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Silent Night #LightTheWorld

My father asked me to put a video together for their ward to help get people into the Christmas spirit and turn their thoughts to the Savior. As I was assembling images, I thought to myself how important it is to consider who exactly was born.

I decided to start the video with some edited clips from the beautiful creation sequence from the movie The Tree of Life. Then, I looked for unique images that I had never seen before (along with some familiar ones). There is some fantastic artwork out there, and this is a unique way to enjoy and share it. The music is Stille Nacht (Silent Night), a classic from Mannheim Steamroller. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

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Potential Literary Patterns in Helaman 5

I was reading the words that Helaman taught to his sons, Nephi and Lehi and noticed some potential patterns. Helaman appears to have taught many things to his sons but we only have a few of these words recorded in Helaman 5:6-12. Whether these patterns were intended or not is unknown. Literary patterns breathe life into mere words by incorporating techniques that produce vivid imagery and emotional effects. Chiasmus is a tool used to draw attention to a particular point or theme and there appears to be some use of it by Helaman.

Usually when I see a word repeated many times or patterns of identical or contrasting text I stop and widen my scope to see if there is a pattern and how far it extends. It certainly causes me to spend more time with a particular section of text whether or not any legitimate literary patterns are being used or not. We don’t know for sure what the author was thinking and some of these patterns may just be coincidental. Nevertheless, they can provide an interesting way of playing with the text and examining the message.Read Full Post

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History

A few quotes have been on my mind lately. The first is from Hugh Nibley:

“History is all hindsight; it is a sizing up, a way of looking at things. It is not what happened or how things really were, but an evaluation. . . . The modern college teaches us, if nothing else, to accept history on authority. Yet at the end of his life the great [historian] Eduard Meyer . . . marveled that he had always been most wrong where he thought he was most right, and vice versa.” (Temple and Cosmos, 440)

The second from Confucius:

“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”

The third from Joseph Smith:

“Oh Lord God deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison almost as it were [total] darkness of paper pen and ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect language.” JS, Kirtland, OH, to William W. Phelps, [Independence, MO], 27 Nov. 1832, in JS Letterbook 1, p. 4.

The fourth is from Brigham Young:

“I do not believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:314)

If revelations are not perfect, then what does that say about what we call “history?” I believe that many of the problems we encounter with history, scripture, and the written or spoken word, in general, is the inabilityRead Full Post

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Insights into Patterns of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

I have been working off and on since Sept. 2015 with a particular way of analyzing Isaiah in the Book of Mormon using a couple of spreadsheets. Using this method, I discovered some patterns that reveal some impressive things about the text.

Key factors of analysis:

  • Identifying every single Isaiah reference in the Book of Mormon.
  • Comparing the Book of Mormon references to Avraham Gileadi’s 7-part literary structure.
  • Examining where these Book of Mormon references fall within the structure of Isaiah’s books and Avraham Gileadi’s 7-part literary structure.
  • Exploring how the 7-part structure themes flow through the narrative of the Book of Mormon.

Insights that came out of this process:

  1. There is a chiasm involving the names of the people that quote Isaiah that clusters around the chapters related to salvation and loyalty themes.
  2. Nephi is the only one that quotes from the negative themes (the first 33 chapters of Isaiah’s 66 chapters).
  3. Nephi and Jacob initially focus on the positive themes and then Nephi switches almost exclusively to the negative themes.
  4. The small plates of Nephi contrast 6 of the 7 negative themes with the salvation and loyalty themes.
  5. People in Mormon’s abridgment, namely Abinadi, Jesus, and Moroni, quote exclusively from the salvation themes.

I’ll get into further details involving all these points below with graphics to illustrate these points. First, I need to explain some of Avraham Gileadi’s Isaiah research.Read Full Post

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Incomprehensible Joy

I was actually listening to the audio version of the Book of Mormon while mowing my lawn and Alma 28:8 stuck out to me:

“And this is the account of Ammon and his brethren, their journeyings in the land of Nephi,

their sufferings in the land,

their sorrows, and

their afflictions, and

their incomprehensible joy…”

I love the juxtaposition of the items listed here, and the last one is so jarring that it catches your attention. This verse reminds me of life in a nutshell; the suffering, sorrow, and afflictions are par for the course. Then there is this incomprehensible joy, but what do we understand about it?

I believe that joy as mentioned in the Book of Mormon has a connection to being Born of God and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost. No matter where we stand on earth, we’ll have the suffering, sorrow, afflictions, and periodic happy moments but this incomprehensible joy is something known only to those who find God and partake of the fruit of the tree of life. The word “joy” is mentioned more in the Book of Mormon than in any of the other standard works. Here are a few of my favorites:Read Full Post

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Mormon’s Framing of Alma’s Story in the Context of a Vision

I’ve been stuck in the Lehi/Nephi vision lately, not intentionally, I just keep finding things in the vision or other accounts that circle back around to it. I’m not complaining though because I’m having a great deal of fun with all these discoveries.

This latest one has been really fun and there is probably a lot more to discover here. What I noticed was a parallel between the conversion of Alma’s people in Mosiah 18 and the tree of life vision. What makes this more compelling to me is that I think Mormon intentionally used language to not only make this parallel but to inject another message, one concerning the meaning of his name: Mormon.

This chapter details the conversion and growth of Alma’s little group of saints but embedded in the telling of this story are suspiciously similar parallels to the tree of life vision. First, I think it is important to notice that this chapter is framed by the name Mormon which is mentioned 12 times in the chapter. Half of those occurrences happen in a single verse which I think was done to get our attention.

We already know that Mormon is the name of the one abridging this record, but we also learn that “Mormon” is also the name of a:

  1. Place (vs.4,30)
  2. King (vs.4)
  3. Fountain/Waters (vs.5,30)
  4. Thicket/Forest (vs.5,30)

Now let’s explore the many parallels between the story of Alma’s people and the vision of the tree of life. This is going to be a wild ride…Read Full Post

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Lehi’s Firm Compassion via Junior Ganymede

The following was written by G. at Junior Ganymede on Nov 2, 2017.

After Lehi’s boys went off to Jerusalem on their dangerous mission, Sariah, mother-like, started to imagine all that could go wrong. She expressed her worry by attacking her husband.

For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying:

Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.

And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father.

Lehi’s response is something we can learn from.Read Full Post

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Triggered!

I understand that there are legitimate situations where people suffer from post-traumatic stress or any other psychological issues. Then there are people that are perfectly fine but equate the discomfort they feel in the presence of alternative opinions with the pain of legitimate mental anguish. Whenever I see people in the latter category say that they have been “triggered” I think of the following things:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride)

and:

“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. […] Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him…” (Acts 7:54,57-58)

and:

And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear. (1 Nephi 16:1)

and:

“Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal. […] Do not say that I have spoken hard things against you; for if ye do, ye will revile against the truth; for I have spoken the words of your Maker.” (2 Nephi 9:39-40)

It is interesting to note how people react to certain ideas and the level of drama that is exhibited by many. I feel like I see a trend today where, for lack of a counterargument, the people that are in error are the ones that exhibit the wildest reactions to ideas that they do not favor. Little children do this quite often, we call it a “tantrum.”Read Full Post

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The Sacrament and Covenant Renewal

The title “renewing our baptismal covenants” is not found in the scriptures. It’s not inappropriate. Many of you have used it in talks; we have used it in talks. But it is not something that is used in the scriptures, and it can’t be the keynote of what we say about the sacrament. … The sacrament is a beautiful time to not just renew our baptismal covenant, but to commit to Him to renew all our covenants, all our promises, and to approach Him in a spiritual power that we did not have previously as we move forward.” – Neil L. Andersen, “Witnessing to Live the Commandments,” General Conference Leadership Training on the Sabbath Day Observance at Church (April 2015)

I’ve seen this quote circulating online for a while now. I remember the first time I heard it was on video and it was very refreshing since the phrase “renewing baptismal covenants” in relation to the sacrament always bothered me. Why? Well, to me it feels like we are cheapening the ordinance like our covenant is a subscription like Netflix and we have to keep renewing it. Maybe there is an apt comparison there somewhere, but when we read about the sacrament in scripture, there is no talk of renewing covenants in this manner.

Jesus asks his followers to always remember him by partaking of his flesh and blood always, which is what we do every Sabbath day. When we partake of the flesh and blood of Christ, we are not renewing a covenant; we are keeping a commandment to always remember Him.

But what about the rest of Elder Andersen’s quote? He says that we don’t just consider the sacrament a renewal of baptismal covenants alone but a renewal of “all our covenants and promises.” Again, I’m not trying to argue with Elder Andersen but let’s look at the things that characterize the sacrament according to when the Savior first instituted it among the Nephites:

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Shifting the “Because”: Overcoming the Victim Mentality

In 2 Nephi 4, commonly referred to as “Nephi’s psalm,” there is an interesting pattern and reversal that centers around the word “because.” First, here is the list of things Nephi uses to justify his sorrows:

  1. my heart sorroweth because of my flesh;
  2. my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
  3. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins
  4. my heart groaneth because of my sins

Nephi appears to be placing the blame on external influences for how he feels. He sees himself as a victim of these influences and in so doing, allows them to have power over him. Then we see a change in focus as he begins to question his own perspective. Nephi then begins to recall all of the amazing things that God has done for him in his life. This new focus prompts several “why should” questions in regards to those “because of” justifications.

  1. why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
  2. why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh?
  3. Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?
  4. Why am I angry because of mine enemy?

Nephi isn’t getting an answer to prayer here, he isn’t doing anything spectacular, he is simply thinking. He is revolving these issues in his mind and weighing them. In this process, he finds the power to shift his perspective and reorient his trajectory. Fortified with a renewed resolve, Nephi drops some firm covenantal “do nots” in opposition to those “because of” justifications.

  1. Do not anger again because of mine enemies.
  2. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

Then, the final “because” comes into play:

“May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite!” (vs.32)

Nephi concludes that when you trust the arm of flesh, whether it is your own or that of others, you will experience failure and even tragedy. Nephi doesn’t mince words and straight up calls it a curse when you put your trust in fallible beings. Nephi realizes that even though he fails himself by giving in to sin, and others fail him by becoming his enemy, God has never failed him and never will.

“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.” (vs.34)

Through this, Nephi escapes his mental prison of victimhood and realizes the power that comes from faith in God. He will still sin, and he may never make peace with his enemies but God will always walk beside him. One will never find true peace in this world, not really, not lasting and fulfilling peace. When we put our trust in God and allow him to prove himself to us, we will find that peace that we seek.

Love this chapter, because it’s awesome.

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The Space Between the Rod and the Tree

I was reading Elder Uchtdorf’s Three Sisters talk from this past General Conference and something he said prompted me to look at Lehi’s vision again. I went looking for a particular verse that illustrated the moment the people went from holding the rod to grasping the fruit of the tree.

“…they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” (1 Nephi 8:30)

Notice that the iron rod in this vision has a beginning and an end. I don’t think that means that God’s word has a beginning or an end so why use this as a metaphor? There could be many reasons, but I’ll focus on what comes to my mind.

First, consider what hands represent.Read Full Post

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Fasting: Cover Your Mouth

I had a moment of insight a few days ago with a friend of mine that was and is going through some hard times. He was telling me about a fast he was engaged in and several experiences where he had run his mouth in a manner that had caused a great deal of contention and conflict.

I couldn’t believe that he would say such things and then act somewhat surprised when people retaliated against him. I told my friend that “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) I then asked my friend if he knew what the word “fast” meant in Hebrew and he said that he did not. The word is tsuwm, and it means “to cover over (the mouth).” (Strongs)

When you fast your mouth is “covered” in the sense that you are restricting whatRead Full Post

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I Avoid Eating Meat, but I’m Not a Vegan or Vegetarian

I could have subtitled this post “and other ways I frustrate the people around me.” Haha, but seriously…

If you have ever been around me, you may have observed that I avoid eating meat or hunting (even though I was on a dove hunt with family recently, sans a firearm). It isn’t always that obvious because I try not to make a big deal about it. I try to apply principles to my own circumstances and allow others the liberty to do the same. Sometimes people ask me if I am a vegetarian or a vegan and my response is usually something like, “I try to avoid meat if I don’t need it” and leave it at that.

It’s true that I probably resemble a vegetarian or vegan in many respects and embrace many of their ideas, but these ideologies fall short in many respects.

The flaw of Veganism is that it forbids the use of animal flesh or products under any circumstance. While I sympathize with the compassion and enjoy the delicious meals that have arisen out of a desire to avoid the use of animal flesh, whoever forbids Read Full Post

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Bricolage and Eclecticism

There was a conference that went on recently that my brother-in-law brought back to my attention called New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation (His in-law are co-founders of FaithMatters.org). I was interested to hear what this panel of speakers had to say and compare it with an enjoyable MormonMatters podcast I listened to a couple of years back. If you are interested in theories about the mechanics of Joseph Smith’s translation process, these are intriguing resources.

Terryl Givens was a featured speaker at the New Perspectives conference, and I found his association of bricolage with the translation process to be intriguing. Bricolage is a French term that describes the construction of ideas by using whatever is at hand. (Merriam-Webster) In the past, Givens has regarding Joseph Smith being an “inspired eclecticist” and a “sponge.” (An Approach to Thoughtful, Honest and Faithful Mormonism) An eclectic will select “what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles” or will compose from “elements drawn from various sources; (Merriam-Webster)

The Book of Mormon came down to us with a mix of voices. Most notably we seeRead Full Post

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God’s Justice as Taught by the Book of Mormon, Qur’an, and Joseph Smith

These quotes have been sitting in my notebook for a while and a recent conversation with a friend brought them back to my attention. What I find remarkable is how nicely they fit together and convey this idea that all people on earth have been given a portion of God’s light and truth. The Qur’an and Joseph quotes talk about a reconciliation in the afterlife when more will be revealed as to how this all works. Personally, I find these teachings bring great peace of mind and understanding when pondered. I have found tremendous insights from other faith traditions around the world that have brought me closer to God and my fellow man. Read Full Post

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The Symbiosis of Faith and Hope

In Neal A. Maxwell’s 1984 general conference talk Brightness of Hope he said the following:

“In the geometry of restored theology, hope has a greater circumference than faith. If faith increases, the perimeter of hope stretches correspondingly.”

Elder Maxwell points out that as faith increases, so also does hope. Hope is an interesting thing, I have come to define it as: “everything that dwells within the sphere of what you actually believe is possible.” Faith is your hand pushing a flashlight out into the darkness and everything within the beam of light represents hope. Faith fuels hope which in turn, leads faith.

If we point the flashlight down toward our feet, the circle of light shrinks and the darkness crowds us in. Faith and hope either grow together or they wither together. If you don’t believe that something is possible, then you will not hope for it and you will not move to attain it.

When the idea of something crosses our mind, we have the ability to desire it and begin to think about how we might achieve the object of our desires. We begin to Read Full Post

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I’ve Had a Change of Heart and I’m Stepping Away

By now, I’m sure most are familiar with the recent shooting in Las Vegas. This one hit close to home because I just moved back to Texas from Las Vegas after living there for 9 years. A friend of my sister-in-law was shot twice in at that concert yesterday.

What disturbed me more than this event was how I felt about it. I lacked a deep and profound horror at the senseless loss of life; I thought, “Here we go again with another shooting.” As I reflected on my feelings or lack thereof, I felt that I had become desensitized to these violent acts. Three things came to mind that solidified into a firm resolve, and I’d like to share my thoughts.Read Full Post

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The Three Duties of the Gentiles

At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith offered a prayer he received by revelation, “Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles.” (D&C 109:60) The Latter-day Saints are identified with the Gentiles.

In order for the Gentiles to be saved the must do three things:

  1. Repent
  2. Fight not against Zion
  3. Do not unite themselves to that great and abominable church.

“…for the Lord God will fulfil his covenants which he has made unto his children; and for this cause the prophet has written these things.” – 2 Nephi 6:12

Repent

“The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. Since we are born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined. Without this there can be no progress in the things of the soul’s salvation, for all accountable persons are stained by sin and must be cleansed in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Repentance is not optional for salvation; it is a commandment of God…” LDS Bible Dictionary

Q: How do we as Latter-day Saints unintentionally miss out on true repentance?Read Full Post

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The Mother, the Dove, Mercy, and the Holy Spirit

For the past couple of years, I’ve been coming across fascinating tidbits of information that appear to show connections between the Holy Spirit and our Heavenly Mother. During a recent morning family scripture study in 1 Nephi 11, I noticed a couple of interesting things and I’ll share some of the details.

In verse 16, the angel asks Nephi “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” When Nephi appears not to know the answer, (vs.17) the angel shows him this beautiful, fair virgin again and reveals that she is “the mother of the Son of God” (vs.18) and she is shown with a child in her arms. (vs.20) The angel tells Nephi that this child is “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father” (vs.21)

The angel then asks Nephi another question: “Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” (vs.21) Nephi answers knowingly that the tree “is the love of God.” (vs.22) Nephi then sees many people worship Jesus and explains his understanding of the iron rod and the fountain of water. (vs.24-25)

Now that Nephi understands the meaning of the tree the angel says “Look and behold the condescension of God!” (vs.23) It is at this point that the angel shows Nephi key events in the life of Jesus from his baptism to his crucifixion. What I want to focus on what I believe are parallel elements that follow the two verses that mention the phrase “the condescension of God.”

There is a distinct mother and son presence in these verses, and it isn’t quite apparent at first. We see the Spirit mentioned in direct conjunction with a birth and a rebirth account as well; these things are significant so take note!Read Full Post

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The Lost in Nephi’s Vision

“And I also beheld… a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world. And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree…” (1 Nephi 8:21)

It seems like this represents everyone in the world all searching for “the path” the truth and the meaning of life, a connection with the divine. Nobody begins on the path, they must search for it.

“And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.” (vs.22-23)

One group of people that found that path went forward and followed it, but thenRead Full Post

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