Thursday, April 9, 2020

Maundy Thursday: The Gospel Story is Our Story

A week that began with praises grows more difficult. 

One day, at the home of a friend, a woman anoints Jesus’ head with oil, preparing him for burial. 
Like Jesus, we have been prepared by loving companions for the difficult road ahead of us. 
Let us not turn our eyes away from the difficulty. 

Jesus tells his disciples to prepare a place to celebrate Passover. 
Like the disciples, we have been given commands from Jesus. How will we prepare for Him?

At evening, Jesus gathers with his friends to celebrate the Passover meal. 
A meal rich with symbolism, a meal that begins in the darkness of slavery and rejoices in God’s light of liberation. 
A meal that recognizes our own darkness, and hopes for God to bring light again. 
Jesus eats this meal with his friends. 
We eat this meal with Jesus. We, too, hope for God to turn our darkness into light. 

Jesus knows what his future holds. His heart is heavy. 
He takes the bread, thanks God for it, breaks it, and shares it - the Bread of Life.
He takes the cup, thanks God for it, and shares it - Living Water, the cup of Salvation. 

After the meal, Jesus and his friends sing a song of praise to God.
They go out to the Mount of Olives, to the garden called Gethsemane. 

Jesus says to his disciples, “Wait here, while I pray. I’m very sad - as if I’m dying.”
Like Jesus, we have felt grief so heavy it felt like we were dying.
Like the disciples, we have been asked to witness the heavy grief of our friends. 
Like Jesus, we retreat to pray. 
“Father, for you, all things are possible. Let this cup pass! Nevertheless, not my will but thine.”

An angel appears to strengthen Jesus. 
Like Jesus, we have received divine help in our time of need.
Like the angel, we have been a blessing and provided strength to those around us. 

Jesus returns to find his friends sleeping, overcome with grief. They have let him down.
Like the disciples, we have been overcome with grief, grief so heavy we feel we cannot move. 
Like Jesus, we have been disappointed by our friends. 
Like the disciples, we have disappointed our friends and our God. 

Judas arrives with a crowd carrying swords and clubs. 
Judas betrays his friend, and Jesus is arrested.
Like Jesus, we have been betrayed by those we called friends. 
Like Judas, we have betrayed our friends and our God.
Like this crowd, we have captured Jesus and taken him to be judged. 

All the disciples leave Jesus and run away. 
Like Jesus, we have been abandoned. 
Like the disciples, we have abandoned our friends and our God. 

Jesus is led to Caiaphas, the high priest. A crowd bears false witness, telling lies, and spits in Jesus’ face.
Like Jesus, we have been victim to lying foes.
Like the crowd, we have told lies. 
Like Jesus, we have been mocked and scorned.
Like the crowd, we have mocked and scorned the image of God in those around us. 

Meanwhile, Peter denies Jesus three times - just as Jesus predicted.
Like Jesus, we have been denied and left alone by those whose we thought would stay with us. 
Like Peter, we have denied our friends and our God. 
Like Peter, we have realized our mistake and cried uncontrollably. 

What will tomorrow hold?

Can it get worse than this? 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ash Wednesday & Lenten Invitations

For several months, I have felt estranged from God. I have not attended Sunday services or meetings. I have not prayed. I have not read scripture. I have interacted with social media communities, and participated in family scripture study and prayer about once weekly. Even with those - my heart hasn’t been in it. I haven’t sensed a connection to the Divine, to the Beyond. Discussing scripture was like discussing the weather; participating in prayer was no more than listening to the words of another. 

Today, I decided to attend an Ash Wednesday service. For the past handful of years, the seasons of the church year have become increasingly important and meaningful to me. Last Advent, I decided to create a home altar with candles, statues, and colored cloths for each season of the liturgical calendar. I decided that I wanted to incorporate the seasons into the rhythm of my home and life. I wasn’t sure how to do that, but I knew I wanted to. So with Lent approaching, I knew an Ash Wednesday worship service with the Body of Christ would start me off. 

And boy was I right. More right than I expected. 

I deliberated through the day about where I would go for service (remember, I haven’t been attending church; I have no home). All I knew was that I needed Communion; I needed the Eucharist; I needed the Bread of Life. I’m not sure I would have been able to explain why. I just knew in my soul, in my bones, that I needed it. So I searched for a church that was sure to offer this gift to me. 

Divine Providence brought me where I needed to be, I believe. Just before 7, I headed to the nearest United Methodist Church. I reached for the door handle - locked. I walked around the corner to another entrance - locked. And the next - locked. I checked the website to discover the 7pm service was at a different location. Reluctantly, I walked to the Episcopal church across the street (they also had a service at 7).

I was early - the sanctuary was sparsely populated and filled with a stillness. The altar seemed bare. 

The service began. The priest gave a sermon about the origins of Lent as a time when converts prepared for an Easter Sunday baptism, a time when estranged members who had committed grievous sins prepared to reenter the community, a time when indeed the whole church took time to reflect on their own baptism, take inventory, and recenter their life on Christ. He spoke of Edward Hays’ book, “Lenten Hobo Honeymoon,” and the origins of the word “hobo.” After the Civil War, this word referred to people who were “homeward bound.” Hobo - people who would do anything just to get back home. This is the message of Lent, he said: You can go back home. Jesus came so we can go home. 

The minister continued, proclaiming, “People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. . . . I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” 

The Spirit moved within me. I want to observe a holy Lent. I want to prepare for the feast of the Lord’s passion and resurrection. I want to prepare to renew my baptism and its covenants at Easter. I want to be reconciled and restored to fellowship. I want Jesus. I need Jesus. Jesus, I cried, take me home. 

We received ashes as a sign of our mortality and penitence, remembering that it is only Jesus who grants us life. We continued through the liturgy to the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Eucharist. A word that translates to “good gift.” 

As I ate the Body and Blood, the Bread of Life and the Fruit of the Vine, I was overcome with gratitude. The love of God was thick in the air. Christ is truly present, I thought. Christ loves me, embraces me, calls me home. The words of Christ came to mind: “Repent, and return unto me, that I may heal you” (3 Nephi 9:14, paraphrased). With a Mother’s love, God waits patiently. God does not grow weary of me; God’s welcome will never expire. 

As I walked home, a song ran through my mind: “All my life You have been faithful, and all my life You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able, I will sing of the goodness of God . . . Your goodness is running after, it's running after me. . . . My life laid down, I'm surrendered now, I give You everything” (Bethel, “Goodness of God”). 

At home, I began working on my altar. I removed the green cloth of Ordinary Time and replaced it with a purple cloth - purple, symbolizing royalty, penitence, and waiting. I felt as Nephi, being "led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). “Nevertheless I went forth,” finding an index card and writing what the Spirit laid on my heart. 

Lenten Invitations
  • Prayer: Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Book of Common Prayer Lenten Collects
  • Scripture: Book of Mormon
  • Communion & Sacrament: Gather with the saints to celebrate Eucharist

I must make one thing clear - these are not goals. These are not things I hope to do. These are invitations. God has invited me to use these practices as a means of grace, to partake of God’s presence and goodness. There is no obligation here, only open arms. God invites me to come to the table. 

Another note - “For the Lord God . . . speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3). I firmly believe that the Divine Power can and does communicate with people in their own language. God meets us where we are and uses many means to connect with us. And I believe God welcomes all our efforts to experience God’s presence. You’ll notice that the invitations God laid on my heart are eclectic - Catholic and Anglican prayers and Mormon scripture (and who knows which saints I’ll gather with to celebrate the Eucharist!). I don’t find issue with this. I meet God when I pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” I meet God when I pray, “Hail Mary, full of grace.” I meet God when I read the Book of Mormon - more than in any other book. I firmly believe that God is okay with that. God is big enough to accept any and every human offering. 

And now, I extend and invitation to you. I invite you to spend a few moments in quiet, asking the Great Unknowable how you might come to experience Its glory more fully during this Lenten season. How can you observe a holy Lent? How can you prepare to celebrate the glorious mystery of rebirth? What will bring your soul to life? 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Reluctant Dragon: Discussion Guide for Parents

Walt Disney Pictures, 1941

All information below is general suggestions and ideas. 
Always adapt to your family’s situation and beliefs and the needs of individual children. 

Content Warnings:
  • Guns - Man pretends to hunt plastic ducks.
  • Tobacco - smoking, cigarettes and cigarette butts
  • Alcohol - momentary exposure at a celebration

Discussion Questions
  • Mr. Benchley learns about making movies at the Walt Disney Studios. Why is it important for us to learn new things? 
  • When making movies, there are teams for everything - a team for music, a team for words, a team for drawing characters, a team for drawing the background, and more. Why is it important to work in teams to complete big projects? How is this like the Body of Christ? (Think about how each of us has a different role to play, and each part is important to the whole of God’s plan!) What is a job that you do in the Body of Christ? 
  • Mr. Benchley sees the storyboard for a new film, “Baby Weems.” Why is it important to have a plan when beginning a project? What do we do when things don’t go according to plan? 
  • In the short, “The Reluctant Dragon,” the boy, his father, Sir Giles, and the whole village expect that the dragon is the kind that attacks villagers, devours flocks, and kidnaps damsels. The dragon turns out to be a poet who does not want to fight. What is the danger of assuming things about others before we get to know them? 
  • God created everything. We are God’s children and are made the image of God. This means that we can be like God. When people create things, they are becoming like God, who made everything. What do you like to create? What are other ways that we become more like God? 

Scripture Connections
  • Learning. Prov 1:5; Dan 1:17; Luke 2:52; 1 Nephi 1:1; 2 Nephi 9:29; D&C 88:118, 90:15; 93:36, 93:53, 130:18
  • Body of Christ. Rom 12:4-21; 1 Cor 10:17, 12:13-31; D&C 107:99
  • Children of God, Image of God. Gen 1:26-27; Deut 14:1; Ps 82:6; Acts 17:29; Rom 8:16; 1 Nephi 17:36; Mosiah 7:27; Ether 3:15; D&C 20:18, 76:24; Moses 1:13, 2:26-27, 3:5, 6:9, 6:68; Abraham 4:26-27

Ideas for Further Study

  • Learn to draw a favorite character from a book or youtube tutorial. 
  • In the film, artists learn to draw by having a live elephant or baby in their studio. Learn about the research that was done to make one of your favorite movies - did they look at animals, too? Did they research another country’s music or clothing? 
  • In the film we see a team creating the sound effects for a movie. Try making your own devices for sound effects. 
  • This film starts off in black and white but switches to color. Research the invention and use of Technicolor. 
  • Learn more about the multi-plane camera. Who created it, and when? How does it work? 
  • In the “Rainbow Room,” paint is mixed into all different colors. Do some art and experiment mixing different colors. 
  • How has the process of making movies changed from this movie to now? 
  • This film shows us all the things that go into making a movie - animation, music, voice, sound effects, operating the multi-plane camera and more. Try incorporating all these elements and making your own movie!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Saludos Amigos: Discussion Guide for Parents

Walt Disney Pictures, 1943

All information below is general suggestions and ideas. 
Always adapt to your family’s situation and beliefs and the needs of individual children. 

Content Warnings:
  • Some middle scary scenes - thunder/snow storm. 
  • Tobacco - cigars

Before Beginning:
Be wary of outdated cultural presentations, like the description of music as “strange and exotic.” Discuss with children that other cultures are not objects to be observed, but real people just like us. 

Discussion Questions
  • In this film we see portrayals of other cultures. Why is it important to learn about other cultures? How can we be careful to avoid stereotypes? 
  • The little airplane Pedro took his first journey to deliver mail over the Andes mountains. How did he feel before, during, and after his journey? What difficulties did he encounter? How did his parents feel? What was a time you had to do something new? How did you feel? What difficulties did you encounter? How do you think God felt when we do something new? 
  • Donald Duck met a new friend, Jose Carioca, who lives in a different place, speaks a different language, listens to different music, and eats different food. Tell about a time you met a new friend who was different from you. 

Scripture Connections
  • Diversity. Gen 11:1-9; Ezek 47:22; 1 Cor 14:26; Eph 4:6; Col 1:16-17; Rev 7:9-10; 2 Nephi 31:3

Ideas for Further Study
  • Research one of the places mentioned in the movie, like Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Chile, Bolivia, or Peru. Is there someone in your neighborhood whose family history is from Central or South America? Talk to them to learn what it is like to live there.
  • Research the ancient civilizations of Central and South America. Learn about European conquest and colonization of these areas. 
  • Plan an imaginary trip to South America. Where would you go? Where would you stay? What would you like to do there? How much would it cost? Make a daily itinerary and calculate the costs. 
  • Learn more about the gaucho horsemen and horses. See if there is a place near you where you can see or interact with horses. 
  • Learn more about the types of music, dance, and other arts in South America. Is there a person or school in your community that teaches South American music or dance? 
  • Find a recipe for food from South America and make it as a family. 
  • Learn more about native animals in a certain area of South America. 
  • Choose a language that is spoken in South America (there are many!) and learn a few phrases. 
  • Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelves apostles is the first apostle of this dispensations from South America. Learn more about his life and teachings. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Darkness, and Light

Advent embraces the whole arc of the Christian cosmology. 

The Bible begins in darkness. "In the beginning . . . the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light" (Gen 1:1-3). 

Darkness, and light. 

Then, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. . . .The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:1-14). 

Darkness, and light. 

Finally, "I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. . . . The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. . . .There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light." (Rev 21:3-4, 23-25; 22:5)

Darkness, and light. 

God's light broke into darkness at creation. God's light broke into darkness at Christmas. God's light will break into darkness at the end. And in every moment between - God's light is breaking into darkness. 

This world is cyclical. Darkness, and light. Darkness, and light. Darkness, and light. We continually experience darkness. And God’s light continues to break in. 

Advent remembers the ways that God has broken into our darkness in the past (Christmas). Advent acknowledges that we still live in a world of darkness. Advent hopes that God will break into darkness again. Advent hopes. Advent hopes. Advent hopes. Advent remembers the First coming and clings to the promise of the Second Coming. 

“Because God has been faithful and kept His promises in the past, we can hope with confidence that God will keep His promises to us in the present and in the future” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf). In Advent, we look back. We say, “Yes. God has kept God’s promises. God has been faithful.” supported by the security of God’s past faithfulness, we turn our gaze forward. We say, “Yes. God will keep God’s promises. God is faithful. God will not leave me alone.” 

Advent is a time of darkness. And yet, each Sunday we light a candle. Light. Through the darkness of this season, God gifts us with glimmers of light. Through the darkness of our mortal sojourn, as we wait for God to make all things right, God gifts us glimmers of light. Our life is a constant cycle of darkness and light. Advent reminds us that God’s light will always break in. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

How Long, O Lord?

In the darkness of waiting, it appears that God has abandoned God's people. There is silence, there is oppression, there is darkness over all the face of the earth. In first-century Judea, God has promised so many things and has not delivered on the promise. The people suffer under Roman occupation. The people remember the glory of King David and Solomon's temple. The people remember how God has been mighty! But it is not so now. Stricken down, the people have long waited for God's promises to be fulfilled. Has God forgotten? Has God abandoned us? How long, Lord, will we suffer so?"

It appears that God has abandoned God's people. Yet - it appears. It is not truly so. 

In the darkness of despair, the people wait for God. The people cry out, "How long?” 

“How long, O Lord, wilt thou forget me? for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” (Psalm 13:1-2)

“How long, O Lord, wilt thou look on? Rescue my soul from their destructions” (Psalm 35:17).

“How long, O Lord? Wilt thou hide thyself forever?” (Psalm 89:46)

“How long, O Lord, shall the wicked triumph?” (Psalm 94:3-4)

“How long, O Lord, shall I cry, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2)

How long, God, will we be left alone in the dark? How long will You watch silently? How long will You see us suffering and not act? How long will evil prevail? How long will you ignore us? 

Advent is for the waiting. Advent is for the asking. Advent is for the soul-wrenching despair and grief. Advent is the time to lay bare our struggles and doubts. Advent is the time we ask, “Has God abandoned us? Has God had enough of our sinfulness? Will God refuse to aid us?”

Christmas is the answer. Christmas says, “God has not abandoned us. God has not left us alone in darkness.” 

Christmas says, “Behold! The day is coming.” Indeed, even, the day is here. The Kingdom is at hand. The Lord is come, with healing in his wings, to save us all. God came before. God will come again. 

We don’t know how long we will wait here below. We don’t know how long darkness and wickedness will prevail. But we have the promise - Christ will come again. Light will break forth over all the earth. Our darkness will have an end. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Miracle on 34th St (1947): Discussion Guide for Parents

20th Century Fox, 1947

All information below is general suggestions and ideas. 
Always adapt to your family’s situation and beliefs and the needs of individual children. 

Content Warnings:
  • Alcohol - drunk Santa, a husband tricks his wife by preparing triple martinis without her consent.
  • Coffee
  • Tobacco, smoking
  • Susan’s parents are divorced before the movie begins.
  • Santa Claus, fake Santa’s, Santa as fantasy/myth
  • Mild violence - Santa knocks a man on the head with his umbrella 
  • Santa described as mentally ill, prone to “violent outbursts,” committed to a mental institution, tried for “lunacy”
  • Kissing

Discussion Questions
  • Kris Kringle complains about the commercialization of Christmas and says no one cares about the real meaning anymore. What do you think is the real meaning of Christmas? How can we remember the real meaning of Christmas amidst all the business of the season?
  • Alfred says he enjoys dressing up as Santa and giving presents to children. Why does it feel good to give to others? Who can you help today?
  • Mr. Macy says Macy’s will be known as “the friendly store, the helpful store” when they send customers to other stores when they don’t have what the customer is looking for. Why are these important qualities? Gimbel’s store decides to copy this strategy, expanding the “spirit of goodwill.” How do good deeds multiply when one person starts it off? How can you set off a “spirit of goodwill” in your home or community?
  • Kris tells Mrs. Walker, "Christmas isn’t just a day; it’s a frame of mind.” What do you think that means? How are our lives different every day because of Christmas? 
  • Mrs. Walker is very concerned with truth and reason. Why is it important to examine the evidence and learn what is true? Are there some things that can’t be known by rational inquiry? What are some examples? 
    • Examples of things that can’t be proved with reason include matters of faith in God, trusting or forgiving other people, love, and more. 
  • At the beginning of the movie, Susan is very serious and doesn’t like “silly,” childish, or imaginative things. Why is it important to keep a childlike spirit? Why are imagination, silliness, and pretending important? 
  • Susan tried to make a deal with Kris, saying that if he gets her a house, then he’s the real Santa, but if not, he’s “just a nice old man with whiskers.” Kris tells Susan, “Just because every child doesn’t get his wish doesn’t mean there isn’t a Santa Claus.” Susan tried to prove Santa’s identity by gifts. Sometimes we get this way with God - demanding that God answer our prayers or else he’s not God. What’s the danger in this way of thinking? Why might God not answer prayers as we expect?
  • Unlike most of the other characters, Mr. Gailey always believes Kris. He is a friend to Kris stands up for him when others don’t. How can we be like Mr. Gailey?
  • Mrs. Walker tells Susan at the end of the movie, “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” How do you define faith? Why is faith valuable? How do we develop faith? 

Scripture Connections
  • Christmas. Matthew 1:18-2:14; Luke 2:1-20; 3 Nephi 1:4-21
  • Giving, Generosity. Gen 47:15; Deut 15:11, 16:17; Prov 25:21, 28:27; Matt 5:42, 10:8, 19:21, 25:35; Mark 10:21, 12:44; Luke 6:35-38, 14:12-14, 14:13; Acts 20:35; 2 Cor 9:7; Jacob 2:17; Mosiah 4:16, 18:28; Mormon 8:39; D&C 42:31, 52:40, 56:16
  • Friendliness. 1 Sam 18:1; Prov 17:17, 18:24, 27:17; Luke 14:12-14
  • Helpfulness. Gen 2:18; Ex 2:17; Deut 22:4; Moses 3:18; Abraham 5:14
    • Gen 2:18 - Research the original Hebrew word usually translated as “helpmeet.” Use to see where else this word is used in the Bible. 
  • Truth. Deut 32:4; Ps 51:6; Prov 8:7, 12:19; John 8:32, 8:44; 1 John 4:1; Jacob 4:13; Ether 3:12; Moroni 10:4; D&C 1:39, 50:40, 88:40, 88:66, 93:24, 93:30, 93:36
  • Believe, Faith. Gen 15:6; 2 Chron 20:20; Hab 2:4; Matt 8:10-13, 17:20, 9:28; Mark 5:36, 9:23-24; Luke 8:50; John 3:16, 11:27, 12:36, 12:47, 20:25-29; Rom 4:12-18; 1 Cor 13:7; 2 Cor 5:7; Eph 2:8, 6:16; 2 Tim 1:12; 2 Tim 4:7; Heb 11:1-12:2; James 1:5-6; 2 Nephi 31:19; Enos 1:8; Alma 32:21; Hel 8:15; D&C 46:14; Moses 6:23

Ideas for Further Study
  • Learn about the history of Santa Claus and St. Nicholas.
  • In this movie, Santa is known as Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, and Sinterklaas. Learn about different names for Santa in other countries. 
  • The movie begins with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Research the history of this annual tradition. 
  • The movie includes a court trial. Learn about court and the judicial process.