Faith-Promoting Rumor

Dedicated to oddments and marginalia in Mormondom and, failing that, deep doctrinal discussion

Friday, May 27, 2005

Historical Mormon Smackdown: Benson vs. McConkie [edited]

Well, the 'nacle has spoken and it turns out the Eliza was a greater historical figure. Who knew? I certainly didn't, I predicted a runaway for Emma.

In this week's version, we ask the following question:

Who has had a greater effect, internally and externally, on how the Church is perceived: Ezra Taft Benson or Bruce R. McConkie?

Ezra Taft Benson, a prophet of the Lord, Eisenhower's agricultural secretary (at a point when people cared about the agriculture secretary), member of the John Birch society, inspired to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon, utterer of "Beware of Pride" (one of my favorite conference talks).

Bruce R. McConkie, member of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles, author of several doctrinal treatises (the most influential being "Mormon Doctrine"), a Biblical autodidact, famously and humbly retracted statements regarding Blacks and the Priesthood, utterer of "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane" (one of my alltime favorite conference talks).

So there you have it. Please vote in the blogpoll on your right!

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Are we limiting God?

A few week's back there was a discussion on Issues in Mormon Doctrine regarding the relative number of revelations and signs in the church nowadays as opposed to during the Joseph Smith period. One of the fundamental questions asked was, to paraphrase, why has the initial outpouring of revelation stopped?

I don't know. To be honest, I am not entirely certain it has. There is Geoff J's take and there is Ben S's. But, in reading the Book of Mormon today, I came across some interesting stuff.

Let's start with 2 Nephi 26:13:
13 And that he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith.

This seems pretty straightforward. God's manifestations are contingent on context, that context being provided by faith. So, if we have the faith to see the miracles, we will see them. However, this seems like a too-easy answer and it is.

To demonstrate, let's read Ether 12:12
12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

Now, some people are of a mind that every new day is a miracle. We'll adopt their approach for the moment. Apparently, they, through their faith, allow God to continue to produce new days. This seems terribly limiting on God. Do we really believe that we have this kind of power? That the power of God is dependent on the faith of his children? Even if you are demanding classical miracles (ie. healings, tongues, etc.), the requirement of human faith (flawed as it usually is) seems to place some sort of human control over divine will.

Here's another interesting passage, Moroni 7:35 - 38:
35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.

Here we see human limitations being placed on the Atonement itself. If there is anything that God wants, it is for His children to return to Him. How is it even possible for human faithlessness to deny God what He most wants? It is hard to reconcile this idea with that of an omnipotent creator.

Unless you have an idea of a self-limiting creator (which we have). The limitations on God are self-imposed as a necessary step in granting us free will. Apparently, there was no other way. As a result, we, by our limited faith in God, create limits on how He can interact with us personally. But there appears to be a way around this.

Faith, as the scriptures above point out, is a means whereby miracles can be wrought. Why? Because faithful prayer gives us access to the mind and will of God and, in those cases, we can ask Him to do for us what he would like to do. The limitation that God has self-imposed seems to be that He can bless us as He would like to do, but we must sincerely ask Him to. If we are willing to seek out His will and ask Him for His help in accomplishing it, our blessings, revelations, and miracles can presumably be limitless.

Regarding the revelation issue from the first paragraph then, if the revelatory nature of the Church has changed, the reasons may be twofold. First, perhaps we don't have so much revelation because people don't sincerely want God to weigh in on the matters of the day (think about the internal church discussions over gay-marriage propositions in California). Second, as the church has expanded, the need for a central source to get the kinds of revelations that you see in D&C 12, 14, 15, and 16 has gone away. Perhaps people, in approaching the Lord directly, are receiving these sorts of revelations themselves. So, my guess is that a combination of a lack of desire for institutional revelation and an increased emphasis on personal revelation (perhaps to give the Brethren more time to work on other issues) has brought about the current situation. For better or for worse...

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Admin: FPR is online

Blogger had a big ol' hardware failure yesterday. But their feeling much better today and, as a result, we are back up and running. Thanks to those who emailed with concern!

On an unrelated note, I am now the #1 reference on google for "Faith Promoting Rumor". Yea for me!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

'Hit pigeons flutter'

I am being given a tryout at BYU this fall in the religion department. Good or bad, it won't necessarily turn into a job, but it could. Anyhoo, I have been thinking over my BYU religion class experiences, what was good and what was bad. I had two classes from religion professors, two from a language professor, and two from grad students. My first class was horrible, my remaining classes were better, because I got better at choosing them. I think this is the general pattern of most students. The class that I didn't like had a heavy emphasis on memorization and moralizing. The others focused more on doctrine and patterns within scripture.

The question is: BYU grads or current students, look back on your experiences in religion classes. What worked for you and what didn't? Please don't mention names (possible future employment is important to me), but feel free to share crazy stories. Besides, we'll have fun trying to guess who your talking about.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

I am the Bread

This past Sunday, our stake high council speaker said something that struck me as interesting. I should be clear that I am not a high council speaker basher and therefore I will not point out that this is a rare enough occurance to warrant its own post.

Instead, I will focus on what he said, sort of. In the course of his sermon, he brought up the miracle of feeding the multitude. Generally, when people talk about this miracle, they talk about how many people were fed. This speaker chose to emphasize the small amount of food.

Consider at how little food there was. A few loaves of bread and a couple fish. The implication of the miracle is that the people ate their fill and, explicitly, that there was plenty leftover. In the Gospel of John, this incident precedes Christ's declaration that He is the bread, that we must eat his flesh and blood.

Going Synoptic, we are the leaven. We spread through the dough, raising it (or filling it with hot air). The scriptures consistently teach that the church in the last days will be small, but widespread. The truth we bear (or that we embody) will be spread to the ends of the earth. Like bread in a crowd.

Some people have argued that the threefold mission of the church is impossible. We are too few to spread the gospel to all the world or to teach it to every creature. We are too few to even get everyone baptized who needs it. They are probably right. But we have a precedent. Few, in the hands of Christ, become more powerful than many.

Welcome to the crowd.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Historical Mormon Smackdown! [edited]

Inspired mostly by your comments on my Emma post, but also because I am curious to see if this will be the runaway win that I think it will be I offer you:


This week's contestants: Emma Hale Smith and Eliza Snow Smith. Which of Joseph's two most prominent wives do you think is the most important historical figure in Mormonism?

Emma, first wife of Joseph, subject of D&C 25, mentioned a few other times in the D&C, struggled with and eventually denied the revelation on plural marriage, first president of Relief Society, stayed in Nauvoo and eventually encouraged Joseph Smith III to participate in the founding of the RLDS (Community of Christ).

Eliza, a plural-wife of Joseph (I don't know the order), wrote poetry and hymns, sister of a prophet, eventually a (sorta) general Relief Society president (first Relief Society secretary), apparently was cool with plural marriage and Brigham, gave blessings and generally acted in a manner that would not be smiled upon today.

Please vote and help us decide this most important question.

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Is there anything wrong with cheap sentiment?

In the past I have heard people complaining about "Theological Twinkies," several of which I am sure you are familiar with. The idea being that these stories are beneath us in some way because they don't come directly from the scriptures or because they are overused. For some reason, people who use these things to help themselves feel the spirit or understand the gospel are to be condescended to because they don't understand just how useless these stories are.

While I appreciate the concern, especially when the twinkies are teaching something that ain't doctrinal, I am somewhat disturbed about the dismissal with which we treat people who like these stories. There is an us and them tendancy here that I don't like. Sure, we may be able to see the holes in whatever version of the "Bridge" story we are hearing for the twelth time, But that doesn't mean that it isn't spiritually moving for the person who is sharing the story. Sure, Pres. Monson might tell the same stories over and over again. But that doesn't mean that "The Touch of the Master's Hand" can't inspire someone lost in sin to repent.

I suppose what most people find offensive about twinkies is that they seem to dismiss the complexity of the gospel. God had no choice because the train was headed for the broken bridge. If it seems tough, don't worry it will be worth it. These answers have some explanatory power, but they can also some across as cheap sentiment; a way to convey an emotion without actually experiencing it. I am sure that when undergoing some trial, the last thing I would like to be told is that it will be worth it.

I am a big believer in 2 Nephi 31:3:
For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.

As I see it, God recognizes that there are many different people and many different understandings of spirituality. What works for me, wouldn't work for someone else and vice versa. Therefore, God can and will use twinkies to help those it whom it will help. I don't think anyone argues with that.

Instead, my question is: does the identification and categorization of twinkies do anything but fan the flames of our own pride? While writing this I caught myself falling into the same "twinkie" them vs. "real-gospel" us idea that I have been complaining about. How do we account for people who approach God and the Spirit in ways that are foreign to us, in ways that we may consider beneath us? If nothing else, it certainly indicates that I (who cop to having this attitude occasionally) have got a lot to learn.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I do like the occasional Michael McClean song (just to further establish my own hypocrisy in all this(and occasional poor taste)).

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Straight outta BYUNewsnet (part 3)

Career center creates competitive collegians

Ham-handed headlines heighten humor, as alliteration always ables absurdity

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So, according to Ezra Taft Benson...

I don't have a Benson quote for this post (although I did read Beware of Pride this morning and felt a bit like I do when I read Alma 5 (chastened)). Instead I have a concern regarding the usefulness of past prophets?

Why do we feel like we can set aside the counsel of past prophets? Admittedly, we don't ususally look at things this way, but we tend to get so caught up in the interests/inspired counsel of the current prophet that we just don't seem to ponder the former prophets like we used to.

Does continuing revelation make us a denomination that will forever be living in the now? Possibly.

And please, don't talk to me about the "Presidents of the Church" manuals. I appreciate them (heck, I may actually love the things)). But the powers that be have sifted through all the prophetic material in order to find the stuff that the current president (and the guy in charge) think is important. I don't think that we are always getting a representative sample of the actual concerns of the past president (which is fine, we shouldn't necessarily expect the beliefs and problems of 40 to 150 years ago to match ours).

So, we get the following: President Benson's concerns were (perhaps) inspired by a much more literal reading of the Bible than President Hinckley's. President Benson's rhetoric is therefore much more millenarian thatn President Hinckley's. President Hinckley never explicitly says (nor implicitely implies) that President Benson was a wacko John Bircher (at least on the millenarian front). Yet, because President Hinckley's emphases are elsewhere, we feel like we can safely ignore what President Benson had to say (or, at least, set it aside). So, we're no longer millenarian (also, there's the cold war thing).

Is this a fair description of the process? Is this appropriate? If not, what can we do about it?

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The philosophies of men...

Is there anything we do in an average Block meeting that isn't to some degree the spreading of the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture? (Certainly that is what we are engaged in here on the 'nacle).

I think that the sacrament doesn't fit this category and in many cases prayer doesn't either. Is there anything else?

Should something be done about this? If so, what could be done about this? Also, is this why people say that the sacrament is the real reason why me meet on Sunday?

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Wait a second, Joseph Smith went to jail?!?

Fourth Grade Teacher Apologizes For Joseph Smith Comment

And you thought Elder Packer was protective of Mormon history.

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The slow, lingering death of modern millenarianism [edited]

Is millenarianism dying the slow death in LDS culture? Jeff's comment here stung me a bit, because I thought that I was just as millenarian as the next end-of-time freak. I admit to taking both a literal and an abstract approach to the Second Coming in part because, rhetoric aside, I am not terribly convinced that the end is all that near. But then, I read quotes like the following (from Pres. Benson, natch):

I testify that as the forces of evil increase under Lucifer’s leadership and as the forces of good increase under the leadership of Jesus Christ, there will be growing battles between the two until the final confrontation. As the issues become clearer and more obvious, all mankind will eventually be required to align themselves either for the kingdom of God or for the kingdom of the devil. As these conflicts rage, either secretly or openly, the righteous will be tested. God’s wrath will soon shake the nations of the earth and will be poured out on the wicked without measure. But God will provide strength for the righteous and the means of escape; and eventually and finally truth will triumph. ("I Testify", October Conf, 1988)

Am I just clueless? Am I marrying and giving away in marriage? Is my lamp low on oil? Am I procrastinating the day of my (food storing/72-hour kit preparing/gold hoarding) until it is everlastingly too late?

Does it seem like the the Brethren have given up on this front? Sure there are usually one or two talks in conference that reference the Second Coming, but it sure seems like there was more emphasis back in the 70's and 80's.

Which brings me to my point: was modern millenarianism an LDS (or generally Christian) way of dealing with the Cold War? I am not saying that the Second Coming ain't coming, but rather did the ratcheting up of political tension during the Cold War lead us to believe it was coming sooner rather than later. Hence the urgency that we had then, as opposed to the lack thereof today.

Would this explain why it doesn't seem so important today, in spite of the popularity of Left Behind and such?

Or is this merely a matter of us having been duped into complacency by the International Jewish Conspiracy?

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an American Religion

There has been some discussion of late, prompted by Douglas Davies's paper at the Joseph Smith Conference, regarding the status of the church as a world religion. On my mission, one of the common detractions potential investigators would make was that revolved around the idea that Mormonism is an "American" religion. In other words, Russians ought to believe in Russian religion and Americans ought to believe in American religions, so why proselyte in foreign countries?

While I don't agree with the conclusion that these particular investigators drew, I think that their jumping off point may have some merit. The LDS faith is and will likely always be an American religion.

Let's start with (what else) a quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:

I testify that America is a choice land. God raised up the founding fathers of the United States of America and established the inspired Constitution. This was the required prologue for the restoration of the gospel. America will be a blessed land unto the righteous forever and is the base from which God will continue to direct the worldwide latter-day operations of His kingdom. ("I Testify", October Conference, 1988)

We seem to believe that God has taken a direct interest in the formation of the US (Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America seem to be on their own). Additionally, He seems to have a keen interest in maintaining a hand in American politics. There is the "hanging by a thread" prophecy. There is the 10th Article of Faith (which seems at least willing to acknowledge the rest of the continent). There is the current church leadership, driving innocent German Families apart (see the first paragraph).

I know there have been recent efforts for more representation of the newer areas of the church in general leadership. I know that the move to send Elders Oaks and Holland into the mission field were possibly inspired by similar concerns. We do not appear to be a church that is much interested in spreading Americanism throughout the globe per se. Monolithic church culture may be a different issue (if such a thing can survive internationalism).

But America is always going to be central to our ideas. After all, the New Zion is in Missouri, not Brazil, Congo, or Uzbekistan. And, I would assume, that the next two or three generations of leaders will also be primarily American, due to language issues and due to training issues. Correct me if I am wrong but hasn't the boom in South America taken place primarily in the latter half of the 20th century? This would seem to indicate that the Third World representation we would all like to see probably won't happen for a while, since we are waiting for people to grow up in a church culture in a foreign land (just think how long it is taking the Catholics).

So, for the time being, we are an American church. But since we are all fellow citizens in Christ, perhaps we make too much of this.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Jeffrey Holland, ex-hooligan

Jeffrey Holland Rings Bell Again in Restored Chapel

I wonder if anyone ever told him that he wouldn't amount to anything, the little punk!

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Straight outta BYUNewsnet (Part 2)

Experts debate hip-hop's influence on American culture, youth, for better or for worse

I just like the story's first line:

" Rap music is very influential and can have positive or negative effects, according to some experts."

I fell like that sums up the situation very well, don't you?

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Why do we reverence Emma?

No, really. Why do we reverence Emma? There are plenty of other women in the early church who are admirable, yet who didn't fall away. Why does she get such special attention and devotion?

Is it because of her close relationship with Joseph? Oliver Cowdery had a close relationship with Joseph (admittedly not as close). He fell away over doubts regarding Joseph's call (including issues with plural marriage). And HE CAME BACK. Yet, there is not 1/5 of the time spent in discussion of Oliver Cowdery as there is of Emma (statistics made up to emphasize my point).

Is it because she is a women? One with a section of the Doctrine & Covenants devoted to her (and a couple more chastising her)? Again, there are other early church women who didn't fall away. Why isn't Liz Lemon Swindle being paid money to paint their posthomous portrait?

What has Emma done to get all of this good press? Why does she continue to get it now?

(ps. I'm not actually an Emma hater and I do hope those two crazy, mixed-up kids work it all out. I just don't understand all the praise heaped upon this woman whom we all admit didn't make the right choice in the end (assuming that we aren't RLDS)).

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The necessity of the fall?

Christian, our intrepid Evangelical friend, is asking about salvation over at his site. One of the things he mentions there (as I mulled over my as-yet non-existent response) really struck me.

# So because of our sin (both Adam's and of our own own) we deserve to die - after all, there is no forgiveness of sin w/out the shedding of blood (Heb 10:22), and in our sin we are already dead to God (Eph 2:1). We are incapable of turning to God on our own (Rom 5:12, John 6:44). We're in deep do-do

We'll call this Christian's third rule of Evangelical salvation. Go to his post to see the others.

As luck would have it, I found President Benson expressing similar sentiments:

"Just as a man does not really desire food until he is hungry, so he does not desire the salvation of Christ until he knows why he needs Christ.

No one adequately and properly knows why he needs Christ until he understands and accepts the doctrine of the Fall and its effect upon all mankind. And no other book in the world explains this vital doctrine nearly as well as the Book of Mormon.
"(Ensign, Nov 1987, 83)

And because you know that I am all about the quotes, here is a third, from the famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards:

"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell."

Here is my question: Do we actually need to feel the effects of the Fall in our life to straighten up? Can we really change our life if we don't feel like that spider facing an immediate fiery doom?

In my life, repenting seems to come in fits and starts related to personal catastrophes, so I apparently do think that imminent destruction is helpful for one's relationship with God. Somehow, I don't think (the Rev. Edwards aside) that this is how it is supposed to work.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Where is our sense of urgency?

Here is a quote from an Ezra Taft Benson talk I read this morning:

"[The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants] are bound together as revelations from Israel’s God for the purpose of gathering and preparing His people for the second coming of the Lord." (Ensign, November 1986, 78)

Do you ever get the feeling that we, as a people, are not millenarian enough?

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Prophetic fallibility and faith

I ran across the following quote from President Ezra Taft Benson this morning:

"It would be difficult to underestimate the impact the Bible has had on the history of the world."(Ensign, Nov 1987, 78)

I am relatively certain that this is the exact opposite of what he meant to say. An Ensign editor failed to catch it and now this error is here for you to enjoy.

The story goes that Simonds Rider left the church because Joseph Smith misspelled his name. I believe that Pres. Benson's above error is just as inconsequential (at least for me, as I have no desire to leave the church over it). But, to be frank, I revel in these sorts of errors anyway.

Moroni, in a fit of self-consciousness, wrote the following in Ether 12:23-25:

23 And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;

24 And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.

25 Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.

I don't believe that I really understand his distinction between the spoken word and print as I am equally awkward in both. However, print lasts longer than any individual speech, so people have much more time to pick nits regarding what you have written. If you screw up in print, your mistake is with you for a very long time.

I like that Moroni is worried about this sort of thing; it humanizes him for me. It helps me remember two fairly important things: Only God is perfect; and, for some reason, He has chosen to implement His perfect plan through imperfect people. The relationship we share with God is equally voluntary on both ends, He chooses us as much as we choose Him (if not more so). He probably could do whatever it is that He is doing much better without us, but He thinks it is important that we play a role in His plan. This makes me happy. Even if I can never get the 12-year-olds to shut up long enough to feel the Spirit, I know that God chose clumsy, accident-prone, absent-minded, little-ol' me to play this part in the plan. I can live with that.

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History Group Honors President Hinckley

Presumably, this isn't a crack about his age.

Carnival Provides Place for Fun

I suppose this is better than the Bradbury-esque alternative

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Uncle Orson gets a job

Orson Scott Card joins faculty of Southern Virginia University

Perhaps he will now stop accusing academics of failing to respect science fiction.

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Attention English Majors

A quote from for all you literary theorists out there:

"Salvation is not in facilities or technology, but in the word. Only in the power of the word will it impact our lives and help us to live closer to our Father in Heaven."
—Elder L. Tom Perry
Ensign, May 2000, 25

You don't appear to be alone.

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Seven Brides for Creepy Brothers

On the grand scale of musicals that are perpetually playing in Utah, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" probably ranks third (the first two being "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Forever Plaid"). I can't speak for when it was originally produced, by the play strikes me as exceedingly perverse. Kidnapping your potential bride is not the sort of activity we would generally expect to find in plays that the Mormons laud (even if written by Sam Shepherd). So, what is the deal?

Do Mormons love it just because it is a musical set in the West that isn't "Paint Your Wagon"? Are we waxing nostalgic for a period when kidnapping and forced marriage could be seen as innocent fun? Or it is something more sinister?

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The First Vision, the Apostasy, and You

Here is a quote from the study questions area of the David O. McKay lesson that we will be studying in my ward this coming Sunday (at least in Priesthood; we have somehow gotten out of synch with the Relief Society).

In what way is the appearance of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith the “"foundation of this Church”"?

This is in reference to a quote by Pres. McKay earlier in the chapter:

The appearing of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith is the foundation of this Church. Therein lies the secret of its strength and vitality. This is true, and I bear witness to it. That one revelation answers all the queries of science regarding God and his divine personality. Don’t you see what that means? What God is, is answered. His relation to his children is clear. His interest in humanity through authority delegated to man is apparent. The future of the work is assured. These and other glorious truths are clarified by that glorious first vision. (Gospel Ideals, 85.)

I suppose it is good to know more about God (He and Christ being separate beings and all that), but what is most significant about the First Vision to me is the active role in human life that it envisions for God. God cares enough to sit down and chat with us about the confusions of life (everyday or otherwise). He is manifestly a God who interferes in the doings of his children on earth. Perhaps not on a daily basis, but often enough to keep the whole project progressing.

A while ago, there was a discussion on T&S regarding whether or not we have a real doctrine of the Apostasy. The discussion was interesting but, to me, it seemed to skirt one of the more fundamental issues. Where was God during the Apostasy? If I believe that people today are not more or less worthy of God's active participation in their lives than the folks of circa 1000, why don't we have records of people engaging in the type of "dialogic revelation" that we believe Joseph Smith did (at least according to Givens) in that period?

The thing is that people did. I would argue that it is the most natural form of address that we use with God. In his Confessions, for instance, Augustine describes his conversion in terms that invoke the conversion of Alma the Younger:


28. Now when deep reflection had drawn up out of the secret depths of my soul all my misery and had heaped it up before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by a mighty rain of tears. That I might give way fully to my tears and lamentations, I stole away from Alypius, for it seemed to me that solitude was more appropriate for the business of weeping. I went far enough away that I could feel that even his presence was no restraint upon me. This was the way I felt at the time, and he realized it. I suppose I had said something before I started up and he noticed that the sound of my voice was choked with weeping. And so he stayed alone, where we had been sitting together, greatly astonished. I flung myself down under a fig tree--how I know not--and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to thee. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: "And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities." For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: "How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?"

29. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which--coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, "Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it." Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: "Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

I guess the point is that if Augustine can feel the Spirit and experience the Atonement via this kind of dialogue with God (being one of the parties most likely responsible for the prolongation of the Apostasy), why was the First Vision so revolutionary?

But I can't deny that it was and is. It created a literal church of prophets. We believe that every person has just as much right of access to God as the Pope, the Prophet, or the President. And we encourage people to make use of that right from Nursery onward, in spite of the possibility of confusing results. We, as a church, believe in the First Vision and insist on making it a model of how we ought to approach God. I don't believe that there is another way to put it.

So, getting back to the original question of the post, how foundational is the First Vision to your beliefs? Why? And, as a corollary, do we give enough credit to this experience when it is found amongst members of other faiths?

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Straight outta BYUNewsnet (Part 1)

Asian ladybugs outperform native variety

I am sure that it is just because their parents apply so much more pressure.

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Initial thoughts

I love the initiatory. I went to the temple and did initiatories last night and it occurred to me why I enjoy it so. There is a physicality to it that is missing from the other temple ordinances. I have to get up and move around and do things. I understand that all temple ordinances are somewhat passive (these included), but I liked the motion. It reminded me of the time I went to an endowment session in the Manti temple.

A well run initiatory session is like a ballet, a machine where the cogs are placed in just the right spots to catch each other. Last night's was not well run. The men helping me hadn't done it in a while and were stumbling over some of the things they had to say. But it was still beautiful, a reminder of God's choice to use imperfect humans to accomplish his perfect goals. It kept me grounded.

What do you think of this ordinance? Please keep your comments appropriate to the forum (ie. this ain't no temple, don't pretend it is).

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

It's sin that is in

Doesn't it seem really important that we sin? Let me give you an example:

Ether 12:27
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

Now normally we use this verse as a way to help people out of sin, but look at what it is saying: we are inherently weak, in part, because this is the only way to make us humble enough to turn to God. If we become humble enough, we will come to rely on His grace and become strong in Him. Here's the bookend verse to this one:

Abraham 3:25
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

Here we are given an impossible task (complete and total lifelong obedience) as our goal, necessary for exaltation. We are set up to fail, but it is just as well. Our failings will cause us to rely on the Savior, which is God's goal anyway. Doesn't the great authority (Nibley, of course) say that the righteous person is the one who is repenting?

Now I am not arguing against Paul's words in Romans 6:1-2. Of course we shouldn't sin just to get more repentance in our life. I just think it is interesting that the degree to which we sin is built into the system in such a way that it can (and should) turn us toward God. And, if we sin less, presumably this is because we have already done the turning.

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If you weren't you, who would you be? [edited]

The discussion at Nine-Moons prompted by Annie's post has taken an interesting turn that I would like to explore.

If tomorrow all of Mormondom disappeared, which of the remaining religions would you join, if any? In other words, of all the religions out there, which do you find most appealing and why?

Myself, I think that I would be most likely to go Unitarian. Something about the looking for good wherever it is to be found appeals to me. I have a feeling that I know which way Ronan would turn. How about you?

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Monday, May 09, 2005

Whoooooooo are you? Whoo-oo-oo-oo?

I would like to make a proposal.

Vicarious ordinance work is one of the central ideas around which our whole church revolves. All temple work is vicarious in one way or another. Prayer is vicarious. All priesthood work is vicarious. Some of the covenants that we discuss have an air of vicariousness about them (Abrahamic, for instance). And the Atonement is really vicarious.

Having now proven my point with a foundation of bedrock logic, I ask:
Why? Why doesn't anybody do anything for themselves in the gospel? Does God always work this way or is it a mortality thing? How does all of this fit in with our developing a "personal" relationship with God?

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Tears were shed, hearts were moved...

I saw the following on the church web-site and wondered if a Sugar Beet article had been indexed by mistake.

Women urged to let light shine

I have great respect for Elder Uchtdorf. I just found the headline a tad ridiculous. Just imagine the opposite:

"Women encouraged to bury light deep within, wallow in unfulfilled dreams"

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