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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Update on the Murder of a Mormon Bishop, Clay Sannar, in Visalia, California by Kenneth Ward

Further details are coming in about the murder of a Mormon bishop, Clay Sannar, by an ex-Mormon, Kenneth Ward. Kenneth left the Church after his time in the military, while serving in Operation Desert Storm. He lived in Modesto, but drove to Visalia to the ward where he used to attend church. The murderer apparently suffered from mental illness and when he became irrational, he often brought up religion and his anger for being excommunicated years earlier by another bishop in the ward.

The victim, Bishop Clay Sannar, acted with heroism, according to the TV report below, when the armed assailant came into his office. He tried to stall him while yelling commands to get other people out of the building swiftly, and apparently even sought to protect others after he was shot and dying. The murderer arrived around 12:30 which, according to friends formerly from the Visalia Ward who were in my home last night for dessert, was between the meetings of the Visalia Ward and a single adults ward, so the building was relatively empty--only about 30 people at the time.

Bishop Sannar was in his 40s and had a large family with young children. If you would like to help, my friend Connor Boyack has set up a fund for the Sannar family. Any amount given would be welcome.

Here's a TV account about the murderer:

As a recovering bishop myself, I know a little about the anger that people can project toward LDS bishops. I know about the difficulties arising in enforcing Church policies that stir anger and hate in others. I also know how well-intended actions can be misinterpreted as evil and hostile. I once had someone unload on me after years of pent-up anger for something I allegedly did to hurt them in a parking lot while I was a bishop. The person soon realized that whatever I did or said, it was not intentional--he never explained what he thought I had done, but fortunately decided to forgive me. I also know how easy it is for bishops to make mistakes and offend others--for some people I was probably especially difficult and I can look back and see some major mistakes in my service (thanks to those who patiently endured me!). In this case, though, the anger had nothing to do with anything Bishop Clay Sannar did other than his role in serving the Lord in that office. The praise for Bishop Sannar suggests that he was a genuinely Christlike man and a terrific bishop seeking to serve the Lord and selflessly serve others, right up to the last few seconds of his life. I even heard him praised by an employee of his company, Soil Basics, for being a terrific boss--this is praise that few bosses in the world earn, so I think that's significant.

As tragic and horrific as this senseless and hateful killing is, I hope we can forgive and move on, trying our best to serve as Christ would have us serve and not being too distraught by the anger that fills the souls of others, including many who shun violence but still really detest Mormons. The comments and cruel jokes on some news pages on this story remind me that we are terribly misunderstood and loathed by a great many people, sometimes even in the name of advancing alleged causes of tolerance or equality or love. We have a lot of work to do in building more understanding among our neighbors, friends, and even enemies.

For the family of Clay Sannar, the reality of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of the Resurrection offer great hope, but who can imagine the tragedy that has befallen them and the grief of having a good father slain solely because he was a Mormon bishop by someone who hated the Church?

Donations for the Sannar family can be made at Pledgie.

Click here to lend your support to: Help Bishop Sannar

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why Simple Answers and Easy Evidence Often Don't Float: Lessons from Ducks

I picked up a New Era magazine (the Church's magazine for teenagers) and read a cute and instructive little article, "When Ducks Don't Float" by Webdi Wixom Taylor (May 2010 issue). As young children, Wendi and her two sisters received three newborn baby ducks. Wendi thought their little wading pool would be a perfect home for them. They filled it with water and set each of the ducks onto the surface--only to watch in horror as all three ducks sank straight tot he bottom of the pool. The quickly rescued them and puzzled over what went wrong, for everyone knows that ducks float and surely these lightweight little creatures should float, too. They speculated that they had been too sudden, and that if they just slowly set the ducks down onto the water, all would be well. Once again, all three sunk straight to the bottom. Absolutely stunning--this just made no sense.

They dried them off and then noticed there was a phone number on the box they came in. They called to ask for help and received some surprising new information: newborn ducks don't yet have the oil on their feathers that makes them repel water. Without that oil, the feathers absorb water and the ducks will sink. This fact didn't fit and caused more confusion, for the girls had seen baby ducks just a few days old on the water following their mother--of course baby ducks could float!

There was yet more to digest in order to understand their problem. The patient person at the pet store explained that normally, baby ducks pick up oil from their mother as they huddle under her wings, allowing them to float shortly after birth, but these ducks didn't have their mother to give them that protection. On their own, they needed more time before they would have their own oil and be safe on the water.

I think the article is intended to remind young people of the importance of the training and help we get from our parents, but I was most intrigued by the collision between logical expectations and the complexities of physical reality. Ducks float, everyone knows that, but here were ducks that sank. That made no sense, and neither did the explanation about newborn ducks not yet having oil on their feathers. Observations were clashing with the teachings of the pet store person. Only after getting further information about mother ducks and the oil they provide to their babies could things fit together and make sense.

Religion is that way, too. Critics and impatient observers can easily find problems and puzzles to demonstrate that our religion doesn't float. Responses from Mormon apologists can be easily dismissed with some argument or observation, just like the explanation about baby ducks and oil. Sometimes their are good answers and even faith-building evidences, but only if one is willing to understand some complex details. Many issues involving the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham come to mind. Ditto for almost any issue involving the apparent clash of religion and science. And then there are the vagaries and complexities of Church history, where many legitimate unknowns remain due to incomplete and often contradictory information.

I've heard people say that all the writings from Mormon people, myself included, to defend their faith wouldn't be needed if it were actually true, because there would be simple, easy answers for everything. Poppycock. There aren't simple, easy, and accurate answers for numerous simple questions like what is matter, what is time, how does light work, or even who invented the airplane or why don't my ducks float? Asa we begin to deal with the collision of the Divine and the mortal, things can be vastly more complex. There are answers, but one must be willing to search and be able to understand that long-held assumptions--like all ducks float--may no longer be accurate.

In our journey for truth, there are difficult things to be mastered, and some puzzles that will not be understood for decades to come, perhaps not until after this life. Let us beware of making judgments too rashly or too harshly. Don't be surprised when reasonable answers to simple questions regarding our faith involve several complex considerations along the path too resolution. The Gospel of Jesus Christ that is taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, in spite of some errors of mortals and gaps in our understanding, and is worth a lifetime of study and pondering. If something doesn't seem to float, don't give up and walk away. Call the Help Desk on high, reach out to others with knowledge that can help, and keep seeking. This approach has brought many rich blessings in my personal journey, along with a lot of old assumptions being cast off along the way.

In spite of some disappointments and many puzzles still unresolved, I am able to honestly declare that the Book of Mormon really is part of the Word of God and is a divine record intended for our day, and valuable evidence for the divine call of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, mortal and fallible though he was. I can also declare that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a precious gift and an instrument to bring us closer to God and Jesus Christ, with power and authority from God that can bless our lives and our families more than any other organization.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Finally Upgraded My Blogger Template: Following Is Enabled

Today I just upgraded my blog to use Blogger's new template system. It took a lot of work to maintain the basic characteristics of the old Classic Blogger template I was using, which already was highly customized and which wasn't available as one of the new template choices. For you pros, it's all a piece of cake but took some tinkering with the code to get things back to what I wanted. Now there are some new features, including the ability to let people follow this blog more easily. I'm open to suggestions and if you see any bugs, let me know.

Have been on the old Classic system since 2004 when I began Mormanity.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Religious Freedom, Mormon Temples, and the Ground Zero Mosque

The Mayan Calendar prediction of the End of the World in 2012 was off by just a few months, since the real End of the World will be Sept. 11, 2011, if I properly interpret the signals I'm getting from talk radio. That's when a Muslim mosque (the "victory mosque") will be opened near the site of the 9/11 tragedy.

Yes, I understand the arguments that building this mosque seems insensitive to the victims of 9/11 and that it might look like a stick in the eye of America rather an effort to reach out to America. Initially I nodded my head to some of those arguments. But this is an issue for New York to settle, not us, and if the mosque supporters have the proper approvals then I think American energy or outrage could better be focused elsewhere. In fact, I'm quite concerned about the outrage part. Why is this such a big deal to so many shouters? And why the anger towards an entire religion? I've heard way too much talk linking Islam per se to terrorism and violence. Yes, I'm aware that there are Muslim terrorists and rogue governments, and that the Koran has some troubling passages that can be interpreted to support violence and religious intolerance--just like the Old Testament. But Islam itself is not the problem. I've taken some heat for sharing the thought that Islam is a religion of peace and deserves respect, in spite of some very violent practitioners. But the vast majority of Muslims I know (OK, these are generally college-educated people living in the States) are men and women of peace, compassion, and tolerance, and good family-oriented people who share many basic values with conservative Christians. Even if you think it's a terrible religion, it deserves the freedom of religion that our Constitution affords.

The very positive thing from this Ground Zero Mosque controversy is that some forces who, in my opinion, were once enemies of religion and seemed only interested in eradicating the influence of religion from this country have now become ardent supporters or religious liberty. This is great news. I hope all those who are now speaking of freedom, diversity, and tolerance will be equally supportive of us Mormons next time extremists want to shut down a Mormon temple or belittle a prominent Mormon figure for his religious beliefs. Let's welcome this new era of religious tolerance! And may we actually have more tolerance for each other, including tolerance for our many Muslim friends (any actual enemies we don't need to tolerate as much).

9/11/2011 will probably not be the end of the world, even for many who feel troubled and insulted by the new mosque. The real end of the world won't occur at least until the next housing market report from the government, or perhaps the November elections. But 9/11 could be the start of more respectful religious dialog, and perhaps an era where we can build more LDS temples and have the suddenly-more-tolerant media go all out to encourage encourage respect for a religion that, like Islam, is still highly misunderstood.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Priesthood: A Very Big Deal for Mormons

From the LDS perspective, the priesthood is essential to our faith and to the LDS experience. We believe that the original and the restored Church of Jesus Christ required authority given by God in order to teach, baptize, and conduct other ordinances in the name of God. It is not enough to want to serve or to feel a call--one must be called by those having authority from Jesus Christ, just as Peter and other disciples were called by Christ and Hus authorized representatives. Priesthood authority was essential for the Restoration and is essential for the daily operations of the Church. At a personal level, members can receive priesthood blessings from priesthood holders who may be the father in a family, missionaries, a bishop, or others. These priesthood blessings, using the Old and New Testament concept of blessings by the laying on of hands, can be for healing, comfort, and guidance. For many of us, priesthood blessings have been an important part of our lives and somethings that we are deeply grateful for.

Here's a brief Mormon Messages video about the priesthood.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Surprising New Twist on the Book of Abraham: The Kirtland Egyptian Papers as a Cipher for English Text

One of the most interesting puzzles in the story of the Book of Abraham is the role of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, also called the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. These appear to be working papers used by Joseph's scribes and some say that they show Joseph's translation process. In these papers, Egyptian characters (and others) are on the left and text from the Book of Abraham is to the right. Yes, one might guess that the text is supposed to be a translation of the characters. But the crazy thing is that sometimes an entire paragraph is next to a single little character. The critics say that this shows just how ludicrous Joseph's translation was, using the assumption that the characters on the left are what Joseph was translating. There are problems with this, for careful examination of the papers shows that the English text was put down on the paper first and the characters were added after. A plausible explanation is that the documents were created after Joseph had completed his translation by others seeking to understand a relationship between his translation and the characters. But that still leaves plenty of questions.

Now, according to an important presentation by William Schryver at the recent FAIR Conference in Salt Lake City, careful examination of the documents and some surprising discoveries point to a new explanation for what the scribes were doing with the English text and the Egyptian characters. Rather than trying to translate Egyptian into English, they may have been doing just the opposite--creating a code or cipher from Egyptian and other random characters to represent English text. It was a strange experiment but one that fit in with some theories of the day.

This helps explain not only why English text was put down on paper first, but also why many of the once-presumably "translated" characters weren't even Egyptian at all.

Fascinating study. I look forward to further insight into this theory. Your thoughts? Any of you hear the actual presentation?

Instead of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers proving that Joseph was hopelessly inept at translating, they may actually just show that his scribes were hopelessly inept at secret codes.

Update, Aug. 15: Below are videos from William Schryver giving a version of his presentation. Fascinating content! However, Chris Smith has made some important points in his informal remarks to Kerry Shirts after the presentation. He notes the later chapters of the Book of Abraham had not been published and presumably were not yet translated when they were supposedly being used in 1835, according to Schryver's theory. If the translation of Facs. #2 and the later portions of the Book of Abraham did not take place until long after the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP) were produced, then the textual links between the Book of Abraham and parts of the KEP might plausibly be explained with the pre-Schryver hypothesis of the KEP as a translation tool for production of the Book of Abraham rather than as a post-translation cipher for English text. It's fair to ask if Schryver's intriguing theory moves us closer to the truth or is most valuable in stirring up healthy debate and fostering further discovery. I'm not sure at this time. There still remains John Gee's point that careful examination of key parts of the KEP appears to show that the English text was written first, with the characters being added to the margins later, as if an effort were being made by scribes to understand the translation or find relationships between characters and existing text. I look forward to further understanding from the scholars in this area.

The Meaning and Purpose of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers - Part 1 from William Schryver on Vimeo.

The Meaning and Purpose of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers - Part 2 (HD) from William Schryver on Vimeo.

P.S. I should note that it will be hard for me NOT to be biased in looking at Schryver's work. After all, the guy is a software engineer, plays the organ, speaks Italian, and lives in Cedar City--none of which I do, but all of which impress me. And he's done a lot of homework with some truly original thinking. Even if he ends up being wrong on some key points, he will certainly have done us all a great service and advanced understanding of the KEP and the Book of Abraham.

Love the New "I'm a Mormon" Videos and Stories at Mormon.org

Check out the video from the Sherinian family in Virginia at Mormon.org. I really like these people!

Or check out the family of superheroes when Rochelle Tallmadge, the redhead from Texas, tells us about her and her kids (the kids get all the capes, but she's the real superhero). (If the video doesn't load, click on her image at the bottom of the page - something is strange with that link.) There are some powerful messages in her story. Anyone thinking about having an abortion might benefit from the perspectives she offers, especially if you're being pressured to have an abortion because the baby will be born with Downs syndrome or other problems. No, abortion is not discussed at all--but her understanding of the value of special needs children adds an important dimension to discussions on the sanctity of life.

I also really appreciated the video of Rose Yvette, a terrific artist. On her page, below the video, she answers one frequently asked question about the Church. I like her viewpoint here.
Why don't women hold the priesthood in the Mormon Church? How do women lead in the Mormon Church?

The role of womanhood is completely equal, never a subservient role, to that role of the priesthood for men. Women are equal recipients of all the priesthood blessings and have opportunities of leadership within the Church from the highest level of General Authorities down to the congregation level, roles that compliment and work in conjunction with the men's roles. The women and the priesthood must function together, one unable to do its role without the other.

When one looks at the priesthood, it is designed as an officiating power of keys and ordinances to bless others and never to be used for self-aggrandizement and even within the temple, women can officiate in certain ordinances. But, when understanding the organization, the structure of the Church, men or women cannot aspire to any position by our own will. A person is called to a certain assignment for a time but there is now power structure to ascend as it were.

There is no sexual discrimination, a perfect balance, but just as men and women can have similar gifts, there are definite gifts and attributes that are given to women. But while the priesthood must be conferred on a male, the role of womanhood and all its gifts, attributes are given to women by their very nature. It is said that women are on the errand of angels in their innate gifts. Women are also encouraged to continue their education and to constantly improve their skills.

I learned about this feature at Mormon.org from my friend Greg Nielsen, who has his own profile there and a great story as well. Enjoy! Maybe some of you should post your own stories there as well.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thank You, Naperville!

A relative of mine in need has shared with me some really touching stories of goodness and compassion from the people of the Naperville Stake. It's making a big difference for a lot of people suffering in this deep recession that I'm worried might go even deeper. Without giving details, let me just say I'm impressed, relieved, and inspired by the generosity and Christian service being offered by so many people there. A great example for the rest of us. Thank you, Naperville!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Fatal Blow to My Testimony of . . . the Times and Seasons Blog

Times and Seasons is one of the most established and best LDS blogs with a variety of great writers and in depth discussions. But tonight, my testimony of that fine blog was shattered when a friend suggested I try accessing it while I was waiting for a meeting in an LDS stake center. Suddenly I got this frightening warning message (click to enlarge):

Yikes! All this time I thought Times and Seasons was just a good-ol' Mormon blog. I had no idea I had been lured into a site about "Non-Traditional Religions and Occult and Folklore." That occult part was scary enough, but to learn that it also dealt with folklore--whoa, you have to admit that sounds like some kind of cult.

Fortunately, I saw that Mormanity was not blocked by the filter there. At least not yet. (Maybe first thing tomorrow morning, though.) This blog is just a good ol' Mormon blog about my very traditional Mormon faith. You can bet I'm not going to start messing with any of that folklore stuff here.

Of course, when I'm home alone and no one is filtering what I surf, I might still give into temptation every now and then and take a scandalous peak at Times and Seasons.

OK, on a serious note, when LDS facilities do have Internet service, they are meant for Church use and are likely to be password protected for use by those on Church business. It's good policy to have strong filters in place. Anytime a commercial filtering service is used, all sorts of anomalies are likely. It looks like a third-party automated system is in place that may have misclassified a fine LDS blog (or maybe some article or comment was problematic and that has hurt the whole site in the filtering system). I've seen my own mild-mannered pages at JeffLindsay.com banned by various commercial filters for content labeled as occult, hate speech, or inappropriate humor. It is usually possible to request reconsideration of an unfair classification, and I hope someone will do that in this case and allow Church servers to deliver delicious helpings of Times and Seasons--and make sure they get me properly blocked (turns out there is a bit of folklore here after all and just a touch of non-traditional religion).

Bottom line: anomalies happen, but it's good to have Internet filters on Church-provided wifi. It's just odd that I'd be able to get pass the filters, especially with questionable content like tonight's post.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How to Get Every Good Thing that God Can Give You

Overwhelmed with all the opportunities and projects before me, wondering how I can possibly pursue them all and get all the things done that I need or want to do, I sat down this morning with the Book of Mormon and flipped it open randomly to page 522 and began reading at verse 20 of Moroni chapter 7. I like this passage very much now:
[20] And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?

[21] And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.

[22] For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.
It goes on to speak of exercising faith in Christ to "lay hold of every good thing" (v. 25) and also speaks of miracles and angels.

The pursuit of every good thing begins with faith in Christ and turning to Him for help, forgiveness, and guidance. Every thing that God determines is good and needful for us in mortality can be reached--His view of "good" may not always conform to ours--and then the journey continues after this life, when the limitations of time and mortality are no longer barriers. Eternal life--it's a happening place. Exciting beyond anything we can imagine and the ultimate good thing that we should be pursuing with zeal and passion while here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

"How Are Your Legs?"

While boarding a recent flight, I had to squeeze my long frame into the usual small gap that economy seats offer. My long legs were scrunched up against the seat in front of me, bracing for the usual torments of flight. A strikingly attractive, modestly dressed woman in jeans sat across the aisle and looked over in sympathy. "How are your legs?" she asked. I smiled at this friendly gesture and responded: "Actually, people say they are really quite attractive. . . . And I was about to ask you the same question." I reached out to shake hands. "Hi. My name is Jeff." She blushed and then cracked up.

I love traveling with my wife.

From the silly little moments to breath-taking drama, there's also an adventure waiting for us in marriage. Just a reminder that it can and should get even more fun over time.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Why the Term "Mormons"?

We are often called "Mormons", a nickname based on our use of the Book of Mormon. Mormon was the name of a New World prophet and general who edited the gold plates with the sacred record now called the Book of Mormon. He died around 400 A.D. He is shown below as the wounded general with his son, Moroni, in this painting by Arnold Friberg. Some suspect that neither of these men were really quite this buff. Click to enlarge Feel free to use this image--and you can hotlink to it since it's from the LDS.org server and they don't mind for this image.

This image is from the MormonChurchDoctrine.org server. You can use it or even hotlink to it, as I have. Be sure to use the term "Mormon" with it. I'd like to see this become more prominent in Google's search results for Mormon. Click to enlarge.

Though "Mormon" was first used as a term of derision by our enemies, the name stuck and we've been using it ourselves for many years. However, some LDS people prefer to be called "Latter-day Saints" rather than Mormons, and many may be disappointed when people call the Church "the Mormon Church." Since there are some folks out there who spend a lot of time trying to tell people we don't even believe in Jesus Christ, changing the name of our Church to the nickname of "Mormon" plays into their hands. So remember that it's the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, never the Mormon Church, but personally I don't mind if you call us "Mormons" as long as you're at least trying to be polite.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sometimes the Storms Are by Design

Feeling beaten up by the weather of life? Sometimes the storms we must brave are by design, intended to strengthen and even nourish us.

Faith and patience can help us cope, even for those more violent and damaging storms that were not created by a gentle Gardener's hand. But don't be surprised at how the Lord can help us grow even then.