Seven Things Tolstoy and Mormon Have In Common

As I read War and Peace, it occurred to me that it has a bit in common with my favorite book, the Book of Mormon.

  1. Each narrator–Tolstoy in War and Peace, and Mormon in the Book of Mormon–is relating an epic historical tale about the history of his own nation, with its great successes and failures.
  2. Each book cites from older historical records in the course of its narrative, and makes references and allusions to countless others.
  3. The further along each book goes, the more pronounced the narrator’s voice becomes; neither is neutral, but is intimately and passionately invested in their story.
  4. Each narrator grounds his story in alternating tales of domestic conflict and military war.
  5. The military episodes largely focus on the patriotic exploits of one chief leader (Moroni in the Book of Mormon, Kutuzov in War and Peace).
  6. Each narrator uses these stories to comment on human nature and illustrate his themes about the meaning of life.
  7. Each narrator ultimately wants his story to show the readers that acknowledging Christ as God and patterning our lives after his is the way we should live. Each narrator openly testifies of this near the end of his story.

Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson #4: In Nephi’s Vision, Who’s Talking When?

I mentioned in my notes on lesson #1 that I like to picture and even map out the structure of text, but I also find it useful to mark out who’s talking when there are multiple speakers.

Below is a PDF copy of 1 Nephi 11-14 with all the dialogue color-coded. The angel doesn’t have much to say at first, but monologues quite a bit in chapters 13 and 14.

Some of this attribution is speculative or convenient, though, so take it with a grain of salt. For example, in 13:34, I have “Behold, saith the Lamb of God” as spoken by the angel, just to make it clear that the angel is quoting the Lord there, but that phrase might very well be part of the Lord’s statement–in fact, it probably is. Ditto in 14:7.

Nephi’s Vision– Color Coded Dialogue

Discipleship Worksheet for Ch. 1 of Howard W. Hunter Manual

08861_eng_CoverI had the chance to teach from this lesson at church today. It’s really an excellent chapter of the new book–I highly recommend it to anybody. I made the chart attached below to prepare for teaching it, and for personal use.

In case anyone else might benefit from it, the discipleship worksheet is here: Teachings of Presidents of the Church ch1.

 

Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson #2

My suggested personal study aids for this week. (I’ll try to post earlier in the week from now on.)

Lesson objective: “To help class members see, through the examples of Lehi and Nephi, that safety and salvation come through obedience to the Lord.”

When my family studied 1 Nephi 1 together this week, we stopped in verse 4 to check out the references in footnote d. Two of them go to Jeremiah.

With that in mind, I first want to recommend this movie:

 

 

From a post about it four years ago:

Checked this out from the library a while back and really enjoyed it.  This drama not only has better production values than most small, Biblical movies, but it even stars future Grey’s Anatomylead Patrick Dempsey, to boot.

Jeremiah tells a vivid story of the Old Testament prophet’s reluctant, melancholy rebellion against a corrupt and complacent status quo, and keeps the major narrative very faithful to the Biblical text.  Dempsey shines in this role; his acting strong suit has always been an uncanny ability to convey betrayed surprise–the hurt look on the face of a lost puppy dog.  That woeful innocence comes in handy a lot as he portrays the saddest prophet in Israel’s history.

Latter-day Saints have a special soft spot for Jeremiah, I think, as the Book of Mormon suggests that he was a contemporary of the first patriarch in that sacred text, a man named Lehi, who likewise foretold doom in Jerusalem and was violently rejected for it.  One can easily imagine Lehi preaching just around the corner in most scenes of this film.

The few shots of violence are tasteful and true to the source material, but perhaps a little too intense for the youngest viewers.  Other than that, anyone with an interest in Biblical literature, history, or belief would be better off for seeing Jeremiah.

Speaking of 1 Nephi 1, I like to picture the structure of things I read, as it helps illuminate for me the author’s intended messages more clearly. The following arrangement of verse 1 shows just how much information is packed into that first sentence: six factual statements about Nephi–three paired clauses describing who he is and how he got to be that way, and all meant to explain why he’s making this record; only that last of the six statements shows an active choice on Nephi’s part:

Untitled

Also, these two posts about the Book of Mormon come highly recommended:

2016 Gospel Doctrine- Recommended Resources on the Book of Mormon. I endorse all the titles shared there, most especially Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon.

A Book to Kill For #BOM2016

And, of course, I must urge you to keep up with the development of Book of Mormon Central this year. If it lives up to its potential, it’ll be a fantastic resource.

 

Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson #1

Each week in 2016 I’ll post (or re-post) things relevant to that week’s Sunday School lesson about the Book of Mormon.

Lesson #1 has the following objective: “To help class members understand how the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and how abiding by its precepts helps us draw nearer to God.”

These items might help with that:

 

 

 

The Condensed Book of Mormon, in 15 Verses

Lehi, King Benjamin, and President Monson On Why We Follow the Prophet

Escape to the Mountain: Genesis 19 as a Timely Reminder for Latter-day Saints

Genesis 19 is one of the most sordid, controversial chapters of the Bible. As such, it’s not often seen as a fount of wisdom.

Yet, a perfectly timely spiritual message is in this narrative.

Before “the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire,” an angel warned Lot to take his family and “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Genesis 19:17)

Was Lot’s response to act like Peter and Andrew, who, upon being called to the ministry, “straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matt. 4:20)? Or like Alma, who was abused and rejected as a minister in one city, but after leaving was instructed by an angel to go back and persist, so “he returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah” (Alma 8:18)?

No. Lot’s immediate instinct wasn’t obedience, but quibbling and negotiation: “And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord…. I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die” (19:21-22).

Not only did he decline to follow the angel’s clear counsel, he proposed following his own inclinations: “Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.” (19:20)

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Text of Simplicity Talk by Elder Lynn G. Robbins, from Area Broadcast

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.

Simplicity Final

Notes On Today’s Regional Broadcast

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:

Leonardo-Da-Vinci-Quotes-11

Clutter’s Last Stand: It’s Time to De-Junk Your Life!

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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.

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An Easy Template For Your Next Angry Rant Against the Mormon Church

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!)

My Favorite Priesthood Miracle

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.

When Did Mormon Give the Sermon in Moroni ch. 7?

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.

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9 Book of Mormon Insights Into Human Nature

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:

 

1. People tend to resent the truth when it corrects them

1 Nephi 16:2

…the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.

2. People tend to think that they know all that is necessary

2 Nephi 9:28

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.
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A Nephite / Jaredite Parallel?

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

According to Brant Gardner, the numbers given in Ether 6:20 are too neat to plausibly be actual counts.  There are twenty-four [from the family of the brother of Jared — 22 sons and daughters plus the brother of Jared and his wife] (twice twelve).  Jared had four sons and twelve total children.  All of these numbers are symbolically important in either the Bible (twelve) or Mesoamerica (four).  In other words, the only numbers given have symbolic meaning.  [Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Vol. 6: Fourth Nephi through Moroni,  p. 233]
This further suggests that this episode was not just a practical census, but a religious ritual.

EmJen vs. the Priestcrafter!

[Background: Read this, then this, then this, then this]

THE ADVENTURES OF EMJEN

Episode 38: EmJen vs. the Priestcrafter!

SCENE 1

[Voice over] We join our courageous hero in her secret lair, the FORTRESS OF ATTITUDE, as she watches a slimy villain, DEVIL D. RANT, on a screen.

DEVIL: I encourage everyone to elevate their thoughts by studying the scriptures.

EMJEN: Oh no! My superhero senses are going off! I feel like evil’s afoot!

[EmJen’s sidekick, BLOG R. NACLE, rushes to her side]

BLOGGY: What’s going on?

EMJEN: The vile propaganda spewed by that heinous monster on the screen has set off my evil detector!

BLOGGY: Really? I thought the message was nice. I was actually inspired to do better by it. I thought–

[EmJen slaps Bloggy upside the head]

EMJEN: Foolish creature! Only an enlightened higher being like myself would see through those warm words of wisdom and automatically think to go looking for the awful truth beneath it!

BLOGGY: Really? That’s your instinct? You hear a motivational talk and your reaction is to go digging for dirt? That sounds like a reckless witch hunt to me.

[EmJen punches Bloggy in the face]

EMJEN: Hey, who’s in charge here, you or ME? Now, to the lab!

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Oct. 2015 General Conference PM Sunday Notes

Elder Christofferson: This talk advocates an idea unpopular in the world today: organized religion isn’t bad; in fact, it’s necessary. A similar talk by Eugene England called “Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel” makes a similar point, and is well worth your time.

Elder Christofferon often focuses on the need for the Church–and individual saints–to help the poor and needy. Always a good element to focus on, and I’m glad to see he doesn’t do it in isolation of other factors like missionary work and saving ordinances. The Church is a great big, busy place, as our lives are supposed to be. Thus comes Zion.

I remember how to spell his last name because “Christ” was “offer”ed as God’s “son.”

Devin G. Durrant (SS 1st couns.): “ponderize” is a perfectly cromulent word. The late Elder Scott encouraged us to do something similar here: ponder and memorize. I’d love to be part of a social media group to do this!

So, will the part about finances get completely forgotten? Remember.

Elder Keetch (70): It’s good to be reminded that barriers exist for a good reason. I wrote about the same topic here.

Better, more spiritual references include what I call the parable of the kite, one of my all-time favorite General Conference parables, here.

And, of course, spiritual crocodiles.

Carole M. Stephens (RS 1st couns.):  Her talk has the same theme as Elder Keetch’s before her. I don’t see such things as a coincidence. These two talks make a great pair.

Trusting God was also a theme of Elder Andersen’s excellent talk at priesthood last night.

I like the focus on trusting each member of the Godhead–creative way to organize her thoughts, and practical.

Elder Haynie (70): Another lovely reminder about gospel basics. Can’t say it enough: I love a good seventy talk.

I think this makes a great pair with Elder Oaks’s talk about the Atonement yesterday.

Elder Clark (70): This hits hone. Even active members need greater faith and obedience. Reminds me of one time in the celestial room at the temple, I was thinking about nothing particular, but then a distinct impression came: “Time to kick it up a notch.” Seriously, those were the words. Might be time to kick it up another notch.

The Holy Ghost has been mentioned a lot this weekend. Another signal for upcoming study and development?

Koichi Aoyagi: Very humane story of dealing with adversity with perspective. Lest we every think leaders have easy lives, his story is a wake-up call. Lends ethos to his call to endure well. Another area where we can all do well to grow.

Elder Bednar: Yes! What a great talk to go out on! Kind of sad that we need such counsel, but we do. Elder Neal A. Maxwell used to say that arguments for the gospel don’t create faith, but the lack of them could hurt it. Ditto here, I think: defending having elderly leaders may not build faith, but without a talk like this, cynicism and criticism would fester. Glad to have an apostle set us straight.

I love how personal his words are here. Truly, an insider’s testimony! “The totality of their teachings is priceless.” How long would it take to fully understand and be grateful for what we’re blessed with in our leaders? This makes me want to spend more time studying the lives of our latter-day prophets.

These remarks will be needed as a defense of President Monson soon for some out there, I fear.