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!
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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.

“Silent Night” In “A Christmas Carol”

The rest of the world seems to have ignored the existence of this great 1999 film version of the classic story. I really like the use of “Silent Night” to illustrate people’s troubles to Scrooge. (Coincidence: this is the 2nd video with Patrick Stewart I’ve posted this week.)

A Bible Story About Guts And Poop

If you’ve never read the book of Judges in the Bible, you’ve missed this little gem in chapter 3:

17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.

21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:

22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

So, not only is this king assassinated, but the text makes it as pathetically undignified as possible. We have to be told of the king’s obesity, with the lovely detail that the sword sank into his guts up to the hilt, so that Ehud couldn’t even pull it out again.

And then that bit about “dirt,” a delightful euphemism telling us that when he had been impaled trough the intestines, this king’s last act on earth was to soil himself as his bowels released.

These details are here, and they’re here for a reason. The only thing I can think of is that the author really wanted to humiliate the memory of this king who’d held Israel captive for 18 years (Judges 3:14), perhaps as an illustration of God’s power to deliver his people and punish those who oppose him. Can there be any other reason for including these unsavory details?

800px-speculum_darmstadt_2505_55r_cropped

Checklist of 18 Gospel Study Resources from Elder Ballard in December 2016 Ensign

In “By Study and by Faith,” an article based on an address by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve Apostles, in the December 2016 Ensign, he urges church members to study a number of resources until we’re familiar with them.

Some of these resources are already common, like the scriptures, and others were only vague categories, like “the works of recognized, thoughtful, and faithful LDS scholars,” but he also mentioned 18 specific online resources by name, each of which was linked in the church web site’s version of the article, with each carrying a specific injunction for us to keep in mind as we read.

If it helps anyone to follow up and actually look into these great resources, here they are in a simple checklist:

ballard

Excellent Audio Bible on YouTube

There are a lot of audio Bibles on YouTube, for various translations, but some are better than others. I just finished one of the more dense sections of the Old Testament by reading along with the excellent dramatized audio at the minimalist-named Biblical channel. I’m surprised they have so few views–it’s really great work.

Nephi Really Loves The Bible!

Today is International Day of the Bible, and that got me thinking about Nephi and his love for the Bible. Not only does he absolutely adore Isaiah–he cites, paraphrases, or comments on nearly a fourth of that prophet’s book–but consider this:

In 1 Nephi 17, he tries to teach his brothers about faith, essentially–he corrects their complaining about their lot in life by comparing it to previous precedents. Notice how detailed his metaphor is–Nephi clearly believes their situation is deeply analogous to that of their ancestors’.

Not only does he make several specific references to Old Testament material in one place, he writes that all into his record for future readers, for us–he expects us to be well versed in Bible stories, too!

Here are six references in 1 Nephi 17 to specific stories from four different books of the Bible, with the Biblical books to which he refers added in red:

 27 But ye know that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, who were the armies of Pharaoh. Exodus 

 28 And ye also know that they were fed with manna in the wilderness. Exodus and Numbers

 29 Yea, and ye also know that Moses, by his word according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water, that the children of Israel might quench their thirst. Exodus and Numbers

 32 And after they had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction. Joshua

 40 And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made… Genesis

 41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. Numbers

Notes on the 2016 Temple on Mount Zion Conference

I’m live blogging this conference at BYU today–this post will be updated throughout the day, after each address.

TEMPLE ON MOUNT ZION CONFERENCE, sponsored by the Interpreter Foundation

Saturday, November 5, 2016
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

 

9:30 – Jeffrey M. Bradshaw: “By the Blood Ye Are Sanctified”: The Symbolic, Salvific, Interrelated, Additive, Retrospective, and Anticipatory Nature of the Ordinances of Spiritual Rebirth in John 3 and Moses 6

Temple themes in Joseph Smith’s translation of Moses 6:59-63 and Genesis 17:4-7. Jesus and Nicodemus–a change of heart is needed to see the kingdom of God. “Marvel not” isn’t a scolding, but an invitation to greater spiritual learning. “Born again” can mean “born from above.” Double meanings–the serpents in Moses’s staff story to heal bitten people represent sin and salvation. “No man cometh to the Father but by me,” like the seraphim who guard the gate to the temple or to heaven.

Jesus was “lifted up,” and we can and should be, too, in resurrection and ascension (3 Ne. 27). “Second birth from above” is reflected in some early Jewish thought (see also Ezekiel 37 and 16–temple imagery).

“Born again” isn’t ended with baptism, just started–the goal is exaltation.

Moses 6:60–three clauses: water, spirit, blood.

WATER: baptism, sacrament blessing. “Stage 1” of temple (1st floor in SLC)= Moses 4 themes, 2= Moses 5, 3= Moses 6. Circumcision is close to baptism in JST Genesis. Genesis 17:3-7 in JST re: Abel and ordinances, clarifies doctrine, has ancient parallels. See David A. Bednar on priesthood ordinance being salvific, interrelated, additive. Truman Madsen: washing and anointing is like a patriarchal blessing on the body itself.

SPIRIT: D&C 20:37 explains that the Spirit cleanses, not baptism itself, which is symbolic. Justification and sanctification are twin blades of scissors–C.S. Lewis. Telestial room / baptism = justification, terrestrial / additional ordinances & consecration = sanctification, celestial = exaltation. D&C 20:30-31 teaches that justification and sanctification both come from the grace of Christ. Blood / anointing makes one both our and royal in ancient settings. British ceremony to initiate a new monarch has echoes of all this old temple symbolism. C.S. Lewis–become “a little Christ.”

BLOOD: Exodus 24 shows symbolism of blood needed to sanctify. Isaac is a substitute king before the ram–a symbol of a symbol. Neal A. Maxwell–we must put the animal *in us* upon the altar and burn it. Endowment depicts multiple births through the grace of Christ. C.S. Lewis- God turns tools-servants-friends-sons. Psalm 2:7 reflected in Moses 6 with Adam. Mosiah 2-5 has same symbolism–disciples are to become “little Mosiahs.” Alma 13 teaches high priest is symbolic of Christ. Moses 6, last verse also teaches of exaltation, leading to Enoch’s ascension in Moses 7. Nibley: scriptures aren’t platitudes, they’re things of eternity. Water in sacrament goes beyond beginning discipleship to a consecrated life: accepting prior blessings and continuing to exaltation; like Christ, must suffer, even unjustly, to serve others and lead to God.

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