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

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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.

 

 

A Book of Mormon Story About Refugees

This morning my family and I read Alma 55 in our scripture study. In verses 4-5, the Nephite army is looking for a spy to go undercover among the enemy:

And now it came to pass that when Moroni had said these words, he caused that a search should be made among his men, that perhaps he might find a man who was a descendant of Laman among them.

 And it came to pass that they found one, whose name was Laman; and he was one of the servants of the king who was murdered by Amalickiah.

The assassination referred to there, and the subsequent violence against the king’s servants, who were set up as scapegoats, happens back in chapter 47:

 27 And it came to pass that Amalickiah commanded that his armies should march forth and see what had happened to the king; and when they had come to the spot, and found the king lying in his gore, Amalickiah pretended to be wroth, and said: Whosoever loved the king, let him go forth, and pursue his servants that they may be slain.

 28 And it came to pass that all they who loved the king, when they heard these words, came forth and pursued after the servants of the king.

 29 Now when the servants of the king saw an army pursuing after them, they were frightened again, and fled into the wilderness, and came over into the land of Zarahemla and joined the people of Ammon.

So this servant, Laman, had fled from political turmoil in his land and found welcome refuge among the Nephites. And joined their military. During a time of war. And was trusted to help his new home.

The relevant implications seem pretty clear.

 

 

Checklist for President Nelson’s January 2017 Devotional

On January 8, President Russell M. Nelson gave a devotional for young adults at BYU. In that talk, he suggested studying 76 specific items. Here is a checklist for them. Below this is video of the talk (which starts at around 1:11:40), a PDF of the checklist, and then a copy of the list with links to the church web site.

 

president-nelson-devotional-checklist

 

“I urge you to study the lives and teachings of these 16 prophets of God.” (“See LDS.org.”)
1. Joseph Smith

2. Brigham Young

3. John Taylor

4. Wilford Woodruff

5. Lorenzo Snow

6. Joseph F. Smith

7. Heber J. Grant

8. George Albert Smith

9. David O. McKay

10. Joseph Fielding Smith

11. Harold B. Lee

12. Spencer W. Kimball

13. Ezra Taft Benson

14. Howard W. Hunter

15. Gordon B. Hinckley

16. Thomas S. Monson

“Commence tonight to consecrate a portion of your time each week to studying everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the Old Testament, for He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Study His laws as recorded in the New Testament, for He is its Christ. Study His doctrine as recorded in the Book of Mormon, for there is no book of scripture in which His mission and His ministry are more clearly revealed. And study His words as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, for He continues to teach His people in this dispensation….To assist you, refer to the Topical Guide for references under the topic ‘Jesus Christ.’” (“See the Topical Guide, ‘Jesus Christ.’ In addition to the text under that major heading, there are 57 subtitles about Him. Let this resource become your personal core curriculum.”)

1. Jesus Christ
2. Jesus Christ, Advocate
3. Jesus Christ, Anointed, the
4. Jesus Christ, Antemortal Existence of
5. Jesus Christ, Appearances, Antemortal
6. Jesus Christ, Appearances, Postmortal
7. Jesus Christ, Ascension of
8. Jesus Christ, Atonement through

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Conversation With a Fanatical Anti-Mormon

It’s actually the same guy from yesterday’s “conversation” post. In the middle of the night after that discussion, he sent me the random new message you see below. As with yesterday’s record, I reproduce this here for you because, of the many debates I’ve ever had with anti-Mormons, this is probably the very best. It’s certainly the most comprehensive.

For one thing, he really did look at my evidence and addressed it. That’s pretty rare.

But mostly, this just shows how shallow the thinking is from the anti camp. You see most of the usual games here–lots of random trivia used as a scare tactic, strong claims made and repeated without evidence, changing the subject, outright contradiction whenever it’s convenient, projection, etc.

Note that even after the dust settled, he had never even tried to substantiate his own claims about the Book of Mormon–I analyzed his own argument more seriously than he did. Also, not only did he never explain the evidence for the Book of Mormon, he literally admitted that doing so would be impossible.

Warning: this post is VERY long. But worth it. Enjoy.

sean1

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6 Favorite Stories From President Monson’s Biography

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-7-04-24-pmBesides these six quotes, two things really jumped out at me from To The Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson:

One is that he has known and worked closely with fully half the church presidents of this dispensation. Think about that. Obviously, it will never be true of anyone else ever again. (He is also the last living Apostle to have been part of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.)

The other is that the tale of his decades of ministry in East Germany is truly astounding. Seriously, someone should make a movie out of this. It’s one of the most harrowing stories I’ve ever heard out of the Cold War.

Here are the six stories in the book I liked the most–they really give a well-wounded view of who he is as a man:

  • Elder Monson’s sense of humor was manifest during one particular visit to Australia in the midst of a sever drought, where he noted with some amusement the names of the stake presidents–President Percy Rivers and President William Waters. He called this to the attention of his traveling companions, one of whom reminded Elder Monson that his name was Harry Brooks. The missionaries who met him at the airport were Elder Rainey and his companion, and when he registered at the hotel, the clerk could not find the reservation until, in searching the cards, he found Thomas S. Monsoon. (page 274)
  • At another mission presidents’ seminar, he set forth a seven-step plan for productive proselyting:
  1. Reports That Reveal
  2. Handbooks That Help
  3. Meetings That Motivate
  4. Schedules That Strengthen
  5. Procedures That Produce
  6. Love That Lifts
  7. Interviews That Inspire (page 356)

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My Conversion Story

An old friend recently asked me to tell this story, and I realized that I hardly ever do. I guess I don’t think it’s very special. But still, it’s mine, so here it is.

It starts in 8th grade, when the emotional problems that had always plagued me drove me to some anti-social behavior so severe that my poor parents had to withdraw me from school and place me in a mental health facility. By the time I was released to go home that summer, I knew that I was missing something and needed some kind of major change.

I’d always been a pretty religious kid, though my family never went to church much. I went to a kind of church class after school in 3rd grade, and enjoyed it. I tried reading the Bible a couple of times. I felt like there was some kind of spiritual truth out there, but I didn’t know exactly what it was.

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The Daughter of Jephthah As a Symbol of Jesus Christ

jephthah-s-daughter-jpglargeWhile reading Judges 11, I reviewed some notes from one of my favorite books of pop analysis on the Bible, James Ferrell’s The Hidden Christ: Beneath the Surface of the Old Testament, where he draws parallels between many figures there and Jesus Christ. Ferrell notes the following about Jephthah, the protagonist of Judges 11:

  • He was hated and expelled by his people
  • The people turned to him when they were in distress
  • When the people turned to him, he became their deliverer
  • He subdued the enemy on behalf of the people who had made him head and captain over them

This pattern of comparison with Jesus is clever and valid, but as I read the chapter, I was much more impressed with the character of his unnamed daughter, and the story of her sacrifice. Consider these points of similarity–the sacrificed person:

  • Obediently agreed to be a sacrifice in accordance with the plan of their father (Judges 11:30-31, 36)
  • Was sacrificed in a way reminiscent of a “burnt offering” (11:31)
  • Was sacrificed as part of the salvation and deliverance of Israel (11:32-33, 36)
  • Was the “only child” of the father (11:34)
  • Was sacrificed despite their loss causing the father great anguish (11:35)
  • Was sacrificed to satisfy the demands of justice (11:35)
  • Immediately before the sacrifice, solemnly went out from the people to a mountain area with their closest associates (11:37)
  • Was morally pure (11:37)
  • Inspired the behavior of those who followed (11:39-40)
  • Had their sacrifice memorialized in a regular ritual (11:40)

It’s not especially relevant here to debate whether her sacrifice was literal or metaphorical (the LDS Institute manual, however, opts for metaphorical), but either way, her position as a Christ figure is strengthened:

  • If her sacrifice were literal–and she died–her symbolism for Jesus is obviously much more graphic. Even Abraham didn’t actually have to kill Isaac!
  • If her sacrifice were metaphorical–and she was put in perpetual service in the tabernacle in some way, for example–then her life of selfless, consecrated service still directs us to think of Jesus.

Jephthah’s story certainly has strong elements that remind the reader of Jesus, but I think the lesson is stronger–more focused on the atonement–if he stands in for God the Father, and his loyal, anonymous daughter is a symbol of Jesus Christ.