a nail over the stable.

One Christmas season our three sons, ages 6, 8, and 13, took particular delight in aggravating me. At times, they still do. When I wasn’t looking, one or all three secretly placed dinosaurs, Star Wars figures, Tonka trucks, and a miniature Hulk into the sacred scene on the Nativity table. No one admitted their part in the Nativity desecration. I’d yell a little and remove the intruders from the table. Different objects would then appear. Finally, with enough threats, the mischievous actions stopped.

One morning after the boys left for school, I was shocked when I walked by the stable. I stared at the scene, not believing my eyes. A perfectly cut out head of our six-year-old son Bart’s school photograph was attached to baby Jesus’ face. I was horrified. I picked up the infant, ready to remove the photo, and discovered duct tape securing the photo to Jesus’ face. I faced a dilemma: If I pulled off the photo, the painted face might be ruined. I was furious!

When first-grader Bart arrived home, I marched him over to the nativity and demanded an explanation—why did he ruin baby Jesus? He looked up at me and simply said, “You always say we’re to be like Jesus.”
It took me a while to realize Bart was right. His childish prank held a profound truth. Just as Jesus was the Incarnation or tangible expression of God’s love for the world, we humans are called to incarnate or represent Jesus Christ to those we encounter each day: strangers and friends, the lovable and unlovable, everyone, no one excluded.

We are to embody or give flesh to God’s love and live the concerns and passion of Christ by loving as deeply and unconditionally as he did. We are to be vulnerable to the Spirit and allow ourselves to be spiritually formed into true and living expressions of Jesus Christ.

I’ve collected more Nativities over the years. My favorite still reflects the face of a 6-year-old child, reminding me that “God so loved the world” and I’m called to do the same.

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Singing as a Spiritual Practice

4 10 2013

by K. Scott Murphy, First Presidency

Scott Murphy, First Presidency

Scott Murphy, First Presidency

After a few years of planning and development, our next collection of songs for the church—Community of Christ Sings—will be introduced at the 2013 Peace Colloquy.

Something about the title of this next collection of songs resonates with me.

How we title this collection also describes an essential way we engage in the formation of our lives in relationship with God—we sing! When we sing, it can have valuable impact on our lives.

The essence of music flows from life because music impacts our lives in multiple ways.

When music and lyrics are combined for the ultimate purpose—to be sung—the effects can have a physiological impact in our lives.

Many studies over the years demonstrate that music and singing can have positive health benefits. Singing can improve your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. It also can reduce stress.

Music and singing also can have significant impact on our spiritual lives. This is why music and singing are fundamental spiritual practices that can enrich our connection with God.

As a spiritual practice, singing connects our heart and mind. It can stimulate our awareness of God’s blessings in our lives. It can arouse questions, insights, and images about the life we are invited to experience in Christ.
Singing also can be the means for encountering peace amid life struggles and busyness.

Frequently, in my time of meditation and prayer, a song will emerge in my awareness, and I will begin to sing. What I discover as I sing is the presence of peace and comfort. It doesn’t matter if I’m feeling joyful or struggling with life issues; singing has the capability to draw me deeper into my awareness of God’s movement in my life.

I share these reflections about singing because it is a spiritual practice that we must use effectively in our congregations.

Singing is a relational experience we share together. When we sing together, we worship together. It doesn’t matter if we sing hymns, contemporary praise songs, or campfire songs. When we are intentional in singing as a communal spiritual practice and sing with “joy” we can be blessed in the sounds created from our lives.
Singing as an act of worship and as a part of our spiritual formation should reflect our hopes and passions for the present and God’s future.

So, when we sing, it becomes a window that can reveal what is taking place in our inner lives. When we sign together in abundant joy, it reflects our relationship with God, others, self, and creation.

So, I want to leave you with two questions as you reflect on your spiritual formation and the formation of your congregation. Do you sing like joy, hope, love, and peace are at the core of your life and relationship with God? Does your congregation sing with the passion and joy of what Christ is up to in the congregation?

As Community of Christ Sings finds its way into the life of our congregations, may we be a people who sing with conviction, exuberance, and joy for what God is seeking to do through our lives. And may we sing with hope for what it means to be engaged as congregations living Christ’s mission.





Of Water and Spirit

2 09 2013
President Steve Veazey

President Steve Veazey

As I journey throughout the church, I have many opportunities to discuss various issues with members and leaders. A common topic is the need for Community of Christ-based Christian education (disciple formation) resources for children.

I agree. As my own experience attests, the basic foundations for active church membership and discipleship are laid in age-appropriate Christian-education classes and related activities. I will be forever grateful to those loving, dutiful, Sunday-school teachers who shared the sacred stories and vision of the gospel with me during my formative years. We need to give more attention to this important element of congregational life.

With that vital need in mind, we have some great news to share! The new Of Water and Spirit materials for children will be available in time for classes this month.

The Of Water and Spirit curriculum originally was envisioned as pre-baptismal and pre-confirmation preparation for children. However, after reviewing the draft material, I was overheard saying, “This is so good it ought to be taught to all our children, regardless of whether they have already been baptized and confirmed!”

I stand by that statement. All English-speaking congregations are strongly encouraged to order and use the material with children 7–11 years old. In fact, we recommend that this material be used for an intergenerational class that involves all ages.

The lessons provide an excellent overview of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in community with other disciples. They emphasize Community of Christ identity, message, mission, and beliefs, including understanding the basics of church history, scriptures, sacraments, and priesthood. The church’s Enduring Principles are woven throughout the lessons.

I recently attended several congregations that are placing a major emphasis on ministry with children and youth, including disciple-formation classes for specific age groups. Those congregations stand out with noticeable positive outlooks, loving intergenerational relationships, and effective neighborhood outreach. It is not surprising they also regularly celebrate the baptisms and confirmations of younger people!

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t currently have many children attending congregational activities. Plan for the future by organizing classes and then creatively publicize them among member families and in your neighborhood. If Sunday morning is not a good time for classes, be innovative and try other times that work better for people’s schedules. You may be surprised at the results!

Church leaders are grateful for the creativity, skills, and insights that Of Water and Spirit writers have applied to developing this material. Now, it is up to congregations to use these resources as part of their ongoing efforts to form faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who serve through Community of Christ.





Ministry and Priesthood: Holistic Covenant

2 08 2013

The expectation for priesthood to continually magnify their callings through spiritual growth, study, exemplary generosity, ethical choices, and fully accountable ministry is always present. How can the Spirit fill vessels that are unwilling to expand their capacity to receive and give according to a full measure of God’s grace and truth?—Doctrine and Covenants 163:6c

Becky Savage

Becky Savage, First Presidency

 

by Becky L. Savage, First Presidency

When I was ordained to elder in 1991, women had been serving as ordained priesthood for nearly six years. I was eager to understand what serving in priesthood meant and how it was different from serving as a member and faithful disciple. It was apparent early in my preparations that there were important differences and responsibilities.

The required preordination Temple School courses were well taught, informative, and interesting. Despite the coursework I sensed the need for more understanding, yet I could not articulate what was missing.

I thought it might be the difference of how women approach ministry with a diversity of perspectives and life experiences. The women ordained in the six years preceding me were still learning what it meant to be priesthood members in each specific office. There was insufficient time for these priesthood pioneers to share from their limited experience.

Doctrine and Covenants 163:6 provides answers to my earlier quest: “Priesthood is a sacred covenant involving the highest form of stewardship of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.” Priesthood members are reminded to “continually magnify their callings” in a holistic manner focused on “a growing capacity to bring blessing to others.”

The counsel focuses on spiritual connectedness with God. Relationships are emphasized as essential for the well-being of the faith community. For Community of Christ, the faith community consists of disciple and priesthood members focused on the mission of Jesus Christ.

Who we are is described in our mission statement and Enduring Principles. What we do is defined in our five Mission Initiatives: Invite People to Christ; Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; Pursue Peace on Earth; Develop Disciples to Serve; and Experience Congregations in Mission.

Our understandings of Enduring Principles and Mission Initiatives are expanded in a brochure released at the 2013 World Conference titled Ministry and Priesthood. Sections of the brochure include “Ministry,” “Priesthood,” and “Mission Initiatives.” Two additional components of the brochure offer specific guidance.
“Covenant Principles for Faithful Priesthood Ministry” define specific expectations for priesthood members. A foldout chart, “Serving Together to Fulfill Christ’s Mission,” visually depicts how disciples and priesthood members partner in mission.

Your field apostle is planning how best to share the information in Ministry and Priesthood. The First Presidency encourages all disciples and priesthood to participate in mission center gatherings, priesthood training classes, and the numerous other offerings planned by your field leaders.

We need to understand how our commitment as disciples and priesthood members in covenant with God/Jesus Christ/Holy Spirit is essential to the ongoing fulfillment of Christ’s mission on Earth. Join us on this next phase of our journey in holistic covenant.





Listen

1 07 2013

by Scott Murphy, First Presidency

“From this moment on you will no longer listen to music in the same way!”

Scott Murphy, First Presidency

Scott Murphy, First Presidency

These were the first words spoken by the professor in my music-theory class when I began my formal training to be a music educator.

I felt confused when I heard these words. I liked the way I listened and experienced music. I didn’t want someone messing up something that I loved. For a moment, there was an impulse to leave, feeling like I was in the wrong class.

But something moved me from a place of discomfort and fear. As I learned to listen to music in a different way, the awareness of new sounds, harmonizing parts, and tonal relationships brought a depth to music I hadn’t recognized before.

Beyond the melody of a musical composition is this relationship of sounds, rhythms, different instrumental voices, and tonalities that produce consonance and dissonance. Together, they create this wonderful holistic expression of relationships that can bring blessing when heard.

In a real way, my journey in the church has been like my experience with music. As the diversity of my community expanded over the years, it caused me to listen in new and different ways. At times it was disconcerting because of my lack of understanding in comparison to my personal life experiences. But when I began to listen to the diversity of life and different cultural contexts, I found myself with an expanded awareness that God was seeking to move and work in Community of Christ in profound ways.

A blessing exists when we embrace the rich diversity of life in our worldwide faith community.

As a church, we are facing real-life issues in our world and congregations. These issues are difficult and challenging because of diverse perspectives.

But together, we are seeking to understand these issues, which require us to listen in different ways.

The work of listening together is not just about how to agree or disagree on specific issues.

The ultimate value of learning to listen to each other in new ways is so we can continue to learn to see each other in oneness and equality as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the condition in which signal communities are composed.

In Doctrine and Covenants 162:5a–b, we hear the Holy Spirit’s plea to be formed in our oneness in Christ:

Do not be defined by the things that separate you but by the things that unite you in Jesus Christ. Over and over again you have been counseled to be reconciled, to seek the unity that is imperative to the building of the kingdom. Again the Spirit counsels the church to not allow the forces of division to divert you from your witness.

A beautiful song seeks to be heard from Community of Christ. The rhythms, sounds, different voices, and even the consonance and dissonance of our lives can create this tremendous harmonization that brings depth and richness to us together as Community of Christ.

Listen carefully. Listen differently. And when we listen, may we hear the melody the Holy Spirit sings as it reminds us we are called to

the great and marvelous work of building the peaceable kingdom, even Zion, on behalf of the One whose name we claim.—Doctrine and Covenants 162:1b





Words of Counsel Given at 2013 World Conference

3 06 2013
President Steve Veazey

President Steve Veazey

People often ask me what it is like to receive and share words of counsel to the church. Like most aspects of divine encounter, it is difficult to describe in everyday terms.

In my experience, words of counsel begin to emerge as persistent themes or concepts accompanied with a sense of growing significance and spiritual affirmation. As I prayerfully consider the basic themes and concepts, key phrases begin to emerge and find their place in a certain sequence. Then, after further prayer and reflection, there is often additional unfolding of the concepts that brings needed clarity and understanding for application in the church’s life.

Publicly presenting words of counsel is daunting. As a human, one feels humble, inadequate, and vulnerable. At the same time, one is acutely aware of God’s spiritual presence, which brings calm, resoluteness, and focus of mind.

Afterward, the physical self feels spent, but one’s spiritual self feels enlivened. There is also relief the words are now in the church’s hands, and others will be involved in further discernment.

Regarding the words of counsel shared at the recent World Conference, I have stated the church will benefit from plenty of time to study and discuss them before determining their final status. I have learned over the last eight years that what seems clear, achievable, and even urgent through the prophetic experience often takes years for the church to absorb, embrace, and begin to apply. Also, sometimes certain aspects of words of counsel may be presented now so they are available in the future to address situations not now apparent.

The church will provide material in various languages to support individual and group study of the words of counsel to help spiritual discernment of their meaning. The Presidency will work with the apostles and other church leaders, such as the presiding bishop and presiding evangelist, to interpret the counsel’s principles for the worldwide church’s array of cultural, social, and economic contexts.

This growing body of insight and guidance will provide the foundation for increased understanding and response. All are not only invited, but urged to share in this journey of spiritual discovery as God continues to shape the church for divine purposes.

My experience with the recent words of counsel has again strengthened my testimony of God’s active desire to bless and lead the church while patiently waiting for us to respond. We again are given the opportunity to grasp the big picture, set our priorities, and align our lives with God’s vision. Counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 164:9e is particularly relevant:
The challenges and opportunities are momentous. Will you remain hesitant in the shadows of your fears, insecurities, and competing loyalties? Or will you move forward in the light of your divinely instilled call and vision?

How we personally and corporately answer these questions will prove to be a pivotal point in the church’s history.





“Live, Love, and Share as Zion”

2 05 2013
Linda Booth

Linda Booth

Our faith adventure with God continues to reveal a divine vision of Zion, the “peaceable Kingdom of God on earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:3b).

When I was growing up, I heard a lot about Zion. My grandparents, inspired by Section 107, told me they moved to Zion in Independence, Missouri, and expected Jesus to return there. My parents’ understanding of Zion was different. Based on Section 156, they told me Zion wasn’t a specific place but a condition or way of living. Even as a child, I was called to bring “to pass the cause of Zion.”

From the Stone Church pulpit in Independence, Missouri, I heard many sermons about Zion. Some scared me with images of the wicked going to battle against those who lived in Zion (Section 46). Others preached about God’s vengeance reigning down on the ungodly while the righteous escaped to Zion (Section 45). Growing up in Independence, I was both anxious and excited about what would happen when Zion came.

A beloved Sunday school teacher, Esther Brockway, taught me about Zion as a wonderful community where everyone was “of one heart, and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness” and no one was poor (Section 36:2h–i). I yearned for that zionic community, and I fervently sang “Onward to Zion, faithful and strong, Zion the beautiful beckons us on.”

Since the early days of this faith movement, we have hoped for Zion. Through Continuing Revelation, God reveals new images, words, and phrases so we can hear God’s call with increasing clarity. God persistently refines our understandings and challenges, assuring us “the hope of Zion…is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness” (Section 163:3a).

During the Sunday-evening worship at the 2013 World Conference, Prophet-president Stephen M. Veazey brought words of counsel to the church that are found on pages 6–7. Rather than submitting this counsel for inclusion in Doctrine and Covenants, he asks that we explore the principles and concepts that God graciously revealed as “the way ahead for our faith movement.”

These words of counsel invite us to go deeper in our understanding of God’s nature and will to discover, witness, and live in sacred communities that “more fully accept and embody your oneness and equality in Jesus Christ, who dwells in oneness with God.” He said this oneness is an expression of God’s pure love.

In that context, President Veazey asked two profound questions: “Are we willing to continue to become such a community for Christ and the cause of Zion?” And, “What will it take for us to truly be a community of oneness, mutuality, and revelation of divine love through Christ?” These questions challenge us to “not just speak and sing of Zion,” but to “live, love, and share as Zion…to be visibly one in Christ, among whom there are no poor or oppressed.”

As I read the words of counsel again, I rejoice in God’s Continuing Revelation, God’s steadfast faith in us, and God’s persistent call. As we allow God to spiritually form us into communities of disciples who live and love as Zion, we truly will become living expressions of Jesus Christ, fulfilling God’s desire that all people live in healthy relationships with God, each other, and the Earth.

We sing about Zion the beautiful, onward to Zion.

Linda Booth
Council of Twelve Apostles