Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

When My German Bible Said the Opposite of the KJV....

An embarrassing but instructive experience on my LDS mission in the Switzerland Zurich Mission occurred in my early days when I wanted to cite Job 19:25-26 to an investigator to support the concept of a physical resurrection. It was one of the first times I used my German Bible (the Luther translation) in answering a question. The KJV verse is a nice fit with LDS doctrine:
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

But when I opened my German Bible and began reading it, I found it didn't say the same thing at all. It was almost the opposite!. The Luther translation says that even though my skin and flesh will be destroyed, I will see God. Nothing about seeing God in the flesh - but apparently without the flesh:
Aber ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser lebt, und als der letzte wird er über dem Staub sich erheben.

Und ist meine Haut noch so zerschlagen und mein Fleisch dahingeschwunden, so werde ich doch Gott sehen.

Turns out the Hebrew passage is actually quite difficult to translate. One can make a case that the text means "apart from" the flesh, or even "not in" the flesh.

Several nice KJV snippets that sound LDS don't always keep their flavor in translation, and that's not always because the other translations are necessarily worse.

Poor Stagecoach Jumping Technique in LDS Homefront Video

I know the Church meant well with this brief video clip, but for anybody with even a little experience in jumping onto runaway stagecoaches, the poor techniques shown in this video raise all sorts of red flags. Please don't try this without following the appropriate safety techniques and getting training from a licensed professional.

Community Organizers Needed for Local Stimulus Now!

So many of you - not just in the States but globally - are sitting around wondering when your government is going to do something for you. Will a stimulus package come your way and give you your fare share to deal with a declining economy? Here in the U.S., of course, a stimulus package is getting closer but there are still many doubts and lots of people worry that some out-of-touch politician is going to stand in the way, or that they won't get their fare share.

HELLO! You don't have to wait for the politicians to get help! Team up with your local community organizers and get your own local stimulus package going. It's so easy - what are you waiting for? Get a gang of people in your community organized - about 50 to 100 is usually enough for success. Now look around and identify a few of the nicest, wealthiest homes in your community. Bring people together, get an open conversation going, make some tough, bipartisan decisions, then kick in the doors and begin spreading the wealth around. Get a lot of that stagnant excess wealth - cash, jewelry, plasma screens, iPods, silverware, fur coats, espresso machines, even bags of dog food - out into the local economy where it will hep people like you and your friends.

Remember, the basic principle of enlightened government is that the powers of the government derive from the natural, inalienable rights of man. Therefore, it follows that whatever powers and rights the government has must be rights that you as a citizen have in the first place. The power to "spread the wealth around" through government seizure of property in order to transfer wealth to friends, cronies, voters, and others who have not earned it must be one of those inalienable rights, so don't sit around and wait - start inalienating today!

Remember the inspired and foundational principles of our democracy: Your problems are other people's fault, and other people must pay. It's that simple. As the Good Book says, "Workers of the world, unite!"

Disclaimer: Based on the emails and comments I get for posts like this, and occasional misunderstandings by certain authorities or talk-show hosts, I sadly have to add a disclaimer here for those with certain impairments. I am actually not advocating criminal activity here. In fact, I'm completely opposed to criminal activity, especially that being conducted by unelected criminals on thrones or elected criminals, no matter how high their popularity.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Maintaining a Christian Attitude Toward the Stimulus Package

So much contention is being stirred by the proposed stimulus program! Maybe most of the money is going to bureaucracy, special interests, wasteful programs, and fraud, and maybe it does like like just much more of mismanaged finances that got us into trouble in the first place, but is that any excuse for negativism? This is the time when we need to look to the teachings of the Bible for guidance (I'm using the Bad News translation):
If Congress seeketh to take away thy coat, let them have thy cloak also and thy cloak, and thy chariot, and thy gold, and thy silver, and thy vineyard, and thy calves, and thy oxen, and thy home, and thy 401k, and verily all that thou hast and all that thy children might have, and verily all that posterity might have until seven generations, and shall seek to make thee and they posterity into abject slaves, give also thine iPod.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lovin' Phoenix

Phoenix -- what an amazing place! Especially while its so cold in Wisconsin right now that we put ice cubes from our freezers into our boots for toe warmers.

Yesterday I had time to do a session at the beautiful and historic Mesa Temple, where I met Martin van Hemert, a professional photographer working on some temple photographs. Very kind and interesting person. Thanks for taking the time to chat with a photographer wannabe!

I had the privilege of staying Saturday night with my first missionary companion in Switzerland and attending his ward today, the Arcadia Ward of the Scottsdale Arizona Camelback Stake. (Don't know if he wants his name here yet - so I'll slightly protect his privacy by not giving it. But he's a supremely awesome Latter-day Saint with an amazing family. What great people!) In that ward, I met a former Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, a former mayor of Phoenix, and learned that the ward has five former mission presidents and quite a few other notables (well, they're all notable, you know).

Tonight I was able to attend a presentation on the beautiful Arizona State University campus at the impressive LDS Institute, where Dr. Steven Bay of BYU spoke on his work based on using multispectral image analysis to bring out text from damaged scrolls. Amazing work with lots of valuable insights into ancient documents and even some insights into the scriptures. I was especially happy to hear one bit of info that came as an aside from Dr. Bay: the story in John 8 of Christ and the adulteress whose life He saves with the word, "Let him who is without sins cast the first stone," is found repeatedly on very early manuscripts and is not in question as an authentic biblical story, as I read elsewhere sometime ago. Whew! I'm glad about that because it's one of my favorite stories and is something I fancied as too wise, loving, and characteristic of Christ to have been made up or of questionable origins.

While at the lecture/fireside, I met Corey, who kindly let me know about the event, and several other interesting people. I was amazed at how many people were there - 400 is my estimate. Filled a chapel and much of the cultural hall at the Institute, which also serves as a stake center for the university/single adults stake.

Oh, to that bright ASU student who I talked with after the fireside, the one interested in a scholarly book on the Urim and Thummim, the author is Dr. Cornelius Van Dam of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches. I discuss his book, The Urim and Thummim: A Means of Revelation in Ancient Israel (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1997) on my blog post, Cornelius Van Dam on the Urim and Thummim.

Now it's almost time to get down to business....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Mormum" or Mormon - Are You Afraid to Share Your Faith?

I was impressed with and moved by a recent article in the New Era magazine for teenagers, "The Most Useful Piece of Knowledge" by Elder Clayton M. Christensen, an Area Seventy of the North America Northeast Area of the Church. Here Elder Christensen shares his experience as a young man of seeking to learn for himself if the Book of Mormon is true. His experience of the quest, the diligent study, and the answer in prayer is similar to my own - a few parts were almost like reading my journal from many years ago. How amazing it is that we dare tell people to go seek revelation from God to know for themselves, rather than expecting that other should simply believe us or be changed by the power of our arguments and logic. "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (and revelation) -- Rev. 19:10.

The author of this short but touching article may be Elder Christensen to many of you, but I'll never forget that he's Professor Christensen of the Harvard Business School. Before I had any idea that he was LDS, I became enthralled with his writings and was sharing them with many others in the corporation where I used to work. Professor Christensen is the man whose professional work on the theory and practice of disruptive innovation opened up some exciting dimensions in my own work on innovation and intellectual asset strategy, and that has continued in my current work with an amazing little consulting group led by another huge fan of Professor Christensen. If you haven't read his books such as the The Innovator's Dilemma, you're missing out on some of the most important recent works on innovation and business.

Now to the point. Professor Christensen is a consultant, in addition to being a professor, and has a fascinating business he has founded. His success depends on being taken seriously by the world, on maintaining professional respect. The prudent thing to do, of course, is to be rather mum about religion. Much safer to be a "Mormum" than to put your neck on the line and stand behind one's religion, especially a Christian religion that seems to be fair game these days. Much easier to be a cultural Mormon and stay distant from the core of that faith. But Clayton Christensen seems to have his priorities right. He's not afraid to be who he is and to let others know, in a non-threatening, courteous way for those who are interested. He doesn't just let glimpses of his faith leak out in obscure Church magazines for teenagers. On his own Website, ClaytonChristensen.com, he has a bio page with a link to "Why I Believe" (a PDF file).

That takes courage and faith. Thank you for that example, Elder/Professor Christensen!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

FAIRblog on that Wild, Wild Wordprint Study

I've made a couple comments on a recent wordprint study claiming to support the wild, wild theory that Sidney Rigdon wrote the Book of Mormon with Solomon Spalding's help (first post, second post). One ex-Mormon who has long advocated the very puzzling Rigdon theory teamed up with a statistics student and a humanities professor at Stanford and came up with a wordprint test methodology that showed Sidney Rigdon and Solomon Spaulding may have been somewhat closer in their writing style to the Book of Mormon than 19th century poets Longfellow and Barlow, in case you were wondering. But that's not quite how they worded their conclusions. They claimed that it provided information about who actually wrote the Book of Mormon, and said it supported - ta da - the theory that Sidney Rigdon and Solomon Spalding were the actual authors, not Joseph Smith and certainly not ancient Semites (even though the "signal" from the style of Isaiah/Malachi was far stronger than that of Spalding in both of the two tests they ran, and stronger than Rigdon in one of the two tests, with far more chapters attributed to those ancient Semites than just the 20-something chapters directly borrowed from Isaiah or Malachi). Writings from Joseph Smith, interestingly, were left out of the study completely. Oh well. But he didn't produce the text which, you see, is just too complicated for an unlearned farmboy like Joseph to have produced. That's why we need someone like the more learned Rigdon to propose as the real author, even though he didn't meet Joseph until after the Book of Mormon was published.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I found a good discussion of this fascinating wordprint study over at the FAIRblog. See "Lies, [Expletive Deleted] Lies, and Statistics" by Steven Danderson. Good observations and lots of interesting comments. A great study of how bias can deceive and misinform your efforts. We are all biased - let's face it. Just because you're not Mormon doesn't remove your biases. I say that with all objectivity. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Any of You at the CoDev Conference in Scottsdale Next Week?

Excited to be speaking at a cool conference in Arizona next week, the CoDev 2009 Conference on open innovation. I'll get there a day early to do a little photography and visit the family of my "greenie trainer" from my mission in German-speaking Switzerland and attend their ward. Awesome! Just wondering if any of you will be in town for CoDev or for one of the other conferences at the same time.

If you're in the Phoenix area, are there any interesting LDS events I should consider attending? Always curious. I understand the Mesa Temple is closed for repairs. Too bad! Last year at the same conference I ran into an amazing photo exhibition - and ended up buying the book. Details later....

Anybody have tips on great places for photography in Phoenix? Interesting cityscapes, landscapes, industrial scenes, you name it. Believe it or not, one of my recent themes that I really enjoy is partially burned out neon signs that convey unintended messages. Phoenix was a treasure trove for such esoteric shots last time I was there, and I expect more great finds this year, especially in light of current economic conditions.

At the conference, I'll be giving essentially my first public presentation on a new paradigm for innovation in which we turn the old "funnel of innovation" model upside down, transforming it into a French horn. The things I've learned about the French horn from one of my very musical sons, coupled with some fascinating tidbits from its development, physics, and modern techniques, offer rich metaphors for targeted "just in-tune" innovation. The material on "handstopping" and its relationship to iterative innovation and inventor-inclusive feedback loops is really fun. The Horn of Innovation™ model is something that gets a whole chapter in the book coming out later this year, Conquering Innovation Fatigue by Jeffrey Dean Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins, and Mukund Karanjikar (John Wiley and Sons, 2009 - probably June/July 2009). What? No, of course I'm not promoting anything here. Why do you ask?? I'm just networking.

If you want to tell me anything about Phoenix/Scottsdale/Mesa/Gilbert etc. or are in the area, send me a note at jeff at jefflindsay d0t c0m.

Attacks on Joseph Smith's Story of the Restoration: Matthew Brown's Rebuttal

"Historical or Hysterical— Anti-Mormons and Documentary Sources" by Matthew B. Brown is an informative and entertaining essay based on a presentation he gave about the abuse of historical sources by anti-Mormons in their attacks on the Joseph Smith story. The document includes a number of graphics taken from PowerPoint slides that can be expanded upon clicking to see details. Numerous references are provided for the points Brown makes.

If you've been bothered by some of the claims critics make regarding the historicity of the First Vision or the events leading to the Book of Mormon, you may find essay to be very helpful. I like it enough that I've included it as a resource on my LDS Intro page.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Few Photos from BYU

Had a chance to visit BYU in December. Here are a few photos from campus. Nice place - not bad for December. (Click to enlarge.)






The "service only" shot is from the east side of the Wilkinson Center. I've included a couple views of Y Mountain. Y Mountain? For climbing, I guess.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Iron Ore at a Bountiful Candidate - In Case You Missed the News

Not the newest news, but still interesting insights about the geological confirmation of usable iron ore in the Arabian Peninsula at one of the best candidates for the ancient place Nephi and his group called Bountiful. The article is "Geologists Discover Ore in Region of Nephi's Bountiful" by Ron Harris. Nice work.

Christianity's Bailout: Lessons from Constantine

Early Christianity was in deep trouble. Early persecution from some Jewish leaders was certainly a roadblock, but then came the persecution of the Roman Empire. For over two centuries it would be persecuted and despised by the Romans. It would be declared illegal and treasonous for its failure to worship the Emperor as a god. It would suffer sporadic persecution and seizure of property. Tens of thousands would be martyrs. In 300 A.D., the leading econometric indicators for Christianity looked bleak, in spite of a slowly growing and highly loyal base of adherents who were willing to suffer and lose all for what was viewed as a fringe religion and dangerous cult or superstition. Even with its noteworthy market share obtained by word-of-mouth advertising and social networking, its long-term viability was desperately poor using generally accepted financial forecasting tools. Roman headwinds threatened to topple the Christians in the religious marketplace of the day.

Fortunately, big Roman Government was there to help with a massive bailout plan. Constantine I, the Emperor of the world's largest empire at the time, offered a bailout and a stimulus program to booster Christianity and help it become the successful enterprise he envisioned, a tool that would help him maintain control and stabilize his booming empire. He had a vision for Christianity. Indeed, he claimed to have had a vision in 312 at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, where he allegedly said he saw a cross of light above the sun with Greek words saying "By this, conquer!" With this valuable Insider tip, he commanded his troops to paint the Greek letters chi and rho on their shields (the first two letters in the Greek name for Christ - or was it an early stock ticker?). They fought well, and Constantine won the battle. Incidentally, this was not a battle to protect Rome from some foreign threat. Rather, it was a battle in a war of sorts started by Constantine to overthrow his political rival, Maxentius, who was actually his brother-in-law. Maxentius was the favorite of Rome and had been declared emperor a year earlier. Constantine attacked Maxentius' troops in Rome to settle their dispute. Maxentius died in the battle, and the victory with alleged divine assistance led to Constantine becoming emperor. Now that the hostile takeover had been completed, Constantine would show the decapitated head of his brother-in-law to many to remind people who was in charge.

It seems that Christianity appealed to Constantine as a tool to gain increased political power. He legalized it, bailed it out with financial support, gave it clout and power -- and ultimately (in my opinion) weakened or destroyed the spirit and heart of the religion, making it a tool for worldly objectives, not private spiritual change and selfless ministry. That's my take on what happened over the following decades or centuries after making it a state religion. Not a good thing for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, though much of it survived and thrived - but not all.

We learn a little about modern bailouts from the Roman example. Government actions (persecution in this case) were what caused the need or opportunity for the bailout in the first place. Then massive government help to the beleaguered institution came with a price, a rule that has never been violated throughout the history of ambitious politicians offering financial and military help to others. That price involved surrendering some control and power to the politicians. Constantine, though not a baptized Christian himself (he would later accept baptism on his deathbed), took over some of the reins of Christianity. Under his bailout program, he now assumed power to decide who should be bishop. When there were conflicts over doctrine and practice, he, not the religious leaders, would organize and empower councils to settle the issue. The Nicene Council, organized to settle one of the most fundamental issues of Christian faith, was called by Constantine, not religious leaders. Rather than turning to the apostles and prophets Christ had set in the Church, the Church in the 4th century turned to bickering priests and philosophers assembled and authorized by a pagan emperor to resolve a matter of utmost doctrinal import. {Update, 1/20/08:} While we accept most of what is in the Nicene creed and much of the other creeds, the aspects defining the nature of the Godhead in Trinitarian terms are problematic for us. The Nicene Creed, for example, requires that God and Christ are of "one substance" (establishing a metaphysical oneness of substance rather than the oneness of heart, mind, and purpose that Christ taught in John 17) and rejects the concept that Christ is subordinate to the Father (which is what one would expect of a Son who can say "my Father is greater than I" in John 14:28). Together, the creeds (including, for example, the Athanasian Creed) describe the Godhead using concepts much at home among the dominating Neo-Platonic philosophy of the day but rather foreign to New Testament Christianity. The Hellenized, metaphysical God of the creeds arguably would be unrecognizable to the disciples of Christ, who saw and handled His resurrected body, and one of whom saw Christ standing on the right hand of God. {End update.}

The bailout was a smashing success. Christianity was no longer an impoverished and persecuted religion spread quietly from one devout believer to another with humble private meetings, but a publicly endorsed and controlled state religion for the masses. While Constantine legalized and endorsed Christianity, a few decades later in 380 A.D., Theodosius I would issued the edict De Fide Catolica establishing "Catholic Christianity" as the official state religion and outlawing paganism and other faiths. Whole tribes and nations would be made into Christians, like it or not.

Taxation and plunder would fuel the growth of the thriving Church and bless it with the opulence of the world. It would be a religion dressed for success, but stripped of some of its original sacred robes.

In spite of the political excesses and errors in Christianity during this era and following centuries, the combination of religion and state power did spread basic Christian faith across the globe. Many good Christians, both clergy and their adherents, did their best to please God and follow the Savior. Reforms within the Church and in Protestantism have sought to correct past errors and problems. But we believe something more than reform was needed. We believe there was a Restoration of the Gospel and Jesus Christ, with its power, authority, and offices of apostles and prophets, bringing ongoing revelation rather than politicized councils of contention as the means for guiding the Church through the challenges of the day.

I realize that my comments here will offend some, especially those raised in or converted to a deep faith in . . . politicians. While I disagree with your faith in politicians, I still respect your - - wait, no, no, it's time for me to be honest about this. I can respect and admire many aspects of just about any other religion, in spite of disagreements, but this mindless Faith in Politicians cult has got to go. It's insane and is a threat to all of us. Unbounded government intervention and aggressive "help" for business or religion is something to be dreaded. It's the most dangerous scam and cult of all.

Detailed Resource about Parley P. Pratt, Eleanor Hector, and the Murder of Parley

Latter-day Saint martyrs in the 19th century are a favorite topic for cynical remarks from some critics. A popular theme is to list alleged wrongdoings of the victims and then infer that they were just getting justice, not martyrdom. This seems to be especially prevalent with Parley P. Pratt, who Latter-day Saints remember as the first Mormon killed while serving on a mission. His 1857 murder is routinely characterized by critics as simply the work of a jealous husband angry that an adulterous Parley had seduced his wife into a polygamous relationship. It's a somewhat plausible way to describe the killing, for the murderer, Hector McLean, had married Eleanor Jane McComb, and though he had driven her away by his abuse and his alcoholism, she had never bothered to obtain a formal divorce. She had left him and apparently considered herself single when she was later married to Parley P. Pratt. But technically, yes, it was her first and legal husband who killed Parley after she had joined Parley as a polygamous wife. However, there may be more to this story than the natural vengeance of a wronged husband.

A detailed resource for this episode is "Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt" by Steven Pratt, the Pratt family historian and a great-grandson of Parley P. Pratt. This was published in BYU Studies (Vol. 15, No. 2, 1975, pp. 225–56), available as a PDF file. In spite of personal biases the author may naturally have, his well-written and heavily documented essay provides detailed information and sources that appear to provide many opportunities to check some of the claims made on both sides of the account.

For example, some anti-Mormon writers downplay the role of religion and contend that the story was all about Parley's lust and Hector's revenge. Some contend that Eleanor didn't have any interest in LDS religion until after she was "seduced" by Parley, and that religious bigotry played no role in the anger of the first husband. In reality, it appears that she was actively attending LDS meetings long before Parley came to town in San Francisco and wanted to be baptized. She had two of her children baptized before she met Parley, and eventually got her husband to provide consent for her baptism, which took place before she met Parley (see footnote 6 in Pratt's HTML article - footnote 5 in the PDF file).

Our critics also downplay the abuse and alcoholism of the husband and suggest that he was a good guy and the real victim in the story. Perhaps, but Steven Pratt's essay provides information that leads to other conclusions. In retrospect, unless this article completely misrepresents reality, I think Eleanor might have been wise to leave McLean much earlier, perhaps when he "purchased a sword cane and threatened to kill her and the minister who baptized her if she became a Mormon" or perhaps when she later saw that his hostility to her Mormon faith was so great that he would rather try to get her committed to an insane asylum that to allow her religious liberty. Those might have been good times to leave, IMO.

As I have so often seen in cases of abused women, the victim trudges on in a terrible relationship, clinging to baseless hope, believing that change might occur, and just not knowing how else to live or where to go. Also, as often happens, well-meaning outsiders encourage the woman to stick with her man and not get a divorce. In this case, some of the well-meaning advisers were LDS members in the San Francisco Branch who encouraged her to keep trying. That's not always the best solution in cases of extreme abuse.

Here's an excerpt from the lengthy article, describing what happened after Eleanor married Hector:
They seemed to be happy at first. But Hector started drinking heavily, causing a separation in 1844. Eleanor, after seeking counsel from her father, two brothers, E. C. and J. J. McComb, and a John McDougal as to whether she should return to or leave Hector sent him an ultimatum:
Dear Hector:

Having used every persuation in my power to no effect, I see but three alternatives all ending in misery if not in crime. First, to live a victum of the vice to which you have became a prey 2nd to to seek a home among strangers, or shall the smoothe current of the Mississippi be the last page that any may read of my "Ill Fate?"
Your Wife.
E.J. McLean

Hector responded with the following note:
Millikins Bend
December 31, 1844

Nea, Ellen neither of these shall ever be your lot. I will cease to grieve your gentle spirit, and we will live together so long as it is the will and good pleasure of a Heavenly Parent we should. We seek an asylum among the people of God (I care not what that may be) and by their good example and precept I am persuaded your own dear husband, may cure. I must be saved and reformed--it is impossible to be either here. I have tried in vain, to live soberly and righteously before God and men but cannot accomplish it.

Yours sincerely.
Hector

Eleanor then returned to live with him. Sometime later they decided to leave New Orleans and go to San Francisco to help accomplish Hector's reform. They were accompanied by their three children, Fitzroy, Albert, and Annie, and one of Eleanor's brothers.

It was in San Francisco that they came in contact with the Mormon church. After attending a Mormon meeting with Hector, and her brother, J.J. McComb, Eleanor wanted to join the Church but was forbidden to do so by her husband, who purchased a sword cane and threatened to kill her and the minister who baptized her if she became a Mormon. In spite of this threat, Eleanor attended Church meetings as often as she could. One Sunday night, while Eleanor was singing from a Mormon hymn book she had purchased, Hector tore the book from her hands, threw it into the fire, beat her, cast her out into the street, and locked the door. She sought the help of a Dr. Bush, the family doctor, who took her to a hotel, boarded her there for the night, and charged the bill to Hector. The next day she filed a charge of assault and battery against Hector, planning to go to San Bernardino to live with the Saints and never return. She dropped the charges, however, and returned to Hector, following the advice of Dr. Bush and the members of the San Francisco branch. She describes the incident as follows:
That Mr. McLean put me by violence into the street at night, and locked the door against me, Captain Grey and Dr. Bush are witnesses; and I presume McLean himself would not deny that I then declared that I would no more be his wife however many years I might be compelled to appear as such for the sake of my children.

Even though she embraced Mormonism in November of 1851, she was not baptized until 24 May 1854, by William McBride. Although he had given his written permission for her to be baptized and she continued to live with Hector, he forbade her to sing Mormon hymns or to read Mormon literature in his home. Eleanor did not comply fully with his rules, however, for she made it a practice to hold morning devotionals with her children while Hector was away, and sought all available means to stay in contact with the Church.
There is much more to read on this.

History is so difficult to sort out, but there is an abundance of interesting evidence provided in the article that gives some insight into the nature of the man who murdered Parley P. Pratt. Regardless of how much one may dislike the mercifully removed institution of polygamy and its practitioners, Parley P. Pratt was murdered. Contrary to the claims of some critics, Parley P. Pratt was a real missionary when he was murdered. His call to the Eastern States mission involved church work and travel to multiple eastern states.

One of the interesting things learned from Pratt's history is the decency of some of the people in the southern United States who gave Parley and Eleanor a fair hearing when Hector had them both arrested on bogus charges. There were kind and decent people who tried to protect Parley from the murderous wrath of Hector. There were good people who were compassionate and helpful to Eleanor when Parley was killed. His murder was not the result of vast hostility from the locals, but of one violent man who hated the religion that his wife had joined and was apparently angry over his loss of control over her.

Eleanor was a tough and independent American woman, willing to stand up for her religious ideals and go to great lengths for her children, in spite of the abuse she suffered for years at the hands of an angry alcoholic. That she would go to Salt Lake, even after her husband had died, and continue with the challenges and struggles there, remaining faithful to her religion in a strange area, is a testament to the character of this strong woman. I cannot pretend to know the challenges that women and men faced in the difficult institution of polygamy in the 19th century, or in Utah life during that era, but I think we should give them a little credit for their toughness and commitment.

Meanwhile, I am saddened at the anti-Mormon spirit that could say of this murder that "Parley got what he deserved."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Beware of Blogger



You never know what a blogger will dump onto a blog. Get close at your own risk.

Have a great week, everyone. I'm loving it out here in New Jersey, where even the bad food is good. But I can't bask in this warmth much longer. Tomorrow I return to Wisconsin, where it is now about 15 degrees BELOW zero. Home sweet home.

The memory of warmer times in Wisconsin inspired me to share this photo from Highway 41 near Appleton. A small part of the photo may have been touched up.

Miraculous Rescue Here in New Jersey Tonight - Chesley Sullenberger, the Heroic Pilot

I'm in New Jersey tonight, just a few miles from the scene where a miraculous rescue occurred a couple hours ago. Locals are buzzing about the "Miracle on the Hudson." A US Airways Airbus jetliner with 150 passengers was forced to make an emergency landing after leaving LaGuardia - allegedly due to damage from striking a group of birds on takeoff. The damaged plane didn't have time to reach a small nearby airport. Instead, the courageous pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, had to take the plane down for a crash landing on the cold Hudson River. Avoiding bridges, buildings, cables, and boats, he managed a safe landing under difficult circumstances. It was a hard landing, but a remarkably safe one.

Then the rescue operation kicked in. Even after landing intact, the news tonight could have been grim, with dozens drowned in the cold waters of the Hudson (air temperatures are well below freezing here). But ferries and other boats were nearby that quickly began rescuing the passengers. There were some close calls, but all were rescued. Everybody. News reporters all around are feeling compelled to call this a miracle - there's no better word.

One observer was amazed at how well the rescue workers and boaters coordinated the rescue. Such professionalism!

I am so proud to live in a country with people showing such courage, willingness to help, and competence in doing good. The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, a real hero, was the last one off the sinking plane and walked the aisles twice to make sure everyone was off. God bless him!

We don't know why some live and some die, why some troubled journeys result end in bitter tragedy and others in miraculous rescue. But let us be grateful for those miracles that do occur, and for the brave men and women who worked together - the pilot and flight staff included - to help give many people another day of life. Those rescued have reason to view life in an entirely new way as they look up to heaven and wonder why they were given this second chance.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chicago Temple Closed until March: Damage from Burst Pipe

Due to damage from a burst water pipe, the LDS Chicago Temple will be closed until March. Very sad!

Here's the scoop from LDSChurchTemples.com:
The Chicago Illinois Temple will be closed until further notice due to water damage from a burst pipe located over the women's instruction room. The pipe, which froze and broke during the final weekend of December 2008, left one room extensively damaged and put four inches of water on the floor—ruining the carpet in the building.
Many of us spend time and money preparing for the threat of fire, but water damage is much more widespread. It's amazing how much harm a little leak in a pipe can cause. Overflowing rivers or hurricane surges are vastly worse, of course. Water is one of the most dangerous elements we face - are you prepared?

Speaking of water damage, a few years ago I was sitting in my office at Kimberly-Clark working on my computer when it suddenly began raining - in my office. Streams of dirty brown water began rushing through the gaps in my tile ceiling. I was able to quickly protect my computer and move it to safety (next I protected my precious books). An old heating pipe had corroded and burst. An adjacent office faced much more severe damage in spite of our immediate efforts to reach maintenance and have the water shut off. Had it been under high pressure, it could have been really disastrous. If this had happened at night or on a weekend, I hate to think what several hours of undetected flooding could have done.

You probably all have fire alarms. Any of you have alarms that detect flooding or that alert you if your sump pump fails (for those with sump pumps)?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Nahom: A Few Added Insights

Here's a short video clip explaining more of the significance of the ancient name Nahom/Nehem/Nihm (all from the Semitic root NHM) as it relates to the ancient burial place of that name, in the land of the ancient southern Arabian tribe of that name, in the place that fits so well with the description in the Book of Mormon. Nahom, as you'll recall, is the ancient burial place where Ishmael was buried after Lehi and his family had traveled deep into Arabia going south-southeast just east of the Red Sea. After the burial at Nahom, the changed course and headed nearly due east, which just happens to be a miraculously accurate way to reach one or two highly plausible candidates for Bountiful on the coast of Oman. All part of one of the most interesting aspects of ancient evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. (Another hat tip to Robert.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Speaking of Pearls . . .

A hat tip to cool innovator and author Seth Godin for calling my attention to this lustrous moment, a reminder that whoever and wherever you are, your grains of talent may become something surprisingly beautiful if you pay the price and keep at it:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Searching for Pearls in the Book of Mormon

My family read 4th Nephi the other night, where I noted the brief mention of pearls. Around 200 AD, following the abundant golden era of the Nephites, the people began to forget the Gospel of Jesus Christ and focus instead on materialism. Some were "lifted up in pride" and began wearing "costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls. . . ." This hints at an established pearl harvesting business with extensive trade to bring these marine products into the heart of Nephite society. When I read that, I wondered if pearls were known to be important elements for the wealthy in ancient Mesoamerica.

After a few minutes on Google (that's all the education anyone needs, right?), I found that pearls were used in ancient Mesoamerica. The Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World by Lynn V. Foster (Cambridge, Mass.: Oxford University Press US, 2005) tells us that pearls were among the items considered precious enough to be buried with wealthy Mayans (p. 10). When Cortes met Montezuma, the Aztec king was wearing a cloak and sandals that were "sprinkled with pearls and precious stones" (William Hickling Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico, A. and W. Galignani and Co., 1844, p. 47).

Thomas Francis Gordon in The History of Ancient Mexico: From the Foundation of that Empire to Its Destruction by the Spaniards (published by the author, 1832) provides a list of some of the gifts Cortes sent to Charles V, where we see pearls prominently and repeatedly mentioned (p. 342-343).

In fact, it turns out that the many varieties of pearls available in ancient Mexico -- as in "all manner of fine pearls" -- were of great interest to Cortes and the leaders of Europe. An article at CortezPearls.com explains:
It is fitting that Mexico's most successful cultured pearl farm ever should be located in the Sea of Cortez. There in 1533, Hernan Cortez, the Spanish conquistador who 13 years earlier had defeated the Aztec nation and claimed Mexico for the Spanish Crown, launched the first of three pearl expeditions--the last, in 1536, led by Cortez himself.

The Spaniard wasn't looking for the white pearls found by the ton off of Venezuela. Nor was he looking for the pretty pink conch pearls of the Caribbean. He was looking for a unique variety of dark gray pearl-many with purple, green and blue overtones-that he had often seen worn by the natives of Mexico.

Cortez had an inspired hunch that Mexico's black pearls would add wide diversity to the then rather limited color spectrum of this gem. Most pearls were white, cream or yellow. Mexican pearls often boasted striking eggplant-purple, sky-blue and peacock-green colors in addition to the pewter-grey or jet-black varieties. Cortez gambled that shipments of black pearls would be just as welcome by his royal sponsors as shipments of white pearls.

[new page] Black pearls have never been found in the quantities of white pearls. Nevertheless, for centuries Mexico was a prodigious supplier of this variety. Cortez, the first Westerner to hunt for black pearls with systematic determination, had two species of pearl oyster to choose from: the Pinctada mazatlanica (La Paz black-lipped pearl oyster) and the smaller but more colorful Ptenia sterna (Western Winged rainbow-lipped pearl oyster). Not only were these mollusks plentiful, they prolifically produced pearls, often as many as 14 out of every 100 shucked oysters.

Because of its oyster plentitude, Mexico was known for nearly four centuries as the world's sole and then later primary source of black pearls-gradually giving way to Tahiti after 1850.


Further north, freshwater pearls were known among ancient Native Americans and many have been found in sites built by the ancient mound builders. See The Mound Builders of Ancient North America by E. Barrie Kavasch, p. 407.

Searching for pearls in ancient Mexico, Google initially led me to the fascinating writings of Zelia Nuttall (Zelia Maria Magdalena Nuttall, 1857-1933). Zelia was an American archaeologist and anthropologist who studied in Europe, managed to learn Nahuatl, and focused on pre-Columbian Mesoamerican manuscripts and the Aztecs and their predecessors. She was made wrote several acclaimed scholarly works, became an honorary assistant of Harvard’s Peabody Museum, and was named honorary professor of the National Museum of Mexico. Not bad in light of the obsidian ceiling for that age. I'll have a few things to say about her writings in a subsequent post. Stay tuned, seerstone fans!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Alleged Failure of Virginity Pledges: Dissing the Dreaded "A" Word

A recent study published in Pediatrics compares two groups of relatively religious, conservative kids. One group once made a pledge to remain virgins until marriage, the other didn't. After several years, both groups have done much better than typical teenagers in avoiding sexual promiscuity. The formal act of making a pledge has relatively little measurable impact within this group of kids -- after all, they are already conservative, religious, and far less likely to be promiscuous. So what's the conclusion that the media have been hammering into American minds? Virginity pledges don't work. Kids will be kids - don't try to change their behavior. They're going to do their own thing, parents, so don't waste your time trying to teach them the one thing the media abhors above all else: abstinence.

Here's an excerpt from William McGurn's excellent observations on this controversy from the Wall Street Journal:
The chain reaction was something out of central casting. A medical journal starts it off by announcing a study comparing teens who take a pledge of virginity until marriage with those who don't. Lo and behold, when they crunch the numbers, they find not much difference between pledgers and nonpledgers: most do not make it to the marriage bed as virgins.

Like a pack of randy 15-year-old boys, the press dives right in.

"Virginity Pledges Don't Stop Teen Sex," screams CBS News. "Virginity pledges don't mean much," adds CNN. "Study questions virginity pledges," says the Chicago Tribune. "Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective, Study Finds," heralds the Washington Post. "Virginity Pledges Fail to Trump Teen Lust in Look at Older Data," reports Bloomberg. And on it goes.

In other words, teens will be teens, and moms or dads who believe that concepts such as restraint or morality have any application today are living in a dream world. Typical was the lead for the CBS News story: "Teenagers who take virginity pledges are no less sexually active than other teens, according to a new study."

Here's the rub: It just isn't true.

In fact, the only way the study's author, Janet Elise Rosenbaum of Johns Hopkins University, could reach such results was by comparing teens who take a virginity pledge with a very small subset of other teens: those who are just as religious and conservative as the pledge-takers. The study is called "Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers," and it was published in the Jan. 1 edition of Pediatrics.

The first to notice something lost in the translation was Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of both the Red Cross and the National Institutes of Health. Today she serves as health editor for U.S. News & World Report. And in her dispatch on this study, Dr. Healy pointed out that "virginity pledging teens were considerably more conservative in their overall sexual behaviors than teens in general -- a fact that many media reports have missed cold."

What Dr. Healy was getting at is that the pledge itself is not what distinguishes these kids from most other teenagers. The real difference is their more conservative and religious home and social environment. As she notes, when you compare both groups in this study with teens at large, the behavioral differences are striking. . . . [read more]

Monday, January 05, 2009

Stupid Stories in the Book of Mormon that Make Sense Today: Insights from Mesoamerican Studies

Brant Gardner, an aficionado of Mesoamerican studies, has some carefully considered thoughts about New World evidence pertinent to the Book of Mormon. I recommend all five parts of his video (a hat tip to Robert). If you only have a few minutes, see Part 5 (or Parts 4 and 5). The concluding reference to "seeing the dog" is about a partial image of a Dalmatian provided as an array of dots and blobs, shown in Part 2. Once you recognize that they are taken from an image of a dog, it's easy to see the dog - otherwise it can just look like random noise. Piecing together evidence from the past is often that way.

In this video, he discusses the "stupid story" of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies burying their weapons of war, and the response of the Lamanite army after attacking them. Why do they have to go attack a Nephite city 3 days away to have a real battle and get some prisoners? What good does burying weapons do? Why do the converts - women included - all feel that they are "murderers" based on the involvement of the men in war? When viewed at without the "lens of faith," it really is a puzzling and even bizarre story - until you bring in modern knowledge about the ancient culture, religion, and practices of Mesoamerica. Then it's a remarkably sensible story. There are several "stupid stories" of this nature in the Book of Mormon which make little sense when read in the context of 1830 or our modern culture, but which make much more sense when understood to be occurring in ancient Mesoamerica. Enjoy.

Here's Part 5 of "New World Evidence for The Book of Mormon." Enjoy.


Here are links to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Secret Combinations and Plausible History: Teotihuacan

Drawing upon Mesoamerican history and some intricate details that can be drawn from the Book of Mormon, Brant Gardner explores Mormon's treatment of secret combinations and some ties to actual places and times. The great city of Teotihuacan may have been the physical source of the corrupt militaristic schemes driven by secret societies that led to the final destruction of the Nephites. Fascinating thesis. See "The Gadianton Robbers in Mormon's Theological History: Their Structural Role and Plausible Identification" by Brant Gardner.

An important contribution of this paper is considering Mormon's objectives in his careful editing and how that impacted his description and editorial choices regarding the Gadianton's and their 4th century (foreign?) successors.

The next step beyond understanding secret societies in Mesoamerica is the extremely difficult one of understanding them in our day. Follow the money - and the power. War could also be an indicator.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bernie Madoff Receives Congressional Medal of Honor, Other Awards

One of the problems of using the Book of Mormon as a lens for viewing modern events -- it really is amazing book with prophetically selected ancient parallels to our time -- is that it's easy to become cynical when it looks like someone is a crook or "Gadianton robber" of some kind. Maybe some of the "bad guys" I don't like really are decent people just trying to help others the best they can. Maybe we need to try a little harder to look for the good in things like Wall Street bailouts, malaria, and war. That's why I'm actually relieved to read the breaking good news about Bernie Madoff, a man whom I misunderstood until today.

In case your news service isn't connected to the same alternate dimensions of reality I use, here's the story:

Bernie Madoff Receives Congressional Medal of Honor and Award of Merit from the Fed



Washington, 1/05/09: In its first act for 2009, Congress awarded Bernard L. Madoff the Congressional Medal of Honor for "unusual valor in bringing hope to thousands." The Congressional honor, normally given to war heroes, cites Madoff's "courage as a soldier of fortune in the war for hope and economic growth." It also cites his "exemplary behavior in emulating Congress by helping others, no matter how great the cost."


Madoff, in his emotional acceptance speech at a lavish awards banquet earlier today, praised Congress for recognizing his efforts, and thanked both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the Fed, and the Treasury Dept. for being his "role models in how to create wealth and hope for others. Inspired by their example, I, as a private citizen, have only tried to do to a few others what they have they have been doing to this great country all along."

In presenting the Medal of Honor and a check for an undisclosed sum from the Dept. of Treasury, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised Madoff and denounced the hatred and greed of those behind "unfounded allegations" against Madoff, who faces charges of defrauding investors of billions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. Reid said, "Bernie Madoff is a great American who exemplifies the highest ethics and financial integrity of Congress. He has gained our awe, our respect, and frequently our votes. As a private citizen, he was able to give hope to thousands in much the same way we have been working to bring hope to all Americans. He independently implemented world class financial systems similar to our Social Security system and other programs created and guided by Congress to bring hope to America."

Nancy Pelosi said that "Bernie understood that spending more than you have is the best way to stimulate the economy. Bernie exemplifies Congressional compassion and generosity, being extremely generous with other people's money and doing his best to spread other people's wealth around to create jobs and economic stimulus."

In a surprise appearance, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich said that Madoff's stellar track record was so much like that of Congress that he deserved to be in Congress, and would have already been given a seat in the Senate if it weren't for complications caused by other forces of pettiness and hate interfering with his ability to assign the vacant Illinois seat in the Senate "to one of the few heroes of the new economy who have truly paid the price for such an honor."

"The charges against Madoff are the result of greed and speculation," Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson explained in a statement. "His business model succeeded for years, and would still be bringing hope to thousands were it not for the greed of a few speculators who selfishly wanted their money back." Paulson explained that it was because of greed that they weren't satisfied with the impressive returns that Madoff was bringing them on paper. "Instead, their selfish demands brought unnecessary weakness to the system, dried up the wealth that Bernie was spreading around, and sowed fear and distrust among his investors." Key senators are now calling for investigation into "the forces of greed." The former investors who helped shake confidence in Madoff's business are now being investigated for tax fraud and anti-competitive behavior. Unconfirmed reports indicate they may also be declared "enemy combatants" in need of foreign interrogation to clarify their motives in bringing down Madoff's business. Meanwhile, a Presidential pardon for Madoff to cover alleged wrong-doing may be forthcoming, putting him in the company of other misunderstood businessmen, according to an anonymous Bush Administration spokesman.

Senator Chris Dodd defended Madoff's business model. "Not a penny of the $50 billion Bernie received from investors was lost. It was all part of a continuous stimulus package that was strengthening the economy. It was buying houses, cars, jewelry, real estate, fine wines, boats -- you name it. Every penny went back into the economy, creating jobs. Meanwhile, investors were being given hope of unusually high returns -- and it could have kept on going as long as Social Security, were it not for the greed of a few."

Retired Fed Chair Alan Greenspan also toasted Bernie. "When I look at all the charities Bernie was helping, when I look in the eyes of the orphans and widows who depended on Bernie for hope, I am touched to see how much good can be done with loose monetary and fiscal policies. If it were not for the irrational pessimism of investors pulling their investment out of the system, the hope would still be strong today."

Federal Reserve Bank Chair Ben Bernanke also joined the bipartisan event to salute Madoff: "Madoff as a citizen managed to do what we do as the world's most powerful bank -- and he did it on his own, without the benefit of political power and collusion with the Treasury Dept. Yet he created massive returns out of nothing and stimulated the economy with advanced accounting methods. He deserves the highest we have to offer him."
Well, I figure we can all use a little good news in times like this.

The Ponzi family is unhappy with the use of the term "Ponzi scheme" to describe the likes of Madoff's operations. Out of respect, I think we should call such things "Congress schemes" instead.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Green Mormonism

While I am skeptical about some of the things people do in their efforts to "save the earth" (especially when it involves small groups of rich and extravagant folks telling or even compelling everyone else to live with less), I am all in favor of voluntary efforts to conserve and be responsible with scarce resources. I think it would be wise for local Church leaders to increasingly consider these issues - especially since many members are being compelled to live with less. Take home teaching, for example. When a home teacher is given five or six families to visit, do they all have to be scattered across the extreme ends of the ward? Why not favor geographical groupings, when it makes sense, to reduce travel time? Would it be wrong for some home teaching visits to take place in the Church before or after a Church event to reduce travel for home teachers? Why not do some leadership meetings by teleconference or web meetings?

While I think the surprisingly low price of gasoline we are enjoying with the economic downturn will be a short-lived phenomenon, even cheap $1.50 gas is a lot for people who have lost their jobs and have home teaching assignments that can take 100 miles or more a month of travel (not unrealistic in many parts of the world). Making Church work more energy efficient, when feasible, sounds like a good idea to me.

Do you have other ideas for how we can be more energy efficient and environmentally conscious? Apart from doing baptisms in cold water - there ought to be a little comfort provided for a new member's first few moments in the Kingdom.