Canned Food, Mama, and Me

Canned Food, Mama, and Me

Our family left the Mormon religion in 1983 after my mom had spent three decades as a member (and of my ancestry, nearly a century and-a-half).

As a faithful Mormon family, we did all the things we were supposed to do: Sacrament Meeting, Family Home Evening, and even Family Home Storage. For the uninitiated, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints teaches that all Mormon families should keep emergency food stored in their homes, in case of a long-term disaster—and they have done so since at least the 1930s. They even sell food storage kits, and this practice has led to detailed thinking about food cycling and what might meet the official requirements.

In a video on the official LDS website, this is a matter of obedience: “We wanted to follow the commandments and get our food storage … If you want to follow the Prophet, just do it.” For the average Mormon, this is understood as a wise way to prepare for a disaster or job loss, but it is impossible to extract this “follow[ing] the commandments” from Mormon eschatology.

Mormon theology teaches that in the “latter days” of world history, Joseph Smith would re-establish the true faith in the world that had fallen away after the time of the Apostles. That day apparently came in the 1820s, and the Mormon scriptures teach that the Second Coming would shortly follow: “[Christ] will reign till he descends on the earth to put all enemies under his feet, which time is nigh at hand.”

Being premillennial, the LDS teach that Jesus will return to earth to install his own earthly rule (in Missouri)—but not before the Great Tribulation of the Apocalypse and the scarier portions of the Olivet Discourse come tearing through the earth with a vengeance. Living “saints” would have to endure such things, should they be unfortunate enough to make it that far into history. It is not surprising, then, that disaster preparedness would be a preoccupation of people who expect to be the last generation on earth.

When my family left Mormonism, we became evangelicals. We were taught a dispensational premillennial understanding of the end-times, as well. This was not a significant change, but there was one key difference: we believed in a pre-tribulational rapture. In other words, we believed that before anything really bad happened on earth, Jesus would return and secretly take the believers “up” into heaven, so that they would not have to endure the pains of the Great Tribulation.

The disaster preparedness may have been pragmatic, but we fully expected to be whisked away before the Tribulation, and so our stored surplus food was rendered unnecessary.

For several years (now as evangelicals), we consumed the remainder of our aging Family Home Storage. Our storage closet also held many of my toys, so when we weren’t eating beans, I was pretending the beans were quicksand and sinking my G.I. Joe’s in the beans. Our end-times theology hadn’t changed much, but our attitude toward it certainly had.

Years later, I came to understand eschatology differently than in my childhood. Beginning with a careful study of Scripture, and then a survey of Christian history, followed by a humbling bow to the Orthodox Church’s authority-as-teacher, I came to understand the following as the sine qua non of Orthodox eschatology.

1. Jesus Christ is coming again.

The most fundamental expectation of the Christian Church is that Jesus Christ will physically return to earth. No matter the martyrdoms, the heresies, or the numerical setbacks, the Church has always expected that Christ would return with a sense of finality. This is so important that it is enshrined forever in the Nicene Creed, the most important and central statement of faith of the Orthodox Church: “And he shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.”

The Church also sees the coming of Christ as something we taste in the present. Every time the Church celebrates the Divine Liturgy, Jesus Christ himself comes into the midst of his people in the power of the Holy Spirit, being received in the Eucharist. This is an eschatological event, where the fullness of Christ is made present in both the Eucharist and in his people.

2. The Kingdom of God is now, but what is yet to come is beyond belief.

While both Mormonism and much of popular evangelicalism anticipate an early reign of Christ in the future, the Orthodox Church teaches that the kingdom of God is now. The reign of Jesus Christ is a present reality (Phil. 2:9), and was inaugurated at the ascension of Christ into heaven, where he sits down at the right hand of God. The so-called ‘millennial reign of Christ’ in Revelation is understood as a spiritual reign from heaven with the kingdom breaking through into the here-and-now.

And just as our Savior has taught us in the Lord’s Prayer, we are to pray that God’s kingdom come on earth—not later, but now.

3. The particulars of Revelation aren’t particularly important.

Ambrose Bierce defined the book of Revelation thusly: “REVELATION., n., A famous book in which St. John the Divine concealed all that he knew. The revealing is done by the commentators, who know nothing.”

It’s no minor factoid that the book of Revelation never appears in the liturgical readings of the Orthodox Church. We read from everything from Genesis to Job to Jonah to the New Testament’s epistles and Gospels, but we never read from Revelation in a liturgical/worship setting.

Revelation was one of the most disputed books in the Church canon, and while considered a part of holy scripture today, it remains a puzzling book. There is a range of opinions regarding its details, and various monks and scholars have proposed specific interpretations of the work. It is not unreasonable to suppose that it served an important purpose both in its time and for its original audience, and has since moved into a role testifying to the faithfulness of God through persecution or tribulation, no matter where or when it occurs in Church history.

The train schedule-type eschatology of Dispensationalism—complete with extensive wall charts—is foreign to Orthodoxy. That Christ is King; that he will come again; that he will vindicate his persecuted Church—these are the things with which the Orthodox Church is concerned.

Ironically enough, though Revelation is not read in the services of the Church, the services themselves look a lot like the heavenly worship described therein. Revelation is a book of worship, and the major elements are present at every Divine Liturgy. For it is in our worship on earth that we enter into the heavenly worship.

4. We each have our own personal eschaton to face, and so preparedness is always now.

Hebrews 9:27 famously says, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” None of us know when we will breathe our last, and yet we will all answer for what we have done in this life. How many millions (or billions) have pondered a “last days” scenario, instead finding him or herself being peacefully laid to rest? We will all likely return to dust, and we will all stand before God at the final judgment, regardless of when the end takes place.

St. Paul writes: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). St. John Chrysostom says that St. Paul is “urging and compelling them to bestir themselves in order to lay hold of their own salvation.”

Now.

We have only today, and tomorrow is not promised to any of us. We must repent now, and again, and again, until there is no “now” in which to repent.

A young monk said to Abba Sisoes, “Abba, what should I do? I fell.” The elder answered, “Get up!” The monk said, “I got up and I fell again!” The elder replied, “Get up again!” But the young monk asked, “For how long should I get up when I fall?” “Until your death,” answered Abba Sisoes. “For a man heads to his judgment either fallen or getting back up again.” (Source)

5. Yet, we paradoxically live as if we are in an unending world.

When an Orthodox Church is built and set apart, it is consecrated until the end of the age. We don’t set out to merely sojourn on the earth, like we’re buying bus passes into eternity, with little-to-no interest in the present. We are certainly pilgrims, but we seek to establish an outfit of the kingdom of God in the here-and-now—and if possible—one that will last until the second advent of Christ.

Part of living in the now is a desire to also see God’s kingdom be manifest now. St. John Chrysostom says of the phrase “thy kingdom come”:

Seest thou how He hath taught us also to be modest, by making it clear that virtue is not of our endeavors only, but also of the grace from above? And again, He hath enjoined each one of us, who pray, to take upon himself the care of the whole world. For He did not at all say, “Thy will be done” in me, or in us, but everywhere on the earth; so that error may be destroyed, and truth implanted, and all wickedness cast out, and virtue return, and no difference in this respect be henceforth between heaven and earth. “For if this come to pass,” saith He, “there will be no difference between things below and above, separated as they are in nature; the earth exhibiting to us another set of angels.”

So we live, pray, and hope that the kingdom is made visibly present now, that holiness and virtue are increased, and that the true worship of God is spread throughout the world as it is in the throne room of God.

Conclusion

Storing up provisions is not a bad idea, and anyone would be wise to take a cue from the Mormons in this regard.

But the Orthodox Church does not obsess over “last days” scenarios. And as one of the most-persecuted religious groups in human history, Orthodox Christians certainly know what it means to prepare for hard times.

But the grand testimony of the Church in her saints is that our greatest preparation for hard times is simply this: repentance, humility, and faith.

– – –

Note: My apologies to Thelma “Granny” Geer, author of Mormonism, Mama, & Me.

40 Days Blog

Comments

  1. trytoseeitmyway says

    This is OK as a discussion of eschatology in a comparative-religion context, but the hook at the beginning of the article is, well, somewhat confused. Bennett properly acknowledges that LDS food-and-emergency-supplies storage practices are designed to prepare for local natural disasters (flood, hurricane, earthquake, etc.) or economic calamity (e.g., job loss). But then in an unwarranted bit of theological legerdemain, he asserts without citation that this has something to do with eschatology. It doesn’t.

    To be sure, there is certainly a Mormon belief – but not at all uniquely Mormon – that “in the last days perilous times shall come.” 2 Tim. 3:1. I don’t know what Orthodox theology does with that scripture, but it is probably as confused as the rest of Bennett’s reasoning here. Anyway, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the prophesied peril will be environmental (in the broadest sense) as well as spiritual. Matt. 24:6. Hence, food storage may be wise from this point of view. But this is trivially obvious; as Bennett himself admits, “[s]toring up provisions is not a bad idea, and anyone would be wise to take a cue from the Mormons in this regard.” It is all orthogonal to purely eschatalogical matters such as the time and manner of the Second Coming, the millennial kingdom and other “end-times” topics. Mormon theology is far less detailed on those matters than the evangelicals – there is no Mormon Hal Lindsey for example – and Bennett might have considered comparing Orthodox beliefs to those of his previous religion rather than those of his former religion before that one.

    • jamey w. bennett says

      Thanks for the note.

      It’s pretty tough to extract disaster preparedness from eschatology when a group is eschatologically oriented. After all, eschatology is wrapped up in the LDS name (“Latter-Day”). I’m not arguing that disaster preparedness is a central aspect of Mormon eschatology. Rather, the connection I have made is that such thinking makes sense in a milieu that is eschatologically oriented.

      My forebears lived in this milieu long before disaster preparedness took a canned-food form, and when they deemed it necessary, my Mormon ancestors even took up arms. Like the food, the taking up of arms made sense in a group anticipating wild apocalyptic events with them involved, though I’m not certain taking up arms was a mandate of their eschatology.

      Modern Mormons are not nearly as pre-occupied with these matters as evangelicals tend to be. But to argue that it is not part of the LDS ethos, either foundationally or currently, I think is disingenuous.

      • trytoseeitmyway says

        Thanks for pointing out that “[m]odern Mormons are not nearly as pre-occupied with these matters as evangelicals tend to be.” You might therefore have chosen a better hook for your article on eschatological differences between the Orthodox, on one hand, and evangelicals/LDS on the other hand. If you think I made a disingenuous argument anywhere, you should do a better job of pointing that out, since nothing I wrote can reasonably be taken as denying that eschatology is “part of the LDS ethos.”

        And for someone as knowledgeable of Mormon matters as you try to suggest, it would be nice (yes, this is a small thing) that you render the name of the Church properly. The “d” in “latter-day” is not capitalized when used in the name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

        Whatever one’s eschatological beliefs, one would think it obvious that modern days are more “latter” than ancient ones.

      • Joseph M says

        I think it’s important to note that despite bouts of apocolyptic enthusiasms among the members, something that has been a problem preached against since Paul, official LDS escatology is more inline with the Orthidox than the evangelical conception.

        One of the most commonly quoted statements on the Second Coming in official teaching is this one:

        In a general conference address in April 1950, Elder Richard L. Evans of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “I recall a reported statement, attributed, as I remember it, to President Wilford Woodruff. Some of the brethren of his time are said to have approached him … and to have inquired of him as to when he felt the end would be—when would be the coming of the Master? These, I think, are not his exact words, but they convey the spirit of his reported reply: ‘I would live as if it were to be tomorrow—but I am still planting cherry trees!’

        Regarding understanding the Revelation of St. John, The work of Dr. Margaret Barker and the others who with her are studying what she as named Temple Theology has been the biggest help to me. Last years Temple Studies Group Symposium focused specificly on the works of John ( www (dot)templestudiesgroup…. Including this paper which may be of particular interest in explaning the conection betwen Revelation and the Liturgy.
        Dr Dominic Rubin [Moscow]
        Russian Orthodox Cosmists on the Jewish Temple, the Divine Liturgy and the Johannine Writings.

        Notes from her website (www(dot)margaretbarker(dot)com/) for thouse who havent encounterd her yet.

        Margaret Barker delivered the Fr Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, New York on 29 January 2012 ‘Our Great High Priest. The Church as the New Temple’.

        Since 1997, she has been part of the symposium Religion, Science and the Environment, convened by His All Holiness Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch.

          • Joseph M says

            Which I of course saw after posting my response :P :D
            I hope her work gets about more. I tried reading “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic” by John Shelby Spong, which looked real interesting, and couldn’t get more than two chapters because it was obvious that had not read any of her work and so his reconstruction of when ideas first appeared was compleately off.

        • jamey w. bennett says

          You have made a nice contribution. Thank you. The great problem with LDS anything comes back to its doctrine of God, however. Criticizing LDS theology was not in the scope of this piece, but its defective Christology makes it completely irreconcilable with Orthodoxy in just about every way.

          • Joseph M says

            Christological arguments can get incredibly messy. Phillip Jenkins book ‘Jesus Wars” delves into just how messy. Some of the debates leading up to Nicea took place between mobs armed with clubs, and i can be argued that they contributed to the fall of the eastern Roman Empire to the Muslims.

            I’m inclined to belive that our understanding of Christ’s nature is important mostly for what it motivates us to do and be.
            “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2)”

            Relatedly, I just read a facinating book by Evangelical-turned-Catholic thinker Stephen H. Web (” Mormon Christianity”) where he argues that the Mormon view of ‘spiritualized matter’ could be used to formulate a powerful Christian response to modern athiestic materialism.

          • says

            Christological debates were of course messy, but they are nonetheless important and deal with essential matters of the Christian faith. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and everything we are as Christians flows from who he is. I don’t see any connection between Christological debates in particular and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in the fifteenth century. Perhaps you’re referring to something else, but as many royal family members and our Saint Mark of Ephesus have all indicated, we would rather lose an empire (or the whole world) if it means preserving the Orthodox Faith.

          • Joseph M says

            This is more the Muslim conquests of Palistine, Egypt and other cradels of Christianity in the 8th- 9th Century. A number of eastern comunities decided that it was better to be subject to Muslims who denied the devinity of Jesus rather than Christians (in this case the Emporer) whith a different conception of his divinity. Unfourtunatly its been to long since i read the book to dredge up all the details :(.

            I think I’ve seen to many eriudite suposed leaders of the church, Bisop Spong referenced above being one, who seem to have forgoten that the critical thing to know is that Jesus is the Anointed Savior, Redeamer, Priest and King, and if you don’t know that metaphysical sophistication does you no good.

          • says

            I think you need to re-read your history books, not to be too frank. Speaking of Franks, they deserve a lot of blame, as well, but that’s a whole other story. ;-)

            I think you’re forcing a dichotomy where none is necessary, especially not when directed towards Orthodox Christians. We wholly reject any notion that head knowledge does one any good in eternity, but that does not mean we can believe anything we want regarding Christ. Our prayer illumines and reveals our beliefs, and our divine services are fully embodied with orthodox Christology, Trinitarianism, etc.

            I think this discussion is now way off topic, however.

  2. E B says

    Rather than a “last days” thing, I think of the disaster preparedness teachings of the LDS Church (of which I am a member) as lessons in self-reliance. When we are prepared to take care of ourselves in any situation, we are then better prepared to serve others and love our neighbors in those same situations because our own needs are met.

    • says

      That could certainly be a valid, if not altruistic, outcome of such preparations. Although, the Gospel seems to have an issue with too much of this sort of thing.

    • jamey w. bennett says

      I have not been able to locate the original prophet’s command for this, and asking my mother yielded nothing, and putting it out there online for my many Mormon relatives yielded nothing. I’d hate to level a blind obedience charge against anyone, but no one seems to know what the prophet’s command was for obedience. Maybe it’s in a tract somewhere…?

      All I know is that I could only surmise that it’s been in place since the 1930s, and that by a reference to a comment by Ezra Taft Benson. (And am I the only one who noticed the apocalyptic language of that address? https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1980/10/prepare-for-the-days-of-tribulation?lang=eng)

      Anyway, if you can provide us with that it would be great. Then we can sort some of these matters out. Until then, it’s the oddly offended Mormons asserting something without qualification to counter what I argued with caveats.

      At this point, it is my opinion that I wrote above is sufficiently stated, qualified, etc. so as not to say explicitly or implicitly that disaster preparedness is a tenant of end-times theology, but rather that it is *consistent* with such an ethos. And I was nice enough that we could enjoy decaf tea together and discuss it.

      • Joseph M says

        One of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett, observed in one of his books that some ones world is always ending. Considder Katrina, Haiti, Fukushima, the Phillipenes, the 2008 economic crash, and the many smaller disasters that happen to some one somewhere ever year. I know we’ve been diligent in prepareing because our food storage has sustained us through a flood and two job losses.

        The Church’s Provedent Living site points to Joseph in Egypt as the example of preparedness. I suspect this is one of the things that grew naturaly out of being chased out of their homes in the dead of winter (Misouri and Navuoo). Thereisnt one big “thus sayeth the Lord – Store one year of food” but more a general tennor of preperation and stewardship that has expresed itself in this particular way. I noted that then Pres Benson was focused on general tribulation rather than the second comming in the talk linked and he pushed the idea of self reliance back to section 78 of the Doctine and Covenents.

        • says

          The idea of “the world” ending isn’t exactly correct. It is more accurate to speak of the end of “the age,” something which does not necessarily speak to natural disasters or anything else that might take place on this planet. When the end of the age comes, it won’t be missed or mistaken for anything else. It isn’t a general idea or something fuzzy. It will be clear and defined.

  3. jamey w. bennett says

    I’m not sure where to begin. I disagree with your latter statement (“yeah…but…sort of…”), because I agree with your former statement.

    • David Tiffany says

      Roman Catholics believe at the Eucharist Jesus is being sacrificed over again, yet the Scriptures teach He cannot die again. Also, in Hebrews 10:14, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” It was necessary for Christ to only die once.

  4. Rayla says

    Why is everyone being so PC and pussy-footing around the issue? Evangelical Protestantism and LDS theology is screwed up. Period. It’s a clear example of the main problem of Protestanism (fostering offshoots such as LDS, JWs, etc) and the main reason why I converted to Orthodoxy-the authority issue. When you can interpret scripture anyway you want, you can come up with all these doctrines that Christians didn’t have before the1800s, such as dispensationalism.

  5. William Dalebout says

    “Rather than a “last days” thing, I think of the disaster preparedness teachings of the LDS Church (of which I am a member) as lessons in self-reliance. ”

    Take it from someone who remembers clearly, the commandment to have one years worth of food storage was indeed about preparing for the last days. That is what was taught and that is what people believed.
    Then sometime in the mid-90s (under Ezra Taft Benson) the LDS church became more politically moderate and the teaching changed. Food storage was still a commandment, but the rationale ceased being about the end times and started being about disaster preparedness, about preparing for if you lost your job, etc.

    Many LDS teachings have undergone such transformations. The most remarkable thing to me about Mormons to me is how they are able to, as a group, turn on a dime and memory-hole everything they used to believe.
    Every time The Church swerves like that a whole lot of people (like myself) get shaken loose, but the majority manage to hang on.

    I remember vividly that up through the 1990s caffeinated soda was forbidden. We were told in seminary to stay away from it, and it was banned from vending machines on BYU campus.
    Then one day the prohibition was lifted. Not only was it no longer forbidden, but no one could remember a time when it was. That was something Some People did, of their own volition. It was never a whole church thing.

  6. William Dalebout says

    When I was in seminary 1988-1991 we were taught, in no uncertain terms, that the second coming would be within our lifetime, and that we had been chosen to be born at this time because we were the most valiant warriors, etc. etc. Saturdays Warrior. That if the lifespan of the world was a clock, then right now it was 11:59:59.

    Then not long after Elder Boyd K. Packer was asked specifically about the end times, and his answer was that if you planted a tree now, you would be able to build a hammock in it before the 2nd coming came. This got repeated everywhere.

    And everyone was like… Oh. After that we didn’t hear much about Saturday’s Warrior or it being one second from midnight anymore. People who brought it up were told the hammock prophecy and encouraged to calm down.

    And that idea percolated through the system and everyone began backing off their beliefs regarding the end times. The apostles had spoken, and the debate was over.