I see that this is the last day of National Novel Writing Month. Too late to get on board?
Perhaps I’d have better luck growing out a beard by the end of the day.
I received a reply from Elder Robbins through his secretary, with the text of his talk and permission to share it. It’s in the link below.
This is one of my favorite messages I’ve ever heard at church, and I hope it spreads far and wide. Even more so, I hope we try to live it.
Word nerd alert: yesterday it dawned on me that I’ll probably still be alive in 2066, when the world will mark the 1000th anniversary of the Norman invasion of England, which began the transition from Old English to Middle English.
It’s a big date in language history, and I’m genuinely excited to help celebrate it. I’ll only be 89 (and my daughter will have become president just 14 years before).
I’ll commit now to reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that year, in his original Middle English. Who else is in?
Perhaps France doesn’t need status updates that mention sadness, shock, and sympathy. Perhaps they need policies that might actually prevent atrocities like this from happening, over and over and over again. Actually, if you’ve followed their politics for the last decade, that’s exactly what the people have been begging for. But we’re more comfortable feigning surprise and impotently offering nothing more than trendy solidarity in mourning. As usual.
Tell me, how many more attacks like this will it take before you agree that more must be done to combat it directly? Five? Ten? Fifty? Will you act surprised next time, too? And the time after that? Be sure to bookmark your “shocked and saddened” status today so you can quickly copy and paste it a few times next year.
“Anger doesn’t solve anything!”
Tell that to the children of today’s victims.
Tell that to the children of next year’s victims.
Here’s a better question: why doesn’t the predictable, preventable murder of over a hundred innocent people make you angry?
Will you be angry next time?
Or the time after that?
Will you still be shrugging your shoulders and “helping” by changing your profile pic for a week after the next attack?
When you offer to pray for Paris, what exactly will you be praying for? Comfort for the affected families? Good. But could you also pray for sensible policy reform by leaders and for cultural strength for society so that we won’t have to offer to pray for affected families again and again with no end in sight?
May God bless all those who were killed today and all those who would stand with them. May we all do more than just display our feelings about this.
May God move all who can help make the world safe and at peace from this plague of terror. May we all do our part to support such a goal.
And may God stop those who would perpetrate such attacks, or condone them, or turn a blind eye to them. And may we all do all we can to help Him.
If you live in the American Southwest, your stake held a satellite broadcast meeting today. Here are some notes on it. These aren’t notes in the sense of being summaries of the talks, but are rather annotations–helpful footnotes on each talk.
Lynn G. Robbins, Presidency of the 70
Here’s a talk about Mary and Martha and “choosing the better part.”
Here’s President Uchtdorf in our last General Conference on the simplicity of the gospel.
Here’s a verse from Paul to the Corinthians expressing worry that they’d lose the simplicity of the gospel.
The Leonardo da Vinci quote:
The anecdote about Benjamin Franklin retiring at 42 as an example of prizing other things over gathering more wealth seems to come from Catherine Drinker Bowen’s The Most Dangerous Man in America: Scenes from the Life of Benjamin Franklin. This article seems to be in the same spirit.
“And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.” D&C 25:10.
Dallin H. Oaks’s 2007 talk, “Good, Better, Best”
This wasn’t mentioned in the talk, but along the same lines, I have to recommend Thoreau’s Walden. At least chapter 2.
It’s tough out there for a progressive Mormon these days. Reacting with horrified indignation on the Internet to current events has nearly become a full-time job! It’s almost enough to make one re-examine one’s passionately believed liberal assumptions. Almost.
But before you do something drastic like that, here’s how to deal with the exhaustion of always needing to rant online. After all, there are only so many synonyms for “sad” that you can dredge up in the service of your public moral vanity.
Just use this easy, user-friendly template for your next angry tirade against the LDS Church. It’ll even work for those trendy new rants that poorly veil their murmuring under the guise of being diplomatically disappointed.
Here it is:
I am (outraged / shocked / depressed) by the recent event in the LDS Church that everyone’s talking about. It (sickens / offends / discourages) my sensitive and compassionate conscience. Once again our leaders have shown themselves to be (out of touch / tone deaf / afraid of change / consistently faithful to their calling).
When will the Church finally (evolve / wake up / get with the times / become as good as I am)? And when will they finally start thinking about all the (minorities / non-Mormons / children / sensitive and compassionate progressives)? When?!
Don’t they know that this is the last straw and that oodles and scads of people are now (leaving the Church / not joining the Church / speaking out against the Church / scribbling stale criticisms online for cheap social capital)?
How do I know the Church is wrong on this issue? I’ll tell you: (insert string of logical fallacies here; begging the question, straw man, reductio ad absurdum, ad hominem, and false analogy work especially well). The Church’s stance on this one issue is obviously (a radical conspiracy by old white men / inspired by some conservative politician my friends and I don’t like / based on decades if not centuries of doctrinal precedent).
Now that the Church has thrust us into a dark age we will have just have to hunker down and patiently (wait for change / pray for our leaders’ enlightenment / waste time showing off online /
seek faith while quietly serving others).
Hopefully I’ll never have to write anything negative about the Church again. (NOTE: when posting this in future years, remember to use updated references to whichever Church leader / social conservative / Republican politician is being called stupid by the media at that time. You don’t want your rants to start sounding predictable!)
It didn’t involve visions or angels or moving mountains.
Some years ago, I was serving as an elders quorum president. One Sunday around 10 PM, the bishop called me. He quickly said that a woman in the ward was in need of some emergency help, and that he wanted me to get a dozen men over to her house right away, to do a couple hours’ worth of labor.
I was hesitant. I was supposed to call a bunch of guys late at night on a Sunday, most of whom were in bed or getting ready for it, and most of whom needed to get up for work in the morning, and ask them to jump up and come out to work until midnight?
I started making calls.
Everybody answered the phone. Everybody said they’d be right there. Actually, one guy had the flu and, though he said he’d come over, I told him to stay in bed.
After making enough calls, I went over to help. Everybody I’d called was there, cheerfully working. We actually got the needed labor done early, and were all home before midnight.
Just imagine all the faith that went into getting out of a dozen comfort zones to make that happen for someone in need. I love getting to be a part of such miracles. Maybe Zion isn’t as far away as we think.
Every school day in November, I’m going to call the parents of two students, just to praise their child and thank them for all the great work they’ve done.
I’ve made calls like this before, but not consistently. They’re wonderful. We all know that when a teacher calls, your kid must have really done something bad. Parents are always scared at first. When I explain that I’m just calling with a compliment, they often don’t know what to say. They’re speechless. It makes their day.
But their kids often make my day, so it’s a small thing to return the favor.
Spoiler: I’m going to propose that this amazing, majestic sermon was probably written and delivered by Mormon when he was just a teenager.
I read Moroni chapter 7 this last weekend. That’s where Moroni records his father’s great sermon about faith, hope, and charity. The rhetorical background of this text intrigues me.
First of all, we know to whom it was delivered; Mormon says quite clearly at the beginning that it’s for “you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven” (v. 3).
We can infer from the text, and what we know of that period of history, why it was given: surely, this was during a period of societal decline, and these faithful church members–no doubt a beleaguered minority–needed encouragement and guidance for dealing with their troubled times.
The text does a great job of achieving that goal. Here’s how: Mormon counsels them to, first and foremost, maintain righteous desires in their hearts (vv. 5-11), then proceeds to remind them of how to discern between good and evil (vv. 12-19–note that here he also stresses that everyone originally has the light of Christ in them [v. 16], which would be a striking teaching as they were surrounded by an increasingly wicked, crumbling society).
Mormon goes on to comfort and motivate them by preaching of the blessings of having faith (vv. 20-39), which leads to the blessings of enjoying hope (vv. 40-43), which leads to the blessings of exercising charity (vv. 44-48).
But my big question here is when it was given. Mormon’s most typical teaching mode–extrapolating morals from historical narratives (i.e. all of his famous “and thus we see” statements)–is completely absent here. Indeed, even the many contextual details that he drops in his second letter to his son in Moroni ch. 9 about the imminent doom of their ruined society has no corollary in ch. 7. In fact, the odd absence of that facet of Mormon’s modus operandi leads me to the theory I propose here.
The exclamation “holy s—!” has always puzzled and amused me. Maybe it’s the odd juxtaposition that makes it work. After all, of all the things in the world that might ever be considered sacred, the very least likely would be excrement!
You think you do because you remember some of his stories from school: the one where the guy cuts up and buries his neighbor, the one where the guy buries the other guy alive in his cellar, the one where death ruins a party. Maybe you remember “The Raven” and thought it sounded cool.
But here’s the thing: those are probably the only pieces you know and, frankly, they’re not very representative of his body of work. They’re the greatest hits. They’re the ones we know kids might like.
Have you ever read much more of his stuff? It gets pretty dense. After the pieces mentioned above, textbooks tend to have “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The former is universally thought to be boring, what with a narrator who is constantly terrified and fainting at nothing, and the latter bores even the most ardent honors student to tears. I love the florid, Gothic prose of “Usher,” but students can’t stand a story so heavy on atmosphere and so light on action.
And the rest of his oeuvre gets worse from there. Try slogging your way through “Descent into the Maelstrom” some time. Took me a few tries to even finish that one.
This isn’t to say that Poe’s a bad writer who only wrote boring stuff. Far from it! Many of his other pieces are hidden gems (and this one is actually quite funny!).
But he is, frankly, overrated, and the pop culture adoration of him is rooted in naive nostalgia for a tiny fraction of his work. If more people read more of his work, rest assured the honeymoon would be over pretty quickly.
Now me, I’m more of a Lovecraft man.
Today you could throw a rock and hit some retrospective about Back to the Future Part II. Particularly, they’re adding up what the movie got right and wrong about 2015 (Hover boards! 3D monster movies! Go Cubbies!).
When Marty goes back to the corrupted, nightmare version of 1985, his average suburban mother has been transformed into a dolled-up trophy wife. Right away Marty notices her…ahem…surgical enhancements, and how could he not, because her top is cut down practically to her navel. He stammers that, “You’re so…big.”
It’s meant to show us just how cheaply she’s been exploited by her scumbag husband, Biff, whom she soon yells at for making he get such exaggerated, obnoxious plastic surgery.
Except that in the real 2015, her breast augmentation isn’t really all that exaggerated, and the outfit that displays it isn’t all that obnoxious–not by mainstream standards.
One of my favorite things about the Book of Mormon is its pragmatic view of human nature. Undoubtedly, its authors knew the best and worst of the human experience, and weren’t pulling any punches.
An example of this is the honest depiction of missionary work here, namely its tediously frustrating reality. Though the Book of Mormon does have some more neutral general observations about how people are (such as here and here), most of the time the text is pessimistic.
Here are nine such passages:
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
Reading Ether chapter 6 in the Book of Mormon this week, I was struck by some quick and minor details in these verses:
19 And the brother of Jared began to be old, and saw that he must soon go down to the grave; wherefore he said unto Jared: Let us gather together our people that we may number them, that we may know of them what they will desire of us before we go down to our graves.
20 And accordingly the people were gathered together. Now the number of the sons and the daughters of the brother of Jared were twenty and two souls; and the number of sons and daughters of Jared were twelve, he having four sons.
21 And it came to pass that they did number their people; and after that they had numbered them, they did desire of them the things which they would that they should do before they went down to their grave.
22 And it came to pass that the people desired of them that they should anoint one of their sons to be a king over them.
Any time I’d read these before, I’m sure I just assumed that the “numbering” mentioned in verses 19 and 21 was some kind of census, and moved on. Certainly, the totals given in verse 20 seem to indicate a census.
But I wonder if there’s more going on here. A formal meeting needed to count a few dozen people? Hardly seems necessary.
What if the “numbering” here isn’t counting, but is a ritualistic ceremony meant to culminate the work of one generation and sanctify the next?
Webster’s 1828 dictionary suggests this possibility in its final definition of “number,” as:
To reckon as one of a collection or multitude.
“He was numbered with the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:12.
In that light, if we consider that “number” in verses 19 and 21 might be synonymous with the verb “to name,” as in “to give somebody a name,” then we see a pattern here that reminds us of Mosiah 5-6 earlier in the text: one generation of leaders is about to die, the people are gathered, the people are numbered or named, a new king is anointed, and then the old generation passes away. Was the spiritual purpose of both of these ceremonies, Nephite and Jaredite, to identify the people as, and have them covenant to be, followers of God?
On this note, a comment about Ether 6:20 on the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum points out that
I need more poetry in my life. This occurred to me not long ago when I noticed on my shelf Bill Brown‘s book, The Gods of Little Pleasures. I had bought this in a tiny craft store in Virginia on my honeymoon 12 years ago, and had still not finished it. This week, I finally did.
And loved it. Brown’s poetry is exactly the kind of thing I like. His themes include reverence for age and a domestic life enhanced by appreciation for the natural world. I wish I could share more of this wonderful collection, but here are two items.
First, Brown reading the last poem in the book, from which the title comes:
“Worship” appears to be the end of a little trilogy that concludes The Gods of Little Pleasures. The other two–“Backwoods Vespers” and “Prayer”–are also excellent.
Second, here’s another one I loved, appropriate for this time of year:
The cat on the porch cocks an eye
as I tote wood for October’s fire. Perhaps she
remembers naps beside the hearth.
“First frost, first fire,” my father said;
and this morning’s yard is ashimmer.
Lost in the push of my life, the one
to earn bread and shelter, it’s good
to recognize an order both immediate
and beyond my plans. Hope, like desert rain,
is always welcome. That’s the danger.
This morning hope comes in little rituals
lost to summer: splitting wood, gathering
kindling from oak branches at the fence.
Building the first fall fire is like lighting
a prayer candle to some space lost
among the daily rhythms of the heart.
One can stop time only in dreams,
but at the edge of a season, I sense
a slowing of the blood; something resolute
and fleeting is remembered for an hour,
then forgotten. I take my coffee to the porch,
sit by the cat, and watch the first smoke rise
in unknown messages toward heaven.