Sunday, October 05, 2014

Out of Darkness and Into Light

Pondering death can be tricky. There are several emotions that are involved with the thoughts, from hope of an afterlife to the fear of pain and suffering. Hearing about a person who took their own life, was killed by actions that could have been avoided, accidents and disease, or at the hands of another is always unpleasant. The saying, "they are resting and in a better place," can be slightly reassuring, but that doesn't take away the fact the person is still gone. Grief felt by the survivors heals over time or destroys the soul. Those who are religious believers are not alone in facing emotional pain. All people must face death eventually.

The beauty of most religions is a faith that there is much more than this life to look forward to experience. Every good and bad time here in mortality can be worth much more than what currently can be imagined. For Christians, this idea comes from the the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ where his mortal teachings are more than morals to live by because, "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Corinth. 15:19). How precious it can be to open the scriptures and read about Angels and Visions given to mortals as a witness that our person continues long after death. Joseph Smith said, "The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God" (History of the Church, 3:295). To live by faith is life eternal.

Despite the great blessings promised with faith, everyone experiences doubt. Perhaps all that we have been taught and come to believe is not true. The alternative is absolute darkness. Once our lives are over there will be nothing. It is a scary and sobering thought. While Joseph Smith discussed a vision he had of seeing family and friends rise from the graves on the day of resurrection to once again meet and hug them, he said, "More painful to me are the thoughts of annihilation than death. If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 295). It is hard to imagine living with the idea that first we are here conscious of existence and then some day we are not.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

I Don't Wear White Dress Shirts

whiteshirt... that often. They just don't appeal to or look good on me. How far back this aesthetic concern goes in my life I am not sure. Perhaps its only as recently in my life timeline as returning from my mission. Every day from dusk until dawn a missionary wears white shirts and ties, if not suits, as a servant of the Lord. Like any uniform, after the official reason for its use ends it feels good to change into something else. No reason to wear a drab color when there are so many other choices. The reason I don't like to wear white shirts might sound shallow, and there is truth to that consideration, but tastes are not always complicated.

Part of my personality is less than white shirt and tie compatible. From an early age I have been an artistic minded person. My most distinct youthful memories include drawing or coloring on whatever piece of paper crossed my path. As an example, on Saturdays after cartoons there was a classic monster show that came on one of the channels. Giant monsters were my favorite. One of those was a giant tarantula that terrorized the American foothills of some unnamed geography. Having at the time fallen in love with the show the first viewing, I put that fandom down in art. Not just any old picture would do for my enthusiasm. No, I drew and colored (for a black and white film) the basic storyboard of the movie's events. In the mind of that young boy sitting half the Saturday doing his creation, he was writer and director of a remake. White means fill the space up with shapes and colors.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Messages from LDS Prophets

"The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth."
-- Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 45–56.

"Jesus is the first begotten from the dead, as you will understand. Neither Enoch, Elijah, Moses, nor any other man that ever lived on earth, no matter how strictly he lived, ever obtained a resurrection until after Jesus Christ’s body was called from the tomb by the angel. He was the first begotten from the dead. He is the Master of the resurrection—the first flesh that lived here after receiving the glory of the resurrection."
-- Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 272–78.

"When Jesus came, He came to do a work in many particulars similar to that in which we are engaged, and when He got through with His work here, He stood as the Savior of the world, and of the human family. He came to preach the Gospel to the poor, to open the prison doors to those that were imprisoned, to set them at liberty, and to proclaim the acceptable hour of the Lord, etc. This was a work connected with the people who lived at the time of the flood and were destroyed and kept in prison until the Lord should see proper to extend manifestations of His mercy to them. Hence, as we read, “Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit; by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison: which sometime were disobedient when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” [See 1 Peter 3:18–20.] He having finished His work upon earth for the living, went and performed a work for the dead; as we are informed, “He went and preached to spirits in prison that had sometime been disobedient in the days of Noah.

It is reserved for us to do a work for those who have passed away who have not obeyed or had the Gospel in their lifetime. We are here to do a work connected with the redemption of the dead. When the Temple was commanded to be built in Nauvoo, after the Temple had been built in Kirtland, and after so many keys had been turned, and after so many manifestations, visions and ministrations had been had, yet it was said then that there was not a place upon the earth in which to perform the ordinance of baptism for the dead, and Joseph was commanded to build a house for that purpose."
-- Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, (2011), 182–90.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Story of Noah and the Scriptures

Everyone is talking about the new Noah movie, wondering if its better described as anti-Christian or pure entertainment. The movie collector of critical ratings Rotten Tomatoes has it in the mid 70 percent for critics and in the 40 percent for viewers. The box office has mixed audience result with a respectable showing of over $40 million during the opening weekend. Movies might give promise with such high earnings, but they live or die in the second and following runs. If word of mouth continues to be negative among the most interested possible viewers (Christians), then curiosity and lack of competition gave it the first boost of money. There is far from any guarantee it won't turn out a bomb. Muslim nations have already given it the banned treatment.

What is supposed to be so bad about the Noah movie for those who don't like it? For starters, it is considered way too off story from the Bible. Noah is in it, an ark with animals is present, and a flood happens. Besides that, according to negative critics, nothing else is close to correct or even the spirit of the account. He ends up a jumble of crazy, environmentalist, near abortionist, murdering anti-hero. Not even believers would protest an intervention to have him committed. The bad guys are morally questionable, but mostly a bunch of industrialists who like to hunt and eat meat. A critic from the science fiction blog io9 tried to make a case for its spiritual pedigree, but made things unintentionally worse for those Christians who would be the most unconvinced. They would see too much para-Biblical references over the very short Bible narrative.

This brings up the question of what the Noah story really is in the Biblical account. At first I was going to do a bunch of quotes and then solemnly explicate the text. That would be the traditional way of writing a blog argument. An equal concern is if there is enough in the Bible to make a story worthy of a two hour night at the movies. This is as much about creativity and imagination as bad exegesis. Those who support the Noah treatment point to The Ten Commandments for an example of making things up that aren't found in the text. True enough, as I have my own criticisms about how Moses was portrayed in rather white washed fashion after his conversion. There is a difference because much of what is in the text became part of the film. Not so much, apparently, the Noah movie.

I am going to write a story outline using what can be known from the Bible, Book of Moses and other JST, Book of Jubilee, Book of Enoch, and a small amount of commentary. The end of the story will have a reference list for those who want to check sources and decide for themselves. The intended outcome should evidence that there is enough in the text to make a great film without complete distortion. Obviously it will be from what an equally controversial Mormon point of view. Those who have watched the Hollywood version can decide how close this is to what they saw on screen.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Jesus in the Modern World

whosayiamIn the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was praying alone with his Disciples when he asked what people thought of him. They answered according to Matt 16:14, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets," with Luke 9:19 adding he might be, "one of the old prophets [who] is risen again." He then asked what they thought, and one of his chief Apostles Peter answered boldly that he was the Christ of God (Luke 9:20) with Matt 16:16 adding "the Son of the living God." Peter essentially was claiming that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah come down to save Israel. There was no rebuke, but an acknowledgement by Jesus that is exactly who he was, and praising his spiritual insight as coming from God. Considering the violent ending of those who claimed the Messianic mantle, Jesus warned them the same fate was coming. Peter rebuked him for saying such negative expectations, and Jesus rebuked back that Satan inspired rejecting the path he was destined to walk.

Who do men say that Jesus is? Today the question is no different than when Jesus and his Disciples walked the dusty road of Jerusalem. What might be surprising is the answers. They go from the mundane of lucky preacher who gained literate followers to the traditionally religious grandiose God and Savior of the world. Like the days of his life and death, he is both mocked and praised. It could even be said that while there is a sizable world wide number of believers in his Divinity, he is slowly becoming obscure or irrelevant. This is opposite the rival religion of Islam and some other Eastern faiths. The Western views that kept Jesus "alive" have changed over the last few centuries. He is in metaphorical fragments.

It wasn't always like this. During the first great upheaval of arguments over his identity, the questions asked exactly how divine was Jesus in relation to God. The answer more than a millenium ago, that remains the cornerstone of most modern definitions of the Christian faith, proclaimed he was God in a different form. During his life, he was likewise both fully Man and fully God. The creed of Jesus was set and a catholic church dominated, until what came to be known as the reformation sprouted Protestantism. Despite serious disagreements, for the most part Protestants shared the same creed as the church they left. Whole countries developed around particular Christian identities and churches, defending and fighting among themselves for dominance. For centuries Jesus was a driving force for both good and evil actions of history.

That began to change a century after the "enlightenment" when people started to focus more on the mind than on the spirit. For the past two centuries views of who Jesus is and was began to be questioned in ways never before taken seriously. The answers have become so mixed and branching that one method employed actually used voting over a color scheme to decide the truth about Jesus. The colors represented the probability of what Jesus did or said, ultimately to determine who he was. Most likely these new questions and the modern views they inspire came from the relatively recent Western culture of skepticism. Answers have become less important than questions about history, authority, and existence itself. Science and academics, positive as they have been, is the new religion with scientists and professors the theologians; politicians the Priesthood authority. Jesus is quickly, to the pleasure of many, becoming sidelined.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Church History in the 1970s Ensign Magazine

Although known as mostly a spiritual devotional magazine for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members, the Ensign has published important and interesting history articles. Some years contain a handful of material while others are full of them. It seems to depend on what scriptures are studied during a cycle. The collection here is not comprehensive, with many regional and biographic retrospectives left out. These articles cover the years 1971 to 1979. In the months ahead the other decades will be represented.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mormon Rock Music Festival

The number of Mormons in the rock music industry has grown over the years, with some of the best music coming from bands that have them as leads. I started to daydream of getting my favorites together for a music festival. Of course, I don't have any money or connections to make such a thing happen. The next best thing is to gather live performances from the Internet and collect them under one virtual place. Here they are together:

Mormon Rock Music Festival

featuring
Lindsey Stirling
Low
Fictionist
Neon Trees
headliners
IMaGINE DRaGONS
THE KILLERS

Enter and listen (warning, video intensive):

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Marriage and Children, a Commandment of God


The topic continues to come up what is the roles of men and women in the Church. It is a subject that many feel passionately about one way or another. Since the family is the basic unit then discussion should start there. Generally both genders are commanded to get married and have children as shared responsibilities. It is the first role of any Church member to form and participate in a family structure.

Some years ago President Monson talked about the rights and responsibilities of the Priesthood. He listed concerns he had that men were not living up to the full stewardship of their callings. Among the problems he saw was a reluctance to do the most important duty of our mortality; to get married. He acknowledged marriage wasn't always an easy choice, but they still needed to seek a companion:


"Now, I have thought a lot lately about you young men who are of an age to marry but who have not yet felt to do so. I see lovely young ladies who desire to be married and to raise families, and yet their opportunities are limited because so many young men are postponing marriage . . .

Perhaps you are having a little too much fun being single, taking extravagant vacations, buying expensive cars and toys, and just generally enjoying the carefree life with your friends. I’ve encountered groups of you running around together, and I admit that I’ve wondered why you aren’t out with the young ladies.

Brethren, there is a point at which it’s time to think seriously about marriage and to seek a companion with whom you want to spend eternity. If you choose wisely and if you are committed to the success of your marriage, there is nothing in this life which will bring you greater happiness."

The institution of marriage is more than finding a friend or gratifying physical desires that are natural to life. It is a commandment of God. Salvation to the highest degree of Glory depends on two committed people coming together and forming a bond. This is not just any bond, but a relationship between a man and a woman greater than mere acquaintance. It is of eternal significance and therefore must be carefully sought and cultivated.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Shroud of Turin: Easter Relic

Shroud_positive_negative_compare Spring slowly arriving brings Easter, a remembrance of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He was slain for the sins of the world and came back to life so that all could be saved. Christians everywhere this time of year commemorate the occasion when sin and death were conquered by the love of God who watched His only Son suffer and die so that all may live. The witness of the Bible and other Scripture places these events not in some distant cosmic background, but Jerusalem in the 1st Century among a small group of Jews. Ever since that time people of faith have been searching for clues that once and for all establish the truth of the "good news" or Gospel. Some claim to have found proof.

The most famous and researched is the mysterious Shroud of Turin. It is a long cloth that seems to show the back and front of a faint figure with visible signs of pain and suffering. Hands are crossed at pelvic region to give the impression he was laid down in death. Stains that resemble blood can be found on his back, head, hands, feet, and side. Whatever the truth, it represents the body of a tortured and crucified man.

For centuries the Catholic Church has held it as an icon of faith, despite no official position as to its authenticity. Every so often it is put on display with millions flocking to see it for themselves. Other Christians have been equally drawn to its hideous charms. If real, the Shroud of Turn represents a moment in time with eternal consequences. As a fake, the method and meticulous construction still remain one of the greatest artistic achievements in history. Artifact or clever piece of art remains an open and fascinating debate.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jackson County Missouri and the Garden of Eden

Do you believe that the Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County Missouri?

No I don't. Although there have been eyewitness reports and some statements by Church Presidents, most of what they say is unsubstantiated.  The men were honest enough in explaining that Joseph Smith talked about stones as alters Adam made after expulsion from the Garden.  Still, the only official and doctrinal explanations designate Adam-ondi-Ahman like Doctrine Covenants 116 as taken from Joseph Smith's journal, "the place where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the prophet."

What about Doctrine Covenants 107:53-56 where Adam blesses his posterity?

It doesn't say where Adam-ondi-Ahman is located. There really isn't much of a direct line between this and Jackson County Missouri, especially in the words of Joseph Smith except second hand. When he did talk about it, the subject was almost always like History of the Church, 3:34-35 and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.157  with the future blessing of the Children of God as part of the last days. The geography of Adam blessing his posterity is vague in other instances.

Joseph Smith did talk about Jackson County and the Garden of Eden if you believe the reports of others as honest. Why disregard them?

I don't think the reports of what he said are wrong, but I don't know that Joseph Smith understood the revelations completely. He probably got the revelation about Adam and looked around to associate the area with the Garden. Unusual stone formations solidified his beliefs and personal speculation. It was easy enough to mistakenly match up the revelation with the place as the 1994 Ensign answer to a question on the location does. Nowhere in the Doctrine and Covenants is Jackson County Missouri described as or near the Garden of Eden except if the reader is using outside sources.

Where do you think the Garden was?

The simple answer is the pre-mortal world or in other words Heaven. Considering that all the creation narratives of Genesis, Moses, and Abraham agree with each other, I would say Adam was born or placed in Africa or the Middle East after the Fall.  The rivers like Euphrates are described as located in Havilah, Ethiopia, and Assyria. Finds that contribute to Evolutionary theory agree with this set of locations (especially Ethiopia) as well. Having the Garden or Adam in America seems not very likely. 

Is there any reason to continue thinking of Jackson County Missouri as or near the Garden?

Maybe to continue the spiritual tradition as a reminder of the promises God has made to the whole world. There is no reason we can't think of the Old and the New worlds as related, just like the Bible and Book of Mormon complement each other. Those who visit Jackson County can think of the Garden, Fall, and Atonement in ponderous reflection. After all, the Garden and Adam are both no longer on this Earth any more than the City of Enoch when we talk of Zion.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Suggestions for Giving a Good Sacrament Talk

Having finished partaking of bread and water in memory of the Savior's atoning sacrifice, a young man walks up to the podium. He pulls out notes copied by printer from information found on the LDS Church website. Nervously he clears his throat and prepares to face a group of people familiar to him, but often no more than acquaintances. He puts on a smile to cover true feelings of discomfort.

"Hello." he starts. "The Bishop wants me to talk about happiness. I first learned of the assignment Saturday morning soon after getting out of bed. The phone rang and woke me up. I climbed out of bed and started dressing when my mom called out that I had a call. 'who is it?' I begged. It seemed too early for it to be my girlfriend who was probably just getting up. 'You'll find out. Just pick up the phone.' I wish I hadn't," the young man says, turning to the far older man sitting between two other men. "You caught me at the only time to reach me." He turns back to the audience, "The minute I said hello and the Bishop said hello back, I knew what this meant. I'll get back at the Bishop," he chuckles in good nature. No one takes him seriously. That is part of the problem.

He clears his throat to start the rest of the talk. For a moment he looks out among the bored adults, screaming babies, inattentive busy children, and self-absorbed teenagers. It seems the only ones paying attention are his parents; siblings not caring. "I am going to base my talk on Elder _________ of the Seventy who gave this excellent talk about what Christ did for us." The young man proceeds to read paragraph after paragraph, interjecting a few short comments of his own. By the time he ends most in the meeting are taking a cat nap or reading the latest Church magazine or scriptures on mobile devices. He sits down and the next speaker gets up to more or less repeat the process.

It doesn't have to be this way. Although the example was from a young man, adults often follow this same pattern. Part of it is a general nervous reaction to getting up in front of a group to communicate. The American culture is extremely individualistic with only the most extroverted getting noticed. Exhibitionism is the norm for public presentations and lectures set aside for teachers. No matter. There are some suggestions anyone can follow to give a better Sacrament meeting talk that is engaging and less uncomfortable. Most who read this probably already know these tips, but hopefully it can be shared. Do in our own talks what 1 Timothy 4: 12 says, "but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mormonism: Scrutinized, but Not Understood

After Romney lost the Presidency I thought most major reporting on Mormonism would be gone. For the most part it is, but there were a few last shots left. One came from NPR called Mormonism: A Scrutinized, Yet Evolving Faiththat seemed to continue the misunderstandings and mistakes. Most of it is arguable at best.

Despite going to the trouble of quoting three Mormons who should know better, there isn't much truth to the story. Each example of what the article is trying to demonstrate is far more complicated than the quick explanations. It is best to number the problems for easier reference.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Very Merry Mormon Video Christmas

Here is a celebration of Christmas with LDS Videos. Enjoy!
An Angel Foretells Christ's Birth to Mary

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Importance of Historicity for Book of Mormon Theology

There has been lots of kerfuffle about if apologetic work is damaging or necessary. My own response is its not dangerous, but it can be spiritually irrelevant or stagnant. At the same time there is a time and a place for defending the faith or some teachings. For each person who might have been turned off by the work, there are an equal number inspired by apologetic arguments and grow more faithful. It isn't a clear cut binary situation no matter how strong the disagreement for one side or the other. There can be a multitude of Mormon Study approaches to history, doctrine, and the like with various audiences reading. One apologetic is critical to fight for and that is defending the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

The importance of the historicity of the Book of Mormon was recognized at the beginning of its production. Even before it was sold to the general public, a mocking thief published what was purported to be part of its pages. It read like what was expected from a farm boy with little education, complete with typical Indian representations that last even today. When the book came out, the complexity and seriousness of it forced a stronger attack. Joseph Smith could no more be the author, but a far more educated individual had to have been responsible. When this didn't seem to cut it (although such arguments still exist) then it was the product of Joseph Smith's environment he got from every and any corner his curiosity could find. This remains the dominant criticism of the book as historical with DNA the supposed nail in the coffin. This ignores that the book is as spiritually and literarily forceful today and reads far more like modern(ist) literature than the romanticism of its publishing era. The authors are self aware, holy scripture is considered amendable and reductionist, editorial comment often contains meta-narrative, and the writing process itself is explored. The depth is absolutely astounding.

Over at Times and Seasons, Steve Smith asks the question, "So why must a scholar of Mormon Studies feel compelled to take a stance with regard to many issues such as Book of Mormon historicity?" He likens it to "bracketing" the Garden of Eden, The Flood, and so forth. This brazen question is astonishing for anyone who is familiar with the Book of Mormon's own text and arguments. Joseph Smith called it, "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." He spent a lifetime reiterating and gathering evidence for the historical truth of the Book of Mormon, and not just its teachings. His short commentary on a book about Central American ruins is the most famous example. There was only one other subject that Joseph Smith declared a foundation for Mormonism, and that the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He stated, "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." There was no equivocation of the reality of Jesus as Savior and there shouldn't be for the historical truth of the Book of Mormon if you take Joseph Smith seriously.