“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.
I was interested in the work of Terrence Malick after seeing Tree of Life. As I started watching his much earlier film Days of Heaven, I was at first reminded of Ron Howard’s Far and Away: young lovers brought together and separated by the the trials of pioneer life in an earlier American era, set against the gorgeous backdrops of that unsullied wilderness.
But where Howard’s movie was a fun bit of pop celluloid, Malick’s is art.
The style is wholly ambitious. Not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey in this sense, he uses dialogue sparsely, and constructs a deceptively simple plot. Much of the film’s meaning is communicated symbolically through the physical environment on which the story is imposed.
Days of Heaven begins in fire: the furnaces of a factory and the violence that attends them. After this prologue, we enter the paradise promised in the title; indeed, the story’s central act is truly a season of heaven on earth, one of those times in life where everything is perfect and you just lose yourself in the rapture of it all.
I recently listened to a talk by David A. Bednar where he said this: “I believe we can learn much about this vital aspect of the Atonement if we will insert “enabling and strengthening power” each time we find the word grace in the scriptures.”
Accordingly, here is every Topical Guide entry for “grace,” with that key word replaced by “enabling and strengthening power.” Many of these verses truly do open up this way!
- Noah found enabling and strengthening power in the eyes of the Lord: Gen. 6:8 . ( Moses 8:27 . )
- thy servant hath found enabling and strengthening power in thy sight: Gen. 19:19 .
- if I have found enabling and strengthening power in thy sight: Ex. 33:13 . ( Ex. 34:9 ; Judg. 6:17 . )
- for a little space enabling and strengthening power hath been shewed: Ezra 9:8 .
- Lord will give enabling and strengthening power and glory: Ps. 84:11 .
- he giveth enabling and strengthening power unto the lowly: Prov. 3:34 . ( James 4:6 ; 1 Pet. 5:5 . )
- pour upon the house of David … spirit of enabling and strengthening power : Zech. 12:10 .
- enabling and strengthening power of God was upon him: Luke 2:40 .
- enabling and strengthening power and truth came by Jesus Christ: John 1:17 .
- great enabling and strengthening power was upon them all: Acts 4:33 .
- gave testimony unto the word of his enabling and strengthening power : Acts 14:3 .
- through the enabling and strengthening power of … Christ we shall be saved: Acts 15:11 .
- the ministry … to testify the gospel of the enabling and strengthening power of God: Acts 20:24 .
- By whom we have received enabling and strengthening power and apostleship: Rom. 1:5 .
- Being justified freely by his enabling and strengthening power : Rom. 3:24 .
- it is of faith, that it might be by enabling and strengthening power : Rom. 4:16 .
- Continue reading
Below are all ten times the Bible says that Jesus went alone into wilderness areas, like deserts and mountains, to commune with God. Even when the text says He took disciples with Him, there’s an implication that He often went alone.
I’ve arranged them in chronological order, and included three brief references at the end from the Book of Mormon:
Matt. 4:1-2, JST
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be with God.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
I’ve started this year reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. The style is poetic, sometimes intrusively so, but the thesis is wonderful, and wonderfully elaborated. We all need this.
This bit of analysis from chapter 2 summarizes it:
“And he took bread, gave thanks and brake it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 22:19 NIV).
….I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound. I read it slowly. In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.”
I underline it on the page. Can it lay a sure foundation under a life? Offer the fullest life?
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks.
But there is more, and I read it. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Joy…..
Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo–the table of thanksgiving. I sit there long…wondering…is it that simple?
Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks?
So then as long as thanks is possible…I think this through. As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible. Whenever, meaning–now; wherever, meaning–here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be–unbelievably–possible! The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.
A great article in the current Ensign makes this fantastic symbolic connection I had never seen before:
An ancient Hebrew tradition held that the Messiah would be born at Passover. We know that April in the meridian of time indeed fell in the week of the Passover feast—that sacred Jewish commemoration of Israel’s salvation from the destroying angel that brought death to the firstborn sons of Egypt. Each Israelite family that sacrificed a lamb and smeared its blood on the wooden doorposts of their dwelling was spared (see Exodus 12:3–30). Thirty-three years after Christ’s Passover birth, His blood was smeared on the wooden posts of a cross to save His people from the destroying angels of death and sin.
Searching online for illustrations of this powerful spiritual metaphor found an abundance of images. Two of my favorites:
Yesterday I read 1 Kings 12:10, where Solomon’s son is deciding what kind of king he’ll be. His advisers suggest increasing tyranny and announcing it to the people obnoxiously: “My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.” He agrees. Stay classy, Rehoboam.
Near the end of a truly rousing, inspirational sermon, the Biblical prophet Samuel tells his congregation:
Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. 1 Samuel 12:24
This has now become one of my favorite scriptures. Why? because it explicitly links our faithful obedience to God and our work in His service, to gratitude for all of the infinite blessings that have first been poured out on us.
I actually think that the “thankfulness-leads-to-devotion” relationship is pretty rarely articulated in the scriptures. The next best one that I can think of comes from the New Testament:
We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19
It’s good to be reminded of this. God has shown us great love, and always will. Obedient discipleship is the least we can do in return; indeed, is precisely the one thing that He does ask of us:
And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,
To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? Deuteronomy 10:12-13
A scripture study exercise: if we wanted to summarize the overall message of major collections of scripture, what might they be? We’re probably familiar with the “missions of the Church” formula–preach the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead, care for the poor and needy–so, can we find similar missions communicated in books of scripture?
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, with comments below:
Old Testament : Obey the law
New Testament : Perfect the saints
Book of Mormon : Learn the gospel
Doctrine and Covenants : Build the kingdom
Pearl of Great Price : Seek the Lord
Old Testament: I also considered “keep the commandments” and “follow the prophets.” The first is similar to “obey the law,” but not as inclusive–there’s more to the Old Testament than the “thous shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” Saying to “follow the prophets” resonates with us today, and certainly encompasses a major theme, but the largest idea in the Old Testament is that conforming to God’s whole system of living will bless us.
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 Anatomy lead 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.
Latter-day Saints typically see the Atonement of Christ as comprising the suffering in Gethsemane as well as the crucifixion. I’ve been wondering if there’s some kind of duality implied by the contrasting details in these two halves. Consider the following chart, giving some details from Jesus Christ’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha:
|Introverted/Psychic Emotional Suffering||Extroverted/Physical Violent Torture|
|Primary instrument = liquid (bleeding)||Primary instrument = solid (cross)|
|Inside of a garden||On top of a hill|
|Cyclical narrative||Linear narrative|
Is it a coincidence that the circumstances of Gethsemane are stereotypically feminine, and the circumstances at Golgotha are essentially masculine? Continue reading
A comment on a news article last week called the Book of Mormon racist because of its references to dark skin in conjunction with a curse. I responded with the usual explanation: the curse is spiritual separation from God (2 Nephi 5:20), and the dark skin was just a useful way to distinguish those who’d been cursed. However, the more I looked at what I’d written, the less satisfied I was. I felt like I was missing something. I went back to the text.
I don’t think the Book of Mormon references to dark skin are literal anymore; I think they’re only a poetic idiom. Subsequently, I now have a different theory for what the mark of the curse really was.
The Controversial Verses
First, look at the relevant text. There are three passages in the Book of Mormon that specifically mention dark skin as the mark of a curse (in 2 Nephi 5, Jacob 3, and Alma 3), and a fourth that bears on them (3 Nephi 2). Here are the most controversial verses:
At that time the Lord said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood.
And David commanded to gather together the strangers that were in the land of Israel; and he set masons to hew wrought stones to build the house of God.
I like the context in these–the stone being hewed is for the ten commandments and the temple. Alas, if only Moses and the masons had been instructed to do their hewing gently…my blog could have the perfect verses!
Should we move? Which spouse should work? How many children should we have? Can I miss church this Sunday? How can I help my kids without pushing them? How can I break this bad habit? How can I deal with everything?
And how do we answer these questions? The Lord rarely lays down black and white rules for the big personal choices in life. But do we take that trust in our spiritual maturity and use it as a green light, as an excuse to do whatever we want or what’s easiest?
Hopefully not. “I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.” (2 Nephi 4:34). “If he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsel of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall…” (D&C 3:4). “And if any man shall seek to build up himself, and seeketh not my counsel, he shall have no power…” (D&C 136:19).
I was assigned to speak to another ward today on behalf of our stake Sunday School presidency. The topic was “the power of prayer.” I think it went well, but this was actually the first time I’ve addressed another ward’s sacrament meeting, and I think I may have gone a little too quickly–my talk only took ten minutes. Still, I’m pleased with it.
In salesmanship, there’s a classic example of how to show people how amazing something very simple is. You advertise to someone that you’re selling a product that can perfectly record every event in life and thought they ever have; it’ll also keep track of every single piece of information you ever need to remember. It’s extremely low maintenance, and even has a built-in correction accessory, in case you use it wrong. It’s lightweight, portable, durable, lasts for years, uses no electricity or fuel, and on top of all that, costs less than a dollar. What could this incredible new invention be? It’s a pencil. Keep that in mind for now.
My subject today is prayer, specifically the power of prayer. Now, I’m sure I don’t need to sell anyone here on the importance of prayer, but even though we all believe in prayer, and try to pray often, I know that sometimes we find that we don’t always love it, sometimes we don’t look forward to it, sometimes we don’t make it a priority or even find joy in it. So, I’d like to take a few minutes and share with you what I found as I sought, in preparation for this talk, how we can develop a greater passion for prayer.