Endurance

Endurance
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One hundred years ago Ernest Shackleton organized an expedition with the goal of being the first to hike across the Antarctic continent. It is said that his recruitment advertisement for the expedition read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Many people responded with enthusiasm. This was the adventure of a lifetime.

Did we hear something like that in the grand council in heaven as our Father presented the Plan of Salvation? Hazardous journey. Months of complete darkness. Danger. Safe return not guaranteed. Great honor with success. Many responded – including all of us – with great enthusiasm and shouts for joy. We knew life would present challenges but a way through those challenges and suffering was prepared for us to return home. Jesus Christ offered to save all those who were willing to be saved. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Our knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement helps us to endure our trials and to see purpose in suffering and to trust God for what we cannot comprehend. Revealed truths reassure us that we are enclosed in divine empathy. As Enoch witnessed, we worship a God who wept over needless human misery and wickedness (see Moses 7:28–29, 33, 37). Jesus’ perfect empathy was ensured when, along with His Atonement for our sins, He took upon Himself our sicknesses, sorrows, griefs, and infirmities and came to know these ‘according to the flesh’ (Alma 7:11–12). He did this in order that He might be filled with perfect, personal mercy and empathy and thereby know how to succor us in our infirmities. He thus fully comprehends human suffering. Truly Christ ‘descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things’ (D&C 88:6).” Our journey through life can be successful and our burdens can be lifted because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Returning to the story. Many people responded to Shackleton’s call for adventure. From these applicants he selected his crew. 28 men sailed off on the ship Endurance to reach the Antarctic continent. After a stop at South Georgia Island in between southern Argentina and Antarctica, they headed to Antarctica. Only three days into the journey, the Endurance and its crew encountered large amounts of sea ice. This slowed their journey to a crawl. They worked their way carefully through the ice for 6 weeks until they could go no farther. They woke up one morning to the Endurance completely stuck in ice a thousand miles from civilization with no way to contact the outside world.

They prepared for a long winter, hoping to break free in the spring and continue on their journey. Temporary quarters were built by the ship’s carpenter on the large ice field. They spent their time working, exercising their dogs they had brought for the journey across Antarctica, fishing, and otherwise remaining busy. Shackleton worked to keep the peace and keep the men out of trouble and alive. In addition to the climate, leopard seals and injury threatened safety.

In the spring as the ice started to shift and break up; instead of offering freedom for the Endurance, it crushed the ship. Their dream of crossing the Antarctic went down with the ship. Before the ship sank, they were able to salvage much of their food and supplies and three of the life boats. “In this darkest hour, his dream now dashed, Shackleton set a new goal: to save every life. Twice the men made exhausting efforts to march to safety, hauling their lifeboats should they reach open water. But the ice proved impassable. Their only course was to camp on the ice and hope the floe beneath them drifted closer to land. They called their new home on the ice ‘Patience Camp,’ for all they could do was wait in patience. Days turned to months. Food was rationed: one pound per man per day. The crew members’ hunger was never satisfied, their clothing was always wet. But all the while, Shackleton’s every waking hour was devoted to holding his men together. After five long months on a drifting ice floe, the men detected the swell of the ocean beneath them. The ice was breaking up. When they launched their three lifeboats in search of land, the men had been trapped in the ice for 15 months, but their real struggle was just beginning.”

They struggled in their small life boats through bitter cold, snow, sleet, rain, driving, biting winds. Constantly drenched and on light rations, the men huddled together to keep warm. Still they pressed on, it was all they could do. In a daring seven day dash across the open ocean the boats made it to a small, inhospitable chunk of land called Elephant Island. That was their first time on solid ground in almost 500 days. Elephant Island was out of the way of shipping paths and offered no hope of rescue.

In order to save his men, Shackleton and five others sailed in the largest life boat towards the whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 miles away across some of the most treacherous ocean on Earth. They sailed through cold, snow, and even a hurricane, trusting the skills of their expert navigator. If his navigation was off by just 1/2 of a degree, they would miss the island and perish at sea.

“Soaked to the bone and frost bitten, tortured by thirst, and pumping water out of the boat almost continuously so it wouldn’t sink, the men were at sea for 17 days before landing on South Georgia Island. But the life boat was too damaged to go further, and the nearest whaling station was on the opposite coast, across treacherous glaciers and mountains. Shackleton had no choice but to attempt a crossing on the uncharted island on foot [an island most thought completely impassable]. He, after all, had the 22 men on Elephant Island depending on him.

“Wearing threadbare clothing, with wood screws from the lifeboat fastened to their boot soles for traction, Shackleton [and two others] set out to march across South Georgia. With just three days’ provisions, two compasses, a rope and a carpenter’s adze to be used as an ice axe, the three men trudged nearly 30 miles over rugged crevasses and peaks, riskily sliding down a steep slope at one point, for they would have frozen to death at that altitude as night fell. After 36 hours of traversing the unmapped island, they arrived at Stromness whaling station, the first civilization they’d encountered in 17 months.

“Immediately after the three men arrived…a boat was sent to rescue the three crew members on the opposite side of South Georgia. Then Shackleton set out in a borrowed ship to save the 22 men on Elephant Island, but ice blocked his path again and again. Meanwhile, the men on Elephant Island assumed the worst—that Shackleton and the others had been lost at sea.

“Finally, on August 30, 1916 [more than 18 months after leaving for the Antarctic], Shackleton was able to reach Elephant Island. As he neared land, he anxiously counted the figures on the beach, exclaiming to his navigator, “They’re all there, Skipper. They are all safe…Not a life lost.'” (http://main.wgbh.org/imax/shackleton/about-one.html)

Shackleton and his men endured. They were not successful in crossing the Antarctic continent as they had originally planned but through their fortitude and Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, they persevered and persisted in reaching their homes. Not a life was lost.

Do we face life with the same determination? Do we persevere through trials and adversity with fortitude? Do we face adversity with faith or do we give up and hang our heads in despair? Do we follow our church leaders who, like Shackleton, desire to save the lives of us all? Salvation is not coerced but our leaders beckon to us to follow them in paths of safety that lead to salvation and exaltation.

Enduring means that we cannot take half measures in life. Choosing to follow half the commandments is like firefighters choosing to only put out half a fire or an airplane maker choosing to build half a plane. Half a plane won’t get anyone anywhere quickly. Sometimes enduring requires hard work, sometimes it simply requires patience. We read in James: “Take, my brethren [and sisters], the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (James 5:10-11).

In the cramped, freezing, ironically named Liberty Jail, a place of suffering that became a temple of learning to the incarcerated prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord comforted with these words: “Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes…. And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8; Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8).

Are we greater than Christ? He descended below the depths of our sufferings. Jesus provided the perfect example of endurance. Joseph Smith was an example of endurance. All things that we pass through shall give us experience and be for our good as we are faithful. Have patience, have hope. Be believing and carry on.

When I was a deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile scouting backpacking trip. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were in the middle of nowhere, wandering like outcasts or strangers in a strange land in northern Arizona in what is one of the most beautiful but desolate landscapes in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant that we spent a lot of time walking through the river because the canyon is narrow for much of its length. We enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped and poured from the canyon walls. This water was to us living water. We were able to reap that which we did not sow and drink water like that which came from Moses’ strike of the rock. One particularly memorable experience occurred at the confluence of the Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. At the meeting of the two canyons we found a patch of thigh-deep quicksand. Being scouts we did what any reasonable person would do – we played in the quicksand. [The greatest danger with this patch of quicksand was maybe losing a shoe]. After that brief recreational respite, we needed to continue on our journey. After another day or two, once we started to near the end of the canyon, which has an outlet into the Grand Canyon, it opened up and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from the springs and shade. We had to hike through sand and cacti and heat; we felt at times like Jonah being blasted by the east wind, hoping for anything, even a large gourd, to provide shade. We found shade only infrequently and we had to purify our water from the river instead of acquiring it directly from springs. The hike that had been pleasant and almost easy turned arduous. At one point one of the scouts got tired enough that he started repeatedly asking when the hike would be over. A leader replied, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses the young man finally blurted out, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!” Even though this scout’s faith wavered, eventually the end was around the next bend.

Life is like that hike. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path towards eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the Paria Canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We could have gone back to the beginning and to the car we left there but that means we would not have been successful with our hike and by the time we were truly tired we were closer to the end than the beginning. The best thing we could do was press forward to our destination – the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We could have done it grudgingly and had a miserable time but what we chose to do was endure the hike and enjoy our time, becoming better and stronger people than we were. In all we do we can choose to be strengthened by the trials we endure and not merely suffer through them. However, regardless of how we get through our life and our trials, it is important to go all the way through them. This reminds me of the trick question: “How far can you run in a forest?” One answer is: “Halfway, because then you are running out!” It is important to not just run in the forests of our lives, we also have to run out of them. When we are called to pass through challenges and suffering it’s best to do just that – pass through them. Giving up part way through might at the time seem easier but then we’ll be stuck in the trial longer. We must to endure to the end and be strengthened by the process.

The word endure in common usage means to last or to sustain (through). If we look at its root, endure comes from a Latin word meaning to harden. Things need to be hardened if they are going to undergo significant stress, trials, or pressure. Our word durable has the same root as endure. Metal is hardened or tempered to make it stronger, more durable and able to endure stress and strain. The process of hardening is just as important as the final hardened state; if the hardening is not done properly, flaws can be introduced, resulting in a weakened metal. When I think of endurance I think of the Savior. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured trials, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings, hate, spitting, hitting, and crucifixion. He endured the travesties of the lies brought against Him. The One Perfect Man was ridiculed above all; He was hated and persecuted. He descended below all in order to comprehend all and rise above all (see D&C 88:6). Those who follow Him covenant that they are willing to follow His path, even though they be “hated of all men for [His] name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). We are commanded to endure just as the Savior endured. Endurance and diligence in keeping the commandments of God is the process whereby we become more like the Savior, where we gain more of His attributes.

Spiritual endurance is a trait of the righteous. There is no endurance in wickedness. As we endure we are hardened – this is not the hardening of hearts, it is the strengthening that comes from choosing the right, which strengthening provides armor against the temptations of Satan that would lead us to misery and eternal separation from God. Enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up. However, enduring is more than just strengthening, it is consistently acting in accordance to the principles, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel at all times, not just when convenient and not just one day a week.

Are you a gospel “Weekend Warrior?” Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling warrior as long as you are at church? Do you join in the call, “Onward, Christian soldiers!” as long as such service is not inconvenient? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports having run the race once? Just as eating or exercising or sleeping once is not enough, we are asked for daily diligence and weekly willingness.

Enduring to the end is one of the fundamental components of the gospel – we are commanded to be diligent unto the Lord’s commandments and our covenants. Jesus taught, “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you…if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Nephi 27:13,16-17). We are not sent here to earth to endure for a little while, we are commanded to endure to the end.

“And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], after ye have gotten into [the] strait and narrow path [to Christ], I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:19-20).

If we don’t endure to the end we cannot endure the presence of God: “Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.” (D&C 84:23-24) We are asked to endure hardships so that we might return with honor to God’s presence and endure His eternal love.

Pres. Monson stated recently: “This should be our purpose–to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life.” (“I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee”).

It is not enough to just be a gospel ‘weekend warrior”. The path towards eternal life is long and sometimes daunting. As we hike through the spiritual canyons of our lives, if we persevere we will reach our destination. We must persevere, we must endure as Shackleton and strive to lose not one life spiritually – not our own and not those for whom we hold stewardship. We are strengthened as we endure – weak things become strong unto us. May God bless each of you! May we all work diligently to return to God and enter His eternal embrace. “And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.” (Omni 1:26).

Note: Image of the frozen in Endurance ship. Image in public domain.

Dropping the Rope of Addiction

Tug of War
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This post is for those who are struggling – personally or through friends or family – with the monster of addiction. This post is written from the perspective of a mental health professional (which I have training as) but does not constitute professional advice. I am not a therapist (I’ve chosen a career in research and teaching) but I have training as a therapist.

Individuals seeking help in overcoming substance abuse, pornography addiction, eating disorders, or any other addictive behavior often fall into three categories: the home run hitter, the negative and bitter, and the perpetual quitter. The home run hitters do just that – they quit without much struggle, hitting a home run, changing their behaviors right away. The negative and bitter don’t believe that they will overcome their addictions and they try to blame other people or external factors for their problems; they play the victim card, often without any hint of accepting personal responsibility. Those individuals are the hardest to work with because they see no need to change or have no desire to change. On the other hand, the perpetual quitter frequently tries to quit but never succeeds; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. It is those who struggle over and over to try and overcome addiction that I want to address.

Erase Addiction

The following examples are fictional but are true to life; they are not atypical of people seeking treatment for addictions. These examples are based on people I’ve worked with during my professional training but I’ve changed specifics (e.g., names, ages) as well as taken the liberty to apply them to a church and gospel setting (e.g., made them members or investigators of the church).

Tobacco

Ralph is 53 years old with a 35 year history of smoking 1-2 packs of cigarettes per day. He recently had a chest scan that revealed a spot on a lung. His doctor told him he needed to stop smoking. Ralph has wanted to quit for years to save money and to save his health but never could. He has a daughter he wants to help through college and as he nears retirement he not only wants to have more money for retirement but he also wants to live long enough to retire. Ralph has tried patches, pills, behavioral treatment, and going cold turkey. Each time he tried quitting Ralph slipped and started smoking again. He means well but Ralph has been unable to quit.

Part of the challenge is that Ralph believes that he can win the battle over smoking. Wait, isn’t that what he wants – to beat the addiction and stop smoking? Yes, but stopping doesn’t require fighting. Part of the problem is that deep down Ralph believes that he can slay the giant of addiction. He can’t. Few people have that strength and willpower and those who do usually develop the ability it through years of practice of self-control, something that years of addiction aren’t exactly evidence of – self-control.

Then Ralph meets the missionaries (or Ralph could be someone newly baptized). They teach him and give him blessings. He is excited and hopeful because he believes in the Savior’s Atonement and its power to heal. Yet, even as his faith grows, Ralph is not quite successful; he is not able to stop for a long enough period in which to be baptized (or, if he was baptized already, he slips back into the addictive behaviors). Ralph starts to despair and feel unworthy, his blossoming faith starts to waiver. What can be done?

Pornography

Matt is 19 years old and a life-long member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He developed a pornography addiction at age 18 and has struggled with quitting since he first approached his parents and bishop. There were some days when the urges of the addiction were so bad he spent the majority of those days viewing pornography, shutting out the rest of the world. Concurrent with the addiction he struggles with depression, which feeds his addiction and is fed by his addiction. He meets bimonthly with his bishop and weekly with a therapist. He prays, reads the scriptures, and attends church weekly. His addiction, however, remains. Matt tries to quit but the siren lure of pornography catches him back each time.

Tug-of-war

Both of these cases illustrate a few of the many challenges faced by those who struggle with addictions. Even with the power of the Atonement, behavioral, emotional, psychological, or physical issues might interfere with success in overcoming addictions. Just as not all medical conditions are cured through faith (the vast majority are not), not all addictions are cured by faith and “trying harder”. I’m not downplaying the role that the Atonement must play for many addictions constitute sinful behavior – addiction is not an excuse for sin – but faith and repentance are not panaceas in this life.

Below is a perspective on addiction that I’ve found helpful professionally. It is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, an approach to psychotherapy that I feel has much to offer. Part of this approach is discovering true end goals of life and identifying how current behaviors, emotions, and/or cognitions are or are not detracting from those goals. Once overarching goals are recognized, manageable sub-goals can be established and any barriers to fulfillment identified. With these goals in mind, we can understand how some actions are counterproductive, even if they seem like the right actions to be doing (such as trying to beat the monster of addiction – again this post is focused on individuals who struggle to quit or change, not to those few who are the home run hitters).

Addiction is like playing tug-of-war with a monster on the other side of a gorge. You think that if you can just pull the monster in you will be free from your addiction; the problem is that it’s stronger than you are. You might even think that you can cross the chasm and fight it (maybe the other side looks greener too) but you will lose. The only way to conquer it is to let go of the rope and live your life on your side of the chasm. Then the monster will no longer be pulling back on you. In doing this you are not ignoring the monster – it’s there and real but you are simply choosing to stop fighting it so that you can move on to greater and more productive goals.

This concept of overcoming addiction can be quite successful because when you fight things, you dwell on them. If you play tug-of-war with the monster of addiction you focus all your energy on it. In doing so, you allow it to have power over your life. That’s the irony of fighting the monster – you might think that you are choosing to battle it but in reality you are giving up your freedom of choice. You might think that it is a fight on your chosen ground and at your chosen time, but the monster stands there, waiting for you to fight – it enjoys the contest. The monster only has something to do when someone fights with it. This is a fight few people can win.

So instead of playing tug-of-war, should you cross over the bridge to attack the enemy there? No. Once again, that places your focus on the monster; plus then you are in its territory. That’s like an alcoholic who tries to quit by going to a bar just so she can say that she’s there but not drinking – “look how strong I am!”. It’s not a good idea. That is not the way to win. Once again, by striving to do so you focus on the monster. It’s like me telling you to not think about purple bunnies. Whatever you do, do not think about purple bunnies – not the wiggling of their little noses, not the ridiculous purple hue of their fur, not their munching of juicy carrots. Of course, the first thing you just did was think about what I just asked you not to think about – purple bunnies. The more you try to suppress the thought, the worse it gets because you keep your focus on it. Addictions are the same way.

You need to drop the tug-of-war rope and walk away. Acknowledge the monster, accept the monster as part of your life – it’s real and it’s big and scary. When you drop the rope you are not ignoring the monster, you acknowledge it’s there and real, you just choose not to fight. Ignoring it does not solve your problems because then you are in denial and in the river of denial you usually end up eaten by crocodiles. So instead of just ignoring the monsters, say “I know you are there; I know that you are a terrible thing in my life; I know that you want to fight me and I want to fight you but I cannot win. I embrace you and let you go.” Instead of straining and putting all your efforts on fighting the bad in your life, acknowledge it and then fill your life with good. You embrace (or shake hands – whichever metaphorical action you prefer), let go, and move on. What you move on to is important though. You can’t beat addiction with a life full of nothing, addiction will always win over void! Addictions exist in part because of some internal void. So instead, fill your life with good.

The key to overcoming the monster of addiction is establishing positive goals and working towards those goals rather than fighting against the monster. The goals could be related to family, work, hobbies, service, church, or community. It is in striving towards good goals that the monster of addiction finally goes away.

For all the perpetual quitters out there – if you are trying to overcome addiction of any sort (and it could be anything physical or emotional) but find yourself constantly quitting with little success, it is time for a shift in tactics. That shift could be to acknowledge the monster, drop the rope, walk away, and work towards positive goals in your life. Instead of fighting the bad, do good. Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) rather than going about fighting evil all the time. In the same manner, addiction no longer has power over you when you stop fighting it and start working towards good goals. It doesn’t mean it’s gone for good – the monster will remain, lying in wait – but if you stop fighting you can start living. This is not an easy thing to do if there are years of addictions to overcome but it is a simple process and will provide success through diligence and over time.

What will give great power to the process and allow you to fully overcome is the Atonement of Christ. Jesus’s Atonement enables you to be free from the shackles of your sin. It enables you to overcome all, just as the Savior overcame all. Sincere repentance will allow you to “shake at the appearance of sin” (2 Nephi 4:31), no longer having a disposition to do evil (Mosiah 5:2). However, just as you must rely on medical treatment in addition to faith in Christ, there are many instances when you must rely on professional help for addictions. When you or the person you love fall, when you stumble along the path of freedom, don’t get discouraged, don’t give up! That is precisely the time when you need to double your determination and your prayers and keep clinging to the iron rod. God loves you and wants you to succeed. Don’t give up hope, keep walking towards your goals. Through faithfulness and honest striving towards Christ, whether in this life or in the next, you can be free. You shall overcome some day.

Rope image by Michael Heiss used under a Creative Commons license.

Honesty: The Worth of a Peso

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What is the worth of a peso? How much would one be worth to you? A peso is not worth much to most people but there is one in particular that is worth a lot to me.

When I was young my family and I visited an old Spanish mission in Arizona. There were a lot of coins in the fountain. Many of the coins were pennies, nickels, and dimes; all glittered and sparkled in the sunshine and through the water. But some of the coins were different, some were from Mexico, which was not unexpected because we no more than an hour from the Mexican border. I liked one of the pesos and took it. I remember looking at it in the car on the way home. Within the next couple days my parents discovered I had the coin and asked where I got it. I told them I had taken it from the fountain. I guess I knew what I had done was wrong because I remember hiding the coin from my parents but it also did not seem like a big deal. However, my father sat down with me and had me send the coin back to the director of the mission. Sometime later I received a letter from the director of the mission. In the letter he thanked me for my honesty in returning the coin. Within the envelope and in addition to the letter he included a few coins – including the one I returned – from around the world that had been tossed into that fountain. I was rewarded for my honesty (or at least the honesty of my parents). This was the start of my small collection of coins from around the world.

What is the worth of this coin to me? It is worth a lesson of the importance of honesty. It was a powerful lesson at the time and still is. The Lord blesses and loves those with honest hearts: “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” (Psalm 32:2). Jesus was heartened (and still is) by those who were without guile and lies, in part because He faced so many who were full of deceit: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). This was a man to be trusted! This was a pure man. Jesus loves the pure in heart. Honesty is a building block of purity.

I love this description of the honest in heart: “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). The honest are like good gardeners who watch with patience until their efforts bring forth good fruit. Honest hearts are good hearts; honesty and integrity imply a lack of spiritual cardiac disease. For those who do suffer from spiritual cardiac disease, there is hope – the Lord promises a heart transplant to those who need it: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekial 36:26). Continued honesty and integrity bring the Spirit, which serves as anti-rejection medicine for this new heart.

The Lord expects His people to be honest and upright in their dealings with Him, others, and themselves. Of one group of righteous people in the Book of Mormon it is written: “And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end” (Alma 27:27). These were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, those whom were converted by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the sons of Mosiah, rebellious and wicked youth turned righteous and powerful missionaries to the Lamanites. So righteous were these new church members that they were described as “perfectly honest…even unto the end.” They lived their lives in righteousness and holiness because they were perfectly honest.

We can similarly be perfectly honest in all we do and inspire honesty in others. Elder James E. Faust told the following story of the power of honesty:

“I wish to speak to you frankly about being honest. Honesty is a moral compass to guide us in our lives. You young men are under great pressure to learn the technology that is expanding and will continue to expand so rapidly. However, the tremendous push to excel in secular learning sometimes tempts people to compromise that which is more important—their honesty and integrity.Cheating in school is a form of self-deception. We go to school to learn. We cheat ourselves when we coast on the efforts and scholarship of someone else.
A friend related this experience her husband had while attending medical school. ‘Getting into medical school is pretty competitive, and the desire to do well and be successful puts a great deal of pressure on the new incoming freshmen. My husband had worked hard on his studies and went to attend his first examination. The honor system was expected behavior at the medical school. The professor passed out the examination and left the room. Within a short time, students started to pull little cheat papers out from under their papers or from their pockets. My husband recalled his heart beginning to pound as he realized it is pretty hard to compete against cheaters. About that time a tall, lanky student stood up in the back of the room and stated: ‘I left my hometown and put my wife and three little babies in an upstairs apartment and worked very hard to get into medical school. And I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats, and you better believe it!’ They believed it. There were many sheepish expressions, and those cheat papers started to disappear as fast as they had appeared. He set a standard for the class which eventually graduated the largest group in the school’s history.’

The young, lanky medical student who challenged the cheaters was J Ballard Washburn, who became a respected physician and in later years received special recognition from the Utah Medical Association for his outstanding service as a medical doctor. He also served as a General Authority and is now the president of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple.” (Ensign, Nov. 1996).

What courage that man had to stand up to his classmates and demand their honesty! What integrity and honor! There were blessings because of this honesty – more medical students graduated in that class than previous classes had graduated. Without cheating, the students had to work harder, which meant they learned more and could do better. The world would be a much better place if more people were like that man. The pain and suffering caused by dishonesty in our world is great.

The summer after my mission I needed a summer job before I went back to BYU to resume school. I got a job as a car jockey at a dealership. I drove cars that people brought in for repairs from one lot to another and back. It was not hard work but I was out in the sweltering Arizona heat much of the day and it seemed like most of the cars needed air conditioning repairs. One car I got in was a 1980s minivan with a mattress on its side in the back, which meant I could not see out the back on the passenger side of the car. As I backed up I heard and felt a crunch. I thought, “Oh no! What did I hit?” as I pulled forward back into the parking space and got out of the car. There was a new gray Corvette with a gash in its front driver’s side wheel well. Corvettes (at least this 2001 one) have fiberglass bodies, which means the car body tore instead of denting. The minivan was not even scratched (not that it was really possible to tell anyway – it was old and a bit beat up). I thought of my options: I could go tell my boss or I could drive away and not tell anyone. The second choice was not an option so I went and found my boss. When I told him about the accident his first question was, “What color was [the Corvette]?” I said, “Gray, it wasn’t the yellow one [a fancy Z06 in for a tune-up].” “Oh, that’s good then. Thanks for letting me know.” And that was it. I went back to work driving cars around. Later that same boss went out of his way to find me as a driver for his wife’s car (a BMW) that was in for repairs because he trusted me. I am always glad I told the truth. It is always better to tell the truth, regardless of consequences.

There is an interesting scripture in the book of Moses. It reads, “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.” (Moses 4: 3-4). The interesting thing is Satan is called “the father of all lies”; he could have been called many other things (and he can be called many things) but the Lord chose to call him the father of all lies. Satan’s self-proclaimed work is to deceive and blind men and lead them down to captivity, pawns to his will and whims. All lies come from Satan; he is their creator. Those who lie preach the devil’s gospel and spread his bad word. Those who are dishonest become Satan’s children. Is not it better to become sons and daughters of God?

Continuing on in Moses 4 we read the following (I will add some commentary in brackets):

“6 And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world. [Satan thought his lying to Eve would frustrate God’s plan when in fact it furthered God’s plan].
7 And he said unto the woman: Yea, hath God said—Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (And he spake by the mouth of the serpent.)
8 And the woman said unto the serpent: We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
9 But of the fruit of the tree which thou beholdest in the midst of the garden, God hath said—Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
10 And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die; [a lie].
11 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. [This is true].
12 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
13 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they had been naked. And they sewed fig-leaves together and made themselves aprons.
14 And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
15 And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?
16 And he said: I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I beheld that I was naked, and I hid myself.
17 And I, the Lord God, said unto Adam: Who told thee thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, if so thou shouldst surely die?
18 And the man said: The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat.
19 And I, the Lord God, said unto the woman: What is this thing which thou hast done? And the woman said: The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
20 And I, the Lord God, said unto the serpent: Because thou hast done this thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life;
21 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; and he shall [crush] thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Moses 4:6-21).

Satan tried to lie to Eve. He tried to destroy God’s plan but he didn’t know that he was actually furthering God’s plan; what Satan did was without authority or permission but Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit was part of God’s plan – whether they eventually partook of it by themselves, or someone else gave it to them. In any case, when Satan realized that he was cursed for what he had done (he already was cursed but in this case he was upset he had not actually frustrated God’s plans but furthered them). Satan became very angry and has been ever since. He rages against God and all of us. He tries to cause the nations to rage furiously together, brother against brother, father against son, daughter against mother, neighbor against neighbor, and people against people. I do not believe that Satan is so angry that He cannot think properly – to the contrary, he thinks very clearly – but he is angry because of what he lost and angry at us mortals on earth who have opportunities for progression he will never have. And so Satan lies and deceives and encourages dishonesty in others. He knows that when we are dishonest we are not godlike or godly. He knows the pain and suffering lies cause and so he encourages them and laughs at the suffering of others. He rejoices in our failures and sins and sorrows. God does not.

[The image at the top of the post is the coin I took from the fountain].

Concourses of Angels and a Pillar of Fire

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When we attend the temple we enter a sacred structure, literally a home for God. Temples are dedicated and consecrated unto God for the building up of His kingdom. They serve as beacons of His love unto His children. Temples are places where the eternal circle of heaven and the mortal circle of earth intersect.

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In the temple we can find great peace and solace. As we separate ourselves from the world, we have great opportunity to introspect and listen to the teachings of the Holy Ghost. As we serve others in the temple, providing necessary ordinances to those who have passed on, we are surrounded by concourses of angels and a pillar of fire. Have you felt or seen those angels? They surround us in the temple – observing, witnessing, recording, and teaching. Have you seen or felt that pillar of fire? It serves as a shield against darkness and sin. Just as it lit the way for the Israelites in the wilderness, the pillar of fire lights and protects us as we partake of the fruit of the tree of life. We are taught and testified by the burning of the Holy Ghost. In the holy temple, surrounded by angels and fire, we can return to the presence of God and be clasped in His holy embrace.

Angel Moroni image source

Master Mahan

The Murder of Abel
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“Wherefore Lamech, being angry, slew [Irad], not like unto Cain, his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain, but he slew him for the oath’s sake. For, from the days of Cain, there was a secret combination, and their works were in the dark, and they knew every man his brother.” (Moses 5:50-51).

This murder is best understood in the context of Cain. Cain was one of the sons of Adam and Eve. He was the older brother of Abel. By the time Cain and Abel were born there were many people on the earth – many children and descendants of Adam and Eve – but by this point many were wicked. It does not take people long to fall away from the truth and to become wicked, even degenerate. Here is the story as found in the book of Moses:

“And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish. And the Lord God called upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere and commanded them that they should repent; And as many as believed in the Son, and repented of their sins, should be saved; and as many as believed not and repented not, should be damned; and the words went forth out of the mouth of God in a firm decree; wherefore they must be fulfilled. And Adam and Eve, his wife, ceased not to call upon God. And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bare Cain, and said: I have gotten a man from the Lord; wherefore he may not reject his words. But behold, Cain hearkened not, saying: Who is the Lord that I should know him? And she again conceived and bare his brother Abel. And Abel hearkened unto the voice of the Lord. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” (Moses 5:12-17).

It is clear that many of Adam and Eve’s children followed Satan. They had more children, hoping that they would follow their counsels and teachings. Many did not. Cain was not the first of the wicked children but he became one of the most wicked. Cain was a farmer, his brother Abel was a shepherd. Abel followed after the statutes and commandments of God. He was a righteous man who performed his sacrifices with exactness and honor.

Continuing with the story:

“18 And Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord.
19 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
20 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him;
24 For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his lies; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.
25 And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent.
26 And Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord.
27 And Adam and his wife mourned before the Lord, because of Cain and his brethren.” (Moses 5:18-27).

The commandment and covenant Adam and Eve and their children had received was to offer up animal sacrifices in the similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of God. It was a blood sacrifice in expectation of the Atonement of the Son of God. Abel offered up a blood sacrifice, Cain did not. Cain listened to Satan and tried to offer up the fruit of the ground – whatever he farmed – instead of offering up an animal sacrifice. He offered a sacrifice but not the sacrifice the Lord required; Cain offered up the sacrifice Satan wanted him to. Satan knew the sacrifice would be rejected. Satan knew how Cain would react – he knew he would be upset and curse God. He was and he did.

Then Cain started off the deep end – he made a pact with Satan; it was a pact of secrets and murder for gain. “And it came to pass that Cain took one of his brothers’ daughters to wife, and they loved Satan more than God. And Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands. And Satan sware unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret. And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness.” (Moses 5:28-31).

Cain dealt with Satan in secrecy. Cain became Perdition – a destroyer (Latin: perdere - to destroyof truth; one who gave away his covenants for new ones with the devil. Cain was promised that he would rule over Satan – Cain had at least kept his first estate whereas Lucifer did not. From God Cain received the title Perdition, from himself (and possibly from Satan) he received the title of Mahan, which is of unclear meaning but based on context probably means something close to “master [owner, holder, keeper] of [a] secret.” (This interpretation agrees with what Hugh Nibley believed the title meant. See Hugh Nibley, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, p.12. In this document Dr. Nibley suggests that the word Master is not the English word master, but derives from Arabic word Mustirr (“keeper of secret”) and Mahan is related to the Sanskrit word maha (“great”); source). Cain’s covenant with Satan included a penalty of death for those who revealed it (this was a covenant that Cain’s friends, some of his brothers and sisters and their families, made too). Satan promised to deliver Abel into the hands of Cain. Cain would also reap the riches of his brother – his flocks.

“32 And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him.
33 And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands.
34 And the Lord said unto Cain: Where is Abel, thy brother? And he said: I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?
35 And the Lord said: What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood cries unto me from the ground.
36 And now thou shalt be cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand.
37 When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
38 And Cain said unto the Lord: Satan tempted me because of my brother’s flocks. And I was wroth also; for his offering thou didst accept and not mine; my punishment is greater than I can bear.” (Moses 5:32-38).

This was not a crime of passion, it was calculated murder. Cain’s purpose in seeking out his brother Abel was to kill him, to deprive Able of his life. In his post-murder phase Cain gloried in his power. He had power over life – like God. He could take Abel’s flocks and be rich. Then the Lord came to Cain asking him where his brother was. Cain’s reply? “I don’t know. Am I supposed to baby sit him? Am I his shepherd? Am I his keeper? I am a keeper of secrets, not my brother.” Then when the Lord exposes Cain for what he is, a murderer, Cain starts blaming Satan, the temptation of riches, and anger. “Satan made me do it. I was blinded by the rich, white coats of my brother’s sheep. I wasn’t myself, I was in a fit of rage.” These are all common excuses people still give when they get in trouble. It’s always someone (or something) else’s fault. Cain did murder for money but for a number of years before this he had loved Satan more than God. He did not just see Abel’s flocks one day and decide to kill him, Cain was wicked already, had covenants with Satan, and already had a plan to kill Abel.

What I want to focus on though is Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain was not simply answering in annoyance – “I don’t know where my brother is!” – he was revealing his callousness towards his family and other people. Cain revealed his self-centeredness and his selfishness. He was Satan’s protege and as the protege he adopted some of Satan’s characteristics, most predominantly, pride. Cain thought he could hide his sin from the Lord – that was a manifestation of his pride. He thought that he was not responsible for his brother, especially because Abel’s sacrifices were accepted but Cain’s were not; Cain felt offended by the Lord and by Abel. Cain took every opportunity of aggrandizement. He sought power and glory and riches (sound familiar? Satan sought the same things in heaven) at the expense of all else. No one would stand in Cain’s way, especially not his brother, who was the favored son.

In some ways this sounds much like the story of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by his brothers. His brothers were jealous of Joseph’s favored status (which was based in part on his righteousness); they wanted to kill Joseph but were convinced not to by Reuben, the oldest son. Maybe the brothers hoped to gain Jacob’s favored status; maybe they just wanted to kill Joseph because they were evil people and not necessarily just to get gain. In any case, there are repetitions of themes throughout the scriptures – wickedness and righteousness are found in cycles in the Book of Mormon and Bible. Cain was only the first of many murderers. But because he was the first he became Perdition and (future) lord over Satan.

Note: Image by Tintoretto circ. 1552. In public domain: http://www.wikiart.org/en/tintoretto/the-murder-of-abel-1552

Ultimate Questions with Truman G. Madsen

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This looks like a wonderful video. As someone who appreciates Truman Madsen’s keen insights into the gospel and life in general, I’m looking forward to viewing this series of discussions. I haven’t viewed the DVD so I can’t comment on it but knowing past work of Truman Madsen, it’ll be enlightening.

The DVD set is available to purchase from Deseret Book.

Watching the Dogs of King Lamoni

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A couple years ago the ever insightful Jeff Lindsay wondered whether or not Ammon offered to watch over the flocks of King Lamoni’s turkeys. Many church members read the story and assume sheep or goats but there really isn’t evidence of domesticated sheep and goats in the Americas during Book of Mormon times (about 600 BC to 400 AD not counting the Jaredites). Granted, the Book of Mormon is about relatively small groups of individuals in a limited geographic location, so it is possible that groups of Book of Mormon peoples used animals that were domesticated or semi-domesticated but that were not widely used elsewhere.

[Side note: The first people arrived in Mesoamerica at least as early as 8000 B.C. (Warinner, Garcia, & Tuross, (2013)) with domestication of plants and animals occurring shortly after. Thus, the Book of Mormon people came into a land with a settled, albeit sparse, population. There were maybe 10 million people in all of the Americas at that time so population density wasn’t high. The Book of Mormon civilizations would have had some interactions with other peoples but such interactions would have been limited until the Nephite and Mulekite populations grew substantially. Therefore, domestication of crops and animals could have occurred somewhat independently from other groups.]

Now to Ammon and the flocks of the king: “And after he had been in the service of the king three days, as he was with the Lamanitish servants going forth with their flocks to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus, and all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water—Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, behold, a certain number of the Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon and the servants of the king, and they scattered them insomuch that they fled many ways.” (Alma 17:26-27).

We read “flock” and assume sheep or something similar but that’s most likely a faulty assumption. If you accept Jeff Lindsay’s hypothesis about turkeys the word “flock” works as reference for a group of turkeys. However, are there other possibilities? Before I address that, we need to briefly cover language in the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon was written in “reformed Egyptian” (meaning that Mormon and Moroni wrote it in some derivative of an Egyptian language that had likely changed considerably over the 1000 year history of the Book of Mormon) but possibly using phrasing and grammar derived from Hebrew/Aramaic. Mormon’s source material for the Book of Mormon was possibly written in multiple languages; thus, when Mormon compiled and edited all the records (scriptures and histories) into one volume he was possibly doing some translating as well. Then Joseph Smith translated it (“translated” meaning direct revelation from God of the translation of the written words rather than translation like we typically think of) to simple 19th century English using early 17th century formal English (King James era) stylings and phrasing. What this means is that there are instances of imprecise words and awkward grammar. It also means that words used in English (and subsequent translations into other languages) are sometimes approximations for what was really meant.

To quote at length from Jeff Lindsay’s writings on this topic:

We must not be rash in assuming that all translated names of plants and animals or other physical objects describe the same things we think of today in 20th century America. Names in many languages are ambiguous and difficult to translate with certainty. For example, the Hebrew word for horse, “sus,” has a root meaning of “to leap” and can refer to other animals as well – including the swallow. Hebrew “teo” typically means “wild ox” but has also been applied to a type of gazelle. The general Hebrew word for ox is “aluph,” which has a root meaning of “tame” or “gentle” that could be applied to describe a human friend as well (J. L. Sorenson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, p. 345) – could it also describe a tapir? One Hebrew word for sheep, “zemer,” has been translated as “mountain sheep” and “rock-goat” in different Bible versions, while Sorenson notes that one Jewish scholar says it means antelope.

The difficulties of assigning and translating animal names are illustrated by the example of the Spaniards in dealing with American animals. Bishop Landa called a Yucatan deer a “kind of little wild goat” (Sorenson, Ensign, Oct. 1984, p. 19). Likewise, bisons were called “cows,” turkeys were called “peacocks,” antelope were described in terms of sheep, and the tapir was described in one source as “a species of buffalo of the size and somewhat looking like an ass” (Sorenson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, p. 346; also see the extensive documentation in Chapter 7 of An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon). The Spaniards called the prickly pear a “fig” and used “plum” (ciruelo) to name a native non-plum species, while some Spaniards used “wheat” (trigo) to name American maize (ibid., p. 338-339). The Nephites and Jaredites might have made similar name assignments to species they encountered in the New World. We should not expect the religious record they kept to be a manual on natural science, and we should not insist that their terminology reflect our modern views – especially if the Europeans could do no better. If Nephites called a tapir an ox, we should not abandon the Book of Mormon when Joseph Smith follows their convention in his translation. And if they called it by a completely new name, how should it be translated?

Please recall that the translation process behind the Book of Mormon was not pure magic in which the thoughts of the original writer were expressed in sublime, flawless English with no effort on the part of the translator. Had that been the case, we could have bypassed all the hassle with preparing, preserving, and translating the engraved golden plates. But God requires humans to do all within their power for His work, and only then makes up the difference when necessary, typically applying miraculous aid rather conservatively. Indeed, considerable effort was required of Joseph Smith and the translation was a genuine translation of what had been written rather than what someone had thought. Joseph had been given a divine tool and gift to allow him to translate, but the human factor was not eliminated. If Mormon wrote a word for “swine” to describe something that we might call a peccary or tapir today, then I believe the translation would give us the word “swine”, especially if Joseph had no word in his vocabulary for peccary or tapir. The results were expressed in the language and vernacular of the translator, based on whatever the original author had written – blemishes and all. Now if it were essential for our salvation that we read about peccaries rather than swine, I suppose that God would have instructed Joseph in the matter and corrected the translation appropriately. But we are dealing with a translation, not direct English quotes from God.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, please visit the aforementioned essay about plants and animals in the Book of Mormon by Jeff Lindsay.

Now back to the flocks of Lamoni. It is likely that early people who migrated from Asia to the Americas brought dogs with them (van Asch et al., 2013). While I admit turkeys or some other animal are possibilities, given the evidence of dogs raised for meat consumption in Mesoamerica (assuming that’s roughly the area in which the Book of Mormon took place) in the period spanning from at least 1000 BC to at least 250 AD (Clutton-Brock, & Hammond (1994); White et al. (2001); van Asch et al. (2013)) it is also a possibility that dogs were the “flocks” that Ammon protected. We can’t get hung up on “flocks” being used to describe the group of animals (rather than “packs”) given what I wrote previously about translation and word choices. “Pack” is never used in the scriptures. “Flock” or “flocks” are used many times. The Book of Mormon wasn’t really the place (assuming Mormon would have used different words for different groups of animals) to differentiate between flocks, gaggles, packs, prides, murders, herds, and so forth.

In Enos we read: “And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.” (Enos 1:21). “Flocks” in this instance referred broadly to different groups of animals raised primarily for food or food-related activities. “Cattle” (refer to Jeff Lindsay’s essay) is a broad term just like flock. “Goats” is more specific but still could refer to a number of animals and is probably not what we think of as a goat. “Wild goats” clearly are something other than “goats” but were also kept for some purpose; they also are probably not what we think of when we read “wild goats“. “Horses” has been thoroughly addressed by Jeff Lindsay.

What about other possibilities? It is a possibility but a remote one that Lehi and his family brought sheep and goats with them when they crossed the ocean and then continued to raise them for a period of time. If they did this it’s certainly possible that the flocks did not survive for the entire span of the Book of Mormon. Any animals brought over could have had difficulty adjusting to the climate. They also could have had too much genetic homogeneity and then died out or been wiped out by disease. This is a lot of suppositions but there’s just so much that we don’t know. Just because there is no evidence of domesticated goats (again, is a Book of Mormon goat really a goat?) in Mesoamerica doesn’t mean that animals that were at one point domesticated or at least tamed enough to use for periods of time were domesticated widely. Llamas and alpacas were domesticated in the Andes but didn’t make it to Mesoamerica. A group like the Nephites could have had domesticated animals that other groups didn’t use or end up using for extended periods of time. Remember, this is a group of individuals who migrated directly from the middle east to the Americas (well, via a long journey across the Arabian peninsula). They would have brought skills with them that those in the Americas might not have had. This includes domestication of certain animals. They might have tried to domesticate local animals with success or marginal success (e.g., Egyptian pharaohs trying to domesticate cheetahs; they weren’t domesticated but many were tamed) but then had those advances die out over time due to disease, loss of competence, or difficulty in maintaining the domestication over time. There are instances when groups of people reverted to not using certain domesticated plants or animals (refer to Diamond, J. M. (1998)). It’s thus certainly possible that these flocks were groups of tamed animals. This means Lamoni’s flocks could have been a range of animals. It also means that the flocks weren’t necessarily just one type of animal. Maybe dogs and turkeys, although that’s a bit like the old river crossing puzzle.

I like the idea of Ammon watching over flocks of dogs (dogs tend to be social creatures and would “flock”) in part because it is known that Mesoamericans successfully raised dogs for consumption (although it’s not specified that these flocks were for consumption). Dogs and turkeys are both possibilities for the flocks of Lamoni.

In closing, we know dogs were referenced in the Book of Mormon and not just completely in the abstract (e.g., 3 Ne. 7:8). One scripture might just represent a bit of poetic justice: “And behold, instead of gathering you, except ye will repent, behold, he shall scatter you forth that ye shall become meat for dogs and wild beasts” (Helaman 7:19). The wicked who might have consumed dogs for meat would in turn be consumed as meat by dogs.

References

Clutton-Brock, J., & Hammond, N. (1994). Hot dogs: comestible canids in Preclassic Maya culture at Cuello, Belize. Journal of Archaeological Science21(6), 819-826.

Diamond, J. M. (1998). Guns, germs and steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. Random House.

van Asch, B., Zhang, A. B., Oskarsson, M. C., Klütsch, C. F., Amorim, A., & Savolainen, P. (2013). Pre-Columbian origins of Native American dog breeds, with only limited replacement by European dogs, confirmed by mtDNA analysis. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences280(1766), 20131142.

Warinner, C., Garcia, N. R., & Tuross, N. (2013). Maize, beans and the floral isotopic diversity of highland Oaxaca, Mexico. Journal of Archaeological Science40(2), 868-873.

White, C. D., Pohl, M. E., Schwarcz, H. P., & Longstaffe, F. J. (2001). Isotopic evidence for Maya patterns of deer and dog use at Preclassic Colha. Journal of Archaeological Science28(1), 89-107.

Image of a Carolina dog by Calabash13 and used under a Creative Commons 3.0 license. The Carolina dog has genetic ancestry from Asia and might have been similar to dogs raised in Mesoamerica thousands of years ago.

Closeness to God

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“The question [that Joseph Smith addressed] was not escape from hell but closeness to God.” (Bushman, R. L. (2007). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Random House LLC., p. 199).

In other words, the question is not how do we escape from hell, the question is how close do we draw near to God? Permanent hell is reserved for relatively few individuals.

Thankful Prayers

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Last Sunday I had the prompting that all personal and family prayers (other than blessings on food) for everyone in the home should be nothing but expressions of gratitude. For one week we would not ask for anything in prayers and instead just focus on the blessings we receive. It’s been a wonderful experience. We’ve all been able to reflect more on things we are grateful for. It seems like the children have bickered less – not that they ever do much but occasionally they’ll bug one another – and that our home has been more peaceful.

I urge you to try the same – take a week and only express gratitude in your prayers. The Lord will show unto you the many tender mercies which He bestows upon you continually.

Image by MTSOFan on Flickr. Used under a CC license.

Four Glorious Gifts From God

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The prophet Moroni wrote to encourage us to “Deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them” (Moroni 10:8).

We receive four glorious gifts from God.

1. Faith

The first glorious gift is faith.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Let me say that again with words that clarify the meaning: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen.” Faith isn’t just hoping something is true; it isn’t just believing in God – faith is much more and much more powerful. Faith is evidence; faith in God is proof of Him and His love for you. Walking by faith isn’t blindly following Christ, it is following Him because you have proof that what you are doing is right. Faith is a gift from God. Moroni wrote: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord. If you want stronger faith, pray for it and keep the commandments. God will bless you with more and more faith as you follow Him.

Faith is a shield unto us. The Apostle Paul counseled: “Above all, [take] the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire to attack his enemy with his sword or spear. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and could use it to attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand strong attacks from the enemy. Soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually.

Paul said the shield of faith was the most important armor for us. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other things build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the Adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others – we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it’s important to attend church regularly and be an active part of a branch or ward. Who is has not been at church (recently) but could be or should be? Who is missing out on the faith-strengthening experience of attending church and partaking of the Sacrament? Who can you invite to join the army of the Lord? Inviting others to Christ will strengthen your faith in Him and help others develop faith in Christ.

With great faith, great works can be accomplished.

“In New Zealand, President Kimball was stricken with…the flu, suffering around the clock with either fever and perspiration or with chills. Three thousand young people were waiting at a local stadium to hear him speak, but were told, ‘Tonight you will hear from President [N. Eldon] Tanner, because President Kimball is ill.’ Thirty minutes before the meeting was to start, President Kimball, still limp, spoke to his physician, Russel M. Nelson, who was waiting with him, and said, ‘Tell [my wife] we’re going.’ They had to practically carry him to the car. At the stadium, a young man giving the opening prayer said, ‘We are three thousand New Zealand youth. We are assembled here, having prepared for six months to sing and to dance for thy prophet. Wilt thou heal him and deliver him here?’ As he said ‘Amen,’ the car drove into the stadium. Three thousand voices cheered that the prophet had come. He stood, strengthened even in his illness, and bore his witness to them.” (Madsen, T. G. (2004). The Presidents of the Church: Insights into Their Lives and Teachings. Deseret Book. p. 350-351).

Such was the power of the faith of the New Zealand youth and the faith of the prophet. Such can be the power of faith in our lives!

2. Peace

The second glorious gift is peace.

One morning my mission companion and I spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle, Washington. The spring day was lovely with white, pink, and red apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the trees like snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound – up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope, peace, and restoration but no one was listening. People were generally kind to us but no one was interested. I was struck by the contrast of the rejection of our beautiful message on such a beautiful day. My companion and I felt more dejected the more we were rejected. Then adding a bit of injury to insult, at one house a dog ran up and bit me on the leg as my companion and I started walking up the driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a tear in them. We kept tracting for almost an hour to finish off the area then walked home so I could get cleaned up. I felt discouraged by the unsuccessful morning capped off with an unfriendly dog.

All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine for a couple minutes how my life could be worse, then I realize my life is beautiful, regardless of difficulties at the time. So I spent part of the walk back to the apartment wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse.

Our mail was there when we got home. Missionaries opening mail are like children on Christmas morning so normally receiving mail is a joyful experience. There was a letter from my parents! I opened the letter to learn that Eric, a friend from high school and one of my roommates at BYU, had been in a taxi with his companion when a truck hit their vehicle, killing Eric. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. However, during this time of acute grief all I could think about was how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched the persecutions, suffering, and death of His beloved Son. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after a few minutes, the pain was gone. My grief was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no longer any pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. Amid grief and loss and pain, the Lord provides peace. The Lord’s peace heals our pain. Brothers and sisters, that is the nature of the Atonement. It removes the sting of death and sin – miraculously – and replaces it with peace.

Many of you and many throughout the world have felt this peace. In the midst of the Civil War, following the news that his son had been injured in a battle, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the following words:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

These words resonate strongly in our tumultuous world today. People cry for peace but peace can be hard to find. Nations strive against nations. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers strive against one another. Hate, mistrust, abuse, and violence are rampant. It is enough to cause people’s hearts to fail and fear. Many feel that hope is lost, that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth.” The answer for despair and darkness is not found in human philosophies. The answer is not found in worldly goods. The Answer once lay in a manger surrounded by animals and bathed in radiant starlight.

In the most humble of births the King of Heaven and Earth, the Prince of Peace, came to earth. He came with no great earthly fanfare; angels witnessed to those with ears to hear and the star witnessed to those with eyes to see. This singular event was the start of the most important 33 years in the history of the world – a life like no other. Jesus Christ was a gift from God to bring peace and salvation to earth.

In contrast to the humble birth and life of the Savior, the Christmas season is full of frenetic shopping and greedy consumerism. However, there is much positive too; it is also a season full of giving, thanksgiving, love, family, and joy. At this Christmas season, I pray that we all might remember Who Christmas really is about.

Christmas should not be about getting, although we are given so much by God, it should be about giving. It is a time that we celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ. He gave His life – His whole life – for us so that we could be saved. Just as wise men brought the young Jesus gifts, so too should we give gifts to others. The best gifts are not the ones that cost money. We should give of our time and our love. We should give service to those in need and even to those who do not think they are in need.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson said, “For a few moments, may we set aside the catalogs of Christmas, with their gifts of exotic description. Let’s even turn from the flowers for Mother, the special tie for Father, the cute doll, the train that whistles, the long-awaited bicycle—even the books and videos—and direct our thoughts to God-given gifts that endure” (Monson, April 1993 General Conference). [Commentary: after looking back at that talk, I realized how similar my talk/essay was to his in structure. The similarity was unintentional. I collected that quote years ago and included it without referencing the talk specifically].

The greatest gift we could give this Christmas time is the gift of our hearts, our souls, and our will to the Savior. We can rededicate ourselves to Him and to living His gospel. We can do the things that the Savior would do – help others, lift those who suffer, do good to those who spitefully use us, and share of our abundance (or even of our lack of abundance) with those around us. Most of all, we can give the gift of peace by our peaceful actions towards others. We can give peace to the hurt, the suffering, the lonely. We can spread peace in our home and in our hearts by focusing on the Savior. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus taught. Blessed are those who are filled with peace and help others have peace.

3. Holy Ghost

The third glorious gift is the Holy Ghost

“Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:17-20)

The Holy Ghost gives us a new, soft heart. No more will we be afflicted with spiritual stenosis, we can have a strong, soft heart sensitive to the Spirit. We can teach others how to recognize that Spirit and receive it into their hearts. This is a responsibility we have to our families, to our visiting or home teaching families, to those we teach at church – the responsibility of helping others recognize the Spirit of the Lord. Through the gift of the Holy Ghost we can know the path back to our heavenly home.

4. Atonement & forgiveness

The final glorious gift is the gift of forgiveness through the Atonement of the Messiah.

This Christmas season, whether we can afford to purchase gifts or not, we can all afford one gift – the gift of forgiveness. We can forgive others for any real or perceived wrongs they did unto us or loved ones and in turn we can be forgiven by God.

Pres. Henry B. Eyring wrote,

“As we gather in [our] heavenly home, we will be surrounded by those who have been forgiven of all sin and who have forgiven each other. We can taste some of that joy now, especially as we remember and celebrate the Savior’s gifts to us…. In the Christmas season we feel a greater desire to remember and ponder the Savior’s words. He warned us that we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive others (see Matthew 6:14–15). That is often hard to do, so you will need to pray for help. This help to forgive will come most often when you are allowed to see that you have given as much or more hurt than you have received. When you act on that answer to your prayer for strength to forgive, you will feel a burden lifted from your shoulders. Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden. As you forgive, you will feel the joy of being forgiven. At this Christmastime you can give and receive the gift of forgiveness. The feeling of happiness that will come will be a glimpse of what we can feel at home together in the eternal home for which we yearn.” (Ensign, December 2009).

Forgiveness is precisely what Christmas is about. That tiny baby born in a manger was the Son of God. Jesus lived so that we might have the promise of eternal life. He did this because He loves us. By His love and power we can be forgiven of our sins. We all make mistakes. We all sin and fall short of God’s laws. But we can be forgiven. God said of Joseph Smith (and of each of us, for we all sin), “Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.” (D&C 64:7).

Because the Lord is so willing to forgive us, we are commanded to forgive one another, “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:9-10). We are required to forgive all people – without condition. It does not matter what they did to us, the only thing that matters is forgiving. This does not mean that we sanction people’s misdeeds or sins but we should forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving attitude.

There is a story about George Albert Smith, who was a prophet of God. Pres. Smith was a peacemaker who sought never to “be an enemy to any living soul” (The Presidents of the Church, Madsen, p.222). The story goes as follows, “George Albert Smith had an old 1936 Ford with a very precious blanket on the front seat made by Navajo Indians; they had sewn the names of all the Twelve into the blanket, along with his own name. The car wasn’t locked because it was in a guarded Church parking lot. But the blanket was stolen anyway. George Albert walked out from his meetings and found the blanket was gone. He could have [got upset but what did he do?] He said simply, ‘I wish we knew who it was so that we could give him the blanket…, for he must have been cold; and some food also, for he must have been hungry.’” (ibid., p.224). Now that is forgiveness! Pres. Smith’s response showed his forgiveness and love for others, even those who wronged him – especially those who wronged him. We can emulate Pres. Smith’s example and forgive others.

In the hymn As Now We Take the Sacrament we sing:

“As now our minds review the past,
We know we must repent;
The way to thee is righteousness—
The way thy life was spent.
Forgiveness is a gift from thee
We seek with pure intent.
With hands now pledged to do thy work,
We take the sacrament.”

“Forgiveness is a gift” from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ Christmas gift to each of us as we repent. Like peace, forgiveness is another gift that each of us, no matter how rich or poor we may be, can afford to give to someone this Christmas season. What greater gift is there than the peace that comes from wrongs and trespasses forgiven? What greater gift could we give ourselves than to let go of the hurt and bitterness and pain we retain when we are unforgiving? This Christmas, give the gift of forgiveness to someone who needs yours.

As we move along the path of life, may we remember these four glorious gifts from God – faith, peace, the Holy Ghost, and forgiveness. May we share our faith with others through the actions of our lives, may we be peacemakers, may we follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and teach others how to feel, recognize, and receive that Spirit, and may we forgive others! The Church and the gospel are true. We are led by a prophet of God who reveals God’s will. As we follow the prophet we will be blessed with gifts from God.

Image by Andy Noren. Used under a CC license (summary: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/).