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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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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Notes and Quotes: December 2014

 

ARTS
Classical sculptures in color
Great article on the late works of Turner

 

EDUCATION

The main reason we should cherish liberal education as “great books” is that they almost all are—whether written in the form of prose, poetry, plays, or novels—poetic in this sense: They are all about showing, rather than telling. One of the great prejudices of our time is that the truth can be reduced to theory and information expressed directly through “critical thinking” that can, in principle, be displayed through logically ordered PowerPoint slides. But the strangest and most wonderful being in the cosmos—each of us—is too elusive and mysterious to be known through that mode. This means the poetic, indirect, or slow and circuitous mode of knowing could be even more rigorous and rational in its own way. The reason Socrates didn’t write at all, and the reason Plato wrote “dialogues” or really wordy plays, is that books themselves can so readily get in the way of wondrous love and “the joy of discovery” if they are viewed as one-dimensional prose. The difference here is the one between the “great book” or even a “real book” and the “textbook.”

The one true progress has little to do with political institutions or technical devices: It’s the progress that occurs in the directions of wisdom and virtue over a particular unique and irreplaceable human life, and our struggle today is to remember to focus at least some of our higher education on encouraging that personal progress.
Technocracy Versus The Great Books

What’s the Best Teaching Method?
English teacher turned Congressman corrects a colleague’s memo

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My New Article on Temples and Families in the Bible

The Integration of Temples and Families: A Latter-day Saint Structure for the Jacob Cycle” was published on Friday.  This is my first peer-reviewed, academic article, so I’m pretty excited.  Anyone with an interest in Biblical literature, or its temple and family themes, would likely enjoy it.

Four Best Places For Your Charitable Giving

We all have things we care about.  We all know of needs we want to help fill.  Likely, we all get frustrated because we just don’t have the resources to do all we want to do.

May I suggest that, if you’re reading this, you would care about the following things, and if more people would focus their charitable donations on these, a great difference for the better could be made.

I’ll propose what I find to be the needs that are the most worthy in the realms of politics, religion & literacy, and living well.

 

In politics, we live in an era where perhaps the greatest political need has arisen from the emergence of a new Puritan class of righteous elites, who set our cultural guidelines and persecute those who dare dissent.  This is a time of stifling conformity, paired with punishment for any who refuse to worship at the right altar.

Free speech is dying.

You might suggest that the physical threat of terrorism, or the more domestic threat of unsustainable debt, for example, are more dangerous than the almost existential desire for free speech.

You would be wrong.  While other issues have massive consequences which can be seen easily, the cowing of individuals portends even more damage in the long run.

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David Grayson’s Under My Elm

elm 1#1162 in Life’s Little Instruction Book says: “Try to find a copy of the book Under My Elm by David Grayson (Doubleday, 1942). You might have to order it.

I did have to order it.  Here are the passages I marked:

 
I don’t know what it is, but there is something about steady manual labor like this, alone in the fields, that gives one a curious deep satisfaction. I like the sense of doing hard work that is also useful work. One’s mind at first drops asleep, except for the narrow margin relating to this or that repetitive process. One lets go, calms down. For hours, sometimes, while at such work, I came near the point of complete mental vacuity. The mind sets itself the minute task it has to do and goes off somewhere to its own high pastures, serene uplands, to rest and play. The hours pass magically: the sun that was low when the work began rides high in the heavens—and suddenly the mind comes home again. It comes home refreshed stimulated, happy. I always know the exact moment of its arrival. Yesterday it did not return until I had nearly finished my work in the field. It seemed to cry out: “What, asleep! Listen to the bobolinks.”
I straightened up quickly and realized that I had been working for several hours without hearing or seeing much of anything—this literally. The whole world now became flooded with delightful sounds, not only the bobolinks, but a hundred other voices both of nature and human nature, so that I had a deep and indescribably friendly feeling towards all things. I thought it good and beautiful to be there and to be alive. Even the grass clinging wetly to my legs as I walked seemed consciously holding me close to the earth; and the shovel held warmly, even painfully in my blistered hands, was proof that I had at last become part of a universal process. These sensations, even as I set them down, seem difficult to express, but they were there, and they were true and sound. (11-12)

 

elm 2Steve had been working all day, harrowing and fertilizing his tobacco land, and should, I suppose, be properly tired. But the weeds in the onions are growing! Down on his knees he went and began weeding. A moment later his wife was at his side. The children cried a little, for they were tired and hungry and wanted to go home, but soon whimpered down. I wondered what an American family I know of, which keeps a nurse for each of their weakling children and a second girl to help the nurses, would say to this way of “raising” children! These two little Poles are magnificent physical specimens, and the boy, when clean, is really beautiful. At eight-thirty when it was too dark to see, the family trailed homeward, Steve carrying the little boy in his arms. Can these people be beaten? (86-87)

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Three Great Writers Have Died Recently, and I Miss Them

Early this week, I heard of the passing of British novelist P.D. James.

Here are my thoughts from reading Death in Holy Orders in 2009.

Here is Mark Steyn reflecting on her dystopian masterpiece The Children of Men.

I’m currently reading The Murder Room, and you should, too.

*****

Just a day later, I heard of the death of Kent Haruf.

This is what I wrote nearly two years ago, when his book Benediction was about to come out.

Now I’m re-reading Plainsong, his magnum opus.  You really should read it, also.  I even liked the Hallmark movie version.

*****

The other great writer who died in the past week is the poet Mark Strand, but I actually didn’t like his work very much–I found it too narrow and self-consciously obscure for my taste.  Still, a great talent who made a major contribution to letters.

No, the third writer who I loved and who we recently lost is the critic D.G. Myers, who died in September.  I found his work A Commonplace Blog years ago, and long treasured his thoughts about writers, especially his fellow Jewish writers–I learned a lot about Saul Bellow and I.S. Singer from him.

Peruse his final months of posts–those from 2014–and you’ll be treated to two posts about his battle with cancer, posts about the best debut novels and the bets novels of the 1940s, and two posts about the degradation of the humanities in the American university.  A 21st century Allan Bloom, he was.  Though his link sat in my sidebar for as long as this blog has existed, I never mentioned him here explicitly, and for that I am sorry.

Here are some thoughts about him from some other prominent thinkers and writers.

*****

The work of all three of these writers were essentially conservative.  James was celebrated in some circles; Haruf and Myers were under-appreciated.  All three are worthy of your time.

The New Star Wars Trailer–A Cinematic Appreciation

The best thing about the new Star Wars teaser trailer is how thoroughly cinematic it is.  Most trailers, especially teaser trailers, are just a lazy mess of spotlighted clips.  This one, though, was clearly constructed with a specific narrative arc in mind.

It naturally falls into three acts:

Act I: Establishing character and setting

First we see Tatooine, then we see a hero.  The hero is tired, sweaty, and scared.  And alone.  That’s how we know he’s a hero, despite the Stormtrooper uniform–villains never appear so beleaguered in Act I.

The soccer ball droid reassures us that two big mainstays of the series are still present: innovation and whimsy.

The next shot reaffirms the first: a panicked, lone hero in a hurry.  No coincidence here: clearly, we’re meant to know that this film will show our new protagonists in a fractured, oppressed state, desperate to escape a threatening presence.  This, of course, is highlighted by the gravelly voiceover.

The fourth “scene” reaffirms the second: a reassurance here, not of innovation and whimsy, but of action and equipment.  Few series are so rooted in their weapons and vehicles as Star Wars, and this part of the trailer shows us J.J. Abrams doing what he did with Star Trek: preserving the bets of the old while updating its peripheral elements.

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