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

Friday, February 27, 2009

BusinessWeek Ranks BYU's Undergrad Business Program #5 in Nation

BusinessWeeek's new report on "The Top Undergraduate Business Programs" rates BYU's undergraduate program #5 in the nation. As the proud father-in-law of a super-sharp graduate from that program, I'm very excited by the news. Congrats, BYU and BYU business grads!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jump for Joy: Sharing the Gospel (in Taiwan)

Just got a couple photos from my son Benjamin who recently arrived in the Taiwan Taipei Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he is having an amazing time working with the people of Taiwan. I'm thrilled that he is learning Mandarin. Taiwan was my secret wish for where he would go.

The photo above was taken with some of his peers at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah before before leaving to Taiwan. He's the one on the right. The shot below is with some of the missionaries in the Taipei Mission.

What a choice experience missionary service can be. There are plenty of unpleasant aspects, but for many, the experience on the whole can be a reason to jump for joy. My two years in Switzerland and a piece of southern Germany were incredible - a truly transforming experience for me to see the Gospel in action in the lives of the people we taught. The joy, hope, and meaning it brought to those seeking for something more was a real testimony-building experience. Theory is nice, but the laboratory of a mission can add so much.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Top Ten LDS Best Practices for People of Any Faith

In the business world, people are always talking about "best practices" that they glean from other businesses and can adopt in their own way. Today I thought I'd share a few aspects of the ideal LDS experience that others can adopt. While the real spiritual core of the LDS experience is faith in Christ and learning to follow Him, I've picked some best practices that can be adopted by those who don't accept Christianity. Otherwise the best practices would start with the basic principles of the Gospel such as (1) having faith in Christ, (2) repenting of your sins through the power of His Atonement and seek to follow Him, (3) being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands (oops - you just became a Mormon!). To avoid too much discomfort for others, here's my list that I think most people can do in their own way. Several items are aimed at families or parents in particular - skip those if they don't apply. They aren't in any particular order - well, I guess they are in exactly one particular order, now that I think about it, but not prioritized.

Why would anyone want to do these things? Hey, they're best practices. If you choose to do any or all of these things, I think they will make your life better. So give it a try!

Please note that many of these are NOT uniquely LDS. Some people in other faiths, Christian and non-Christian, practice versions of these already. But there may be a tidbit or two you wish to adopt. And you may have best practices from your faith that LDS folks should start considering. Let me know!

Mormanity's Top Ten LDS Best Practices for People of Any Faith

  1. Family Home Evening (regularly scheduled weekly time - often Monday evening - for the family to spend time together learning, playing, etc.)

  2. Daily Prayer (or meditation) - seeking power beyond your own, focusing, reflecting, gaining inspiration, offering thanks as you recognize what blessings you have. Practice tip: Do this alone and also as a family or couple. "Family prayer" is a great way to bring people together and strengthen ties united by faith.

  3. Food Storage - very important in this era! Mormons are encouraged to be prepared for emergencies and difficult times. Storing basics of food, water, clothing, etc., but especially food can make a huge difference. Store up to a full-year of basics like grains, vegetable oil, etc. if possible.

  4. Parental Interviews - regular one-on-one time in which parents talk to children and see how they are progressing in their faith, in school, in relationships with others, in spiritual, mental, and physical health. Often the "Father Interview" in Mormon families, but can be mother or father - it's a fabulous concept.

  5. Family History and Journal Keeping - Learn about your roots and leave a written record for your own posterity. And remember, our vast genealogical resources are there for anyone!

  6. Tithing - Even if you don't have a religion, the discipline of giving 10% of your income to charity brings a variety of blessings, not just to those you help. It will teach you discipline in your finances and help you recognize how serving others or serving God is more important than money.

  7. Reading Together as Family - might be covered in part by the Home Evening item or the next item below, but it's so important that it deserves special mention. Doesn't have to be scriptures or religious material of any kind. This is especially wonderful when you have young children, but we've had great results all the way into high school with this.

  8. Daily Study of Scriptures / Sacred Writings - you need to be grounded in sources of wisdom such as whatever you treasure as scripture or, of you don't believe in scriptures, the best, wisest books you can find. Study and learn. But I recommend the Bible AND the Book of Mormon. (Ooops, there I go again....)

  9. Service through House Calls (Home and Visiting Teaching Analogs) - Get off your couch and go out and visit other people. Look after a few families in the area. Care, serve, help, teach, spread the wealth around in a voluntary way. Service driven by love is what makes us rise above the animal kingdom.

  10. Strive for High Personal Standards (Sexual Morality, Honesty and Integrity, Avoiding Harmful Drugs Including Liquor and Tobacco, No Cussing, Shun Pornography) - Ouch, some won't like this, but I think one of the best ways to have a happy and meaningful life is to have self-control and avoid the destructive influences of walking in the low and easy path of the world. The basic teachings of the Church about sexual morality (no sex outside of marriage) would save so many people from disease, divorce, and heartache if practiced (yeah, that applies to us Mormons too!). Ditto for the LDS health code with its prohibitions against tobacco and alcohol. And while you're at it, you'll find that you become a better communicator when you drop all those cusswords from your vocabulary. These things that supposedly constrain us actually bless us and make us more free and capable.

You don't have to do any of these, but them more you accept, the more you'll see that they really are best practices. Give them a try.

This is my list of the moment. Maybe you have a better list? What do you think some other LDS best practices are that non-LDS folks might want to try? (No tasteless jokes, please!! Unless they are mine.) Also let me know about best practices from other religions that Mormons might want to adopt for better lives or better worship.

I really hate doing Top Ten lists. I always fall into the same trap. I start by get thinking like this: "If we had six fingers on each hand, we'd be using base 12 in counting and this would be a Top Twelve List, which would seem very natural. So why should the DNA that specifies the number of fingers on my hand dictate how many items I write about? I'm going to be creative and make this a Top Thirteen list." But by the time I go through that mental process -- this is the highly abbreviated version of the mental path I follow -- I end up realizing that I've wasted so much time stewing over fingers, DNA, human culture, writing styles and free will, that now I only have time for ten things on my list after all.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When You Hear the Word "Mormon," Do You Think "Home Teaching"?

If you know anything about the contemporary Mormon experience, you know that polygamy ended over a century ago and that ceaseless questions about our underwear reveal more than just bad taste in those who don't even reach the skin-deep level in their knowledge.

The Mormon experience is about being part of a community that seeks to follow Christ in a covenant relationship. The community aspect is more than just the theoretical understanding that we are all brothers and sisters of a Heavenly Father who, as Paul said, is the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9-10). It means we are active participants in our congregation, the "ward," where we all have opportunities to serve one another in unpaid callings ranging from leaders like bishops and Stake Presidents to teachers, choristers, clerks, counselors, Scoutmasters, etc.

The most ubiquitous calling in the Church may also be the most important: that of the home teacher for men, and the visiting teacher for women. These callings are generally extended to every active and some inactive adult members of the Church. These callings assign pairs of men or pairs of women as companionships responsible for a number of other people. The home teachers, for example, typically are assigned to three or more families or individuals and are asked to visit them monthly and watch out for them. It is a program felt to be at the core of the LDS experience, and one of the most important ways that we fulfill our commitment to follow Christ. "Lovest thou me? Feed my sheep." Home teaching is all about feeding one another, sometimes literally, but usually spiritually and through fellowship.

In one common scenario, an adult Melchizedek Priesthood holder and a younger Aaronic Priesthood holder (a Teacher or a Priest, often age 14-18) may be assigned as companions to visit perhaps three or four families. They should go monthly and see how the family is doing, provide a spiritual thought or lesson, or provide service. Good home teachers really bless the lives of their people, but it's always a challenge getting members to really live up to the potential of the sacred calling of home teacher.

A basic discussion can be found in the article "Home Teaching" by R. Wayne Boss in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2:
Each ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assigns priesthood holders as home teachers to visit the homes of members every month. They go in pairs. . . . The home teaching program is a response to modern revelation commissioning those ordained to the priesthood to:

"teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church . . . and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties, . . . to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them; and see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking. . . ." [D&C 20:42-54]

In 1987 Church President Ezra Taft Benson identified three basic guidelines to be followed by home teachers:

First, Church leaders are to encourage home teachers to know as well as possible the people they are called to teach. Home teachers need to be aware of individual attitudes, interests, and general Welfare, working closely with the head of each family to meet the family's temporal and spiritual needs.

Second, the Church expects home teachers to deliver a short monthly message. When possible, messages are to come from the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. Leaders are to instruct home teachers to prepare intellectually and spiritually, giving prayerful consideration to both the temporal and spiritual needs of each family as they prepare lessons. The companionship of the Holy Ghost is essential for successful home teaching, for "if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach" (D&C 42:14). The Church instructs home teachers, therefore, to pray together before each visit, invoking the blessings of the Lord upon the family, and, where possible, to pray with family members at the conclusion of the visit.

Third, home teachers are to magnify their callings (Jacob 1:19) by rendering devoted service. This includes visiting each family early in the month, by appointment, and making additional visits as needed.

Organizationally, home teaching provides a system for effective Churchwide communication. Through stakes, wards, and home teachers, Church leaders have a direct line to every member and have the potential, if necessary, to communicate quickly with the total Church membership, via the local priesthood leaders.

Effective home teaching makes significant contributions to members' lives. Alert, insightful home teachers find various ways of rendering service, such as providing recognition for achievements; informing families of Church activities; assisting during family emergencies, including illness or death; strengthening and encouraging less active members; and arranging transportation. They serve as resources and share the burden of support that would otherwise be carried by the bishop.

Home teaching is a crucible, of sorts. It is direct, fully engaged service and a genuine sacrifice in this busy world, even for those who (often mercifully) keep their visits short and efficient. It is a way to help those in need, to keep less active members tethered to their roots, to bring back lost sheep, to help families going through crisis, to provide the teachings of the Church to those who aren't coming, and to bless the lives of others in many ways.

For fathers who are raising young men, the experience of getting teenagers involved in serving others at personal level can help young people see the fruits of the Gospel more clearly and strengthen their understanding of their own faith.

Many of my most cherished spiritual experiences and even dramatic answers to prayers, some clearly in the category of miraculous, came not when I was praying for my own benefit or trying to, say, raise my 401k a few percentage points with my incredible but misguided faith in my lousy investment choices. The real miracles of the Gospel seem to come much more often when we are seeking the Lord's help to fulfill our duty in serving others. Home teaching for men, and visiting teaching for women (with women being assigned to minister to other women in the congregation), is much closer to heart of the Mormon experience that anything you'll read in the anti-Mormon blogs. Yes we have our weaknesses - and we even wear underwear, to the everlasting shock of some voyeuristic critics - but if you want to know what it means to be LDS, if you want to understand this religion, then you need to know how our faith in Christ translates into regular action in the lives of members. Home teaching and visiting teaching are a big part of the big picture of Mormonism.

If you're not LDS, the next time you hear the word "Mormon," I hope you will recall home teaching and our participation in the fellowship of Saints (Ephesians 2: 18-20). And if you are curious about our religion and know someone who's LDS, you'll sound a lot more knowledgeable by asking about their views and experiences in home teaching or visiting teaching that asking a question like, "How many wives do you have?"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Parents, Read to Your Young Children

It is amazing how many mistakes we parents can make over the years in raising kids. I've made more than I can count, and more than I wish to remember, but somehow they managed to rise above all that and become pretty amazing people. There is one thing that I think my wife and I did right -- well, pretty much my wife, with just a little help from me. That was reading to our children while they were small. Trying to teach them the principles of the Gospel is up there also, of course, but tonight I want to put in a good word for reading.

I really think one of the most important things we did as parents was to read to our children while young, well before they could read. Whether it was children's books and stories or even more advanced material, sitting with them and reading out loud signaled that reading matters. They sensed that and sought to master that skill. We coupled that with phonics training since they usually weren't getting it at school.

We were amazed one day when we heard our oldest son, just five years old, behind his closed door giving a lecture to his three-year-old brother. He was systematically explaining how to sound out letters and read words, drilling and correcting his pupil. He was holding a reading class of his own on the side, and the three-year-old was paying attention. We hadn't tried teaching the three-year-old at that level, but his older brother didn't see any point in waiting and plowed ahead. The three-year-old was soon reading basic words and became a skilled reader far earlier than we expected. It made us realize that we shouldn't be afraid to teach basic skills even earlier than we assumed would work.

All four of our boys exceeded our expectations academically and have just amazed us with what is possible. Parents (as in mostly my wife) spending plenty of time reading to children while very young makes a huge difference, in my limited experience. My wife was able to stay at home while they were young, a luxury not available to all and a sacrifice that I am grateful for, and I think that was an important factor for my boys.

We used lots of kids books and other materials, but over the years we always did regular family scripture study, and I think that really helped. The King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Mormon have that old-fashioned English that we don't use much, but the challenge of dealing with these complex texts and big words added another level of richness to their reading experiences and skills. I don't regret a minute of it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

One of the Best Sundays Ever

Yesterday we had one of the best sacrament meeting services ever. Each speaker was uplifting, some very inspiring, and a great spirit was present. It all began with some inspiring and touching comments from a beloved non-LDS friend who was recognized by the bishop for his long service to our scouts, and, since he is moving to another city, was given a few moments to speak after being thanked at the pulpit. Great moment!

One of the best Sunday services ever. It's great to leave a meeting being somewhat elated -- I don't elate easily.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Fruity, Happy Valentine's Day to You - With a Strawberry Suggestion for Men

My wife wasn't feeling well this morning and just said she wanted fruit for breakfast. As I was cutting some strawberries I had bought yesterday, I noticed - you probably all noticed this years ago - what nice hearts they make when notched at the top and trimmed a bit on the sides. So here's my little fruit plate I made - come on, let's hear a big "Awwww" - with the help of some blueberries, tangerines (tangelos, I think), and a banana. Just a little tip for you guys - not that I was trying to score any points, or anything. You completely misunderstand us guys if that's what you're thinking. Yep.

I know, I know - how silly, how nerdy, how bizarre, that someone takes pictures of the lame little food arrangements they make. But I only share this to help out my fellow men. We need all the points we can score!

Welcome, Things of My Soul and Clean Cut

I just added the notable LDS blog, Things of My Soul, to my blog roll. This blog has many positive factors that encouraged me to add it: It has interesting posts written that encourage faith in Christ and offer helpful insights to readers, it has been around for a while with a track record of consistent activity, and it has the good sense to include Mormanity in its blog roll and even make reference to some specific posts here. What more could I want? Plus I got this wad of cash in the mailbox this morning . . . just kidding! Thanks, Papa D, for pointing out the opportunity.

For similar reasons, I've also added Clean Cut (a.k.a. Latter-day Spence). Nice work!

BYU Folks: Don't Miss the March 31 Devotional by Dr. David Dearden

One of the great things about BYU is the practice of a campus-wide devotionals/forums at the Marriott Center every Tuesday with great speakers including Church leaders, BYU faculty and leaders, and and notable figures from around the world (the latter typically for secular topics). The calendar for upcoming devotionals and forums shows that on March 31 at 11:05 am, Dr. David Dearden of the Chemistry Department is the speaker. You should attend this event! Why? Because Dr. Dearden is a brilliant thinker and inspiring Latter-day Saint with a lot of meaningful things to say. I had the privilege of being his debate partner in high school - he was terrific! - and his roommate for a while in college. Since then, I've been impressed with his achievements in chemistry (Ph.D. from the highly-rated California Institute of Technology and recipient of the coveted National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award) and other fields.

Among his numerous achievements, he has done much to help the world appreciate the beauty of cucurbit[6]uril pseudorotaxanes, and I dare say that the more popular poems and one-act plays on that topic were probably inspired by his work. ;) Unfortunately, I don't think his devotional speech is going to delve into advanced chemistry - but it should be spiritually uplifting and intellectually enlightening nonetheless. Don't miss it! Kudos, Dave!

Hey, will this be broadcast on the Web through KBYU TV? Anyone know?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kudos to the Blogosphere

In my tradition of being about 10 years behind on many big things, I just realized that I haven't had the famous Mormon Blogosphere site in my blogroll. Ouch! I just added this monumental LDS blog aggregator in my Bloggernacle Mall section, featuring:
Grab these links and stick them in your food storage area, making sure to rotate through them regularly to keep things fresh - these are resources you can't live without.

Thanks to all of you who make these aggregators possible, and to the many bloggers who make the "bloggernacle" such an interesting place.

Update: I've also added Nothing Wavering as another fine LDS blog aggregator. Sorry I missed that!

Despair Cometh Because of Iniquity - But Don't Blame that for Depression

My previous post cites a passage from an author who described Nephi's frustrated, sorrowful state with the word "depression." I'm sure she didn't mean depression in the clinical sense and perhaps would have used a different word today, 18 years later. Just to be clear, the illness known as depression is a complex mental and physiological condition that should not be linked to sins of the victim. It is as real and as threatening to one's well-being as having a tumor or a severely broken leg, though others may not understand it and may simply expect the victim to "snap out of it" - an approach that is not especially helpful for most illnesses people suffer.

If you or someone you love may be struggling with depression, help them get professional help and be ready for a long and difficult journey in coping with the complex disorder.

Comments and tips would be welcome - this is one of many topics where I'm a novice.

Personal Deliverance and Faith in Christ

Found a good passage on personal deliverance from despair in the 1991 Sperry Symposium on the Book of Mormon. M. Catherine Thomas in "types and Shadows of Deliverance in the Book of Mormon" (p. 182 ff.) writes:
The Book of Mormon offers help from personal trouble. Nephi, angry and in despair, gave us a good description of depression [note: I'm sure she doesn't mean clinical depression or any other illness here - perhaps "sorrow and frustration" would be a better word today]: "O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins" (2 Ne. 4:17-19).

But as his heart turned to many evidences in his own life of the Lord's love and intervention, he rebuked himself for his despair, because he remembered the principle of deliverance. Nephi's is perhaps the most sublime expression in scripture of faith in the Savior's power to deliver:

"Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

"Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

"Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
"O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin? . . .

"Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God" (2 Ne. 4:28-31, 35).

Moroni taught that despair comes of iniquity (Moro. 10:22). By iniquity he seems to mean lack of faith in the deliverance offered by the Savior. He stated, "Christ truly said . . . : If ye have faith ye can do all things which are expedient unto me" (Moro. 10:23). That is, because there is a Savior, there are solutions to seemingly insolvable problems.

The life of Alma the Younger demonstrates several examples of individual deliverance. He declared that he was "supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; . . . and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me" (Alma 36:27). Alma gave the benefit of his belief and experience to his son: "I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day" (Alma 38:5). Although in the following passage he did not use the word deliverance, he clearly described a release from his own personal hell:

"For three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.

" . . . I was thus racked with torment. . . .

" . . . I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

"And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

"And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!" (Alma 36:16-20).

Faith in Christ, even a spark of faith, leads us to turn away from our sins as we let Him remove them from our lives. This process can bring rapid change and deliverance from our despair and guilt as we begin or journey of following Him.

Like Nephi, we all have cause to look at our own weaknesses and sins and exclaim, "Oh wretched person that I am." But when we ponder what the Lord has done and how much He offers us through the grace of Jesus Christ, we have great cause to rejoice, and as we turn more fully to Him, we may find great jy waits, in spite of the grief that mortality brings.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Must Read Post on DNA and the Book of Mormon: Current Biology, SMGF, and Lamanites (FAIRBlog)

"Current Biology, SMGF, and Lamanites" by Dr. Ugo Perego is essential reading for those wishing to know the latest on the controversy around DNA and the Book of Mormon. In this essay, you'll learn a few things about the blindness that afflicts anti-Mormon critics, the complexity of the DNA issue, and some intriguing recent news from scientific research.

The author, a scientist with a Ph.D. in human genetics and Director of Operations and Study Research Coordinator at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, shows proper discipline in not making unfounded conclusions and in warning that much more work remains to be done. Here is one example, where a potentially exciting report from other respected scientists is put in proper perspective:
Much can still be said about haplogroup X2 in the Americas. In our paper, two sub-branches of the Native American haplogroup X2a have been classified as X2a1 with an estimated age of 9200-9400 years and as X2a2 with an estimated age of 2300-3800 years. A possible third X2a sub-branch (X2a3?) was identified among the indigenous groups of British Columbia in Canada, but there is not sufficient data at this time to confirm this hypothesis. Furthermore, we reported in this paper the discovery of a previously unidentified X2 lineage in an Ojibwa sample – which we named X2g – that has never been previously observed in Native American populations or elsewhere.

Lastly, a paper published on PLoS One in 2008 (Shlush et al.) provides important clues about the possible origin of haplogroup X: "No population or geographic region has been identified to date, in which haplogroup X and its major subhaplogroups are found at both high frequency and high diversity, which could provide a potential clue as to their geographic origin. Here we suggest that the Druze population of northern Israel may represent just such a population."

Our paper in Current Biology does not discuss (and does not dismiss) a potential ancient origin for haplogroup X in the ancient Near East, as proposed by Shlush and Reidla (and their co-authors, including important names in population genetics such as Michael Hammer, Doron Behar, Toomas Kivisild, Richard Villems, Antonio Torroni, Alessandro Achilli, etc.), but we emphasize how this haplogroup marked a separate migratory event that characterized the history of Native American populations. Apart from anyone who believes haplogroup X to be the ultimate proof marking the arrival of Lehi’s group to the Americas (something that neither Woodward, nor myself advocate), the bottom line is that there is still much to research about the origin and dispersal of this and the other pre-Columbian lineages.

Hello, Juvenile Instructor (and Apologies to Mormon Engineers)

As a chemical engineer, I was genuinely troubled when I saw the announcement for a conference on the Juvenile Instructor blog: "Conference on Mormon Thought and Engineering." I'm certainly not implying that there is anything about us engineers that might not be totally hip and exciting ("hip" is a an adjective, isn't it? Maybe I should have said "groovy" - it's been so long since I've been out). The public loves listening to engineers talk about engineering, and loves listening to Mormons talk about Mormonism. I'm just worried that bringing the two topics together might result in an overload of excitement that could put the few brave attendees into some sort of coma, so make sure you get physician approval before going. Wish I could be there!

What kind of papers might be presented at such a venue? If my sources are correct, they could include:
  • "The Refiner's Fire and the Eternal Flames of Hell: Carbon Emissions Reductions through Improved Combustion Dynamics"

  • "Mortality as a Distillation Column: Fractionating into Three Kingdoms"

  • "Free Energy and Maximizing Entropy: Insights from a Primary Class"

  • "Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: A Granular Solids Separations Model for Optimizing the Harvest of Souls"

  • "Advances in Computational Finite Element Models: Removing the Need for Faith"
Like I said, wish I could be there. Actually sounds interesting! Hope the rest of the public sees it that way.

But now for the point of this post: I've just added the Juvenile Instructor blog to my blog roll and am happy to report that it's an interesting blog with a great deal of insights into Mormon history. Unlike certain blogs you may be reading at this instant, it is written by scholarly, intelligent people who know their stuff. Kudos!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Was the Gospel Preached to the Dead? Is It Still Being Preached?

Latter-day Saints have the unusual belief that the Gospel was preached to the dead, beginning with the visit of Christ to deceased spirits during the 3 days between His death and resurrection. It's part of a grand view of God as a loving Father who sees that all His children will have a chance to hear and possibly accept the message of redemption through Christ, regardless of when or where they were born. It is also connected to the LDS concept of vicarious baptism for the dead, giving all who wish to follow Christ in a covenant relationship to have the chance of accepting a valid baptism done in their behalf. We believe these basic concepts - the Gospel being preached to the dead and the practice of vicarious baptism for the dead - were known among early Christians and have been lost or corrupted through centuries of human innovation without the benefit of apostles and prophets keeping the Church on track through revelation. (This is one of the few times you'll see me use the word innovation in a negative sense.)

We are often taken to task for our use of several Bible passages that appear to support LDS doctrines in this area. The three most relevant passages are 1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6, and 1 Corinthians 15:29.

1 Peter 4:6:
For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

1 Peter 3:18-20:
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

1 Corinthians 15:29:
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

If you're interested in exploring some of the arguments made against the LDS use of these verses, especially the first two passages, a good resource is a review by John Tvedtnes, "The Dead Shall Hear the Voice." He gets into some common anti-Mormon nitpicking and shows that the LDS view is consistent with the Bible and early Christian thinking as well.

For fascinating details from early Christianity regarding the spirit world, preaching of the Gospel to the dead, and baptism for the dead, you may enjoy Chapter 4 of Barry Bickmore's outstanding book, Restoring the Ancient Church. Highly recommended!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Call Me Crazy . . . About This Video

Call me crazy, but one of the highlights of 2008 for me was experiencing the photo exhibit of Mark Mabry at the Mesa Arizona Temple's Visitors Center in January. The video below captures some of his work. A marvelous witness of the reality and power of Jesus Christ, not a fictional work of schemers and philosophers, but the real, living Lord.

For more, see ReflectionsOfChrist.org.

Religious Freedom: An Easy Freedom to Lose (Praise for Cole Durham)

Religious freedom is a blessing and right that everyone should have, but one of the easiest liberties to lose. Intolerance and bigotry are rarely noticed by those afflicted with those burdens of the mind, especially when the afflicted are a majority and the victims an easy-to-malign minority (you know, like Christians). I'm grateful for people who stand up for religious freedom. One of the quiet heroes of religious freedom around the world is a quiet but inspiring law professor at BYU, Cole Durham. Just learned a little about his work yesterday in an interesting teleconference. Thank you, Dr. Durham!

Brother Durham just received a major international award for his work. Here's an excerpt from the notice:
Brigham Young University law professor, W. Cole Durham, Jr., received the prestigious 2009 International First Freedom Award for extraordinary advocacy of religious freedom. The First Freedom Center will recognized Professor Durham on January 15, 2009 in Richmond, Virginia in conjunction with National Religious Freedom Day. Each year, the First Freedom Center recognizes an individual for their work in advancing freedom of conscience and basic human rights for people of all faiths, traditions and cultures.

“We are so delighted to be able to honor Professor Durham with this international award,” said Isabelle Kinnard, vice president for education at the First Freedom Center. “Professor Durham truly stands out amongst a group of esteemed internationalist as an exemplar for the international protection of religious freedom. He has helped countries from around the world make religious freedom constitutionally protected.” [Read more]

May religious freedom come soon to nations where it has been damaged or eradicated. It can be frightening to open the flood gates to diverse thought, but that flood gate brings many blessings to the people and the nation. Could it be possible that religious freedom brings financial blessings as well to a nation that protects it? Is that just wishful thinking? This would be difficult to test in a controlled way - any literature on this topic?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Fourth Nephi -- the Seinfeld Book??

Brant Gardner's article, "Mormon's Editorial Method and Meta-Message," the subject of my previous post, has an intriguing statement about Fourth Nephi in the Book of Mormon being a "Seinfeld book" because it is about nothing - but a very important "nothing." Gardner has extended comments about this unique book and what it does for the text. Here's how he introduces that section of his paper:
The best place to see how Mormon used his whole text to convince us that Jesus is the Messiah is in 4 Nephi. The book of 4 Nephi has become one of my favorite books because it is so absolutely unique in Mormon's work. I call it the "Seinfeld book," because it is a book about nothing. Every other book we have received from Mormon's hand was filled with important events and long speeches clarifying important gospel principles. 4 Nephi has none of this. Where Mormon's typical editorial method was to string together large quotations from his source material with a minimalist linking text, 4 Nephi has no identifiable quotations from his source plates. 4 Nephi is Mormon's intentional book about nothing. In the very absence of content, it reveals how Mormon expected that the entire structure of his opus would convince us that Jesus is the Messiah.

I would appreciate your reactions to his analysis of 4th Nephi. Certainly interesting!

Mormon's Editorial Methods - and Insights to Headnotes in the Book of Mormon

Mormon's Editorial Method and Meta-Message is a thoughtful article by Brant Gardner on the techniques Mormon used in editing the Book of Mormon text. For those wishing to understand the Book of Mormon (including some of its internal evidences for authenticity), this is a helpful article, though maybe a bit heavy for those new to the Book of Mormon.

One of several interesting point's in Brant's work is his analysis of the headnotes that Mormon apparently provided in some parts of the book. Here is the relevant excerpt:
Several clues in Mormon's text bear evidence that he had at least created a full outline of his work before he began the task of committing it to the plates. Perhaps the most obvious evidence is the chapter headnotes which were physically written on the plates prior to the chapters they synopsize. The extant portion of the original manuscript preserves synoptic headnotes for Helaman and 3 Nephi, confirming that the 1830 edition's headnotes were part of the translation and were not added in the preparation of the Printer's manuscript when Joseph or Oliver could have created them from their reading of the original. As a representation of information from the plates, they indicate that Mormon wrote them prior to the chapters and therefore had to know the contents of the coming chapter before he began to write it.

The majority of the headnotes are at the beginning of named books. In the small plates, they appear only at the beginning of 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi and Jacob. In Mormon's editing of the large plates, they appear at the beginning of every book but Mosiah. A headnote's absence there is understandable because the lost 116 pages apparently included at least the first chapter of Mosiah. I feel fairly safe in concluding that Mosiah would have had such a headnote, given Mormon's consistency in the remainder of the books he edited.

In contrast, there are no headnotes for Mormon, Ether, or Moroni--three books he did not edit. Mormon's consistency in adding these introductory headnotes to the books that he is editing suggests (and is corroborated by other types of internal evidence) that he had some clear plan of what he was going to include in each book he edited. When Mormon switches to his own record, it is no longer a part of the planned text and therefore does not have the synopsis in a headnote.

Although there is evidence for an outline, there is also evidence that Mormon did not simply copy a previously written text onto the plates. While he certainly copied the various sermons from his source material, in his own text he allowed himself to interact with the information he was writing. We often see Mormon divert from his outline on a tangent occasioned by thinking about the material he was writing. The evidence both for the asides and for the outline from which they diverged comes in the way he returns to his task. In order to reset his narrative to the outline, Mormon repeated at least the idea, and often much of the language, of the last part of the outline before the departure.

I had noticed this process in the text well before I had a name to identify it, which (thanks to David Bokovoy) I now have. Bokovoy relates the technique as it is known from the Old Testament: "Repetitive resumption refers to an editor's return to an original narrative following a deliberate interlude. Old Testament writers accomplished this by repeating a key word or phrase that immediately preceded the textual interruption."

Monday, February 02, 2009

Scandal! Scandal!? Church Provides More Details on Proposition 8 Spending for Jan. 31 Deadline

The buzz on the Internet is that the Church has been "forced" to provide more information about its scandalous support for Proposition 8 - and now it turns out that a lot more support was given that previously admitted. Hmmm. Accounting for the labor of some employees as part of the new information required for a Jan. 31 deadline under California law might not be as scandalous as critics would make it seem. See "Church Clarifies Proposition 8 Filing, Corrects Erroneous News Reports."

I don't know the details of the laws and what information they require when. Would appreciate informed comments. I have not been following the financial reports and don't know the details of what was covered in earlier reports or what's up with the different deadlines and reporting requirements. Updating or revising numbers does not necessarily mean that earlier numbers were lies - I await further information about what happened here and why. In any case, $200k of labor and other support is still a pittance - the real impact came from individuals, both LDS and others, contributing directly and with time to support Prop 8. Like it or not, speaking out on something as fundamental as traditional marriage is entirely within the realm of propriety for any religious organization.

No matter what, the Church will be hated and reviled by some for taking a stand on that issue. There's a moral to the story. Californian Mormons seeking to avoid reprisals from angry crowds for supporting traditional marriage, next time don't bring the Church into this. Come on! Temporarily convert to Islam when expressing your views. No one is going to vandalize, say, the San Francisco Third Mosque of the San Francisco Stake when Imam Heber Kimball Young encourages the congregation to support Prop. 8. Islam - it's not just the religion of peace, it's also the religion of protected free speech. And I'm totally cool with that! Just wish everyone would get that level of respect.

Update: Am puzzled as to why Mormons are singled out among the many groups who support traditional marriage and oppose Prop. 8. (Well, the Catholics and Evangelicals got some heat, but I haven't seen any formal heat toward Muslims, black Americans, and others - thank goodness! No one should be exposed to the hate and intimidation I've seen expressed toward some for simply taking a stand on an issue up for a vote. Some even lost jobs just for making a donation!) And please note that not all Mormons agree with the Church's stance in California. So before you get your local neighborhood Truth Commission together to go after your Mormon neighbors, first check and be sure that they are guilty of having an opinion you disagree with. Me? Uh, no, no opinions at all. So put those torches down!

Getting accurate numbers out of a large organization takes a lot of time and persistence. It takes lawyers and accountants sifting through data determining what counts and what doesn't according to California law or other standards. I've seen how hard it is to get accurate data in a corporation when they know ahead of time what needs to be reported and tracked. For the ad hoc nature of the Prop. 8 effort, it is very easy for me to imagine that diverse groups and employees could have given time and effort that would later require a lot further time and effort to properly estimate in terms of in-kind contributions. Revisions in reports and different standards for different estimates are common in business, and we should have a little patience and charity in letting the Church get its accounting squared away to meet the particular requirements of California law. $200k is still a pittance - I would be surprised if deliberate lying were done by any organization of similar size to disguise such a small number in the first place. Easy-to-find numbers with good news are tempting to report, perhaps prematurely - a common problem, if there is one here. If am wrong and there has been some serious and deliberate distortion by someone, then we've got a problem to fix. I await further clarification.

Window Dressing: Thoughts on a Winter Sunset

The two images above are photographs of the sun at sunset from a west window in my home. It was a beautiful sunset, but the sun looks much different than it actually is due to the slow growth of transparent ice on top of my transparent window. The coolness of the weather, coupled with a little moisture inside this double paned window, led to the gradual deposition of a thin layer of ice - hoar frost - whose natural irregularities in form acted like dozens of small lenses. The result is beautiful, intricate, ordered, coherent in theme and structure, and very satisfying - but it actually obscures the real view and confounds the singular beauty of the sun, replacing its image with a hundred scattered, lesser sparkles of light.

The gradual growth of ice into fine, organized, systematic structures on the foundation of the window is much like the many additions of human philosophy on the foundation of Christ's original church and Gospel. The result may be intricate and satisfying to the mind and certainly preserves some of the glorious light from the source, but much has been lost, scattered, confounded, or entirely obscured. The original glory of the Son has been refracted and diluted by human constructs.

When the heat of revelation returns, human philosophy melts away and our views of life and religion are restored, refreshed, and made much brighter than before. And yes, in spite of the grandeur of the Restoration, we still have only a partial view. Human philosophy and error must certainly be present yet in our thoughts and interpretations, and we wait for much more to be revealed and clarified in the future.