Friday, April 29, 2011

the paradox of individual vs group

Just wanted to let you know about another article worth reading...

I especially appreciate this explanation of covenants:

The general resolution of the paradox of individual versus group, of integrity to conscience as opposed to obedience to law or commandment, is, I believe, found in covenants, of which literal eternal marriage is one form. A covenant is not, contrary to popular cliche, merely a contract between individuals--or God and the individual--with mutual benefits. It is, in the words of the fine Bible scholar, George Mendenhall, "[a] free, voluntary acceptance of ethical obligation on the basis of and as response to the past experience."

A covenant is a free, conscientious binding of the individual will to God, to an eternal partner, to a community and its land and history and sacred texts. It is not made blindly but out of gratitude and hope based in real experience. It turns neither the individual will nor the community into an idol that holds ultimate authority but rather reserve that ultimate authority to God, who is known and served both through the self and the community. One remains perfectly free to break the covenant but is bound in conscience to the reality of his experience with the divine, both as an individual and through the experiences made possible to him only in the community. And paradoxically this binding brings greater freedom than does individual autonomy

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

choosing to believe

I wrote part of this almost 2 years ago, and I thought I had lost it... thank heaven for automatic archives. Anyhow, I was reading some stuff by Eugene England that made me remember a conversation I had, and it all got me thinking...

Then I read more that England wrote (see my previous post), which got me thinking even harder, and i though it might be of interest -- tho I still haven't gotten it all figured out. This is just my working through some England's writings/ideas.

D&C 132:26
Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.
God apparently uses such a unique and uniquely troubling test because it is the only way to teach us something paradoxical but true and very important about the universe—that trust in our personal experi- ences with divinity must sometimes outweigh our rational morality. Obedience to the divine commands that come directly to us must some- times supersede our understanding of earlier commands if we are ever to transcend the human limitations of even our best inherited culture and religion. We must learn, sometimes very painfully, to be open to continuous revelation. We must learn such a lesson partly because truth and history are too complex to be reduced to simple, irrevocable command- ments—even from past prophets—like "Thou shalt not kill" or "Thou shalt always have only one spouse." Truth is ultimately "rational," but it is not always or immediately clear to our present reason. (England).

So this is a really scary test because it teaches through paradox (a 'seeming' contradiction or two 'opposite' commandments) that trust in our "personal experience with divinity" (our own personal revelation) must at times take precedence to what seems to 'be right.' Abraham had to be obedient to a divine command that came directly to him that was in contradiction to earlier commands. I'll be honest, this is a TERRIFYING thing to contemplate ever happening to ME...  (England said it is "the most wrenching human adversity—when opposites are posed by God himself") I appreciate the careful structure that commandments give my choices... but, I can see that this getting beyond the "human limitations" of even the BEST of our "inherited culture and religion" seems to be a very necessary part of how we learn  to have real faith -- keeping us open to continuous PERSONAL revelation. And I have to agree that "truth and history are too complex to be reduced to simple, irrevocable commandments." Truth is of course ultimately 'rational' but that rationality isn't going to always be obvious us - to our abilities to perceive.

Our personal relationship with God, our divine communication, is all-important.

...revelation is, in fact, merely the best understanding the Lord can give us of those things. And, as God himself has clearly insisted, that understanding is far from perfect. He reminds us in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, "Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my sevants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known." (D&C 1:24-25.) This is a remarkably complete and sobering inventory of the problems involved in putting God’s knowledge of the universe into human language and then having it understood. It should make us careful about claiming too much for "the gospel," which is not the perfect principles or natural laws themselves--or God’s perfect knowledge of those things--but is merely the closest approximation that inspired but limited mortals can receive. Even after a revelation is received and expressed by a prophet, it has to be understood, taught, translated into other languages, expressed in programs and manuals, sermons and essays--in a word, interpreted. And that means that at least one more set of limitations of language and world-view enters in. I always find it perplexing when someone asks a teacher or speaker if what he is saying is the pure gospel or merely his own interpretation. Everything anyone says is essentially an interpretation. Even simply reading the scriptures to others involves interpretation, in choosing both what to read in a particular circumstance and how to read it (tone and emphasis). Beyond that point, anything we do becomes less and less "authoritative" as we move into explication and application of the scriptures-- that is, as we teach "the gospel." Yes, I know that the Holy Ghost can give strokes of pure intelligence to the speaker and bear witness of truth to the hearer. I have experienced both of these lovely, reassuring gifts. But those gifts, which guarantee the overall guidance of the Church in the way the Lord intends and provide occasional remarkably clear guidance to individuals, still do not override individuality and agency. They are not exempt from those limitations of human language and moral perception which the Lord describes in the passage quoted above, and thus they cannot impose universal acceptance and understanding (England).

Our limited understanding -- the limitations that come of our mortality as well as culture and history, all lead to the need for questioning. I think this is part of the problem of faith, people see faith as questionless but real faith exists precisely because of questions -- but that is sort of a dangerous position.

...this is a troubling, perhaps dangerous position: If we start questioning some statements of church leaders, why not all? If they were wrong about some of their rationales for polygyny and priesthood denial, why are they not wrong about God's involvement in first instituting those practices—or anything else in the Restoration? Though I sympathize with—even share—this anxiety, the assertion that revelation is either totally true or totally untrue is still a false dichotomy: We simply do not believe, as Mormons, that we must accept all scripture and prophetic teaching as equally inspired, and we have no doctrine of prophetic infallibility. The scriptures and our modern church leaders themselves have made this point again and again and have given us some guidelines for distinguishing binding truth and direction from good advice and both of these from "the mistakes of men (England).

To say leaders will NEVER speak falsely is not true, and the scriptures and modern leaders themselves have made this point again and again. The point is, we have guidelines for distinguishing truth from good advice or from "the mistakes of men" and it's our responsibility to thoughtfully and prayerfully make our judgement with guidance from other fundamental scriptures and doctrines without falling into complete skepticism. Faith is choosing to believe -- and choosing means asking questions and making decisions. As long as we do so, relying on our own personal divine relationship with God, we can understand what we need to understand and come to a sort of trust and peace with that which we don't understand.

Finally, I believe that the cognitive dissonance that comes from studying religion—or from studying the contradictions and trials of life—can be positive, in fact fruitful, in producing deeper faith (or a higher stage of faith as James Fowler would put it) provided the faith community understands how faith develops: that it’s a developmental process rather than a state of being (from an article by Boyd Peterson).

Faith as a process - Faith as a choice.

Terryl Givens defined faith in a radical new way: as a  choice, one made when legitimate evidence supports each side of possibility. While some people, Givens believes, are simply born with faith or a gift for faith, more often faith is an acquired trait. And “among those who vigorously pursue the life of the mind in particular, who are committed to the scholarly pursuit of knowledge and rational inquiry, faith is as often a casualty as it is a product.”

In this setting, life becomes, as Givens maintains, a test of our own willful decision to choose faith over doubt. As Givens continues: I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites and our ego. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is in the final analysis an action that is positively laden with moral significance (from an article by Boyd Peterson).

Let me repeat those last lines: "What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is in the final analysis an action that is positively laden with moral significance."

Like i said, just something to think about.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

my current "delay en route"

I think that everything I've ever read that Neal A. Maxwell wrote has changed my life. This article is no different.

It came right when I needed it too. A tender mercy in the form of gentle chastisement and correction. I know I've been spending a lot of time lately wondering 'when things are going to change for me' and dwelling of the feeling that  my 'real life' has been delayed. Of course, my situation is quite different from the "delay en route" that Elder Maxwell talks about in his discourse, but the principle is a lot the same. I've been unhappily resisting my own "delay," a delay of blessings/changes that I want, struggling to submit to what I too often see as just plain old waiting, because no "immediate divine explanation" has come, explaining clearly the purpose of where I am headed...

Instead, I ought to "press forward whatever the length of the near horizon" and accept that this "delay" has a purpose. I mean, in hind sight I can already see so many positive things emerging from the past couple years of what, I thought then, was just limbo. I am trying to accept that whatever happens in the next couple years will be equally positive and fulfilling. But...

...It's hard to know I have good things ahead, that the blessings I've been promised are awaiting me 'somewhere in the future' and that I have to keep on walking a road that is so long I can't really see them from here (though I trust that they are there). It distracts me from living NOW to be so caught up in waiting for the future... Ah, but I don't want to fall too much into abstraction here. What I am getting at, is that Elder Maxwell explained that a "delay en route" is a great opportunity that can enlarge our capacity for joy and that "meek suffering often does the excavating necessary for that enlarging." I have seen that this has been true! It's TRUE!

Ahh, but it's also hard to accept that more suffering might be necessary...

It's hard not to ask why. And it was certainly a prick to my conscience to read that "certain mortal 'whys' are not really questions at all but are expressions of resentment" Ahh, yes I can see that in myself... resentment of that "delay en route" and it's a reminder that my whys must be turned to "'what' questions, such as 'what is required of me now?' or, to paraphrase Moroni'swords, "If I am sufficiently humble, which personal weakness could now become a strength?" (Ether 12:27)." So again, I need to remind myself that there is purpose to this delay and I would do well to start searching for what I am supposed to learn and how I can grow from WHATEVER is on my path!

Thankfully, even though I tend to fail my pass/fail experiences with "delays,"  I "can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that [I] 'might not...shrink'" -- Thankfully, I can still continue on in the process of my "developmental repentance," and find "resilience" to try again to pass in "the lifting tide flowing from forgiveness" -- Thankfully there is "certainty" in my "Father's rescuing love and mercy," and He will enable me to to overcome my discouragement and  continue in my own "soul-stretching journey" ...however long the "delay en route" may last.

It's a good reminder that the journey, along with all it's delays, is purposeful and meaningful.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

the symbol of the atonement

Alma 5:33 - Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
3 Ne. 9:14 - Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.
Isaiah 40:11 - He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
It kinda bothers me to think of how many times I read verses like the ones above without fully comprehending the image presented, of open arms extended to take us in.

As I have been learning more about the Savior and His Atonement by reading The Infinite Atonement, as well as through attending an institute class and through my own personal study, I have begun to realize that the enabling power of His grace is love... and that, as Tad Callister states in The Infinite Atonement, the "reconciliation between God and man is figuratively and literally symbolized by an embrace."

It makes sense... The very explanation of what the Atonement does for men is: "mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption" (Alma 34:16). The Lord has also said "Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love" (D&C 6:20).

All very powerful imagery for the same idea.

In an article on the Atonement, Hugh Nibley explains that the Semitic origins of the word atonement, one in specific being the aramaic word "kafata" which actually means "a close embrace." In his book Approaching Zion Hugh Nibley again spoke of this embrace saying:
"It should be clear what kind of oneness is meant by the Atonement -- it is being recieved in a close embrace of the prodigal son, expressing not only forgiveness but oneness of heart and mind that mounts to identity..." 
That At-ONE-ment, to become one with God, is to be embraced in His arms. Through that embrace we are transformed - our identity is changed. When we are truly "spiritually been born of God" we receive "his image" and we experience a "mighty change" of our heart (Alma 5:14). The embrace become part of who we are, we live day to day in the arms of his love and can say as Lehi did, that "the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love (2 Ne. 1:15). This is love. This is grace. This is the Atonement.

Neal A. Maxwell illustrated the poignant embrace of the Lord in another way in an address he gave:

"If there is any imagery upon which I would focus as I close, it is two scriptures from the Book of Mormon. The one in which we are reminded that Jesus himself is the gatekeeper and that “he employeth no servant there.” (2 Nephi 9:41.) Once I assumed, with partial correctness, that that scripture was a clear indication that Jesus would be there to certify, because he knows perfectly well who could enter and who could not. And I am sure that is one of the reasons he stands at that gate and “employeth no servant there.” But I will tell you . . . out of the conviction of my soul . . . what I think the major reason is, as contained in another Book of Mormon scripture which says he waits for you “with open arms.” (Mormon 6:17.) That’s why he’s there! He waits for you “with open arms.” That imagery is too powerful to brush aside.... It is imagery that should work itself into the very center core of one’s mind—a rendezvous impending, a moment in time and space, the likes of which there is none other. And that rendezvous is a reality. I certify that to you. He does wait for us with open arms, because his love of us is perfect. And when he entreats us to become like him, it is that we might have his joy, the fulness of which we presently can only guess at."
Symbols have power in the image itself as well as the understanding we can obtain from the inherent metaphor in their representation. The symbol of the Atonement is a beautiful and intimate image and one we can each, individually, find meaning in and faith through if we take the time to explore and accept it. 

***This all seems especially heartbreaking in the context of 3 Nephi 10:5 And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not. To refuse to turn from sin, to refuse turn to repentance and the gospel is in fact turning away from the loving arms of the Savior, to brush them aside/ignore them, withdrawing from His embrace.

Monday, April 18, 2011

walt whitman

very timely...I like this

"Is humanity forming en-masse? for lo, tyrants tremble, crowns grow dim,
The earth, restive, confronts a new era, perhaps a general divine war,
No one knows what will happen next, such portents fill the days and

Years prophetical! the space ahead as I walk, as I vainly try to
pierce it, is full of phantoms,

Unborn deeds, things soon to be, project their shapes around me,
This incredible rush and heat, this strange ecstatic fever of dreams
O years!"

-- Years of the Modern- Walt Whitman

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why The Church Is As True As The Gospel

Every member of of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ought to read this article at some point in their life...

The Church is as true as--perhaps truer than-- the gospel because it is where all can find fruitful opposition, where its revealed nature and inspired direction maintains an opposition between liberal and conservative values, between faith and doubt, secure authority and frightening freedom, individual integrity and public responsibility-- and thus where there will be misery as well as holiness, bad as well as good. And if we cannot stand the misery and the struggle, if we would prefer that the Church be smooth and perfect and unchallenging rather than as it is, full of nagging human diversity and constant insistence that we perform ordinances and obey instructions and take seriously teachings that embody logically irresolvable paradoxes, if we refuse to lose ourselves whole-heartedly in such a school, then we will never know the redeeming truth of the Church. It is precisely in the struggle to be obedient while maintaining integrity, to have faith while being true to reason and evidence, to serve and love in the face of imperfections and even offenses, that we can gain the humility we need to allow divine power to enter our lives in transforming ways. Perhaps the most amazing paradox about the Church is that it literally brings together the divine and the human-- through priesthood service, the ordinances, the gifts of the spirit--in concrete ways that no abstract systems of ideas ever could.

I felt quite keenly the truth of it's message as I was reading it today... And it seemed especially pointed as these were the very struggles and 'exasperations' I was experiencing and pondering during a RS lesson on charity this afternoon.

I have to admit, it is at times very hard for me to 'be charitable' in the face of what I see as hypocrisy or stupidity...but it is that exact struggle "to serve and love in the face of imperfections and even offenses" that allows "divine power" to come into my life "in transforming ways" -- the struggle to be charitable is what helps be to be changed. I definitely can see the opportunity that the "paradoxes" of being part of the church are to grow in meaningful ways.

Anyhow, READ the article! It explains all of this much better than I have. You won't regret it!

Saturday, April 9, 2011


since i still haven't posted anything here about conference (i'm getting to it, promise!) i figured i'd try and stem the tide (is that the right way to use that?) and offer up something about conference that i read on another blog and liked:

One of the things I value most about the LDS church is how much emphasis they put on the importance of gaining personal confirmation of a doctrine or teaching. Contrary to the culture LDS doctrine ironically (and sadly) produces in some cases, LDS doctrine strongly discourages blind reliance on other people’s spirituality, instead, it spurs us on to faithfully question the doctrines presented in order to have personal understanding and conviction regarding them. I liked what Nate H. said about this on his blog. He mentioned the bizarre fallacy, unfortunately sustained by many, that a prophet’s method of discerning truth is somehow exclusive to them, when in fact the process of identifying with truth is identical for all, be you prophet or not. Nate specifically quoted some scriptures that serve as excellent reminders of this:
  • John 7:17 (If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself)
  • Moroni 10:4-5 (And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may aknow the btruth of all things)
  • God’s response to Oliver Cowdrey in D&C 9:7-8 (“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right)
Conference provides me with increased motivation try harder to combine my God-given rationality, knowledge, and spirituality in the good ol’ perpetual quest for eternal verity. So did Nate’s blog post, apparently. Cool.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

2 spiritual deaths

I've been reading Tad R. Callister's The Infinite Atonement and it has been not only enlightening but beautifully complimentary to my recent study and reflection. For example,

I'd never noticed that there are actually TWO spiritual deaths referred to in the scriptures. Samuel the Lamanite teaches the difference between the two in the Book of Mormon when he explains that the Savior's death "bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death -- that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead" (Helaman 14:16) and that "whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire; and there cometh upon them again a spiritual death, yea, a second death, for they are cut off again as to thing pertaining to righteousness" (Helaman 14:18).
Callister explains that understanding that there are these two spiritual deaths, in addition to physical death, is critical in understanding how the Atonement overcomes these deaths, i.e. what the Atonement accomplishes.

I knew that the Atonement unconditionally overcomes physical death for all men, that all will have their physical bodies resurrected, "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corin. 15:22) but I did not realize that this verse from Corinthians applies beyond that...that it refers to spiritual death as well!
     "There is a prevailing idea that although the resurrection is free, only those who repent and obey the gospel will ever return to the presence of God. Those who adhere to this idea, however, seem to have missed a very essential point and fundamental concept of the Atonement, and that is that Jesus Christ has redeemed all minkind from all the consequences of the fall of Adam.
     The scriptures teach that every person, saint or sinner, will return to the presence of God after the resurrection. It may be only a temporary reunion in his presence, but justice requires that all that was lost in Adam be restored in Jesus Christ. Every person will return to God's presence, behold his face, and be judged for his own works. Then, those who have obeyed the gospel will be able to stay in his presence, while all others will have to be shut out of his presence a second time and will thus die what is called a second spiritual death." (Robert J. Mathews --- A Bible!)
So like Samuel taught, ALL of mankind will be redeemed from this first spiritual death. Back to Corinthians, "as in Adam all die" spiritually, i.e. by coming to earth are outside of the presence of God, "even so in Christ shall all be made alive" by being brought back into the presence of God i.e. "the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works" (Alma 42:23).  The Atonement really is universal, the "return to God's presence overcame the first spiritual death triggered by Adam, and thus, all that was lost by the Fall was equally restored by the Atonement" and the consequences of "original sin" are overcome for all. (Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement).

And it is in being "judged according to their works" like Alma taught that the second death that Samuel referred to will come about for those who "repenteth not." 

This is where the idea of "works" comes in... "The Atonement corrects the first spiritual death for all men without any effort on their own, and understandably so, for they in no way were its cause. The Atonement corrects the second spiritual death on an individual basis for those who repent, since each of us who has sinned must individually contribute to our own redemption" (Tad. R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement). The keyword there is "contribute" -- we don't cause or make our own redemption, or "correct" it ourselves, we merely contribute our repentance and the atonement "corrects," Christ redeems. 

Our "contribution" of repentance means turning our will to Christ. Anything we do is merely a part of submitting our will to his; it's part of becoming like him. Keeping the commandments, serving others, etc. will help us access the grace that we need to live day to day "in the posture of repentance" (Neal A. Maxwell, Testifying of the Great and Glorious Atonement) and thereby avail ourselves to the Atonement and avoid the second spiritual death of permanent separation from God.

p.s. you need to read this book!

Monday, April 4, 2011

the book of mormon "debate"

I was presented with some questions about the book of mormon recently concerning apparent contradictions. i'll be honest, i resisted even getting into discussing it because when it comes down to it, believing the book of mormon is true is a choice of faith. if you choose not to believe, all the external evidence in the world proving it's validity is not going to convince you - and if you DO choose to believe, then all the anti-stuff isn't going to convince you to change either because your choice to believe is based on a different kind of evidence; a spiritual evidence. and i guess, that's the base issue… whether you believe that physical evidence, or scientific truth, is more viable/reliable - or whether you believe that spiritual evidence is, i.e. spiritual experiences and impressions or the truth found through personal revelation. there will always be lots of things "proving" and "disproving" the book of mormon, but however that tide ebbs and flows, my testimony will remain constant because it is founded on the spiritual base of personal revelation - faith… i choose to believe.

that being said, of course i want to bring into harmony my intellectual belief with my spiritual belief. of course it is important to me to see the logic in spiritual truths. (one of the things i love about the gospel is how logical it is to me) so, i decided to try and address the questions that were brought up. i did so NOT with the intent to show how i can believe despite the grievances/problems that were presented (because that belief is possible because of FAITH not science) but to show instead that i have tried to see how things fit together -- even though i have already conscious chosen to believe.

i hope that makes sense…

anyhow, one issue that was brought up was concerning parts of the introduction of the book of mormon that cast doubt on the prophet joseph smith. that was an easy one to deal with, but involves knowing something that a lot of people aren't aware of... that the introduction of the book of mormo is NOT actually part of "the book of mormon." it was added by the church in 1981 and has since been changed/amended as our understanding of the book has developed. for example, there is a sentence about the american indians: "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principle ancestors of the American Indians."

that has been changed to say "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians." a small change, but a one that sparked a lot of debate concerning how critics argue that DNA evidence shows no evidence of hebrew blood so that statement is false. however, despite this, there is nothing in the actual Book of Mormon, other than that old introduction that is actually "undermined" by the DNA studies because the translated ancient text of the book of mormon itself does not say anything to disprove scientific theories about Native Americans migrating from northeast Asia over a land bridge. the book of mormon only claims to be the writings of some specific little groups of people that came to the Western Hemisphere over a small period of time -- and these writings, of a cultured and civilized people living in america, are definitely supported by archeological evidence (which i could point you to some pretty crazy SPECIFIC artifacts but let's leave that for another post) even without a definite geographic tie-in. joseph smith didn't write the intro. and joseph did not write the BOM.

in fact, joseph's involvement to me bespeaks the veracity of the book of mormon. it doesn't seem logical that a 23 year old man, with no college education and only 3 years of formal schooling, would write a book (which he dictated and make only ONE draft of) using only his limited understanding of the scriptures and the world would BE ABLE TO WRITE a book of such a religious, political and economic complexity. with changes of style (distinct wordprint! the probabilities of one author duplicating all 24 of the distinct wordprints of the BOM has got to be like a billion to one!), distinct national histories - concerning ancient civilizations you know next to nothing about THEN convince 3 credible witnesses that an angled appeared and showed them the record it came from AND THEN convince 8 other witnesses to testify that they saw the record as well AND THEN somehow pull the wool over the eyes of tens of thousands of people - great men, intellectual giants, and scholars included - and write this book - make up this book - all of this in about 2 months. Doesn't seem logical to me at all.***

The book of mormon contains Hebraisms, which are expressions that do not belong to the english language but actually belong specifically to the language from which they were translated…these expressions are often award in english but are perfect hebrew grammar. it also contains chiasmus, which is a rhetorical device used in ancient literature like the bible. since there is no evidence that anyone in america even understood chiasms in 1830 when the BOM was published the presence of chiasms in the BOM seem to pretty strongly prove that the text had an ancient origin.

and of course there is more. but this doesn't really address the DNA question does it?

so let's discuss that. first of all, the makers of that famous anti-book of mormon film film i am sure decided to forget to mention that this huge study excluded any native americans with DNA that showed markers of european or other non-american genes, to avoid a "contaminated sampling" and i'm pretty sure that if you take out all the old world stuff before you even analyze it then you haven't actually proven that it wasn't there. plus small population groups can EASILY disappear as groups intermarry and the population mixes. also, after doing a little bit of reading i found out that this whole batch of testing was for population studies -- read this:

"the anti-Mormon critics had been jumping to conclusions based on low-resolution DNA tests that are used for population studies. When high-resolution tests (the type used by police forensics scientists to identify individuals, not large population groups) were done, genetic markers for Hebrew DNA showed up. LDS scientists accurately point out that this does not tell us how the DNA got there, whether by Lehi's descendants or by Spanish Conquistadores. It does indicate that Hebrew DNA is present, a possibility our critics ridiculed" (Greg West for Meridian Magazine).

whenever it comes to this sort of thing, be it DNA or one of the other scientific "proofs" against the book of mormon, i always think of what Henry Eyring, a renowned scientist and member of the church, once said: "is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men." i think this pretty accurately sums up the debates that fly over science ever "proving" anything.

but to continue to address the issue of DNA there is a website that hosts scholarly publications from LDS academics (FARMS - go check it out) and i found an article dealing directly with the dna issue. read this:

Native Americans as Descendants of the LamanitesIf we were able to do the genealogy for a modern Native American to Lehi’s generation, we would have approximately 90 to 100 generations (we’ll choose 90 to keep it conservative). This Native American would have over 1.2 octillion ancestral slots (that’s more than 1.2 trillion x 1 quadrillion). Now obviously she would not have 1.2 octillion ancestors (there haven’t been that many people in the entire history of the world) since the same ancestors would fill many of these slots. Nevertheless, on a giant genealogy chart, there would be 1.2 octillion ancestral slots. From how many slots would our Native American be descended? All of them.
If Laman (or a descendant of Laman) was an ancestor in just one of these 1.2 octillion ancestral slots, then it can legitimately be claimed that our Native American is a descendant of Lamanite.
Recent studies suggest that we are related in several ways, and that many large groups of humans are often related in distinct ways as well. Such studies indicate that a large percentage of all people may have traces of Israelite ancestry, and that most people may be descendants of Abraham (see Genesis 22:17). In regards to the Book of Mormon, one scholar who has studied this concept notes: “The numerical dynamics of population mixing make it easily feasible…that most Amerindians are descended from Book of Mormon peoples, even if Book of Mormon peoples were originally a minority of ancient American populations and are thus only a part of the ancestry of most individuals.”
In summary, while there is no evidence for a genetic link between modern Native Americans and the Lehite/Lamanites (and there is no reason to suspect that Lehite DNA would be detectable in modern native peoples), LDS scriptures and prophets are justified in referring to them as “Lamanites” due to the likelihood of cultural and genealogical affiliations.
Written by Michael R. Ash for the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), Copyright © 2004. +++

Reading the Book of Mormon and then asking God if it is true through prayer is the only way to really know. Any other attempt will give you uncertain results. science can not "prove" it true (or false) and really… the most reliable truth is the spiritual truth we get from God. If God actually is the author of the book (through ancient prophets), then anyone who truly wants to know will receive a confirmation from Him that the book is true if they humbly ask. that spiritual confirmation is spiritual knowledge... and like i said at the beginning, choosing to believe because of spiritual knowledge is the way you have to know in order to be secure. you don't believe in christ because of external evidence - or even because the bible - you believe in christ because He has manifest Himself to you in your life. THAT is real evidence. when you have that kind of real evidence - nothing scientific can cross it.

***wanna read more about the improbability of joseph smith writing this book? here's my brother jim's review of an amazing article you should definitely read:

In the mormon/non-mormon peer reviewed journal "Dialogue" there is an article called "Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance." The author of this article addresses the idea that the book of mormon was simply a product of its historical, social, and cultural context. He talks about how, if we are going to assume the book of mormon as a product of its time, we must analyze and compare Joseph Smith with his contemporaries such as Thoreau, Emerson, Melville, Hawthorne, etc. In addition to analyzing the qualities, characteristics, and backgrounds of these authors, we should also analyze their works such as Walden, Emerson's Essays, Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and of course, the Book of Mormon. In doing so, we might better understand if the book of mormon was truly a product of the imagination of the early 1800's, or, if it might be what Joseph claimed it to be -- an ancient text brought forth by the power of God.

I thought the article had some very intriguing and curious points. In addition, the conclusion the author makes at the end is...well, to me it is quite astounding. And, to be honest, I'm not sure how you could argue otherwise.

Here's a link if you feel so inclined:

+++if you want more "evidence" as to the authenticity of the BOM try reading the two lectures prepared and published by the church and written by dr. james e. talmage (instead of anti-mormon literature) -- there are some really interesting points in there about it's origin and etc.

p.s. gotta admit, i pulled some of this post from a mormonwiki without citing it (SHAME. argh.) but, it's because this was originally written as just an email, so i didn't really worry about it then, and now i'm too lazy to sort through it and figure out what was mind versus what was me paraphrasing the article. so, this "p.s." is just so you know that this isn't completely me. mostly me, but not completely... gotta be honest.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

the grace of marriage

I have been thinking about how commandments allow us to access the grace of God.

They aren't given to us just so that we have something to DO to work out our salvation. They are given to us because by so doing God is giving us access to his power -- through choices that change us, that he has told us to make, we are enabled to have our natures changed. I may start out obeying the commandment not to lie simply out of fear or duty – but as I recognize my inability to be completely honest on my own, repent and access the Savior's atonement, and am empowered by the grace and love of Christ to be honest in all my doings, I then actually begin to become an honest person. The commandment itself is grace; it is an enabling power to become honest (something I could never do on my own because I cannot change my nature, but the atonement can).

Specifically, I have been thinking recently about the commandment to be married for eternity in the temple and how it allows us to have access to the joys, trials, and experiences that will change us and made us Godly.

Knowing that we can be together forever and having faith in the covenant we make with God, in His promises to us, empowers us in striving to strengthen our relationships and overcome trials. To commit to the process of "having a marriage." I think it's not so much that we “have to be married in the temple in order to go to the highest glory of the Celestial Kingdom” like a checkmark on the list of “things we have to do” but rather I think that we are commanded to be married in the temple because by doing so we are placed in a covenant, and in the circumstances necessary, to have the experiences that will MAKE us worthy to enter the highest glory of the Celestial Kingdom – that will make us celestial beings. The process of turning “I” into “we” that we learn in marriage is kindred to the process of turning “I” into “we” as we turn our will over to God and become one with Christ. The work of marriage, as we use the atonement to honor our covenant and have a successful relationship, is also enabling us to become exalted. It is layer upon layer of the grace of Christ.

It's not the doing, but the becoming - becoming that does not happen because of what I do but because I cannot do, and I need grace, which empowers my becoming.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

from consumer to lover

this is a great article about the conflict that can exist when choosing someone to marry that arises from "the paradox of choice" and our consumer culture.