Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Rivers in the Desert

After driving across Nevada this week, I considered how difficult it is to find water in a barren desert. Even if you know where mountains are, it's hard to predict where water will be. Now think how hard it would have been for Joseph Smith to correctly specify the location of flowing water in the Arabian Peninsula as one of the many accurate details of First Nephi - a feat especially impressive given that he had no access to topographical information to guide his description. Even learned anti-Mormons have mocked the concept of the River of Laman right up to the present day. And yet there she is, an actual river in a valley in the location described in First Nephi, only recently confirmed by actual field work in the Arabian Peninsula by George Potter and others. It's sitting there, demanding attention, yet being largely ignored by the critics who chant "not a scrap of evidence, not a scrap of evidence."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

LDS Youth in California

Due to circumstances largely beyond my control, I was recently compelled to spend a day at Magic Mountain, the Six Flags amusement park north of Los Angeles. The pain was mitigated by the presence of my family (most of them), plus a book to study during some of the waiting in line (working on written Chinese right now). While I must admit that several portions of the eight minutes and thirty-four seconds of total ride time during the lengthy day were enjoyable (to the extent that having internal organs shifted violently to new locations is enjoyable), it's not my normal top choice for how to spend a day.

One of the small things that made the day more interesting was running into a group of four LDS teenagers next to us in line. These kids stood out in several ways relative to some of the other groups we had encountered. They were not making out or trying the latest "dirty dancing" moves while in line. They were not smoking, swearing or discussing objectional topics. They had not permanently disfigured themselves with Satanic graffiti on their skin. They were not dressed like sluts or gangsters. And then I overheard some interesting terms in their jovial conversation. The word "scriptures" made me suspect that they were LDS. Then the young man in the group mentioned a physical fitness chart - ah, a Boy Scout working on the physical fitness merit badge. I was almost sure they were LDS. Then came the clincher: "seminary." I asked if they were LDS - of course they were. They were from San Diego. Very nice group of kids. Wish the park were full of such people!

In contrast, we were adversely affected by a group of about 10 teenagers, all very healthy, young, vivacious, and largely clean cut. Could have been from a church group, perhaps - one of them had on a shirt proclaiming faith in Christ. Nice shirt - and I complimented the young man on it. But there was something puzzling about this group of healthy, happy teenagers: they had all come to the handicapped line in the most popular ride, "X," and they had handicapped passes allowing them to cut in front of many other people who had been waiting for about two hours to get on board this intense and largely senseless ride (just a hint there that it wasn't my favorite). I wondered why the park employees were treating these healthy people as handicapped and giving them special privileges - privileges that added about 15 minutes to our wait in line, since our entry queue was the one being held up for these kids to board.

On my way out, I asked a park official at Guest Relations and learned that it's park policy not to question anyone's claim to being handicapped. Anybody who comes to their office and asks for a handicapped pass is given one. Those kids knew about that politically correct loophole and had obviously chosen to exploit it en masse. Morally handicapped, clearly, but I doubt that they had any other legitimate claim to special treatment. Sure, I guess we are all handicapped in some way, but these kids were cheating. Quite disappointing. I sure hope none of them were LDS.

As an adult, I notice that I care more than ever about the behavior of teenagers. They are the future of our society. How pleased I was to encounter wholesome LDS youth who appeared to be living their religion and could shine as examples of decent peope. How disappointed I was to see a group of future businessmen ready to follow the paths of Enron executives.

LDS youth, your example mattters. And to those of you who are living your religion, you are making a difference. And the world needs you!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Mormon Temple Mysteries: Best Places to Eat

I've noted a significant omission in the typical temple preparation workshops that are held for new members or others preparing to go to the LDS temple: info on where to go to eat afterwards. For many Latter-day Saints, going to the Temple is a special trip that involves a lengthy drive and eating out somewhere on the way back, preferably somewhere close to the Temple. But where? Members of wards eventually hear recommendations from seasoned members, but it would be great if there were a Web resources compiling recommendations for various temples around the world. Anybody know of such a thing?

Here are a couple of my recommendations. For the San Diego temple, there are quite a few choices just across Interstate 5 ("the Five" as they say in southern California) in the La Jolla Village Square shopping center. Daphne's Greek Cafe, facing the temple, is a great choice. The food and the staff impressed me on my visit this week. Such delicious food. Took a little longer than normal, we were told, so the manager brought out a free plate of hummus and pita bread (some of the best I've tasted of both), and then after our delicious meal, brought out a baklava plate for us as well (one piece each for four people) - another gift. I like that kind of attention to customers. In the same area are many other choices - Schlotzky's Deli, California Pizza Kitchen, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and several more. All about 1 block away from one of the most beautiful temples in the world.

For the Chicago Temple, the one closest to my home, I really like the Korean restaurant, Seoul Garden. For Chinese, the Empire Szchuan restaurant is outstanding. Both are on Milwaukee Avenue just down the street from the Temple.

If you know of a forum for compiling dining recommendations near LDS temples, let me know. Otherwise share your recommendations here.

Ideas for feeding youth groups on baptism trips would also be appreciated. Low cost is often the key here.

Oh, and don't forget the temple cafeteria itself in temples offering that service. Anybody have a list of which ones do?

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Gift of Music

This week I've spent a little time in Palo Alto, California, where my son attended an outstanding cello camp held at Stanford University. Last night we attended a recital of the instructor, Irene Sharp. Beautiful! One of the dramatic pieces on the program was the Sonata in D Minor of Shostakovich (Opus 40). Perhaps the most enjoyable work of Shostakovich I've heard, enhanced in part by the intense and almost theatrical delivery of the pianist, Steven Lightburn.

During the recital, I pondered the miracle of the gift of hearing and perhaps even more impressive, the gift of music, or the ability to ponder, enjoy, or even create music. Talk.origins lists music as one of the claims of creationists used to discredit evolution. It is dismissed as a mere attack based on incredulity, pointing out that the fact that we don't know how something happened doesn't mean it could not happen.

For me, the profound depth of beauty and meaning that is possible in the fine arts raises issues far greater than mere incredulity when it comes to the issue of divine versus accidental origins of human life. Selection of random mutations to give a survival advantage is an engine that just doesn't seem to have the power to take the brain to heights far beyond what is needed to survive. Granted, some people need Bach and Mendelssohn and even Shostakovich to survive, but how could natural selection be responsible for the tools that could create and appreciate such wonders?

When it comes to music, the difference between cavemen needing to distinguish different pitches in their grunts in order to hunt down a beast versus modern humans enjoying the subtleties of fine music are so vast as to demand more attention than a quick dismissal. I'm not saying that music cannot be explained in any degree by standard theories of evolution - some forms of rap music seem to be well covered by those theories already - but the joy of great music seems light years beyond what natural selection can handle.

Thanks be to God for the divinely designed human ear and brain and for the gift of music.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

CBS News: "God Answers Prayers"

On the way home from work tonight, I heard a national news broadcast carry the voice of Jody Hawkins, mother of the Utah boy who was rescued today in the Uinta Mountains. They carried her tearful voice making this statement: "People say that the heavens are closed and God no longer answers prayers. We are here to unequivocally tell you that the heavens are not closed, prayers are answered and children come home." I'm certainly grateful that her son, Brennan, has been found - and pleasantly surprised that a Mormon woman would be broadcast nationwide bearing testimony of prayer (I assume she's Mormon - that testimony of prayer just sounds so Mormon. Her voice sounds Mormon. And I bet she looks Mormon.). Her statement is also being carried in print in sources like the Washington Post. Interesting read - not so much for the big story (actually puzzling why it's so big), but for the peripheral details.

I don't want to delve too much into the profound social implications of the Brennan Hawkins story - you know, the reasons why Scouts keep getting lost at camps, the controversial issue of video game addictions in Mormon youth (his first request after being rescued, after eating and drinking something, was "to play a video game on one rescuer's cell phone"), and the troubling fact that searchers found numerous items of clothing lying around in the mountains of Utah, enough to fill the bed of a pickup truck - why are people discarding items of clothing in the mountains, near a Scout camp of all places? (Oh, right, Hollywood celebrities seem to enjoy the Rockies.)

No, I'll leave it to more profound blogs to take up those issues. I just want to comment on how grateful I am for prayer. I know many prayers do not go answered - at least not the way we yearn for - and that many lost kids are never found, in spite of equally faithful pleas to God. But whether we suffer or rejoice, we Latter-day Saints, like many other Christians, tend to have strong testimonies of prayer. For many, it is part of daily life, with little miracles all the time, spiritual experiences, insights and guidance, touching gifts of the Spirit in our modern and crazy lives, bringing the evidence of things not seen and the witness of a Love and Power beyond our own.

Prayer is real. God is real. Man can communicate with God - not just about the big problems we face, but about the events of each day, the welfare of our families, the sorrows and fears we face, the decisions we must make. We are left on our own much of the time, but we know that He is there, our Father in Heaven, who loves us and blesses us in His own way. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Mormon Monasteries

Some Latter-day Saints get so caught up with Church life that they don't participate much in their communities, don't get to know their neighbors, and stay uninformed about world events around them. Might as well live in a Mormon monastery. OK, a co-ed monastery for those already married. So, let's make it official. Anybody interested in funding an official LDS monastery for those who don't want to strike a better balance in life?

On the other hand, there are many Latter-day Saints I truly admire who provide great service through the Church and their families while also being heavily involved in the community. For example, I think of the former mayor of Appleton, Dorothy Johnson, who stays involved with so much of the community and yet renders solid faithful service to the Church and the Hmong people here. How do these people do all that they do? I think the truly "non-monastic" LDS people must be a lot better organized than most, or they sleep less, or they just have a lot of drive. In any case, it's great having their examples among us.

The Church demands a lot from us. So do our families. So should our communities, schools, and nation. It's our choice how we respond. We must not try to run faster than we have strength, but we should run. Paul uses the imagery of a race, for example. Being somewhat out of breath may be normal, but passing out is not.

That raises a point I'll discuss when I have more time later: there are times when we can and even should say no to a Church calling. Hush - don't say this too loudly - but there are times. I might even tell you my story of turning down a major calling, as a result of significant prayer, fasting, and pondering in the Temple.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Listen to Talks at LDSVoices.com

LDSVoice.com is an interesting new blog that lets you listen to audio files of significant LDS talks. Tell the Webmaster, Chad King, any recommendations you have for great talks that could be included. As I post this entry, I'm listening to a fascinating talk by Sheri Drew. I think LDSVoices is a great idea for a blog!

An Expectant Mother's Remarkable Dream

Today I met with a remarkable LDS woman who just had twin girls. Several months ago, she woke her husband (not LDS) in the middle of the night to tell him about a dream. She had not yet been to the doctor and could not have known that she had twins, but she told him that she knew they would have twin girls. She had seen her two girls in a dream, playing in a field, in a setting that seemed completely real and not like a dream at all. She chose their names that night.

I love how the Lord sometimes blesses us with special dreams that prepare us for the future or help us find answers to our prayers.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mental Health and Prejudice Against Medication

In a previous post on Ritalin and the Word of Wisdom, I hit some sensitive nerves of faithful members who have had to use psychiatric medications for their children or themselves. One writer, a well known and respected Latter-day Saint defender, Mike Parker, made some excellent points that I wish to share with others to provide insight into the challenges that some parents face. I especially want to urge us all to be hesitant in judging parents whose kids are on Ritalin or other medications, and to urge us to also be more understanding of those who rely on medications to cope with behavioral or mental health challenges. Here are some excerpts from his comments on my post, as well as from subsequent e-mail:
While it is possible that doctors are overprescribing Ritalin, I find it hard to believe that there is a massive movement among educators to recommend it to parents. Every interaction I have had with a teacher or school administrator has been one of strict neutrality on the subject -- don't condemn parents who choose to medicate their children, and don't recommend medication to those who don't. Teachers are not trained medical professionals, and most of them know it.

My 8-year-old son has ADHD, and we have been treating him with Concerta (a time-release version of Ritalin) for about two years now. The medication has been a Godsend for him and our family. His behavior goes way beyond simply "talking in class, wiggling, having lots of energy, [and] not paying attention." He gets up at 5:30 every morning, and cannot be quiet without someone or something to interact with (until recently, this meant waking every else up). He talks incessantly, asking question after question. Fifteen minutes of homework takes him two hours, and that's with me or my wife sitting beside him, constantly redirecting his attention to the work on the table. With medication, he is able to control himself, pay attention, get his homework done, and still enjoy friends, family, and fun. My wife and I thank God for Concerta. . . .

Spend a week in my house with my son and without medication, and then try to tell me that he's just showing "indications of, well, being young." . . .

Our home was once a living hell (I'm not exaggerating), and my wife and I spent many nights on our knees in tears pleading for help. Putting our son on medication was the toughest decision we have ever made as parents, and we still worry about the long-term implications of our decision. It has not been an easy path, but it has made an enormous difference in the quality of our family life and his interactions at home, school, and church.

Needless to say, it's a sensitive subject, and it's easy for me to misread anti-medication statements as opposed to ALL meds, not just meds for kids who don't need it. There are so many people we've met who don't know anything about ADHD except what they've heard: That's it's an excuse for bad parenting, that it's just "kids being kids", etc. In real cases -- like ours -- it's a real condition that can be treated.

In our society there is a real stigma against psychiatric medication. Many people feel that it's a cop out, that with a little effort (or, for Mormons, a little prayer and fasting) the problems will just go away. They don't. And many families are struggling with ADHD, depression, and other treatable problems but won't go to a psychiatrist because they're ashamed or feel that would admit they're weak. I wish we as Americans and as Latter-day Saints could reach out to these people and let them know we empathize and that it's okay to ask for help.

Anti-Ritalin articles compound this stigma. Yes, it's probably true that some children are receiving it who don't need it, but there are many, many children who DO need it whose parents are scared by what they've heard and read online. . . .

One other thing: You might find Michael Fumento's February 2003 article in The New Republic enlightening. He dispels many of the myths about ADHD, including the ones about schools pushing it and children being overmedicated.

Mike raises some excellent points to add importance balance to my hasty comments.

I think we also need to be particularly careful in avoiding judgment of those who are suffering from depression or other mental health disorders. In so many cases, it is not simply an imagined illness that they need to shake off. Those who have never faced the burdens of true depression or schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder or panic attacks can rarely appreciate how real and devastating these problems can be. Because we don't see a broken leg or open bleeding wound, it is easy for us to imagine that the illness or injury is not real and certainly doesn't require medication.

May we focus more on helping and supporting than on second-guessing and judging. And that needs to begin right here with yours truly.

Thanks, Mike!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Microscopic Tunnel Vision: Critics on the DNA Challenge to the Book of Mormon

Critics of the Book of Mormon surprise me with their refusal to understand that the Book of Mormon text DOES NOT claim to describe the origins of all Native Americans in the entire Western Hemisphere, and their refusal to understand that such an assumption, as common as it has been among Mormons, does NOT represent official LDS doctrine. It appears that as early as 1842, Joseph Smith may have recognized that the Book of Mormon described a much more limited geography, and that he was open to the idea of other migrations bringing ancient peoples to the New World. But the hemispheric view of the Book of Mormon became popular and dominant for many years - something that probably would not have happened if the Church had been more diligent in actually studying the text.

Several decades before DNA testing of Native Americans began, LDS scholars were recognizing that the popular hemispheric view of the Book of Mormon did not square with the text, and that it allows for or hints at the presence of other population groups not descended from Lehi or the Mulekites. You can lay this information out in plain detail for the critics, but they go on as if the Book of Mormon has been proven false by showing that typical Native Americans appear to be predominately descended from Asians (never mind that Jaredites may have been Asian and may be expected to have exerted a much larger impact on the New World gene pool than Lehi's group). I think they are so excited about the idea of "finally" destroying the Book of Mormon and LDS faith that they just can't see straight on this issue. Or perhaps they are seeing too straight - straight down a microscopic tunnel focused on a few strands of Asian DNA.

Yes, the finding of Native American DNA haplotypes more related to Asian peoples than modern Jews greatly reduces the likelihood that Native Americans only have ancient Jews as their ancestors - but that's not what the Book of Mormon requires at all. It does not rule out the possibility that an ancient Jew named Lehi entered an inhabited continent 2600 years and founded a colony that grew and became locally but not hemispherically significant. It's critical to understand the actual scope of the Book of Mormon and its relationship to actual LDS doctrine. On this topic, here is an excellent excerpt from John Sorenson and Matthew Roper in their paper, "Before DNA":
How does this [limited] geographical picture square with traditions held among the Latter-day Saints about the scenes and peoples involved in Book of Mormon events?

We face a lack of detail in our historical sources as to what the earliest Latter-day Saints thought about Book of Mormon geography. Even so, there is little question that generally an obvious interpretation was in many readers' minds. The "land southward" they considered to be South America, the Isthmus of Panama was "the narrow neck," and North America was thought to be the "land northward." However, there is no evidence that in the early years any detailed thought was given to geography. Actually, the Book of Mormon was little referred to or used among church members in the first decades except as a confirming witness of the Bible. The writings or preaching of some of the best-informed church leaders of that day show that they did not read the text carefully on matters other than doctrine. For instance, no statement shows that anyone read the scripture closely enough to grasp the fact that the plates Mormon gave to Moroni were never buried in the hill of the final Nephite battle.

In 1842 a best-selling book by explorer John Lloyd Stephens was read by Joseph Smith and associates in Nauvoo [Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841)]. Their reading prompted an extensive review of the book in the Nauvoo newspaper, the Times and Seasons. (No author is listed, but Joseph Smith was editor in chief with John Taylor as managing editor.) Stephens's was the first book in English reporting great ruins in Central America. It strongly impressed the newspaper writer (whoever he was), for on 15 September the paper reported, "We have to state about the Nephites that . . . they lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found." ["Extract," Times and Seasons, 15 Sept. 1842, 914.] Stephens's new information obviously was causing the leadership in Nauvoo to think of Nephite geography in a new way. Two weeks later they continued to exult in their study of what was for them "the latest research": "We have [just] found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. . . . The city of Zarahemla . . . stood upon this land," that is, Central America or Guatemala, which "once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south." ["Zarahemla," Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 927.] Since Zarahemla was located in the land southward, their new insight put the land southward to the north of Panama. The new thinking inferred that South America was of little or no significance for Book of Mormon geography. The further inference is that the new thinking was that an area much smaller than the entire hemisphere could satisfactorily serve as the scene of the chief events in the Nephite record.

In the long run, nevertheless, the Stephens-stimulated view of Central America as the Book or Mormon heartland did not prevail among the Saints generally. The new implications were apparently overwhelmed by the inertia of the old belief in a whole-hemisphere geography. Orson Pratt, who was separated from the church during 1842 when the new thought on this topic was stirring, seems to have continued to believe in the original geographical theory. His views along those lines are reflected in the geographical footnotes that he added to the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. His opinions led several generations of readers of the scripture to assume with him that only the Nephites and Lamanites of Mormon's account occupied the Americas, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, at least during Book of Mormon times. By the beginning of the 20th century, likely not more than a handful of readers of Mormon's book questioned the interpretation that Lehi landed in Chile, that Panama was the narrow neck, and that the final battle of the Nephites took place in New York.

Anecdotal evidence (there are no systematic data) suggests that even now, after church members have been reading the Book of Mormon for a century and three-quarters, a large number of readers continue to assume the whole-hemisphere view of Book of Mormon geography. Moreover, some unbelievers insist in their anti-Book of Mormon propaganda that this view was and is completely orthodox (which makes their criticisms more damaging). But the proportion of Saints who still accept that antiquated geography is irrelevant in light of the decisive information in the Book of Mormon. The text itself gives an unmistakable picture of a very restricted territory. And as President Joseph Fielding Smith said, "My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them." [several footnotes omitted]
The scope of Book of Mormon geography has long been an issue open to debate and discussion, rather than something settled by official Church doctrine. Careful reading of the text has led to the clear conclusion that the text deals with a limited geographical scope, and it appears to best fit within a small part of the hemisphere in Mesoamerica. LDS scholars for several decades have been recognizing this - it's not some new retreat to escape the challenge of DNA evidence. The anti-Mormons don't want it to be so. They want investigators and weak members to think they have decimated the Book of Mormon and the foundations of the Church by showing that there is heavy evidence of Asiatic origins among Native Americans. They are victims, I'm afraid, of microscopic tunnel vision.

For more info on the DNA and Book of Mormon issue, you can read a variety of papers on DNA at FARMS (links at the bottom of the page). I've also got a rather lengthy essay on the topic of DNA and the Book of Mormon, where, among other things, I give more detail about LDS teachings and internal evidences in the Book of Mormon for other peoples in the Americas.

The author of one typical anti-Mormon paper states, "The facts are a comparison of the DNA of the Middle East has been made with the DNA of Native Americans [and] there is not a match." This is supposed to devastate the Book of Mormon, and that's how the anti-Mormons present the case. It's unscientific. Why should we expect a match? Even if modern Jews had the same distribution of mtDNA and Y chromosome haplotypes as ancient Hebrews in Lehi's day, and even if Lehi and all the others he brought with them fit squarely within that distribution, why should we expect a genetic "match" between modern Native Americans and modern Jews? Such talk relies on errant assumptions about the scope of the Book of Mormon and the requirements of the text. The author of that particular paper has seen the evidence that the Book of Mormon deals with a limited geography, but insists on clinging to the hemispheric assumption - it's tunnel vision.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Mocha-Do About Nothing

"Would God really keep me out of heaven over just a tiny cup of coffee?" That's a question an investigator once asked me on my mission (Zurich Switzerland, 1979-81). She was a sweet old woman near Winterthur who came to Church every Sunday but wouldn't give up her coffee to live the Word of Wisdom so she could be baptized. She did a great job living the other standards of the Church, but this tiny little thing, the Word of Wisdom, was her stumbling block.

So would God keep someone away over a tiny cup of coffee? My reply was something like, "Actually, I hope you'll ask the question another way: Will you let a tiny cup of coffee keep you away from God? He has asked that you give that up. Are you going to stay away from His blessings over such a little thing?"

It gave her pause. She nodded, smiled, but kept on sipping.

Look, if you don't believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and don't accept The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, then as far as I'm concerned you may go ahead and enjoy your coffee and tea, with moderation. We don't really know why we Latter-day Saints are asked to give them up - no divine Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS) has been faxed to Salt Lake City detailing any problems with the chemistry of these drinks. Some have guessed that it's caffeine or the tannins or something else, but we don't know and there doesn't seem to be any strong correlation with coffee drinking and disastrous health problems (some studies hint at this, others suggest benefits - I don't know yet). I suggest giving up alcohol and tobacco, but even then there is evidence that a little wine in moderation might even be helpful (but why not just use grape juice to get similar benefits without the problems and expense?).

The point is that the Word of Wisdom, as currently practiced, might be more about faith and obedience than it is about saving your esophagus from the ravages of hot drinks or your soul from the distraction of caffeine. It does bring health benefits - it's a marvelous revelation, with some clearly documented correct principles (eat meat sparingly, for example, and get plenty of grains and fresh produce)- but it is now more than just a guide to good health. It is a touchstone of LDS faithfulness, an outward symbol of our commitment to the Gospel and willing to obey. For LDS people or those who wish to be LDS, we take the approach of gladly obeying the Lord in this simple request. If we are supposed to give up coffee, then let's do it. Let's show our willingness to obey even when we don't fully understand the reasons and even when some sacrifice is required. But it's a small sacrifice, really. Just a tiny cup of coffee - will you let it stand between you and the full blessings of the Gospel?

God is not looking for ways to keep anybody out. His burden is easy and His yoke is light. It is we who find excuses to walk away and shun His burden and yoke. Let us obey with faith and receive His help and blessings more fully in our lives.

The Word of Wisdom may seem like a trivial little thing, but it is not mocha-do about nothing. It's about faith in God and obedience to His word.

Any Experience with LDSWare?

LDSWare.com features software that can be used to assist in several Church callings, including managing home teaching info for quorum or group leaders. I haven't tried it yet, but have publicly expressed my frustrations with the standard MLS software (several others in my part of the world who have used it have shared similar frustrations). MLS gave me a totally new and foreign emotion: yearning for the old DOS version of a program. OK, back to the point: have any of you tried LDSWare? Is it something a high priest group or elders quorum ought to try? Pros and cons?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

DNA Evidence and Joseph Smith's Descendants

While DNA evidence has been a hot topic regarding the Book of Mormon, another interesting application involves the descendants of Joseph Smith. A recent Deseret News article reports that DNA evidence has been used to rule out the possibility that Joseph Smith was the ancestor for three people suspected of being fathered by Joseph with polygamous wives. Other alleged descendants will be tested later, if all goes well. Thanks to Mike Parker for sharing this story with me.

As for the attacks on the Book of Mormon, see my page on DNA and the Book of Mormon.

Ideas Wanted: How to Help Non-LDS Relatives Deal With a Temple Wedding

When non-LDS family members learn that they won't be able to attend a wedding ceremony held in an LDS temple, it can be pretty painful. In explaining this awkward situation, is there anything you have found that is particularly helpful? I was just asked if I had any useful quotes from a General Authority or other writer that can provide a fair and understandable reason for the limitations on who can attend the sealing ceremony. Any ideas about what might be most helpful?

Dean of Harvard Business School to Lead BYU-Idaho

According to the LDS.org newsroom, Kim B. Clark, dean of the Harvard Business School, will serve as the president of Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg. That's quite a promotion - for BYU-Idaho. A real honor to have Professor Clark running the show.

Another famous LDS person at the Harvard School of Business is Professor Clayton Christensen. His theoretical framework for disruptive innovation has had a profound effect on me in my work (long before I learned that he was LDS!). I've made efforts to extend his analysis into the intellectual property area, pushing the concept of "disruptive intellectual assets." I'll soon be publishing an article on that topic, if all goes well.

Why do LDS people seem to be disproportionately represented among famous business people?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A Timely Dream and a Lesson on Obedience

While some Latter-day Saints show genuine faith and obedience by resisting social pressure to load up on tattoos and body piercing, not one iota of faith is required for me in that department. The temptation to mutilate my body and create new sites for infection is right up there with the craving to fill out IRS forms or to have my teeth drilled with nothing but rap music to ease the pain. If I became a total apostate and atheist looking for ways to rebel, I still don't think I'd consider tattoos and body piercing. There are much healthier and more attractive ways to be bad. Or to be good.

The trials of my faith revolve around other things. One thing in particular, sometimes almost as unpleasant as being pierced or needled, tends to challenge my faith: meetings, especially Saturday meetings. In the past few years since being released as bishop, Saturday mornings and early Sunday mornings became important times for me to catch up on things like e-mail, updating my Web site, editing photos for my hobby of photography, or putting in a few extra hours for patents and publications for my day job. I really need that time. But when I was asked to serve as High Priest Group Leader a few months ago, I suddenly lost much of my Sunday morning time. And now I've been asked to also attend a weekly 7:00 AM meeting for ward missionary correlation, a meeting that typically eats up nearly 2 hours, including travel. Ouch. Now I've really got something to murmur about (can you hear the murmuring?), but I have tried to act with some degree of faith and still go. In fact, the meetings have been quite good and are actually valuable and even enjoyable - it's just the time that hurts. The problem is not the meetings, but my lack of faith, I guess, and my unwillingness to let go of a few things (like blogging, perhaps?).

Last night, after thinking about obedience and sacrifice while writing my previous blog entry on an amazing baptismal service (see "Baptismal Surprise"), I went to sleep too late, thinking about how unfortunate it was that I had another meeting Saturday morning. I didn't set the alarm since I've been getting up naturally pretty early and figured I'd be up in plenty of time for the meeting.

The next thing I remember was having a vivid dream. In the dream, I could see a clock on the wall showing that it was 6:50 AM. I heard the voice of one of my sons saying, "Dad, it's 6:50. Don't you think we should be getting in the car to go to the meeting?" It sounded like my third son, Benjamin, but it may have been my second son, Daniel. Soon to go on a mission to Nevada, Daniel has just been called as a ward missionary and is supposed to go to these meetings with me - a big plus as far as the meetings go since it's extra time to spend with that awesome young man, but tennis would be even better, one might argue. After hearing my son say that, I had these distinct thoughts: "Look, this is just a dream and it's probably only 5 AM right now. But since my son is asking, I better check just to be sure." I then woke up and instead of rolling over, decided that I had better check the clock just in case the dream was meaningful - and it was 6:50 AM. YIKES! And WOW!

I took a 60-second shower, got ready as quickly as I could, and rushed out the door with Daniel, who had gotten up just moments before I did. We were a few minutes late, but got there just in time for meaningful discussion after breakfast had been served (yes, our awesome Ward Mission Leader, Gordon Hale, really goes the extra mile by providing Belgian waffles for breakfast at these meetings - who could murmur about that??).

I shared my experience to the group after apologizing for my tardiness. It seems pretty clear to me: the Lord did want me to attend that meeting and intervened with a perfectly timed dream. After all, the request for leadership from High Priest Groups to be represented in weekly ward missionary correlation meetings is not the idea of anybody in Appleton - it's a request from President Hinckley himself. Here is a matter of counsel from the Prophet that requires just as much faith from me as the counsel to avoid tattoos and excessive body piercing requires for more trendy Latter-day Saints. The sacrifice of one extra meeting a week is a painful one - think I'd rather be pierced (in a low-pain, low-infection-risk place, of course), but I need to wake up and show more obedience and less murmuring. The drama of the dream helped teach me that point.

6:50 AM - I hope I never forget that.

Clergy Parking for Home Teachers?

While in Provo last year, I took this photo of a car in front of me near BYU. I was intrigued by the sign mounted in the rear window. Is that standard issue for home teachers in Provo?

Here is a close-up of the placard:

"CLERGY: Temporarily parked. Please don't tow."

The young driver of this vehicle must do a lot of home teaching! Or maybe he's an Elders Quorum President. I wonder if this clergy parking pass is widely honored.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Baptismal Surprise

Tonight we had an amazing baptismal service in the Appleton Second Ward. Dozens of people came to observe the baptism of a sweet new convert, a young woman named Melody. It was a wonderful and touching occasion. What we didn't know beforehand was that there would be two baptisms tonight.

Elder Salerno, one of two outstanding missionaries serving in our ward, came to the baptismal service tonight expecting to watch his companion baptize their choice investigator, Melody. As he entered the church, how surprised he was to see his father and mother in the hall. And his father, not a member of the Church, was dressed in white. He had come here all the way from California to surprise his son - and be baptized by him. The Mission President of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Mission was apparently in on this conspiracy. Both President Hunt and his wife attended the touching service.

Many members were choked up by these wonderful baptisms. And we will certainly never forget the story of a father being converted while his son was serving a mission and flying out to take part in a surprise baptism, meeting his son in the halls of the church dressed in white.

New LDS member Scott Salerno from California (west of L.A.) and his son, Elder Salerno, gave me permission to share this story. Elder Salerno also have me permission to share a photograph I took for him while we were on "splits" visiting some local members two Saturdays ago. Here he is (click on the photo to enlarge it):

Elder Salerno with an important safety tip from Appleton, Wisconsin.

1 Chronicles 17 and the Fallibility of Prophets

The other night as we were reading the Old Testament I came across an interesting passage in 1 Chronicles 17, verses 2-5:
1 NOW it came to pass, as David sat in his house, that David said to Nathan the prophet, Lo, I dwell in an house of cedars, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD remaineth under curtains.

2 Then Nathan said unto David, Do all that is in thine heart; for God is with thee.

3 And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying,

4 Go and tell David my servant, Thus saith the LORD, Thou shalt not build me an house to dwell in.
Here David wants to build a temple, and the Lord's prophet, Nathan, approves of the idea and says that God is with David in terms of the proposed plan. The Lord is actually against the proposal, and intervenes with a revelation to Nathan to correct the matter. As a result, the prophet has to make a retraction, contradicting his previous position in light of subsequent revelation from the Lord.

What we see here is an authorized prophet acting in good faith, but acting as a human being (an authorized and anointedd one - that's a key difference). He can make decisions and statements that prove to be incorrect or need to be changed by later actions from the Lord. It's all par for the course. No reason to reject Nathan as a prophet or get all bent out of shape about all the changes that have been made. Rather, we should rejoice that the Lord did have (and now does have) a means to reveal His will and correct problems that may arise.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Porn Tsunami: Making Waves in the White House

Previously I lamented the porn tsunami that has been flooding the US and the world. What once was properly reviled as filth has increasingly been given the false image of acceptability by the media and many influential people, often because they profit from it. Sadly, the waves of the porn tsunami are even lapping at the doors of the White House. Many Christians share my shock at the news that the Bush Administration is inviting an allegedly "Christian" porn star, Mary Carey, and her millionaire boss to a Washington dinner with the President for a little fund raising (news sources: WND.com 1, WND.com 2, and Washington Post). (The temptation to throw in a few questionable puns here is almost more than I can bear - but I'll strive to keep this blog on the straight and narrow.)

Many Christians think they have voted in a man to defend family values. Do you feel betrayed? Why not?

It was bad enough (for me) when President Bush brought in Ozzie Osbourne and publicly praised that vile Satanist, but to bring in a porn star? Aren't people going to notice?

Yeah, Ms. Carey she says she's a "Christian" and that she reads her Bible. Sweet. She also defends adultery and her revolting prostitution on film. Do values and morals mean nothing anymore? Is it enough to be attractive, wealthy, and not drool while you talk so that you appear to be a "nice person"?

"But he's better than Candidate X" (or XXX?) some of you will say. OK, I agree that there may be other politicians with lower standards. There have probably been other leaders who were even more supportive of porn stars. But is throwing our support to the lesser of two evils every time an election rolls around the only way to stand up for that which is good? Kingmen or Gadiantons - which will it be?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Born That Way? Good Article on Homosexuality from Meridian

In case you missed it, the Sept. 2004 issue of Meridian Magazine (ldsmag.com) published "Born That Way?" and by Dr. Dean Byrd, an excellent read on the issue of homosexuality. He notes that many people seeking to overcome homosexual inclinations are denied assistance by professionals in the mental health industry because of the assumption that homosexuality is innate and cannot be changed. This can be a tragically incorrect assumption. Dr. Byrd's article, both part 1 and part 2, provides valuable factual information that might give hope to those seeking to overcome a challenging problem.

God gives us no commandments or standards without preparing a way for us to keep them, if we seek His help. May the hope that comes from the Atonement of Jesus Christ help move us all closer to Him and away from the errant standards of the world.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

What Does It Mean to "Look" Mormon?

My second-oldest son, Daniel, is home for the summer after his first year at BYU, working and preparing for his mission in August (he just got his mission call to the Nevada Las Vegas West mission - we're very excited about this). As he started work, he mentioned to someone there that he had been at BYU. "Oh, I thought you were Mormon," came the reply. "You look Mormon."

Many of us have heard this before. Is there anything to it? I've often assumed the comment reflected a missionary stereotype of clean-cut, short-haired, cheerful white males, but that doesn't cover all instances of the "you look Mormon" comment. I thought about that tonight as I was looking at photos of the dedication of the Accra, Ghana Temple. When I looked at this photo, my immediate reaction was "Wow, those women really look Mormon." I don't say that about every attractive person who smiles, so what is it? It doesn't make much sense to me, but I'm curious about what others think.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Shame on Yahoo, Pepsi: Supporting Child S-x Chat Rooms

Amazing story on Yahoo and other big businesses, thanks to investigation by a TV station in Houston, KPRC (channel 2 in that area). Heard about this on the Kim Komando Show while driving today. To its shame, Yahoo has some of the worse chat rooms around, including sex chat rooms to bring young kids in contact with older men. The very titles of these rooms indicate their purpose - it's no secret to Yahoo. In spite of many letters and complaints, Yahoo continues to operate these rooms aimed at meeting the "needs" of molesters and perverts. Why? Because they bring in lots of advertising dollars. Kim Komando explained that in going to one such room, you had to first click on an ad for Diet Pepsi. That's right - Pepsi was involved in supporting a child sex chat room. After complaints were raised, they pulled the ads. Other products advertised in such objectionable hell holes included State Farm Insurance and Brawny paper towels, according to Kim.

What to do? Don't use Yahoo. Eliminate any Yahoo chat room services from your computers. Sell your Yahoo stock. And send their CEO a letter objecting to profiteering from child molestation services. Disgusting.

And hey, business owners, don't advertise on Yahoo, and don't touch any agency that would think of putting your ads on Yahoo.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Jerome on the Fallibility of Leaders - and Commandment Keeping

While searching for some early Christian citations of Philippians, I ran into an interesting passage from Jerome, a 4th century Christian Father, in Against the Pelagians, 1:22 (available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.htm - search for "God certainly wishes bishops" to find the section quoted). In speaking of the qualifications for bishops and priests, he notes that all men are going to have flaws - something we always need to keep in mind - and shows a very typical early Christian attitude about the duty we have to keep the commandments. Some particularly interesting parts are in bold below (my emphasis).
God certainly wishes bishops or priests to be such as the chosen vessel teaches they should be. As to the first qualification it is seldom or never that one is found without reproach; for who is it that has not some fault, like a mole or a wart on a lovely body? If the Apostle himself says of Peter that he did not tread a straight path in the truth of the Gospel, and was so far to blame that even Barnabas was led away into the same dissimulation, who will be indignant if that is denied to him which the chief of the Apostles had not? Then, supposing you find one, "the husband of one wife, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality," the next attribute—didaktikon, apt to teach, not merely as the Latin renders the word, apt to be taught—you will hardly find in company with the other virtues. A bishop or priest that is a brawler, or a striker, or a lover of money, the Apostle rejects, and in his stead would have one gentle, not contentious, free from avarice, one that rules well his own house, and what is very hard, one who has his children in subjection with all modesty, whether they be children of the flesh or children of the faith. "With all modesty," he says. It is not enough for him to have his own modesty unless it be enhanced by the modesty of his children, companions, and servants, as David says, "He that walketh in a perfect way, he shall minister unto me." . . . The next point is that the bishop must be free from accusation, that he have a good report from them who are without, that no reproaches of opponents be levelled at him, and that they who dislike his doctrine may be pleased with his life. I suppose it would not be easy to find all this, and particularly one "able to resist the gain-sayers," to check and overcome erroneous opinions. He wishes no novice to be ordained bishop, and yet in our time we see the youthful novice sought after as though he represented the highest righteousness. If baptism immediately made a man righteous, and full of all righteousness, it was of course idle for the Apostle to repel a novice; but baptism annuls old sins, does not bestow new virtues; it looses from prison, and promises rewards to the released if he will work. Seldom or never, I say, is there a man who has all the virtues which a bishop should have. And yet if a bishop lacked one or two of the virtues in the list, it does not follow that he can no longer be called righteous, nor will he be condemned for his deficiencies, but will be crowned for what he has. For to have all and lack nothing is the virtue of Him "Who did no sin; neither was guile found in His mouth; Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again"; Who, confident in the consciousness of virtue, said, "Behold the prince of this world cometh, and findeth nothing in me"; "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God gave Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth." If, then, in the person of a single bishop you will either not find at all, or with difficulty, even a few of the things commanded, how will you deal with the mass of men in general who are bound to fulfil all the commandments?
Yes, we are all imperfect, even our bishops - but there is still the common obligation that see seek to do "the things commanded" since we all are "bound to fulfil all the commandments" that God has given us.

In Jerome's Letter VII (to Chromatius, Jovinus, and Eusebius), there is a phrase I especially like: "For although you confess Christ every day by keeping His commandments, yet to this private glory you have added the public one of an open confession. . . ." The previous link also includes Letter X (to Paul, an Old Man of Concordia), praising that elderly Christian: "For see, the hundredth circling year is already passing over you, and yet, always keeping the commandments of the Lord, amid the circumstances of your present life you think over the blessedness of that which is to come." Also, in Letter XXXVIII (to Marcella), is another interesting passage: "Satan means adversary, and one who dislikes Christ's commandments, is more than Christ's adversary; he is anti-christ."

Now I hope none of you dislike Christ's commandments, or think that early or modern Christians are somehow non-Christian for believing the Biblical teachings on the need to "keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17). It's not that commandment keeping can save us or raise us from the dead or do anything miraculous on its own, but it's part of the covenant relationship that God in His grace offers to us. Follow Him, have faith in Him, repent of your sins, seek to keep His commandments, and He will make you His.

Jerome ends letter XXXVIII with a comment that echoes words from Joseph Smith and other modern Latter-day Saints in regard to the endless attacks of critics:
But what, I ask you, have we ever done that men should be offended at us? Have we ever imitated the apostles? We are told of the first disciples that they forsook their boat and their nets, and even their aged father. The publican stood up from the receipt of custom and followed the Saviour once for all. And when a disciple wished to return home, that he might take leave of his kinsfolk, the Master's voice refused consent. A son was even forbidden to bury his father, as if to show that it is sometimes a religious duty to be undutiful for the Lord's sake. With us it is different. We are held to be monks if we refuse to dress in silk. We are called sour and severe if we keep sober and refrain from excessive laughter. The mob salutes us as Greeks and impostors if our tunics are fresh and clean. They may deal in still severer witticisms if they please; they may parade every fat paunch they can lay hold of, to turn us into ridicule. Our Blaesilla will laugh at their efforts, and will bear with patience the taunts of all such croaking frogs, for she will remember that men called her Lord, Beelzebub.

By Faith Alone? The Irony!

I recently received email explaining that Mormons have departed from true Christianity because the Bible teaches salvation by faith alone, while Mormons think we need to keep commandments and obey God. "Faith alone" is an important theological concept for many people and is often taken as a given in deriding the position of the Church on the need for man to choose to follow Christ and strive to "keep the commandments" (as Christ taught in Matthew 19:17, Luke 18:18-24, Luke 10:25-38, Mark 12:28-34, Mark 10:17-22, for example). Actually, the KJV Bible does not even use the phrase "faith alone" (ditto for several other translations). However, there is a similar phrase, "by faith only." How ironic that the only occurrence of "by faith only" in the Bible is in a passage that explicitly declares that justification requires WORKS and "NOT FAITH ONLY." That passage is James 2:24: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Several translation of that phrase can be seen at Bible.cc.

A search of other translations revealed only one that had the phrase "faith alone," and it was the NIV for James 2:24: "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." Look at that passage again: "NOT by faith alone."

Somebody's got some explaining to do.

Part of the problem is a misunderstanding of what Paul means when he talks about "the law" and how it no longer applies. "The Law" in the New Testament typically refers to the Torah and the Law of Moses, not the idea of commandments from God in general. (See, for example, John 1:17: "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.") When you read all those passages about the irrelevance of the law and understand that it's the Law of Moses that has been done away, it makes much more sense. That's why Christ would tell people asking about the way to eternal life that they must "keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17), but at the same time tell them that he was there to fulfill "the law and the prophets" (Matt. 5:17). He was there as the last great sacrifice that fulfilled the Law of Moses and the prophetic imagery and purpose of the Law. The phrase "the law and the prophets" refers to the Torah and the part of the Old Testament written by various prophets like Jeremiah. For basic information from the encyclopedia on that term, see the short article, "The Law And The Prophets."

Oh, one more twist of irony. There is one more translation of the Bible that has the phrase "faith alone." It's the Joseph Smith Translation - and it's in Romans 3:28: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law." Joseph added the word "alone"! Score one for the Protestants? Sure, if they'll accept the JST as an inspired (but not completed or canonized) work from a prophet of God. In this passage, though, "the law" is referring to the Law of Moses, in my opinion. Very interesting, though, isn't it?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Philippians 2 and 3: Great Passages to Remember

Philippians 2 and 3 have some highly interesting passages for LDS folks (OK, for everybody). On the issue of faith and works, for example, Phil. 2:12 is a verse that caused one of my evangelical friends, an avid student of the Bible, to say, "What? Is that really in the Bible?" It is Paul's plea that fellow Christians continue obeying not just in his presence, but especially in his absence. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" was the part that rocked my friend.

Earlier in Phil. 2, we learn that Christ was in the "form" of God - one of those many passages referring to the physical image of God, an image that is gloriously divine but unmistakably human in appearance (in spite of centuries of denial). [Correction: Based on helpful comments to this post, I may have been wrong in assuming that the use of "form" referred to Christ's physical image. It may make more sense if His nature is meant. Yes, the "form" of God in v. 6 is parallel to being made in "the likeness of men" in v. 7, but both may refer to nature.] It also teaches the separate nature of Christ and God and hints at the divine potential of man in verses 5-10.

Then see Phil. 3:21, where we again encounter the corporeal nature of God [i.e., the corporeal nature of God the Son], and learn that our bodies can become like His - another reference to the divine potential of man.

Phil 3:12-15 has always been helpful to me in explaining to others the relationship between salvation and works. It teaches that we must press forward and not think that we have already become perfect. We must reach out and "apprehend" Christ just as he reaches out and apprehends (grabs) us - indicative of the two-way covenant aspect of salvation.