Sunday, April 22, 2018

America's Award For Youth-Look Into It©

If you have highly motivated children or grandchildren they may be interested in "The Congressional Award" styled as "America's Award For Youth."  It has some similarities to the personal progress programs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and may be of special interest to young Mormons.  The promotional literature about the program says:
"The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ award for young Americans. ...  Participants earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Certificates and Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Medals. Each level involves setting goals in four program areas: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. Earning The Congressional Award is a fun and interesting way to get more involved in something you already enjoy or something you’d like to try for the first time. You move at your own pace – on your own or with your friends. This is not an award for past accomplishments. Instead, you are honored for achieving your own challenging goals after registering for the program.
Regardless of your situation, you can earn The Congressional Award. The Congressional Award has no minimum grade point average requirements. It accommodates young people with special needs or disabilities who are willing to take the challenge."
I urge parents and young people to check this out, here:
http://congressionalaward.org/program/
Lets think together again, soon.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Is Johnny Less Teachable Now?©

Back in the 1950s a furor was stirred up by a book entitled Why Johnny Can’t Read. It was a symptom of a ton of criticism at the time about American education.  In 1957 the Russians put Sputnik into orbit ahead of the U.S. That added to the controversy. America’s education is multivalent–the primary, middle, and high schools have fallen under heavy criticism, while America’s post-graduate institutions are largely the envy of the world, and we go a long way in educating some of the world’s best and brightest in them.

In all of the controversy which is still underway–there is a second edition titled,Why Johnny Still Can’t Read--it might be worthwhile for modern young parents to consider some wisdom from one of America’s sages, Wallace Stegner. From here on, I turn the microphone over to him. What follows is an excerpt from an essay entitled “Excellence and the Pleasure Principle.” I recommend reading the entire essay.  As always I welcome your comments.

****
It is commonly charged against teachers that Johnny can’t read–or write, or add without his fingers or a calculator, or find his way in the library door, or use a dictionary. A frequent suggestion is that teacher must work harder to motivate Johnny, the assumption being that if teacher doesn’t make the class as entertaining as an X-rated movie, teacher is muffing the job. 
From what I have seen of students and teachers, I think it is quite as likely that Johnny is muffing the job; and that he is muffing it not because he is more stupid than he used to be but because he is less teachable; and that he is less teachable because something in his family, or his society, or himself, has broken down. The authority, parental or otherwise, that once made Johnny respect the hard process of stocking and exercising his mind, has been softened up and worn away, in considerable part by Johnny himself. Now Johnny makes up his own mind, or thinks he does, about what is important to him. Actually, what makes up his mind is the movies, television, and advertising, all the incessant repetitions of the mass media and the easy assumptions of popular culture. They tell him that book learning is a pain and a bore. He likes better to look at pictures than to work out the difficult symbolic system of print, and he looks at the easiest pictures. Years ago, when I worked for a while for Look magazine, it used to be a staff joke that Look was made for those too dumb to understand the pictures in Life. Look helped make things easy for Johnny, as some early Johnnies had helped make Look
Johnny’s due and destiny, as the popular culture reads them to him, are satisfaction of desires, acquisition of things, gratification, stereos, dune buggies, ORV’s, trail bikes, laughing beautiful companions, rock, intimate whispers, fun: either that or envy of those who have these things.  Johnny is a citizen of the world village that Marshall McLuhan wrote of. His world is oral, not printed; pictorial or musical, not verbal; immediate, not grounded in history; impromptu, not planned; experienced, not examined; free, not disciplined. To those who shoot down on the schools from protected places, I would suggest a possibility: that Johnny has been spoiled rotten by something entirely outside the formal educational process and beyond formal educational cure.
...
So far as I can see, a teacher has no professional obligation to turn his students on.  His obligation is to know his subject and teach it. If students want to be entertained, let them go to the beach or the movies. I know: They do, they do! The teacher’s obligation is excellence and the pleasures of accomplishment, not entertainment in the usual sense, and students themselves are the first to acknowledge this fact in areas where they don’t need motivation. Of a basketball coach they don’t demand entertainment–in fact, they will put up with almost unlimited harshness and rigor. His job is to teach skills, and in this case the skills are skills the student wants to learn. How to dribble and shoot and pass, how to set a pick, how to go one on one, how to play zone or man-to-man, how to press and how to break the press–that is what it’s about, and a coach may work his team’s tongues out without drawing complaints. Players respect strictness, because the excellence demanded of them is an excellence coveted from away back. For this sort of excellence, moreover, there are rewards both immediate and delayed.... What a joy it is to a teacher–or would be–to come upon a student who is motivated in that way toward the calculus or the use of language! A certain portion of any class is so motivated–and makes teaching the profound satisfaction it sometimes is.(1)

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  Wallace Stegner, One Way to Spell Men, New York: Doubleday, 1982, pp. 56-60.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Dolly Parton and Reading Books©

This morning my wife was reading news blurbs on her phone and she said, “Here’s something surprising that you will appreciate, but maybe find hard to believe.” She went on, “Dolly Parton reads 52 books a year!” It did surprise me, but it wasn’t hard to believe. She is a remarkable lady in many ways. My wife continued reading; the article said  that Dolly has given over 100 million books to pre-kindergarten children! Now that was hard to believe. So I Googled, “Dolly Parton Imagination Library.”

When Dolly was a girl her father could not read nor write. The only book in their home was a Bible. Her mother read the Bible to her and told her Bible stories. She said her imagination was stimulated and she began to dream and she knew her dreams would come true.

As an adult she wanted that for other children and by now she had resources to fulfill another dream. She understood that books stimulate the imagination of children, so in 1995 she started a program in her county–that’s county not country–of giving pre-school children a book a month. In 25 years that program has grown to giving books away to children in four countries. She has given away almost 101 million books to pre-school children! The hundredth million book was donated to the Library of Congress. I don’t know much about how the program works, but apparently communities sign up and children can receive a book a month until they enter kindergarten.

How about that for creative, visionary, down-to-earth genuine humanitarian philanthropy?!!!

As some people in Utah might say, “Good on ya, Dolly!”

Oh! and by the way, here is the URL for the site:
https://imaginationlibrary.com/

Let’s think together again, soon.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

What I am Reading: A Volume of Essays on the Mysterious Council of Fifty in Early Mormon History©

I recently finished reading a small volume of essays about what is called in Mormon history, “The Council of Fifty,” or “The Kingdom of God.” It is entitled The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History, edited by Matthew Grow and Eric Smith. It was published jointly by the Religious Studies Center at BYU, and Deseret Book Company in Salt Lake City in 2017. It was occasioned by the publication of heretofore unpublished and largely unseen, three volumes of minutes of The Council of Fifty, as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Those working on the project “learned that notwithstanding the mystique of the Council of Fifty had gained among the historical community and the importance of the council to early Latter-day Saint, the organization itself is little known among modern Latter-day Saints.” Moreover, they felt that although the minutes were readable and gave fairly complete records of the Council’s discussions, “we knew that most individuals interested in Mormon history and theology would simply not have the time or inclination to wade through the nearly eight hundred pages” in the published version.1 Thus, this introductory volume. The essays were also intended to engage scholars about the importance of these minutes in evaluating and understanding a wide variety of issues which the Council dealt with in the critical period of 1844-1846, and beyond.

The Council of Fifty was an organization set up by Joseph Smith on 11 March 1844, composed of fifty men, three of which were not members of the Church. Joseph Smith conceived of two types of power and authority–priesthood which dealt with religious and ecclesiastical matters and civil authority which dealt with civil government. He taught that the true form of civil government was a “Theodemocracy.” That is, a civil government ruled by God through The Council of Fifty. It was to be separate from the priesthood government of the Church. Nevertheless, this combination ran against the political grain in America as it was perceived as a uniting of church and state. Though the council initially started out intending to write a new constitution  to correct it’s perceived weaknesses to protect the religious rights of minorities such as the Church suffered in Missouri and Illinois, the debates and subsequent history show that the Church-State relationship was never formally or finally worked out in Mormon thought. Eventually the Council was used by Brigham Young as a more practical organization to council, plan, and prepare for the exodus from Nauvoo and to set up a civil government once they arrived in Utah. Prior to the publication of the minutes, the purposes and activities of the Council were the subject of much speculation and controversy, but with that publication, as one contributor wrote: “some students of the Mormon past might be disappointed in the ... minutes because they do not contain salacious evidence that might bring Mormonism to its knees...” (p. 182.) 

The book has an Introduction and fifteen essays of varying length and quality. Ten of the authors either had specific assignments on the Joseph Smith Paper’s Project or work for the Church Historical Department. Virtually all of them contributed to the project. Four of the five remaining authors are professors of history at various universities and one is the co-managing editor of Utah Historical Quarterly. Historians one and all. Each author was asked to consider this question: “How do the Council of fifty minutes change our understanding of Mormon history?” It is not surprising therefore, that there is some overlap and repetition in the essays, though to the credit of the authors, it is minimal and each brought to the question unique and creative approaches though many dealt with similar issues and observations. These essays vary in scope; some paint with a broad brush, others take a micro view and concentrate on detail.

Several contributors deal with broad historical perspectives. Richard Bushman begins the collection with his “The Separatist Impulse in the Nauvoo Council of Fifty.” He refers to a strong Mormon reaction against the American government following its anemic response to the Missouri persecutions. However, as more than one author noted, the desire to separate from American hegemony was not unique to the Latter-day Saints. Richard Turley chronicles many of the injustices to which the Mormons were reacting. In a similar context, Benjamin Park looks at “The Council of Fifty and the Perils of Democratic Governance.” Nathan Oman discusses the interesting phenomenon of the council trying to write a new constitution and basically failing. Joseph taught them that they did not need a written constitution, but should govern by ongoing revelation. The last two essays are thoughtful examinations of “The Council of Fifty in Western History,” by Jedediah S. Rogers and “The Council of Fifty and the Search for Religious Liberty,” by W. Paul Reeve. Several of these essays place Mormon political thinking within the wider context of American political thought, showing nineteenth-century Mormons to be motivated by some contemporary modes of thinking while at the same time illuminating some unique aspects of Mormon political, social, and religious thought.

Collectively these essays highlight and partially illuminate the most prominent themes to be found in the Council of Fifty minutes. They include, especially during Joseph Smith’s chairmanship, discussions of Mormon thought about civil government, the relationship of church and state, and protection of religious liberty of minorities. Indeed, as several papers show, Mormon perception of the weakness of  the United States government and its leaders in dealing with injustices against the Mormons was a major catalyst behind the formation of The Council of Fifty. This became critical when Illinois revoked the charter of Nauvoo which heretofore gave the Mormons an unusual degree of civil autonomy. The minutes also show that the murders of Joseph and Hyrum brought very strong reactions against what was viewed as America’s ineffective political system. Mormon perceptions of Constitutional and organizational weakness prompted them to try to remedy the deficiencies of the Constitution with one of their own. These discussions were tinctured with important statements, especially by the Prophet Joseph, about the importance of religious liberty for all. But after Joseph’s death  philosophical and political questions gave way to Brigham Young’s more practical use of the Council. A related theme which is prominent in the minutes is the Mormon desire to proselyte the American Indians, hoping for a mass conversion and use of Indian converts to defend the kingdom of God.  

The Council of Fifty minutes also prove useful in facilitating a more complete and better analysis of a number of issues the Council was involved with such as, Joseph Smith’s presidential bid, Brigham Young’s role as chairman of the council after Joseph’s death, the differences between Joseph and Brigham’s leadership of the Council, completing the Nauvoo House and the Temple,  Lyman Wight’s attempt to set up the kingdom in Texas, and even the interesting matter of insights about record keeping derived from the minutes.  

As mentioned above the quality of the papers varies. A couple of the shorter ones seem to end abruptly with only cursory conclusions and insights or without either. The level and sophistication of historical thought and analysis differs, though all the essays are helpful, or at least evocative to the thoughtful reader. The quality of historical writing per se also varies, but is generally high.2 I can heartily recommend this volume and I believe it may be the stimulus for a number of more detailed and exhaustive studies.

Let's think together gain, soon.

Notes:

1.  All quotations in this paragraph are found on page xii of the “Introduction.”

2.  I have one slight bone of contention which applies to many newer contributors to Mormon history beginning about the time of the Joseph Smith Papers project. It is what I might call “the had fault,” and the “past-tense passive fault.” In the late 1960s, I was fortunate to take a historical writing class in graduate school under the direction of Dr. Milton Backman at BYU. I vividly remember and still possess a paper which I wrote for him on which he underlined several places where I use the past-tense passive voice. He dinged me and said that the past tense active voice was much preferred in historical writing because the passive voice produces exactly that in the reader–a passive involvement and even interest. The active voice he argued, engages the reader and is more interesting as it more readily moves the narrative forwad and is less wordy. Below are some examples from the essays in this volume, with my suggested improvement, presumptuous as it may be of me to do so.

Richard Turley, Jr.: (p. 5, line 3) “...months earlier, the Smith family had buried the remains of Alvin Smith.”  Suggested change: “...months earlier, the Smith family buried the remains of Alvin Smith.”

(p. 5, line 15) “Alvin’s remains had been removed and ‘dissected.’  Such rumors had been ....”
Suggested change: “Alvin’s remains were removed and ‘dissected.”  Such rumors were....”

(p. 7, line 12) “Father Smith to confirm that Alvin’s body had not been stolen.”
Suggest change: “Father Smith to confirm that Alvin’s body was not stolen.”
(P.S. I left a “could have” alone in the first line.

(p. 9, lines 24-25)   “The next day, the Mormons who had testified against McCarty were arrested...”
Suggest change: “The next day, the Mormon who testified against McCarty were arrested.”

(p. 3re and 2nd lines from the bottom) “...impoverished refugees from Jackson County had begun working for...”
Suggested change: “...impoverished refugees from Jackson County began working for”
P.S.  I left a “has been called” in line 27 of page 13 alone, but it may be improved too.

(p. 15, lines 9, and 13) “Governor Boggs, who had participated in the expulsion...”
Suggested change: “Governor Boggs, who participated in the expulsion...”
“...four hundred Saints of De Witt, who had suffered intense hunger...”
Suggested change: “...four hundred Saints of De Witt, who suffered hunger...”


Spencer McBride: (p. 22, lines 18, 19) “But since he felt that his followers had been denied those rights...”
Suggested change: “But since he felt that his followers were denied those rights...”

(p. 25, line 18) “Church leaders had called for members...”
Suggested change: “Church leaders called for members...”


Benjamin Park: (p. 43, line 1) “The winter of 1843-44 had been exceptionally cold...”
Suggested change: “The winter of 1843-44 was exceptionally cold....”

(p. 47, last line) “Secular democracy had brought ..."
Suggested change: “Secular democracy brought...”


Nathan Oman: (p. 60, lines 8-13) “this constitutional model had been shattered.”
Suggested change: “this constitutional model was shattered...”

“Events in Missouri had played themselves out”
Suggested change: “Events in Missouri played themselves out”

“Mormon property had been seized, Mormons had been massacred by mods...”
Suggested change: “Mormon property was seized, Mormons were massacred by mobs...”

“Mormon women had been raped...”
Suggested change: “Mormon women were raped...”

“Lilburn Boggs had issued...”
Suggested change: “Lilburn Boggs issued...”


Matthew Grow and Marilyn Bradford: (p. 113, lines 20- 22) “decisions regarding the Church’s publishing program and the Nauvoo print shop that had been made the previous day...”
Suggested change: “...that were made the previous day...”

(p. 114, lines 4-5, 6)   “The Latter-day Saints had explicitly designed the charter...”
Suggested change: “The Latter-day Saint explicitly designed the charter...”

“...to provide them with protections they had lacked in Missouri,”
Suggested change: “to provide them with protections they lacked in Missouri,”

(p. 115, lines 1- 2) “When council members learned that Texas had been annexed...”
Suggested change: “When council members learned that Texas was annexed...”

(p. 115, line 16) “...as they believed Joseph and Hyrum Smith had been the previous year.”
Suggested change: “...as they believed Joseph and Hyrum Smith were the previous year.”

(p. 115, last line) “...Young rebutted a comment that Almon Babbit had made about Mormon rhetoric...”
Suggested change: “...Young rebutted a comment that Almon Babbit made about Mormon...”

(p. 116, line 4) “...which many believed had contributed to violence...”
Suggested change: “...which many believed contributed to violence...”

(p. 116, lines 29-30)   “...one of the council’s objectives had been realized...”
Suggested change: “...one of the council’s objectives was realized...”

(P. 116, line 32) “...in January 1845, Young had contemplated...”
Suggested change: “...in January 1845, Young contemplated...”


Jeffrey Mahas: (p. 123, line 17) “...Dana–a member of the Oneida nation–had been baptized...”
Suggested change: “...Dana–a member of the Oneida nation–was baptized...”

(p. 125, 5th line from the bottom) “Although Brigham Young had initially called...”
Suggested change: “Althought Brigham Young initially called...”

(p. 127, lines 1 and 2) “While the missionaries had been gone, Church leaders had largely...”
Suggested change: “While the missionaries were gone, Church leaders largely...”

(p. 127, line 4) “...a select group of Church leaders had formulated a new plan...”
Suggested change: “a select group of Church leaders formulated a new plan...”

(p. 127, lines 22-23) “...alliance with American Indians, they had had little or no success...”
Suggested change: “...alliance with American Indians, they had little or no success...”


Matthew Godfrey: (p. 134, line 27) “Miller, who had been serving as a trustee...”
Suggested change: “Miller, who served as a trustee ...”

(p. 132, 3rd line from bottom) “...Lyman Wight had evidently lost...”
Suggested change: “... Lyman Wight evidently lost...”

(p. 135, line 17)   “...Woodworth claimed that he had been appointed...”
Suggsted change: “...Woodworth claimed that he was appointed...”

(p. 135, line 24) “...what Miller had done and was doing...”
Suggested change: “...what Miller did and was doing...”

(P. 135, last two lines) “...the total number of certificates that had been issued ...how many of those had been sold...”
Suggested change: “...the total number of certificates that were issued ...how many of those were sold...”

(p. 136, line 4)   “...asserted that Joseph Smith had told him...”
Suggested change: “... asserted that Joseph Smith told him...”

(p. 136, line 7) “...Brigham Young declared that he had spoken to Joseph Smith...”
Suggested change: “... Brigham Young declared that he spoke to (with?) Joseph Smith....”

(p. 138, line 7) “...but that may have been an exaggerated portrayal...”
Suggested change: “...but that may be an exaggerated portrayal...”

(p. 139, n. 9, line 2) “Wight had been rejected...”
Suggested change: “Wight was rejected...”

Two additional unrelated suggestions for Matt:

(p. 130, lines 8-9) “...the Nauvoo House was nowhere near completion at the time...”
Suggested change: “..the Nauvoo House was far from competition at the time...”

(p. 138, line 8) “...the house never came close to completion.”
Suggested change: “...the house was far from completion.”


Christopher Blythe: (p. 141, line 6) “...some council members believed they had been granted...”
Suggested change: “...some council members believed they were granted...”

(p. 142, line 5) “Miller had been assigned...
Suggested change: “Miller was assigned...”

(p. 146, lines 13-14)   “In April, the Twelve sent a messenger to Wight’s colony-who had already begun their trek...”
Suggested change: “...to Wight’s colony-who already started (or began) their trek...”

(p. 146, lines 25-28)   “Miller, who had remained...”
Suggested change: “Miller, who remained...”

“...Wight had been expelled from ...
Suggested change: “...Wight who was expelled from”

“...when Young had revived the kingdom.”
Suggested change: “...When Young revived the kingdom.”

While on this subject, I give here two examples from Pulitzer Prize winning British author Daniel Walker Howe’s book, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Howe has the maddening habit of very often falling in to the “had fault” and extensive use of the past tense passive voice. But when he does not use this form of syntax his writing is superb. However, it is so extensive in this 850 page tome that I find myself wondering why the editors at Oxford did not fix it? Below are two of a huge number of examples. These are companion paragraphs dealing with the William Morgan anti-Masonic episode in American history. In this first paragraph the past tense passive voice is in bold.
“On the evening of September 12, 1826, a stonecutter named William Morgan languished in the jail of Canandaigua, New York, where he was being held for an alleged two-dollar debt. Morgan had been subject to a series of persecutions by local authorities and mysterious mobs ever since he had undertaken to publish the secret rituals of freemasonry. His home in nearby Batavia had been ransacked in search of the manuscript. An attempt to burn down the shop where his work awaited printing had been foiled. Two days earlier he and his printer had both been transported to this jail on trumped-up charges. The printer had been released by a magistrate, ....”
Compare that with the next paragraph, in the past tense active voice, highlighted in bold:
“The investigation of Morgan’s disappearance was hampered at very turn by the cover-up of strategically placed Freemasons. Although his wife and dentist identified a partly decomposed body, three inquests did not make an official finding. Juries were packed with Masonic brothers; accused conspirators fled before testifying. Eventually the sheriff of Niagara County served thirty months for his central role in the kidnapping conspiracy, but otherwise prosecutors had little to show after twenty trials. Enough came to light, however, that the public felt outrage and the Masonic Order...was badly discredited.”(pp. 265-66)
The difference in readability and interest between the two paragraphs is palpable and significant.  The first is bulky, wordy, and laborious. The second paragraph reads much easier. Readers are more engaged and the narrative moves forward readily. The differences when set side by side are stark. Howe uses the past tense passive at least half the time in this book. The alternation between the two past tense voices is so frequent that it is not only very noticeable, but it is really quite annoying. I honestly wonder how he won the Pulitzer! If Oxford editors would have helped him clean up this text to give it a more consistent voice I think his work would merit a superb rating. As it is, I’m am only left to wonder about those who made the selection.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What I Am Reading: The Greek Orthodox View of Marriage ©

John Meyendorff, Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, 3rd revised edition.  Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984, 131 pp.

In my ongoing study of the LDS and ancient temples, their theology, rituals, and practices, around Christmas I finished John Meyendorff’s small volume on Eastern Orthodox marriage. It is a brief but interesting history of marriage in this ancient religion. The Orthodox adhere to the canons of the first Ecumenical Councils and the teachings of some of the early church Fathers. However, despite his reputation in Western Catholicism, they have some differences with the theological giant Augustine on the subject. Marriage did not become a “sacrament” or rite in the Greek Orthodox Church until the 10th Century C.E. (See  p. 26) Like all of Christianity, church and civil marriage rites had a great deal of mutual influence on each other, especially in eastern orthodoxy. As always in the early churches, politics and political leaders played an important role and exerted considerable influence upon marriage law, custom, and practice. Orthodoxy tries to hold true on the New Testament prohibitions of divorce and Church tradition of celibate clergy.  On the former they have gradually come to permit some divorce and remarriage. An interesting Orthodox doctrine is the idea of eternal marriage which is transformed into Christlike love.

Let's think together again, soon.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Shame on ESPN for Ruining the Rose Bowl ©

Shame on ESPN for Ruining the Rose Bowl © 

Shame on ESPN. I’ve watched the “grandaddy of them all”–the Rose Bowl-for more than 60 years.  Imagine how appalled I was to, without warning, lose the last few moments of an exciting game only to be switched to the Clemson-Alabama game which hadn't started yet.  While the Rose Bowl was concluding in a tie and went on to two overtimes, we were forced to watch inane talking heads about the Clemson-Alabama rivalry and its similarity to that of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fights, and to lengthy commercials. It was one of the most egregious and insensitive-to-viewer-interest actions I’ve seen from ESPN. And one more thing.  What’s with the split screen? It was terrible too. The technocrats at ESPN are caught up too much in their technological toys and appealing to the new young technologically oriented crowd.It all ruined my traditional New Years Day watching the Rose Bowl.  Throw the ESPN technological bums out!

Let's think together again, soon.

Friday, November 3, 2017

What I've Been Reading: Entry # 1©


What I’ve Been Reading Recently: Entry # 1© 

Introduction

This article begins a new series for this blog. There is a great deal of interest in reading among Latter-day Saints generally and I sense it is popular among many Americas as well. [When we took the “Metro” into Washington from Falls Church, Va., a year ago I was amazed at how many commuters were reading and/or carrying a book with them; the same on our recent cruise in the western Caribbean.] Many celebrities such as Bill Gates post what they have been reading and make recommendations. Mostly they talk about books. I’m not even a celebrity in my own home, so it is probably presumptuous on my part to think anyone may be interested in what I read. But I benefit from those lists of what others read; I often find items I did not know of and perhaps may never have encountered. So, I hope something here may interest you too. 

This series will discuss some books, but will also review some of the articles, speeches, and talks I’ve been reading.  Most but not all of it will be of a religious nature, primarily about Mormonism. I also have a dedicated plan to read about the temple the rest of my life, so many entries here will be about the temple, ancient and modern, its doctrines, principles, and practices.  With the ease of finding any book and many articles on the Internet, some of the items in this list will be old, some new.

Articles will be in quotes “ ”, with the title of the journal, magazine, or book where it is found in italics. Book titles are also in italics.

I will also make some sort of recommendation regarding each item listed. Please leave a question or comment if you are so inclined.

********

1.  John P. Kaminski, ed., The Quotable Jefferson, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2006. 

This is not a regular size book.  It is 4.5 x 7.5 inches in size and about an inch thick. It is an excellent collection of some of Jefferson’s greatest statements on a myriad of subjects. Kaminski’s primary source is the acclaimed Princeton University’s modern edition of Jefferson’s papers. He used other collections of Jefferson’s writings as well. The quotations in the book fall into four large categories. The largest which constitutes the bulk of the book has quotations on nearly five hundred topics.Two, three, and four respectively are quotations by Jefferson about his contemporaries; descriptions of Jefferson by his contemporaries; and, descriptions of Jefferson by himself.
Jefferson was not only a “Renaissance Man” in the sense of the breadth of his interests and knowledge, but he was also a very wise man–a quality not greatly abundant or valued in our modern world. In addition, as most Americans know, he was extremely articulate in expressing his ideas and opinions. Jefferson had many souls, but this collection shows him to possess the soul of Sophia, and of a poet, of a patriot, of culture, of nobility and sensitivity.  Jefferson will stir your soul and your mind.

Recommendation: Highly recommended.  


2.  M. Russell Ballard, Yesterday, Today and Forever: Timeless Gospel Messages with Insights from his Grandfathers Melvin J. Ballard and Hyrum Mack Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015.

This book contains some messages gathered from talks Elder Ballard has given in his thirty-eight years of service as a General Authority. He supplements them with words from two grandfathers who were also general authorities–Melvin J. Ballard and Hyrum Mack Smith. The latter is not well known among the Saints.  He was the brother of Joseph Fielding Smith, but died early in his ministry. He was every bit the scriptorian as his brother and because of his early death the Church suffered a great loss. He was the co-author of the legendary Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, that was considered a standard on the level of Talmage’s Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith. It is largely overlooked today.
I have not checked to see if these “messages” are taken verbatim from Elder Ballard's talks, or reworked into chapters for this book, but my sense is the latter. Eleven chapters cover as many topics, all of which are oriented in one way or another to encourage church members to be faithful and live the gospel. I particularly enjoyed chapter 8 on the law of sacrifice. I was also pleased to find this statement in chapter 1: “As you know, the sacrament is a renewal and a reminder of all our covenants with the Lord, not just those made a baptism.” He offers some practical and important advice about studying the scriptures on page 37; setting boundaries in the use of electronic devices and the Internet on p. 43; concerns about the use of electronic devices on Sunday, belittling or ridiculing others, gossip, joking about sacred things and vulgarity and coarseness about human sexuality on p. 48. He sensitively addressed the issue of referring to Christ as our “Elder Brother,” in chapter 5 and explains why it is an inadequate description of our relationship with the Savior. Chapter 6 is about women in the Church and the power and authority which they possess–something both men and women should understand. The chapter also contains important advice to the youth, warning them about Satan’s distortion of attitudes about gender and roles, marriage and family. This chapter is worth the price of the book.
This book is not the normal collection of general authority talks. The quotations from his grandfathers found on almost every page add a significant element. Even if you think you heard all of Elder Ballard’s conference address, reading this book provides a much needed and motivating review, generously supplemented with companion teachings from two other great general authorities.

Recommendation: Highly recommended.

3.  Joel R. White,  “Baptized on Account of the Dead”: The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in Its Context,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 116, no. 3 (Autumn 1997): 487-499. 

There are a multitude of interpretations of 1 Cor. 15:29 which speaks of “baptism of the dead.” One study says 40, another 200! The author says most ignore the context of the verses. He identifies several problems of interpretation and proposes to resolve them. One of the most critical is his argument that the literal notion of baptism for the dead is “at odds with [Paul’s] entire theology,” especially about baptism. He offers a whole new interpretation which he claims is based on the “context” of the pages within the chapter and the book, and which he says resolves the problems of interpreting the meaning of the verse. The context is a conflict among Corinthian disciples about who baptized them.  Therefore, “the dead” refers to the apostles not to all the dead.  It seems like a strained interpretation to me. It was difficult to follow the technicalities and I did not find the argument convincing.

Recommendation: Not highly recommended except  for the theologically inclined, or the specialist.  


4.  Dennis D.  Sylva. “The Meaning and Function of Acts 7:46-50,” Journal of Biblical Literature 106, no. 2 (1987): 261-75. 
Luke’s characterization of Stephen’s speech about the temple in Acts 7:46-50 is understood in three main ways by scholars and students: 1) as a thesis for the replacement of the temple; 2) a rejection of the temple; and 3) Jesus’s/God’s transcendence of the temple. Sylva favors the latter. He discusses the arguments against the first two theories, then turns his attention to the establishment of the transcendent thesis on pp. 265-67. The account in Acts deals with a sequence of four items and it turns out that these are the same four things in the same sequence mentioned in Solomon’s dedication of the temple in 1 Kgs 8 and 2 Chr. 6. Section IV on the function of Acts 7:46-50 deals with three problems in the text that have not previously been accounted for by those who advocate the transcendence thesis. This is a good approach, but the technicalities of word use such as found on pages 263-4, 267, and 270-1 are almost beyond the non specialist. Stephan’s emphasis on the law of Moses and the temple are the two foci of Jewish emphasis. Sylva shows an important connection between Mark 14:15 and the Acts 7 passage. He also deals with the relationship of Acts 7:46-50, with verses 51-53. A footnote on Luke’s apparent efforts to soften Mark’s criticisms of the temple is especially interesting and helpful. The essay concludes with a lengthy and difficult discussion of Stephen’s criticisms of the Jews for resisting the Holy Ghost. 

Recommendation: Recommended with reservations that this article is primarily for the specialist or those who have great interest in the portrayal of the temple in the Gospels.


5.  Russell Stevenson, “History of D&C 4,” in D&C 4: A Lifetime of Study and Discipleship, Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Books, 2017, 5-26.
I do not know Russell Stevenson, but this article leads me to believe that he is a freshman scholar. He has some interesting ideas but is not very adept at explicating them. He begins the essay saying that this section of the Doctrine and Covenants “is also pregnant with temple allusions and doctrinal developments that would only become apparent in Joseph Smith’s later years.” Though I agree with him, this is an enthusiastic exaggeration in so far as what he produced in this article.The crux of the temple related material in section 4 concerns the initial list of our attributes which the Saints are exhorted to “remember”–temperance, patience, humility, diligence, which are later expanded by adding faith, virtue, knowledge, brotherly kindness, godliness, and charity–all apparently from 2 Peter 1:5-8. Stevenson is unclear why this addition takes place, but he finds the “pregnant” nature of the section wrapped up in the fact that later in Joseph’s life he made 2 Peter 1's exhortation to make your calling and election sure a major goal of the gospel and a temple ordinance. While this indeed is an important insight related to the temple, it is the only one that Stevenson calls attention to, so the plural “pregnant with temple allusions” seems an overstatement.

Recommendation: Recommended.


6.  Dana M. Pike. “Obadiah 1:21: Context, Text, Interpretation, and Application,” in Prophets & Prophecies of the Old Testament, The 46th Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, 47- 78, eds., Aaron P. Schade, Brian M. Hauglid, and Kerry Muhlestein, Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2017.

While Latter-day Saints have used this verse which speaks of “saviors on Mt. Zion” since the days of Joseph Smith in reference to temple work for the dead, a detailed study of the text, its context, and the validity of its interpretation have not been undertaken by Mormon scholars. Pike begins to fill this gap and discusses several problems of interpretation due to ambiguities and peculiarities in the text.  There are also problems with  various interpretations through history because of questions about the historical context and interpretive issues such as the meaning of the phrases “the day of the Lord,” and “Mt. Zion”. However, he concludes that it is highly unlikely that Obadiah was speaking of temple ordinances when he made this statement. Joseph Smith’s use of the passage is more likely to be his application of this passage to his circumstances in introducing the temple ordinances, than it is an authoritative prophetic interpretation of the original intent of Obadiah. Peter did the same thing with a passage from Joel, and Pike argues that therefore this is a legitimate use of the scripture. It has a contemporary meaning to the author, but subsequent generations may apply it to local times and circumstances.

Recommendation: Recommended.


7.  Wendy Watson Nelson.  “Love and Marriage,” address at the Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, 8 January 2017, Brigham Young University.  
Available online at:
https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-devotionals/2017/01/love-and-marriage?lang=eng    

Sister Nelson accompanied her husband Elder Russell M. Nelson to this Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults and spoke briefly. Her remarks were thought provoking, and perhaps to some even controversial.  She gave four truths about love and marriage. 1) “Truths about love and marriage are brought to you by the Holy Ghost from our Heavenly Father. He decreed marriage to be an irreplaceable component of His plan of happiness.The Spirit is the messenger of these truths. I urge you to seek to understand them.” In contrast Satan promotes lies about love and marriage. 2) “Personal purity is the key to true love.The more pure your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions, the greater your capacity to give and receive true love.” 3) “As an important part of the expression of their love, the Lord wants a husband and wife to partake of the wonders and joys of marital intimacy.” It is ordained by, commanded and commended by Him because it draws a husband and wife closer together and to the Lord. 4) “For true marital intimacy, the Holy Ghost needs to be involved. It is simply not possible to have the kind of intimate experiences outside of marriage that you can have within because the Spirit will not be present.” Parley P. Pratt taught that the Holy Ghost will increase, enlarge, expand, and purify “all the natural passions and affections.” Satan does just the opposite.  She gives a nice list of about eight contrasts between worldly and Spirit blessed marital intimacy.

Recommendation: Recommended, requires some spiritual maturity to appreciate the message.


8.  Neal Rappleye, “With the Tongue of Angels’: Angelic Speech as a Form of Deification,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21 (2016): 303-23.

This article gives considerable evidence which suggests that the Book of Mormon construct of “speaking with the tongue of angels” is likely referring to the “breaching [of] the veil to enter into the Lord’s presence, becoming divine, and thereby joining the divine council.” The author takes us to the background context of Nephi’s use of the phrase. He points out that at the same time this phrase shows up in his discourses, Nephi was building a temple and this proximity suggests to Rappleye “that Nephi’s record of “the more sacred things” may have been made in connection with the newly built temple.”Moreover, Nephi mentions  mysteries which commonly refer to imitations rites connected to temples or sacred space. Thus the temple seems to be at the heart of Nephi’s small plates project.Rappleye also shows an important connection between the temple and entrance into the divine council and goes on to show how the account of Lehi’s call exhibits many elements of of typical accounts of prophetic ascent to the divine council. Interestingly, once a prophet enters the heavenly body, he is usually sent back to teach the mysteries he has learned to his people–speaking the words of Christ as an angel might. Nephi’s own vision also contains at least six significant elements of traditional ascent literature and becomes his personal experience of interacting with an angel and being authorized to speak for God. The call of Isaiah found in chapter 6 of his book also conforms to the notion that prophets raised to and entering into the council then speak for God.  Isaiah’s lips need to be cleansed before he could do so. At Ezekiel’s call he ate a book given him so he was empowered to speak to the house of Israel. And additional important sidelight of this ascension and passing through the veil and being authorized to speak is symbolic of deification of the prophet or individual, which in Nephi’s view was to be available to all who would spiritually qualify.

Recommendation: Recommended, especially for those interested in the Temple.


9.  Dallin H. Oaks, Life’s Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2011.

For me this was a surprising little book. Elder Oaks looms large in my mind as a scholar and intellect, as well as an Apostle. Years ago I read the book, Carthage Conspiracy, which he co-authored with historian Marvin Hill.  It was a scholarly and detailed study of the trial of those who were accused of murdering Joseph and Hyrum Smith. I’ve also found some of his conference and other talks detailed and often deep. So, the simplicity, plainness, and homespun nature of this book caught me off guard. It is divided into three parts dealing with lessons of life learned up to 1971; part 2 lessons learned while he presided over BYU and served in the Utah Supreme Court; part 3, lessons learned as a general authority from 1984 to the present. The “lessons” cover a wide range of topics. For example, temple teachings, influence of family histories, the law as a blunt instrument, worldly wisdom leads to revelation, assigning reasons to revelation, goal setting, leadership, unselfish service, the meaning of “real intent” refusing requests, tithing blessings, principles vs. perfection, caution about sharing spiritual experiences, the death of a spouse and second marriage.One will find in this gem many ideas and principles which will enlighten and provoke thought.In some places I wanted more explanation and commentary, but Elder Oaks is expeditious in this book and generally leaves the simple lessons to speak for themselves.

Recommendation: Highly recommended.


10-.  A. Keith Thompson, “Joseph Smith and the Doctrine of Sealing,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21 (2016): 1-21.

This article uses a statement by Brian Hales, the Church’s authority on plural marriage, to the effect that the primary evidence we have for Joseph’s temple theology is in D&C 132 and a few statements in William Clayton’s journal as a straw man for the thesis that the idea of sealing authority was introduced to Joseph Smith in both the First Vision and the first visits of the angel Moroni to him three years later. In the First Vision stress was placed on “having the form of godliness but denying the power thereof” which Thompson argues began Joseph’s interest in the relationship between authority and godliness. Moroni stressed passages from the book of Malachi which emphasized Elijah’s mission to reveal the priesthood, plant the promises to the fathers in the hearts of the children, and turn the hearts of the children to the fathers–an important set up for later and greater understanding of this power. These teachings were followed up by an important statement made to the Prophet by John the Baptist when the Aaronic Priesthood was restored that the Aaronic Priesthood would not be taken from the earth until the sons of Levi offer and offering in righteousness to the Lord. Thompson argues that though Joseph Smith may not have understood the theological implications of these important temple-related statements, nevertheless, they laid a foundation for temple work and sealing in particular.  Joseph continued to be interested in these ideas and subsequent revelations moved him line by line and precept by precept toward the full temple doctrine. There are important and helpful insights in this article on the first and third of these ideas, but the second one has received considerable treatment and is not a new discovery by Thompson. Indeed, that section is the most lengthy and offers the least new material in the way of ideas and insights.

Recommendation: Recommended.

Let's think together again, soon.