Saturday, April 22, 2006

A New Gathering

Watching such series as "Cops," "Dog the Bounty Hunter" and "Homicide: 48 Hours" on television has been an eye opener. These shows follow law enforcement around as they work to catch criminals. Some of the worst of humanity can be seen lying, cheating, stealing, fighting, and generally doing evil things. In many cases, these are daily news stories placed up close. It reminds me of the Second letter of Paul to Timothy explaining the condition of the world:

1 THIS know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,

7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.

9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.

I know there are good people everywhere, but it has become hard to point them out in today's filth. We may all be born innocent, but our spirits seem over influenced by the material bodies and satanic suggestions. Many people are crying out for a better society built around the ideas of integrety, honesty, morality, and most importantly faith in God.

One of the constant themes during the foundation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the building up of Zion. This was more than simply learning to live a good Christian life. It was the concept of gathering together as a people and building up a community of believers. It was believed that the Saints could help usher in the Second Coming of Christ by forming a group worthy of God's favor. Due to negative circumstances both inside and outside the faith the dream was never realized. A new era started, as explained by Bruce R. McConkie in his .Peru Talk several years ago:

We are in the midst of a period of change and realignment where one of the basic doctrines of the Restoration is concerned.

We were directed in the day of Joseph Smith to do one thing with reference to the gathering of Israel and the building up of Zion. Today we are counseled to turn away from the past and do something entirely different. . .

. . . We are living in a new day. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is fast becoming a worldwide church. Congregations of Saints are now, or soon will be, strong enough to support and sustain their members no matter where they reside. Temples are being built wherever the need justifies. We can foresee many temples in South America in process of time.

Stakes of Zion are also being organized at the ends of the earth. In this connection, let us ponder these truths: A stake of Zion is a part of Zion. You cannot create a stake of Zion without creating a part of Zion. Zion is the pure in heart; we gain purity of heart by baptism and by obedience. A stake has geographical boundaries. To create a stake is like founding a City of Holiness. Every stake on earth is the gathering place for the lost sheep of Israel who live in its area.

The gathering place for Peruvians is in the stakes of Zion in Peru, or in the places which soon will become stakes. The gathering place for Chileans is in Chile; for Bolivians it is in Bolivia; for Koreans it is in Korea; and so it goes through all the length and breadth of the earth. Scattered Israel in every nation is called to gather to the fold of Christ, to the stakes of Zion, as such are established in their nations.

Isaiah prophesied that the Lord “shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root; Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.” The Lord’s promise is: “Ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.” (Isa. 27:6, 12.)

That is to say—Israel shall be gathered one by one, family by family, unto the stakes of Zion established in all parts of the earth so that the whole earth shall be blessed with the fruits of the gospel.

This then is the counsel of the Brethren: Build up Zion, but build it up in the area where God has given you birth and nationality. Build it up where he has given you citizenship, family, and friends. Zion is here in South America and the Saints who comprise this part of Zion are and should be a leavening influence for good in all these nations.

And know this: God will bless that nation which so orders its affairs as to further his work.

His work includes the building up of Zion in the last days. He has commissioned us to do that work for him. The foundations of Zion have already been laid in North America, in South America, in Europe, in Asia, in the South Pacific and in every place where there are stakes of Zion. But Zion is not yet perfected in any of these places. When she is perfected, it will be as it was with Zion of old—the Lord will come and dwell with his people.

The condition of the World today makes me wonder it is time to renew the idea of gathering the Saints closer together. I don't mean the almost unconscious gathering to Idaho and Utah. Rather, a commitment to gather with a goal in mind to create a particular community. I don't think it would be improbable to form gated communities with specific ideals. The days of deadly persecution, in the United States at least, are in the past. It even seems possible for LDS members to go back to Independance Missouri if they desired and bought up land. Money and the Law are more important today that they ever were in the early years.

Such a plan won't be easy, and not all problems will suddenly no longer exist. But, polygamous "Mormons" seem to be proving a new religious gathering in the middle of a pluralistic democracy can be possible in small groups. The closest modern example of a "mainstream Mormonism" built community is Provo, UT and Rexburg, ID. Both are centers of LDS learning. Like Joseph Smith's vision of the center of Zion as a large Temple University complex, these two places act as gathering areas for the Church's young and growing. It might be possible to study them and decide how to improve on the "accidental providence" of their existance as LDS communities.

Questions naturally arise. Where would such a community be built? What would be the laws and standards? What legal ramifications still exist? How ready are the Saints for such an experiment? Does it go against modern revelation as to our current mission to the world? Is it desireable?

Answers to these questions are vital to achieving any new gathering. Perhaps the online world of blogging is the closest Mormons can come these days to a seperate community of believers. Of course, the main reason for gathering in the days of Joseph Smith was to build Temples for the people. These days Temples can come to the people. Zion still remains a dream that all Saints desire to see become reality. Perhaps the most important starting point is in our hearts and homes.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Jesus was No Wimp

Many people picture Jesus Christ as sitting with lambs and doting over children. His message is filled with ideas about love and acceptance of strangers. These are not bad ideas and do represent the core of his teachings. Yet, there is part of Jesus that is often overlooked in today's "free love" and "politically correct" society. He was a tough guy who wasn't afraid to speak his mind or face danger.

Not much is known about his first thirty years. What is known is that he lived a hard life filled with much hard labor. The modern English says he was a carpenter. This means he would have worked with heavy materials without the help of mechanical tools. Some question the original Greek word used for the word "carpenter" and believe he was more like a general laborer. That still doesn't take away from the fact he would have lived a hard life. Physically he wouldn't be the thin waif often pictured in artwork through the centuries.

He could also be fearless and brash. Walking on water is used to express the idea of doing the impossible. Yet, an even greater miracle is the calming of the stormy sea during a fishing trip. The manly apostles worried that the ship was going to be swallowed up by the waves. Jesus, on the other hand, stood up to nature's rage. The waters and winds became calm and they were able to safely return to land.

Love might be his principle characteristic, but he could be mean when he felt justified. His mission was almost exclusively to the Jews, and he made that clear. One time he basically called the Gentiles "dogs" who were not worthy of his attention. A woman acknowledged the humble position of her Greek heritage in the scheme of Covenant history and begged mercy. Jesus took pity on the woman and healed one of her relatives from a distance. The lesson was to be tough, but be prepared to show compassion to those who are not offended by what you see as your mission in life. On the other hand, he showed no compassion for a small fig tree that didn't bear fruit. It was shrivled to nothing. Some, who see Jesus as simply a harmless kitten, believe this is uncharacteristic of Jesus and probably didn't happen. Yet, the lesson was clear. Israel of that generation as the fig tree was ready to be destroyed. Not a very nice and loving idea.

Among the strongest pictures of Jesus was his last days on Earth as a mortal. This was best portrayed in the movie "Passion of the Christ," even if it went beyond what it probably was like. Still, with even half of that as true it would have been nearly unbearable. He was tortured, mocked, and eventually nailed to a cross and hardly spoke. The two times he came off as "wimpy" was asking his Father for a different way and crying to his Father that he was abandoned. Yet, he let go of his doubts and finished the greatest sacrifice of time and eternity.

The sacrifice of the Atonment allowed Jesus the Christ to overcame Death and Hell; no tasks for the faint of heart. John's vision of the Heavely Jesus was hardly the feminine flower of a smiling man (Revelation 19:11-16):

11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.

13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

16 And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

It might be hard to know what to do with such a picture in our day when peace, love, and acceptance are the only aspects of Jesus most people consider. What can be learned is that strength, courage, and boldness are as important as compassion and charity. At times they go hand in hand when faced with the cruelty and evil of the World around us. Lets remember the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a moment of strength and courage and not fear or weakness. Too often we act like our faith is more like a shrinking violet than a tall redwood.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Faith is the Word We Live

I was reading A Photographic Object Lesson on Desire and felt like talking about the strength of religious faith. This is especially important in a world where faith is either hard to come by or dangerous. Yet, for a Latter-day Saint (like any believer in God) faith is what holds us together. Lose your faith and you are not really a Latter-day Saint, even if you say you are Mormon by culture. Religion is not a culture. When it becomes a culture without religious conviction than it becomes worthless.

And that, I am afraid, is where too many Mormons get caught up in modern Western Society. Too many scientists, philosophers, professors, and millionairs think too highly of themsleves. What they can see and demostrate becomes what they live. They find joy in what cannot last. This is not new, and Jesus explained the situation:

5 A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.

6 And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.

7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.

8 And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

9 And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?

10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

12 Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.

13 They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.

14 And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.

15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

16 ¶ No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light.

17 For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.

18 Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.
-- Luke 8: 5-18

Religion is a faith and not a science. Ultimately, however, it is because faith is the only way we can learn to live eternity on our own. God could teach us all about everything. what that doesn't do is allow us to decide for ourselves and make personal decisions with our own observations. Left alone we become our true selves. I do not pretend to understand the specifics, but it seems clear from the Scriptures that faith is what makes things work in the hereafter, with knowledge only the groundwork. Knowledge is the engine, but Faith is the gas that makes it run.

The opposite of faith is fear and doubt. If we have faith we shall not fear, because we have something that is untouchable by pundits and unbelievers. This isn't to say faith is not hard won and hard kept. What it is saying is that we cannot give up on what we believe because someone else tells us we are wrong. Let them think that. They can only kill the body. Only we can let them kill the soul.

We live too much in a time, at least for Latter-day Saints, when our trials are more of our own making. Satan has no more power than we give him and we have given him too much. It is time to reject the mocking of those who think faith is simply a desease of the mind or self-dilusion. According to Moroni, such attitudes are self-delusional themselves:

19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.

20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.

21 Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth.

Deciding if something is real or not is what FAITH is all about. Reject what you feel is right because you could be wrong is the first step toward rejecting God. And that, I believe, is the attitude that closes someone off to Revelation and Miracles. Those who deny the prophets, question the scriptures, and close themselves off to a living God do not know the power of the Holy Ghost. God will let them have their materialistic desires. True Latter-day Saints live by Faith, Hope, and Charity as believers. Knowledge is mostly reserved for the day we die.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

God as the Unified Theory

For many years I have been interested in the topic of Mormonism and science, particularly in relation to scriptures and physics. One of my favorite books Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology by by Erich Robert Paul was my first serious introduction to the problems and challenges of science and Mormon theology. There are plenty of scientific theories that don't match LDS teachings. What is surprising for me are the many times scientific theory has seemed to reflect LDS teachings. Along the way I have even discovered that LDS theology seems to answer some scientific questions; even if unprovable in peer review journals. One of the most ambitious answers seems to be about the mysterious Unified Theory. Scriptures indicated that the Power of God holds everything together and keeps the universe functioning.

For those who might not know, it will be good to explain the problem. Physics tries to explain the behavior of matter and energy contained in fields, such as gravity and electricity. As explained at whatis:

The theory of relativity explains the nature and behavior of all phenomena on the macroscopic level (things that are visible to the naked eye); quantum theory explains the nature and behavior of all phenomena on the microscopic (atomic and subatomic) level. Perplexingly, however, the two theories are incompatible. Unconvinced that nature would prescribe totally different modes of behavior for phenomena that were simply scaled differently, Einstein sought a theory that would reconcile the two apparently irreconcilable theories that form the basis of modern physics.

Einstein failed, and so has everyone else. There have been some pretty good guess work, but no solid leads. Discovering a realistic theory could change how we view the world forever.

I am not about to scientifically explain a Unified Theory of my own. To be honest, I don't completely understand the science behind the quest. Science is of general interest, and math has never been kind to me. What I intend to do is show that there is a theological answer in Mormonism to the great debate.

In Doctrine and Covenants 88:42-47 we learn that there are several Kingdoms, and each one has a law given:

42 And again, verily I say unto you, he hath given a lawunto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons;

43 And their courses are fixed, even the courses of the heavens and the earth, which comprehend the earth and all the planets.

44 And they give light to each other in their times and in their seasons, in their minutes, in their hours, in their days, in their weeks, in their months, in their years—all these are one year with God, but not with man.

45 The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God.

46 Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?

47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power

Scientific theory seems to agree with the scripture. Most things can be explained using some theoretical or mathematical ground work that is specific to the problem explored. In fact, science is built around the idea of repeatable results. Any deviance from the tested assumptions usually indicates a science mistake or new discovery. And, as stated in physics, there are at least two (maybe three) Kingdoms of study. The quoted scripture deals mostly with Einstinian time-space macro-universals.

Despite the focus on the macro kingdoms, there is mention of at least one important quantum phenomena. Light is seen as a unifying force penetrating and controlling the elements. Thus, it would seem scripturally that light, important as it is to both Einstinian and quantum theory, holds the key to understanding universal law. Scripturally The power of light doesn't come from the light itself, but from God:

49 The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him.

50 Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound.

51 Behold, I will liken these kingdoms unto a man having a field, and he sent forth his servants into the field to dig in the field . . .

56 And the lord of the field went unto the first in the first hour, and tarried with him all that hour, and he was made glad with the light of the countenance of his lord.

57 And then he withdrew from the first that he might visit the second also, and the third, and the fourth, and so on unto the twelfth.

58 And thus they all received the light of the countenance of their lord, every man in his hour, and in his time, and in his season—

59 Beginning at the first, and so on unto the last, and from the last unto the first, and from the first unto the last;

60 Every man in his own aorder, until his hour was finished, even according as his lord had commanded him, that his lord might be glorified in him, and he in his lord, that they all might be glorified.

In the scriptures just quoted, God controls and even changes elements using light. That most illusive of particles (or waves) controls time, space, and even the elements. And, light is much more than illumination; it is knowledge. To understand God is to have light and therefore Glory.

That is not all that LDS Scripture answers about the unified theory. Another question is what holds things together without a complete desintegration. Some scientists say that eventually the universe will virtually lose all energy and vanish. Every time they think a discovery is made to prove this idea (such as the "expanding universe" theory), another discovery (like the "rubber band effect" theory) makes things difficult. Lehi attributes the continual existance of the universe to the Atonement:

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 . . .

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.

Theologically, using LDS Scriptures, the "Unified Theory" is the Power of God. That power is associated with light as a governing field for both the material and spiritual world. The Atonement of Christ keeps the universe from a complete collapse, and allows things to paradoxically expand or progress. With God, everything becomes possible.