Reviewed But Not Recommended: Facing the Giants

Facing_the_giantsI’m a big fan of the Christian movies Fireproof and War Room, so I was looking forward to Facing the Giants, which looked like basically the same thing, but with high school football.

The other two movies have actual struggles and hard change and some serious real world difficulties in them…but not Facing the Giants.

In the first act of this movie, we see all the things wrong in the life of a losing football coach at a private Christian school: a failing job, a broken down house and car, infertility. Then he decides to turn his life over to God more fully, and suddenly everything magically turns around. He gets a new car. His wife gets pregnant. His team wins the state championship.

No, I don’t have a problem with the concept of miracles, but I don’t like a story where it’s that easy, or that selfish.

This movie turns God into Santa Claus, just waiting for us to say the right words politely enough before showering us with all the toys we want.

The big change he makes as a coach is really just doing his job a little bit better than before. And merely for that, a player’s father buys him a new car. What a materialistic gospel this movie preaches! It’s the definition of cheap grace.

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Vote in the LDS “Best Books” Tournament, Round Three!

And then there were eight. Which books will survive this round? Only one Nibley title gets to move on. Only one non-Nibley FARMS-era book remains in the running. And we have to choose between Jesus the Christ and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Why? Because in the end, there can be only one.

LDS “Best Books” Tournament, round 3

[This page will remain open for two weeks.]

 

The Beautiful Book of Mormon

I have a video on YouTube about evidences for the Book of Mormon, and it attracts comments from a lot of people who want to launch the same few, stale criticisms. But one recent critic called out the quality of the book’s content, saying it’s bland and shallow.

Just as with the evidences, this kind of thing will always be debatable, with the determined critic denying any value to the book even if it were somehow shown to be equal to Shakespeare. Still, there are a number of things that come to mind about the spiritual and literary power of the book.

My family and I recently read 3 Nephi 5. It’s mostly a loving, careful exposition on the nature of keeping and editing records. Sounds dull, huh? But it’s written with such an obvious affection for the topic that it’s hard not to find it infectious. The affection is infectious.

Question for the critics, though: why is this chapter here? If it’s a fraud that’s meant to elevate the author or automatically reflect the environment of its creation, then where is there anything in 3 Nephi 5 that promotes devotion to Joseph Smith? Where is there an obsession with record keeping in his life or town before 1830?

Or how about Helaman 7? When we came across that for family scripture study a while ago, and after reading it, I told the fam that the next day would just be reviewing that chapter in even more detail, because it was so deep. I’d read it innumerable times before myself–we all had–but this time I noticed just how powerful its lament and jeremiad are.

I’m moved by how passionate the address is: it begins with a note that “he did exclaim in the agony of his soul.” Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? That’s verse 6; in verse 14 he announces that he has climbed a  tower to “pour out my soul unto my God, because of the exceeding sorrow of my heart.” He castigates his curious audience because they are about to “hurl away your souls” (v. 16). He goes on to deliver some of the most incisive character analysis this side of Tolstoy.

And certainly, none of this is necessary if the Book of Mormon is a hoax. Nothing there forwards any hidden agenda. All it does–all the entire Book of Mormon does–is convince people to faithfully follow Christ.

[So much more could be added here–this post could become its own book! I’m a fan of this summary of the value of the Book of Mormon’s contents, and this podcast is a worthwhile introduction to the literary nature of the text.]

April 2017 General Conference–Annotated

This post will be updated frequently throughout the weekend with my notes on General Conference.

SATURDAY MORNING

President Eyring–The Gathering of God’s Family

  • “~The love that comes closest to the love we felt in the pre-existence: parental love~”
  • Testifies of the reality of Elijah’s visit
  • Encouraged to learn the lives and personalities of ancestors
  • Prioritize time for family history work–“wear tennis shoes” and run faster to get more done! :)
  • Technology like computers exists to facilitate this work
  • But technology is no substitute for revelation!

M. Joseph Brough (YM 2nd)–Heavenly Father’s “Care Package” For Us

  • I like the idea of our whole way of life as a “care package” full of blessings.
  • commandments,”I found peace in seeking Heavenly Father’s will,” priesthood leaders, ultimate gift is in John 3:16
  • Repentance is a gift!
  • Be with the youth, connect youth with Heaven, “The time must come when each must stand alone,” let the youth lead

Elder Clayton (70)–The Plan of Salvation, Happiness, and Love

  • Pillars of eternity reference–thanks BRM!
  • Summary of Savior’s ministry–“went about doing good”
  • D&C 19 as an example of love–yes!!!
  • “We all must graduate from this mortal body to achieve our eternal rewards”
  • Quotes from the Living Christ
  • Invitation: each day, come unto Christ…Moroni 10:32

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Vote in ROUND 2 of the LDS “Best Books” Tournament

Congratulations to all the survivors of round 1. Special distinction goes to the James E. Talmage classic Jesus the Christ, which was the only book to win in a unanimous decision.

Round 2–the Sweet Sixteen–is now open for this week’s voting. Let the spiritual combat continue.

LDS “Best Books” Tournament: Round 2

Vote in the LDS “Best Books” Bracket!

It’s tournament season, and here’s one for nerdy Mormons. The top 32 LDS books of all time have been set head-to-head in a fight to the finish.

Here it is: The LDS “Best Books” Bracket

Whichever titles win in their pairings will advance to next week’s sweet 16 round. Voting will be open through the end of the night on Saturday, March 25.

No fiction was considered for this bracket. Official church publications were avoided–obviously, the scriptures were not included.

Consider making your votes along this rubric: 25% writing quality, 25% original content, 25% doctrinal/theological/historical importance, 25% legacy or influence among the Latter-day Saints.

Here is my complete bracket–not who I think will win, but who I think should win. But your voting will determine the ultimate victor here. Make your choice: what is the most important Mormon book ever?

Best Books Bracket

 

Reviewed: Risen

5759_RISEN_dvd_lgI recently saw last year’s film, Risen, about a Roman officer tasked with finding the “stolen” dead body of Jesus Christ.

It was good, but not great. Here’s why:

I liked the unique take on a familiar story–turning the Resurrection into a detective case–and I loved the great production values.

But…but…but…

The macguffin here is always referred to as “Yeshua,” which is historically accurate (a plus), but which is clearly used here so the film can avoid saying “Jesus” all the time, so it won’t appear to be one of those movies–the kind that always get hammered on Rotten Tomatoes (a minus).

Such a love/hate relationship with its subject is typical of Hollywood’s approach to the Bible in the 21st century.

Still, the content of the film is strong enough to warrant giving it a try, I suppose. I especially appreciated the very realistic depiction of the Crucifixion (not nearly as romanticized as in The Passion of the Christ), and the fact that the film starts with that. Bold.

But Joseph Fiennes’ protagonist is too flat to care about–another sadly typical trait of such films, be they faith-promoting or secular. In the first half, he’s a grim stoic. In the second, he’s a wide-eyed convert, like the other hippie-apostles around him.

Finally, about an hour after watching it, I realized why I ultimately didn’t care about the film: it didn’t make me feel anything. This is a movie for the head, not for the heart. Maybe for some, that’s a feature, not a bug.

But for me, in a movie about the Savior’s greatest miracle, it’s an unforgivable sin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Examples of the Value of Reading the Bible Chronologically

  1. 1 Samuel 21 tells of the young fugitive David–the future king–as he desperately seeks asylum. Psalm 34 is a poem about that specific experience–the same people and places are mentioned. Go ahead and read them together–the connection is clear, and illuminates both. But in the edition of the Bible I use, they’re separated by 321 pages.
  2. 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 not only tell the same story, they use nearly identical language to do so. Clearly, the Chronicles version was written later and used the Samuel text as a basic source. Reading them together makes that obvious, but it might be harder to spot if you go in the standard order, which puts 136 pages between them.

Who is the Book of Genesis Really About?

Bring up the book of Genesis and you’ll likely end up in a discussion about the Creation and the Fall, and maybe Noah’s ark. This must reflect the memories of readers who started the book and didn’t get far. Consider who the star actually is in each of its 50 chapters:

genesis

Obviously, the hero of Genesis is Abraham, whose tale is the focus of wholly 15 chapters. Second place is his great grandson Joseph, who dominates 13 chapters. Jacob is next, getting nine chapters. Noah–he of the ark–is in a distant fourth place, with only five chapters (and the last of those is really just a genealogy of his descendants).

To put it another way, the super-famous legend stories, those about Adam and Eve and about Noah, roughly comprise just 1/5 of the whole book. The other 4/5–everything from chapter 11 onward–focus on four generations of the patriarchal family: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

It’s almost like those famous early chapters, like most origin stories, are mostly obligatory background to lay a foundation for the more important material about the covenant stories that really shaped God’s people.

Two Months in the Life of President Russell M. Nelson

elder-russell-m-nelson-mormonWhat major tasks have you completed so far in 2017? How much of your total strength has that taken? How much good has it produced? Consider just some of what Russell M. Nelson has done in the first two months of this year.

Nelson is the leader of the twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He works full time as a minister, only getting a stipend for living expenses. And he’s 92 years old.

He’s been doing this for over 30 years, since 1984. Before that, he was an accomplished heart surgeon. He has over 50 grandchildren and over 100 great grandchildren.

On January 8, he gave a 40 minute speech to an auditorium of thousands of young adults about leadership and faith. The speech was broadcast online. How much time and effort went into preparing it, do you think? Watch it to see how much passion went into sharing the message. Note that his demeanor is always funny, witty, and pleasant–there is no scolding or negativity coming from him. He loves what he does and whom he serves.

One week later, on January 15, he visited my congregation in North Las Vegas. He spoke for about 45 minutes here, about a variety of spiritual topics. His remarks were prepared, but he worked without notes. Afterwards, he slowly exited the chapel, shaking hands with anyone he could reach on the way out, and even picking up small children to embrace, including my four-year-old daughter.

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Three Thoughts

  1. On a recent day at the temple, I decided to specifically look for all the references to symbolism in the endowment, both the implicit ones and the explicit (“Hey, you! This is symbolic!”) ones. There were at least a few of each, and it’s likely that I missed some. In particular I was struck by the use of words like “represents.” This really warrants more focus in future visits.
  2. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matthew 5:39-41), this also applies to our relationship with God himself. When we’re asked to tithe, we should voluntarily covenant to consecrate the other 90%. When we’re assigned to serve for an hour, we should do more; we should “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will” (D&C 58:27) as we seek to “waste and wear out our lives” (D&C 123:13). When we’re called on to suffer and sacrifice, we should offer up the rest of all we have and are in life to the Father, anyway.
  3. Steve Reed of the excellent One Climbs blog recently posted a long analysis of Jacob 2:30, suggesting that our traditional reading of it as a hypothetical apologia for polygamy is wrong. It’s a very long post, but represents some of the most careful, detailed close reading of scripture I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if he’s correctly figured out Jacob’s intent or not, but he makes a compelling case. After his exegesis, we might read Jacob 2:30 like this: “The Lord says, In order to be spiritually converted to me, people must accept me as their leader; or else they’ll find themselves making these mistakes and be cursed.” Great stuff, Steve–consider submitting it to the Interpreter!

Saturday Afternoon in the Celestial Room

The threshold transition:
We open the door at the end of the hall,
after some sealings, my wife and I,
and I feel the rush of a wash.
Life is different here.

The room is empty of people now
but full of something else:
the afternoon sun splits apart
in the heavy window,
and sets soft electric rainbows
on the carpet,
an arc of full clear stars also reaches
across the floor.
Arrays of bright flowers complement the light.

It’s so quiet, all I can hear
is God’s love humming
from head to toe.

There are books here, of course.
I sit, bathed in one pool of light,
and open and read.

From the Book of Moses,
that temple text par excellence:
“The Lord spake unto Enoch…
and his heart swelled wide as eternity;
and his bowels yearned;
and all eternity shook.”

Then from Psalm 119,
a perfect poem of passionate praise:
“With my whole heart have I sought thee:
O let me not wander from thy commandments.
Thy word have I hid in my heart,
that I might not sin against thee.”

There’s only one painting
in this peaceful garden library:
The resurrected Savior
His arms open in welcome.

I sit and look and listen and feel.
I pray and the presence feels just a little closer.
This white room–
so simply elegantly simple–
floats beyond time and space,
in a galaxy of suns
until I see the shadow of a tree outside,
leaves swaying in a tiny breeze.

We leave hand in hand,
slow to go
but happy to have been here
and ready for the rest.