Exactly a year ago, I published our family’s first post, which was about my friend, Patrice. You may remember that she happened to need a bit of space after our earlier conversation. Here’s an update. Patrice is now consistently talking to me as a good friend, and we are able to open our hearts more to each other’s challenges. Her most recent challenge regards a nephew soldier who decided a while ago that he wanted to join the LDS Church and now is getting married in a Mormon temple. Patrice’s brother (the soldier groom’s dad) is unable to attend the wedding, and she is upset and asks. “Why can’t my brother see their wedding?”
That brief majestic moment after every sunset when you may see heaven and earth at the same time…
It’s a good question and not uncommon. I answered that our son, Todd, will be married next month and that we have several friends who happen not to belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as friends who belong to our church but cannot enter the temple for a variety of reasons, who will fly to our town and then drive with us seven hours to a temple in the tiny town of Nauvoo, Illinois. They’ve attended past weddings of our other kids at other temples, so they know the drill and happily choose to see us enter the temple and hug us 45 minutes later when we emerge. It’s no biggy for them and, to them, worth the repeat travel. They don’t share the same faith that we do, but they want to be close by when our kids get married for time and all eternity, because they love us and love our kids and simply want to celebrate with us because these occasions are so important to us. I explained to Patrice that it’s possible to view this chiefly as a matter of individual perspective, that individually we may choose to view a temple wedding as a negative thing or as a positive thing. She did not accept that and did not appreciate any effort to place attitudinal responsibility on her shoulders or on the shoulders of her brother. But over time, again, I think the idea will grow on her in the future, just as in the past another idea grew on her over a period of several weeks, the idea that I, as a Mormon, might continue to be a person that she likes. In the meantime, I work hard to continue a good friendly relationship between Patrice and me so that we continue to talk about things that we feel down deep.
In our family, and as Mormons, we believe strongly that sincere, honest questions are always a good thing. To gather other answers to this complex question, we talked to our adult kids, and here are the answers we gathered:
I know it seems hard when family and much loved friends are not permitted to attend temple weddings. Many times parents and siblings have looked forward for years to this eventful day. However, temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not simply houses of worship. They are sacred places whose holiness is maintained and protected by the worthiness of the people who enter them. Thus, only members of the Church in good standing can attend temple services, like weddings. However, everyone is welcome on the temple grounds, and family (including young siblings) and friends who are not able to enter the temple will find pleasant waiting rooms in most temples. Also, a temple wedding (called a “sealing”) is generally a short service, and the bride and groom are eager to greet loved ones when they leave the temple. Some of the happiest moments in my life as a parent have been watching my sons and their wives emerge smiling and happy from the doors of the temple.
I hope those who are not able to be present at the sealing will still come to the temple and be among the loved ones ready to share in the joy of the day.
Amanda shares with us:
The temple is a sacred place for Mormons, designed in a symbolically similar fashion as the first tabernacle in the Old Testament. Only the Levites were to enter the tabernacle and perform the sacred ceremonies. As in the days of Moses, the Lord has again prepared a sacred place for His children to attend to worship him and make covenants. But He wants us to be worthy to enter. So He has asked us to first show our commitment to Him by being baptized and confirmed a member of his church. He asks us to keep His commandments and continually witness to Him by partaking of the Sacrament each week that we are true followers. Then we interview with a bishop, who is a judge in Israel, answering questions about our relationship with God and whether or not we have been true to the covenants we have made. The bishop can then recommend us to enter a temple. The Temple is the Lord’s house where He can physically visit, and which we must keep sacred. So only those who have made the covenants to walk His path as members of the Church, are allowed to enter. This is not to keep others out; on the contrary, we want everyone to experience the blessings of the temple, but as a house of order, God has specific guidelines on how He wants us to go about it.
Many members of the church with non-member families choose to have a ring ceremony after getting married in the temple, as a way to include their family members that are unable to enter the temple. Whether or not a couple decides to do this, it is still a joyous occasion to celebrate a couple wanting to commit not only to each other, but also to promise God they will be loyal. In this way, we strive to come closer to our spouse as we grow closer to God.
We hope this answers your question and helps you to understand us better, to understand better a marriage and sealing in a Mormon temple, and to understand why Patrice’s nephew feels so strongly about getting married there.
And let us know how we may help you further! If you find that you have any questions about religious issues that you’ve been wondering about or that you haven’t been able to get good answers to, feel free to continue on discussion with us. It turns out that there are a lot of people with questions, and most of them have given up on churches as a source of answers. In our family, it is our experience that answers are out there, that God wants us to have them, and that they tend to be answers we like and have learned to appreciate. Working together with Heavenly Father allows anyone to find certainty in uncertain times.
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936 by Dorothea Lange
Bullying begins early, especially when faith is involved. My friend who shoved my face in the dirt was one of many. In elementary school and junior high, when kids learned I’m Mormon, they would often ask how many moms I had. I remember wondering how much they really knew about the birth process.
I have Muslim friends, Catholic friends, Jewish friends, friends of many faiths, all with experience getting their faces shoved in the dust. Gritty, tough, beautiful faces.
Dirt and faith go together. Opposition, criticism, and antagonism are companions to truth. Whenever the truth is revealed with regard to the purpose and destiny of mankind, there will always be a force to oppose it.
Faces Of Kevin At 3 Years Old
When our son Kevin was three or four years old, an older sibling had a soccer match after a week of rain. At the side of the field was a narrow 25-foot-long puddle. Kev quickly learned that if he ran and threw his body on the ground in just the right way, he could slide the entire length of the water. Before long, the families around us began to watch Kevin instead of the game. One photographer mom missed her son’s only goal of the season as she focused her lens on Kev. “Gotta set priorities. Look at that face!” she said, kept snapping shots, and gave us copies of her images later that week.
Dirt and Faith on the Mexican Baja
Years later, Kevin’s face was again caked with dirt, this time from the dry dust of Tijuana, made a bit muddy by the ample sweat of his brow. He loved working closely with friends from Mexico as they labored to teach the truth. At one point, weeks of opposition and criticism were taking a heavy toll. His close friends were truly discouraged, and it weighed heavily on his heart. Kev decided to rip his bedsheet in two and scribbled on his Title of Liberty, “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children”, and fastened it upon the end of a pole. He called his flock of fellow laborers together to encourage them and, in his strong voice, shouted in Spanish, “Whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and promise with me that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.” After signing the rent cloth, Kevin invited them to sign. They all did. And their courage was restored. People started really talking with these young men once again, sharing feelings down deep and listening to them, as the weeks of opposition and antagonism evaporated, leaving only the local dust on their tired, smiling faces.
Look for the biggest dust cloud billowing above the most dirt, and you’ll find that it’s being kicked at someone standing for the truth. Sometimes, no one stands with them.
“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing, persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny many defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited very clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”—Joseph Smith
Bullies will always assemble themselves. Why? Because someone is teaching the truth, and the truth will always be opposed. Time to labor harder, time to work smarter, time to smile that feel-it-deep-down smile…
Two men looked up from prison bars,
One saw the mud, the other saw stars.
—Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
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Many of these thoughts are inspired by Lawrence Corbridge. Read, watch or listen to his entire address, “The Prophet Joseph Smith”, Apr 2014 LDS General Conference.
“A Father’s Gift”, Liz Lemon Swindle
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WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:
Photo, “Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936 by Dorothea Lange”—www2. artsmia.org/blogs/new-pictures/category/mia-photo-exhibitions/
Photo, “Dirt and Faith on the Mexican Baja”, from private collection
Quote, “The Standard of Truth,” Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church, Volume 4, Page 540, from the Wentworth Letter, just before the Articles of Faith
Quote by Dale Carnegie, www. goodreads.com/quotes/420532-two-men-looked-out-from-prison-bars-one-saw-the
Photo, “Defying Opposition”, from private collection
Painting, “A Father’s Gift”, by Liz Lemon Swindle. Swindle tells us that this tender painting portrays the love of three fathers. Our heavenly Father entrusted the twins to John and Julia Murdock. When Julia died after childbirth, Brother Murdock entrusted them to Joseph, who brought them to Emma. Emma had just lost her own twin babies within hours of their birth. Joseph and Emma loved and raised the twins as if they were their own. See www. ldsart.com/p-10603-fathers-gift.aspx. Dave adds: To me this painting is about how a loving God follows opposition and trials by restoring smiles.
Painting, “Hope”, by Liz Lemon Swindle. See www. world-wide-art.com/art/Liz_Lemon_Swindle.html. Peter and John were no strangers to criticism and antagonism, which had cost them dearly. Swindle teaches us about illustrating a tender moment just before their faces learn to smile again:
When Mary came to the tomb, she found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. She ran to the disciples crying, “They have taken away the Lord…and we know not where they have laid him” (John 20:2). Peter and John immediately ran to the tomb.
What did they think as they ran? Were they simply curious to see for themselves? Did they fear, like Mary, that their enemies had stolen the body? Or did they remember His promise, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”?
The decision that faced Peter and John that Sunday morning is the same decision that faces each one of us today. Will we doubt? Will we hope? Or will we know that He lives? I know that He lives.
Photo, “Smiles After Opposition”, from private collection
I find that I form my best opinions from talking to people who aren’t like me. Even in (especially in) everyday conversations. Recently, a Muslim friend shared some of his frustrations at his job, and he helped me see some ways I can improve my own work. A friend who happens to be Ecumenical Christian discussed with me some community efforts. The views of a Jewish friend and her thoughts about ancestors in the Holocaust have helped me to have a new appreciation for finding more of my own family history. My Bahá’í neighbor and I continue to work closely together on an interfaith project; as we ask questions of each other, my faith is always growing. In all these discussions, I learned yet again that my way of thinking is not necessarily the only valid way to think. In all of them, I have felt the spirit of God. I peppered them with questions, as they did me. I look forward to exploring further views with friends in the future.
Whirlwinds of Life
Through this process, I have learned that not all questions have equal weight. There are bad and good questions. It depends on the results, on where our questions lead us. Some lead us to be fully exposed to the whirlwinds of life, while other questions lead us to a place of safety and peace. Many are a matter of good, better, best. While some questions lead us to stand in holy places full of light, others lead us only to darkness. Some questions are spiritual crocodiles.
In our family, we prefer to avoid crocodiles and whirlwinds and to choose good questions that lead to places of safety and peace. As Mormons, it’s important that spiritually we stand in holy places and not allow ourselves to be moved from there.
Sometimes that’s a tough thing to do. At times, a whirlwind of answers can make us doubt our resolve, but I’ve learned that those answers always fail to satisfy in the long term. But as tough as it is to fight such winds, as tough as it is to wrestle a crocodile, I find that it’s even tougher to stand in a holy place when the sun is shining, when I think all is going well, when I let down my guard, and I’m no longer fighting an external wind but rather only fighting myself. That’s often when I notice that I’ve been asking the wrong questions again.
Temples in Bagan, Myanmar—Holy Places To Those Of Us Who Happen To Be Buddhists
In addition, here are some of the holy places that are important to people whom I know and love.
Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina, Saudi Arabia—Holy Places To Those Of Us Who Happen To Be Muslims
If you were to stand in a holy place, where would you stand?
On the Ganges River at Varanasi, India—Holy Places To Those Of Us Who Happen To Be Hindus
Where do your questions lead you?
The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India—Holy Places To Those Of Us Who Happen To Be Sikhs
Do they help you stand in holy places?
I know the safety and peace that comes with standing in holy places. Honest questions, good questions, and answers from God help me to stand against the whirlwinds of life. Questions and open hearts help protect me and my family. Everyone is free to ask crocodile questions that drag people down or to ask discussion questions that build people up.
Crocodile Hiding, Lying In Wait
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1. Watch, listen, or readElder Neil L. Andersen as he talks to us about not letting whirlwinds drag us down but instead recognizing the need to stand strong, in his address, entitled “Spiritual Whirlwinds” (Length: 15:55.) See how the winds of trials may help us develop more solid roots at Time 3:08 through 3:45.
2. Additional holy places that are important to friends among us:
The Western Wall In Jerusalem By Night—Holy Places To Those Of Us Who Happen To Be Jews
The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh near Acre, Israel—Holy Places To Those Of Us Who Happen To Be Bahá’ís
The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem—Holy Places To Those Of Us Who Happen To Be Christians
In this Easter season, we in our family want all of you to know that we believe in religious liberty, in upholding a strong tradition of civil discourse with people who aren’t like us, and in expressing a heart-felt faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We say these things on our own initiative. We feel them deep in our hearts. They make us who we are. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow everyone the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Mary With The Resurrected Christ
We are glad that the Savior was born in a stable, died and came forth alive three days later with a resurrected and perfect body that would never perish, never go away. It’s because of Him that we live where traditions of religious liberty have thrived. It’s because of Him that we can be a forever family. It’s because of Him that we have the freedoms we enjoy.
“I believe that in time, with patience and good will, contending constitutional rights and conflicting personal values can be brought into mutually respectful accommodation.”
Excerpts from Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ Constitutional Symposium Address 16 April 2014. (Time 5:10.)
It was unthinkable, impossible, unfathomable, unprecedented.
He was a carpenter, a teacher, an outcast, a leader.
Like all who preceded Him, He lived, and He died.
But unlike all who preceded Him, He rose from the dead.
He lived again.
He lives, and because He lives, we all will live again.
Because of Him, death hath no sting, the grave no victory.
We can start again, and again, and again.
Because of Him, guilt becomes peace, regret becomes relief,
despair becomes hope.
Because of Him, we have second chances, clean slates, new beginnings.
There is no such thing as The End.
Because of Him:
“Why do these Mormons stir up such emotions in people, and why are they not considered Christian by some?” As we approach General Conference next month, authority issues are as relevant today as ever. Interesting questions and answers from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he spoke at Harvard Law School. Answers below.
Returning to my academic roots in New England, I am reminded today of—and stand with—a marvelous congregational cleric who, a century ago, had a little parish in Springfield, Massachusetts, about equidistant from New Haven and Cambridge, which seems appropriate. He said 100 years ago:
“The loss of respect for religion is the dry rot of social institutions. The idea of God as the Creator and Father of all mankind is to the moral world, what gravitation is in the natural; it holds everything else together and causes it to revolve around a common center. Take this away and any ultimate significance to life falls apart. There is then no such thing as collective humanity, but only separate molecules of men and women drifting in the universe, with no more cohesion and no more meaning than so many grains of sand have meaning for the sea.” [Henry Martyn Field]
Christ Handing the Keys to St Peter (Gesupietrochiave), by Pietro Perugino (1481-82)
We are not considered Christian by some because we are not fourth-century Christians, we are not Nicene Christians, we are not creedal Christians of the brand that arose hundreds of years after Christ. No, when we speak of “restored Christianity”, we speak of the Church as it was in its New Testament purity, not as it became when great councils were called to debate and anguish over what it was they really believed. So if one means Greek-influenced, council-convening, philosophy-flavored Christianity of post-apostolic times, then we are not that kind of Christian. Peter we know, and Paul we know, but Constantine and Athanasius, Athens and Alexandria we do not know. (Actually, we know them, we just don’t follow them.)
Thus, we teach that:
1. God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are separate and distinct beings[, both divine,] with glorified bodies of flesh and bone. As such, we stand with the historical position that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].” [Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Paul F. Achtemeier, ed. (1985), Page 1099]
Studying the New Testament
We take Christ literally at His word—that He “came down from heaven, not to do [his] own will, but the will of him that sent [him].” Of His antagonists, Jesus said they have “hated both me and my Father.” These, along with scores of other references, including His pleading prayers, make clear Jesus’s physical separation from His Father, subordinating Himself to His Father, saying regularly, in one way or another, my Father is greater than I. However, having affirmed the point of Their separate and distinct physical nature, we declare unequivocally that They were indeed “one” in every other conceivable way—in mind and deed, in will and wish and hope, in faith and purpose and intent and love. They are most assuredly much more alike than They are different in all the ways I have just said, but They are separate and distinct beings as all fathers and sons are. In this matter, we differ from traditional creedal Christianity, but we do feel that we agree with the New Testament.
The Open Canon Continues: President Thomas S. Monson
2. Next, we also differ from fourth and fifth century Christianity by declaring that the scriptural canon is not closed, that the heavens are open with revelatory experience, and that God meant what He said when He promised Moses, “My works are without end, and…my words…never cease.” We believe that God loves all His children and that He would never leave them for long without the instrumentality of prophets and apostles, authorized agents of His guidance and direction. The Book of Mormon and other canonized scripture, as well as the role of living oracles, witnesses to the fact that God continues to speak. We agree enthusiastically with the insightful Protestant scholar who inquired, “On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible? …If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today…about matters that are of significant concern?” [Lee M. McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, rev. ed. (1995), Pages 255-56.]
3. Lastly, for today, we are unique in the modern Christian world regarding one matter which a prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called our “most distinguishing feature.”
Peter, James and John Confirm the Keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery
That is, divine priesthood authority to provide the saving sacraments—the ordinances—of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The holy priesthood, which has been restored to the earth by those who held it anciently, signals the return of divine authorization. It is different from all other man-made powers and authorities on the face of the earth. Without it, there could be a church in name only, and it would be a church lacking in authority to administer in the things of God. This restoration of priesthood authority eases centuries of questions and anguish among those who knew certain ordinances and sacraments were essential but lived with the doubt as to who had the right to administer them. Breaking ecclesiastically with his more famous brother, John, over the latter’s decision to ordain without any divine authority to do so, Charles Wesley wrote:
How easily are bishops made
By man or woman’s whim: Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid, But who laid hands on him?
[Quoted in C. Beaufort Moss, The Divisions of Christendom: A Retrospect (n.d., “no date”), Page 22.]
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we can answer the question of “who laid hands on him” all the way back to Christ Himself. The return of such authority is truly “the most distinguishing feature” of our faith.
Thank you for your courteous attendance. I will be pleased to devote the remaining time to your questions. I leave my love, my witness, and a personal blessing on every one of you for whatever righteous need you may have, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
I think that’s pretty clear, don’t you? Again, from Elder Holland:
Clearly, acting with divine authority requires more than mere social contract. It cannot be generated by theological training or a commission from the congregation. No, in the authorized work of God, there has to be power greater than that already possessed by the people in the pews or in the streets or in the seminaries—a fact that many honest religious seekers had known and openly acknowledged for generations leading up to the Restoration.
It is true that some few in that day did not want their ministers to claim special sacramental authority, but most people longed for priesthood sanctioned by God and were frustrated as to where they might go to find such.
Clarity can be wonderful, huh? And it’s all for free. Just as Christ used His priesthood power freely to bless others without charge and taught everyone to do likewise, today we use His priesthood power freely to bless others. (Avoiding “priestcraft”; see in New Testament Matthew 10:8, Acts 8:9-18 (especially Verse 18), 1 Peter 5:2, or in Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 26:29, Alma 1:12, Helaman 7:5, 3 Nephi 16:10.) God has designed it so that we use his priesthood only to bless others; for example, I cannot use the priesthood to give myself a blessing.
Through me, my sons also have this authority to bless their own families and to carry on the work of righteousness as God would do himself if He were here counseling and coaching us. I have learned for myself that true strength comes from magnifying the priesthood. Clearly, that makes me peculiar. I also know that everyone has the blessings of this authority available to them.
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1. Watch or listen to Elder Holland at Harvard Law School below. Or read.
2. The priesthood of God isn’t for some and not for others — It’s for any of us, for all of us. It applies equally to people of any gender, in any country, of any position in life. For example, watch how Sheri Dew answers the great question: “In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what do women get?”
3. Why is authority important? An 18-year-old learns one reason.
This is a photo-essay, a collection of images with a theme. A long post, but with reason. Just a gallery of pictures and paintings. Images of light. People and places around the globe, many of them in a religious light. All of them to me are spiritual. Source credits included. There are 64, and we hope you enjoy them. Click on an image to make it bigger!
The main prayer hall in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE (United Arab Emirates), features the world’s second largest chandelier (the largest one being in Doha, Qatar) hanging directly below the largest dome. It is ten meters in diameter, fifteen meters in height, and weighs nine tons.
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(Please forgive the long post. It’s for a good reason: a local interfaith/multifaith group invited me to speak at an annual ecumenical event for interwoven faiths as part of Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity. For twenty minutes. It was my pleasure to say Yes. Here’ s the result, if you wish to read it. Enjoy!)
Christian Crosses At A Joint Service For The Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity
I’ve attended many ecumenical meetings, but this is the first time I’ve ever spoken at one. As part of my faith tradition as a Mormon, I’m used to closing sacred remarks “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Will it be OK if I do so this evening at the end? (Response: Unanimous and general Yes.)
We are always teaching. What shall we teach? With the 2014 theme of this event being “Has Christ Been Divided?” and the scripture reference of 1 Corinthians Chapter 1: verses 1 through 17, I’d like to quote verses 4 through 7:
4. I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
5. That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
6. Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
7. So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jewish Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem
This past week, Rabbi Jeremy Schneider, the spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale, Arizona, and vice president of the Greater Phoenix Board of Rabbis, toured the Mormon Temple in the nearby city of Gilbert during an open house for the new building. In the recent edition of Jewish News, he teaches us:
In last week’s Torah portion, we read about Moses learning a valuable lesson from his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro tells Moses to appoint judges who will handle the burden of judging the people from morning until night, taking only the most difficult cases for himself. Jewish sages note that Moses learns this valuable lesson from his non-Israelite father-in-law Jethro, a Midianite.
We are always teaching. What do we teach? What do we teach about God? As part of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I have thought of my own powerful moments of communion with God. When I was a child and walked in to see my parents at prayer, I remember the whoosh of feelings of safety and security but mostly of sacredness.
Cairo, Home Interior
My favorite memory of the power of a prayerful life is one at work. I knocked on a friend’s office door; normally, he responds quickly with, “Come in!”, and I open the door. Sometimes, I’ll hear water running in the office bathroom as he makes ablution, and I know not to knock at the door for a few minutes after he returns to his office. But this day I was distracted and failed to notice that my knock at the door from without brought no invitation voiced from within. Out of habit, I called him by name, adding the customary honorific suffix, and opened the door. I found my elderly friend kneeling lowly on his prayer rug. It was such a holy moment. I felt that I had entered a bubble – a bubble of spirituality – of spirituality established by my friend, as he created a sacred space for prayer. In a familiar whoosh of feeling, I was aware that I had missed the cues of the sounds at the sink. Having cleansed himself without as he focused on cleansing himself within, he was now talking with his Maker, expressing humility without as he voiced humility within. It was just like walking in on my parents at prayer. After prayers were done, we embraced; I apologized for disturbing a sacred moment. “Oh, I don’t mind. I am just doing my duty,” he said. I replied, “It is the duty of us all.”
When I think of my favorite moments of prayer, I will always see in my mind and in my heart an elderly man from Uzbekistan, with shoes removed from off his feet, kneeling submissively on sacred ground in his office, visible to none but to Him who sees all.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
In Robert M. Edsel’s book, The Monuments Men, I recently found this gem:
Children live in a closed world, and young Harry [Ettlinger] assumed life as he knew it had gone on that way forever. He didn’t have any friends who weren’t Jewish, but his parents didn’t either, so that didn’t seem unusual. [In 1930’s Germany, he] saw non-Jews at school and in the parks, and he liked them, but buried deep within those interactions was the knowledge that, for some reason, he was an outsider. He had no idea that the world was entering an economic depression, or that hard times bring recriminations and blame. Privately, Harry’s parents worried not just about the economy, but about the rising tide of nationalism and anti-Semitism. Harry noticed only that perhaps the line between himself and the larger world of [his town of] Karlsruhe was becoming easier to see and harder to cross.
In September , twelve-year-old Harry and his two brothers took the train seventeen miles to Bruchsal to visit their grandparents for the last time… Opa Oppenheimer[, Harry’s grandpa,] showed them, one last time, a few select pieces from his collection of prints… His art collection contained almost two thousand prints, primarily ex libris bookplates and works by minor German Impressionists working in the late 1890s and early 1900s. One of the best was a print, made by a local artist, of the self-portrait by Rembrandt that hung in the Karlsruhe museum. The painting was a jewel of the museum’s collection… Harry had never seen it, despite living four blocks away from it his whole life. In 1933, the museum had barred entry to Jews.
A week later, on September 24, 1938, Harry Ettlinger celebrated his bar mitzvah in Karlsruhe’s magnificent Kronenstrasse Synagogue… On October 9, 1938, they arrived in New York harbor. Exactly one month later, on November 9, [was] Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass… The Jewish men of Karlsruhe, including Opa Oppenheimer, were rounded up and put in the nearby Dachau internment camp. The magnificent hundred-year-old Kronenstrasse Synagogue…was burned to the ground. Harry Ettlinger was the last boy ever to have his bar mitzvah ceremony in the old synagogue of Karlsruhe.
Three generations of a Jewish family light a menorah during Hanukkah
But this story isn’t about Kronenstrasse Synagogue, the internment camp at Dachau, or even the Holocaust against the Jews… For when Private Harry Ettlinger, U.S. Army, finally returned to Karlsruhe, it wasn’t to search for his lost relatives or the remains of his community; it was to determine the fate of another aspect of his heritage stripped away by the Nazi regime: his grandfather’s beloved art collection. In the process he would discover, buried six hundred feet underground, something he had always known about but never expected to see: the Rembrandt of Karlsruhe. (Ibid, Pages 7-13.)
We are always teaching.
I was asked to share with you this evening the story of my own interfaith journey. I used to think that the work of interweaving faiths was about crossing lines, such as the lines that Harry Ettlinger saw between himself and the larger world of Karlsruhe. After years, I learned that I was wrong. Very wrong. I noticed that focusing on lines encourages designations of WE vs. THEY. So I started thinking instead about circles. Years earlier, when I was about eight years old, in our weekly family home evening, my mom had us memorize the poem Outwitted, by Edwin Markham:
He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
So I began to move beyond the Here or There of lines, or even the In or Out of circles, and instead tried to focus less on who was In and who was Out and to focus more on expanding my circle to include another. Despite a person’s flaws, for me the challenge became to see the good in them, to see what good I could find to help me be good, to help me be better.
For example, I lived in South America for a couple of years as I served a Mormon mission among the people of Argentina. I had been there just a few months, when I was straightening up the bookshelf in my room, picked up some pamphlets, and saw something flutter to the floor. I stooped to pick it up and found that it was a U.S. stamp. On it was the image of Thomas Jefferson. And I burst into tears. My immediate reaction was, “I’m starting to lose it‼” But then I started to realize why I had burst into tears. This stamp was from my homeland. It had been months since I had seen anything from home. And this was Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence in just seventeen days, who wrote the words, “All men are created equal,” who wrote, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable,” which Ben Franklin changed to, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” I think that everyone should spend a couple of years after high school in a foreign country; it can deepen one’s feelings of patriotism, even without them knowing it. It certainly did mine.
Gauchos a caballo (1900), Ángel Della Valle (“Gauchos on horseback”)
Then, as I lived among the people of Argentina, I learned to love them. I learned traditional Argentine folk songs from our local Mormon bishop, who played a wicked Latin guitar, and we’d sing with gusto like gauchos around a campfire. I learned the National Anthem and sang it with gusto at every parade and holiday. It surprised everyone around me, but my heart just wanted to join in, and not just sing, but to know the words and why they were meaningful. In spite of the day of the stamp, I began to wonder what I was going to do when I returned home and no longer could buy delicious Mantecol candy bars or drink amargo, a bitter, BITTER soft drink that I had grown to love.
At that point, I discarded the idea of circles in my interwoven faith work. I loved the people of Argentina not because they were all Mormons—They weren’t! I found that my core feelings of being an American remained at my center and indeed were strengthened. I loved extending my circle as far as it could go, only to learn that, really, I could extend it yet a little further. But the circle analogy didn’t seem to work anymore; it just didn’t seem expressive enough for what I felt. I had lived in Argentina for not yet a year, and I realized that I no longer felt like an outsider extending my circle. I was Argentine. I was American. Americans were my people, and Argentines were my people. I had developed a dual citizenship of the heart. Just as I had moved beyond the We/They of lines, I had moved beyond the concept of designating circles. I had learned that what was important for me was to develop feelings down deep. I would be happy in the United States my entire life. I now would be happy in Argentina my entire life, “perhaps until the day I die.” I had succeeded in making their lives my life.
We are always teaching. What should we teach? I suggest that we take a cue from my Muslim friend and teach about duty. We should teach about our duty to God. Anyone involved in the Boy Scouts of America, youth or adult, uses the Scout Oath to teach others “to do my duty to God and my country.” Part of our duty to God is to listen to Him, to see as God sees, to think as God thinks, to act as He would, to be a tool in His hands. The prophet Isaiah taught us:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
Las Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales, Colombia
I learned yet again to go beyond lines and circles, learning yet again the importance of feeling things down deep, when I hurried to help Felipe, whose wife and family had just died in a plane crash. I helped Arturo, his brother, as we stood and waited for hours in the heat, watching as officials opened each body bag they had carried from the helicopters to the basketball arena used as a temporary morgue, until, in the last helicopter trip of the day, the bags opened to familiar faces, and we were able to identify the bodies of their loved ones. Felipe wasn’t a Latter-day Saint; he was Catholic. I was from the United States, and he was from Colombia. He was athletic and an avid soccer player; my wife is the sportsman in our family. Despite our differences, Felipe and I bonded. Despite his being suicidal at the time, despite all the turmoil in his life that made him crawl into a shell and shut out the world, he would allow me in. This surprised me as much as it surprised his extended family, but in his darkest moments, they would come running to me repeatedly: “Come, Davy. Come quick. Felipe needs you again.” I’d hasten once more to his side—we’d sit, sometimes talk. He liked looking at pictures of my kids. But I felt that our hearts were in constant conversation, even in silence, and I could feel him taking strength from me, and I gave freely, for I knew that I had strength to spare. By connecting with those around him, with people for whom he cared deeply, he quickly learned to develop his own sources of strength.
Panorama Of Las Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales, Colombia
Felipe asked me to be with him as he entered sacred ground, as he and Arturo returned to his apartment for the first time after the deaths of his wife and children. I was there when he entered the bedroom that he had shared with his wife, Amparo. Felipe just sat on the bed, and it was as if the energy just left him; he seemed like a beaten man, forsaken and alone. I looked over at the bedroom’s TV; on it, I saw a ceramic object and a stuffed toy, a plush lion cub, “Simba”, from “The Lion King.” A thought hit me to pick up the little Simba and to give it to Felipe to cuddle, which I did. Felipe pulled the toy to his barrel chest, doubled over as he sat on the edge of the bed, and just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. My first thought was, “Oh, Dave, you blew it.” But immediately on its heels came the assurance that, no, this was exactly what Felipe needed. We stayed quiet a few minutes and let time pass; eventually, he approached me and said, “Thank you, Davy. That was perfect.” I’ll never know what that little Simba meant to Felipe and Amparo, nor do I need to know; maybe its only meaning was simply something to cuddle for the moment. Regardless, I followed an impulse when it occurred to me, and it appears it was the right thing to do. I had no need at the moment to be a tool in God’s hands, but Felipe was hurting, and God knew he was hurting and needed to heal some very deep wounds. And God trusted me to listen and to know without trying what Felipe was feeling down deep. It’s my feeling that on that day, I did my duty to God.
Interfaith experiences can even occur among people of the same faith. When I lived in another state, my congregation leaders assigned me as a home teacher (a volunteer shepherd) to a family with five young children. Jason and I had nothing in common, and our belief systems were vastly different, even though we were both LDS. For example, he held a cultural belief in the little people, such as leprechauns and fairies, and several of his tattoos bore an Irish Celtic theme, whereas my Celtic roots are Welsh, and the little people are not part of my reality. Despite his severe substance abuse concerns, this young father and I bonded easily, to the amazement of everyone in our congregation, including ourselves. I’d been visiting him for about a year, and he was working very hard to stay clean—he had recently developed a deeper desire to conquer his addictions, to really lick it this time. On one visit, we had just sat down to talk with Jason and his wife, when he interrupted, “How do you do it, Dave? How do you get us to feel these things?” After that, we opened our hearts to each other like never before, and our souls were knit together like David and Jonathan of old. It was as if we could read each other’s minds. Each time, we would plan our next visit, a week away or more often a month away, depending on what he felt he needed for support. Sometimes, in the dead of night, when the pull of drugs was strong and he was weak and needed to talk, he would just call me out of the blue and say, “Please come, Dave. I need your help. I need to stay clean.” These were some of my favorite moments. We’d sit on the stoop of his small house in the darkness, and we’d have the most amazing discussions filled with light. As we talked of truths at night (“Sweet Is the Work,” end of Verse 1), I remember many times thinking, “There is nowhere else on earth that I would rather be than right here, right now, on this stoop, talking with this man.” I could feel him taking courage from me, and I gave freely, for I knew that I had courage to spare. But I simply could not go to see him often enough, and I looked forward to each visit with all my heart. Eventually, he moved away, then I moved, and always I will miss our conversations.
Accra Ghana LDS Temple Grounds
We are always teaching. What do we teach? What do we teach about God? We teach that, as important as actions are, the feelings behind our actions are even more important. We teach that there is no We/They; we teach that there is no reason to expand our circle, because mankind is our circle. We teach the need tostandinholyplaces, to spend time there, to spend some quality time there on our knees, not just during this Week of Prayer but always, for Christian unity and for global unity. We teach that God doesn’t need just one of us, he needs all of us, and that if we work together as individual wires of communication with God, that interwoven together, we become a cable, and with cables, we may all build a bridge. And we teach that life is too short merely to go through the motions but that we must feel these things in our hearts. Each of us must feel these things down deep.
In closing, I’d like to share another of Edward Markham’s poems, this one entitled Anchored To The Infinite:
The builder who first bridged Niagra’s gorge,
Before he swung his cable, shore to shore, Sent out across the gulf his venturing kite Bearing a slender cord for unseen hands
To grasp upon the further cliff and draw
A greater cord, and then a greater yet;
Till at the last across the chasm swung
The cable then the mighty bridge in air!
So may we send our little timid thought
Across the void, out to God’s reaching hands—
Send out our love and faith to thread the deep—
Thought after thought until the little cord
Has greatened to a chain no chance can break,
And we are anchored to the Infinite!
We are always teaching. What shall we teach?
I say these things in the sacred name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Thank you for your time tonight.
(By the way, the sponsoring organization was the local Mennonite Fellowship congregation, with additional support from the Bloomington, Indiana Unit of Church Women United. My earliest years were in Eastern Ohio in the middle of Amish and Mennonite country. We spent long hours at friends’ homes with no electricity, and my pre-school was a local Mennonite Bible School. Consequently, at this Week of Prayer event, many congregation members looked so dang familiar, even though we had just met. I felt very at home, they made us feel very welcome, and I’m glad I hung around until the last dog was hung for the warm conversations afterwards. It was just plain fun making new friends of people from all sorts of backgrounds and faiths.)
Experts say that parents modeling how to practice faith is important, but that influence can be blunted if either parent doesn’t have a close relationship with their children
Photo, “Experts say that parents modeling how to practice faith is important, but that influence can be blunted if either parent doesn’t have a close relationship with their children”—www. deseretnews.com/article/865593024/Faith-in-the-family-How-belief-passes-from-one-generation-to-the-next.html?pg=all (NOTE: This image is not in the online version but only in the print version, Page P7.)
Photo, “Interwoven Faiths”—www. isna.net/. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is an independent, open and transparent membership organization that strives to be an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America by contributing to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large. ISNA is committed to freedom, to eradicating prejudice and to creating a society where Muslims can live peacefully and prosper alongside other Americans from all walks of life and diverse traditions and faith. Everyone is helpful, warm and gracious, and Dave loves visiting there.
I love the words of the narrator as we focus on his wedding ring at Time 2:53 and the kid at the door watching his parents pray at 2:34. When I walked in to see my own parents at prayer, I remember the whoosh of feelings of safety and security but mostly of sacredness.
My favorite memory of the power of a prayerful life is one at work. I knocked on a friend’s office door; normally, he responds quickly with, “Come in!”, and I open the door. Sometimes, I’ll hear water running in the office bathroom as he makes ablution, and I know not to knock at the door for a few minutes after he returns to his office. But this day I was distracted and failed to notice that my knock at the door from without brought no invitation voiced from within. Out of habit, I called him by name, adding the customary honorific suffix, and opened the door. I found my elderly friend kneeling lowly on his prayer rug. It was such a holy moment. In a familiar whoosh of feeling, I was aware that I had missed the cues of the sounds at the sink. Having cleansed himself without as he focused on cleansing himself within, he was now talking with his Maker, expressing humility without as he voiced humility within. It was just like walking in on my parents at prayer. After prayers were done, we embraced; I apologized for disturbing a sacred moment. “Oh, I don’t mind. I am just doing my duty,” he said. I replied, “It is the duty of us all.”
When I think of my favorite moments of prayer, I will always see in my mind and in my heart an elderly man from Uzbekistan, with shoes removed from off his feet, kneeling submissively on sacred ground in his office, visible to none but to Him who sees all.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Vintage Prayer Rug
——– End of Post ——–
WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:
Photo, “Knock, And It Shall Be Opened Unto You”—westsoundmodern.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/go-away-im-washing-my-hair-2/knock-knock-3/
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