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

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!)