Friday, February 26, 2010

How did Salem differ from Sodom and Gomorrah? -- Isa 1: 9

"Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah." (Isa 1: 9)

I was struck, this week in Sunday School, by the existence of one righteous city, Melchizedek's Salem, at the same time there are two wicked cities: Sodom and Gomorrah. Maybe it's just coincidence. Or maybe:

In the days of Terah, Abraham's father, there was one great city in the land of Canaan. In it, people were mostly part-wicked and part-good, but disagreed vehemently about how to go about both their wickedness and goodness. They gradually split into two factions, each faction aiming at a different half of righteousness, each officially indulging a different half of wickedness.

As the city became increasingly polarized, it became difficult to keep the peace: shepherds left their flocks wander as they shouted taunts at rival shepherds, water-carriers dropped their jugs in the midst of heated debates, even the midwives had difficulty focusing on births when the subject of factional ideologies came up, and, politics on their minds, would train new mothers to nurse only on one side.

Finally, the leaders of each faction met to decide the future of the city through a debate which would end only when one agreed that the other was right. The debate, however, lasted through the day and then through the night and soon it became an accepted fact of life that the factions' leaders could be heard at any hour roaring so loudly at each other that it became difficult to carry on a conversation over breakfast, to keep one's mind clear during evening prayers, and even simply to sleep.

No one know quite how a certain young boy silenced them, but afterward he became known by the name Melech-Zedek, "king of holiness," for teaching that compromise could be found if each would continue to advocate their preferred half of righteousness, but also be mindful of the other faction's critique of their preferred side of wickedness.

Many of the inhabitants of the city followed these teachings and learned to see their neighbors as the other half of a divine balance or paradox. Others, however, stayed faithful to the full orthodoxies of their own factions, ultimately deciding to create pure cities isolated from their different-minded neighbors.

One faction turned to the left and founded Sodom; the other turned to the right and founded Gomorrah.

Those who still had much in common with the founders of Sodom but would listen to their neighbors, who still had much in common with the founders of Gomorrah, began to call their own city, which was the remnant of the old single city, "Salem" meaning "peace."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Them bones -- Prov 3: 7-8

I was wrong about yesterday's post being the last in this series. One more. Brace yourselves: it's pretty weird.

"Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.
It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones"

As my wife could testify, I am quite often wise in my own eyes. I even spend excessive amounts of times, some Sunday mornings, staring at myself in the mirror, just checking out how wise I look, and we end up late to church.

Last summer, at an appointment for my testicular cancer follow-up, the doctor noticed that my white blood cell count had been well below normal for as long as they'd been keeping records, and seemed to be dropping. He was a little alarmed, and, as doctors often do when alarmed, suggested that a needle be used to take a piece of me out so that we could both calm down and feel safe again. As usual, I consented.

The subsequent bone marrow biopsy revealed that, in a surprisingly literal fulfillment of Proverbs 3: 7-8, my bones actually have an abnormally high percentage of fat and an unusually low percentage of marrow. It wasn't really dropping, just taking a routine dip in its lifelong course below the bottom end of normal. This is why I get sick a lot whenever I don't sleep or otherwise put stress on my under-producing immune system. This is probably why, in fact, I currently am sick and sitting at home writing this very post!

Now, along with my poor qualities (e.g. excessive intellectual self-admiration), I have many good qualities--some of which I don't need very much at all. My special love of emptying dishwashers and drainracks, for example, has been much more useful since I married a woman with a particular and inexplicable dislike for those specific tasks.

I am wondering today whether God sprinkles trials and their complementary solutions into completely different places and lives in the hope that we'll finally get a clue and put the whole puzzle together. Is it possible that for every problem, there is an answer: but the answers we have are seldom the ones we most need, and the problems we have are not only for our own growth, but to be there for someone else's answer?

Maybe it's this persistent idea that gives me hope in shared/interactive efforts over individual efforts: be they for faith, for writing, or for health care.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Would Universal Healthcare Decrease Free Agency? -- Mos. 7: 32-33

This may be the last post in my recent thread on universal health care and the gospel. I don't want to speak for any specific plan so much as to explore ideas about how the abstract ideal of universal health care interacts with various doctrinal concepts. I'd like to thank you for your patience and for participation in discussion thus far.

"The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood" (Mos. 7: 32-33)

If Satan's plan had been accepted, he would have given people choices over what clothes to wear, which restaurants to eat at, whether to go skiing or mountain biking, and every other eternally meaningless decision elevated by capitalism. He would do this to hide the emptiness we would have in the place of our hearts, which would never know love or hate, never know anguish and happiness.

The agency God protected was our fundamental ability to choose love or hate, good or evil.

Taxes can neither increase nor decrease our God-given agency, because moral agency is not proportional to our economic means but is defined by our contextual decisions about love and hate, good and evil.

Even if a tax to support health care seems to be forcing us to do good, the triumph of God's plan means we will still be left with the vital moral choice alluded to in Moroni 7: 8.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Parable of the Simple Disciple--3 Ne 27: 27

I'd like to offer my deepest apologies for turning to the overtly political, but I've heard too many people compare plans in various countries to provide even basic health care to the public at large, regardless of economic status, as against a gospel plan of free agency and personal accountability. I don't want to advocate any specific political plan, but feel compelled to suggest that the gospel may actually be more for than against the abstract ideal of basic universal access to health care. Thank you for your patience over the next few days.

"And know ye that ye shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just. Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am." (3 Ne 27: 27)

It happened once that three American businessmen (men well respected in their communities and free of almost every sin except for the sin of pride, which they possessed in overabundance) were on a plane flight to Damascus together when a light filled their airplane's cabin and struck the three of them, out of all the passengers, temporarily blind. Each of the three heard the same voice calling him to repentance, each emerged a radically changed man, determined to live a life more like Christ's.

The first immediately stopped cutting his hair and grew a long, old-style Hebrew beard. He gave his $300 shoes and fine Italian suits to the poor and bought some sandals and a loom-woven semi-course robe. He broke bread and fish with his company's board members instead of taking catered business lunches. He started making plans to relocate to Israel.

The second began to speak, whenever possible, using quotations from the gospels. At dinner, he'd ask his wife to pass "the salt of the earth." He'd answer the phone by saying "What seek ye?" And instead of counting to three when preparing to discipline his children, he would tell them "even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees."

It was not easy to tell, just by watching him, how the third had changed. But the truth is that he let go of the resentment he had once felt for the various taxes he paid, and thanked God instead that he lived in days when instead of simply supporting the household of a king, his taxes were used to help feed the poor and oppressed, to educate all the nation's children and turn none away, to heal the sick and rehabilitate the injured, to make sure that weights and measures were conducted honestly, and that the widow and the fatherless were not turned away.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Luke 9: 11

I'd like to offer my deepest apologies for turning to the overtly political, but I've heard too many people compare plans in various countries to provide even basic health care to the public at large, regardless of economic status, as against a gospel plan of free agency and personal accountability. I don't want to advocate any specific political plan, but feel compelled to suggest that the gospel may actually be more for than against the abstract ideal of basic universal access to health care. Thank you for your patience over the next few days.

"And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing."

What was Jesus' primary criterion for healing, according to this verse?


Why shouldn't we work toward a day when our society sees things like Jesus?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Universal Healthcare -- Gen 4: 9

I'd like to offer my deepest apologies for turning to the overtly political, but I've heard too many people compare plans in various countries to provide even basic health care to the public at large, regardless of economic status, as against a gospel plan of free agency and personal accountability. I don't want to advocate any specific political plan, but feel compelled to suggest that the gospel may actually be more for than against the abstract ideal of basic universal access to health care. Thank you for your patience over the next few days as I say things that would probably not be appropriate to say in Sunday School.

"And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?"

We are all partially accountable for the well-being of every one of our spirit brothers and sisters. Even if Cain had not touched Abel but seen accident befall him and then idly watched him bleed to death in his field, Abel's blood would have cried up from the earth against Cain.

Our accountability increases with our stewardship, influence, and means to lend help. Just as we are more accountable for the suffering of members of the church if we withhold our fast offerings and tithes from God, we have an increased accountability to God if we ignore the plight of the sick and the poor in our democratic society.

If we enjoy the material wealth and medical capacity God has given our nation and age and do nothing to see that the suffering are granted access to it, their blood will cry up from the earth against us.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Sign of the Times--Zeph 3: 9

"For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent." (Zeph 3: 9)

When people in church meetings stop speaking in piles of cliches and start speaking and listening with care, with love both for the gift of language and for each other, the Second Coming will be close at hand, even at the door!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Made Adam's Language Pure?--Mos 6: 5-6

"And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration;
And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled."

What made Adamic a pure language?

Drona used to say that the language of Adam differed from our languages in that each word had only one corresponding and exact meaning. In this way, both misunderstandings and puns were prevented, and that is why we call that language pure.

Teancum Singh, though, said that in Adamic each word had at least seven very different possible meanings, which everyone knew, and that when people spoke or listened to it their minds considered the spaces between each of the possibilities, and how those spaces might enrich the possible meaning, and it is because this language was constantly enticing people to think more deeply and richly that we call it pure.

Nicole said that the language of Adam was pure only for those who wanted to understand what was said, and who spoke with care for words and for those around them, and that when Cain's language became violent and defensive, it ceased to be pure like the language of Adam. But in Zion, she said, everyone listened and spoke with care until theirs was again a pure language, and so it will be when the City of Zion is built once again before Christ comes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Confounded Language! --Genesis 11:7

"Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech."

This confounding did not consist of splitting one language into multiple languages, and thus rendering only small groups comprehensible to each other. When the Gods confounded the language, it was by replacing the pure Adamic language with a more fallen one, which failed to reliably express meaning the way the old language had. And to this very day, our language is still such that two people speaking the same language often only believe that they are actually understanding one another.

(I have a strong testimony of at least the last sentence of this midrash.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Joseph Smith Translation -- 1 Pet 4: 8

In the King James Bible, 1 Peter 4: 8 reads, "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."

The Joseph Smith translation of this verse, probably from sometime between 1830 and 1833, modifies the last clause to, "for charity preventeth a multitude of sins."

The difference in meaning seems significant: covering is retroactive (you can only "cover" after a sin is committed), whereas preventing is proactive (you can only "prevent" before a sin is committed). The shift from the KJV to the JST relocates the scriptural principle in terms of time. That matters--right?

Here's Joseph Smith's most famous use of this scripture, from comments made on 7 November 1841: "If you do not accuse each other, God will not accuse you. [...]If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours—for charity covereth a multitude of sins." (See History of the Church, 4: 445)

Notice that Joseph uses the King James wording rather than quoting from his own translation. Consequently, the quote's meaning seems far more closely related to the doctrine expressed in the King James version than that expressed in the JST. Why would Joseph do that?

If the JST consists of necessary corrections from inaccurate doctrines (due to mistranslation) to accurate ones (expressed in the new wording), then that famous 1841 quote is doctrinally compromised. If, on the other hand, the 1841 statement, representing "newer" revelation, replaces the "older" translation of the verse (probably from 1830-1833), then the JST markings in our scriptures may not be terribly reliable. The underlying question is whether it's better to read the JST as ruling out the old meaning of a passage knowing that it will also rule out future uses of the old wording, or better to let new use of old passages lead us to dismiss portions of the JST.

Perhaps, before choosing one of the above alternatives, we could consider a possibility that doesn't give in as easily to such either/or thinking:

What if the Joseph Smith translation is not typically designed to replace one meaning with another, but to suggest a richer range of meanings of a passage than can be expressed by a single word in English? In English, for example, "cover" and "prevent," as described in this post, speak to different parts of time relative to the moment of sin. But what if God, who has all time continually before him, speaks a native language that doesn't distinguish between these two? What if, for God, one word encompasses both "cover" and "prevent"? The JST phrasing, then, would not be superior but rather supplementary to the King James phrasing, each hinting at a different aspect of the intent of the text (which, according to this view, cannot be properly translated into a single verb in English).

Would we understand the gospel better if we believed that what God can say in one word often takes at least two apparently contradictory human words to express?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog....

...for this important update from the blog next door.

As many of you know, I keep three blogs: My Life and Hard Times, a surreal blog, Caucajewmexdian, a blog about family history and ethnic experience, and this one.

Twelve days ago my surreal blog was taken over by communists.

That sounds very strange, of course, but it is a surreal blog. I'd been giving monthly awards for the best comments called the "Commie" award with famous dead communists or their sympathizers as "guest presenters." In January, I made the mistake of letting Stalin be a guest presenter, and he promptly frightened all the nominees (myself included) into exile, gave himself the award, and installed a puppet guest blogger into my blog, who has been issuing regular manifestos since.

Even the blog template has suffered. The communists have turned the background an obnoxious shade of red which makes everything very difficult to read.

Brave readers have gone to find my goldbergish-style posts-in-hiding and anonymously posted them as comments on the hijacked "My Life and Hard Times" blog. Someone even broke into my email account to post, defiantly, in my name (I am hoping that was my wife or brother, because otherwise some stranger has my blogger password...)

All of which is to say: if you enjoy a good game, please go review recent posts on the "My Life and Hard Times" blog and join the quest to find the part of me that is the author of that blog. Then help me figure out how to oust Drona and take my blog back.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why do angels glow? -- 1 Chr 29: 15

"For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding."

Although Godliness has the property of light, our mortal physical state is designed to protect the unprepared from the power of the light within us.* Thus, our righteousness is described not as the full light which is our birthright, but as the shadow--because the existence of every shadow necessitates a casting light.

When bodies are transfigured or made celestial, their structures will be changed in such a way as to allow the natural light to shine forth out of them. The transfigured, the translated, and those resurrected as angels glow not because their essence is changed, but because the structures that obscure our inherent light are removed.

*Just as we would be overwhelmed by standing in the presence of God in our sins, we would be overwhelmed if we stood in the true presence of any human being. This is why love sometimes aches even in simple moments of family togetherness: every so often, when I watch my wife and daughter, a piece of their souls shine through more than usual and I am both overwhelmed and physically moved by it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Jesus on the Cross -- Psalm 22

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?"(Ps. 22:1)

When Jesus had been on the cross for six hours (according to Mark's account), he cried out "Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?", which is the first line in Psalm 22. In doing so, he was able to say much more to those who knew the psalms and had their hearts open to understanding than those who did not know the Psalms or had closed their minds to understanding were able to receive.

Does God sometimes give us the message on a day when we don't need it and the key to unlock it on the day when we do? When they sang together, what songs did Jesus and his disciples sing, and could they have imagined yet what the same words would later mean?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Know the Church is True -- Jon. 2: 1

"Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly"

Teancum Singh used to say that as it was in the days of Jonah, so shall it be in the last days. The Lord's servants may make mistakes from time to time, which may lead to some unexpected anguish, but that doesn't mean the Lord isn't always guiding the church.

You don't need to leave the church if you learn that a leader has done something you think is wrong. Even if it is wrong, you can always pray out of the fish's belly and the Lord will sustain you and see to it that things are worked out for the church as a whole in his due time.

As long as you can believe that God is with us, there is good reason to stay. Spiritual experience should trump disappointment with history or policy.

Which also means that history and policy can't make up for spiritual experience.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Truest (and Scariest?) Mormon Doctrine -- D&C 121: 39

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."

Recent events on the Goldbergish blog have me thinking about this principle.

Communism, with all its ideals of exalting the everyday worker, was not immune to it. Corporate capitalism, though more acceptable in most circles, has its own share of blood on the hands as a bitter confirmation of this doctrine.

Religion through the centuries has not been immune. And, as this scripture shows, that isn't something we can just wipe away under the rug as a symptom of the Great Apostasy. This passage is talking about early LDS leaders. Our own leaders sinned in this particularly dangerous way. And I see no reason to believe that, since the late 1830s, human nature has fundamentally changed.

How do you believe in an ideology or support an organization knowing full well that sooner or later some of its leaders will exercise unrighteous dominion--possibly at a terrible cost?

I don't know, but I have faith that there is an answer.

Is such faith essential to staying involved in any party, community, or church today?


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