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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Church Responds to an Anti-Mormon Campaign

Yesterday the Church issued a brief note, "Response to DVD," referring to the major anti-Mormon campaign being launched by some of our Christian friends with a distasteful DVD (see my previous post about the FAIRLDS site that deals with the attacks on the DVD). Here is the statement from the Newsroom at LDS.org (hat tip to Mike Parker):
Several news reports have appeared over the past few days in Utah and Arizona about a Christian activist group that has been distributing anti-Mormon DVDs throughout Utah and in some other states.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League in Phoenix promptly condemned the distribution, saying that "hate directed at any of us is hate directed at all of us."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has weathered such attacks throughout its history. At a time when the Church is growing strongly throughout the world, it's not surprising that some groups try to curb that growth in such ways.

Throughout the history of the United States, the rights of free speech and freedom of religion have been pre-eminent. Groups opposed to the Church have a perfect right to distribute their materials in ways that are legal.

The issue is not one of rights. Rather, it is that one religious group chooses to target another with a DVD full of distortions of its doctrine and history, and misrepresentations so stark that they call into question the integrity of the producers.

When Latter-day Saint missionaries visit homes or engage others in conversation, they studiously avoid criticism of other faiths. They do not attack and they do not condemn. Instead, they declare their own message honestly and openly and allow people the freedom to choose. Above all, they encourage each person to find out for themselves through personal research as well as prayer.

That will continue to be the Church's approach, not just because honest and open dialogue is what most people want, but because in our view it best represents the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Finally, an Uplfiting Message from a Beer Company

I recently took this photo of the very large neon sign on the side of a prominent beer warehouse in Appleton. Finally, a message from a beer company that I can approve, and one that agrees with the Book of Mormon in Jacob 6:12: "O b weise, what more can I say?"

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

That New Anti-Mormon DVD: the FAIRMormon Reponse

There's a new anti-Mormon DVD being circulated that (no surprise) contains a rehashing of the standard old arguments against the Church. Helpfully, the good folks at FAIRLDS.org have put together a response to the "Search for the Truth" DVD. For example, they have a section responding to some common attacks on the Book of Abraham, where I found one section to be especially useful. It's the part dealing with the question about why the Book of Abraham would have been included with a pagan Egyptian text. Here is an excerpt:
The issues surrounding the translation of the Egyptian papyri that resulted in the Book of Abraham are much more complex than critics would like us to believe. Foremost, it is significant to realize that we don't have all the papyri that were originally owned by Joseph. Of the five scrolls originally owned by Joseph, only eleven fragments of two scrolls have survived--one of which is an Egyptian Sensen text containing the vignette for Facsimile 1 from the LDS Book of Abraham. Basically, we don't know exactly what was missing, so we can't say for certain that Joseph Smith's papyri collection didn't contain a document that could translate into the Book of Abraham.

But why, some might ask, would a Book of Abraham be present among ancient Egyptian funerary scrolls? We know from other ancient documents that sometimes scrolls with different material were attached together. Some ancient copies of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, have been found to contain a variety of other non-funerary texts including stories similar to the sacrifice of Abraham (involving different personalities), temple rituals, and more. Yale-trained, professional Egyptologist Dr. John Gee estimates that about 40% of known Sensen texts have other texts attached to them.

Some Egyptian papyri, for example, contain Egyptian instructions on one side and Semitic writings on the back side--in one case Psalms chapters 20-55. One Egyptian temple archive (with an extensive collection of Egyptian rituals), provides an early copy of the "Prayer of Jacob" and two copies of the "Eight Book of Moses" with a discussion of the initiation into the temple at Jerusalem. Both Moses and Abraham are mentioned in this collection and the most commonly invoked deity is Jehovah.

Finally, we know that ancient Israelites sometimes used Egyptian symbols to convey religious teachings. Many Biblical scholars, for instance, believe that an ancient Egyptian book--the Instructions of Amenemope--may have been the source for portions of the biblical book of Proverbs. An ancient Testament of Abraham also seems to have a connection to the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

It is not unlikely--in fact it seems plausible in light of other documentary discoveries--that an ancient Book of Abraham was attached to the Egyptian papyri owned by Joseph Smith. Properly interpreting the Egyptian elements in the Facsimiles may well require that we understand how Jewish authors understood and adapted such elements.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The LDS Temple and the Sabbath

A ten-minute podcast, drawing in part upon Dr. Jon Levenson's marvelous book, Sinai and Zion (he's currently a professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard).

Part 1 (5 minutes):
The Temple and the Sabbath: Part 1

Part 2 (5 minutes):
The Temple and the Sabbath: Part 2

MP3 files: http://ldsfaq.googlepages.com/temple-and-sabbath-pt1.mp3


This was a 20-minute podcast initially, but I had to cut a big portion off after realizing that the file server I'm using at Google pages has a 10 MB max, and then I found that only 7 MB would play, so I broke the already-reduced file into two parts. Any tips on where to store podcast files? I'm really new at this, obviously. I could put them at JeffLindsay.com, but am worried about running out of bandwidth if I do.

Should I just stick with text - and YouTube (coming soon!)?

Here is the excerpt from Dallin H. Oaks' talk, "Taking Upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ" (May 1985 Ensign) that I partially quote:
It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. (See D&C 20:77.) The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.

What future event or events could this covenant contemplate? The scriptures suggest two sacred possibilities, one concerning the authority of God, especially as exercised in the temples, and the other--closely related--concerning exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

The name of God is sacred. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name." (Matt. 6:9.) From Sinai came the commandment, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." (Ex. 20:7, Deut. 5:11.) Latter-day revelation equates this with using the name of God without authority. "Let all men beware how they take my name in their lips," the Lord declares in a modern revelation, for "many there be who . . . use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority." (D&C 63:61-62.)

Consistent with these references, many scriptures that refer to "the name of Jesus Christ" are obviously references to the authority of the Savior. This was surely the meaning conveyed when the seventy reported to Jesus that "even the devils are subject unto us through thy name." (Luke 10:17.) The Doctrine and Covenants employs this same meaning when it describes the Twelve Apostles of this dispensation as "they who shall desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart." (D&C 18:27.) The Twelve are later designated as "special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world," and as those who "officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church." (D&C 107:23, 33.)

By way of further illustration, the Old Testament contains scores of references to the name of the Lord in a context where it clearly means the authority of the Lord. Most of these references have to do with the temple.

When the children of Israel were still on the other side of the Jordan, the Lord told them that when they entered the promised land there should be a place where the Lord their God would "cause his name to dwell." (Deut. 12:11; see also Deut. 14:23-24; Deut. 16:6.) Time after time in succeeding revelations, the Lord and his servants referred to the future temple as a house for "the name" of the Lord God of Israel. (See 1 Kgs. 3:2; 1 Kgs. 5:5; 1 Kgs. 8:16-20, 29, 44, 48; 1 Chr. 22:8-10, 19; 1 Chr. 29:16; 2 Chr. 2:4; 2 Chr. 6:5-10, 20, 34, 38.) After the temple was dedicated, the Lord appeared to Solomon and told him that He had hallowed the temple "to put my name there for ever." (1 Kgs. 9:3; 2 Chr. 7:16.)

Similarly, in modern revelations the Lord refers to temples as houses built "unto my holy name." (D&C 124:39; D&C 105:33; D&C 109:2-5.) In the inspired dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked the Lord for a blessing upon "thy people upon whom thy name shall be put in this house." (D&C 109:26.)

All of these references to ancient and modern temples as houses for "the name" of the Lord obviously involve something far more significant than a mere inscription of his sacred name on the structure. The scriptures speak of the Lord’s putting his name in a temple because he gives authority for his name to be used in the sacred ordinances of that house. That is the meaning of the Prophet’s reference to the Lord’s putting his name upon his people in that holy house. (See D&C 109:26.)

Willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ can therefore be understood as willingness to take upon us the authority of Jesus Christ. According to this meaning, by partaking of the sacrament we witness our willingness to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and to receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Savior when he chooses to confer them upon us.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chocolates and the Book of Mormon

Thoughts on the need to ponder the Book of Mormon to really taste and appreciate its divine quality.

And unlike chocolate, it's fat free, sugar free, caffeine free, and has better antioxidants - the kind that can keep you from oxidizing in the next life. In fact, if consumed regularly, the Book of Mormon can give you infinite fitness - the kind we call Eternal Life. Enjoy! No need to diet with this sweet treasure.

P.S. Here are links to the mp3 files for my recent podcasts:

Chocolates and the Book of Mormon: http://ldsfaq.googlepages.com/choco2.mp3

Sabbath 101: http://ldsfaq.googlepages.com/sabbath.mp3

Mind Readers: http://ldsfaq.googlepages.com/mind-readers.mp3

Dinner Time (frivolous sound effects): http://ldsfaq.googlepages.com/dinnertime.mp3

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Semitic Adaption of Egyptian Concepts: Kevin Barney's Chapter on the Book of Abraham

Understanding the Egyptian Facsimiles Through a Semitic Lens

Kevin Barney's chapter, "The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources" in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, edited by John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2005), pp. 107-130, is now available online. In this excellent work, Barney considers precedents for Egyptian stories that have been assimilated into Jewish literature, with the Egyptian elements having been modified when viewed through a Semitic lens. He suggests that this approach helps explain some aspects of the Book of Abraham facsimiles. When the Semitic lens is applied to the Egyptian representations, Joseph Smith's comments make much more sense. Here is an excerpt:
Specifically, we will suggest that the facsimiles may not have been drawn by Abraham's hand but may have been Egyptian religious vignettes that were adopted or adapted by an Egyptian-Jewish redactor as illustrations of the Book of Abraham. We will illustrate general processes of Jewish adaptation of Egyptian sources and then describe in detail three specific examples from the Greco-Roman period (the same period when the Joseph Smith Papyri were produced) that each relates in some way to Abraham. We will suggest that such Jewish adaptation of Egyptian sources was common during this time period and would explain the adaptation of the facsimiles to illustrate the Book of Abraham, which may have come under this redactor's care as part of the ancient transmission of the text.

Having articulated this Semitic adaptation theory, we will examine Stephen Thompson's critique of Joseph's interpretations of the facsimiles, showing how this theory resolves the issues raised by Thompson.
Barney then provides solid documentation and analysis to support his thesis. I appreciate these insights. Understanding the possibility of Semitic adoption of Egyptian concepts adds new depth to our understanding of Joseph's translation of the Book of Abraham text and facsimiles, and helps us understand why the rejection of Joseph's work based on literal analysis of the Egyptian elements alone is inadequate.

Google Bomb Defused: Mormon Temple

In 2005, the Bloggernacle was fuming over the "Google Bombing" of the term "Mormon Temple" - referring to the overwhelmingly negative Web pages that were returned as the top results of a Google search on "Mormon Temple". A number of us LDS folks tried to fight back by adding links to pro-LDS pages, using the term "Mormon Temple" in the link or the title of the link (both of which affect what Google identifies as relevant results in its algorithms). There was concern that the efforts of the LDS minority would not be able to change Google's landscape, but now, nearly two years later, it appears that the persistent efforts of the LDS community have paid off. A search on "Mormon Temple" returns predominately positively hits.

Please keep adding positive links to pro-LDS sites that deal with the temple. Here's one example of the kind of link that can help: The Mormon Temple and Other Facts about LDS Temples. The words in the link as well as in the title of the link (the text you see when the cursor is over the link) both contribute to Google's treatment of the LDS.org page I have linked to. While you're at it, why not add a link to my page about Mormon temples and Masonry: Is the LDS Temple (Mormon temple) derived from Free Masonry?"

Turns out that as of today, I'm #14 for "Mormon Temple", #8 for "Mormon Temples", #7 for "LDS Temple", and #9 for "LDS Temples". (I'm #3 for "Mormon Masonry" or "LDS Masonry" - but that's another story.) Prophetically, I'm #1 and #2 for "mormon temple wisconsin" - even though there isn't one yet. Guess what that means will happen in the near future? And where will it be built? Well, to show the prophetic power of Google, I'm #1, 2, 3, and 4 for "Appleton Mormon Temple". Fingers crossed!

Mormon Life 101: The Sabbath Day

A podcast, about 9 minutes long, on the basics of the Sabbath for Mormons. Elementary stuff, intended to help those trying to understand the Mormons.

And, as a special bonus to help families gather their children for dinner on Sunday or any day of the week, here's an inspiring 14-second clip that just may be what you need (just playing around with special effects in Audacity):

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sexual Immorality and Phishing Scams: The Foolishness of Giving Away Intimate Personal Data

A small group of scammers sends millions are emails each week to entice gullible victims into turning over intimate personal details to people they don't know. Email offers from Nigeria are a famous example of these scams. They promise great wealth to their victims, if they will just provide some private information about their banking account or other financial accounts, or if they will just hand over some money to grease the wheels for access to a rich account. The greedy victims ultimately find that they have been robbed. In some cases, the personal information they gave in the process allows others to steal their identity, wipe out their accounts, and generally mess up their lives. Related to the Nigerian scams are phishing scams in which Websites posing as legitimate banking Websites try to fool people into turning over intimate personal information that criminals can use to exploit and rob the victims.

Turning over personal financial information to someone else should only be done under appropriate circumstances. Namely, it should only be done with a partner that you know and can trust, and under legally recognized conditions that provide you with legal protection against misuse of your information - preferably under a binding contract. To give your intimate financial information to a random partner you just met on the Internet or on some street corner is utter stupidity. There are scammers everywhere, and we need to be more cautious than ever.

Sexual immorality has a few things in common with these modern scams, with many more victims and often much greater harm than just losing all your money. Premarital sex involves inappropriately turning over your most personal and intimate possession - your body - to someone else without the benefits and protection of the legal covenant of marriage. There is the promise of instant gratification, but in the end those who fall into immorality are often robbed, and some find that their whole lives are damaged. It's more than just the risk of disease or pregnancy. There is a degrading and cheapening of self that occurs, and vast missed opportunities that occur by taking the path of foolishness.

I can hardly begin to convey the sorrow I've seen caused by sexual immorality among the people I've known. Whether it's teenage sex, causal hooking up among college students, general premarital sex, marital infidelity, porn addictions, pregnancy out of wedlock, venereal disease, abortion, etc., I've seen over and over again that the scam of immorality has never made people happier, healthier, or better human beings. It has often caused vast chains of unintended events that take those who fell for the scam a thousand miles from where they should have been. Some who know better seem to "get away with it" - but I think they will one day recognize how much they have lost. When we knowingly violate the principles the Lord has given us, we turn away from great light and become less.

I am shocked at the irresponsibility of adult leaders in schools, in the media, in the entertainment industry, in sports, and even in some churches who condone and even promote casual sex among teenagers and others. These vile and irresponsible "enlightened" adults take it as a matter of fact that it is healthy and normal, and rarely speak out against the foolishness of immorality. They might as well encourage the young people of the world to trust all the email they get, to take advantage of the tremendous offers they find and share their banking data and other personal data freely with anyone. Oh, but be smart use a spam filter for protection. Then you'll be safe no matter what you do.

May we dare to speak up and warn others of the dangers of modern and ancient scams, especially the scam of immorality. I am grateful that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the few remaining voices in the world calling upon people everywhere to repent and flee from immorality in any form. It's an urgent message that we need to convey.

And to those who have fallen for a scam, may we hold out the hope that repentance brings. Break away from the scam now and move back to the path that brings joy and peace, the path of following the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You may be a thousand miles from where you should have been, but there are new right roads and paths that begin from the very place where you are now, and a single step is enough to begin the journey of hope.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mind Readers

This is my first attempt at a podcast for Mormanity. My short little discourse deals with the phenomenon of mind readers -- the people who instantly know what's in your mind and heart as soon as they learn you're a Mormon. Let me know if you have technical difficulties.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Beyond Skepticism: Knee-Jerk Knocking of Spiritual Experiences

While I can understand and appreciate skepticism, I have grown impatient with those who belittle spiritual experiences that came as apparent answers to prayer or expressions of the mercy and kindness from God. I've seen many cases of that on this blog and elsewhere. I refer specifically to those self-styled intellectuals who, in response to an apparent blessing or miracle that someone experienced, put on a sneer and ask why God would help some individual solve their little problem when much bigger problems remain in the word. The latest example on this blog came in response to my post about Elder Groberg's experience helping a Tongan woman in Peru. Here was the response:
What an amazing coincidence that Elder Groberg has turned into a miracle. I think a more amazing story would be to have all those starving mothers in Africa open their eyes during their prayers and find food enough to feed their malnutrioned children. Guess God cares more about a Tongan on vacation in Peru though. Sigh...
I've encountered this response in many forms. Any miracle, any blessing, any answer to prayer can be dismissed on the basis that there is a waiting list of much greater problems that God has not yet solved, so how we possibly accept a minor miracle in an individual's life?

How can God help some Tongan woman find her daughter, or some lady in Kansas to find her keys, or some widow in Wisconsin find peace, and not help the masses in Ethiopia find food to survive? It's an old question still worthy of discussion, but merely asking the question is not a reasonable argument to dismiss what others have experienced.

It is fine to not accept a spiritual experience of another (there have been plenty that I've doubted), but to mock such reports based on the knee-jerk recitation of Big Problems Elsewhere (the BPE rejection) is intellectually lazy.

People die. In fact, almost everyone ever born has died and suffered. Some more, some less. Some terribly. This is part of mortality, and we have a responsibility to alleviate such suffering. But what basis is there for expecting God to solve all the big problems - problems that have often been caused by man - before being willing to respond to the earnest prayer of an individual? And what basis is there to say that He doesn't care for and love those who die or who suffer? Is divine love possible only if our personal list of demands has been completely satisfied?

To those who mock spiritual experiences by citing forms of the BPE rejection, I would ask this: "If you are so concerned about those who suffer, what are you doing to help? Or do you live a life of selfishness and indifference, in which you are part of the problem? Could it be that your rejection of God makes it impossible for Him to work through you, and that you are one of those people who make others doubt God because of the suffering you cause, or allow to happen? So what should He do about you? Snuff out your life, or take away your freedom to choose, so that you become a zombie-like robot helping the sick and poor for a change?"

Those who allow God to work in them inevitably minister to others. And those who minister to the poor and the suffering learn much more about the depth of sorrow and tragedy and pain in the world. Who knew the misery of the poor in India better than Mother Theresa, fully immersed in it daily in her valiant effort to minister and help? Her full recognition of the depth of human suffering did not turn her away from God in the least. She was daily an agent of God, more aware of Him and closer to Him than the rest of us.

To turn to God and to know Him is to turn to the suffering and to know them, and to help them. Who knew suffering better than Jesus Christ, the full embodiment of the Love of God? He who took all the pains of humanity upon Himself, at infinite price, not only perfectly knows our pain, but has done far more to free us from it than we can ever imagine. Yes, we may suffer from disease, poverty, and sorrow during this brief flash of mortal life, which is unfortunate, but it is not the ultimate tragedy.

Wonderfully, Christ has paid the price to liberate us from death, allowing us to enjoy the incredible joys and riches of immortality. Worse than the physical suffering we may endure, we through our sins fall and hurt one another and shut ourselves out from the presence of God, but He has paid all - far more than we can imagine - to cover the price of our sins and liberate us from sin and spiritual death, that we may be purified in his blood and return to the presence of God, to enjoy eternal life and joy beyond all mortal imagination, if only we will follow Him.

God has done far more than lift a finger to help us. He has lifted up His Son, and allowed Him to voluntarily give all, infinitely all, to redeem us.

We are immersed in evidence of God's love and kindness to us, in the majesty of the Creation, in the gift of life, in the gift of His Son, in the guidance He has given to a rebellious world to lead us to love and bless one another. It is not His fault that we choose to kill and oppress. It is not His fault that we often neglect those who are needy, or victims of tragedies. Yes, He could prevent each tragedy, and stop each crime, and cure each disease, and eliminate all sources of pain, but we must not confuse lack of love with His wise plan that puts us here in messy mortality to be tried, to be tested, to have opportunities to love and bless and serve, or to have opportunities to steal and maim and kill. His plan calls for that most terrible and frightening gift, freedom to choose, freedom to follow Him or reject Him, freedom to do good or evil, freedom to ignore the suffering or freedom to sacrifice and show compassion. Without such terrible freedom, we could not become who He wants us to be, who we are meant to be, beings like Him. There are reasons why this world offers so many opportunities for compassion, for service, for patience, for enduring, for faith, for sacrifice, for humility, and for all that is opposed to such virtues as well. This is where each of us, in whatever setting we find ourselves, show who we are and who we wish to become.

Yes, many children die before they can make such decisions - and pure, they return to the presence of the Lord and will resurrect and become glorious adults in the kingdom of God. How merciful the Lord is, though their short flash of mortality may have seemed grisly and tragic. It is not our few years here that ultimately matters, but our eternal destination. This life is vastly less than 1% of our existence; indeed, compared to the expanse of eternity that awaits, our mortal span occupies vastly less than whatever minute fraction you can imagine. No matter how painful, it is temporary and brief, and worth enduring all for the eternal end that we choose during this mortal trial. And during this brief time of trial, it is worth doing all we can to serve and love one another, for that is what matters most in the end.

For those who can, there is an urgent need to serve others, to help them in this mortal journey and to bring the love of God to them, rather than sitting in our recliners and complaining about Big Problems Elsewhere that supposedly prove there is no loving God. And once you get off the Whiner's Recliner and strive to follow Him, you'll inevitably find that even your weakest efforts to serve others might sometimes put you in the awkward position of seeing tears of gratitude from someone whose prayer you just answered (or rather, whose prayer was answered by God with you as an instrument in His hands). Those are moments to cherish, no matter how great the other Big Problems Elsewhere are that you haven't gotten to yet.

Now there are atheists who, not understanding God, still are filled with a love of mankind and naturally give expression to the divine inclinations within them, loving and serving others, tackling big and small problems here and elsewhere. These are good, noble people who perhaps have not been properly taught or have been put off or even deceived by the failings of organized religion. I have great hope for them and believe many will be with the finest Christians in heaven - though they will at some point need to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But I have much less patience for those who close their eyes to God and use suffering as a crutch to prop up their lack of faith, not lifting a finger to help others as they condemn the Christian God for allegedly not lifting a finger Himself. Moan as they may about human suffering, I feel they are blind to the depth of human misery, more focused on their own pain and their own selfish needs. They may claim to be sympathetic, but there is more for them to understand through accepting God and working for Him rather than against Him.

There are miracles that occur daily, and whether they be small or great, we should rejoice when there is an additional encounter with the Divine. The evil of vicious men in one land in no way obviates the fruits of faith in the lives of those who turn to God anywhere in the world.

God is real. He loves us deeply, as does His son, Jesus Christ, who came to redeem us. They hear and answer prayers, though often not according to our timetable, and rarely in response to our list of non-negotiable demands. His love extends to Kansas, to Peru, to Ethiopia, and His call for us to cease from doing evil and begin to do more good is a global call as well. Rather than complain about how little we think He has done, let each one of us do more. And let us turn to Him in prayer as we seek to do His will, that He might guide us and help us be true instruments in His hands. As the scriptures sy, or almost say, the whiners are many, but the laborers are few.

Yes, there is suffering and pain and tragedy enough - enough to keep all of us busy in trying to serve God and our fellow men. And the best place to begin our service is to understand and embrace the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we might have power to most truly and deeply bless our fellow men.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Hair's Width, A Thousand Miles

I ran into a Chinese saying that seems to fit a lot of my experiences. I don't think it's a commonly used one, but it's "Hao li qian li" (毫 釐 千 里) which can be interpreted as, "A hair's width, a thousand miles." The meaning is that a microscopic change in course can eventually lead to a huge difference in the destination reached.

I've seen this so often in my life. Forget one little thing, overlook one tiny detail when I knew better or was prompted to attend to, and it can lead to a cascading chain of events that causes great frustration later. In trying to understand the workings of the Spirit, I've seen over and over again then when I've ignored a distinct prompting, overriding it with my own logic ("there's no need to leave now" or "no, I don't need to bring that on this journey" or "no need to call - I'm sure everything will be fine"), I often end up seeing later why that prompting was so important. And when I've listened and dropped my selfish resistance, I've often been amazed to see how the small difference made at the beginning of a series of events led to a huge difference in the end. In many cases, the difference between a life-changing moment for me, or a new opportunity that I never would have imagined, can be traced back to taking a moment to pray and making a minor change in course as a result.

Selfishness, vanity, greed, anger, and related vices inevitably leave me in a place where I regret the path and the destination, but when I work to suppress those mortal tendencies and try to follow the promptings of the Spirit and the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I can see how small things work together for good, bringing me along a better path with fewer regrets and greater joy.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

"God does not require that I succeed, only that I do what I can."

While I previously expressed some discomfort with a popular use of Stephen Robinson's bicycle analogy, the book with that story, Believing Christ, provides masterful insights into the Atonement. For example, on the issue of being "saved by grace, after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23), Robinson explains that he understands "after" to not be intended in the chronological sense there, but as preposition of separation. In other words, Nephi's statement can be understood as something like, "Regardless of all we can do, it is still by grace that we are saved." (See pages 91-92.)

He goes on to discuss how we participate in the process of grace, and what it takes to have done what we need to do to accept and participate in the grace of Christ. He turns us (pp. 95-96) to the story of an unlikely convert, a woman who had been in a motorcycle gang for years and was hanging out at bars when she met the missionaries as they came in briefly to find a pay phone. Her life had been terribly difficult, starting with the tragedy of abuse as a child followed by running away from home. But she accepted the Gospel and was baptized. She still had plenty of problems and would still swear in Church, still had trouble with the Word of Wisdom, and even hit another woman during some kind of argument in Relief Society. But over the years, she made many changes and eventually went to the Temple. Robinson asks when did she become an earnest candidate for salvation? It wasn't when all obvious rough spots were worked out - it was when she turned to the Savior through faith, repentance, and baptism. With all her baggage still being pulled along behind her, that rough woman was every bit as much on the path to eternal life as any of us. She started in a different place than many LDS people do, but God doesn't judge us by where we start, but on the direction we choose to follow. And she had chosen Him.

Robinson ends that chapter with a reference to Mother Theresa. He notes that critics had asked how she could possibly make a difference given the huge problems she was facing. There would always be more poor and sick people than could possibly be helped by her efforts - she couldn't even make a dent. "God does not require that I succeed, only that I do what I can." I love that insight. Mother Theresa still inspires me with her goodness and her focus on what really matters: our fellow human beings. She made a dent in the lives of many of us.

So many of our best efforts will seem to be in vain - but we must do what we can. Not because that saves us, but perhaps it might help save someone else. We are all saved only by the grace of the Savior, but we do have work to do to follow Him, to accept Him and His covenant of grace, and to help others accept Him as well. Our time here is so short - let's not waste it. Let's do what we can and always remember the example of Him whom we seek to follow, Jesus Christ - as hopelessly imperfect and unworthy as we are.