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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Henry Eyring and Henry J. Eyring: Books for Future Discussion

The Eyring name has played a big role in the Church. It's also been important in other fields such as chemistry and science in general. I'd like to mention two interesting books from a prominent Eyring, Henry J. Eyring, Vice President of Academic Affairs at BYU-Idaho.

The first book, Mormon Scientist: The Life and Faith of Henry Eyring (Deseret Book, 2008) is about his famous grandfather, Henry Eyring, the wise and lovable Mormon scientist from Princeton University (and later the University of Utah) who many felt should have received a Nobel Prize for his contributions to chemistry.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Henry Eyring just days after my mission while I was working for my uncle Daniel Miles in the Chemistry Dept. at the University of Utah. Henry Eyring still came into the office occasionally, though he had long since retired. He spoke kindly to me and told me that my great grandmother, Victoria Josephine Jarvis Miles, had taught him for a while in a little one-room school house. I think that occurred in Arizona--not sure right now. Later that year, he would pass away and many would miss that brilliant mind and faithful soul.

The book about Henry Eyring has been well received and widely reviewed, and is a credit to Henry J. Eyring's scholarship and writing. What's really got me excited, though, is a second book soon to come out, The Innovative University by Clayton Christensen (of Harvard Business School fame) and Henry J. Eyring, published by John Wiley & Sons (scheduled for August 2011). Thanks to the kindness of Henry J. Eyring, I'm working on a post about this book. For now I am happy to report that this further work of Henry J. Eyring, in collaboration with the master of disruptive innovation, Clayton Christensen, will represent another major reason why the Eyring name (and the Christensen name) will live on not just in LDS lore but in the world of academia and broader areas still. Hint: I think what this book could achieve is monumental. It's also downright fascinating.

I'll have more to say about The Innovative University in the near future.... And maybe more to say about the chemist, Henry Eyring. What a terrific legacy.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Time to Prepare: Being Ready to Feed the Hungry

President Monson has called upon us to do more to feed the hungry and life the poor. Caring for others in this way is what the Bible defines as "pure religion" and is at the heart of true Christianity and true compassion for those of any faith. It is something we must do willingly, with our time and substance and love, helping the Lord to meet the needs of individuals. I heard a snippet from Glenn L. Rudd this morning on the Mormon Channel in which he said that the Church's welfare program is, in his view (if I heard correctly), the most spiritual thing we do in the Church. (Elder Rudd is the author of Pure Religion: The Story of Welfare Since 1930.) There's wisdom in that perspective.

Most LDS folks I know fully agree with the divine command to care for the poor and needy. But how can we do this, how can we help the poor and needy, especially in the future when disaster strikes or when the economy in general may be even more challenging than it is now, if we are not prepared? There are many with sufficient income and means who, sadly, are utterly unprepared to lift others. In spite of sufficient income for basic needs, preparation has not been a priority. Their pantry is empty, they are strapped with unnecessary debt, and a small jolt to our delicate supply chains--a truckers strike, a chemical disaster, a flood or a surprise crash of horrifically vulnerable power grid--could leave them hungry and dependent on others instead of being able to help.

By historical standards, this is a day of abundance. What a perfect time to prepare. Many cash-strapped college students can still put away a little food, a small supply for several days or more, and be ready to cope if the power is out for a few days. 72-hour kits for emergencies might just be 36-hour kits for some, but we can do more and be ready. We should spend a little time and some of our means on personal preparedness for the general challenges of life and emergency preparedness for the short-term sudden disasters that can strike. Meanwhile, building savings rather than debt should be our goal, another key to being able to help our family and others in the long run.

There are many reasons most of you can offer as to why you can't do anything about this now. You may be without money, but that does not make you poor or unable to prepare. With faith, the Lord can help us take one step after another to prepare. It may take months to build a week's supply of food on your budget, but if we turn to the Lord in faith and seek his guidance daily, we can find ways to prepare.

There is much to do right now in ministering to those around us, but let us also be ready to do more in the future.

Here are some Mormon Channel broadcasts on the subject of welfare

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Climbing Mount Ritter: The Deliverance of John Muir

Enjoyed a tribute the life of John Muir on PBS tonight. What a majestic life. What awe and respect for the glories of nature that God has given us. Though most associated with Yosemite, he also spent time exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains where he dared fate in scaling Mount Ritter. In reading his account of the perilous moment he faced and the deliverance he was granted, may we ponder our own journey in mortality and learn not to give up when falling seems to be the only option. May we hold on and be ready with gratitude, when we have done what we can, to receive at last the strength and guidance we need to find the next footholds to safety.

The following excerpt is from "The Untouched Summit of Ritter" by John Muir (1894):
Arriving on the summit of this dividing crest, one of the most exciting pieces of pure wilderness was disclosed that I ever discovered in all my mountaineering. There, immediately in front, loomed the majestic mass of Mount Ritter....

I could not distinctly hope to reach the summit from this side, yet I moved on across the glacier as if driven by fate. Contending with myself, the season is too far spent, I said, and even should I be successful, I might be storm-bound on the mountain; and in the cloud-darkness, with the cliffs and crevasses covered with snow, how could I escape? No; I must wait till next summer. I would only approach the mountain now, and inspect it, creep about its flanks, learn what I could of its history, holding myself ready to flee on the approach of the first storm-cloud. But we little know until tried how much of the uncontrollable there is in us, urging across glaciers and torrents, and up dangerous heights, let the judgment forbid as it may.

I succeeded in gaining the foot of the cliff on the eastern extremity of the glacier, and there discovered the mouth of a narrow avalanche gully, through which I began to climb, intending to follow it as far as possible, and at least obtain some fine wild views for my pains. I thus made my way into a wilderness of crumbling spires and battlements, built together in bewildering combinations, and glazed in many places with a thin coating of ice, which I had to hammer off with stones. The situation was becoming gradually more perilous; but, having passed several dangerous spots, I dared not think of descending; for, so steep was the entire ascent, one would inevitably fall to the glacier in case a single misstep were made. Knowing, therefore, the tried danger beneath, I became all the more anxious concerning the developments to be made above, and began to be conscious of a vague foreboding of what actually befell; not that I was given to fear, but rather because my instincts, usually so positive and true, seemed vitiated in some way, and were leading me astray.

At length, after attaining an elevation of about 12,800 feet, I found myself at the foot of a sheer drop in the bed of the avalanche channel I was tracing, which seemed absolutely to bar further progress. It was only about forty-five or fifty feet high, and somewhat roughened by fissures and projections. The tried dangers beneath seemed even greater than that of the cliff in front; therefore, after scanning its face again and again, I began to scale it, picking my holds with intense caution. After gaining a point about halfway to the top, I was suddenly brought to a dead stop, with arms outspread, clinging close to the face of the rock, unable to move hand or foot either up or down. My doom appeared fixed. I must fall. There would be a moment of bewilderment, and then a lifeless rumble down the one general precipice to the glacier below.

When this final danger flashed upon me, I became nerve-shaken for the first time since setting foot on the mountains, and my mind seemed to fill with a stifling smoke. But this terrible eclipse lasted only a moment, when life blazed forth again with preternatural clearness. I seemed suddenly to become possessed of a new sense. The other self, bygone experiences, Instinct, or Guardian Angel,--call it what you will,--came forward and assumed control. Then my trembling muscles became firm again, every rift and flaw in the rock was seen as through a microscope, and my limbs moved with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do. Had I been borne aloft upon wings, my deliverance could not have been more complete.
Thank God he survived and went on to do much that has made our world richer for us today.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pentecostal Minister Offers Sound Advice to Mormon Bishops (and All of Us)

Yesterday I had an uplifting conversation with a Pentecostal pastor who is assisting with congregations on the West Coast. He was extremely considerate and accepting, and never once tried to tell me that I wasn't Christian. Just kind and loving. In our conversation, we discussed some of the challenges of being a minister (he knew I had been an LDS bishop) and the difficulty of counseling people through all the challenges of life, especially when we face complex problems with inadequate training and experience. He offered some advice that I think would be great for LDS bishops and anyone offering spiritual counsel to others.

He said that when someone schedules time to come in and talk with him about their problems, he asks them to schedule an equal amount of time for personal prayer before coming in to talk. If it's a 45-minute appointment, they will be asked to spend 45 minutes with the Lord seeking His guidance on the challenges they face. Then when they come in to talk, he asks if they kept their commitment and then asks what they learned and felt in this process. In many cases, they will recognize that they already have their answer and can move on.

We teach people all the time to pray for help, but sometimes it may just seem like empty words. If we can get people to actually get on their knees and take their issues to the Lord in earnest prayer, not just for 5 minutes, but long enough to really counsel with the Lord, we might be able to let the people really grow in their journey with God.

How refreshing to find a man who teaches his people the power of prayer and personal revelation. That's advice for all of us.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

That Book of Mormon Musical

Update, April 25, 2011: After reading the commentary of Glenn Nelson over at MormonArtistGroup.com, I'm much less concerned about the musical and would like to update my opinion to this: "I choose not to go because of the vulgarity. If some people come away thinking Mormons aren't so bad, that's great." My original post follows. Kudos to Bookslinger, by the way, for directing me to Glenn's commentary.

When the artsy folks on Broadway mock your religion, the "cool" thing to do is chuckle with them and not sweat it. Perhaps the wise thing to do is to ignore it and not give any further publicity to a misguided effort. I just checked my resume and noted that I make no claims to coolness nor to wisdom, so I'll say what I think. I'm disappointed that Broadway and others in theater would stoop to belittle our religion in this way. I strongly agree with Michael Otterson in "Why I won’t be seeing the Book of Mormon musical," a carefully considered essay for the Washington Post. Kudos, Brother Otterson.

Here is an excerpt:
I’m not willing to spend $200 for a ticket to be sold the idea that religion moves along oblivious to real-world problems in a kind of blissful naiveté.

Somewhere I read that the show’s creators spent seven years writing and producing “The Book of Mormon” musical. As I reflected on all that time spent parodying this particular target, I also wondered what was really going on with Mormons in Africa during those same seven years.

So I checked.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 884 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean water. This is a huge problem in Africa, not only because of water-borne diseases but because kids who spend hours each day walking to and from the nearest well to fill old gasoline cans with water cannot attend school. According to church records, in the past seven years, more than four million Africans in 17 countries have gained access to clean drinking water through Mormon humanitarian efforts to sink or rehabilitate boreholes.
  • More than 34,000 physically handicapped African kids now have wheelchairs through the same Mormon-sponsored humanitarian program. To see a legless child whose knuckles have become calloused through walking on his hands lifted into a wheelchair may be the best way to fully understand the liberation this brings.
  • Millions of children, meanwhile, have now been vaccinated against killer diseases like measles as the church has sponsored or assisted with projects in 22 African countries.
  • More than 126,000 Africans have had their sight restored or improved through Mormon partnership with African eye care professionals in providing training, equipment and supplies.
  • Another 52,000 Africans have been trained to help newborns who otherwise would never take a first breath. Training in neonatal resuscitation has also been a big project for Mormons in Africa.
  • Then, of course, there is the tragedy of AIDS. A couple of weeks ago I attended a dinner where the Utah AIDS Foundation honored James O. Mason, former United States Assistant Secretary of Health. When he was working for the Center for Disease Control in 1984, a project to research the epidemiology and treatment of AIDS was established at the Hospital Mama Yempo in Kinshasha, Zaire. After visiting the hospital and examining the children and adults with AIDS, Mason described the death rate and the associated infections from AIDS as “horrific.” Mason, a Mormon, knows quite a bit about AIDS and a great deal about Africa.
  • None of this includes responses to multiple disasters, like the flooding in Niger, where the Church provided clothing, quits and hygiene items to 20,000 people in six inundated regions of the country.

Of course, parody isn’t reality, and it’s the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny. The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously – if they leave a theater believing that Mormons really do live in some kind of a surreal world of self-deception and illusion.
He's got more to say--please read his full essay.

Of course, I know some of our critics here will jump all over the phrase "a surreal world of self-deception and illusion." All belief systems, including atheism and materialism, are subject to such criticism (not that I think it's fair or warranted, even for some views I disagree with sharply). As usual, you're free to disagree with our beliefs and claim they are errant, but this blog is intended for civil discussion and today's post is not intended to open up the floodgates for reasons about why we are deceived. The post is about the Broadway musical poking fun of Mormon blindness to real world problems versus the more accurate view (IMHO) that Mormons are very involved in addressing some of the big humanitarian issues before us.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Zion National Park

Here are some photos from our recent visit to Zion National Park. It was cold, wet, and even snowy on one day, but eventually got sunny later on.

At the end of this series of photos you'll see a photo of an old bare tree that was near the top of the Angels' Landing hike. It is followed by some detail shots of portions of the trunk and roots. When I looked closer at the trees roots, I saw a rich display of color and texture that caught my eye. So easy to miss, but the beauty was there for anyone to look. The whorls on the roots were pale, but when I sacrificed most of by bottle of water to wet the roots, the colors and textures came out more clearly. Life is that way; religion is that way. There is richness and beauty in the roots, though they may seem dry, dusty, and decayed. A little sacrifice can help us appreciate how much is there and change what we can see.

(Click to enlarge the photos slightly.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Abundance of Pudding

An abundance of pudding was the difference between whining and rejoicing on Saturday. Volunteering to help my wife for 30 minutes for her Stake Activity Days' event ended up taking about 9 hours. I was needed, it turns out, and glad to help, but part of what took so long was preparing 95 servings of a "mud cake" dessert when only about 50 were needed. The extra trips to the store to make up for the apparent shortage in the pudding she had prepared turned out to be unnecessary, something I didn't realize until I saw the 40+ uneaten servings. Normally I would have offered seconds to people, but I just felt that I should gather them and put them in the car, with no idea what to do with them later.

After clean up, when we were about to go and I was trying not to whine in my heart for all the time I had lost, we saw some Spanish speaking families coming into the building. I felt curious and when I chatted, I realized there was trouble. They were there for a baptism of a young boy, but no church leaders were there. They were away on a trip to the Chicago Temple. I looked toward the baptismal font behind wooden doors and could tell that no water was flowing. The doors to the font were locked. I was worried for them--this event was not about to go smoothly. In fact, it was one of those little disasters that can so easily happen in a busy ward especially when multiple languages are involved. We spent more time trying to reach ward leaders (surprisingly difficult), and finally helped to communicate and coordinate next steps. A misunderstanding had occurred, and the baptism would be rescheduled for tomorrow.

An important little thing happened in this process. The sorrowful mother with so many relatives and friends gathered for this big event, struggled with what to do--wait two hours to do the baptism there (that's how long it would take to fill the font) or hold the service tomorrow. She needed a little time to think and consult with her husband. Meanwhile there was a room full of kids, anxious and full of energy. That's when my frustrating day became worthwhile in a moment. The pudding! With permission of the parents, I ran out to the car and came back with a big tray of the beautiful little dirt cake desserts I had spent so much time making "in vain." "Would anybody like some dessert?" I asked. Never have I heard such heart-warming cheers of joy. They followed me into the cultural hall and each child took one of the cups I had prepared (a couple taking care to make sure it was OK with their parents--a wonderful example of dietary caution and parental respect). That kept them busy and happy while the parents discussed what to do and helped take some of the edge off the disappointment. Especially mine.

There were only two cups left. Three hungry boys gladly shared the last two. Nothing went to waste. Not even my time - a whole day was shot and it suddenly became a cause of joy, not whining, knowing that I was needed after all and helped turn a disaster into just a major problem. It really mattered that we were there to help track down leaders and negotiate alternative approaches and help keep the kids happy. The families went ahead and had their big meal together there with the fabulous tamales the mother had made. They invited us to share and I had some of the best tamales I've tasted in a long time, with perfect mole. Wow.

The puddings that I had gathered up and saved in my car, not knowing why, became little gems for me in that moment. A tiny little blessing, even a little miracle in my eyes, one that I'll treasure as "the miracle of the pudding."

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Caring for the Poor--and Why I Pulled the Plug on a Failed Post

I rarely do this, maybe the 3rd or 4th time in my years of blogging on several blogs, but yesterday I pulled the plug on a rapidly written post that I sorely bungled. I bungled it, in my opinion, by not giving enough explanation to avoid having several people draw unintended and unnecessary offense. Sorry to those of you who posted 11 comments in the six hours that it was up. To the majority of you who were upset and angry, your comments weren't wasted. I did take it to heart and realize I had conveyed meanings utterly unintended. Here's the background to the hastily-written post, for those who care, with what I hope is a more proper way of presenting my thoughts on the issue of caring better for those who are in need.

After visiting some friends doing research at a university and inquiring not just about their research but about their workload, I came away quite surprised at how difficult university life has become since my days in academia. Acceptance rates for research proposals have plummeted. The challenges of obtaining funding are more painful than ever, resulting in arduous hours and frequent disappointment. I asked a professor friend why it's so hard now. Whether you agree or not, he said the stimulus program had been part of the problem. That was not what I expected at all. He explained that when Congress started dishing out billions of extra dollars to stimulate the economy, there was a flood of new money going to universities and research institutions, which resulted in a surge in hiring of staff. Now those new mouths need to be fed with a shrinking supply of funds. Thus, professors have to write more and more proposals with declining acceptance rates. The good intentions of the stimulus program created an imbalance that is now causing long-term pain, in his opinion. Perhaps that's related to the kind of pain we've seen here in Wisconsin, with years of overspending now catching up to us (or, according to one perspective, failure to raise taxes fast enough), leading to unpleasant consequences with no easy answers.

During the same week, I had visited a national park and encountered another lesson in the long-term pain that can arise from the unintended consequences of well-intended actions. I finally learned the reason for all the "Do Not Feed the Animals" signs in our parks. A detailed explanation from the National Park Service indicated that humans feeding the other animals in the park often leads to their death. Apart from the poor nutrition and harmful foods we might give, a potentially bigger problem is that animals who get fed by humans may teach their young to feed that way instead of learning what it takes to survive in nature. When the tourists go away in winter, those animals that learned to look to humans for food may die a slow death of starvation. Kind intentions can sometimes have unkind consequences.

I was considering the issue of unintended consequences and especially the problems that can occur when government bureaucracy steps in to solve a problem, as allegedly reflected in the short-term effects of the stimulus program or the long-term effects of the War on Poverty, where financial incentives were somehow created for children to be raised without fathers, arguably contributing sharply to the decay of families (also see Thomas Sowell's argument that it increased dependency instead of lifting people out of poverty). So often there are unintended consequences, especially when impersonal systems tackle the unique needs of individuals. What is meant to help, if done poorly, can make things worse.

In drawing insights about unintended consequences from the care of wild animals, I am in no way insinuating that any of you are like them any more than I am. Ditto, tame readers, for the parallel drawn to wild professors.

My post didn't tell the university perspective I had been considering or adequately present the issue of unintended consequences and the need to consider the unique needs of each individual when caring for each other. Some of you assumed (or wanted to assume?) that I was saying that the poor are like animals that we shouldn't feed. No, absolutely not. Some turned it into a racial issue. Gag. I am all for vigorously caring for the needy. I mean that sincerely. It is our mandate from God, in fact. I am close to a number of people in extreme circumstances and understand a part of their endless frustrations and desperation. We may all be there one day or at various stages in our lives. Indeed, we are all needy and beggars before God, relying on His goodness constantly, admit it or not. Our goal, as brothers and sisters, is to help each other, to do more for each other, and to do it in love. One need not be in good economic health to be part of God's work in helping others--we can serve with our might or our mites.

Of the various ways out there to help, some can be impersonal and even harmful due to unintended consequences. Some can lift and provide help when and where it is needed. Government programs sometimes do that, and it's great when it happens. Church programs sometimes don't, and it's sad when that fails. But each of us can do better and can do more. In each case, we should seek to do what really helps others in the long term. What makes us feel good and look good isn't always what is needed most. That takes more work, more listening, and sometimes a lot more investment of time and money.

I feel that the principles of the LDS Welfare Program, as discussed in my aborted post, are consistent with these thoughts. The LDS Welfare Program includes the concepts that the long-term benefits of individuals and families are key, with unique needs being considered in prayer and love. Doesn't always happen, but those are the principles and they are inspired ones. There isn't a Kafkaesque bureaucracy to deal with nor vast tomes of code regulating what can and can't happen (but there are constraints, realities, and some rules). There aren't endless forms to fill our and long lines to stand in (though results and expediency vary). The goal is not to create dependency but to create independence and self-esteem.

It doesn't always work, but I've seen it work well, wonderfully well. I've seen good people in trying circumstances receive generous and personalized help from people who know and love them, helping them to get back on their feet and cope with the ongoing trials of mortality with more hope than before. I've seen it lift givers and recipients and help them both feel more part of a family of God's children. Yes, I've also seen and participated in failed or botched efforts also. And like some of the people we've handed money to, we've seen good intentions fall flat. I'm thinking, for example, of a man last year who told me with a big smile that he was going to use the money he had just received to buy crack cocaine--it was an extreme case that was really my fault for being rather foolish; it was right to help, but I should have helped him in a better way. I'll tell the story one day because it's a surprising part of a longer tale wherein God kindly applies another classic 2 x 4 to my forehead, a store that I must share--don't ask why now. (I might call it "Finding Moses.")

We need to help the poor, and we need systems and programs to deal with challenges. However, we can't rely on systems; we can't rely solely on others to do the work. Each of us as individuals has talents, abilities, and perhaps material resources that we can apply at various times in our lives to help those around us. When someone is struggling, we cannot always assume that the bishop or the government has it all taken care of. There are still financial constraints and other barriers that can limit what they can do. If we open our minds and listen to the promptings of the Spirit, we may find that we can and should do something extra for someone we know or perhaps a stranger. It can be amazing to watch what a little kindness can do to lift someone else. Sometimes a simple word of advice and encouragement, like the man who literally lifted a finger in my previous post on bighorn sheet, is what is needed. Cash, on the other hand, has its merits, and now is a good time to be generous: once it loses its value, it does nobody any good. (But also invest a portion in commodities or other things that will retain value when the dollar tanks. And building a good food storage can be one of the kindest things you can do for the needy of the future.)

I believe when done prayerfully, seeking revelation on how to help, the risk of doing harm instead of good is greatly reduced. That applies to bishops managing the welfare program as well as each of us managing what resources we might have. Doing real good is not easy, but should be our task and goal.

Frankly, often the best way to help someone who is hungry is to give them a fish. You can feed a person for a day by giving them a fish--not bad! On the other hand, if you teach that man to fish and get him hooked, you can help lead that man to a life of heavy debt (boat, gear, etc.), heavy drinking (the basis for ice fishing), and long-term marital trouble (gone every weekend). A nasty boatload of unintended consequences. Now is that what you really wanted to do?

Anyway, sorry for the misunderstanding from my recent now-yanked post, and thanks for your patience. Now let's get out there and do some lasting good

Update: As an example of a bad way to help the poor with possible unintended consequences, consider the minimum wage program. Read the 1996 Joint Economic Committee report on the minimum wage. Though intended to help the poor, there is a credible case that it's real result is to destroy jobs and opportunity, the thing the poor need most. The poor tend not to have jobs. How many of them would be helped if we set the minimum wage, to say, $100 an hour? A lot of poor people wouldn't suddenly become well off. More poor people and many high-school and college students would suddenly become unemployed. Let's create jobs, or allow the market to create jobs, rather than telling employers they can't hire people unless they can afford to pay a certain wage. Well, that's just my crazy idea. It must feel good to pass a minimum wage law and think you are now raising salaries for millions of needy Americans, but the reality may be that you're raising barriers.

Update, April 12, 2011: See also "The Minimum Wage: Washingtons Perennial Myth" by by Matthew B. Kibbe and Minimum Wage Hikes Deserve Share of Blame for High Unemployment by Dennis Mitchell, with a great Economics 101 video by Orphe Divounguy.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Maybe Science is More Like Religion Than You Realized

You grew up thinking that it gave you absolute, dependable answers that you could trust. It made you feel secure, like you could make sense of the world through its power. Then you gradually learned it didn't have all the answers, that it's most beloved leaders sometimes were just plain wrong, that their biases had occasionally distorted their teachings and doctrines, that there were even serious errors in the writings and teachings you once felt were sure standards of truth. Their errors might be understandable in retrospect and could be steadily corrected over time, but it left you doubting, at least sometimes. You came to realize that human error and uncertainty was everywhere, and that many teachings and paradigms required a question mark over them because so much ultimately was tentative and could one day be revised, even reversed. The world was no more so snug and secure, and you could no longer put your full faith, at least not blind faith, in that system you once trusted so much.

Sadly, you could no longer could you put all your faith in science.

Some of us religious folks can relate to that.

Whether it's science or religion, anything that has to go through human hands and minds is subject to errors in expression, transmission, understanding, interpretation, and even basic printing and translation. Whether it's Mormon history, understanding the scriptures, interpreting the world around us, making sense of the teachings of leaders or the workings of the Spirit as we pray, there is always uncertainty and the possibility of error. There will be disappointments. And yet, in spite of the uncertainty, there are great gems of truth that we have discovered that bring bright new light to our view. From the First Law of Thermodynamics to the foundations of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, there are grand principles that we may not fully understand, but which serve as precious foundations for further knowledge.

Yes, there are questions and errors and embarrassing moments, but this is mortality, the time when we see through a glass darkly, knowing that there is more light and understanding to come in a more perfect day. We plod forward with faith, conducting our experiments in mortality the best we can with our limited labs and failing equipment, taking some steps in light and some in faith, being confused in some areas but seeing patterns of truth unfold in others. It's a difficult journey, but whining is no help and the uncertainty is no excuse for retreating in ignorance or giving up.

There is truth, there is a God, there is a Christ, and there are abundant evidences to confirm that and more. Yet we are left on our own so much of the time, needing to seek and remember and relearn many basic truths, one experiment after another. It's mortality. Let's get used to it and move forward in faith and knowledge.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Shame on the Quran Burners

I'm really bothered by the Americans who gathered to burn the Quran, a deliberately inflammatory act to desecrate the sacred book of Islam. Look, you're free to disagree with Islam and any other religion. But to deliberately provoke anger, to deliberately give haters of America a tool to stir up more hate and anger, is utterly irresponsible and unchristian. Shameful.

If you must express your intolerance by burning books, then feel free to burn my book. Yes, it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make to save lives and promote peace. You're welcome to burn thousands of copies of it--on sale now at Amazon. Once you know that I'm a cultist myself and the book promotes the bizarre cult of innovation right here in the United States, you'll feel better the more of it you burn, and so will I.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

When the Lord Points, Look--Or, The Value of Lifting a Finger to Help

While driving out of Zion's National Park last week, a man was parked at the side of the road. He didn't even look at us as we drove by, but did make a simple gesture with his hand to point to something. All he did for me was to literally lift a finger for a second or two. That was enough to call my attention to something barely visibly from the road: a bighorn sheep goat. By the time I turned by head and realized what was there, we had driven through a tunnel. I was sure the animal goat would be gone by the time we could turn around and go back, but it was worth trying anyway, I figured. So we turned around and parked at the side of the road. The stranger was nowhere to be seen (is this how those three Nephite stories get started?), probably because he had driven away in his terrestial Ford pickup truck rather than vanishing into celestial strands of the space-time fabric.

Were we too late? No, we spotted a bighorn sheep's goat's head in the distance. Then another. And then they came into view more clearly. Wonderful! For about 5 minutes we feasted on wild sheep goat--visually. What a blessing.

Sometimes all it takes for us to be kind and helpful is to literally lift a finger, pointing out an opportunity to a passerby. Sometimes that's all the Lord needs to do for us, if we'll turn around and look at the blessing waiting to come into view.

Monday, April 04, 2011

General Conference: A Great Way to Experience the Real Teachings and Spirit of the Church

The April 2011 LDS General Conference was an inspiring and uplifting time for those who participated. The recorded and written talks are being made available online (Saturday's sessions are already posted and I suppose Sunday's sessions will be up in a few hours). For those who are outside the Church looking in, I highly encourage you to listen to Conference if you wish to understand more about the Church. Conference is where we learn from living apostles and prophets, where we get the direction that will guide our teachings and work, our application of the scriptures, and our service to God. And for those who have been influenced by the flood of hostility from our our critics, a couple hours of Conference will help show that what you've been about us is a far cry from reality.

In Conference, you will learn that our leaders are focused on helping us to draw closer to Christ, to have stronger and healthier families, to serve the poor and the needy more lovingly, and to follow Christ in a covenant relationship. You will not hear constant appeals to donate more, worship of man rather than God, or salvation independent of the Atonement of Christ.

This Conference was a touching reminder of the joy of serving Jesus Christ, of the joy that God wants us to have in our families and personal lives, and of the joy that we can bring to others through Christlike service and sharing of our substance and faith. It was, of course, a truly Christian and Christ-centered event, though those who insist that we are not even Christian have long since stopped their ears toward what we actually teach in their zeal to "save" others. The messengers they deride and ignore are true servants of God, called by Jesus Christ today as in days of old to be the apostles and prophets He has set in His Church (Ephesians 4:11-14). May we listen more carefully to what the Lord inspires His servants to teach us.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Lichen All Things Unto Us: Adventures in Zion

In 1 Nephi 19:23, Nephi writes that "I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning." With the "liken unto us" theme in mind, here are some photos and lessons from my recent trip to Zion, as in Zion's National Park in Utah, close to St. George, a desert town that my ancestors helped build. In St. George, my wife and I visited the St. George Temple and did a session in that beautiful and historic building. We also hiked in Zion's National Park, including the breathtaking climb to Angels' Landing, a 1500 foot climb to a breathtaking view with perilous cliffs at your side along the final section. So you can say we went to where angels land and to Angels' Landing, both in Zion.

Lesson 1: The Beauty of Lichens
While we were surrounded by massive sandstone beauty with big, imposing structures to admire, there was also beauty in the smallest details that most people completely ignored. The little lichens on the rocks presented scene after scene of ever-changing beauty, so unpredictable and varied in composition. Lichens are amazing systems, a community of fungus and algae cooperating together to form new structures that could never be done alone by either organism. Lichens can grow on bare rock or soil and thrive where life would seem improbably. They remind us that we can thrive and create beauty in our lives even under difficult circumstances if we can team and cooperate with others. Serving and working with others is where so much of the richness of life is found.

Lesson 2: Angels and the Iron Rod - to be continued.

Click to enlarge any of these photos.

If you would like a free 8 x 10 print of any of these shots or some of the shots I'll post this week from southern Utah, make sure you follow this blog and then make a comment in the comments section. I'll pick at least one winner on April 10 and mail out prints. Man, where else can you get such stuff for free? A couple shots may be zoomed in too much already for a good 8 x 10 -- I'll need to check. The ones I recommend are #6 (with a lot of bluish colors) and the last one, #9.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story, and a Perspective We Need Today

In the BYU TV programming between LDS General Conference sessions today, we had the pleasure of seeing the T.C. Christensen film, Treasure in Heaven, the powerful story of just how much good can be found in critics out to expose the Church. At least that's what a good Baptist and fellow Christian, John Tanner, was out to do when he went to hear some Mormon missionaries shortly after the founding of the Church. He sought to serve God by applying his good knowledge of the Bible to expose the Mormons preaching in his area. Instead, this prospective anti-Mormon would be touched by the power of the Spirit and he sensed that he needed to look into the Book of Mormon with a sincere desire to know if it came from God. He ended up gaining a spiritual witness of its truthfulness and would also have a miraculous cure to his diseased leg that was threatening his life. From then on, he served God in the Restored Church with all his heart--and with all his substantial material posessions. This wealthy and respected citizen was moved by the Lord to go to Kirtland just in time to make crucial large donations that allowed the Church to keep the land for the Temple. He would give more, even all he had, and do so gladly. There is much we can learn from his life and from his perspective that transcended the temporary material things that can choke our faith and love for God. What a man and what a legacy.

You may wish to read the Ensign's story about John Tanner.

Here is an excerpt from Leonard J. Arrington's article, "The John Tanner Family":
It was the middle of December in 1834 when John Tanner, a recent convert to the Church in Lake George, New York, “received an impression by dream or vision of the night, that he … must go immediately to the Church” in Kirtland. He disposed of his property—several flourishing farms, a hotel, and orchards—loaded his numerous family and several neighbors into wagons on Christmas morning, and traversed the five hundred mile distance to arrive in Kirtland on a Sunday, January 1835.

He had indeed been needed. A mortgage on the temple site was falling due and, according to some accounts, the impoverished Prophet Joseph and some of the brethren had been praying for assistance.

John Tanner did not hesitate. He loaned the Prophet two thousand dollars and took his note, loaned the temple committee thirteen thousand dollars, signed a note for thirty thousand dollars with the Prophet and others for goods purchased in New York, and made “liberal donations” toward the building of the temple.

There is no evidence that any of these loans were repaid. Later, when he moved with his family to Missouri to build up Zion there, they had a “borrowed team and one old broken down stage horse, and an old turn pike cart, a cag [keg] of powder, and $7.50 in cash,” according to his son, Nathan. (George S. Tanner, John Tanner and His Family, Salt Lake City: John Tanner Family Association, 1974, pp. 74–77. Subsequent references, unless otherwise noted, will be from this volume.)

It was the beginning of generations of Tanner service to the Church, service not only to the Church as a whole but also at ward and stake levels wherever they lived.