Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Back to the Basics? Our New/Old Gospel Principles Manual

As most of us know by now the Church has decided to use the "Gospel Principles" manual for Priesthood and Relief Society lessons next year. I know that this has raised many questions in my own mind, so I thought I would put some of them out on this blog to see what everyone thinks.

I personally like this move. I have taught the Gospel Essentials class for the past 2 years. I often find that the class tends to have more stimulating discussion, which generally fosters an atmosphere of learning. If you have not looked at the lessons, after a brief look and you will easily see that discussions are necessary at least because many of the lessons only take 1-2 pages.

But the real question is: why would the leaders of the Church utilize this lesson book in this setting? I have a couple of theories, neither of which reflect well on the general membership of the Church... so hopefully there is an alternative theory that one of you are thinking.

A few posts back Jeremy discussed 2 Ne 9:48 which states "Behold, if ye were holy I would speak unto you of holiness; but as ye are not holy, and ye look upon me as a teacher, it must needs be expedient that I teach you the consequences of sin." Granted, the material in the Gospel Essentials manual certainly consitutes things of "holiness." However, is it possible that our Church leaders are looking upon the Church as a whole and making a judgment that the general membership needs to revert back to the basics? Could this decision be tied to the general spiritual state of the Church membership? Are we predominantly not prepared to receive higher, or holy, doctrine through our Sunday School manuals?

Along the same lines, in February I posted about my own perceived differences in the doctrine taught in Gospel Essentials class versus doctrine taught in the regular Sunday School classes. Our discussion seemed to conclude that there are a great deal of cultural expectations or teachings that seem to infect the actual doctrine of the Church. Are the bretheren perceiving similar occurrences?

Joseph Smith stated that for the Saints "I teach them correct principles, and let them govern themselves." (“The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, 339). I believe that the general membership of the Church could use more of this concept in our lives. I have found that learning principles, and then determining by means of personal revelation how I am to apply those principles in my life is probably the most effective way to progress, commit to living a teaching, etc.

So what do you think? Was it some or all of the above, or something different which has inspired this change. Either way it will be an interesting year and I look forward to going back to the basics.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is There a Right/Wrong Way to Perform a Baby Blessing?

Technically, the naming and blessing of an infant is nothing more than a father’s blessing, a blessing that a father has the right to give any and all of his children at any time – not just when they are infants. At its core, it is not an ordinance of salvation. It will not make an ounce of difference in the salvation of the child if this ordinance is not performed, even if it is not performed correctly.

Because it’s not a saving ordinance, guidance from the Church on how the ordinance is to be performed is quite scarce. As a result, this has led to many traditions that may or may not be in tune with the purpose of the ordinance. Since the Church is silent on these traditions, I guess we have to be the judges for ourselves.

In a revelation concerning the government of the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the following instructions on this ordinance: "Every member of the Church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name" (D&C 20:70) (emphasis added). What does it mean to “bring [the child] unto the elders before the church”? Some perform this ordinance at home with their family. Does this count as “before the church”? What if a member of the Bishopric is present as a representative of “the elders”? What if a Bishopric member is not there, but it is nonetheless performed under the direction of the Bishopric?

The Priesthood Handbook of Instructions teaches that “[c]hildren normally should be named and blessed during fast and testimony meeting in the ward where the parents are members of record.” Thus, although not a strict regulation, parents have at least been encouraged to name and bless their children at their home ward on fast Sunday.

One reason to do this may be for the benefit of the parents, and not the child. For example, John Taylor taught that “by bringing their child before the Church [the parents] manifest their faith in the sight of their brethren and sisters, in God's word and in his promises, as well as their thankfulness to him for increasing their posterity and for the safe delivery of his handmaiden.” Thus, blessing the child before the congregation may comprise a miniature test of faith for the parents. President Taylor continued, “The child is also benefited by the united faith and responsive prayers of the assembled Saints . . .” [Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 2:311]. The combined faith principle in favor of another is similarly involved in the blessing of the sick. See James 5:14-15.

As most active priesthood holders know, the fixed portions of the ordinance are 1) addressing Heavenly Father, 2) invoking the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, 3) giving the child its name, and 4) closing in the name of Jesus Christ. At its core, then, this ordinance is simply a prayer where the person giving the blessing speaks directly with our Heavenly Father. So, what happens if he fails to address Heavenly Father at the outset? This happened a few months ago in my home ward in two separate blessings – one of which was given by our Elder’s Quorum President. Does the Bishop stop the ordinance and request that it be correctly redone? What if the Melchizedek Priesthood is not mentioned nor invoked?

There is also an unfixed portion where the person giving the blessing generally adds words of blessing as the Spirit dictates. This is where the ordinance gets fairly nebulous. Because this is simply a prayer, does he ask Heavenly Father to bless the child in the form of a prayer or does the person giving the blessing personally invoke the blessings upon the child? In other words, does he say “we bless you…” or “we ask thee to bless this child…”? I have seen it done both ways. It may just be me, but to me it sounds odd to hear the ordinance start out like a prayer, and then subsequently hear the person giving the blessing begin to pronounce blessings upon the child. Is there a right way or a wrong way to do this? In preparation of blessing my first child, I asked this question to two temple presidents at two different temples and received two separate responses.

For me, I keep in perspective the fact that the blessing has no bearing on the salvation of my children. In reality, if I didn’t like the way it turned out before the congregation, there is absolutely nothing stopping me from re-doing it at home later that day. When I blessed my two children, I personally kept a tone of prayer throughout the blessing. I petitioned Heavenly Father to bestow blessings upon my children as I felt was needed or essential through the Spirit. Was I right? Who knows? But it felt right to me…

Any thoughts?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Marijuana and the Word of Wisdom

Here's a hypothetical that I was thinking about when driving to work last work. Right now, smoking marijuana is against the Word of Wisdom. However, in states like California, using and selling marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes when prescribed by a doctor. If a member lives in California and is prescribed medical marijuana, or the federal government legalizes it in the future under similar circumstances, would that member be violating the Word of Wisdom?

If you think it would be ok, it seems funny that the government becomes a de facto interpreter of the Word of Wisdom. I'm not really sure what to make of that.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

How Wicked Were the Jews that Demanded Christ’s Crucifixion?

I’m certain I am not the only one who has contemplated the depth of hatred and wickedness that consumed the souls of the Jewish leaders who demanded that the Romans crucify Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible and secular accounts, such as Josephus, teach us that several chief members of the Sadducees and Pharisees witnessed many miraculous events at the hand of Jesus on numerous occasions. Blind men received their sight, people were raised from the dead, the lame walked, the leprous were cleansed, and the maimed healed - all in the presence of these leaders. It always baffled me how the Jewish leaders could witness such marvelous works, and yet harbor such hatred against the Savior.

From the Pearl of Great Price, we learn that the Lord has created “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33). “And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations” (Moses 7:30). And yet, of this Earth the Lord exclaimed to Enoch: “[A]mong all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren” (Moses 7:36) (emphasis added). In other words, our Earth has known greater wickedness than can be found among any of the billions of God’s creations; sadly, our Earth stands preeminent in wickedness, especially the people of Enoch’s day.

So, do the Jewish leaders in Christ’s day outrank those individuals in Enoch’s day on the ole’ wickedness meter? Yes, in fact they do.

Jacob, Nephi’s brother, teaches that “it must needs be expedient that Christ…should come among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him—for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God” (2 Nephi 10:3) (emphasis added). Think of the enormity of this statement! It is a sad distinction to be identified as the most wicked of nations on an Earth that had been identified as the most wicked of all God’s creations.

Could that wickedness ever be replicated today?

Of the persecutors of the Latter-day Church, Joseph Smith commented that “[t]his generation is as corrupt as the generation of the Jews that crucified Christ; and if He were here to-day, and should preach the same doctrine He did then, they would put Him to death” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 328). Thus, there seems to be a common link between the detractors in Christ’s day to those of the Prophet’s day.

Have you ever wondered how you would have reacted to Christ’s message if you were living at the time? What of the words and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith? Both these men taught seemingly strange doctrines that could only make sense with the eye of faith. I often wonder if I would have been one to discount their message as outlandish and peculiar.

I take heart in this statement by Bruce R. McConkie:

If you believe the words of Joseph Smith, you would have believed what Jesus and the ancients said. If you reject Joseph Smith and his message, you would have rejected Peter and Paul and their message. If you accept the prophets whom the Lord sends in your day, you also accept that Lord who sent them. If you reject the restored gospel and find fault with the plan of salvation taught by those whom God hath sent in these last days, you would have rejected those same teachings as they fell from the lips of the prophets and Apostles of old” (Conference Report, October 1981, p.69) (emphasis added).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Don’t Remember Reading That Before…

I recently began a new study of the Book of Mormon. It always amazes how many new and interesting things jump out at me each time I read that book. I guess it all ties into one’s personal spiritual progress; and if that’s the case, let’s hope we find new and interesting things each time we read the Book of Mormon.

The following two scriptures jumped out at me so far this time into my study, and I thought I would share:

1st Scripture

Prepare your souls for that glorious day when justice shall be administered unto the righteous, even the day of judgment, that ye may not shrink with awful fear” (2 Ne. 9:46) (emphasis added).

When we think of God’s justice being meted out, we typically stress the negative, in that God will eventually punish the wicked and ungodly. Of this there can be no doubt. But I don’t ever remember reading that God’s justice would be also administered to the righteous. We normally think of God’s mercy being extended to the righteous, but not his justice. How will this justice be extended to the righteous? Will the wrongs committed against the righteous be made right at this time? How will this occur?

As a side note, notice how Alma personifies “justice” and “mercy” in the following verse:

For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved” (Alma 42:24).

Isn’t it interesting that the personal pronoun for justice is masculine, and the personal pronoun for mercy is feminine? Children typically think of the father as meting out punishment, whereas the mother generally provided the loving comfort of mercy. On occasion, I recall my mother warning me with, “you just wait until your father gets home.” This personification is also consistent with Paul’s characterization of charity as a feminine trait in 1 Corinthians 13:5.

2nd Scripture

Behold, if ye were holy I would speak unto you of holiness; but as ye are not holy, and ye look upon me as a teacher, it must needs be expedient that I teach you the consequences of sin” (2 Ne. 9:48) (emphasis added).

When God’s people are holy, the Lord is willing and pleased to speak of holy and sacred matters. When they are sinful, however, he speaks of the awfulness of sin and the necessity of repentance.

This makes me wonder where the Church stands as a people today. If there were a spiritual barometer measuring from 1-10, where 1 is unholy and 10 is holy, where does the Church stand today? Are we hearing the same things over and over again because we are sinful and aren’t getting it, or is it because we are a global Church now, and the more sacred things should not be revealed over the pulpit but instead through personal study?

When I read some of the General Conference addresses from the 1800’s, and even some in the early 1900’s, I am impressed at how much our leaders felt at liberty to divulge to the Saints. There is obviously the argument that our current leaders do teach sacred doctrines, but only “those with ears may hear” and understand. But honestly, there is a stark contrast between the tone and content of the talks from a century ago (and even a few decades ago with the McConkie era) and what we hear every six months today.

We can only imagine what profound topics would be discussed if we were only more prepared.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Shield and a Protection

Soon after I had received my endowment in preparation for my mission I recall seeing a 60 Minutes report (April 1996) on the Church that featured a few famous Mormons. One Mormon guest was Bill Marriott, the owner of the Marriott hotel chain. On the topic of temples and the garment received by the faithful LDS within the temple, Marriott explained to Mike Wallace that the garment offered its wearer physical protection. As an example, Marriott proceeded to relate a fantastic story of how, when he was in a fiery boating accident, his garment protected him from being burned.

During my mission I heard several other tall tales of missionaries surviving knife thrusts, machete blows, and even gun shots where the garment was not penetrated. Anyone that has served a mission is likely to have heard a variation of at least one of these stories. The stories are fantastic, but is there any truth to them? When a person receives the garment, the promise is given that as long as that person is faithful, the garment will serve as "a shield and a protection to you against the power of the destroyer until you have finished your work here on earth." But does the protection extend to physical maladies? Could the cotton-poly mesh really stop a .38 caliber bullet? Maybe just the 100% polyester blend...

It is well-documented that when Joseph Smith went to Carthage jail he not only went “as a lamb to the slaughter,” but he also went without the protection of the temple garment. Before leaving Nauvoo for Carthage, Joseph instructed those that were to accompany him that they should remove the garment prior to leaving, possibly to avoid potential ridicule and mockery of the garment if it were to fall into the hands of an enemy. Accordingly, John Taylor and Hyrum Smith removed their garment. Willard Richards, however, refused to do so.

Interestingly enough, it was the three that had removed their “shield and protection” that were eventually either killed or injured during the ensuing melee, thus giving rise to the idea that one’s garment could serve as a bona fide physical protection. “[Heber C. Kimball] Spoke of Elder Richards being protected at Carthage Jail -- having on the robe, while Joseph & Hyrum, and Elder Taylor were shot to pieces” (Heber C. Kimball's diary for 21 Dec. 1845 kept by William Clayton as cited in The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, p. 117).

Through modern-day mission stories, this theory is alive and well. In fact, I recall one Ecuadorian companion of mine declare that he was not worried about physical harm during his mission since he had complete faith that the garment would wholly protect him. This theory, however, is not entirely correct.

In a First Presidency Letter dated October 10, 1988, members of the Church were counseled as follows:

Church members who have been clothed with the garment in the temple have made a covenant to wear it throughout their lives. This has been interpreted to mean that it is worn as underclothing both day and night. This sacred covenant is between the member and the Lord. . . . The promise of protection and blessings is conditioned upon worthiness and faithfulness in keeping the covenant.
. . .
Endowed members of the Church wear the garment as a reminder of the sacred covenants they have made with the Lord and also as a protection against temptation and evil. How it is worn is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior.

Thus, modern-day Church leaders have clarified that the garment serves as "a protection against temptation and evil" that is "conditioned upon worthiness and faithfulness," instead of it being some type of bullet-proof vest. On a side note, the last sentence of the previous quote, once correctly understood, should completely trasnform how the wearer of the temple garment treats the "shield and protection."

A similar principal applies to the promise given to the Apostles that “[t]hey shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them” (Mark 16:18). The Lord’s disciples cannot be justified in testing the Lord’s promise of protection by seeking out these dangers. “[W]hen a man designedly provokes a serpent to bite him, the principle is the same as when a man drinks deadly poison knowing it to be such. In that case no man has any claim on the promises of God to be healed” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 72).

[NOTE 1: For further information on Joseph Smith removing the garment prior to the martyrdom, see Did Joseph and Others with him Remove their Garments in Order to Avoid Being Identified as Polygamists?, found at the FAIR Wiki.]

[NOTE 2: For a great article on proper garment usage, see The Temple Garment: An Outward Expression of an Inward Commitment, by Elder Carlos E. Asay, Ensign, August 1997]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Larry David and Religious Double Standard

Larry David, probably best known for creating and producing "Seinfeld," also is the creator and producer of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," a show that airs on HBO. Although I haven't seen an episode myself, I hear that it's much like the Seinfeld series, except not rated for family audiences.

In his latest episode, however, he may have crossed the line regarding religion. As an article on Fox News reports, in the recent episode David's character "visits a bathroom in his assistant's home and splatters urine on a picture of Jesus. Instead of wiping it off, David leaves the restroom. Minutes later, David's assistant enters the bathroom and concludes that Jesus is crying. She then summons her mother to the bathroom, where both women kneel in prayer."

It amazes me to see what passes today as art or humor. There has to be a line somewhere, right?

Not surprisingly, this stunt has prompted outrage from numerous religious groups all decrying a blatant double standard when it comes to how the Christian religion is treated as opposed to other religions, for example Muslims. Opponents assert that quite a different reaction would have ensued had the religious context been an image of Muhammad, or the Quran.

On the other hand, proponents of the show remind the viewers that it is satire, and intended to entertain. Further, they assert, if you may be offended by such things…change the channel. Is it as easy as that? Just change the channel and nothing bad happens, right?

Are Christians the unofficial whipping boy of the liberal-thinking public? Is there really a double standard in religion in America? If so, why? Aren't we a predominantly Judeo Christian nation? Does a potential double-standard play into the Gospel teachings of being a "peculiar people"?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Priest + Marriage = Catholic Priest?

In light of the recent news that the Vatican has reached its hand out to the Anglican clergy, put off by liberal reforms in the Anglican church, by offering acceptance into the Catholic Church yet allowing them to retain Anglican traditions, I began to wonder what implications this would have.

The Anglicans and Catholics are not that different in their traditions. Following its break with the Vatican, the English church kept most of the liturgy and tradition that characterized the Catholic tradition. After 475 years of separation, there are some dogmatic differences, but the two are still very similar when compared to the direction other Protestant groups have taken. The one big exception that comes to mind, however, is celibacy of the clergy. As things currently stand, clergy in the Catholic tradition are celibate and Anglicans may marry, have families, and still serve their flocks.

How will the Vatican’s grafting in of these married priests affect its current priests who are still limited by vows of celibacy? I see a few potential points to mention:

The divide between the two clergies won’t survive for long. Young Catholic men who want to serve and yet would like to have families will enter the Anglican priesthood. There’s no way the Catholic orders would be happy about that.

It could cause a total repeal of Catholic celibacy as the Pope takes a more pragmatic line towards reconciliation with Anglicans, Orthodox,
Arians, etc. over doctrine that your typical Catholic doesn't know or care about. (What?! You dare believe that the Trinity is homoousian and not homoiousian?!)

Maybe this backfires when conservative elements in the Vatican disagree. I remember when the Pope was selected that many liberals were disappointed that he was considered to be a hard liner, when it looks like he is much more pragmatic.

Update: The Economist has a nice article summing up some of the implications for Anglicans and Catholics.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pres. Monson - "Most Powerful Octogenarian"

For the sake of those who don't know, an "octogenarian" is someone who is in their 80's. In's annual "80 over 80" ranking, our beloved Prophet, Thomas S. Monson was ranked as the most powerful octogenarian in America, which also included those in their 90's and beyond. This is not surprising seeing as how he leads a Church with millions of faithful followers.

Other notables on this list, although I'm not sure why they are considered "powerful," were Joe Paterno at #25, Jack Kevorkian at #38, Betty White at #40, and Stan Lee at #45. Interestingly, Billy Graham was ranked at #78. Also, this may be one of the only times a Prophet of God would be associated with the likes of an adult magazine peddler - Hugh Hefner at #19.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Remember when General Conference was like a Soap Opera?

In the October session of General Conference in 1866, Brigham Young made these comments:

To my certain knowledge, Emma Smith is one of the damnedest liars I know of on this earth; yet there is no good thing I would refuse to do for her, if she would only be a righteous woman; but she will continue in her wickedness. Not six months before the death of Joseph, he called his wife Emma into a secret council, and there he told her the truth, and called upon her to deny it if she could. He told her that the judgments of God would come upon her forthwith if she did not repent. He told her of the time she undertook to poison him, and he told her that she was a child of hell, and literally the most wicked woman on this earth, that there was not one more wicked than she. He told here where she got the poison, and how she put it in a cup of coffee; said he 'You got that poison from so and so, and I drank it, but you could not kill me.' When it entered his stomach he went to the door and threw it off. he spoke to her in that council in a very severe manner, and she never said one word in reply. I have witnesses of this scene all around, who can testify that I am now telling the truth. Twice she undertook to kill him. [Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 48, Winter 1980, 82] (emphasis added)

If they had popcorn back then, the congregation was just shoveling it in. Can you imagine if one of the General Authorities spoke like that today?

Indeed, Brother Brigham and Emma had a colorful past. From what I understand, the issue between these two was Emma's adamant denial of Joseph's teaching of plural marriage. Brigham didn't take too kindly to anyone contradicting the Prophet; hence the outrage.

The FAIR Wiki does a great job of discussing their relationship in an article titled "Emma Smith and Brigham Young."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Martin Handcart Company and Brigham Young

Our Gospel Doctrine class recently covered Lesson 35, which reviewed the bittersweet Martin and Willie handcart experiences. Of course, the famous Solomon Kimball quote was used:

After they [Martin Company] had given up in despair, after all hopes had vanished, after every apparent avenue of escape seemed closed, three eighteen-year-old boys belonging to the relief party came to the rescue, and to the astonishment of all who saw, carried nearly every member of the illfated handcart company across the snowbound stream. The strain was so terrible, and the exposure so great, that in later years all the boys died from the effects of it. When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and later declared publicly, 'that act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end'” (Solomon F. Kimball, “Belated Emigrants of 1856,” Improvement Era 17, no. 4 (February 1914): 288) (emphasis added).

Solomon Kimball was the younger brother of David P. Kimball, and was nine years old at the time of the rescue. Undoubtedly, this report spurs thoughts of sacrifice and faith among the faithful Saints. Indeed, it is an accurate example of true consecration and being found possessed of charity (Moro. 7:47). However, although most LDS are familiar with Kimball’s account, it is not the only account of the rescue that we have access to. In fact, several other accounts shed additional perspective on the heroic rescue, and potentially expose inaccuracies or misstatements on the part of Kimball. A few examples are listed below:

1) Evidence indicates that more than just Kimball, Grant, and Huntington braved the icy waters of the Sweetwater that day. In fact, one account reports that there was a group of at least twenty-seven rescuers. (Daniel W. Jones, Forty Years among the Indians. A True Yet Thrilling Narrative of the Author’s Experiences among the Natives (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1890), 63.) Of the rescuers mentioned by Daniel W. Jones, eighteen were positively identified as assisting the Martin Company on the day they crossed the Sweetwater.

2) Of those positively identified as rescuers during the Sweetwater crossing, none were actually eighteen years of age. As for the ages of a few of them on November 4, 1856, C. Allen Huntington was 24 and was the oldest of those named in the records. Stephen W. Taylor was 20. Ira Nebeker and David P. Kimball were both 17. George W. Grant, the youngest of the named group, was only 16 years old. To be able to physically carry several individuals over icy banks and through soft river bottoms, these boys must have been quite powerful and well-built at their respective ages

3) Evidence indicates that the rescuers did not “carr[y] nearly every member of the illfated handcart company across the snowbound stream,” as reported by Kimball. There were upwards of 500 emigrants stranded on the one side of the Sweetwater and, although the rescuers helped a great many across the river, they physically carried only a portion of the company across. Exactly how many is not known, but several factors argue against the idea that three rescuers carried the whole company, or even a majority, over the Sweetwater. At least one factor is that there was simply not enough time to carry 500 individuals across the river. Reports indicates that the company did not reach the Sweetwater until the afternoon, leaving them only mere hours before darkness fell.

4) While some of the rescuers reported health problems resulting from the rescue, most lived long and active lives that terminated in deaths that cannot be definitively attributed to their exposure to the icy water that day. Here are a few examples:

George W. Grant was the first of the named heroes to die, passing away in August 1872, at age 32 and nearly sixteen years after the Sweetwater rescue. He served a 4-year mission to England just five years after the rescue.

David P. Kimball died next at the age of 44. Just a few months after the rescue he married Caroline Williams following which they honeymooned on Antelope Island (huh, go figure, I never thought Antelope Island to be a honeymoon destination). He helped build the transcontinental railroad through Utah (1868–69), and during the 1870’s he worked as a teamster in Arizona. Concerning his death, the Deseret News erroneously reported that he had died as an effect of the Sweetwater rescue, but the newspaper later retracted that statement explaining that his death was brought on by “pneumonia and lung fever” he contracted during a snowstorm in 1881.

C. Allen Huntington died shortly before his 65th birthday. He was apparently the rebel among the rescuers, having served time in the Utah territorial penitentiary in March 1860 for charges of horse and cattle thievery. It was also reported that he had once been in a knife fight where he encountered a ‘Greaser’ and “he had cut him.” (Reported by Langdon Gibson to Dana Gibson, December 25, 1889, copy included in Otis Marston Collection, Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.)

Ira Nebeker died shortly before his 65th birthday also. He reportedly died of kidney failure. During his long life he worked as a stockman and a farmer, and also served in the “Indian wars.” There is no indication of his death being brought on from the effects of the rescue.

Stephen W. Taylor died at 84, six years after Solomon Kimball’s account appeared in print. During his life, Taylor served a 3-year mission to England, served as a messenger for the territorial legislature, and served in the Black Hawk War. He was also a Salt Lake City police officer and was appointed as Sherriff of Summit County.

5) Solomon Kimball’s declaration that Brigham Young publicly proclaimed that this one heroic act alone guaranteed "everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom; worlds without end" is the only account of such a statement. Did the Prophet actually seal the eternal exaltation of these men as a result of this one heroic act? What about Huntington’s colorful past as a thief and a knife wielding outlaw?

Kimball’s statement is not supported and is likely taken out of context considering the following scriptural truths:

I would that ye should learn that he only is saved who endureth unto the end” (D&C 53:7)

There is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God; Therefore, let the Church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also” (D&C 20:32 –34)

In Kimball’s first published account of the Sweetwater rescue, he included a different, more plausible promise: “When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and declared that this act alone would immortalize them” (Solomon F. Kimball, “Our Pioneer Boys,” Improvement Era 11 (July 1908): 679)

[NOTE: The preceding information was mostly derived from Chad M. Orton’s article in BYU Studies 45, no.3, (2006), entitled “The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look.” For those interested in the Sweetwater rescue, I highly recommend the article.]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We Thank Thee, Oh God, For A Profit - Part 1

One of my pet peeves, among many like “Thank-imonies” and “burying” one’s testimony, is when people use the church to sell something. Even when the church gets involved in a worthy capital venture I get uneasy, but am very willing to give it deference because there is usually always a good explanation.

And then there are situations where church relationships or positions are abused. Other times it is rather harmless but comes across as not really appropriate. Fast forward to this past Sunday when I was walking through the halls because my son wanted to play basketball in the EQ overflow hall (nothing makes Joseph Smith’s teachings more inspiring than looking at the basketball net over my head or sitting on the 3-pt line). As I walked by the RS room, I noticed a few tables set out with various goods. By the goods there were small price tags next to each item. See pictures below (I apologize if they are fuzzy, but the light in the corridor isn’t really designed for a smart phone camera. But I did get them, didn’t I?).

I do not know what this was for, whether as part of an activity or a charitable enterprise. But I came away with a feeling that it was completely inappropriate. I do believe that there are some situations where goods may be sold at church meetings, but they should be very limited to things like Bishop’s Storehouse items. Even that makes me feel uncomfortable, but I can live with it. However, birthday signs (you can see the bottom of the sign in picture #2), metallic clipboards, crafty-creepy-Texas-Ranger-wooden tombstone imitations, and doilies (?) while appropriate for the Quilted Bear, are not appropriate to be sold at church. Perhaps I will try to sell tools or DVDs in Elder’s Quorum? Perhaps a stuffed elk?

I don’t think I really need to add some verses without people thinking about it, but think about Jesus and the money changers:

14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

John 2:14-15

My question to the reader is whether it is appropriate to sell items like this in church? Part 2 will follow, hopefully it won’t take me too long to post.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gazelem's Seer Stones

I have recently been studying about Joseph Smith’s usage of seer stones in place of the Urim & Thummim for the process of translating the Book of Mormon. Since some of the information I encountered was new to me, I thought a few quotes and commentary may help those who read this better understand at least a portion of how the Book of Mormon was translated.

It should be noted that the expression Urim & Thummim is never used in the Book of Mormon, but was likely adopted by the Prophet after becoming familiar with the Old Testament revelatory device through his translation of the Old Testament. Instead, the Urim & Thummim wielded by the Prophet included the Nephite interpreters comprising “two stones” fastened into the “two rims of a bow” as the “interpreters.” (See Mosiah 28:13; Ether 3:23) In other words, the Urim & Thummim known to the Prophet consisted primarily of a couple of seer stones that could be attached to a device for ease of viewing. It eventually became common for members of the Church to call the Nephite interpreters the Urim & Thummim, which isn’t exactly correct.

When he finally received the Nephite interpreters in September of 1827, Joseph was already quite familiar with seer stones and how they worked. In fact, Joseph had discovered at least 2 seer stones, the first in 1822 while digging a well with Willard Chase:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.” (Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15:2 (Summer 1982): 48–68) (emphasis added).

Of this seer stone, one witness reported that “[i]t was about the size of a small hen's egg, in the shape of a high-instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket” (W. D. Purple, The Chenango Union (3 May 1877); cited in Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 2:365). This seer stone was eventually consecrated on an altar in the Manti Temple in 1888 by Wilford Woodruff.

The source of the second seer stone is uncertain, but in 1841 the Prophet showed it to the Council of the 12 in Nauvoo and told them, Brigham Young reported, “that every man who lived on the earth was entitled to a seer stone and should have one, but they are kept from them in consequence of their wickedness.” The second seer stone was described as in “the shape of an egg though not quite so large, of a gray cast something like granite but with white stripes running around it. It was transparent but had no holes, neither on the end or in the sides” (Richard Marcellas Robinson, "The History of a Nephite Coin," manuscript, 20 December 1834, LDS Church archives; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 264).

During the translation process of the 116 pages, the Prophet used not only the Nephite interpreters but also regularly employed at least one of his seer stones placed in the bottom of a hat. Contrary to frequent Church criticism, our Church leaders have hardly tried to conceal this fact as evidenced by the following recent quote:

Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign, July 1993, p.61) (emphasis added)

Interestingly enough, using a seer stone in this seemingly odd manner was nothing out of the ordinary for Joseph Smith and practically everyone else at this time. (SeeJoseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?,” Brant A. Gardner) In fact, what seems quite strange to us today was a widely accepted practice, even among the highly religious during the early 19th century. Joseph apparently had a gift to use his seer stones to see things others could not, including discerning property and the location of hidden treasure. Hence, Mr. Josiah Stowell’s interest in Joseph Smith to help him search for hidden Spanish treasure (see JSH 1:56).

Since Joseph openly employed the seer stone in the hat for translation, at one point during the translation of the 116 pages, Martin Harris apparently tested the Prophet’s abilities. After translating for a time each day, the two would often take a break and walk to a nearby river and throw rocks into the river to unwind:

Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, ‘Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.’ Martin then confessed that he wished to ‘stop the mouths of fools’ who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.” (Told in Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign, January 1988, p.6)

In an apparent reference to at least one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones, the Book of Mormon makes reference to “a stone” as distinct from the Nephite interpreters:

23 And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.
24 And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:
25 I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land. (Alma 37:23-25)

Gazelem is a name given to a servant of God, generally thought to be Joseph Smith. The word appears to have its roots in gaz – a stone, and aleim, a name of God as a revelator, or the interposer in the affairs of men. If this suggestion is correct, its roots admirably agree with its apparent meaning – a seer.

Notice that Alma speaks of a singular “stone” as separate and distinct from the plural Nephite “interpreters,” both of which are to be used for basically the same purpose. The stone, however, was to “shine forth in darkness unto light,” possibly referring to its usage in a hat as was Joseph Smith’s revelatory practice.

While it is not certain how much of the Book of Mormon was eventually translated using the seer stones, it is evident that their usage was typical.

[NOTE: For more information on the Prophet’s seer stones, see Joseph Smith/Seer Stones found in the FAIR Wiki.]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Health Care Reform – A Step Towards a Welfare State?

Health care reform is necessary and should be implemented soon. To my knowledge, no one is arguing that reforming the system is essentially a bad thing. Instead much of the controversy lies in how it is reformed. Any reform, however, should be discussed and debated thoroughly by both sides of the aisle since each side touts valid points.

A good portion of the opposition to the current reform has been focused on the non-transparency of the process, and the sudden rush to just “do something.” With a proposed bill of over 1,000 pages, not including the thousands of amendments that will certainly follow, it is imperative that our representatives have sufficient time to know what they are signing into law. They must understand the long-term implications of such a move since it will likely comprise 1/7th of our nation’s economy.

Another reason this must be debated thoroughly is because health care reform will undoubtedly include entitlement programs, where individuals will receive free services simply by having a valid social security number – and possibly those without a social security number. Reversing government entitlement programs is an incredibly difficult task. Recipients eventually feel “entitled” to those free services and ultimately rely thereon for their livelihood instead of being personally responsible – the ‘give a man a fish, or teach a man to fish’ principle comes to mind. Little by little, government entitlements create a “welfare state” where the government assumes the primary responsibility for the welfare of its citizens.

I am generally opposed to government entitlements since I believe personal welfare is an individual responsibility that should not be shouldered by others. In my opinion, government entitlements tend to harm the individual more than help because labor and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor are blessings from the Lord, and an essential requirement in our eternal progression. I firmly believe that nothing destroys the individuality and freedoms of a man as much as the failure to be self-reliant.

Obviously there are several exceptions to this, for example, individuals who lack the physical or mental capacity to survive without the goodwill of the people. In those cases, entitlements serve a valid and needed purpose. Nevertheless, those who have the means to provide for their own welfare and yet seek a free ride are, in essence, restricting their own freedom and the freedoms of those who pay the price. The following quote by Howard W. Hunter explains:

What is the real cause of this trend toward the welfare state, toward more socialism? In the last analysis, in my judgment, it is personal unrighteousness. When people do not use their freedoms responsibly and righteously, they will gradually lose these freedoms…

If man will not recognize the inequalities around him and voluntarily, through the gospel plan, come to the aid of his brother, he will find that through ‘a democratic process’ he will be forced to come to the aid of his brother. The government will take from the ‘haves’ and give to the ‘have nots.’ Both have lost their freedom. Those who ‘have,’ lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who ‘have not,’ lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got ‘something for nothing,’ and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.

Under this climate, people gradually become blind to what has happened and to the vital freedoms which they have lost." [Speeches of the Year 1965-1966, pp. 1-11, “The Law of the Harvest.” Devotional Address, Brigham Young University, 8 March 1966.]

Of late, it seems as though we are losing our freedoms through the democratic process. More and more people are choosing the easy way out instead of properly sacrificing like our predecessors had. As a result, the ‘haves’ continually lose their freedoms by being forced to be charitable, and the ‘have-nots’ become more and more complacent and apathetic.

I truly hope that our elected officials view any reform to our health care system through the lens of self-reliance and the blessings that inevitably will come when one earns their bread by the sweat of their own brow.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hispanic Church Growth and Illegal Immigration

An article was recently published at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University describing LDS missionary activities in and around the city of Chicago. [The article can be found here] In particular, the article focused on missionaries called to serve in Spanish-speaking areas. Although there were a few things in which the writer erred, overall it was a fair article.

Of interest to me, however, were the following quotes:

"In Chicago, Hispanics, which account for about a third of the population, make up more than half of converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as more missionaries are reaching out to inner-city populations in Spanish. About a quarter of the 32 congregations on the city’s North Side are Spanish-speaking."
"The number of the Spanish-speaking Mormon congregations in the U.S. has grown by more than 80 percent in the last decade, now up to around 700."

Amazing! Spanish wards have grown by 80% since 1999! Living in Texas, I can see how this is possible. It is inevitable as the stone that is cut out of the mountain continues to roll forth until it fills the whole earth.

The Seer Stone recently discussed Predictions of Globalization of the Church. Part of that globalization must, of necessity, be related somehow to the various cultures and laws of each nation involved. Here in America, there is the ever-growing debate about illegal immigration from Hispanic nations and the effect it can have on our society. My questions are three-fold:

1) How should the Church deal with "illegal" immigrants that desire baptism? How does this coincide with the Church's admonition to be "subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law"?

2) Should the Church be actively concerned about the legal status of its members?

3) Should the members of the Church be concerned about the legal status of the members of their Ward/Branch?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why the Nicene Creed?

There have always been two criticisms of the Church that always irk me.

1) Latter-day Saints don’t believe the Bible. Those that assert this falsity usually insist that the Bible is the sole authoritative source of inspired information. However, they also insist that the Bible can only be interpreted within limits set by later councils and creeds. In other words, when they assert that I don’t believe in the Bible, they usually mean that I don’t believe in the post-biblical interpretations of creeds and councils.

2) The canon of scripture is closed, therefore the Book of Mormon is false. Those that assert this also demand that Latter-day Saints accept and honor the added doctrines of the councils and creeds in order to be Christians.

One of the more well-known post-biblical creeds is the Nicene Creed. Long after they had declared the heavens sealed and prophets and apostles to be a thing of the past, the leaders of what called itself the Christian faith met in Nicaea to determine the nature of the God they worshipped. The event is known as the church’s first ecumenical council, and out of it came the first formal Christian creed.

It was during the reign of Constantine, who became Caesar in A.D. 306. Prior to Constantine, the pagan emperors of Rome had persecuted the Christians because of their disbelief in “the gods.” According to the pagans, the gods provided the good things in life: health, prosperity, love, peace, etc., and when when bad things transpired to the Romans, it was only natural to blame the Christians who refused to pay homage to the pagan gods.

However, Constantine changed things. As recorded by Eusebius, a 4th century Christian writer, Constantine was converted to Christianity while at a major battle at Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312. Before the battle, Constantine had a vision in broad daylight depicting a standard in the shape of a cross – above the cross were the words, “By this sign, conquer.” That night he dreamed that Christ came to him with the same sign and told him to use it as a protection against his enemies. The next morning he commissioned a lavish replica of what he saw, with two Greek letters at the top, a chi and rho – the first two letters of Christ’s name. He later engaged in battle and won a resounding victory.

Being a long-time sun worshipper, Constantine naturally assumed that the Christian God and the sun god were one and the same, and subsequently decreed that the Christian God was to be worshipped on the day of the sun (Sunday), and that the birth of Christ was to be celebrated at the time of the winter solstice (Christmas-time). Upon conversion, Constantine also declared an empire-wide cessation of Christian persecution and actually provided a society of religious freedom not unlike what we enjoy in the U.S. today. By the end of the 4th century, Christianity was the state religion of the Roman Empire.

So, where does the Nicene Creed come into the picture? Well, Constantine decided to unify his vast empire under the dogma of Christianity. However, the Christian church by this time was severely disunified over several fundamental theological issues. In order for Christianity to unify the Roman Empire, Constantine had to first unify Christianity.

One of the major issues of contention at the time was the question of Jesus’ divinity, or how to understand His divinity in light of the fact that he was also human. Also, they wondered how both Jesus and God could be God if there is only one God.

At the time there were two schools of thought:

A) Arius of Alexandria, Egypt taught that in the beginning there was only God the Father. But at some point in the eternities, God brought his Son into existence, and it was through this Son that God created all things. Thus, Christ was divine, but subordinate to God the Father. (Sounds pretty much like what the Latter-day Church believes)

B) Athanasius, a young deacon in the Alexandrian church opposed Arius’ view. Athanasius taught that Christ had always existed – he did not come into existence at one point in time – and he was separately divine, not inferior to God the Father. Indeed, he was of the same essence as God the Father. This obviously led to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

In an attempt to unify the Christian church, in A.D. 325 Constantine called 200-250 bishops to decide the issue. Everything associated with this council was at odds with the pattern of faith preserved in the scriptures. Here prophets were formally replaced with the learned men of the say and the revelations of heaven were replaced by philosophical speculations. The majority sided with Athanasius.

The following is the resulting creed of the council at Nicaea:

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit.

"[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church]" (emphasis added).

Notice the last paragraph of the creed; the council actually condemned the doctrine espoused by Arius and exiled him and any followers for their belief.

In 2007, President Hinckley said the following about the Nicene Creed during the October conference:

When Constantine became a Christian in the fourth century, he called together a great convocation of learned men with the hope that they could reach a conclusion of understanding concerning the true nature of Deity. All they reached was a compromise of various points of view. The result was the Nicene Creed of a.d. 325. This and subsequent creeds have become the declaration of doctrine concerning the nature of Deity for most of Christianity ever since.

I have read them all a number of times. I cannot understand them. I think others cannot understand them. I am sure that the Lord also knew that many would not understand them. And so in 1820, in that incomparable vision, the Father and the Son appeared to the boy Joseph. They spoke to him with words that were audible, and he spoke to Them. They could see. They could speak. They could hear. They were personal. They were of substance. They were not imaginary beings. They were beings tabernacled in flesh. And out of that experience has come our unique and true understanding of the nature of Deity” (Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain,” Ensign, Nov, 2007, 83–86) (emphasis added).

It is interesting to note that when the Prophet received the First Vision, the Lord declared that it was the creeds of modern Christianity that were “an abomination in his sight” (JSH 1:19). “[T]his is because creeds are philosophical idols created by human minds, imposed upon the Scriptures and then revered as God’s word in place of God’s word. Those who believe such creeds are not ‘abominable.’ They are just wrong” (Craig L. Blomberg & Stephen E. Robinson, “How Wide the Divide: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation,” pg. 161).

The Nicene Creed is not found in any Gospel. It derives from no utterance of Christ nor from the words of any of his apostles. The ideas portrayed therein are instead cloaked in Greek philosophy from whence it came. In fact, it directly contradicts the langauge of the New Testament.

At the risk of extending this already lengthy post, any thoughts?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Coming Up Next At Sunstone: A Critical Look At Cipher In The Snow

I think Sunstone Symposiums produce some quality scholarly works that do not always have a place in conferences at BYU or FAIR. It may be the only venue where you can learn about things that aren’t generally spoken of. But sometimes, or perhaps more often than not, it becomes a place to grind an axe.

You know when you are at work or with friends/family and you are both upset about a co-worker or family member. And what happens is that you are both so upset that you keep going on about things that annoy you even though you start to realize that you are getting to the point where you are embellishing, but you both continue to do it anyways? I see this happen at work a lot when people complain about a boss where I start thinking, “Ok, I agree somewhat, but you are overdoing it now.”

Enter writer Holly Welker at Sunstone’s Symposium. I refer to her presentation on Johnny Lingo, entitled, “A Price Far Above Rubies Vs. Eight Cows: What’s a Virtuous Woman Worth?”. The always objective Salt Lake Tribune gives a report here. In full disclosure, I have never seen the movie but am familiar with the plot. It seems a little hokey but there is a good underlying moral. It is, essentially, that people should value intrinsic worth and beauty.

This does not please Welker. As the Tribune reports:

Welker said the film often is cited "as a wise, compassionate story of male sensitivity to female identity, a positive demonstration of how to foster female self-worth." But Welker argues it instead is about male identity and power, the power to assess and determine female worth, the power to claim or create a desirable mate, the power to see what others do not, the power to manipulate less insightful people around you, and the power to acquire what one truly desires."

Really? Hold on, let me say that again. Really? Maybe it’s just me, but this strikes me as looking beyond the mark. Is Ms. Welker incapable of reading anything hyperbolic into a story which millions of teenagers are capable of doing? Does holding a doctorate in English from the University of Iowa absolve a person from using common sense?

The report continues:

Mahana has no say in the marriage. She cannot refuse the husband who has bought her, even if she doesn't like him or believes that his price is too low. The bridal bargain is a contest of wills between two men: Mahana's father and her future husband. "Johnny Lingo" is about its active and powerful hero, not the passive heroine.

Indeed, Mahana's transformation is "not because someone loves her, or because she loves someone, or because she is treated with respect and kindness, but because she knows she is the most expensive commodity on the island," said Welker, who earned a doctorate in English at the University of Iowa. "The fact that women are bought and sold in this culture, their thorough objectification, is not open to scrutiny, only the damaging effects of being sold cheaply.

I agree that these are problems in society and perhaps LDS culture, but are you really seeing all these issues in Johnny Lingo? Isn’t it possible that it’s a 24-minute film set in a Polynesian culture where the moral is more important than some of the details? Do young LDS women come away from that movie really thinking that they have no say in marriage and that their church is telling them that they shouldn’t? Or do they come away thinking that even though some people don’t value them very much based on their looks, men and women should value their internal beauty.

Is the objectionable part the use of cows as chattel? Or is it objectionable that the man is the instigator (astonishing for a film form 1965, isn’t it!). I personally would not buy a spouse with cows, maybe chickens…no, probably not those either, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t see the moral of (or SHOCK, enjoy!) the story where this does happen. This strikes me as stretching for something to complain about at the perfect place to grind an axe. J. Stapley touched on this as well a few days ago in his critique of Sunstone Symposiums and their drift from actual religious scholarship.

I expect Ms. Welker to provide a hard hitting critique of how Curious George is really an example of racist undertones in children’s media. Or how Clifford is an evil portrayal of Ginger kids. As a fellow blogger here at The Seer Stone would say, it seems a little “Hoity Toity”.

And from Sunstone, I expect next year a critical look at the shameful portrayal of alcoholic Step Fathers in next year’s Symposium: “A Critical Look at the Cipher in the Snow, the Untold Story of That Step Father Who Was Kind of Mean To That Kid Who Asked to Get Off The Bus to Fall Into The Snow And Died, At Least That’s What I Think Happened Because I Didn’t Really Pay Attention To The Movie When I Was 14 In Sunday School”.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Religion and LA Fitness Shooter

I have been reading up on the shooting that happened the other day in PA (for those who have not seen the story--this man went into a gym and fired something like 65 bullets, injured many, and killed something like 3 people and himself) and one thing stuck out to me that I doubt anyone in the press would ever talk about. It comes as no surprise that a man capable of such an act has many twisted thoughts in his mind, but let's take a look at this one.

The shooter's last journal entry was this:

August 3, 2009: I took off today, Monday, and tomorrow to practice my routine and make sure it is well polished. I need to work out every detail, there is only one shot. Also I need to be completely immersed into something before I can be successful. I haven't had a drink since Friday at about 2:30. Total effort needed. Tomorrow is the big day.

Unfortunately I talked to my neighbor today, who is very positive and upbeat. I need to remain focused and absorbed COMPLETELY. Last time I tried this, in January, I chickened out. Lets see how this new approach works.

Maybe soon, I will see God and Jesus. At least that is what I was told. Eternal life does NOT depend on works. If it did, we will all be in hell. Christ paid for EVERY sin, so how can I or you be judged BY GOD for a sin when the penalty was ALREADY paid. People judge but that does not matter. I was reading the Bible and The Integrity of God beginning yesterday, because soon I will see them.

I will try not to add anymore entries because this computer clicking distracts me.

It's a funny twist on the faith/works issue and shows a very fundamental misunderstanding of the atonement. What sticks out to me though, is how at least part of the rationalization and logic of this shooter is not a huge leap from what some people actually teach.

I wonder whether if this understanding of the atonement were corrected, would there have been a different path? I tend to doubt it. But did this man really believe that there were no consequences for his actions because he has faith in Christ? A belief like is immensely dangerous and could lead to a great deal of evil acts. Do you think this type of teaching is being taught, or rather, that it is being taught in a form that easily allows a minor twist to lead to the shooter's conclusion?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I Wonder Who the Pope's Guardian Angel is...

A few weeks ago Catholic Pope Benedict XVI fractured his right wrist when he fell while on vacation. When queried about his misfortune, he stated that “[u]nfortunately, my own guardian angel did not prevent my injury, certainly following superior orders.” (See article reported in Breitbart here)

I wonder if he was being coy, or if he truly believes there is some being on the other side of the veil dedicated to his safety and protection. Admittedly, I do not know Catholic doctrine well enough to affirm this. However, I am somewhat versed in Latter-day Saint teachings.

Do Latter-day Saints believe in guardian angels? Is there a spiritual being assigned to each mortal to aid us through mortality? If there is such a thing, could we potentially offend that being and lose any offered protection?

By revelation Joseph Smith learned that “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it” (D&C 130:5). Thus, Joseph F. Smith observed that:

When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from among our kindred, friends, and fellow-beings and fellow-servants. The ancient prophets who died were those who came to visit their fellow creatures upon the earth. . . . Our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 435-437) (emphasis added).

So, who is it that protects the Pope? A former prophet of the Lord, or maybe a deceased relative?

The scriptures are replete with instances where angels have been marshaled to protect the Saints. One of my favorite instances took place when an army from Syria surrounded the city of Dothan to take Elisha prisoner. Having arisen early, one of Elisha’s young disciples discovered the trap that had been laid for the prophet and feared greatly. Untroubled, Elisha responded:

Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-18) (emphasis added).

Nephi and Sam were spared from Laman and Lemuel through the intervention of an angel of the Lord (1 Ne. 3:29); Daniel had an angel as his companion when he was thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6:22); Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego also enjoyed the company of an angel (Jesus Christ himself) when they were cast into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25); Helaman’s sons, Nephi and Lehi, were protected by fire from those who sought to kill them, “and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them,” before some 300 witnesses (Helaman 5:21-49).

Similar instances have happened in our dispensation, also. On one occasion, Joseph Smith saw Brigham Young in a vision “standing in a strange land in the far South and West in a desert place on a rock in the midst of about a dozen men of color. He was preaching to them in their own tongue, and the angel of God standing above his head, with a drawn sword in his hand, protecting him.” Commenting, Joseph said, “But he did not see it” (History of the Church, 2:381) (emphasis added).

In the April 1973 General Conference of the Church, Pres. Harold B. Lee shared the following experience:

May I impose upon you for a moment to express appreciation for something that happened to me some time ago, years ago. I was suffering from an ulcer condition that was becoming worse and worse. We had been touring a mission; my wife, Joan, and I were impressed the next morning that we should get home as quickly as possible, although we had planned to stay for some other meetings.

On the way across the country, we were sitting in the forward section of the airplane. Some of our Church members were in the next section. As we approached a certain point en route, someone laid his hand upon my head. I looked up; I could see no one. That happened again before we arrived home, again with the same experience. Who it was, by what means or what medium, I may never know, except I knew that I was receiving a blessing that I came a few hours later to know I needed most desperately.

As soon as we arrived home, my wife very anxiously called the doctor. It was now about 11 o’clock at night. He called me to come to the telephone, and he asked me how I was, and I said, ‘Well, I am very tired. I think I will be all right.’ But shortly thereafter, there came massive hemorrhages which, had they occurred while we were in flight, I wouldn’t be here today talking about it” (“Stand Ye in Holy Places,” Ensign, Oct 2008, pp. 44–49) (emphasis added).

Since the passing of my grandfather and mother I have, on at least one occasion, felt a distinct impression from one of them. Specifically, I was prompted to encourage a cousin to serve a mission. The feeling I received was one that my cousin needed to serve a mission so as to prepare himself spiritually to be a worthy husband and father to several children waiting to enter mortality.

I think that when a righteous man or woman dies, they do not cease to love their family still in mortality, they probably don't cease to pray for them, nor labor in their behalf. And in some instances, they may be given the opportunity to serve as “guardian angels” to their estranged loved ones. Elder Charles W. Penrose of the Quorum of the 12 (1911-1925) stated the following:

As the living are not in their mortal condition, able to see and converse with the dead, so it is rational to believe, the inhabitants of the spiritual domain are, in the normal condition, shut out from intercourse with men in the flesh. By permission of the Lord, persons on either side of the veil may be manifest to those on the other, but this will certainly be by law and according to the order which God has established” (“Masterpieces of Latter-day Saint Leaders,” Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1953), pp. 66-67) (emphasis added).

It is comforting to think that my deceased loved ones may be watching over me and, when permitted, protecting me. It only seems rational that those who found joy in their family during mortality will only have those feelings intensified on the other side of the veil. Thus, most of us have likely entertained “guardian angels” unaware.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

So, Did You Get Your House in Order?

Recent estimates have pegged our National Debt at $11 trillion (that’s the number 11 followed by 12 zeros!). Our interest payment to service this enormous debt now stands at $26 billion…per month. That’s over $300 billion a year that will be sent (mostly overseas) to our creditors instead of being used to upgrade our schools, roads, or national defense. If this were happening in your house, you’d put a stop to it, right? Rational thinking dictates that if it doesn’t work in your house, it won’t work in the White House.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported the following:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary estimate for job losses for June is 467,000, which means 7.2 million people have lost their jobs since the start of the recession. The cumulative job losses over the last six months have been greater than for any other half year period since World War II, including the military demobilization after the war. The job losses are also now equal to the net job gains over the previous nine years, making this the only recession since the Great Depression to wipe out all job growth from the previous expansion.” (emphasis added)

Now, our current administration is contemplating yet another trillion dollar stimulus package and the largest tax ever levied upon the American people in the form of Cap and Trade legislation. What is more, we are apparently rushing forward to pass a universal health care plan that will undoubtedly bankrupt our system. Thomas Jefferson once said that “[t]he principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” If that weren’t clear enough, he also said that politicians should consider themselves “unauthorized to saddle posterity with our debts, and morally bound to pay them ourselves…

What is going on here? The recent and ongoing economic turmoil is taking a visible toll on most everyone. I believe each of us know someone, if not yourself, who has been directly affected by it.

So, were you prepared?

In the October, 1998 General Conference President Hinckley warned us about todays events by admonishing the “older men” concerning “temporal matters.” His talk, entitled “To the Boys and to the Men,” can be found here. As you may recall, a good portion of Genesis 41 was quoted, which treats Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s iconic dream of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Under the direction of Pharaoh, during the seven years of plenty Joseph gathered up food “as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number” (Gen. 41:49).

Thus, heeding the wisdom of an inspired man, Pharaoh undertook an immense preparation for the oncoming storm – in fact, they stored so much food and provisions that they lost count. That same food eventually fed Jacob’s family when they were forced to flee the famine that “was over all the face of the earth” (Gen. 41:56).

Upon concluding Joseph’s story, Pres. Hinckley then uttered these prophetic words:

Now, brethren, I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.

So many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings. . . . The economy is a fragile thing. . . . There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed” (emphasis added).

I remember hearing those words. I recently returned from my mission and I was sitting in a chapel in Pleasant Grove, UT, with my father. At the time I had no debt, I was living at home in my parent’s basement, and couldn’t fathom that his counsel would ever affect me.

In my opinion, we eventually saw our symbolic “seven years of plenty” as the U.S. experienced record highs in both the stock and housing markets. Things were looking good up until around the end of 2007, almost 9 years after the prophet counseled us to prepare for this “portent of stormy weather” of which we are currently undergoing.

Our beloved prophet concluded his talk by saying:

I urge you, brethren, to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.

This is a part of the temporal gospel in which we believe. May the Lord bless you, my beloved brethren, to set your houses in order. If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wives and children and peace in your hearts. That’s all I have to say about it, but
I wish to say it with all the emphasis of which I am capable” (emphasis added).

Clearly, storms are howling about our heads today, and there does not seem to be an end in sight. You may have your job and some sense of security now, but where will you turn if your situation changes and you are left in an unprepared state? Will the government step in? In light of its present actions, one wonders whether the government will have the means to. And if so, at what cost? The uncertainty of how that would work alone is enough of a motivator for me to change my habits. Unfortunately, getting out of debt takes time and discipline.

Are our houses in order? Is it too late to change our current situation, or can we start now and heed an inspired man’s advice and fortify ourselves against this raging storm?