GenCon14: Closing Benediction

 

An Unfinished Work

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By GA Many

They were just like you and me. The small group of people who met together to break bread in 1830. It was April, on a farm. Flies were probably buzzing in the windows as the spring sun was doing what it does in bringing things back to life. This energetic group of unfinished Christians was self-selected from a few local families in the surrounding counties.

Some were there because they had witnessed amazing things in their life and this group represented the only people with whom they felt like they could share their stories with.

Some had been cold-shouldered out of other congregations for being more fluid in their interpretation of the “canon”.

Some had come looking for a community that provided a safe place to explore ideas that were still swirling in their hearts and minds. They hadn’t actually shared these thoughts with anyone – yet. However, certain novel and spontaneous thoughts had over time seemingly and independently bubbled up inside them. And although these ideas were hard to express, when listening to Joseph speak, there was something like a flicker of a candle in their hearts that connected what had previously begun to surface in their own consciousness with his experience.

Still others in the group were on hand to see what money could be made from a group of people naïve enough to be honest.

Some were nervous about what it would mean for their families if their involvement in these meetings was made public.

Some were just curious and were willing to hitch their wagons to anything that looked to have some momentum.

These unpolished saints’ imaginations were active. Their hearts were connected in an inexplicable and unseen counter-culturalism. Where most humans were (and still are) wont to fight over access to resources, for this group the Universe was alive and generous. Church and Religion and Spirituality and Life were about exploring our connection to the universal source and creating ways to share that bounty with others.

The series of events around 1830 were the beginning of a new adventure. I’d like to think that these saints understood the possibility that things could get messy. And that they were ok with rolling up their sleeves.

 

They were just like you and me.

 

Many of these proto Mormons would certainly have been struggling with the emotional baggage and personal costs often associated with the growing pains of expanding your faith. The religious environment was intense and any shift away from the established norms would be seen by others as weakness. When in fact just the opposite was taking place. To exert one’s will opposite to the trends of the establishment is to call attention to oneself. That can be extremely challenging. There is a certain easy path of anonymity when you are affiliated with the critical mass of a “legitimate” organization. Anonymity can offer a break from reasoning. The agency associated with reasoning can often be paralyzing. It would have been far easier to ignore those impulses to change the way one sees the world. Being a proto Mormon would have been messy.

Really, to be a proto-anything is a messy undertaking. To exist in this unproven liminal space between the now and the foreseen is uncomfortable. It’s like trying to grow tomatoes in zero gravity. The universe is suddenly a chaos of swirling soil, seeds, some good – some bad, worms, and growing media – no up and no down. The seeds are only catching glimpses of a potential light source shining through the disaster. The world you used to know is spinning out of control. This spiritual vertigo is beyond nauseating. Being an untethered single point in the cosmos is to be alone. Having at least one other fixed point to triangulate from is sometimes all one needs to establish a bearing. Moving from lost to found can be as simple as identifying a stationary point in the cosmos. Ancient sailors, lost on the high seas could instantly get their bearings if the clouds were to part just long enough to get a glimpse of Polaris in the northern skies. Who/What will be that fixture for us? Who/What will be that source of light?

Finding your way to something authentic is messy. In a fake-it-till-you-make-it world, the questions seem to far outnumber good answers. Sometimes it feels like we don’t even know what questions to ask. It must have been the same back in 1830. It’s likely that they weren’t sure what direction to take things, until they ran across ideas in the Book of Mormon that rocked their paradigm. Today, we too face issues that are capable of upending our personal tables. The ultimate outcome of this disorder really depends on what we make of it. When our world is spinning apart, from what points will we get our bearings? Should we trust people who are vested in keeping an institution in tact? Or someone who has nothing to lose? Will we arranged the overturned tables of our faith exactly the way they were before? Or walk away and start all over again. There are no easy answers. The black and white of yesterday makes room for a spectrum of colors and viewpoints and ways to see this mortal experience. Every one of us is entirely unique. And we yearn to contribute to this creation without being required to ask permission.

The evidence would suggest that religious institutions in any era don’t do well with outliers. Within a group that values homogeneity, to have an alternative viewpoint, is to create separation. The natural impulse to categorize other humans is strong. You and them. Them and you. A gap between our hearts and minds is opened up. That gap between the hearts and minds of humans is what we’ve been asked to go back into the chaos and bridge. In previous generations this gap was referred to as enmity. Think about that for a minute. What would a society look like where human beings supported each other, while they worked out their demons with their own God? As compared to a society where it’s my god vs your god. My stuff vs your stuff. Cheap answers offered in response to heavy questions. What if things were different? What if we started to use our imaginations again? What if we rolled up our sleeves and supported each other while each created something unique? It wouldn’t be like raising barns or clearing farm land for each other like our predecessors. This would be far different from any evangelizing efforts we may have been a part of in the past. This would not look anything like multilevel marketing. We would not to be personally invested in the results of our outreach efforts.

Each of our efforts to connect with the Divine could potentially take every single one of us on an individual and unique path. Are we ok with that? These efforts will certainly not funnel everyone into an identical two-pant suit. With the understanding that we are all just people in transition, working diligently to get our bearings, any advice offered to each other would be carefully considered and deliberately weighed against the golden rule. Each of us would need to work to find unique ways of making ourselves available. I have a dear friend who dyes his hair blue for church. He does this so that anyone frustrated with homogeneity and simplistic answers, can take one look at him and see that he could be someone they could sit by and possibly get some straight talk. We’ll have to be more comfortable with straight talk. When you are seemingly lost, to have one other human extend their hand, bridge that gap and tell you that “you are not crazy and you are not alone” can be the difference maker. That’s straight talk. To eliminate the enmity that exists between us humans is the work of healing, even salvation – whatever that means. To know and connect with and empathize with others along the full spectrum of humanity is to know and connect with The Divine. It was Eve, the mother of all living, who in her Wisdom, was the first in the primal partnership to recognize that to support her children she needed to break an existing pattern. She needed to take that brave step back into the disorder.

Could it be that we don’t need to go off to exotic places in the world to make a distinctive contribution? What if we worked to make ourselves available right where we are? For so many of us the internet has provided that chance to open ourselves up to unique connections. I would submit that Joseph was on to something when he talked about the keys to the ministering of angels being associated with a preparatory priesthood. To participate in this cosmic effort to connect with other untethered souls, is to take up company with the angels. I have no idea what this even means, but I still believe in the concept of angels. 1830 has come and gone.

What if that group was stirred to action by the very same angels who are stirring our hearts today? The proto-Mormons saw something was off and felt a calling to engage in the work – to “go and do”. What if this group of humans, who were just like you and me, happened to be self-selected from a community that idolized itinerant preachers? That’s what people did back then. They cleared land, planted farms and in their free time they stood on street corners and preached. And it seems like these particular proto-Mormons were perfectly selected for and got really good at preaching and baptizing. 14 million is a heckuva down line. Well, what if those same angels are again stirring in the hearts of humans. Humans with imaginations who are looking for something more. This time the group isn’t really keen on preaching. And we happen to see most institutions as essentially self-serving.

What if those same timeless angels are again stirring us to action? Encouraging us to stop pretending and to work towards something authentic. What if we took a break from idealizing the painfully pious, puritanical, starched-collar types? And instead we take a page from JD Salinger’s ever-questioning gadfly protagonist Holden Caulfield. It might look a little crazy, but anything is going to look asymmetric when compared to the empire of sameness of the current model. What if we gave each other some space to explore? To create? What would that look like? What if being a member of this order of priesthood means that we empower each other to be difference makers in the lives of other humans. Wherever that takes us. Helping each other make sense of our unique experience.

Our own personal callings could manifest as social activism, or as an impulse to work to restore dignity for other humans who are down on their luck, or to create art or literature that serves to bind our human spirits together. What if the cosmic model is flat rather than vertical? In this current era of global connectedness, exclusivity would make way for a borderless inclusive outreach. And the thing is, this is already happening. There are so many people who are difference makers. Let us tie in to that, wherever it takes us. Then let us reach out and find each other again and share those stories. Let us make safe places where we can share the amazing stories of our own transformations. Let us make room for each to determine our own canon and write our own stories. Whatever that looks like. It will never be a world dominating institution. It will be small and nimble and portable. Successful in spite of the institution. Let us spend some time as small groups of unfinished humans, enjoying the energy of the sun doing what it does in bringing things back to life. There’s a lot to live for.

GenCon14: Hoping For

By Brother-Elder Efik

Let me begin by pointing out that in African Traditional Religion (as I have experienced it), God(s) often communicates by action: through natural phenomenon – rain, thunder, & sometimes by fire; and by use of totems. There are many other things that are identified as a response from the God(s). Doubtless, some of these “responses” can be said to be coincidental, but the fact remains that they correlate well with the demands of the worshippers – thus creating a perfect response from their God(s). Early Mormon stories are filled with such experiences (especially, if we consider experiences during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple). It appears as societies tend to advance in knowledge, however, such religious experiences/manifestations seem to rescind to the background. A careful look at modern Mormonism reveals a God who doesn’t act, rather actions gets attributed to Him (for instance, a sick person who receives “blessing & anointing”, yet is admonished to take proper medications; when he gets healed, was it by the anointing or by medical care that he got healed?)

Or perhaps, in Mormonism, God only acts on individual levels (like when we lose a pair of shoes and pray to find it), or maybe He is too busy visiting other worlds (D&C 88: 51-61)? It would seem that such experiences have rescinded, but for the fact that African Traditional Religion has managed to keep its rituals actively appealing enough for the God(s) to always respond to.

Yet we have as Mormons a specific appeal that now seems further out of reach.  In modern Mormonism, should one begin to prophesy in a sacrament meeting, the first thought that’ll cross everyone’s mind is Mental illness. But once upon a time, we as a people all craved such experiences (and even exhibited our talents [D&C 28]). George Q. Cannon, even encouraged all to experience such: “The genius of the kingdom with which we are associated is to disseminate knowledge through all the ranks of the people, and to make every man a prophet and every woman a prophetess, that they may understand the plans and purposes of God.” [JD 12:46]

Modern Mormonism prides itself as being “the only true church”, at one time our leaders even admonished the world to ” bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it.” [Gordon B. Hinckley, ” The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith” (Ensign, November 2002)]. But careful look at the scripture from whence cometh our pride reveals, what made us true was because the God(s) spoke to us collectively [D&C 1:30].

Speaking to Us Collectively

Joseph Smith once defined truth as ” knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” [D&C 93:24], Jesus Christ (as found in the New Testament) even called himself “the truth” [John 14:6]. D&C 93, gives us a rare discourse on how we can come to walk in truth (possessing all knowledge of past, present, & future: becoming God), something described in stories of the ancients like Moses, Enoch, etc. But such is not made in Heaven, rather we achieve such through our desires and actions. Here God(s) Act!  And not only for one: as Joseph Smith stated, “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him … from the least to the greatest” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [Chapter 22]), indicating the need to be actively engaged in things that will enable us work in truth; the need to live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

Being who I am, I take the above literally. I believe these teachings are calculated to bring down the heavens to literally walk with us; a sort of pre-fall, or if you will, a garden of eden condition, reestablished just for us. Being “able to bear” or being “actively engaged”, I believe, is not determined by how many laws we are able to keep. Rather it is conditioned upon our desire to walk in truth, “for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” [Proverbs 23:7]. It is this desire the walk in truth or walk in the presence of God, that allows us to radiate this light which the Book of Mormon calls “receiv[ing] his image in [our] countenances” (Alma 5:14), for afteral, we will “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). But it all begins with a desire; a sort of action not yet enacted.

This desire will lead us to become like God: perfect. One way of being perfect is to let our “bowels be moved with compassion toward[s]” all men (D&C 121:3), especially those who have wronged us. It is by this that we come to see beyond the mortal body and cloth that separate us, and realize that we are all made up of the same light. We become perfect when we can love ALL unconditionally, not because it’s a commandment from God; but we’ve realized it is in our ability to love unconditionally that we come to know this fleeting moment called mortality, know it is merely a glass that will soon shatter to reveal to us that we’ve all along been standing in the presence of that divine light called God.

It is only through such means that we can walk in truth whilst in this mortality. As the great Catholic theologian Teilhard de Chardin taught, when humanity finally harnesses the power of love, man will have for the second time in history, discovered fire (cf: “The Evolution of Chastity,” in Toward the Future, 1936, XI, 86-87). What more can I say, our God is a consuming fire!

The thing about realizing we’ve all along been standing in the presence of that divine light is: you never want to stand alone. Lehi understood this after partaking of the fruit. Moses learnt that much from speaking face-to-face with the Lord, and even “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).

The Christian Bible has a line about us being the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3), in my mind it was speaking of the community, not the individual. When each of us are able to walk in truth, we like Moses become filled with light (D&C 88:67). An assembly of all such individuals will pull down the Heavens, and raise the earth like Enoch & his people did. It is then that “thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy; And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come.” (JST Genesis 9:22-23).

 

I wish my experiences were half worth writing of as my hopes (i.e., it’s my hopes that keep me going & searching). Kipley Farr once said that church members can’t be saved by merely learning and abiding by the milk of the gospel. And as a child, I had a Ghanian teacher who told me, if you desire to hide something from an African, keep it in a book; you can be rest assured he will never discover it. I came in contact with the church in the 1990s, and have since remained. Served a mission in the 2000s, married in the temple, & presently serve as counsellor in the bishopric – I guess I qualify as a TBM or a Truely Correlated Mormon. I have noticed that we Africans conceptualize God and his power different from how the church does.

God to us (well, to my tribe), is God because of his actions. His priests are chosen through a ceremony that involves a display of God’s power. Thus our motivation in a typical African Traditional Religion, is the fact that God Acts. Thus when I joined the LDS church, I was attracted by the concept of priesthood as taught by the church.  Yet, a few years ago, my brother-in-law become in-active upon discovering Joseph Smith’s connections with masonry (you know, a lot of Christians don’t see masonry in a good light). I have since read, enough-and-to-spare — from FAIR, Maxwell Institute, and countless blogs — seeking ways of making him become active again, but to no avail. The hope of obtaining the meat and bone of the gospel has led me into several blogs, essays, and books available online (well, living in Africa, I rely more on online materials), its been a rewarding experience: this action, I mean.

The Church as…

I am constantly reminded of something Pres. Packer said: “We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be…The authority of the priesthood is with us. After all that we have correlated and organized, it is now our responsibility to activate the power of the priesthood in the Church. Authority in the priesthood comes by way of ordination; power in the priesthood comes through faithful and obedient living in honoring covenants. It is increased by exercising and using the priesthood in righteousness.” [ “The Power of The Priesthood” Ensign (May 2010)]

 

I know you may not agree with me, but there is a great line from the Matrix trilogy, that goes thus: Locke: “Not everybody believes as you do.” Morpheus: “My beliefs do not require them to.” However, like Pres. Packer once taught: In the Church we have the agency to believe whatever we want to believe about whatever we want to believe. But we are not authorized to teach it to others as truth. [ “From Such Turn Away,” Ensign (May 1985).]

So what is to be done with all these ideas, if I can’t teach them at church? Well, I think, if we take as a given the Church’s teaching that family is the basic unit of the Church, and if we all agree that we cannot be saved (according to Mormon doctrine) but only as a family, then it behooves on me to create a Zion in my home by teaching my family the meat and bone of the gospel. And I think that may be accomplished both by my teaching & striving to be more humble, by repenting and seeking to see (hopefully) what the Brother of Jared saw on the mountain, and also by seeking to obtain the fullness of the priesthood.  To an extent I think that’s what this scripture may also imply: And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy; 23 And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch (JST Genesis 9:22).

Such are my hopes: that at the end of this life, I (as John said) may “have no greater joy than to hear that my [family] walk in truth” [3John1:4].

GenCon14: Top Five Abused Nephi Quotes: #3

  1. “May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite!”

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By Brother-Elder Ess

While the more common expression of “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” is heard from the Lord when he sets forth the new definition of “sacrifice,” it is Lehi who introduces readers to these words (which phrase, by the way, is NOT within the New Testament) when he is giving his final blessing to his son Jacob; and then Nephi inserts them as he gives his lamentation just after describing his father’s death. Again, they draw upon older texts, presumably found in the Brass Plates, namely the Psalmist and Isaiah:

 

Psalm 34:18The righteous cry and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart and saves those of a contrite spirit. None of them that trust in him shall be desolate.

 

Isaiah 57:15He that puts his trust in God will possess the land and inherit his holy mountain, and shall say, “Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people.” The High and Lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy dwells with him that is of a contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. God will not contend forever neither always be angry. He will heal and restore comforts to him and his mourners.

 

Psalm 51:17God does not desire sacrifice and does not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a contrite spirit. God will be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness.

 

Isaiah 66:2 – [Lord speaking] Where is the house that you build unto me, and where is the place of my rest? All those things has my hand made, but to the man who is poor and of a contrite spirit I will look. He who kills an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrifices a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offers an oblation, as if he offered pig’s blood; he that burns incense, as if he blessed an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations. I will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them.

 

In our day, Mormon children are taught that “sacrifice” is some sort of quasi mix of the old Law of Moses and the mortification practices of the early Roman Catholic Church. Instead of beating our own flesh, though, it is self-flagellation of the soul. From the 1993 Aaronic Priesthood Manual:

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“What does it mean to have a broken heart? (To suffer extreme sorrow.) What does the word contrite mean? (Repentant.)”

“The ‘broken heart’ spoken of in the scriptures is not the sorrow one feels because he has lost a close relative or loved one or suffered some other personal disappointment in life. Rather, the broken heart spoken of in the scriptures is the natural consequence of a person’s recognizing and admitting his own sins and imperfections.

Knowledge of the following truths should lead a person to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit:

  1. All of us in our natural, carnal, and fallen state on earth have sinned and transgressed the laws of God, for which a punishment is designated by the law of justice. 2. Jesus Christ is holy and pure. He lived a perfect life and was therefore the person least deserving of punishment for sin. 3. Because of his great love for us, Jesus Christ paid the price for all our sins. He suffered the punishment for the sins of all people.

We should realize that Jesus, the one who was perfect and had not sinned, has suffered awful punishment for all of us. Pondering the awful suffering of our Lord for us and our own unworthiness should be a heartbreaking experience.”

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In other words, we are told that a broken heart and a contrite spirit is a heavy guilt on our shoulders for being unworthy sinners.  And we should try to bring this about, through a sort of Protestant self-reflection magic.

 

Why have we settled for this reading?  Perhaps because it is both something we can perform, and also something that seems to come from a “pool of sincerity,” as it were: namely, making ourselves feel sad.  A lovely combination, right?  The model of looking upon our own sins, and feeling ashamed is an old one, used by preachers for centuries to whip up their crowds and get them to the mercy seat, where they can offer absolution.  But this reading fails to consider what is to come, after we offer up a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  And, of course, presumes a sort of magic we ought to know better than to believe in, at this point.

 

When talking about the broken heart and contrite spirit, Lehi tells his son that “men are instructed sufficiently to know good from evil” and that “salvation is free.” One might conclude from Lehi’s words and his famous dream, that partaking of the fruit is a choice, and simply desiring it, asking for mercy and walking towards it is sufficient to receive. Lehi continues: “how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah…” No merits or performances warrant a soul to be with God, for those come solely from the Lord Himself.

 

Why can’t we perform “broken heart and contrite spirit,” and merit salvation?  Ask yourself: Can we sorrow our way right into Heaven?  Have we been sad enough, today?  Have we felt bad enough about ourselves, today?  Does that make you happy, to have felt so sad?  Feel worse, then!

Does this sound like a path to glory, or to a bipolar disorder?  Is Zion only filled with the most depressed and self-loathing among us, joyful in their sadness?  If so, can we make ourselves more depressed, or loath ourselves more deeply?  Is that why Moses raised the brazen serpent, in order to show people how rotten they really were, and thus, make them sad?  Or did they need only look and believe in something?

 

I have come to believe that Nephi and Lehi had different ideas about mercy and forgiveness. As indicated in his dream, Lehi’s approach to the Tree of Life was based on desire after having cried out for mercy in the “dark wasteland.” Nephi, on the other hand, preached the necessity of holding tight to the rod while in the “mist of darkness” which would lead one directly to the Tree.

 

Nephi, elsewhere, speaks of how “wretched” he is, how his iniquities cause him grief, and the sorrow he experiences “because of the temptations and the sins” which so easily beset him. For this prophet, the Lord is his Rod in the Fog, and has filled him with mercy and love as he journeyed through the wilderness and over the waters of the great deep. He has given him something to hold onto through his dark travels: knowledge and visions and the ministering of angels. Yet Nephi still wonders if this is enough to redeem his soul. He equates a broken heart and contrite spirit with having the gates of hell shut continually before him. That is the shutting of the gates, it seems, suggesting that Hell’s Gates are to be opened in a proud heart and a boasting spirit, perhaps.  The walk Nephi takes is “the path of the low valley,” being “strict in the plain road.” His prayer is to avoid these “stumbling blocks,” or at least to have the Lord clear the way so that he doesn’t encounter them.

 

Lehi and Nephi are not the only ones to use our much abused phrase:

Hel 8:15 – Nephi (son of Helaman) says that even as Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness and those who looked lived, the same will be for those who have faith and a BH&CS might have eternal life. Also, Abraham who saw his coming, was filled with gladness and rejoiced. And not only Abraham and Moses, but many were shown to the people, a great many thousand years before Christ’s coming. Other prophets knew of this, too, including Isaiah (which seems to be the source of the expression for the Nephites).

 

Mormon 2:14 – The Nephites mourned and lamented, but their sorrowing was not unto repentance because of the goodness of God, but it was the sorrowing of the damned. They did not come unto Jesus with a BH&CS, but cursed God and wished to die. The day of grace was passed with them.  Being sad because you are damned is not quite the sacrifice he is looking for, or else Hell itself is the doorway to heaven.

 

Ether 4:14 – Whoever believes the things which the Lord has spoken will be visited with the manifestations of his Spirit, (he will know and bear record). Whatever persuades men to do good is of Christ, and whoever will not believe his words will not believe that Christ is or that the Father sent him. Jesus beckons the Gentiles to come to him, and he will show them the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief. He will also show Israel what has been hidden. When the Gentiles rend the veil of unbelief which is founded in a hard heart and blind mind, then will that which has been hidden from the foundation of the world come to them. When they call upon the Father in the name of Christ, with a BH&CS, then they will know that the Father has remembered the covenant which he made to the fathers of Israel.

 

Moroni 6:2 – Elders, priests and teachers were baptized, but none were baptized unless they brought forth fruit showing they were worthy of it. And none were received unto baptism unless they came forth with a BH&CS, witnessed to “the church” that they truly repented of all their sins, and took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.

 

But perhaps the best explanation which we Gentiles should liken unto ourselves comes from Jesus Himself when teaching in Bountiful:

 

3 Ne 9:20 – The Lord appears to the Nephites and says that all sacrifices should be done away and that he will not accept them. He says that we should offer up a sacrifice TO JESUS a BH&CS. Whoever does, the Lord will baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, like the Lamanites, who received such and didn’t know it. The Savior came to bring redemption to the world and save it from sin. Whoever repents and comes to him as a little child, will be received by the Lord, for such is the kingdom of God.

 

3 Ne 12:19 – Jesus says that he didn’t come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill, and in him, all has been fulfilled. He gave them the law and the commandments of his Father so that they would believe in him, and repent of their sins, and come to him with a BH&CS. Unless they keep his commandments, which he commanded at THAT TIME, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

OK…So, what does the phrase mean? 

If we replace “broken heart and contrite spirit” in the above passages, with “heavy guilt for realizing we are unworthy sinners,” it does not make much sense. Indeed, it paints a picture of an oppressive god who demands we, too, contribute a pound of flesh in order to know what it was like for Jesus to be “punished.” A few revised examples:

 

And whoso cometh unto me with heavy guilt for realizing they are unworthy sinners, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost…

 

And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having heavy guilt for realizing they are unworthy sinners, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.

 

…yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in my name, with heavy guilt for realizing you are unworthy sinners, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel.

 

Having a broken heart and contrite spirit appears to have more to do with an attitude of learning, as well as discernment regarding what is truth and what is not. Moroni tells the Gentiles that a BH&CS is associated with rending the veil of unbelief. Look and see how much more sense the examples make when we substitute “broken heart and contrite spirit” with “open heart and a childlike spirit, willing to sacrifice our false traditions:”

 

And whoso cometh unto me with an open heart and a childlike spirit, willing to sacrifice their false traditions, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost…

 

And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having an open heart and a childlike spirit, willing to sacrifice their false traditions, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.

 

…yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in my name, with an open heart and a childlike spirit, willing to sacrifice your false traditions, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel.

 

This reading is perhaps more palatable, or reasonable.  But.  The problem, of course, in just inserting another phrase, as done above, is that the one phrase which makes sense is the one we currently believe.  Should we come across people who believed God was a crocodile, we can imagine it being sensible to read, BH&CS as a euphemism for, “antelope hearts and human torsos.”  Our theories of God render the interpretation reasonable or not.  Moreover, given the importance placed on having a BH&CS, it is apt to become a fetish, whatever we think it means.  If only I had that magic, I could be saved!

Are we left floating then, among our traditions, unable to lean toward a reading that really is correct?

 

Perhaps we cannot program ourselves into “getting” whatever is supposed to come of a BH&CS.  Apparently, when we have it, the Lord sees it.  We cannot seek out a BH&CS for ourselves, cannot look to become such; cannot sell another a way to this lowly place.  It isn’t a thing, nor perhaps even a state.  It just is, that it is.

This means that some passages in the Book of Mormon remain beyond interpretation, as a matter of words.  The text has a power, and that power is not simply a key to another interpretation, more suited to our current beliefs.  Can the text bring about a BH&CS?  Is it a magical fetish?  Should we read it in order to bring this magic upon ourselves?  We cannot approach the BH&CS as a conscious end to some practice or magic.  We are, or are not, and the one who sees is not impressed with performances, with our attempts to “be” BH&CS.

 

I’ll leave it to Nephi and the writers of correlated church material to be harrowed up in their sins and iniquities. As for me, I prefer Moroni’s confident approach, as he shared in his parting words:

 

Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

 

PS – If you are wondering what is or isn’t “godly,” look no further than the words of our Lord and God Himself, found in 3 Ne 12-14.

Gift Idea? A new BOOK? Obviously.

 

What?  Another book?  Yes…

So, you want to get your old grand-dad a book for Christmas?  But don’t want to ruin his illusion of a tightly run, monetarily efficient church, that nonetheless only helps widows by dispensing Sacred Funds, say, by giving him the Book of Mammon?  And maybe you don’t want to utterly destroy your auntie’s illusion about a Restored Church/Priesthood, and cure her of a fascination with the Bible and the assistance it provides to her reading of the Book of Mormon, say, by giving out the Cultural History of the Book of Mormon?  Well, friend, have I got a book for you!

CofS

A new book, even.  Well, sort of a book.  A libretto in Five Acts, for a maybe-forthcoming Opera, called City of Saints.  It begins in Missouri, near the end of the Mormon War, and takes you through the very-suitable-for-opera love and power struggles at Nauvoo, concluding with the everyone-dies scene at Carthage!

You can purchase it for 15 U.S. dollars from Amazon.  Yes, for the equivalent of two hours cashiering at Toys ‘R Us (pre-tax), you can have (or give away) perhaps as many as 10 Hours of reading pleasure!  That’s a 5:1 ratio of Pain to Pleasure.  And, boy will City of Saints give you or that special someone on your list some pleasure!    To establish the credibility of that ratio, I provide the following PDFs from the book itself, a mere sample of the entire text you could have on your shelf as soon as you send Amazon the digital equivalent of 15 U.S. dollars!

From Act 1:

ActIScene1_CityofSaints

From Act 5:

Act5Scene1_CityofSaints

 

 

GenCon14: The Power of the Text Itself

The power of the text itself
acdc
By GA Joey

 

Any-child, after a few short years being on Earth, hopefully, in the responsible hands of parents who have helped him through much sacrifice to feed, bathe, sleep, teach and nurture their nature from day to day, one day begins to be aware of the fact that everything he is involved in, has up to this point, never been questioned as to its origin of existence and purpose. 

The inner eye begins to open…the spirit within begins to stir! Up until that moment, the questions of Common-child were plentiful about any and everything no doubt, taking for granted in his or her childlike lack of discrimination, that ‘that’s just the way things are’. The questions that come of these maturing moments- ‘But, what if…?’, ‘How come…?’ and ‘Why?’ begin to open the imagination to further interrogation, and further questions of deepening complexity. Every-child of course has his or her choice to take on these questions and search for them, or simply just shrug and move on to kick the waiting ball on the field. Some-child takes the que and pursues these things as part of their intellectual, spiritual psyche whilst Another-child takes the spark for what it seems to him- just a spark, not the beginning of a massive fire that never ceases to burn.

Questions are asked to no one in particular- though many gurus abound, at the drop of a hat, to convince the novice sojourner that the answers are in their guru-domain exclusively. These may come in forms of teachers, family, professionals and, in the case of the religiously inclined- priestcraft…umm, priesthood ‘holders’. But in reality, if reality does in fact exist, each one of these supposed authorities are still Any-child & Every-child themselves, either assuring themselves that after their interrogations they have sincerely come to the right and only conclusion, or, that their opinions can be used to sucker the gullible, those who are a hop, skip and a step behind them. 

In this inaugural speech of mine, I would like to take a different approach from the others who have, very successfully, preceded my pedestrian offering. Of course, I might get roundly boo-ed and banned from ever returning, as has been done in some high places due to unorthodox swagger towards authority and tradition, and possibly because of turning up my amp up all the way to eleven (the handbook says so. So there. Ask your My-Way-or-the High-Way-Council-man, if you don’t believe me…) And so, I present here a sketch of This-child (very similar to myself, and every bit as handsome) and some key moments from a journey as to why this author has taken the Book of Mormon to be THE document, the standard to which all other documents regarding the truth of things about God are to be measured. In other words, this is how I groove- my interpretation of the notes, rhythms and harmonizations of the song I have chosen to play. 

When you consider the breadth of cultures, myths, legends, written documents from ancient times and archeological structures that have over-clocked themselves and left us bewildered as to their origins and purpose- Puma Punku or Mohenjo Daro, anyone?- it isn’t an easy task to convince oneself that THIS –> (.) or perhaps THAT –>(‘) is the starting point in the ridiculously complex maze we humans have before us to unravel. The depth is simply astounding. And this is limiting ourselves to just this one world or planet, amongst the uncountable.  

We haven’t the slightest clue as to the true, unending, creative power and magnificence of He who condescended below all things, below His very creations. We are barely scratching the surface of the scratch on the surface’s scratch. Who am I, or any of us, whether layman or lawyer, school dropout or scholar, pew-dweller or university religion proph-essor, to say with absolute certainty that everything outside of our OWN immediate sacred texts, are anything but. The Catholic gave the world its Bible, compresses an incomprehensible limitless God down to the strict equivilent of a tiny collection of surviving manuscripts the Romans and co-conspirators didn’t burn. And, heaven forbid, not a single manuscript more, you heretics! The Protestants hate the Catholics and their conspiring ways- who can blame them when the Vatican guards their secret combinations like a KFC recipe- but also never question the limited validity of its canonisation- even though some dudes in silks gave a decree of such, sometime in the last couple of thousand years, along with a head of a church who cut off the heads of his wives in rebellion to the authority of the silks fashioned by the best Italian tailors. The Protestants barely questioned the Bible they hold as infallible. No witnesses. No original manuscripts. No matter. Orson Pratt’s comparison of the Bible to the Book of Mormon, found here on this website somewhere, puts that picture in perspective way better than I could do, obviously…although he didn’t cut off the heads of his wives (though Brigham could provide a loophole for such in D&C 132, if he had). 

Of course, these attitudes aren’t just exclusive to the Christian world. The Muslim world, as one example amongst many, has the same decree- believe this and only this, or else! You dare question and we’ll treat your head like an English queen’s head, circa 16 Century CE.

After sounding critical of the above, what if they all do happen to have some truth in them? As slaves to the traditions of our fathers, it seems to be exactly what may define a stiff-necked people- our inability to break the chains that bind us. Said James Brown:

Alone…you’ll find me
Too weak to break the chains that bind me
I need no shackles to remind me
I’m just a prisoner, don’t let me be a prisoner

For one command I stand and wait now
From one who’s master of my fate now
I can’t escape for it’s too late now
I’m just a prisoner, don’t let be a prisoner…

As Daymon has shown thoroughly, even the miraculous Book of Mormon is read almost exclusively, through the lens of the Biblical traditions, shoving the Book of Mormon to rhythm guitar in the background instead of the one out the front playing the screaming solos. Hence, even if the Vedas of India, the Qu’ran, the Nordic texts, the Aboriginal legends of Everywhere, the mythology of ancient Greece, the Sumerian and Etruscan tablets…and the new-found connections between the Japanese-Hebrew religion, feasts and alphabet, to name a tiny fraction of the available ‘truth’ amongst hundreds and thousands of cultures, where one begins to find the pure truth is purely incidental. However, a willingness to break these chains of tradition and conveniences, where one might end up is monumental. And, when finally face to face with the pure truth, then perhaps, shoulder to shoulder with those to whom the same sacred truth is elemental.

So, why the Book of Mormon for me, a nobody, just like you, in the midst of this very confusing maze? Because of the promise in Helaman 5:12, that’s why. Which, by the way, though as a Catholic I had never read or heard of, applied to me directly when I finally did read it. At least, that’s the way, a rather prophetic manner, I imagine this scripture, and who’s to say I’m not right? Certainly not you, as who’s to say you are? Certainly not me.

Let’s have a look at what the text says:

 12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

As a Catholic, spending holidays at a Baptist summer camp, growing up in a country which spawned probably more religions than most, hence immersed in Hinduism, but surrounded by fanatics in a pre-dominant Islamic neighbourhood, where Jewish families were our neighbours…and, just around the corner from Mother Teresa’s, where I was lucky enough to watch her ply her awe-inspiring, zero-profit foundation (no corporate lawyers needed, my apologies in advance to Elder Dallin Hoax), how on earth does the unheard-of Book of Mormon come into this muddled sound of a dozen radio stations being played at once?? 

Fast-ward a few years, like Nephi I find myself on a Promised Land, and missionaries from the beautifully named ‘Church of Jesus Christ of LDS’ hand a book over, after my amp-on-eleven attracts them from three blocks down. The book gets thrown in the backyard shed, coz ‘I ain’t touchin’ that!’- Catholics, like Mormons and everyone else religious it seems, are proudly superstitious, despite common sense standing against these stupefying non-sensical beliefs, time and time again. Years pass, and the Book re-enters through a new friend- an inactive, rough and tumble soul, with all the scars to prove it. After a period of months harassing the friend for his traitor-like behaviour leaving the poor, rich Catholic church for the rich, poor LDS, the patient (though not necessarily always correct) answers have such an astonishing degree of faith in this Book’s ability to lead one to the real Jesus, that the light begins to make its appearance. This comes at a time when an unprecedented storm is brewing in this author’s life, a multitude of weaknesses manifest themselves to their fullest, and a heart is slowly breaking, a result in this case due to one’s own pride, foolishness and mortal behaviour, but which, joyfully, according to Ether 12:27 was given for the very purposes that soon followed…though the fruits would only begin to sweeten much, much later on. Maybe not even yet.

Realizing the Book’s claims were astounding- Jesus visited another people? On a continent that wasn’t even known to have existed at the meridian of time…or so they have been telling us?!…in all that religious voodoo mist, I had NEVER heard that one, but what joy if He did!- and that His words from another source, from a different part of the world, was on earth, the interest was piqued immensely. But, I still refused to read the Book. For five years it rotted away…the pearl cast before the swine, indeed.

 

Finally one night, those words in Helaman (unread as yet) took on life. After finally pondering that this may not be just a common coincidence, one Saturday night in winter, a broken heart knelt down, asking for a sign real enough to convince that the Book was real, and contained the truth of this Jesus, and had truly made its appearance to be actually be opened and read. The staff of the Shepherd seeking to rescue the one.

The dream, as real that very night in the mid-90’s as it is today, had an opening scene of tremendous tumult- a cyclone or hurricane in the immediate air. Cars sliding down the street, roofs flying off, trees uprooting themselves, a darkness everywhere. I left the house in confusion, wondering why I would brave a storm I could barely consider surviving, let alone walk upright against. The entire place was a ghost-town, not a soul existed. All symbolic, no doubt, of the state of the soul who felt alone in this strange sojourn we call life, and the storm that had brewed of late. Above the racket, and the below the mayhem, came a confounding sound of rustling pages…an unmistakeable sound of paper. It couldn’t be!! On the kerb, standing majestically, with the pages calling attention, yet the spine strong and absolutely unaffected by time and space, nor of the mighty winds, the shafts of the whirlwind all around, was a Book, it’s foundation solid as rock. 

Failing a few mystifying attempts to grab ahold of the Book- you know the nature of dreams…run! You want to, but you can’t for some reason!- frustration led to a desperate look around for a helping hand, one insane enough to be braving the storm, and of course, one most unlikely to be found in a town all but abandoned in it’s Armageddon moment of desolation. But sure enough, from a hundred yards or so in the misty darkness came a man, a smile of utter peace, also unaffected in any way, shape or form by this calamity- maybe it was just MY calamity? He walked over, picked up the Book and as I saw its front cover I jumped back with shock. 

It was- The.Book.Of.Mormon. 

He smiled with incredible love and patience as I instantly declared a Mormon I’d never be! He wasn’t interested in what seemed to him to be of inconsequence, and smiled at the immaturity. He assured that all people were the same, Mormons or otherwise, and immediately moved forward to tell me what was happening, far more important than any talk of ‘Mormons’- that the Book was sent as a direct answer from the Lord to my prayer that night, and he was here- a messenger, I suppose?- to tell me about it and show me what it was about. After a great many moments of showing me various pages, he closed the Book. Still unsure, perhaps shocked, but now knowing I just had to read it, I tentatively put my hand forth and asked him for it. He gently smiled and said the Book was to remain in dreams…and I would get one when I awoke. 

And just like that I awoke. My pulse racing, heavy sweat on my cold body, electricity in the air! I had not just dreamt a dream, I lived it and as far as I was concerned, I was simply back in another dimension. The rough and tumble brought me a copy amidst his sobs on hearing the dream, assuring me he always knew the Lord had given him the call to find sheep just as lost as he himself was. Over the years, it turned out to be so.

The months that followed were more surreal than the dream. More astounding than the dream, was the power of the text itself. It broke down the heart whilst causing it to soar at the same time! Sleep was unnecessary, as was food and most other things. The text was ALIVE. It spoke with so much power, convincing every little cell that they were dancing with the dynamics that their composer intended from the foundations of the world, so to speak. Amidst the broken heart, the joy was never fuller! Strange stuff, indeed. The song was in key of C Sharp, and I did see thus! The prescription was finally here, even though it would take many years to take the medicine as directed in its own words…after another awakening. Another story for another day, though.

With the Book of Mormon, I had finally began to know about the God of my childhood in purity, He who was taught to me in so many confounding ways, revealed in clarity, as much as I needed: the MED, or Minimum Effective Dose- this is just what I had needed! In the few decades of mortal life, and the struggles to simply deal with the evil that is sufficient thereof, who had the resources to tick off a list of Pharisaical do’s and don’t? The Gospel of Jesus according to the Book of Mormon is what I longed for, and received. The Bible started to get clearer, and those things that didn’t add up was thrown in the pile of men’s conniving ways…after all, Nephi said they’d do that to the Book of the Lamb.

The Book of Mormon was it. I didn’t feel the need to embrace a church! Definitely not a culture of suit and ties, traditions of fathers…(and many mothers, all married to a few fathers over the Rockies)! 

With the Book of Mormon, He promised HE would heal me if I repented of my unbelief! And all He asked for was not to trust in the arm of flesh, but in Him alone. Jesus. The Eternal God. His mercy and grace, was and IS suffucient, for all I could do was nothing much anyway. Just live your life in charity, turn to me and I’ll make you into my very own flesh and blood. After all, He made me, He gave me those weaknesses and like a caring parent, He would clean up the mess that I was in…much like a baby relies on her parents to clean and care. All He wanted was my love for Him, to remove my unbelief and He would heal me! My healed soul would manifest His love through works and through loving His other creations who are just like me, treating them with dignity and kindness, regardless of ‘black and white, male or female’…especially the low and broken least of my brethren, instead of the high and mighty rising yeast of The Brethren in downtown SLC and their off-cuts strewn around the world of ‘authority’.

I felt strangely out of place amongst these lovely people, most seemingly loaded with temporal goodies and shiny new cars, who talked all about business and careers, real estate and being a Chosen Generation (and no doubt they are correct- having chosen themselves to be the Chosen ones), who all professed their love to a church, its American Pope and leaders, and repeatedly an unhealthy elevation of the one who brought the Book forth, placing him on a mantle as high as Jesus Himself, at times. 

Confused as ever, having hated the priestcraft authority of the Roman church, I didn’t understand the fuss about my neat and somewhat comely clothes, though they did match my 3-day-slightly unshaven mug, I guess. Nor the obligations and exact classrooms I was supposed to be in, for exactly 3 hours and no less, with no freedom to move as my spirit felt free to. The obsession with this Temple, where hushed tones almost guaranteed that all therein meet the Saviour on any given day of the week, and its stringent ‘one-year’ conditions was foreign to my sense of spiritual freedom. Just as weird was this apparent need to be, or to marry, an ‘RM’. The same ‘free-agency’ exercised by those who expounded the many ins and out of LDS-ism during those pre-baptism discussions, was seemingly exorcised in the same nano-second. A mission? All secretive about that Temple, where the uninitiated would go in without a single clue of what was going to happen? I felt like a patient going into a clinic to get a thorn-prick taken out, and suddenly finding an oxygen mask around my face, signing a disclaimer in case of death due to anaesthesia, (a high percentage it turns out to be, according to the ‘Google Apostasy’)…and costing a fortune that I couldn’t afford in the first place.  What happened to this faith, which Moroni belaboured about in 7:37…since no miracles were evident in our age, were those who were reading the Book bringing to pass his very words?

Did these folks even read the same Book I had been poring over with a whole lot of faith, (and very little works admittedly?) Was I allowing Jesus’ name to just be on the lips without Him actually healing my inner vessel? What the hell was I getting into?! 

But that’s another song, one in the key of B Sharp: An LDS Awakening…