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.

Oct. 2015 General Conference, Sunday AM Notes

President Monson: I like how his talk was based on combining two different works of scripture. That’s a skill that we all need to develop better, and it only comes from a quantity of repeated study. Seeing similar themes and seeing how various passages and even very different books can overlap produces the kind of personal insights the prophet shares here.

Comparing this to his talk in the priesthood session last night, I see President Monson here as a prophet of the basics. I’ve been teaching Primary for the last couple of years now, and I’m learning how important it is to be constantly reminded of simple, foundational things. President Monson is like that, and I’ve no doubt that’s what we need today–a Primary prophet.

Three new apostles: Interesting what they chose to share with us as their first introductions as apostles. Humility is obviously a big trend here, but I was especially touched by Elder Renlund’s story of losing a patient.

President Nelson: Wow! What to make of this talk? I approach it like this: to whom was he speaking and why? This was clearly not just another “cheer up girls, you’re awesome!” talk.

First, though couched in such inspirational language, the substance here is a call to greater spiritual leadership by women, in the sense that the men get from such talks as President Uchtdorf’s a few years ago. It also, then, seems like a successor to President Julie B. Beck’s “Mothers Who Know.”

Second, it’s also clearly a clarion call to priesthood leaders to be more inclusive in regards to welcoming female leaders’ contributions; this is not the first time in recent years we’ve heard this message. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention.

In short, this talk says that we all, of both genders, have things to work on. This is will be an important one to study and work on.

Also, two apostles in this session now are heart doctors who have told stories of losing patients.

President Nelson’s emphasis on the value of women in our lives reminds me of Elder Holland’s similar focus yesterday.

Elder Schwitzer: His remarks are largely inspired by a quote from an epistle of Paul, as were President Monson’s. We need to read the Bible.

His bold words about the danger of criticism very much echo Elder Andersen’s talk in the priesthood session last night. (Among many other things, Elder Andersen encouraged people to, quote, “Give Brother Joseph a break.”)

Elder Costa: Will there be any more conference talks given in speakers’ native languages? Or was that just a one-time thing to make a point about the growth and compassion of the Church?

I’ve said this before, but the most simple and basic, yet moving and spiritual, talks tend to be given by seventies. And President Monson.

President Eyring: As a debate coach, I like how many speakers at this conference are explicitly starting off talks by saying, “Here’s my agenda for you today…” (President Monson also did this in priesthood last night.)

In my years as an active church member, I have noticed an increased effort to make our sacrament meetings centered on worship and the Savior (scaling back the pomp of missionary farewells, for example). It makes a difference.

Imagine if everyone approached their assignments to speak in sacrament meeting by trying to copy the examples set in President Eyring’s talks: doctrine with applications; then inspiring, engaging stories of models to follow. Doesn’t he just fill your heart and make you want to be closer to Christ?

Bonus note: This arrangement of “The Spirit of God” has been sung before, but not often. It’s ambitious, epic, and rousing. I’d love to hear it sometime with every verse, but that would run 10 minutes, I’m sure.

Towards a Book of Mormon Study Edition

I love a good study Bible. Earlier this year I found a nearly new NIV Archaeological Study Bible on sale at a library for a dollar—a 98% savings off the cover price!—and I’m getting a lot of mileage out of it.
I’ve been thinking about study Bibles a lot after reading Bill Hamblin’s much-needed rant about the demise of Book of Mormon studies at BYU, such as it ever was. At one point, he summarizes what’s missing in the curriculum:

Most simply, BYU could offer in depth courses on each of the major books of the Book of Mormon, combining some of the smaller books into one. Note that Religious Education offers a class on Isaiah, but no class on the book of Alma or Helaman or Nephi? Why? Beyond in depth classes on major books of the Book of Mormon, BYU should offer classes on Book of Mormon geography, history, archaeology, linguistics, literature, theology, culture, language (ancient Near East and Maya), textual criticism, religion, law, warfare, apocalyptic, reception history, the Bible in the Book of Mormon, etc.

He’s clearly right, of course, but I want to suggest another avenue besides BYU classes for improving Book of Mormon studies among Latter-day Saints.
It’s time we have a decent study edition of the Book of Mormon.
A Book of Mormon study edition would serve the same purpose as a classic study Bible: an encyclopedic resource for a variety of academic knowledge about the text, which will guide any general reader in understanding the nature and meaning of that text more accurately.

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Explaining “Nearer, My God, To Thee”

Last week in church we sang my favorite hymn, “Nearer, My God, To Thee.” The words to that song are exquisitely crafted, and with genuinely profound meaning. The apparent simplicity of it and the beauty of the tune we sing it to might mask the spiritual artistry of the writing, though.

Here is my attempt to translate the lyrics and reveal the power of the hymn. Here we can see it for what it is: a universal spiritual template, based on the Jacob Cycle in Genesis, that takes us from life’s lows to eternal highs, and emphasizes that at any and every stage of existence, our focus should always be on drawing nearer to God.


The Book of Enoch: Reader’s Edition

Perhaps the most under-appreciated part of the LDS canon of scripture is the Pearl of Great Price, and perhaps the most under-appreciated part of the Pearl of Great Price is the Book of Enoch.

By “Book of Enoch” I mean chapters 6-7 of the Book of Moses, where Joseph Smith took only seven verses of Genesis 5 and, by inspired prophetic translation, expanded them into a small but supremely powerful epic.

That small epic has a ton of features that have been confirmed in ancient documents that have since been discovered by non-Mormons, but that’s not the point of today’s post. Today’s post is about how awesome the book’s text is.

After reading it again recently, I wanted to prepare a reader-friendly version of the text, with paragraphs and dialogue marked, akin to Grant Hardy’s excellent “Reader’s Edition” of the Book of Mormon.

So I adapted some punctuation and capitalization a bit–but not the text itself, of course–and put the words of Christ in red, because I think it highlights the most important parts of that text. Christ’s teaching there are some of the most sublime God ever delivered to mankind.

My “Reader’s Edition” of Enoch is here.

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Likening the Sacrament Prayers to Ourselves

I read this last month and love it–this is how I hear these prayers in my head at church now. Thanks to the excellent One Climbs site for this idea:

O God, my Eternal Father, I ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to my soul as I partake of it; for I eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that I am willing to take upon myself the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given me, that I may always have his Spirit to be with me. Amen.

Check out the original post for the water prayer.

Another Open Letter to Trent Horn About Mormonism

Trent Horn graciously replied to my previous post to him. Here are my thoughts in return:

Hello again, Trent! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and detailed response. I love exchanges of thoughts that are both kind and productive, so thanks also for that. I’d like to continue our conversation.

On sources

I’m still curious about your education in my faith; you say that you’ve “read extensively the work of contemporary Mormon apologists,” for example, but what constitutes “extensive” here? It’s one thing to note that you “cite primarily” from LDS sources, but quite another to have studied those works holistically and fairly, rather than using them as research for quotes alone. (Also, why leave out the Bible when you define our “standard works?”)

I certainly didn’t mean to accuse you of having any attitude at all, much less one that finds this subject “irrational or easy to refute,” and I’m sorry if it sounded that way. You quite rightly say that I can’t fault you for the conclusions you’ve drawn about my faith as they’re grounded in your own faith’s perspective–fair enough, yes–but surely it’s reasonable for someone to hear your teachings and want to ask about what has gone into forming and supporting them.

Speaking of which, you say that you are “well aware of the arguments made for Mormonism, as well as Mormon rebuttals to arguments made against the faith, all of which I have found unconvincing.” Really, *all* of them? There’s not a one that carries any weight at all? That’s odd.

If you used some space in your book, though, to accurately correct misconceptions about the LDS church, then you have my sincere thanks. We agree then that there is much erroneous information out there in need of correction.

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An Open Letter to Trent Horn

Hi Trent!

I heard you on the radio last Monday talking about Mormonism. I tried calling in but the lines were busy. I tweeted you on Tuesday asking to talk about it, but you haven’t responded yet–maybe you’re busy?

At any rate, I thought this post might be a good way to open a dialogue, if you’re OK with that. Feel free to respond to any and all of the items I discuss here, or proceed as you see fit. I look forward to a friendly and respectful, but candid and productive discussion!

I didn’t hear the entire program, as I was driving around and running errands at the time, but I think I got the gist of it; certainly, I heard enough to be able to address what I think your major points were.

First, I want to offer some general observations, in the form of questions, about what I heard you say on the radio. (I’d love to hear your actual answers to these questions, please–they’re not meant to be merely hypothetical!) Then I’ll cover a few of the biggest specific issues you raised.

10 questions regarding general observations

1. You invited Mormons to call in and discuss your teachings, and this leads me to wonder: have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? Have any of them had the equivalent education and training in their religion that you’ve had in yours? Do you feel you have a solid understanding of what LDS answers to your objections are?

What have their responses been? Have you found any of those responses compelling at all?

If not, doesn’t it strike you as odd that a religion with so many adherents should be incapable of adequately explaining *any* of your claims? Might that seem to indicate the presence of confirmation bias on your part?

Do you ever address these responses in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?

2. If you have not sought out responses from qualified Latter-day Saints, why not? Shouldn’t someone who professionally teaches about the perceived negatives of another group seek out responses and even rebuttals from that group as assiduously as possible as part of their own preparation? Wouldn’t that bolster your credibility and, frankly, be the most civil thing to do?

3. What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? What would say are your top five sources? Continue reading

The Book of Mormon Loves the Bible and Leads Us Back To It

Some anti-Mormon critics have pointed out that the Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several dozen times.  They’re wrong, of course.

The Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several hundred times.

This amazing presentation by a BYU scholar at a recent conference on the complex language of the Book of Mormon goes into this.  There’s no concrete explanation for how this phenomenon is to be accounted for: for the faithful, we don’t know exactly how so many of these non-quotation uses appear in the Book of Mormon; for the critics, since there’s so much subtlety and deep understanding evident in the phrasing (and it in no way helped any hypothetical hoax), there’s no way to simply write this off as lazy copying.

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A Spiritual Metaphor

Each of us is a complicated congregation.

Paul used this fact in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, where he used various body parts to represent different gifts and callings, showing that just as a body needs all its parts to cooperate in order to work best, so does the church need a variety of gifts and offices to best perform its duties.

It occurred to me recently that we could apply that metaphor to an issue in the church today:

Each of our individual “congregations” is led by a presidency: our spirit is called to preside over the rest of us, perhaps with the mind as first counselor and the heart as second counselor.

The rest of the things that constitute ourselves–the “members,” as Paul put it–have their various functions, but all work best in an established order, cooperating harmoniously and ever submitting to the leadership of the presidency.

Whenever a member decides to disregard the order–indulging in its own desires and placing its own wisdom above that of the presidency–the entire congregation suffers.  Whatever member that is–the stomach, the eyes, the genitals, the ego, etc.–risks apostasy.

In any congregation–the global church, a stake, a ward, or our own individual selves–the best way to live is to follow the order established by God.  That means training ourselves to live under the mentoring of our leaders.

Favorite Quotes from John Taylor

“I have no ideas only as God gives them to me; neither should you. Some people are very persistent in having their own way and carrying out their own peculiar theories. I have no thoughts of that kind, but I have a desire, when anything comes along, to learn the will of God, and then to do it.”

The Life and Ministry of John Taylor

The only question with us is whether we will cooperate with God, or whether we will individually work out our own salvation or not; whether we will individually fulfil the various responsibilities that devolve upon us or not; whether we will attend to the ordinances that God has introduced or not; for ourselves to begin with, for our families, for the living and for the dead. Whether we will cooperate in building temples and administering in them; whether we will unite with the Almighty, under the direction of his holy priesthood, in bringing to pass things that have been spoken of by the holy prophets since the world was; whether we will contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints. These things rest with us to a certain extent. …

Chapter 1: The Origin and Destiny of Mankind

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A Letter From Boyd K. Packer, Artist

PackerArt 3Besides being a bold firebrand of an apostle, the recently departed Boyd K. Packer was also an accomplished folk artist.

Ten years ago, my family and I toured the Church History and Art Museum in Salt Lake City.  One of the exhibits was of the painting and wood carvings Elder Packer had done throughout his life.  I was struck by how excellent they were, particularly the wood carvings of small animals and birds; clearly the result of careful real-life observation and exquisite technical skill.  (An example of his work is seen to the left.)

Later, I wrote him a letter thanking him for some talks he’d given and complimenting him on his art, especially the wood carvings.

He replied in a letter dated August 17, 2005.  One paragraph reads: “I am glad you enjoyed the museum visit.  That seems like another life as the years have moved on.  Because of causes incident to age, I am not able to do that fine work anymore.”

The pathos of those statements also struck me.  I noted that he didn’t blame his lack of recent art on the demands of his ministry, but only on the realities of advancing age.  (In retrospect, it’s inspiring that despite “causes incident to age,” he still maintained a vigorous and productive global ministry for another decade after writing that letter!)

Clearly, though, he loved those carvings and it hurt to not be able to do them anymore.  At least in his golden years he had all those great achievements to look back on, and the memory of the feeling of creating them in the first place.

Truly, this was a life deeply and well lived.

More examples of his art can be seen here and here.

Adam and Eve and Evolution: Some Theories

This is a subject of perennial interest and controversy, isn’t it?  Sometimes we even hear of people having trials of faith because of apparent conflicts between scriptural history and scientific knowledge.  I thought I’d share a few of my own ideas on reconciling the two, on the off chance that they may be interesting and helpful to anyone.

Of course, these are only theories.  They’re not necessarily true.  I don’t even necessarily believe them.  I do, however, find comfort in the idea that these ideas exist, and could be true.  Still, if any authorized leader clearly refuted any or all of my ideas here, I’d immediately and gladly give them up.



I’ve never understood the antipathy some have towards evolution, especially from Latter-day Saints, as a close reading of Abraham 4 practically demands something like evolution.

There’s an old rhetorical question about whether or not Adam had a belly button.  I’d say that he did because, though leaders as recent as Jeffrey R. Holland have affirmed that there was a literal Adam, the scriptural account of him being created from the dust and then having a spirit put into him leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

Understanding that all life forms have a spirit in them, I wonder if the following might be accurate.  Here is a chart that crudely illustrates what I think may have happened (red lines indicate marriages, green lines indicate children).  Basically, humans may have evolved to the point where, when the time was right, two were chosen to be the first to have not just any spirit, but spirits that were children of our Heavenly Father.


Adam & Eve


Those two then married and had children.  Those children likewise, of course, had divine spirits, but they married others who did not.  The children of those unions would have one parent descended from Adam and Eve (their grandparents), and one parent not, but those children could also have inherited divine spirits.

Marriage and breeding proceeded such that, eventually, all humans could count Adam and Eve as their direct ancestors.

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Mothers, Mormons, and Defending the Family

On this Mothers’ Day, I’m reminded of a kerfuffle after the last General Women’s Meeting of the LDS Church, where the leader of our faith’s women around the world urged us to “defend the family.”  This was greeted by some ongoing snarking from the faithless fringe online, who sarcastically queried what exactly is attacking the family in the first place.

Lo and behold, in the last week, a couple of news outlets have caught wind of some teachings by intellectual leaders on the Left which include such gems as these:

“One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.”

         –“Abolish the Family? Or Just Hobble Parents So They Don’t Give Kids ‘Unfair’ Advantages?

“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.”

         –“Inequality warriors vs. the family and the individual

Yes, the hostility towards the family is real.  Yes, it needs to be vocally and actively defended in the public sphere.  Yes, we Latter-day Saints have a direct imperative to be at the forefront of this.

And all of those clichéd feel-good bromides about motherhood that we hear in church about mothers being the “guardians of the hearth,” or their teachings to children having “far reaching affects on politics, history, and society,” or that Satan fears mothers because “those who rock the cradle can rock his earthly empire?”

Those are all true.  Experience shows it.  Faith proves it.  Just watching world events unfold offers abundant testimony that we need strong mothers, strong fathers, and strong homes more than ever.

[On an unrelated note, both of the articles linked above compare the leftist remarks in question to one of my favorite science fiction stories–highly recommended to all who want to better understand the sour spirit of these times.]