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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review of Adam S. Miller’s Future Mormon

One of the most interesting LDS books I've read in a long time is Adam S. Miller’s Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2016). My detailed review was just published at MormonInterpreter.com: "A Brighter Future for Mormon Theology: Adam S. Miller’s Future Mormon," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21 (2016): 119-146. On the same day, The Interpreter also published another review by Ralph C. Hancock, "Beyond Agency as Idolatry," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21 (2016): 147-153, which I like and recommend.

Miller, a professor of philosophy and a highly respected LDS thinker, gives us much to discuss and learn from in his short collection of essays. I especially liked his deep reading of Jacob 7, which nicely illustrates just how much there is to learn and consider in the Book of Mormon when we go beyond superficial reading. I also greatly appreciate his emphasis on and understanding of grace and charity. At the same time, there are some areas where I must disagree, particularly on his critique of Terryl Givens on the topics of the premortal existence and Darwinism. I hope you'll take a look and share your comments, and I also hope you'll read and think about Miller's important work.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Mormon Scholar and His Students Changing the World for Good: Dr. Gene Cole at BYU

One of the blessings of travel is the opportunity to meet new people and learn from them. These past 3 weeks of non-stop travel have been no exception. Part of this trip involved time in France, where France and the French people charmed me like never before. How tragic that France is the site of so much brutal terrorist activity. To see such inhumanity is heartbreaking. May we not let such great evil chill the hope and charity we need to serve others and do good.

In contrast to the ugliness stemming from hate, I was greatly uplifted by a chance encounter on this trip with a man who strikes me as a catalyst for good all around the world. At a Fourth of July breakfast in an LDS ward in North Carolina with some family members (a son, daughter-in-law, and two awesome grand-kids), I found myself at the same table as Dr. Gene Cole in the Public Health Department at BYU. I asked him to tell me about his work and soon was almost overwhelmed at what this man and his students have been doing to bless the world. I should also mention his wife, who was there at the breakfast, as an active partner in their compassionate service. I was thoroughly impressed with her also. She has spent a great deal of time in very difficult parts of the world to help support their work in improving life for others. Both of these people are womderful examples of service and kindness.

Dr. Cole's focus is on low-cost to no-cost solutions to environmental problems that impact human health. He has worked with international organizations to address environmental health management issues in Central Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. He holds both a Master of Science degree in Public Health and a Doctor of Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is Professor, Environmental Health Sciences at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT. 

One of Dr. Cole's passions is helping refugees. He has worked with refugees all over the world and talked to me about the trauma they face. Their trauma comes in three stages: 1) the conflict that turned them into refugees, 2) waiting in camps, which can be unsafe, unhealthy places, and 3) the trauma of adjusting to a new place. He knows they need more than just a kit of supplies. They need a lot of support to be able to be healthy and successful in their new location. As one step toward such goals. he is a supporter of Utah Valley's Refugee Action Network (refugeeactionnetwork.org), where, as I recall, one of his students, Lauren Kelly, has become the Executive Director (Lauren Kelly). Cole's attitude toward refugees and immigrants is very realistic and compassionate: they are here, more are coming, and they need our compassion and help.

Dr. Cole and his students have conducted a major study on US health workers and their awareness of the problem of female genital cutting that is common among many of our new immigrants. The study will be published shortly. Very few health workers are sufficiently aware of the problem and few know about the steps that can be taken to repair the damage. He is working to help our nation be more prepared to treat the thousands of women who suffer from a barbaric practice that reminds me of the brutality of foot binding in previous generations of Chinese culture. The selfless work of Christian missionaries played an important role in lifting that burden from China--God bless the many compassionate workers striving to fight other barbaric practices that mutilate women in our day.

Dr. Cole kept telling me about wonderful things his students have accomplished. He beamed with pride as he talked about this terrific young people from BYU. One of them, Melissa Sevy, was working to help African women but realized that what they really needed to overcome their problems was some source of income to step out of the chains of poverty. She found a beautiful solution by creating a high-end jewelry company with jewelry made by mothers in Uganda. Musana International, with headquarters in Provo, Utah, is providing steady income for many Ugandan women. Melissa found that once women had some income, the men in their lives came back, but now the women were empowered and could say, "If you want to stay, here are the rules. You have to work and do your share," etc. This effort has given them power, income to raise their standard of living, opportunities for better education and health care, etc. So cool! You can buy their jewelry, or make a donation to Musana where 100% of the money goes to programs to help Ugandan women such as paying school fees for children, artisan health, business, and literacy classes, artisan business incubator programs, and a community library.

Another former student of Dr. Cole's, Marc Martial, founded the Haiti Health Initiative, and Dr Cole is on their board and has been involved in many efforts to help Haiti. He was part of an effort that recently added 50 clean water stands in a region that only had one before. Clean water is one of the best, simplest, and most urgent things needed to raise the quality of life of people in many lands. 

Dr. Cole also works to raise awareness about human trafficking. He told me a little about Andrew Forrest, the Christian CEO of a major mining corporation, Fontescue, who insists that all his suppliers show that they are free from practices that support human trafficking, slavery, and child labor. You would think that would not be necessary, but the problem is huge and global. Slavery is very much alive on this planet. Dr. Cole explained that every leader and every company can and should take steps to stamp out such practices. 

As you can see on Wikipedia's page about Andrew Forrest, part of what has motivated his efforts against human trafficking seems to have been the experience of his daughter:
Forrest's daughter, Grace volunteered at an orphanage in Nepal and discovered the children she had looked after had been trafficked to be sex slaves in the Middle East. This distressed Grace and motivated her father to act. Grace Forrest when 21 said at an interfaith meeting held at the Vatican, "I feel like a puppet for hundreds of thousands of girls who are voiceless – if I can stand for them, that is what I'm here to do."

Walk Free Foundation

Forrest realized he faced corrupt and powerful enemies but persisted. He established the Walk Free Foundation in 2010 to fight modern slavery. In 2013 the organisation launched the Global Slavery Index ranking 162 countries "based on a combined measure of three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country". The Index estimates there are 29 million slaves worldwide, roughly half in India and Pakistan.

In January 2014, Forrest announced a deal with Pakistan to do away with more than two million slaves in return for a chance to convert billions of tonnes of cheap coal into much needed energy.

Global Freedom Network

Forrest founded the Global Freedom Network which the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar will lead. The Global Freedom Network will work together to stop all religious faiths from using organisations involved with slavery in their supply chain.
When I heard the news [that all parties had agreed to the venture] I have to admit I became emotional. This is going to change everything. This is set up like a high-achieving, measurement-driven, totally target-oriented company, it's like a hard-edged business. We are out to defeat slavery, we are not out to feel good. This is our mission. You see the complete hopelessness in the eyes [of enslaved people]. It’s like I’m stuck, I will never get help, I am dirt. Then you know that you can’t rest until you free them.
— Andrew Forrest, interviewed in 2014
I can see why the Coles wish more people would learn from such examples. God bless the work of the Global Freedom Network and the Walk Free Foundation.

Dr. Cole praised his students, most of whom seem to be women and many of whom are looking for ways to change the world. Some are now involved in anti-trafficking causes. Others are working to solve environmental issues that affect health. Others are working to make life better for refugees. There is so much to be done. How inspiring it was to learn from Dr. Cole and sample some of the accomplishments of his students. I'm so glad I went to that Fourth of July breakfast!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Some Things I Like About Salt Lake City

After my recent surprise visit to Salt Lake City (courtesy of a verse Nephi wrote over 2500 years ago, FYI), I realized that there are some things about Salt Lake City I really like. In fact, I think it's a great place to live, even though I've been away so long.

First, I want to express my gratitude to the great medical professionals of Salt Lake, especially those at the Veterans Administration Hospital by the University of Utah. I know the VA has come under fire at the national level for bureaucratic problems and gross neglect and underfunding in Washington, but in spite of those problems and the limited resources they have, my several days of interactions with the staff at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City, both in and outside of the ICU, showed me some of the most caring, attentive, and professional medical workers I've ever seen. I was so grateful to see the good care my father was given and the constant kindness that was shown to him. There is such a spirit of service there. May our nations' many afflicted veterans of foolish no-win wars be able to receive the kind of support and kindness I saw in Salt Lake City. And hats off to our vets who have put their lives at risk for their country. So many have been shattered by their experiences. May we respect and help them.

Second, I was impressed with the beauty of the Salt Lake Valley, with majestic mountains and beautiful streets, parks, and buildings. The downtown is especially beautiful. Temple Square, the foothills, City Creek, the Convention Center--it's truly an attractive and pleasant place to stroll. Part of that beauty included the Cathedral of the Madelaine, a great symbol of the religious cooperation and diversity that is possible in Utah.

Third, but perhaps most importantly, I was touched by the pleasantness and kindness of many of the people I encountered. From immigrants to lifelong Utahans, Mormons and non-Mormons, I encountered a fairly diverse community that seemed surprisingly friendly and kind. Maybe I was just caught off-guard by drivers who don't honk every few seconds and by people who greet strangers warmly, but it was a pleasant experience. I know, it's not just Salt Lake, for I've run into this in Wisconsin and the South, and I suppose it's all over the country. Well, nice country you folks have here! Hope you can keep it going.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Seeing the Hand of the Lord: Perspective and Timing

On Friday and Saturday, we went to Chicago primarily motivated by the desire to help one of my sons and his wife go to the Chicago Temple while my wife and I took care of the kids. The breakfast at the nearby Best Western Hotel where we stayed was a load of fun for the kids and made it easy for us to entertain them.  Afterwards, we went to the stunning Chicago Botanical Garden (one of my favorite places in the Midwest).

After photographing a few water lilies, I noticed one that protruded a few inches above the water and cast a distinct shadow. But with the sun reflecting so brightly off the calm surface of the water, it didn't seem that a shot would work. Then I realized that if I could lean over it far enough enough, perhaps the shadow of the flower could block the excessive brightness of the sun and make a more balanced photo possible.

With the benefit of my long arms and legs and a solid iron railing (nope, this post isn't about Lehi's Dream and the iron rod!), I was able to find an angle that worked and get some shots I really liked, like this one:

I took a few more shots, then something strange happened: a bubble rose up from the bottom of the pond, disturbing the tranquil surface of the water as it made sudden waves around the flower. I captured the moment and found it beautiful. A second later the waves were gone, but a remnant of the bubble was still there as a reminder of what happened. Then it, too, vanished.

When I looked at these photos later, it occurred to me that some of the most precious viewpoints in life come from looking at things both from the right perspective and at the right time. Scenes that we might walk away from and ignore can offer great beauty, even miraculous beauty, when we strive to see them from a new perspective. There are small miracles waiting to be revealed in our life if we'll let the Lord guide us, both how look and things and when we take action.

A related analogy, for example, could be made for the Book of Mormon. Some people have given up on it and the Church because they are offended by the translation process and the silly notion of Joseph Smith dictating from a seerstone as he stares at it with his head in a hat to block out light that would otherwise be too bright to let him easily see whatever his mind perceived during the translation process. Dictating from a hat, how silly! But without too much stretching, there's a much more interesting perspective: he was dictating non-stop without a manuscript to read from, without notes, without rewriting, and in so doing gave us a text with layer after layer of beauty, rich in ancient elements, abounding in Semitic wordplays, revealing details from the Arabian Peninsula and the ancient world that were beyond the knowledge he could have accessed in that day. It is a miraculous text, and dictating it from a hat makes it all the more obvious that something miraculous is before us. As for timing, this is the day for Book of Mormon studies. The bubbles of knowledge aare rising after decades of waiting, and the view is more beautiful than ever.

I'd welcome your analogies on other topics from my little lily moment, if you care to share any.