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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tip for Personal Peace: Give, Don't Lend

Psalm 37:21 teaches us that "The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives" (New King James Version). Bow true that is, and how applicable that is in our society now addicted to debt. Millions of our people are being trained to live on borrowed wealth with no genuine intent to fully repay. The majority of our leaders in both parties are addicted to debt with no ability to repay. Our nation has lost its sense of responsibility and the integrity that shuns unnecessary debt.

Borrowing without repaying is, to be blunt, an act of theft, though it is rarely intended as such. Ultimately, though, it is a dishonest act that deprives others of what was or should have been theirs.

I am saddened at how many friendships and family relationships have been broken by someone borrowing but not repaying. The lender feels cheated, betrayed, and ripped off. The borrower, in spite of numerous justifications for what really may have been unavoidable problems and unanticipated setbacks (you can always anticipate those!), often feels guilty and uncomfortable, and breaks off communication with the lender. Relationships are destroyed. Problems are much more likely to erupt in lending to friends or relatives because there is little risk of legal action and any kind of penalty for delayed payment - no penalty except the loss of trust and a broken friendship.

Countless people have experienced the problems in relationships that come when lending money to friends or relatives. For those of you who are fortunate enough to have some savings, when you are approached by needy friends and relatives looking for a loan, make sure that whatever you give them is given as a gift, not a loan. Explain that loans often destroy friendships and you don't want yours strained in the future, and would rather give a gift. This approach has brought added peace to my life. I have never lost a friendship because I gave someone a gift. I have never lost sleep because of a gift. I have never grown angry over the dishonesty of a friend or relative because I gave them a gift. I have never lost respect for someone I love because they accepted something I chose to give them. For those people who wish to never see me again and hate the mention of my name, I know of no cases where such anger was sparked by a gift.

When you lend money to someone, think of it as leading them into overwhelming temptation to commit an act of theft, no matter how sincerely they wish to repay at the moment. Friends shouldn't heap that kind of temptation on friends. (But there are some family organizations that set up reasonable systems for lending money to family members - those systems can work, if done well, from what I've heard.)

In fact, now that I think about it, giving money away is probably a lot smarter than investing. Investments lead to disappointment, lost sleep, and frustration. If I could go back in time and make all my 401k losses and bad investments into simple gifts to people I think need help, how much better my life would have been. Same balance sheet, but a lot more joy. Hmmm. I need to think about that more.

Actually, an act of generosity, when guided by the Spirit, can be the most perfect investment of all: an investment in a human being that truly helps them and achieves divine results. With the guidance of the Spirit - call it Insider trading, if you will - the possible returns are unlimited.

I think this is a good time to be increasingly generous, if we can. But I'd like our government to stop being so generous with other people's money and not add crushing debt that the next generation can never repay. Their wickedness is especially perverse.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Proud to Be Descended from George and Ann Prior Jarvis

I was in Willard, Missouri today, due to incredible luck and a touch of planning, where I attended a large family reunion for descendants of George and Ann Prior Jarvis. They were a fascinating couple of integrity and faith that joined the LDS Church in England in 1848 and sacrificed all for the Kingdom of God. Of their many children, I am descended from Victoria Josephine, a sharp school teacher who taught the internationally famous chemist, Henry Eyring, for a while in his boyhood (so he told me when I visited him briefly at the University of Utah right after my mission in 1981, just a few months before he passed away). George, a sailor in the Queen's navy, ended up taking his family to Utah and accepted an assignment to help build up St. George, Utah. Even in the desert of southern Utah, he found his sailor skills helpful, for his knowledge of ropes, rigging, scaffolds and pulleys played a role in local construction of both the St. George Tabernacle and the St. George Temple. There's a whole website for their descendants: George-and-Ann-Prior-Jarvis.org. It includes photos, so perhaps you can guess where I get my good looks? Anyway, if you share some Jarvis heritage, let me know! There are a lot of you in Missouri - several hundred, apparently - since some of the cowboys and ranchers in the line, mostly descended from Margaret Jarvis, later found Missouri to be heaven compared to southern Utah or Arizona. Well, it sure seemed like heaven today. I enjoyed the beautiful country and a couple hundred wonderful people at the gathering. (Air conditioning helped - thank goodness it's still legal and that electricity is still affordable, but that's another story.)

Here are a couple of quotes that were displayed on the walls of the Community Center in Willard where the event was held:
If we can live so we have the whisperings of the good spirit all of the time, I know that every trial and affliction will tend to purify us. - Ann Prior Jarvis

Riches take unto themselves wings and fly away. - George Jarvis
What's amazing is that George said this years before the Federal Reserve Banking System was even formed and over a century before Congress would give wings to hundreds of billions of dollars in TARP funds. Prophetic!

George and Ann are the subjects of the carefully researched historical novel, The Essence of Faith by Mary Miles Kleinman, a fellow descendant of Victoria Josephine. An excellent read! Picked up two more hardbound copies today as gifts.

The stories that George and Ann experienced, recorded, and shared with posterity are ones that are good for me to remember when times get tough and cloudy. They experienced sweet but often small miracles of many kinds that testify to the reality and goodness of the Lord and the power of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their faithfulness in the Gospel, in spite of trials and afflictions galore, are what brought the Gospel into my family line and gave me the tremendous blessing of having the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my life. I owe them a great deal, and am proud to be descended from such people of faith who loved Jesus Christ and diligently sought to serve Him, even when it meant leaving all the comfort they knew in England.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Provident Living: Don't Return to Old Ways

There's a lot of hope springing in the economy right now if you're listening to major media outlets and politicians, in spite of some of the most frightening indicators of economic slowdown and unemployment. Some people have started succumbing to hope again as they pull out their credit cards and sell off more of their future. I sure hope things will pick up, but I think the wise course now is to continue doing all we can to be self-sufficient and to avoid crushing debt, in spite of the terrible examples of political leaders over the past few decades who seem to relish debt. This is the time to build provisions for the future. Do you have a solid food storage program?

Do you realize that the lives of your loved ones may literally depend on what you have stored? Your food storage may become more than just a great way to get through a period of unemployment. It can be the key to survival for you and others around you in a natural disaster or in a man-made economic disaster. Zimbabwe may be on the other side of the world, but they have been following very similar economic policies and are now reaping the consequences of insane government spending and crushing debt. Their money, once roughly equivalent to ours, went through hyperinflation and is now worthless. People are going hungry and their economy collapsing due to the greed of totalitarian politicians. This can happen to once prosperous nations. If we can't get our government to restrain itself with the flood of fiat money it is creating to fund its spending orgy, who can stop the tsunami of debt and inflation from eventually reaching our shores? Sober preparation is needed, coupled with active efforts to elect honorable men and women who will not burden future generations with impossible levels of debt.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Moroni and Nephi: Both Young, Lonely Protectors of Sacred Scripture

Ever notice the interesting parallels between the lead and closing authors of the Book of Mormom? Both were sons of prophets. Both lived in a time of wickedness and impending destruction. Both were righteous men who rejected the evil of their time and drew close to the Messiah/Savior and received divine revelation about the future. Nephi was not a full-time military man like Moroni, but did suit up in the clothing of a military leader, Laban, in his quest to get the plates, a quest paralleled by Moroni retrieving and protecting them until they were buried. Both men had to flee enemies after retrieving the plates, and spent the rest of their recorded lives adding to them and taking steps to preserve them for future generations. Nephi brings them across an ocean to the promised land, while Moroni presumably travels across a continent (in the Limited Geographical Model of the Book of Mormon, anyway) to bring them from Mesoamerica to New York State. Both had much to lament and with the loss or rejection of family and loved ones, were apparently lonely and somber. But both rejoiced in that which gives hope to all of us: our Savior, Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah.

The great editor and second-to-last writer in the Book of Mormon, Mormon, was also like Nephi in being named a leader in spite of his youth (Mormon the teenage warrior named to lead the final Nephite army (possibly because of his lineage). [Corrected an error, confusing Moroni for Mormon in the original post.]

Interesting parallels in a book filled with poetic structure, parallelism, symbolism, and literary power.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fake Religion: Thoughts Inspired by Fake Work

One of the best new business books on the market comes from a BYU professor and his colleague. Maybe you've heard about Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder Than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem by Brent D. Peterson and Gaylan D. Nielson (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009). As I mentioned on my InnovationFatigue blog, Fake Work strikes a chord in most anybody working in Corporate America. Dr. Brent Peterson from the Marriott School of Engineering (Brigham Young University) and Gaylan Nielson, CEO of The Work Itself Group, have estimated that over half of all the work people do is meaningless. It is “fake work”–-work that is not related to the objectives of the business and does not help a business to survive.

Religion, even when based on truth and reality, can be "fake" for the same reasons. I and most of my fellow Latter-day Saints truly believe that Christ is Lord, the Son of the Father, a glorious resurrected Being who is the Author of our salvation and the source of revelation in the Bible and the rest of the LDS scriptures. We also believe that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored upon the earth with the same priesthood authority that Christ gave the leaders of the early Church, and with the offices of prophets and apostles to receive revelation and guide His Church. That's all very exciting and wonderful stuff, and if it's true, if it's real, how could anyone call our religious efforts "fake"? How could anyone call our busy Church service and sacrifices for the Kingdom of God fake?

As with fake work, I suggest that religious activity, even well-intended, faithful service, is fake if it does not align with the core objectives and goals of the religion. For us, those objectives can be condensed in this short mission statement: to bring people unto Christ. Our purpose is to bring people unto Christ, including ourselves, our families, our loved ones, and others all over the world. A related secondary purpose is to bless people's lives in this world--to help them be healthier, happier, have stronger families, be more independent--with the understanding that these temporal blessings, while worthy and justified in their own right, may often lead to even greater eternal blessings as people are more able to recognize the joy that comes from Christ. These objectives, centered around blessing the lives of others, can be achieved in many ways, and many programs ranging from Sunday and Temple worship and religious instruction to food storage and cultural activities or sports can fulfill our mission by blessing the lives of people in various ways. Nevertheless, too much of what we do can be fake.

Religious activity becomes fake when it is not directly aligned with the real objectives of our faith. Teaching and sermons become fake when the purpose is to entertain for entertainment's sake, to impress others, to call attention to ourselves, or even just to fill the allotted time in some way so we "fulfill" our speaking assignment. When someone begins a talk with the words, "I'm not sure how I'm going to fill the time," that's when I'm tempted to head for the doors because the next 20 or so minutes will be "fake." I've given plenty of fake talks and lessons myself, I realize now, in which I went too deep or got "too fancy" without having given careful consideration to what the Lord wanted to be said. Ouch. Hmm, how many fake blog posts do I have here at Mormanity? Don't think I want to count. I'm giving a pass to blogging: it's OK to be fake, isn't it? Oh, and Twitter - no, never mind. Sorry to scratch at that scab.

Home teaching is fake when its purpose is to generate a statistic. An elder's quorum president once called on the last day of the month to tell me that his home teaching goal was in jeopardy because my home teacher hadn't visited me, and wanted to know if he could come over at 10 pm that night just for a minute or two so they could count me as home taught. I balked at the idea--and am glad to know that he's become a much wiser and more Christ-centered leader since then. That wasn't really his fault as much as it was the unintended "fake" version of our religion that had come down from local leaders above him who forgot that the statistics are meant as measures of progress in serving Christ, not as the true ends of our religion.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us perspectives that oppose anything fake in religion. The story of the widow's mite shows that the truly important thing was not the amount given, but the level of commitment and intent of the giver. In the Book of Mormon, Moroni in Moroni 7 explains to believers that giving a gift does us no good unless it is done with real intent. In other words, our sacrifices of time, money, or whatever must be aligned with the real purpose of our religion if that act is to do any good for our souls. If a gift is given or sacrifice made for the wrong purpose or done grudgingly, it is fake and has no lasting value.

Fake Work warns against the wastefulness of many meetings, excessive paperwork, and trivia that wastes time and energy without delivering on core objectives. We need to scrutinize our own religious efforts to make sure that what we are doing is aligned with the divine intent behind the Church. There are details to be carried out, paperwork that must be done, meetings that must be held--but when we apply the lens of Christ-centered service and eternal objectives, we may find that some things can be cut out or require a complete re-orientation to deliver on the Lord's purpose for this Church.

My favorite statement on true, not fake, religion is from James 1:27:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
This is beautifully aligned with the path that blesses others and our own lives. We must stay close to the Lord, in personal purity and strident efforts to avoid the sins of the world, that we may have the companionship of the Spirit and thus be constantly aligned with His eternal purposes. We must serve and bless others to help them in this life, while we also have their eternal welfare in mind. Activities that aren't based on fulfilling such divine objectives may to be reconsidered: they may be just another wasteful diversion on the broad and crooked path of fake religion.

Caveat: In religion and especially in service, "fake" doesn't always mean completely worthless. Helping at a service project, donating to help the poor, or even showing up for Sunday worship can all be valuable even if you have the wrong attitude and are giving grudgingly. It can still help others and may even help you, and it may be better to do it than not at all. But the impact is far less than if you're doing it with "real intent," as the Book of Mormon calls for. Doing good for the wrong reason is better than doing evil for any reason or not doing good at all. But to be truly meaningful, the intent needs to be sincere and the effort aligned with a genuine desire to follow Christ and bless others. That's when the real blessings and even miracles occur.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Chinese Saying to Consider: "Review the Ancient, Know the New"

Tonight I ran into an interesting Chinese saying: 溫 故 知 新 (Wen Gu Zhi Xin), which literally means "review the ancient, know the new." One meaning is that by studying ancient wisdom, you can better grasp current events. (One Chinese classics site even has that saying as its title. It's a cool site where you can study several ancient writings such as the deep Analects of Confucius. One great example is Lunyu 1.15.)

To understand the present by studying the past is what the Book of Mormon begs us to do. It was written by ancient prophets who saw our day and sought to warn us and guide us through their inspired selection of writings from the records of an ancient people. Moroni, the son of its primary editor, Mormon, and the final writer of that record, put it this way: "I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing" (Mormon 8: 35).

And in the next chapter, Mormon 9, he wrote:
[30] Behold, I speak unto you as though I spake from the dead; for I know that ye shall have my words.

[31] Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.
By studying that work, we have a chance to learn from history and be more wise than the Nephites or their more ancient counterparts, the Jaredites, both of whom followed a similar pattern: both collapsed and were destroyed as a consequence of their sins, their pride, and their materialistic secret combinations that corrupted the government of their people and drew them into constant and hopeless war.

The teachings of the Book of Mormon are becoming more relevant than ever before. There is so much we need to learn and pay attention to, including details such as the importance of preparation and food storage for survival in times of chaos, and learnings from broad themes such as the inversion of values when wicked government begins to turn against the values that once brought liberty and peace.

Friday, June 05, 2009

"What Do You Give a Ghost?"

I recently heard a woman from Utah recall the day her eight-year-old son was going to be baptized. That morning he came running to her saying, "I can't be baptized today. I don't have a gift for the Holy Ghost. I don't have a gift for the Holy Ghost! . . . What do you give a ghost?"

Like that young boy, many people are unclear about the nature of the gift of the Holy Ghost. There are many things we don't know, but we do know that it is a precious spiritual blessing that is given after baptism by the laying on of hands, a priesthood ordinance that has been restored in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Barry Bickmore in his book, Restoring the Ancient Church, briefly discusses the gift of the Holy Ghost in Chapter 4 based on a few things we know from early Christianity (for the references, see the online book):
The Laying on of Hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost

One more issue needs to be addressed in connection with baptism. Namely, the ordinance of baptism was not originally just a dunking. At first it included both immersion and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, and only later did baptism become two separate rites. Likewise, Joseph Smith preached: "Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half--that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost."106

Laying on of hands always accompanied baptism in the New Testament. For example, after Philip preached to the Samaritans and baptized quite a number of them, the Apostles came and conferred the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
Now when the Apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them, only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. (Acts 8:14-17)
Certain post-Apostolic writers were anxious to preserve the form and meaning of these rites. Tertullian, for example, both confirmed that baptism was necessary and clearly defined the two parts of the ordinance:
When, however, the prescript is laid down that "without baptism, salvation is attainable by none" (chiefly on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, "Unless one be born of water, he hath not life"), there arise immediately scrupulous, nay rather audacious, doubts on the part of some . . . . Not that in the waters we obtain the Holy Spirit; but in the water, under (the witness of) the angel, we are cleansed, and prepared for the Holy Spirit . . . . In the next place the hand is laid on us, invoking and inviting the Holy Spirit through benediction.107
Cyprian not only recorded the form of the rites, he identified baptism and the laying on of hands with being "born of water and the Spirit":
[After the baptisms by Philip in Samaria] that which was needed was performed by Peter and John; viz., that prayer being made for them, and hands being imposed, the Holy Spirit should be invoked and poured out upon them, which now too is done among us, so that they who are baptized in the Church are brought to the prelates of the Church, and by our prayers and by the imposition of hands obtain the Holy Spirit, and are perfected with the Lord's seal.108
For then finally can they be fully sanctified, and be the sons of God, if they be born of each sacrament; since it is written, "Except a man be born again of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."109
And Bishop Cornelius of Rome disapproved of the practice of baptizing without laying on hands, for without it, how could one receive the Holy Ghost? It would only be "half a baptism," as Joseph Smith said.
Being delivered by the exorcists, he fell into a severe sickness; and as he seemed about to die, he received baptism by affusion, on the bed where he lay; if indeed we can say that such a one did receive it. And when he was healed of his sickness he did not receive the other things which it is necessary to have according to the canon of the Church, even the being sealed [laid hands on] by the bishop. And as he did not receive this, how could he receive the Holy Spirit? . . .110
Baptism and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost are necessary to enter the Kingdom of God. Joseph Smith not only got the concept right, however, he also restored the proper forms of the ordinances and the knowledge that a merciful and just God would never condemn little children for sins they never committed.
This spiritual gift is, of course, subjective and personal. The comfort and guidance provided occurs at a personal level and is dependent on our willingness and ability to listen to the whisperings of "the still small voice" that comes from God. When we are living according to the teachings of Christ, that is when we are most likely to experience the blessings of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Ghost is a key means through which God gives personal revelation to His sons and daughters on earth. The Holy Ghost testified of Christ and teaches of of Him and helps us remember Him and know what we should do (John 14:26; 15:26). It is only though personal revelation that we can know that Jesus is the Christ and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. This leads us to the much-derided LDS concept of a "testimony" through personal revelation, but as foreign as that concept is to the world, it is remarkably consistent with New Testament Christianity.

So returning to the question from a child in Missouri, what gift do you give a ghost? I suppose what the Holy Ghost wants most from us is that we have faith in Jesus Christ and strive to follow Him in a covenant relationship. The Holy Ghost testifies of Christ and seeks to bring us unto Him that we may have eternal life, the greatest gift of all.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Marvin Goldstein in Provo, June 6

Marvin Goldstein, the famous LDS musician and a fascinating Jewish convert to the LDS faith, is performing in Provo on June 6. It's a celebration of Goldstein's 50 years of performing to be held as a gala concert at the Covey Center for the Arts. I hear it's sold out. If you are one of the lucky ones able to attend, you're in for a real treat. The warm-up act (about 20 minutes or so, I think) will be one of my favorite pianists and a good friend, David Sylvester of Missouri. I think both will have CDs available.

Any of you going? Please tell us about it afterward.

I'm also interested in hearing your favorite Marvin Goldstein experiences or recollections.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Off-Topic News: Tornado Strike in St. Louis?

While in St. Louis today at the Americas Center, there was a deafening roar for about 20 seconds while I was chatting with an engineer during lunch at the PaperCon '09 conference. I though it was just intense rain or hail pounding the roof, but when I stepped outside moments later to get something from my car in a parking garage, I heard some girls talking about how they could have been killed by falling debris. Then I saw the damage that had been done to the hotel next door, the Renaissance Suites. Heard a hotel manager talking on a cell phone about an unconfirmed report of a small tornado. Might have just been speculation, but other bystanders reported incredibly intense winds for a while with things swirling around.

The winds/tornado stripped off a large section of the painted facade of the hotel, causing a large amount of debris to fall to the street. Looked like a mix of particle board and fiberglass.

Right now the Americas Center lights went off momentarily as the storm continues to rage. Wireless still on.

Several analogies suggest themselves. Building on the rock, reality versus facades, withstanding the winds of adversity, being prepared, and my favorite, avoiding tornadoes.

Well, that's it for now. Here's a few photos.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Thank You, Saint Louis! (And Kudos to the Frontenac Ward)

I'm so impressed with St. Louis. What a terrific experience I've had here. It began with a Sunday visit to the Frontenac Ward on the west side of town, where I was pleasantly surprised with the friendliness of ward members. I was greeted by six people before sacrament meeting started--a wonderful example of friendliness. Some of that came from missionaries, including the wonderful mission president, President Turley and his wife, but the regular ward members were very friendly also. The simple act of greeting strangers can make such a difference. Many thanks to the Frontenac Ward for setting a good example. The meeting was also terrific, with solid, scripture-based talks and a terrific musical performance by two of the young women graduating from seminary. Very promising young people!

Kindness to strangers is a hallmark of St. Louis. A local LDS leader and history buff and super friend pointed out that St. Louis was friendly to the Latter-day Saints and did not give in to the hateful directives of the infamous Extermination Order from Governor Lilburn Boggs. I really appreciate that!

What a beautiful city this is. Tonight after busy meetings, I participated in a family home evening with some of the greatest people on earth. We went to the grounds of Forest Park (by the stunning Art Museum) where we had pizza, a beautiful reading from scripture, then a pleasant evening walk in that amazing park where I got to try out my new Nikon camera.

Then we went to Missouri's most famous attraction, where the longest lines and the thickest crowds in the state gather before this modern wonder of the world, a monument of hope that stands as a beacon to weary travelers and as an inspiration to the souls of many. I refer, of course, to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. Not kidding--this seems to be a bigger draw than the famous Arch. But it was worth the wait to try the thick custard (tart cherry for me!), which I understand was the inspiration for Blizzards and related thick ice cream products nowadays. Yes, local Missourians bought me frozen custard--another example of the true friendliness you find down here.

Thank you, Missouri! And thanks to my dear friends for making this such a great (and inexpensive) business trip.