Gathering Us Under His Wings

The Book of Mormon records that upon the crucifixion of Christ, there was darkness upon the land of Lehi’s posterity for a period of three days.  Out of that darkness, the survivors of the earthquakes and other calamities that accompanied Christ’s death heard a voice out of heaven.  It was the voice of the Savior, and he asked his surviving but oft wayward people three questions:Chicken

“How oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.”  

“How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.”

“How oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if we will repent and return to me with full purpose of heart.”

(3 Nephi 10:4-6)

These queries, posed to a people collectively, might fairly be asked of us individually, as we measure our own spiritual standing and our relationship with Christ.

The first question, to me, sparks our memories of how the “tender mercies of God” have been demonstrated in our lives.  Each of us should be able to point to moments in our personal history when God’s mercy has rescued us from some danger, great or small.  We might have seen a way of escape from a temptation, the avoidance of serious physical harm, or gentle comfort that could be found from no other source.  We have felt the warmth of Christ’s protective wings, shielding us from dangers that might otherwise overwhelm us.

The second question reminds us of our occasional stubbornness in rejecting the Lord’s protection.  Pride leads all of us to believe from time to time that we can see the path clearly for ourselves and that we are perfectly capable of traveling it alone.  We seek our own avenues of escape and lean on the arm of the flesh for our protection.  As we do so, we invariably experience the disappointment of learning that we simply aren’t that capable on our own, and that without the light of the Spirit, our vision is poorly limited.  The Savior calls to us, but we choose to listen to other voices.  No matter how good we are, each of us wanders from the safe gospel nest every now and then.  And in those moments, we sometimes fear that we are no longer welcomed at home.

The final question is a message of hope.  How often will the Lord gather us under His protective wings?  As many times as we repent and turn to Him.  Anyone who has been responsible for the welfare of others–I think particularly of parents–knows the frustration of offering help to those in our care, only to have our hands slapped away.  Human nature is such that, after time, we weary of offering such assistance and leave the recalcitrant to their own devices.  

Christ’s nature, however, is quite different.  His message is that as many times as we stumble off into the darkness, He invites us back to the light.  There always is room under His wings, and He will gather us as often as we need Him to.  This promise of patient protection is a great source of hope, knowing that we do not run out of chances to take advantage of the blessings of the Atonement.  When we find ourselves exposed to all of the harsh elements of mortality, we have the assurance that shelter always is available under the wings of He who never will forget us or forsake us.

Sacred Moments with the Sacrament

Since being involved in a serious motor vehicle accident a couple of years back, I rarely if ever associate the word “flashback” with anything positive.

Until last Sunday.sacrament

In our Priesthood lesson, we were discussing the Sacrament (the Mormon word used for what other Christians typically call the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Communion).  Someone in the class mentioned his experience in taking the Sacrament to someone who was homebound and what it meant to him and to the person he had served.  (I’ve done the same thing more than once, but my most memorable experience was seeing an elderly sister start to pass out, only to realize that the young priest I was with was standing on her oxygen tube).

When he mentioned this, I immediately remembered something from the weeks following the wreck that had completely escaped my memory.  I recalled that when my family was stuck at home, each Sunday the Aaronic Priesthood holders (often a pretty big group of them) would show up at my house to administer the Sacrament.  My wife has since reminded me that they were invariably brought by the Deacon’s quorum adviser, who happens to be my best friend.  As I sat in class, I was struck with what I will call a “spiritual memory.”  I don’t remember the specifics of what happened, but I remember very well how I felt when they were there.

It was a sacred moment for me and my family, as well as for the non-Mormons who seemed to be around each Sunday.  It was a reminder of how important it is to renew our baptismal covenants each week; so important, in fact, that if we cannot get to church ourselves to do it, the Lord will send His servants to us.  I was on the verge of tears in class when this memory rushed back to me so powerfully.

This brought to mind other sacred memories of the Sacrament.  I remember an elderly brother in our ward who was terminally ill and in a wheelchair.  Despite significant health issues, more often than not he was at church on Sunday, even if only long enough to take the Sacrament and go home.  I learned that in order to come to church, this brother had to forego taking his pain medications, and he only failed to attend when the pain was unbearable.  When I witnessed his sacrifice each week and understood what he endured in order to be there, it made the Sacrament more meaningful to me and to others who knew what he was experiencing.

I remembered several years ago seeing a new priest stumbling repeatedly through the sacramental prayer, unable to get through the blessing on the bread without making mistakes and having to start over.  I watched as our bishop patiently encouraged him to try again and, finally, got up from his seat, knelt down next to the young man, and helped him through.  I was so impressed with the example of Christlike love and patience demonstrated by this bishop.  He reflected in his actions an important principle of discipleship:  Just when we think we’ve screwed up beyond repair, the Lord comes to our aid and ushers us through the difficulties.

I’ll freely admit that I do not think about such moments enough.  Too often the Sacrament is just a thing I do on Sundays, with little thought for its importance.   That needs to change.  If I have a hard time imagining the sufferings of the Savior, then at the very least I can reflect upon what I have seen with my own eyes:  The service of young men bringing the Sacrament to me when I could barely stand; a faithful man willing to endure significant pain in exchange for the privilege of partaking of the emblems of Christ’s own suffering, and a bishop kneeling with Christlike love to help a young priest do something he was unable to do on his own.

“Son of God”–The Gospels Lite

I will admit from the outset that I made no plans to watch “Son of God,” at least not on the big screen.  I had already relegated it in my mind to the status of a future Amazon Prime selection and gave it no more thought.  But a family outing to the drive-in theater (so cool!) forced my hand.  I very much wanted to watch “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” but it came only as part of an incomprehensible double feature with “Son of God.”  Given that I am more parsimonious than picky, I decided to get my 6 bucks’ worth and stay for the Bible movie.

All things considered, I’m glad that I did.  The movie has its limitations, given that it is a cut-and-paste of a television mini-series.  (I’ve read that Satan was cut from the movie version because the actor looked too much like President Obama, by the way.  There is a really good joke in there somewhere, but I am too tired to find it).   It is choppy and episodic, and any sense of the movie telling a story rather than bouncing from one New Testament story to another doesn’t develop until over halfway through.  The sets look like television sets, especially the almost Leg0-like models of Jerusalem, the Holy Temple, etc.  All of that I anticipated.

What I did not expect was for the movie to overcome all of that as well as it did.  There were several things about this flick that I really liked.  At the top of the list was the decision by the screenwriters not to chain themselves either to King James English (which no one ever spoke) or to the narrative of the New Testament itself.  The writers almost could be accused of playing fast and loose with the New Testament by combining some stories, changing other stories in significant ways, and adding new material (even daring to put new words into Jesus’s mouth).  I thought that was a great decision.  You would have to be a bit daft to believe that the New Testament contains every important word Jesus ever spoke, so why not speculate a bit as to what he might have said or done off the record?  It provides new food for thought, and that can only be a good thing.   I don’t need a strictly faithful depiction of the New Testament.  I’ve read the book.

Some of the scenes I found surprisingly powerful.  For whatever reason, the twist they put on the calling of Matthew (even with scant scriptural support) touched me in particular, although I will avoid spoilers here.  (Except for the obvious ones, like “The hero comes back in the end”).  I also was relieved to see a less sanitized version of Jesus than these types of movies often show.  His robes aren’t spotlessly clean and carefully pressed.  His hair doesn’t cascade beautifully like a religious Prell commercial (I probably dated myself on that one.  Do they even sell Prell anymore?).  He has dirt under his fingernails–literally–and seems to have real emotions, including the occasional smile.  He is not the strong-jawed, blue eyed, hunky Jesus that so frequent appears in Western art, much to my annoyance.

All of these things I appreciated, and I think they make the movie worth seeing.  But there was one aspect of the movie (well, two, but I won’t spend any time on the gratuitous, distracting and almost goofy special effect of the see-through holes in the resurrected Jesus’s hands) that did not sit well with me, and that was the lack of any discussion of what Christ’s ministry really meant.  The Jesus in this movie clearly claims to be the Son of God, but so what?  He talks a lot about how people should treat each other.  He performs miracles.  He talks a lot about “changing the world.”  He suffers a horribly violent and tortuous death.  But why?

The meaning of the atonement of Christ apparently ended up on the cutting room floor, along with the Obama lookalike devil.  That seems to me a glaring omission.  While I applaud the film makers for not shying away from Jesus’s declaration of divine parentage, nor from his resurrection, I question why there was virtually no discussion of him taking upon himself the sins of the world.  His suffering is merely a sad story unless you understand that the purpose of such suffering was to pay the price for our sins, so that we would not be required to suffer as he did.   While the movie gives us the hope of overcoming death through the power of Christ, it fails to address the even greater hope of overcoming the horrible consequences of sin and being able to live again with our Father in Heaven.

It is our redemption through the atoning sacrifice of Christ that makes the greatest difference.  His suffering had a purpose.  By focusing so much on Christ’s teachings about good living and brotherhood and giving too little attention to the very real redeeming power obtained through the suffering of Gethsemane and the cross, “Son of God” trades in gospel light for Gospel Lite.

A Mormon Democrat?

Texas doesn’t allow Independents to vote in primary elections, so in order to vote in those elections, I have to commit for a year to being a Republican or Democrat.  As a progressive radical moderate, every year I’ve held my nose and signed on as a Republican.  This year, after being beaten over the head by Republican campaign ads in which each candidate tries to prove that he or she is most angry, intolerant, Christian Conservative, I had a change of heart.  I held my nose and voted as a Democrat.

My LDS Facebook friends haven’t dropped me yet, but I know that most of their eyes rolled and heads shook when they found out the news.  I think many of them have suspected me as a commie for years now, but to come out of the closet as a Democrat might be more than they can take.  And I’m sure that before the campaign year is over I will hear someone say in a Sunday School class that they can’t understand how a Mormon in good standing could be a Democrat.  Fortunately for me, political leanings aren’t on the list of questions to go to the temple, so everyone will have to just put up with me.

In truth, I think that there is plenty in both parties’ platforms that are at odds with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Neither the permissiveness of the Left nor the bigotry of the Right seem to fit well with good discipleship.  But can a person be a Democrat and still be a good Mormon?

Here’s what I think:

I think that one of the reasons I didn’t mind the shift too much is that most of the big-ticket moral issues seem like dead issues to me.  The Supreme Court has made abortion rights nearly unassailable, so voting on the basis of pro-life is an empty gesture.  And so long as any state allows gay marriage, the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution means that all other states have to recognize it.  And even the Church now supports equal rights for gays in employment and housing.  Besides, with the number of sex scandals every year, it is hard for Republicans to argue that they are the paragons of virtue.  At best, their argument is:  “Our immorality is better than yours.”  Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “Onward, Christian Soldiers!”

To me, the issues that separate the parties at present don’t have a significant moral component, but even when there is a religious or moral component, I don’t agree with the Republicans on most of those issues.  I don’t want prayer in school; I think religious instruction should be conducted in the home and in church.  I don’t want creationism taught in schools, because most of the creationists’ views of the creation are contrary to mine.  Again, I’ll cover that at home.   Let’s face it:  The “Christian Right” is primarily evangelical, and as a Mormon, I’m already on their bad side.  Giving them more power isn’t necessarily a good thing for me.  (Heck, they stayed home rather than vote for Mitt Romney, so why should I go out of my way for them?)

The issues I consider most important these days seem to place me just a little left of center.  I care about immigration reform and think that we are doing both citizens and the 12 million or so people here without permission a huge disservice by not taking a more pragmatic approach to it.  I think that pollution and climate change are huge issues, and I believe the Republicans are the equivalent of flat-earthers on that point.  I think that the proliferation of guns and the increase of gun violence are connected at a fundamental level, and that we need to look for constitutional ways to stem gun violence and limit the accessibility of weapons and ammunition designed only to kill other people.  I think poverty is more of a societal problem than a personal choice, and that there are too many hungry kids in our country.  I believe that the death penalty should be abolished or strictly curtailed until we can find a better way of ensuring that juries don’t convict innocent people.

There are still plenty of issues where I am on board with the Republicans, but the number of such issues is shrinking.  I think that the core of the Republican party has turned so far to the right that they are almost going backwards.  I think the NRA are alarmists and irrational.  I think Ted Cruz is a nutball.  I think the Tea Party is an angry white guy’s club that is bordering on dangerous if they aren’t there already.  And I am suspicious of anyone who openly runs their campaign on “God’s Word.”   I suspect that if God showed up, they would call him a bleeding-heart hippie.

I’ll admit that my views over the years have changed a bit, and that I have probably slid a bit to the left on the political continuum.  But I really do believe that the Republicans have run so far to the right that I can barely see the dust they are stirring up from where I am standing.  So, for the moment at least, I’ve signed on with a different group of crazies, and I’m a registered Democrat.  It’s kind of like choosing between lima beans and Brussels sprouts.  You can complain that neither is a chocolate chip cookie, or you can hold your nose and make an unenviable decision.

This year, it’s lima beans for me.