Wednesday, March 31, 2010 0 comments

The parable of the lawsuit

57 Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?58 ¶ When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison.
59 I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite. (Luke 12:57-59)
Today when I was reading that last verse, I realized that not only was it an admonition to settle differences before lawsuits occur, but it was also being used as a parable to teach the necessity of repenting of all our sins before judgment day.

When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him – Our adversary, Satan, will be our accuser at the judgment day and it takes diligence to repent of all our sins so that we can be completely free from him.

lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison - The assumption in this parable is that we are all guilty, which we know we are. This is why repentance is needed.

I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite. – If we do not obtain forgiveness for our sins through the Atonement, we will have to suffer for our own sins, every last one.
Friday, March 26, 2010 0 comments

Needed: Determined Efforts to Reach Christ

1 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house.
2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.
3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.
4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
6 But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,
7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?
8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?
9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?
10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,)
11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.
12 And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion. (Mark 2:1-12)
Something I have always wondered about in this story is why Jesus focused on forgiving the man’s sins first before healing him. He must have known that the man was most interested in physical healing. According to the text, it doesn’t say that the man asked for anything; rather, it is assumed that his unusual entrance was in itself a plea to be healed.

What the text says is “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” How did Jesus see their faith? How did this lead to the bestowal of forgiveness?

I think that Jesus was thinking through what had to have happened in order for the man to get there. Both the man and his friends must have had faith in Jesus’s power to heal. If his friends hadn’t had the faith that Jesus could heal the man, they wouldn’t have tried to take the man to Jesus, and when they saw the huge crowd surrounding the house where Jesus was, they certainly wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of going up on the roof, tearing up the floor (in someone else’s house!), and letting the man down into the room where Jesus was. They were so determined that they were willing to get very creative in order to get their man to Jesus. Likewise, the man had to have faith just as strongly, otherwise he would have prevented them from doing what they did. At any point he could have said, “This isn’t going to work; take me home.” But he didn’t. He was just as determined and hopeful.

But did Jesus know the man really wanted forgiveness deep down? And how is it that Jesus gave forgiveness without the man asking him first? Usually you have to ask for forgiveness before you receive it, otherwise you don’t really appreciate it as the gift that it is.

I began to make progress when I tried to imagine what Jesus might have thought and felt about it. Certainly He had a strong desire to bring everyone to repentance and believe in Him. Jesus would see the effort of this man and his friends and wish that everyone could come to Him to repent and receive forgiveness and do it with the same kind of determination. He would think about how He could teach this idea to everyone who was watching. In light of this, perhaps He decided to make the man a living lesson by immediately telling him he was forgiven. (So perhaps forgiveness was a bonus the man received.) Jesus would hope that this would show people how intent on repenting they needed to be and how quickly they would be rewarded with forgiveness if they approached Him with the same fervor and determination shown by the man and his friends.

Of course, the Pharisees questioned that Jesus had any authority to forgive sins, so Jesus pointed out that it was just as easy to forgive sins as it was to heal. While it might look easier on the outside to forgive sins—you can’t see another person’s sins leave—since the mechanics of forgiveness depended on Jesus anyway, it was all the same to Him and one was no more miraculous than the other. With this speech, Jesus was trying to draw an important parallel for all His hearers to show them that they needed to come to Him for forgiveness as well as for physical healing. “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house” (Matthew 9:6). Implicit in that statement is this: if Christ had the power to forgive sins, everyone needed to come to Him for forgiveness and not just for healing. He made the man and his friends an example of how tenacious we all need to be to come unto Him and He showed us that we will be rewarded for our efforts.

Ether’s prophecies in Ether 13

Today I was reading in Ether 13 about how Ether prophesied so many things to the Jaredites and they rejected him and cast him out. Moroni gave a quick summary of those things that Ether prophesied, and it seemed that they all pertained to the house of Israel, the city Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem, the remnant of Joseph that would inherit the Americas, the second coming of Christ, and so on.

It struck me as kind of odd that Ether would prophesy this stuff to the Jaredites so early in the history of the earth. Well, maybe not so early because by the time the Jaredites were destroyed, Jerusalem existed and was probably already destroyed too and the Mulekites were probably already settled somewhere in the Americas.

The question I had was this—why would the Jaredites care about these people they’d never met before and who were so far removed from their day-to-day lives? (Indeed this very question may have been the reason they set Ether at naught and rejected what he was saying. They probably thought Ether’s prophecies about Israel and remnants and Jerusalem had no real bearing on their lives.)

Here’s something I just realized as I was writing this: if the Jaredites had repented, they would probably have eventually met these people—both the Mulekites and the Nephites, who were remnants of the house of Israel. Their cultures could have been united by the gospel. If they had been righteous, King Limhi’s search party would have found a flourishing civilization instead of a land of desolation. So in effect, part of the intent of Ether’s prophecies (besides crying repentance) were an attempt to prepare them to meet and embrace other approaching cultures.

They didn’t repent though.

So it appears that Ether then put his energy into making his record in hopes of somehow benefiting those peoples he knew were coming. And it appears that his purpose was accomplished, since Mosiah, after translating the record and reading about all the wickedness of Jaredite kings, began to desire to repudiate the system of monarchy in order to avoid the mistakes and suffering experienced by the Jaredites. It appears too that there was sufficient warning against secret combinations in the Jaredite records that righteous Nephite judges knew it is was important to root them out if possible.

So it seems that even though Ether’s prophecies and writings were not appreciated by his own people, they were appreciated by the Nephite-Mulekite civilization.

What does this mean for us today? There are prophecies in the scriptures about the lost 10 tribes, the gathering of the remnant of the house of Israel, and so on. These things are not irrelevant just because we don’t know where they are or who they are. We will eventually meet them, if we repent. We need to prepare for that day.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 4 comments

When the storms push you to your goal

When the scriptures mention the weather, there’s a reason.

I was reading today in Ether 6. This is the chapter when the Jaredites get in their barges and go to the promised land. I noticed some things that I hadn’t really paid too much attention to before. It starts in verse five.
And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind. (Ether 6:5)
Furious wind. Check.

Then we have verse eight.
And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind. (Ether 6:8)
The wind did never cease to blow. Okay.

Then verse eleven.
And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water. (Ether 6:11)
344 days. That’s a lot of time to be on a boat.

This is when it started to hit me. That wasn’t just 344 days on a boat, that was 344 days of constant storm. (Wind causes storm and large waves on the water.) These people have been on boats before and they know that usually you have periods of calm and then you have periods of storm. This was constant storm. (Were they traveling in a hurricane the whole time? Could be.)

I wonder if they ever prayed that the storm would be calmed. It’s possible they might have. But if they did, those prayers weren’t given an answer of “yes,” because the Lord was using the wind to blow them in the right direction.

This makes me think that there might be times in life that are the equivalent of a furious wind blowing us toward our promised land and which causes a constant storm.

As difficult as these circumstances were, the Jaredites didn’t fear the wind or the waves though, because they were prepared ahead of time. They had barges that were tight like a dish. They had light in their barges. And they had those strategic holes that they could unstop at will to get air. They had food.

Still, 344 days of wind and storm?

What kind of attitude did they have about it? Verse seven says that when they were surrounded by water, they cried to the Lord. Verse nine says that they sang praises to the Lord, and thanked the Lord all day long and into the night. They worked very hard to have a good attitude and find things to be happy and thankful about.

“Oh look! We’re on the top of the water again! We can get air! Aren’t we blessed!”

“Oh look! We’re under the water again and no water is coming into our barges! Aren’t we blessed!”

“Oh look! We just hit a whale and the barges aren’t damaged! Aren’t we blessed!”

I remember one summer when I worked in my hometown for a mosquito control company. My job was to visit six light traps that ran during the night and collect all the bugs that had been sucked into those traps. I had to take them home, and count how many male mosquitoes and how many female mosquitoes had been caught in each of those traps. (Usually the bugs were dead by the time I came home with them, but sometimes… they weren’t.)

That particular summer was incredibly hot and humid, which provided perfect conditions for mosquitoes to flourish at a rapid pace. It was an incredibly buggy summer. I remember one week when all my traps had 1800 mosquitoes each, just about every day. It took nearly eight hours to count what was caught, sitting at the dining room table with all those insects spread out on a laminated sheet of white paper, picking through all those little bug bodies with large tweezers, breathing lightly so that my breath didn’t blow them away. I had a nifty mechanical counter that helped me keep track of how many males and females I had counted. It had fun buttons to push, and it made such a lovely clicky noise when I pushed them to count. But still, eight hours counting mosquitoes was a lot. I got really tired of sitting there for so long, but I refused to complain because I knew that Heavenly Father was blessing me with lots of work to do so that I could earn money for college. All those mosquitoes were a blessing from Heavenly Father for me.

Have you had any experiences like this in which a long period of difficulty has been pushing you closer to your goal?

Image: LDS Meetinghouse Library Pictures, http://sites.google.com/site/ldsmeetinghouselibrarypictures/
Saturday, March 20, 2010 1 comments

Resisting the current of the world by staying in the church’s "boundary layer"


I checked out a book from the library called Rivers and Lakes. It had an interesting section in it that talked about how numerous species of insect larvae, nymphs, and tiny invertebrates find refuge from the turbulence of the streams they live in by staying close to the bottom of the stream in what is called “the boundary layer”.

The boundary layer is a “a thin layer of water above the stream bed where friction virtually stops the current” (p80). The area 1/10th of an inch around a rock at the bottom of a fast-moving stream is quiet.

The implications of this idea for us in a gospel context are clear. The church is like the stream bed or the rock in the stream bed. It stays fixed. The closer we stay to this stabilizing influence, the safer we are and the less likely we are to be carried away by the powerful and seductive currents of the world. We will find safety in the church's "boundary layer".

Image: Britannica.com, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic-art/75630/2327/Flow-past-a-stationary-solid-sphere)
Thursday, March 18, 2010 2 comments

The symbolic meaning of swine in the scriptures

We know that pork was forbidden under the Law of Moses:
7 And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
8 Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you. (Lev. 11:7-8)
Because pork was forbidden under the Law of Moses, the mention of swine automatically became an instant rhetorical symbol of filthiness and not keeping the commandments.

Notice how this informs our understanding in the following scriptures:
3 He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.
4 I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not….
17 They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the Lord. (Isaiah 66:3-4,17, emphasis added)
The imagery that is being built here is meant to show us how the Lord sees beyond our immediate acts of worship and can tell whether we are worthy to participate or not. The unworthy Israelites, when they were offering their sacrifices, offended God through their lack of contrition just as surely as if they had offered unclean animals for sacrifice. They were unclean, so their sacrifices were considered unclean too.
Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels; (Isaiah 65:4, emphasis added)
How about in the parable of the prodigal son?
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. (Luke 15:15-16, emphasis added)
The detail that the prodigal son is feeding swine is meant to show us how far down he has fallen. In order to survive, he works in a ritually filthy industry. Not only that, but it is not enough to feed him after all.
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. (Matthew 7:6)
As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22, emphasis added)
This adds another angle to our understanding of swinishness. It could represent lack of discretion
But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (2 Peter 2:22, emphasis added)

And thus six years had not passed away since the more part of the people had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire. (3 Nephi 7:8, emphasis added)
Here swine seem to be used to represent people who return to their wickedness after having been previously cleansed.

Understanding the meaning of certain animals—in this case, swine—can help us understand the deeper meaning behind certain scriptures and open up subtext that we haven’t seen before.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 2 comments

Three secret devotions with open rewards

In the scriptures there are three devotions that we are told to do in secret—alms, prayer, and fasting.

I think it is interesting that Christ would command that alms, prayers, and fasting should be kept secret. I suppose they are acts that are more visible than others, or can be. But perhaps the reason why Christ wanted them to be more private is so that they can be less forced and less pretentious, and more genuine, more focused on the individual’s true concerns, and so do them the most good.

Something that can easily happen in church is for people to be so intent on showing forth the fruits of Christianity that they begin to police each other and judge one another by what they see them doing. (“Is he really a saint? Is she really a Christian? Well, I saw him give a somebody a ride, and I saw her pray and she prayed well, so I guess they are good Christians.”) Or maybe we only imagine that others are looking at us this way.

The result of this is that we may feel we must put on some sort of show of righteousness to signal that we are okay, and that doing otherwise would attract attention and concern over our spiritual status.

Alms (charity)
1 Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor; but take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven.
2 Therefore, when ye shall do your alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as will hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth;
4 That thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly. (3 Nephi 13:1-4)
Without any secret alms, we may feel pressured to give to “acceptable” charities, or give to the popular charities that are being pushed, even if we don’t really want to. The problem with this is that giving alms and charity doesn’t spiritually benefit us unless we truly want to help. Giving secretly takes all the pressure off so we truly have freedom to give. Secret giving means the amount can be what truly feels comfortable to us, rather than something that we feel we have to give to prevent others from thinking we are stingy. Secret giving means giving or not giving has no effect on our public reputation, so giving more won’t help it, and giving less won’t hurt it. I imagine it can be tempting to public figures to give publicly as a means to build good will.

But here’s a question. How can we teach children to give and teach others to give if we don’t set an example for them that they can see? Is a public example one that “sounds the trumpet before you” ? Does teaching involve just doing it and allowing children to see and then not saying much about it? Is that public, or is that still secret?

I remember once when my mom and I took some boxes over to a sister’s house. This sister was going to move soon, and she needed boxes. My mom suggested that we leave the boxes on her porch and then leave so that she wouldn’t know who had provided them. Is this public or private alms? Perhaps taking others into the secret so that they can participate too is not making it public, but is including them in the secret so they can learn and benefit.

Prayer
5 And when thou prayest thou shalt not do as the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (3 Nephi 13:5-6)
Without any secret prayers, we are unable to truly address the truly volatile concerns we have that really need divine help. For instance, an individual needs to have the freedom to pray, “Please help me keep my temper so that I don’t beat my spouse and children!” or “Please help me stay emotionally faithful to my spouse so that I don’t have an affair!” if those really are things that they are fighting. If the only prayers we say are public prayers, we tend to scrub the intensely personal things out of them, even though we really need it.

The thing that I wonder about is this: in what manner does Heavenly Father openly reward us for our secret prayers? Does anyone have some insights about this? Any examples that come to mind?

Fasting
16 Moreover, when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (3 Nephi 13:16-18)
I don’t know if our church really has much trouble with disfiguring our faces to look like we are fasting. Maybe the main thing we have troubles with is making jokes about fast Sunday being the slowest Sunday and making jokes about how it isn’t good to talk about food on fast Sunday. But perhaps another thing that we could do is look for occasional opportunities to fast at times besides the usual fast Sunday. No one on earth would know, so it can’t benefit our reputation.

I’m not sure I know of open rewards and blessings that the Lord gives for secret fasting. Maybe it is because I don’t fast at other time deliberately for a spiritual purpose. Does anyone have any experiences or insights they can share on this?
Friday, March 12, 2010 2 comments

Captain Moroni’s Psychological Warfare in Alma 54


Alma 54 is one of the war chapters that Mormon included in his abridgment, which seems to call for extra analysis. This chapter consists mostly of two letters: one from Captain Moroni to Ammoron, king of the Lamanites, and one from Ammoron to Captain Moroni.

One of the most notable things about Alma 54 is Captain Moroni’s statement that Ammoron is a “child of hell”. This boldness continues to fascinate Book of Mormon readers, and fairly begs for more examination. Why such a strong declaration? To try to answer this question, I started to look more carefully at the text that precedes it.

I suspect that we must interpret Moroni’s letter through the lens of strategy, since verse three says that “Moroni resolved upon a strategem to obtain as many prisoners of the Nephites from the Lamanites as it were possible”. What was this strategy?

In verse 11 we see that he would only give up a Lamanite prisoner in return for a Nephite prisoner with their wife and children. Clearly Moroni is trying to skew the exchange rate. But surely Ammoron would notice this, right?

Also, it seems that if Moroni wants Ammoron to agree to this exchange rate, he goes about it in completely the wrong way, practically insulting his enemy when you’d think he’d be bending over backwards trying to “make nice”. What kind of strategy is this? It almost seems like anti-strategy.

I suspect that Moroni knew that Ammoron would notice the vastly inequitable prisoner exchange rate. How do you keep someone from noticing an unfair request? By inundating them with insults, accusations, and generally torking them off so that the unfair request simply blends into the background of massive offensiveness and seems like the least annoying thing to deal with.

So how does Moroni do this? He calls Ammoron to repentance multiple times, not with promises of God’s mercy, as is usual in calls to repentance, but only with threats of God’s wrath if Ammoron does not comply. He says Ammoron and his brother have been murderers. The general tone of Moroni’s letter is “I don’t know why I bother talking to you”, which is certainly insulting. It is notable that the most cutting portion—“it supposeth me that thou art a child of hell”—comes right next to Moroni’s terms for prisoner exchange. Moroni wanted Ammoron to spend all his time fuming over that little gem and little if any time considering the exchange rate. Moroni was deliberately trying to provoke Ammoron.

Probably the final evidence that Moroni was deliberately trying to be insulting is that this letter is incredibly abrasive when you compare it Moroni’s speech to Zarahemnah in Alma 44. In Moroni’s speech to Zarahemnah, Moroni uses the battle as an object lesson to try to teach the Lamanites about the efficacy and importance of faith in God and strict adherence to religion. There is no name-calling or spiritual condemnation present at all. The tone is positive and hopeful. The contrast between Moroni’s words in Alma 44 and Alma 54 could not be greater.

If we see Moroni’s letter in Alma 54 in this way, it becomes clear to us that we should probably not take his “you-child-of-hell” approach as a model for our interactions with nonmembers, apostates, and enemies. The better model would be Moroni’s speech in Alma 44 with its continual references to faith, God, and religion.

So if this letter was meant to be insulting, why did Mormon include it in his abridgement? What spiritual purpose could it serve?

Pondering this question made me think about what Mormon could have done instead of including the letter. What might Mormon have said? He could have said, “Moroni wrote a very insulting letter to Ammoron in which he asked for an unbalanced rate of prisoner exchange, but he concealed it in insulting language so that Ammoron would be madder at everything else and probably agree to the proposal just to spite Moroni." Which brings me to the realization that maybe Ammoron decided to agree to the proposal in order to try to prove that he was a better guy than Moroni seemed to take him for. As if he was saying, “See? I can be generous! I’m not a child of hell!” This must have been the very reaction that Moroni was trying to create. This must have been at the heart of his strategy.

What can we learn from this? Perhaps it is meant to help us recognize when someone is trying to manipulate us this way. There will be people who try to do this to us. They will try to get us to do what they want by trying to make us the bad guys in order to get us to give in and attempt to prove that we aren’t as bad as they thought. We’ve already seen this in California over same-sex marriage. We also need to be careful that we don’t use this tactic on others. It is emotionally manipulative. It may work in the short run, but in the long run it will backfire because if you express pessimistic expectations to people often enough, they begin to live up to them, and they give up trying to buck them.

It is hard for us to imagine Captain Moroni using such tactics as psychological warfare. We are used to him being one of those shining examples of what to do. This may represent an example of what not to do. However, as I have studied this chapter, I have found some features of the letter that also exhibit Moroni’s goodness.

For instance, it is evident that he proclaims peace, (albeit imperfectly because it is overshadowed by the strategic elements). If we notice the repeated words, we can see it. There are four instances of the word “withdraw” and two instances of the word “repent”. In the first two cases, these two words are paired together—“repent and withdraw”. It seems clear to me that this constitutes a fourfold attempt to warn the enemy and lift the standard of peace. Captain Moroni had a duty to do this, according to the Law of Moses:
10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: (Deuteronomy 20:10-12, emphasis added)
This idea is elaborated on in what the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith on proclaiming peace:
33 And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.
34 And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue;
35 And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord;
36 Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people. (D&C 98:33-36, emphasis added)
It seems to me that to proclaim peace and make an offering of peace involves making clear statements about what is perceived to be the reason of conflict and clear statements about what conditions the other side should meet in order to settle the conflict. This is so that everyone knows what the fight is about and knows how the fight could be stopped and avoided. By doing this, the agency of the opposing side is maximized by presenting them with clear choices. Moroni’s letter does this as he reminds Ammoron that the Lamanites have been trying to murder the Nephites and the Nephites will defend themselves. It is also seen in the repetition of “withdraw”.

In the end, it is ironic that after Ammoron grants Moroni’s request for the specified exchange rate, the exchange never actually takes place. Moroni seems to have realized that it is better to deplete the Lamanite man-count, since exchanging prisoners would enable Ammoron to continue the war. He also seems to have realized that he didn’t need a prisoner exchange if he could liberate Nephite POWs with well-planned strategy.

Even more interestingly, Moroni declares later in Alma 55 that he will seek death among them until they sue for peace, but when he has the Lamanites at his mercy, once again he demonstrates his humanity and spares them.

In short, Moroni’s foray into psychological warfare manipulation tactics is short-lived and ultimately aberrational.

One other observation about Moroni’s letter and his general approach:

It is notable that Moroni doesn’t remove religious rhetoric from his letter, even though he figures that Ammoron will not accept it. (This consistency is also exhibited in a more exemplary form in his speech to Zarahemnah in Alma 44.) This is a great example for us today. It is very tempting to scrub religious references and ideas from our speech when communicating with those who do not hold the same beliefs as us. The increasing secularism around us makes it ever more difficult for us, especially when there are so many messages floating around about how we need to accept people, tolerate difference, embrace diversity, etc. Because of this, we face the temptation to hide what we are and what we believe in hopes that people will eventually accept us enough to listen later to what we say about religion. (But too often, that time never comes because we get out of the habit and we begin to worry that we will be rejected if we say anything at all, even after long acquaintance.) No, it is better to have religion in our discourse from the very beginning and bring it up as appropriate. (As long as the discourse is modeled after Alma 44, and not Alma 54.)

I have been trying be more open and comfortable speaking about religion in the last week, and I feel that it has helped people around me be more comfortable speaking about religion too. I’ve even had the opportunity to bear testimony to a coworker. We can make little islands around us of refuge from secularism where people can feel comfortable talking about the deepest feelings of their hearts concerning God, religion, and devotion.

Summary of lessons from Alma 54:
  • Recognize when people are trying to get you to agree to their unjust demands by making you the “bad guy”. Don’t fall for it.
  • Don’t hide who you are and what you stand for.
Image: TopNews.in, http://www.topnews.in/health/noisy-brain-healthy-brain-study-23314
Monday, March 8, 2010 2 comments

Analogy on the need for continuing repentance


I was studying the scriptures this morning and I thought of a good teaching analogy for showing how it is necessary to continue to repent. Once we have washed our clothes, do we say that we never need to wash them again? No, we wear our clothes and even when we try to avoid getting dirty, we still have to wash them because dust gets on them and they get smelly and sweaty when we work hard. So too we have to continue to repent even after we've been baptized and forgiven of our sins. The nature of life itself, even when we try hard to avoid sinning, will make it necessary to continue to repent and use the Atonement.

Image: http://history1900s.about.com/library/photos/blygd39.htm, Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, in the National Archives and Records Administration
Saturday, March 6, 2010 3 comments

My short story that I submitted to LDS Publisher Blog

In February, LDS Publisher had a Book of Mormon short story contest. I decided to try writing a story for it. I didn’t win—in fact, only got 2.2% of the votes—but I sure had fun writing it and reading all the other entries.

So, if you are curious about what I wrote, here’s my story. Feel free to comment. You may criticize if you can point to specific things that are wrong and can give specific suggestions about what to do to fix them.


The Sign

“Abish! Don’t go in there yet!” called Sarhen testily as she ground some corn in a metate.

“Why?” asked the little girl.

“I can’t believe that father is still fasting,” groused Mittoni. He tested out his new bow, and aimed experimentally at Zeb. “It’s a superstitious practice anyway. The priests say that cutting yourself with spines is much more effective at getting the gods’ attention. They say that the gods notice pain and blood more than silent hunger.”

“Don’t let father hear you say that,” said Zeb, grabbing the bow out of Mittoni’s hands, causing Mittoni to squawk in protest. “He hates the priests.”

“Why?” asked Abish, her eyes big. She loved listening to everything her brothers said.

“They are sons of a liar!” a deep voice came from the hut.

Mittoni and Zeb looked at each other. Abish ran into the hut to where her father was lying on his face in the pressed dirt, stretched out before the fire. She was used to seeing him pray like this, though she wasn’t sure why he always faced the fire instead of the little carved man that stood on a post near the door, which her friends said was one of the gods. Every time her father prayed, Abish always noticed that the stone god ended up lying on the ground. It lay there now, and she was bending down to put it back up on the post when her father spoke again, though his face never left the dust.

“Leave it where it is, Abish. If it has any power, let it put itself back.”

She went over to her father and lay down next to him, trying to lie on her face just like him. She would try to be holy and wise like him.

“Father, why are the priests sons of a liar?”

“Because they tell us the blood of the Nephites will make the gods happy. Because they stir us up to anger. Because they tell us whatever we do is right. Because they steal from us more than the Nephites have. Because they always prophesy victory to us for our battles with the Nephites and then we are driven and slaughtered. They know not the true god, the Great Spirit.” Azlon’s voice became more and more bitter as he spoke.

“Father, are you done fasting yet?” Mittoni’s voice called into the hut with grudging respect.

“My son, I have something very important to tell you, Zeb, Abish, and your mother.”

Abish could hear Mittoni sigh before he trudged into the hut. He was followed by Zeb and Sarhen. Sarhen’s hands still held a head of maize, peeling the leaves from it as she entered. They all gathered around and sat cross-legged about Azlon, who finally rolled over onto his back and looked up at them. There was a whiteness to his skin that Abish had never noticed before.

“I have told you often that the priests are sons of a liar and that we wander in the dark, ignorant of who we should worship and how we should worship. I’ve prayed for many days for the Great Spirit to reveal the truth to me,” Azlon said. “I have struggled and I have cried and I have pleaded. I have wrestled. My tears have made the ground into mud. Today I have received a vision and a sign.”

Abish looked at her brothers and saw that both Mittoni and Zeb had wrinkled brows. Her mother leaned forward to pat her father on the arm. “You don’t have to tell us this now. You are weak. Let me bring you food first. You may have imagined you saw something in your hunger.”

“Woman, I know what I saw!” Azlon’s voice was strong. “I know what I heard! You must hear me now. I saw a man dressed in white. He showed me the land of our forefathers, even Jerusalem. (No, Zeb, it was not the city of our priests.) He showed me a man riding an ass and a colt of an ass, and all the people crying ‘Hosanna!’ and waving palm branches and laying their clothes in the streets in front of him for him to ride over. I watched this man go to a temple that looked like ours, where there were priests who acted like ours, and he made a whip and beat them. He threw them out. Then the man in white told me that true prophets would come to our people. He gave me a sign. First he said that kings would shut their mouths, for that which they had not heard they shall consider. He said that the king’s household would lie prostrate as I had and worship as I had, and that by this I and my family would know that true prophets had come into the land and we would know to receive them.”

Abish was entranced. She wanted to hear more, but when she looked at her mother, she knew what disapproval looked like.

“Azlon, your fasting has carried you away to vain imaginations. The king and his household have never lain prostrate for anyone or anything! The king scarcely bows to his own father!”

“I know!” Azlon’s eyes gleamed and he smiled in amusement. “And he never bows to the priests! When the king and his household lie prostrate before the power of the Great Spirit, it will be a miracle!” Then his smile faded. “I don’t know how long we will have to wait. Maybe days. Maybe years.”

“Are you going to tell the priests about your vision?” asked Mittoni after a minute of silence during which Abish watched him fidget and dig one of his arrow points into the dirt.

“No,” growled Azlon. “those dogs deserve nothing. And this is not to go out of this house, you understand?”

“I should hope not!” said Abish’s mother indignantly. “If anyone knew, they would stone us and cast us out and call us Nephite-lovers.”

“That doesn’t mean we need to bow down to those dumb idols the rest of our people bow to,” said Azlon. “Abish, Mittoni, Zeb, the Great Spirit is not wood or stone. Remember that. And always remember the sign. When the king and his household lie prostrate before the power of the Great Spirit, that is when true prophets have come into the land.”

*****

Abish never forgot her father’s words. Just before he died, when she was twelve, he repeated them in a gritty voice, and squeezed her hand as tightly as he could with his feeble, feverish fingers. Mittoni and Zeb were eighteen and twenty then, and they rolled their eyes at the repetition of the prophecy. But they fancied themselves fierce warriors and had joined a group of men that terrorized the more peaceful shepherds. Abish once followed them at a distance to see where they went and watched from a thicket of young trees as they scattered a flock at a stream. She heard them divide up some fat sheep, slaughter them, and carve up the carcasses. Then she snuck back home. When they appeared at her mother’s hut with haunches of raw meat wrapped in large leaves for her mother to cook up, she knew her brothers for robbers.

Once she tried to confront them for their robbery, and they reviled her. “If you don’t like what we bring home, you can find something else to eat!”

“But it’s the king’s meat!”

“What if it is? He has so many sheep as it is. He won’t miss what we take. He owes us for our loyalty.” Their arguments buzzed around Abish like stinging flies.

“What if the king sends his warriors to guard the sheep? You might put out your hand to steal a sheep and find it cut off.”

“Warriors? Used as shepherds?” Zeb bellowed a laugh. “If the king ever did that, his warriors would be offended. Shepherding is slave’s work.”

She tried one more time to remind them of the thing that now seemed always to run through the back of her mind. “What about when the true prophets come into the land, according to the sign given by our father? How will you receive the true prophets if you live by stealing?”

“Abish, father is dead. He was a childish man of foolish imaginations. When you are older you will see that what he predicted can never come to pass.”

Abish knew it was no good talking to them then. She would just have to watch and wait for the sign herself. Her mother had similarly forgotten to watch for the sign and by the time Abish was fifteen, her mother was bowing to the stone idol on the post like all her friends did.

“Perhaps the Great Spirit will make our beans and squash grow bigger,” said Sarhen, when Abish asked her why. “It can’t hurt.”

*****

Shortly after Abish turned sixteen, the queen learned that Abish was responsible for forming the elaborate twists and braids in Sarhen’s hair. The queen demanded that Abish come to her every morning to comb and braid her hair and promised to find Abish a fine husband among the king’s best warriors. Abish was pleased to have a chance to be so near the king’s household. Hopefully she would be nearby when her father’s sign came to pass.

*****

One day, Abish came back to her mother’s hut fuming.

“Why are you so angry, my daughter?” her mother asked her, looking up from watching the fire to make sure that the flat bread didn’t burn on the stones.

“The king has just ordered all his shepherds to be killed again!” exclaimed Abish. “They are to be sacrificed to the sun god this evening because they allowed his flocks to be scattered at the waters of Sebus!”

“They were careless. They deserve punishment,” said Sarhen calmly.

Abish sat down on the ground next to her. “But carelessness is not a crime that someone should be killed for. The king will bring a curse on his household if he persists in this injustice. If you hadn’t let Mittoni and Zeb make friends with those robbers and thieves...”

“The king would still be killing his servants,” interrupted her mother. “The king’s servants have been careless so often that he must frighten them so that they aren’t careless any more.”

“And it doesn’t work! Don’t you see?” protested Abish, “And Mittoni and Zeb and their friends are murderers too. They steal and scatter the king’s flocks. Their actions result in the king’s servants’ execution. They delight in this destruction! And we eat the meat that they plunder! We are living in a circle of evil!”

“And what would you do about this, Abish?” asked Sarhen, turning the bread so that it slapped against the rock. “We must have food. Would you tell the king what your brothers are doing and have his wrath fall on all of us? Would you tell your brothers to stop and have them laugh in your face? Our garden grows barely enough for us to eat because of the unseen fingers that pluck the fruit before we can. I can only hope that it is the gods taking their portion.”

“Our brothers should be guarding the garden, rather than robbing the king’s flocks,” said Abish petulantly.

“They are warriors,” said her mother simply, as if that were the answer to everything.

Abish could think of only one more thing that she could do. She would have to fast. She couldn’t lie on her face for three days like her father had, but she could go out into the silent trees and cry at night. That’s what she did.

*****

Sometimes the queen called for Abish to come and dress her hair twice a day. These were on days when there would be a grand feast after the sun went down. Often the queen would allow Abish to come and watch and eat as the people brought gifts or made sport for the king.

This night, a dozen warriors approached the king with their spears and clubs, pushing a man before them. A Nephite. He bowed low before the king, and they pushed him down onto the ground.

“Great king, we found this Nephite journeying into the borders of our land. He was leading an army, clearly intending to invade. We killed them all and saved him alive. Do with him what you will.”

“Not true, O king,” said the Nephite. “They found me alone. I came into the land to become better acquainted with all of you, my brethren.”

“He lies!” cried one of the warriors, kicking the Nephite in the side. “Shut your mouth, dog!”

“Examine their swords then, O king,” said the Nephite, unfazed. “Does blood stain their swords as it would if they had fought and killed an army of Nephites?”

Abish could hardly hold in her laughter as the warriors turned visibly sheepish. The king leaned forward and asked to see their swords and they held them out.

“Hmm. I don’t see any fresh blood.” The king said. Then he fixed the warriors with a glare and shouted, “GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!!”

The warriors turned and ran as all the onlookers laughed.

“You are clever, Nephite. Do you want to dwell with my people?” the king said.

“Yes. Maybe until I die…”

Abish watched the Nephite negotiate terms for dwelling in the land. It was strange that he hadn’t seemed very frightened when he was thrown in front of the king. Usually prisoners trembled and stammered, and if they were allowed to stay, they were so nervous that they gladly agreed to do anything the king asked. In contrast, the Nephite seemed quite cheerful.

Abish emptied the rest of the food in front of her into her bag to take home to her mother. Her seat was behind many of the other servants, so she could leave unnoticed.

*****

Three days later, Abish was awakened in the dead of night by Mittoni’s heavy hand shaking her shoulder.

“Zeb is dead.”

“What?” whispered Abish, shocked into full awareness. “What happened?”

“It was that son of a liar, that… Nephite! The one watching the king’s flocks.”

By this time their mother was awake as well and demanding that Mittoni not frighten her with foolish stories like a son of shame.

“Zeb is dead,” repeated Mittoni more loudly now. His forceful tone brought whimpers from Sarhen as she prepared to bewail her son, though she kept them quiet so that she could hear how it came to pass.

“Ohhh, my son, my son..”

“We had scattered the king’s flocks once already so that some of our men could pick off a few choice animals separated from the rest of the group,” said Mittoni. “But somehow the servants were able to round them up and bring them back to the waters of Sebus. So we tried to do it again, but that Nephite--no, he had to be some kind of god—came and told us to depart in peace and we wouldn’t get hurt. We thought he was mocking us.”

“Perhaps he was,” put in Abish.

Mittoni slapped her. “You know nothing, girl!”

“He slung stones at us with his sling and he killed Hammath, Elam, Amnor, Jeneum, Aiath, and Helom. We tried to hit him with our slings and we couldn’t. And yes, mother, I have been practicing with the sling! I can hit any leaf I choose at fifty cubits! We had to defend ourselves. Slings weren’t working, so we tried clubs. But he cut off the arms of twelve of our strongest men! He was like a bull, unstoppable. He chased us about halfway to Nephi-Lehi before we got away from him. When we were out of danger, I looked around for Zeb and couldn’t find him. The others told me to go back another way, but I retraced my steps after waiting a while and found Zeb lying in his gore. The monster had overtaken him and hewn him down.”

“Where is his body?” Sarhen started up from her mat. “I must see my son!”

“I dragged Zeb’s body halfway here, before I thought it best to fetch you, mother.” Mittoni said. He took her hand in a tight grip. “I will avenge Zeb’s blood. The monster will die.” His tone was icy.

Abish followed her mother and Mittoni out of the hut to the fire, where Mittoni plucked one of the firebrands out and held it in front of him as a torch. Sarhen was beginning to wail out her grief in long keening cries. Abish joined in, for the sake of the boy her brother had once been before he became a sheep-stealer.

“Zeeeeeeb, Zeb, my soooonn!”

“Zeeeeb, my brother, my brother!!”

Dark figures from other huts joined them as they went, lifting up their voices in lamentation.

*****

Abish approached the royal huts after three days of mourning for Zeb. They had buried him on a hill overlooking the waters of Sebus. Each day of those three days, Mittoni had watched the king’s flocks approach the water with the king’s servants surrounding them, instead of all in a chattering group as they usually were. He gnashed his teeth, but remained silent, and Abish could see that he was now fearful. She wondered how he would carry out his vow of vengeance if the Nephite-monster was as powerful as he had said.

She still wondered even now, as she walked to the queen’s hut. How odd. There was no one there. She turned and went to the royal pavilion where the king held audience with his warriors and servants. It was strangely quiet and empty. No one met her carrying baskets of bananas or slices of squash, as often happened before. Maybe the king was sick. She turned and headed for the king’s hut.

What she saw when she looked in struck her with wonder and amazement. In the middle of the large hut was the king’s jaguar fur-covered bed, with the king lying on it. To the side of his bed lay the queen, her hand clasping the hand of her husband. And around the walls of the hut, were the king’s servants, lying on their faces, arms out in front of them, hands clasped, as if pleading for mercy. And the Nephite was lying on the ground too, his face turned to the side. The air was thick with something that made her spine tingle and it flashed into her mind that the day she had been watching for for so many years had finally come.

Her father’s sign!

It was fulfilled!

True prophets were in the land!

The tingle running up her spine turned into a burning fire. She had to tell someone. No, she had to tell everyone! She turned and ran.

*****

“Mother! Mother!” Abish screamed as she neared her mother’s hut.

“What is it, Abish? What happened? Is the king murdered?” Her mother’s tear-sunken eyes were full of alarm.

“The sign! Father’s sign! It’s all fulfilled! Go look at the king in his hut!” Abish grabbed her mother’s shoulders and shook them.

“What are you talking about!?” growled Mittoni, striding out of the hut.

“The king and his household lie prostrate before the power of the Great Spirit! The time of true prophets has come!” Abish dashed away heading through the village to her friends’ huts, yelling as she went. “The power of the Great Spirit is upon the king! The power of the Great Spirit is upon the king’s household! You must go and see!”

Mittoni and Sarhen watched her go, looked at each other, and began to run toward the king’s hut. Their nearest neighbors followed them at the same pace.

*****

When Abish was sure she had let the whole village know, she ran puffing back to the kings’ hut. Her mother would surely be explaining to them all about the vision her father had so many years ago and the sign he had spoken of. The people would believe. The king would surely send messengers to search out the true prophets. The people would all see what true prophets were like. They would put away their idols and learn to worship the Great Spirit correctly.

As she neared the king’s hut she saw the crowd milling around near the royal pavilion. As she got closer, she began to hear arguing.

“It’s all the Nephite’s fault. The king shouldn’t have given him a place among us. Nephites are liars and murderers. Everyone knows that.”

“No, the king is getting just what he deserved! Remember how many times he killed his servants for losing the sheep?”

“My son Kith was executed, just because robbers took a few lambs!” shouted one woman. “Do you call that justice?”

“You fools! That Nephite is the cause of all of this! This is no sign! He killed my brother!”

Abish recognized the voice of her brother Mittoni. The warm feeling inside her faded and was replaced by a gripping tension. He didn’t believe in the sign! Then another thought struck her with the force of a falling tree. What if the Nephite was one of the true prophets? She began to push through the crowd, trying to get to the front, but they all seemed to want to see, some pushed back.

“The Nephite-monster will die! I have sworn it!” Her brother’s shout came to Abish, as she pushed harder.

“No! No! No!” Abish screamed as she threw herself between arms and even through legs. Tears streamed from her eyes without her noticing. Oh, Great Spirit, save him!

There was a gasp from the crowd. Abish kept pushing through as she heard new mutterings from the front.

“What happened? What do you see?” someone asked another.

“He’s dead!” the report came back.

“Who’s dead?” everyone seemed to be asking.

“He raised his sword to kill the Nephite and he fell dead!”

“I don’t understand this? What is this great power?”

“What does this mean?”

“It must be the Great Spirit. That Nephite isn’t a Nephite; he must be the Great Spirit. That must be why he can’t be killed. Didn’t you hear what he did at the water’s of Sebus?”

“But he has a body! So he can’t be the Great Spirit! He must have been sent by the Great Spirit to torment us because of our many iniquities. He cut off the arms of two of my sons when they were trying to steal the king’s flocks.”

“The Great Spirit would not torment us though! The Great Spirit is supposed to watch over us! He can’t be from the Great Spirit. He must be a monster, some sort of demon.”

“You fool, you think the Great Spirit has watched over us? Ha! The Great Spirit has always been on the Nephite side, else why do we lose so many battles?! The Great Spirit has always saved the Nephites, even when we outnumbered them five to one and were trying to sneak up on them! How could they know we were coming if the Great Spirit didn’t warn them?”

Abish had finally made her way to the front of the crowd. She saw the king, the queen, the servants, and the Nephite, lying as she had seen them before, but next to the Nephite she saw her brother Mittoni, lying still, and her mother kneeling with her face buried in the bare chest of her brother.

“Ohhhhh, my son, my sonnn..” Sarhen moaned softly.

A strange relief settled on Abish, though her tears still ran freely. If Mittoni had been unable to slay the Nephite, the Nephite must surely be one of the true prophets. The Great Spirit had heard her prayers and the prayers of her father. Praise the day; it has finally come. With a heart aching with mingled joy and grief, she turned to the queen and took her by the hand.

The End

-------

Here’s a list (in no particular order) of some of the other stories that I consider my favorites of the ones that were submitted. If I could have cast more votes, I would have voted for all of the following:

More Blessed Are They

All My Love, Rekenah

Young Hagoth Plays it Safe (by Theric Jepson)

Out of the East

Once a Gadianton… (by Brenda Anderson)

The Bright Sword Covenant (by Krista Lynne Jensen)

Two Thousand Sons and One Daughter (by Emily M.)
Friday, March 5, 2010 3 comments

Contact with Holiness Heals

35 And when the men of that place had knowledge of [Jesus], they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased;
36 And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole. (Matt 14:35-36)
If you’ll pardon the pun, the touching thing about this story is that the people were so confident in Jesus’s power, they had faith that a mere touch of His hem would heal them.

But as I was reading through this story, I began to wonder just how touching Jesus’s garment could heal. Does holiness heal on contact? Is there some scriptural precedent for this idea?

So I went searching. Here’s what I found in Leviticus:
25 Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering: In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord: it is most holy.
26 The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten, in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation.
27 Whatsoever shall touch the flesh thereof shall be holy: and when there is sprinkled of the blood thereof upon any garment, thou shalt wash that whereon it was sprinkled in the holy place. (Lev. 6:25-27, emphasis added)
The idea here seemed to be that you can’t touch something holy without being affected by it. In particular it seems very significant that the sacrifice for sin itself was a holy thing, since it tangibly represented a person’s desire to be forgiven of their sins. A holy desire is a holy thing and has power.

Even more significant, because of His innocence and since Christ was to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins, He was holy, and he was the culmination of that sacrificial holiness. No doubt this is what the mosaic sacrificial offering was meant to anticipate and point to. The people who touched Christ to be healed would have had to have faith in Christ’s mission and understand this parallel.

Our contact with holiness and holy people is healing. We learn love from them, we learn about our divine potential and destiny, we learn from their example how to live better lives, we learn to look at things from a more holy perspective.

One example of holiness that I basked in recently was that of my mom. I called my mom about a week before I started writing about this and I remember that at that time I was feeling conflicted and confused about something, though I didn’t intend to discuss it with her. I called her on a Sunday afternoon and I asked her what had happened recently and she told me she had given a talk in church just that day. Mentally, I sat up and took notice at this because I know the effort that my mom puts into studying the scriptures and learning about the gospel, and the things she says are always deeply nourishing and spiritually profound. I wished I could have been there. So I asked her what her talk was about. It was about obedience. She told me some of the things she talked about. She told me the approach that she took and the stories and examples that she used. It was all very good and I just loved it as I sat and listened to her because I was profoundly aware that behind all her words, she walked the talk. I could feel my heart softening and healing as I just listened. My heart had been all clenched up and tangled around my problem and it relaxed and opened up through her words until I felt that I could and should tell her my problem. So I told her about it. In response, she told me about when she had similar problem and about the process she went through to overcome it and how the Lord had helped her. Listening to her stories helped me see my problem from a new perspective and gave me hope that I could overcome it. Her example of love, courage, and holiness was very healing.

Even the slightest contact with something connected with holiness can have a healing effect on our lives. But naturally we do not want to go through life only slightly touching holiness. We want to be surrounded by it, we want to embrace it, we want to make it a part of us. If only the slightest touch heals, what would making holiness an integral part of our lives do? Make us a new person! We become holy! Then we are able to help others as we were helped! If our holiness is to heal others, we must mix with all types of people. Contact with holiness heals. Healing is a change. Even just being ourselves we make a very subtle invitation to change, to be healed.

I ran across an extraordinary example of this holiness-heals-on-contact principle at work in the Old Testament.
20 ¶ And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.
21 And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet. (2 Kings 13:20-21, emphasis added)
The modern mind, when it hears this story will be inclined to say that perhaps the man was never dead in the first place. The idea that a man could come back to life on contact with a prophet’s bones is completely foreign to our experience. However, we must choose to believe that the ancients knew death when they saw it. What we want to examine is what this story says about the power of making contact with holiness. Does this say that we can take all our dead to the graves of the prophets, touch the bodies together, and expect a miracle? Maybe. I’m not going to rule it out. (I will say this--good luck finding the grave of an ancient prophet, and good luck getting permission to exhume the bones of a modern prophet.)

We could say that the words of the prophets in the scriptures are like their bones; they are all we have left of the teachings of these godly men. Contact with the prophet, even a dead prophet, brings life and mighty changes in our lives. This story could also represent how we want to end up with the prophets. If we follow the prophets, even to death, we will be raised up at the last day.

Okay. Let’s look at other scriptures that seem to invoke this principle that contact with holiness is healing.

Here is Jesus healing:
And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all. (Luke 6:19, emphasis added)
And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:3, emphasis added)
Here is Isaiah’s experience with repentance:
5 ¶ Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
6 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. (Isaiah 6:5-7, emphasis added)
Here is Jeremiah’s call to prophesy:
Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. (Jeremiah 1:9, emphasis added)
Here is the brother of Jared asking the Lord for a favor:
And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea. (Ether 3:4, emphasis added)
Here is Jacob telling of the instructions of Nephi concerning the keeping of records:
And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people. (Jacob 1:4, emphasis added)
Here is Joseph Smith:
And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about. (D&C 76:19, emphasis added)
This suggests the Lord can touch our minds so that we can understand the mysteries of God. When we have been bound by the false traditions of men, the Lord’s touch can heal our minds with true doctrine and knowledge.

Something else I found as I searched for scriptures about touching was that there was also a complementing principle taught as well-- filthiness could contaminate on contact. There were warnings about touching (or getting involved in) unclean things.

Here is Isaiah giving his warning:
Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord. (Isaiah 52:11, emphasis added)
Here’s Jeremiah lamenting the impurity of his people:
They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments. (Lamentations 4:14)
Here’s a scripture that profoundly influenced my view of the fall:
But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. (Genesis 3:3, emphasis added)
Here are the warnings of Moses:
Moreover the soul that shall touch any unclean thing, as the uncleanness of man, or any unclean beast, or any abominable unclean thing, and eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which pertain unto the Lord, even that soul shall be cut off from his people. (Lev. 7:21)
Note that the peace offerings were supposed to indicate that the person was at peace with God. It was supposed to celebrate spiritual reconciliation, so if the person was not pure and participated as if they were pure, it represented solemn mockery of God and His commandments.
And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins. (Lev. 16:26, emphasis added)
To put this in modern perspective, from time to time, I become acquainted with people who I find that I can’t be involved in anything they are interested in because I find it drives away the Spirit. A person’s media choices could be said to be on the outward fringes of who they are, much like clothes are on the outside of a person. If I can’t touch those outward fringes, what is at the inner core? Not that I think that a person is what media they choose, but certainly it can represent their desires. You could say that a person’s desires are their future self.

May we embrace the holy and avoid the filthy is my prayer.
Monday, March 1, 2010 0 comments

Mothering technique for settling fights among young children

One of the problems with settling fights among young children is that when you are trying to talk to one child to find out what happened to them, the other child often interrupts (teasing, taunting, accusing, scorning) and often makes things worse. The challenge is to get the second child to remain quiet until it is their turn to tell their side of the story.

I was talking to my mom last night and she reminded me of a technique that she was inspired to try during a very difficult summer when everyone in our seven-child family was fighting and she was spending most of every day settling fights, trying to figure out what happened, and doling out consequences. (She called it “the summer from hell” it was that bad) She told me that she got the idea to try this technique after she prayed really hard about what to do about it.

The idea that she got was to use Tic Tac candy as a simple reward for remaining quiet and then telling one’s side. Here’s what a scene would be like:

Stuart: Mooooommmmm! Spencer hit me!

Mom: Spencer, what happened?

Spencer: He pushed me first!

Stuart: (interrupting) I did not! You were touching my bed!

Mom: Stuart, I am talking to Spencer right now. If you are quiet and wait your turn to speak, you will get a Tic Tac. Now, Spencer, what happened?

Spencer: He pushed me and wouldn’t stop.

Mom: (turning to Stuart) Okay, Stuart, what happened?

Stuart: He was touching my bed! And I..

Spencer: (interrupting) What’s wrong with that?!

Mom: Spencer, if you are quiet and wait until I talk to you, you will get a Tic Tac. Go on, Stuart.

Stuart: I didn’t want him to get on my bed and I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t.

Mom: Okay, Stuart, here’s a Tic Tac. (gives Tic Tac) Spencer, did you realize that Stuart didn’t want you on his bed?

Spencer: Noooooo..

Mom: Next time if he asks you to stop, you need to stop. Okay, here’s a Tic Tac. Stuart, when someone is doing something you don’t like, you need to tell them what they are doing that bothers you. You are both at fault. Okay, you need to say you’re sorry. Spencer, say ‘I’m sorry for bothering your bed and hitting you.’

Spencer: I’m sorry for bothering your bed and hitting you.

Mom: Good. Stuart, say ‘I forgive you, Spencer.’

Stuart: I forgive you, Spencer.

Mom: Good. Now, Stuart, say ‘Spencer, I’m sorry that I pushed you.’

Stuart: Spencer, I’m sorry that I pushed you.

Mom: Good. Now, Spencer, say ‘I forgive you, Stuart.’

Spencer: I forgive you, Stuart.

Mom: Good. Here’s a Tic Tac for you, Spencer, and here’s a Tic Tac for you, Stuart.

(Yes, this is what she would do. I can write representative conversations like this because she was incredibly consistent in her approach.)

This is how she would use Tic Tacs to get to the bottom of the story. The promise of receiving a Tic Tac very soon was enough to encourage my siblings to wait their turn to speak. My mom was very consistent about this. I remember that time when Tic Tacs were a very big deal. She told me she used Tic Tacs in this way for at least a month before my siblings were able to calmly get through the fact-finding process that was part of settling fights. The principle at work here is to work toward small positive changes in behavior with small rewards, by asking for the behavior, promising a small reward that is immediately available to give for that behavior, and then immediately rewarding the good behavior when it happens.
14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the devil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. (Mosiah 4:14-15)