Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Sins of the Fathers Against Latin America--Ex. 34: 6-7

"And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation." (Ex. 34: 6-7)

As God reveals himself to Moses, the scripture juxtaposes God's mercy with the truth that an individual's or society's sins can consequences that carry themselves on in the next four generations.

Carlfred Broderick used to say that one reason some people may be born into broken homes is to purify the lineage by stopping the cycle of damage and abuse. For as the child of a sinning parent turns to God, he or she can often spare the children the legacy of damage that comes from the past sins.

When Elder Clayton spoke of an indigenous man in the Andes whose back bent under the weight of firewood he had to carry in order to earn a livelihood, I thought of the sins of the United States against Latin American nations.

And I wondered if the Perpetual Education Fund will serve as a means for us to begin to atone for the sins of our nation.

Can the empowerment of education begin to counterbalance the ruptures in history we forced?

Will the sins of our national predecessors visit us into the next three or four generations, or can we free our lineage from the heritage of their sins?

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Infinite Canon--D&C 68: 4

And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation."(D&C 68: 4)

Elder Scott said this means we should write personal revelations down, so that our souls grow in tandem with our own personal sacred texts.

Elder Uchtdorf said words infused with divine love become as scripture, wherever or by whomever they may be spoken.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Knowledge as a Club --2 Ne 28: 4

"And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance." (2 Ne 28: 4)

Our faith, though strongly advocating education, is inherently suspicious of institutionalized intellectualism. Why?

Because knowledge is light--but all too often we treat it as power.

It is our faith's sad experience that people who see themselves as having power often tend toward unrighteous dominion and abuse.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moroni's Teachings--JSH 1: 54

"Accordingly, as I had been commanded, I went at the end of each year, and at each time I found the same messenger there, and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews, respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days." (JS-H 1: 54)

Although Moroni related all things relative to the establishment of the church in that generation, Joseph understood none of them, as the apostles of old had understood nothing Jesus had said of his own death and resurrection. Experience unlocks doctrine: through the remainder of his life, Joseph's trials unlocked Moroni's teachings piece by piece, and so it was that the Restoration unfolded.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Jaredite Voyage and the Manti Temple: Ether 6: 2-3

"For it came to pass after the Lord had prepared the stones which the brother of Jared had carried up into the mount, the brother of Jared came down out of the mount, and he did put forth the stones into the vessels which were prepared, one in each end thereof; and behold, they did give light unto the vessels.
And thus the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness." (Ether 6: 2-3)

When Jaredites left the terrestrial land of Bountiful to be driven by the winds toward the fullness of the promise, they had to travel in special ships which were designed to serve also as temples. It was for this reason that the Lord made the brother of Jared ask for his hand to touch the stones and fill them with light instead of simply doing so on his own initiative: a temple cannot be sanctified by God without a dedicatory request by an authorized human servant of God. It is also in memory of this ancient temple that the Lord later called shipbuilders to construct a roof for the temple in Manti: the first created after the Saints had been driven from initial destinations to an unexpected promised land.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sealing--Hel. 10: 7

"Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people."

What the gospel asks us is to live on earth in ways that we want sealed in heaven, and through the Atonement to loose ourselves on earth from what should not be sealed to us in heaven. Exaltation is not an entirely separate state of being: it is a sanctification, purification, and endless continuation of what the deepest and most basic gospel principles allow us to build on earth.

Have prophets with sealing power been waiting for thousands of years to seal up the whole earth? No, I think they've understood that their role is to prepare and perhaps to seal pieces. The Messiah, when he returns, will be responsible for sealing everything, and people in the millennium will help him.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

All You Need is Love--Matt 6: 24

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."(Matt 6: 24)

Elder Uchtdorf used to say: Misery is the love of wrong things, happiness is the love of right things.

Thus, the pursuit of happiness (which can result in happiness only when we are already happy!) is less worthwhile than the pursuit of ethics, morality, and righteousness--which anchor us such that happiness will know where to find us.

All you need is the right kind of love.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Angels with Skin On--Heb 13: 2

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Heb 13: 2)

In Mormon thought, there is no distinction between humans and angels. Angels are humans who have lived and are now glorified messengers of God, or else humans who have yet to live and fulfill specific missions on earth as part of their premortal existence.

Whenever we offer hospitality for another, then, we are always entertaining angels. Because of their mortal covering, though, how often do we do so unaware?

Thanks to Paul Bindel for making me think of this today.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Conference History Notes

Simon Peter and Joseph Smith

Imagine my surprise when Elder Callister used a list of Peter's apparent weaknesses to introduce a talk on Joseph Smith--the same parallel that started this blog's church history series! I think Elder Callister powerfully articulated the counter-productivity of allowing Joseph's imperfections to keep us from enjoying the rich doctrines of the Restoration. I do think, though, that we'd be well-served not simply by overlooking Joseph's faults/failures, but by treating them as a more important part of a dynamic experience of spiritual growth that we can learn from. The stories of Peter's mistakes, after all, are valuable parts of the scripture--they're not something to overlook, but to treasure!
We don't need Joseph Smith to be an example of what's right. We can let him be an example of how to learn and grow--sometimes by being wrong and making significant mistakes--without compromising our belief in him as a prophet.

The Buttercream Gang

President Monson also invoked the church's past by relating a story about Thomas B. Marsh. This story has endured for the last century and a half, I think, because it speaks an important truth about the dangers of anger. That utility has kept alive the story even though it is probably not historically accurate.

Where did the story come from? The first historical reference I've found to it is from George A. Smith in the late 1850s, roughly twenty years after the fact and in a completely different environment from which some of the complexities of the past could be forgotten. Maybe the events George A. Smith describes did take place in some form--although I'd be surprised if a case that caused so much trouble between the leading apostle and the church really got all the way to the First Presidency without anyone writing about it. I think it's just as likely that the Marshes were never involved in a dispute over butter at all--maybe someone else had a butter dispute that George A. Smith later misremembered as involving the Marshes (just as members today sometimes quote lines from inspirational poems thinking that they are in the scriptures, or attribute pieces of wisdom to some anonymous General Authority).

Thomas B. Marsh did leave the church in 1838 and did swear an affidavit--preserved today in Missouri state archives--against Joseph Smith. But considering the context of the times, it seems much more likely that he was concerned about the aggressive military strategy and rhetoric the Mormon community took in the early and middle stages of the "Mormon War." Several thoughtful Mormons correctly predicted that an aggressive defense would prove "disastrous"--rather than protecting the community as intended, it resulted in Governor Boggs' infamous extermination order. Marsh and others who saw this miscalculation tried to escape from a Mormon community they saw as both desperate and doomed. In Marsh's case, swearing an affidavit against Joseph Smith publicly distanced him from the church enough that he could live in peace in the state and enjoy its protection of his constitutional rights. He saw a serious fault in Mormonism, bailed out, and avoided the harsh consequence of being driven from the state...

...but Mormonism didn't die. The Saints lost most of their property to their Missouri persecutors once again and walked across the frozen ground into Iowa and Illinois to think about their future. The Prophet was sent to prison in Liberty, reflected on what had gone wrong, and composed what is probably the most profound letter in Mormon history. Spring came, things changed, the Saints started over again and in a few years the movement was strong enough to face another set of crises.

Cort likes to say that the church is like a great stone rolling down a mountain and from time to time, it hits up against something hard and some pride or errors are knocked off--but the stone keeps rolling, keeps growing smoother, until one day it will be what God wants it to ultimately be.

Sometimes we, like the historical Thomas Marsh, see real problems with the course the church takes or the tenor of church culture and want to break ourselves off from the stone before it collides painfully with the consequences of its own awkwardness. And yet, says Cort, if we do we lose the momentum that comes from being part of a collective gathered by God. We miss the growth that comes through sharing the very pain we have foreseen and wished to avoid.

In 1857, Thomas Marsh sought out and was rebaptized into the church. He realized what he had missed by believing too much in his fears about what could result from a church course that was legimitately dangerous.

Did the pain he suffered from 1838-1857 in some way stand in for the pain he could have learned from had he remained with the Saints? I do not see Marsh as a pathetic figure: I see him as someone whose courage and humility ultimately made up for his mistakes.

And somewhere on the other side of the veil, where he is probably sharing the gospel with the spirits of his ancestors, I imagine Thomas Marsh happy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Holy Ghost in an Era of Change--Joel 2: 28-29

"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit." (Joel 2: 28-29)

Elder Scott used to say that in our days, the uncertainty is such that the young will have to prophesy just to be able to prepare themselves adequately for the future.


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