Tag Archives: Thomas S. Monson

Them’s Chores

I heard a story yesterday originally from a preacher who grew up in Detroit. He’d spent his whole life in the inner city, and when he was still young he went to visit his grandparents on their farm in northern Michigan. He heard the birds like he’d never heard them before. He saw the blue skies like he’d never seen them before. It was wonderful.

The next morning, his grandpa woke him up at 6 o’clock (he hadn’t ever seen that before either). They walked outside, and his grandpa handed him a metal pail. There was a chicken coop across the way, and his grandpa pointed to it and said, “Take this pail, and go and collect any eggs.” He did.

When he got back, his grandpa gave him a bucket of slop. “Take this and go feed the pig.” He did.

It went like this all morning, before the young boy had even eaten breakfast. Finally, his grandpa took him inside where breakfast was waiting for them. After eating his fill, he threw himself on the sofa in the living room. Continue reading Them’s Chores

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Tolerating the Weeds

Not Free Willy

My wife and I watched Blackfish a few months ago. Going into it we knew it was about SeaWorld and orca whales and the issues that arise from their captivity, but we didn’t know much more than that. Thinking that our two year-old son might find it interesting to see killer whales, my wife invited him to join us.

“Hey, do you want to watch a show about whales?”

*turns on Blackfish*

(From the television) “…Um, we need someone to respond… the whale just ate one of the trainers…” *ominous music* Continue reading Tolerating the Weeds

My Thoughts on Today’s Supreme Court Review

Yesterday, you might not have known what was on the Supreme Court’s docket for today.

Today, you know.

You know because you probably have a Facebook account (1 billion of us do, as of October 2012) and your news feed was likely filled up by activists and constitutional “experts” on both sides of the argument, all commenting on news coming out of the Supreme Court.

My Anecdotal Observations of Fellow Latter-day Saints

I’ve written before on the subject of so-called same sex marriage, but I feel like I can contribute to the conversation in one way tonight. I’d like to talk about some of my observations of the LDS community. Certainly I don’t have a good view of all Latter-day Saints, so my observations will be little more than anecdotal. Still, that doesn’t make them invalid. I, at least, think that they’ll be worth considering.

A Diverse Body with An Important Foundation 

We Latter-day Saints are a fairly diverse group of people. You might not think it, getting pop culture hints from “The Book of Mormon” musical and Big Love, but Latter-day Saints are a 14 million member strong group who live all over the earth and have varied levels of activity and belief, and a wide range of personalities, opinions, and mannerisms.

I’ve mused before about what, among such a diverse group of individuals, unites us, and you can read that post for those thoughts. Since then, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke in General Conference about “Being a More Christian Christian”. His criteria for what it means to be Christian (and I think “Christian” here is interchangeable with “Mormon” or “Latter-day Saint”, as will be clear in a moment) is also a fine study about what should be the same among Latter-day Saints. A Latter-day Saint is:

    • Someone who follows the gospel pattern of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end (paragraphs 2 – 4).
    • Someone who believes that God has followed a pattern of calling prophets to teach His children, and that this pattern has continued in our day with Joseph Smith and his successors (paragraph 5).
    • Someone who believes in the Godhead as taught in the scriptures and by modern prophets. This belief regarding the nature of God is at odds with Trinitarian theology (paragraph 6).

There is quite a bit in there that mainstream Christianity would find objectionable, but that should suggest to us that when Elder Hales asks, “With these doctrines as the foundations of our faith, can there be any doubt or disputation that we (Latter-day Saints) are Christian?”, he’s not comparing Latter-day Saints to modern, mainstream, creedal Christianity as much as he’s comparing Latter-day Saints to biblical Christianity.

But that’s a talk for another day and another post.

The point is that Elder Hales highlights a belief in the principle of prophets and a testimony that the leaders of the Mormon Church are the modern-day equivalents of  Peter, Moses, or Paul. That’s not an idle statement to make or believe in. Paul wrote to new church members of his day,

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Distance from Modern Prophets

Whether or not you’re familiar with the LDS position on the issue of so-called same-sex marriage, consider these posts from some of my Latter-day Saint Facebook friends:

“Hopefully today is the first step towards increasing equality in our nation.”

“Real equality would be government that is not in charge of marriage.”

“taking agency away from a group of people is what satan (sic) wants…..”

And many of them posted graphics, like these:

Posts like these really confuse me. They confuse me because, for example, the leadership of our Church said just today:

Today the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments regarding the definition of marriage in this country.

We firmly support the divinely appointed definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman because it is the single most important institution for strengthening children, families, and society.

We hope the court will agree, and we look forward to the decision on this important matter.

That’s not even the least of all they’ve said, but it suffices for this post. It’s not difficult for the sincere student to learn more about the LDS position (try here, at Mormons and Gays, which then links to other legitimate sources at the bottom of the page). This position is in direct conflict with many of the sentiments and graphics above.

Something seems off….

A Story with a Moral – Faithful Obedience

I’m reminded of the story of Martin Harris and the lost 116 pages. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, here is a refresher.

Joseph Smith began translating the Book of Mormon plates in the late 1820s. He had a scant education, and enlisted the help of Martin Harris, a local of Palmyra, New York, to act as scribe. Harris’ help was invaluable – not only was Harris a respected member of the community, but he also gave significant resources to help finance the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon.

By the middle of 1828, Joseph had dictated 116 pages to Harris. Unfortunately, Harris’ relationship with his wife was tenuous at the time. Additionally, she was suspicious of Joseph, and opposed to the resources her husband was devoting to Joseph’s cause. Harris asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript home to show his wife. He thought this would help encourage her support and help heal some of their strained relationship.

Joseph asked the Lord if Harris could take the manuscript. The Lord refused. Still, Harris pressured Joseph to ask a second time. Again, the Lord refused. Harris pressured Joseph once more, and the Lord agreed to let him take the manuscript as long as he showed it to only a few specified family members.

Tragically, Harris lost the 116 pages of the manuscript. They were never recovered, and Joseph was commanded not to re-translate those pages (the thieves who had stolen them had changed the words so that, were Joseph to re-translate, the two versions would not agree – see Doctrine and Covenants 10).

The Lord, with his omniscient foresight, had prepared for this loss. He told Nephi, one of the primary authors of the Book of Mormon, to make two sets of records covering the same time period.

And the reason for making two sets of records? Nephi didn’t have a clue. He tells us,

“Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.

“But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men” (see 1 Nephi 9).

Mormon, who almost 1,000 years later would be inspired to include Nephi’s record in concert with his abridgment, would write,

“And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (see Words of Mormon 1:3-7).

Joseph continued to translate, but from this additional record instead of the material he’d previously translated. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said,

“We got back more than we lost. And it was known from the beginning that it would be so.”

For more on that story, you can also read my post, “God’s Divine Backup Plan”.

Some Principles to Follow

Often when we hear this story, we focus on Martin Harris and Joseph Smith. There’s nothing wrong with this – there’s an important lesson to be learned from them. But I’d like to focus on two different individuals. I’d like to focus on Nephi and Mormon, and particularly Nephi.

Nephi, as we saw, was commanded to make a second record detailing the same period he’d just covered. Keep in mind that this is an age before copy-and-paste, before xerox, before the printing press. Nephi was making records on metal plates while traveling as a nomad through uninhabited Arabia and (likely) South America. That would have been extremely arduous and tedious. Yet he did it.

Nephi did this, all without (as far as we know) ever knowing why. He never received any indication of what the Lord’s “wise purpose” was, what fruit would be born from his laborious seed planting. Not even Mormon, who spent his life protecting and abridging these records, ever knew the end from the beginning in regards to these records. Yet they obeyed. And because they obeyed, we have the Book of Mormon today, complete with the powerful testimony of early Nephite prophets.

What’s the connection for Latter-day Saints to same-sex marriage?

In 1995, then president Gordon B. Hinckley presented “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”. It highlighted the vital family values that our Church stands for, and called for members and citizens to support measures aimed at upholding the traditional family unit. This proclamation reads, in part,

“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children….

“We warn that… the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

When Prop 8 was prepared as a ballot measure, the First Presidency, led by current president Thomas S. Monson, sent a letter to California congregations. It encouraged Latter-day Saints to do all that they could to support the measure. It read,

“Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families:

“In March 2000 California voters overwhelmingly approved a state law providing that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The California Supreme Court recently reversed this vote of the people. On November 4, 2008, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that will now restore the March 2000 definition of marriage approved by the voters.

“The Church’s teachings and position on this moral issue are unequivocal. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children. Children are entitled to be born within this bond of marriage.

“A broad-based coalition of churches and other organizations placed the proposed amendment on the ballot. The Church will participate with this coalition in seeking its passage. Local Church leaders will provide information about how you may become involved in this important cause.

We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.

Regardless of the other issues at work here – and make no mistake, this is a highly complex and controversial issue – the Church leaders have been very clear about what is expected of faithful Latter-day Saints. After that, the decision is ours to decide which way we face.

The choice is, of course, ours to make. But let’s make no mistake about what’s happening when we follow personal whims, lean on political correctness, or disregard prophetic counsel. Perhaps President Brigham Young said it best:

“You cannot destroy the appointment of a prophet of God, but you can cut the thread that binds you to the prophet of God, and sink yourselves to hell.”

Stand with the prophets, even if you don’t understand why. You may never understand – we learn that much from Nephi and Mormon – but you can have faith that the Lord knows what he’s doing.

The Principles Behind My Prop 8 Support

Yesterday, an appeals court upheld Judge Walker’s decision declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. This has caused both disappointment and celebration, depending on what side of the line you find yourself. My Facebook wall, perhaps like yours, was filled with a lot of both.

One Facebook friend of mine wrote,

“This is a very bad day for religious fanatics who want to legislate their hate.”

Another, himself a member of the LDS Church, wrote,

“We as a people are witnessing a terrible obesity rate, devastating unemployment, a never-before-seen national deficit, low education scores and somehow we are worried about dictating who can and cannot get married via Prop 8? Unless you are Jesus or Muhammad, don’t worry about it. Live and let live, or move to North Korea.”

I find such comments disappointing. This is not such a simple issue, and these straw man arguments leave far too much out. What’s more, this damning and demeaning rhetoric deliberately muddies the waters of understanding (“fanatics”? “North Korea”? “Hate”? Please). I would expect more of those who find “ignorance” so appalling.

I have thought carefully about this issue. Through this process, I myself have felt anxiety, angst, and discouragement from within; and I have encountered hate, prejudice, and aggression in practically every social circle to which I belong from without.

I have not come to a decision lightly, nor have I blindly followed the whims of my Church or political party. Despite what some may think, this was for me a cognitively active process. I have written on the subject, and I’ve even read the court decisions (who among you can say the same?).

What are the ultimate principles behind my decision?

Prophets on the Watchtower

In the song “I Believe” from the musical “The Book of Mormon”, Elder Price sings,

“And I believe that the current president of the Church, Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God.”

One of the purposes of the song was to present beliefs of the LDS Church that are outlandish. Yet this belief is absolutely central to the Church and its’ teachings. There are few principles more important, and more unique, than the belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by a man who speaks directly with God.

Why is this so important?

The Lord tells the parable,

“A certain nobleman had a spot of land, very choice; and he said unto his servants: Go ye unto my vineyard, even upon this very choice piece of land, and plant twelve olive trees;

“And set watchmen round about them, and build a tower, that one may overlook the land round about, to be a watchman upon the tower, that mine olive trees may not be broken down when the enemy shall come to spoil and take upon themselves the fruit of my vineyard….

“And behold, the watchman upon the tower would have seen the enemy while he was yet afar off; and then ye could have made ready and kept the enemy from breaking down the hedge thereof, and saved my vineyard from the hands of the destroyer” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:44-45, 54).

You can watch a four minute video, “Watchman on the Tower”, below.

A story from Nephite history illustrates this principle. During a time when they were engaged in war with the Lamanites, the Nephite commander ordered that Nephite cities be fortified (Alma 50:1-6; see also Alma 53:3-4). In order to fortify their cities, they:

  • Dug heaps of earth
  • Built timbers on the ridges of earth
  • Built pickets on the timbers
  • Built towers to overlook the pickets
  • Put men in the towers

Those in the towers were able to see far into the horizon, warn their comrades in the event of an oncoming attack, and then direct the response to that attack. The rest of the men could then ready themselves for an enemy strike.

Do you have trouble seeing what is wrong with same-sex marriage? Perhaps. But, then again, you’re not in the tower. You’re in a ditch. Of course you can’t see the same things that the man in the tower can see.

What is it about the prophet that gives him vision? Why is he so special? Why can’t we each be our own “watchman”?

I’ve written about this subject in my post “Of Paradigms and Prophets”, and I suggest you read that in its’ entirety. Briefly, though, it is impossible to keep from, consciously or unconsciously, filtering out truth from reality around us. We each create paradigms – simplified and incomplete versions of reality that we use like maps – in order to help us process information faster and navigate our world better.

How can we know that some truth we’ve excluded is not an essential part of our paradigm map? In short, we can’t. That’s why a prophet is so important. He can teach us which elements we need in our paradigms, and which elements we don’t.

Why is the prophet the best source for this “map check”? It’s not because he inherently knows more than anyone else. He is imperfect, just like the rest of us. And yet he “talks directly to God”, and God (the only being who’s paradigm is equal with reality) teaches him what to, in turn, teach us.

Prophetic Council on the Family and Prop 8

In 1995, then president Gordon B. Hinckley presented “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”. It highlighted the vital family values that our Church stands for, and called for members and citizens to support measures aimed at upholding the traditional family unit. This proclamation reads, in part,

“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children….

“We warn that… the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

When Prop 8 was prepared as a ballot measure, the First Presidency, led by current president Thomas S. Monson, sent a letter to California congregations. It encouraged Latter-day Saints to do all that they could to support the measure. It read,

“Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families:

“In March 2000 California voters overwhelmingly approved a state law providing that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The California Supreme Court recently reversed this vote of the people. On November 4, 2008, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that will now restore the March 2000 definition of marriage approved by the voters.

“The Church’s teachings and position on this moral issue are unequivocal. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children. Children are entitled to be born within this bond of marriage.

“A broad-based coalition of churches and other organizations placed the proposed amendment on the ballot. The Church will participate with this coalition in seeking its passage. Local Church leaders will provide information about how you may become involved in this important cause.

“We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.”

Because “I believe that the current president of the Church, Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God,” I follow his divinely inspired direction. I make this active choice based on my faith in this principle.

In my Facebook friend’s own words, I believe Jesus has worried about this, and he has directed his prophet to teach his Church what to do about it.

The “Hikers” on the Path to the Tree of Life

Not all Latter-day Saints agree with this position. Those that don’t, like my friend above, remind me of the vision of the Tree of Life.

An account of this vision is found in 1 Nephi 8. In the vision, countless men and women are making their way on the straight and narrow path towards the Tree of Life. We learn that the Tree is a representation of the love of God, and our journey along the path is a representation of our journey through life.

Though the goal of most travelers is the Tree of Life, there are a number of “hindrances”  make their journey difficult. One of these obstacles is a dense mist that makes it impossible to see the path. This mist is a representation of the temptations of the devil. In order to find their way, travelers need hold fast to an iron rod which follows the path. This iron rod is a representation of the word of God.

Another of these obstacles is a great and spacious building. It is across a river, and overlooks the path on which the hikers travel. This building, a representation of the wisdom and pride of the world, is filled with people pointing at and mocking those on the path.

If you read the entire account (which I hope you do), you eventually find four types hikers. I’d like to focus on just two.

The first group of hikers follows the path. They cling to the iron rod to avoid losing their way in the mists of darkness, and eventually come to the Tree and partake of the fruit. It feels their souls with joy, and is sweet above all that is sweet.

The second group of hikers is similar to the first. They also cling to the iron rod, and they also come to the Tree and partake of the fruit. Yet after the have partaken of the fruit, they feel ashamed. The taunts of those in the great and spacious building make them feel embarrassed, and they eventually leave the Tree. Some join those in the building, and others drown in the river as they attempt to cross it on their way to the building.

What is the difference between the first group and the second group? They both persevere through their journey, they both taste the fruit, and they both hear the taunts of those mocking from the great and spacious building. Yet the members of the first group give no heed to the taunts.

Latter-day Saints who disregard the teachings of the president and other leaders of the Church are like the second group of hikers. Though they have personally tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Life, they lose focus and give heed to the wisdom of the world. Even if they make it to the great and spacious building, the end of that hindrance is clear – it falls, and great is the fall thereof.

Latter-day Saints and Proposition 8

Even though the principle of prophetic leadership is paramount in the rationale behind my choice, it is not the only factor. Instead of assaulting us as “religious fanatics,” become informed. It seems an appropriate duty of those who decry ignorance to not remain in ignorance themselves.

Keep in mind, becoming informed does not mean that you must agree with everything you learn. Still, it is important that you at least understand, whether or not you agree.

I’ve made it easier by providing hyperlinks below to resources you can use to lift yourselves out of ignorance. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, the author of many articles below, is especially suited to comment, as he has spent most of his life as an attorney, jurist, and legal professor.

Why not write on, or summarize this myself? First, it won’t stick unless you pay some price to learn the material. I’m not going to spoon feed you. And second, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “I got the impression that far more, and more talented, authors were already engaged in such controversial matters.” Elder Oaks, for example, is one of those more talented authors, and I commend his comments to you.

Same-Sex Attraction

  • Same-Gender Attraction – An interview with Church leaders Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman on same-gender attraction

Religious Freedom

  • Elder Oaks at BYU-Idaho – A speech given to students at BYU-I about the importance of religious freedom, and how Latter-day Saints should act in regard to Prop 8.
  • Elder Oaks at Chapman University School of Law – A speech given at Chapman University about how essential religious freedom is to our nation (you can watch a video of his address below)

Official Church Statements

Haiti, Chile, and Ultimate Freedom

“Who is the most free person in the universe?”

This was the question posed by my mission president, President Hawkins, while I was a missionary serving in Hawaii. It wasn’t exactly a fastball, though, so when my mission president asked the question I, the smart little Mormon that I am, knew the answer.

“God!”

“That’s right. But God has to obey the commandments, right? He cannot lie, for example. So isn’t he, in a sense, not free?”

Dang it. That one was harder…. God is omnipotent, I know that. But I also know that for me, commandments sometimes feel restrictive.

I had nothing to fear, though. President Hawkins came to the rescue. He explained that God has given us commandments, or in other words, has taught us commandments that conform with self-existent eternal principles. These commandments refine us until one day we become completely free. It’s like getting squeezed into the tiny end of a funnel until one day, *POP*, and then everything opens up.

I didn’t get it at first, but as I’ve matured I’ve come to understand how commandments don’t tie us down. Instead, they really do free us! Perhaps the illustration will help you understand quicker than I was able to.

Haiti and Chile

There are quite a few differences between the consequences resulting from the earthquake in Haiti and the earthquake in ChileJeneen Interlandi, a reporter for Newsweek, posted an article about a number of these differences, but I’d like to focus on just one.

Interlandi says,

“Of course, as many will undoubtedly point out, Chile and Haiti are sort of apples and oranges. Yes, both countries sit atop active fault lines. But compared to Haiti, Chile is rich. Chile has the money to buy decent concrete, and the institutional power to enforce its use. Chile can purchase and store heavy equipment and other tools to respond quickly in the wake of a potentially city-leveling disaster. Haiti is too poor to do any of those things.”

Big deal. Chile has money, and Haiti doesn’t. Why is that such an important point? Well, it’s not. So what is this point then? Interlandi continues,

“The same things which enable a country to police its construction industry and implement basic disaster preparedness plans, can also lift that country out of poverty and help its people thrive – namely, law enforcement, education and some semblance of accountability. After the 1960 tremblor, Chile started getting serious about building codes and earthquake resistant engineering; The attention ultimately bolstered the construction industry, which now factor’s heavily in the country’s economic fortunes. More economic development meant more money and further improvements. It may be a bit of a chicken-and-egg tangent, but I think it’s worth considering.”

As Interlandi points out, the important point is in asking why Chile has more money than Haiti. The answer she gives is (at least in part) that Chile started to follow some rules it wasn’t following before. This not only bolstered the economy, but prepared it to combat the devastation that an 8.8 earthquake can create. Because of the way Chili followed the rules, it’s people have thrived.

Commandments, Building Codes, and Earthquake Resistant Engineering

One good lesson to learn is precisely the lesson I saw in the tidal wave that was heading for Hawaii (but luckily turned out to have more bark than bite). If we have built our lives on the deep foundation of faith and a solid testimony of truth like President Monson exhorts, we will be able to face devastation in our lives much better.

The major lesson behind this post, though, looks at the question of why Chile was so prepared. They made sure to be accountable to building codes and laws of physics. While many might have thought this restrictive, it ultimately allowed them to remain free, even after this debilitating earthquake. They prepared such that they were able to “(decline) offers of assistance and (manage) the crisis well enough on (our) own” (see Interlandi article).

This is why God is still omnipotent, and why we can still be free, even though we are both subject to eternal, self-existent principles. Being obedient to these principles will ultimately allow us greater courses of action because we will have full control over each situation we may find ourselves in. Because of that, I’m now glad for the commandments that I used to think fenced me in. Rather then fences, they’ve become my guardrails, and I am thriving.

Come Unto the High Ground

In February 2010, President Thomas S. Monson prepared an article for the Church on being spiritually prepared. It was a collection of his comments on the subject, and can be found here. At six or so paragraphs, it’s a quick read.

The Hawaiian Tsunami

In February 2010, Chile experienced an 8.8 earthquake. This earthquake left incredible devastation and caused tsunami warnings to go up all around the Pacific (including in my old stomping grounds, Hawaii). This warning for Hawaii was taken very seriously, but luckily the tsunami turned out to be relatively inconsequential (for some video, see here).

In 1960, though, the islands were not so lucky. Another Chilean earthquake created a similar tsunami that caused great damage and killed 61 people in Hilo, Hawaii. These deaths are alleged to have been caused by a failure to heed warnings and get to safer ground.

Come Unto Higher Ground

The Lord has offered warnings to each of us to “get to higher ground.” President Monson says,

“As I [have] turned to the scriptures for inspiration, a particular word [has] stood out time and time again. The word [is] ‘come.’ The Lord said, ‘Come unto me.’ He said, ‘Come learn of me.’ He also said, ‘Come, follow me’… My plea is that we would come to the Lord.”

That word, so often repeated by the Savior, suggests to me an invitation to leave where we are at in favor of joining the Lord where he is at. Much like tsunami warnings, which invite us to leave the lower shores and find safety in higher areas, the Lord asks us to come join him on spiritually higher ground.

The Dangers of Ignoring the Invitaiton

Those unfortunate people in Hawaii who ignored the tsumani warnings lost their lives as a result of their inaction. What is at risk spiritually for those of us who do not heed the Savior’s call to come unto him? There may be many appropriate examples, but President Monson brings up one that relates to spiritual death in a very real way. He says,

“If we do not have a deep foundation of faith and a solid testimony of truth, we may have difficulty withstanding the harsh storms and icy winds of adversity which inevitably come to each of us.

“Mortality is a period of testing, a time to prove ourselves worthy to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father. In order for us to be tested, we must face challenges and difficulties. These can break us, and the surface of our souls may crack and crumble—that is, if our foundations of faith, our testimonies of truth are not deeply embedded within us.”

We are all going to face difficulties in life, even occasionally tsunamis, if you will. Some may be minor, and others will be devastating. If we fail to come unto Christ and join him on higher ground, those waves can kill us spiritually.

But the glorious news of the gospel is that as long as we have a “deep foundation” and a “solid testimony,” both of which come from joining Christ on the high ground, we will we able to weather every tsunami that comes our way. Let us listen carefully to the words of the scriptures and modern day prophets for the ways in which Christ invites us to come unto him, make those changes, and move to higher ground.

A Speaking God

One of the core tenants of mainstream Christianity is that the Bible is sufficient, or in other words, that it contains everything that God would want us to know. Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, not only have other sources of scripture, but believe that God continues to speak through prophets like Moses or Paul.

Is the Bible Really Sufficient?

Is the Bible really sufficient? It’s hard to answer such a question in the affirmative. Even the Bible itself makes no such claim, and we wouldn’t want to add to the word of God, would we?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Christian sects on the earth today. Were the Bible complete and sufficient, there would be but one faith, and one baptism, for there is only one Lord (Ephesians 4:5). God is not a God of confusion or contention.

Other Scripture

What’s more, there are many known “lost books” that are referred to within the Bible itself in such a way that we know they are authoritative, and yet we know not where they are. These include the book of the Wars of the Lord, the book of Jasher, and many others (see Lost Books).  In addition to these lost books, Christianity itself cannot agree on which books should be accepted in the canon, and there are several different sets of canonical books.

Latter-day Saints love and revere the Bible and it’s teachings. That should not be forgotten. Yet we also recognize that there is potential for other revelation that could be of great benefit. Think about, for example, what actually makes up most of the New Testament. It is a collection of letters written to the early Christians that lived two thousand years ago. While the principles taught therein are still applicable, and we can learn much on how to live our lives, circumstances have changed drastically in two millenia, and the things that God emphasized back then may be different from what He would emphasize now. That doesn’t even take into consideration how different some of the epistles are. If congregations in the same time needed such different instruction and focus, why would that change in today’s world where Christian churches dot the globe? How much better would it be if we had both the letters written to Christians two thousand years ago, and apostles to write us letters today, letters from God meant for and designed for us!

A God Who Speaks

Hugh B. Brown was in Europe on the eve of World War II, and was having a conversation with a judge about the need for modern revelation in addition to the writings of the ancient prophets. He records this conversation as follows:

I began by asking, “May I proceed, sir, on the assumption that you are a Christian?”

“I am.”

“I assume you believe in the Bible—the Old and New Testaments?”

“I do!”

“Do you believe in prayer?”

“I do!”

“You say that my belief that God spoke to a man in this age is fantastic and absurd?”

“To me it is.”

“Do you believe that God ever did speak to anyone?”

“Certainly, all through the Bible we have evidence of that.”

“Did He speak to Adam?”

“Yes.”

“To Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, and on through the prophets?”

“I believe He spoke to each of them.”

“Do you believe that contact between God and man ceased when Jesus appeared on the earth?”

“No, such communication reached its climax, its apex, at that time.”

“Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God?”

“He was.”

“Do you believe, sir, that after Jesus was resurrected, a certain lawyer—who was also a tentmaker by the name of Saul of Tarsus—when on his way to Damascus talked with Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, resurrected, and had ascended into heaven?”

“I do.”

“Whose voice did Saul hear?”

“It was the voice of Jesus Christ, for He so introduced Himself.”

“Then, my Lord—that is the way we address judges in the British Commonwealth—I am submitting to you in all seriousness that it was standard procedure in Bible times for God to talk to man.”

“I think I will admit that, but it stopped shortly after the first century of the Christian era.”

“Why do you think it stopped?”

“I can’t say.”

“You think that God hasn’t spoken since then?”

“I am sure He hasn’t.”

“There must be a reason. Can you give me a reason?”

“I do not know.”

“May I suggest some possible reasons? Perhaps God does not speak to man anymore because He cannot. He has lost the power.

He said, “Of course that would be blasphemous.

“Well, then, if you don’t accept that, perhaps He doesn’t speak to men because He doesn’t love us anymore and He is no longer interested in the affairs of men.

“No,” he said, “God loves all men, and He is no respecter of persons.”

“Well, then, if He could speak, and if He loves us, then the only other possible answer, as I see it, is that we don’t need Him. We have made such rapid strides in science and we are so well educated that we don’t need God anymore.

And then he said—and his voice trembled as he thought of impending war—“Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now. Perhaps you can tell me why He doesn’t speak.

My answer was: “He does speak, He has spoken; but men need faith to hear Him” (Profile of a Prophet).

Conclusion

I echo the feeling of that judge so many years ago – that there was never a time in the history of the world where we needed to hear God’s voice more. I love and cherish the Bible, for it helps me know my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But there is more that he continues to say, just for me, and for you, and for all those living in 2012. The Bible, as wonderful as it is, was never meant to be a complete collection of all God’s words.

You can request a copy of The Book of Mormon here. Read and test it for yourself. It truly is God’s word, and evidence that God continues to speak today.

Of Paradigms and Prophets

Reasoning from Different Premises

In 1987, an American economist named Thomas Sowell wrote a book titled A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. In it, Sowell tries to answer the question of why the same people align so closely on a host of issues, even though those issues aren’t interconnected and cover a wide range of subject matter. He says:

One of the curious things about opinions is how often the same people line up on opposite sides of the issues…. [Issues] may range from military spending to drug laws to monetary policy and education. Yet the same familiar faces can be found glaring at each other from opposite sides of the fence, again and again.”

Okay, I know I probably lost you at “military spending,” but stay with me, because this absolutely has application beyond politics to religion, including Mormonism (in all its flavors). Instead of concerns over military spending or education reform, Latter-day Saints are discussing female ordination, same-sex marriage, and other elements of progressive orthodoxy – and that’s even before considering extra-Mormon doctrinal issues like the need of formal congregations, the importance of baptism, the role of judgment and tolerance, or even the nature of God. Familiar Mormon (and Christian) faces can be consistently found on opposite sides of the fence on these, and numerous other, issues.

But it’s not that people we disagree with “just don’t get it.” Sowell continues,

A closer look at the arguments on both sides often shows that they are reasoning from fundamentally different premises…. They have different visions of how the world works” (emphasis added).

Having different visions of how the world works, different paradigms, is actually a pretty big problem when it comes to having productive discussions. Given that difficulty, can’t we just ditch these visions? Or, at least, can’t we just ditch the inaccurate ones?

Not really. Sowell concludes,

It would be good to be able to say that we should dispense with visions entirely, and deal only with reality. But that may be the most Utopian vision of all. Reality is far too complex to be comprehended by any given mind. Visions are like maps that guide us through a tangle of bewildering complexities. Like maps, visions have to leave out concrete features in order to enable us to focus on a few key paths to our goals. Visions are indispensable – but dangerous, precisely to the extent that we confuse them with reality itself” (emphasis added).

Mind Maps

Each of us has a vision, a paradigm upon which we operate. As Sowell suggests, this paradigm is like a map. As we grow and learn and generally experience life, we form our map. We also leave out certain realities because they muddle our view and would otherwise confuse our understanding.

This isn’t malicious, though. In fact, it’s essential.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re wandering through downtown Seattle using a satellite image to guide you. The photographic detail might be cumbersome, but you can probably manage.

But don’t stop there. In addition to the image itself, this map includes other information – the street names, the business names, and perhaps even a transcription of billboards and storefront advertisements. It includes current weather conditions, historical seasonal averages, and air quality details. It includes street grading and geological information. It includes pedestrian and vehicle traffic patterns (with live updates). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Oh, and don’t forget – this is not a map of the city of Seattle, or even the Pacific Northwest, or even the United States. This is a map of the entire earth.

Such a map would be overwhelming, and ultimately useless.

It’s true that we leave out realities that we deem unnecessary – consciously and subconsciously – but that is why. There is nothing immoral or wrong about leaving details out; our mind simply includes only those details it deems necessary to function.

Here’s a visual example, with not-so-subtle religious overtones. Below are two maps, each detailing the route from Pike’s Place Market in Seattle to the Seattle temple.

MapSat

The first image is much more useful. It leaves out the useless details of the terrain, and even includes notable street/highway labels and a route I could take. If I get lost, there is enough detail that I could probably get back on course.

But the top map is not reality. Neither is the bottom map, for that matter. Each leaves certain “concrete features” out. I’ve engaged in selective editing to ensure that I can make my way.

With our personal paradigms, this presents a very real risk. Without exception, details are left out of our maps, our paradigms, our guides that help us to see the world and thus help determine our actions. We may have left out something small, akin to an inconsequential street name here or there. On the other hand, it is quite possible, even probable, that we have left out something important, effectively leaving us a map of downtown Los Angeles as we wander through uptown Manhattan.

Paradigms and Prophets

Knowing that our paradigms are flawed, but also recognizing that they help determine our actions, we should be certain that they are as accurate as possible, at least in the most vital areas. But how do we even start?

There is only one mind that comprehends all truth, or in other words, has a paradigm that is reality. God, who is omnipotent, has the perfect vision and is perfect in all He does. President Uchtdorf, in the Women’s Meeting of the October 2014 General Conference, said,

“We might find ourselves asking, “Do we really need to obey all of God’s commandments?”

“My response to this question is simple:

“I think God knows something we don’t—things that are beyond our capacity to comprehend! Our Father in Heaven is an eternal being whose experience, wisdom, and intelligence are infinitely greater than ours.4 Not only that, but He is also eternally loving, compassionate, and focused on one blessed goal: to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.5

“In other words, He not only knows what is best for you; He also anxiously wants you to choose what is best for you” (emphasis in original).

Luckily for us, God shares from His infinite wisdom and capacity those concrete details that He deems vital for us. On a large scale, God has historically done this through prophets.

Having a prophet doesn’t mean that we will be able to understand all that God understands. Man’s mind is still finite and our maps need to be simple. Rather, having a prophet means that we can be taught the most important concrete features to include in our maps. This ensures we make better decisions and we wander throughout life. From a Mormon perspective, modern prophets can tell us which concrete features are vital for us right now, in our day.

In just a few days, we get the chance to hear from those leaders that we sustain as prophets, seers, revelators, and (if I can be so bold) map-makers. May we actively listen and find out which “concrete features” we most need to include in our maps as we navigate through life.