Sep 13

On Love

When asked which was the greatest commandment, Jesus responded:

… Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  (Matthew 22:37-40, KJV)

“Law” and “prophets” are specific references in this context: the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament is called the Tanakh in Jewish tradition, an acronym for Torah (roughly “teaching” or “law”), Nevi’im (“prophets”), and K’tuvim (“writings”). The Torah is the first five books of Moses or Pentateuch; the Nevi’im the books that were eventually named after the prophets who (according to tradition) wrote them (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Haggai); and the K’tuvim are the Chronicles and poetic works like the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. Although the Old Testament as we know it today wasn’t compiled until after the time of Christ – many scholars date the redaction and final closure of the OT canon to the first or second century after Jesus – the Torah and the Nevi’im, the law and the prophets, were pretty well established by Jesus’ time. He was saying, then, that the entirety of the Old Testament as he knew it – the sum of religion – lies in these two simple dicta: love God, and love each other.

And he was citing scripture as he said it. The injunction to love God is in the text of the ten commandments, and the requirement to love each other is repeated in various iterations in Leviticus: Continue reading

Dec 19

A Few Days Before Christmas: Notes from an MTC talk by Cheiko Okazaki

Nearly a decade ago I was a missionary, serving for three weeks in the Provo MTC before moving on to a smaller MTC in Latin America for the remainder of my Spanish language training. While I was in Provo, Sister Cheiko Okazaki (1926-2011), the former first counselor of the Relief Society General Presidency, came and spoke to the Sister missionaries. (I was sad, after hearing her, that the Elders had not been invited as well.)

I have always loved Sister Okazaki’s thoughts. In her books and public speaking, she quotes often from the Bible. Her advice that day in the MTC was both practical and inspiring, a discussion of dealing with feelings of inadequacy and hypocrisy, of “putting on Christ,” and of navigating the need to forgive ourselves and others on our journey. It was filled with metaphors from scripture about clothing and Christian discipleship. Continue reading

Jun 21

How do we offer pastoral care?

One of the overarching themes that I see reiterated throughout the bloggernacle – or perhaps, one of the pervasive subtexts – is that LDS people are in need of pastoral care. They seek a space to voice their doubts, to bring their honest concerns and deepest hurts; to ultimately come and find the succor and peace of God. And, because we are a church run by laymen, we struggle to find that space. We are not always, despite our best intentions, able to serve one another. We cannot always see each other’s hearts. We cannot always offer love as we should, or compassion as we should. Most often, I believe, people seek mercy and understanding. They want to know – they need to know – that despite their stupidity, their arrogance, their mistakes, despite being petulant and petty, despite sometimes being mean and cruel, they are and can be good enough. They can change. They can grow. They can purge themselves of the ugly parts. It’s worth trying again. They are worth it.

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Nov 26

Gratitude and Grace

A couple of years ago, I wrote a Thanksgiving post about my ambivalence about gratitude, and why, while I see the value of it, I think it’s a problem to dictate it, or to use injunctions like “be grateful” as a weapon against those who dare to express unhappiness about anything. I’ve been thinking about the subject again this year, but perhaps from a somewhat less psychological and more theological angle. I’ve been wondering—why, religiously speaking, is gratitude important?

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Jan 10

Augustine, Pelagius, and Questions of Grace

One of the theological conundrums in Christianity concerns the relationship between God’s grace and human freedom. What role does God play in the process of salvation, and what do humans contribute? Views ranges from one extreme in which everything is done by God, with humans only playing a passive role, and another extreme in which salvation is entirely merit-based, a reward for our works. Continue reading

Aug 07

The Grace of This Darkness: Surrendering to the Mystery of Suffering and Creation

The first and most severe episode of depression began the winter I turned thirteen and lasted eighteen months, at the end of which I was numb, seared, barely alive. During the summer that followed, as I began the slow process of putting my life back together–a process which would take many years, and continues still–every weekday morning I would get up, put on my old jeans or shorts and a T-shirt, go out into the desert heat, and cross the street and the blazing, empty parking lot where the seagulls congregated on the dumpsters to the junior high, where I had to attend summer school. This winter I will turn thirty-five. During most months of most of the intervening years, despair has been my quiet, constant companion, in Lauren Slater’s words, my country. After more than two decades of struggling against the illusion that comes with every intermission, the illusion I have conquered, and the fatal false hopes that it will not return, I struggle to face the prospect that despair may be the condition of the rest of my life. Continue reading

Aug 07

Finding Spiritual Sustenance

The neoscholastics saw grace as something entirely outside the realm of human consciousness. One participated in the sacraments of the church to receive grace, but this grace was essentially alien and separate from human awareness. This view was sharply critiqued by 20th century theologians who noted that under this framework, it was difficult to see why grace would really matter to anyone. Such an extrinsic understanding of grace, they noted, left people with the view that religious practice was something basically foreign and unconnected to the rest of their lives. Why, if it’s not making any discernable difference in your experience of life, would anyone have any sustained interest in religion? Continue reading

Jun 06

The Universal Salvific Will of God

In 1 Timothy 2:4, God is described as one “who will have men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” The assertion that God has a universal salvific will, that he desires the salvation of every person, poses problems for any theological claim that only a certain group of people (e.g.

Christians) are eligible for salvation. Augustine, who saw the majority of humanity as a “lump of sin” headed for perdition, resolved the dilemma by re-interpreting the scripture to mean that God wants salvation not for all people, but for all whom he has predestined. In the 20th century, by contrast, many have taken this verse quite seriously and re-thought the exclusive claims of Christianity in its light. Continue reading

May 26

Thoughts from Julian

In the year 1373, at the age of 30, Julian of Norwich had a series of visions, published as the Revelations of Divine Love. I’ve read the work a couple of times, and I find it good medicine for the overly neurotic soul. While I might not accept all the details of Julian’s theology, I love her picture of a God who is approachable, who is infinitely kind, who isn’t nearly as troubled by our constant failings and mistakes as we are. Continue reading

Jan 20

Glimmers of Grace

From the beginning of my studies in theology, I’ve been fascinated by the doctrine of grace. As with many questions in this field, I’m particularly interested in what it actually means for lived experience. If grace is something real, I keep asking, what concrete difference does that make in how I live? What does it mean to wake up in the morning to a world of grace? Continue reading