Wednesday, October 30, 2013 0 comments

What I’ve learned from four operations in four weeks

Yes.  Four operations in four weeks.  No, I wasn’t the one operated upon.  It was my husband.  For a massive kidney stone.  The mother of all kidney stones.  A kidney stone for which he will always be remembered by his urologist and associated nurses, one which was so big that it was as big as his kidney.  (This was back in March and April, by the way, but I am only mentioning it now because it

We didn’t know it would be four operations at the beginning.  It was just going to be one, but they didn’t get it all in the first one.   (And get this—he needed at least one more after the four.)

But I’m starting to digress.  I was going to share what I learned from all this, which was plenty.

Lesson #1 is the importance of getting a priesthood blessing before the operation(s) begin.  My husband got one.  He was an absolute trooper throughout this whole ordeal.

Lesson #2 is the importance of the caregiver getting a priesthood blessing before the operation(s) begin.  I got an excellent one.  I was blessed to have a strong mind, which, if you happen know how badly I react to seeing blood and wounds (fainting, etc.) , was wondrously fulfilled.  I wasn’t bothered at all by changing my husband’s bandages and dressings, which to me was simply miraculous.

Lesson #3 is the importance of calling the visiting teachers and setting up a dinner to be delivered for the night husband comes home from the hospital.  Just do it.  Even if you are determined to be self-reliant, just do it.  And then have a good meal plan in place for the week that is easy and fast to prepare. 

Lesson #4 is the importance of packing a lunch and few good books for the family waiting room in the hospital, no matter how short you think the operation will be. 

Lesson #5 is that the Lord gives extra comfort through the Holy Ghost if you happen to have to watch general conference in the hospital on your ipad while your husband is operated on.

Lesson #6 is that if the operation takes hours longer than you were told it would take, then be prepared for… anything.

Lesson #7 is the importance of immediately writing down what the doctor tells you about how the operation went.  This information will be shared with all the close friends and family who are interested about how it is all going.  (If more operations are needed, writing down becomes even more important, just to keep things straight.)

Lesson #8 is to realize that if the doctor says he’s going to have to do another operation, be prepared for at least two or three more.  Having to do another operation means the first one only partially worked or didn’t work at all, so the doctor is going to have to figure it out as he goes, which means he’s going to have to try different things, and he may have to try several different things, each of which may require its own operation.

Lesson #9 is the importance of having a good attitude, expressing gratitude, and remembering as much as possible how wonderful modern medicine is.  Good attitude helps everybody deal better.

Lesson #10 is to carry a card with all medications being taken along with their strengths and what they are for.  This will be shared with various nurses, and it can help you have discussions with doctors and prevent unnecessary prescriptions.  (One doctor prescribed one antibiotic, and another doctor prescribed a different one.  Having a list handy would have helped clarify which one should be taken.) 

Lesson #11 is it is rather fun to read a satire such as a Terry Pratchett novel out loud in a hospital, especially the parts in which the character Death has dialogue or is mentioned.  A patient with a sense of humor might appreciate an excuse to laugh at Death. (My husband did, at least.)

Lesson #12 is to get a supply of bandages and dressings from the hospital before you leave.  Hospitals have a certain nice kind of wide tape that corner drugstores do not carry.  They also have bandages that the corner drugstore doesn’t have.

Lesson #13 is to ask nurses to train you on how to change bandage dressings. 

Lesson #14 is that instructions on care may strangely contradict between nurses and operations, in which case you should be prepared to ask questions and use your common sense. 

Lesson #15 is to pray for what you and husband need specifically, even medical stuff. 

Lesson #16 is to not to be concerned about the furniture when trying to find a comfortable place for husband to lie at home, even if his bandages leak.  Yes, even if those bandages leak urine. 

Lesson #17 is that stores sell nice big absorbent pads to put down underneath leaky bandages.

Lesson #18 is to tell the Relief Society president what is happening at the beginning because if she finds out only after the third operation, she will feel absolutely terrible.  She feels that if she doesn’t know about every major health difficulty that ward members are going through she has somehow dropped the ball.  (She hasn’t, and she knows she hasn’t, but she’ll still have a nagging feeling that she failed somehow.  So show some charity and at least keep her in the loop.)

Lesson #19 is to remember that sooner or later this will be over.  It is also important to remind one’s spouse of this, especially since after the third operation it will begin to feel to him as if he’s always been sick and won’t get better.  (What’s really happening is that by the time he’s just starting to feel better, he has to have another operation, which puts him back feeling wounded again. And by the time he’s starting to heal from that, he has another operation, so he never gets to the point of feeling 100%.)

Lesson #20 is that anyone (and their near family) who has to deal with a nephrostomy tube and a urine collection bag for two months is going to appreciate the body’s amazing plumbing waaaay more than they ever did before.
Monday, October 28, 2013 2 comments

The Narrow Skillset of the Lamanites, Enos 1:20

And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us. (Enos 1:20)

When I was looking at this verse it stood out to me how narrow the Lamanite skillset really was, spiritually, socially, and economically. 

Their hatred was fixed – They didn’t know how to forgive, and they were prejudiced, so they couldn’t listen to those who could teach them the principles that would help them learn how.

They were led by their evil nature – This would make them pretty impulsive and unable to resist temptation.  They would not have the discipline to do much more than what it would take to survive.

Wild, ferocious, and bloodthirsty – They didn’t know how to solve problems peacefully.  They probably overreacted a lot and were at the mercy of their passions and emotions.

Full of idolatry – God (or the Great Spirit) was not at the top of their priority list, and they were also superstitious.  Superstition is exacerbated by a limited understanding or misunderstanding of cause and effect.

Full of… filthiness – They didn’t know how to keep themselves or their environment clean.  (If they moved around a lot to follow game, they probably thought there was no point.)

Feeding upon beasts of prey – It is possible they thought strength would come from eating predators.  (There are people today who still believe this; hence the underground trade of processed portions of large mammalian anatomy for their supposed health effects.) It is also possible that the Lamanites didn’t have the skill or patience for raising flocks and herds, so they had to hunt all the time.

Dwelling in tents – If game was always on the move, they had to move after it, meaning they wouldn’t be able to learn to build more permanent buildings.  There is also no point in developing more than the most essential and mobile tools or collecting supplies if you have to carry it along.

Wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven – It seems they didn’t have much knowledge about how to clothe themselves, other than with skins, so maybe they’d figured out the leather tanning process.  But to clothe themselves with something besides skins, they would have to learn to find and raise fiber-producing plants and/or fiber-producing animals.  This would require patience and application, not to mention learning fiber-processing techniques and weaving skills.

their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax – They were good at making weapons and using them—bows and cimeters.  (The ax is a little more ambiguous; they could use it as a building tool or as a killing tool.)  These were the tools the Lamanites understood, tools of destruction and death.  Shooting, cutting, and chopping.

many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat – Cooking wasn’t a strong point.  It is hard to pin down the exact reasons for this because there are a number of factors that could be at work.  It could be they were generally so hungry when they found game that they didn’t want to take the time to cook it before eating.  It could be that it was just a continuation of the ancestral methods of concealing one’s presence by not using fire (see 1 Nephi 17:12). It may be that they didn’t want to bother finding and raising good-to-eat plants because it would take too much time and tie them down to a place where game would become scarce.  It is also possible that they didn’t know how to preserve their meat to store it for later.  

I have to wonder if the Lamanite skill deficiencies were part of what prevented them from converting.  If they joined the Nephite religion, they would have to leave behind these destroying skills and learn radically new ones.  The law of Moses prohibited eating beasts of prey and certain other animals, so their diet would be limited to a certain class of animals instead of anything they could find.  And in the time between giving up old skills and learning new ones, how would they live?  The transition stage would be very difficult.  We see in the case of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis that it can be done, but conversions of this sort are made more difficult than ones in which one doesn’t have to give up one’s livelihood to convert.

How can this help us today?  For parents, it may help to think about what skills one’s children needs to become independent and question the building of skills that are less important.  Skill in video games may be special in a son’s peer group, but ultimately it won’t help him provide for a future family.  Programming skills, however, will help him. 

When kids leave home we don’t want them stuck with a “Lamanite” skill set.  We want them to have a “Nephite” skill set, which we can extrapolate as the opposite of Enos’s words about the Lamanites:
·      unprejudiced and loving
·      led by the Holy Ghost
·      gentle, compassionate, peace-loving
·      Acquainted with God and obedient to the commandments
·      Skilled at cleaning themselves and their environment
·      Able to cook and feed themselves with healthy food
·      Settled in one place
·      Well-clothed (skilled at sewing and/or clothes shopping)
·      Skilled in the use of productive tools

Of course there are additional skills that are helpful in the modern world:
·      Budgeting and saving
·      Auto-mechanics
·      Typing
·      Computer literacy
·      Household repairs
And the cool thing is that unlike 10 years ago, there now exists a plethora of ways to educate oneself in how to do these things using instructions and videos one finds on the internet.  In the past, one had to find a teacher or a class to learn these things or simply muddle along on one’s own by experimenting.  For instance, even though I didn’t know anything about how to fix my refrigerator’s icemaker, I found videos about it online that taught me different things I could try to diagnose the problem and how to know when to replace it.  I also found videos showing how to replace it.  Parents can use this to help their kids learn marketable skills.  If a teen can show on his resume a list of things he’s fixed or built, that will make him or her a more attractive job candidate.
Saturday, October 26, 2013 0 comments

Speculation: Implications of Resurrection versus Beam-Me-Up-Scotty

Recently I was feeling pretty good after extra jogging and I noticed my body felt stronger.  For some reason I thought of what someone else said about how having our bodies is like having control of our own little galaxy of atoms.   And for some reason I thought of the science fiction fantasy that someday transportation will advance to the point that our bodies can be broken down into pieces and all the information sent to some far off place and our bodies reassembled there, and then I compared that with the doctrine we’ve been given that when we are resurrected, we will receive our bodies again, glorified and never again to be divided from our spirit.

I started to think about what the implications of the doctrine of resurrection are as compared with that science fiction dream.  What do they both say about the importance of the body?

Science fiction fantasy, with its idea that the body can be broken down, information about it transported, and then reassembled again at some distant location, implies that atoms in one’s body are interchangeable and it is only the personality or soul essence that matters.  The body is not viewed as important.

But our doctrine that we will eventually receive our body back again and never be separated from it again implies that somehow it matters very much which atoms go back to which bodies.  In fact, if we were to speculate a little farther, we begin to wonder if maybe it is just as important to those atoms to get our spirit back as it is for our spirit to get our atoms back.  I don’t know how far we can push this notion because technically we gain and lose atoms and cells all the time, plus Jesus demonstrated that resurrected bodies can still eat, so it makes me wonder which atoms of all the ones that have been part of us will become part of our indivisible resurrection.  Yet it reinforces to me how important it is for us to treat these atoms well that happen to be part of our body’s galaxy.  It strikes me as a large responsibility to use the control I have over all of it as wisely as I can.  Atoms have their own intelligence (light and truth, photons and quantum knowing*), so they are good, and the system they form when working together is a temple.  When they are a part of me, these atoms can be enlivened by the Holy Ghost when I choose to do good things.  With Heavenly Father’s help I can make choices to subdue any sin that dwells in me and thus gain greater mastery over my atoms.  

Thinking about this, suddenly I have a lot of love for these atoms in my body.  The chance for me to be glorified is also a chance for them.  What a sad thing if I didn’t live up to that!

* Don’t assume I know anything about quantum theory while I make these statements.
Thursday, October 24, 2013 0 comments

Another Examination of the Third Temptation of Christ, Matt 4:8-10

Every once in a while I reread through the Gospels and I keep finding things that I hadn’t thought of before.   This time I was thinking about the third temptation of Christ.
8 And again, Jesus was in the Spirit, and it taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9 And the devil came unto him again, and said, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matthew 4:8-10, JST included in blue)

5 And the Spirit taketh him up into a high mountain, and he beheld all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
6 And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.
7 If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.
8 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Luke 4:5-8, JST included in blue)
While it is not stated in the account, it is possible Satan may have been trying to make Jesus think of this scripture in Psalms:

7 I will declare the decree:
the Lord hath said unto me,
Thou art my Son;
this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me,
and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,
and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.  (Psalms 2:7-8)

Satan would see how Christ might apply verse 7 to Himself as meaning the day of His baptism at the hands of John the Baptist (though later Paul would use that verse to apply to Christ’s resurrection instead (see Acts 13:33)). 

Satan may have been trying to get Christ to think that verse 8 meant He could pray for anything and get it, even if it were riches and power.  Satan wanted Christ to think God gave Him permission to have a triumphant life of ease and wealth and complete dominion instead of a suffering servant life.  (Think how the atonement would have been frustrated if Jesus had believed that!)  It could be that Satan was playing upon Jesus’ righteous desire to establish the kingdom of God and was offering Him a chance to have it without suffering, waiting, living in relative obscurity, or allowing others the choice to refuse Him.

So how did Jesus resist this temptation?  

“thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve” –  First, I have to wonder how quick Jesus’s response was.  Was it instinctive and immediate with clear knowledge about who he was refusing?  Or did He have to work through it with reference to righteous principles and confidence in His divine mission?

At any rate, Jesus understood the implications for the salvation of man if He decided to take dominion of the world immediately.  To do so, thinking to avoid the coming suffering and sacrifice of the atonement, would be self-serving to the extreme.  Even though Satan only mentioned worship and not service, Jesus knew that whomever He served He would be worshipping too.  So, if He served Himself by asking for and taking dominion now, it would be as if He were worshipping Himself, but that would put Him in direct opposition to Heavenly Father’s plan for the salvation of mankind, and this would constitute worship of Satan instead.  (This gives us a profound principle—serving one’s self is worship of Satan because it puts us in opposition to God.  Even for Jesus to serve Himself would constitute the worship of Satan.)

This is why Jesus parried Satan’s temptation with quotation of the commandment to only worship and serve God. 

Now, we know that verse 8 must be fulfilled.  We know that Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords will someday rule over all the earth, though His authority isn’t universally acknowledged now.   Yet, there is an additional way to interpret verse 8 that would be consistent with Christ’s sacrificial mission, and according to that interpretation it is being fulfilled at this very moment.  According to this interpretation, v8 is a prophecy of Christ’s intercession for all men. 

Ask of me,
and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,
and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

Happily, the Doctrine & Covenants speaks of the intercessory conversation that Jesus has with the Father in which He asks and is given what He wants :

Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—
Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life. (D&C 45:3-5, emphasis added)

Jesus asks the Father to spare us and give us to Him.  When we come to Christ, we become His possession as His sons and daughters.  Thus it is love, self-sacrifice, and serving God that must bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalms 2:8.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013 1 comments

Book Review of Dear Jeff: Candid Advice from an Older Brother on Preparing to Enter the Temple


 From time to time, we may know someone who is about to go through the temple for the first time, or someone who has just received their endowments.  Aside from the individual taking a temple preparation class, is there anything we can do for them to help them be more ready?  Now there is.   We can buy for them a copy of this book DearJeff: Candid Advice from an Older Brother on Preparing to Enter the Temple by J Washburn, which I am about to review for you. 

But before I start talking about this book, I have to tell a story about my first experience at the temple.  (cue the harp music and the wavy picture)

When I was young there came a time when I began to realize that what went on in the temple was very sacred, so sacred that the people I loved and respected in the church would hardly say anything about what went on there.  This bred a deep curiosity in me to find out what I was not being told.  I knew better than to look to sources that profaned the temple, but my curiosity caused me to listen more carefully whenever other members talked about the temple to see if I could pick out from their conversation something more about went on there.  It was like looking for little pieces of a gigantic puzzle.  Everything said could have been part of the puzzle, so I thought about all of it. 

When it came time to go through the temple and receive my endowment for the first time in the Chicago Temple in 2001, I was very excited, but I was also terrified.  I had gone through a temple prep class, but I still didn’t feel like I knew what to expect.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be up to whatever it was that would be revealed to me.  I remember sitting in my dressing room before my initiatory and crying, I felt so intimidated.  My mother (who was to be my escort) found me crying and compassionately explained to me it would help me if I saw the initiatory as ceremonial preparation for becoming a queen and priestess.  That extremely brief explanation established some badly needed context for me, enough for me to dry my tears, hush my fears, and then go through my initiatory and receive my endowment.

When I finished, I saw I had known some of what was in the endowment already because of reading the scriptures, but I hadn’t known what I knew because hardly anyone had mentioned what could be found there.  Suddenly phrases all over the scriptures began to acquire new significance to me because I knew they were in the endowment ceremony or they reminded me of it in some way.   Part of me wonders why some of these things couldn’t have been pointed out to me (or people like me) before.

Here’s where this book comes in--Dear Jeff: Candid Advice from an Older Brother on Preparing to Enter the Temple.  I really REALLY wish I had this book to read before I went through the temple for the first time.

Washburn goes through elements of temple preparation, initiatory, and endowment piece by piece, yet still keeping sacred things sacred.  This will help members new to the temple gain a little more specificity about what happens and in what order.  Here more pieces to the puzzle are at least presented in order, if not as a complete picture. 

Dear Jeff is fairly conversational and informal, in the sense that Washburn tries to explain things simply to a younger audience.   Along with quoting prophets and scriptures, to further reach the minds of the reader, Washburn uses fairy tales and pop culture icons.  You will find references to Jedi masters, Da Vinci Code characters, and Indiana Jones’ hat.  This could easily have felt irreverent or jarring, or a wrong mix between fiction and a sacred topic, but thankfully, Washburn handles it very well, using it to increase the reader’s readiness to learn.  Washburn is to be commended in that he never allows the cultural references to detract from points about the temple that he wants to make.  In some ways, his explanations have a beauty to them that remind me of C.S. Lewis’s well-loved essays and lectures on Christianity. 

Washburn also includes little personal experiences from himself, his grandfather (who was once president at the Las Vegas temple), and other siblings to help establish useful angles for looking at principles and events of temple worship.

Washburn has a few digressions as he discusses what it means to be a pilgrim or wanderer, a soldier of Christ, and a knight errant for Christ.  This may give the impression that these things are explicitly mentioned as part of the temple, even though they are not, but they will help long term in setting up larger themes that can be detected in certain parts of the endowment narrative and will be most easily recognized by people familiar with temple ceremonies. 

Throughout the book, I noticed it had a charitable tone exhibiting love for the reader without sounding condescending.  The book is written to Washburn’s younger siblings, so occasionally the reader feels a little like an eavesdropper, but there's also some fun in that.  It is also gives a tender sense of the love the Washburn has for his younger siblings in wanting to prepare them for their first temple experience.

While this book does not claim to present everything there is to know that can respectfully be said about the temple, it is an excellent read for anyone about to go through the temple for the first time.  I would not say that it would replace taking a temple preparation class, but it would be an excellent supplement to it.  Also, temple patrons who have gone through many times will find that it will broaden their perspective and give some ideas for deeper learning.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog.  The opinions expressed are my own, and I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, October 17, 2013 0 comments

KJV versus JST: Taking up the Cross to Follow Jesus, Matt 16:24-26

24 ¶Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt 16:24-26)
25  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.
26  And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments.
27  Break not my commandments for to save your lives; for whosoever will save his life in this world, shall lose it in the world to come.
28  And whosoever will lose his life in this world, for my sake, shall find it in the world to come.
29  Therefore, forsake the world, and save your souls; for what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (JST Matt 16:25-29)
The JST does several things here that help us.   

First it adds language to show us that taking up the cross is not self-flagellation and losing one’s life for Christ’s sake does not mean one goes around with a death wish.   

Second, it brings the sweeping metaphorical language of “take up the cross” and translates it into a few principles that we can use as a guide in everyday living.  These principles are 1) denying ourselves of ungodliness and every worldly lust and 2) keeping the commandments.  We can look at everything we do and evaluate it by these standards.  We can even evaluate the things we do for fun by this standard to see whether there is any ungodliness or lust in it and whether it allows us to keep a commandment. 

Another thing we get from the JST is some instruction for extraordinary situations of temptation.  The instruction comes in the form of two statements.

“Break not my commandments for to save your lives” -- Jesus knew that life could present dilemmas in which we might be commanded on pain of death or some other serious loss to do something expressly against Jesus’ commandments.  (It certainly happens in times of terrible persecution.)  This statement makes our course clear, though it certainly will not be easy, and makes more specific what the promise of “lose your life in this world to find it in the world to come” is attached to.  Without this little bit of JST and the understanding that it is for extraordinary circumstances, followers of Christ may suffer from some anxiety of wondering just how to lose their life for Jesus’ sake, wondering if they are expected to seek out situations to sacrifice their lives or whether they should embrace a more radical asceticism. 

“Therefore forsake the world, and save your souls.” – Jesus also knew that there might be situations when the Saints might be specifically or implicitly offered huge rewards if we would just compromise our standards in some respect or break some commandment or pass over wrong-doing.  (This happens in situations when the Saints collide with corrupt systems.)  He recognized that unless we remembered the value of saving our soul for eternity, we might think it an excellent trade.  We have to remember the worth of souls, the reward of eternity with God and use that to help us sacrifice the temporary gain, power, praise, or fame of the world.

Understanding this helps me feel a little more secure that it IS possible for me to take up my cross and forsake the world, whether it is in everyday decisions or extraordinary circumstances.  I think I will be a little more alert to notice those situations in the future.  It also helps me understand how I can keep temple covenants of sacrifice.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 0 comments

Ways We Avoid Reality, 2 Nephi 27:3-5

3 And all the nations that fight against Zion, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision; yea, it shall be unto them, even as unto a hungry man which dreameth, and behold he eateth but he awaketh and his soul is empty; or like unto a thirsty man which dreameth, and behold he drinketh but he awaketh and behold he is faint, and his soul hath appetite; yea, even so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion.
4 For behold, all ye that doeth iniquity, stay yourselves and wonder, for ye shall cry out, and cry; yea, ye shall be drunken but not with wine, ye shall stagger but not with strong drink.
5 For behold, the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. For behold, ye have closed your eyes, and ye have rejected the prophets; and your rulers, and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquity. (2 Nephi 27:3-5)
An essay in the PDF“Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah” asserted that there are four types of Gentiles here – those that dream, those that are drunken, those that sleep, and those that are blind – and that they represent groups who are determined to avoid reality and avoid truth.  I found this illuminating, so I want dig a little deeper to what can be learned from this.

The first group are the dreams who are hungry and thirsty, perhaps for meaning and satisfaction in their lives.  They pursue their dreams and they eat and drink, but it doesn’t give them the lasting satisfaction they hoped for.  These can be likened to those who think they can find meaning and satisfaction without God, without keeping the commandments, and without following the plan of salvation.

The second group are those who are drunken.  Verse 1 in the same chapter clarifies this this inebriation as being “drunken with iniquity and all manner of abomination.”  People drink for pleasure and to escape.  These gentiles want to avoid reality by indulging in the pleasures of the flesh.  The trouble is, wickedness never was happiness, so at some point they will come out of it with a spiritual hangover of depression in which they “cry out and cry” and “wonder” why they are so miserable.

The third group are those who are asleep, who are lulled away into carnal security, who say all is well in Zion and that Zion prospers (2 Nephi 28:21), who are at ease in Zion (2 Nephi 28:24) whether they in this church or in some other church they think is Zion.  These people cheat themselves out of their divine potential; they don’t see that things could get any better, so they don’t try to be better.  They don’t see their sins and faults, so they neglect to repent and they fail to humble themselves for the grace of God to make their weaknesses stronger.  They avoid the reality that even the sanctified must watch and pray always lest they be tempted by the devil.

The fourth group are those who closed their eyes, blinding themselves, rejecting the words of the prophets and seers because of iniquity.  They have made iniquity so much a part of their identity that they can’t imagine life any other way.  Following the prophets’ words would destroy much that they value about their way of life and so these people prefer to ignore the prophets.  They close their eyes to the possibility of repentance and change of heart and of living a better life.

I think these things were written for us to realize that there are consequences if we discover ourselves among these groups and persist in staying there.  If we’re hungry, we can feast on the words of Christ.  If we want an escape, we need the rest of the Lord.  If we’re asleep, we need to awaken to God.  If we’re blinded, we need to open our eyes of faith.

Saturday, October 12, 2013 0 comments

Black Comedy in the Scriptures?

I was just looking through a book called The Anatomy of Story by John Truby and I went to the chapter called “Moral Argument.”  He described different ways that a writer’s moral vision is conveyed in a story.  One of the methods is black comedy.

I was surprised when I read the following:

Black comedy is the comedy of the logic—or more exactly, the illogic—of a system.  This advanced and difficult form of storytelling is designed to show that destruction is the result not so much of individual choice (like tragedy) but of individuals caught in a system that is innately destructive.  The key feature of this moral argument is that you withhold the self-revelation from the hero to give it more strongly to the audience.  This is how the black comedy moral argument works:
·      Many characters exist in an organization.  Someone explains the rules and logic by which the system operates in great detail.
·      Many of these characters, including the hero, go after a negative goal that involves killing someone or destroying something.
·      Each believes strongly in the goal and thinks what he is doing makes complete sense.  In fact, it is totally illogical.
·      The opponents, also within the system, compete for the same goal and also give detailed but insane justifications.
·      One sane person, usually the ally, continually points out that none of this makes any sense and action will lead to disaster.  He functions as a chorus, but no one listens to him.
·      All the characters, including the nominal hero, use extreme, sometimes even murderous, methods to reach the goal.
·      The actions of the characters lead to death and destruction for almost all.
·      The battle is intense and destructive, with everyone still thinking he is right.  The consequences are death and madness.
·      No one, including the hero, has a self-revelation.  But it is so obvious that the hero should have had a self-revelation that the audience has it instead.
·      The remaining characters are horribly maimed by the struggle but immediately resume their efforts to reach the goal.
·      Slightly more positive black comedies end with the sane person watching in horror and either leaving the system or trying to change it.

This tricky form is easy to screw up.  For the moral argument in black comedy to work, you must first make sure your hero is likable. Otherwise the comedy becomes an abstraction, an intellectual essay, as your audience backs away from the characters and feels morally superior to them.  You want the audience to get sucked in so that they suddenly discover that they are these characters in some fundamental way and not above them.
Besides a likable hero, the best way to pull the audience emotionally into a black comedy is to have your hero speak passionately about the logic of his goal.  Writers who want to add some hope to the bleakness of the form give the lone sane person an alternative to the madness, worked out in detail. (pp135-136)

When I was reading those bullet points above, I said to myself, “Oh my gosh!  This is like the Book of Mormon (the one inside the Book of Mormon) and end of the Book of Ether!” 

Truby’s description of black comedy
The Book of Mormon at the end of the Book of Mormon
The end of the Book of Ether
Many characters exist in an organization.  Someone explains the rules and logic by which the system operates in great detail.
By this time, readers have a lot of knowledge about Nephite, Lamanite, and Gadianton robbers.
Readers have also learned about the characteristics of legitimate “holy war.”
We learn some about Jaredite kingship and lots about the evils of Gadianton robbers.
Many of these characters, including the hero, go after a negative goal that involves killing someone or destroying something.
The Nephite civilization plays the part of the hero (and it has been heroic for most of its history until this time).
Their negative goal is to sweep off the Lamanites.
The Lamanites want to destroy the Nephites.
The Gadiantons want power and gain.
Coriantumr takes the part of the hero (though we debate whether he deserves the label).
His negative goal is to prove he can defend his throne and protect his people without repenting.
He is opposed by a succession of warlords (Shared, Gilead, Lib, Shiz).
Each believes strongly in the goal and thinks what he is doing makes complete sense.  In fact, it is totally illogical.
The Nephites believe they have to avenge the blood of their brethren and make oaths that they will do so.
This is totally illogical because their oaths force them to make revenge the main focus of their lives, driving out all higher considerations.
Coriantumr thinks it makes perfect sense to defend his throne and protect his people, even though Ether knows they are no longer worthy of defense because of wickedness.
The opponents, also within the system, compete for the same goal and also give detailed but insane justifications.
The Lamanites justify destroying the Nephites on the grounds they must reclaim their right to rule.
The Gadiantons also want to reclaim their right to rule.
Gilead, Lib, and Shiz want to take Coriantumr’s throne and kill Coriantumr to prove Ether’s prophecy is wrong, avenge relatives’ death, etc.
One sane person, usually the ally, continually points out that none of this makes any sense and action will lead to disaster.  He functions as a chorus, but no one listens to him.
Mormon and Moroni both play the part of the ally of the Nephites, trying to point out the Nephites must repent or be destroyed. 
The church dwindles.
Mormon’s mouth is shut when he tries to preach as a teen.  He and his son are generals in the Nephite army, but near the end, they can no longer enforce their commands.
Ether plays the part of the ally to Coriantumr and the Jaredites.
He calls Coriantumr and his family to repentance, but they don’t listen and try to kill him.
All the characters, including the nominal hero, use extreme, sometimes even murderous, methods to reach the goal.
Constant war as most delight in bloodshed.
Nephites rape and cannabalize Lamanite women.
Lamanites feed their Nephite prisoners human flesh of their family members and sacrifice prisoners to idol gods.

Sieges and killing drunken armies.
Secret combinations.
People steal anything not nailed down.
Shiz slays women and children and burns cities, forcing civilians to flock together in armies.
The actions of the characters lead to death and destruction for almost all.
All people not killed are gathered for final battle at Cumorah
War is so swift and speedy that no one could stay to bury the dead.
Even women and children are armed.
The battle is intense and destructive, with everyone still thinking he is right.  The consequences are death and madness.
Almost all Nephites die at Cumorah, except those that desert to the Lamanites.
 2 million Jaredites die in years of back-and-forth fighting.
No one, including the hero, has a self-revelation.  But it is so obvious that the hero should have had a self-revelation that the audience has it instead.
The Nephites persisted in their wickedness.
The Spirit ceased to strive with them.
They are led about by Satan.
Coriantumr has a self-revelation that Ether’s prophecies had been fulfilled so far and 2 million of his people had died, but it happens too late and others drag him back into the war.
The Spirit had ceased striving with them, and Satan has full power over the people.
They are drunken with anger.
The remaining characters are horribly maimed by the struggle but immediately resume their efforts to reach the goal.
The Lamanites and Gadianton robbers who are left continue to fight among themselves.
Coriantumr and Shiz battle to the very end.
Slightly more positive black comedies end with the sane person watching in horror and either leaving the system or trying to change it.
Mormon tries to preach repentance, but is ignored.
Mormon refuses to lead the armies anymore, but eventually decides to come back and try to help.
At the end, he laments,“Oh ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord!” (Mormon 6:17)
Ether preaches to the Jaredites until they cast him out.
By night he views what is happening to the Jaredites.
Ether tries to convince Coriantumr to repent, but Coriantumr refuses and tries to kill him.
Ether sees in the end that the Lord’s words were fulfilled.

Personally, I think this kind of story is badly named; I don’t see anything comedic about it.  It is incredibly tragic.  This is the kind of thing that the devil would laugh at, though.  (“Wo, wo, wo unto this people; wo unto the inhabitants of the whole earth except they shall repent; for the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain of the fair sons and daughters of my people; and it is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen!” [3 Nephi 9:2])

In doing a bit of a survey of how others define black comedy, I suppose that Truby has taken a particularly bleak type of storyline and applied this term to it.  That’s his prerogative, of course.

As I’ve looked at the comparison between Truby’s definition and the events in the Book of Mormon, it seems to me that the warning of the Book of Mormon is all the more powerful because the Book of Mormon isn’t fiction.  This was history.  It really happened.  It shows that without repentance, society descends into black comedy.  If we don’t repent, we will become this.