Friday, August 22, 2014


In regards to a poem entitled Mortality, Abraham Lincoln once remarked that, "I would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is."  Lincoln memorized the poem and recited it so often that some people thought he was the author.  Of course there have been poems written about Abraham Lincoln, and Lincoln also wrote his own poetry, but this particular poem was composed in 1824 by the Scottish Poet William Knox.  The poem was included in a collection of poetry entitled The Songs of Israel.  


By William Knox

Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave
He passeth from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

The infant a mother attended and loved;
The mother that infant's affection who proved;
The husband, that mother and infant who blest,--
Each, all, are away to their dwellings of rest.

The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure, -- her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those who loved her and praised,
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the sceptre hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the mitre hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

The peasant, whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman, who climbed with his goats up the steep,
The beggar, who wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint, who enjoyed the communion of Heaven,
The sinner, who dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes -- like the flower or the weed
That withers away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes -- even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that has often been told.

For we are the same our fathers have been;
We see the same sights our fathers have seen;
We drink the same stream, we view the same sun,
And run the same course our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, our fathers would shrink;
To the life we are clinging, they also would cling; --
But it speeds from us all like a bird on the wing.

They loved -- but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned -- but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved -- but no wail from their slumber will come;
They joyed -- but the tongue of their gladness is dumb.

They died -- ay, they died; -- we things that are now,
That walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
And make in their dwellings a transient abode;
Meet the things that they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea! hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together in sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

'Tis the wink of an eye -- 'tis the draught of a breath--
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud:--
Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

A Proverb

"The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart: and a good report maketh the bones fat." Proverbs 15:30

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Share Goodness

"The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; . . . we are the favored people that God has [chosen] to bring about the Latter-day glory." - The Prophet Joseph Smith
In 2009 Elder David A. Bednar spoke to the youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the topic of technology and Things as They Really Are.  As a follow up to that talk, Elder Bednar recently called for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to assist the Lord in sweeping the earth with truth and righteousness.  It is an inspiring and an uplifting message that I would like to include in my blog, The Good Report, because it is good, and because it expands upon the purpose of this blog in a way that only an ordained Apostle of Jesus Christ could do. Enjoy!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Stories of Glory

"There are among us many loose writings predicting the calamities which are about to overtake us. Some of these have been publicized as though they were necessary to wake up the world to the horrors about to overtake us. Many of these are from sources upon which there cannot be unquestioned reliance. We need no such publications to be forewarned, if we were only conversant with what the scriptures have already spoken to us in plainness." - President Harold B. Lee

There has been a lot of buzz lately among certain members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about a strange book that was published not too long ago, a book that recounts one man's out of body experiences and his visions of apocalyptic events.  The book itself is quite fascinating, but the most curious thing about the book might be how it has been received.  I have spoken with those who come close to esteeming Visions of Glory as another volume of scripture, and with others who consider it to be a dangerous tool of deception.  My first inclination was to ignore the book, since those who were eager to present it to me seemed to be lacking in judgment, but then I stumbled across an article in Meridian Magazine that, for all intents and purposes, excoriated the book.  Naturally, this further piqued my curiosity.

The reports that I received of this book came from three main sources: 1. eccentric individuals who had read the book and considered it to be a sacred new record, 2. less eccentric individuals who had read the book and considered it to be misleading, and 3. even less eccentric individuals who had not read the book, but who did not need to read it in order to have a negative opinion of it.  None of these sources seemed right to me, so I decided to go directly to the original source to find out for myself.

Fortunately the FAIR Mormon website contains a much more exhaustive review of John Pontius' controversial book.  I admit that I was less troubled by the eccentric individuals who revere the book as scripture, and even less troubled by the fantastic claims made in the book itself, then by those who discouraged a reading of Visions of Glory altogether.  Although I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to others, I certainly hope that the average member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is intelligent and perceptive enough to discern between truth and error, and to judge for himself or herself if their is anything of value to be drawn from it.

While translating the Old Testament, the Prophet Joseph Smith arrived at the portion of ancient writings called The Apocrypha, and he inquired of the Lord what was to be done.  The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that it was not needful to translate The Apocrypha, but that those who were enlightened by the gift of the Holy Ghost could obtain benefit therefrom.  Visions of Glory is not the same as The Apocrypha, but at least those who are enlightened by the gift of the Holy Ghost won't be deceived by anything it contains, nor will they be intimidated by the varying reports of the book. The Book of Mormon clearly teaches that "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moroni 10:5)  Think of that.  The truth of all things.

Of course Jesus Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life."  But such understanding does not release us from the duty of seeking out truth where ever it may be found.  Elder Orson F. Whitney, an early apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was fond of repeating the couplet: "Truth is truth where'er 'tis found / On Christian or on heathen ground."  "Mormonism is truth," declared the Prophet Joseph Smith, "The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or … being … prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men."

With an understanding that Jesus Christ is the Truth, and that the gift of the Holy Ghost as manifest through the teachings of his prophets and apostles, both ancient and modern, constitutes the bedrock of truth, it is not difficult to discern that which may be of value in John Pontius' Visions of Glory.  I particularly enjoyed the first portion of the book, as well as the peculiarly descriptive details throughout the book.  There were many thought provoking passages, especially in the beginning of the book, but I found that the author's increasingly dizzying and questionable depictions of the last days actually made the simple, correct doctrine of the Standard Works and the living prophets all the more appealing.

In sum, Pontius' stories of glory should be neither feared nor revered.  And should any of us be granted our own true visions of glory, I hope that we will have the good sense to keep such things sacred.  As the Prophet Joseph Smith once taught:

"The reason we do not have secrets of the Lord revealed unto us is because we do not keep them but reveal them; We do not keep our own secrets, but reveal our difficulties to the world, even to our enemies, then how would we keep the secrets of the Lord? I can keep a secret till Doomsday."


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Boys from the Mountains

Here is an interesting tidbit from the journal of Mosiah Lyman Hancock, Mormon pioneer and son of Levi W. Hancock:

"The next day the Prophet [Joseph Smith] came to our home and stopped in our carpenter shop and stood by the turning lathe. I went and got my map for him. "Now", he said, "I will show you the travels of this people". He then showed our travels through Iowa, and said, "Here you will make a place for the winter; and here you will travel west until you come to the valley of the Great Salt Lake! You will build cities to the North and to the South, and to the East and to the West; and you will become a great and wealthy people in that land. But, the United States will not receive you with the laws which God desires you to live, and you will have to go to where the Nephites lost their power. They worked in the United Order for 166 years, and the Saints have got to become proficient in the laws of God before they can meet the Lord Jesus Christ, or even the city of Enoch". He said we will not travel the shape of the horse shoe for there we will await the action of the government. Placing his finger on the map, I should think about where Snowflake, Arizona is situated, or it could have been Mexico, he said, "The government will not receive you with the laws that God designed you to live, and those who are desirous to live the laws of God will have to go South. You will live to see men arise in power in the Church who will seek to put down your friends and the friends of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Many will be hoisted because of their money and the worldly learning which they seem to be in possession of; and many who are the true followers of our Lord and Savior will be cast down because of their poverty. There will be two great political parties in this country. One will be called the Republican, and the other the Democrat party. These two parties will go to war and out of these two parties will spring another party which will be the Independent American Party. The United States will spend her strength and means warring in foreign lands until other nations will say, "Let's divide up the lands of the United States", then the people of the U. S. will unite and swear by the blood of their fore-fathers, that the land shall not be divided. Then the country will go to war, and they will fight until one half of the U. S. army will give up, and the rest will continue to struggle. They will keep on until they are very ragged and discouraged, and almost ready to give up--when the boys from the mountains will rush forth in time to save the American Army from defeat and ruin. And they will say, 'Brethren, we are glad you have come; give us men, henceforth, who can talk with God'. Then you will have friends, but you will save the country when it's liberty hangs by a hair, as it were".

A Comedy of Terror

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Measure for Measure

Last weekend a friend, a few relatives and I had the privilege of attending a riveting performance of William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at the Cedar City, Utah Shakespeare Festival.  As the play bill presents it: "Can goodness survive in a corrupt society? Can evil be meted out, with justice and mercy? Can chaste, innocent Isabella endure the foul machinations of those around her? Shakespeare, in this seldom-produced but daring 'dark comedy,' tests integrity and decency to their limits. But, in the end, Isabella remains virtuous, and truth proves stronger than swords and evil men."  Of course, there is much more to it than that.  If you have some leisure, and you seek wisdom's treasure, with pleasure I endorse Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. (Click here for the audio, here for the BBC film)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Ancient Sacrifice



God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Greatest Salesman in the World

A friend of mine recently mentioned three titles that rank at or near the top of his list of favorite books: 1. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, 2. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey, and 3. The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino.  Having read the first two, and finding them to contain much good and useful information, I concluded that the last might also contain something worth reading.

For readers who are unfamiliar with these three books, one thing that they each have in common is a strong emphasis on principles of self-improvement.  As someone who has not attained perfection quite yet (shocking, I know), I find such principles not only appealing, but worth exploring (and especially worth applying.)  Another theme common to these three books is that of success, particularly financial success.  As to this last point, Dale Carnegie, Stephen R. Covey and Og Mandino were unquestionably three very successful men.

I admit that it has been quite some time since I last sampled the works of Carnegie or Covey, but Mandino's book struck me as unique in at least three different ways.  First of all, Mandino's The Greatest Salesman in the World is much shorter than the other two.  Second, The Greatest Salesman in the World is a work of historical fiction, set in first century Palestine, that takes it bearings from the birth, life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Third, Mandino's slim publication concludes with a symbolic denouement, and a surprise visit from an exceptional character.  There are many other distinguishing features of Mandino's work, but these three differences strike me as particularly noteworthy.

In The Greatest Salesman in the World, and through three different characters, Mandino weaves a tale of ten secret scrolls that contain the wisdom of the ages.  I won't dare tell you everything that is written on the ten scrolls, nor will I give away the surprise ending (which was by far my favorite part of the whole book), but I will record one important passage from the scrolls that resonates with me:

"And most of all, I will laugh at myself for man is most comical when he takes himself too seriously... Never will I allow myself to become so important, so wise, so dignified, so powerful, that I forget how to laugh at myself and my world.  In this matter I will always remain as a child, for only as a child am I given the ability to look up to others; and so long as I look up to another I will never grow too long for my cot... Only with laughter and happiness can I truly become a success."


Thursday, July 3, 2014

God in America

Tomorrow we celebrate Independence Day for the United States of America, and it is well that we recognize and pay tribute to the roots of our independence.  The United States of America was built first and foremost upon the principle of the freedom of religion, a blessing enshrined in the First Amendment of The Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

As we celebrate faith, family, and freedom with barbecues, festivities and fireworks, may we remember the roots of our liberty, and the source of all blessings, namely Almighty God.  In anticipation of this great celebration, a couple of educational resources may be of interest to those who would like to learn more about the foundations of freedom:

  • The PBS special God in America traces the history of the intersection between religion and politics in the United States.
  • The Miller Center at the University of Virginia has organized a Presidential Speech Archive that contains some of the most important Presidential Speeches in American history, complete with transcripts.  Some of the speeches are available in their entirety in audio and video.  

Enjoy!  Happy Fourth of July!

Is Scripture Relevant?

"Is scripture relevant?"  Such was the theme of a panel discussion that took place last night at the opening of Zion's Books in Provo, Utah.

The Panelists for this discussion were Joseph Spencer (author of An Other Testament: On Typology and For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope), David Bokovoy (author of Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy), and Adam Miller (author of Rube Goldberg Machines and Letters to a Young Mormon).  Janiece Johnson (a BYU-Idaho professor of religion) moderated the discussion.

Joseph Spencer, a student of philosophy at the University of New Mexico, began the discussion with some prepared remarks on "Scripture and the Structure of Religious Life."  His short response to the question "Is Scripture Relevant?" was "yes," but his longer response to the question was "let's see." Spencer compared the structure of religious life to a game that is somewhat like chess.  His careful consideration of the question "Is Scripture Relevant?" led him also to reflect on the question "What makes scripture scripture?"  In brief, his conclusions were that "good religious living" requires repentance, that "scripture gives life to religion," and that the key to reading scripture is to "begin with structure."  In his estimation, the Book of Mormon shows that one of its early prophets, Nephi, was "learning to play the game" that is part of the structure of religious life.  Even though Nephi "turned his brothers irreparably against him," his work was that of "reconciliation."

Next on the panel, David Bokovoy, an Associate Instructor of Languages and Literature at the University of Utah, spoke on the topic "'I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart': Reading the Bible Critically as a Believing Latter-day Saint."  In answer to the question "Is scripture relevant?" Bokovoy jokingly claimed that certain religion professors threatened to punch in the face anyone who dared to answer "no."  Bokovoy's remarks focused on higher criticism and prophetic limitations.  He pointed to instances in the scriptures in which prophets failed to correctly interpret the Divine will.  He also emphasized moments in which the direct voice of God accomplished its immediate purpose ("Let there be light") in order to distinguish such efficiency from moments in which imperfect prophets spoke, and their predictions failed, or were delayed.  "Prophets don't always get it right," he observed.  For example, according to Bokovoy, the prophet Jonah projected his own weakness and imperfections into his attempts to call the people of Nineveh unto repentance.  As another example, the prophet Lehi uttered words of consolation to his wife, but Sariah was only consoled after the return of her sons from Jerusalem.  Bokovoy referenced a few common interpretations of prophecy: 1. unrealized prophecy elicits apocalypticism, 2. the realization of prophecy depends upon obedience, and 3. prophecy is discounted as false predictions. He then posited a fourth possibility: 4. "Revelation is part human and part divine," because "no one is all knowing."  Bokovoy cautioned that one must exercise humility in the attempt to speak for Divinity.

Finally, Adam Miller, a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas, spoke on "Reading Scripture: Continuing the Work of Translation."  He introduced his book Letters to a Young Mormon, and described how reading scripture is itself an act of translation.  Miller alluded to the fact that Jesus Christ quoted scripture, as did Moroni, Joseph Smith and others.  According to his answer to the question "Is scripture relevant?" the process of "translating" the scriptures is an ongoing process in which the best translations lead one to repentance.  Miller jested that he had many years of experience in "treating the scriptures lightly" (see D&C 84:54).  Nevertheless, the scriptures indicate that we, like Oliver Cowdery, are commanded to "say nothing but repentance unto this generation." (D&C 6:9)

The moderator of the discussion, Janiece Johnson, then opened the panel to questions.  One member of the audience asked, "How do you open up the possibility of scripture?"  The panelists responded by returning to the idea of "translation," authorial intent, focusing on what the scriptures actually say, getting rid of pet interpretations, understanding the processes of canonization and de-canonization, and recognizing the directions of scripture as history and in shaping history.

Another intrepid audience member wanted to know, if the mingling of the philosophies of men with scripture is bad, then why do we do it?  One of the panelists observed that everyone mingles the philosophies of men with scripture, but the difference is that philosophers recognize what is being mingled.  In other words, the study of philosophy is helpful in sorting out the philosophies of men from the actual scripture.  Everyone is, in a sense, as one of the panelists asserted, a philosopher, as everyone is also a sinner.

Another question that was posed was, "What is the difference between scripture and literature?" One of the panelists argued that one of the main differences between the two has to do with the process of canonization.  Scripture is the product of a community, he asserted, whereas literature is generally the work of one person.  One of the other panelists disagreed with this argument, contending instead that anything has the potential to be scripture as long as it deepens and individual's connection to that which is spiritual.

Yet another audience member, noting how Joseph Smith had produced more than 800 pages of canonized revelations whereas there are only 13 pages of post-Joseph Smith canonized scriptures, asked, "Why has the process of canonization slowed down?"  To this question, Adam Miller responded that one should pay more attention to the mundane, everyday kind of revelation instead of only recognizing the flashier revelations.  Another panelists remarked that new revelations don't necessarily carry as much weight as the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants.

The panelists fielded a couple other questions fielded before concluding, questions such as "How does one apply higher criticism to the Book of Mormon?  To this one of the panelists responded that the Book of Mormon has a 19th century setting that points to Joseph Smith as the original author, and it answers the religious questions of that time period.  Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon, he argued, contains material that would make sense to a 19th century audience.  Therefore the modern reader of the Book of Mormon needs to learn how to separate the translator's voice (Joseph Smith) from the editor's voice (Mormon), and the voice of the original author in order to understand the political and religious background of the text.

One of the last questions posed was, "How do I reconcile tensions in what the scriptures are saying to me personally with the current things that are being taught?"  The panelists responded that, on the whole, these tensions are present in both ancient and modern scripture, as well as in that which is taught from the pulpit.

In sum, the panel discussion presented some interesting perspectives and ideas regarding the relevancy of scripture, and the overall answer to the question "Is scripture relevant?" seemed to be "Yes."

Certainly the panelists and other participants could have provided other interesting answers to the provocative question "Is scripture relevant?" but the answers to such a question seem to depend, as Spencer noted earlier, upon answers to the preliminary questions "What is scripture?" and "What does it mean to be relevant?" In fact, one might ask, "Is the question 'Is scripture relevant?' relevant?"  Or, "Given that scripture is relevant, why is it relevant?"

Fortunately, as I'm sure the panelists and participants are well aware, scripture itself has a lot to say on this topic.  Drawing from Adam Miller's remarks concerning the process of translating scripture, I wonder if it could also be said that, when best translated, scripture actually translates us.  In other words, the Spirit of the Lord that infuses each verse of scripture has the power to translate that which we bring to the table by way of life experience, desire, charity, humility, preparation, attributes, knowledge and so forth, and to communicate to our understanding that which will draw us closer to the Savior Jesus Christ.  Seen in this way, the Word of God as contained in the scriptures has the power to translate us, which is to say, to transform, or convert us, into more Christ-like beings:

"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." (Psalms 19:7)

"But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matt 4:4)

"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39)

"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." (Romans 15:4)

"But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:14-17)

"For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1:21)

"And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children." (1 Ne. 5:21)

"And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning." (1 Ne. 19:23)

"And upon these I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children." (2 Ne. 4:15)

"I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct." (Mosiah 1:5)

"And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls." (Alma 37:8)

"Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—" (Helaman 3:29)

"And behold, ye do know of yourselves, for ye have witnessed it, that as many of them as are brought to the knowledge of the truth, and to know of the wicked and abominable traditions of their fathers, and are led to believe the holy scriptures, yea, the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written, which leadeth them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart unto them—" (Helaman 15:7)

"These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;" (D&C 18:34)

"And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon;

Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;

Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—

Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;

Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. Amen." (D&C 20:8-12)

"And the Book of Mormon and the holy scriptures are given of me for your instruction; and the power of my Spirit quickeneth all things." (D&C 33:16)

"And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by theHoly Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation." (D&C 68:4)

"And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived" (JS-Matthew 1:37)

"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22)

The Life of Muhammad

Preach My Gospel, the Guide to Missionary Service for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  contains a chapter entitled "What Do I Study and Teach?"  This chapter outlines "the essential doctrines, principles, and commandments" that missionaries (and all members) are to "study, believe, love, live and teach."  It includes lessons on "The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," "The Plan of Salvation," "The Gospel of Jesus Christ," "The Commandments," and "Laws and Ordinances."  Preach My Gospel is an excellent tool for helping missionaries and other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be better prepared and more persuasive teachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As missionaries are sent into many different regions of the earth, the chapter on "The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ" also contains brief summaries of lives of "Reformers and World Religious Leaders" whose examples and teachings have greatly influenced the world. These "Reformers and Religious Leaders" include John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Calvin, Buddha (Gotama), Confucius and Mohammed. Missionaries are instructed to use this background information only when needed.

The brief description of the life of Mohammed as contained in Preach My Gospel is as follows:

"Born in 570 A.D. in Mecca. Orphaned in childhood. Lived a life of poverty. Gained reputation as a trusted peacemaker. Married at age 25. In 610 prayed and meditated on Mount Hira. Said the angel Gabriel appeared to him and delivered a message from Allah (God). Claimed to receive communication from God through Gabriel from 620 to 632. These communications, which he recited to his disciples, were later written in the Koran, the sacred book of Islam."

This is a concise and accurate summary of the life of Mohammed that will be helpful for missionaries or for those who are unfamiliar with the religion of Islam.  For those whose curiosity concerning Mohammed runs deeper, PBS has produced an excellent primer on the prophet of Islam entitled "The Life of Muhammad."  This enjoyable television series contains three segments: "The Seeker," "Holy Wars," and "Holy Peace," each of which is skillfully crafted and highly informative.  

For those whose interest in Islam runs deeper than a television production, there are plentiful biographies about Muhammad.  Professor Daniel C. Peterson has written an excellent biography of this very influential leader entitled "Muhammad, Prophet of God."  

For those whose desire to understand Islam and the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) runs even deeper, please learn Arabic and read the Holy Qur'an.  If you approach the task with a sense of wonder and of "Holy Envy," you won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

All You Need is Love

What are some of the greatest love songs ever written?  I don't necessarily mean songs in praise of Eros, Agape, or even Philia (although those could also count), but songs that celebrate the generic All You Need is Love kind of love to which The Beatles so famously paid tribute.  The best songs about love: Ready, set... go!  Here are some songs to get us rolling:

1. All You Need is Love
2. What the World Needs Now
3. Higher Love
4. Words of Love
5. The Glory of Love
6. What is Love?
7. Love is a Battlefield
8. Love is Blindness
9. Love Hurts
10. Land of Confusion
11. What is Love?

Muslim to Mormon: Introducing Tito Momen

On Monday evening I had the privilege of meeting a very brave man whose name used to be Muhammad.  In fact, he wrote a book by the same title: My name used to be Muhammad.  His name is now Tito Momen (Tito is the Italian name for one of the Apostle Paul's missionary companions, Titus), and his story is one worth listening to, and reading.  The story of his journey from Islam to Christianity contains lessons in courage, perseverance, forgiveness, and testimony.  Tito graciously agreed to sign my copy of his book in Arabic.  Thank you Tito.  ! شكرا

A Tolkien Treasure Unearthed

I find this preview somewhat annoying, but if the author of this article is correct, Tolkien fans will really be excited about this discovery.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Dignified First Lady

Last night at the patriotic service for America's Freedom Festival in Provo, Utah, former First Lady Laura Bush gave a wonderful keynote address.  She described what it was like to be the matriarch in the White House, and how best to respond to inescapable public ridicule.  In fact, she was unexpectedly granted the opportunity to exemplify what she had learned in the White House when a heckler in the crowd, claiming to exercise his right to "freedom of speech," began hurling insults at both her and her husband.  To her credit, and as evidence of her gracious character, the former First Lady maintained her dignity and composure while the police promptly escorted the heckler out of the building.  After the applause, Mrs. Bush explained why she and her husband had been able to endure such unpleasantries: "For one thing, I know who I am and I know who George is.  For another, this is America. And America hangs on the proposition of what those of us in the White House sometimes receive as a chorus of complaint (when it) is in reality a kind of sacred music, or at least the clanking of gears of democracy."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Life is a Rodeo

Certain platitudes suggest that "life is a beach" or that "life is a highway."  Some may even consider life to be "just a bowl of cherries."  There may be some comfort in these bromides, but country music artist Dustin Craig's assessment probably comes closer to the truth: "Every day is a rodeo."

As part of an initiative toward civic improvement, the city of Lehi, Utah hosts an annual celebration which includes a Round-up Rodeo (a tradition that has endured for seventy-five years).  The opening ceremonies include a tribute to the United States of America, an invocation, and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.  A grand entry of the contestants and a wild horse race precede the main events.   

Impressively talented cowboys and cowgirls engage in a variety of rodeo competitions, such as steer wrestling, bareback, tie down roping, saddle bronc riding, team roping, barrel racing, and bull riding.  In the intervals between competitions, other rodeo athletes thrill the audience with trick riding, freestyle motorcross and freestyle bullfighting.  A rodeo clown even provides comic relief during the rough and tumble of the events. Forget about beaches, highways or cherries... the rodeo is a much more exciting and appropriate metaphor for life.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Awake and Arise

Awake and Arise
  • 1. Awake and arise, O ye slumbering nations!
    The heavens have opened their portals again.
    The last and the greatest of all dispensations
    Has burst like a dawn o'er the children of men!
  • 2. The dream of the poet, the crown of the ages,
    The time which the prophets of Israel foretold,
    That glorious day only dreamed by the sages
    Is yours, O ye slumbering nations; behold!
  • 3. Oh, lift up your voices in song and in story.
    Let banners of peace in all lands be unfurled,
    For truth, heaven-born, in its beauty and glory
    Is marching triumphantly over the world.
  • Text: Theodore E. Curtis, 1872-1957. (c) 1984 IRI
    Music: Carolee Curtis Green, b. 1940. (c) 1984 IRI

Friday, June 6, 2014

Discussing Marriage

This looks like a very promising and productive new website to improve reasoning and civility in the developing debate about marriage.  Having read the book What is Marriage? by the same authors who are responsible for producing this website, I feel confident in recommending this website to any and all who have a stake in the marriage debate... in other words, I feel confident in recommending it to every human being. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Duck Beach 2014

Yes.  It's true.  I traveled to Duck Beach again this year.  The Outer Banks of North Carolina is such a beautiful region.  In fact, it is one of my favorite places on earth.  I love to watch the pelicans soar peacefully across the sky, or swoop down close to the breaking waves.  I love to watch little crabs scurry across the beach, or disappear into their holes in the sand.  I even love to watch the wind toss frothy waves of a tempestuous ocean to and fro, or blow billowing thunder clouds, charged with lightning, across the sky.  What a glorious earth!  To think, this planet is but a speck in the infinite expanse of the universe!  But what a speck!

This year I decided to go on an adventure.  Rather than fly toward the East, as I have done in previous years, I opted to drive across the country in my 1993 Honda Civic Del Sol.  From Provo to Denver, from St. Louis to Norfolk, my little white steed and I made the trek to Corolla, North Carolina.  The beautiful country side rushed by while I listened to the entire unabridged edition of The Count of Monte Cristo on CD.

This year I was fortunate enough to stay in a beach house called The Ritz with a group of stellar young men and women.  Before the residents began to arrive I took a short trip to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, the northernmost lighthouse of the Outer Banks.  Subsequently, there was the usual rollicking and frolicking upon the beach, the beach volleyball, the glow-in-the-dark dancing, the barbecues, the hot-tubbing and the various and sundry vacation shenanigans.  There were also the added bonuses of watching the NBA playoffs, eating delicious food, and exploring the sand dunes.  In the midst of all of the ruckus, I made sure to find some time to be still, to read (I also finished reading J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye), to walk on the beach, to sit by the ocean, and to listen.

As this excursion to Duck Beach draws to a close, and as the participants slowly begin to trickle back to their homes, I feel gratitude for the beauty of the earth, the beauty of the sky, and the beauty of each hour.  I feel grateful for this beautiful region on this beautiful speck that we call earth. Onward and upward!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Two Excerpts from Joseph Smith concerning the Gathering of Israel

On the Gathering of Israel

"Dear Brethren,

I am happy in being informed by your letter that your mission swells 'larger and larger'; it is a great and important mission, and one that is worthy of those intelligences who surround the throne of Jehovah to be engaged in; Although it appears great at present, yet you have but just begun to realize the greatness, the extent and glory of the same. If there is any thing calculated to interest the mind of the saints, to awaken in them the finest sensibilities; and arouse them to enterprise, and exertion, surely it is the great and precious promises, made by our heavenly Father to the children of Abraham; and those engaged in seeking the outcasts of Israel, and the dispersed of Judah, cannot fail to enjoy the Spirit of the Lord, and have the choicest blessings of Heaven rest upon them in copious effusions. Brethren you are in the path way to Eternal Fame! and immortal Glory; and inasmuch as you feel interested for the covenant people of the Lord, the God of their Father shall bless you." - Letter to Orson Hyde and John E. Page, May 14, 1840,  Joseph Smith, Jr.

On the Effects of the Holy Ghost

"This first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence. It is more powerful in expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge, of a man who is of the literal seed of Abraham, than one that is a Gentile though it may not have half as much visual effect upon his body; for as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene; and his whole soul and body are only exercised by the pure spirit of intelligence; while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have new creation by the Holy Ghost. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.149)"

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Lighthouse of the Lord

In the early 17th Century, my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather Simon Hancock was living somewhere in the region of Devonshire, England. Sometime before 1642 he came to America, married Sarah Gilbert and settled in the region of Norfolk, Virginia.  They had ten children, one of whom was my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather William Hancock, who, in 1675 also had a son named William.  

On August 2, 1712, William's son Hector Hancock was born in Carteret County, North Carolina, where he also died on October 27, 1751, but not before having sired Joseph Hancock, who in turn fathered a son named Calvin Hancock.  Calvin Hancock was born just prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence (which document bears the signature of my namesake, though not a direct relation, John Hancock... no it's not Herbie Hancock), and his son James was the father of yet another William Hancock, who was the father of Charles Sterling Hancock, who was born on December 13, 1869 on Cape Lookout, in Carteret, North Carolina.  When I was but a wee lad, I had the privilege of meeting Charles Sterling's youngest son, and my great grandfather, Charlie William Hancock.  

During summer vacations, my family would often travel to North Carolina to visit my great grandparents, Charlie William and Margarette, and other relatives.  I trace some of my fondest childhood memories to the Island where my grandfather, Ralph Louis Hancock, was born on October 17, 1928.  From my earliest days, Harkers Island, North Carolina has always been one of my favorite places on earth.

It is also the place where my grandfather, Ralph Louis, first met missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the place where he was baptized on March 14, 1948.  (As another historical side note, only two months after my grandfather was baptized, the future Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.)  My grandfather's brother, Joel G. Hancock, later wrote a history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Harkers Island entitled Strengthened by the Storm, a phrase that teaches a parable about trees on the Island that grow stronger because of the heavy seasonal winds and rain.  In this inspiring account, my great-uncle Joel recorded that in the spring of 1938 (just a decade prior to my grandfather's baptism), an apostle of the Lord, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, was said to have prophesied that Harkers Island would one day become a Mormon Paradise.  Those who visit the Island today may witness the confirmation and the fruition of that prophecy.

Which brings us back to the story of my great grandfather Charlie William Hancock.  Like many of those who settled the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my great grandfather was a fisherman.  His son, my paternal grandfather, Ralph Louis Hancock, once wrote a brief but elegant essay called The Seasons of My Youth, a title fitting for the subject matter of the essay, namely, a month by month summary of family life and fishing on the Island.  When my parents, siblings and I visited the Island, my grandfather would often take us out on the boat to go fishing.  For a variety of reasons, my brothers and I especially enjoyed trawling.  The net drew in fish and sea creatures of every kind, from sea turtles to squid, and from shrimp to sharks.  After our excursions, we would return to great grandpa Charlie William's home (one that he had built himself), where great grandma Margarette Hancock would prepare a delicious meal of fresh caught shrimp and dumplings.  As the adults rocked in the porch swings and whittled sticks, my siblings, cousins, second cousins and I would roam about the property, playing games, and climbing the family tree, a tree in which we each carved our names.  The Island was not just a Mormon Paradise, or even a childhood paradise.  It was paradise, plain and simple.

Not long after he was baptized, my grandfather Ralph Louis Hancock left the Harkers Island paradise to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he met Jacquelyn Tebbs, whom he married soon thereafter.  Their marriage was solemnized in the Idaho Falls LDS temple, and many years after that, my great grandparents' marriage was solemnized in the Washington, D.C. LDS temple.  My grandfather's first son, Ralph Cornel Hancock, married Julie Lynn Higginson in the Provo, Utah LDS temple, and I am the eldest son of the fruit of their loins.

Over the years, our family returned often to Harkers Island.  My gratitude and fondness for our family heritage increased with each visit.  Only last year, I returned to Harkers Island once again to visit my ailing grandmother, and other relatives.  As was customary in my youth, I also took a ferry out to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.  There are few things I enjoy more in life than to feel the salty breeze on my face, to watch the galloping wild horses, and to peer out over land and sea from the top of the lighthouse.  I hope to visit the Island again soon, and as frequently as possible thereafter.

As I reflect on Simon Hancock's 17th century journey from England to the American Colonies, I am reminded of Lehi's prophecy in the Book of Mormon that the Americas would be a land of promise, and a land of liberty.  Lehi recognized the hand of the Lord in the migrations of many people: "Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.  Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them."  (2 Ne. 1:6-7)

America has been a land of liberty for my forefathers, and for many people.  It is also the land where the Lord restored the Gospel through His servant and prophet Joseph Smith.  Simon Hancock's great great great grandson Calvin Hancock was born during the period of the American Revolution and American Independence, just prior to the restoration of the Gospel in 1820.  Calvin Hancock's great great great grandson, Ralph Louis Hancock, my grandfather, was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just months before Israel's own declaration of independence.  Although my mother tells me that I was named after the beloved disciple in the New Testament, it cannot ignore the fact that my father is, among other things, a scholar of the American Revolution, and that I was born in the bicentennial year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which document bears the name of an early patriot whose name, John Hancock, has since become a synonym of the word "signature."  

All of these things remind me of the great blessings of freedom that we enjoy in the United States of America, and that the love of liberty can inspire our souls, as it did the souls of those who preceded us.  It reminds me that it is important to remember who we are, and that like the good timber on the Island, we too can grow stronger and become better through the trials and the adversities of life.  It reminds me that, like the Cape Lookout lighthouse beckoning to the ships at sea, the lighthouse of the Lord, His holy temple, beckons to all of God's children: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Last weekend my friend suggested that we go to Thanksgiving Point for a stroll through the tulip gardens.  Even though I worked for several years in the flower industry, both on the wholesale and the retail end of business, I had never before set foot in the Thanksgiving Point tulip gardens.  I agreed that tiptoeing through the tulips would be a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon, so off we went to enjoy the blooming buds and fragrant flowers.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the scenery of this stroll was not only amply supplied with tulips, but with a variety of sculptures, fountains, fish and waterfowl.  There were people from all over the world... people from India, from the Middle East, and even people from the thriving metropolis of Provo, Utah.  In one area of the garden, called the "secret garden," even though it was no secret, I even met a couple of Palestinian families from Jerusalem.  And this only moments after viewing a sculpture exhibit representing the life of the Savior, whose lived, died and rose from the tomb in Palestine. Truly, as the prophets and apostles declared not many years ago concerning Jesus Christ: "We offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice. None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth."

If you are in the area, and if you are looking for a way to enjoy the beauties of creation in a peaceful setting, may I recommend to you a promenade, or a tiptoe through the tulip gardens at Thanksgiving Point.  It's not the Garden of Eden, or the Garden of Gethsemane, but it is a beautiful garden nonetheless.  You won't be disappointed.  Here are a few pictures to give you a glimpse of what awaits you there: