Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tales of Teancum Singh Rosenberg

"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." (Joshua 1: 8)

When God gave this commandment, he knew he was commissioning a hundred billion works of art, because the shape of every human mouth is different in some way--and so it is that, while all righteous people can speak with the same spirit, no two can give the exact same shape to the words.

I wrote a story a year ago that, in many passages, reveals how the words of God take shape coming out of my mind and mouth. If my thoughts here have resonated with you, I'd encourage you to take some time with, and invest some of your energy in, "Tales of Teancum Singh Rosenberg."

Hidden Treasures -- D&C 89: 11

"Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving."

When Joseph Smith received the Word of Wisdom, the phrasing in this verse probably meant very little. When could you eat an herb or fruit except in its season? Nothing else would have been possible, to my knowledge, on the nineteenth-century American frontier.

In today's globalized food economy, though, the phrasing may have a special prophetic resonance. Relatively few people are concerned with what's in season or local in days when everything can be shipped from the other side of the world to a nearby grocery store.

And yet--how much fuel might be saved and environmental damage avoided if we would base more of our diet, once again, off more locally-grown, in-season grains, fruits, and vegetables? How much more prepared would our communities be for coming days of calamity if we were already growing a higher percentage of our food within a more accessible range of distance?

Perhaps hidden in the text of the Word of Wisdom are warnings with extra potential in our day to help us keep balance in an overconfident and often short-sighted world.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

American Liturgical Calendar? -- Eccl 3: 1

" To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven"

Thanks to the Byrds, these may be some of the best-known words of scripture in American culture. I started thinking about them yesterday in conjunction with Thanksgiving.

It's interesting, I think, that we write our values across the face of the year. The Jewish calendar, both ancient and modern, does this: there are holidays for triumph, for mourning, for relief, for judgment, for repentance, for miracles. A season, so to speak, set aside for various doctrinal remembrance purposes.

Most cultures today probably operate in similar ways, though they don't know it. In the United States, for example, national holidays accompany religious holidays to create a sort of ad-hoc liturgical calendar in which holiday and value correspond something like this:
New Year's: Accountability/Progress
Easter: Peace[?]
4th of July: Community
Halloween: Curiosity about the Unseen
September 11th: Awareness of Vulnerability
Thanksgiving: self-explanatory
Christmas: Hope

In each case, of course, the values can be undermined by commercialized vice. New Year's can be devoted to drunkenness, the 4th of July to jingoism, Halloween to immodesty, September 11th to vengeance, Thansgiving to gluttony, and Christmas to the twin sins of envy and greed.

As an optimist, however, I prefer to see our calendar of holidays as having important moral and spiritual potential. May we allow each season to turn us toward that which is right and good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Primary Program--Isa. 3: 1-4

"For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water,
The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient,
The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.
And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them."

Sunday morning, my five-year-old daughter Kira climbed into our bed about an hour earlier than I had any intention of getting out of it. So we stayed in bed, and Nicole got to half-sleep while Kira sang softly to herself, asked for story after story about when I was a kid, and played morning games like she always does.

After a while, though, something (maybe in a primary song we sang?) made her decide she wanted to read scriptures, so she hopped out of bed and want to fetch them while I offered moral support in the form of a constant stream of reminders to be gentle and careful and not let her mother's bookmarks fall out (as you can tell, I'm a very helpful morning Dad).

She insisted on picking where we would read and happened to open the book to the passage in Isaiah quoted above. Thanks to her attention span, that's as far as we got at the time--a beautiful image of the proud and talented someday submitting to rule by children.

A few hours later, in sacrament meeting, the educated and experienced vacated the stand to make way for the primary program. How often, I wonder, do we fulfill prophecy without ever noticing it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Self-definition--D&C 121: 43-44

"Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death."

When I was in high school, my best friend dated a girl who was very proud of her family's Greek roots. Since I am deeply invested in the lives of my own ancestors, I admired that--which is probably why I was so disappointed the day she told us derisively about a Turkish guy our age who had come to a Greek festival trying to fit in, and how she and all her friends had laughed at him for thinking a Turk had any business hanging out with Greek people. I realize that there's a long and bloody history of conflicting interests between Turkey and Greece, but the idea that she defined her own ethnicity so much in terms of an inherited enmity was alarming to me.

I still find it alarming, but I've realized it's hardly unique. Teenagers often position themselves culturally by telling the world what one genre of music they dislike (typically rap or country, sometimes Top 40). What they are against matters more to their peers, apparently, than who they are. Party politics work in a similar way: to be a Republican, it's important to dislike and distrust Democrats; to be a Democrat, it's best if you stereotype and suspect Republicans.

Some Mormons may be tempted to think that because of recent political disagreements, you define yourself as more Mormon by being opposed to gay rights activists or even "gays" in general. This is simply not the case.

That's why I'm so pleased that the Church is not acting this way in its relationship with local gay rights activists. Yes, the two groups have serious disagreements over same-sex marriage. The Church came out strongly against Proposition 8 both politically and rhetorically for reasons that have not gone away. And yet--in the wake of Proposition 8, Church leaders quietly began meeting with gay rights activists, trying to understand their concerns and positions on other issues. Although the Church rarely takes overt political positions, they recently issued a statement of support for a nondiscrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City.

Having disagreed with a certain firmness and sharpness, they are now looking for issues on which they can agree and take shared action. This is not simply a public relations move--it's action to ensure that we not fall into the evil habit of seeing ourselves as being, by definition, someone else's opponent or enemy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not Taking the Sacrament--1 Cor 11: 29

"For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. " (1 Cor 11: 29)

To take the sacrament when conscious of a significant sin is to be as Cain when he denied the murder of Abel. (Gen 4: 9-10) And yet--to attend the service and not take the sacrament is to accept accountability before the Lord as David did before Nathan. (2 Sam 12)

In plain English:

It's hard to come sit in sacrament meeting and not take the sacrament, possibly with family members, neighbors, or friends watching. And that's why I really believe that the brave act of passing on the sacrament tray can bring as much healing to the repentant person as taking the sacrament gives to the person with nothing so serious to repent of.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Walking to Church D&C 61: 3-4, 15

"But verily I say unto you, that it is not needful for this whole company of mine elders to be moving swiftly upon the waters, whilst the inhabitants on either side are perishing in unbelief.
Nevertheless, I suffered it that ye might bear record; behold, there are many dangers upon the waters, and more especially hereafter . . .
Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters."

My family and I live in Utah Valley, which means that we're almost always within walking distance of a church. Theoretically speaking, so is almost everyone else--but that doesn't keep the buildings from needing very large parking lots. Why do so many people drive to churches that are only a few blocks away?

This Sunday we were running late, and it was awfully tempting to just drive. Cars' convenience is addictive that way: the possibility of speed tends to seduce us when we're in a hurry. We decided not to risk getting any more addicted to the car than we already are though and walked instead, even though we'd be late.

I'm glad we did. Kira, our five-year-old, got to hear the leaves crunch under her feet. We stepped in and out of each other's shadows. We could feel air on our faces and the ground under our feet. This is a worthwhile part, I thought, of raising our child as a daughter of God: spending time on Sabbath mornings with her in the world God made.

We need to learn to not always rush when there is so much to be learned and done walking.

Maybe this is part of the Lord's warning to his servants in early Restoration days against travel on the water. He couldn't warn them about cars and have them understand, so he tried to teach them that acceleration often includes isolation instead. That always speeding to somewhere else means forgetting where you are.

Does Satan ride today less on the river than on the interstates--or even right here on the internet?


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