Tag Archives: Book of Mormon

“If thou art sorrowful” – A homily on trials and tribulations

This is a homily I wrote for Sacrament Meeting this Sunday. It’s the first talk I ever wrote out beforehand (I usually just rely on a constellation of talking points and loose outlines the other times) and got a lot of great responses from it so I thought I’d share it with y’all.

The main reason Peanuts is still one of my absolute favorite comic strips is because of its common theological musings (always in humorous fashion). All credits to Charles Shultz.

The main reason Peanuts is still one of my absolute favorite comic strips is because of its common theological musings (always in humorous fashion). All credits to Charles Schulz.

Today’s scripture theme comes from Doctrine and Covenants 136:31, “My people must be tried in all things.” Section 136 is my third favorite section, next to 121 and 93, mostly because 136 is a very practical guide to every day life. It is also one of the few sections not given to us through Joseph Smith but through Brigham Young, on January 14, 1847, according to the section heading, at “the Winter Quarters of the Camp of Israel, Omaha Nation, West Bank of Missouri River, near Council Bluffs, Iowa.” At this point in Church history, their beloved prophet Joseph Smith had been brutally assassinated along with his brother Hyrum, the Assistant President of the Church, by a bloodthirsty gang of thugs just two and a half years before this revelation was given. The previous year, persecution had become so intense that the Saints decided the most rational response was to evacuate an entire city and abandon a temple they had sacrificed so much for, a temple that was fully operational for less than three months. At the time of the revelation, a large body of the Church was camped out at Winter Quarters, where their diet consisted mainly of corn bread, salt bacon, a little milk, and occasional meat, usually from any game they could hunt nearby. There were little to no fruits and vegetables. Scurvy, known as “blackleg” during the time (which gets my vote for most terrifying disease name in the 1800s) was rampant, along with tuberculosis and malaria, all horrifying diseases. Hundreds died that winter (see Wikipedia, “Winter Quarters”). Trials and tribulations no doubt were forefront on the Saints’ minds, and it’s understandable to me if at that point some were thinking after hearing the revelation, “Tried in all the things? You’ve got to be kidding me. What did I sign up for?”

Thankfully, we live in very different times and circumstances, yet of all the problems, controversies, and public media battles and scandals, I would venture to guess that the most difficult question the modern-day Latter-day Saint must grapple with is, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” The doubt that many experience when grappling with this question stems not from disbelief, as some of the orthodoxy suspect, but from an intense belief in the goodness of God and a selfless love and compassion for all people, a love born from their faith in the promises of the gospel. You will never meet a mean-spirited, uncaring person ask this question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”, unless that person believes himself to be a “good” person who was wronged.

Part of the anxiety we experience with this question comes from this cognitive dissonance, but much of it also comes from the fact we live in a society devoted to and obsessed with comfort. The existence and even any mention of death, disability, suffering, weakness, and helplessness makes us nervous and want to quickly change the subject or shush the speaker on the grounds that such topics are impolite to talk about — unless, of course, you’re trying to sell a new product. Our government, our economy, and our civic ideologies are based upon rugged individualism, maximized personal freedom to do as we choose, and the conceit that everything good that happens in life is a direct result of our own actions and only our actions with the opposite belief that everything bad that happens in others’ lives is a result of their own personal decisions. But the existence of pain, suffering, setbacks, trials, death, disease, and disability destroy our carefully constructed and clever contrivances. In the end, despite our diet plans, medical advances, scientific breakthroughs, and accumulated GDP, the death rate for humans remains stubbornly at 100%, and large portions of our economy are devoted to either trying to escape this sobering fact, or to forget about it through distractions and temporary indulgences.

Perhaps what makes this question so enduring in its difficulty is because many of the more philosophical answers ring as false or trite in our ears when we are in the midst of suffering and pain, especially when it’s ours. Unsurprisingly, trials and tribulations is one of the most popular topics in the scriptures because trials and tribulations refuse to become simply an abstract idea, no matter how hard our current society tries. While suffering and pain is often distributed disproportionately in our world, every human will experience some form of pain, whether physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, social, or otherwise. This truth — that everyone must feel pain — and, more importantly, the implications of this truth and what we do with this truth forms the foundational bedrock of almost every religion, faith, and philosophy, our religious faith included.

Our Church’s early history is well acquainted with suffering. Joseph Smith’s life could be described as a continuous stream of devastating personal tragedies punctuated with the occasional spiritual triumph. Our people have experienced historical persecution, have lost lives, property, and sacred places because of this persecution. The Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion, deals with people “whose lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days” (Jacob 7:26). The first prophet-author Nephi, in the very first chapter, says he writes this record to “show unto [us] the tender mercies of the Lord [that] are over all those whom he hath chosen” (1 Nephi 1:20) and the final prophet-author Moroni urges the reader to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that ye shall receive these things” (Moroni 10:3), yet the contents in between these two statements seem anything but merciful. Nephi witnesses his extended family torn apart by jealousy and fear, becoming the basis of two warring nations. Moroni experiences the ultimate conclusion of this family rivalry as he sees his entire people slaughtered and he is left to eke out an existence wandering alone. Ancient scripture gives us plenty of instances where good people suffer and question out loud, culminating in God Himself being born into the world and experiencing first hand rejection and persecution and even torture and execution as the ancient Roman equivalent of a modern-day terrorist despite preaching a message of radical peace and love, an irony crowned by the ultimate irony that it was the leaders of the religion based upon Him who helped to betray Him.

It is easy for many of us born in amazing, unprecedented prosperity, comfort, and opportunity to forget that while we worship the God of Peace and the God of Love, we also worship the Abandoned God, the Forgotten God, the Rejected God, the Humiliated God, a God who experienced all of this and submitted Himself willingly to these experiences with explicit purpose to love us more fully. We believe in a God who weeps because of the hatred amongst His children. We believe in a God who cries out, “What more could I have done for my vineyard?” We believe in a God who, when He appears in our own personal lives, does not come to us as a powerful person or a wealthy person but as a prisoner, as the poor, as the fatherless and the widow. We admire prophets who’ve begged the Lord to show himself, to stop hiding, to unstay his hand and listen to the cries of his people. Even “patient” Job declares (and if you actually read the Book of Job, you realize that he is anything but patient), “I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak to the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul…My soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than life. I loathe it; I would not live always: let me alone; for my days are vanity” (Job 7:11, 15-16).

All credits to Charles Schulz.

All credits to Charles Schulz.

The most poignant, memorable, and beloved passages of scripture, both ancient and modern, are passages in which the author questions, challenges, or downright begs God for relief, for comfort, for explanations. In these passages are often revealed the frailty of humanity and its reliance on God, but also revealed is God’s unlovable hand in both mercy and justice as well as power. Even for Jesus, one of his last words in His mortal ministry was the opening line of a psalm, a hymn and prayer, “O Lord, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, see also Psalms 22:1). Even silent acts, such as the woman who reaches out in hopes of brushing her fingertips against just the edges of divinity or the woman who, without words, bathes the Savior’s feet in her tears — these images and other similar stories etch the deepest grooves in our memories and our souls.

But what does this all have to do with the question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” At the end of the Book of Job, contrary to popular belief, one of Job’s friends actually does get the better of him. We usually hear the narrative with Job as the silent, eternally graceful and patient sufferer while his friends rail against him and accuse him of sin and tell him to curse God and die (only his wife says that). It is true that Eliphaz relies on simplistic, overly moralistic, “Gospel of Prosperity” heuristics to accuse Job of sin because bad things only happen to bad people. Bildad indulges in his Deistic Nihilism and the worthlessness of man. And Zophar spouts tone-deaf, Hallmark-esque, even nonsensical cliches that don’t even relate to Job’s situation at all! For those who have experienced suffering and received well-meaning advice from people, you may recognize some of these archetypes.

This remains my most absolute favorite Peanuts comic strip to date. All credits to Charles Schultz.

This remains my most absolute favorite Peanuts comic strip to date and prompted me to actually closely read the Book of Job, which is now my favorite Old Testament book. All credits to Charles Schulz and Charlie Brown’s baseball playing theological seminary.

But Elihu, youngest of the bunch, finally tells Job, “Look, bro. You’ve spent this entire time justifying your own righteousness in the face of adversity, but you have spent little to no time sincerely justifying the goodness of God.” Elihu ignores the question that Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Job discuss ad nauseum for over 30 chapters: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Instead, he says to Job, “You asked earlier in this conversation, ‘What’s the point of righteousness if you still have bad things happen to you?’ The answer is because righteousness blesses others (see Job 35:1-8, Job 22:2-3). God cannot be unjust, He cannot pervert justice, and He cannot be a respecter of persons. And if you have faith in this God, you stay righteous to the end not because it blesses you but because it blesses others. God will make up for the rest.”

To bring it all back, Doctrine and Covenants 136:31 tells us that “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.” But only three verses before, the Lord tells us, “If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.” But “If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication that your soul may be joyful” (D&C 136:28-29), mirroring that beautiful one in The Book of Mormon, “men are that they might have joy.” Even in the midst of suffering, or perhaps even because of it, we must seek out joy in the kindness of others and exercise kindness ourselves and therein see the righteousness of God.

Brothers and sisters, my faith in God is not knowledge or some secret truth I hold. Rather it is a faith born out of hope and desperation. In the face of seemingly infinite sorrow, pain, and suffering, I cling to the promises of the gospel because no other philosophy, economy, ideology, or theology has worked for me — and I’ve tried to find one that does. I have no other choice. Like the Apostle Peter, if the Lord asked me if I, too, shall go like the others, I have no brilliant logical defense or proof or even experienced some majestic, divine manifestation. All I can reply with is, “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68) — I hope. Because I have no other options.

It is my hope that in face of adversity, whether our own or others, we ignore our instinct to justify our own righteousness but instead justify and demonstrate the righteousness of God. This is not easy. In fact, it is immensely difficult. But it is exactly what we signed up for according to our baptismal covenant, which, if it means anything to us, “commands us to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). It is my hope that in face of pain and suffering, we can pull together as a ward family and as the family of humanity to find joy in kindness from others and showing kindness to those around us.

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Scriptures, the Tarot, and other universal archetypes

I’ve recently been reading a lot about (and collecting) Tarot decks in conjunction with a project that I’ve been working on. The Tarot deck has always fascinated me, even since my childhood, not because I believed that such cards held some kind of mystical clairvoyant power, but mostly because of the archetypes the Major Arcana represented. Concepts such as Judgment, The World, Temperance, The Sun, The Moon, The Emperor, The Fool — they all felt like symbolic poetry, a world of ideas and feelings and connotations packed into a single card with a single image.

In retrospect, my fascination with  Tarot cards most likely stemmed from my strict religious upbringing, especially one such as Mormonism which is still obsessed with the idea of symbolism. We continue to, like many other religions, employ symbolism within our worship, and also within the way we speak about and act out our faith. How could I, a kid raised to automatically ferret out symbolism and derive great joy and satisfaction from decompressing it, resist the rich symbolism of the Tarot?

"Okay, I tap The Emperor and sacrifice the Nine of Cups to deal five damage to your Hierophant."

"Okay, I tap The Emperor and sacrifice the Nine of Cups to deal five damage to your Hierophant."

While learning about the symbolism of the Tarot, it was inevitable that I learned a little in how to use them in the traditional sense of fortune telling. So when some friends came over, I offered to do some Tarot readings as a sort of parlor trick. They agreed and said it sounded like fun. I proceeded to lay out spreads for each of my friends. Some of them mirrored their life situations perfectly while others, predictably, did not. All in all, however, I was very surprised to see how invested people get into Tarot readings; they automatically seek out to relate their life to the cards, or extrapolate meanings in the symbolism to apply to their own life.

One friend, who recently got out of a bad relationship, took the Tarot spread’s interpretation to mean that he needed to stop dwelling on the past and look forward with an attitude of healing. My wife, whose spread told her that her life had recently seen massive changes (like a baby perhaps), interpreted it to mean that she needed to look at her situation at different angles rather than trying to fix problems by just trying harder. My spread told me that I needed to be more careful with how I spent my money, and that perhaps my life is not in accordance with the values of modesty and temperance.

We all sat back afterwards, somewhat surprised but satisfied by our readings. As I contemplated this later that night, it struck me at how optimistic and even — dare I say it? — helpful these readings were. I’ll admit that lately, I’ve been a lot more wary about where my money goes. My wife has been a lot more diligent and creative in her approaches to personal problems recently. And our friend who had just left a bad relationship felt almost a sense of relief and a much more positive outlook for the future. None of these things are really bad.

In fact, this is a lot like reading the scriptures.

Now, before every Mormon decides to crucify me for daring to compare the occult like the Tarot with the scriptures, let me explain.

Scriptures are mostly story. They are intensely human stories rich with symbolism and meaning. We often must sit back and work to decompress the sheer amount of knowledge, information, and advice within them. And most importantly, like a good Tarot reading, we extrapolate those symbols and appropriate them for our own, working hard to match them with what is happening in our personal lives. I could read the conversion story of Alma the Younger in the Book of Mormon and derive a completely different interpretation than my father would, and we would most definitely apply them differently in our lives. But when Mormon sat down to write the abridged account of Alma the  Younger, he could not have had all of these things in mind. Yes, the Book of Mormon is for our day thematically, but that’s exactly why it’s so successful as a piece of religious literature — the themes are broad, universal, and archetypal. They are applicable to every situation and station in life.

Like Tarot readings, the person giving the reading does not have to work hard. In a Sunday School class, one simply has to read the story out loud and people will immediately begin to draw connections to their own lives. And often, these lessons are beneficial. The Alma the Younger conversion story tells parents to be patient and trust God. It warns against the personal sorrows and pains of sin, but it also extols the virtues of forgiveness and love. It’s a treatise on the fallen nature of man and the dependency one must develop on God’s grace. It talks about the hurt errant children can inflict on parents. It talks about social consequences in not only ignoring family and religious traditions and customs, but also in actively rebelling and fighting against it. This is not even a comprehensive list of what this simple story can teach.

In fact, both scriptures and Tarot rarely communicate anything new in our lives. Instead, they work with the material that we do have, roiling beneath our conscious thought, and give it some kind of metaphysical form. It allows us to access feelings deep within us, some joyful, others uneasy, and bring them up to the surface to face and examine. Deep down, I knew that I should be more careful with my money, but “finding it in the cards” gave me a little bit more of a kick out the door to actually do it. My wife knew that trying the same old things to solve her perennial problems wouldn’t work; the Tarot interpretation that she created for herself helped her to finally face up to it and act out on it. And my friend, reeling from a personal loss and trying to patch up the wounds he sustained from it, found the reading helpful in fighting back the personal insecurity that can sometimes haze over a good, if not difficult, decision.

Now, I know that there is no actual, real power in the Tarot. I know that the deck has been around forever but it was only in the 19th century when people began creating mystical interpretations of what was once an absurdly complicated card game (like Bridge) to build a way to tell fortunes with it out of whole cloth. I know very keenly the somewhat dubious history of the Tarot, and especially how this Tarot undermines the idea that there can be no good that comes from it. However, the Tarot’s power, I believe, is not because it has some kind of inherent occult-devil power, or because there is power infused within the cards, but because they happen to depict universal themes that speak to everyone in some way. The cards do not tell the future; we tell the future for ourselves, using the symbols provided by the Tarot as prompts.

What is interesting to note about the power of scripture is that they, too, do not have to be “factually true” to have such power. I don’t want to re-open a whole “Is the Book of Mormon historical or not?” debate. In fact, my main point is that such a debate is counter-productive. The mythological figure Mormon (and he is more mythological than historical in our religion), despite his historian status and profession, did not compile the Book of Mormon to provide factual dates and statistics and observations for any kind of academic reason. Rather, he compiled his civilization’s mythos, from its mythical founding father Nephi, to various characters with superhuman abilities. How is Ammon the arm-slayer any different from the heroes of old? Mormon understood that encoded within the genetic material of these myths were powerful human emotions and archetypes that could motivate us to realize what we already know what we must do but were too afraid to face.

Joseph Campbell once wrote, “Whenever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret a mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives is dissolved.” When we argue about whether or not the scriptures are historical, and when we get offended when people point out that there’s not a whole lot of scientific evidence for the Book of Mormon’s historicity, we shouldn’t bat an eye. Because historicity only matters if you’ve based your faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ on carbon dating and archaeological digs. We derive religious meaning, significance, and utility from accessing instead what Carl Jung called the collective imagination and consciousness of humanity. True efficacy of the scriptures comes not from whether or not it actually happened in the past, but whether or not these stories continue to play out in our everyday lives.

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Books and Mormons

Whenever I meet someone who is adamant that the pluralization for “The Book of Mormon” is “The Books of Mormon,” I cringe a little inside. It can be a perfect storm of smug self-righteousness and grammatical sloppiness/ignorance.

If you aren’t a long-time Mormon, this introduction probably doesn’t make sense. There has been a silent war within our culture about the pluralization for “The Book of Mormon,” the keystone piece of devotional scripture and literature within the Mormon tradition. The often used quick-fix is to just slap an “s” at the end, such as “I just got a shipment of fifty Book of Mormons.” However, there is now a very vocal minority who demands that we atone for our past mistakes and realize the error of our ways. “Book of Mormons” isn’t grammatically correct at all! Obviously, the correct way to pluralize The Book of Mormon is by saying “Books of Mormon.”

The problem is, that way is wrong, too.

The main mistake in pluralizing The Book of Mormon into The Books of Mormon is treating “The Book of Mormon” as a phrase, not as a single unit of information. The Book of Mormon is a title, and thus a proper noun. This method of pluralizing the main noun in a phrase that has become a proper noun does not carry over in other instances. For example, if I meet five different people at a convention dressed up as Harry Potter, I wouldn’t say that I met five Harries Potter. For another example, if I have two copies of The Game of Thrones, and I wrote on my English paper that, on my bookshelf, there sits two Games of Thrones, my professor will probably laugh and then let loose yon red ink pen. To take an even more famous fantasy novel example, hopefully nobody will ever say “At my house, we love Tolkien! In fact, we have seven Lords of the Rings!” After all, there is only one Lord of the Rings, and he does not share power, nor does he approve of erroneous pluralization.

A caveat — should you be referring to simply a general collection of books that Mormon wrote/edited, and not The Book of Mormon itself, then the “books of Mormon” pluralization works. However, I would venture to guess that 99.99% of the time, when Mormons say Books of Mormon, they are not talking of a general collection of individual books that Mormon can take creative ownership or credit for, but The Book of Mormon. And so, pluralizing a proper noun in such a way is erroneous and misleading.

The proper way to pluralize The Book of Mormon because it can be such a confusing proper noun to pluralize would be to write or say “copies of The Book of Mormon.” This is, in fact, how we pluralize most titles. If, for example, you are buying some copies of The Scream to pass out to your children for whatever reason, you will probably go to the store and ask the clerk, “I need two copies/prints/whatevers of The Scream.”

The really big irony is that the original pluralization, while not totally correct, is passable, understandable, and acceptable in everyday vernacular English. If you went to the store, you could say, “I need to buy five The Screams,” and the clerk will probably understand you okay (You could probably even drop “The” before “Scream” and still make some sense). If you tell your friends, “At the convention, I saw five Harry Potters,” your friends will probably ask for pictures instead of adjusting their glasses and saying, “Excuse me, you mean five Harry Potter impersonators,” or worse, “Excuse me? You mean five Harries Potter.”

The very concept of a proper noun is to insinuate that there is only one of these proper nouns, and if there are multiple versions of these proper nouns, that these proper nouns are at least some kind of important thing. For example, we say The White House, not because it is the only house painted white in the world, but because it is a very important house painted white. The name Kate Middleton is certainly not unique to just one person, but it is an important aspect of some people, a vital part of their identity. Thusly, we refer to a collection of scripture as “The Book of Mormon” to designate that this collection is very specific and important. That way, we don’t have to say, “Did you pick up that crate of fifty copies of a collection of texts including writings written by Nephi, Alma, Abinadi, Mormon, Moroni, et al, edited and compiled by Mormon?” We have assigned a title to that. Instead we say, “Did you get your fifty copies of The Book of Mormon?” or, if you’re feeling kind of lazy or hurried, “Did you get your fifty Book of Mormons?”

So people who say Book of Mormons, the next time someone tries to correct you, shrug it off. You are more right than they are, and hopefully we can quell this budding grammatical apostasy out of love, compassion, and persuasion, not through more harsh words and smug condescension.

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The Lord’s Prayer v. The Lord’s Prayer

A common criticism of the Book of Mormon is that Joseph Smith was so uncreative that he simply lifted entire portions of the King James Bible and dumped it into the Book of Mormon (and some members wish that Mormon/Joseph Smith went easy on the Isaiah, but it’s good for them in the end). One such “uncreative” passage is when Jesus visits the inhabitants in the Americas and teaches them the Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew 6. The prayer, along with the Sermon on the Mount, is repeated verbatim by the Savior — or so a lot of people think. There are actually some surprising differences between the King James Lord’s Prayer and the Book of Mormon Lord’s Prayer, and it raises some really interesting questions.

The following is a verse by verse comparison of the two passages:

New Testament Lord’s Prayer Book of Mormon Lord’s Prayer
After this manner therefore pray ye:

Our Father which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

__________

After this manner therefore pray ye:

Our Father who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

__________

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

__________

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

__________

Give us this day our daily bread.

__________

This passage is missing in the Book of Mormon.

__________

And forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

__________

And forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

__________

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

for ever. Amen.

__________

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

forever. Amen.

__________

There are two notable omissions in the Book of Mormon Lord’s Prayer (and no additions). The first omission is the line, “Thy kingdom come,” which would make sense as this is post-Resurrection Jesus, and with his Earthly mission fulfilled, the kingdom has, in a sense, already arrived. After all, throughout his entire ministry, Jesus kept telling people that the kingdom of God was at hand. Now, with the kingdom established, the line could be considered no longer necessary (though there are theological/spiritual reasons why we might still need this line in our hearts).

The second omission makes less sense. The Book of Mormon Lord’s Prayer makes no mention of asking for our daily bread. Why the omission? Is there something significantly “un-LDS” about asking for our daily bread (I would venture no)? Did Joseph Smith simply forget while writing it down? It’s somewhat of a mystery. This sentiment is certainly not missing entirely from the Book of Mormon. Amulek, a Book of Mormon missionary, preaches a sermon where he implores people to pray for, in essence, their daily bread:

Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you; Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save. Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase. But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness (Alma 34:17-26).

So why the omission? Some would point this out as an example that the Book of Mormon is uninspired, but I would disagree. Such a pittance does not really detract from the fact that the Book of Mormon is an incredibly robust piece of devotional literature. What makes it feel intentional as an omission is the fact that the first omission kind of makes sense. But at the same time, my personal opinion is that it could have simply been a piece of human error — perhaps young Joseph Smith had a hard time memorizing this prayer during his youth and always left out the “give us this day our daily bread” part. Then, while reciting the Book of Mormon to his scribe, childhood practice took over and he omitted it once again. I admit this is a somewhat fancypants-post-modern, totally unsubstantiated explanation. But is there any possible theological explanation for the omission? If there is, I can’t think of any at the moment.

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“Mission of the Book of Mormon”

I quoted from this talk I received on my mission on a blog post and just had two requests for it in the past few days, so I figure I’d type this up and post it on my blog, because I don’t know if it exists on the internet or not. Anyway, not sure if this is for real, but it sure sounds like classic Holland, and it’s a fantastic message.

This was written just as it appears in the typed up form I received on my mission. Any mistakes I tried to note, though I’m sure some have slipped through, and others I’ve made of my own hand.

“Mission of the Book of Mormon”

1997 Mission Presidents’ Seminar
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Thursday, June 26, 1997

Thank you, Elder Tingey, and my brethren of the General Authorities and their wives who are here. And you mission presidents with your wives, thank you for serving. How are you doing? Are you a little glazed over? I know you’ve had two or three solid days of this. Furthermore your real delight is in anticipating President Hinckley in the morning. I am a sorry offering in the middle of all of that. I suppose I have no greater dream than that you will say of me thirty minutes from now what was said of the cross-eyed javelin thrower. “He didn’t set any records but at least he kept the crowd alert.” I want so very, very much to say something of value to you.

I know many verses of scripture have been read to you and many lessons have been  taught to you, but I wish to add a favorite missionary scripture of my own. I ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I am speaking without a written text so I apologize in advance to the translators. I want to talk to you the way a missionary often must speak. I want to say what’s in my heart.

May I ask you to turn to Doctrine & Covenants 31:3. I’ll try to give the translators enough lead time so that they and our multilingual brethren and sisters can turn to their own scriptures. Section 31, beginning in verse 3, is my prayer to you tonight. It is my promise, a portion of my testimony to you. It’s a wonderful verse that you ought to mark if you haven’t already done so.

“Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation.

“You shall declare the things which have been revealed to my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun. You shall begin to preach from this time forth, yea, to reap in the field which is white already to be burned.

“…Thrust in your sickle with all your soul, and your sins are forgiven you, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back, for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Wherefore, your family shall live.”

(Would the wives of the mission presidents underline that last phrase right now. Mission presidents may if they wish but I especially want the wives to remember that. It’s a promise. Your family shall live — in the very best sense of the word.)

“I say unto you, go from them only for a little time, and declare my word, and I will prepare a place for them.”

(A place is prepared not only for you, but “for them)

“Yea, I will open the hearts of the people and they will receive you…I will establish a church by your hand.”

The hour of your missions is come. Your tongues will be loosed and you will establish the Church. Your families will live. You will be gone only for a little time. We love you.

With that wonderful hymn, “An Angel From On High,” ringing in our ears, I have been invited to speak tonight about one aspect of verse four. “You shall declare the things what have been revealed to my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” Specifically, I wish to speak to you about the Book of Mormon and its centrality in our mission message, its fundamental role in declaring that Jesus is the Christ and that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored.

It is impossible to overstate the roll [sic] of the Book of Mormon in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and its potential power in the hands of a missionary. Joseph Smith said once, “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations (of which the Book of Mormon is the principal [sic] and most perfect) and where is our religion? We have none.” You have also heard often what the Prophet said to the Twelve. “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man (and I would add, a woman) would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.

What would you do if you were restoring the gospel? What would you do if you were faced with the task of ushering in the dispensation of the fullness of times, the dispensation in which all other truths, all other covenants, all other ordinances, all other powers, all other aspects of the priesthood are going to come together? Where would you start? What would you do?

I suppose first you would call a prophet. You would find one that has not been tampered with and tainted by the world. You would get him old enough to begin to have his feet under him but you couldn’t have him much older than that. I think you would get somebody about fourteen and a half. Then what do you do? Well, you’ve got temples to restore to the earth with the endowment and all the other temple covenants. You’ve got Relief Society to organize. You’ve got tithing to teach and the Word of Wisdom. You ought to call a Quorum of Twelve Apostles at some point.

What would you do first? You would teach your young prophet (and the world) the gospel. That’s what you would do first. So you give him the Book of Mormon and have him study it by translating it. Joseph is asked to “pretend no other gift” until the Book of Mormon is published. So for all intents and purposes nothing else happens in that decade from 1820 to 1830 except that Joseph is to learn the gospel and provide the new Church (not yet organized) this basic missionary tract, this most basic of all restoration texts which will take the restored gospel to the world. The book will restore the Bible to its original meanings, and it will lead to the restoration of the priesthood. It is in the process of translating the Book of Mormon that Joseph and Oliver came to pray about baptism, leading John the Baptist to visit them followed by Peter, James and John.

So what we have as a new church with those six original members is (1) a sacred text and (2) the priesthood. We will get the Word of Wisdom but it will be 1833 before we do. We will get a Quorum of the Twelve but that won’t be until 1835. We’ll get the principle of tithing but it will be 1838 before we do, and so on and so forth right up to the temple ordinances restored in Nauvoo. But first of all we [sic] had  given us the pure gospel as taught in the Book of Mormon.

So it is impossible to overstate the role the Book of Mormon has played from the beginning of this dispensation and the role that it is to continue to play as the basic declaration of the truthfulness of the gospel as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. “You shall declare the things which have been revealed to my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun.” That’s your call, it’s my call and it’s the call of your missionaries. There are reasons why the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion.” Just a few. Let me read you this, if I may.

“The Prophet Joseph’s expression that the Book of Mormon is ‘the keystone of our religion’ is a profound and crucial observation. A keystone is positioned at the uppermost center of an arch in such a way as to hold all the other stones in place. That key piece, if removed, will bring all the other blocks crashing down with it. The truthfulness of the Book of Mormon — its origins, its doctrines, and the circumstances of its coming forth — is central to the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The integrity of this church and more than 165 years of its restoration experiences stand or fall with the veracity or falsity of the Book of Mormon.

“To consider that everything of saving significance in the Church stands or falls on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, by implication, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth, is as sobering as it is true. It is a ‘sudden death’ proposition. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is, or this church and its founder are false, a deception from the first instance onward.

“Not everything in life is so black and white, but the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and its keystone role in our religion seem to be exactly that. Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, a prophet who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from Moroni’s lips, and eventually received at this [sic] hands a set of ancient gold plates that he then translated by the gift and power of God, or else he did not. And if he did not, he would not be entitled to the reputation of New England folk hero or well-meaning young man or writer of remarkable fiction. No, nor would he be entitled to be considered a great teacher, a quintessential American religious leader, or the creator of great devotional literature. If he lied about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he would be none of these.

“I am suggesting that one has to take a do-or-die stand regarding the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. Reason and righteousness require it. Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order, but no one should tolerate any ludicrous, even laughable middle ground about the wonderful contours of a young boy’s imagination or his remarkable facility for turning a literary phrase. That is an unacceptable position to take, morally, literally, historically, or theologically.

“As the word of God has always been, and I testify again that is purely and precisely what the Book of Mormon is, this record is ‘quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing of both joints and marrow.’ The Book of Mormon is that quick and is that powerful. And it certainly is that sharp. Nothing in our history or our message cuts to the chase faster than our uncompromising declaration that Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. A man of our faith taught the same principle, exactly the same principle, regarding the Savior. He said:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say (about Christ — that is that), ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something else. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feel and call Him Lord and God. But let us not (have) any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

It is exactly the same position we take about the Book of Mormon and about the Prophet Joseph Smith. It has to be.

So the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of the restoration.” Everything we teach has its roots in those first experiences in the Sacred Grove and the Hill Cumorah. Everything that we have flows one way or another out of that original testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, those first hours, those first moments, those first declarations. Your missionaries must testify of this to the people. When those investigators seek a testimony of the Book of Mormon following their first discussion, as they go on their knees to pray about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon following their first encounter with the missionaries, there is a moral obligation, there is a spiritual impression which speaks to their own integrity that they must honor. And as the Book of Mormon is true, they will be taken to the waters of baptism, to confirmation for membership into the Church and the receipt of the Holy Ghost, to the reception of the priesthood, the privileges of the temple and all else that follows. I testify that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of the restoration in no uncertain terms.

Secondly, it is the keystone of our doctrine generally. We have wonderful doctrine in the Bible, but the Book of Mormon plays a role in establishing doctrine, teaching doctrine, expanding doctrine and underscoring doctrine that is not available anywhere in either the Old or the New Testament. Regarding the Atonement, the teaching of Jacob and his father Lehi (to name  two) exceed anything in the Bible. I don’t say that condescendingly of the Bible. I love the Bible and I’ve taught it almost all of my professional life. But the Book of Mormon is so powerful regarding the Atonement. Nephi’s own teaching on that subject, of King Benjamin’s, or Alma and Amulek in their great team-teaching experience at Ammonihah, and on and on.

Consider the scattering and gathering of Israel. There is no document in the world, including the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Old Testament, that teaches the scattering and gathering of Israel in the detail and with the clarity that the Book of Mormon teaches it.

What about faith? Alma’s marvelous teachings of the subject, Moroni’s declaration in the Book of Ether – for that Paul taught about faith, the Book of Mormon has an order of its own, a level of its own.

Consider the resurrection. There are exactly, by word count, twice as many references to the resurrection in the Book of Mormon as there are in the New Testament. We are grateful for what the New Testament teaches but we would be without so very much of the doctrine of the resurrection if we did not have the Book of Mormon.

And baptism, including the injunction against infant baptism, obviously there is nothing anywhere in sacred writ that compares with Book of Mormon doctrine on the doctrine of baptism, including teachings about the Savior’s own baptism. You can see the missionary value of this book as we teach these fundamental doctrines. So the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our doctrine, giving us back so much of the doctrine of the Bible which has been lost.

But lastly and most importantly of all, and that which I wish to emphasize, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our doctrine of Christ . Among the last words of Nephi speaks are these: “If they are not the words of Christ, judge ye — for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words.” That’s his closing testimony from the last chapter of 2 Nephi 33.

We are taught in the Book of Mormon that one of the reasons we have the book, one of the reasons it had to be restored, was to restore “plain and precious” truths. Well, nothing in the world is more precious than the Son of God. There is nothing that compares to the value and wonder and beauty of Jesus of Nazareth. And so very much about Him was lost from those original records.

Consider this. How much do we know about Christ from the Old Testament?

Fortunately with Latter-day Saint eyes, we know a bit. We can find key phrases here and there. We can find some types and shadows. But by and large, left to our own, and most of the rest of the world being left to their own, We don’t have a lot about the Savior in the Old Testament. Then we consider, in the same breath, that eighty percent (technically, eighty-six percent) by actual page count of the Book of Mormon is from an Old Testament era prior to Christ’s coming into mortality. Consider what that has taught us. if you think of the brother of Jared’s vision alone, it would be worth everything required of us to take this book to the world. I counted (you can make your own count) twenty-five essential distinctive doctrines about Christ that are taught in that encounter between Jehovah and the brother of Jared. (If you find more, let me know and I will move my numbers up.) That is representative of what happens all through the book up to Christ’s actual appearance in the eleventh chapter of 3 Nephi.

No wonder the book says of such moments, “Never were greater things made manifest.” What was being made manifest was the living Son of the Living God. He is the principal [sic] character in the book. If you were to ask someone, “Who is the main character in the Book of Mormon?” They might be confused. It is a thousand years of history of the Nephites, plus another dispensation, if you add the Jaredites. It is unlikely that one figure will come to the fore over such a long period of time. They may say, “Well perhaps it’s Nephi or maybe it’s Alma, or maybe it’s Mormon, or perhaps Moroni.” It isn’t any of those.

The principal [sic] character in the book is Jesus Christ. From the first page to the last, it was intended to be so. That’s what the title page says. That’s what the book was designed to be — a declaration that “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God” (Title page). It is no wonder that the opening pages bring us Lehi’s vision of Christ appearing with His Apostles. It is no wonder that the last lines of the record are Moroni’s declaration that He will rise in the resurrection on the redeeming power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is everything in this book.

I don’t pretend to know why we lost those original 116 pages, but I’m not losing any sleep about that because the Lord provided for that long before anyone needed to worry about translating them. The 116 pages are probably wonderful, but I cannot imagine that they could be more wonderful than the small plates of Nephi. It is inconceivable to me that anything could be better than that. Consider the teachings of the books of Nephi, of Jacob, of Enos and of Jarom and Omni and even the little editorial comment from the Words of Mormon. They are magnificent.

At least six times in the Book of Mormon the phrase, “For a wise purpose,” is used in reference to the making, writing and preserving of the small plates. One such purpose obviously was to cover the same material as the loss of 116 pages. If you want an example of God’s omniscience, here it is. He anticipated by 2,500 years, the possibilities of Mrs. Harris doing whatever she did with those papers. So He planned for that well in advance. Don’t tell me that God doesn’t know the future. He knows it in great detail.

But there is another wise purpose for including the smaller plates in what is the highly edited material in the Book of Mormon. In the tenth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, forty-fifth verse, the Lord declared to Joseph Smith, “Behold there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel.” Whatever other “greater views” are given us, the greatest of all views is the view of Christ that comes from the stylus of Nephi and Jacob and Isaiah whose writings constitute 135 pages of the 145 pages of the small plates.

And what is so significant about those three? Nephi revealed the persuasive qualification they had. They had seen the premortal Christ.

“And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah for my soul delighted in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word.”

The inclusion of the small plates of Nephi has to be one of the most fortuitous things that has ever happened in the great scriptural sequence of record keeping down through the ages.

One of the reasons we know the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our doctrine about Christ is because we find just such a phrase in the language of the book. If you are still turning with me, turn to 2 Nephi 31 and 32. At the  close of Nephi’s life, at the close of his testimony, we find this transcending, powerful witness of Christ prior to Nephi’s passing the record to Jacob, who will then include Isaiah in the teachings. (By the way, I haven’t got time to develop this, but please don’t think that Isaiah has just been dropped into the Book of Mormon to make your life miserable. I have spent my life with students who believe that Isaiah was simply a burden to overcome. In a book as highly selective and edited as this book is, every single line from Isaiah is there by design. In short, it is because he is this third of three witnesses, standing at the entrance of the Book of Mormon, one who has seen the Son of God and who says more of Him and teaches more of Him than all other Old Testament prophets put together.)

Now, back to 2 Nephi 31. Look in verse two. “Wherefore, the things which I have written sufficeth me, save it be a few words which I must speak concerning the doctrines of Christ.” Turn over to verse twenty-one. “Behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Look over at verse six in thirty-two. “Behold this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after He shall manifest Himself unto you in the flesh.” These wonderful phrases, of course, apply particularly to this material that come in 2 Nephi 31 and 32, but it is also resonating and teaching and underscoring what has been taught all the way through Nephi’s sermons.

There is a way to read the Book of Mormon (and it probably is one of the ways we should remember to read the Book of Mormon) which takes you figuratively from mountain top to mountain top for great teaching about Christ. There’s a lot of other material in the Book of Mormon. There is a lot of other doctrine. All of the doctrine, all of the history, all of the culture and all the anthropology is wonderful. In such a highly edited book, I think we ought to savor every word, every phrase on every subject. But above all else we ought to savor these majestic teachings about Christ.

Even though we don’t have the book of Lehi (that would have been in the 116 pages), we get something of him from Nephi. We learn of his dream in the opening chapter of the book, then “the tree of life” dream, a symbolic journey toward Christ recorded in 1 Nephi 8. We also have Lehi’s blessing to his children in the opening chapters of 2 Nephi. Then we go to Nephi’s own teaching, including that majestic opening revelation to Nephi, starting in 1 Nephi 11. By this time we are only nineteen pages into the book and we are getting this marvelous revelation about Christ — where He would be born, doctrines about the virgin birth, the prophecy of his baptism at the hands of John, wonderful, significant doctrines that run page after page through to 2 Nephi where he culminates with his “doctrine of Christ” (to which we have already referred). Then we have Jacob and Isaiah as mentioned. In the abridgment of the large plates, we find King Benjamin’s wonderful teachings about Christ. Then we go from King Benjamin to Abinadi. (I want to suggest to you in passing that Abinidi [sic] may be the most underestimated, under-read, under appreciated prophet in all the Book of Mormon. My admiration for him is unbounded. The doctrines that Abinadi teaches are something I missed, I am sorry to say, in the first dozen or so years I was reading this book.)

We don’t have to enumerate all these “mountain-top” teachings, but we go on to Alma senior and to Alma junior and to Amulek. Then we go to Captain Moroni, to Nephi, to Lei and conclude with Samuel the Lamanite, just prior to Christ’s advent into mortality. Going from these marvelous sermons, one to another, is one marvelous way to read this book — majestic, rolling teachings, time and time again, page after page, teaching us the doctrines of Christ.

In addition we have types and shadows of Christ throughout the Book of Mormon. I’ve already suggested the tree of life. Then there follows the olive tree. Following that Alma introduces the seed that grows into a tree with significance for the staff and the cross. These are wonderful symbolic shadows of Christ. Abinidi [sic] himself is the first great Book of Mormon martyr, a symbol, type, and shadow of Christ.

Let me use a different symbolic example, maybe one that we haven’t noted as often, the holy priesthood. I want to suggest to you that we know more about the priesthood and its relationship to Christ from the Book of Mormon than from anything we can find on the subject in the Bible. Consider Alma 13. We might not think of the priesthood as a type and a shadow, but to the Prophet Joseph Smith it was revealed that the full and proper name of the priesthood is the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. “Order” is a rich, broad word with several meanings, all instructive but one of which is “after the fashion, or example of, like, similar to.” The priesthood is as we are told, “without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to (God’s) foreknowledge of all things.” But it was also said of Christ that He was “without beginning of days or end of years who is full of grace, equity and truth.”

Look at Alma 13:2 “those priests were ordained after the order of His Son.” These priests are the only ones in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. This is one of those plain and precious truths lost but restored again in Alma 13. “Those priests were ordained after the order of His Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to His Son for redemption.” Look at verse sixteen. “Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of His order, and this that they might look forward to Him for a remission of their sins.” Both of those verses say there is something in Christ and something in his ordination to the priesthood (and something in our ordination to the priesthood, brethren) that should teach us the remission of sins and the redemption of the Atonement.

Then you get these similitudes between Christ and those who are ordained to His priesthood. Anyone ordained to the priesthood is “called and prepared from the foundation of the world.” They are “called according to the foreknowledge of God.” They are “called on account of their exceeding faith, good works and righteousness before God.” They are “called because they had not hardened their hearts of blinded their minds.” They are “free to choose good or evil and choose good.” They are “called to teach God’s commandments to the children of men.” They are “made a high priest forever.” They are “sanctified with garments washed white in the blood of the Lamb…” They are “unable to look upon sin save it were with abhorrence.” They are “made pure and ushered into the rest of God.”

Brethren, one of the sobering teachings in Alma 13 for me is the realization that the priesthood is symbolic of Christ Himself and it should symbolize our own righteousness as well. To stress that point we are then introduced to Melchizedek in verse sixteen. Melchizedek emerges as a great symbol of Christ. The Book of Mormon (and no other book) teaches us that Melchizedek was the king over the land of Salem (or Jerusalem). His people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination, had all gone astray and were full of all manner of wickedness. He exercised faith in spite of such opposition. He received the office of the high priesthood, according to the holy order of God. He preached repentance unto his people. He established peace and was therefore called the prince of peace. He reigned under his father. There is no other body of sacred writing anywhere that teaches more powerfully this symbolic relationship between a bearer of the priesthood and Christ.

Let me close. When Moroni and Mormon are alone, weary and heartbroken, they still write of faith and hope and charity. But it isn’t Paul’s approach. I’m not saying Paul didn’t understand it, I’m just saying that as we’ve received the New Testament, we haven’t been blessed with all that Paul understood. 1 Corinthians 13 sounds like a lovely, kind virtuous way to be a good neighbor, but the Book of Mormon teaches so much more with these words. Moroni says, “I remember that thou has said that thou has loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare a place for the children of men. And now I know that this love which thou has had for the children of men is charity.” That definition of charity is more than being a good neighbor. This is at the heart of the Atonement of Christ. “Wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou has prepared in the mansions of thy Father.”

This is a powerful definition of charity. We are supposed to be Christ-like, we are supposed to be charitable, we are supposed to demonstrate love, but he is saying that were it not for real charity, capital C, the one time in all the world that real charity was demonstrated, i.e., the pure love of Christ — if it were not for that, “we could not inherit that place which thou has prepared in the mansions of thy Father.” This is the charity that saves. This is the charity that faileth not. Ours does not always save and it does sometimes fail. As much as we try, we fall short. But one time, by one Person, the pure love of Christ was demonstrated. Real charity was given to this world. Christ loved us perfectly and it lasts forever. That’s why we can say that real charity, never faileth. Henever fails us. The message of the Book of Mormon is that Christ does not fail us. That’s what we’re trying to tell the world. That’s what we’re trying to say through this basic missionary text of this dispensation. Christ’s love is pure love. He is the only one who has ever really mastered it while the rest of us are still trying to do so. his salvation will not fail, His ordinances will not fail, His church will not fail. This is the dispensation of the fullness of times. The restored gospel will never be taken from the face of the earth again. That is the message of the Book of Mormon.

Life has its shares of fears and failures. Sometimes things fall short. Sometimes people fail us, economics fail us, business or government fail us. But one thing in time and eternity does not fail us, the pure love of the Lord Jesus Christ as manifest in His Atoning sacrifice. That’s why we can inherit the place which Thou has prepared, Father, for us in the mansions on high.

I bear witness, as a witness, of the Lord Jesus Christ. I bear witness of the Book of Mormon that led me to Him. If you don’t think that the Book of Mormon matters to your missionaries, look at me. I’m not much of a visual aid, but I found the Lord Jesus Christ within the covers of the Book of Mormon as a nineteen-year old, walking through the rain and the mud of England, riding a bike with mud clear up the back of my coat and over the top of my head, tracting in cities that had never been open, with baptisms that did not come for a long time. Those nights, I went back to No. 3 Gilmore Road and read and read and wept. I knew that Jesus was the Christ, that the Book of Mormon was true, that the gospel had been restored. If the folks in England didn’t understand that, then I would just keep knocking on those doors until they did.

Yes, I know what the Book of Mormon means to a missionary. I know what role it has played in the message of the restoration. I understand how urgent it was for heaven to get it into the Prophet Joseph’s hands. I understand what it will yet mean in preparing the way for Christ to come, to rule and reign as Lord of Lords and King of Kings. It is a witness, it is a declaration from cover to cover, from title page to final verse, that Jesus is the Christ and that the gospel has been restored. I also bear witness of that in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

(Note: This is a typescript of Elder Holland’s message given at the pulpit. It was not delivered from a written text.)


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Mormonism and genre

I’ve recently started a new job, which would explain my lack of writing on this website, but I wanted to put down a few words about a subject that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is, as usual, Mormon pop culture.

Does anyone remember this?

I have a hard time taking anyone seriously when they say they truly enjoy this song. I know even less people who have it on their playlists and honestly listen to it for enjoyment, not to cringe or roll around gasping for breath because they’re laughing so hard. However, when I was on my mission, the mocumentary movie Sons of Provo came out, along with their soundtrack of the faux band, Everclean. One of the zone leaders got the CD as a present and it was quickly disseminated across the mission, where most missionaries were under the impression that this song in particular was not actually a parody, but a real rap song some Mormons created:

I’ll admit. I’m not a fan of rap, but this song still makes me smile (and laugh) to this day. To tell you the truth, when our district got a letter back from a family member that this song was, in fact, a parody, we were shocked. It just seemed…so real.

So how did the parody become more authentic than the honest attempt to create a genre-based Mormon song? Aside from the cheesiness from the first Mormon rap, they appear to talk about the same things — they both make references to Mormon culture (Mormon basketball, the word of wisdom, Donnie and Marie), they both talk about being spiritual; so what’s the major difference? I pondered this for a long time, and I think I’ve finally figured it out.

One tries to interpret a genre into Mormonism, while the latter interprets Mormonism through a genre.

For all of its attempt, the first Mormon rap is didactic. It’s a laundry list of Mormon commandments squeezed into a funky beat and cadence (though some might debate on whether it is truly “funky”). The second rap, however, embodies the genre of modern-day rap exquisitely, which (according to my rap afficionado brother) is hubris. The entire rap reeks of it. The singer is obviously full of himself. He boasts of pioneer stock, his childhood of Mormon basketball and Scouts (with the help of his mom). There’s a sense of confidence (even overconfidence) as he talks about his Mormon-ness. After all, all his peeps be conformin’ cuz it’s cool to be a Mormon, or something. This is a rap song that happens to be about Mormons, not a Mormon song that happens to be rap (or try to be).

As Mormonism moves into mainstream media and culture (after all, we now have a Broadway show about us), it appears that our older, more established Church population, mostly centered in the U.S., is torn. On the one hand, we wish more Mormons were producing things about ourselves, so that we’d have fair ground (it’s difficult for a religion as young and painfully self-aware as ours to take any kind of lampooning). Why did it have to be those guys who write South Park, Family Guy, and Avenue Q (two of the three routinely condemned as examples of shows we shouldn’t watch) to write what has widely been hailed an affectionate ribbing and fawningly praising musical about us? Why couldn’t a Mormon do that?

Yet despite all of our yearnings to be appreciated and written about, our native attempts usually fall flat. Sure, most of it isn’t terrible and some of it is decent, yet a very few is considered Very Good, and when us Mormons do create art or pop culture that is critically acclaimed, it usually isn’t even about Mormons (like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or anything ever written by Brandon Sanderson).

Two things come to my mind, and this is the take away message (and thought of the day, perhaps week):

1. As Mormon creators, we need to stop warping a genre to fit Mormonism, but instead find ways to interpret Mormonism through a a genre. Integrity is involved, in order to prevent “watering down” our message to fit a publicly held norm (art is to challenge, after all), but so is a sense of boldness and appreciation for things outside of our immediate cultural circle. Pick any song on the soundtrack for Sons of Provo — they’re boldly written, and they’re lovingly crafted with each and every cliche and hook from the musical genre they pick. They studied their stuff; just as the creators of the Book of Mormon musical studied musicals prodigiously. There’s a trend here.

2. As Mormon creators, we must steer away from heavy preaching. Leave that to the General Authorities! As Mormon artists, we’re to interpret, depict, or simply tell what Mormon life is — ugly stereotypes, prejudices, warts, bruises and all. Because despite all of our wackiness, like Jana Reiss, a Mormon who reviewed the recent musical on Broadway, wrote, there’s plenty of beauty to talk about, too. If life contains an opposition of all things, our art must as well:

Where the show really nails Mormonism is in the ballad “I Believe,” sung by Elder Price when he remembers his call to serve and decides to head back to the mission field. “I am a Mormon, and a Mormon just believes,” he croons. This brilliant song is at once a mockery of the genre of the inspirational ballad and an affirmation of the choice to remain Mormon despite the apparent irrationality of some of the religion’s beliefs: “I believe that in 1978, God changed his mind about black people!” Elder Price sings. “I believe that God is on a planet called Kolob!*”

The production closes with a demonstration of Mormon commitment: although many other Christian missionaries have come and gone in the musical’s fictional village, the Mormons are determined to stick around and change the Ugandans’ social reality. They are not just passing out Books of Mormon, but standing toe-to-toe with warlords. In doing so, they bring hope. As one new convert sings, “I am a Latter-day Saint/ I help all those I can/ The only latter day that matters is tomorrow!”

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* Nothing angers me more than a mis-interpretation of the whole Kolob scenario. That is something I will not get into today, but it is something I will probably dive into soon.

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Filed under design, life stories, music, religion, wordsmithing

“Divine, Messianic Force”

This is a fascinating video of 10 more obscure Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes. Every quote in this clip is powerful and Dr. King’s rhetoric at its best, but it’s quote number 7 is what I really want to talk about:

And don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, “You’re too arrogant! And if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I’ll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name. Be still and know that I’m God.”

– Martin Luther King Jr., in a sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967 titled “It’s a Dark Day in Our Nation.”

There’s a fairly popular teaching in our Church that ebbs and flows with the cultural winds on American exceptionalism. It’s the idea that this land is a choice land, blessed above others, a promised land where good people are led and blessed and become prosperous as long as we follow God. Because of this, the United States of America is God’s chosen country for bringing about His work[1], and this, of course, includes the Constitution and the Founding Fathers springing forth from the well of Divine Inspiration. For many Americans, the Restoration and the last dispensation of the latter-days could not happen anywhere else because specifically America is just that awesome with religious freedom and all. Imagine, we say, if the Restoration happened anywhere else before it did? It would have been squashed like a tiny bug by giant, oppressive, narrow-minded governments! It would have never been given the time and ability to flourish like it would have in America! According to this mind view, no new deviations of Christianity ever occurred between the establishment of the Catholic church and 1830 (hint: This is not true; see also Reformation).

Some members see this as problematic as the Church transitions from an American church to a global one, and most non-US members either ignore it or see it as a quixotic American quirk that doesn’t really hold as much importance as principles like agency, the plan of salvation, the family, or saving priesthood ordinances. However, in the US at least, many Mormons fiercely hold on to this cherished ideal almost as much as guns, and especially in dark times such as recession, the fall of our capitalist banks, and the fact that our president is a fundamentalist Christian turned Islamo-Kenyan-non-American terror-bomber-in-chief, this sentiment is experiencing a great deal of popularity currently within the Jell-O Intermountain Corridor.

Martin Luther King, Jr., however, sees a massive problem in this kind of American exceptionalism, and that is arrogance. This sermon was given in the height of the Vietnam War, a time when America truly saw itself as the policeman of the world, stomping the Commies where’er they be found. Of course, hindsight if 20/20 and we saw the ultimate aftermath — a humiliating military defeat tactical withdrawal, and a massive humbling experience for the United States that would last until Ronald Reagan, who gave the US the wonderful gift to feel smug about itself again. For Dr. King, exceptionalist thinking brings about arrogance, and we should never let anyone think that we, for one minute, are some kind of messianic force for good in the global community. It leads to dangerous thinking, and it leads to lost lives.

It was a big problem with the Nephites, too, the previous recipients of God’s double-edged promise regarding the Promised Land known later as ‘Merica. Repeatedly, the Nephites were warned that only when we follow God’s commandments would God continue to let them even exist on this sacred ground. And what was the number one problem with the Nephites?

Pride. We even have a cycle named after them in Mormon terminology.

I can’t help but wonder if Dr. King is right. Maybe the whole exceptionalist thinking, the feeling that we’re living on special land and somehow that in turn makes us special, is incredibly dangerous and we should do away with it all together. Maybe this land really is special. Maybe it really does have some kind of special blessing-inherent property. Maybe the Constitution really is God-inspired, 3/5 included. Maybe even the Founding Fathers, warts and all, were inspired as well. But! Does that make us special, just by association? Just because we won the birth lottery and happened to be born in some specific, man-made, artificial political borders?

I don’t think Dr. King thinks so. And I’m inclined to agree with him.
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[1] This conclusion is not a very solid one. Does the scriptures mean that North America as a continent is blessed? Then what about Canada? Is Canada the chosen land, too? Sadly, this question would cause many American Mormons to hesitate or say no. Then why America? Because we wrote the Constitution?

In addition, most scholars seem to agree that the Book of Mormon stories, if they ever occurred, would have occurred more likely in the Mesoamerican region. So does that mean in all actually we were wrong and Mexico is actually the blessed nation? Many people point towards the fact that many patriarchs declare South Americans descendants or adoptees of the tribe of Mannaseh as spiritual proof that they are Book of Mormon descendants. So…maybe the blessed messianic nation is actually south of the border?

Or maybe the promise of blessings for obedience and destruction for disobedience isn’t necessarily geocentric?

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