Apr 4, 2010

A Mormon And A Muslim Go To Mass

Although we have some similarities, there's a significant difference between the worshipping styles of Mormons and other Christian denominations. And this difference is perhaps most noticeable during the two biggest Christian celebrations: Christmas and Easter. Compared to their Catholic and Protestant counterparts, Mormons are, on average, probably much better at actually attending church on a regular basis. Though the Church is extremely small in Norway, my local branch probably draws an average of around 15-20 people on any given Sunday. The local Lutheran church draws about the same number on most Sundays, despite the fact that there are thousands of more Lutherans than Mormons.

But, while Mormons are generally better in the church attendace department than our Catholic and Protestant counterparts, I think that we could learn a thing or two from them when it comes to celebrating -- or even acknowledging -- the holy days of Christianity. Cases in point: Unless Christmas falls on a Sunday, Mormon churches are closed. If General Conference happens to fall on Easter Sunday like this year, then conference takes precedence. And as a life-long Mormon, I had never even heard of the Ascension of Christ or Pentecost celebrations -- both stat holidays in much of Europe -- until I moved here.

So this year, I just felt like doing something different and decided to experience Lutheran Easter Sunday mass in a church that dates back to about 1150. Along with my Lutheran-on-record husband, I had the pleasure of being accompanied by my Afghan brother, Hassan (see my previous post for the story of how I met him).

It was a special day for me, to be accompanied by two of the dearest people in my life, and to have a quiet day to reflect upon what the whole thing actually means to me. I used to think of Lutheranism as watered-down Christianity, changing with the times and without much emphasis on lifestyle or morality. I could sit here and argue how true or not that is, or which approach to Christianity is "better," but suffice it to say that on this day, it was what I needed.

The priest recited a story about how he was once officiating at a funeral and after throwing the three ceremonial spoonfuls of earth onto the casket, a five-year old boy remarked that it was not enough. This, he was reminded, was the central message of the story of Easter. On our own, we can never do "enough." This was a dilemma that had been much on my mind this past week as I attempted to comfort a very distraught refugee friend who is facing a looming deportation order.
Jesus said, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14: 18). God says he will not leave us comfortless, but it seems that more often than not, that is dependent on whether or not we are willing to extend that comfort to someone.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."
-Romans 12: 15
I got to do a little of both this past week.

At the core of the sermon was the message, "Gud er kjærlighet" -- God is love. I think that many of us want to believe that, but become witnesses to so many attrocities and injustices of varying degree in this world -- many committed in the name of God -- that it becomes extremely problematic to reconcile "God's love" with reality or religion. Hassan's life is a perfect example of that.

Many today, including myself, are moving away from a literal, orthodox approach to religion. Whatever our view on the Easter miracle, or religion in general -- whether literal or metaphorical -- love is a central theme. Instead of focusing on where we fall short and beating ourselves up over it, sometimes it's better to just focus on that love. Sometimes it's really all we can do.

Although my life is nothing to complain about, it's hard to feel God's love. I can say that my life is good and therefore I feel God's love, but all I have to do is look around me to see examples of why equating material wealth or stability with divine love is so problematic. Perhaps the closest I can come to feeling God's love is indirectly -- through the individuals that enrich and enlighten my life.

I'm not looking to switch religions, but as a lapsed Mormon, I enjoyed the simplicity of the Lutheran priest's poignant sermon. And as a lapsed Muslim, even though he doesn't yet understand much Norwegian, I hope that Hassan was uplifted by the special atmosphere of this holy day.

Thanks for an Easter Sunday that I will remember. It was a good day.

Happy Easter, everyone.


C.J. said...

God is love, but there are many other forces at work in the world--not the least of which is our own free agency. Even when we know how to treat each other, we usually don't. We turn our backs on our Brothers and Sisters, from self interest, or greed, or apathy--none of which are part of love, divine or otherwise.

I've always had a huge issue with prosperity theology; if nothing else, if we're saying that material wealth and stability = divine love, Jesus wasn't very holy. Usually, it's the holiest people who seem to suffer the most in this life--look at Mother Theresa and Gandhi. I think the reason prosperity theology is so popular, is that it addresses (for some people) a deep-seated insecurity that God doesn't really exist and this is all just a hoax.

Mormon Heretic said...

FD, you're a lapsed Mormon now? I'm not sure how I feel about that.

The Faithful Dissident said...

MH, haven't I been one all along? :D

Carl Youngblood said...

Thanks for your post. I can assure you that Easter commemoration was also in full swing during General Conference. I especially enjoyed Elder Uchdorf's talk in the Sunday morning session, in which he shared a message that sounded remarkably similar to the one you heard in mass. Be sure and check it out.


The Faithful Dissident said...

Yes, the Bloggernaccle has been abuzz with glowing reviews of Uchtdorf's talk, Carl. I've read snippets of it and liked what I heard. :)

J G-W said...

Attending worship in communions not your own is a very good exercise. I require the students in my religious history class to do it, and I do it every once in a while myself.

Sometimes you see certain truths more clearly when they are pointed out to you from someone else's perspective.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Yes, it's valuable experience to do so, I think. I've been to embarrassingly few other religious meetings in my lifetime, but I'm more open to it now.

I learned something interesting yesterday during the priest's sermon. He talked about what Jesus was doing between the time that he died and was ressurrected, that he was preaching the Gospel message to the dead in the spirit world. I always thought that was purely Mormon theology, that all the other Christians pretty much believed that if you died without accepting Christ, you were doomed. But apparently there is more to it than that.

J G-W said...

Yes, actually the belief that Christ taught the spirits in prison is generally taught and accepted among Christians, though there's no explanation of the mechanisms by which the dead can receive baptism and enter into God's kingdom as there is in Mormonism.

Most Christians that I know just take it for granted that God won't damn someone just for not having lived in a time and place where they could receive the gospel. But they assume that such situations are covered by a vague understanding of the grace of God. For Mormons, that grace takes a more tangible, concrete, ritual form.

Chris Almond said...

I am a lapsed mormon myself. For a while I was kind of bitter against the church, but the more I am away from it the more I have positive feelings towards it. (although, interesting, the less I believe in it. It seems the less I believe it is true, the more I am able to feel okay with the Church. You know how the things you care about the most are the things which can disappoint you most? I guess now that I have no believe at all, I have no expectations for the Church, so can just appreciate the positive elements.)
Anyway, I just wanted to say that I stumbled across your blog recently and I really enjoy it.

Mormon Heretic said...

FD, I always thought you were a good heretic like me. I guess lapsed has a different connotation to me.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Don't worry, MH, I'm still a "good" dissident. No change there. :)

Carl Youngblood said...

I've always heard lapsed used to mean that you're not practicing the outward forms of your faith anymore, i.e. not attending meetings nor partaking of its rituals.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I guess I'm only semi-lapsed, then. :)

Chris, I think I get what you mean. I suppose that the troublesome aspects of one's own faith are harder to deal with than the troublesome aspects of other faiths when one is on the outside looking in. There are, for example, things that I'm not too fond of in Islam or evangelical Christianity, but they don't gnaw at me like the things that bother me in Mormonism because those other faiths have never been "mine."

Chris Almond said...

Yeah, that sounds like exactly what I meant. Nice example.

To weigh in on the discussion over the word 'lapsed' This is the dictionary defintion:

(of an adherent to a particular religion or doctrine) cease to follow the rules and practices of that religion or doctrine.
This seems like more or less the same thing that carl youngblood said. Which you then responded to. So I don't know why I am even adding this at all. I could still erase it, but I am not going to.

wondering said...

I read some of your posts, and I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. Do you ever feel that the Church focuses too much on the Church and what we can do and not enough on God and what He has already done?

The Faithful Dissident said...

Good question, Wondering. I think that could spur a whole other discussion. I suppose that it's been my general feeling that because Mormons are so big on conformity and loyalty to the faith, we tend to blur "the Church" with "God." The Church = God and God = the Church. And maybe that's why it's so hard for those who lose their faith in the Church and feel the rug being pulled out from under their feet. "It's either true, or it isn't; the Church is perfect, but the people aren't," we always say. Maybe sometimes we focus on the rug (the Church) that we are standing on, giving less thought to the ground (God) that it's laying upon, and so when the rug is pulled out from under our feet, it feels quite strange and intimidating. And then I suppose it can go either way. Either the floor seems hard and cold and we simply want to run away, never regaining the comfort we once had, or we discover lovely heated tiles that make that old carpet seem like it was getting in the way of something better.

Sorry for the weird analogy, it just sort of came to me. :D

Carl Youngblood said...

Wondering, I know you didn't ask me, but I'd like to volunteer an answer. I actually was going to say just the opposite--that if anything I'd like to see more focus on what is left to do rather than what has already been done.

A good friend of mine gave a sacrament talk about this subject: "Practicing Atonement" http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2009/04/practicing-atonement.aspx

SimplyMe said...

I always enjoy your posts and the comments that follow. I agree that listening to talks/sermons from other churches is an effective tool for renewal. Thanks for sharing!


SimplyMe said...

I wanted to wish you a Happy 2nd Year Anniversary too, FD! I remember how amazed I was when I first found you a year ago! It's good to see that the work that you are doing with refugees hasn't taken you away from your blog...I'm glad you are continuing to share as always and now include your refugee brother and experiences from the service you are doing. Stay well!


The Faithful Dissident said...

Thanks, SimplyMe! It's always great to hear from you. And I haven't forgotten your lovely message from a couple of weeks ago that I've yet to respond to. It's good that you're patient! :)

Anonymous said...

LOL! I know that you are very busy these days and your time is well spent. Looking forward to your next blog! SimplyMe

OmahaLDS said...

As an active, temple attending, but still somewhat unorthodox Mormon, I have to say that I routinely attend Mass when and when I can, because I really love doing so. Midnight Mass on Christmas, Eastern Easter, etc... It is all very beautiful, very spiritual, and very special. I have done the same for Yom Kippur, or even special Ramadan services.

Too many in the Church fail to see the beauty around them, in religious practice, or condemn it because it is not Mormon. I have found my own faith strengthened because of studying other faiths, and attending their services, which by necessity includes respecting their spirituality as much as I respect mine.

I am glad you had such a great time.

Chris Almond said...

Reading through these comments it reminded me of something else from my life experience related to your post.
When I was 19, shortly before my mission (and still entirely devout) I attended a Catholic Mass in Salt Lake City.
This was, and still is, one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences of my life.
The intensely spiritual feelings I had during this service caught me off guard and were difficult for me to reconcile.
At that time I felt that only the Lds Church was blessed with the Holy Ghost, although I felt, as many Lds people do, that other faiths had a portion of the truth, this profoundly spiritual feeling seemed like much more than what one would feel if encountering a mere 'portion' of the truth.
Whats more, it was a far more spiritual experience than I ever had while in the temple.
At the time, this was confusing to me, but I placed it on the back burner as something I didn't know how to reconcile. However, it always stuck with me, and later in my life when wrestling with if I should leave the Church or not, this experience had an influence.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post as always, FD. I would officially call myself a lapsed Mormon. Reconciliation is too hard right now. I just feel too damaged as a woman to be truly active in church. I'm kind of on my own awakening and figuring it out journey. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!