Thursday, December 8, 2011

Brigham Young, on education

“How gladly we would understand every principle pertaining to science and art,
and become thoroughly acquainted with every intricate operation of nature,
and with all the chemical changes that are constantly going on around us!

How delightful this would be,
and what a boundless field of truth and power is open for us to explore!

We are only just approaching the shores of the vast ocean of information
that pertains to this physical world,
to say nothing of that which pertains to the heavens,
to angels and celestial beings, to the place of their habitation
to the manner of their life,
and their progress to still higher degrees of perfection.”

- Brigham Young

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How would you describe the visitation of an angel?

Today I rediscovered this powerful testimony that is unfortunately not often read, though it has long been included with our scriptures (bold font is mine):

Oliver Cowdery (1806 - 1850), Second Elder of the Church, Assistant President of the Church, On the Visit of John the Baptist to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, May 15, 1829.

"These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’

To notice, in even few words, the interesting account given by Mormon and his faithful son, Moroni, of a people once beloved and favored of heaven, would supersede my present design; I shall therefore defer this to a future period, and, as I said in the introduction, pass more directly to some few incidents immediately connected with the rise of this Church, which may be entertaining to some thousands who have stepped forward, amid the frowns of bigots and the calumny of hypocrites, and embraced the Gospel of Christ.

No men, in their sober senses, could translate and write the directions given to the Nephites from the mouth of the Savior, of the precise manner in which men should build up His Church, and especially when corruption had spread an uncertainty over all forms and systems practiced among men, without desiring a privilege of showing the willingness of the heart by being buried in the liquid grave, to answer a ‘good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.’

After writing the account given of the Savior’s ministry to the remnant of the seed of Jacob, upon this continent, it was easy to be seen, as the prophet said it would be, that darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people. On reflecting further it was as easy to be seen that amid the great strife and noise concerning religion, none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the Gospel. For the question might be asked, have men authority to administer in the name of Christ, who deny revelations, when His testimony is no less than the spirit of prophecy, and His religion based, built, and sustained by immediate revelations, in all ages of the world when He has had a people on earth? If these facts were buried, and carefully concealed by men whose craft would have been in danger if once permitted to shine in the faces of men, they were no longer to us; and we only waited for the commandment to be given ‘Arise and be baptized.’

This was not long desired before it was realized. The Lord, who is rich in mercy, and ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble, after we had called upon Him in a fervent manner, aside from the abodes of men, condescended to manifest to us His will. On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the Gospel of repentance.

What joy! what wonder! what amazement! While the world was racked and distracted—while millions were groping as the blind for the wall, and while all men were resting upon uncertainty, as a general mass, our eyes beheld, our ears heard, as in the ‘blaze of day’; yes, more—above the glitter of the May sunbeam, which then shed its brilliancy over the face of nature!

Then his voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, ‘I am thy fellow-servant,’ dispelled every fear. We listened, we gazed, we admired! ’Twas the voice of an angel from glory, ’twas a message from the Most High! And as we heard we rejoiced, while His love enkindled upon our souls, and we were wrapped in the vision of the Almighty! Where was room for doubt? Nowhere; uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever!

But, dear brother, think, further think for a moment, what joy filled our hearts, and with what surprise we must have bowed, (for who would not have bowed the knee for such a blessing?) when we received under his hand the Holy Priesthood as he said, ‘Upon you my fellow-servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer this Priesthood and this authority, which shall remain upon earth, that the Sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness!’

I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion; but you will believe me when I say, that earth, nor men, with the eloquence of time, cannot begin to clothe language in as interesting and sublime a manner as this holy personage. No; nor has this earth power to give the joy, to bestow the peace, or comprehend the wisdom which was contained in each sentence as they were delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit! Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind.

The assurance that we were in the presence of an angel, the certainty that we heard the voice of Jesus, and the truth unsullied as it flowed from a pure personage, dictated by the will of God, is to me past description, and I shall ever look upon this expression of the Savior’s goodness with wonder and thanksgiving while I am permitted to tarry; and in those mansions where perfection dwells and sin never comes, I hope to adore in that day which shall never cease."

Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1 (October 1834), pp. 14—16 Also displayed as footnote at the end of Joseph Smith-History chapter in the Pearl of Great Price (Page 59) Also see Doctrine and Covenants Section 13

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jewish scapegoating

Reading an otherwise excellent book: Monasticism, Gateway to the Middle Ages (Duckett, 1938), I am disturbed by its casual acceptance of the claim that the Jews in a certain medieval French city, Arles, attempted to betray the place to barbarian (Frankish) besiegers by tossing down a message stone from the walls -- a claim that came just in time to take the pressure off the city's ecclesiastical leader, one Caesarius. I searched through James Carroll's Constantine's Sword and found no mention of the episode. Rather surprising, since Carroll's theme is the tortured relationship of Christianity and Judaism, and Caesarius was the controversial Vicar Apostolic of all Gaul and Spain at the time. His allegiance to Arles was several times questioned, since he was of Burgundian birth. What would the local Jews possibly have gained from having Arles pass into Frankish hands? Even the best books of history are written by mortal men and women, and a good scholar doesn't unquestioningly swallow their every word, however authoritative.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shashua -- taking delight in the law of the Lord

"Unless thy law had been my delights,
I should then have perished in my affliction."
-- Psalms 119:92

Not after our trials, but during the very worst of them, we can experience happiness, delights or pleasure (Heb. shashua), by focusing on the law -- the word -- of God.

I am reminded of the vision of the Prophet Lehi, in which he saw a rod of iron representing the word of God, leading to the Tree of Life, the love of God. While partaking of the fruit brought ultimate joy, we can believe that the journeyers also experienced delight along the way by "holding to the rod."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Doctrine and Covenants 38: Beauty of Doctrine

This week, I will finish seven months of study of the passage of scripture titled "Doctrine and Covenants 38." Such a dry, utilitarian title obscures the incredible beauty of this revelation.

If the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants attributed to Joseph Smith, first prophet of the Restoration, were indeed merely creations of his own mind, we would see them evolving in complexity over time, as the youth became a mature man. We forget sometimes just how young Joseph Smith was as leader of the Church.

But Section 38 was revealed when the Church was not even a year old, and the Prophet himself was only 25 years old. It is a fully mature,expansive passage that reveals not his mind but that of the omniscient, eternal God who revealed it to him:

"Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made ...

... Let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practise virtue and holiness before me ...

... Let your preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness ..."

I see these particular verses as highlighting the grand themes of the revelation: The introduction, declaring the majesty, power and imminence of God; the principles of the Zion society that He was preparing to restore to the earth -- a people of equity, purity and compassion preparing for the return of the Messiah; and the call to share the word.

Verses 31 and 39 have been footnoted to 2 Peter 3:14 and Haggai 2:8, respectively. Most apppropriate. Following the footnotes last night, I was powerfully impacted by the reality that our Eternal God works upon the same Plan that He has always had, "never varying from that which he hath said," and that all of these verses,though vastly separated in time and place, fit together beautifully, being ultimately from the same Mind, to declare the same principles of Zion, Paradise on Earth, whether amongst the ancient covenant Children of Israel, the earliest Christians or the saints of the Restoration.

God is in charge, all things are His, Zion will see the Desire of Nations, Messiah's rule of equity for all, with the glorious temple of God at its center, served by a people prepared in heart.

And I picture the Prophet Joseph on that frosty January day of 1831, gathered with the saints at Fayette, N.Y., with but a wood fire to warm the room; I hear the scrape of boots on the rough floor and the rustle of ladies' skirts. Then the light of heaven shines upon Joseph and he begins to speak the words of revelation and all the congregation is hushed as the very Laws of Zion are set forth again in supernal beauty.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

die Mauer

This month, Germany marks 50 years since the building of what may have ranked as the ugliest piece of architecture in human history -- the Berlin Wall, die Mauer as they called it.

It is gone now, along with the totalitarian state that erected it to imprison its own citizens. It seems inconceivable that some Germans today are expressing nostalgia for it ... but it is human nature over time, in all societies, for the rough edges of memory to soften and blur.

My father visited then-East Berlin in the 1980s,when it was still under the Communist boot heel. He remembers the sadness on the faces of the people, and the grim, gray streets.

In my home library is an old book from that era,"Berlin, East and West." It closes with this note:

"There is a popular Berlin song with a refrain that goes, 'In fifty years it'll all be over' ... These are the words of the optimist. The pessimist knows that short of nuclear holocaust, the only thing safe to predict about the future of East and West Berlin is that they will go on existing ..."

The optimists were right this time. Today, a reunited Berlin has regained its place among the great metropolises of the world, with a people reknowned for generosity and zest for life.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


In every major religious movement, runs a trend towards so-called mysticism. Ecstatic movements and some forms of monasticism in Christianity, Sufism in Islam, Kaballah in Judaism, etc.

Can a Latter-day Saint gain any insight, learn any truth, from mysticism? Or should it all, like seances and ouija boards, be left alone as utterly incompatible with our faith?

I ask because my personal study of history and literature has now brought me to the Middle Ages, when Christian mysticism was all the rage, and I would like to understand its foundations. I read 30 pages of Dionysus the Areopagite's "The Divine Names" today and understood virtually nothing of it -- it seemed as bizzare and contradictory as the Tao philosophy of China. Clearly, some mental effort will be required to gain even a basic understanding.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Count Belisarius

Way too late last night, I finished Robert Graves' 1938 novel, Count Belisarius. My edition was a battered 1966 paperback reprinting I bought at some booksale years ago and finally have read.

If Graves' depiction of this era in history, the world of sixth century Byzantine Rome, is to be believed, there perhaps never existed a stupider, less grateful sovereign than Emperor Justinian, nor a better, less-appreciated general than Belisarius. Time after time, the general saved the Eastern empire from its enemies, only to be punished again and again by his myopic, jealous emperor, against whom he never would raise a finger, however justified. I heard echoes of the Saul-David story, and even of Stowes' Uncle Tom-Simon Lagree portrayal. Evil is ever resentful of good. The more patient in suffering the good, the more incandescent in fury true evil becomes.

They say every writer is a product of his or her times. But Graves' novel didn't feel dated, other than one odd reference to primitive communism.

Now, time to move on, to a very strange old book given to me by a good friend, Chuck B., who knows that I love strange old books. Mystical Theology and the Celestial Hierarchies purports to have been written by Dionysius the Areopagite of New Testament fame, but is believed by scholars to have been composed sometime around the 5th Century A.D.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Meditations on China

I read some pages in Chinese history today. I thought about a program I recently watched detailing the incredible feats of engineering now underway in that land -- highways, bridges, dams and cities that dwarf anything in the West.

For thousands of years, the land we in the West call "China" was at once a place of immense mystery and incredible innovation. Clock mechanisms, paper, silk, gunpowder,sailing technology, ship rudders, the compass and other inventions enriched her culture and then crossed the borders into the West. Her explorers traveled the world.

Then she turned inward. She became weak. The rising West took full advantage and China suffered. And she has never forgotten.

Now we are in 2011 and China has again become the colossus of Asia. She has, her admirers will say, finally regained her historic, rightful place in the world. There's just one problem. She's carried with her into the new century the ragged remnants of a Western political disease called communism -- jettisoned most of its basic philosophy but hung onto its most loathsome symptom, an obsession with tyrannical control over her own people. She insists on it, for stability.

Who knows what the future holds? Will the Middle Kingdom ultimately become a democracy, allowing full freedom of speech, worship and the press? Or will it forever manage to alienate those inalienable rights?

China must also now share the globe with nations unborn in the days when she, Persia and Imperial Rome alone ruled the world. That day has passed forever. How will she behave amongst new friends, foes and rivals? Will the global community ultimately bless or curse her modern rise to power?

Ask a Tasman, if you can still find one, how enlightened the British Empire was in its behavior towards his ancestors ... or a Cherokee how the rising U.S. nation treated his people ... and these are the "good guys" of history. What will be said of China? The page is yet unwritten.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Study in triplicate

Everyone has their own way of immersing themselves in scripture. Whatever works for you, go for it!

I like to copy out the passage that I am contemplating into a notebook, then write my thoughts. If it's the Bible I am reading, I look up the Greek/Hebrew as the case may be.

Last night, I went a step further. I may try this again if it continues to be enjoyable. I wrote out the KJV passage, from Psalms 119:78, speaking of the proud ones (zedom) who persecute a righteous man/woman.

Then I blew the dust off my Hungarian translation of the Bible (from missionary days), and wrote the passage again, this time in Hungarian. Hungarian being a beautiful, rhythmic language, it read like poetry, which was a pleasure. After that, I got out my Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and carefully wrote out the Hebrew original.

Writing the passage three times, in three different languages, caused me to think carefully about each word in the verse -- and it still remains in my head these many hours later.

As a last step in the learning process, I looked up the verse in Malachi in Tanakh, which I remembered speaks of the proud being burned as stubble. I was quickly able to confirm that "zedom" underlies that text as well.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The finger of God

Perhaps my long, painful journey through Augustine's City of God will have been worth it for this one astounding insight. In Book 16, verse 43, expounding upon the Exodus, Augustine mentions the "finger of God." That is a very rare Biblical term, in Hebrew etsba Elohim, and first appears as a description of God's power against the magicians of Pharoah. In the N.T., it resurfaces, in Greek of course, dactylo theo, in reference to the Spirit of God. (Cf. Luke 11:20 and Matthew 12:28). The scholar R. Steven Notley

notes that the Greek text, by construction, appears dependent on a Hebrew original. I.e., is a Semitism. He also notes that on Passover, Jews customarily recite an ancient Rabbinical commentary on the concept of the finger of God empowering the Exodus.

Of course, the Book of Mormon has a well-known, singular, finger of God episode, appearing in Ether. The finger of God touches stones upon a mountain, enabling a group of God's chosen to travel across the sea to their promised Land.

Jaredites weren't Hebrews and the Exodus of Israel was still a future event at the time of this theophany. But it is interesting to contemplate God using the same symbolism here as He would later. Can we really credit farm-boy Joseph with such an insight? I doubt he had been to very many Passover sedars when he translated the Book of Mormon, nor was very familiar with St. Augustine.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We have a duty to defend ...

Latter-day Saints have a duty to defend their faith, not by strife but by knowledge and gentle persuasion. We ought to know our scriptures, including the Bible, well enough not to falter at every sling and arrow of attack. Consider:

On a certain website devoted to creating a "crisis of faith" for Mormons in order to save their souls, one of the first suggestions is to assert that every Biblical theophany had witnesses. Joseph Smith had no one with him in the grove when he purported to receive his First Vision. Therefore, his story violated Biblical precedent.

Seems to me this theory falls apart with even a cursory reading of the Bible. Is anyone besides Noah reported to have heard God's direction to build the Ark? Who was with Abraham when he was called to be a father of many nations? Who witnessed the marvelous vision of the Lord to Isaiah, when "His train filled the temple"? Surely, there are many, many more of these.

It is sad, very sad to me, that any of my brothers and sisters in the Church could be so ignorant of the Bible and so weak in their faith as to actually fall prey to such silly attacks. But they do.

The Bible is the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. We take so much heat for such a self-evident statement. Can the Bible be translated incorrectly? Of course! Anyone with a pen and paper could accomplish that task! Are incorrectly translated passages still the word of God and therefore binding upon us? Did not someone many centuries ago mistakenly translate one of the Ten Commandments?

I have just read a chapter in St. Augustine's City of God in which he struggles for quite a few paragraphs to reconcile differences between the Hebrew manuscripts and the Septuagint version of the Bible regarding the lifespan of Methusaleh. If the great Christian Augustine could concede that copyists of the Bible before his day could introduce errors into the text -- even dare to consider that some were malicious -- can a Latter-day Saint be faulted for the same belief?

Latter-day Saints do not believe the Bible is corrupt or unreliable, as our critics claim we do. It is precious. It is beautiful. It is living word for our daily lives. But just as it was wrong of uninspired men to close the "Old Testament" canon with Malachi (as the Samaritans do after the Pentateuch), so it is wrong of man to close the lips of God after the Revelation to St. John.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I have never deleted any comments to this blog, except for obvious spam. The truth needs no protection.

So I am saddened to stumble across yet another Internet attack-site today posting a copious list of supposed failings of the Mormon Church, complete with at least ten glowing reviews by fans. And yet ... not one criticism of the site or its methods, not even one feeble little possibility of a question or a refutation.

It sounds like the election results from a dictatorship. Most egregious, one of the posters praised the site's "lack of bias." Bias, I am sorry to say, oozed from every nook and cranny of that site.

If you are going to spend your time criticizing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at least have the honesty to allow for the possibility that someone somewhere might have a response to your claim.

Otherwise, a truly intelligent mind will see right through you, and you do no favors for the cause of Christ.


Twice now, I have been asked to lead the lessons in Elder Quorum, as part of my calling.

Both times, I have had grand ideas but the delivery, to me, seems to fall very short.

Perhaps I am being taught to be more humble, to rely more on the Spirit to be the teacher, and less upon other means, such as props, video clips and my own "wisdom."

Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment but I welcome the chance to try again. This time, I resolve to clear away every visual aid, every prop, everything except the basic scriptures and the lesson manual.

We will have a clutter-free discussion.

Or so I hope.

We might just have a three-minute lesson.