Friday, September 22, 2017

Contrast Between Worldly and Spirit-enhanced Marital Intimacy©

This morning I got around to reading the talks by Elder Russell M. Nelson and his wife Wendy at the Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults at BYU in January 2017. I was particularly interested in sister Nelson’s remarks.(1) As a marriage and family therapist and professor for twenty-five years, she gave the young adults “four truths about love and marriage.” I commend the entire talk to you, but I am reproducing #4 here which contrasts the difference between worldly sex and spirit-enhanced marital intimacy. She builds her ideas on a statement from Elder Parley P. Pratt who said the Holy Ghost “increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them by the gift of wisdom to their lawful use.”(2) She concentrates on the effects of the Spirit on our passion and affections, but I would also stress the last part of his statement, that the Spirit will adapt them by the gift of wisdom to their lawful use.” Obviously there are unlawful uses of the passions and affections and according to Elder Pratt it is one of the Spirit's roles to help us adapt them to a lawful use before God. All that sister Nelson says below is consistent with these wonderful insights from Elder Pratt. Enjoy!

***
Truth #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. 
Elder Parley P. Pratt taught that the Holy Ghost has the ability to increase, enlarge, expand, and purify “all the natural passions and affections.” Just imagine: He can purify your feelings! Therefore, anything that invites the Spirit into your life, and into the life of your spouse and your marriage, will increase your ability to experience marital intimacy. It really is as simple, and as profound, as that! 
On the other hand, anything that offends the Spirit will decrease your ability to be one with your spouse. Things such as anger, lust, unforgiveness, contention, immorality, and unrepented sin will reduce your attempt for marital intimacy to be something that is nothing more than a sexual experience. 
So, to recap: While worldly sex is under the influence of the world and the adversary and involves carnal, sensual, and devilish passions, God-ordained marital intimacy is under the influence of the Spirit and involves Spirit-enhanced and purified passions. The truth is, the more pure you are, the more marvelous your marital intimacy will be. 
With worldly sex, anything goes. With marital intimacy, exquisite care is taken to avoid anything and everything—from language to music to movies—that offends the Spirit, your spirit, or your spouse’s. 
While worldly sex is lustful and kills love, marital intimacy generates more love. 
Worldly sex degrades men and women and their bodies, while marital intimacy honors men and women and celebrates the body as one of the great prizes of mortal life. 
With worldly sex, individuals can feel used, abused, and ultimately more lonely. With marital intimacy, spouses feel more united and loved, more nurtured and understood. 
Worldly sex ravages and eventually ruins relationships. Marital intimacy strengthens marriages. It supports, heals, and hallows the lives of spouses and their marriage. 
Worldly sex has been likened to the toot of a flute, while marital intimacy has been likened to the grandeur of an entire orchestra. 
Worldly sex becomes a total obsession because it never fulfills its promises. God-ordained marital intimacy is glorious and will continue eternally for covenant-keeping husbands and wives. 
In short, marital intimacy endorsed by the Spirit is blessed by the Lord and is sanctifying.
Let's think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  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 

2.  The entire statement of Elder Pratt is highly recommended. It is found in Parley P. Pratt, Key To the Science of Theology, (4th ed.), pp. 96-97.    

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Lord's Work Is On The March – Despite the Opposition of Hell©

I still have a bit of the teacher in me.  In today’s blog I share something very precious and important with you.

A Modern Apostle Teaches an Important Principle

How do you react when you read a statistic like, 41 percent of all births in the United States in 2013 were to unmarried women, compared to 18 percent just 35 years earlier?(1) Or, how about the fact that there are now more than 43 million refugees worldwide who are displaced from their homes because of conflict and persecution? If you are like me, first they sicken you, then they discourage you. It is really easy to think that this world is going to hell in a hand basket. Two weeks ago, though, I read something that changed my perspective and gave me great hope.

Neil Andersen, one of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke to a devotional assembly at the “Education Week” held at BYU in August 2015. The title of his remarks was, “A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous.” I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this extraordinary talk or why I had not come across it earlier, but it changed my life. After reviewing the two statistics above and several others, Elder Andersen said he had come to teach those attending Education Week an important principle. It is: As evil increases in the world the Lord provides a compensating spiritual power for the righteous. He stressed it three times. Here are his statements:
As we find our way in a world less attentive to the commandments of God, we will certainly be prayerful, but we need not be overly alarmed. The Lord will bless His Saints with the added spiritual power necessary to meet the challenges of our day.  
Here is my major theme this morning: As evil increases in the world, there is a compensatory spiritual power for the righteous. As the world slides from its spiritual moorings, the Lord prepares the way for those who seek Him, offering them greater assurance, greater confirmation, and greater confidence in the spiritual direction they are traveling.The gift of the Holy Ghost becomes a brighter light in the emerging twilight.
...  
My brothers and sisters, as evil increases in the world, there is a compensatory power, an additional spiritual endowment, a revelatory gift for the righteous. 
This added blessing of spiritual power does not settle upon us just because we are part of this generation. It is willingly offered to us; it is eagerly put before us.But as with all spiritual gifts, it requires our desiring it, pursuing it, and living worthy of receiving it.
...
I emphasize once again: As evil increases in the world, the Lord does not leave us on the same footing.In a world that would diminish or discard or impair belief, there is an added spiritual power for those who are willing to set their course on increasing their faith in Jesus Christ.
Members of the Church sustain Elder Andersen as a “prophet, seer, and revelator.” I believe he proved himself as such in this address. He taught the Education Week attendees a vitally important principle and thereby gave the entire Church a “prophetic perspective” that it sorely needs today. As he said above, this perspective will give us “greater assurance, greater confirmation, and grater confidence” in the spiritual direction we are traveling.

Four Examples of the Principle

Elder Anderson then went on to gives three examples of things transpiring in the Church which “reveal the Lord’s hand at work in bringing more spiritual power to His Saints.” They are so important that at the risk of the length of this article I am including the relevant excerpts for each one. His first example involved the youth of the Church. He reminded his audience of the challenge which was given to the Church youth in 2013 to go to the temple and do baptisms for the dead, but to bring as many names of their own dead which they have found by research as baptism they perform. His commentary follows:
It has only been in the last few years that technology has allowed us to link our generations more completely. A year and a half ago we gave the challenge to the youth to bring as many names to the temple as baptisms they perform in the temple.
...
...the youth of the Church have responded by the thousands and tens of thousands, and names submitted by youth have more than doubled since the challenge was issued only eighteen months ago. As the hearts of the children have turned to their fathers, the youth have been given an added gift of spiritual power. If you have not seen this yet in the youth, go to lds.org and read of their experiences or, better yet, talk to those youth who are in your family or who live near you.If you or members of your family have not committed yourselves to finding names from your family for your ordinances in the temple, now is the time to begin.
His second example also involved temples. He pointed out that in the 22 years he has served as a general authority the Church tripled the number of operating temples from 44 to 147. He asked why and then answered his own question:
We now have temples closer and more accessible than ever before. But in these times of commotion the Lord expects us to adjust our habits and be in His house more often.
...  
The temple is an added gift from heaven to us. We need to embrace it with renewed dedication. Our children will need the temple even more in the years ahead. Teach them to love the temple. Help them to be ready to receive their endowment and eventually their sealing. Teach them how to prepare for these sacred ordinances and help them see how doing these ordinances will be a constant gift to them throughout their lives. As they do temple work, they will not only go through the temple but, as Brother Truman G. Madsen used to say, they will allow the temple to go through them.
The third example really surprised me. I have heard two messages from our leaders about modern technology. First, it can be a distraction and even lead us into forbidden things, therefore its use must be closely monitored and disciplined. Second, it can be a means of spreading the gospel and doing the Church great good. Elder Andersen, gives us a third and new perspective–totally new.
Our world of technology and communication, with all of its distractions, provides the third example of a compensatory spiritual blessing for the righteous. The words of the Lord’s prophet, the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve are always available to lighten our path and help show us the way. Their united voice, if followed, will help set aside the enticing voices of the world. The men who occupy these positions would claim no personal perfection, but I witness to you that as the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve prayerfully approach the Lord, He shapes our thinking and direction and reveals His will for His covenant people, and indeed for all the world.
He went on to share an example of this–the recent stress upon keeping the Sabbath Day holy. To me it became a fourth example.  He said:
In recent months the First Presidency and the Twelve have felt an undeniable direction from the Lord to declare and reemphasize the Sabbath day and the importance of worthily partaking of the sacrament. As we take the sacrament, we remember the Savior and His Atonement. We come repenting of our sins, pledging our loyalty to covenants made with Him, and hearing again the promises He makes to us. To always have His Spirit with us is a pearl of enormous value. Receiving the sacrament on Sunday is more and more like an oasis in the desert—bubbling with cool spring water, quenching our spiritual thirst and relieving our parched souls.
In summary, Elder Andersen tells us that the Church’s emphasis on youth and temple work, greater accessibility to temples, the Lord’s most recent word is available 24/7 through modern technology, and the Church’s emphasis on the Sabbath Day, are all part of the Lord’s effort to help his righteous Saints receive greater blessings and power in the day when Satan’s power has greatly increased. The question is, have we as Church members had the inspiration and wisdom to see the emphasis on these things in this context? If not, has that led many to be indifferent and even lazy in following the counsel of the brethren? It doesn’t really do us any good for the Lord to provide the help we often feel we need in the face of Satan’s onslaught if we don’t recognize it or take advantage of it.

Many, Many More Examples of the Principle

Another important insight Elder Andersen gave in this talk, is that these are only three or four examples of “many, many, more.” “As we recognize and embrace them, he said, “they heighten our spiritual sensitivities, offering greater assurance and confidence.The precious gift of the Holy Ghost becomes a stronger beacon, and we more clearly see those things that are unseen.” As I suspect Elder Andersen intended, that set me to thinking about what those “many, many more” things the Lord is giving us as compensating power against Satan are.

This perspective changes a lot of things. One is what I get out of General Conference. On Friday evening, before I fell asleep I read two conference talks from the April 2016 General Conference, one by Elder Ballard and one by Elder Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve. To my surprise and joy both of these addresses discussed helps the Lord is giving us in what some describe as “the day of Satan’s power.”  

Family Councils

Elder Ballard talked about Family Councils. He said he has devoted much of his ministry to teaching the Church the value of governing the Church by councils and has even written a book on the subject and recently updated a second edition. Yet, he said, he had not discussed with the Church the most important council of all–the family council. He couched his counsel in the following context:
A family council, when conducted with love and with Christlike attributes, will counter the impact of modern technology that often distracts us from spending quality time with each other and also tends to bring evil right into our homes.(2)
He also said:
Now, brothers and sisters, there was a time when the walls of our homes provided all the defense we needed against outside intrusions and influences. We locked the doors, closed the windows; we shut the gates; and we felt safe, secure, and protected in our own little refuge from the outside world.
Those days are now gone. The physical walls, doors, fences, and gates of our homes cannot prevent unseen invasion from the Internet, the Wi-Fi, the mobile phones, the networks. They can penetrate our homes with just a few clicks and keystrokes.
Fortunately, the Lord has provided a way to counter the invasion of negative technology that can distract us from spending quality time with each other. He has done this by providing the council system to strengthen, protect, safeguard, and nurture our most precious relationships.(3) 
Did you hear it? The Lord has “provided a way to counter” the negative effects of modern technology! Let him who has eyes to see and ears to hear, read and listen and hearken.

Greater Power of the Priesthood in the Lives of Men and Their Families

President Nelson’s address was the very next one in that conference. He spoke in the Saturday night priesthood session to the men about “The Price of Priesthood Power.” Again note the context of his counsel:
I urgently plead with each one of us to live up to our privileges as bearers of the priesthood. In a coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and heal others. Only a man who has paid the price for priesthood power will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity.(4) 
He also spoke of the things which block the flow of priesthood power in the lives of men.
Well, brethren, in like manner, I fear that there are too many men who have been given the authority of the priesthood but who lack priesthood power because the flow of power has been blocked by sins such as laziness, dishonesty, pride, immorality, or preoccupation with things of the world.
I fear that there are too many priesthood bearers who have done little or nothing to develop their ability to access the powers of heaven. I worry about all who are impure in their thoughts, feelings, or actions or who demean their wives or children, thereby cutting off priesthood power.
I fear that too many have sadly surrendered their agency to the adversary and are saying by their conduct, “I care more about satisfying my own desires than I do about bearing the Savior’s power to bless others.”
I fear, brethren, that some among us may one day wake up and realize what power in the priesthood really is and face the deep regret that they spent far more time seeking power over others or power at work than learning to exercise fully the power of God. President George Albert Smith taught that “we are not here to wile away the hours of this life and then pass to a sphere of exaltation; but we are here to qualify ourselves day by day for the positions that our Father expects us to fill hereafter.(5)
This is a serious list of indictments of many of the brethren of the priesthood. It was to me as if this talk was an inspired addition to an address given by the then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Boyd K. Packer in the April 2010 general conference, on “The Power of the Priesthood.” He too, addressed the men–the fathers of the Church. He reminded the fathers of the sacred nature of their calling:
You have the power of the priesthood directly from the Lord to protect your home. There will be times when all that stands as a shield between your family and the adversary’s mischief will be that power. You will receive direction from the Lord by way of the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The adversary is not actively disturbing our Church meetings—perhaps only occasionally. By and large we are free to assemble as we wish without much disruption. But he and those who follow him are persistent in attacking the home and the family.
...
I bear witness of the power of the priesthood given to the Church to protect us and guide us. And because we have that, we have no fear of the future. Fear is the opposite of faith. We move forward, certain that the Lord will watch over us, particularly in the family.(6)
Elder Packer was concerned. Every man ordained is given the authority of the priesthood. However, he said he was worried that the men of the Church did not enjoy the degree of the power of the priesthood they should. He urged the brethren to awaken and activate the power of the priesthood in their lives.
While the priesthood is presently all over the world, we call on every elder and high priest, every holder of the priesthood to stand, like Gideon’s small but powerful force of 300, in his own place.  We now must awaken in every elder and high priest, in every quorum and group, and in the father of every home the power of the priesthood of the Almighty.(7)
...
The authority of the priesthood is with us.  After all that we have correlated and organized, it is now our responsibility to activate the power of the priesthood in the Church.  Authority in the priesthood comes by way of ordination; power in the priesthood comes through faithful and obedient living in honoring covenants.  It is increased by exercising and using the priesthood in righteousness.(8)
Elder Packer did not give more direction about how to gain this power beyond the last half of statement two above–“faithful living and honoring covenants” and by “exercising and using the priesthood in righteousness.” So, as I say, Elder Nelson’s address seemed like an inspired addition to Elder Packer’s because Elder Nelson give 6 or 7 ways men can increase the power of the priesthood in their lives. Again, at the risk of the length of this article, I believe it is very worthwhile to read what he had to say about each one.

1.   Diligently seek to be taught by the Lord.  [These remarks were preliminary to his discussion of six things to follow, but to me it was important enough to include as number 1.]
I urgently plead with each one of us to live up to our privileges as bearers of the priesthood. In a coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and heal others. Only a man who has paid the price for priesthood power will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity.(9)
2.  Develop the Christlike attributes spoken of in 2 Peter 1.
What is the price to develop such priesthood power? The Savior’s senior Apostle, Peter—that same Peter who with James and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery—declared qualities we should seek to “be partakers of the divine nature.
He named faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity, and diligence. And don’t forget humility! So I ask, how would our family members, friends, and coworkers say you and I are doing in developing these and other spiritual gifts? The more those attributes are developed, the greater will be our priesthood power.(10)
3.  Pray to know how to pray for more power!  The language of this one surprised me.  See if it surprises you too.
How else can we increase our power in the priesthood? We need to pray from our hearts. Polite recitations of past and upcoming activities, punctuated with some requests for blessings, cannot constitute the kind of communing with God that brings enduring power. Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power? The Lord will teach you.(11)
4.  Search the scriptures, feast on the word, and study earnestly.
Are you willing to search the scriptures and feast on the words of Christ—to study earnestly in order to have more power? If you want to see your wife’s heart melt, let her find you on the Internet studying the doctrine of Christ or reading your scriptures!(12)
5.  Worship in the temple regularly.
Are you willing to worship in the temple regularly? The Lord loves to do His own teaching in His holy house. Imagine how pleased He would be if you asked Him to teach you about priesthood keys, authority, and power as you experience the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood in the holy temple. Imagine the increase in priesthood power that could be yours.(13) 
6.  Follow President Monson’s example of service to others.
Are you willing to follow President Thomas S. Monson’s example of serving others? For decades he has taken the long way home, following promptings of the Spirit to arrive on someone’s doorstep and then hear words such as, “How did you know it was the anniversary of our daughter’s death?” or “How did you know it was my birthday?”(14) 
7.  Cherish and care for your wife and embrace her counsel.
And if you truly want more priesthood power, you will cherish and care for your wife, embracing both her and her counsel.(15) 
Elder Nelson concludes this list with the following observation:
Now, if all of this sounds excessive, please consider how different our relationships with our wife, children, and associates at work would be if we were as concerned about gaining priesthood power as we are in progressing at work or increasing the balance in our bank account. If we will humbly present ourselves before the Lord and ask Him to teach us, He will show us how to increase our access to His power.(16) 
Conclusion

I am convinced that Elder Neil Andersen taught a true principle at BYU in August 2015. And I am also convinced there are many ways the Lord provides opportunity for compensatory spiritual power for the righteous in a day when great wickedness reigns and the polarization between the two grows wider almost by the day. This understanding has changed how I read the conference addresses–with one ear to the rail listening for clues from the Lord’s chosen servants about the Lord’s work among his people today.  I am also convinced that with this prophetic perspective we can live at this time with optimism, happiness, and great hope.   

I conclude with an amazing example of this optimism, happiness and hope from the pen of an early Latter-day Saint sister, following her expulsion from the state of Missouri. She and her compatriots were literally refugees on the banks of the Mississippi River in Quincy, Illinois. It was a time of great persecution, suffering, hunger, chaos, and the Prophet was for part of that time imprisoned in Liberty Jail. To family members she wrote two lengthy letters in February and September of 1839. The following excerpts from those letters are not only articulate and eloquent, but more importantly they constitute a remarkable statement of powerful faith, hope, and optimism. One has to ask oneself how, under the circumstances, she could possess the perspective to say, “The work of the Lord is on the march.” Read carefully and you will discern the keys.
...some, who a few months ago did seem to run well in the strait an narrow path have to our astonishment and grief forsook us and fled; our Prophet is still in jail, and many others whom we love.  To look at our situation at this present time it would seem that Zion is all destroyed, but it is not so; the work of the Lord is on the march!  
...
The Spirit of the Lord has rested upon me within a few months as it never did before and although I have labored hard, over the sick, night and day, yet communion with my Heavenly Father has sweetened many hours of toil and acts....
...
With courage bold let us stand, putting our trust in the Lord which alone will disable the power of darkness to flee before us.  Be of good cheer amidst opposition, faint not on the way.  I know the path is very narrow and straight for weary pilgrims like us, and only here and there a traveler do we find to accompany us on our journey, but the Lord will conduct us safely to the end.(17)
Let’s think together again, soon.


Notes:

1.  Neil L. Andersen, “A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous,” address at the BYU Education Week devotional, 13 August 2015.  Available online at:
https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/neil-l-andersen_a-compensatory-spiritual-power-for-the-righteous/

Note please that all further references and quotes by Elder Andersen come from this address.

2.  M. Russell Ballard, “Family Councils,” Ensign (May 2016): 63.

3.  Ibid, 65.

4.  Russell M. Nelson, “The Price of Priesthood Power,” Ensign (May 2016): 68.

5.  Ibid, pp. 67-68.

6.  Boyd K. Packer, “The Power of the Priesthood,” Ensign (May 2010): 9.

7.  Ibid, p. 8.  

8.  Ibid, p. 9.  

9.  Russell M. Nelson, “The Price of Priesthood Power,” Ensign (May 2016): 68.

10.  Ibid.

11.  Ibid.

12.  Ibid.

13.  Ibid.  

14.  Ibid, 69.

15.  Ibid.

16.  Ibid, emphasis in the original.

17.  Excerpts of letters of 24 February and 21 September 1839, from Elizabeth Haven Barlow to her family, reproduced in Ora H. Barlow, The Israel Barlow Story and Mormon Mores (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1968), 143, 161-62.  See a video reenactment of this at: https://www.lds.org/refugees?lang=eng

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Time In Which We Come of Age©

Updated: 4 July 2017

I read something Elizabeth Dole said at a university commencement in 2015 that put into words something which I have been concerned about for the past several years. Admittedly, capturing such amorphous, fuzzy, misty thoughts floating around in my mind is not a strong suit. But ... I am pretty good at recognizing them when someone else crystallizes them in words. Here is what she said:  “In addition to the wonderful skills, traits and knowledge you have learned at Norwich [University], the time in which you came of age has shaped your perspective in a unique and profound way.”(1)  A common notion you may say. Good for you, but I have been thinking about the problems which exist because of the “generation gap” for a long time and I never quite got my finger on this button. Now I have it quite a few things come into much clearer perspective.
Mrs. Dole frames this idea in a fairly positive context with a bit of a warning about growing up in the age of information and connectivity. For me her insight illuminated the potential source of a number of problems I observed as I spent my life teaching the young and experienced an ever widening gap as I grew older, but the students sitting before me were generally the same age from year to year. I have also observed the reality of her insight in my children and especially my grandchildren.
The crux of the problem I have observed is that each generation (20 years or two decades or so in length), grow up thinking that their way of seeing and thinking and feeling is the correct way to see, think, and feel. Of course, what else are they to assume? Here is where wise parents and educators come in. It is their duty to help the most recent generations learn that what they see, think, and feel is shaped by the time and place in which they come of age.  But it has not always been the way it is now, and that others growing up in another time or another place, many of whom are still alive, are shaped by their times and places too. Therefore, there are many different ways of perceiving the world, and of thinking and feeling about it. Thus, they should exercise some caution, judgment, and a modicum of humility before making too many assumptions and judgments about the relative superiority of their time and place and especially of their way of living, thinking, evaluating, and judging.
Because ... it is entirely possible that in the rapid pace of change the world is experiencing now, it is just possible, that some very good things have been forgotten, lost, or ignored in relationship to how one perceives, thinks, and feels about the world in which they live. In another commencement address Mrs. Dole pointed out that many of today’s students, (now it involves the majority of those in high school) do not know by personal experience a single thing which happened in the Twentieth Century, and many of them do not have a memory about 9/11, 2001! What they know of two World Wars, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, Vietnam War, and the Gulf War, for example, which shaped much of the Twentieth Century, is not by personal experience, but by way of a history class and/or the Internet.

Moreover, there are many prophecies in the Bible and in Mormon scriptures as well as by modern prophets which characterize the time we live in as one in which Satan claims this earth as his dominion and as a time of especially great wickedness, ignorance, corruption, war, rebellion, loss of natural affection, degradation, conflict, loss of morality, hate, materialism, political and social strife, spiritual weakness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy, just to mention a few.

For example, in 2011, Thomas S. Monson pointed out, “I've lived long enough to have witnessed much of the metamorphosis of socety's morals. Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider.”(2) Elder Neil L. Andersen, said in 2015, “As these temptations and distractions increase and as the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes less palatable to the world, sadly we will see more among us who will lose their way.”(3)  "Chasm ... growing ever wider," and the Gospel becoming "less palatable to the world," suggest that the world today's youth are growing up in is significantly different morally than that of just a generation or two ago. It should be pointed out that today's young people have experienced at best, the smallest part of this slippage from spiritual moorings. And in many, perhaps most cases except in highly religious homes, they are unaware of those earlier spiritual moorings altogether.  Something very important has gone by the wayside almost unknown by today's generation.

The loss of many good things, secular and religious, is only one generation away. In 1961 and again in 1967, Ronald Reagan warned that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”( 4) A decade later Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke of “these last days when the consummate power of evil moves against us.” Christian churches, he said, should be the bulwark against this tide. Instead, they “provide little substance” for members or clergy, which leads to the “frightening specter of empty churches and a clergy promoting causes they, above all, should resist.” He warned, “We face the frightening thought of a generation raised without any contact with the scriptures.”(5) Two generations later we are witnessing the fulfillment of that warning, and it is overlapping the Church somewhat today too.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell repeatedly called the Church’s attention to the possibility that, though the entire Church would not go into apostasy, many individuals may.(6) He cited Judges 2:10-13 where we are told that on one occasion “all that generation were gathered unto their fathers [had passed on]: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” and they forsook the Lord and began to worship other gods. There were two great losses: 1) they knew not the Lord, and 2) they knew not the “works which he had done for Israel”–that is they didn’t know the religious history of their people.

The Book of Mormon contains similar warnings. King Benjamin taught the people that without the Brass Plates of Laban which Nephi and his brethren brought with them to the New World, “we must have suffered in ignorance, even at the present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.” He said that without God’s teachings and commandments “always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief.”(7) The "dwindling principle" is played out in King Benjamin’s posterity. He gave one of the most important sermons in the Book of Mormon, but we are told in Mosiah 26 that “there were many of the rising generation who could not understand Benjamin’s teachings because they were “little children” at the time the sermon was given.They did not believe what he said about the resurrection or the coming of Christ. Mormon concludes: “And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.  And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after....”(8) Individuals and societies can dwindle in unbelief because important things are not preserved and passed on.

Elder Maxwell also cited Alma 37:8 which speaks about the wisdom of God in seeing that the source records for the Book of Mormon were preserved, “for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people....” Elder Maxwell went on to elaborate:
Used effectively, the scriptures, as was done anciently, can actually enlarge “the memory of this people,” emancipating them, in a sense, from the limitations of their own time. The enlargement includes conveying the experiences of others which the current generation has not had, and in such a way as to permit its members to conceptualize, appreciate, and learn from these experiences.(9)
As Reagan said, these things are not passed on in the bloodstream. Too many young people today do not have any sense of the "limitations of their own time." They are like butterflies in a cocoon and need emancipation but do not know it. A little reflection about the present day shows the wisdom of these men temporally and spiritually. Many aspects of our freedom are under siege and the constant growth of the “nones” group of religious affiliation is only one of many indicators that secularism is relentlessly challenging and replacing Christian teachings and beliefs.

Those who educate and guide the young need this spiritual perspective as well as one borne out of the understanding and wisdom which comes from wide reading in history of all kinds--not just about political events, wars, and the elite--but also the history of science, art, culture, religion, technology, economics and other subjects.  Many biographies contribute to this widening of perspective and deepening of understanding and wisdom.

Interestingly, a day after I read Dole’s talk I came across one from Peggy Noonan that addresses the issue and provides an example with great insight–especially on the value of history and biography. She was talking about young–under 45–journalists and politicians who want to make history, but know nothing of history because all the have they got from the Internet.
They have seen the movie and not read the book. They’ve heard the sound bite but not read the speech. They read the headline on Drudge or the Huffington Post and then jump to another site with more headlines. Their understanding of history, even recent history, is therefore superficial.  Here is the problem:  If those trying to make history have only a shallow sense of history, they will not be able to make anything good. 
They came to maturity in the internet age and have filled much of their brain-space with information that came in the form of pictures and sounds. They learned, that is, through sensation, and not through books, which demand something deeper from your brain. 
Reading books forces you to imagine, question, ponder, reflect, connect one historical moment with another. Reading books provides a deeper understanding of political figures and events, of the world -- of life itself. 
Watching a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis shows you a drama. Reading histories of it presents you with a dilemma.  The book forces you to imagine the color, sound, tone and tension, the logic of events:  It makes your brain do work. 
But, oddly, it's work the brain wants to do. 
A movie or documentary is received passively: You sit back, see and hear.  Books demand more and reward more. When you read them your knowledge base deepens and expands.  In time that deepening comes to inform your own work, sometimes in ways of which you’re not fully conscious.(10)
Here is one more along these lines that is worth stopping to think about in this context. It is from Helen Mirren's commencement address at Tulane less than a month ago.
My parents' generation were born at the end of one World War, survived a global economic meltdown, and then fought a second World War. And of course, for their heroic efforts they were rewarded by my generation deciding to reject everything they stood for.(11)
Many examples of good things which may be lost as a result of the colloquialism and “presentism” of our personal perspectives could be given. I may do that someday when I can devote the necessary time to think them through.(12) My purpose in writing today is to heighten awareness of this issue and the problems it can create in the minds of teachers and young parents and in the minds of the young themselves. (This has to be the height of folly, doesn’t it, to think a young person–under 18 or perhaps even under 25, will read this? Alas, hope springs eternal.)  
My hope is that parents and teachers armed with this illuminating insight may take some action to help youth more properly adjust their thinking and feeling–much of which is good, even great, but some of which may be deficient because of the absence of some good things which are not present in the present!

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes

1.  Elizabeth Dole, commencement address at Norwich University, 9 May 2015, available on the internet at: 
 http://oc.norwich.edu/blog/transcript-sen-elizabeth-doles-2015-norwich-commencement-address/
Peggy Noonan describes the process discussed in this paragraph:  "It [reading] will change how your very mind works. And in some magical way the deep thoughts of others give a spark to, and almost give permission to, thoughts of your own that had been lurking about but never had the courage to present themselves..." See footnote 10 for reference.

2.  Thomas S. Monson, "Priesthood Power," Ensign (May 2011): 66.  He began his address to the men of the Church expressing concern about the challenges they are facing. The immediate context of the above quoted passage is:  "We have come to the earth in troubled times.  The moral compass of the masses has gradually shifted to an 'almost anything goes' position."

3. Neil L. Andersen, “A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous,” devotional address for BYU Campus Education Week, 18 August 2015.  Available online at:
https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/neil-l-andersen_a-compensatory-spiritual-power-for-the-righteous/

4.  Ronald Reagan, address to the annual meeting of the Pheonix Chamber of Commerce, 30 March 1961, you can find videos of this on Youtube; and, address, California Gubernatorial Inauguration speech, 5 January 1967. Online here:
https://reaganlibrary.archives.gov/archives/speeches/govspeech/01051967a.htm.

Reagan's full quotation is: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

5.  Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, October 1971, 10; on the Church website the talk is titled, “The Only True and Living Church,” emphasis added.  See:
https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1971/10/the-only-true-and-living-church?lang=eng

6.  See: Neal a. Maxwell, “‘God Will Yet Reveal,’” Ensign, (November 1986): 52;“The Children of Christ,” Brigham Young University 1989-1990 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1990), 87; Sermons Not Spoken, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 1-9.

Elder Henry Eyring said an entire generation will not be lost.   Henry B. Eyring, "We Must Raise Our Sights," Address to Religious Educators at a Conference on the Book of Mormon, BYU, 14 August 2001.  It is on the Religious Studies Center website and is published in Henry B. Eyring, “We Must Raise Our Sights,” in The Voice of My Servants: Apostolic Messages on Teaching, Learning, and Scripture, ed. Scott C. Esplin and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 11-21.  This quotation is on page 1.

7. See Mosiah 1: 3-5. Compare 1 Ne. 3:19-20 showing prophetic perspective in having and preserving records, and Omni 1:17-18 which did not maintain that perspective.

8.  Mosiah 26: 1-4.

9.  Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 2, emphasis added.

10. Peggy Noonan, commencement address at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 13 May 2017. Available online at:
http://www.cua.edu/speeches-and-homilies/2017/commencement-2017.html

11.  Helen Mirren, commencement address at Tulane University, 20 May 2017.  Available online at:
https://www2.tulande.edu/grads/speaker/

12.  I’m thinking here of such things as the almost universal notion in liberal universities and colleges which equates tolerance with acceptance, and promoting nearly unquestioningly the values of diversity and individualism without regard to the positive benefits of cooperation and unity. Or, what appears to be to be a near fatal loss of understanding of the values and principles accepted and espoused by the Framers of the Constitution and the devaluing of the Constitution itself. Or, the denigration of the values of traditional marriage between a man and a woman and of traditional family life. Or, the nearly total abandonment of accompanying emphasis on chastity among the sexes and fidelity in marriage.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty-Three: “Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 8: "The Name Paanchi.”

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was a Prophet

Evidence Fifty-Three:
     “Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 8: 
“The Name Paanchi.”© 

In previous blogs I have mentioned what I call “zingers” in the Book of Mormon–little things that on closer inspection often turn out to be very important as evidence for the truthfulness of the book and of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. Today’s “zinger” is a very small thing indeed–the name of one of the personalities in the Book of Mormon–Paanchi to be precise. (See Hel. 1:3.) According to Hugh Nibley, it is an Egyptian name and its presence in the Book of Mormon is quite remarkable. As a bonus, Nibley also remarks about the ancient order of battle that is also reflected in the Book of Mormon. Here is his statement.
Another characteristic of the Book of Mormon is the ritual nature of war. In Alma 44:5, we have what can be called a “rule of battle for the sons of light.” War is highly ritualized in the Book of Mormon. It is one thing that used to excite derision from Book of Mormon critics.  What could be more silly, they used to ask, than a general who would give away his plan of battle to the enemy, or allow him to choose the time and the terrain? Yet this is very particular and strictly in order. In a study by Gardiner, he himself refers to “Piankhi’s Instructions to His Army.” That is a peculiar name, a pure Egyptian name, and one odd enough that no one could have possibly invented it in the Book of Mormon. Piankhi was a general before the time of Lehi, was very famous, became king of Egypt, and the name became quite popular afterwards. Piankhi-meri-amen means “Amen is my life.” But of course the name occurs in the Book of Mormon (Helaman 1:3). It was this name, I strongly suspect, that first put Professor Albright on the track of the Book of Mormon. He recognized that it couldn’t possibly have been faked or forged. What could be more silly? Here’s Piankhi, and there are the instructions, “Piankhi commands his generals to give the enemy choice of time and place for fight.” This is the way it was usually done, arranging battles ahead of time, just as the Book of Mormon people use to.(1)
Of course these flecks of evidence do not prove the Book of Mormon is true.  Nothing does.  But they are morsels suggesting the book comes from ancient times, that it’s background is the ancient Near East, just as Joseph Smith said.
Thank God for Joseph Smith!  

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. Hugh Nibley, “Rediscovery of the Apocrypha and the Book of Mormon,” in Temple and Cosmos, Beyond This Ignorant Present, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 12, (Salt Lake City and Provo,UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), p. 255.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Stirling W. Sill on Improving Reading Skills©

Introduction: Sterling W. Sill has been one of the more influential people in my religious and intellectual life. I have read most of his books and greatly benefited from all of them. A hallmark of his writings was his emphasis on practicality–especially the practicality of applying gospel principles in one’s life.The proper application of gospel principles is one definition of wisdom. From this perspective Elder Sill was a man of considerable wisdom.  

One thing he exemplified in his personal life and about which he often commented was the importance of reading. Below are seven suggestions from Elder Sill about improving our reading skill.  I hope they will benefit you.

*****

It is thought that one of the most important skills we can acquire is to learn to read effectively. The following suggestions may help us to help ourselves.
1.  We should remember that mere reading does not compare in its value with a good reading habit. A good reading habit can place us among the educated and successful ones of our day in a very short time and, at the same time, make the process pleasant as well as profitable.

2.  We should plow deep enough in our reading that ideas uncovered become our permanent property. Sometimes we allow ideas to skate so lightly above the surface of our brains that they do not remain long in our possession. We should develop a reading ability so that we know what the author said and meant, what we think about it, and what we are going to do about it.
3.  By reading effectively we can actually learn to get out of a book more than there is in it.  To be able to do this is a valuable skill. In some ways, reading a book is like any other process of invention or discovery. We add to it as we think about it and use it, and we ought to take notes as we read.
4.  We ought to learn to correctly pronounce the words we read and use. We ought to know what they mean. We ought to think about applications of those words and how we can use the ideas they present.
5.  Some people are “eye-minded”: sight is the most important entrance to the mind. Other people are “ear-minded.” A soldier gets his orders through his ears and, consequently, the orders increase in importance in his understanding. Some people develop a still greater ability to understand by utilizing the double focus of eyes and ears. They read aloud to themselves so that the impulse comes not only by sight but also by sound.
When we learn to read, we ought to develop the ability to read to ourselves convincingly and entertainingly and with as much harmony and music as possible. We don’t like to listen to a boring, dull, unenthusiastic reader or speaker who makes the most exciting ideas unpleasant. But we can put ourselves to sleep, intellectually, quicker than anyone else can. When we are bored with our own performance, the needle of our brain does not record very much.
6.  In more ways than one, we ought to learn to follow the Ethiopian eunuch in developing a great interest in and sincere love for righteousness. One passage of scripture says that Cain loved Satan more than God. We are in trouble when we love cheap, profane, and vulgar ideas more than we love high-mindedness and intellectual power.
7.  One of the most beautiful reading aids is memorization. We like best those personal friends we have known and loved for a long time. And our love usually increases as we get to know these friends better.
We enjoy singing best the beautiful music that is most familiar to us. We love magnificent pictures that become a part of us. As we learn to love people, so also can we form an affinity for important ideas, memorable experiences, and great biographies in literature. Those ideas that are stamped more permanently into our hearts by memorization are the ideas that can most readily and advantageously change our lives.

*****

Let’s think together again, soon.


Source:  Sterling W. Sill, Great Literature and the Good Life, (Bountiful, UT.: Horizon Publishers & Distributors Inc., 1985), pp. 98-99.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

Although I am not in love with the politics of liberal journalist Fareed Zakariah, I very much liked what he had to say about a liberal arts education at the 2014 commencement at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers.  I commend it to you:


*** 
You are graduating from Sarah Lawrence, the quintessential liberal arts college, at an interesting moment in history—when the liberal arts are, honestly, not very cool. You all know what you’re supposed to be doing these days—study computer science, code at night, start a company, and take it public. Or, if you want to branch out, you could major in mechanical engineering. What you’re not supposed to do is get a liberal arts education.

This is not really a joke anymore. The governors of Texas, Florida and North Carolina have announced that they do not intend to spend taxpayer money subsidizing the liberal arts. Florida Governor Rick Scott asks, “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” Even President Obama recently urged students to keep in mind that a technical training could be more valuable than a degree in art history. Majors like English, once very popular and highly respected, are in steep decline.

I can well understand the concerns about liberal arts because I grew up in India in the 1960s and 1970s. A technical training was seen as the key to a good career. People who studied the liberal arts were either weird or dumb. (Or they were women because, sadly, in those days, the humanities was seen as an appropriate training for an aspiring housewife but not for a budding professional). If you were bright, you studied science, so I did. I even learned computer programming—in India in the 1970s! When I came to the United States for college, I brought with me that mindset. In my first year at Yale, I took a bunch of science and math courses. But I also took one course in the history of the Cold War. That course woke me up and made me recognize what I really loved. I dove into history and English and politics and economics and have stayed immersed in them ever since.

In thinking about my own path, I hope to give you some sense of the value of a liberal education. But first, a point of clarification. A liberal education has nothing to do with “liberal” in the left-right sense. Nor does it ignore the sciences. From the time of the Greeks, physics and biology and mathematics have been as integral to it as history and literature. For my own part, I have kept alive my interest in math and science to this day.

A liberal education—as best defined by Cardinal Newman in 1854—is a “broad exposure to the outlines of knowledge” for its own sake, rather than to acquire skills to practice a trade or do a job. There were critics even then, the 19th Century, who asked, Newman tells us, “To what then does it lead? Where does it end? How does it profit?" Or as the president of Yale, the late Bart Giamatti, asked in one of his beautiful lectures, “what is the earthly use of a liberal education?”

I could point out that a degree in art history or anthropology often requires the serious study of several languages and cultures, an ability to work in foreign countries, an eye for aesthetics, and a commitment to hard work—all of which might be useful in any number of professions in today’s globalized age. And I might point out to Governor Scott that it could be in the vital interests of his state in particular to have on hand some anthropologists to tell Floridians a few things about the other 99.5% of humanity.

But for me, the most important earthly use of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to write. In my first year in college I took an English composition course. My teacher, an elderly Englishman with a sharp wit and an even sharper red pencil, was tough. I realized that coming from India, I was pretty good at taking tests, at regurgitating stuff I had memorized, but not so good at expressing my own ideas. Over the course of that semester, I found myself beginning to make the connection between thought and word.

I know I’m supposed to say that a liberal education teaches you to think but thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. The columnist Walter Lippmann, when asked his thoughts on a particular topic, is said to have replied, “I don’t know what I think on that one. I haven’t written about it yet.”  There is, in modern philosophy, a great debate as to which comes first—thought or language. I have nothing to say about it. All I know is that when I begin to write, I realize that my “thoughts” are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them. It is the act of writing that forces me to think through them and sort them out. Whether you are a novelist, a businessman, a marketing consultant, or a historian, writing forces you to make choices and brings clarity and order to your ideas.

If you think this has no earthly use, ask Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Bezos insists that his senior executives write memos—often as long as six printed pages—and begins senior management meetings with a period of quiet time—sometimes as long as 30 minutes—while everyone reads the memos and makes notes on them. Whatever you will do in life, the ability to write clearly, cleanly and—I would add—quickly will prove to be an invaluable skill. And it is, in many ways, the central teaching of a liberal education.

The second great advantage of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to speak and speak your mind. One of the other contrasts that struck me between school in India and college in America was that an important part of my grade was talking. My professors were going to judge me on the process of thinking through the subject matter and presenting my analysis and conclusions—out loud. The seminar, which is in many ways at the heart of a liberal education—and at the heart of this college—teaches you to read, analyze, dissect, and above all to express yourself. And this emphasis on being articulate is reinforced in the many extra-curricular activities that surround every liberal arts college—theater, debate, political unions, student government, protest groups. You have to get peoples’ attention and convince them of your cause.

Speaking clearly and concisely is a big advantage in life. You have surely noticed that whenever someone from Britain talks in a class, he gets five extra points just for the accent. In fact, British education—and British life—has long emphasized and taught public speaking through a grand tradition of poetry recitation and elocution, debate and declamation. It makes a difference—but the accent does help, too.

The final strength of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to learn. I now realize that the most valuable thing I picked up in college and graduate school was not a specific set of facts or a piece of knowledge but rather how to acquire knowledge. I learned how to read an essay closely, find new sources, search for data so as to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and figure out whether an author was trustworthy. I learned how to read a book fast and still get its essence. And most of all, I learned that learning was a pleasure, a great adventure of exploration.

Whatever job you take, I guarantee that the specific stuff you have learned at college—whatever it is—will prove mostly irrelevant or quickly irrelevant. Even if you learned to code but did it a few years ago, before the world of apps, you would have to learn anew. And given the pace of change that is transforming industries and professions these days, you will need that skill of learning and retooling all the time.

These are a liberal education’s strengths and they will help you as you move through your working life. Of course, if you want professional success, you will have to put in the hours, be disciplined, work well with others, and get lucky. But that would be true for anyone, even engineers.

I kid of course. Remember, I grew up in India. Some of my best friends are engineers. And honestly, I have enormous admiration for engineers and technologists and doctors and accountants. But what we must all recognize is that education is not a zero sum game. Technical skills don’t have to be praised at the expense of humanities. Computer science is not better than art history. Society needs both—often in combination. If you don’t believe me, believe Steve Jobs who said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts—married to the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

That marriage—between technology and the liberal arts—is now visible everywhere. Twenty years ago, tech companies might have been industrial product manufacturers. Today they have to be at the cutting edge of design, marketing, and social networking. Many other companies also focus much of their attention on these fields, since manufacturing is increasingly commoditized and the value-add is in the brand, how it is imagined, presented, sold, and sustained. And then there is America’s most influential industry, which exports its products around the world—entertainment, which is driven at its core by stories, pictures, and drawings. (Did I mention that Julianna Margulies was offered $27 million?)

You will notice that so far I have spoken about ways that a liberal education can get you a job or be valuable in your career. That’s important but it is not its only virtue. You need not just a good job but also a good life. Reading a great novel, exploring a country’s history, looking at great art and architecture, making the connection between math and music—all these are ways to enrich and ennoble your life. In the decades to come, when you become a partner and then a parent, make friends, read a book, listen to music, watch a movie, see a play, lead a conversation, those experiences will be shaped and deepened by your years here.

A liberal education makes you a good citizen. The word liberal comes from the Latin liber, which means “free.” At its essence, a liberal education is an education to free the mind from dogma, from controls, from constraints. It is an exercise in freedom. That is why America’s founding fathers believed so passionately in its importance. Benjamin Franklin—the most practical of all the founders, and a great entrepreneur and inventor in his own right—proposed a program of study for the University of Pennsylvania that is essentially a liberal arts education. Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph does not mention that he was president of the United States. It proudly notes that he founded the University of Virginia, another quintessential liberal arts college. 

But there is a calling even higher than citizenship; ultimately, a liberal education is about being human. More than two thousand years ago, the great Roman philosopher, lawyer, and politician Cicero explained why it was important that we study for its own sake—not to acquire a skill or trade, but as an end unto itself. We do it, he said, because that is what makes us human: It is in our nature that “we are all drawn to the pursuit of knowledge.” It is what separates us from animals. Ever since we rose out of the mud, we have been on a quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe and to search for truth and beauty.

So, as you go out into the world, don’t let anyone make you feel stupid or indulgent in having pursued your passion and studied the liberal arts. You are heirs to one of the greatest traditions in human history, one that has uncovered the clockwork of the stars, created works of unimaginable beauty, and organized societies of amazing productivity. In continuing this tradition you are strengthening the greatest experiment in social organization, democracy. And above all, you are feeding the most basic urge of the human spirit—to know.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2014, Godspeed.

***

Let’s think together again, soon.


Source: Fareed Zakaria, commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, 2014, available online at: 
https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/news-events/commencement/archives/2014/fareed-zakaria-keynote.html

Monday, March 13, 2017

Taking Inventory of Our Mental Assets and Liabilities©

Last night I came across a great thought by Napoleon Hill, one of the early apostles of success and positive mental attitude which provoked my thinking. He spoke of taking “inventory of mental assets and liabilities.”(1) This was a new idea to me; one which it struck me was a great one, a very useful one.These days it seems that we only inventory our mental assents but it is rare to consider our mental liabilities.The exception here may be the stark recognition of our nearly total lack of education, or lack in a specific field which interests us. Otherwise there also seems to be a tendency to assume that the right mental assets–good memory, quick mind, and the like will compensate for any liability we may have.

It is useful, however, even if it is hard on the ego, to be honest in evaluating you mental liabilities. To do so, one needs to think broadly about what constitutes a  “liability.” Mental liabilities can go far beyond a poor memory, a bad or mediocre education, or being a bit slow to pick up on complex ideas and principles.  

Mental liabilities may also include mental laziness, cynicism, doubt, mental procrastination, lack of interest in or concern for truth, avoiding problem solving, over reliance on feeling and emotion rather than rational thinking, limited vocabulary, limited ability to express one’s self in writing, dependence on the opinions and thinking of others, poor reading skills, bad attitudes about school and education generally, lack of curiosity, apathy and/or indifference, contentment with one’s opinions, prejudices, biases, and ignorance; lack of understanding of the dangers and limitations ignorance imposes on a person; pride, arrogance, hubris, conceit, being a know-it-all--all of which inhibit your teachability; unreasonable skepticism, hypersensitivity to the opinions of others about you, and a host of others.[Feel free to add to this list in the comment section.]

One must admit that the list in the preceding paragraph contains some fairly lethal liabilities, which if not corrected will at the very least keep us on a low plane intellectually, and at worst to lead to a disastrous waste of one’s life. Introspection about one’s mental liabilities is important because recognizing a weakness is the first step to correcting it; the first step to overcoming mental liabilities. It is a challenging thing to list in two columns one's mental strengths and weaknesses. To do the latter may require more thought than the former, inasmuch as most of us are perhaps more aware of our mental strengths, or what we think they are, than we may be about our mental weakness, which we may tend to ignore. It is quite a challenge. Are you up to it? I urge you to give it a try, it may be a game changer for you.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  Napoleon Hill, cited in Angela Ahrendt, “From the Heart,” commencement address at Ball State University, 8 May 2010, available online at:
http://cms.bsu.edu/news/articles/2010/5/angela-ahrendts-commencement-address-from-the-heart

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty-two: Revelations Run Counter to Racial Prejudice and Bigotry in Jacksonian America©

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet

Evidence Fifty-two: Revelations Run Counter 
to Racial Prejudice and Bigotry in Jacksonian America© 

A recent publication is the stimulus for this essay. In 2016 the Church published a book to supplement the Sunday School gospel doctrine lessons for 2017 on the Doctrine and Covenants. It is called Revelations in Context: The Stories Behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants,(1) and contains essays by many authors about various sections or groups of sections of this sacred book. Jed Woodworth is the author of the chapter titled “The Center Place,” and deals with sections 52, 57, and 58. The subject matter is the location of the city of New Jerusalem or Zion, but Woodworth’s careful reading highlight’s the use of a unique title given to a group of people in section 57 with significant and relevant doctrinal and practical implications for our day.
The idea of a New Jerusalem is familiar to many Christians from John’s book of Revelation. In chapter 3 verse 12 the apostle speaks of 
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”
For Latter-day Saints the idea becomes even more important because of statements in both 3 Nephi and Ether in the Book of Mormon. Ether 13:2-6 was especially tantalizing to the Saints because it speaks of the New Jerusalem being built “upon this land,” referring to this “choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord.” It isn’t any wonder then that the early Saints should be curious about the location of this “New Jerusalem” in America, nor that an early revelation to Joseph Smith should speak of it. In August of 1830, about five months following the organization of the Church, Joseph received a revelation calling Oliver Cowdery to lead a mission to various tribes of Indians, the ultimate destination of which was the western border of Missouri. West of that border the lands were designated Indian territory.  
For many years white society occupied Indian lands as state after state was incorporated into the United States. In 1821 Missouri became a state. Six years later Jackson County was created on the western border and Independence was the county seat. Yielding to white pressure to remove the Indians from the states, the Jackson administration designated the lands west of Missouri as Indian territory or a reservation in modern terms and its official policy was separation of the races. Five Sac and Fox tribes that resided in Florida and other southern states, along with others were being relocated to the West. By 1831 the Osage Indians who had occupied western Missouri and other large sections had vacated the area. It was to these tribes in the west that Cowdery and his fellow missionaries were sent.

Interestingly, in the revelation calling Cowdery (D&C 28), verse nine reads:
And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites. (2)
An important part of Cowdery mission was “to rear up a pillar as a witness where the Temple of God shall be built, in the glorious New-Jerusalem.”(3) Cowdery wrote to Joseph, and Parley P. Pratt a member of the mission, returned to Kirtland; one or both may have confirmed Joseph’s belief that this region was the place for the New Jerusalem. Joseph Smith said that in June of 1831 he received “an heavenly vision, a commandment ... to take my journey to the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and there designate the very spot, for the commencement of the gathering together of those who embrace the fulness of the everlasting gospel.”(4)  Soon after he arrived, Joseph received a revelation on 20 July 1831, in which the Lord revealed that the city of Independence, Jackson County, Missouri was to be  the location of the New Jerusalem or the City of Zion and a temple.(5) But the location of Zion was not the only interesting thing to be found in this revelation.

This and other revelations also answered the question as to who would be invited to live in the New Jerusalem. The Saints were instructed to purchase the land “lying westward, even unto the line running directly between Jew and Gentile.”(6) What is this language–the land between Jew and Gentile? Why not use the usual designations and speak of the land between the Indians or Lamanites and the Gentiles, or even the red men and white men? In reality all these terms are “racial” and cultural in nature, and draw distinctions between the groups, but the use of “Jew” instead of “Indian” or “red man” emphasized a different distinction and did not carry the negative connotations which “red man” or “Indian” did. In the scriptures, and the Book of Mormon in particular, the designation “Jew” has several meanings.(7) Initially it referred to those who were of the tribe of Judah. Eventually it was broadened to refer to those who were of the House of Israel, God’s ancient covenant people, and the Book of Mormon makes it clear that the Lamanites were the ancestors of at least some Indians in the Americas and they were of the House of Israel. This passage speaks of the Indians as “Jews.”  Woodworth points out that according to the Book of Mormon both Jew and Gentile had vital roles in God’s plan of salvation. The clear implication of this passage was that God was inviting them to work together. Other scriptures designated that the gospel was initially to go from the Jews to the Gentiles, but at a later period the process was to be reversed and the gospel was to come from the Gentile to the Jew.(8) In this sense, according to Woodworth, the revelation “echoes this covenantal structure” when it speaks of the Indians as Jews. (9)

Woodworth’s insight then, is that at the time the US government’s official policy was segregation of these races, Joseph Smith’s revelation were moving in exactly the opposite direction. The Indians were to be included in the New Jerusalem rather than to be marginalized and pushed to the outskirts of civilization. God’s holy city of Zion was to be in the very midst of or between the Jew and Gentile. Since Zion is the “pure in heart,” the clear implication is that the Jew/Indian/Lamanite could with “all people” become pure in heart and dwell in Zion.In a day when race issues in and immigration to the United States are the hottest of political topics, this insight gives every Latter-day Saint reason to pause for contemplation and inquiry for inspiration and understanding.  

Woodword also points out that section 58 adds breadth to this vision. It was revealed to Joseph Smith while he was still in Missouri in the summer of 1831. It speaks of the honor which was given to these brethren to lay the foundations of Zion and of  “bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand.” Then it refers to the great feast or banquet so frequently spoken of in scriptures “unto which all nations shall be invited.”(10) He also notes that the word “nations,” would resonate with both the whites and the Indians as the word used to describe the largest unit of their political organization.

Well, thank you Jed Woodwroth for these thought provoking insights. Joseph Smith has frequently been accused of grabbing on to all the popular notions of his day and including them in his scriptural writings and theology. In our day many of these issues have been examined and most of them turn out to be just the opposite of what the critics claim. That certainly appears to be the case here.  Joseph Smith is not influenced by the popular prejudice which prompted a national policy of segregation of the Indians. He saw that as children of God they inherited the same potential and could have the same destiny as any other of God’s sons and daughters. The gospel is inclusive; its blessings are for all nations, all kindreds, all tongues, and all people. For me this is one more evidence of the divine inspiration given to Joseph Smith as God’s prophet.

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  Matthew McBride and James Goldberg, eds., Revelations in Context: The Stories Behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2016.  Woodworth’s chapter is found on pages 122-29.

2.  Emphasis added. The original version in the Book of Commandments said “among the Lamanites,” but was later revised to read “on the borders by the Lamanites.”

3. The covenant between Cowdery and those going with him on this mission was published in the The Ohio Star, Ravenna, Ohio, 8 December 1831.  An original has not been found, but there is little reason to believe this is not genuine.  A facsimile reproduction and transcription is available online at:
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/covenant-of-oliver-cowdery-and-others-17-october-1830/1?highlight=Lamanite%20Mission

4.  Joseph Smith to the elders of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Messenger and Advocate, (September 1835), 1:179.

5.  D&C 57: 2-3.

6.  D&C 57:5.

7.  See Woodworth, “The Center Place,” p. 128, n. 24.

8.  Woodworth, “The Center Place,” p. 128.

9.  Woodworth, “The Center Place,” p. 126.

10.  D&C 58:6-9, emphasis added.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Young People, The Records of Your Early Life May Significantly Affect Your Future©

Over a lifetime of working with and serving the youth of the Church, I have observed many youngsters who have severely marred their lives at a very young age, or who were at the time in the process of so doing, or on a path that would lead to serious difficulties in the future. It is always important to help the young avoid doing, saying, and thinking things that can lead to disaster, and in the moment one does the best one can. On the other side of these life-altering events, especially those that turn out negative, one looks back to see what one could have done better.  

I have had my share of these times, and looking back I have been amazed at how easy it is for a young person who is energetic, carefree, curious, relatively ignorant although highly intelligent, and sometimes resistant to the restraints life imposes on us, how easy it is for them to do something at a very young age that is tragic or will eventually lead to tragedy.

At an early hour this morning I read something that caused me to reflect on these things once again. It contains some advice which, if the youth will take it seriously, could help many avoid marring their lives at a young age.(1) It is a very brief (2 ½ minute) essay by Richard L. Evans about the records of our lives. At the outset he talks of the tendency in many youth to be a bit careless or indifferent about the course of their lives, assuming that when it is “convenient or necessary” they will settle down. In truth, it is a tricky business and significant dilemma for guides of youth to know how much to tolerate and when to intervene.

Elder Evans teaches the young the importance of the many records that are kept of our lives. He mentions school records of our accomplishments in every subject we take, “which affects our future as we become candidates for further opportunities.” A high percentage of today’s youth probably understand this idea pretty well. He also mentioned a soldier’s military record that goes with him wherever he goes–“explaining his past and qualifying his future.” A record is also preserved of our violations of the law. They can similarly influence our future. Less familiar to youth, but a powerful example has to do with individual credit ratings kept by the banking institutions of America. They track the “certainty and promptness with which we pay off our obligations; and any future credit or financial backing we may expect or hope for is qualified by the record.” Our interactions with others–our daily conduct and considerations” in many of the small matters of life are housed in the “indelible” memory of our family, friends, and associates. In each of these instances, the “record” of the past can significantly influence the future.  

The problem is that many youth are unaware of or ignore the importance their past record will have on their future. “Sometimes youth permit the record to become clouded,” Elder Evans observes, “thinking that it won’t matter later. Unfortunately, however, it does matter later. And often there follows the heartbreak of wishing the record were different.”

How many colleges, universities, and graduate programs have not been attended because of a poor school record? How many promotions and additional training were not received or future employment gained because of a poor military record? How many opportunities of every kind have been lost because of the record of one’s legal rap-sheet? How much money has not been loaned to couples wanting to buy a home or partners wanting to start a business because of poor credit scores? How many relationships have been disrupted in families and among friends and associates because of the accumulated memory of how one has been treated in life? In the case of the Church, how many missions have not been served, marriages not solemnized in the temple, and callings to leadership positions not extended because of the past conduct of individual members? One of the great opportunity-destroying elements in life is the “record” of our past, many times of our youth.

So, Elder Evans addresses the youth with great wisdom. “And so it would seem that this should be said to young people, everywhere , at home or away:”
Live so that you can look at anyone without an accusing conscience, without the memory of things you wish weren’t there. Be straight and open and honest. Don’t permit anything to get into your record that will not stand scrutiny under the search light of day. If you do, it will rise to plague you in times to come....
I regret that this principle was not as clear in my mind as a teacher and church worker when I needed it the most, as it is this morning. “Regret,” said William George Jordan, “is but the light of fuller wisdom from our past, illuminating our future. It means that we are wiser today than we were yesterday. This new wisdom means new responsibility, new privileges; it is a new chance for a better life.”(2) This being true, I sense new responsibility.The Internet and Blogspot give me a new chance to fulfill it. I pray the young will have the good sense to listen and that those who are a little older will pass this lesson on to their children at an early age and continue to teach it throughout their lives.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. Richard L. Evans, “The Record,” in At This Same Hour (New York: Harper & Brothers, n.d., probably 1949 or soon thereafter), pp. 36-37.

2. William George Jordan, The Kingship of Self-Control (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), pp. 46-47.