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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Apologetics: Still an Important Tool in Strenghtening Faith

Over at MormonInterpreter.com, Steven T. Densley, Jr. in "Should We Apologize for Apologetics?" reviews a book on LDS apologetics. He makes some excellent points that members of the Church should know.

Many LDS members don't use the term "apologetics" to describe what many of them might engage in rather naturally when sharing or defending the Gospel, The use of logic, reason, and evidence goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. Densley points out that Christ used such tools in His sermons. Yet today, among some Latter-day Saints, it is fashionable to look down on apologetics as backward, embarrassing stuff. It is also fashionable to state or to imply that the leadership of the Church has distanced itself from such things. That argument, however, does not withstand careful inspection, nor does it even withstand listening to the latest General Conference.

A useful early example of apologetic argumentation can be found in the writings of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15, for example, Paul uses a variety of arguments and evidences to support the doctrine of the Resurrection. One of the arguments he cites to teach and explain the Resurrection is the practice among at least some early Christians of baptism for the dead. Interestingly, that discourse has now become a source for LDS apologetics in explaining our doctrine of baptism for the dead. The argument is also buttressed by references to that and related concepts in many early Christian references that have been noticed or discovered since Joseph Smith's day, although it is possible that Joseph Smith had access to one such document prior to his revelation on that topic, namely, the Pastor of Hermas, a beautiful early Christian text that was part of the canon for some Christians.

Next time you read the New Testament, note how many times various speakers or writers appeal to logic and evidence to support an argument. Apologetics was alive and well in that day, and may it continue to thrive in ours. Or rather, may intelligent, responsible, accurate, and compassionate apologetics thrive.

Has apologetics been of benefit to you and your family? I'd like to hear your story.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Canadian Mormons by Roy and Carma Prete: Interview with the Authors by Erin Gazdik

A valuable new contribution to the history of the Latter-day Saints will be published this month. Canadian Mormons: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada edited by Roy and Carma Prete (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2017) details the important role Canada and Canadian Mormons have played during LDS history. Missions "without purse or scrip" to Canada began in the early 1830s, and after many vital contributions to the growth of the Church over the decades, Canada continues to be a source of strength in the Church. It's great to see a volume giving attention to this important part of the Church.

Many thanks to the editors, the 21 authors who contributed to the volume, and the many others who contributed to this work.

Courtesy of Erin Gazdik with the Religious Studies Center at BYU, I am able to share a recent interview Erin conducted with the authors in preparation for the launch of this book. You can order it now on Deseret Book, and I'll add a link to Amazon when that becomes available.

Interview of Roy and Carma Prete by Erin Gazdkik, Aug. 21, 2017

Erin Gazdik: My name is Erin Gazdik and I am a marketing and media specialist at BYU Religious Studies Center. It is my pleasure to interview today a couple who have played a major role in the creation of a new book, which will be of particular interest to Canadians, or anyone with a Canadian connection. Would you be so kind as to introduce yourselves and your role in writing the new book?

Roy: My name is Roy Prete, and I am one of the editors of the book, Canadian Mormons: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada, which will be published this October 2017.

Carma: I am Carma Prete. I am married to Roy Prete, and I am also an editor of this Canadian Mormons book, which is coming out soon.

Erin: I am interested to know what inspired you to write this book on Latter-day Saint history in Canada.

Roy: In Canada, where we live, we have fragments of Latter-day Saint history, such as stake histories, and some ward histories, but no overall history has been written since 1968, which is 49 years. So it’s a long time; such a book is much overdue.

Carma: The Church has changed a lot in the last 49 years.

Roy: In 1966, there were 50,015 members of the Church, and there were nine stakes and one temple. And now there are 195,000 members of the Church, spread all across the country, with eight temples and one under construction. So this is a tremendous opportunity to tell the whole story.

Erin: Very interesting! So please tell me briefly what the book is about.

Carma: This book tells the story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada. It’s mostly an historical book. It takes the history from the very earliest preaching in Canada in 1829, all the way to the present. It covers the history of the Church in each province. And there are some other chapters that are more analytical, that give the whole picture and talk about demographics and various other issues.

Erin: This covers a very broad topic over a long period of time. I’d be interested to know how the book was written and to learn about its main features, some of which I understand are quite innovative.

Roy: The preparation of this book involved a team of 40 people. There are 21 authors. It is a collective book written by people living in the field and whose research was combined with that done at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City—the equivalent of four years of research for one person. About 50 oral history interviews are cited in the book. It is really quite an academic book, peer-reviewed, and it is written to the academic standard. It is also an astounding book in that it is made to read like an illustrated book, so that it has in it 512 photographs, 94 maps, charts, and graphs, and about 100 sidebars. When you pick it up, every page—or every two pages at least—has some kind of visual material, with captions. It is beautifully designed. The design originated with Stephen Hales Creative, professional people in Provo, Utah. We are really quite excited about it. Anybody can read the chapter that interests them and get the gist of the rest of it by seeing the photos and the captions.

Erin: Carma, what was the hardest part of writing this book for you and what was the best part for you in producing this book?

Carma: There were a lot of hard parts. It took a lot of effort to do the research. It was not a superficial research job. We were working in the Church Archives and looking for records, and then looking for photographs and tracking down who were in the photographs and who took the photographs and getting permissions. That was very time-intensive. Probably the thing that I enjoyed the most about it was researching about the early history, the early period of missionary work in Canada. The history of the Church in Ontario, Canada, is very, very rich. That’s where the first missionaries that ever served outside the United States came—to Ontario, Canada. And I had done a bit of research on this already and knew a bit about it, and then, a few years ago I found out that my own ancestors were in that first group of converts in Upper Canada in 1832. So I have a personal passion for this subject.

Erin: How do you think Canadian Saints or those with a Canadian ancestry or connection could benefit from reading this history of the LDS Church in Canada?

Roy: Many Latter-day Saints in Utah and elsewhere have Canadian ancestors, whose overall history will be most intriguing. In addition to Ontario, there was missionary work in Quebec and in the three Maritime provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, in the early period, about 1832 to 1853. About 2,500 people joined the Church, and of course they all gathered and went west with Brigham Young when the pioneers came to the Salt Lake Valley. The next major phase in the story starts with the Charles Ora Card expedition in 1887, that came up to found a small settlement in southern Alberta at a place called Cardston, just fifteen miles across the US border. And then another group came to build irrigation canals in 1898-99, and then after that the Church has been built up across the country, largely through missionary work. There were 486 congregations at the end of 2015, with 48 stakes and almost 200,000 members. Many people in the United States have connections with southern Alberta and other parts of Canada, and many missionaries from the United States have served in Canada, and assisted in building the Church in Canada. These would all be interested in the development of the Church in Canada.

It’s quite a story, a story of pioneer faith and dedication. We have written it according to the beliefs and views of the people who actually participated in the history, so it has stories of the visitation of angels, dreams, conversions, miracles performed, people praying for rain, people being healed. It contains the actual experiences, so it’s really quite an heirloom in terms of the heritage. Our intent was to preserve the faith heritage of the Latter-day Saints in Canada.

Carma: It is probably good to point out that the people who participated in the making of this book were all good, faithful members of the Church. We are trying to make the history accurate, but we’re not leaving out the faith stories, the ones that have been documented. There are some wonderful, miraculous things where we can see the hand of the Lord in the building up of the Church in Canada.

Roy: Everyone who worked on it is a volunteer; no one was paid. Carma and I started a mission at the Church History Library in August 2013, and we were there for thirty months, and then we came back for six months to finish the project. [Turning to Carma] You did research on 7 ½ provinces and the northern territories. [Turning to interviewer] She wrote three chapters and did a horrendous amount of editing, so she’s really the indispensable woman in the whole project. We had eight people who did research—service missionaries and one other missionary couple (besides ourselves) who did a substantial amount of research at the Church History Library. So every province is extremely well-researched in terms of the archival record.

Erin: I am fascinated with the story of how the Church was built up in Canada in the twentieth century. Could you elaborate on how this was done?

Carma: We see the sacrifice that people have made as they have tried to build up the Church. You have a little congregation of just a couple of families who join the Church, and they try to pull things together and hold meetings. Missionaries come, and maybe they meet in their own homes, and then they get to where they can rent a hall, and they have to go and clean the beer bottles and the cigarette butts out of the hall and open the windows before they can hold meetings. So many of the congregations have gone through that kind of pattern before they had enough people that they could have their own meetinghouses. I think it helps people to appreciate what has gone on before, when they come into all these wonderful buildings and things are so convenient. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, as it were, to have all the blessings that are available now.

Roy: Well, in those early days, too, to raise the local portion, they had bake sales and bazaars, catalog deliveries and some people put on theatricals and charged money for them. In Saskatchewan they were washing oil well bore cores. In many places, they had booths at fairs and all sorts of things that went on for a long time. It’s a great story. It’s an heroic story, with pioneers in every era, and it is thrilling, it’s just thrilling to read. I am amazed at the history myself. I am astounded. The basic thesis is that the Church was built up by the faith, effort, and sacrifice of the people. That rings loud and clear. We are hoping that people will resonate. The important thing is that we all stand between the generation before us and the one after in terms of transmitting our heritage. This book will help people get out a few stories for family home evening, and some may find some stories to tell in sacrament meeting talks. It certainly builds a sense of unity among the people. We had a conference recently in Brampton, Ontario, on the Church history in Ontario, and the people who were there were amazed. There were all kinds of things they didn’t know about. But it built a sense of unity because they all had a shared background. Part of it is to bring that heritage to the fore. The faith and inspiration of the authors is reflected in the book itself.

Erin: What other features should we look for in reading the book?

Roy: We have a magnificent foreword written by Ardeth G. Kapp, who was Young Women general president for eight years, and who was raised in Glenwood, Alberta, and who has ties with every period of the history. People will be thrilled to read that just for the sake of hearing something from Ardeth Kapp. She has published 16 books and is a very popular, dynamic special events speaker. And the book has been beautifully, beautifully designed. Hats off to Maddie Swapp (at BYU Religious Studies Center), who did a magnificent job of designing the book. There are a lot of great, fairly large pictures that are quite impactful, and the photo editing has been nicely done by Brent Nordgren and others. The book is very well edited. It is written to be quite readable. I think anyone could sit down and enjoy it. We have tried to fluff out all the academic language as nearly as possible, so it is really quite accessible to the general public. There are exciting chapters. We have an overview chapter that shows the development of the Church across Canada. We have a chapter on the cultural development. We’ve got one on lifestyle, and we have another one called “The Global Perspective,” which puts the history of the Church in Canada in the broader perspective. Carma has done a chapter on the Canadian contribution.

Erin: What are some things about the contribution of the Church in Canada that aren’t well known?

Roy: We find that what is little known is how much Canada has contributed to the Church. Some of the key leaders, like John Taylor, were converted in Toronto. Marriner W. Merrill from New Brunswick became an apostle, and his son Joseph Merrill was an apostle. There are some amazing women-[Carma] Mary Fielding Smith, converted in Canada, [Roy] from whose lineage came Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Elder M. Russell Ballard. Canadian Latter-day Saints have founded communities in Utah. President Gordon B. Hinckley’s grandfather, was born near Smiths Falls, Ontario, not very far from Kingston, where we live. He founded Cove Fort, Utah. Because Canada is so close to the US border, the history has been fairly integrated. This is the first place people came, following the waterways, to preach the gospel. Then, when C. O. Card came up, that’s another trek north about 700 miles from Utah, and then missionaries have come back and forth. So the history has been quite a bit integrated. At one time, two members of the First Presidency, David O. McKay’s two counselors, Hugh B. Brown and N. Eldon Tanner, were both from Canada. That is quite remarkable. There have been a lot of general officer and leaders who have come from Canada and served the entire Church. At one point, Canada was providing most of the missionaries to South Africa when visas were not allowed to US citizens. The Church spread to England—and to Scotland, we learned in the history—from early converts in Ontario. So these are some things that are quite noteworthy. Latter-day Saints introduced irrigation to Alberta and made a tremendous contribution to agriculture in Canada. Some famous people, a lot of people, have made major contributions to the country, as well.

Thanks again to Roy, Carma, and Erin.

Publication Information:                                                                                                                                               
ISBN 978-1-9443-9443-9423-3: Release: 30 October 2017; Publishers: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book Co.; Retail US: $ 39.99; Hardcover, color, pp. xx, 685; Illustrated: 510 photos, 95 maps, timelines, graphs, charts.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Learning from Russell M. Nelson's Response to an Inspired Recommendation from President Kimball

In the October 2017 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared a story on international significance in his talk, "The Voice of the Lord." Russell M. Nelson heard President Kimball discuss China long ago and chose to do something remarkable: follow the Prophet's recommendation, even though it would require significant effort.
In 1979, five years before his call as a General Authority, Brother Nelson attended a meeting just prior to general conference. “President Spencer W. Kimball challenged all present to lengthen their stride in taking the gospel to the entire world. Among the countries President Kimball specifically mentioned was China, declaring, ‘We should be of service to the Chinese. We should learn their language. We should pray for them and help them.’”

At age 54, Brother Nelson had a feeling during the meeting that he should study the Mandarin language. Although a busy heart surgeon, he immediately secured the services of a tutor.

Not long after beginning his studies, Dr. Nelson, attending a convention, unexpectedly found himself sitting next to “a distinguished Chinese surgeon, Dr. Wu Yingkai. … Because [Brother Nelson] had been studying Mandarin, he began [a] conversation [with Dr. Wu].”

Dr. Nelson’s desire to follow the prophet led to Dr. Wu visiting Salt Lake City and Dr. Nelson traveling to China to give lectures and perform surgical operations.

His love for the Chinese people, and their love and respect for him, grew.

In February 1985, ten months after his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Nelson received a surprise phone call from China pleading for Dr. Nelson to come to Beijing to operate on the failing heart of China’s most famous opera singer. With the encouragement of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Elder Nelson returned to China. The last surgical operation he ever performed was in the People’s Republic of China.

Just two years ago, in October 2015, President Russell M. Nelson was once again honored with an official declaration, naming him an “old friend of China.”
How wonderful that this busy man took up the challenge to learn Mandarin. It can be done, even for those of us getting along in years. Studying a challenging foreign language is one of the best things you can do for your brain and for millions of neighbors on this planet.

His choice to act on this matter and learn a foreign language has had a huge impact. Because of his language skills, he would develop unique friendships and have rare opportunities to serve and influence a nation for good. In 2015 Elder Nelson visited China again and in was greeted by the grandson and son of the opera singer he operated on. In a tear-filled reunion that I can only assume was carefully arranged with the help of significant government officials, they said, "Thank you for saving our father." Very sweet. Moments like that are worth all the effort of studying a foreign language, and at least some of the effort of mastering heart surgery.

I'm not sure what the meeting was in which Elder Nelson heard President Kimball speak of China and the importance of preparing by studying Chinese, but here is what President Kimball said in another meeting in 1978, reprinted in the Feb. 1979 Ensign in a First Presidency message entitled "The Uttermost Parts of the Earth":
And what of China, the third largest country in the world? Nearly one billion of our Father’s children live in China, one-fourth of the entire world’s population. Six hundred and sixty million of them speak Mandarin Chinese. How many of us speak Mandarin Chinese? We must prepare while there is time to prepare to teach these people. Of course, we face great barriers, including political barriers, in many of these parts of the world.

Major changes are emerging within China today. The single most important drive in contemporary China is to become strong, independent, and modern....

The doors are opening gradually. The Spirit of the Lord is brooding over these nations under a new regime that is certainly more open and more receptive to western ideas than ever before. Such cultural and educational interchanges will offer opportunities for exposure to the gospel. We must be prepared. The Lord is doing his part and is waiting for us to open the doors. [emphasis added]
I read this while I was on a German-speaking mission in Switzerland and southern Germany, and resolved to study Chinese. I wish I had been more diligent because life would be much more productive for me now, but I did take several classes of Mandarin Chinese when I got back to BYU (my "extra-major skill") and tried to keep studying over the years. Now I wish I had studied three or four times as much! Chinese is one of the few classes from my college days that I still depend on, along with social dance (albeit rarely).

President Kimball's recommendation from almost four decades ago still strikes me as timely and wise for today. How many of you are preparing to share the Gospel with those of other nations and languages? Or simply preparing for a richer, more productive life with language study? In terms of sharing the Gospel, some doors have already begun to open. Others may open with surprising suddenness. Are we ready?

Chinese will continue to be one of the most useful, important, and beautiful languages to study. But if the Spirit moves you to study Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, French, Hindi or Hausa, act on it. You don't need to be a college student or missionary to learn a foreign language. It may seem tough for us old folks, but it is doable and can open wonderful new doors. The benefits of foreign language don't come only through travel. Chinese speakers in St. George, Utah or Appleton, Wisconsin may find many opportunities to help others with their language skills as people from Asia increasingly travel and migrate to the US. Spanish, of course, is becoming a necessity in many parts of the US. Keep learning and preparing. Be ready to grab doors that come your way and swing them open.

Related posts:

Friday, October 06, 2017

Settling an Old Score with Lisbon -- and Learning from Portugal's Religious Toleration

In 1984, I had a great but somewhat disastrous trip to Portugal. A few things went terribly wrong on that first international trip on my own. My earlier mission to Switzerland had abundant support that spared me from some but not all of the problems I encountered in Portugal. In both cases, I ran out of money quickly and had to scrape by for a while with inadequate resources. In both cases a little more information or more accurate information from people I had relied on would have been helpful, and better preparation on my part would have averted trouble. But this week, I settled my old score with Portugal as my wife and I spent several days here, allowing me to see how much nicer it can be here when one isn't trying to live off a cheap bag of green olives. I also learned some valuable lessons about this grand country, its religious toleration, and the way its Muslim community helps keep this country perhaps the safest place in Europe.

In 1984 I was a poor graduate student at BYU going to Lisbon to present a paper at an international conference on Laser Doppler Anemometry, a fancy way of saying Laser Doppler Velocimetry, which is a fancy way of saying measuring velocity with laser beams. Brigham Young University's Chemical Engineering Department was sending me, courtesy of funds my advisor had for the R&D project he and I were pursuing related to the fluid dynamics of entrained coal particles in a combustor with swirling flow. I was so excited to go. The BYU travel office, working with a major travel agency in Utah, handled my arrangements. I had applied for them to provide tickets to and from Lisbon and to also book and pay for my hotel in Lisbon. I took what I thought was plenty of cash to handle taxis, meals, a few souvenirs, and a stack of books that the student editor of a BYU publication had asked me to buy for him to assist his studies in Portuguese literature.

The first red flag came when the travel office sent me my tickets and told me that I was flying into Madrid, not Portugal. They told me that they weren't able to get any flights to Lisbon. What?? I was young and trusting and while that sounded ridiculous, who was I to challenge them and demand anything better? Going to Europe to present a paper was such a gift, so I just accepted this. Crazy.

I communicated with the mysterious travel office mostly by voice mail. It was hard to reach people there. I should have found the office and gone in to check on all the details, but I trusted that this was the only feasible booking for me, assumed it was too late to change, and also trusted that they had properly handled the booking and payment of my hotel room. Foolish!

Getting to Lisbon from Madrid required taking a taxi to the train station and spending a good deal of time trying to figure out how to book a train to Lisbon. The train ride ended up being a 10-hour journey -- in a cabin with sealed windows and a chain smoker sitting across from me. I was exhausted after the long flight and really wanted to rest, but I couldn't breathe in all the smoke and so spent much of the 10 hours standing in the open space between train cabins where there was fresh air. By the time I got to Lisbon, around 6 pm in the evening before my big conference, I was so exhausted and really looked forward to just checking in at my hotel.

When I finally reached the hotel, I handed them my passport and yearned for the key so I could rest. "Sorry, sir, we don't have a reservation for you." What? I was sure that the BYU travel office had arranged my hotel. But wait, this one was my top choice, but I had listed a few others in the area as alternates in case there was trouble. Sigh -- which one had they booked for me? And why hadn't they told me of the change in plans? I spent roughly the next two hours wandering from hotel to hotel in the area to see if they had a reservation in my name. No. No. No. Exhausted and desperate, I returned to the one where I had started and asked what I could do? "Well, we do have openings, so you could stay here." Oh, great! I asked if they accepted American credit cards. No, they didn't. Oh, of course. This was Europe. American credit cards won't work here -- so I assumed. But now I would have to pay for my room in cash. Cash that I had planned for niceties like food. But I still had plenty, I thought.

The next problem occurred when I finally got to a book store to buy the books of poetry that another BYU student had asked me to buy. I felt obligated to but them and figured I still had enough to be OK. I presented the list to the store managed, who found most of the requested books. Each time he found one of the books, he tore a little card that was sticking out of the books, indicating that the book had been sold. When he summed them it, it was much more than I had expected. It would leave me with almost nothing. Um, that's too much I tried to explain. Can we put some of these books back? "No, senor, we cannot. The cards are torn. You have purchased these and have to pay." At this point I should have said that's ridiculous and just walked out, but I felt obliged to buy them and did so. Ouch. In a last effort to stave off trouble, I asked if they accepted credit cards. No. Of course not. There went a big chunk of my cash.

Fortunately my conference provided a nice reception with abundant food one night (grilled sardines was the main attraction there) and there were some things to eat at other times, and I was able to eat a once or twice at cheap little mom-and-pop places (good food, just not much). But the last couple days of my trip were spent trying to live off of a bag of olives and some bread bought at a grocery store. As a valuable health tip for my readers, the human body is not designed for a diet based primarily on olives. I can share details offline if you need to know more.

On my last day in Lisbon, I still had saved enough to perhaps buy a cheap souvenir or two, so I strolled into a touristy market area. There I noticed a shop with a Visa/Mastercard sign. Hmm. I pulled out my American credit card and asked if these could work here. "Of course!" he explained. I could have been using my credit card all along. The fact that my hotel would not accept them had misled me for the entire journey.

Have you heard the story of the poor woman who always wanted to go on a cruise, so she saved for years to be able to afford a ticket, but to save money brought a bag of crackers and cheese and lived off that for most of the cruise? On her last day, she finally went into the ship's restaurant to splurge on one nice meal with the money she still had. After feasting, she asked for the bill. "There's no bill -- the meals are included in your ticket." I can relate that story. 

The 1984 conference I attended was great, Lisbon was beautiful, the people were wonderful, and I even got to attend LDS services at a branch in Lisbon, but in spite of all the excitement and fun, my diet really was inadequate for a significant part of the trip and I couldn't do or see many interesting things that might have been possible with a little more cash. (Cash is something we need to save and have for times of trouble, and that's a lesson still important today. Have some on hand at home and when you travel.) Poor preparation, poor decisions, and inadequate research left me in a bind.

After all these years, I have finally settled my old score with Lisbon. After attending a conference in Amsterdam last week, my wife joined me there for a couple of days and then we celebrated the Chinese National Week holiday and Mid-Autumn Festival by staying in Europe and coming to Lisbon. This time, we had opportunities to enjoy the remarkable food of Portugal. Some of the best food in the world. Hearty, healthy, delicious. We still ate fairly cheaply, but it wasn't just olives.

One important thing I learned is that Portugal is arguably Europe's safest location due in part to its Muslim community. In spite of terrible religious persecution centuries ago, Portugal now seems to be  model for religious toleration. Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims live and working together in peace. According to one guide we spoke to, it is the support of the Muslim community in Portugal that helps keep Portugal so safe. When radical elements try to stir up violence, Portugal's established Muslim community won't stand for that and works with authorities to prevent trouble. I hope that's accurate. I love communities where religious toleration flourishes. The sense of safety here and the kindness of its diverse people deeply impressed me -- along with its great food that I finally tasted abundance. Portugal, what a great place!

Here are a few of my photos from this visit to Lisbon and nearby areas, including Pena Palace at Sintra.