Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween for Good or Evil

One of my favorite holidays is "Halloween" when imagination is let loose with no shame. People young and old get to dress up in silly costumes and eat lots of sweet candy. For some, scary movies and haunted houses add to the celebration. Yet, what exactly are we celebrating? For most of us there isn't any significants other than the fun times.

The holiday goes back, like so many holiday traditons, to pagan celebrations:

Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

Like Christmas, the Catholics tried to incorporate non-Christian practices into a religiously respectable form. They decided to use the celebrations as a time to remember Saints and martyrs instead of pagan gods:

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas. (See The History Channel:The History of Halloween )

Not everyone likes the idea of Halloween, and some refuse to participate. Those who are most concerned are traditionalist Protestant Christians who see the holiday as incompatable to their beliefs. Some even condemn it as a Satanic conspiracy, Harry Potter like, to recruit followers of the occult:

Many . . . Christians . . . consider Halloween as incompatible and even conflicting with the Christian faith, due to its preoccupation with the occult in symbols, masks and costumes, its origin as pagan festival of the dead, and its celebration by satanists. They argue that Halloween is also a prime recruiting season for satanists and therefore poses a considerable harm to children. Others are concerned about vandalism and destructive behavior after a church had become a victim of destructive "shock rituals" by satanists leading to targeted monitoring of these gatherings by the police. Another argument brought forward is that according to occult Wicca practices “Halloween is one of the four major Sabbats celebrated by the modern Witch, and it is by far the most popular and important of the eight that are observed. . . Witches regard Halloween as their New Year’s Eve, celebrating it with sacred rituals. . . (Dunwich, Gerina. The Pagan Book of Halloween, p. 120). The opinion which rejects Halloween because it trivialises the realities of 'evil' and 'the occult’ is shared by some Christians across all denominations. Some Evangelical and Protestant Churches, and some Jews and Muslims, strongly object to the tradition and refuse to allow their children to participate, pointing out to its pagan origins as well as what they consider its satanic imagery.(see Halloween from Wikipedia )

For the most part, Mormons haven't had any opinions of it as a group. There are, however, differences of approach. For many Latter-day Saints the season continues to be about having fun with their children. They get them dressed up and go visit family and neighbors who give them candy and otherwise enjoy themselves. Over the years there has been a development that, although not unique, does seem to have caught hold almost as a Church wide tradition. Trunk or Treat might not have been started by Mormons, but it has definantly been adopted by Latter-day Saints as their own special tradition. Considering the breakdown of neighborhood safety and the strong beliefs about community in the faith, it shouldn't be surprising. It is a way to have both safety and still retain the sense of community. In some ways Halloween has become a sweet tooth communion of family and friends.

Other Latter-day Saints, perhaps a small minority or silent majority, are more critical of the seasons implications. The more vocal individuals condemn it for much the same reasons as others who are not of the same faith. The biggest reason is not fear of pagan influence or satanic recruitment. It is more about allowing evil and wickedness a time to be celebrated. The less vocal Latter-day Saints who object to the holiday simply don't like the blood, fear, and lack of a spiritual enlightenment. They see no reason to have it, and a few reasons to reject it.

That brings it back to myself. You might say that my house is split on the subject. I love to get dressed up, watch spooky (not bloody) shows, and generally eat lots of candy. My wife, on the other hand, simply doesn't want to get involved. She has no problem passing out and eating candy. It's the rest of it she doesn't like. I imagine this isn't an unusual situtation.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Book of Mormon Addendum

I would like to thank all the contributors to the Book of Mormon Symposium. The experience was spiritually and intellectually gratifying. Hopefully, those reading these posts have and will continue to look a little closer at these ancient and yet modern Scriptures. Here is an Index if there is anything missed or want to review:

The Keystone of My Faith

Resurrection and Restoration

How Nephi Uses Isaiah

Little Known Omni

The Tree of the Atonement

The Law of Witnesses

The Wisdom of Experience

Famous Last Words

Third Nephi as Type for Second Coming

The Organic Restoration

Gadianton Mercy

The Spiritual Aspect of Political Freedom

There are also many other blog posts that talk about the Book of Mormon teachings and text. A few of interest are:

2 Nephi 28 - On Christian Churches

New Quiz on Jacob 5

Natural Man

Nephi Upstaged

Book of Mormon Tidbits from Margaret Barker

The Demands of Justice

The Weakness of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon Inspection This is a blog more than a post. Maybe it will get through the complete book. So far it has been rather good.

Remember How Great Things the Lord Has Done

Three Key Book of Mormon Themes

Some thoughts from General Authorities:

Flooding the Earth With the Book of Mormon by President Ezra Taft Benson

O Be Wise by Elder M. Russell Ballard

The Great Plan of Happiness by Elder Marcus B. Nash

Blessings Resulting from Reading the Book of Mormon
by Elder L. Tom Perry

The Book of Mormon, the Instrument to Gather Scattered Israel by Elder C. Scott Grow

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ—Plain and Precious Things
by President Boyd K. Packer

And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen. - Mormon to his son Moroni. (Moroni 9:26)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Spiritual Aspect of Political Freedom

By Kevin B. of "The Title of Liberty"

I have always been intrigued by the prevalence of warfare and political content in the Book of Mormon, despite it's claim to being a spiritual rather than a historical record. When one considers the perspective of the record's primary compiler, Mormon, as a military commander, this content is not altogether surprising. However, we are told repeatedly throughout the text that the intended audience of the record is the people of our day. Further, we know that engraving space on the metal record was limited and that the contributors to the records compiled by Mormon were commanded to only write that which pertained to spiritual matters. We can therefore conclude that the warfare and political content of the Book of Mormon have specific spiritual importance to our time.

Political Structure as a Spiritual Issue

When I first conceived the topic, I had in mind was to show how political freedom had an important role on the the spirituality of citizens. However, after re-examining the lessons taught by the text, it became clear that I had it exactly opposite: The spirituality of individuals and a nation as a whole has an important role in their political freedom. Their political structure tends to be directly or indirectly determined by their spiritual integrity. In preparation for this article, I skimmed the Book of Mormon for political content. Skimming for spiritual and political content made the correlation more obvious to me than previous times I have read the book.

Readers of the Book of Mormon will be well acquainted with the oft-repeated promise of prosperity and liberty to those who keep the commandments of God, and the promise of destruction to those who do not. This promise applies specifically to the Americas, which I explore further below. We see this concept early in 1st Nephi and throughout the text. Mormon frequently interjected his own commentary ("And thus we see that...") within the record he was abridging to reinforce this message.

Time after time, we see individuals who first rebel against the church and gospel of Christ, then second rebel against the socio-political order. They either seek to overthrow the government to their own advantage, or by joining the Lamanite nation and inciting them to war against the Nephite nation. Always, it was the spiritual rebellion (whether on the part of a group of dissenters or a leader already in a position of power) that proceeded the political rebellion and oppression.

Characteristics of Righteous Leadership

There are many examples of good political leadership offered by the Book of Mormon, listed below:

- Servants of the people

The first King Mosiah, followed by King Benjamin and his son the second King Mosiah gives us a good example of "servant leadership."All 3 of these kings relied on their own efforts to provide for their living, not by taxation. They served as moral examples. They consulted "men of God" in political and military matters. They served on the front lines of battle when war was necessary.

- Religious liberty

Under the Reign of the Judges in the books of Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman, we see a repeated insistence of the law that there should be no religious persecution. Men cannot be judged by the law based on his beliefs, except where his beliefs threaten the liberty of the people. We also see among the Lamanites, following the conversion to Christianity of Lamoni's father, the established decree of religious liberty (and prohibition of religious persecution) to all Lamanites.

- Taxation

In contrast to the excellent example of King Benjamin, we have the example of King Noah, who taxes his people one fifth (20%) of all they produce to support himself, his wives, concubines and priests. He also builds up elegant buildings and thrones for himself and priests. This is noted in context of the description of Noah as a wicked king. We also have the example of the people of Limhi, who return to the original land of Lehi-Nephi and request whether the Lamanites will give them land to occupy. As a trap, the king of the Lamanites vacate some land for Limhi's people. The Lamanites impose a tax of half of all they produce, or take their lives: “a tax which is grievous to be borne . . . And is not this, our affliction great? Now behold, how great reason we have to mourn.”

(For perspective, a comparison to the current American tax system: “Tax Freedom Day,” the day of the year in which American’s earnings are their own after taxes, is April 26 for 2006, or 31.6% average tax burden, based on Federal and State income tax only. This does not include sales-based taxes, gasoline taxes, so-called "vice taxes" on cigarettes, alcohol, etc. , or government administered lotteries-- which I consider to be voluntary taxation for the stupid.)

- Slavery

Mentioned specifically as being against the law under the Reign of the Judges, and under the 200 years of peace and equality following the visitation of Christ to the Americas.

- Power and War

There are many shining examples of appropriate use of power and war (Captain Moroni, wielder of the Title of Liberty comes to mind) but I find it best expressed by Pahoran, the Chief Judge of Captain Moroni's time:

I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment-seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people. My soul standeth fast in that liberty in which God hath made us free.

And now, behold, we will resist wickedness even unto bloodshed. We would not shed the blood of the Lamanites if they would stay in their own land.

We would not shed the blood of our brethren if they would not rise in rebellion and take the sword against us . . . therefore . . . let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with our words, yea, such as rebellions and dissensions, let us resist them with our swords, that we may retain our freedom, that we may rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God. (Alma 61: 9-14)

- Representative Government

Described as ideal in a world where “just men” (righteous kings after Christ’s model of servant leadership) cannot be guaranteed. This was hinted upon when the original Nephi was reluctant to become king ("...I was desirous that they should have no king,” 2 Nephi 5:18) and was reiterated by the second Mosiah, having learned from the example of King Noah:

* “Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you. (Mosiah 29:13)

* “Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.”(Mosiah 29:16)

* “And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.” (Mosiah 29:21)

* “For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;” (Mosiah 29:22)

* “And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.”

On to the selection of leaders and laws by the people:

* “Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore, this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction…” (Mosiah 29:26-27)

Book of Mormon Perspective on American Liberty

We know from repeated instances in the Book of Mormon that the Americas are declared by God to be a "land of promise."

We know from Nephi’s vision (1 Nephi 13) some 2000 plus years before the Declaration of Independence, that America in our time was specifically discovered and established by God-- we learn that the spirit of God wrought upon Columbus and other gentiles; “and they went forth out of captivity.” (1 Nephi 13:13)

16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity [American colonists] did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.

17 And I beheld that their mother Gentiles [England] were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them [the War of Independence].

18 And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.

19 And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.

We see these concepts came to be echoed later in America's founding documents-- such as the proclamation that God, not government, is the source of our "inalienable rights."

Lehi prophesies the New World to be a land of liberty (2 Nephi 1:6-11) – Keeping in mind Nephi's encouragement to "liken the scriptures unto us," does this not apply equally to the current inhabitants (us) as it did to the descendants of Lehi?

6 Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.

7 Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.

8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.

9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves.And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.

10 But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them.

11 Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten." (emphasis mine)

Secular Humanism and Political Freedom

In chapter 30 of the book of Alma, we are introduced to an Anti-Christ named Korihor. The interesting thing to me about the encounter with Korihor is the parallels between his rhetoric and the arguments made by secular humanists. At this time, the coming of Christ had been prophesied but had not taken place.

-In Alma 30: 13 & 15, Korihor argues for Impiricism, stating that prophets could not know of anything which is to come, and that one cannot know of things they cannot see.

-In verse 14, he dismisses belief in the coming Messiah as "foolish traditions of your fathers."

-In verse 16, he characterizes religion as a crutch for the mentally weak ("it is the effect of a frenzied mind")

-In verse 17, Korihor argues for a "might makes right" system (essentially social Darwinism) which leads neatly into situational ethics: "whatsoever a man did was no crime"

-In verse 18, he promotes hedonism, rationalizing that immoral acts had no consequence, as he claimed there is nothing after death.

-Further, in verse 23, he claims that religion is a mechanism to keep the people in ignorance and usurp power and authority over them. He follows this in verse 24 with the claim that religion is a form of bondage, that keeps people from free thought.

The people rejected his rhetoric and turned him over to the law. When presented to Alma, the Chief Judge of the time, he attempted to argue that this integration of church and state was a form of oppression on the people. Alma rebutted to Korihor with the reminder that both the judges and the priests earned their own livings, independently of their church or civil service. Korihor's rhetoric would be echoed later by others who conspired to overthrow the government. Again, the interesting thing to me about this encounter is how closely the rhetoric of Korihor the Anti-Christ matches the rhetoric of today's rabidly vocal minority, the secular humanist left.

Secret Combinations Then and Now

Political, religious, and economic conspiracies are referred to in the Book of Mormon as "secret combinations," and is the forth most frequent topic in the text; behind only the topics of Christ, missionary work, and warfare. This should be an indicator of the importance of being aware of them and keeping them out of our society.

We learn in Mormon chapter 8 that the Book of Mormon would come in a time “when there shall be great [spiritual] pollutions upon the face of the earth; there shall be murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceivings, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations; when there shall be many who will say, Do this, or do that, and it mattereth not, for the Lord will uphold such at the last day. . . Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.” (Mormon 8:31,32)

Moroni has our time shown unto him and “knows [our] doing;” he condemns those who “build up . . . secret abominations to get gain” warns that “the sword of vengeance hangs over you.” (Mormon 8:35, 40, 41)

Moroni, speaking directly to our time, warns us again in Ether 8:

...[W]hatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not.

Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.

Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.

For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people. (Ether 8: 22-25)

The Remedy for Political Malady

Thus far we have established, according to the lessons of the Books of Mormon, that political freedom is tied to the spiritual integrity of the peoples of a nation and their leaders. We have seen some qualities of good political leadership. We have explored the divine preparation for the establishment of American independence and the spiritual conditions required for the preservation of liberty. We have seen the introduction of secular humanist thought which produces dissent from righteous leadership and threatens liberty. We have seen the dangerous influence of political, economic, and religious conspiracy and the direct warnings to watch out for and avoid them in our time; at the risk of our own destruction.

Seeing the parallels to all of these issues in our own time, one then might ask what can be done to offset these dangerous influences? The Chief Judge Alma faced this same dilemma in Alma 31, when faced with the imminent dissent of the people calling themselves Zoramites. Alma feared they would join with the Lamanite nation and incite them to war against the Nephite nation again.

His resolution? Missionary work: "And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God."

Is it really that simple? Unjust political conflict resolved by a little preaching? Obviously, it can't always work. There are cases where evil men simply refuse to conform to the principles of peace and liberty because those principles prevent them from obtaining the power they seek. We see repeated instances later in the book of Alma where Captain Moroni would force captured enemy combatants to choose between taking an oath to preserve peace and liberty, or death (This solution is obviously only workable under righteous leadership).

While we may not be able to offset all evil by "the preaching of the word," it should be apparent that any hope of maintaining our political liberties is fruitless unless we can maintain a standard of spiritual integrity throughout the people in general. Our Founding Fathers recognized the Source of human liberty-- it should follow that a nation will cease to honor that liberty if it ceases to recognize that Source.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gadianton Mercy

By Keryn of "Ponder It"

During our recent reading of 3 Nephi, a particular part of the pride cycle raised some interesting political and spiritual questions for me. In 3 Nephi chapter 4, the Nephite nation has just overcome and destroyed the Gadianton robbers, at great cost. In 3 Nephi 5:1, we learn
And now behold, there was not a living soul among all the people of the Nephites who did doubt in the least the words of all the holy prophets who had spoken; for they knew that it must needs be that they must be fulfilled.
And then in verse three we learn:
Therefore they did forsake all their sins, and their abominations, and their whoredoms, and did serve God with all diligence day and night.
So it would seem that these people are pretty righteous right now. They take all the robbers prisoner, and, as we learn in verse four:
…they did cast their prisoners into prison, and did cause the word of God to be preached unto them; and as many as would repent of their sins and enter into a covenant that they would murder no more were set at liberty.
I have always been amazed by this manner of dealing with criminals, and a little envious. What would be to live in a world where your word is truly your bond, and conversion to the gospel can create a trustworthy person from a former robber?

I still believe that it would be wonderful if this could be so, and I believe that the Nephites did what they thought was best. But…as we continued reading, we learned that this righteousness and peace are short-lived. Just eight years later:
And thus, in the commencement of the thirtieth year—the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should—and thus in the commencement of this, the thirtieth year, they were in a state of awful wickedness. (3 Nephi 6:17)

…but in this same year, yea, the thirtieth year, they did destroy upon the judgment-seat, yea, did murder the chief judge of the land.(3 Nephi 7:1)
Just eight short years later these same righteous Nephites have turned completely back to evilness. And for the first time, I made a possible connection between the quick return to wickedness and the influence of the Gadiantons. Is it possible that some of the robbers released after their conversion returned to their evil ways? Could that be what hastened the downfall of the Nephites at this time? Is it possible that the Nephites were too merciful for their own good? I have no idea if it is even possible to answer these questions, but it has certainly changed the way I think about this part of the story.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Organic Restoration

by Christian Y. Cardall of "The Spinozist Mormon"

It seems that, especially through the lens of authorized hindsight, the Restoration ends up conceptualized as a pristine system of doctrine and authority bestowed in almost prefab perfection through Joseph Smith. The immaculate textual recovery of lost “plain and precious things” suggested in 1 Nephi 13, for instance, seems to foster this paradigm. But I think Jacob 5 may be a more realistic touchstone, both in terms of how the Restoration proceeds and what exactly it is that is being restored. It also has implications for what the stance of a believer should be.

Rather than an instant, ‘just add water,’ fully-formed Restoration, Zenos’ allegory of the olive tree paints the more interesting and messy picture of an unfolding organic process in which the bad is only taken away gradually as the grafting-in of the natural branches begins to take effect. Recall, however, that at the time of the lord of the vineyard’s momentous last visit it is not only the main tree that is encumbered with all manner of evil fruit, but also the natural branches severed from the main tree and distantly planted throughout the vineyard in a prior visit.

The interesting thing to notice about this decayed pre-graft state of the natural branches is that, for those inclined to get agitated about such things, it provides a way to increase patience with certain features endemic to the Restoration that some find even worse than the surrounding worldly culture: folk magic, polygamy, patriarchy, the curse of Cain, and so on. The restored gospel is expected eventually to be the only cure for the fallen world’s ills, but because even these natural branches have gone wild before being grafted back into the trunk, they may at first contribute their own varieties of strange fruit before the good stuff begins to grow—perhaps even to the extent that, like the treatment of acne with Accutane, some things seem to get worse before they get better.

Another nice thing about thinking about the Restoration in terms of Jacob 5 is that it shifts focus away from the pursuit of correct but disembodied doctrine as the primary goal to the real prize, represented by the good and precious fruit—which, taking a cue from Lehi and Nephi’s vision of the tree of life, seems to represent a community of individuals with the love of God in their hearts. (’Having the love of God’ may of course be read in at least two ways—feeling love towards God, and exhibiting a love towards one’s fellows akin to what we imagine to be God’s self-sacrificing parental devotion to his children. It seems most fruitful to focus on the latter as a manifestation of the former, since the self-assured possession of the former with inadequate regard for the latter has led historically to much blood and horror on this earth.)

While a modicum of narrative and at least a skeletal doctrinal framework are necessary to the identity, coherence, and motivation of any group, I suspect the success of such a community depends less on getting the fine points of history, doctrine, and metaphysics right than is often supposed. There are all manner of irrelevant idiosyncrasies on display in (especially ancient) scripture, over whose emulation or explanation we obsess; there are also all manner of cosmic questions on which the scriptures are silent, which we itch to answer with our vain speculations. Perhaps such conceptual minutiae are too often mistaken for the substance of the Restoration, deflecting focus from what is really being restored: the ideal of a prophetically-led covenant community of loving individuals. The possibly varying specifics of implementation of such from age to age may simply not be worthy of sustained attention.

While ‘the facts’ may not matter as much as is sometimes supposed, authority may nevertheless matter a great deal, since the community is established and maintained through covenants that rely on authority for their administration. And this is at least partly why I can be sensitive about activist attitudes in the Church: I read our scripture and history as making a central claim that a top-down prophetic structure is essential to the establishment of a worldwide Zion. It is advertised, after all, as a kingdom of God, with the Savior as king and the Saints as subjects. The believing posture towards Mormon prophetic authority that would make sense to me is how Jim F. approaches the canon: asking questions of it not by way of confrontation or challenge, but as an occasion for its authority to speak to him, if it wishes.

To borrow a phrase from liberal Mormon hero Hugh B. Brown, it is God who is the gardener here. One can, I suspect, be a deep thinker with liberal thoughts and suspicions without feeling a need to force and fit and reconcile and be a public and active agent for change. There can be an awareness of one’s place in the top-down structure. To temporarily switch from a familiar horticultural allegory to an equally familiar agricultural parable, there can be a recognition that even if one is right and the authorities are temporarily wrong about something, pulling up the tares vigilante-style can harm a community more than it helps.

Nevertheless, there may be times when the powers that be have the facts so wrong, and the fruits are so bitter, that something must be done. In such circumstances some may be tempted to equate the pruning and digging and dunging spoken of in Jacob 5 with bottom-up grassroots reform. But that these activities are undertaken by the lord of the vineyard and those under his explicit instruction suggests instead that such husbandry is more properly identified with the ministering and course corrections performed by the legitimate authorities. No, when things are too far gone in a top-down organization, the answer suggested by Zenos’ allegory is not reform, but a new restoration, and the casting of the old into the fire. And we also see from the lord of the vineyard’s anguished deliberations that deciding between this, and sparing it a little longer, can be agonizing—for it is grievous indeed to lose a tree that represents a lifetime of investment.

Christian requested that the comments be closed. Please direct any responses to his blog.Thanks.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Third Nephi as Type for Second Coming

By Noelie of "Refugees of the War in Heaven"

I have often made my sister Tigersue of Tigersue's Jungle laugh with my prediction of just when the last day will be here. Actually fellow Saints and Believers do not fear. I haven't ever said a day I expect our Lord to return. What I have commented on is all of the predictions that people make with sundry dates for the end of the world that, for some reason, manage to find their way into serious news.

I have usually shrugged my shoulders, make one quick check that the Prophet hasn't said anything and then say, "well I think it is safe to assume that isn't going to be the day."

All facetiousness aside, while we don't know the exact day, I have long felt that we have had the type of His return in our hands since the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the miraculous and beautiful Book of Mormon. How many times have we been told of one of its magnificent purposes is to prepare a people to meet their God and not fully appreciated this aspect of that statement; the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Earth? Yes, there are many ways it can prepare a people, up to a final judgment aspect. But, the one I want to focus on is the Last Days and Christ's Return.

I have also had a strange fascination with Hollywood and their twisting of the more evangelical beliefs of the Second Coming. These are of course based on the very image-laden Book of Revelation by John the Beloved. But the images are difficult and sometimes hard to understand. An example of the difficulty is the day that the husband-wife team of Jehovah's Witnesses and I had a conversation at my work.

The husband had a revolving group of wallpapers for his laptop computer that he would bring to play that usually had some very nice music. The theme for these wallpapers was the Book of Revelation. It included traditional definitions for those scenes that John, with his artist brush of words, paints for us. One was a rather gruesome picture of the woman and the beast tearing her apart. As a supervisor, I felt I had to mention that perhaps this one picture might be disturbing to others having to work around him. It was that gory. He turned to me, the heretic Mormon, and said, " Well you have to understand she is a very bad woman." His tone was very condescending. He was proud for the fact that he and his group (there were five of them) all read their scriptures out in the open. Some BYU students might bring their scripture to work for classes to try and get school work done. Most of us find work a distracting place to try and study our scriptures and just don't in general bring them there.

I was a little shocked at his inability to understand the LDS that he had been working around for a very long time. I could no longer resist and said, "You know she is a very bad woman, but the real problem is that you are so caught up in the imagery you are going to fully miss who that woman
really is." He was a little surprised, because in general we had been very quiet during his rather more preachy moments. He was well aware of our majority position in the community of Provo and Orem.

Like Hollywood and our traditional Protestant or Charismatic co-religionists, sometimes it is difficult for Mormons to understand ancient imagery. We want to understand the graphic words of the prophets such as Isaiah and John to help prepare for the Second Coming. what will we see at that time? What will it be like?

I say we are fully in those days now. I can't say when, or exactly what at each time, but I am certain life will look very much as it always has. If we aren't paying attention, we will miss the signs.See, for instance3 Nephi 7.

13 And so speedy was their march that it could not be impeded until they had gone forth out of the reach of the people. And thus ended the thirtieth year; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi.

14 And it came to pass in the *thirty and first year that they were divided into tribes, every man according to his family, kindred and friends; nevertheless they had come to an agreement that they would not go to war one with another; but they were not united as to their laws, and their manner of government, for they were established according to the minds of those who were their chiefs and their leaders. But they did establish very strict laws that one tribe should not trespass against another, insomuch that in some degree they had peace in the land; nevertheless, their hearts were turned from the Lord their God, and they did stone the prophets and did cast them out from among them.

15 And it came to pass that Nephi—having been visited by angels and also the voice of the Lord, therefore having seen angels, and being eye-witness, and having had power given unto him that he might know concerning the ministry of Christ, and also being eye-witness to their quick return from righteousness unto their wickedness and abominations;

16 Therefore, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds—went forth among them in that same year, and began to testify, boldly, repentance and remission of sins through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

17 And he did minister many things unto them; and all of them cannot be written, and a part of them would not suffice, therefore they are not written in this book. And Nephi did minister with power and with great authority.

18 And it came to pass that they were angry with him, even because he had greater power than they, for it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words, for so great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily.

19 And in the name of Jesus did he cast out devils and unclean spirits; and even his brother did he raise from the dead, after he had been stoned and suffered death by the people.

20 And the people saw it, and did witness of it, and were angry with him because of his power; and he did also do many more miracles, in the sight of the people, in the name of Jesus.

21 And it came to pass that the thirty and first year did pass away, and there were but few who were converted unto the Lord; but as many as were converted did truly signify unto the people that they had been visited by the power and Spirit of God, which was in Jesus Christ, in whom they believed.

22 And as many as had devils cast out from them, and were healed of their sicknesses and their infirmities, did truly manifest unto the people that they had been wrought upon by the Spirit of God, and had been healed; and they did show forth signs also and did do some miracles among the people.

23 Thus passed away the *thirty and second year also. And Nephi did cry unto the people in the commencement of the thirty and third year; and he did preach unto them repentance and remission of sins.

24 Now I would have you to remember also, that there were none who were brought unto repentance who were not baptized with water.

25 Therefore, there were ordained of Nephi, men unto this ministry, that all such as should come unto them should be baptized with water, and this as a witness and a testimony before God, and unto the people, that they had repented and received a remission of their sins.

26 And there were many in the commencement of this year that were baptized unto repentance; and thus the more part of the year did pass away.

If you look at the preceding chapters of Third Nephi, it was only a great deal more of the same. People kept going on about their business. There were some hard things, some difficult things. Some were hard enough on the people that they repented; several times in what was a very short time frame. Still, life went on each day, even for the believers that were counting the days from the "day and a night and a day" experience.

It is so hard not to give into the thinking of the literal mark of 666, when instead John is attempting to tell us of the corruption of the true power of God as a symbol. It has been so easy for our more artistic friends to further corrupt what is ancient verbal imagery into a scene Satan likes a great deal better; the one where he is born to a woman gaining the body he is still railing that he will never have. It is easy at time for us as Saints to forget that often things happen while the rest of the world looks as it always has. Take for instance birth of Christ or the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The world was told (given signs of both by prophets) they would happen. Yet, when they did, the miracles were of such everyday wonder much of the world still has never found it! Imagine, even in hindsight, looking at the deeply spiritual is still lacking for most of the world.

It is for this very purpose that we are to feast on the Scripture's words. Only by study, faith and prayers will we actually be able to discern events that will still look like business as usual for most of us. We have a great gift of the prophetic Book of Mormon and rejoicing should be ours.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Famous Last Words

By Eric N. of "Small and Simple"

I have always liked 2nd Nephi Chapter 2. Mainly this is because it is jammed packed with all kinds of important doctrine. I have long thought it was the greatest chapter in all scripture. I have thought that if I could only have access to one chapter, this would be it. Why do I like it so much? Why does it seem so complete in and of itself? I think it is because of the circumstances under which the spirit was working.

This chapter contains the words of an old and dying father and prophet Lehi, to his faithful and young (but mature) son Jacob. As I consider these circumstances, I can see why something so special came out. What would you tell your faithful child if you knew you were dying, and that this conversation might be the last one you have. This powerful backdrop forms the setting for just such a conversation, which became one of the best chapters in all of scripture. I would like to try to put myself 'in character' of such a father as I provide some comments on this chapter. I invite the reader to do the same thing. Please feel free to share some of your thoughts as you go through the same exercise.

1 And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.

2 Nevertheless, Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.

3 Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi; and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men.

4 And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore, thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh; for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free.

These first verses are the most personal of the chapter. Lehi acknowledges that Jacob has had a difficult life, partly because of the difficulties of the circumstances of his birth, and partly because of the rudeness of some of his brothers. But immediately Lehi acknowledges that because of the spiritual maturity and knowledge that Jacob has, his very affliction will be a benefit. Lehi praises his young son. He gives what has the feel of a patriachal blessing regarding the redemption of Jacob. How proud Lehi must feel for having such a son, who has beheld the glory of the Lord in his youth! Particularly given the rudeness of some of his other children.

5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.

7 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.

8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

9 Wherefore, he is the first fruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.

10 And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement . . .

These next verses are much more general. Lehi transitions from his prophesies regarding Jacob and his redemption, to teaching him some of the details of the atonement. How important for a father to teach these principles to his children! We gain an understanding about salvation and exaltation from these verses. Lehi goes from saying that salvation is free, to saying that all men will stand in the presence of God to be judged. He goes on to say that the results of this atonement is the inflicting of punishment or happiness, thus answering the ends of the atonement. Lehi appears to want Jacob to know that no flesh can dwell in the presence of God, without the grace of the Holy Messiah. But also that we will be judged on our own merits as well. Lehi goes on -

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

Lehi now provides Jacob with the understanding that there must be opposition in all things. He goes so far as to say that if there were not opposition, that there would be no God. In fact no anything. Good and evil simply exist. Even in spite of God. This is a necessary condition. I believe there is something quite powerful here, beyond what I understand. Beyond what I can express. In a way I feel that if you believe in good and evil, then you must also believe there is a God. And if you do not believe in God, then you must ultimately say there is nothing that is good, nor evil. I believe Lehi and Jacob understood this better than I. And the spirit that inspired this knows better than we all.

14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.

16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. Lehi now appears to turn his attention to other sons in addition to Jacob. He now introduces the agency of man in the midst of good and evil. Man is free to act, and to be enticed by either good or evil.

17 And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.

18 And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.

Lehi here explains Satan as one who chose evil and in so doing became miserable. He then sought to entice others to choose evil, that they may be miserable like himself.

19 And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit they were driven out of the garden of Eden, to till the earth.

20 And they have brought forth children; yea, even the family of all the earth.

21 And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents.

22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

The doctrine of the fall is now expressed to the sons of Lehi. Because of the fall, Adam and Eve, and their posterity, were cut off from the presence of God and were lost due to this transgression. This is why all must rely on the merits, mercy and grace of Christ. But this transgression was necessary for the purposes of God to be accomplished. Mankind must be enticed by good and evil in order to have the opportunity of having joy and doing good. This is why we are.

26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;

29 And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

30 I have spoken these few words unto you all, my sons, in the last days of my probation; and I have chosen the good part, according to the words of the prophet. And I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls. Amen.

Lehi wraps up by expressing that because we are redeemed from the fall we are now free to choose liberty and eternal life or captivity and death.

Lehi has packed an awful lot into a short space. In thirty short verses he has given a solid argument for the existence of God, an explanation of good and evil, the doctrine of salvation and eternal life, the atonement, Satan, the fall, and agency. This might be the most thorough yet efficient sermons in the history of the world. He explained it all to Jacob, and apparently other sons, as some of his last words prior to his death. I am thankful for these words, and the help they give to me in explaining these important things to my sons. I hope they understand them before I die. These are the most important things a father can teach.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Wisdom of Experience

By Tigersue of "Tigersue's Jungle"

I have always believed that it is better to learn from other's mistakes so that I can avoid repeating those errors. I figure I make enough mistakes on my own. If I can stay away from those pit falls that others have lived, maybe I can circumvent some of the sorrow and pain of poor choices and lack of foresight. I cannot say that I am perfect at this goal (that would be an understatement), but I think my life has been easier because of this way of learning.

For years, I have been one of those individuals that would be stuck reading the Book of Alma. Now as a parent, I find the teaching and pleading of Alma and Alma the Younger to touch my soul. I have wondered how much of their experiences influenced not only the mistakes their children made, but how they taught the gospel to those in their ministry.

While he listened to the words of Abinadi, Alma's heart softens, and converts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is only a young man at the time, around 25 years old. He had the integrity to leave and not follow in the wickednessof King Noah even at the threat of his own life. There is no information on his family. Was he married? Did he have children? How did this change affect them? It would seem that to be part of King Noahs priests there must have been some degree of affluence and prosperity. To leave everything, as did Lehi of old must have been very difficult and if he had children, they might have some residual memory of comforts.

Many years later, we meet a son, Alma the Younger. Alma is an old man, according to the dates in the Book of Mormon, he is somewhere between 70-82 years old. Alma the Younger's description in Mosiah 27:8

[Alma] became a very wicked and idolatrous man. He was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.

He had the ability to influence the population to the point of drawing many from the church of God and lead many away from the commandments and the laws of the kingdom. He was rebelling against God. Taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ, heknew what was right and wrong and was willfully defying Gods commands.

His Father in sorrow prayed for his son to be brought back to the fold of God. I imagine the tears, the heartache that all his teaching, all his warnings, and perhaps even his testimony of mistakes he may have made as a priest of King Noah weighed heavily on Almas mind. Surely, he would have taught his son these things, and let him know the difference in the heart. Alma the Younger choosesnot to listen to the experiences of his father, but rather had to learn for himself.

Many years later, this cycle is repeated as Alma the Younger, writes his letters to his sons. One in particular has grieved his heart, and I once again wonder at the age of the children involved. Is it possible that at the time of Alma the Younger's rebellion that he could have been married, and had children. Could these children remember the actions of a rebellious father? As I read his letters,I see a man pleading with them to remember what he learned, the hard way, that they will not make the same errors and suffer the torment he suffered. All through Alma, Chapters 36-42, we read statements that declare personal understanding of doctrine.

Alma 36: 20 ...Soul was filled with joy as exceedingly as was my pain!...

Alma 37: 35 ...Learn wisdom in thy Youth...

Alma 38: 9....I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me....

Alma 39:8
...Ye cannot hide your crimes from God...

Alma 39:19 ....Is it not as easy at this time for the Lord to send his Angel....?

Alma 41: 10 ...Wickedness never was happiness....

Alma 42:1 And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them. And may God grant unto you even according to my words. Amen.

There are many other statements throughout these wonderful letters to Alma the Younger's sons that testify of his experiences and the wisdom he gained from them. As a parent,I want my children to learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others. I want them to be able to grasp the iron rod and have faith in God. I want them to be able to learn that it is possible to repent of mistakes and sins. Yes,I want them to have an easy life. What parent does not? But, they must learn to accept the consequences of their choices and actions so they can also teach their children to learn from their mistakes. I have learned to love Alma and Alma the Younger as I imagine what their life had been like. I have thought about what they learned as they accepted the will of God in directing their path. I hope that I can garner such strength and faith. I hope that as you read the book of Alma that you might see this teaching of his sons can also apply to us today.