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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Like a Thief in the Night: Ready for Recession?

Yesterday the US stock market plunged by about 3%, jittered by the panic the night before in China, where the Shanghai Index plunged nearly 10%. Like a thief in the night, fortunes for some people evaporated quickly. I think we'll recover from this sell-off, but there are many factors in place that could eventually lead to a much bigger cause of panic, resulting in massive stock market tumult and a plunging dollar. To the unwise, it will come as a thief in the night.

Already some of the winds of recession are in their air. Subprime lenders, companies that provide mortgages to people with poor credit ratings, plummeted suddenly in recent weeks. I foolishly thought I had called the bottom of one "well managed" company that I had made money on before, Novastar Financial (NFI), but it went from being viewed as a solid dividend machine with huge profit potential to a trainwreck in one day, and has dropped over 50% from what I thought was a bottom. Hilarious! Great learning experience - only had a little. But the growing wave of mortgage defaults that are destroying it and other subprime lenders may well represent the tip of an iceberg that is going to affect many other parts of the market. Financial writer Chuck Butler has this to say:
Have you seen all the negative news stories regarding the subprime mortgage loan problems? Aye-Caramba... This is getting U-G-L-Y! These subprime loans aren't getting hit with the ugly stick... Oh-no, it's more like the whole ugly forest! Again, here I am talking about my friend John Mauldin... But John did a great job explaining it all in his Feb 17 letter... I'll give you some excerpts...

First of all... Generally, subprime mortgages are for borrowers with credit scores under 620. Credit scores range from about 300 to about 900, with most consumers landing in the 600s and 700s. Someone who is habitually late in paying bills, and especially someone who falls behind on debts by 30 or 60 or 90 days or more, will suffer from a plummeting credit score. If it falls below 620, that consumer is in subprime territory. Subprime loans have higher rates than equivalent prime loans.

OK... Now that I've explained a subprime mortgage, here are the excerpts from John's 2/17 letter... "A decade ago sub-prime mortgages were a mere $35 billion. Today they are one-fourth of all mortgages, about $665 billion. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 trillion in adjustable-rate mortgages is eligible to be reset in the next two years, sharply increasing payments and lowering the discretionary spending ability of those homeowners."

I know, I know, you're wondering what this has to do with the threat of a recession... Well, grasshopper, it's quite simple really... Mortgage Equity Withdrawals (MEW's) have been fueling this economy... John tells us that "MEW's accounted for over 2% of last year's GDP growth [JL: I think that puts it at about 2/3 of 2006 growth]."

Uh-oh... That looks scary... If MEW's accounted for a majority of Consumer Spending and that ability of those consumers to withdraw is going to be sharply lowered, guess what that does to an economy?

I'm not trying to be Gloom & Doom here... I just want to bring this to your attention, in hopes that you make the moves in your investment portfolio to protect you from a potential recession, which cannot be good for the dollar, eh?
We may have a great 2007 in the stock market - it's possible. But we could also see some sudden changes that wipe out fortunes. Are you prepared? Are you getting out of debt, living frugally, and working hard to save? Are you building up a healthy food storage? And are you putting some of your savings in forms that will retain their value or even increase in value if the economy and the dollar tanks? Hey, it's no secret that I'm a big precious metals buff. I think this is a great time to be invested in the metals themselves (using an exchange traded fund for a 401k, or owning physical metal itself, protected in a safe place), in select mining stocks, in energy, and in other areas that can do well even if the dollar drops sharply.

Metals and mining stocks (gold, silver, uranium, etc.) dropped sharply yesterday, lowered by the whole market. But I think the smart money will see this as a buying opportunity and move in, while others flee. With our massive inflationary engines running at full speed, printing up billions of fiat dollars that are being dumped into Iraq, China, and elsewhere, the eventual fate of the dollar is certain.

Did you realize that the minimum wage in the early 1970s was actually over $9 in 2007 dollars?? Our money today is worth much less than it was a few decades ago - you've been slowly robbed by a whole gang of elected thieves in the night. While you think Congress has been looking out for the little guy by raising the minimum wage, they have been grossly lowering the real minimum wage and everybody's wage in effect by devaluing the dollar through reckless inflationary spending. And the dollar right now, as weak as it has become, is far stronger than it should be, solely because of the great blessing of China and other nations buying tons of US treasuries and the petrodollar of the Middle East. Once they get spooked about the dollar and sell off their treasuries, or use their money to buy other stuff (California, for instance), then the flood of dollars on the market could cause a massive drop. It could come suddenly. And when it does, gold and silver will see massive increases in price. I really think you should add some to your portfolio, and get your kids collecting some cheap 90% silver coins now - while they are incredibly cheap. There's another story there, the story of massive market manipulation that has suppressed prices of precious metals - an amazing gifts, if understood properly. But the gig will be up one day when market realities are more firmly in place.

But far more important than financial preparation is spiritual preparation. Get your lives in order. Learn to follow the guidance of the Lord in your daily life, and prepare to able to help your family, your ward, and your neighbors when the crises of the future strike as a thief in the night.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Interesting Hebraism in the Book of Enos

In a 2006 FARMS publication, Insights (Vol. 26, No. 3), Matthew L. Bowen makes a case for an interesting Hebraism in the opening words of Enos, where we may have a Semitic wordplay in parallel to a possible wordplay in Nephi's famous opening words. Here is an excerpt of his article (read the original to see footnotes and additional insights):
The name Enos derives from a poetic Hebrew word for "man, mankind." This raises the possibility of subtle wordplay in the opening phrase of Enos's introduction: "Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man." When we compare the introductory phrases of Enos and Nephi, the wordplay becomes more evident. The language and structure of the phrases are too similar to be happenstance, and require little elucidation:

I, Nephi,I, Enos,
having been born of goodly parentsknowing my father that he was a just man
therefore I was taught somewhatfor he taught me
in all the learning of my fatherin his language

The name Nephi apparently derived from a Middle Egyptian word, nfr, meaning "good, fine, goodly." Where Nephi interplayed his name with an adjective that Joseph Smith translated as "goodly," Enos interplayed his own name with a repetition of "man." Thus Enos adopted and then adapted Nephi's rhetorical device, cleverly switching the wordplay from the adjective to noun. The parallelism of goodly-just, parents-father, taught-taught, and language-learning reveals the intricacy of Enos's imitation.

This careful use of Nephi's words as a literary model suggests the reverence that Enos and Mormon had for their common forefather and his words. Enos's introduction, with its clever adaptation of Nephi's wordplay is a striking example of the subtleties of the Book of Mormon text, and is additional evidence of its antiquity.
Some of the many Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon can be argued away as things that Joseph Smith could have absorbed from the Bible. But wordplays, names, and poetical structures that build on a knowledge of Hebrew are much harder to explain since Joseph did not begin studying Hebrew until long after the Book of Mormon. They still do not make a slam-dunk case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, but I think it's fair to suggest that they at least, like chiasmus itself, add a little spice to the Book of Mormon. And that "spice" can help us better appreciate what the various authors were trying to achieve in their writings.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Open Your Eyes: A Tongan Miracle in a Peruvian Airport

When I drove my son down to the Chicago Temple recently, he read to me a chapter, "Open Your Eyes!", from John Groberg's book, Anytime, Anywhere (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 2006). It conveys a story that I'd like to share.

Elder Groberg was on assignment to hold two stake conferences in Lima, Peru, and was accompanied by his wife. They faced some unusual delays after they landed at the Lima airport. It took quite a while for the crew to complete paperwork before they could even open the doors of the plane. Then they faced very long lines getting through Immigration. Then they had to wait abnormally long to get their bags, which were the last ones off the conveyor belt. Eventually they got through Immigration and into the waiting area of the airport around midnight, where hundreds of people were milling around, including numerous vendors and cab drivers. As they were leaving with a member of the Area Presidency that had been waiting for them, he heard a woman call out his Tongan name from his days as a missionary in Tonga. "Kolipoki! Kolipoki" a woman called. It was a frantic woman rushing toward him, a member of the Church from Tonga.

He calmed her down as he spoke back to her in Tongan and learned her story. The woman's daughter had been serving a mission in Peru, and the mother had come to meet her daughter of the conclusion of the mission. The daughter had made arrangements to fly from her area in Cuzco to Lima so that the missionary's plane and the mother's plane would arrive at about the same time. But something had gone wrong, and the woman had been unable to find her daughter in the crowds, and could not get anybody to help her. She spoke no Spanish and almost no English. She was distraught, but sought the Lord's help. She found a little corner wherer she could sit and pray, and turned her heart to the Lord for help. During her prayer, she felt a strong impression like a voice saying "Open your eyes now!" She did so, and that's when she saw Kolipoki, a trusted Tongan speaker who could help her. Elder Groberg was able to call the mission president and see that mother and daughter were safely reunited and sent on their way together to a missionary apartment.

Elder Groberg realized that his many delays allowed him to be in the right place at the right time to help a troubled but faithful Tongan woman find her daughter. Someone suggested to him that instead of coming to Peru to hold stake conferences, the real reason he had been sent was to answer the prayer of faithful Tongan woman.

I know of many such stories, and have experienced quite a few myself, in which the hand of the Lord can be seen in unusual and sometimes painful events that work together in miraculous ways to bless a life. Prayer, coupled with listening and heeding the promptings of the Spirit, can work wonders. At the same time, I also have personally experienced events much like this one with the exception of not opening my eyes when I should have - allowing much needed help to slip away from me. It's especially painful to recognize later that the Lord had provided a solution and brought many things together, and that the only problem was me being too slow, too dense, too selfish, too reluctant, or too lazy, so that I never saw the Kolipoki that had been sent my way.

Have faith, turn to the Lord in prayer, and when He says "Open your eyes!", do not hesitate, but open them and run toward the solution He has sent.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Islam as a Religion of Peace

I had lunch a couple weeks ago with a key leader in the Muslim community in northeastern Wisconsin. He's a friend I've known for years. His leadership resulted in the building of a mosque in our community, and I was pleased to be invited as a speaker at their dedication service several years ago, representing the LDS community. There were also leaders from other Christian religions and community groups present. That was a pleasant opportunity to meet local Muslims and learn more about their religion, a religion I respect in spite of disagreeing with some of its teachings.

Some voices in our nation have railed against the idea that Islam is a religion of peace and decried the "hands-off" treatment that the religion, unlike Christianity, seems to get in the mainstream press. But in the heart and mind of my friend, I have no doubt that Islam is a religion of peace. He is a loving, gentle, tolerant, and peace-loving man. I asked him if he leaned toward the Sunni or Shia side of the religion, and he told me that he rejected both of those movements, seeing them as political and not religious. He explained that in true Islam, the focus is on worship of the one true God, not of struggling for power over others. He recognized, though, that he is part of a minority among Muslims.

My experience with Muslims has been highly positive, for the most part. While on the Georgia Tech campus (Institute of Paper Science and Technology) before joining Kimberly-Clark, I was involved in research with two Muslim professors, one from Iran and one from Egypt. We discussed their faith a couple times, and I came away with profound respect for their attitudes, their reverent lifestyle, and their respect for their written scriptures. After moving to Wisconsin, I stayed with one of them on a brief trip back to Atlanta. That Muslim family, with a couple of teenagers, was as healthy and as happy of a family as you will find. That Muslim man treated his wife with kindness and respect, and the family was a family of love and peace, as well as humor, hospitality, faith, and an appreciation for good food.

For the highly educated Muslims I have known, Islam has struck me as a truly positive component of their lives.

On the other hand, religion can be used by monsters as a tool for power, for manipulation of the masses, and for horror. It has happened in Christianity, and it is happening in Islam. The abuse of a religion by the wicked should not condemn the religion per se.

However, given that there are some madmen in the Muslim community who are seeking to stir entire congregations into anger and who actively promote violence and terror, I think we must not be too shy in recognizing the potential of that religion, in its abused form, to be used as a weapon against us. For example, I am disturbed that the press has been so reluctant to mention the Muslim roots of some people who have committed acts of terror. Take the recent killings in Salt Lake. After five people were shot down by a man in downtown Salt Lake City, the press seemed reluctant to let people know that Sulejman Talovic, the 18-year-old Bosnian refugee, was Muslim. Yes, religion normally should not be a key factor in the reporting of criminal activity, though if a conservative Christian does anything, that's going to make headlines. But when there is a war on terror going in which religion is being used as the key tool to recruit terrorists, it seems like it's a relevant piece of information that we should know. Perhaps the press thinks that public will assume all Muslims are evil killers if they tells us about the small minority who are. But isn't their self-proclaimed job to report the news, not to filter it to ecnourage their own social agenda? Or is it just "all the news that fits"?

Those killings touched some of my family. One of the victims was a niece of a sister-in-law of mine. Others known by relatives of mine are experiencing terrible grief from these slayings. Was the murderer motivated or assisted by some Islamic faction in what he did? I don't think so, but it's a relevant question, not an unthinkable absurdity that the press must snuff out before it can be raised. Maybe religion played no role at all. (Maybe it was just another case of getting a little too deep into harmless rap music and fine video games. No problem there. Ooops - now that was politically incorrect! And I was just joking - don't shoot me!)

In the hands of good people, I have seen Islam as a religion of peace. But for some, it is not. We need to understand where and when there are problems and risks, and not close our eyes. (What we do need to close, though, is our borders, where I am shocked that foreign terrorists, if they want to, can simply walk across freely. What kind of war is this, where we go to the other side of the world to pound a nation not directly tied with the 9/11 event that launched our war on terror, while we leave our borders wide open and arrest border patrol agents who actually try to stop criminals?)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Scriptures on Packaging at Wal-Mart

Scriptures on egg cartons? My recent purchase at at Wal-Mart showed that those crafty marketers must know something about American consumers that I failed to notice. Scriptures must sell - at least when it comes to eggs.

Does something seem odd to you about safe handling instructions below a Bible verse?

Anyway, have any of you noticed any other products at major retailers that carry unexpected verses from the scriptures?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

So Grateful I Made It to the Temple Today

The Chicago Temple, photographed Feb. 17, 2007 by J.L. (Click to enlarge.)

A wonderful trip to Chicago today is largely due to an interesting and detailed dream I had last night about preparing to take my son to the Chicago Temple to participate in a youth temple trip to do baptisms. Whether the dream was just a fluke or not, I'm so glad I went! It was a wonderful day - plus, in a surprise development, the ward would not have had enough men present if I hadn't been there.

I wasn't planning to participate in this event. We had originally planned to take our family to Chicago to see my sister's family and also get my two youngest boys to the Temple for the ward event, but one son was sick on Friday and our trip was called off. The obvious plan, then, was to simply have my other son, Mark, go with the ward while I stayed in Appleton to get caught up on a load of work and help my wife watch over the other son and spend some time with both of them. Frankly, getting some work done sounded like a great idea after a frustrating and rather unproductive Friday. Since the ward had enough adults already lined up, nobody had even thought of asking me to help out. I was in the clear!

Before going to sleep on Friday, I pondered whether I should be ready to go to the Temple in case some other adults didn't make it, but I didn't think that would be the case. But that night I dreamt so clearly about getting prepared to go to Chicago, that I had no doubt that going was the right thing. I thought perhaps it was because I needed to do an Endowment session while my son participated in baptisms, but in fact the ward ended up being short one person, and I was able to fill that spot. They thought they had more than enough since another ward was going to be providing some adults, but that mystery ward didn't show up. Turns out I really was needed.

I woke up naturally well before the 5:45 time set on the alarm clock, shortly after dreaming of going to the Temple, giving me extra time to not just be able to drive my son to Church by 6:00 a.m., but to also be ready to go to the Temple myself (it's about a 3-hour drive to the Chicago Temple from Appleton). In the dream, I was also working to get my camera and batteries ready for some photography in Chicago, which also worked out very well. (Details may end up on my Web site later.) Perhaps just as important or more important than being in Chicago to help my ward was the time my son and I were able to spend with my sister's family. Since there were more than enough vehicles driving kids down to Chicago, we were not contrained by the need to give rides to anyone else, so we could stay in Chicago and visit my sister's family. This provide to be an important visit, in my opinion, one that I really treasure.

It took most of the day at a time when my son and I both had plenty to do, but we came back realizing that it was time well spent, that we had been in the right places, and that the day was a genuine success. Much better than the futile attempts at success I would have made if I had stayed home. And as one more exciting bonus, a technical conversation with my son about some aspects of computer and cell-phone technology led to an exciting idea that I think might have some real business potential. The prior art search will begin shortly, and then we'll see where that goes - but the idea alone strikes me as more valuable than anything I would have achieved grinding away at less relevant millstones had I stayed home.

As always, the Temple is a happening place, and the blessings of Temple attendance far outweigh the scarifices involved in getting there.

My son, Mark, and I at the Chicago Temple. This was after my son changed into casual clothes, on our way to visit relatives. The photograph was taken by some cool people we met outside, a student from the Wharton School of Business and a member from Ecuador doing business in Chicago.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Benefits of Adoptive Parents: AP's Slanted Agenda

Based on a recent study in the American Sociological Review, the media and the gay-lesbian community are celebrating the exciting new evidence that you don't need biological parents to raise children well. Here's the beginning of a typical story, this one from ABC News, based on the AP press release:
Adoptive parents invest more time and financial resources in their children than biological parents, according to a new national study challenging arguments that have been used to oppose same-sex marriage and gay adoption.

The study, published in the new issue of the American Sociological Review, found that couples who adopt spend more money on their children and invest more time on such activities as reading to them, eating together and talking with them about their problems.
The story actually tells us more about AP's agenda than about the findings of the study. While hailed as a victory for the enemies of traditional marriage, the amazing thing about this story is what the media chooses to leave out: the essence of the study points to the advantages of raising children under the traditional system of two married different-sex parents, a man legally married to a woman, free from the challenges associated with step families (could it be that divorce is harmful for kids?) or single-parenthood. Single-parent families and step-families get bad scores in the study (isn't that worth discussing?), while children raised by an adoptive male-female married couple or by the child's male-female biological parents both do similarly well, with an edge for adoptive parents (see discussion below). Importantly, while the authors of the study seem anxious to view their results as relevant to the same-sex marriage debate, the 161 adoptive couples in their study did not include same-sex couples.

The study is published in the Feb. 2007 issue of American Sociological Review as "Adoptive Parents, Adaptive Parents: Evaluating the Importance of Biological Ties for Parental Investment" by Laura Hamilton, Simon Cheng, and Brian Powell (vol. 72, pp. 95–116). While you can read it for yourself, here is an excerpt from the study, discussing the results:
Several predominant social scientific theories predict that the absence of biological parents or the presence of a nonbiological parent is detrimental to the normative functioning of families and the well-being of children. This prediction has public policy implications: recent court decisions rely in part on the presumed irreplaceable bond between biological parents and their children to uphold the constitutionality of laws banning same-sex marriage. Nearly all of the research supporting this claim, however, refers to differences between two-biological parent and step- or single-parent families. Here, we demonstrate that the absence of a biological tie between parents and their children does not unequivocally constitute a disadvantage in at least one key family process--the allocation of resources to young children. We find that the two-adoptive-parent family structure is remarkably similar to the two-biological-parent family structure in that it provides adoptive children an advantage over children in other alternative family structures.

Our analyses indicate that adoptive parents allocate more economic, cultural, social, and interactional resources to their children than do parents in all other family types. Their high levels of investment are due, in part, to their greater levels of income, education, and older maternal age. When these sociodemographic characteristics are controlled for, an adoptive advantage still remains. Two-adoptive-parent families invest as much and, in some cases of marginal significance, more in their children than do two-biological-parent families, holding all else equal. The adoptive advantage becomes more apparent in comparison with children from other alternative family types. Net of sociodemographic characteristics, adoptive families invest significantly more than at least one alternative family type for most resources included in our analyses. Regardless of the family types to which they are compared, two-adoptive-parents' higher levels of investment are spread across all four types of resources.
The study is helpful for adoptive parents, and should show what ought to be common sense: love and parental commitment is far more importance than shared DNA. Further, children raised by loving father and a mother in a family based on traditional marriage, without the disadvantages of step families (sorry, but several studies confirm more difficulties from step-families than families in which both biological parents are present) or single-parent families fare better in the measures explored by this study. That's not to say that single parents or step-families cannot compensate and be wonderful parents, but that statistically they face a disadvantage on some measures. So don't despair!

As for the edge that the 161 adoptive families had, the authors note that a significant part of that edge came from the higher socioeconomic status of adoptive families. But even when that was accounted for, they still had an edge. I think that can be explained by the additional selective factors that limit who can adopt. Most male-female couples can have children, and quite a few do without really being ready for them or capable of being decent parents. You can create biological offspring regardless of your education, criminal record, ability to hold a job, personal hygiene habits, and anger management skills. But the standards for adoptive parents are so high and demanding that you almost need to have superhuman endurance and commitment. Adoptive parents have to want children so much that they are willing to pay many thousands of dollars, wait for years, tolerate snoopy bureaucrats investigating their lives and their worthiness to adopt, and jump through numerous other hoops. Adoptive parents belong to an elite slice of humanity with positive attributes that cannot be accounted for by simply looking at their socioeconomic status. OF COURSE adoptive parents are going to score higher on average than the rest of us.

The study of Hamilton et al. is not news - it simply provides some statistics around what ought to be common sense. And both statistics and common sense point to the benefits of having a father and a mother in a stable traditional family, whether DNA is shared or not. And most certainly the actual data of the study says nothing to justify relaxing legal definitions of marriage. The fact that most legally married male-female adoptive parents are saints provides no justification for the gay-lesbian agenda. (I would venture, though, that gay-lesbian couples who really want children and go through the adoptive process would also score highly and do a great job raising their kids, at least in terms of the metrics explored in this study - but that was not addressed due to the paucity of subjects to work with.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Pray About It" and "Sleep On It": Mormon Decision-Making and a Little Insight from the Harvard Business Review

The latest Harvard Business Review provides an insight about decision making that could help explain why a basic Mormon approach to decision making is such a good idea - even if you aren't LDS and even if you don't believe in prayer.

Let me first explain that one of the trademarks of Latter-day Saint life is a frequent reliance on prayer in decision making. You will frequently hear Church leaders encouraging people to "pray about it" when struggling with decisions and problems, and when LDS people explain why they made some decision, they will commonly note that they had prayed about the decision and felt that they should do things some particular way. This can be awfully exasperating, especially to outsiders who don't accept the concept of personal revelation from God. It can even be exasperating to insiders who think that a stupid decision has been made without carefully consider the logical factors that should have been heavily weighted. Frankly, those who want to do something stupid sometimes use "I prayed about it" as a shield to deflect inquiries about the reasons for poor decisions, so I've sometimes been in the exasperated camp.

But the most commonly cited LDS scripture on prayer in decision actually requires careful, logical mental effort first, followed by prayer. This approach would reduce some of the abuses I've seen when some Mormons want to justify acts of stupidity with "I prayed about it" as an excuse. In Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-8, the Lord explains that intellectual effort is essential as a first step:
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I
will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
Couple this with the frequent scriptural call to "ponder" things in our heart (e.g., Moroni 10:3-5). The approach that many of us take on big issues to gather facts, ponder them, and then turn to the Lord in prayer - prayer that may require much more than a single moment of prayer, but may require occasional prayer over a few days. In fact, a common Mormon approach to decision making combines prayer with the notion of "sleeping on it" to allow the Lord time to work with us, perhaps to guide us in dreams or feelings that come over time as we wait for revelation. Information gathering, pondering, a tentative assessment, then prayer and patient waiting - "sleeping on it" - might be considered to the LDS "best practice" for making important and complex decisions.

Now, in light of an interesting note in the latest Harvard Business Review, this practice would seem to make some sense even for those who don't believe in prayer or God.

In HBR's list of "Breakthrough Ideas for 2007" is Breakthrough Idea #9: Sleep on It. Research indicates that decision making can be improved when we give the subconscious mind time to sift through the facts and come up with a decision that might seem like a feeling or impression without a clear understanding of why - the gut feel of intuition, perhaps. So Ap Dijksterhuis, a professor of psychology at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands (a recent winner of a Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology from the American Psychological Association), recommends that good decision making for complex, important issues begins with fact finding, but rather than making an immediate decision, we should take a break and wait for subconscious processing before we come back and make the decision. For the "LDS best practice," even though there is a tentative early decision, the processing of subsequent prayer and waiting for an answer that we feel seems to be a close parallel to the secular "best practice."

So even if you don't believe in God, take a little time after you've gathered the facts to wait for intuition and "feelings" from another source - the subconscious mind - to help guide you.

And if you really want to step up the power of your decision making and the quality of your life, get on your knees and experiment with prayer. You might be surprised to find What you encounter.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

News Regarding Solomon's Temple

New information about Solomon's temple points to a location on the Temple Mount somewhat different than has been commonly assumed. Instead of being where the present Dome of the Rock is, it may have been a little further east. The new proposed location puts the ancient Temple over a large ancient cistern, where water was drawn out for daily purification and washing rituals.

As one can read in the works of Mircea Eliade and others, such as Jewish scholar Jon Levenson (see his tremendous book, Sinai and Zion), the symbolism associated with ancient temples also includes the concept of taming the waters of chaos. Subterranean water beneath the Temple can symbolize primordial chaos conquered by the power of God in the Creation, and also represent the world of the dead. In this ancient paradigm, the temple is the axis mundi, the great axis of the world that joins the realms of the dead, the living, and the heavens. How well that concept fits with the restored LDS Temple, where the baptismal font, the lowest part of the Temple, provides the symbolic subterranean water in a sense, and plays a role in joining the realm of the dead to the living, freeing the dead who accept the Gospel and offering them the blessings of the heavens.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Prisoner Behind the Glass

I had a troubling recurring dream last night, and I think I know what it means now.

The dream seems to be a happy one. In last night's version, I was on a business trip in downtown Chicago, one of my favorite places. Before driving home, I walked into a seafood restaurant, a spectacular "crab shack" restaurant with numerous tubs of seafood and many boiling vats with exotic shellfish. I entered through the back entrance and was just walking around, thinking of how I wanted to bring my family there. In the area where food was being prepared, I saw about six species of squid alone, not that I particularly like squid, but they were fascinating to look at and represented the magnitude of the selections available there. It was a busy, bustling place with a lot of customers trying to get in.

I turned and looked into the area where customers were eating. In a nearby corner of the room, there was a glass wall that separated me from a customer who seemed to be on display for those entering the restaurant to observe. The customer was a rather large middle-aged man in a business suit, wearing a big napkin under his chin. He was seated behind a huge metallic bowl filled with large raviolis stuffed with seafood in a creamy Alfredo sauce. The bowl was about five feet wide with a broad sloping rim, shaped much like a very wide spittoon. Numerous large raviolis, each about 3-inches wide, lined the rim of the bowl, while hundreds of others were bathed in the pool of sauce in the center of the bowl. The man was there for the all-you-can-eat ravioli special. He had been there for a long time - perhaps days. He appeared to be sad and weary, his head dropping forward, his eyes closed, his hands still clutching his utensils. He was resting, perhaps unconscious, waiting for a little more space to open up in his stomach so he could begin the next round of eating.

I have seen this very image before in my dreams. The same man, the same tub of ravioli, the same image of a prisoner behind glass, held in place not by physical chains, not by the two wooden walls of a restaurant corner and the third wall of glass, but by appetite and greed. I am haunted by the image of a man virtually chained to his vast tub of food. And this morning, I realized that this image is there to represent me. Not that ravioli is a problem for me, but that there are serious risks if I do not become more disciplined in other areas of weakness.

Self-control and personal discipline is a critical area for all of us. We are each dealing with our own mix of destructive temptations. When we give in to appetites, greed, and other weaknesses, we can become like the prisoner behind the glass, not even realizing just how captive we are, thinking we have found a great opportunity--endless all-you-can-eat ravioli or some other foolishness--when in fact we have unknowingly become prisoners behind glass.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about becoming free, completely free, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. May we seek Him and live the Gospel more fully.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reaching Out to the Suicidal - And My Little Cell Phone Miracle

I'm glad to see Church magazines dealing more with some of the gritty issues of life. The Feb. 2007 New Era magazine, aimed at youth, has an excellent Q&A section with a question about dealing with a depressed and possibly suicidal friend. Here is part of the article (see the original for some additional insightful comments from others):
"My friend seems really depressed, and I'm afraid she might even be thinking about taking her own life. What should I do?"

Summary given in the New Era Q&A:

  1. As soon as possible, talk to your friend's parents and other adults who can help, such as a doctor, counselor, or priesthood leader.

  2. Continue to be a good friend by spending time with her and being a good listener.

  3. Let your friend know that she is important, that you care about her, and that, with help, she can feel better.

Your friend's situation is a serious problem, one that you and she can't handle alone. In addition to the Lord's help, your friend needs professional help, which may include counseling and medication.

Those who experience depression feel hopeless and helpless. So they often hesitate to get help. Even if your friend has asked you not to tell anyone, telling someone who can help is one of the best things you can do for her. At the very least, talk to her parents. You can even get advice from a doctor, school counselor, or your bishop or branch president. Letting them know about her problem is especially urgent if she has mentioned suicide.

As she gets help, continue to be her friend. People who are going through depression often think that they don't matter. So let your friend know you care about her, and remind her of the many others who care about her. Sincerely tell her what you appreciate about her. Invite her to do fun and uplifting activities with you. Service is especially good because it can help her focus on others, and physical activities can lift her mood. Pray for guidance to know what would be best for her.

Your friend might feel depressed because she doesn't think her life has a purpose. But Heavenly Father has a special plan for each one of us. He sent us here to have joy, to overcome trials, and to fulfill a purpose. You can share this testimony with your friend and give her hope that, in time and with the right help, she can enjoy life.

Remind her that it's normal to have some worries. President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught: "It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal. . . . There is great purpose in our struggle in life." But it's not normal to dwell on problems to the point that we lose our perspective. It's best to work through them and try to become stronger because of them.

Also remind your friend that she has many sources of help. Depression is a symptom of mental or emotional illness. Just as she would go to a doctor to be treated for a physical illness, she can talk to a professional who can help her understand the nature of depression and teach her ways to cope with it. Whether she is a member of the Church or not, she can get spiritual help. She can pray, get a priesthood blessing, and find comfort by reading the scriptures. Testify to her that the Lord loves her and can bless her with peace (see John 14:27).

I'll add my perspective about how much the Lord cares for those who are depressed and facing suicidal challenges. Some of the most significant spiritual experiences I have had involved working with those who were suicidal. During the time I was a bishop, it was something I faced several times. In a couple cases, I experienced profound miracles and learned how much the Lord wishes to do for His children. Most of the experiences are too sensitive to share, and a couple were simply too wild to share - I still shake my head and say, "Did I really see that? Could there not be some kind of natural explanation for what we experienced?"

There is one straightforward incident that I can share, without giving too many details, given the passage of time. Many years ago, we had a cell phone that failed. I didn't rely on it much and had taken my time in getting it replaced. After over a month without a cell phone, we finally got the repaired phone back. The night after we received it, I had an unusual call on our regular phone (the land line). It was a woman in great distress who said, "Tell my family I love them." That was all she wanted to say initially. I was puzzled and asked more about what she meant, and asked if that meant she was suicidal. She said that she was going to make it look like an accident, and gave me enough detail about her planned suicide that I realized she was serious and might be moments away from death. I prayed in my heart to know what to do, and the image of our newly repaired cell phone came into my mind. I went downstairs and picked up the cell phone from the kitchen counter top as I continued to speak to her on our wireless handset. I dialed 911 on the cell phone and, while muting the other phone, explained that I had a suicidal person on the line and would need their help ASAP to rescue her. So, with two phones, one on each side of my face, I began asking the woman some questions and repeating information to a savvy 911 worker, who understood my situation immediately. "So you're calling me from a payphone at the station on [such and such] street? And you're planning to do what? . . ." I'd add some information secretly to the 911 worker to further describe the woman, her vehicle, etc. And then I worked as hard as I could to keep her on the line, asking some probing questions and giving some things to think about, and praying fervently in my heart. I needed to keep her there a few more seconds, a few more seconds, . . . and then I heard some of the most wonderful whining words of my life: "Oh, did you send these people?! Aargh!" The police had arrived and they stopped her from carrying out her plans. A very skilled and kind woman officer worked with her and helped her through the problem, and I was able to meet with her a few hours later.

Without giving away any details, let me just say that this woman has done much to make the world a better place. I am so proud of who she is and what she has accomplished. She has come so far, done so much, and inspired many others. (In fact, this applies to many of the people I know who once were suicidal - they have been some of the most amazing people I've met.) What a terrible loss it would have been if she had passed away that night long ago. Perhaps she would not have committed suicide after all if I hadn't been there, but I think she was serious and in any case, I'm honored to have been able to play a role in the resolution of that drama. I'm so grateful to the Lord that the cell phone, which we had not had for a month, had come back to us just in time to get the police there to help rescue a depressed and distressed woman, a precious daughter of God who had many more joys, and pains, to experience before her mission was over. (Many of the most meaningful miracles I've experienced involved beautifully coordinating timing of events, like the arrival of that cell phone in the nick of time.)

May we increasingly be sensitive to the sorrows and pains of others in our midst, and let the Spirit of God guide us in loving them and helping them to find peace and meaning in life. May we reach out and provide some hope at the right moments to those who are suicidal, whether we know it or not. Life can be such a painful journey, and the challenges of depression and mental illness can be so overwhelming and so poorly understood by those of us who think we are whole and cannot fathom the challenges others face. May we increasingly understand and help others as a true expression of our religion.

Elton John wants religion to be banned, and many intolerant crusaders for tolerance are with him. But I think religion is vital and, when practiced sincerely, makes the world a much better place, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and rescuing the suicidal. My life had been so greatly blessed by the influence of religion, and I've seen so many other lives made richer and more worth living through its power.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Removing Inconvenient Lives

While some people are talking about what they call inconvenient truths, I feel inconvenient lives are a much more critical issue for society to consider. I just read about the call by a Church of England bishop to let newborn babies die when they are severely handicapped. Sickening - but the "logical" next step for a society that is beginning to use abortion to remove the physically and mentally challenged. Meanwhile, a liberal friend of mine brought me a powerful article from George Will, with whom he usually disagrees, on a topic he felt George handled very well: the desired of so many obstetricians to abort people like George's son, Jon Will, a human who as a post-natal fetus with Down syndrome who has become a wonderful, interesting man with a vibrant life. George Will asks the question, "Golly, What Did Jon Do?" to tick off the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists so much that they think he and the other 350,000 Americans with Down syndrome should have been killed?

Have any of you ever spent much time with a victim of Down syndrome without feeling that you were in the presence of a special person whose life is valuable and makes the world better? Maybe it's just me, but I have difficulty with the idea of wiping out the differently-abled because they have some challenges relative to us, because they are different and require more time.

In my previous ward in Atlanta, our bishop had a son with Down syndrome. He was an amazing young man. He became an Eagle scout and has continued to grow in many ways. He loved my little magic tricks and always wanted more - one of my best fans ever. It's hard for me to see why doctors would want him to have been killed as an infant. It's just an unspeakably ugly thought.

Here is the conclusion of George Will's column, which some deep food for thought:
Jon, a sweet-tempered man, was born the year before Roe v. Wade inaugurated this era of the casual destruction of pre-born babies. And he was born just as prenatal genetic tests were becoming routine. Since then, it has become routine to abort babies like Jon because they are like Jon. Without this combination of diagnostic advances and moral regression, there would be more people like Jon, and the world would be a sweeter place.

America has, however, become a more congenial, welcoming place for its Down syndrome citizens who have escaped "screening." On the second day of Jon's life, the hospital's geneticist asked his parents if they intended to take him home. Nonplussed, they answered that taking a baby home seemed like the thing to do.

Jon was born at the end of the era in which institutionalization of the retarded was considered morally acceptable, but in what was still an era of gross ignorance: In the first year of Jon's life, a network-television hospital drama featured a doctor telling parents of a Down syndrome newborn that their child would probably never be toilet-trained. But ignorance lingers. There are doctors who still falsely counsel parents that a Down syndrome person will never read, write or count change. Such doctors should not try to get between Jon and his USA Today sports section.

In 1972, the odds were heavily against Jon's living as long as he already has lived. Just 25 years ago, the life expectancy of Down syndrome people was 25. Today, because of better health care, better mental stimulation in schools and homes, and better community acceptance, their life expectancy is 56.

Jon has a disability, but he also has some things most men would like to have—season tickets for Nationals and Orioles baseball, Redskins football, Capitals hockey and Georgetown University basketball. He gets to and from games (and to his work three days a week for the Nationals at RFK Stadium) by himself, taking public transportation to and from his apartment.

Jon experiences life's three elemental enjoyments—loving, being loved and ESPN. For Jon, as for most normal American males, the rest of life is details.