Wednesday, January 30, 2013 1 comments

There's more in conference talk endnotes!

I’ve recently started to realize that not only do conference talks have good things in them, but so do many of their endnotes.  I’m not sure why it is.  Perhaps the general authorities prepare so much material that they find upon timing themselves that it is too much.  Or perhaps they think better of the material and pull out that which begins to distract from the point they want to make, but they feel it is valuable enough to keep, even if only in an ancillary position. 

Below are general authorities who included interesting things in the endnotes, along with some of those interesting things. They may not look very big in that little tiny type at the end of the talks, but when you add them together in bigger type, you realize how much there. is.  (That being said, I’m not going to put them all in, just so you’ll have a reason go look at your Ensign conference edition and discover the rest on your own.  ;-)) 

Elder Quentil L. Cook  “Can Ye Feel So Now?”
“See Richard G. Scott, “Removing Barriers to Happiness,” Ensign, May 1998, 85–87. Some cultural imperatives are contrary to the Savior’s teachings and can lead us astray. When I was in the South Pacific, I met a man who had investigated the Church for years. He reported he was deeply touched when a Church leader taught at a priesthood conference, “Hands which you have previously used to hit your children are to be used to bless your children.” He received the missionary lessons, was baptized, and has been a great leader.”
“Where I have phrased the invitation to “ask the missionaries,” you could also ask a friend who is a member of the Church for assistance.”
When the Prophet Joseph Smith issued a call to Simonds Ryder to serve as a missionary, Ryder discovered that his name was spelled “Rider” in the printed revelation. He became offended, and this led to his apostasy and eventual participation in tarring and feathering the Prophet. Ryder didn’t know that Joseph Smith usually dictated revelations to his scribes and had no part in the spelling. (See Milton V. Backman Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838 [1983], 93–94; Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1844 [1983], 286.)
Elder Neil L. Andersen  “Trial of YourFaith”  []
Doctrine and Covenants 122:9; President George Q. Cannon said: “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God] will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character. He is an unchangeable being; the same yesterday, the same today, and He will be the same throughout the eternal ages to come. We have found that God. We have made Him our friend, by obeying His Gospel; and He will stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them, if we only trust in our God and keep His commandments” (“Remarks,” Deseret Evening News, Mar. 7, 1891, 4); see also Jeffrey R. Holland, “Come unto Me,” Ensign, Apr. 1998, 16–23.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks  “Protect the Children”
“Douthat, “Gay Parents and the Marriage Debate.” The latest and most thorough study finds significant disadvantages reported by young adults with a parent who had same-sex relationships prior to the child’s turning age 18 (see Mark Regnerus, “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” Social Science Research, vol. 41 [2012], 752–70).”
Elder D. Todd Christofferson  “Brethren, WeHave Work to Do”
When you ask young people today what will make them adults, almost no one mentions marriage. They are far more likely to see issues around work—completing education, financial independence, a full-time job—as the signs that they have arrived. Work, career, independence: these are the primary sources of identity today” (Hymowitz, Manning Up, 45). The pressure on women to adopt this antimarriage ethic is especially intense. A Times of London contributor wrote: “No one, not my family or my teachers, ever said, ‘Oh yes, and by the way you might want to be a wife and mother too.’ They were so determined we would follow a new, egalitarian, modern path that the historic ambitions of generations of women—to get married and raise a family—were intentionally airbrushed from their vision of our future” (Eleanor Mills, “Learning to Be Left on the Shelf,” Sunday Times, Apr. 18, 2010,; in Hymowitz, Manning Up, 72). Another writer in her 40s quoted some responses to an article she wrote about her regrets over not marrying: “I am totally appalled by your need for a man,” “Get some self-esteem!” “You have taken codependency to a whole new low,” and “If my daughter grows up to want a man half as much as you do, I will know that I’ve done something wrong in raising her” (Lori Gottlieb, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough [2010], 55).The good news is that most people, including educated young adults, aren’t buying the antimarriage, antifamily message. “According to a study by a University of Pennsylvania economist, in the United States in 2008, 86 percent of college-educated white women were married by age 40, compared with 88 percent of those with less than a four-year degree. The numbers for white, college-educated men are similar: 84 percent of them were married by 40 in 2008. The conventional wisdom, not borne out by research, by the way, may have it that marriage is a raw deal for women. But college-educated white women don’t seem to believe it. They are the most likely of any group to think that ‘married people are generally happier than unmarried people.’ … The large majority—70 percent—of first-year college students think raising a family is ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ to their futures” (Hymowitz, Manning Up, 173–74).
Elder Anthony D. Perkins “Beware Concerning Yourselves"
“You will not make a major mistake without first being warned by the promptings of the Spirit” (Boyd K. Packer, “Counsel to Youth,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2011, 18).
Elder Russell R. Osguthorpe “One Step Closer to the Savior”
See David A. Bednar, “Watching with All Perseverance,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2010, 43: “Are you and I helping our children become agents who act and seek learning by study and by faith, or have we trained our children to wait to be taught and acted upon? Are we as parents primarily giving our children the equivalent of spiritual fish to eat, or are we consistently helping them to act, to learn for themselves, and to stand steadfast and immovable? Are we helping our children become anxiously engaged in asking, seeking, and knocking?”

I realize there is a danger of looking at the endnotes while ignoring the main message, and I suppose some may ask me why I call attention to the endnotes instead of posting about the talks themselves.  To me, looking at the end of a conference talk and discovering a hefty endnote with additional stuff to chew on is like following a scripture footnote and discovering a big helpful explanation that I didn’t realize existed!  (You know, the feeling when you discover there was a Joseph Smith Translation that you never noticed before..?)  There is more good stuff, and we’ll be in a sad state when we don’t get excited about more.

Monday, January 28, 2013 0 comments

Background context of Lehi’s dream of the tree of life

I noticed a verse that I usually slide right over as I’m reading through the beginning chapters of the Book of Mormon.  It comes just barely before Lehi’s relation of his tree of life dream.

And it came to pass that we had gathered together all manner of seeds of every kind, both of grain of every kind, and also of the seeds of fruit of every kind. (1 Nephi 8:1)

I can imagine the intense search efforts to gather all those seeds and process them and store them.  Lehi and Ishmael and his family were about to begin their long journey to the land of promise and they didn’t know what cultivatable, domesticatable plants they would find, nor would they have the time to learn about them before they’d need food to eat, so they prepared crop seeds they were familiar with to take with them.

It makes sense for the Lord to use those searching efforts of seed-gathering as a context to communicate how wonderful and joyous to the soul it is to find the love of God, by representing it as a fruit one can gather.  It is as if He says, “While you are so concerned about gathering fruits and seeds to nourish the body, don’t forget to gather the fruit that can nourish and feed the spirit.” 

And too, to underline the importance of the message, the Lord showed Lehi the spiritual status of his family and where they were in relation to that search.  He saw his wife and sons Sam and Nephi were came to partake of the fruit, but Laman and Lemuel didn’t.  The whole reason Lehi shared his dream is because he wanted to show Laman and Lemuel why he was worried about them and help them understand why he would work harder to teach and exhort them.  The dream he had perfectly showed what they had to gain, but also what forces they were vulnerable to.

Every once in a while the Lord has given me dreams that show me how I’m doing.  I’ve been grateful for these dreams.  Some of them came at times when I felt too burdened and felt I was failing, and they showed me I was actually doing a great job.  Other dreams came at times when I was enamored with the wrong thing and showed me the great danger I was in such that I became willing to make immediate changes.

Back back to Lehi’s dream..   If you’re curious and want to learn a little more about Lehi's dream, here are a few neat articles about it that I found edifying.

Hugh Nibley’s article “Lehi’s Dream” in which he shows how the basic setting imagery of Lehi’s dream corresponds perfectly to “over a dozen vivid little snapshots or colored slides of the desert country that show that somebody who had a hand in the writing of the Book of Mormon actually lived there.”  This article helps you get inside the ancient Beduoin mind.

Corbin T. Volluz’s article “Lehi’s Dream of the Tree of Life: Springboard to Prophecy" in which he shows how the order that elements are presented in Lehi’s dream makes it a symbolic representation of the wide sweep of history that Nephi views in his visionary interpretation.   I hadn’t picked this out before, and it was a revelation to me.  I was floored to find out that there are things missing from Lehi’s dream that correspond to history that Nephi recounts in his vision.  (What? Missing?!  Yes, missing!)  Also, two other interpretations of the dream are pointed out!  (Be aware that this article starts a little slow, but be patient.  Or you can just skip to #2 in the text, which is where it gets interesting.)
Friday, January 25, 2013 2 comments

In which I ask speculative questions about intelligence, light, and truth

 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93:36)

Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. (D&C 93:29)

Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; (Abraham 3:22)

I think that when “intelligence” is defined as “light and truth,” we are actually given a fair amount of information.  It is almost as if it has a dual nature.  Think about the dual nature of light.  Is it a wave?  Is it a particle?  It acts like both, depending on the situation.  Might intelligence act like light or like truth, depending on the situation?  I have no idea.

Light has energy.   What generates this light?  

And then the “truth” part of it.  Does that mean that there is some kind of encoding and storing of information going on intelligence?  And if so, does that mean there’s some kind of inherent sensory aspect?  Does that mean there is a discernment aspect too? If truth is knowledge of what is, was, and what will be, how does it know it is eternal and not temporary?  That's like saying truth is history and prophesy all rolled into one.

Is truth the message or is it the vessel holding truth?  Or is light the vessel that holds truth?  How do light and truth become connected?  Or are they inseparably connected already?

D&C 130 talks about how intelligence is increased through diligence and obedience.

And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. (D&C 130:19) 

 Whatever the exact connective nature of light and truth in intelligence, we are clearly told how to get more.  More is good.

Inevitably the question will be asked, “What good is this stuff Joseph Smith gave us about intelligence, light, and truth?  I think the basic principles of intelligence can keep us grounded in the midst of dialogues about philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, and other stuff that has to do with brains and being smart.  It helps us see beyond the mortal chemical imbalances, genetic defects, developmental delays, and other such problems into the divine potential within.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 2 comments

The priorities of Babylon and lamentations for its desolation

11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her [Babylon]; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:
12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,
13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. (Revealtion 18:11-13)

Elsewhere I have posted about Captain Moroni’s priority list as found on the title of liberty.  It is important to note that Babylon has its own priority list that we must guard against adopting. 

We can see this priority list above in the list of goods that Babylon won’t be able to buy any more, which causes the merchants and suppliers to face total ruin.  If we look at it carefully, we see that it reads like a priority list of materialism, and notice that people come last.  And not for any actual care; remember, this is a list of merchandise.

First comes currency—gold and silver—because it is the medium of exchange.  As the devil said, “You can buy anything in this world for money..”

Next comes the jewelry—precious stones and pearls—because they are almost as liquid as currency and can be worn as status symbols.

Third comes luxury fashion—fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet—the most difficult and time-consuming and costly clothing to make.  No ordinary homespun for these people; Babylon places a high priority on status symbols you can wear to demonstrate your importance instantly.

Next comes the fancy furniture—all thyne wood—because you have to have the best décor at home to demonstrate your worth when people come to visit, and you want everything you see at home to remind you how important and special you are.

After that comes the containers to hold all your stuff—vessels of ivory, most precious wood, brass, iron, and marble—because you can’t have all your stuff in a disorganized mess and just laying around.  The best stuff deserves the best containers, you know.

Then come the sensory pleasures of smell—cinnamon, odours, ointments and frankincense—because you want to create an aura of luxury and importance wherever you go.  Plus you want to cover up any scent of harsh reality, like dirt, sweat, infection, or rotting food.

And then after that are the sensory pleasures of taste—wine, oil, fine flour, and wheat—but of course wine is more valued than wheat because wheat merely sustains life whereas wine… well you can’t have any fun without intoxication, can you? 

After that comes animal life—beasts, sheep, and horses—because they can do all this work for you, or you can eat them, and they don’t sass back, and you can buy and sell them, and if they are vicious, they can be a weapon to protect you and hurt your enemies.. And they are yet another way of displaying wealth.

Then comes transportation—horses and chariots—because heaven forbid you should stay in the same place all the time or be forced to walk everywhere or have to travel among the common rabble.  You’re too important to be kept waiting; you deserve speed.  What speed limits?

Oh, and humans.. ah.. human life isn’t that big a deal.  Slaves definitely rate higher than souls in Babylon, that’s for sure.  Slaves have to do what you tell them, but souls you have to persuade and cajole and bribe and threaten.

So what else do we notice about this list?
1.     Lifeless things are higher on the list than live things.  Babylon cares more about stuff than about life.
2.     Animal life is higher on the list than human life.
3.     Liquidity is considered higher priority than status symbols, hence the world loves those who are rich but don’t show it even more than it loves the show of wealth, and this means those without status symbols have to make sure everyone knows about their liquidity so that they still get respect from people they don’t know.
4.     Status symbols are a higher priority than the pleasures of the senses, so you will find people flocking to status symbols even if said symbols make them uncomfortable. 
5.     Babylon values superfluous pleasures of the senses much more than it values common or necessary things.  Hence, scents are a higher priority than actual food, and if you consider food, extravagance, dainties, and mind-altering substances have higher priority than good, solid, healthy nourishment.

We are specifically warned to depart from Babylon in that same chapter:

And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. (Revelation 18:4)

If we adopt any of Babylon’s priorities, we will also experience Babylon’s plagues—medical, social, and spiritual.  If we come out of Babylon and avoid her sins, then we will be spared those plagues.  Yes, trouble and affliction is a natural part of life, but then there are also consequences of sin that we can avoid by.. not sinning. 

What happens to it all?  It all disappears.  The same chapter of Revelation that gives us this list of merchandise and priorities also describes the lamentations of the kings, merchants, and shipmen devastated by the desolation of Babylon.  Their lamentations are instructive to us.

9 And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. (Revelation 18:9-10)

The kings call Babylon “that mighty city,” indicating that they derived much if not all their power to rule from Babylon’s resources and power to coerce, the military-industrial complex.  Once Babylon is gone, their power is gone as well, and they don’t see any alternative way to gain, hold, or use power.  They think Babylon was mighty, but they aren’t willing to see that the Lord is mightier.

Kings were those who dispensed judgment and they recognize that the fall of Babylon is deserved.  They should have administered judgment on Babylon themselves, but they held back, preferring to unite and partner with Babylon rather than do their judicial duty.  Perhaps they though rendering judgment would open a huge can of worms, diverting resources to catch and try criminals.. So it is notable that they marvel over the speed that judgment comes to Babylon—“in one hour is thy judgment come.” 

Who else laments over Babylon?

15 The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
16 And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought…  (Revelation 18:15-17)

The merchants lament that once Babylon is destroyed no one buys their merchandise any more; there is no demand whatsoever.  Peoples’ priorities are completely different outside of Babylon, and it is depressing to these people to find that all the goods they worked to aggregate for sale are no longer valuable.  And since they probably measured their own worth according to what they made, they probably felt suddenly worthless.

Additionally, though the merchants had been made rich by Babylon, suddenly it didn’t matter any more. “For in one hour so great riches is come to nought,” they lament.  The riches they worked so hard to accumulate don’t matter in eternity, and suddenly they are faced with the realization that from now on, everyone is to be considered of equal worth, no matter what their wealth or status has been.  They can’t stand that idea, since they worked so hard to establish their value through wealth.  Wealtn no longer matters without Babylon, but they can’t seem to imagine any other way.  To them, it is wealth or oblivion.  They wanted riches so they could buy the corrupted delicacies of Babylon, but now there’s nothing to buy!  It’s all gone.

Another way that so great riches may come to nought for the merchants is if they can’t hold back a disaster that they felt they could avert or survive with a large enough financial cushion.

Who else laments Babylon’s demise?

…And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate. (Revelation 18:17-19)

The shipmasters and sailors represent those in charge of transporting goods to Babylon.  They foresee that the destruction of Babylon means there won’t be nearly the amount of goods to move about, so their business is going to slump immensely.  They say, “What city is like unto this great city!” which indicates they can’t even imagine any alternative to Babylon.  The city of Zion isn’t on their radar at all.  They could always depend on finding a port in Babylon to deliver their goods, but now they are left floating with no place to go.

All the demand for what they could transport to Babylon meant they could charge exorbitant prices, become rich, and then partake of those same luxuries and vices of Babylon, but now it is all gone, their riches mean nothing, there’s nothing to their corrupted taste to buy anyway, and all their skills and cunning and equipment are superfluous. 

To them all, the judgment on Babylon seems to come “in one hour” without warning, yet we know there is always plenty of warning given.  They just chose not to listen, so there was no time for them to prepare for anything different.  (Of course, during the time the Saints were coming out of Babylon, Babylon’s prospects seemed to be getting better and better, so they deceived themselves into staying.)

They are all shocked by how totally Babylon was destroyed.  Everything they loved, everything that mattered to them, everything that made them who they were and wanted to be was gone forever. 

The kings, merchants, and shipping masters mourn for Babylon because they can’t imagine living any other way than the Babylon way.  They didn’t fit in with any other way.  They had oriented their lives totally in terms of Babylon, so without it they realize their total and complete spiritual poverty.

These verses teach me that I can’t let myself get comfortable with the worldly status quo of “you can buy anything in this world for money” and Babylon priorities.  I have to be able to imagine another way—Zion.  I have to work toward Zion, and see something different. 

When you think about Zion, how do you see it as different from the world we live in now?

Friday, January 18, 2013 3 comments

Thoughts on courage

My patriarchal blessing talks about having courage, but I haven’t felt very courageous lately, so I decided that I needed to study what the scriptures say about courage to see if there was something I could do to gain it.

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:7)

The world says courage means to be scared but to have the nerve to do the scary thing anyway.  It seems to me that the above verse says that the Lord’s way is to do away with the fear entirely.  I aspire to that.  I also like that Paul seems to break courage into three parts: power, love, and a sound mind.

Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. (Alma 56:47)

            When I read the stripling warriors didn’t fear death even though they had never fought, it is easy for me to think that lack of fear came from their ignorance.  And yet we know even after having had a lot of experience with the ugliness of battle, they still threw themselves into it with as much a will as they did before they knew anything about it.
 Courage has to start in the mind before it manifests itself in the body, so I've been looking for instructions on how to think courageously that will help me act courageously.  I noticed that encapsulated in that verse was a profound insight on how to think courageously.  “They did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives” shows us that the stripling warriors worked to focus their thoughts more on their goal and their motivation than about the possible cost to their lives.  The mind has to think about something all the time, and if you are about to do something scary, occupying your thoughts with the goal you are trying for more instead of the discomfort you are about to suffer will help you act courageously. 
Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.  (Joshua 1:7) 

In light of what we now know about how focusing our thoughts on the goal more than the cost, this verse shows me an important thing to focus on—observing to do according to the law, or in other words, keeping the commandments.  There’s a neat promise that is attached to it—that if we don’t deviate in any way from keeping the commandments, we will prosper in whatever we do.  Does this mean that we won’t have failure?  I’d like to think so, but based on what I’ve learned about the word “prosper” and how it is used in the scriptures, it may mean that we’ll always grow from our experiences more than that we will always succeed.   But then, looking at it from another perspective, it seems to me that there will be far fewer failures if we’re carefully keeping the commandments than there would be if we weren’t.

I also see that if we are careful to keep the commandments, then we can have confidence God will be with us. 

And your whole labor shall be in Zion, with all your soul, from henceforth; yea, you shall ever open your mouth in my cause, not fearing what man can do, for I am with you. Amen. (D&C 30:11, emphasis added) 

If our whole labor –or whole heart and soul—is in Zion, then we will be focused that cause, which will outweigh any consideration of what sacrifices our penalties at the hands of man that we may incur.

When the Lord is with us, with all His might and grace, what opposition can count for anything?  What can man do in comparison to God?
 Here are some other scriptures about courage that I've been considering.  Is there anything that sticks out to you about them?  What do we learn from them that can help us have courage?

And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands? (1 Nephi 4:1)

When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. (Duet. 20:1)

Go thy way and do as I have told you, and fear not thine enemies; for they shall not have power to stop my work. (D&C 136:17) 

Therefore, be ye strong from henceforth; fear not, for the kingdom is yours. (D&C 38:15) 

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause?
Go forward and not backward.
Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!
Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad.
Let the earth break forth into singing.
Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise
to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was,
that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison;
for the prisoners shall go free.
(D&C 128:22)

  Tell me about some times when you've been courageous.  What kinds of things require your courage today?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 2 comments

The eye that mocketh at his father

The eye that mocketh at his father,
and despiseth to obey his mother,
the ravens of the valley shall pick it out,
and the young eagles shall eat it.
(Proverbs 30:17)
 I imagine my loyal readers are wondering, “Why are you posting about such a gruesome scripture?”  Well, I know what you mean because I thought it was pretty gruesome too and condemning as well.  It sounds like a curse without any logic to it.   

But I then I started thinking about it a little more. 

I thought to myself, “This is written by a desert people.  There is usually a reason behind the imagery the ancient Israelites used.”  I asked myself, “Under what conditions would the birds be eating someone eyes?” and myself answered, “If the person were dead in the wilderness.  Think of vultures around a carcass.”  Then I asked myself, “Why are the person dead in the wilderness?” and myself answered, “Because they refused to listen to their parents who warned them about different dangers.  They wandered off and they got themselves into trouble and there was no one to help them.  No one knows where they are, which is why they haven't been buried.” 

So what sounds like a really gruesome statement is actually an important lesson about dire natural consequences of being disobedient to parental instruction.  This is something that we can understand, and now that verse is actually helpful.

So, let's say you had to come up with a modern equivalent for this warning. What would that warning be? 

Sunday, January 13, 2013 2 comments

The need for repentance continues

After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;
But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness;
And gave unto him commandments which inspired him; (D&C 20:5-7)

I love that this tells us Joseph Smith had to repent again.  Not that I rejoice that he was entangled again in sins, but I am happy he was willing to share that information.  It shows that there is hope for us if we mess up again  (Not that we want to mess up, but just because we have repented once does not mean we can’t be deceived into sin again, so we have to keep on our guard.)

I think the word “entangled” is a very descriptive word for how we get pulled back into sin.  It makes me think of sin as tangled hair that has to be combed out, or a piece of yarn that snarled up when it wasn’t supposed to when we’re in the process of trying to knit a nice warm sweater.
I love that we see in these verses that when we humble ourselves and repent, God forgives and ministers to us again.  It shows that He doesn’t hold grudges and He can keep moving us forward, having expectation that we will live up to what He asks.

That last bit about “commandments which inspired him” makes me ask myself—“Do commandments inspire me?”    Too often I see them as something added to my To Do list when I could look at them as a vision of what I can become.  I want to be inspired by the commandments.

Friday, January 11, 2013 0 comments

Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth: Isaiah 54 versus 3 Nephi 22

3 Nephi 22 doesn’t have too many differences from Isaiah 54, but the differences it does have—in verses 4, 9, 15, and 17—are instructive. 

Isaiah 54:4

Fear not;
for thou shalt not be ashamed:
neither be thou confounded;
for thou shalt not be put to shame:
for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

3 Nephi 22:4

Fear not,
for thou shalt not be ashamed;
neither be thou confounded,
for thou shalt not be put to shame;
for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

The line in blue was added by Jesus when he repeated Isaiah to the Nephites. 

It is possible that translators of the Bible originally had a text that looked like 3 Nephi 22:4, but they looked at the line “and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth” and said, “Hey, there are elements of that line that occur in other lines of the verse; there’s no need for it. Let’s just take it out.”

Below I have marked all the words with similar meaning so we can see the pattern of ideas being constructed here. 

Fear not,
for thou shalt not be ashamed;
neither be thou confounded,
for thou shalt not be put to shame;
for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

Repetition like this was not meant to be boring or just to keep scribes in business; rather it is meant to reinforce and amplify the message.  And what is the message?  Simply that the house of Israel would forget the humiliation from the times they rejected the Lord as a people.  Israel was very young relatively when it was carried captive to Babylon and it was still sort of young when it was destroyed by the Romans and scattered.  And imagine, all that ugly history would be forgotten in the joy of coming to Christ at last!  I really think it is true today.  We have no conception of the societal disgrace of those past apostasies and there is no collective guilt of a failed dispensation hanging over us.  Thank heavens!

Isaiah 54:9

For this is as the waters of Noah unto me:
for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth;
so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee,
nor rebuke thee.

3 Nephi 22:9

For this, the waters of Noah unto me,
for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth,
so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee.

Notice that 3 Nephi 22:9 is missing those words “nor rebuke thee.”  This teaches us that the Lord will withhold His anger as we work through our repentance process, but He will and does rebuke us for our sins, so we should expect that.  And it is a good thing too; if we didn’t receive rebuke, how would we know we had sinned?  We need our conscience and we need outside instruction to help us see what we are doing wrong and why and what we should do instead.   And yet, that rebuke will not be nearly as bad as the shame and reproach spoken of previously in verse 4.

Something that seems odd about 3 Nephi 22:9 is that that first line of the verse—For this, the waters of Noah unto me”—reads more awkwardly than it does in Isaiah--“For this is as the waters of Noah unto me.”   The way I see it, Jesus was quoting in the old Hebraic way that doesn’t include any state-of-being verbs like “is, are, be, etc.”    I personally find the verse makes more sense to me when I ignore that particular part and pay more attention to the rest of the verse.  (That sounds bad, but it’s true!)

The sense of that verse should be quite reassuring to us because it tells us that just as the Lord promised Noah that He would never again destroy man with a flood, the re-gathered house of Israel is promised that they will never again be destroyed and scattered as they have been in the past.  Collectively we may be rebuked stiffly through tribulation, persecution, and calls to repentance, but never destroyed.

Isaiah 54:15

Behold, they shall surely gather together,
but not by me:
whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.

3 Nephi 22:15

Behold, they shall surely gather together against thee,
not by me;
whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.

Notice that 3 Nephi 22:15 adds those words “against thee,” which makes it doubly clear that the house of Israel will definitely have opposition.  While the house of Israel gathers, opposition to it will gather as well, but we are assured in the rest of the verse that the opposition will fall.  As Joseph Smith noted, no unhallowed hand can stop the work of the Lord.

Isaiah 54:17

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper;
and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.

3 Nephi 22:17

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper;
and every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.

In 3 Nephi, “rise” is changed to “revile” in the phrase “every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.”  There is a big difference between tongues rising in judgment against the house of Israel and tongues reviling in judgment against the house of Israel.  Rising in judgment makes me think of any opposition coming up that could be either deserved or undeserved.  However, reviling in judgment makes me think of prejudiced and bigoted opposition.  One dictionary I used defined “revile” as “criticize in an abusive or angry insulting manner.” 

This verse shows there are negative consequences for slandering the house of Israel and the church.  I am a little unclear as to the exact meaning of “judgment” in this verse though because there are a number of courts that could be referred to:
1)   The court of the land.  False accusations are eventually counteracted by evidence to the contrary in a court of law.
2)   The court of public opinion.  Certainly critical and insulting accusations of the church are all over the place, especially on the internet, and we condemn it by spreading the truth and defending the church.
3)   The church’s disciplinary court or bishop’s court.  Criticism and insult inside the church can be addressed here with inquiry and evidence and stopped.
4)   The Final judgment.  Ultimately, all those who have spread false and negative information about the church will stand accountable to God.
At various times we will have to add our witness to these various courts.

The differences between Isaiah 54 and 3 Nephi 22 are subtle, but very instructive.  They put into perspective some things we can expect as Israel is gathered for the last time:
·      To forget the destruction and shame of apostasy of previous dispensations.
·      To expect opposition to gather.
·      To expect lots of negative press (and that we can overcome it).
·      To expect rebuke from the Lord if we make mistakes as a church.

See also this article at Times and Seasons for more good stuff on this chapter:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 3 comments

On asking “why” disability came

I ran across something recently from the Church Handbook on disability:

Leaders and members should not attempt to explain why the challenge of a disability has come to a family.  They should never suggest that a disability is a punishment from God (see John 9:2-3).  Nor should they suggest that it is a blessing to have a child who has a disability. (21.1.26)

When I first read this I was startled, but as I thought about it I could see it is very wise.  Trying to answer the “why” question can lead to all kinds of insensitive comments.

Disability is hard enough to deal with without a manufactured synthetic burden of guilt or blessing.  If we are the one experiencing the disability, guilt about it may paralyze us in despair if we feel we deserve it, or it may provoke anger at God if we feel we don’t.  If we feel we should consider it a blessing, this dismisses and perhaps even denies the difficulties we face in such a way that we will feel frustrated with our challenges.

Meeting others with disability can give us a gnawing uncomfortable feeling that the same thing could easily happen to us or our family members.  We may try to quiet those fears by saying to ourselves that it could not happen because we are somehow more righteous.  We may scrutinize others’ lives looking for their faults, seeking a connection between those faults and their disabilities so we can say it is a punishment.  We may distance ourselves, as if disability is something “catching."

Thinking someone else’s disability is a blessing from God is an even more subtle way of distancing ourselves.  When we tell ourselves that the disability is a blessing, we try to convince ourselves that things are not as bad as they look such that we don’t feel obligated to offer support, encouragement, or help.  After all, they don’t need it because they are blessed, right?

I really like the scripture cited:

And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (John 9:2-3)

The disciples want to know who is to blame for the man’s disability.  Jesus has this fabulous perspective.  Disability is not a punishment for sin in the pre-mortal life.  It’s not the man’s fault.  Neither is it the fault of the parents.  And further, Jesus doesn’t blame God for it either.  It seems like finding meaning in disability isn’t about looking at the past; it’s about looking to the future as an opportunity to see how the works of God will appear.  Of course, the rest of this story is that Jesus healed the man, which definitely manifested a miraculous work of God, but other works of God include how a disabled person uses their life for good and the kind of choices they make in response to their limitations.

Not attempting to explain why a disability comes is good in a few other ways that I can think of.  First, people most involved have to come to terms with it on their own, and that usually comes from the experience of living with it.  If meaning is imposed from the outside, the soul doesn’t own it and will usually reject it.  Second, making statements about the reason why God would allow disability to come to a family is kind of cheeky, since we are mere mortals and don’t know all the mind and purposes of God in all His creations.

However, we can try to become more observant to see how the works of God are made manifest, both through miracles of healing and miracles of progression.

It seems to me that the first major work of God made manifest is the parents who adapt to a child’s special needs and nurture day after day after day…

From this come other works of God, found in those who have disabilities:
·      Compensatory gifts—Development of amazing strengths to compensate for the disability.  Many of these gifts we would have no idea the possibility of them existed.  How would we know about the possibilities for expression through sign language if no one had hearing impairments?  How would we know it was possible to have such sensitivity of hearing and touch if there were no blind?
·      Optimism—Needed to surmount the huge challenges and barriers to living a better life.
·      Work – No progress is made without it. 

Other ways the works of God have been made manifest are seen in society as a response to disability:
·      Intellectual curiosity, which has led to better understanding of the nature of certain disabilities and training for coping and compensating.
·      Service by helpful individuals.
·      Creation of organizations to advocate for and educate society about disabilities to eliminate social stigma and misunderstandings.
·      Creative use of resources to create aids or cures. 

The final work of God we can look forward to is the healing in the day of resurrection.
Perhaps the question to ask in the face of disability is not “Why?” but “Now what?”

In my own life, I was diagnosed with a learning disability called Attention Deficit Disorder when I was around 15 or 16 and started taking medicine for it.  I hardly ever call attention to it or mention it because I don’t like to label myself or use it as an excuse, so it is usually a surprise to people when they find out.  I mention it now to point out one of the ways that God’s works have been made manifest in me, which is in this blog.  Surprisingly enough, one of the compensatory gifts of having ADD is the ability to hyperfocus on activities that I am particularly interested in, and it just so happens that I am particularly interested in the scriptures and writing about them.

Do you or a family member or a friend have a disability?  How have you seen the works of God manifest?

Monday, January 7, 2013 5 comments

Give thyself wholly to them

Meditate upon these things;
give thyself wholly to them;
that thy profiting may appear to all.
(1 Tim. 4:15)

 The part that intrigues me about this verse about meditating on the scriptures is that phrase “give thyself wholly to them.”  I suppose it could be interpreted in several ways.  Undoubtedly some would take it to mean they should spend all their time pondering the gospel and doctrine and studying the scriptures.  I don’t know how long it is possible to ponder the doctrine, but I’ve found that my pride gets involved and I start thinking self-righteous thoughts.  I also become somewhat of a spiritual hypochondriac, so I simply must do other things besides study the scriptures all day. 

I do know that when I study the scriptures and ponder them, I have to give my whole mental and emotional energy to it or I won’t get much from it.  I can’t be too eager to stop or too worried about what I learn or don’t learn.  I have to just lose myself in it. 

When I look at how many things I’ve learned from it (many of which I have written about in my scripture journal and on my blog) it is obvious to me that I have profited from it. 

How do you give yourself “wholly” to your scripture study? What do you think it means to "meditate" on the scriptures?