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

Friday, July 30, 2021

A Sacrament Meeting Worth Shouting About

Sunday turned out to be one of the most exciting sacrament meetings I can recall. It was exciting because a wonderful young lady, a 16-year-old who came to America as a refugee from the chaos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, stood at the pulpit to give her first talk and touched the entire congregation. It was especially exciting because she gave the talk in Swahili, with my wife at her side giving the English, allowing our many Swahili speakers to finally hear a talk in a language they can understand. (I almost said "in their language," but that would be a mistake. For those coming from the Congo, Burundi, or Rwanda, it's their second, third, or fourth language. One of my new friends from Africa told me after sacrament meeting that he speaks 10 languages.) I wasn't the only one excited by her talk. When she finished, there was a loud cheer from the pew behind me that filled the chapel with the joyous voice of her proud mother, celebrating her daughter's accomplishment. I clapped very quietly to join her mother in celebration. 

My wife and I helped our young friend to write her talk a couple of weeks earlier. She told her story in English as I typed. We edited it down and then practiced the Saturday before. We felt having my wife at her side could help her face the great fear she had about speaking to a large group of people, and by going one sentence at a time, English first and then Swahili, it could help her and the audience. I was very proud of my wife and her loving influence on this young lady, and especially proud of my wife when she supplied a couple of Swahili words when the girl stumbled (e.g., the difficult word for "saints," watakatifu). 

Our friend told the story of being just 9 years old when the family had to suddenly flee with almost nothing in order to escape the growing danger in their homeland. She told of crossing a dangerous border at night to evade the Congolese authorities that would force them back into the Congo, and of having to split up into small groups, apart from her father and other family members, not sure if they would ever see each other again. Once into Uganda, there were new dangers and hardships. Her father was able to resist those who wanted to split the reunited family and send them to two different refugee camps. They were blessed by the kindness of a stranger on a motorcycle who helped them find friendly police and even went out of his way to bring back food for the family. Kind Ugandan police even cooked breakfast for them. So many challenges had to be overcome, but they eventually were brought to the United States as refugees, and I am so grateful for the many people who have shown kindness and love to this large family, both in Maryland and now Wisconsin. 

She told the story of how her family began to seek God more earnestly in their lives. They attended several churches but she was confused by the differing teachings. Then a relative told them about Appleton, where he had also found a church he liked. They moved here and began attending the Appleton Second Ward. But when the missionaries challenged them to be baptized, she said no, even though others said yes, because she had heard that Americans baptize by just getting your head wet in a little bathtub, but she wanted to be baptized like Jesus, by immersion (kwa kuzamishwa). But after learning that that's how we do it, and after gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon, she had the courage to be baptized, and reported that she has found lasting happiness through the Gospel, happiness she didn't have before. 

It was a great moment, or about 20+ minutes of great moments. And it wasn't just Mom that wanted to shout for joy. Other non-African members told me how exciting the talk was for them, too. A sharp young man from Burundi told us as we were driving him home that he loved the meetings at church that today and that "the talk" was his favorite part. 

I am so proud of the members of my ward for their support and love for the many investigators and new members who have come from Africa. 

I am also so proud of my community, Appleton, Wisconsin, a little Midwest town that was nearly all white a few decades ago and has had its own struggles with racism but has become a vibrant community where refugees and immigrants from several parts of the world have found kindness and great opportunities, and are welcome and important parts of both our church and our community. 

I feel a real need to express my gratitude to Appleton and the surrounding Fox Valley area and Wisconsin in general for their acceptance and support of the many African people who are now here. My wife and have been in many homes of African families in this community in the past couple of months, and what I see are people who are grateful for this country, grateful for the kindness of this community, and who feel safe and welcome. Their challenges are still great. Some have family members still in Uganda who may need to wait years more until they can be united again. They are working hard, often in local food manufacturing factories, but inflation is taking a toll as rising housing costs plus increasing costs in other areas are really hurting and complicating life. They will have many struggles to face in the future, but there is much to rejoice over now. I am grateful for what we share in this great community, this great country, and in the glorious, unifying Gospel of Jesus Christ for those who embrace that as well.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Chosen: Act Now to See the Season Two Finale Within 24 Hours

My life has been uplifted and touched deeply by the brilliant series, The Chosen, on the life and message of Christ. I just saw the finale of Season Two, episode 8, which was broadcast tonight and will be available for the next 24 hours via the app or the website. All of Season One and so far 7 of the 8 episodes in Season Two are also available on BYU TV (get the app or view it on your television via Roku or other services). 

I love so much about this series, including the attempts to provide reasonable backstories for some of the events and characters. Yes, there is plenty of speculation and artistic license, but it's done in a way that at least helps us ponder the biblical account more deeply, recognizing that there may be significant background stories for many of the details in the Gospels. I love the portrayal of the humanity of Christ in the flesh. I respect the treatment of women and the efforts made to help us better appreciate the women that were part of Christ's life and ministry. 

This grand production is offered for free to the world, relying on donations via crows-sourcing, perhaps the most remarkable fruit of crowd-sourcing in the history of entertainment. I hope you'll join me in making a donation to support the completion of Season Three and beyond (seven seasons are planned). 

Latter-day Saints watching this may think it's a Church-produced film, but it's not. The director and co-writer, Dallas Jenkins, is not a Latter-day Saint, but I think that nearly everything I've seen so far can be appreciated by those in the Church. So much of it resonates with the Christ we know from our scriptures, including of course the New Testament, but also the Book of Mormon and beyond. I feel the series can be a great tool to help us appreciate the majesty of the Savior but also what it might have been like for His mortal followers to cope with the challenges of being a disciple to a Master who often disrupted their expectations and constantly took them out of their comfort zone. So many of these issues apply directly to our day as well, with those who seek to follow Him being increasingly in tension with the world around us. 

This series can help us reconsider our own lives, better visualize and recall the example the Savior, better appreciate the value of those around, even those whom we may dislike or condemn. And if nothing else, watching this series will help us yearn to better understand the scriptures and the power of the Messiah's life and ministry. 

Please watch this series and share it with others. And please help it become available to more people (the goal of Dallas Jenkins is to have 1 billion people see it) by making a donation today to support this inspiring work.


Thursday, July 01, 2021

Embracing C3ns0rsh1p: A Survival Guide with Helpful Input From China

I marvel at the shock and outrage of some conservative voices as their posts, tweets, and entire websites are progressively downgraded in search visibility, flagged as "fake news," demonetized, deplatformed, or, in the case of a few unruly celebrities like our former President, exiled for life from major social media platforms. It's time for these complainers to embrace the new order and specifically, to embrace what they may call "c3ns0rsh1p." As I will explain, accepting and living with "c3ns0rsh1p" (better to say "fortification of democracy") is a lesson I learned in my 9 years of living in China, a place I love deeply.

As an ardent embracer recognizing the new reality, I'm not going to properly spell out the word I'm embracing (cens0rshi1p, c3nsurship, c3ns0rsh1p, sensorship, etc.) lest our very delicate search engines and deplatforming algorithms misunderstand my warm embrace as some kind of complaint against their valiant fortification work.

If your response is, "C3ns0rsh1p? What c3ns0rsh1p?," then you have already learned a basic survival lesson well. I congratulate you. No need to keep reading -- here, or anywhere else.

If this supportive post were misunderstood as some kind of complaint, that could have serious consequences. For example, Ron Paul, a former presidential candidate, an outspoken critic of President Trump, and a heavy user of social media, suddenly found he was locked out of his Facebook account immediately after he made a post complaining about so-called "c3nsorship" from the Big Tech lords of social media. Some who recognized the importance of shutting down Trump and his supporters on social media were surprised at the silencing of Ron Paul, but it makes sense when you understand social media's new and majestic role in protecting national security, as I will explain shortly. However, the chains on Ron Paul's account were soon removed as Facebook, faced with backlash from Ron Paul's many supporters, felt it was best to back off for now and declare that a mistake had occurred. We can only hope that Paul learned his lesson and will be less critical of our new democracy in the future. 

Being deplatformed for politically incorrect statements can be traumatic, especially when one uses social media tools for one's employment. I, too, have a painful lesson I learned in this regard. 

My current work frequently involves reaching out to people on LinkedIn, which is a prized database of numerous contacts and a source of rich information that helps me almost daily. To be booted from it would be painful and harmful, so it was quite a scare when my former boss once informed me that LinkedIn had just canceled a post of mine for violating some policy. Was I on the path to being deplatformed? Perhaps! The errant post linked to an article summarizing several peer-reviewed studies that suggested we were not being given accurate information by the media about the efficacy of some treatments for COVID. I didn't say I agreed with the article, but did say that if the summary of those studies was accurate, it did raise questions about the integrity of the media. What was I thinking? My boss agreed with my post, but still, posting it was a big mistake since I had questioned the wisdom of the mainstream media and might have even unintentionally supported something once said by Him Who Must Not be Tweeted about potential treatments for COVID. That's pretty shameful, but I must live up to my error and reform.  I have carefully reviewed my past errant attitudes and now recognize the need to accept the established media authorities as authoritative. I will strive to better comply and "follow the science" by accepting authoritative declarations from anointed authorities rather than turning to the science directly or to antiquated notions of the "scientific method" where I may make grave political errors. 

Learning from China

Prior to the rise of our current administration, China was often criticized for "c3nsoring" information. Highly educated Chinese people generally know that information is carefully controlled in China -- searches on some controversial issues will reveal nothing, harmful sources of misinformation like Twitter, Facebook, and the Wall Street Journal are banned, dangerous or critical comments on social media will be censored, and severe penalties may be applied for sharing information that undermines social harmony and national security. But many of the educated in China and probably most citizens in general understand that this is necessary for a stable, healthy Communist society. They have learned that there may be some inconveniences, but that nearly everyone is better off by embracing or at least quietly accepting what Americans call "c3nsorsh1p." Don't think of it as deleting, banning, or rigging information, but as "fortifying" information to enhance national security. That's my take on how information control is generally viewed (though this issue may be highly complex).

When you realize that for a harmonious society, "national security" often means protecting the status quo and keeping the Party firmly in power, then of course the Party must take steps to "fortify" information as it works in unity with information outlets across the land. And then you won't have to worry about whether a report is "true" or not, or whether important information has been withheld or manipulated. You will understand that the information you receive is what is needed for national security and shows you the right way to view things. That should be enough. Through steady trust by the people for the government, security and democracy are fortified. There will be harmony, not the chaos we tend to have, or once had, in America.

Achieving such harmony requires tight cooperation between all aspects of social media, news, and information flow in China. Social media giants, news outlets, publishers of all kinds, and schools and universities all closely cooperate with the government to ensure harmony and national security. National security, of course, entails preserving peace and social stability with the safety, security, and respect of the Party being absolutely essential. The government is the Party. Democracy, a widely accepted and publicized value in China, is all about the rule of the Party, the people's Party, which does receive input from the people in many ways in a fortified form of democracy. (Westerners may be surprised by how frequently one sees the Chinese words for "democracy" all over Shanghai and other cities.) Preserving democracy is preserving the Party. Careful control of information and vigorous actions against sources of trouble are viewed as essential in protecting and strengthening China.

Sadly, many Americans still cling to outdated ways and view such vigorous measures to fortify democracy as "totalitarian," as some form of "thought control" or "brainwashing," and use other pejoratives like "c3nsorship."  They don't understand that such fortification is a vital aspect of national security. Harmful information can fan flames of dissent and threaten national stability, decrease trust in the Party, and stir up lawbreaking, violence, or rebellion against the Party. Violence and rebellion are sometimes used for bringing about revolution, of course, but once the revolution has established the Party as the legitimate reigning authority, the Party must strive in every way to secure national stability  by ensuring its power remains unchecked and unthreatened for the good of the people. This requires careful control of information to ensure that what the people learn engenders trust, compliance, unity, harmony, and other virtues. This should all be so basic, but remarkably, it's still quite foreign to many anti-progressive Americans who haven't waken up to the realities of our new order and still demand what they call "freedom of speech." 

China, for the record, points out that among the many rights that the government kindly provides to its people is freedom of speech, provided that it is done according to law and the dictates of national security, which may differ from the chaotic, non-fortifying version some Americans demand.  (Article 35 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China grants freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, and Article 36 provides for freedom of religion, though all must be done according to law, which may, of course, impose certain restrictions as needed to fortify national security, etc.) The enumerated rights granted by the government are impressive. On the other hand, many Americans don't see their freedoms as rights that are granted by government and subject to any limitations by law, but insist that their freedoms are given by God and that certain rights cannot be taken away by government. It may take some reeducation to remove those old notions. Our schools and universities are succeeding in shaping proper attitudes among the young who are taught to revile the founders of this nation and its original principles, graduating with almost no real knowledge of the Constitution and the noble principles behind the Republic, but what of those still clinging to the old ways? Limiting their influence may be the most humane thing possible, as far as state security goes.

Fortifying Our Democracy with Fortified Information Control

One you recognize that there is a need to "fortify" information to protect national security (which, of course, means protecting the power of those who rule), you will more easily drop the doubts and stupid questions that can disrupt our national harmony. You won't fall for crazy conspiracy theories, even if they are later accepted by the authoritative media, because you will trust the timing of when you should believe what, knowing that there may be a national security purpose behind it. A very practical example comes from the history of COVID pandemic, when it was initially "bad" to think that everyone needed to wear a mask, and later it was essential to believe that. It's not that the scientific "truth" changed, but that there was initially a political need to suppress individual mask purchases to ensure that there were enough masks for healthcare workers. You might be tempted to complain that Fauci and others "lied" to you at first for political reasons, but the right and noble thing to do is trust that there must be reasons for the information tweaking, and then comply. Ditto for other declarations coming from trusted authorities that seem to change radically over time due to political issues.

When you are enlightened about the need for national security above all, you won't ask harmful, doubt-stirring questions but will comply as needed and maintain harmony. More specifically, you won't read authoritative statements from the Party or its major media outlets/PR organs looking for contradictions or questioning their "truth," resulting in arguments and hostile feelings from others who better embrace the new order.  You won't ask ridiculous questions about why the mainstream media refused to carry stories about the disclosures of Tony Bobulinski ("Tony who?" -- yes, that's the right response!) in October 2020 prior to the election, or why news about Hunter Biden's laptop was not reported widely before the election ("what laptop?" -- another perfect answer). 

You won't make the mistake of millions of angry Americans who misinterpreted the authoritative article in Time Magazine about the fortification of the 2020 presidential election. I refer to the thoughtful and reverent reflections shared by Molly Ball in "The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election" (Time.com, Feb. 4, 2021). This article carefully details how a group comprising insiders from the Party, CEO's of Big Tech and other corporations, and other entities closely cooperated to ensure that Trump was overthrown, the only and obvious "proper outcome" of the election. Angry Americans looking for fault have criticized this as if it were revealing a conspiracy to rig the election. What they don't get is that this shows the the important and benevolent role of Big Tech in fortifying our democracy, something they should celebrate, not condemn. Here's an excerpt on the fortification that some have misunderstand -- but by now, I trust you will understand and embrace it:

This is the inside story of the conspiracy to save the 2020 election, based on access to the group’s inner workings, never-before-seen documents and interviews with dozens of those involved from across the political spectrum. It is the story of an unprecedented, creative and determined campaign whose success also reveals how close the nation came to disaster. “Every attempt to interfere with the proper outcome of the election was defeated,” says Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan rule-of-law advocacy group. “But it’s massively important for the country to understand that it didn’t happen accidentally. The system didn’t work magically. Democracy is not self-executing.”

That’s why the participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream–a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it. And they believe the public needs to understand the system’s fragility in order to ensure that democracy in America endures.

I think that is beautifully and accurately expressed. The media is not "rigging" or "c3ns0ring" anything; they are just working with the Party to fortify our democracy. Fortification is something you really must learn to embrace if you are to survive the new order. 

Likewise, with a healthy appreciation of the importance of state security, you won't make the offensive and silly mistake of publicly asking why, if COVID is so frightening and requires that we surrender so much, must we then open our borders and allow tens of thousands of people to wander into the country without being tested for COVID, and why our government won't answer questions about how many COVID cases have been introduced through the non-crisis at the border? The answer, of course, is that this must all be about national security and the long-term security of the Party. Trust the decision, trust the omniscience of our rulers, and don't trust those who moan about "crisis" at the border (what crisis??). If national security is being fortified, it's for our good (i.e., the good of the Party) and no complaints should be tolerated, even if some things seem illogical or questionable based on our limited knowledge. And you won't make Ron Paul's mistake of denouncing the enhancement and fortification of information because you will understand that the purpose of social media and of journalism itself is not to spread information or uncover unpredictable stories, but to protect and fortify national security. To criticize the PR team of the nation and its party is, therefore, to undermine national security. You can trust that the silencing, though temporary, was certainly appropriate. It's all about national security and trust.

Remember, in Gov we trust.

Don't criticize and cry foul when you are disappointed by fortification. If the government announces that chocolate rations are being doubled, don't do your own hostile "fact checking" based on outdated data like last month's allotments and cry out that the new 50-gram ration is only half of the previous 100=gram ration. You must recognize that for purposes of national security, there must be a good reason for the new "doubled" ration. Smile, be grateful, and go on, doing your duty quietly. Life will be much more harmonious that way. 

More from China to Ponder

Shortly after President Trump was banned from Twitter, I had a surprising conversation with a citizen of China. "Jeff, how can this happen in America?," she asked. "He's irresponsible, yes, but he's the President of the United States. If he can be censored in his own country, what will happen to freedom of speech for the rest of you? That's what America stands for, and if that's lost, what will happen?" I was somewhat speechless and didn't want to say anything that might encourage her in a potentially sensitive rant. At that time, I didn't understand the nature of our own revolution underway, otherwise I could have simply explained that silencing enemies is necessary for national security in the new state. Perhaps she would have understood, perhaps all too well. 

Caught off guard, I muttered something foolish about biased media with a double standard, citing an example of hateful rhetoric from the leader of Iran calling for the destruction of Israel that has remained on Twitter in spite of its supposed policies against hate speech (I won't risk linking to the article, but you can read one side of the story from the Jerusalem Post under the headline, "Twitter downplays Khamenei calls for genocide as political speech.") I apologize for that error. In fact, I now understand that no hypocrisy or double standard is involved. There is only one standard now: national security, which naturally entails protection of the Party and silencing of enemies. Twitter knows what they are doing, and we should trust them, of course, though China doesn't for some reason.

China has some valuable things to teach Americans as we adjust to the new dawn of enhanced informational guidance in America. I lived there for 9 years and deeply respect the Chinese people and love much about China, and have often been criticized by Americans for talking about some of the very positive things there like its world-class intellectual property system and the economic freedoms that have lifted many from poverty. While China is very different from America, or has been historically, it has much to teach us about surviving and staying out of trouble. 

In the very progressive land of China which has evolved to a one-party state where we don't have the bitterness and divisions that come from multiple parties and the many problems of elections, state security and stability are essential. Security is obtained by preventing dangerous uprisings, requiring most public gatherings to be approved by and monitored by the government, carefully monitoring what people say and do online, using observed behavior and input from others to create a "social credit score" for every person that determines what rights the government chooses to grant you, etc. Though very different than our historic traditions (many of which must be dismantled anyway for social progress), it's a very effective and powerful system, developed in part with the help of tools from Big Tech.

To live in China is to understand that there are some things you just don't want to say, ever. We recognize that our emails, texts, phone calls and online actions are monitored, whether by humans or creative electronic tools. It's important to accept this and act appropriately in China, and we should probably do the same here for our own good. We Americans often say that we want our voice to be heard. We need to adjust that kind of thinking to be more like, "We want our voice to be heard, provided it is consistent with WHO and government guidelines and properly fact-checked by government-approved corporations." Who would want anything more? When you know that your government is  trustworthy, objective and always accurate, then surely it should be wrong to disagree. Why allow people to say and think things that are wrong?

There is an ongoing and politically necessary fortification (critics may call this a "purge") underway now, like fortifications that have happened in many other well fortified nations in the past.  Here it's being done mostly by large, trusted corporations, the ones who vigilantly control most of the information that Americans receive via social media and mainstream media sources to help fortify our nation. Concerted action by these giants has led to the silencing of thousands of unruly voices, the elimination of unwanted competitors, and the creation of fortification warriors (called "mobs" by some haters) that help "cancel" harmful voices of doubt and dissent. It's a new age, and one that we had all better welcome, or else. 

Some benighted foes might say that this is not a step toward a healthy democracy, but a step toward "tyranny. " That's a sad way to describe a fully fortified democracy. I could like to tell you to please disregard what they say, but there's actually no need, for the system will quickly disregard them for you. They will be cancelled and silenced, and we should be grateful for that. The new age brings great progress toward unity by eliminating dissent, and you can stay happy and safe if you just do the new American thing by laying low and cooperating. To achieve peace and unity, it's vital that you don't ask questions. Compliance is peace. Trust is harmony. Canceling is unity. Follow the science.

If you've heard of alleged cases of dissent being cancelled or silenced, don't get agitated, but calmly learn from their experience. Understand where they went wrong and avoid that mistake. This applies to individuals in most cases so far, but will increasingly apply to institutions, including religions. There may be a need to tone down some doctrines and update certain scriptures and policies to more fully fully support whatever national security needs may arise.

This is the time to prepare to more fully embrace the fortification of democracy -- which is absolutely vital, of course, to national security. Follow the science. Comply. Do your duty. And be very careful about what you say and where you say it. It's the enlightened thing to do.