Thursday, May 27, 2010

Joseph Smith's Dreams IV

Dreams of Completion, Part Three
19 April 1829

Moroni appears, in the dream, over Joseph’s teenage bed. Joseph has to be quiet, because all his brothers are sleeping around him, but Moroni speaks as if no one else were there at all.
Joseph—he says—where are the pages?
Joseph doesn’t have to look under his pillow to know they’re not there. He’s lost them. He’s lost them, and he wants to make excuses or even lie about it, but he’s standing in the presence of an angel. An angel who died in crushing loneliness to preserve the book Joseph has just lost.
I’ve lost them—again, says Joseph. He can’t look Moroni in the eye. I’ve lost them again and God, who knows my family is good at losing everything, should probably just find someone else to do his work this time.
No, says Moroni, No, it’s far too late for that.
So what do I do? says Joseph. Is there another book?
Just one, says Moroni, but it’s not the same. Like the Israelites in Moses’ day, you lost the law God wanted to give you. You couldn’t stand my father’s book, so all that’s left for you is mine.
Then Moroni rolls up his sleeve and Joseph sees for the first time that carved and scarred into his arm are the characters of the old language. Joseph’s eyes sting then and he understands at once that it’s because their surfaces are turning into stone, crusting over hard into an inescapable Urim and Thumim.
So when Joseph looks up he can’t help but read the Lamentations of Moroni, can’t help but read the unthinkable wars to come in the last days, when death falls like rain from the sky, and as a copy of the book is carved into Joseph’s mind he screams and he screams and he screams.

And he is still screaming when he wakes up and Emma is holding him tight, as if he were about to die, and Emma is desperately whispering to him that it’s all right it’s all right it’s all right.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Joseph Smith's Dreams III

Dreams of Completion, Part Two
12 April 1829

Joseph and Oliver are standing at a desk over the manuscript. It’s evening, but the room is burning hot, no, boiling hot—the thick, wet heat of late summer and Joseph’s clothes stick to his body and sweat streams down into his eyes as he looks at the lamp they’ve translated by and though something inside of him presses a NO against his lungs and chest, Joseph reaches out to snuff the lamp—he can’t stand the heat—and gathers up the pages to carry outside and into town, to the printer’s.
The last light of dusk disappears quickly, now that the lamp’s been put out, and it begins to grow cold. Joseph is wearing a coat, but the wind picks up and stings the sides of his face, punishing him for his youth, for not being able to grow a good protective beard.
Joseph turns his head away from the wind and with a sinking sensation realizes maybe that’s why it happens, why he doesn’t see it: as soon as he turns his face, the wind races and begins to steal the pages from him, tearing them one by one from his hands. He clutches the rest close to his chest, but the wind still pries them from his arms. He wants to run after them, but he can’t because there’s a thick mist, a darkness to both sides of him, and now the wind blows it over him and there’s only five pages left.
Joseph realizes his only chance is to keep pressing forward, to put one foot in front of another until he makes it to the printer. Now the wind tears another pages out of his arms, tears it so violently from him that he can hear it rip apart in mid-air, or else against the branches of some tree he can’t see in the dark. He steps forward and it’s COLD there’s cold running water filling his boot with muck and silt and Joseph has to turn the other way as the wind steals another page. Three left. Three, and he doesn’t know which way to the printer, so he just runs until the wind knocks his whole body off balance and he falls hard on his side and loses a page—so that there’s only one left when he opens his eyes and sees that he’s fallen into the printer’s shop.
There’s no wind here. It’s eerily calm, and it’s dusk. Joseph is still lying on the ground, so the printer, in his work apron, walks over and extends his hand towards Joseph to help him up.
The printer is Martin Harris. Joseph hands him the last page, only to realize that it isn’t a page from the Book of Mormon at all. It’s a revelation for Joseph and Martin from last year, and fresh shame breaks out across Martin’s face when he sees it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Consumer Confidence --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 [money]."(Matt 6: 24)

I once read a Hugh Nibley essay that warned, among other things, against seeing rebellious youth as more sinful than the socially-respectable men in suits working hard for "power and gain." In other words: we ought to be more alarmed by the yuppie than by the hippie, even more concerned about greed than about lust.

When I read the essay, I felt strongly that Brother Nibley was onto something: the Book of Mormon warns again and again against pride, especially pride based in material wealth. If it's really written for "our day," as we're so fond of saying, then economic sin is the kind we need to most carefully guard against.

I've been thinking about that article again since I ran across this image on the new media news-site Mashable (unlike many images I'm concerned about, I actually feel comfortable posting this one on my blog):

The image is actually quite clever: it takes a recently-minted Facebook icon which is spreading across the web and recontextualizes it in a way that is unexpected and humorous (and by extension, memorable). It's great new media design.

I think it's also fairly troubling.

This isn't the first ad or promotional image I've seen that tries to draw attention to a woman's breasts and doesn't even show her face. It's certainly not the first image that takes sexual attraction out of a normal life context, or that treats it, effectively, as a commodity--an entertainment experience, as it were, for a consumer base.

Thinking about pictures like this one, I'm more and more convinced that divisions between greed and lust are evaporating in our society. The decontextualization and commodification of sexuality in our contemporary, image-driven consumer culture are serious causes for alarm because they show the extent to which Mammon is infiltrating every aspect of life. It was bad enough when lust was a deadly sin. Now it's also a product, and part of a product-mentality that is bad, bad, bad (at least according to Jesus) for our souls.

I'm also more and more convinced that I've been wrong, over the years, to think of corporate execs with fancy cars and McMansions as being unique symbols of the worship of Mammon. The average American consumer, I think, is capable of an amazing amount of Mammon worship without ever noticing that something is wrong. We are all poster children for the money cult. We're all sell-outs to a system that isn't getting any less wrong.

We've got to find a way to live less as consumers and more as brothers and sisters if we're going to keep calling ourselves religious. That's no easy task, though, in a world that sees itself in products and has gotten very, very good at hiding the true costs.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Joseph Smith's Dreams II

Dreams of Completion, Part One
6 April 1829

It’s the same dream as last night. The manuscript is finished, and Joseph gives it to Oliver to take to the printer. Joseph waits in a room made of oak on a chair made of pine. Oliver doesn’t come back. Joseph begins to grow nervous, he paces. Oliver doesn’t come back. He’s been gone too long, think Joseph, maybe he’s turned the pages back into gold, then melted them down and sold them.
No. Joseph turns and sees Oliver sitting in the pine chair. Oliver’s head is in his hands. He’s moaning. What is it, Oliver? says Joseph. What happened?
I fear I’ve lost my soul, says Oliver. Oh Joseph, I’ve lost the manuscript—all of it. The whole thousand and one pages.
Joseph realizes, of course, that it’s his own fault. He realizes now that before Oliver left for the printer’s, when they were so happy to be done, Oliver asked if he could show the manuscript to his wife. NO said the Spirit--but such was the mood of swaggering celebration, such was the sweet remission in the long ache of translation that reached down into sockets of Joseph’s eyes, that Yes he said Show her the plates, show them to anyone.
And now Oliver had, and it was Joseph’s fault that she had taken the pages from Oliver’s hands and in front of his face she had burned them, all of them—except one, which she would keep and change to prove the book a fake if Joseph ever produced it again.
It was Joseph’s fault, but anger still rose hot in his throat against her for the burning. He walked straight up to her—yes, she was there in the room! her back turned toward him, her face to the oak wall. He grabbed her shoulder, and turned her toward him—but try as he might, he could not see her face.

Joseph woke in a cold sweat. He tried to calm his heart by telling himself slowly again and again: Oliver doesn’t have a wife.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Three Visions of a Murder --1 Ne 4: 10

"And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him." (1 Ne 4: 10)

Speaking of this story, perhaps Alma once said:

There were actually two Labans Nephi was afraid to kill: the Laban of the past, and the Laban of the future.

When the Spirit told Nephi to kill Laban the second time, Nephi remembered that Laban had tried to kill him and his brothers, had stolen their goods, and was in all contexts a wicked and oppressive man. This was enough to legally justify killing the Laban of the past, but Nephi still refused to strike a blow that in cutting against the past, would also cut into the future.

And so the Spirit spoke a third time, and continued to speak until Nephi understood that if Laban were allowed to keep the plates both legally purchased and ordained by God for the family of Lehi, the Laban of the future would continue to harm the family forever.

Violence is not justified only by what has been done in the past. There must also be a possibility that if violence is not committed, conditions will become worse in the future.

And perhaps Teancum said otherwise:

Nephi hesitated because he knows that whoever commits violence also brings the curse of violence back on himself. It is because Nephi killed Laban that Laman and Lemuel later attempted to kill Nephi: if Laban had given Nephi the plates, Nephi would never have been subjected to his brothers' violence. Thus, a share of the accountability for all the violence among the Nephites lies forever with Laban.

But maybe Nehor nonetheless believed:

That Nephi killed Laban was a historical necessity, and Nephi's hesitation came only because he did not understand that anything which is necessary is also right.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

New Series: Joseph Smith's Dreams

A long time ago, I started a thread called Church History Thursdays. Unfortunately, due to the complicated nature of the posts, I didn't keep that tradition going for long. In its place, I'd like to offer a new series called "Joseph Smith's Dreams" over the next few months. With each fictional dream, I'll attempt to imagine what some of the pressures on Joseph Smith might have felt like. As always, I'd appreciate your comments/questions/reactions.

Joseph Smith's Dreams: Introduction

When he’s awake, he sees angels, finds hidden records, stands face-to-face at least once with the Father and twice with the Son. When he’s awake, he sees Eden somewhere between white and native civilizations, hears words streaming out of the mouth of God, feels the weight of apostles’ hands on his head by a riverbank. When he’s awake, people press around him—some hungry for the Spirit, some thirsty for his blood—and he loses himself sometimes in the whirlpools of their words. When he’s awake, plagues sweep the nations, earthquakes roar—he can almost see the Second Coming and he’ll close his eyes and imagine the Son of Man in red when the mobs cover his body in hot tar.

So what is left for this Joseph-son-of-Joseph to see when he sleeps?

Maybe, on the banks of the Mississippi, drained by blessing the sick while camped in a malarial swamp, Joseph’s eyes slam shut like a Missouri prison and he dreams nothing at all.

Maybe, looking out at the moon from a second-story cell in Carthage, the dreamlessness of his sleep is a sweet respite.

But maybe, just maybe, there is no calm between the stormy days of this life. Maybe Joseph dreams every night.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thesis Defense --1 Nephi 19: 6

"Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself." (1 Ne 19: 6)

During my thesis defense on Thursday, I talked about how I've tried to use my blogs to suggest a certain interconnectedness that permeates the world (see my recent Caucajewmexdian post). I went as far as to say that maybe having blogs that focus primarily on humor and ethnicity interconnected with a blog about Mormon scriptures might help dispel some negative stereotypes about Mormonism--stereotypes that even some bright Mormons tend to accept.

I did enough to talk up the interconnectedness of my three blogs, however, that one professor asked: "If showing people the multiple parts of your identity is so important, why separate them into three different blogs in the first place?"

My answer was this: even in the internet, I believe that we can strive to create more reverent and sacred spaces. Even Nephi kept two separate sets of plates: one for politics, another for religion. Separating the religion into its own space, perhaps, elevates both reader and writer. Spirituality is never totally independent of history, of course, but the concentration of reverent energy onto a separate set of plates can still serve, I think, to change the way that writer and reader alike approach the record. The separation allows the sacredness to happen.

Would Nephi have also kept a separate religious blog?


Related Posts with Thumbnails