Friday, February 19, 2010

Sacred Groves: Encounters with the Living Jesus

Over the past year or so, I have been a little squeamish about climbing back into the saddle of video production. Video production had figured heavily in my life before the departure of the video ministry in fact, my identity had been perhaps too wrapped up in it. So I think it was important, even restorative, to separate myself from any serious forays into video production for a while, to seek God's will, ask some basic questions, and to allow Him to rebuild things on a new foundation. Looking back, it was a hugely necessary step for me to break cleanly with "the old," which has enabled me to discover new ways of doing things.

But even when I became confident that God was calling me back into video production, I still kind of felt the producer's version of "writer's block." A few weeks ago I was sitting at a table in the back of the sanctuary with Jim, the pastor, kind of musing about the lack of progress I was feeling. I remember cradling my steaming gourd of yerba mate in my hands against the the chill of the room, staring down at the green and brown flecks that floated in the water.

"We really need a name for this project," I lamented. "Maybe that would give me some momentum." It occurred to me that we were not to leave the table until we'd come up with a name...the name. It's not that we hadn't talked about names before. We had batted around ideas, but most of them were lackluster at best, and none of them ever gained any traction. It was kind of frustrating.

The basic vision was in place well enough. It was to create a sort of a "clearing house" of video testimonies of people who have gotten free of Mormonism and encountered Jesus. It would include less formal online videos on a website, as well as more formal, finished products in a DVD format. Past experience had shown that web and DVD were a good combination to reach a broad audience. But we lacked the idea or the concept that would sort of link it all together and help us move forward.

Something that had begun to dawn on me in my interactions with the Mormons who contacted us, is that Mormons, despite appearances, are hardly a homogenous group of people. There are many "camps" of Mormons that we would come into contact with. One camp consists of those who are strong believers and defenders of the truthfulness of the Church. Another camp are those who, deep down, really couldn't care less about the truth of it, but they value the social and moral aspect, and the comfort of the structure and order it imposes upon their lives and communities.

And still another camp are those Mormons who find themselves hungering and thirsting for Jesus, and are frustrated that they can't seem to "get Him" in the context of their church. They often live lives of quiet desperation, thinking that their church is supposedly the only way to God...yet a genuine, life-giving encounter with Him seems no where to be found.

So sometimes these seekers begin to timidly dip their toes into the vast, scary Internet ocean to look for answers--often with a great deal of fear and trembling, because they've been taught that looking at so-called "anti-Mormon" material can literally lead them to eternity in outer darkness.

And they find these websites--many of them quite excellent--that are treasure troves of information, on Mormon history and doctrine and apologetics and biblical comparisons. For them it's often like opening a fire hydrant when all they're looking for is a drinking fountain. But in the end, some will muster up the courage and try to navigate those "dangerous" websites, because they really do want answers to their hard questions.

Don't get me wrong here. I respect and value many of the websites that are heavy on the flaws of Mormonism, so long as they are done with the intent of pointing to truth in Jesus. I've spent several years developing websites like that! And they definitely serve their purposes. They have been instrumental in leading many, many Mormons to true faith in Jesus. But God has been placing upon me a burden for a rather select group of Mormons--those Mormons who are looking first for Jesus, and don't have a clue where to begin, and are easily overwhelmed by all the information that's out there--and are terrified of where it might lead.

The honest seeker's most fearful question is, "Is there hope for me if I start walking down this path?" The LDS Church leaders tell them "No way." They tell them that this path leads to darkness and despair, and ultimately to apostasy and eternal damnation. (This is no exaggeration; a lady I know of was recently told, by official "prophetic" priesthood declaration, that she was a "handmaiden of Satan" simply for attending a Bible study at our church.)

My vision is to provide these seekers with a much different answer. I want them to find a well-marked "trailhead" for that path, scary as it might seem. A place where they can take their first steps, while being assured and encouraged that yes, there is hope...abundant life...on the other side. If they dare to embrace that hope, then it gives them the courage to walk that path, and as they do so, they can begin to unpack the awkward, crippling baggage of Mormonism and become truly free in Jesus Christ.

I've become convinced that the best method of communicating that hope is to introduce them to people who have walked that very path, and know the way, understand the fears and the pitfalls, and have discovered that hope for themselves. In short, it's the power of testimony.

The concept of "testimony" is highly significant in the Mormon culture. Children are taught from the time they can speak that they must "get their testimony," that is, attain this inner assurance, and verbally proclaim, that the Mormon Church is true. So testimony in and of itself carries a certain weight in the Mormon mindset.

Anyway, back to the project name that we were wrestling over. Like I said, we were kind of sitting at the table, mulling over some of the old ideas we'd batted around, and throwing out some new ones that were equally dull. We finally got out a sheet of paper and just started brainstorming. But not two minutes into that process, the phrase "sacred groves" popped up. And almost immediately, we both said: that's it! It seemed to just appear out of no where; it didn't even seem like our idea.

The "Sacred Grove" is another very compelling and pervasive image in the mind of most Mormons. It was the place, according to the official account, where Joseph Smith received his first revelations about who God is and what he was supposed to do. He had been disenfranchised with traditional Christianity, and so this was the place he "learned" that all of traditional Christianity had gone astray and was corrupt, and needed to be restored.

Now, most critical historians will discount Smith's account of the vision in the grove as a piece of fictitious, religious charlatanism, and personally I tend to agree with their assessment; but even so, we decided that the metaphor of the "sacred grove" was powerful enough to warrant further exploration.

And so for us, a "sacred grove" is an experience where a person who has honest, legitimate questions begins to search for answers outside of the religious box that he or she has been living in. And we believe...we know...that Jesus meets people in those sacred groves. We've seen it happen. If we do nothing more than point the way to a place where they can meet Jesus face to face, then we've done our job.

And so the way we believe God is directing us to do this is the creation of a website,, where this can happen, and where seeking Mormons can see stories of people who have gone before them, and ask questions without fear, and most of all, find hope in Jesus Christ.

So...if you're interested, I invite you to check it out, and see what I've been doing over this past month or so. And by all means, I would love to get any feedback; it's a work in progress, and I really don't want this to be "my" project alone.

You know, my last blog entry kind of explored the groves of trees that I've fallen in love with on the Oregon Coast. I find that kind of interesting. Perhaps it wasn't happenstance. Because the metaphor of the "sacred grove," when we first discussed it, was fresh on the heels of my pining (no pun intended) for those wooded glens I'd just come from. (In fact, one of the pictures that I took on that trip has featured pretty heavily in the website as I've been working on it.) So...I chalk that up to God working behind the scenes, creating and arranging things in ways we don't see until later. I really enjoy discovering that!

1 comment:

  1. Great work on the new site Scott. I can't wait to fully explore it later (not at work).