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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sarcasm or a Serious Plea? "If Thou Wilt Enter into Life, Keep the Commandments" in Matthew 19

A Protestant minister recently explained to me that we weren't Christian because of our belief that we must strive to "keep the commandments" and obey God, for this means we are denying the grace of Christ and relying on works instead of Christ to save us. To be fair, this wasn't the only reason we aren't Christian: there are many points of doctrine and interpretation of scripture where we differ from his infallible views, thus showing that we worship a "different Jesus" and cannot possibly be saved by faith in Christ. The only true Jesus, of course, interprets Isaiah and Daniel the way my evangelical friend does: any departure in understanding means you're worshiping a false god or demon. Faith alone saves, as long as you can also pass a scorching theology quiz.

According to some Protestant interpretations of Matthew 19, Christ is being ironic or even sarcastic when answering the young man who asks what he must do to be saved. The correct answer of course, is something like, "Do? What on earth makes you think you can do anything to be saved? You are saved by faith alone." The phrase "faith alone" or "faith only" is biblical, FYI, being found (just once) in the New Testament. Please don't worry about where it is mentioned or in what context, that will only muddy the waters. For now I wish to focus on understanding Matthew 19, where, when asked what one must do to be saved, Christ responded with a phrase that can be found throughout the scriptures: "Keep the commandments." Or more specifically, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Is there exchange an example of Christ's sarcasm? Or a loving, sincere attempt to help this rich young man drop what was standing between him and God in order to become more whole and a true follower of Jesus Christ? You might guess the answer, but in the 20-minute podcast below, I offer a few additional angles and thoughts on this topic.

The mp3 file may download slowly - I would appreciate any suggestions for a better way to play the file in Blogger. Have tried Google Docs and FileFreak as hosting sources. Both seem slow. The MP3 file is 20 Meg.

Download mp3 file

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Jesus of Christmas

I love the Christmas holiday, in spite of knowing that Dec. 25 may not be is almost certainly not the birthday of Christ and that some aspects of this holiday, now and anciently, may be based on pagan concepts. Yes, I understand that Dec. 25, anciently thought to be the date of the winter solstice, probably had more to do with pagan religion (e.g., the cult of Mithras, popular among elite Roman soldiers) than with anything from pure Christianity. I understand that the symbols we use and the traditions we practice are loaded with pagan content, though in some cases they have been reworked to convey Christian meaning. That's OK. Of course, it can work both ways. Sometimes good Christian symbols have been adapted by evil groups for their own purposes. Symbols and their meanings shift and change.

While the trappings and traditions may have shifted, may we all remember and gratefully accept the unchanging reality of Jesus Christ. He was the Son of God, born as man, who fully followed the Father, had authority and divine power from the Father, testified of the Father, obeyed the Father, prayed to the Father, taught us to come unto the Father through Him, and witnessed that His Father was greater than He was (John 14:28). He deflected praise and gave glory to the Father, saying, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God" (Matt. 19:17).

He yielded How own will to that of the Father, drank the bitter cup of unimaginable agony to pay the price for the sins of all mankind, gave up His life, then took up His body once again in the glorious miracle of the Resurrection, and showed Himself to many who would touch and feel and know for sure that He was alive with a body of flesh and bone, not spirit only (Luke 24:36-43). Witnesses saw and felt that He was tangible, real, physical, in Whose glorious physical image we most surely have been created. He returned to the presence of the Father, not merged into one incorporeal immaterial construct of the philosophers, but as the tangible, living, real Son of God, not shedding His body a second time, but living at the right hand of the Father as the New Testament so frequently affirms and as Stephen saw as he was being killed for his testimony (Acts 7:55-58).

In his glorious resurrected state, the Son is now fully like the Father and is even said to be in "the express image of the Father" (Heb. 1:1-3)--looking just like Him, in Whose similitude or image (physical appearance) we too are created (James 3:9; Gen. 1:26-29; cf Gen. 5:1,3 for insight on the physical nature of "image").

This is our Savior, the Redeemer of all mankind, offered up by a loving Father to save the world (to me as a parent, John 3:16 is so powerful when we recognize that it truly was a Father offering His beloved son, not somebody merely offering himself). He is truly One with the Father--but in what way? Jesus explained this clearly and powerfully when He gave his great intercessory prayer in John 17 before He was crucified, a prayer on behalf of those who did and would believe in Him and seek to follow Him. He prayed that we might be one, even as He and the Father are one:
11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are....

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
He calls us to be one and to follow them and to become perfect. That word is not a Mormon blasphemy, but the call of Christ to us, who asked us to become perfect even as His Father in Heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). That is the impossible, incredible goal: to take us fallen children, so far departed from the ways of God, the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9-10), and to bring us back as true children of God through the grace and power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to reveal the divine glory that is in us as sons and daughters of God--and if children, then heirs, even potential joint-heirs with Christ with glory waiting to be revealed within us (Romans 8:14-18). So far beyond our comprehension, yet this is the call of Christmas and of Christ: to follow Jesus and to return to the presence of the Father, to repent of all our sins and receive the grace that God offers us in a covenant relationship aimed at helping us put on the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-10) to have eternal joy through Christ and the Father.

This is the true Jesus of Christmas, our Savior, our Friend, the Son of God who invites us to follow Him, to participate in eternal life in the presence of the Father. Some of this precious biblical knowledge has been marred by the speculations of philosophers and the decrees of potentates, leaving many confused about the reality of our relationship to God and Christ and the purpose of our mortal life. None of us understand it perfectly, but may we seek and learn to understand these precious topics more clearly.

Many good Christians may differ with our understanding of issues such as the Creation, the nature of God, the reality of the Resurrection, the nature of heaven or the terms of the covenant of grace that Christ offers or the importance of following him and enduring to the end, but in spite of doctrinal debates and questions, let us recognize that Jesus Christ, the Jesus of the Bible, the real Jesus behind the generally hidden message of Christmas, is real, not a mere story, not fiction, and that His divine Atonement and love offer the only sure hope for mankind. Let us not be deceived by the gifts of the world and the choking riches that lure so many, nor by the mocking of others who cannot imagine God coming to earth as man, but let us press forward in faith and hold out to the end in worshiping Jesus Christ as our true Savior and hope.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Little Green Band of Vegetation: Another Amazingly Lucky Guess by Joseph Smith?

Have any of you pondered just how amazing First Nephi is in terms of the intellectually rich evidence it provides for the plausability of the Book of Mormon? For the intellectually and spiritually honest, it can open one's mind to the possibility that maybe this is an ancient text with origins unexplainable by the usual claims of fabrication and forgery by a sinister farm boy. I've previously highlighted the delightful evidences we have from the Arabian Peninsula (see my Book of Mormon evidences page, for example), but today I'd like to remind you of one piece of that body of evidence: the bulls-eye placement of Bountiful on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, nearly due east of the ancient burial place Nahom (or Nehhem, as it is shown on one map from the University of Sana'a in Yemen). Following the detailed directions given in the Book of Mormon plausibly takes us to the eastern shores of modern Oman, where in fact we have a couple of excellent candidates for the place that anti-Mormon critics once dismissed as an impossibility (and apparently still can't honestly acknowledge today).

The area of the Peninsula that offers such rich finds for the Book of Mormon is more than merely interesting. It is truly amazing. The region the Book of Mormon describes as a plush, green area with fruit trees and many other criteria that appear to plausibly fulfilled by real locations, is counterintuitive, surprising, and unexpected in a Peninsula that "every knows" is little more than a vast dessert. But among that entire Peninsula there is a little green band of vegetation on the coast due east of Nahom (or Nehhem or Nihm, the name of the ancient tribe who left us ancient altars from Lehi's day with their tribal name inscribed thereon, showing that the Semitic root of NHM was the key name associated with that ancient area). The plausible candidates for Bountiful are an important enough find that it is dangerously irresponsible to dismiss such an intriguing and gracious hint of ancient origins as just a lucky guess. It is not "proof" that Jesus is the Christ, but evidence that we should not be too hasty to dismiss the Book of Mormon as mere fantasy and fraud. Open your mind and your heart, read the text, and learn for yourself if it truly is an ancient witness for the reality of the Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, and evidence that the work of the gathering of Israel and the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ has begun.

There are many other videos of interest about the evidence from the Arabian Peninsula. Here's one more. Important note regarding the last video: You don't need a cool hat to be a fan of the Book of Mormon or to be an LDS scholar. But I guess it helps.

Oh, did I mention iron ore? Yeah, it's a cool story from the Bountiful region. And I just updated my link to an important old article at LDSMag.com that is hard to find unless you know just where to look. It's >"Geologists Discover Iron Ore in the Region of Nephi's Bountiful" by Ron Harris in Meridian Magazine at LDSmag.com. (I dare you to find it using Google! I think everyone else's links to this article are dead after LDSMag changed the URL.) Excellent, easy-to-smelt iron ore has been discovered in the region of Bountiful on the eastern coast of Oman, consistent with the Book of Mormon. This article discusses the significance of the find and confirms that the iron ore near the area can be converted to workable metal using wood-fired technology. The video adds further insight. Cool stuff--and part of the growing body of shreds of evidence for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon that simply don't exist.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yes, Pornography is Harmful: Pamela Paul's "The Cost of Growing Up on Porn"

For those of who have read the news about alleged "research" claiming that pornography doesn't harm us, get a fresh dose of reality from Pamela Paul in her article, "The cost of growing up on porn." She's one of the few journalists who can see the hard-to-miss but easy-to-deny problems of pornography. She looks past some deceptive headlines to find out just what kind of research was behind some recent news about the harmless nature of porn. Hmmmm, a surprise! Or is it?

Be sure to read both pages of the article.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader--A Fun Movie with a Touch of Teaching

I went with my wife Friday night to see the opening of the new movie in the Narnia series, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. If you love C.S. Lewis and his fanciful Narnia tales, you should enjoy the movie spite of some departures from the book. If you like adventure and fantasy stories appropriate for families, you might like it also. I really enjoyed it, especially as I considered what C.S. Lewis might want people to understand about this and about our fallen natures and the hope that God gives us through his Aslan-like Son. A key element is the personal journey of Eustace from whining boy to dragon, even a dragon who chose and did good, and then was freed from his reptilian scales by the power of Aslan.

In terms of enjoyment, I think the special effects were my favorite part of the movie. The water management team did a great job both with the standing waves at the end and the water that gushed into and out of the enchanted painting. Aslan is a wonderful computer animation as well. Very cool. The sea serpent was overdone, to the point of being corny and was probably too intense for young children, IMO.

I saw this in 2D (normal movie format), though it is available in 3D. From what I've heard, I think it might be more enjoyable without the 3D.

There were a few parts where I wanted to just say, "What?" Like landing at the main port of a strange and possibly hostile city, and having the king and three or four others wander in with with a crossbow or too. Nice way to lose a king in a hurry. Spend a few moments with some of our Marines to learn how to handle that kind of situation, guys. The table of Aslan scene also was less than appetizing. Creepy looking place with old frozen geezers sitting there--and we're supposed to trust the glowing star lady that the food is safe? Had it even been properly refrigerated and cleaned?

I often struggle with movies when there are major gaps in logic or science. Suffering through the eco-panic movie, The Core, was one of my most difficult experiences. (How does a small vessel with people inside travel for days through 9,000-degree molten magma and still remain habitable inside? Simple - they've got a tank of liquid nitrogen on board. That stuff is cold.) There were some such gaps in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but since it's intended to be a fantasy where the rules are a bit more fluid, it's easier for me to turn on the necessary suspension of disbelief to enjoy it. So I could deal with the whole passage to the alternate world Narnia thing, the evil island, and so forth - but I'm still irritated by that journal of Eustace. How did it manage to come along with him, in dry form, no less, after his unexpected passage to Narnia through a magical flood that left him nearly drowned and struggling for breath in a Narnia sea? Of such irritations is a trivial life made. I'll have to get over it, I guess.

Overall, a very fun movie with something of a plot, good special effects, not much gore, no salaciousness, and relatively good acting, especially by the computer-generated creatures. Had a fun time and was glad I went. Excellent for a date.

(Don't blame the movie but Lewis for most of my little objections, as Alex points out in the comments, but if I were directing it . . . oh, never mind.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Minuscule Mormonism: Satan's Most Dangerous Tool?

Recently I was in the office of a local minister, a very sharp and interesting man with many accomplishments in his ministry. I was there to participate in a low-key discussion with him and some of the very good people in his congregation. He wasn't shy about sharing his opinion that one of Satan's most dangerous tool in this crazy world happens to be Mormonism. In fact, it might be Satan's most dangerous deception of all. Not atheism, not totalitarian governments that shut down Christianity, not lust, greed, pornography, or any of the much bigger religions who teach dangerous doctrines he disagrees with, but minuscule Mormonism. While this was certainly a great ice-breaker to get our conversation going, it left me really puzzled. How can a religion that teaches people to believe in Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him be the most dangerous deception on the planet, as he also put it?

I understood where he was coming from a little better shortly after he allowed me to read a few verses from the Bible to respond to one of the many charges that had been made about our faith and our alleged non-Christian status. I explained that I wasn't reading these to disprove his faith or to convert others to ours, but to show two of his followers, sincerely worried about the souls of their Latter-day Saint parents, that it's possible for a person to believe some of the allegedly non-Christian doctrines of the Mormons while sincerely accepting the teachings of the Bible. He had just railed against our belief in the premortal existence and the idea that we are spirit children of God with divine heritage, and had said that the Bible does not teach that we are offspring of God--he had used that word, offspring. In explaining how a Latter-day Saint could believe such things, while sincerely accepting the Bible and the Jesus of the Bible, I read from Romans 8:14-18,38-39 which speaks of us being children of God and if children, then heirs, even "joint-heirs with Christ" with "glory which shall be revealed in us." I then read Heb. 12:9,10 which teaches that God is the Father of our spirits. Then when I was able to read more, I added Acts 17:28,29, which emphasizes that we are "his offspring" . . . "the offspring of God." If I were trying to be nasty, I would have reminded people that he had just denied that we are the offspring of God, but I was trying my best to be tactful, and only wanted to score the point that it's possible to accept such a doctrine while also sincerely accepting the Bible, recognizing of course that there are various possibilities for how one interprets any verse, as I explained. One can say our doctrine there is too literal, but to say that it is part of what makes us non-Christian seems like a stretch.

Well, I thought I had laid out a brief but potentially reasonable and biblical case for mortals being actual children of God, the Father of our spirits, in Whose image we are created and Whose offspring we are, etc. His response, though, was to explain that my few minutes of teaching helped confirm his point of just how dangerous the deception of Mormonism was, for Mormonism had been so deceptively crafted that many parts of it could sound and look biblical--all part of a clever, Satanic scheme to lure people away from the truth.

As for Mormonism being Satan's most clever deception, I can think of a few fine points the Master Marketer overlooked. For starters, it seems like Satan would have been a little smarter to leave out the stuff that even we Mormons really struggle with.

Well, less than 1% of the earth's population with a tiny little rag-tag team of 19-year-old kids sharing Books of Mormon and telling people to quit smoking, start reading scriptures, pray with their families, live better lives, and turn to Jesus--and we're the most dangerous deception on the planet, Satan's most deadly tool. Take that, Hollywood!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Different Jesus? Really? And Just When Do Saved Christians Lose Their Souls?

My head is still spinning--or rather, my heart aching--after a painful encounter with a local minister who tried to explain to me and a couple of the members of his flock (two sweet and devout Christians) that I am not Christian because I believe in a different Jesus. Didn't matter that I claim to believe in the New Testament and the Jesus that was born in Bethlehem, the Son of God, the one who died on the cross for all of our sins. My Jesus is a different Jesus because my theology isn't up to snuff. I believe in false doctrines like baptism for the dead, modern revelation, and the Book of Mormon. I also wrongly think it's necessary to be baptized, important to try to keep the commandments (works!), and so forth, plus my understanding of what happens after resurrection (eternal families? gag!) is non-biblical. All of which means that I am not even close to being a Christian because the Jesus I believe in is a different Jesus--not the Jesus of the Bible, but maybe (I'm guessing) Jesus Rodriguez, a shoe repairman in Veracruz, Mexico who smokes cigars when he's got them and yells at his kids. Or some other Mormon Jesus, not the one that saves.

That eventually led me to an interesting question which I wasn't shy about asking.

"Exactly when do saved Christians lose their souls?"


"Well, consider one of your followers who has accepted Christ, turned his heart to Jesus, and has been saved. What might he do to lose his soul?"

Nothing, really. God is powerful to save, and once God saves someone, he's going to heaven.

"But tell me when he loses his soul in this scenario. Imagine that he decides to walk into a Mormon church service one day. Has he lost his soul? Not yet? Suppose he enjoys the service and wants to come back? Soul lost? Suppose he starts to think that maybe he should keep the commandments to really follow Jesus. Then he starts to believe that maybe God does want him and his wife to be together even after death. He starts to believe eternal family life might be possible. Is that doctrine so abominable that his soul will be lost? Then he starts to read the Book of Mormon and he feels that it is also a witness of Christ. Is his soul lost then? Still believing in Jesus and in the Bible, he also begins to believe in baptism, even baptism by immersion Mormon style, and then baptism for the dead, and a dozen other incorrect Mormon doctrines--all while sincerely feeling that he still loves the same Jesus he once accepted. He eventually becomes a Latter-day Saint. At which point does God say that his theological understanding has become so flawed that the once-saved Christian must be kicked out of heaven and cast into hell? So when did he lost his soul?"

The minister, who couldn't quit talking before, seemed surprisingly quiet. Then he came back and challenged the scenario by saying he'd never known of a born again Christian who had become Mormon. But there have been people like that, I insisted. It's not merely theoretical. If a saved Christian can become Mormon, and many have, at what point do they lose their souls--especially when they still believe, in their hearts, in the same God and Jesus that they turned to for salvation in the first place?

Likewise, the path that I and others have been through, even while LDS, of turning to Jesus and seeking salvation from Him as the only source of redemption ought to fulfill every requirement of salvation from his perspective. If I am wrong about the Book of Mormon, if I've got my info on baptism and various other doctrines all wrong, then I'm truly sorry, but after all it is Jesus I believe in, the Jesus of the Bible, and it is through His Atonement that I have peace and hope. So in spite of all the flaws I may have in my knowledge of theology, does not my sincere acceptance of Christ, the Jesus of the Bible, and my sense that I have been born again through His grace not count for something? I may have all sorts of errors in my understanding, perhaps I have been deceived on many points of doctrine, but is it not possible to recognize that in spite of such flaws, I too may be Christian?

No, absolutely not. Because of the Book of Mormon and all our many mistakes, I believe in a different Jesus. End of story.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Touch of Heaven in a Food Court

An interesting example of freedom of expression took place in a food court in a Welland, Ontario mall recently. I was glad to see that this group could organize this kind of demonstration without facing tasers, tear gas, assault dogs, or Richard Dawkins. Guess it's still a free country (OK, that country happens to be Canada). On the other hand, this was on private property--hope they had an OK from the mall owners to do this. Since the music over the loudspeakers was part of the event, that must be the case. Nice.

Organized "pranks" of this uplifting nature may, of course, get out of hand and be done in inappropriate, offensive ways, so watch it. But you're welcome to sing that beautifully around me almost anytime, anywhere. Just knock first.

Some of the story is at the Vancouver Sun. The group is Chorus Niagara.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

"I Spake Unto Thee in Thy Prosperity"

"I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice." - Jeremiah 22:21.

In this passage, the Lord is speaking through one of his servants, Jeremiah, to wake up a complacent community that had departed from their covenant with God and now found their comfort in sin, pride, and prosperity. In their prosperity, the Lord was warning them of dangers ahead, calling them to repentance, trying to teach day and night, and yet as always, they chose not to listen. Dire consequences are about to follow:

22 The wind shall eat up all thy pastors, and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness.

23 O inhabitant of Lebanon, that makest thy nest in the cedars, how gracious shalt thou be when pangs come upon thee, the pain as of a woman in travail!

Modern prophets also have been warning us in our prosperity--yes, even this troubled economy, hindered by unimaginable corruption and theft of a monstrous scale, is an era of remarkable prosperity and comfort relative to what much of the world has faced. They have warned us against the threats to our families and communities, threats to personal happiness and individual freedom (e.g., the enslavement of drugs, pornography, anger, and immorality), and threats to our souls and eternal destiny. But in our prosperity, we do not listen.

In the Lord's mercy, in His undying love for us, He will continue to call us back. That's what worries me.

It worries me because I fear he needs a humble people, a people who have felt the pangs of grief that bring us to turn our hearts back to God when the false gods we have been worshiping finally prove futile in the midst of affliction.

Jeremiah had a knack at being a bit gloomy. One can see why he wasn't the celebrity of choice to entertain at big office parties. But he saw the big picture and could see the disaster ahead if his people didn't change. Our most recent modern prophets do a great job of staying cheerful, for the most part, but we must not let their loving, cheerful personalities mute the solemn words of warning they provide. These are serious times and the dangers we face are far more serious than many think.

How to find their words? Why not try the General Conference section on the wonderful new LDS>org website. President Thomas S. Monson's talk, "The Three Rs of Choice" is one place to begin.

Put the pride down and turn yourself in--to the Lord. You'll make things easier for all of us. It really is remarkable how one person's decision to repent and serve God can change so many things and do so much lasting good. Let's all get started (again) today.

This is the basic message of Christianity, though it's hard to tell if you've been listening to some of those televangelists who teach the prosperous and the greedy that prosperity is the goal. It's hard to hear the message of repentance in too much of what passes for preaching these days. But the early and persistent message of Christ's mortal ministry was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17) and as Paul put it, God now "commandeth all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). This was the basic message of Christ and all the prophets and apostles of old: repent and follow God.

It's just so much better to do it now, right now, in spite of our prosperity. Then there is a chance that we can turn that prosperity to good to truly help others and build up the kingdom of God.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Governor George Romney Saved the Life of a Mafia Man: Lessons from Mario's Conviction

Previously I discussed one of my favorite LDS videos, Mario's Conviction: One Man's Journey from Mafia to Mormon. It is a documentary produced by Avalanche Studios, owned by my brother, David Lindsay, which tells the true story of Mario Facione. In addition to the main video which gives his full story, there is a bonus feature of a talk Mario Facione gave at an LDS fireside recounting his experiences.

Basically, he was raised to be a thief for the Mafia and became a very creative entrepreneur, eventually figuring out ways to steal large pieces of construction equipment for the mob. Yeah, could be a Harvard Business School case study on innovation, entrepreneurship, and supply chain management.

He has a trip to Salt Lake City and is touched by the happiness he sees at the airport with families greeting their returned missionaries. It puzzles him and he knows he's missing something. Then missionaries knock on his door, and while he's scared because they look like young Federal agents, his superiors tell him to go ahead and meet with them instead of running to see what they've got on him. When he realizes they are for real and have answers to questions that really matter to him, he begins listening and learning intently, and eventually makes the terrifying decision to be baptized and break ties with the Mafia. For someone who knew as much as he did, this could have cost him his life, and he knew that. In a dramatic encounter in a remote warehouse, he faces the boss and tells him he's converted, he believes in God, etc., and then he bears his testimony and tells him to "do what he's got to do."

What saved his life was the integrity of the man who was then the recently elected Mormon governor of Michigan, George Romney, who had earned the respect and fear of the Mafia by turning down a $1 million bribe and being completely resistant to the normal tools that the Mafia used to compromise and blackmail people who didn't cooperate at first (women, etc.). The Mafia boss smiled. "We know these people. You live what they teach, and we've got no problem with you." Mario didn't understand why he would say that, and for a while thought that this meant the Church was tied to the Mafia and that he had fallen for a huge and brilliant scam. It was meeting President Romney later at a church cannery on a Saturday morning, doing service work, where Mario learned more about what had happened and was able to bring all the puzzle pieces together to understand why he was still alive.

It's an amazing story that reveals much of how openly and brazenly this petty but dangerous little version of a secret combination worked, and also a touching story of how one man's example saved the life of another.

We watched this video with a lot of family over last night on Thanksgiving Day. What hit me in the video this time was how much the Lord loved a thief, a horrid little Mafia punk who had been ripping off honest people for years. The evidence of the Lord's love for this man--and for all of us--is so clear in his story and gives hope that any of us can repent, return, and make something good out of lives, no matter where we are now.

Brother Mario Facione, thank you for your courage. Welcome home!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Scenes from Salt Lake City, Nov. 2010

Here are a few photos from my recent visit to Salt Lake and a couple from 2009, for those of who haven't been there. Not a fair sampling of the Valley, but it shows a few places I saw and liked. Fascinating area. Yes, of course I've included a photo of the historic Utah Pickle Company building.

Click to enlarge slightly.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Some Online Resources for Better Appreciating the LDS Temple

Among the many great resources that can help LDS people better understand and respect the majestic restoration of the ancient Temple, a few I recommend include:
  • The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade, one of the great classics in comparative religion that identifies common patterns in ancient and worldwide religious ritual and paradigms, much of which is so foreign to modern man but so inherent to the LDS Temple. LDS people preparing to go to or return to the Temple will be aided by understanding the ancient perspective of sacred space and time, of ritual reenactment of creation and the triumph of Deity over evil and chaos, of the role of sacred centers in bringing together the world of deity and the world of the living, the symbolism of the ancient altar, etc. The link is to Google Books.
  • King Benjamin's Speech, ed. by John Welch and Stephen Ricks. While this book is really about the fascinating ancient Hebraic and other ancient elements found in Mosiah 1-6 of the Book of Mormon, Chapter 8 in the printed book (section 10 online) indirectly sheds insight on the LDS Temple by discussing the pattern of ancient covenant making that is so well preserved (or restored) in the LDS Temple. Chapter 9 deals with the theme of entering into the joy of God's presence through participating in the covenant relationship, which can be related to the LDS Temple as well.
  • Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible by Jon Levenson, a scholar now at Harvard. My favorite book on the temple!
  • Restoring the Ancient Church by Barry Bickmore. Has a chapter on the Temple and some surprising aspects of ancient Christianity.
  • "Deuteronomy: A Covenant of Love" by Stephen Ricks, Ensign, April 1990.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Not Only is "Alma" an Ancient Semitic Name, But It Is Combined with Clever Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon

On my Book of Mormon Evidence page, I've long included information about the authentic nature of many ancient Semitic names introduced in the Book of Mormon, adding to the plausibility of ancient origins rather than lucky guesswork by young Joseph Smith. One of the names I discuss is Alma, which was long ridiculed as an obvious blunder by Joseph ("how clumsy of him--it's a Latin woman's name, not a Jewish man's name!"). That attack lost a little of its oomph when modern archaeological discoveries turned up an ancient Jewish name--a man's name--name best transliterated as "Alma." Cool.

But as is often the case in the Book of Mormon, there's more coolness than meets the eye of the casual reader. One of the most fascinating things about the purportedly ancient text with Semitic origins is that many elements in it make more sense and gain new layers of meaning when we import information from the ancient world that was not available to Joseph Smith when he whipped out this masterpiece. Regarding the name "Alma," the way that name is introduced and used in the text reflects possible Hebraic wordplays on the name. That's the gist of Matthew Bowen's recent note at the Maxwell Institute, "'And He Was a Young Man': The Literary Preservation of Alma's Autobiographical Wordplay." Here is an excerpt:

Thanks to the work of Hugh Nibley, Paul Hoskisson, Terrence Szink, and others, the plausibility of Alma as a Semitic name is no longer an issue. Hoskisson has noted that "Alma" derives from the root ʿlm (< *ǵlm) with the meaning "youth" or "lad," corroborating Nibley's earlier suggestion that "Alma" means "young man" (cf. Hebrew ʿelem). Significantly, "Alma" occurs for the first time in the Book of Mormon text as follows: "But there was one among them whose name was Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man, and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken" (Mosiah 17:2; emphasis in all scriptural citations is mine). This first occurrence of "Alma" is juxtaposed with a description matching the etymological meaning of the name, suggesting an underlying wordplay: Alma (ʿlmʾ) was an ʿelem. A play on words sharing a common root is a literary technique known as polyptoton.

If it is assumed that the language underlying the Reformed Egyptian script of Mormon's abridgment was Hebrew, and if it is assumed that the Hebrew text can be reconstructed based on Biblical Hebrew (and these two assumptions must remain highly speculative), then we can detect a different kind of punning on "Alma" in the succeeding verses of this narrative. In addition to the Semitic root ǵlm (> ʿelem, "young man"), Hebrew possesses the homonymous verbal root ʿlm which means "to hide," "to conceal," and reflexively to "hide oneself." Mosiah 17:3—4 informs us that when King Noah "caused that Alma should be cast out . . . he [Alma] fled . . . and hid himself [*hitʿallam]. . . . And he being concealed [cf. neʿlam] for many days did write all the words which Abinadi had spoken." Later, we are told that at the waters of Mormon "[Alma] did hide himself [*hitʿallam] . . . from the searches of the king" (18:5). In these examples, the text plays on the homophony between Alma and ʿlm ("to hide"). Though lacking a true etymological basis, the interplay between "Alma" and ʿlm creates a clever explanation of Alma's providential escape: Alma was not only God's "young man," but also "hidden" so that he could teach and baptize the people and establish a church. This play on Alma and an unrelated ʿlm root is a literary technique known as paronomasia.

The use of polyptoton and paronomasia together involving a single name is also found in Biblical Hebrew narrative.... [read more]

(Footnotes are not shown here, but are provided in the original.)

Yeah, I think that's cool. When a knowledge of Hebrew and of ancient Hebraic literary devices enhances our appreciation and understanding of what is happening in this beautiful and complex text, something cool is going on. Something more than a farmboy with a pot of ale and stack of books.

Finally, let me remind you that Alma as an ancient Hebraic name is not as unimpressive as critics are now trying to suggest. For example, I once received e-mail with this question: "Why do pro-LDS apologists cite names such as 'Alma' as evidence? In Hebrew, vowels are omitted so any 'new discovery' is just a coincidence (Alma= LM)."

This implies that all we have for the name Alma is just two consonants that could just as easily be pronounced Lame-o, Elmo, Alum, Oleomo, Oily Moe, and so forth. This is not the case. The name in the ancient Jewish document is actually spelled with four letters, beginning with an aleph. The name appears in two forms that differ in the final letter (א [aleph] or ה [hey]), but "Alma" fits both. Transliterated into English, the first form with the terminal aleph (אלמא) is alma. For scholars of Hebrew, there is good evidence that the name should be "Alma," which is exactly how the non-LDS scholar, Yigael Yadin, transliterated it. For details, see Paul Hoskisson, "What's in a Name?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1998, pp. 72-73, which shows a color photograph of the document that has the name Alma twice. John Tvedtnes also discussed the name Alma in a well-received presentation to other non-LDS scholars, "Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon," (PDF) where he noted that in addition being found as a male name in one of the Bar Kochba documents, it is also found as a medieval place name in Eretz Israel and as a personal male name from Ebla.

When it comes to the Book of Mormon, a line from King Fu Panda applies: "There is no charge for awesomeness." Yeah, it's a free book and it's really awesome.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Parallels Between the Book of Moses and an Ancient Text

"The Apocalypse of Abraham: An Ancient Witness for the Book of Moses. ," a presentation (PDF format) ny Jeffrey Bradshaw from the 2010 FAIR Conference, explores the surprisingly rich parallels between the Book of Moses and an ancient text that Joseph Smith could not have known, the Apocalypse of Abraham. Understanding the parallels and the ancient perspective found in both documents may, by the way, be a helpful way to better appreciate some of the ancient elements of the LDS temple experience, which I believe to be an important part of the Restoration.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Multidisciplinary Parents Who Changed the World (and Diapers): Looking for Examples to Interview

For a forthcoming publication I'm working on, I'd like to include some examples of multidisciplinary women who use multiple talents to have a dramatic impact on society (e.g., innovators, entrepreneurs, teachers, business leaders, community leaders) while also being or having been great moms. It's not about "super moms" or multi-tasking, but the benefits that can come when people develop multiple talents that can come together in unusual ways to bring success. The people may be stay-at-home moms who pursued new ventures once the kids were mostly grown up or those who managed kids and career simultaneously, or other variations. Naturally, I'd like the story to have a pro-family/pro-mom twist. Any leads are welcome. Could be LDS, but doesn't have to be.

Similar examples for fathers are welcome, too. (Already have some material, but could use more.)

Suggestions (with reasons) can be sent to jeff at jefflindsay d0t com or entered in the comment box.

"Prayer of the Children" (Thank You, Kurt Bestor) and a Prayer for Peace

"Prayer of the Children" is a beautiful hymn from LDS musician Kurt Bestor that reminds us of the terror we adults create with the monster of war.

For background on this hymn and Kurt Bestor's story (a convert to the Church), see "Kurt Bestor's Prayer of the Children" by Maurine Jensen Proctor at Meridian Magazine. Kurt is from Wisconsin, by the way, which must be part of his charm.

Now back to the painful topic of war, the devil's playground.

In pondering this hymn and our nation's endless involvement with the merchants of war and the bloody business of war, wars that are not designed to bring victory or peace, I am reminded of a prophet's words in 1976 on the topic of war. The passage below is from President Spencer W. Kimball in his 1976 sermon and First Presidency message, "The False Gods We Worship." May we ponder his words and find better ways to proclaim peace, lasting peace, though means other than blowing up mountains and villages on the other side of the world.
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)

We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us—and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7)—or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do....

Enoch, too, was a man of great faith who would not be distracted from his duties by the enemy: “And so great was the faith of Enoch, that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch.” (Moses 7:13.)

What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
May we also remember the wisdom of our Founding Fathers who wanted us to be free from the "entangling alliances" that had involved so many nations of the Old World in unnecessary war. May we renounce war and proclaim peace.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Read, Understand, and Follow": The New LDS Handbooks and the Worldwide Training Broadcast

Today I attended a worldwide satellite broadcast of a training session from the leadership of the Church to help local leaders understand the changes in the new General Handbook of Directions (volumes I and II) that guide the local operations of wards and branches in the Church. A very nicely done two-hour session that included an interesting role playing scenario with a model ward council (the bishop was terrific--sign him up for Hollywood!), a panel discussion, and some inspiring talks to give overviews and some important details.

The most important changes built into the new manuals are increased reliance on ward councils to carry out the mission of the Church. Welfare committee meetings are now eliminated, being built into the operation of the ward council (or branch council). The manuals aim to decrease the burden on bishops, to be more focused on the needs of individuals and families, and to add a little more flexibility in a few areas.

President Monson pointed out that so many of the problems the First Presidency has to deal with arise from mistakes made by local leaders who failed to follow the Handbook. He urged leaders to "read, understand, and follow."

President Monson also observed that failure to read, understand, and follow the directions from the Church has led to numerous unauthorized changes in practices and even ordinations in various units of the Church. This is in a time of easy communication, of political tolerance, and abundant living leaders touring the earth to keep the Church on course. Remove authorized apostles or break down communication between leaders and the units for a few decades, and one can only imagine how far things could drift, especially when strong-willed local leaders come up with their own preferred innovations. It's a good reminder of why the Restoration was needed to bring back true authority and authorized priesthood leaders to maintain unity and order in the Church.

I was really impressed by the vision of church councils being taught by our leaders. This is not about a leader bossing people around to make things happen his way. It's about a team of people with diverse skills and responsibilities working together in love, in confidence, and with inspiration, to bless the lives of families and individuals. There is a recognition that inspiration on how to help others and strengthen the church need not come from the bishop only, but can come from others on the council or beyond, though the bishop as the authorized leaders is the one who must recognize and affirm it. This points to a paradigm of Church leaders focused more on listening than in pushing.

As Sister Julie Beck pointed out in the panel discussion, the LDS concept of leadership through councils is counter-cultural, being contrary to prevailing cultures all over the world. Because it is contrary to the way we are trained by the world, Church leaders must expect to face a learning curve to develop the skills needed to make councils function properly. But we can gradually learn how to do it.

Time well spent, in my opinion. Well organized, nice mix of content, and a good way to help leaders in the Church learn how to improve they way they work in building Zion and following Christ in the work we are called to do in our roles in the Church.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Have to Admit: I Love the New Salt Lake City

I have just spent a few wonderful days in Salt Lake City, staying with family while attending a conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center (wow, one of the best in the nation!). As a proud inhabitant of Wisconsin (you may know it as Zion 2.0), it's hard to admit that something outside the Midwest can be so nice, but Salt Lake has become a genuinely delightful city.

I was a teenager in Salt Lake and liked it, but think it's so much better now. So clean, so much interesting architecture, such beautiful mountains, and many great people and fun places to eat. The downtown is really spectacular, and many of my friends who were here with me this week for a big chemical engineering conference agree (4,200 people came here for the Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, AIChE). I heard so many positive comments about this city from engineers from all over the US and beyond. Very nice.

I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Salt Lake Temple, where I barely caught a temple session and also took some very fun photographs. Do you Salt Lake folks realize how amazing the architecture of that building is? Especially inside, it's so incredible that such quality and beauty could be crafted in the wild desert by the pioneers.

After the conference ended, I enjoyed a visit to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, where the best view in town is on the 10th floor. A well-known professor from the other side of the world was with me at the time and I thought we'd be parting ways after I dashed into the Joseph Smith Building where I needed to buy something for my son at the LDS Distribution Center, but he politely followed me. As I walked by the collection of foreign language Books of Mormon, I was amazed to see that they had a copy - just one - in his native language (I didn't even know the Book of Mormon was available in that language). He now has it as well as an English version as a gift, and I asked him to let me know how good the translation is. By the way, he really enjoyed seeing the Joseph Smith building and I think that's a great tourist stop, especially the 10th floor.

I was able to keep costs low for my employer low by staying with family in the south end of the Valley. That worked out really well. The remarkably efficient interstate system in Salt Lake made commuting into town a breeze. I-215, I-80, and even I-15 were great (tried a couple of different routes, all good).

In the Cottonwood Heights area, near the Old Mill region, I found a very good Chinese restaurant that I gladly recommend. Like many of the best Chinese restaurants, it has a weak name indicating that it wasn't the work of skilled marketers relying on focus groups with English speakers. "Tasty China" isn't the best name, IMO, but it has excellent Chinese fare in a very pretty and relaxing setting. I took my parents there and they loved it, too. (By the way, if you're a Mandarin speaker in the American Fork area willing to help Chinese immigrants improve their English, let me know. Long story, but interesting.)

I also found that Canyon Coffee and Gelato in the Old Mill area has the most amazing gelato I've tasted. Theirs is made by a master gelato maker at a place in Salt Lake--I forget the name, though. Can you help me? Somewhere near 10th East and 10th South, or was it 9th East and 9th South?

OK, I know I'm rambling (it's late and I'm ready to crash), but I want to thank you Utah folks of all faiths for making such a beautiful state and for giving us outsiders such a wonderful place to visit. Thank you!

Oh, a couple more eating tips: Tony Caputo's market has the best Italian subs ever. Wow. Amazing ingredients. Vasuvio's Organic Gourmet Cafe, almost next to Lamb's Grill, is another winner. Wonderful salads, good soups, and always healthy. Shocker: Acme Burger was closed with a notice of seizure posted on the door for failure to pay $470 in taxes. Ouch. Was one of the only burger places that I dared to admit liking.

On the negative side, I was quite disappointed with Buca di Beppo. Had been there before and thought it was good, but when I took a guest there, they seated us in a booth with a wall of genuinely disturbing photography, including a photo verging on the obscene, in my opinion. My guess is that this was a manifestation of an "in your face" attitude that some local establishments have, almost as if it were a badge of honor to violate the standards of those "repressed Mormons" in the area. I just can't imagine that this supposedly family-friendly restaurant would dare have such a photograph leering at its customers in a Midwest restaurant of this chain (in fact, they started in the Midwest so they can't be completely clueless about the fact that many of their customers might have conservative values and not appreciate extremely risque material). I asked if we could be seated somewhere with less troubling photography, and then after waiting too long for a new spot to be made ready, my guest (who shared my reaction) and I decided to walk and try someplace else. That's how we found Tony Caputos. Even they had something that may have been racy pinned up on a bulletin board that walked past to get into the restaurant, as I recall--just saw from the corner of my eye and didn't pay attention--but don't think it was close to the in-your-face tackiness of one particular booth at Buca di Beppo (maybe all the other booths are fine, by the way).

Update: On the way back to the airport, I stopped at Tony Caputo's planning to pick up a famous Utah product, Creminelli's Sausage, the only entirely dry-cured sausage made in the U.S., apparently much like the good Italian stuff nice Swiss people sometimes fed me on my mission. But in walking into Tony Caputo's, I paid more attention as I walked in to make sure I could give them a thumbs up, and was disappointed to see another "in your face" display of excessive flesh. Large, racy photos of some starving model who couldn't afford the upper half of an already budget-sized swimsuit. Can't Church welfare do something to help these poor girls? How bad was the photo? Hey, I didn't stay and linger to check out the details, but I'd say it's even worse than the toddler-height mags in the checkout lane of your local grocery store. Sigh. I'll have to get Creminelli's from some other source. Any of you tried it? (I don't expect you to react the way I do--if the decor of a place doesn't bother you or if racy media is a plus for you, then enjoy.)

Deciding to take my appetite elsewhere, I stumbled across a delightful little Thai whole-in-the-wall just a few yards west of Tony's. Ekamai Thai Curry is super small, but they've got great food. I was surprised to see that they had purple rice--actually their version is a mix of three kinds of rice, including brown rice with the rich purple color and flavor that comes from an exotic species of rice called Black Rice in Chinese (that's what it said on one package that I bought, anyway). Purple rice is my favorite part of Hmong cuisine and I jumped at the chance to try some. The Ekamai version is terrific. They added some smooth peanut sauce on top--what a great combination. That delight was only $2. I also had a great egg roll and a cold can of roasted coconut juice. A heavenly lunch. I originally asked for the mango sticky rice, but they decided their mangoes weren't ripe enough for the dish. Nice of them to check and care.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

To the Thief Who Stole My Book, Thanks, But Don't Let It Happen Again

Earlier this year a thief stole a few belongings from the president of a cool technology company, a significant entrepreneur and inventor. One of the stolen items was a copy of the book I helped write (Conquering Innovation Fatigue by J. Lindsay, C. Perkins and M. Karanjikar, John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Interestingly, I would accidentally recover that book, and that led to something very cool.

Earlier this year I found that I could get some used copies of my book cheaper than I could buy them from the publisher, so I bought up a few used ones from Amazon. They were generally in perfect condition, but one of them was "ruined" because it had an inscription. When I looked more closely, I realized it was from one of my co-authors to the very business leader I mentioned above. I called and learned about the theft that had occurred. Bizarre.

This week I was going to the same city where both of these people lived, and took the book with me to return it to my co-author so he could present it again to the original recipient. This led to a chance to meet the original recipient of the book and have a genuinely inspiring conversation and make a valuable new connection. Also was introduced to an exciting new medical technology that I think help some of the companies we work with. Lots of fun.

Well, even annoying people can unintentionally lead us to valuable new experiences and connections. Doesn't excuse the bad behavior, of course.

Bonus tip: If you do write a book, always sign the copies that you give away. This makes it harder to sell as a used book. :)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

My Insatiable Quest for Power

I have an insatiable quest for power, especially when I'm in airports (that's where I am as I write). Insatiable because I can walk endlessly sometimes without finding an available outlet to recharge my laptop (Chicago's O'Hare, for example). The few outlets installed by sadistic airport authorities were intended only for the occasional use of janitorial crews with very long extension cords and not for the masses of power-deprived wanderers. Those rare oases of hope are claimed long before I arrive by highly territorial power seekers who huddle around them to selfishly feed power to cell phones, laptops, iPods, or other greedy gadgets.

Many times when I do find a free outlet, there's a reason why it remains unclaimed. I can feel for the dehydrated trekker in the Saharan dunes of Hollywood who gives up his last bit of strength to toss himself, half mad with thirst, into the fresh waters (finally!) of an oasis, only to gasp for breath with a mouth full of sand, deceived by a cruel mirage.

Have you had the experience of having a laptop that you need for a presentation, a meeting, or a report that is urgently due, only to realize that you have no way to recharge the battery and that the power is nearly gone? I've left my recharger in my office a couple of times, have had rechargers go bad, and have had the power jack on two laptops go bad (broken connection), so that plugging in to power didn't help. Perhaps you've had batteries go bad as well. When the power the laptop needs is lost, when the connection to the source of power has failed, the computer will run down and stop functioning. All the marvelous data that has been downloaded or created in the past, all that memory, all the great work that you've done, all the wonderful tools that you have installed, suddenly become inert, inaccessible, and for all practical purposes simply gone.

Thinking about the horror of a connection gone bad in the power line from the laptop to the source reminded me of the reasons we needed a Restoration. The priesthood power and the authority of the original Church of Jesus Christ began to drain when men rejected apostolic leaders and eventually caused their death and the dissolution of the quorum of the apostles. Without the authorized power to guide the Church, to recharge and maintain its offices, to supervise its ordinances and ministry, to receive revelation on behalf of the Church, the battery of authorized priesthood leaders in the Church began to run down. Bishops, not apostles, began trying to govern and lead the Church, and eventually political powers, not priesthood power, oversaw Church appointments and councils. Doctrine became increasingly influenced by human philosophy and politics than by modern revelation to living apostles and prophets. Much of the structure and mission of the Church continued, scriptures were preserved (though not without some painful loss), the basics of Christianity were taught to millions, and good people found comfort and faith--but ordinances were changed, precious doctrines were lost, and the sun set on continuing revelation.

In spite of all the great data that had been downloaded in the scriptures and all the great works of past saints and the sincere efforts of current saints and believers, there was a need to restore and recharge the Church. Authority was restored by divine messengers, using the ancient pattern of God calling men through revelation and the laying on of hands by other authorized priesthood holders. Modern revelation was brought back.

The Church is fallible and subject to all sorts of problems that we mortals bring, but it has something truly divine: genuine priesthood power, restored, with restored apostolic and prophetic offices so that modern revelation can flow again. It's not destroying or denigrating what was done in the past with the download of early Christianity, but making it more fully accessible and energized for our day.

When it comes to the kind of power that really matters, the blessing of the Restoration helps to satisfy my personal spiritual quest. As for electrical power, that quest continues.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Haiku Tattoo Winners

I had a little contest recently for the best haiku to help others understand the downsides of that practice. I've decided it's a tie with two winners, Paul and Mommie Dearest. Here is the entry from "Mommie Dearest":

As their mom, I say:
I think your skin's good enough
The way I made it.

And from Paul:

Body art in spring
Excites, awes, inspires, offends.
Then, winter regrets.

Thanks to the many who participated! I enjoyed that little diversion.

No, I don't think a haiku will change anyone's views. It's not meant to talk down to some young person, as one commenter worried, but to give all of us a chance to consider the issue of tattoos in different ways while having a little fun.

The exercise of putting thoughts into haiku or any other poetical form can be a healthy one. To express one aspect of the value of using the constrains of haiku or other poetical form, here's new haiku for you (am embarrassed to report I actually got out of bed at 3 A.M. to write this down):

Poetry: glacier
Of words, once fluffy, now dense,
Smooths rock, carves landscapes.

Hmm, that's good enough to remember by, say, tattooing it on my back. Wait, what am I thinking? Cancel that temptation.

Hey, if you are going to get a tattoo, please get one that won't sag, fade, and look a whole lot worse later in your life. For best results, wait until your skin has already become saggy and wrinkled. THEN you can head to the tattoo shop. Plus that way, once you change your mind and have regrets, you don't have to wait as long for the most effective means known for removing unsightly tattoos from your skin: resurrection.

(Anyone notice how those who have seen angels, including resurrected beings with awesome skin, almost never mention angelic tattoos? I sort of think they don't get them over there. Guess that haiku from Mommie Dearest is right.)

Monday, November 01, 2010

What I Like Best About LDS Missions

What I like best about missions is coming home. Let me make that more clear: what I like best about missions is seeing the missionary, like my freshly returned son from Taiwan in the photo below, come home--and being so changed for the better. What I like best about LDS missions is what it does for the missionaries.

I've had three sons leave us for two years to serve God and mankind on LDS missions, giving up school, money, and girls for difficult work and challenging circumstances. When they returned, in each case, I was amazed and delighted to see who they had become. They were kinder, more compassionate, more respectful, more diligent, smarter, and even more fun to have around than before. Their faith was stronger.

As you can see below, my son (the most airborne on the right) was a little jumpy, perhaps a little flighty, at the beginning of his mission. He soon became much more down to earth. Having him home for these past couple of weeks has been just an incredible delight. I'm learning from him in many ways and relishing the chance to do a few things with him while he's here. It's been that way with all of my sons so far. I've been so pleased and amazed and what a mission has done for them. It's been worth the price, even when they had to serve in what I might consider highly challenging fields.

It's not just them. I like what it did for me. I can remember how I thought about the world and others before my mission. Frankly, I think I was too judgmental, too narrow, too selfish. Still have those problems, but I feel that the mission experience changed made some of the worse things about me a little better. I wasn't so freaked out by sin in the lives of others (we're naturally very tolerant of sin in our own lives, of course), though I was now much more familiar with the pain that it causes and the destruction it brings to families and individuals. Working with good and bad people and seeing how the Gospel blessed their lives and made them better and happier was a wonderful experience. Teaching and feeling the compassion of the Savior for others and His desire to remove the chains of sin in their lives does a lot for the preacher over time. I loved the hands-on Gospel laboratory that a mission provides, for you can see what the Gospel does to the lives of people. It brings happiness, new insights, more closeness to God, more peace in human relationships, and strengthens families. It really works.

I feel I returned more tolerant of others. Working closely with people having divergent viewpoints and vastly different life experiences can do that. There is also a refining process that comes with having to live with random companions 24/7, some of whom might initially seem like embarrassments to the Faith. But in following the teachings of the Church and the Mission President, I found out that these were sons and daughters of God too, real people deserving of real respect, no matter how much they liked to talk about sports.

The challenges of living with companions and finding unity in spite of very different views and desires was, in my mind, essential for me to have any chance of success in marriage. I think I would have been far too intolerable or self-righteous without that softening experience. I was pretty sure I knew who I wanted to marry before I went on my mission. She's now my wife, and marrying her was the smartest thing I ever did. But I'm so glad I took two more years to prepare for that blessed and challenging transition.

A mission opened my mind in many ways. I went to the Zurich, Switzerland Mission and just loved it. I become more appreciative of art and history, more interested in cultures and language (I taught people from 52 countries - what an education that was!), became more appreciative of the art of cooking, more aware of the diversity of human experience, more sensitive to the plight of the poor and of immigrants in particular, more aware of the suffering and horror of war through the stories of many who experienced it, and perhaps a little more understanding of those who are gay. I also became more aware of the good in other religions, while also better appreciating what the Restoration did. (As for gaining a deeper respect for sports, well, there's only so much refining a mission can do. It took raising four boys to slowly make some progress there.)

I also became less sure that I had all the answers, while also being more confident about the reality of Jesus Christ and the Restoration. I saw the really important aspects of the Gospel in action, and saw over and over this basic reality: the Gospel of Jesus Christ works. It frees people and makes them happier. It can bless the life of anybody, anywhere, in whatever circumstance they are in. It's what the world needs now, more than ever.

I sort of knew that in theory before, but the lab results were overwhelming.

(Note: Results will vary. Missions are never easy and can frequently be painful, sometimes too painful. A few people found their missions to be negative experiences. I think the risk was higher back before the Church "raised the bar" in terms of what it takes to qualify for mission service. Yes, it's voluntary and there are demanding qualifications to be allowed to go and serve, as there should be. A few mean-spirited or rebellious missionaries, coupled perhaps with a rare but occasional neglectful mission president, can result in very ugly experiences for others who are sincerely trying. If you don't really want to go and serve, please don't!)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Not a Myth After All? Too Few Mormon Men in the 19th Century and the Temporary Role of Polygamy

"'Go west young man' and sex ratios" at FAIRBlog.org is an important contribution toward our understanding of possible purposes behind the temporary practice of polygamy in the Church in the nineteenth century (yeah, probably my least favorite topic). It's been easy to dispel folk lore about polygamy being required because of so many Mormon men being murdered during the persecutions the Church faced. However, a more careful look at the demographics shows that there was in fact a shortage of Mormon men relative to women of marriage of age, not so much because of men being killed, but because of much higher conversion rates among women, resulting in a large influx of unmarried women to Utah. In the absence of polygamy, they would have been much more likely to turn to predominantly male non-Mormon population of Utah to find spouses or remained single in a place and era when one can argue that this was much more undesirable than it is today. Not that this was the reason--we don't know what it was--but, as Keller, the author says, it "at least seems like a positive side effect."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tattoo Haiku!

Tattoo Haiku, what’s that? Sounds like the name of a supermodel, or perhaps an anime heroine, or maybe even a sumo wrestler. Actually, it’s a contest, right here at Mormanity. As you all know, one of the top 6,458 problems facing young people today is tattoos and body piercing. OK, so maybe you think it’s not the most serious issue, but it’s one of the longest lasting and most visible ones. Some are very interesting and attractive, IMO, but usually much less so after 20 or 30 years. The Church encourages people to not pursue that route. There are good reasons for this. If nothing else, once regret settles in--perhaps Roxanne is no longer your true love, or maybe a giggling Chinese friend explains that your cool Asian tattoo doesn’t really mean “courage”--it’s not easy to fix. So let’s help raise awareness about the risks of adding a permanent fashion accessory that only fades with time.

Tattoo Haiku: yes, it’s a contest. Submit a haiku to raise awareness about tattoos, such as the challenges of getting a tattoo, or lots of tattoos. It can be about the pains of a tattoo gone bad, including the memory of love gone bad, spelling gone bad, whatever. Or it can be about our need to not be judgmental about tattoos, too, since a lot of great people get them. But we’re mostly focused here on helping young people prepare for the inevitable temptation to emblazon Lady Gaga across their lower lumbar region.

The winner will get some minor prize–either a silver half-dollar or a free copy of my internationally recognized book (I sent a copy to somebody in Canada, hence international–and he says he’d recognize it if he saw it again). If you choose the book, it will be personally signed, unless I really, really like the winning haiku, in which case the book will be unsigned: that makes it easier to resell at Amazon, according to my friend in Canada.

To get you started, here’s my own entry (though the rules of this contest excluded family members, clones of me, and me personally):

Fashion access’ry
With color always fading,
No updating: tattoo.

Contest ends at midnight on Oct. 31 (yes, Halloween, also known as "Bring Out Your Dead" day, just in time for the election).

Update: OK, to simplify life, I'm extending the deadline to midnight, Nov. 2, the same day as the election so that--speaking of deadlines--you can leave the voting queue and still have time to submit a haiku. Just like in the election, anyone can participate--you don't need to be a US citizen or even alive, and you can enter as often as you like. (At least that's the Milwaukee way, where they've had major elections with thousands more votes cast than there were registered voters.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How Best to Appreciate the Restoration of Ancient Temple Concepts?

I have the privilege of speaking to a large group of adult Latter-day Saints in the near future about the temple, including its symbolism and ancient roots. I'd like to help LDS people better appreciate the intellectually satisfying and spiritually delightful aspects of this important part of the restoration of ancient biblical concepts. I'm thinking of discussing how reading the works of non-LDS scholars like Mircea Eliade and Jon Levenson helped me while young and impressionable to gain a greatly strengthened respect for the Restoration and the pivotal role of the temple both anciently and now (I discuss this briefly on my Mormon Answers page about the LDS Temple and Alleged Plagiarism from Masonry). I'm thinking of summarizing some of Eliade's concepts of sacred space vs. profane space and what it means for the LDS temple in light of ancient temple paradigms. But before I move too far in any one direction while preparing, I'd appreciate your thoughts on what can help (or not help) in addressing this topic. Any favorite tidbits that have really helped you? Any favorite writings or articles? Any stories you would like to share in terms of the personal journey of coming to respect the ancient beauty of the LDS temple?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Double Whammy! Honesty Strikes Again

My latest post exposed the shocking honesty of a couple in Provo who went out of their way to contact me and let me know that we had accidentally deposited money in their account instead of one of my sons' account. Two days later, someone's honesty and kindness right here in Appleton rescued me from even greater expense, as I report on my local blog about Appleton.

The night before my third son returned from his mission in Taiwan, we were so excited about his return that it felt a little like Christmas Eve. At the end of a long day, I opened the kitchen door and pushed a button to close the garage door. I normally stand there and make sure it goes down OK--we've had trouble with that door before and I'm usually paranoid about it hitting something on the way down--but not tonight. I was feeling confident, bubbly, and in a hurry to wrap up and get to sleep. Moments after I closed the door and walked away, I heard a horrible crushing sound coming from the garage, and then silence. Gasp.

I opened the kitchen door again and looked out to see the wide garage door pressing down on the back of my recently purchased car--I had left it slightly under the garage door when I pulled in, intending to move it all the way in later, because a couple bins of apples were in the way from our apple harvest. The opener that moves the garage door had continued pressing down so hard that the top panel of the door had been ripped open by a metal bracket that kept moving into the door. Another panel was warped. The iron beam that holds the garage door opener looked highly bent. I figured everything was ruined and needed to be replaced, and guessed that it would cost $2000 or so, maybe even $3000. I was mostly worried about the car, but once I got the garage door released from its jammed position, I saw that it was unscratched, amazingly. Thank goodness for shocks. But the door was ruined due to my foolishness.

I went to sleep discouraged, and made a call the next morning after Googling for local garage door services.

Many people would have billed me for over $2000 to repair the door. The main door would need to be replaced, and since the new door would no longer match the discontinued style of our second small garage door, they'd encourage us to replace both at the same time, along with one or two openers (we only have one). But I was so fortunate to run into the good man that I ended up calling somewhat at random. He came over the next day and was extremely helpful in diagnosing the problem. Then came a big surprise: he had a customer with the same kind of doors who was getting rid of them, and he could salvage two panels from their door to replace the two damaged panels on mine. Same color, same style. Wow. I wouldn't need one or two whole new doors at all. Even more shocking, he said he wouldn't charge me for those panels. He also showed me how to pick up another part I needed to be replaced to save me money versus having him order it (he started with showing me how I might be able to repair the part myself, but my efforts and tools weren't good enough - the part only cost $38).

He was a delightful expert who, when he returned a couple of days later with the salvaged parts, spent time teaching me things about the doors and their operation and maintenance, and pointed out the problems that we had had from inadequate service in the past. He spent over two hours doing the repair and tuning everything up, including adjusting settings on the opener so next time the door will retreat with even a light resistance instead of self-destructing if something is in the way.

When he was done, I expected a hefty bill. I didn't have an estimate in writing and knew he could charge me almost anything at this point for his work. Would it be $500? $600? Still an amazing bargain over what it could have been, and I would not have objected, especially since I liked him. But I was in shock when he handed me his bill. He only charged me for 90 minutes of labor: a total of $65, with tax. (I pushed back and, drawing upon my well-honed negotiation skills, got him to accept a more appropriate amount.) My stupid accident ended up costing me less than 1/10 of what I had expected. Again, I'm the recipient of another person's integrity--twice in one week, both saving me a wad of cash at a time when we actually need it, given some of the demands we are facing (not to mention facing the largest tax increase in history in a couple of months!).

Can you imagine what a productive society this would be if everyone we worked with and elected had that kind of integrity? Can you imagine a world where we weren't surprised and delighted by honesty, but encountered it constantly? That kind of community is what we call Zion--an elusive goal, but one worth striving for.