Memorial Day: We Are the Twenty and Four

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11 And when they had gone through and hewn down all my people save it were twenty and four of us…and we having survived the dead of our people, did behold on the morrow, when the Lamanites had returned unto their camps, from the top of the hill Cumorah, the ten thousand of my people who were hewn down, being led in the front by me.

12 And we also beheld the ten thousand of my people who were led by my son Moroni.

13 And behold, the ten thousand of Gidgiddonah had fallen, and he also in the midst.

14 And Lamah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Gilgal had fallen with his ten thousand; and Limhah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Jeneum had fallen with his ten thousand; and Cumenihah, and Moronihah, and Antionum, and Shiblom, and Shem, and Josh, had fallen with their ten thousand each.

15 And it came to pass that there were ten more who did fall by the sword, with their ten thousand each; yea, even all my people, save it were those twenty and four who were with me, and also a few who had escaped into the south countries, and a few who had deserted over unto the Lamanites, had fallen; and their flesh, and bones, and blood lay upon the face of the earth, being left by the hands of those who slew them to molder upon the land, and to crumble and to return to their mother earth.

16 And my soul was rent with anguish, because of the slain of my people, and I cried:

17 O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!

18 Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.

19 O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!

20 But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return.

Can you read this and not feel his pain?

Can you read this and not liken it unto yourself?

I can’t. I can’t help but liken us to the twenty and four, sitting on that hillside with General Mormon, seeing the hundreds of thousands of slain countrymen below. I think we also are witnessing today the slow motion destruction of an entire civilization. The twenty and four—such an increasing minority, and one that does sadly not even include very latter-day saint—watching evil overtake the country and the world. Politically, socially, economically.

Evil has always been overtaking the world, it’s true. But never before as blatantly. Satan has always worked with subtlety, ever since the Garden of Eden. But now he does not even have to hide himself. People, of their own free will, are using their agency, at his behest, to put themselves out of God’s reach. Many are making themselves irretrievable. And we, the twenty and four, have to watch it happen, unable to do anything but plead, as Mormon did to his people, to come back, to know Jesus, who was and still is standing with open arms to receive them.

But they would not.

The Book of Mormon has always been a warning. But never before has its apocalyptic arc been so apt, as we see the winds of chaos Satan has been blowing sweep across the land. Never before has our spiritual opposition seemed as overwhelming as the massive Lamanite army at Cumorah.

We are a little different than the twenty and four, of course. They all perished the next day. We, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will not perish. As a church, we will not. But as individuals, we perish all the time. For the lines between sides are getting sharper. The wheat are being separated from the tares. So many are falling, perishing of their own free will, choosing other causes to champion over the church, some running away from their duties on the battlefield and some deserting over to the other side to fight against their brothers and sisters.

The church was founded in America. But membership rates in America are not looking good. Many members in this nation, especially those of my generation pulled away by social trends, are leaving the church, even vocally, and even taking up arms against it. This nation is growing increasingly hostile, monstrously hostile, to the values we live by, the values of heaven, and traditional spheres of refuge no longer promise comfort. There is no political party or otherwise institution that welcomes the moderate Mormon view. This was also the case back in the 19th century, when both major political parties either refused to help at their best, or outright despised us and tried to kill us at their worst. And so, led by Brigham Young, we found refuge in the tops of the mountains, much like Mormon and his twenty and four. With the values of the world again pushing us as a church out, to where do we flee now?

Well, everywhere. This church is rapidly decentralizing. We are becoming a truly global church. Stakes of Zion are being established in the every corner of the world where we are welcome. As the church begins to decline in America, baptism rates skyrocket in other parts of the world.

Wherever we find safety, though, whether it’s in certain pockets in the country or outside, we look on the rest of this great and spacious building, and especially the American nation that was the incubator for this gospel and the greatest country in the history of the world for its goodness and prosperity and philosophical foundation, and see it fall. We are the twenty and four. Or we will be, very soon.

So on this Memorial Day, do not memorialize just the fallen American soldiers who died fighting for their country. Remember the Nephites, too. Their downfall. Their desertion from the divine. Remember why they fell, and give voice to the Book of Mormon, let its warning sound in the ear of our neighbor. Pray that at least a few can join the rest of us at the top of the hill Cumorah. Memorialize those who have fallen before, and remember why.

And weep for America. Because Mormon wept for the Nephites. Because Jesus wept for Jerusalem. Because God Himself weeps as He looks upon His vineyard.

And to those on the battlefield who are not quite dead, who still have hope—and there are many of them, so many in spiritual pain and anguish just waiting for help—to them, run. Run to the rescue before tomorrow comes.

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Don’t let “Hakuna Matata” be your motto.

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It’s been said, if you laugh at the Joker, he wins.

Likewise, if you practice “Hakuna Matata,” you lose, and the film fails.

I am of course talking about The Lion King, which I think is even more Mormon than Star Wars. (Up there with Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but that’s another post.)

Sometime I do want to do a full essay on The Lion King, but this isn’t that post either. This is just a reminder of Mufasa’s warning to his son: remember who you are.

It’s practically a cliche now. But the answer to “Who am I?” continues to be asked daily by so many in both the world and even the church. And the answer is anything but cliche.

Former Seventy Vaughn J. Featherstone shared the following story:

Many years ago I heard the story of the son of King Louis XVI of France. King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him. They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. For over six months he had this treatment—but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things—why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, “I cannot do what you ask, for I was born to be a king.”

That’s who you are. Born to be a king or queen. Simba forgot that because instead he lived the life of “Hakuna Matata.” Though it’s flashy and funny and happy in the film—leading so many who watch it to think it’s the principle message of The Lion King—it is also the only obstacle holding back a prince from becoming a king. It is the opposite of the point of the movie! For because Simba was lost in his tropical decadence, the entire kingdom was nearly laid to waste. As John Bytheway pointed out, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to be doing something else.

Epicureanism might be Timon and Pumbaa’s motto. Don’t let it be yours.

Why Currency in the Book of Mormon?

 

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I think most of us remember that strange, seemingly totally out of place section in the Book of Alma when Mormon stops the action—the contention of Alma and Amulek with Zeezrom the lawyer and the people of Ammonihah—to give us a detailed description of Nephite money. Senines (the smallest amount) and seons and limnahs and onties (the greatest) and so forth. It takes up almost an entire column of the page and doesn’t seem to have a great purpose, even in context. We only learn from it that lawyers made large amounts of money, and Zeezrom tried to bribe Amulek into denying God with six onties of silver, a large amount of money. Amulek rejects it, of course, and turns the tables back on Zeezrom and preaches and we forget the whole thing.

So, why is the currency laid out? General worldbuilding? Mormon rarely does that. The only use we get out of it here in Alma is to know that what Zeezrom offered Amulek a LOT of money to deny the faith, and Amulek didn’t even have to think about it. That tells us a lot about Amulek, but was laying out the whole system really necessary?

(Doubters have pointed out that coins weren’t even used as currency in this time period, and that there is no evidence for coinage in the Americas and that the currency as it was laid out is evidence of the falseness of the Book of Mormon. Very well, let’s agree that there was no  coinage in ancient America before Columbus, et al, arrived.

But wait just one second. Where does Mormon write about coins? He doesn’t. The word “coin” is not used. Only “wages” and “measures” and “reckonings.” Certainly familiar terms to any ancient economy. Weights and measures and things like that.

Now, “coin” is used in the chapter heading: “Nephite coinage set forth,” it says. But that’s not what Mormon wrote. It’s a modern day assumption that what Mormon is describing are coins. But it’s not scripture.)

But I digress. The question was, why currency. Why we should, as modern-day readers, care that Nephites had a system of money.

The answer I give is not a scholarly one. There are probably other answers that are better, more educated, more researched. Mine was a tiny little thought, and yet it makes my heart melt with love for the Savior. And as a novelist with my own penchant for subtle, quiet, but powerful moments that you can miss if you blink, I am deeply grateful to Mormon for putting this in there.

Fast forward over a century and approximately two hundred pages. Christ has just shown Himself to the Nephites. He is giving them the sermon on the mount. It is the pure version, not the one we have in our New Testament scriptures. Small changes here and there that alter the understanding of doctrine when compared. And in this case, adapting it to His Nephite audience.

Matthew 5:25-26:

25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou has paid the uttermost farthing. [“the last penny”]

And then in 3 Nephi 12:25-26:

25 Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him, lest at any time he shall get thee, and thou shalt be cast into prison.

26 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou has paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison can ye pay even one senine? Verily, verily, I say unto you, Nay.

The word “senine” here hasn’t been brought up in two hundred pages. Mormon makes no special note of it in his commentary. It is simply there, in Christ’s words, adapted tot he Nephite people without a spotlight or any fanfare.

This little moment tells me two things: 1) It is yet more evidence of the Book of Mormon’s veracity. Joseph Smith could not have made this up. He would not have the foresight or the retrospective capacity to do this, and especially not without calling attention to it somehow. It is simply there for people to notice if they will. And why should they? Because 2) Jesus knows His sheep, and He speaks their language, according to their understanding. And that is the greatest tender mercy of all. He knows us all individually, our customs and our traditions and our backgrounds. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world—wherever, whatever we are, He is our Savior, and He knows us intimately.

Use this “One Weird Trick” to Better Understand God

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The world has a problem with understanding God. I think we all know that. They see the death and sadness of the world, terrifying diseases and atrocities unfolding unabated, and reject the notion of an all-benevolent God who is also all-powerful. This is a traditional dynamic between non-believers and religion.

Unfortunately I think we latter-day saints sometimes see Him the same way, when we are in distress, or when the rivers of sorrow threaten to overflow. We pray, and are not answered immediately. We understand the overall answer to the problem of evil, at least in theory, but don’t understand the silence of God in those individual moments as we kneel at our bedside. I have been going through a silence of my own lately, and I, too, have given into frustration at what I see as unanswered prayers.

So let me give a brief parable that I think will not only help us understand God, but understand ourselves.

My four-month-old daughter Dagny unfortunately has only one method of solving her problems, whatever they happen to be. When you’re holding a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And so for Dagny, at the first slight pang of hunger, what does she do?

Wails. Sobs. Cries out in anguish. She’d gnash her teeth, if she had any. From zero to panic in less than a second.

She keeps on crying until her mouth is plugged with the rubber bottle nipple. Sometimes that’s up to fifteen whole minutes later. Why is that? Did it take that long for us to hear her? Did it take that long to figure out she might be hungry? Were we ignoring her for fifteen minutes? Did we just not care? What is wrong with us? Aren’t we as her parents supposed to be good and see to her every need? Aren’t we capable of solving all her problems instantly? That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it? If we are benevolent and, compared to her, all powerful to meet her needs, and we love her, shouldn’t that nipple fill her mouth within a second, or even before she ever cried?

Here’s the reality: I’m a stay-at-home dad, so we keep frozen breastmilk in the freezer. That’s the only way to keep it long-term without it going bad, and even then it only really lasts a month or so. So I have to turn the frozen milk unfrozen. You can’t use a microwave to thaw it out because it can kill the nutrients. The only effective way is hot water. At least at our old duplex, it takes a while for the tap water to turn hot enough to melt the ice. So I have to wait for that, and then put the frozen bag of milk in a plastic container underneath the faucet. Then I wait, all the while Dagny’s shrieks of woe resounding in my ears.

Then, at last, it’s warm enough. I pour the bag into the bottle, probably spilling some. Then I put the nipple in her mouth and it’s like pressing a mute button. A beautiful silence follows and I feel peace again, and I get to look into her eyes as she eats.

She still doesn’t understand why it took a full ten or fifteen minutes to get her fed. She’s incapable of seeing and knowing the whole process. But she doesn’t even know that she’s incapable, and so stares angrily at me/us the whole time until she’s sated.

That was the parable. So what’s that one weird trick to understanding God? (Yes, I’m actually going to tell you, unlike those stupid ads.)

Here it is: patience.

Yep. That’s it.

But that’s not weird! It’s what we hear every Sunday!

Sure. But it certainly is weird when we apply it to the world’s conception of God. Weird meaning unintuitive. Because God is not a wizard. He does not just snap His fingers and instantly make all things better and solve all your problems. He is all-powerful, yes, but not in the Robin Williams’ Genie kind of way. He is bound by certain rules. He can accomplish all things within those rules, but that takes time

For God uses processes as surely as we do. He is not a wizard, but a chessmaster, who wins not simply by snatching the opponent’s king piece off the board, but moving His pieces—those who choose to be obedient to His commandments, all of whom have their own individual limits—in strategic fashion. He acts within the rules of the game and according to the talents of His enlisted ones, sending a bishop zagging across the board in its diagonal capacity, the rook straight across and back and forth, the knight to hook around and checkmate the enemy queen, all working in concert to win. That victory, though inevitable, takes time.

God uses natural processes in creation. We know He did not create ex nihilo. The matter of the universe existed in a chaotic but eternal state. He stepped in and set forth physical laws, and the matter obeyed Him because He is their God as much as He is ours. Those comparatively simple and few laws shaped the galaxies, brewed stars and carved out planets. Eventually our own planet, once a ball of rock and lava and water, became what it is today, full of over eight million different kinds of animals and covered in an extraordinary variety of plant life. That took time.

If it took millions of years to form our planet, how much more time would it take to create a soul? How much time to create a being like Himself?

All in all, I think it’s pretty clear why God would want us to be developing patience. Why it is an eternal attribute. He has to exercise it constantly! For the work of His own hands, and for the impatient spiritual children He has growing here on Earth.

Elder Holland noted that imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. Boy is that true, and that of course is another reason why we need to be patient with Him. Spencer W. Kimball said that it is usually through other people that God meets our needs. And so in being patient with God, we are also being patient with our brothers and sisters, most of whom we might never meet, but who are crucial to the ever-complicated mechanics of producing blessings expected and unexpected to the prayerful.

But like He cautions us in our dealings with others, God only ever uses people who are willing.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned (D&C 121:41)

Imagine how much patience it takes God to work with His children. He will soften hearts and open eyes, He will gently persuade and suffer us long, but He will never use His priesthood to halt the agency of His children or force the world to be a better place.

 

And of course, in realizing this, we must also be patient with ourselves. God is in no hurry to get us where we need to be, at least by our standards. He is not sitting there judging a scorecard for each and every choice we make. He sees our potential, us at the end of time, and only then are we judged. We are not judged in this life, only coaxed and directed. However long it takes for us to face the right direction and walk down that path, He will endure it. He has patience with us, and that means we also should have patience with us—with others and with ourselves. There is no need (or even a possibility) to obtain perfection or even just great skill in a jiffy. Perfection takes time. A lot of it.

So when we pray, when we ask for certain blessings, we must first ask for patience, and for meekness, and for “Thy will be done.” Because His way is the best way, and perhaps the only way to satisfy all our needs, those known to us and unknown. Our Heavenly Father needs to work behind the scenes, out of our view, dealing with people who can help grant the blessings we seek, getting all the pieces in the right places, and making certain all involved are spiritually, mentally, even physically where they need to be. And in the meantime, He’s building us.

Alma 32:

41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.

42 And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.

43 Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.

It’s been said (I think by Elder Holland) that the greatest thrill God has is being merciful. How much greater a thrill does He receive when he finally is able to grant us the blessings we’ve been working so hard for, praying so hard for, and suffering so long for with patience and meekness and the childlike will to submit ourselves to whatever God has in store?

All good works take time, even for God.

 

 

Motherhood: The Divine Art of Soulcrafting

I hate euphemisms. For instance, in the church we talk quite a lot about “attending the temple,” or “temple attendance.” That makes it sound like a duty, something boring we just have to, well, attend. Is that all we’re really doing there? No. We’re forming binding covenants with the Creator of the universe Himself and liberating the souls of the dead, allowing them to walk free of the chains of hell and back into heaven’s light. Euphemisms dampen the power of an idea, for good or ill, and I think it’s important that we give accurate descriptors of sacred things so that we know they’re sacred, so we know the true import of what we’re really doing.

The world has a similar problem with parenting. I mean, just right there, “parenting.” What banality! The world uses other euphemisms for motherhood, especially when they’re trying to compare it to the thrill of “careering” (my word). Too often the world reduces motherhood to “folding laundry” and “cleaning kitchens” and “wiping food from chins” and other things like that. And maybe that’s why there is so much parenting failure in the world today. Too many of them just don’t get it.

So let’s call motherhood what it really is: the crafting of souls.

And let’s call mothers what they really are: cultivators of God’s garden of souls.

Planting truth deep within us, feeding us and watering us and giving us light, tending the branches as we grow, pruning the bad parts along the way. Showing us the beautiful things of the world, giving us arms to retreat to when life takes a bad turn. Teaching us everything they know, and trying to steer us in the right way where they once erred. Giving place for us to rise to our fullest potential, starting with nine months of discomfort and the most painful experience a human being can endure to produce a physical body at our beginning.

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Nyssa and Dagny, just a few minutes after birth.

LDS.org has it right: every life begins with Mom. For that physical sacrifice is love, and we love because Mom loved us first. Mom is where we first learn that kind of love. Where we learn closeness, and where we learn where to look when we are in trouble. The things we learn from Mom at our youngest ages frame our reality for the rest of our lives, the rest of our eternities. Whether teaching directly or not, Mom is how we gain our first knowledge—what we are put on Earth to gain. Mom, of all people on the planet, has the greatest influence over the future of the human race.

Neal A. Maxwell:

When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time.

Yes, she often does fold our laundry, clean the kitchen, and wipe food from our chins—but what she’s really doing is cultivating civilization in the house, and teaching us to live ordered lives. And that’s the first step towards our ultimate goal of godhood. That’s the subtext of day to day life, the real meaning behind the workings of the world. Moms are the drivers of that destiny. Every attribute of spiritual development is found in that precious relationship between parent and child. She is God’s representative to our souls, doing for us what He would do if we were there.

Who else would put up with our rebellions, little and large? Who else would suffer long while we wandered from the path? Who else would be there to fall on our necks and kiss us when we return? Only parents. They are the stewards of our souls while we are far from our true Father’s arms.

So don’t let anyone denigrate motherhood. Don’t let anyone reduce it to a chore-doer. She is closer to God in form and responsibility than any other vocational position in the world. The stewardship gained from jobs and careers, while vital to providing for a family, is less than the stewardship of soulcraft.

So Mom, Nyssa…thank you. I love you both.

Happy Mother’s Day.