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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Facing Loss and Pain without Complaint: Richard G. Scott's Personal Perspective

While visiting my parents in Salt Lake City today, we had a beautiful Priesthood lesson based on Elder Richard G. Scott's General Conference sermon from April 2009, "Temple Worship: The Source of Strength and Power in Times of Need." I was touched by the deeply personal thoughts Elder Scott conveyed as he contemplated the passing away of his wife and also of two of his young children. These closing words from his talk touched me deeply in our class today.
Now I would like to speak of the special meaning the temple has for me. Part of this message is going to be sensitive, so I will appreciate your prayers as I give it so that I do not become too emotional.

Fourteen years ago the Lord took my wife beyond the veil. I love her with all my heart, but I have never complained because I know it was His will. I have never asked why but rather what is it that He wants me to learn from this experience. I believe that is a good way to face the unpleasant things in our lives, not complaining but thanking the Lord for the trust He places in us when He gives us the opportunity to overcome difficulties.

We had the blessing of having children. A daughter, the first child, continues to be an enormous blessing in our lives. A couple of years later a son we named Richard was born. A few years later a daughter was born. She died after living only a few minutes.

Our son, Richard, was born with a heart defect. We were told that unless that could be cured, there was little probability that he would live more than two or three years. This was so long ago that techniques now used to repair such defects were unknown. We had the blessing of having a place where doctors agreed to attempt to perform the needed surgery. The surgery had to be done while his little heart was beating.

The surgery was performed just six weeks after the birth and death of our baby daughter. When the operation finished, the principal surgeon came in and said it was a success. And we thought, “How wonderful! Our son will have a strong body, be able to run and walk and grow!” We expressed deep gratitude to the Lord. Then about 10 minutes later, the same doctor came in with an ashen face and told us, “Your son has died.” Apparently the shock of the operation was more than his little body could endure.

Later, during the night, I embraced my wife and said to her, “We do not need to worry, because our children were born in the covenant. We have the assurance that we will have them with us in the future. Now we have a reason to live extremely well. We have a son and a daughter who have qualified to go to the celestial kingdom because they died before the age of eight.” That knowledge has given us great comfort. We rejoice in the knowledge that all seven of our children are sealed to us for time and all eternity.

That trial has not been a problem for either of us because, when we live righteously and have received the ordinances of the temple, everything else is in the hands of the Lord. We can do the best we can, but the final outcome is up to Him. We should never complain, when we are living worthily, about what happens in our lives.

Fourteen years ago the Lord decided it was not necessary for my wife to live any longer on the earth, and He took her to the other side of the veil. I confess that there are times when it is difficult not to be able to turn and talk to her, but I do not complain. The Lord has allowed me, at important moments in my life, to feel her influence through the veil.

What I am trying to teach is that when we keep the temple covenants we have made and when we live righteously in order to maintain the blessings promised by those ordinances, then come what may, we have no reason to worry or to feel despondent.

I know that I will have the privilege of being with that beautiful wife, whom I love with all my heart, and with those children who are with her on the other side of the veil because of the ordinances that are performed in the temple. What a blessing to have once again on the earth the sealing authority, not only for this mortal life but for the eternities. I am grateful that the Lord has restored His gospel in its fulness, including the ordinances that are required for us to be happy in the world and to live everlastingly happy lives in the hereafter.

This is the work of the Lord. Jesus Christ lives. This is His Church. I am a witness of Him and of His Atonement, which is the foundation that makes effective and lasting every ordinance performed in the temples. I so testify with every capacity I possess, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

His attitude is remarkable. I can imagine myself complaining with much bitterness if I were to face such a trial. But he did this without complaining, trusting in the Lord and turning to Him for guidance. "I believe that is a good way to face the unpleasant things in our lives, not complaining but thanking the Lord for the trust He places in us when He gives us the opportunity to overcome difficulties." I find that profound, and hope that I can grow to have this kind of attitude. Not that we shouldn't share our emotions and our feelings, but that we should retain the eternal perspective and accept the grief life brings us with patience and humility, seeking to understand what we should do and what we should learn from these experiences, with gratitude for what the Lord has given us--especially for the blessings of the Temple that can bind families together forever.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Salute to Singapore

I'm so impressed with the nation of Singapore. The remarkably harmonious diversity of races, cultures and religions in this land is a testament to what can be achieved. Had the incredible privilege of being a speaker at their large Innovation and Enterprise Week held at Biopolis, the massive research center dealing with life sciences. Met so many amazing people from Singapore and other nations and really fell in love with this country and its generous and gracious people.

Singapore is one of the most innovative nations in the world--in fact, it's ranked #1 in several rating systems--and has some of the most visionary and futuristic approaches to economic development and scientific progress. What impressed me as I learned more and talked with some of its people is the commitment of so many people to the long-term good of Singapore. The petty personal politics that hinder progress in so many spheres of human life seemed surprisingly diminished in the scientific and IP-related circles I encountered, and I repeatedly sensed and saw evidence of a widespread commitment to cooperation and the good of the nation. There is a culture of cooperation that really impresses me.

Talented, intelligent, and tolerant people building a visionary future is one dimension of what I encountered. Add to that the Singaporean commitment to excellent food, and we've really got a winning combination. I can't believe how well I can eat for $3 at the "street hawker" sites where you can choose from numerous cuisines such as Muslim Halal and many varieties of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Korean, etc. Then consider that Singapore offers fresh, never-frozen supplies of the world's greatest plant product, the king of fruit with its foul aroma: durian! Tonight after a spectacular seafood meal with massive chili crab and claypot crab, I was treated to two great varieties of durian: D24X0 and Cat Mountain King. Will one of these species be the official fruit of Zion in the future? Or maybe it will be fresh passion fruit (I got about 20 for just $2!)?

Any of you in Singapore or have you been there? Am interested in knowing more about how members of the Church are treated. I was treated with great kindness, but then again, I'm just a temporary visitor. How is daily life for a Latter-day Saint in Singapore?

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Barbaric Practice: Honor Chillings

Religion can be such a powerful force for good, but some, in misguided zeal, corrupt their religion and use it as an excuse to hurt others. Occasionally we hear about the horrors of honor killings, but a much more widespread barbaric practice among many faiths is honor chillings--cold treatment due to religious differences. Parents chilling their children, husbands chilling their wives, former best friends chilling each other--all because they are angry that someone has changed their religious views. Many LDS converts have been chilled by those who despise their new religion. But too many LDS folks have turned to honor chillings when a loved one leaves the Church and is viewed as an apostate or even just a non-committed Mormon. Many Christians have struggled when a loved one becomes an atheist or joins a different religion, and folks from many other religions have had similar problems.

Yes, there are verses in the Bible which can be used to justify chilling. When one wants to justify bad behavior, the Bible can be a great resource (ditto for the other LDS scriptures--this may be true of all sacred texts in all religions). But for those looking for a guide on how to do good and please God, the Bible teaches us to love even when that love is not returned, and teaches us to reach out to those of other faiths rather than chilling them. The Book of Mormon likewise teaches us that there are times when unrepentant people may need to be excommunicated from the Church, but the purpose is not to justify chilling. In fact, for those who are excommunicated, we are explicitly commanded to reach out to them and not fall into the temptation to chill. From 3 Nephi 18:
30. Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name; and if it so be that he repenteth and is baptized in my name, then shall ye receive him, and shall minister unto him of my flesh and blood.

31. But if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people, for behold I know my sheep, and they are numbered.

32. Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.

May we all avoid the cruelness of honor chillings, and follow the example of the Savior in loving and ministering to all around him.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland Speaks Out on the Book of Mormon and the Failed Attempts of Critics to Explain It Away

If you missed the General Conference talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles and the former President of Brigham Young University, you really should see it. He makes an important point about the last hours of Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, as they were in prison and about to be killed. They faced the likelihood of death from a hate-filled mob, stirred up and led by religious zealots. For comfort and strength, they turned to the ancient writings of Moroni in Ether, chapter 12, in the Book of Mormon. Hyrum read some of that text to Joseph, including these verses:
37. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore, thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.

38. And now I, Moroni, bid farewell unto the Gentiles, yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood.

Hyrum dog-eared that page in his Book of Mormon, marking the spot that they had turned to for comfort. Elder Holland held that very copy of the Book of Mormon in his hand as he spoke of this, and then made an excellent point. If this book were a fraud, why would these two men in their final hours turn to it for spiritual comfort? Why would they blaspheme God in their final moments by reading from fake scripture that they had composed to deceive others? Their final moments only add to the magnitude of their witness and the witness of many others that the Book of Mormon is for real, that it is an ancient and divine text, not the clumsy work of an unschooled fraud. Elder Holland goes on to explain that the pathetic attempts by our critics to explain away the Book of Mormon and offer alternate explanations for its origins have failed and failed miserably. The challenge remains unmet and the witnesses for authenticity (including physical and other evidence for plausibility) of that ancient record are greater than ever. It has withstood decades of assaults and, in my opinion, is "truer than ever" as we learn more about it and the ancient world.

Here are Youtube videos of his talk, split into two ten-minute segments. If you're in a hurry, go to the second video, which begins just after he explains how Hyrum while in Carthage jail had read from the book he holds in his hands.

Part One:

Part Two:

Elder Holland's words are powerful, moving, and wise. As Elder Holland's own great grandfather said, "No wicked man could write such a book as this, and no good man would write it--unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so."

Update, July 2012: Some critics have howled about the horrific, cynical dishonesty of Elder Holland in holding up a book that they think is not the real book. The confusion is understandable since it appears that the Church owns two similar books, one that is the original and one that is a similar edition that had the same page dog-eared like the book that Hyrum had. This was made clear in a Deseret News story on the talk and the book. The vitriol and name calling in this case says much about some of our critics. Such anger, such anxiousness to criticize, such unwillingness to even wonder if it was just a mistake. But the mistake appears to have been an earlier Church news story that showed the copy, not the original that Elder Holland was holding. I think it's fair to grant that Elder Holland asked for the original to be brought to him, and whether it was the original or not, I think it's fair to accept that he was not knowingly lying about the book. The story is true and the point he makes about Hyrum and Joseph turning to it in their final moments still adds to their witness of the Book of Mormon, regardless of which of the two similar books Elder Holland had on the pulpit with him.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Secular Note: Prepared for the Decline of the Dollar?

Ever since about 2005, I've occasionally warned readers that we could face a weakening dollar in the future and growing inflation (inflation is best defined as excessive expansion of the money supply, which we are obviously doing - what prices do for any particular product at any one time is complicated by many factors). You can't keep spending like crazy and creating more money without facing dire consequences. No nation has ever done that without having its currency eventually face great pain. I have therefore recommended that people diversity their investments to include at least some precious metals such as silver or gold.

I made these recommendations when gold was at $500 to $700 an ounce and when silver was at $9 to $14 an ounce. Now that gold is approaching $1100 an ounce and silver is nearly $18 an ounce, those who listened to this advice may wonder if it's time to sell and take their profits. I suggest no, this is still a time to hold and even to buy, if you can. While a painful pull back is still possible, the fundamentals behind precious metals are better than ever. Production globally is declining, demand is increasing, and the dollar faces greater threats than ever. Than ever.

One of the great threats that the popular media rarely discusses is the likelihood that oil-producing nations will no longer rely on the petro-dollar. When the oil-producing nations no longer require payment in the US dollar, the support for the dollar will drop. China has also shown that they are worried about the dollar and turning increasingly toward gold. They must make this move gradually and calmly, but the direction is clear. You can find some of the key news in places like Kitco.com or in British newspapers. You must understand these trends. There are many factors that can threaten to destabilize the dollar. My suggestion, just a tip to loyal readers, is to continue to make slow and steady preparations by building your food storage and diversifying whatever investments you have to include at least some precious metals. I know some of you will say that it's crazy to buy something when the price is at an all-time high, as gold is, and still pretty high, as silver is, but when you adjust for the inflation of the US dollar, the former high in gold in the 80s is about $2000 an ounce today, and the former high of silver is over $100 an ounce, so there's a long ways to go just based on history even if we weren't destroying the fundamentals of the dollar today. When China, Russia, and the Middle East become weary of the dollar, they will turn increasingly to precious metals and other currencies, and those who beat them to the punch by investing in precious metals today will be glad they did - although none of us will have any cause to rejoice when the US faces the consequences of corrupt politicians of both parties who exert no fiscal responsibility and recklessly spend all that we and future generations have for their political benefit today. Germany, Yugoslavia, Zimbabwe, and other nations have shown what happens when government spending and monetary creation gets out of control. We don't want to go down that path, but we are rushing.

The expansion of the money supply is a terrible tax on American workers. It silently steals your wealth and transfers it into the hands of spendthrifts and their friends. It erodes years of labor and savings. It whittles away at your wages. It diminishes the future for your children. Over 95% of the value of the dollar has been lost since the Federal Reserve system was created nearly a century ago, when the vast boom in productivity that has occurred should have made the dollar and your savings worth far more. The guardians of our economy have been pilfering it for years. How long will we remain blind to what is going on? Will we remain silent until the burden of debt triggers unbearable pain? It will be too late then.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Grinding Down Moral Standards: Out-of-Control School Dances

Only a few years ago, at least here in the Midwest, many parents' main concern about school dances involved kids getting too close during slow dances. "Bear hugging" was the great moral threat to warn children against--as long as the music was fast, there was little to worry about. Under the incessant tutoring of the degenerate profiteers of pop culture, coupled with a foundation of parental negligence or ignorance and aided by the apathy of school officials, American students have now "progressed" so far that the intimate slow dances are the most morally tolerable part of a typical school dance. The behavior that goes with the pulsating rap dominating most dances is the real problem now, and it's a problem so severe that many students with basic standards will be so revolted that they have to leave the dance floor to avoid seeing what the "mainstream" students do. The subdued sexuality of bear hugging is nothing compared to the gross and overt sexuality of grinding while dancing, with students bringing private body parts into inappropriate contact.

Appleton's latest high-school dances were offensive, shameful, and troubling to many students who watched in sorrow and shock as so many of their friends acted like sex-crazed deviants. One can only wonder how far the debauchery of high schools will go before anyone has the courage to take a stand. Would officials gladly watch the high school become as degenerate as, say, American universities like Oberlin, where university officials promote sexual activity among the young people entrusted to its care? (Google Oberlin and Safer Sex Night if you need to read Oberlin.edu's own description of what they do.)

To those of you who do not allow your children to attend school dances, or who home school, I congratulate you for your wisdom. To you students who refuse to go or who even speak out against such inappropriate behavior, I applaud you.

I'm just amazed at how far this nation has declined.

Update: Schools Dances and Sexual Assault

Additional information from students in local high schools point to an especially troubling issue arising from the failure of our schools to provide a safe and wholesome atmosphere at school dances. In the "grinding is cool" setting where anything seems to go (one female student described the scene as a "sex pit"), an atmosphere that foments or encourages sexual assault is created. Is sexual assault the proper term for unsolicited sexual contact? I think so. A female simply standing there at the school dance can suddenly be grabbed from behind by an unseen male who then commences simulated sexual activity. Something that ought to get a person arrested for sexual assault in a place where decency prevails is not only apparently tolerated, but the victim may feel pressure to go along since everyone is doing it.

I'm really outraged at this.

One further note: Chaperons and school officials standing away from core of the activity may not be aware of how bad things are. The wholesale raunchiness tends to be shielded by the outer layer of students forming a circle around the "hottest" dancing. I suppose it's possible for adult leaders to stand around and think that grinding only occurs occasionally, when in fact a majority of dancers may do it during the course of the evening.

If I were a school official, I'd be awfully worried about the danger of sexual assault that could be occurring on my watch. I'd also be worried about the risk of a lawsuit when a student who was groped, grabbed, or ground upon against her or his will takes action against the school for allowing it to happen and even condoning it.

Parents should consider speaking out and demanding basic rules for dances that protect children. Rules and basic training about appropriate contact should be clearly conveyed to students before dances. Parents and taxpayers need not succumb to moral debauchery in the schools we pay for.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

One General Conference Take-Away: Increasing Our Emphasis on Personal Revelation

Across many of the talks at General Conference, I heard a theme of strengthening our ability to receive and respond to personal revelation. "Spiritual self-reliance" is not the right term, for it is God we rely on, but honing our ability to receive personal inspiration and revelation strengthens our ability to solve our problems and to make changes in the course of our lives for good. Our increased dependency on the Lord in this process makes us, in a sense, all the more independent--relative to the forces of the world.

As times get more complex, our ability to guide our loved ones, obtain wisdom, find clever solutions to problems, avoid traps from our adversaries, and dodge spiritual bullets (maybe some physical ones, too) requires constant alertness and listening to the Spirit. The challenges of tomorrow depend upon our preparations today. We must work and learn now. The Church won't solve our problems, but is a training ground to help us learn the skills we need--including having love and patience for fellow members. We need the Church more than ever, but in a sense we also need more than ever to stand on our own feet as we kneel before the Lord's seeking His will and inspiration each day.

The emphasis on personal revelation is one of the many things I really love the Church. Revelation is real. God is real. Prayers are answered. And we are taught to turn to God and seek His guidance, not only for our personal testimonies, but for our daily course in life and for the most complex challenges we face.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Ammon's Treason

Yesterday, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, I had the privilege of hosting an official from the Chinese Embassy on a visit to Wisconsin to receive a major award at a dinner celebration attended by 250 people from industry, education, and government. Before that, we had a spectacular luncheon with some local Chinese friends that I arranged to honor my guest. How delighted I was to find that he knew and even had worked for the hero of one of my favorite books, The Man on Mao's Right by Ji Chaozhu. At the luncheon, I used my terrible Mandarin to make a toast: "Zhong-Mei youyi wansui!" ("Long Live the Friendship Between China and America" - I'm not even sure that this is the correct or best way to say it, but they understood). It was a sincere toast.

Like Ji Chaozhu, the father of my Chinese guest from the Embassy had participated in the Korean War. My father did, too. It's possible that our two fathers were shooting at each other in that terrible no-win war. There are still international tensions between our two nations in various parts of the globe. Later I reflected on how some of my conservative peers (I am pretty conservative) might react to my interest in China and to such a toast. There are some complex issues here, but I'd like to cite the example of Ammon, the son of King Mosiah in the Book of Mormon, who took it upon himself to go into Lamanite territory and spend 14 years there. He went not as a spy or Rambo-like commando to disrupt the economy or military supply chains of that enemy nation, but he went as a friend and servant, even a servant to a king. Could this not be considered as treason in the sense that he was supporting and helping a historical enemy? Perhaps, if one wishes to be critical. But what divine wisdom (not greedy profiteering) was in his selfless service! His love for an "enemy people" would change thousands of lives and greatly bless his own people as well in the end.

Long Live Nephite-Lamanite Friendship! This toast comes a bit late, unfortunately, so I'l stick with "Zhong-Mei youyi wansui!"

The story of Ammon and the sons of Mosiah may have parallels that can help guide us in thinking about nations where there is tension in the relationship or where we worry about the current lack of religious toleration or religious freedom. There may be great miracles that yet can be unfolded through small means and selfless service, and great prices to be paid by those ready to give all for what matters most.

When change comes, it will come swiftly, and catch many of us unprepared for the needs and opportunities ahead. As always, this is the best time to prepare. There is also so much to learn from China - don't make the mistake of thinking that it's all about us going there to bring new wisdom, though I believe we have something wonderful to offer them, just as we have something wonderful to offer the United States, Britain, Brazil, etc. There is much we need to learn from their modern and ancient wisdom. Great opportunities lie ahead for those who are wise and prepare.