Monday, April 29, 2013

They can't count!

Well, that’s it: the Book of Mormon cannot be true.

My proof: from our family scripture reading this morning:

And thus did the thirty and eighth year pass away, and also the thirty and ninth, and forty and first, and the forty and second, yea, even until forty and nine years had passed away, and also the fifty and first, and the fifty and second; yea, and even until fifty and nine years had passed away.

It’s clear that the Nephites didn’t know how to count! They left out 40 and 50 from their listing of years. Or Joseph Smith didn’t know how to count.

I file this reasoning in with the same reasoning that says the Book of Mormon can’t be true because Alma says Jesus was born in Jerusalem.

When I think about the truth of the Book of Mormon, I reflect on Moroni’s promise, that through the Holy Ghost we can know the truth of these things. The “these things” that Moroni refers to may be his few words of exhortation, though I have assumed them to be the Book of Mormon as presented to us.

In verse 3 he admonishes us to begin by remembering:
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts (emphasis mine).

Often we talk about Moroni’s promise by focusing on praying and getting that answer, but this idea of remembering the Lord’s mercy toward the children of men is an intergral part to getting that answer. Remember that in the beginning of the record we have, Nephi tells us that the record sets out to show the Lord’s tender mercies:

But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.
The truth of the Book of Mormon to me is the reality of those tender mercies, the reality of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. This is not to say that details of the record are not important. The poetry is fascinating. The alternate geographies are interesting to consider. The list of animals is perplexing. But the testimony of Christ is constant, powerful and pervasive.

The spirit which teaches me as I study the Book of Mormon is, I believe, the Holy Ghost which does, as Moroni promises, allow us to know the truth of all things.

BTW: You can read my latest post at Real Intent "Walking the Path to Charity through the Atonement" here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A short reposting today

In place of my normal Thursday post, I refer you to this one at Common Consent. Please go and read it. And then think of your own mother -- by name.

Like most of the commenters at BCC, I doubt the article in the Friend (go to page 24 of the .pdf version) had any malicious intent, but rather is symptomatic of a bigger problem: that no one saw a problem with an article about the mother of so many prophets that failed to name any one of those mothers.

I love the Friend and hope this oversight will not be repeated.

[Red-faced, I noticed the link to BCC was broken since I posted this last Thursday; my apologies.]

Monday, April 22, 2013

Turning from peace

I love the hymn “Where Can I Turn For Peace?” Emma Lou Thayne’s text speaks to my heart and experience:

Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart,
Searching my soul?

Where, when my aching grows,
Where, when I languish,
Where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He, only One.

He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching
In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind,
Love without end.

For me, the key is in the first stanza: “I draw myself apart.”

I have lived long enough to know how I draw myself apart.

I can feel it when it happens now. And fortunately it is not a common experience. But I am aware enough to see it, just the way I could see the impending accident years ago when a blown tire caused me to skid and spin and flip off a freeway in Venezuela. At that time, I took my foot of the accelerator; I counter-steered. And still I skidded and spun and eventually rolled over off the road and down the embankment where I landed a little bruised but otherwise none the worse for wear. (Not so my vehicle – it was totaled.)

An example: A harmless conversation that in an instant went poorly. I might have foreseen it, since it was a political question. But we’d talked about the subject before, so I assumed we agreed when in fact we didn’t. The disagreement set off my defenses, and I responded far too quickly. And as quickly as it started, communication ended, shut down. Silence.

There were no harsh and angry words exchanged. This was not a debate nor an argument. It was silence.

In my heart my aching grew. I sought that quiet hand to calm my anguish. I apologized, knowing an apology was not enough. I prayed silently for peace, for comfort, for guidance.

Here’s the remarkable thing: In the first stanza I find myself searching my soul with anger and malice, and yet I still crave the healing touch of my Savior. My aching grows as I realize my role, and I feel that anguish that comes in realizing my own weakness. My only choice is to seek mercy – the mercy of Him who has power to save, and the mercy of the person I’ve offended.

In that instance, as He spoke peace to my soul, so did my lovely wife. As He reached my reaching, so did she. Love without end, indeed.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Coming back to seminary

I’m teaching seminary again.

I’ve been asked to assist in our ward’s early morning seminary class. We have an awesome teacher who has been at it for six years, and she is terrific. But in her six years, she’s learned that the last quarter of the year is tough – tough for the students and tough for her. Everyone has been at it for a long time, and by the fourth quarter, it’s just that much tougher to keep getting up day after day.

So to mix things up for the students, our teacher invites other ward members to come in and teach from time to time. And she’s asked for a helper: me.

I taught home study seminary nearly 30 years ago while I was in grad school, and I’ve substituted in seminary from time to time during the nineteen years I’ve had kids in seminary. I also taught a couple of years of a YSA institute class in my stake.

Now I’m going to early morning seminary twice a week, which is a challenge for me waking-up-wise. I’m preparing more lessons, and I’m reading scriptures with more purpose. And it’s a blast!

We have a pretty big group in our class – over 20 kids attend most days – and they are well mannered and as attentive as a bunch of sleepy high schoolers will be. Our regular teacher has lots of tricks to keep them awake – make them move, make they speak, make them draw, make them read. I get to learn a lot from watching her.

We’re studying the epistles in the New Testament – not the lightest reading of the scriptures, but not Isaiah, either. It’s challenging that there are fewer story-based lessons, but it’s fun to dig into some of the dichotomies that Paul presents (grace and the law, for instance) and to see how those differ from one epistle to another.

I carry the mantra that I heard repeatedly when I taught back in the 1980s – we teach the scriptures; we do not teach about the scriptures. The New Testament is our primary text, not student or teacher manuals, not commentaries, not cute online resources. Of course we’ll use those other resources to support our teaching, but in the end, it’s all about the scriptures.

And it’s a blast.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A pattern of blessings

The scriptures are full of repeated patterns, types, shadows and symbols. Recognizing those patterns leads to understanding, and allows us to see similar patterns in our own lives.

One of my favorites is the story of the fiery serpents, told in Numbers 21 and repeated three times in the Book of Mormon, too. In each case, we’re told that people could look to the serpent that Moses raised on his staff to be saved from the fiery serpents that were besetting them. The serpent raised on the staff is a type or symbol of the Savior’s sacrifice in our behalf; if we look to Him, we also can live.

I recognized another pattern from my own life in our fast and testimony meeting yesterday. The pattern is long-established and has been taught in the scriptures and in the temple: covenant, obey and receive a blessing. It is a pattern I have taught my children, and that I have regularly taught to youth and adults alike in the church.

As I listened to testimonies yesterday, I remembered a clear example of the pattern from my own life. Between my junior and senior years in high school, I spent part of the summer as an exchange student in Germany. The organization with which I traveled inquired if there were health or religious dietary restrictions that my host family should know about. I indicated on the form that I did not use alcohol, tea or coffee. Frankly, I did so out of habit, not because I had some great moral need to exclude those items from my diet. It was simply what we did (or didn’t do). My testimony at the time was typical of a mid-teen boy: pretty still and small. I was a good kid, but I was unsure at the time about missionary service, I was ho-hum about seminary, and I didn’t go to many mutual activities (though I attended church on Sunday). I was not on fire in any way in the testimony department.

Still, I committed to live the Word of Wisdom on that trip.

When I got there, the family was aware of my desire, including the boy who was my age. He and his friends regularly went out together and, like most German youth, they drank together. Still, they respected my desire not to drink, and we found suitable soft drinks for me. When they drank coffee, I drank herbal tea (and realized how much I hated most herbal tea). My American friends in my group were enjoying the freedom to drink and found me a curiosity, but were tolerant.

The mom of my guest family was quite impressed with my commitment. She and I spoke on more than one occasion about the church and my commitment to it. I had packed along a German Book of Mormon, just in case, and I offered it to her, though she did not accept it, citing her husband’s intolerance. Still the family saw to it that I got to church a couple of times I while I was there.

Toward the end of our trip, the pressure for me to drink increased. I had made plenty of jokes about my not drinking and I was quite good natured about it, but frankly I was pretty curious myself. On one of our final nights, I was getting some pressure to try it “just once,” and I was nearly ready to give in. I was relieved, however, when my “guest brother” stepped in and reminded me that I didn’t have to if I really didn’t want to. I honored my commitment to myself and to my host family not to drink.

Several weeks after coming home, I attended my stake’s youth conference. (My mother had signed me up while I was gone, and I went specifically because she asked me to go; I would not have chosen to go on my own.) At that youth conference, I had a transformational experience. In the priesthood meeting on Sunday morning (our conferences went through Sunday in those days), I felt such a powerful spiritual witness of what we were being taught it was unmistakable, and my heart was changed. Following that conference came a series of decisions that carried me to BYU, on a mission, to a temple marriage and to a life of faithful service in the church.

As I reflected yesterday morning on that series of events, it occurred to me that the spiritual witness came after my keeping a personal covenant to live the Word of Wisdom while I was away from home. I can’t say with certainty that one event depended completely on the other, but surely my willingness to keep my personal covenant opened my heart to the change the Lord offered it when I came home.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Conference questions and answers

I came to conference with questions this time around. There were three specific ones that I had in my head and in my heart. I had not written them down, but I knew what they were.

Similar answers came to each question, but not in the same talks.

It has caused me to reflect on how my process of receiving answers to prayers works. Doctrine & Covenants gives us some clues to general processes in the Lord’s instructions to Oliver Cowdrey in sections 6, 8 and 9. You know them: ponder, pray, think about your own solutions and your own process, feel peace in heart and mind, feel a burning in the bosom, and remember what you’ve learned.

Joseph Smith taught this about divine instruction:

When you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 151.)

I’ve written before that my answers to prayer rarely come during the prayer, almost never during the first prayer.

As I prepared for this particular conference, I had three broad questions in my mind. One concerned one of my children, one concerned my job, and one concerned a health concern of mine. These are not questions specific to conference, since these three items have been occupying my prayers off and on for months. But I looked at conference as one opportunity among many to receive guidance.

What I found is that guidance came. Some of it came in overarching themes, and some in specific quotations. A particular sentence in a particular talk struck me in a particular way. A story related by a speaker related to one of my issues. Recurring and connecting themes from several talks united to offer instruction and comfort.

In the end, most of my answers were comforting answers rather than go-and-do answers this time. That’s not always so. But this time I was counseled to be patient and to trust that the Lord can do His work. He has a way to accomplish what He needs to accomplish. That message is reassuring to me.

As I reflected on the Lord’s instructions through the prophet Joseph, it occurred to me that the Lord did whisper peace to my heart and mind. The Lord did cause my bosom to burn as I pondered ideas I had about my questions. And I felt what I assume is the pure intelligence, the sudden strokes of ideas that Joseph described. Not everything happened at once. And I am not sure I recognized each of those events as they happened, some only were clearer after the fact. But I do know that answers came.

These particular questions are still too tender for me to discuss in great detail, which makes this essay less readable; for that I’m sorry. But hopefully my writing will encourage you to think about how conference spoke to you – or that is, how the Lord spoke to you through conference.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Washington Musings (Not Conference)

I know that most of my fellow Mormon bloggers are going on about conference. It was a great conference, and I’ll get to it sometime.

But first: I spent last week on vacation with my family. We visited some of our kids and then ended up in Washington, DC, one of my favorite vacation destinations. We’ve been multiple times with our kids and we will definitely go again. To those of you who live so far away that a trip to Washington is a burden, I offer my sympathy. Washington is America’s museum city between monuments, historic sites, and, of course, museums.

We saw two monuments we have not seen in previous trips: The FDR memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial. Both were awesome. I was particularly (and surprisingly) moved by the FDR memorial. I’d read about it, but was surprised by its size and scope. Here is a president I did not know in my conservative youth, but I suspect I would not have liked him much then. As I’ve aged, I’ve grown more politically liberal and more sympathetic to what he did. As I walked his monument, I thought about the issues the nation faced during his long terms of service as president. And I thought about the kind of men and women who serve our nation in political office.

It is exceptionally easy to be jaded, to assume cynically that people serve for their own benefit. Indeed, I have no doubt that they do. In my BYU American Heritage class years ago, I learned that our founding fathers counted on the fact that some would serve in an effort to gain power, and that was built into our system. But as we fire darts at our political opponents, I hope we also remember that in the end it is public service they render.

I am not particularly politically active. I vote, of course, but I rarely campaign for a particular candidate. I have contributed to some campaigns, but do not do so regularly. I do write to my congressman and senators from time to time on issues of importance to me. And when I do, regardless of their position, I thank them for their public service.

I learned a lesson about this issue many years ago. When my family joined the church, Orrin Hatch’s mother was my Sunday School teacher. He was in law school and his son was in my classes at church. Years later when I ended up at BYU, Orrin had just been elected to the US Senate. I ran into his son at BYU and I made some offhanded joke about the easy life of a politician. His son gently corrected me and described the work his dad did each day.

For me, one of the most reverent spots in Washington DC is in the Lincoln Memorial. I love to read the words of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s second inaugural address inscribed on the walls of that monument. This time I noticed the paintings about those inscriptions – on representing the emancipation of the African slaves and the other the reunion of a nation torn asunder. Of course we revere Lincoln for his work in preserving the Union and for his ultimate sacrifice. But many others also give their lives in service of the nation they love, even those who do not die in office.

I am grateful for those who serve, and for the nation that they serve.

Monday, April 1, 2013

In which I did not wear a tie

So, over at Times and Seasons, there's been a conversation about men and ties at church. Jonathan Green provided a terrific summary of a discussion he had with his 12-year old son about wearing ties to church. (I thought it was terrific; not every commenter agreed, but what else is new?)

As for me, I wear ties to church. I do not wear one to work every day because my employer does not require it of me, but I do sometimes wear ties for work. Before I lost weight last year, wearing ties had become uncomfortable, despite my buying the "big & tall" shirts (I am not tall, but I was big). Now that I've lost the weight, ties are no longer uncomfortable, but I still don't wear them all the time.

But I do always wear a tie to church. Well, almost always. Yesterday I didn't.

We are on vacation and we visited my daughter's ward in Pennsylvania. Last time I visited, I wore a bow tie. (I asked my daughter if she thought that would be ok; I had brought a necktie as well, but thought it would be fun to wear a bow tie, since I wear one about 1/3 of the time in my home ward, following the example of a former counselor in our stake presidency and a few other men in the stake. She wondered why I thought anyone would care.) But this time, as I was dressing on Sunday morning, I realized I had forgotten to pack a tie.

My daughter assured me it was no big deal; many of the men in her ward came to church without ties. Yeah, true enough, I thought. But I don't go to church without a tie. I couldn't remember the last time I hadn't worn a tie to church.

Of course no one said a word about my tie-less-ness. And of course, I had to make a joke about it to the bishop. He laughed and told me a similar experience he'd had the week before while visiting his brother's ward in another state. (He had not forgotten his tie, but chosen to leave his suit at home and wear only slacks and a dress shirt and tie.)

It is odd to me how I find comfort at church. I do find comfort in conformity, in routine. I was happy to be made to feel welcome this week in my daugher's ward, and I was not at all surprised. But I'll be glad to have my tie next time I go to church. :-)