An Important Book About the Book of Mormon

downloadI’ve been reading Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon again.  It does the Book of Mormon a great service: it examines that text with an eye towards figuring out how it does what it tries to do.

He analyzes how each of the book’s three main voices–Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni–organize and present their thoughts, with careful conclusions drawn from close study of those evident agendas.

Here is a brief summary of the largest lessons:

Mormon and Moroni are very close in the narrative—father and son—but their editorial approaches are radically different.

Mormon demonstrates the reality of Christian doctrine by presenting a factual, historically sourced record with very light editorial intrusion.

Moroni demonstrates the reality of Christian doctrine by presenting a didactic, spiritually plaintive record with very heavy editorial intrusion.

Nephi, meanwhile, is largely content to preach directly from scripture and base his attendant remarks primarily on those texts.

Indeed, though Hardy never uses these exact formulas, his book suggests that the three narrators’ messages could be summarized as follows:

Nephi: come to Jesus by studying the scriptures

Mormon: come to Jesus by following the prophets

Moroni: come to Jesus by seeking the Spirit

How I Became A Conservative

My journey through college was the opposite of the typical one: I entered as a liberal and left as a conservative.

I started in the fall of 1996, which is when I saw Spike Lee’s movie Get on the Bus on opening night, as well as when I arrived two hours early to a rally so I could be in the front of the audience to see Hillary Clinton campaign for her husband’s reelection.

A lot of big things brought about my evolution: becoming a father, reading more widely and deeply than ever before, getting in the habit of going to church regularly, starting to work with young people as a teacher in training and thereby seeing the world without the one-dimensional rose-colored glasses provided by the youth-oriented media culture that had made me a young liberal in the first place.

But one small incident stands out as maybe more formative than anything else.

In class one day, a discussion went off topic and got into something political.  I wasn’t part of the debate: on one side was a group of several frat guys and on the other was one straight arrow.

The frat guys would usually come into class bragging about their beer-fueled hedonistic adventures, in a cloud of high-fives and braying laughter.  The other guy was a bit of a preppie stiff, I thought, so I tended to sit by the frat boys and hang on their stories.

From random comments here and there, it was clear that the frat boys were on board with all the liberal dogma of the times.  The other guy didn’t get into it much, but he clearly felt differently.

I only remember them having a direct, full exchange of ideas that one time.  Actually, it wasn’t much of an exchange: the frat pack parroted out some blithe liberal cliche or another, directed towards the square who dressed nicely and worked harder, and he responded politely but firmly with ideas and evidence to the contrary.  The frat gang tried to rebut him and save face, but the debate was over almost as soon as it began.  They were soon reduced to smirking, rolling their eyes, and shaking their heads: such was the strength of their argument.

The teacher who had allowed and watched this bit of conversation–I think we’d all seen it coming for a while–thinned out the tension by smiling and saying to the conservative kid, “Wow, you really know your facts.”  His quiet but casual reply: “I have to.”

I saw the truth of what he meant.  There it was, right in front of me: liberal gangs tended to jump on shallow bandwagons and berate those who didn’t conform.  It was the conservative minority who were the real rebels, and who really had the weight of reason on their side.

Nearly two decades of study and experience have borne that observation out.

I never got to know that guy well, and I’ve long since forgotten his name, but he’s one of my heroes: he stood up against bullies and countered their ignorance with brilliance.  I can only hope to someday inspire anyone like he enlightened me.

The LDS Vote Dissenters And The Intolerance Of The American Left

At this weekend’s global General Conference, the annual sustaining vote for our church’s overall leaders had an unusual wrinkle.  Tens of thousand of Mormons there in person–any many more watching online–said yes.  But about seven people stood up to say nay.

This was a planned protest vote by a group called “Any Opposed?”.  According to their web site, they seem to have wanted an audience with the Apostles so they could air their grievances.  They might have been surprised when the conducting officer, President Uchtdorf, referred them to their stake presidents.

Perhaps they didn’t realize that the church has grown far too large for the old policies of the 70’s to be practical anymore.  (Hopefully they then learned from Elder Cook’s talk on the subject.)  Perhaps they didn’t know that this is the procedure outlined in the Church’s official Handbook of Instructions:

If a member in good standing gives a dissenting vote when someone is presented to be sustained, the presiding officer or another assigned priesthood officer confers with the dissenting member in private after the meeting. (emphasis added)

If they’d really read the handbook, they’d know why dissenting votes are asked for in the first place.  From the same paragraph cited above:

The officer determines whether the dissenting vote was based on knowledge that the person who was presented is guilty of conduct that should disqualify him or her from serving in the position. (emphasis added)

The point of a dissenting vote is to reveal that a nominee for a calling has been cheating on a spouse, or beating children, or getting drunk every night, etc.

But, again according to their own web site, the dissenting voters weren’t accusing leaders of such immoral behavior.  They were protesting the fact that the Church holds opinions contrary to their own about (surprise!) gay marriage and the role of women in the Church.

So their dissenting vote had nothing to do with unworthiness, much less an attempt to find answers or engage in dialogue.  It was an attempt to blacklist people who disagree with their political views.  They wanted to publicly punish and suppress those who are different from them.

This, of course, has become the modus operandi of the American Left these days.  (See here for some recent examples, though there are many, many more.)  The mindset of too many liberals today has become one of automatic righteous indignation towards those who dare to dissent from their party line, with a reflexive response to censor them.

Actually, in the eyes of those who gave the dissenting votes, our general Church leaders really are immoral and thus unworthy to hold office.  Our leaders have committed the ultimate sin, after all: they don’t confess loyalty to the creeds of liberalism.

Such is the “tolerance” of the American Left.

We Have To Stop This Troubling Trend In The News

I read a lot of news from both sides of the aisle, and I’ve noticed a huge trend across the spectrum that panders to the worst in us all.  It debases everyone and it needs to stop.

Below are two examples, both about Indiana’s controversial religious liberty legislation, one from the left and one from the right.

Consider this current headline from left-leaning Salon.com: ‘The right’s ‘freedom’ meltdown: Why GOP still doesn’t get what liberty actually means.”

And then here’s a current headline from right-leaning Twitchy.com: “How does this Ed Shultz RFRA must-see meltdown say it ALL?”

Apparently, everybody’s having meltdowns these days.  At least in the eyes of those who disagree with them.

Browse the rest of those sites, or any of the countless others like them, and you’ll see plenty of titles with the same hook: Hey look!  These people with different opinions than us are a bunch of rage-filled idiots, too blinded by their own ignorance to realize how stupid they are!

I’m a conservative, so I don’t think all ideas are equal.  I do think many people are wrong.  I strongly believe that we need to vigorously debate issues.

But I do not believe in demonizing opposition.  No, this is worse than demonizing: this is dehumanizing.

The proliferation of these titles for articles shows how catchy they are with readers, and that makes me very sad.  We should be able to argue without wallowing in the mire of juvenile, ad hominem attacks.

I avoid much of the mainstream left media for the same reason that I don’t listen to right-wing talk radio: it’s all just a narcissistic echo chamber where predictable parrots preach to their respective choirs, everybody patting themselves on the back for being the smart ones.  Very rarely do we see any news anymore with any real analysis or reflection, much less mature introspection.

I keep up with the news because that’s part of how I reach out into the world, but most of the time the news just wants to hold up a flattering mirror to ourselves, paired with a gross caricature of the dangerous “other” next to it.

Such tripe is a travesty, and should be beneath us all.

Please join me in not patronizing any news source that indulges in such tactics.  Thank you.

The Book of Mormon and Female Scandinavian Olympians

Talking online with a critic of the Book of Mormon recently, I was reminded of a scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s last good movie, 2002’s Signs.

In the film, two brothers living on a farm in the Midwest investigate noises outside at night.  In classic suspense style, movement just off screen causes the characters and camera to look, just in time to miss whatever was there, but it was clearly someone.  When a police officer comes out the next day to look into it, the following exchange takes place:

OFFICER PASKI
How certain are you, that this was a male?

MERRILL
I don’t know any girls can run like that.

OFFICER PASKI
I don’t know, Merrill. I’ve seen some of those women on the Olympics. They could out run me easy.

MERRILL
This guy got on the roof in like a second. That roof is over ten feet high.

GRAHAM
He’s telling you the truth. Whoever it was, is very strong and can jump pretty high.

OFFICER PASKI
They got women’s high jumping in the Olympics. They got these
Scandinavian women who could jump clean over me.

GRAHAM
I know you’re making a point. I just don’t know what it is.

OFFICER PASKI
Yesterday afternoon, an out of town woman stopped by the diner and started yelling and cussing cause they didn’t have her favorite cigarettes at the vending machine. Scared a couple of customers. No one’s seen her since… My point is, we don’t know anything about the person you saw. We should just keep all possibilities available.

MERRILL
Excluding the possibility that a female Scandinavian Olympian was running around outside our house last night, what else is a possibility?

So, what does this have to do with the Book of Mormon?

In my online conversation, I offered to share three of the best evidences for the Book of Mormon, and invite the critic to analyze and account for them if the book is a hoax.  I suggested 1) the accurate, previously unknown geography of Arabia (Nahom, Bountiful, etc.), 2) the ancient texts that nobody had access to, given in 2 Nephi 12:16 and 3 Nephi 4:28-29, and 3) chiasmus.

His responses were quick.  Continue reading

The Craziest Thing This Teacher Has Ever Seen a Student Write

In 15 years of teaching, I’ve never seen anything quite like this.

I teach classes part time at the University of Nevada Las Vegas at night.  A couple of weeks ago, the English Department asked me to take over the class of another teacher who wouldn’t be able to finish the semester due to health problems.  I was given a folder with class records and copies of their most recent essay project, which still needed to be graded.

I finished reading those this last weekend.  The teacher had included a requirement to also submit a letter to him, reflecting on the process of writing the essays in the project.  Most of them were fine–some were very impressive–until I got to this one.

Like I said, I’ve never seen anything like this.  I’ve blacked out the names of the teacher and student, as well as the ten worst expletives.  The young woman who wrote this–in her second semester of college!–wasn’t in class today, and frankly I hope she doesn’t come back, because I have no idea how to handle this.

You’ll either find this very funny, or a scary illustration of what college in America has become.  Maybe both.

 

ENG101F

Notes and Quotes: March 2015

EDUCATION

The “learning styles” myth

Middle school reading lists 100 years ago

“Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One”

Occupy the Syllabus

The Last English Teacher

Economic truths about college

 

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

“Why the World Still Loves Shakespeare

“Dust to Dust: At 75, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is less persuasive than ever”

Leo Tolstoy’s philosophy

Tom Stoppard: I have to dumb down jokes so the audience can understand

Quantifying Literature!

 

LIVING WELL

NASA: The largest picture ever taken

 

POLITICS AND SOCIETY

“97 Articles Refuting The ‘97% Consensus’ on global warming

“1350+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skeptic Arguments Against ACC/AGW Alarmism

“The Absurdity of Gender Theory”

“An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent

“University bans use of ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ in all correspondence”

“Sorry, liberals, Scandinavian countries aren’t utopias

Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say

 

RELIGION

Explicating the Allegory of the Olive Tree

Bible

 

 

 

 

–From Read the Bible for Life

BoM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

source

President Shields

This Sunday the president of the North Las Vegas Stake of the LDS Church will be released. He and his counselors have served for nine and half years. The president himself served as a counselor in the previous presidency for ten years, meaning he’s been in the same leading body for nearly two decades.

President Shields has earned a great deal of love and respect from the North Stake. Here are just ten of the many highlights from his years at the head of our stake:

10. Call to make sacrifices for the stake. Soon after becoming stake president, he asked members to make some kind of financial sacrifice and donate what they could to the stake. He stressed that blessings would come to those who would make a real sacrifice for the stake. In fact, especially in his early years in the calling, he emphasized the blessings that would come to people if they would stay here and not move away.

9. Practical counsel. Around the time the recession started, he gave stake members a list of eight frugal habits to practice that would help get them through hard times, including not letting our vehicles’ gas tanks get more than half empty, and picking up an extra can of food each time we go to the store. If anybody remembers the rest, please let me know: I don’t have them written down and I forgot!

8. Urging everyone to get a blessing. In the September 2007 stake conference, he implored everybody to get a priesthood blessing before General Conference. This endeavor was largely realized through the ministrations of home teachers.

7. Temple painting. President Shields commissioned a unique painting of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple to be done by a talented member of the stake high council, which he then encouraged members to place prominently in their homes. The painting is highly symbolic, including the very vantage point: the temple is seen from several hundred yards away from the southeast, which puts much of North Las Vegas in the background. The painting, titled “A Light on a Hill,” is described in the section of the same name in this Deseret News article.

6. Service initiative. As the recession worsened and more people needed financial help, he instituted a program whereby people needing assistance would be asked to also help in the maintenance work of church buildings, and service for the homes of those stake members who couldn’t physically do it themselves. This program was a beautiful win-win of charity: nobody getting help was idle, and everybody involved got the experience of helping each other.

5. Temple attendance. President Shields once challenged stake members to increase their temple attendance, suggesting that they try for once or twice a month, if possible, for a year. He reiterated the challenge throughout the year, and set an example himself: the stake presidency attended the temple together every Thursday night.

4. Stake choir and orchestra. First he organized a stake choir, to which several dozen members were called; they rehearse weekly and perform at stake conference, every ward conference, and at special concerts throughout the year, including pop concerts, a patriotic fireside in July, and at an annual stake Christmas devotional. Then, he organized an orchestra with members called for that purpose, who perform with the choir. The quality of their combined work easily rivals anything coming out of the Tabernacle! A promotional CD was put together at one point, available on YouTube.

3. Ordained dozens of new high priests. One time, after much meditation in the celestial room at the temple (where President Shields is known to often ponder issues for several hours at a time), he was inspired to do something that nobody had ever heard of before: ordain dozens of men throughout the stake to the office of high priest. There was no calling associated with the ordinations; it was purely a move to strengthen the priesthood and motivate the stake to greater service and devotion. Ultimately, 60 men received such ordinations.

2. Three sessions of stake conference. I was once in a stake that went a year and a half between stake conferences. In North Las Vegas, not only are conferences held every six months, stake priesthood meetings are held halfway between each of those. In fact, in another unprecedented move, President Shields initiated three sessions of our stake conferences—wards would be assigned, say, an 8:30 AM, 11 AM, or 1:30 PM session to attend, where the presidency would speak and the choir and orchestra would perform at all three, and each would feature speakers invited from the wards attending that particular session.

Attendance is always high at our stake conferences.

1. Reading the Book of Mormon. Perhaps the single most impressive thing President Shields has done: our stake’s Book of Mormon reading. In early 2013, he announced in a conference (spontaneously, he explained) that the stake would all start reading two chapters of the Book of Mormon, out loud, in their families, every day. Every household in the stake would read the same chapters, starting and finishing together.

It took about four months, and it was dramatic. He encouraged people to pray about the truth of the Book of Mormon on the last day, and many people wrote down their testimonies and sent them to him.

During this period, sacrament speakers would often refer directly to passages that everyone had just read that week, or would read in the week coming up. The effect was powerful.

In fact, President Shields repeated the same program the next year, and our stake just finished the Book of Mormon together, again, last month.

**********
These are hardly all of the amazing things that have happened during President Shields’ tenure, but they’re my favorites, and the ones that he personally created and managed. Among the other great events that he’s been involved in over the last decade are these seven:

• Stake young men shuttling up to Salt Lake and then spending days riding bikes the 500 miles back to North Las Vegas, together, with spiritual experiences along the way.
• Stake young women having high adventure excursions.
• A stake Primary sports program being organized, with seasons for softball and soccer.
• A vigorous Spanish-language ward (not branch) having amazing activation and attendance rates through a process of personal ministering that President Shields has taught since day one.
• The founding of a Samoan ward (our stake officially has 14 wards now).
• The building of a beautiful new stake center.
• Heavy renovations and improvements at a stake park here in town and, especially, at a camp up in the mountains—those latter improvements have been easily doubled the usefulness and capacity of the camp.

*******

As the North Las Vegas stake prepares to say goodbye to the leadership of President Shields, we all know that it’s not good bye for us as much as it will be hello for many others. After such a record of strong discipleship—and still only in his 50s—every Latter-day Saint around here knows that we’ll be seeing him in much larger and wider roles someday soon.

The $1 Study Bible

I’d been looking around for study Bibles to supplement my scripture study when I was at Alexander Library on Wednesday and saw The NIV Archaeological Study Bible on the shelves.  It looked really good–tons of color maps and articles–but I didn’t check it out at the time.

I kept thinking about it, though, and on Friday I was near Aliante and stopped at their library, hoping they had the same one there. As soon as I walked in, I faced their racks of used books for sale.  The first one that jumped out at me was The NIV Archaeological Study Bible.

It was in perfect condition and was on sale for one dollar.  The cover price was $49.99.

I took the hint and bought it.

Complete Chronological Standard Works-DRAFT

CCSWThis graphic on the left is a rough draft of a project I’m working on—organizing all the standard works of the LDS Church into a single timeline. I think this will be a valuable scripture study tool because it will help us see these writings outside of their monolithic arrangement in our books, and inside their chronological contexts.

For example, instead of seeing the Old Testament as the law, and then the writings, and then the prophets—where the timeline actually ends halfway through the Old Testament and then doubles back to fill in the narrative with the writings of the various persons in that narrative—we can read it in the order in which all of its contents occur. It will aid understanding and appreciation. This makes sense.

Not only the Bible benefits from this, though. By integrating its unique scriptures into this timeline, we can really see just how much time the book of Ether occupies, and how much the early Book of Mormon authors were in tune with the events of the end of the Old Testament.

We can see Book of Mormon stories filling in the gaps between the two testaments, and continuing the tragic legacy of the earliest Christian era after the New Testament ends.

We can see how complicated the “flashbacks” in the books of Mosiah and Alma are.

Much of this is speculative. I’m happy to hear from anyone with refinements. I intend to keep revising it, myself. As I said, this is only a draft.

Narratives that take place at the same time—or nearly so—are presented next to each other. This is most important in the four gospels.

I’ve used the gospel harmony available here at lds.org for this, as well as the chronological order of the Doctrine and Covenants, available here. These are both products of the LDS Church, not mine, and they belong to the Church.

The Bible chronology is one that is widely available online (for example, here, here, and here); I have modified it only very slightly where I thought useful.

The color coding should help us all to follow the flow and see the connections between the various bodies of scripture. The first three—the law, writings, and prophets—are traditional divisions of the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44).

 

 

 

 

 

Every Play By Shakespeare, Ranked And Graded

Last year I read everything Shakespeare wrote. Here now are my final notes on the plays.  The grades only represent how much I enjoyed reading each work; they are not meant to be an objective measure of quality:

 

D

38. The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Almost a total loss. There are a few cute parts and clever lines, but this juvenile, obvious mess of a play is clearly the work of someone still getting the hang of playwriting.  I’m not one to judge past works by present standards, but the casual misogyny of the conclusion is jaw-droppingly awful.

37. Pericles

Nearly as bad as Two Gentlemen. Yes, the last act has some very nice stuff, and I actually liked Act IV, but the first three acts are so wretched they almost seem purposely bad. At one point, a character remarks on how poor his speaking is.  A meta joke?

36. The Two Noble Kinsmen

This late work is far more complexly plotted and artfully written than the two plays above, but while those areas are much more competent, this play suffers from an identity crisis. Too light to be tragic and too violent to be comedy, this one also has little to say about human nature, an unforgivable sin for Shakespeare.

35. The Merry Wives of Windsor

A star vehicle for a great but minor character from other plays—Sir John Falstaff—this play is no different from a thousand other vanity project spinoffs: it loses the original charm completely.  Still, there are quite a few funny, if lowbrow, jokes here.

34. The Taming of the Shrew

Continue reading

The Online Atonement Library

“There is an imperative need for each of us to strengthen our understanding of the significance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ so that it will become an unshakable foundation upon which to build our lives.… I energetically encourage you to establish a personal study plan to better understand and appreciate the incomparable, eternal, infinite consequences of Jesus Christ’s perfect fulfillment of His divinely appointed calling as our Savior and Redeemer.”

–Elder Richard G. Scott, “He Lives! All Glory to His Name!” April 2010 General Conference

jesus-praying-in-gethsemane-39591-gallery

Contents:

Book of Mormon Sermons
Topical Guide Lists
Teachings of Presidents of the Church
General Conference Talks
Other Works by General Authorities
Other Official Church Resources
Works by Other Latter-day Saints
Art
Music
Video

Book of Mormon Sermons

2 Nephi 2
2 Nephi 9
Jacob 4
Mosiah 3-4
Mosiah 12-16
Alma 5
Alma 34
Alma 42
3 Nephi 27

Topical Guide Lists

Blood

Fall Of Man

Forgive

God, Love Of

Jesus Christ, Atonement Through

Jesus Christ, Mission Of

Jesus Christ, Redeemer

Jesus Christ, Resurrection

Jesus Christ, Savior

Reconciliation

Redemption

Resurrection

Sacrifice

Teachings of Presidents of the Church

Joseph Smith:

Chapter 3: Jesus Christ, the Divine Redeemer of the World

Brigham Young:

Chapter 5: Accepting the Atonement of Jesus Christ

Chapter 40: Salvation Through Jesus Christ

Continue reading

The Magic Toenail

My kids often ask me to make up little stories as I tuck them in at night.  Tonight’s was pretty good:

 

Once upon a time there was a magic warrior giant.  But this story isn’t about him.

The magic giant had a giant magic dog.  But this story isn’t about him, either.

The dog had a nail on his left big toe that could think and talk and cast spells.  This story is about him.  It’s called, “The Magic Toenail.”

The toenail had a sweet life, what with being magic and not having to go to school and all.  Everything was peaceful, until one day when a UFO landed in front of their castle.  Oh, by the way, they lived in a castle.

Gross purple aliens came out and started looking around.

Continue reading

CCSD Sponsors “Gender Identity” Workshop

The latest offering from the Clark County School District’s Equity and Diversity Education Department was emailed to all employees recently.  It advertises a training by our “Director of Education and
Training for Gender Spectrum.”

The training will address the following: “A non-binary framework for understanding gender diversity will be presented as well as foundational terminology and concepts related to this complex topic. Perspectives from gender-expansive young people and their families, as well as from societies around the world will be highlighted.”

What does this professional development hope to accomplish?  “The workshop will also explore the role educators must play in providing the necessary conditions for supporting a student’s authentic gender
at school, in addition to providing some best practices for ensuring a child’s gender is honored and respected.” (emphasis added)

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