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

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Music Isn't Free: A Flaw in Parts of "Mormon Culture"

I have a teenage son who plays cello pretty well. He and a few friends in a quartet are often invited to perform at local events such as open houses, weddings, and business socials, often thanks to a kind mentor who helps them get booked. He almost always comes home with a check. This week, for example, he got a $100 check for a couple hours spent at a celebration for a new business in town. I'm proud of his talents, and also proud of the fact that he chooses to invest his earnings (that pre-tithing $100 this week, for example, just became $110 since we invested it in a mix of silver and Celgene stock, both up nicely and likely to keep going up for a long time). And I'm proud of folks out here in Wisconsin, who value music and musicians. They recognize that good music isn't free.

Sadly, too many members of the Church steeped in Mormon heritage don't appreciate the value of music - in terms of monetary value, that is. This is manifest in two ways. First, there is a distressing tendency of some to violate copyright laws for the music used by choirs such as stake choirs, a crime that puts the entire Church at jeopardy and must be stopped. Stamp this crime out wherever you see it! Second, there is an expectation that talented LDS musicians can be called upon to share their talents for free at various events outside of their Church callings. For example, one talented musician from Utah noted that she was often asked to perform at weddings and other events without compensation. Folks, if you are asking a musician to perform for your benefit, that shouldn't be free (unless they choose to offer that as a gift or are family members just doing their part). There are going rates for such professional services. If you have exploited musicians in the past for weddings or other events, it's not to late to make restitution for your offense.

And if you have made illegal copies of music for choirs or other events, you can still contact the publisher and pay for it after the fact. But theft of this nature is ugly and flies in the face of Gospel teachings.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Thank You David Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue!

A colleague at work brought me a photocopy of an article she had read in the Reader's Digest: Model Planes: How the man behind JetBlue created a great new way to fly. This article highlights the kindness and positive lifestyle of JetBlue's founder and chief executive, David Neeleman. I didn't know he was LDS as I began reading the article, but immediately began thinking something like, "Boy, I bet this guy is deeply religious - and congratulations to whatever religion helped shape him." Then came the punchline: oh, he's LDS! Now of course he could have been Protestant or Catholic or atheist or Buddhist - people of integrity and kindness are found all over the theological map - but the woman who brought me the article told me later that day that the Mormons she has known have a lot in common with David Neeleman (perhaps it's the attention deficit disorder - something I think I also proudly share with Brother Neeleman). I explained, of course, that we have plenty of problems, etc., but it's great to see a fellow Latter-day Saint - or anybody, actually - serving as a CEO the way Brother Neeleman does. It's nice to know that there are people like that at the top of the business world.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Church Museum of History and Art

Great news! You don't need to go to Salt Lake City to enjoy the impressive Church Museum of History and Art near Temple Square. You can tour much of the museum online at LDS.org, where the Church has provided some excellent exhibitions such as Our Heritage of Faith.

If you do go to Salt Lake City, be sure to include the Museum as one of the essential places to visit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

William Ide, President of the Republic of California and Yes, a Famous Mormon

In a previous post, I asked if anyone could confirm if William Ide, an early settler in California who became President of the Republic of California, was actually a Mormon. A member of the Church in California with extensive historical information provided me the answer: Yes! William Ide rightfully belongs in the ranks of famous Mormons, though it is true that he and other Latter-day Saints of his day sometimes hid the fact that they were LDS, possibly to preserve their lives in times of persecution.

Below is the info I just received (I will provide the name of the kind person who supplied it if they grant me permission to share that).
William Brown Ide - he was an early Church leader in Illinois (a presiding Elder in a branch of the Church near Nauvoo). In 1844, Ide was elected a state delegate of Illinois and it was he that nominated Joseph Smith as a candidate for the U.S. presidency. In 1845, he and his wife and their eight children moved to California, being the first known Mormons to settle in that state. He was one of the main instigators and leaders in the Bear Flag Revolt, and was elected the first and only president of the short-lived Republic of California, an independent nation for just less than a month - June 14 to July 9, 1846. He suggested a new flag for the new republic and was instrumental in the design of the Bear Flag, which later became the official California state flag. After serving in several political offices, William Ide died in 1878 in St. George, Utah. His ranch and homestead, Rancho de la Barranca Colorada, near Red Bluff, California is a state park - the William B. Ide State Historic Park. Nearby "Ides Cove" is named after him. In 1879, his oldest son James settled in the Mormon community of Mesquite, Nevada.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Missionary Killed in Argentina

I just found the news story about a missionary death in Argentina. The story comes from The Ridgefield Press of Ridgefield, Connecticut.
A 21-year-old Ridgefielder was killed by a drunken driver Sunday morning while serving as a missionary in Argentina.

Matthew Scott Turley was one of two pedestrians struck by a car in the city of San Luis.

The 27-year-old driver tested positive for alcohol, according to an Argentine press account.

San Luis is in central Argentina, about midway between Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile.

Mr. Turley was on a temporary missionary assignment with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and fellow Mormon missionary, Watts Tailor, 20, were said to be on their way to visit another member of the church when the accident occurred.

El Diario de la República, the local newspaper, said the car struck the two from behind after the driver lost control of the car and crossed a highway.

Mr. Turley died at the scene while Mr. Tailor was treated at a hospital for injuries that were described not life threatening.

The driver, Daniel Hipólito Martín, reportedly fled the scene, but was captured by police a short distance away.

The newspaper said he tested positive for alcohol in his blood.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete and are being handled by the Kane Funeral Home in Ridgefield.
Terribly sad news. My condolences to the family and friends.

Mormons Knit for Penguins and Other Breaking News

A touching story from down under, "Mormons Knit to Save Endangered Penguins," is featured on the LDS.org newsroom. There are some headlines that are just too strange to make up, so I guess it must be true. Kudos to the good folks in Australia! This LDS.org story, as moving as it is, is over two weeks old.

Mormon news is something I seem to have trouble with. Do you have a good recommended resource? News at LDS.org can be pretty stale by the time it shows up and is fairly limited in scope. For "Mormon news", the #1 result from Google is mormonstoday.com, which appears to have been frozen in time since May 2, 2002 (probably due to those darn antis, always trying to force us to live in the past!). But for my news, I prefer things more along the lines of 2005 or even 2006, when available.

In fact, on a very somber note, I was looking for news on a report given in comments on my previous post that a missionary was just shot in Argentina. Nothing on that topic appears to be in the news media right now. I have a son who served in Argentina and another son on a mission in Nevada right now. I will not be surprised when there is occasional violence against missionaries and other members of the Church, especially with the messages of hate that are being distributed by our enemies (both religious and political enemies), but will be greatly saddened. As Christ prophesied, those who persecute and slay the Saints will even think they are serving God (John 16:2). And when it happens, I'd like to find out ASAP, so I'd appreciate any suggestions for good LDS-related news sources.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

"Science Trumps Testimony": Another Victim of a Book of Mormon Plagiarism Spoof

The most impressive evidence to date for plagiarism of the Book of Mormon happens to be something I wrote - and I say this in all modesty and fairness. "The Book of Mormon and the Leaves of Grass: The Case for Plagiarism" provides powerful and compelling parallels between the Book of Mormon and Walt Whitman's work - more powerful and compelling, that is, than any of the alleged parallels between the Book of Mormon and other works such as View of the Hebrews or the works of Shakespeare. While some critics exult at finding three- and four-word passages that are shared between the Book of Mormon and various texts, I find examples of five-word, six-word, and even seven-word parallels. I also show linkages to many themes, to numerous stories, and even many Book of Mormon names. The evidence of plagiarism is stronger than anything the critics have provided so far, in my opinion - in spite of one nagging little issue: Leaves of Grass was written many years after the Book of Mormon, and the "parallels" are surely the result of chance, coupled with a little creativity on my part.

My essay is a spoof, intended to actually poke fun at those who claim the Book of Mormon is simply a result of plagiarism. I try to make it obvious that it's a spoof with some of the graphics on that page and other clues, but in spite of my best efforts, a few testimonies have been rattled, some faithful members have been outraged, and a few non-LDS folks have rejoiced. The most recent victim of this page believes that adding some simple chi-squared statistical analysis to reinforce my work would make it become "like an atomic bomb dropped on the Salt Lake City Temple" and that "Mormon apologists would be apoplectic because refutation of chi square requires a refutation of mathematics. In this case, science trumps testimony."

While I normally do not quote significant portions from people's email unless they give permission, I have to make a rare exception in this case for the greater good of humanity because it is so instructive (and because I am a disrespectful old cuss).
I am writing an apologetical book, designed to teach Scriptural proofs for the authenticity of the Bible, and having done that, create a matrix whereby one can easily compare the many infallible proofs for Biblical inerrancy (and supporting Christian doctrines) against other religions.

I found a chi square analysis for the "prophecies" of Islam that proves that they are impossible. And in researching your work, I saw that yours would be a great candidate for similar analysis.

Since the chi square creates an UNBIASED conclusion as to the independence of bivariate variables, your conclusions, using SPSS or something similar would be like an atomic bomb dropped on the Salt Lake City Temple or the other site.

Mormon apologists would be apoplectic because refutation of chi square requires a refutation of mathematics. In this case, science trumps testimony.

Therefore my two questions:
1) Is it possible to do that sort of analysis for Scripture? Prophecies and fulfillments are of utmost importance to Bible scholars.

2) Is it possible to do that for a comparison between the BoM and Leaves of Grass.

BTW, as you might guess, I have no access to SPSS. I am working on my second masters, this time in [non-scientific, non-mathematical field withheld to help maintain anonymity], so I have no spare $ to buy the program.
[name withheld]
Wow, this is a great approach! Science can trump testimony because absolutely UNBIASED scientific tools can be used to support anti-Mormon objectives. In this case, it's impressive and mysterious-sounding chi-squared analysis (is that even better than DNA analysis?). No assumptions, no biases, no pre-conceived notions of any kind are used. Just raw science and mathematics. And this kind of analysis will not only decimate the Book of Mormon and bring Mormonism to its knees (take that, Daniel Peterson and you impostors at FARMS!), but will surely provide many infallible proofs for the absolute inerrancy of the King James Bible and the particular religious views of the unbiased scientist conducting the research. And this will all be irrefutably and scientifically proven with the power of the objective, unbiased SPSS statistical software tool, as soon as the researcher (working on his SECOND advanced degree - with many more to follow, no doubt) scrapes together enough money to actually buy SPSS and conduct the analysis. Donations, anyone? But any scientifically-minded person can already see what the results will be, so we might as well start broadcasting them now: "Unbiased scientists have used the power of chi-squared analysis and bivariate variables to prove beyond all doubt that the 1830 Book of Mormon was plagiarized from Walt Whitman's 1855 Leaves of Grass. Kiss those testimonies good-bye!"

Living Hope Ministries, here we come!

Stay tuned for a spate of press conferences, front-page news stories, and even an occasional candle-light vigil.

The Fate of Non-Hearers

One of the most wonderful aspects of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is the concept of God's justice and kindness in preparing a way for all of us sinners to have an opportunity to hear and accept the message of salvation, including the opportunity to accept baptism. For those who missed that opportunity in this life, we know that the message of redemption is also preached to the dead in the spirit world, where they can accept baptism done in their behalf by the living (i.e., batism for the dead). Thus, no one is damned for all eternity simply because they had the misfortune of being born before the coming of Christ or in a land devoid of Christianity. God does more than simply offering a milder eternal punishment for such people, but treats them with love and justice in offering each of His precious children an opportunity to choose Him and His Son. How else could He be just?

While there are brief biblical references to baptism for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29) and the preaching of the Gospel to the dead (1 Peter 3:18-20, 1 Peter 4:6), the plain and precious concept of the redemption of the dead was lost from mainstream Christianity centuries ago, though references to it can still be found in many early Christian documents such as the Pastor of Hermas.

Today, though, we find many people who are taught that those who never heard the Gospel, through no fault of their own, cannot receive the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's a difficult concept to reconcile with the concept of a loving God, in my opinion, but valiant efforts are made. For example, the discussion offered at the official Web site of one major protestant denomination represents an excellent good-faith attempt to deal with a painful doctrine, but still boils down to "horrible doom" for those who don't hear the message of Christ, with an a assertion that somehow "they are not without excuse" - but fortunately, their punishment will be lighter than those who heard of Christ and rejected Him.

I would probably have made similar arguments from my own understanding of the Bible had I not known of the really good news of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and the ancient and joyous principle of the redemption of the dead, in which the scope of the redeeming power of Jesus Christ is far greater than many have supposed: it reaches to all lands and all times, making it possible for all the children of Heavenly Father to repent and have faith in Jesus Christ, that they may receive His divine grace, if only they will accept it on His terms - terms that include making a covenant to follow Christ through the sacred ordinance of divinely authorized baptism.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I Hope They Call Them on a Mission. . .

I'm impressed by the courage and faith of the street preachers that put their lives on the line at General Conference time in Salt Lake City to try to save a few Mormons. Only the bravest Christians would dare stand before crowds of Mormons going to their place of worship and loudly denounce their religion with accusations, tauntings, and the occasional waving of Mormon underwear in the faces of passers-by to get their attention and perhaps save a soul. What faith this must take, knowing that bands of Mormon "Danites" may fall about them at any moment and slit their throats or do whatever mad marauding Mormons are wont to do. So far, the street preachers have been lucky - or perhaps miraculously preserved - because their lives have been spared year after year. In fact, the throngs of Mormons generally just ignore them and move on. Other fearless preachers have been blessed to survive bold ministries at LDS temple open houses, Church pageants, and other LDS events.

As much as I admire what they are trying to do, I think their efforts are misguided and could be better put to use elsewhere. You see, the Mormons already believe in Jesus and in the Bible, and if belief in Jesus is what it takes to be saved, then the preachers need not worry so much. Oh, you can argue that some of our doctrines are inferior to theirs or complain that we don't accept some of the post-biblical metaphysical details about the nature of Jesus that inform the doctrine of the street preachers, but we at least have some form of Christianity - while millions have never heard of Christ and hundreds of millions live in lands where they have no opportunity to hear the good news of the Gospel. So, for the bold and loving street preachers who risk their all to help us Mormons, I've got an inspired little suggestion to make even better use of your talents and courage.

It's going to cost some money, but I'm sure many Latter-day Saints would be happy to chip in and help pay for this ecumenical project of goodwill. You see, it's time someone called the street preachers on a mission - not a mission to Salt Lake, but to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other nations where Christianity is persecuted. The street preachers could then stand in front of major mosques during times of worship and, in the same spirit of love and courage, greet the crowds with loud insults about the Muslim faith to help bring souls to Christ. Perhaps they could wave cartoons of Mohammed, or perhaps women's underwear, or rip up and trample upon pages of the Koran - whatever it takes to bring the message of Christlike love to lost souls.

I hope they all get called on a mission. And with your financial support, we can make it possible. Travel and living expenses will need to be provided. But it won't be as much as you think. For travel, one-way tickets should suffice. And for living expenses, I think enough cash to live one or two days ought to do it, including taxi fare to the mosque.

Let's put that courage to good use!

And a Child Shall Lead Them and Inspire Them

Yesterday, after a long and bittersweet day, I dropped something off for a friend of mine and went back to my car. I noticed two little girls across the street diligently picking up large seed pods on their lawn that had fallen from a tree. The girls might have been about six and five years of age. As I got in my car, I heard one of them say to the other: "You really are doing a great job." The intonation used in that phrase was not that of a child, but of an adult - or rather, a loving parent. In that brief instant, I felt I could sense the echoings of hundreds of loving words that had taught a young child to love and encourage others as well.

I drove away inspired, knowing that in the midst of a depraved and lost world, there is yet great hope. "And a child shall lead them. . . ." But first come loving parents.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Letter of the Law: It Killeth, or at Least Ticketh Off

"The letter [of the law] killeth," as Paul noted in 2 Corinthians 3:6. I thought about that verse this morning as I had a bowl of (gasp) Honey-Nut Spins sold by Wal-Mart, a product that competes against Honey Nut Cheerios. I can't make any excuse for this behavior: it was just there at moment of weakness, and one thing led to another, . . . so yes, I ate some.

Consumers are supposed to think that since the lower-cost Wal-Mart product has a name similar to the branded product, it ought to have the same ingredients. And in fact, the ingredients are similar, but not the proportions. As I tasted the product, I looked at the graphics on the cereal box. About half of the width of the box is occupied by a huge almond, just dripping in honey, with a honeycomb as the background. "Loaded with almonds and honey" is the message. Curiously, I couldn't discern any nut flavor at all, something I can easily detect in Honey-Nut Cheerios. As i scrutinized the list of ingredients in Honey-Nut Spins, I found almonds listed as ingredient #16, right after such notable components as tricalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, trisodium phosphate, vitamin C, iron, color, and vitamin A. Wow, are they using nanotechnology to put nanobits of nuts in their package? The brand name product, Honey Nut Cheerios, has almonds as ingredient #8, right after salt but before the list of minor chemicals. Not much, but enough to taste.

I am sure that Wal-Mart's marketing approach is entirely legal. They have met the letter of the law. But those who strive to understand and meet the letter at its lower limits are often the ones doing their best to break the spirit of the law. It is a deception to name a product after a nut and depict a nut as the dominant element on packaging when for all practical gustatory purposes, no nuts are present. Have they saved a penny by moving nut content down to an undetectable level? Here, the letter of the law, absent of its spirit, truly ticketh off.

OK, there are bigger problems out there, like the nuts about to send our kids to war with Iran (see Congressman Ron Paul's troubling take on our use of war). But what I see in this event is simply an image of America's decreasing ethical standards, reflected in ever-mushrooming volumes of legal code to deal with every aspect of life, while our leaders and so many of our people are increasingly lawless in their actual behavior, though they may find ways to meet the letter of the law at its lower extremities, "toeing" the line, so to speak.

May we all seek to live by higher ethical standards and be men and women of honor, not nut cases who deceive while thinking the letter makes them honest.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Reality of a Physical Resurrection

Luke 24 makes it so clear that the Resurrection was physical: the tomb was empty, the body was gone, and then Christ appeared to His disciples and let them touch him to see that He was not just a spirit, but had flesh and bones. To drive the point home, to leave no doubt about His tangible resurrected state, He asked for food, and then ate fish and honeycomb in front of the group. The Resurrection was real, and Christ, in whose image we were created, and the very likeness of the Father, continues to dwell with His perfected and glorious body. There is no scriptural basis for the idea that He abandoned it or no longer has flesh and bone as He showed His disciples.

Another valuable passage on the meaning of the Resurrection for us is Philippians 3:20-21, which teaches that Christ will change our mortal body into a glorious one like the one He has. Such a body provides great powers, for Paul says that it is "according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." The Resurrection is one of the great outpourings of grace through which the Father works to help us become more like Jesus - and this more like Him.

Happy Easter, everybody!

Apostasy and Restoration: Powerful Paradigms with Historical Support

While reading in one of my favorite new books, Early Christians in Disarray, edited by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2005), I was pleasantly surprised to see that a good friend from my days as a student at BYU had co-authored a chapter. I refer to Dr. James L. Siebach, now in the Philosophy Dept. at BYU, a man whom I respect for his keen insights, his love of knowledge (not to mention his collection of books!), his great sense of humor, and his service to others. (I have fond memories of cooking shrimp with him while we were students in the Provo Ninth Ward.) He obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, where he learned a few powerful lessons that I hope he'll share on the Web someday, if he hasn't already.

His chapter is "The Introduction of Philosophy into Early Christianity" by Daniel W. Graham and James L. Siebach (pp. 205-237). I strongly recommend it as a great overview of major changes not just in doctrines, but in the core paradigms of Christianity in part driven by the penetration of human philosophy into the Church. The term "philosophy" refers to two things, according to the authors: "first, the systematic effort to make enquiries and answer questions about the ultimate nature of reality, the nature of knowledge, the nature of the good, and like questions, by reason alone; second, the doctrines of the philosophical schools such as stoicism and platonism bequeathed to the intellectual tradition." The chapter shows how early Christianity moved from being at odds with Greek philosophy to so thoroughly embracing it that they would accept a philosophical definition of their faith in the fourth century at the Council of Nicea. During the following century, Greek philosophy, especially Platonism, would be used as a means for establishing Christian doctrine. The authors provide excellent documentation and clearly develop their thesis.

Having said that, let me turn to the title of today's post. Many critics have expressed puzzlement or outrage over the failure of Mormons to leave the Church after hearing their "irrefutable" anti-Mormon arguments. After arguing that Joseph Smith did something objectionable or that there are differences in his First Vision accounts or that there have been changes in the Book of Mormon or that various Church leaders have said some stupid things, they are surprised that we don't just up our bags and join the anti-Mormon faith or the, uh, . . . what faith was that? That's one of the biggest issues: even if they right and the Church was not founded through revelation from God and the Book of Mormon is a fraud (and they are NOT right!), where should we go?

I've seen this question asked several times by LDS people in discussion with our critics. If you are right, where should we go? What are you offering us other than tearing down our faith? They may answer, "We offer you nothing but Jesus and the Bible," not realizing that their whole approach is informed by recently developed paradigms and models for interpreting the Bible, providing a framework that I view as being rooted in human philosophy mingled with scripture.

What they fail to understand is the power of the LDS paradigm of Apostasy and Restoration. The historical reality of the Apostasy is hard to deny once one has accepted that paradigm, as we have. Once acquainted with the LDS paradigm of early Apostasy in the Church, it is hard for a student of history and religion to miss the evidence of dramatic and powerful changes in early Christianity as divinely appointed leaders were rejected and lost, as teachings and ordinances were altered, as pagan Greek philosophy entered the Church and became inseparable from Christian doctrine, as the remnants of the Church entered a dark era in which it was the tool of emperors and politicians, and as Christianity split into a thousand forms each without a reasonable claim of divine authority through the prophets and apostles the Lord has set in His Church.

While we rejoice at how much of the early scriptures were preserved through this process, and how much doctrine and truth was preserved by good men and women seeking to keep the faith over the centuries, for LDS people, it seems clear that there was an Apostasy in the organizations and of Christianity, and loss and corruption of some core doctrines (e.g., the description of God in the post-Biblical creeds that is more like the God of the Greek philosophers than the tangible, resurrected Lord seen and felt by the Apostles and others, whom Stephen saw standing as a separate Being at the right hand of God the Father).

I know that it is terribly offensive to other Christians when we say that there was an Apostasy, but from our perspective, it's a painful truth with strong evidence on its side. That doesn't mean that Mormons are better Christians than others outside our Church - we often are not, and have much to learn from others. That doesn't mean that there are not problems in our own Church, or risks of doctrinal corruption and many other problems as well (mortals = problems, and we have both). But we believe that to the bad news of the Apostasy has been added the Very Good News of the Restoration, and that those who sincerely seek to follow Christ should rejoice that authority, modern revelation, prophets and apostles, and true ordinances have been restored to the Church. Many more great things will yet be revealed, for we do not have all truth nor anything close to a monopoly on truth, and look forward to further advances - or corrections - through the processes of continuing revelation.

But if there was an Apostasy, it makes a lot of sense that a divine Restoration was needed. We believe it has occurred and is in fulfillment of ancient prophecy. What do our critics offer us instead? It is easy to attack and tear down, but we are looking for a work that God has built up. Turning back to doctrines and practices that we see as being incomplete remnants of the original Church is not a satisfying proposition. Accepting creeds that we see as departures from the true faith of the Living God is not something we are likely to do, even if you do manage to get us riled up about our leaders. We are looking for the Church of Jesus Christ, with authority and pure and previous truths about God, not doctrines steeped in Greek philosophy or systems of faith that we see as the doctrines of men mingled with scripture.

The reason LDS people often don't fold and follow you, even when they don't know enough to refute your arguments or sincerely do get upset at something someone said or did, is that we are looking for a fullness of the Gospel, the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is not what the critics offer.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Wages of Sin

As April 15 approaches, here's your spiritual thought of the day:
The wages of sin are death, but by the time taxes are taken out, it's just sort of a tired feeling.

- Paula Poundstone

Number Problems in the Bible

Students of the Old Testament often scratch their heads over some of the numbers there. A useful resource on this challenge comes from a section of the Church's Old Testament Student Manual.

One of the most interesting examples of an issue with numbers is 1 Samuel 13:1, where the text is actually missing one number and part of another. What makes it so interesting is to see how different translations of the Bible attempt to fill in the gap.

Whether we are dealing with the Bible or the Book of Mormon, it's important to realize that the work of writing, transcribing, copying, translating, and printing a text means that the Word of God passes through numerous human hands, each capable of error. We rejoice in the sacred gift of the scriptures and must look to them for guidance and inspiration, but we need to recognize that imperfections are possible, and that the final authority and source of all truth must be God, not a printed work made with the help of fallible mortals. Frankly, that's actually one more reason why it's so important to have modern revelation through authorized servants of God, the apostles and prophets, and one more reason why I'm grateful that this has been restored.

April 14 Update: For insight into some of the numerical issues in the Book of Mormon, see Brant Gardner's page, "Counts and Numbers in the Book of Mormon."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Starting Up a New Ward: Traumatic But Exciting

My family is part of the newly created Neenah Ward of the Appleton, Wisconsin Stake. Though small, we have a great group of people, and I'm also excited that we'll be the gathering place for Spanish speaking people in this part of the Stake. Ten years ago, we were in the newly created Appleton Second Ward. As I learned back then, starting up a new ward has means plenty of challenges, but I'm actually excited to be part of the process again (and I'm especially excited to NOT be the bishop, as I was when the Second Ward was created).

Have many of you been part of newly created ward? And tips for helping it to succeed? FWIW, I've been called as the Ward Mission Leader, so I'll be working a lot with the missionaries and the members on a variety of projects.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Local Minister (?) Welcomes New LDS Stake Center in Neenah, Wisconsin

When the Bishop of the newly created Neenah Ward of the Appleton Stake arrived at the newly built stake center in Neenah for his first Sunday of Neenah Ward meetings this morning, he found that a small but sturdy wooden sign had been planted in front of the Church with a friendly spiritual thought from the Bible warning against false prophets. The maker of this sign had undoubtedly been trained in state-of-the-art PowerPoint presentations in Corporate America, for the lower portion of the sign contained extensive text in a microscopic font requiring high-power binoculars to read. The text listed numerous alleged statements of Joseph Smith that show he was a false prophet.

It's nice to know that others in our community care enough to go to such trouble to welcome us. I suspect it was a local minister since I recently sent out open-house announcements to numerous ministers in the area to invite them to our new building for a community luncheon on April 21, featuring the former mayor of Appleton as the keynote speaker (Sister Dorothy Johnson, one of the most amazing LDS women you'll ever meet, and one highly respected by thousands in this area).

The photo above (click to enlarge slightly) shows four local missionaries and myself with the sign. We're standing on the back side of the building for this photo op, although the sign was originally planted in the front. The sign was tossed into a dumpster, but was mysteriously missing after church. I think one of the missionaries wanted it in their apartment as a gag souvenir.

Perhaps a new sign is needed: "Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing who vandalize the property of others."

Friday, April 07, 2006

One More Reason Why We Can't Compete

The front-page HEADLINE in our local newspaper on April 6 was "Bishop Offers Blessings to Area Farmers, Animals," with a large color photo of Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay in a parking lot chatting with a young boy and his goat, Yang, "during the blessing of animals and farming implements" at a Rural Life Days festival in Brillion, a town close to Appleton. The online version of the newspaper has the headline "Bishop Offers Barnyard Blessings." The Bishop's kindly hand is on the back of the goat's head in the photo.

Many people, myself included, have a lot of respect for Bishop Zubik, a man said to have great integrity and who is showing real leadership in helping the Catholic Church recover from some devastating problems with a few priests in the past - but what he's doing is downright unfair. How can a small religion like ours compete in the face of such tactics? He's pretty well got the agricultural vote, the rural vote, and the animal lovers vote all locked up after a single photo-op, knowing full well that competing religions like ours are just too self-conscious to follow suit. Plus, if a Mormon bishop or Protestant leader went around blessing animals and farm implements in the area, not only would it not result in favorable front-page coverage with a beautiful color photo, it might well become a PR nightmare. "Hey, you, stay away from my goat!" People just wouldn't understand (in fact, I think the Handbook of Instructions tells bishops to pretty much stay away from goats for that very reason, if I'm not mistaken). But no one questions Bishop Zubik (no one should!) - and he makes front page news. I'm happy for him, but as a former bishop myself, I'm terribly jealous.

This is just one more example of how hard it is for Mormons to compete out here in the Midwest. I've already noted the unfair advantage the Catholics have with their occasional Polka Mass and superstar coffee events. They also have some of the best bingo in the Midwest, and, well, no one seems to mind the beer at their Sunday picnics. Put it all together, and it's a miracle anybody comes to our church at all.

In all seriousness, one of the many great things about our local Roman Catholics, in my opinion, is the nuns. I'm hoping to visit a couple of them tomorrow, as a matter of fact (bringing an invitation to an open house our Stake is having for our new Stake Center). Some of the finest and friendliest people in the world! Who needs to compete with that? Let's just be grateful for what we've got, especially our friends of many faiths.

(And I will be suggesting some new robes for our new local bishop, something in a color that goes well with farm implements.)

Having the Courage to Ask: A Thought from Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi in his book, Never Eat Alone (New York: Doubleday, 2005) writes about "secrets to success, one relationship at a time." Here's one story that might be helpful to some of us (from pages 49-50):
The day I enrolled in the Valley School, on scholarship, I entered a new world that set me on an entirely new course, just as my father had hoped. Over the next ten years, I got one of the best educations in America, starting with Valley School, then Kiski School, Yale University, and on to Harvard Business School. And it would never have happened if my father hadn't believed that it never hurts to ask.

As I look back on my career, it was the single most important act in my life. Moreover, the lesson I learned from my father's action, like no other, informed all that I have done since.

My father simply couldn't be embarrassed when it came to fulfilling his family's needs. I remember once we were driving down the road to our home when Dad spotted a broken Big Wheel tricycle in someone's trash. He stopped the car, picked it up, and knocked on the door of the home where the discarded toy lay waiting to be picked up.

"I spotted this Big Wheel in your trash," he told the owner. "Do you mind if I take it? I think I can fix it. It would make me feel wonderful to give my son something like this

What guts! Can you imagine such a proud, working-class guy approaching that woman and, essentially, admitting he's so that he'd like to have her garbage?

Oh, but that's not the half of it. Imagine how that woman felt, having been given an opportunity to give such a gift to another person. It surely made her day.

"Of course," she gushed, explaining that her children were grown and that years had passed since the toy had been used.

"You're welcome to the bicycle I have, too. It's nice enough that I just couldn't throw it away..."

So we drove on. I had a "new" Big Wheel to ride and a bike to grow into. She had a smile and a fluttering heart that only benevolence breeds. And Dad had taught me that there is genius, even kindness, in being bold.

Every time I start to set limits to what I can and can't do, or fear starts to creep into my thinking, I remember that Big Wheel tricycle. I remind myself how people with a low tolerance for risk, whose behavior is guided by fear, have a low propensity for success. The memories of those days have stuck with me. My father taught me that the worst anyone can say is no. If they choose not to give their time or their help, it's their loss.

Nothing in my life has created opportunity like a willingness to ask, whatever the situation.
There's a Gospel application to this concept of "ask and ye shall receive." The application is about our need to be more bold, not just in our careers, but in our Church callings, our ministry, our missionary work. Some of us are terrified of asking others for anything, but sometimes it's the kindest and least selfish thing we can do for those we seek to bless. Pride keeps us from asking for the help or participation of others or from inviting others to come unto Christ. Let's drop some of that pride and be more bold in doing what's right.

Sometimes real charity requires the courage to ask.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Power and Porn: A Lesson from Homeland Security

The story of Brian Doyle, the Homeland Security official who was arrested for allegedly sending pornography to a 14-year-old girl in an attempt to seduce her over the Internet, should raise several warning flags for all of us. Whether guilty or not, the story reminds us of how morally corrupt our nation has become. With political leaders so likely to be corrupt, perverted men, I am impressed with how wise the Founding Fathers were in their attitude of NOT TRUSTING government leaders, but putting numerous restraints on the power that any one man or any one branch of government can wield. But today, with many of those restraints eroded, we are being asked to turn increasing power over to government (along with much of our nation's wealth and manpower) in order to have It better care for us, to protect us from hidden enemies, to watch out for all our needs. This is the very thing the Founding Fathers fought against (actually, they fought against a much smaller and weaker form of government).

Power and pornography do not make a pleasant mix. Apart from all the issues of liberty and the future of our nation that are raised by recent Federal developments, I think the risk of sex addicts in Homeland Security with the power to monitor the details of our lives should be reason enough to question the security they promise to bring. (If we need security from terrorists, how about keeping a few of them out by securing our borders? Isn't that what nations do when there is a real war with foreign enemies going on?)

The point is that we live in a society where far too many people are likely to be perverts due to or fomented by the glut of porn in this nation. With such people on the prowl, it makes less and less sense to trust officials with ever growing power, and more sense to be cautious and alert for ourselves and our families. And yes, get rid of your HBO subscription and other raunchy media sources while you're at it. A home free of R-rated junk and worse is a somewhat safer place, in my opinion.

LDSAbility.org- Useful Resource on the Issue of Disabilities

I just encountered LDSAbility.org and wanted to pass this site on to the rest of you. It deals with the issue of disabilities and provides access to articles, news, events, and other resources. I believe this site can be especially helpful for local leaders and families of those of with disabilities, as well for those who face the challenge of disabilities directly (a large portion of us, actually).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Of Course It Doesn't Affect Me . . . or My Kids

Well, those Puritans over at CBS News are at it again, now publishing the story, "Media May Prompt Teen Sex" which alleges that a new study points to a link between what kids watch and their actual behavior when it comes to sex:
A new study shows that 12- to 14-year-olds exposed to the most sexual content in movies, music, magazines, and on television were 2.2 times more likely to have had sexual intercourse when re-interviewed two years later then their peers who had a lighter sexual media diet. . . .

The results showed that exposure to sexual content at ages 12-14 increased the risk of early teen sex among white teenagers even after taking into account other factors known to reduce the likelihood of teen sex, such as parental disapproval of teen sex and getting good grades. In fact, each increase in grouping of sexual content media exposure increased the risk of teen sex by 30 percent.
Come on, we all know that what we watch doesn't affect our behavior, right? And that there's no reason why any company would pay millions of dollars for ads, as if seeing something on TV would change our behavior about what we buy or wear or do?

Don't worry, parents. There's no need to feel guilty about your HBO subscription or about the many other ways that you allow your children to be exposed to immorality on the media. It's just part of growing up, right? Your kids can handle it and so can you (plus, you're family is different - the exception to the rule, more mature and educated). Don't let those old out-of-touch "Brethren" tell you what to let into your home.

NY Times on Big Love: "Plenty of Salacious" Content

Some Latter-day Saints have hoped that HBO's upcoming series, "Big Love," would not be the sensationalistic and salacious drama that some of us expect. Who could possibly put "salacious" and HBO in the same sentence? Well, the New York Times, for one. Their story, ""Notice Anything Funny About the Folks Next Door?" notes that there is "plenty of salacious" material (page 3 of the story) and gives a few unwelcome glimpses into the situations that will be explored in the show. Some of you may recognize that the New York Times often takes a slightly more liberal stance on moral issues than I do, so if "Big Love" is raunchy enough to merit the "salacious" label from them, then I doubt that they are overreacting. With its salacious and sensationalistic depiction of modern polygamy as if that were representative of Utah and Mormons (notwithstanding the little disclaimer at the end that no one will notice), one thing is for sure: this show is going to end up being required viewing for thousands of high school and college classes.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Erosion of Covenants in the Early Church

I have previously mentioned how interesting I find it to read early Christian documents like those of the Apostolic Fathers, for they so often sound like messages from General Conference. I will admit, though, that were is one significant difference in the flavor that long puzzled me: the lack of overt emphasis on our covenant relationship to Christ and the Father. LDS religion puts great emphasis on covenants, with baptism and other ordinances all being expressions of a covenant relationship between God and mortals. Such covenant theology is abundant in the Old Testament and present in the New, but so much of early Christian writing seems to lack that focus which we believe was restored in the modern Church of Jesus Christ.

Insights into this issue are given in an exciting new book that I highly recommend, Early Christians in Disarray, edited by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2005, 397 pages). In the introduction, "What Went Wrong for the Early Christians?", Noel Reynolds points out that a careful study of early Christianity pushes the date of what we call the Apostasy to much earlier than many Latter-day Saints have assumed. Much of the Apostasy has already occurred before 100 A.D. with rebellion and disobedience within the Church being a much greater factor than persecution from without. This timing helps us understand the loss of an emphasis on covenants. As Reynolds explains (pp. 5-6):
The scriptures of the restoration make it clear that ordinances such as baptism, priesthood ordination, and marriage are all based in covenants between man and God. Those receiving the ordinance have made certain covenants with God to turn away from their sins and obey his commandments, and God in turn makes promises to them. The ordinances provides a public witness of these covenants. What we had not previously realized is that when the second-century Christians redefined these ordinances as sacraments, they had already abandoned their covenantal understanding of the ordinances. These were significant efforts by some key thinkers in the Protestant Reformation to restore these covenantal understandings to the ordinances, but these all failed. Reinvented as sacraments, the ordinances were understood in traditional Christianity as the means by which God could bless a person with an infusion of divine grace, through the mediation of the priest. Once the covenantal understanding was lost, it made sense to bless everyone possible. So how could traditional Christianity deny baptism to infants if the recipient no longer was expected to be making a meaningful covenant in connection with that ordinance? A similar analysis applies to Christian sacraments such as last rites. This helps us understand what Nephi meant when he explained that "many covenants of the Lord they have taken away" (I Nephi 13:26).
I find this helpful. The introduction of infant baptism was not the vanguard of apostasy, but a logical and even compassionate development of a theology that had already lost its covenantal underpinnings.

But why was the foundation of covenants in the Gospel so quickly eroded? In a later chapter, "The Decline of Covenant in Early Christian Thought," Noel Reynolds again provides valuable clues (pp. 305-6):
[George] Mendenhall agrees that "the early Christians did regard themselves as a community bound together by covenant" [George F. Mendenhall, "Covenant" in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Abingdon, 1972), 722]. However, he concludes that cultural forces worked to shift the Christian basis away from covenant after the first century. The term covenant itself was charged with political significance: "The covenant for Judaism mean the Mosaic law, and for the Roman Empire a covenant meant an illegal secret society" [ibid.]. As a result, "the old covenant patterns [soon became] not really useful as a means of communication, and may have been dangerous in view of the Roman prohibition of secret societies" [Mendenhall, 723]. The temple ceremonies were changed or abandoned [Reynolds cites Margaret Baker's Temple Theology: An Introduction (London: SPCK, 2004), 10].

Daniel Elazar speculated further that in establishing orthodoxy and unity, the concept of covenant may have "presented a number of practical and theological problems" for Christians. The church, he said, "de-emphasized covenant especially after it believed that it had successfully superseded the Mosaic covenant and transferred the authority of the Davidic covenant to Jesus. After Augustine (354-430), the Church paid little attention to covenant and, even though the Eucharist remained central to Christian liturgy, it ceased to be a truly common meal and its covenantal dimension was overshadowed by other features and meanings attributed to the Last Supper" [Daniel Elazar, Covenant and Commonwealth: From Christian Separation Through Protestant Reformation (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1996), 2:32].
Reynolds goes on to point out a number of aspects of covenant theology and practice that survived, but clearly there has been a loss. The restoration of covenant relationships between man and God is one of many powerful aspects of the Restored Gospel for which I remain most grateful. There is great power and beauty in the LDS concept of personal covenant relationships with God, including the ways those relationships are expressed and strengthened through ordinances rooted in covenants, including (especially) the ordinances of the LDS Temple.

(I will add this post as an Appendix to my page, "Covenant Patterns in Ancient Jewish and Christian Religion - The Bible and The Book of Mormon.")

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Benford's Law and Numbers in the Book of Mormon

While listening to conference today, I thumbed through George Reynolds' old book, A Concise Concordance of the Book of Mormon, looking up entries for numbers. My goal was to compile the occurrences of numbers reported for time (mostly years) and also for people (sizes of groups, numbers slain in battle, etc.), the two dominant groups of numbers given in the Book of Mormon. I was hoping to find enough numbers reported to make a crude comparison to what is known as Benford's Law, an empirical observation that the distribution of the first digits in groups of many numbers are not uniformly distributed, but show a tapering distribution heaviest in 1s, followed by 2s, 3s, etc., with 9s being least represented.

Benford's Law is explained in several helpful sources on the Internet. For the mathematically inclined, see Eric W. Weisstein's article, "Benford's Law" at MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource, where we read that this law refers to:
A phenomenological law also called the first digit law, first digit phenomenon, or leading digit phenomenon. Benford's law states that in listings, tables of statistics, etc., the digit 1 tends to occur with probability ∼30%, much greater than the expected 11.1% (i.e., one digit out of 9). Benford's law can be observed, for instance, by examining tables of logarithms and noting that the first pages are much more worn and smudged than later pages (Newcomb 1881). While Benford's law unquestionably applies to many situations in the real world, a satisfactory explanation has been given only recently through the work of Hill (1996).
Another good source is an article by Alexander Bogomolny, who writes:
With the view to the eerie but uniform distribution of digits of randomly selected numbers, it comes as a great surprise that, if the numbers under investigation are not entirely random but somehow socially or naturally related, the distribution of the first digit is not uniform. More accurately, digit D appears as the first digit with the frequency proportional to log10(1 + 1/D). In other words, one may expect 1 to be the first digit of a random number in about 30% of cases, 2 will come up in about 18% of cases, 3 in 12%, 4 in 9%, 5 in 8%, etc. This is known as Benford's Law. . . .

The law was discovered by the American astronomer Simon Newcomb in 1881 who noticed that the first pages of books of logarithms were soiled much more than the remaining pages. In 1938, Frank Benford arrived at the same formula after a comprehensive investigation of listings of data covering a variety of natural phenomena. (Benford's original data table can be found on Eric Weisstein's Treasure Troves of Mathematics - Benford's Law page.) The law applies to budget, income tax or population figures as well as street addresses of people listed in the book American Men of Science.
Benford's law has been used in several cases to detect fraud. See, for example, discussions of Benford's law and cheating by Malcolm W. Browne and another by Jason Kottke. For example, falsified numbers generated by cheaters and frauds will rarely follow Benford's law in situations when real physical data will tend to do so. Careful cheats, unaware of Benford's law, may craft numbers that are relatively uniform in the distribution of leading digits. But when it comes to recorded numbers for populations and other measurements, especially measurements that have dimensions (things like feet, pounds, years, etc.), Benford's Law will often apply, and large unexplained disparities between the data and Benford's law can be a warning sign of possible fraud.

I've known of Benford's law for some time, but only today did I take them time to jot down the numbers given in the Book of Mormon to see how they compare to Benford's Law. I've only spent about a little over an hour on this project, so my findings are preliminary, but here's what I did. From the onset, I recognized that a fair comparison using small numbers like one and two would be problematic, since there a hundreds of references to "a man" or "a person" = do all those count as the number 1? I felt that a fair analysis would require consideration of numbers beginning with 10. Thus, all groups of people of 9 or less are discarded, as well as units of time of 9 or less (a day, a month, etc., are thrown out).

Here are the results, showing the distribution of leading digits for periods of time:

Occurrences of Leading Digits in Measures of Time
1: 69
2: 59
3: 65
4: 33
5: 13
6: 17
7: 15
8: 16
9: 12

I would say that the time-related numbers show reasonable agreement with Benford's Law.

For numbers of people, there were fewer numbers to work with and thus a choppier distribution:

Occurrences of Leading Digits in Counts of People
1: 20
2: 16
3: 8
4: 6
5: 10
6: 6
7: 0
8: 1
9: 0

In these people-related numbers, I have deliberately ignored all references to the 12 Tribes, the 12 Disciples, or the 12 Apostles. There were 19 such references that I have left out, feeling that they were too "non-random" and would inflate the number of 1s as leading digits. On the other hand, the leading 1s include 10 references to groups of 10,000 in Moroni 6, which arguably could be viewed as "inflationary." Perhaps 9 of those could be discarded, in which case the number of leading 1s would be 11. As another downward adjustment, the statistics for the leading digit 2 use only 1 of 12 references to the 2000 stripling warriors and 1 of 3 references to the 2060 of Helaman's expanded army. Several of the other references appear related to the preference of 2000 as a base unit of soldiers in an army (interestingly, I think that all large military groups whose numbers are stated are always multiples of 2000). Note that the large number of leading 5s is due to 8 occurrences of the number 50, 5 of which refer to a military unit, as in "Laban and his fifty." Units of 50 men also played an important role in ancient Jewish systems. Given these considerations and the smaller sample size, the numbers for people still seem reasonably compatible with Benford's Law.

Update (April 2): Please note that this is not necessarily a confirmation of Book of Mormon authenticity, for it is entirely possible for ordinary fiction to have a numerical distribution similar to Benford's law. Numbers in the teens, hundreds, thousands, etc. tend to be more important to us than numbers in the nineties, nine hundreds, and nine thousands, for one thing. It would be interesting to look at distributions of leading digits in several works of fiction and see if any broad generalities might be drawn. At the moment, though, this post is a confirmation of Benford's Law rather than a confirmation of the Book of Mormon, though it may at least suggest that the numbers in the Book of Mormon were not consciously fabricated by someone trying to make them look randomly distributed. But I am sure that you can find Benfordesque distributions in ordinary fiction as well.

As always, do your own due diligence, and don't give too much weight to anything I say, especially since this is preliminary and subject to errors of several kinds. But so far, I think it's interesting. I have not tweaked the numbers to get a desired result, but have tried to be fair. In particular, the choice to start with 10 and higher was made before doing any counting to prevent artificial inflating of the number 1.

Exploring Lehi's Trail with Google Maps or Google Earth

Some of the most interesting evidences pointing to Book of Mormon authenticity comes from the Arabian Peninsula, where we see that numerous details in First Nephi correspond with the actual geography of that distant land. Contrary to common assumptions throughout this century, Arabia offers far more variety than just endless sand dunes. In fact, it offers places that appear to be outstanding candidates for the River Laman, the Valley Lemuel, the fertile zone of Shazer, the ancient burial place Nahom, and the delightful site Bountiful, all in plausible locations based on the text. And you can find these places by going to the Middle East and using the Book of Mormon as a guide, as George Potter and others have done. There is simply no way Joseph Smith or anyone in the United States in 1830 could have fabricated those details - such as the south-southeast direction toward Nahom, followed by nearly due east to Bountiful. Any attempt to fabricate details of such a journey would likely have led to numerous absurdities that become more ridiculous the more we learned, such as giving directions that would lead the family through the Empty Quarter while the text described one oasis after another.

And now you can use satellite maps to explore some of the rough details of the Arabian Peninsula to better appreciate Lehi's journey. I have received email from K.C. Kern (the man behind KCKern.com - a very interesting site) showing the results of his explorations with Google Maps. Of course, this resource does not offer the resolution needed to see the same dramatic details found in the photography of In the Footsteps of Lehi by Warren P. Aston and Michael K. Aston (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Comp., 1994) or Lehi in the Wilderness by George Potter and Richard Wellington (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2003), but it's a great way to get a feel for the lay of the land and the plausibility of Lehi's route.

Here's an excerpt from the email by K.C. Kern, used with permission:

I have something you might consider using on your site.

Based on my best research, through Google Maps, I've located some major points on the Arabian peninsula that map Lehi's trail.
It could provide your visitors with some hands-on interactive experiences with Lehi's journey, as well as a "see for yourself"-type thing.

Here they are:

Valley of Lemuel


[Update, Aug. 21, 2020: The location linked to is not the best candidate for Shazer. Rather, the site of Wadi esh Sharma further to the north and closer to the River Laman is a superior candidate and the probable location based on the latest fieldwork of Warren Aston. See my post, "Warren Aston's Search for Shazer: Another Breakthrough for the Arabian Peninsula Evidence for the Book of Mormon."]

Wadi Sayq (Bountiful 1)

Dhofar (Bountiful 2)

Salah/Dofar area: http://local.google.com/local?f=q&hl=en&q=+17%C2%B0+0%2752.66%22N++

Let me know what you think. Any additional suggestions are also welcome.

I especially enjoyed looking at the patterns of the sand dunes in the large Empty Quarter section northeast of Nahom and the smaller section southeast of Nahom. Turning due east from much above or below Nahom (also known as Nehhem on a map at the University of Sana'a, and the area associate with the ancient tribe of Nihm) would have resulted in wading across vast stretches of sand, with little hope of survival. Thank goodness Lehi's group had the Liahona and knew where to turn (or, for those who consider the Book of Mormon to be a fraud, thank goodness Joseph had access to an early beta version of Google Earth and could select a route that made topographical sense).

Today, Google Earth. Tomorrow, Google Kolob? Sign me up as a beta tester.

Mormon Feast Days?

I got email from a parent looking to help their child with a report for a class at school. The task at hand was identifying the major feast days of the Mormon religion, and what foods we eat or can't eat on such days. Any help? I feel like I'm missing something - perhaps I've been out of Utah too long. Here's the best I could come up with:
Mormon feast days, based on my experience:

  • Thanksgiving (usually turkey with some cranberries, mashed potatoes, gravy, and, inexplicably, candied yams with an unpleasant texture)

  • Christmas (chocolate, nuts, too much candy)

  • Easter (often ham or other meat, perhaps a Caesar salad and green jello)

  • Fast Sundays, at the end of the monthly fast (anything in sight may be eaten, often in excessive quantities, thus ensuring that anylweight lost during the fast is more than compensated by post-fast gluttony, although this is technically counter to the spirit of the teachings of the Church)
The answer is actually fairly serious. We avoid alcohol, but can pretty much eat anything, and don't add any extra "Mormon only" feast days.