Monday, August 31, 2015 0 comments

Different ways of learning in the temple

One of the things about going to the temple often is that it can be too easy to fall into a rut of thinking about the same old things, when the temple is meant to be a revelatory experience.

How can the temple be a revelatory experience when we do the same things over and over and hear the same words over and over?

My experience with scripture study over years of diligent reading has taught me that applying my own concerns and experience to what is done and said in the temple can bring interesting insight.  (I remember during a time I was taking an online class on selling, I went to the temple for an endowment session and noticed in the garden of Eden sequence Satan was a pretty wily salesman.)

Recently I went to the temple with my husband and we did a sealing session and I tried something I hadn’t tried before.  In addition to listening to the words as the sealer spoke them, I tried to imagine reading those words as if they were displayed on the wall.  (I did this because the reading process for me is very important to my ability to analyze and comprehend, and if I only hear the words I don’t get to do that.) 

Imagining seeing the words displayed as they were spoken took a lot of brainpower and I didn’t succeed fully in imagining all the words, but I succeeded enough that I noticed new things that I hadn’t noticed before.  Certain words jumped out at me with new significance, and I started to grasp linkages between phrases that I hadn’t found before.  I felt like the experience was profitable enough that I think I will try it during some of the other temple ordinances.

A few weeks before that, my husband and I had an opportunity to go through an endowment session presented with American Sign Language (ASL).  This was a fascinating experience too.  It was difficult because the sign for the words spoken was usually shown before or had slipped behind, but with as little ASL vocabulary as I had, I was able to catch some wonderful things.  It really stretched my brain as I tried to match the signs I had seen with the words said, and the signs I could match really augmented my sense of the meaning of those words.

When I took a film class at ASU, one of the principles talked about was mise en scene, which is the placing of the objects on the stage and the environment. (Yes, it is a French term, so good luck pronouncing it.) We learned that film directors often use the scenery and the objects in the frame to add meaning to the movie action.  With this in mind, I started watching the background of the endowment film to see if I could discern anything that added to the meaning of the dialogue and action.  And I was able to find a few things.  There was some symbolism there that I hadn’t noticed before.

Elder Scott had a talk from April 2009 conference called "Temple Worship: The Source of Strength and Power in Times of Need" which has some good things in it to think about while doing temple service.

So now I ask you, what skills have you applied to your temple experience to make it more meaningful?  What techniques and perspectives have helped you derive more meaning from it?  Will you share those, while still keeping sacred things sacred?

Saturday, August 29, 2015 0 comments

The breakdown of family in ancient Egypt

22 And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon;
23 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise:
24 Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.
25 And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me—Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee. (Abraham 2:22-25)

I’ve written about this incident several times I think, but this last time when I came across it I was struck by how this danger to Abraham indicated a breakdown of family in Egyptian society.  It was a society in which those with power were not honoring others’ marriages, but breaking them up by killing one spouse to free the other to marry again, to marry the power player who wanted them.  (I have to wonder if this was a different kind of family breakdown, or the same family breakdown, just further along the path to destruction.)

It is interesting to me that Sarai’s beauty was notable, but Abraham’s looks are never mentioned.  It makes me think that perhaps Abraham was rather plain. And if so, that means Sarai married him because she was able to look below the surface to see his goodness, and she cared more about his good character than marrying someone with good looks.  And the fact that he (a righteous man) chose her too shows that he knew she was a good woman, not just a pretty face.

In contrast to Sarai and Abraham’s relationship that valued character, the Egyptians were really shallow, valuing Sarai only for her looks and for nothing else.  I have to wonder if they thought only good-looking men deserved beautiful women, or whether they thought only Egyptians with sufficient force were allowed to have beautiful women. 

Also, the Egyptians seem to have been hanging on to some semblance of marriage permanence; you can tell at bottom they believed it should last until death, but their society had been corrupted to the point that they were willing to hurry death up to free a beautiful woman from her inconvenient husband.  This is pretty barbaric, and I don’t think that started all at once, but with a gradual slide—obsession with the sensual, loss of emphasis on character, focusing too much on outer appearance, indulgence of desire, and law winking at those taking license.   

The fact that the Lord warned Abraham of the danger and told him how they could protect themselves is very reassuring.  It shows the Lord really does know how to protect marriages and families, and He gives instructions designed for the circumstances.  

 It also struck me recently that the instruction to say that Sarai was his sister may have just seemed like a ruse to protect from the physical danger, but it was actually a spiritual safeguard as well, an important principle for relationships that can actually help men and women keep from falling into the error of objectifying the opposite sex. 

Seeing and treating someone as a brother or sister takes you back to the most basic ways of relating, that of sibling relationships.  Everything about learning to be close and learning to love is there except for the sexual aspect.  (And I’m assuming that those reading have learned to love their siblings and know what I am talking about.)

Perhaps if we find ourselves getting pulled into an objectifying pattern of thinking, we need to practice the sibling frame of reference for a while.  Take a page from Abraham’s experience and say, “She is my sister.”  Or learn from Sarai’s patience with that difficult situation and say, “He is my brother.”  In the church, we do this naturally among those we are not related to; we call each other Sister Johnson or Sister Emily or Brother Clark or Brother Bruce.  We realize we are all brothers and sisters, children of God.  That awareness of the brotherhood and sisterhood of all of us can also help us in our relationships and marriages, though we don’t have to necessarily call each other brother and sister.

 During the time that Abraham and Sarai treated each other as brother and sister, they were an example to the Egyptians. There came a time when it was safe to reveal they were married, and if the Egyptians thought back over how Abraham and Sarai had interacted, they would see how a good marriage is about more than looks and sex. Maybe Abraham and Sarai became instruments in helping improve Egyptian marriage culture through their good example, since examples are the best way to catch the vision of what improvement is possible.

Maybe our good examples of marriage can help today too.
Thursday, August 27, 2015 0 comments

Alma shares extra info about Melchizedek

As Alma the younger is preaching to the people in Ammonihah, he takes some time to tell them about priesthood authority and also about Melchizedek.

17 Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness;
18 But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.
19 Now, there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater; therefore, of him they have more particularly made mention. (Alma 13:17-19)

This account is more than is in the Bible (excepting the JST about Melchizedek), but it still seems rather bald, and we have to read between the lines a bit.

Melchizedek was king over Salem, and his people were very wicked. This must have been very distressing to Melchizedek. But he could do something about it. After all, he was king.  And he had choices about what he could do.  He could either enforce the law and punish all his people, or he could preach repentance to them and hope they would listen.

He chose to preach repentance.  So he received the high priesthood and he preached… and happily, his people chose to repent!  (Yaaaaay!  Celebrations all around!)  And because they repented, the city was much more peaceful and the people all had peace in their lives, and things were so much better after that.

So why did Alma tell this to the people of Ammonihah?  I think he hoped they would realize that Alma himself was essentially trying to do the same thing Melchizedek did—preach repentance to the people instead of going out and enforcing the law immediately. He had given up the chief judge position specifically so he could do that.  He hoped the people would take the hint and humble themselves and repent.

It hit me that Melchizedek was also a type of Christ. Christ is the king over the earth, and He sees that all His people are wicked, and He could just enforce justice, but He wants to save His people.  So he, as high priest forever, walked among them and preached repentance (and he sends others to preach repentance as well). (So I guess Alma, in emulating Melchizedek, also is a type of Christ.)

   Another way Melchizedek was a type of Christ was in how it was said he was king over Salem and he reigned under his father.  Melchizedek was a prince who was also king, but he was a client king under his father.  In the same way, Christ is king, but He also reigns under Heavenly Father.

Coolness!  I love finding types of Christ I haven’t seen before!
Tuesday, August 25, 2015 0 comments

Isaiah 51 versus 2 Nephi 8

It isn’t my purpose to compare all the verses in these two chapters, but rather the verses that have the largest differences.  I like to examine them to see what meaning can be derived from those differences, even if they are very subtle.

Why do this?  Well, partially because I have a curious mind and sometimes I find intriguing things that I want to share.  I realize that not everybody is going to be as interested as I am, but I hope that in some way this helps people see what can be done to study the scriptures.

KJV Isaiah 51
2 Nephi 8
1 Hearken to me,
ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord:
look unto the rock whence ye are hewn,
and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.

Hearken unto me,
ye that follow after righteousness.

Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn,
and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged.
It may seem that 2 Nephi has lost an elaborative phrase here, but following after righteousness and seeking the Lord could be considered different things.  Following after righteousness describes the disciple who has already found the Lord.  Seeking the Lord describes those who haven’t found the right way yet.
For the phrase “ye that seek the Lord” to be missing, it suggests that this is directed to those who are determined disciples of Christ.
2 Look unto Abraham your father,
and unto Sarah that bare you:
for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him. . . .
Look unto Abraham, your father,
and unto Sarah, she that bare you;
for I called him alone, and blessed him. . . .
So far it seems that 2 Nephi 8 has had more removed than added, which is very curious.
It is possible that Nephi had a slightly different rhetorical purpose than a focus on Abraham’s increase in progeny.
¶Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness,
the people in whose heart is my law;
fear ye not the reproach of men,
neither be ye afraid of their revilings. . . .
Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness,
the people in whose heart I have written my law,
fear ye not the reproach of men,
neither be ye afraid of their revilings. . . .
Here 2 Nephi 8:7 shows us it is the Lord that writes the law on our hearts, rather than it just being there automatically.
I suppose that we must allow it to happen with our good choices.
11 Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return,
and come with singing unto Zion;
and everlasting joy shall be upon their head:

they shall obtain gladness and joy;
and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
11 Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return,
and come with singing unto Zion;
and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads;
and they shall obtain gladness and joy;
sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
Here 2 Nephi 8:11 adds that not only will the redeemed by glad, but they will be holy as well (implying repentance is required for this kind of happiness).

Since the joy is to be everlasting, this fits very well.
12 I, even I, am he that comforteth you:
who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die,
and of the son of man which shall be made as grass;
12 I am he; yea, I am he that comforteth you. Behold, who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of man, who shall die,
and of the son of man, who shall be made like unto grass?
It seems to me that 2 Nephi 8:12 has some equivalent wording here.
The major change, however, is the removal of “a” from the KJV to make it clear the Lord wants us to not be afraid of man.  This makes much more sense. 
15 But I am the Lord thy God,
that divided the sea,
whose waves roared:
The Lord of hosts is his name.
15 But I am the Lord thy God,

whose waves roared;
the Lord of Hosts is my name.
I think the KJV wins this one, with that phrase that shows Isaiah is referring back to the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. This makes me think that Nephi might have accidently left some things out while copying the text.

Just as some extra background, comparing man to grass is apt when we consider how grass withers so quickly after days of hot sun and no moisture.  This imagery is supposed to remind us of the short span of mortal life and how temporary the power of the wicked is.

 To me, the overall message of these selected verses is that the Lord wants us to remember Abraham.  We can remember the problems he faced trying to live righteously in a wicked world. (After all, it was in his days that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.)  Abraham was quite alone, even with Sarah.  And yet he was protected because he was faithful.

The Lord wants those of us who have His law written on our hearts to not fear the revilings of men. He promises that we will have everlasting joy and that the sorrow we experience will only be a temporary thing, and He will comfort us, and that we don’t need to be afraid of men because their power only lasts for a short time.  Instead, we can remember that our God was the one who parted the Red Sea and showed great power to save His people.

I think this is a great message for today. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015 0 comments

Uses of towers in the scriptures

When the trouble starts for King Noah and Gideon fights with him, King Noah does something that has puzzled me for a long time – he runs and gets on the tower he’d built next to the temple.

It seems like a tower is an odd place to flee to, since it’s sort of a dead end. Once you get to the top, there is no where else to go.

Also, we have a European idea of what towers look like – straight vertical walls, parapets and crenellations, whereas it probably was built more like a ziggurat or a pyramid.

Probably the best thing getting on the tower would have done for King Noah was that it would require Gideon to fight up against gravity, while King Noah would have gravity helping him.

I wanted to see if there were other incidents in the scriptures of people using towers and fleeing to them.  And there were.

In Judges 9:51, the people of Thebez had their city taken, so they went to the strong tower in the city and got on the top of it and used it as a place of defense.

In 2 Samuel 22:3, there is a psalm of David in which he extols the Lord as his defense, and he says:
The God of my rock;
in him will I trust:
he is my shield,
and the horn of my salvation,
my high tower, and my refuge,
my saviour;
thou savest me from violence.
So it seems that towers were definitely considered a refuge. 

Also, as I was surveying across the scriptures, I found towers used for watching. They seem to have been placed where they could be used to see who was coming.

The scriptures also mention them as landmarks for readers to orient themselves (assuming the towers were still there and one knew where was what).

Isaiah prophesied in several places of high towers being thrown down, along with other imagery about pride being humbled. Clearly he wanted to make the point that military advantages and refuges were not sufficient to save without trusting in the Lord.

In the Book of Mormon, in Helaman 7, the prophet Nephi gets on a tower in his garden to pray. It’s a curious place to pray, but perhaps he may have sought spiritual refuge there.

In D&C 101:12 there is a curious promise – “And in that day all who are found upon the watch-tower, or in other words, all mine Israel, shall be saved.”  This combines the sense of watching and prophetic foresight with the sense of finding refuge and defense in the Lord. It is also possible that it captures a picture of a situation in which Israel and the righteous are under siege and attack.

Back to King Noah, though.  The tower gave King Noah the ability to observe the Lamanites invading, but by then he couldn’t do much besides warn them to flee.  I really like how later King Limhi used the tower to observe the Lamanites preparing for war.  This implies that he got up on that tower to observe much more often.  Discovering Lamanite preparations gave him and his people time to prepare themselves and fight, instead of just fleeing.

The spiritual counterpart of the tower as a place of refuge corresponds to the home and the temple.  The spiritual counterpart of the tower as a means of early warning corresponds to the counsel of the prophets.  Are we taking refuge as much as we can?  Are we listening to the warnings the prophets are giving in our day?

It seems to me that two big warnings we are being given today are about defending the family and standing up for religious freedom.  We need to figure out ways to do that as part of our everyday life of teaching and speaking.  I’m still working out for myself what I can do pertaining to those warnings.   Will you share what you are doing with regard to those two things?

Friday, August 21, 2015 0 comments

The undeserved miracle saving King Noah’s people

Around the beginning of the account of King Noah, there is a story of how the Lamanites began to come in and steal from them and destroy them.  At first King Noah didn’t send enough guards and they were killed. But the second time, he sends armies and they drive the Lamanites out.

16 And it came to pass that the Lamanites began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.
17 And king Noah sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and the Lamanites came upon them and killed them, and drove many of their flocks out of the land; thus the Lamanites began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.
18 And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil.
19 And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.
20 And it came to pass that there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi; and he went forth among them, and began to prophesy, saying: Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, Go forth, and say unto this people, thus saith the Lord—Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.
21 And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.
22 And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people.
23 And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.
24 Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.
25 And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions; and thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me. (Mosiah 11:16-25)
Verse 19 gives some interesting facts about how King Noah’s people responded to their victory.  Also, I noticed there was a little chiasmus in the verse sandwiching the content of their boast inside bookends that they were boasting.

[A] And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength,
[B] saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites;
[A] and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.

Usually the middle point of the chiasmus is something that the writer wanted to emphasize.  So why did Mormon want to highlight their boast that their small numbers could stand against thousands of the Lamanites?  They were wicked; so why were they enabled to stand?

I think this was an undeserved miracle given by God to give them extra time in which to be warned of their wickedness by Abinadi and space to choose to repent.  After all, they had not yet been warned.

Also, we might notice that the first time King Noah sent guards, it specifically says he didn’t send a sufficient number, so it implies that a lack of Nephite numbers was a real problem.  If they had really been strong enough to stand against thousands of Lamanites (as they boasted later), they should have been able to stand that first time too, and they should never have been driven at all.  If they had remembered the humiliation of that defeat, they would never have made the boast later.

I notice that when the Nephites go again with larger armies and succeed, it says they rejoiced in their spoil.  This means that they didn’t confine their army’s attention to just the enemy army. They drove the enemy through enemy territory and then plundered enemy homes. Perhaps they saw this as payback for when the Lamanites despoiled them of their flocks.

I also notice that right after they get back from their campaign, the next thing the record tells us of is the appearance of Abinadi. The Lord did not waste time after saving the Nephites; He sent them prophetic warning immediately. And the warning of consequences is directly related to their military power.  Without repentance, Abinadi says, the Lord would deliver them up to their enemies into bondage and no one except the Lord would be able to extricate them.

So the people had two recent battles they could remember—the time when the Lamanites drove them and the time they drove the Lamanites.  It was an object lesson experience of what was possible either way. 

Sadly, because their victory was so recent, they chose to believe their power was growing without any reference to the Lord’s help, and they rejected Abinadi’s message. 

I think this story shows how merciful the Lord is to extend the arm of His power to save those who have yet to be warned.  From time to time we may be in the position of needing warning.  Hopefully we can learn from the sad experience of King Noah’s people.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015 0 comments

Thoughts from Cheryl A. Esplin’s talk “Filling Our Homes with Light and Truth”

I wanted to share a few thoughts about a part of Cheryl A. Esplin’s talk “FillingOur Homes with Light and Truth”

I was impressed by the story she shared about the experience of a member of her ancestor’s family:

Several months ago I read the testimony of my great-grandfather’s sister Elizabeth Staheli Walker. As a child, Elizabeth immigrated to America from Switzerland with her family.

After Elizabeth married, she and her husband and children lived in Utah near the Nevada border, where they ran a mail station. Their home was a stopping place for travelers. All day and all night they had to be ready to cook and serve meals for travelers. It was hard, exhausting work, and they had little rest. But the greatest thing that concerned Elizabeth was the conversation of the people they associated with.

Elizabeth said that up to this time she had always taken for granted that the Book of Mormon was true, that the Prophet Joseph Smith had been authorized of God to do what he did, and that his message was the plan of life and salvation. But the life she was experiencing was anything but what would strengthen such a belief.

Some of the travelers who stopped were well-read, educated, smart men, and always the talk around her table was that Joseph Smith was “a sly fraud” who had written the Book of Mormon himself and then distributed it to make money. They acted as if to think anything else was absurd, claiming “that Mormonism was bunk.”

All this talk made Elizabeth feel isolated and alone. There was no one to talk to, no time to even say her prayers—although she did pray as she worked. She was too frightened to say anything to those who ridiculed her religion. She said she didn’t know but what they were telling the truth, and she felt she could not have defended her belief if she had tried.

Later, Elizabeth and her family moved. Elizabeth said she had more time to think and was not so distracted all the time. She often went down in the cellar and prayed to Heavenly Father about what was troubling her—about the stories those seemingly smart men had told about the gospel being bunk and about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.

One night Elizabeth had a dream. She said: “It seemed I was standing by a narrow wagon road, which led around by the foot of a low rolling hill; halfway up the hill I saw a man looking down and speaking, or seemed to be speaking, to a young man who was kneeling and leaning over a hole in the earth. His arms were stretched out, and it looked as if he was reaching for something from in the hole. I could see the lid of stone that seemed to have been taken off from the hole over which the boy was bending. On the road were many people, but none of them seemed to be at all interested in the two men on the hillside. There was something that came along with the dream that impressed me so strangely that I woke right up; … I could not tell my dream to anyone, but I seemed to be satisfied that it meant the angel Moroni [instructed] the boy Joseph at the time he got the plates.”

In the spring of 1893, Elizabeth went to Salt Lake City to the dedication of the temple. She described her experience: “In there I saw the same picture [that] I had seen in my dream; I think it was [a] colored-glass window. I feel satisfied that if I saw the Hill Cumorah itself, it would not look more real. I feel satisfied that I was shown in a dream a picture of the angel Moroni giving Joseph Smith the [gold] plates.”

Many years after having this dream and several months before she died at nearly age 88, Elizabeth received a powerful impression. She said, “The thought came to me as plain … as if someone had said to me, … ‘Do not bury your testimony in the ground.’”5

Generations later, Elizabeth’s posterity continues to draw strength from her testimony.

The story of Elizabeth Staheli Walker demonstrates a number of principles.

First, it can be a challenging experience for lifetime members to go from an environment that accords with their belief to an environment that challenges belief.  One is forced to re-examine the foundation of their testimony and ground it more firmly. 

Elizabeth had no one to talk to and no time to say her prayers.  It seems she had to make time to pray by praying during her work, since she didn’t have quiet, alone moments.  (I think she’s a good example of taking the initiative by doing what she could.  What if she had just decided not to pray at all since circumstances weren’t perfect?) 

What other resources might Elizabeth have had to strengthen her?  I personally wonder how daily scripture study might have made a difference.  It would have been difficult to fit that in with her busyness, but I think she could have snatched a few verses here and there, just like she fit prayer in.

The people who thought Mormonism was absurd were at least not violent about it. But they told stories that probably gave a different view of the Restoration, a view of it being a fraud.  It is admirable that even though Elizabeth didn’t have the resources to defend her faith, she at least clung to it the best she could.  And later in her life, she had time to pray about the troubling stories, so she did pray about them.  It shows she had confidence that she could learn the truth from God, rather than letting those stories pull her away.

I love that Heavenly Father gave her a dream. I found this dream very interesting because it is a composite of truth and symbolism.  The truth part of it was of Joseph Smith retrieving the gold plates from the Hill Cumorah under the direction of the angel Moroni.  The symbolic part of it was the road at the foot of the hill with many people on it, none of whom were at all interested in what was happening on the hill.  This perfectly symbolized the situation she’d lived through at the mail station.  She’d met many people on their way to somewhere else who were not at all interested in the events of the Restoration.  And to cover their disinterest, they had pretended a view that it was all absurd and a fraud and not worth their attention.

The fact that Elizabeth was in the dream and on the road showed that Heavenly Father knew she’d been influenced a bit by the people who were disinterested, but she could still see and recognize the importance of what was happening on the hill.   And later, when she saw that very scene represented in a colored-glass window at the Salt Lake Temple, she had yet another confirmation that Heavenly Father had shown her something special.

She didn’t tell her dream to anyone, but she did write it down and that meant that this experience of spiritual witness was not lost forever.  The dream was just for her; it addressed her doubts and concerns.   It is also valuable for us today because it shows us another way that Heavenly Father may speak peace to our doubts and help strengthen our testimonies. It also shows us the importance of recording the dreams we have that teach spiritual principles.  Some day those records will be appreciated by our descendants, or even wider.

I know Heavenly Father still can speak to us in dreams.  I occasionally have dreams that show me where I am spiritually in life and often they suggest to me what I need to do to improve. One of those dreams is like having an experience without actually living it, so the truths penetrate deeper.

The spiritual experiences Heavenly Father gives us and the ways we seek His guidance help fill us up so that we will be able to withstand the challenges to our faith, whether they come from people who are disinterested, or from people who are outright hostile.  I think that is the major message from Sister Esplin’s talk.

Monday, August 17, 2015 4 comments

Gadianton robbers dyed in blood

Sometimes I find clues about the Book of Mormon in the oddest places.

I found a Nanowrimo forum thread in which the first poster asked if it was possible for things to be dyed in blood.  At first I thought, yes because I remembered there was a verse in the Book of Mormon about how the Gadianton robbers attacking the Nephites in 3 Nephi were dyed in blood.

But, there are some science things to consider-- assuming the blood was left in for long periods of time, the blood would eventually coagulate and get sticky, turn dark brown. 
In order for the Gadianton robbers to retain their alarming appearance, they would have to constantly wash or splash themselves in new blood.

Or it might just look like blood.

So, how did the Gadianton’s acquire their appearance at the beginning of the battle of being dyed in blood?

Here was a comment from a Nanowrimo participant:

“If you are interested in dye from corpuses, your character could have made a dye from pau brasil tree. Its [sic] the plant that named Brasil and its [sic] sap is bright red - if you hack the tree it looks like its bleeding. The sap is such a powerful dye that the tree nearly went extinct because portuguese colonizers would cut it down to make dye for Europe.. Not as powerful as blood dye, but it could work. “  (Flavia Denise,

Let's get a visual here. We like pictures..
This suggests that the Gadianto robbers had access to the Pau-Brasil/Brazilwood tree and dyed their garments in it so as to achieve the effect of fearsomeness that made them so intimidating.

Saturday, August 15, 2015 3 comments

Thought from L. Tom Perry’s April 2015 conference talk “Why Marriage and Family Matter—Everywhere in the World”

I was reading my general conference edition of the Ensign and I ran across Elder Perry’s talk “Why Marriage and Family Matter—Everywhere inthe World”.  One part of his talk stuck out especially to me and I wanted to share it and my thoughts on it.

Concerning factors contributing to the difficulty of raising good families today, Elder Perry said:

One problem is that much of the media and entertainment that the world shares does not reflect the priorities and values of the majority. For whatever reasons, too much of our television, movies, music, and Internet present a classic case of a minority masquerading as a majority. Immorality and amorality, ranging from graphic violence to recreational sex, is portrayed as the norm and can cause those who have mainstream values to feel like we are out of date or from a bygone era. In such a media and Internet-dominated world, it has never been harder to raise responsible children and to keep marriages and families together.

As a writer who is working on a first novel and who has noticed the conventions of certain types of story-telling, I can say that there are reasons for this. 

Modern story-telling is designed to hook with extremes.  Extreme love, extreme violence, extreme whatever.  This is to compete with everything else that is out there in order to capture eyeballs and draw advertising dollars.   Extremes desensitize. 

Modern entertainment requires excitement, and the things that excite the world are not the same as what interests those who have been converted and changed by the Holy Ghost.  The natural man and the spiritual man like different things.  

Writers writing scripts about family dynamics may be handicapped by less-than-deal upbringing themselves.  If all they experienced was yelling and fighting, then any portrayal of a peaceful family is going to seem cheesy and unrealistic to them.  They will write what they know. 

Also, depending on the demographic the movie/TV show/ book is designed to appeal to, this sets certain limits on characters, types of plots, and types of things that can happen to make the story work.  These limits tend to construct story in certain ways and leave out things that would be more realistic.

Take a movie with a child protagonist.  Protagonists must be active and make significant choices.  In real life, many big decisions are made for children by their parents.  So, in order for child protagonists to make important decisions for themselves, writers have to set the child protagonist in a family situation that is not ideal:
1)    The child is an orphan
2)    One of the parents is missing (divorce, death, abandonment) and another parent is neglectful or distant
3)    Or both parents are missing and the child is being raised by an older sibling
4)    Or the child is away from the parent(s) for whatever reason—school, camp, job, with friends, etc.

The fact that writers have to work so hard to get the child protagonist away from the parent is actually a nod to the truth that parents matter and that they make things better for their children.  Or the writer writes the parent characters so they are dysfunctional and then the conflict between parent and child becomes part of the plot.  Sadly, this doesn’t help build respect for parental authority. 

In the past, episodic stories were a good way to develop all the characters of a fictional family.  They also did a pretty good job of showing the types of little funny situations families would get into and then develop them to bring out the humor.  This essentially gave rise to situation-comedies (sitcoms), many of which had wholesome family dynamics and situations.  But they’ve been getting edgier and edgier for a long time.  

So, be aware that the demands of story-telling and entertainment for authors and producers have been allowed to take higher priority than family values of stability.

Another way that entertainment values tend to overshadow traditional family values is by the addition of conflict.  In real life, our goal is to get rid of conflict and smooth things over.  In story, however, conflict is an important tool for building tension in a story that creates interest, and authors must try to create conflict to draw people in.  (When I was a teenager I remember after seeing a play that was labeled a “family drama,” I decided the definition of a family drama is: a show in which family members take turns yelling at each other to make the other feel guilty and the one with the last word wins.) So, story conflict is not a true gauge of the conflict in reality, nor should it be used as a guide for settling conflicts in reality because story solutions are often slip-shod, hand wavium.

Let’s consider what is required to produce a fairly popular film about family. 

Films must have one or two main characters, otherwise the story gets too unfocused. If the main characters are the parents, then the conflict will arise because of the children.  Too often, the children in the movie demonstrate smart-alec disrespectful behavior, but the film writers also give them a lot of witty dialogue to maintain our interest, so that kind of behavior is essentially glorified.  Hopefully plot problems will be resolved in a way that demonstrates good skills, but this doesn’t necessarily happen if there is hand wavium.

If the main characters are the children, then the conflict will arise because of the parents. Thus, to create dramatic conflict required for the story, the parents have to be portrayed with all sorts of faults—overprotective, or neglectful, or overbearing, or whatever-- and that doesn’t do well for reinforcing respect for parental authority in real life. 

A two-hour film only has time to develop one main conflict and maybe two sub-conflicts.  This is really very artificial.

So what alternatives do we have for entertainment that that shows good examples of good families?

I want to share with you a few of my favorite books that I think do a better job.

Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey – This is is the story of a family of twelve children, whose father was an efficiency expert around the time when cars were horseless carriages.  He applied his work to his family life as well.  It is fascinating to see the challenges they faced and how they solved them. The dad is a great example of someone who creates fun ways to encourage his children to learn.  There are also great examples of family counsels and how siblings were protective of each other.

Who gets the Drumstick? By Helen Beardsley – This is the book on which the movie “Yours, Mine, and Ours” (starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda) was based.  It is the true story of how a widow with eight children met and married a widower with ten children and how they made their huge blended family a success.  It gives us a sample of the systems they had to create to make their family run successful and how they solved some of the interpersonal conflicts as children had to adjust their family rolls to make room for new siblings.

The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss – This is the true story of an infertile couple that gradually adopted twelve children (some of different races). It gives a very nice family flavor of their challenges and interactions. What is also rather amusing is that all the way through it, the father is absolutely convinced that this time, this adoption is the last one. 

The modern approach to story telling is not how it has always been, however.  It gradually evolved over time, so it is possible to read stories from earlier eras that are much more in line with our values and which catered to different reader expectations.  One of my favorite series to read are those written by L. M. Montgomery.  She is best known for her Anne of Green Gables books.  In that era, writers were often expected to include some sort of moral in their fiction, and it might be done with heavy-handedness, or it might be more graceful and light.  I personally think Montgomery used a lighter hand, but compared to what you see now in fiction, her writing has such a wholesome tone to it.

We are not confined to just the popular entertainment of today.  We can find better stuff out there, stuff that has stood the test of time because of its goodness and skill. Yes, we have to search for it, but that is part of our faith – “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”  And once we find it and enjoy it, we have good alternatives to enthuse about to our friends and neighbors and coworkers.