John Tanner in the Joseph Smith Papers

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The LDS Church is archiving and making available to all, documents, journals, and other church sources contemporary with the prophet Joseph Smith (e.g., his journals, church meeting minutes, revelations, etc.). This is an unprecedented expose of the prophet Joseph Smith and the early days of the Church. His life and actions will be available to all to peruse. There are few other people in the world with more serious scholarly (and pseudoscholarly {generally anti-Mormon}) work devoted to them than Joseph Smith. That’s a bold statement but not without evidence. Joseph Smith wrote relatively little about himself but people took copious notes of meetings with him. Much of what we can read in these documents is about Joseph Smith but really its the history of the early days of the restored Church.

The project is nowhere near completion but what is done is available online. I wanted to see what is available about one of my ancestors – John Tanner. It turns out that there is some, so far.

In the Minute Book 2, a record of the April Conference in 1838 held at Far West, Missouri, we read of some of the troubles the Latter-day Saints were experiencing (to put it mildly). I’ll quote a portion that includes a reference to John Tanner:

In the meantime men were abused, women insulted and ravished by the troops; and all this, while we were kept  prisonors.— Whilst the town was guarded, we were called  together by the order of General Lucas, and a guard placed close around us; and in that situation were compelled, to sign a deed of trust for the purpose of making  our individual property all holden, as they said, to pay  all the debts of every individual belonging to the Church,  and also to pay for all damages, the old inhabitants of  Davis may have sustained, in consequence of the late difficulties in that County.—

Genl [John B.] Clark was now arrived, and the first important  move by him was the collecting our men together on the square and selecting out about 50 of them; whom he immediately marched unto a house and confined close, this  was done, without the aid of the sheriff; or any legal process. The next day 46 of those taken, were driven like a parcel of menial slaves, off to Richmond, not knowing why they  were taken; or what they were taken for. After being confined in Richmond more than 2 weeks, about one half were liberated  the rest after another week’s confinement, were most of  them recognized to appear at Court and have since been let to bail.— Since Genl Clark withdrew his troops from Far-West, parties of armed men have reconoitered the County, driving off horses, sheep, and cattle, and also plundering  houses.— The barbarity of Genl Lucas’ troops ought not  to be passed over in silence, they shot down our [p. 169] cattle and hogs merely for the sake of destroying them, leaving them for the ravens to eat. They took prisoner an aged man by the name of [John]Tanner and without any reason for it, he was struck over the head with a gun, which laid his scull bare.— Another man by the name of Carey, was  also taken prisoner by them, and without any provocation,  had his brains dashed out with a gun; he was laid in  a waggon, and there permitted to remain, for the space of  24 hours, during which time no one was permitted to  administer to him comfort and consolation; and after he  was removed from that situation, he lived but a  few hours.— The destruction of property, at, and about  Far-West, is very great, many, yes a large portion  are stripped bare as it were, and others partially so; indeed  take us as a body, at this time, we are a poor and afflicted  people; and if we are compelled to leave the State in the Spring many; yes a large portion of our Society,  will have to be removed at the expence of the State, as those who otherwise might have helped them,  are now debarred that privilege, in consequence of  the deed of trust we were compelled to sign;  which deed so operates upon our real estate that it  will sell for but little or nothing at this time.” (pp. 171-172; emphasis added)

John survived the hit to the head, which left him very bloody (obviously, since his “scull [sic]” was showing). He later crossed the plains with the Saints and died in Utah.

In the Minute Book 1 (Kirtland High Council Minutes,” Minute Book 1, 3 Dec. 1832–30 Nov. 1837; pp. 28-29), John Tanner was told to move to Kirtland:

Kirtland Sept 28th 1833—

This day a councel of Elders convened for  the purpose of taking into consideration  the case of brother John Tanner who sent his  two sons to Kirtland to assertain the will  of the Lord whither he should go to Zion  or move to this place— Bro Oliver [Cowdery] [p. 24] opened the councel by prayer

After the case was fairly laid before the  councel it was unanimously agreed by all  present that it was the will of the Lord for  all who are able and willing to build up  and strengthen the stake in Kirtland should do so therefore this is our councel  to our beloved brother John that he moove  to Kirtland fro the above named purpose

F[rederick] G Williams

On May 8, 1834, it was recorded that John Tanner gave the Church $170 (that’s worth anywhere from $4000 to $100,000 today, depending on how you measure it). He gave much more than that to the Church, that was just one of the times recorded.

John Tanner was included in a list of men “who were blessed in consequence of  their working on the House of the Lord in Kirtland and those also who consecrated to its upbuilding” (Minutes, 7-8 March, 1835, p. 2): “Gad Yale, John JohnsonJohn Tanner called & Blessed.  Gad Yale being one who went for the relief of their [p. 196] afflicted brethren in Mo. and received a blessing accordingly.” (pp. 5-6)

My ancestor, Sidney Tanner (John’s son), was also at the meeting and blessed for his work.

On December 9, 1835, Joseph Smith wrote: “To day Elder Tanner brought me the half of a fat[te]ned hog for the be[ne] fit of my family. And a few days since Elder S[hadrach] Roundy brought me a quarter of beef  and may all the blessings, that are  named above, be poured upon their  heads, for their kindness toward me” (Journal, 1835-1836, p. 61; emphasis added).

The whole project is fascinating. I’m looking forward to reviewing more sources as the project is completed over the coming years.

Use Not Vain Repetitions

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In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior said, “But when ye pray, use not vain  repetitions, as the  heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matt. 6: 7).

This is a verse that was much discussed back in my seminary days. Maybe I am just remembering wrong but I remember the general consensus was that this meant saying the same things over and over in prayers and maybe without sincere intent. While I think this is a valid view of what the Savior meant, I believe it is not entirely correct.

So what are vain repetitions? If it is not saying and asking for the same things all the time in prayers, what are vain repetitions?

Elder Oaks provided one explanation:

“Literary excellence is not our desire. We do not advocate flowery and wordy prayers. We wish to follow the Savior’s teaching, ‘When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking’ (Matt. 6:7; see also 3 Ne. 13:7). Our prayers should be simple, direct, and sincere.

“We are especially anxious that our position on special language in prayers not cause some to be reluctant to pray in our Church meetings or in other settings where their prayers are heard. We have particular concern for converts and others who have not yet had experience in using these words.

“I am sure that our Heavenly Father, who loves all of His children, hears and answers all prayers, however phrased. If He is offended in connection with prayers, it is likely to be by their absence, not their wording.” (New Era, Jan. 2006).

Elder Oaks equated vain repetitions in prayer as the opposite of “simple, direct, and sincere.” In other words, saying prayers that feed our vanity. These are prayers that we give in order to impress other people with the ‘power’ and ‘beauty’ of our prayers. They are prayers where our reward is the accolades of other people rather than the Spirit of God. The other part of Elder Oaks’ explanation of vain repetitions was insincerity. I will return to this topic later.

When people do things to be seen and recognized by other people, especially in prayer, they are exhibiting their pride.

We read in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecc. 1:2). Such is the vanity of those who pray pridefully.

There is another type of vanity. This is what we are commanded not to do – e.g., we “should not take the name of the Lord [our] God in vain” (2 Ne. 26:32). This vanity is two-fold. On one hand it means with disrespect but on the other hand it means without reward or power or result. If the Lord’s name is used in vain, it could be ‘swearing’ or it could be an attempt at an unauthorized use of His name (e.g., trying to perform priesthood ordinances without priesthood authority). This type of vanity goes well beyond pride or lack of sincerity but is a part of my final point on this topic. Now I want to return to sincerity in order to transition to my final point.

King Claudius, the villain of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, at one point retires to a chapel to pray. He offers what sounds like a repentant prayer, or at least the struggling towards one.

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect….
Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay!
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well.

It sounds like he is trying to repent but the king soon reveals his lack of sincerity.

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go (Hamlet, Act III, Scene III).

Again, the king was honest enough to recognize his lack of sincerity but his prayer was in vain. He was not sincere. His repentance was in vain.

Now my final point is this: what the Lord means is to not keep asking for things that are vain. Vain meaning prideful but vain meaning it won’t happen. This could be because what we are asking for is impossible, even for God (at least not possible without destroying His plan for us). Our prayers might be vain when we ask without sincerity like Hamlet’s uncle / step-father. Our prayers might be vain when we keep asking God for something about which He already told us “no.” These types of prayers could go like this, “Please give me one million dollars so I can buy a ski boat.” Then this prayer is repeated over and over. That might seem laughable but it only differs in degrees from the vain repetitions found in prayers we sometimes offer.

I’m not talking about repetitious prayers. There are things that we need to offer our thanks for regularly and things for which we should ask regularly. In the church we have a set, ritualistic sacrament prayer. The Lord didn’t preach against repetitious prayers, He spoke against vain repetitions. There are times when we are asked to ‘weary’ (i.e., always to pray and not faint) the Lord in prayer (see the parable of the unjust judge [or, persistent widow] in Luke 18:1-8).

Prayer is about communicating with our Heavenly Father. As we read accounts of Jesus’ prayers, we see the great intensity and sincerity and faith that He had in His supplications. Jesus gave simple but powerful prayers. Our prayers should emulate His prayers.

Vain repetitions in prayers could mean a number of things. I think the key though is that vain prayers are ones done without the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. They are ones devoid of intent. They might be edifices to our pride, to be gazed upon in wonder by humankind, but these types of prayers are not real prayers; we have our reward and what an effervescent reward it is! It is only in the sincere, honest, inspired prayers that we can better know God and in turn, know His will for us.

Treasure in Heaven

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Update: Apparently with the redone BYUTV website, the film Treasure in Heaven is no longer available to watch online. There are a number of places to purchase it online (Amazon, Walmart) but the best place to get the film is from the LDS Store with the Doctrine & Covenants Visual Resource DVDs, which cost US$4.50. The movie is on disc 3 of the set.

Between General Conference sessions a video called Treasure in Heaven was broadcast. This video is a 20 minute depiction of a few events from John Tanner’s life; John Tanner is my great-great-great-great grandfather. I’ve watched the film many times (we got it on DVD last year); my children love watching it. The film is a powerful message of faith and consecration.

Here is the film (give it a bit to load if the play button is not appearing; or watch it on the BYUtv site – the direct link is below the video):

Here is the link to the video on the BYUtv website. Here is a post I wrote about John Tanner. Here is a post about the temple I wrote that also includes some about John Tanner. He was a great man who gave all he had – repeatedly – for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He helped build temples and Zion. His descendants number in the 10s of thousands, many of whom are faithful members of the Church today. I’m honored to be one of his descendants. He shored up treasure in heaven by his sacrifices.