Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hope for the Years Ahead

Last night at the Constitutional Symposium on Religious Freedom, hosted by the Utah Valley University Center for Constitutional Studies, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave an encouraging keynote address entitled "Hope for the Years Ahead."

Elder Oaks offered his perspectives and wisdom on behalf of all religious people in order to instill greater hope for the future.  Although he recognized a diminution of First Amendment rights in the United States, due in part to the restraining and restricting forces of political correctness,  Elder Oaks optimistically emphasized several positive trends in the defense of religious freedom.  In spite of increasing threats to First Amendment freedoms in the form of new laws criminalizing so-called "hate speech," the inability of scholars to publish unpopular ideas in journals, pressures from universities enforcing dogmas of political correctness, campus speech codes, rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry, the firing of a prominent corporate executive for his unpopular views, and so forth, Elder Oaks reminded his audience of the ancient wisdom that "It is easier to make friends than to make laws."

It is a troubling trend when people of religious faith are bullied from the public square on the basis of assumed motives or stultifying stereotypes, as Elder Oaks remarked, "Rejecting one’s right to be heard in official communications because of a stereotype replays an evil episode from one of the darkest periods of our Supreme Court’s history. In its 1857 opinion in the case of Dred Scott, the United States Supreme Court polarized the nation and propelled it toward civil war by ruling that a black African person, whether bond or free, had no right of access to the federal courts.  I see a parallel between denying judicial access to a person on racial grounds and excluding public consideration of a person’s opinions on religious grounds."

Nevertheless, Elder Oaks mentioned at least three specific reasons to remain optimistic: 1. An increasing recognition of the importance of religious freedom, 2. calamities can strengthen rather than destroy, and 3. the hope for mutual understanding and accommodation.  In connection with this last point, Elder Oaks decried the atmosphere of anger and contention that results from disagreements, while calling for a reawakening of the "'bonds of affection' that President Matthew Holland showed to be essential to the founding of our nation—'broadly shared ideas of biblical love, artfully refashioned into a guiding public principle.'"

As Elder Oaks indicated, these reasons for optimism in the face of challenges to religious freedom arise from the kind of hope that Elder Neal A. Maxwell once described: "Real hope is much more than wishful musing. It stiffens, not slackens, the spiritual spine. It is composed, not giddy, eager without being naïve, and pleasantly steady without being smug."

To conclude his speech, Elder Oaks extended the following invitation: "Such hopes can only be realized by concentrating on what we have in common, by striving for mutual understanding, by treating all our neighbors with goodwill, and by exercising patience. It is a time of hope for mutual respect and accommodation, but it is up to you and me to make it happen."

By following such Christian imperatives, there is certainly "Hope for the Years Ahead."



Monday, April 7, 2014

Facing the Future

"But our joy and rejoicing is not in what lies below, not in our past—great and glorious as that is—but in our present and in our future...  Nor are the days of our greatest sorrows and our deepest sufferings all behind us. They too lie ahead. We shall yet face greater perils, we shall yet be tested with more severe trials, and we shall yet weep more tears of sorrow than we have ever known before." - Bruce R. McConkie

"There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.'" - Harold B. Lee

Saturday, April 5, 2014

In a Word: April 2014 General Conference Notes

April 2014 General Conference

Saturday Morning:

President Thomas S. Monson - "True to the Faith"

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland - "Defend the Faith"

Elder Ronald Rasband - "Angels in the storm"

Elder Carlos H. Amado - "I love Him with all my heart"

Sister Linda S. Reeves - "The best filter"

Elder Neil L. Andersen - "Infinitely more precious to God"

President Henry B. Eyring - "A heritage of hope"

Saturday Afternoon: 

Elder Russell M. Nelson - "Let your faith show"

Elder Richard G. Scott - "The Atonement of Jesus Christ"

Elder Hales - "Be obedient"

Elder Zivic - "Abide in the True Vine"

Elder W. Craig Zwick - "Minister grace"

Elder Quentil L. Cook - "Hastening the work"

Priesthood Session:

Elder Dallin H. Oaks - "Forget about rights, fulfill responsibilities"

Elder Donald L. Hallstrom - "Put away childish things"

Elder Ronald L. Ridd - "The choice generation"

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf - "Don't sleep through the Restoration"

Elder Henry B. Eyring - "Heros"

President Thomas S. Monson - "Courage, not compromise"

Sunday Morning:

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf - "Thankful in our circumstances"

Elder M. Russell Ballard - "Preach My Gospel, follow up"

Sister Jean A. Stevens - "God answers prayers"

Bishop Gary E. Stevenson - "This is your 4 minutes"

Elder David A. Bednar - "The enabling power of the Atonement"

President Thomas S. Monson - "Love is the very essence of the Gospel"

Sunday Afternoon:

President Boyd K. Packer - "Will ye also go away?"

Elder William R. Walker - "Standing on the shoulders of giants"

Elder L. Tom Perry - "Pro-active obedience"

Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge - "There is always opposition to truth"

Elder Michael John U. Teh - "Treasures in heaven"

Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis - "One should not roam through garbage"

Elder D. Todd Christofferson - "The resurrected Christ"

President Thomas S. Monson - "May we..."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thinking Outside of the Ark: A Review of Aronofsky's Noah

The recent release of Aronofsky's film Noah has sparked no small amount of controversy, particularly among conservative viewers (see here, here, here and here).  Such critics have excoriated the film as an anti-theist, anti-Christian, anti-creationist, and anti-Biblical piece of liberal propaganda.  Many conservative critics went so far as to counsel the public not to go see this bad movie because it is simply an insult to intelligence.  From such a standpoint, those who perceived in Aronofsky's film an opportunity to open up a dialogue about eternally significant matters were reprimanded and summarily dismissed as kowtowing to political correctness: "Anybody who says Christians need to see the movie to promote dialogue is being a tool. Anybody who says the movie is visionary is jumping on an Emperor has No Clothes bandwagon. Any pastor who creates a sermon to coincide with this awful piece is being played for a sucker. And the Christians who are promoting the film for money should be ASHAMED of themselves. Really, how dare you?"

But what would Noah himself have thought of this film? The antediluvian prophets might have wished for such a cinematic weapon in their arsenal in order to better persuade souls unto repentance.  Noah and his family might have enjoyed such a film on a big screen in the ark... something to help them (and the animals) endure the one hundred and fifty days of unrelenting rain. Shem, Ham and Japheth probably would have gotten a kick out of Aronofsky's interpretation of their respective love stories.  And what about Noah's wife?  Well, isn't it about time that she had her day in the sun as the heroine of such an epic struggle?

But what about the Rock People?  And Tubal-Cain? What about Noah's hallucinations?  His violent rampage?  His drunken insanity?  What about all the Biblical inaccuracies?

First of all, do conservative film critics really believe that the public is stupid enough to turn to Hollywood for Bible lessons?  What is more insulting to the intelligence, a wildly creative interpretation of the Biblical story of Noah, or conservative pundits' rants about what constitutes good cinema?

Let's be clear.  Aronofsky's Noah is more conflicted than a Javert personality inside of A Beautiful Mind meeting Hermione in the Labyrinth.  But that doesn't mean that the film had no redeeming qualities.  In fact, there were at least three aspects of the film that, in my humble opinion, made it worth watching: 1. The themes of justice, mercy, forgiveness and kindness, 2. The healing of the womb, and 3. The echo of God's command to "multiply and replenish the earth."

Aronofsky's Noah is as politically incorrect a film as may be seen on the big screen today (in part because of its pro-life, anti-abortion message).  If you enter the movie theater expecting to be taught a Sunday school lesson on the ancient prophet Noah, I guarantee that you will be disappointed.  On the other hand, if while watching the film you consider the present relevance of the Noachite narrative in relation to Aronofsky's interpretation, you might just be pleasantly surprised.  



          

I Saw Another Angel Fly

Yesterday an historic event took place in Provo, Utah.  At 2:30 pm, the angel Moroni was placed on top of the new Provo City Center Temple.  This temple has replaced the old Provo Tabernacle that was destroyed in a fire.  Here are a few pictures that I took... enjoy!

 








"And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,

Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Grain on the Brain: An Inflammatory Debate

This is your brain... on grain.
 In a recent post I demonstrated why it is good to get fat (spiritually), but in this post I will briefly discuss why one doctor believes it is actually be good for you to eat fat (physically).  In his #1 New York Times bestseller Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar - Your Brain's Silent Killers, Dr. David Perlmutter describes the devastating effects that excessive amounts of carbohydrates can have on our health, while revealing the positive effects of good fat and cholesterol. Perlmutter's research shows that simple adjustments to our diets can rapidly improve our mental and physical well-being by preventing or decreasing inflammation and facilitating the absorption of vital nutrients.  Dr. Perlmutter's prose is accessible, but he doesn't shy away from giving detailed support for his assertions.  He also provides a variety of clinical case studies to back up his thesis.
Good Fats

Dr. Perlmutter promises that his simple, straightforward program has "many benefits beyond the obvious physical ones.  Optimal brain health," he continues, "(and a smaller waistline) might be first and foremost on your mind, but the rewards don't end there.  You will see change in every area of your life.  You will feel more confident and have more self-esteem.  You'll feel younger and more in control of your life and future.  You'll be able to navigate through stressful times with ease, have the motivation to stay active and engage with others, and feel more accomplished at work and home.  In short, you will be happier and more productive.  And your success will breed more success.  When your life becomes richer, fuller, and more energized as a result of your efforts, you won't want to revert to your old, unhealthy lifestyle.  I know you can do this.  You must, for yourself and your loved ones.  The payoffs- and the potentially calamitous consequences if you don't heed this advice- are huge."

Woah!
Of course, not everyone agrees with Perlmutter, particularly doctors with their own diets to sell or those who are in the business of selling grains.  One doctor argued that, "He's telling people to eat salmon, to eat avocados.  Is that realistic?  Will you get your kids to eat that for breakfast?  Is that sustainable?"  Another doctor calls Perlmutter's theory "smoke and mirrors."  Yet another doctor refutes Perlmutter's thesis by arguing that, "there is plenty of modern research demonstrating that diets rich in refined and processed carbohydrates are harmful. However, this is not due to carb content alone, and there’s no evidence that whole-food carbs have the same effect. When an author or expert recommends excluding or severely limiting one of three macronutrients that humans consume, the evidence demonstrating harm should be strong—not only because of the inconvenience of following such a restricted diet, but because extreme diets (ketogenic or VLC diets in this case) are not always harmless."  One author, instead of trying to refute the Perlmutter's theory simply indicts him for hyperbole.

Dr. McDougall
Dr. John McDougall argues that, "Promoters of low-carbohydrate diets, those high in meat, dairy, fish, and eggs, claim dietary carbohydrates are packed with inflammatory ingredients, and that inflammation is at the heart of virtually every disorder and disease. The evidence linking carbohydrates to inflammation is convoluted, theoretical, and largely limited to an uncommon condition, Celiac disease."  He concludes that, "Research does not support the theory that carbohydrates from wheat, other grains, or starchy vegetables are the source of injury that leads to chronic inflammation. In contrast, scientific research does solidly support that the source of injury leading to chronic inflammation is animal foods."

Dr. Perlmutter
As I research the effects of wheat and grains in our modern diets, one reason why I am inclined to side with Perlmutter in this debate is that many of his detractors (at least those featured most prominently online) show little evidence of actually having read and understood his book.  Those who did read and understand Perlmutter's book seem intent on misrepresenting his theories or accusing him of selling out to meat.  As McDougall contends, "Just as important for the rising popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain enhance the profits of the meat, dairy, egg, and fish industries."  Perlmutter is also known for advocating a "functional and holistic approach toward treating brain disorders," which is an "alternative" that many other doctors can't seem to stomach.  

The notion that excessive carbohydrates cause inflammation and insufficient amounts of good fats and cholesterol in our diets could be some of the underlying causes of many modern ailments does not sound too far fetched.  Furthermore, since Perlmutter's critics allege that he is some sort of a conspiracy theorist because he opposes pharmaceutical quick-fixes and government regulated diets, his ideas begin to sound more credible.  

Detractors from the Brain Grain theory also point to the fact that, as Perlmutter posits, the optimal human diet disappeared when humans ceased to be hunter-gatherers and resorted instead to agriculture.  Dr. David Katz insists that Perlmutter's theory that the Stone Age diet was 75% fat is "wildly preposterous."  Other detractors group Perlmutter together with other celebrity pseudo-scientists such as Atkins, Malcolm Gladwell, and Jonah Lehrer.  While it's true that Perlmutter may have exaggerated some of his claims in order to prove a point, it could easily be just as true that his detractors exaggerate their own claims.  Hence, the controversy over grain continues.

In order to get down to the nitty-gritty of the grain problem, perhaps we first need to ask a few questions and establish a few criteria.  What is wheat?  What is gluten?  Is the wheat we consume today the same as it was, say, 50 years ago, or has it been genetically modified?  Why or why not?  Is gluten bad for you?  Why?  Does it cause inflammation?  How?  If healthy humans have been eating wheat for 10,000 years, why is it suddenly a problem?  What is a healthy human?  Were hunter-gatherers healthier than agricultural laborers?  How so?  Are gluten free products better for your health?  What are the political implications of theories about wheat?  Last but not least, the code of health for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Lord's law of health known as the Word of Wisdom, explicitly states that, "All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life," "All grain is good for the food of man," and "Nevertheless, wheat for man." (D&C 89:14,16,17)  Did the revelation get it wrong?  Talk amongst yourselves.











Thursday, March 27, 2014

To Whom Shall We Go?

In her landmark book How the West Really Lost God, Mary Eberstadt argues persuasively that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the deterioration of religion in Western Civilization did not precipitate the decline of the family.  Rather, as Eberstadt contends, the opposite is true: the disintegration of the family actually hastened the decline of religion.  Eberstadt affirms that the erosion of the symbiotic relationship between family cohesion and religious observance has had, and will continue to have, a calamitous effect upon society.

Whereas Eberstadt evokes the hopeful possibility that crises related to secularization may help to revive the institution of the family and spawn a religious awakening, others claim that unless churches reform to accommodate trends in secularization, there will be a mass exodus of the faithful (particularly Catholics and Mormons), from their respective flocks.  "I think it's likely," Damon Linker opines, "that over the coming years these churches are going to confront a stark choice: Reform themselves in light of equality or watch their parishioners opt for the exits. In droves."  Which will it be?  Religious awakening or mass exodus?  Or could it be both?  Or neither?

Linker's predictions of disaffection and mass exodus, however charged with the rhetoric of equality, are not without precedent.  In fact, the Apostle Paul foresaw the day when some would depart from the faith: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; / And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Tim. 4:3-4)  Moreover, after the Lord had openly declared His divine role as the bread of life sent from heaven, "many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6:66)  Jesus then posed this pointed question to His disciples: "Will ye also go away?" (John 6:67

Much earlier, and on another continent, Nephi prophesied that, "...the time speedily cometh that the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people, and the wicked will he destroy; and he will spare his people, yea, even if it so be that he must destroy the wicked by fire." (2 Ne. 30:10)  Nephi also foresaw that the Apostle John would complete the record of his apocalyptic vision (1 Ne. 14:27).  In this record, the Lord declared, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. / So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." (Rev. 3:15-16)  In other words, Linker is correct in assuming that some parishioners will "opt for the exits."  But the "stark choice" is not for churches to "reform themselves in light of equality or watch their parishioners opt for the exits. In droves."  The "stark choice" is for parishioners, and indeed for everyone, to reform ourselves in light of the doctrine of Christ (see, for example, 2 Ne. 31, 3 Ne. 11, and 3 Ne. 27).

The long-suffering Lord lovingly beckons all to come unto Him for safety and refuge: "O, ye nations of the earth, how often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not!" (D&C 43:24)  He refuses no one: "Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance." (2 Ne. 26:27)
    
Every six months, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints convene (D&C 1:14; D&C 124) to listen to the Lord sound His clarion call (1 Cor. 14:1-8) to all the earth.  Instead of parishioners exiting by the droves, people gather in by the droves to receive the word of the Lord as communicated by living prophets and apostles.  In the talks that are given there is something for everyone, and great blessings are promised.  In preparation for this great gathering, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are invited to act (D&C 43:9), and to apply the teachings that are given, thereby building upon the rock (Matt. 7:25) and the sure foundation of Jesus Christ (Hel. 5:12).  As Elder Paul V. Johnson explained:

"In order for the messages of general conference to change our lives, we need to be willing to follow the counsel we hear. The Lord explained in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith 'that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know … how to act upon the points of my law and commandment.'  But knowing 'how to act' isn’t enough. The Lord in the next verse said, 'Ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me.' This willingness to take action on what we have learned opens the doors for marvelous blessings."

Spencer W. Kimball, former President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shed further light on this principle,

“Sunday night, April 7, the great Tabernacle was closed, the lights turned out, and the record machines stopped, the door locked, and another historical conference became history. It will have been lost motion—a waste of time, energy, and money—if its messages are not heeded. In the seven two-hour sessions and in the several satellite meetings, truths were taught, doctrines expounded, exhortations given, enough to save the whole world from all its ills—and [he concluded] I mean from all its ills. …

Let no arrogant, self-assured, self-styled intellectual discard the truths there taught and the testimonies there borne, nor argue with the messages and instructions there given.” (In the World But Not of It, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo: 14 May 1968], pp. 2–3.) 

Sometimes the messages of General Conference can begin to sound repetitive, but there are good reasons for this, as President Spencer W. Kimball explained,

"Some may wonder why General Authorities speak of the same things from conference to conference. As I study the utterances of the prophets through the centuries, their pattern is very clear. We seek, in the words of Alma, to teach people 'an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity.' We preach 'repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.' (Alma 37:32, 33.) We praise humility. We seek to teach people 'to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.' (Alma 37:33.) We teach our people 'to never be weary of good works.' (Alma 37:34.)

"Prophets say the same things because we face basically the same problems. Brothers and sisters, the solutions to these problems have not changed. It would be a poor lighthouse that gave off a different signal to guide every ship entering a harbor. It would be a poor mountain guide who, knowing the safe route up a mountainside, took his trusting charges up unpredictable and perilous paths from which no traveler returns... Just because a truth is repeated does not make that truth any less important or true. Indeed, the opposite is true." (President Spencer W. Kimball)

Even as President of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball prepared himself to repent and improve by applying the teachings given in General Conference: "I have made up my mind that when I go home from this [general] conference … there are many, many areas in my life that I can perfect. I have made a mental list of them, and I expect to go to work as soon as we get through.” (Spoken from Their Hearts, Ensign, Nov. 1975, 111)

Therefore, as some authors kindle hope for a religious awakening and others predict mass dissension and disaffection from religious congregations, we are free to answer the Lord's question to his disciples, "Will ye also go away?" in the same way that Peter answered "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God." (John 6:68-69)










Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Delight in Fatness: A New Miracle Diet

What did you have for lunch today?  When was the last time you exercised?  What time do you usually go to sleep?  In recent years there seems to be a growing public concern about nutrition, exercise and wellness.  There are enough new diet books to fill entire libraries, new gyms (from Gold's Gym to CrossFit) crop up like dandelions, and a plethora of new products inundate supermarket shelves and the aisles of health food stores, all of which promise longer life and thinner waistlines.  Meanwhile, movie and media moguls advertise the latest lifestyle trends, counseling us on our eating habits, how to exercise, and what it means to be healthy.    Even the First Lady makes concerted efforts to ensure that Americans don't become too fat. Why is this?

There is not just one correct answer to this question, but there are at least two easily recognizable extremes to consider.  On the one hand, a person may ignore diet, exercise and sleep, completely neglecting physical well-being.  On the other hand, a person may become obsessed with health, fitness and physical appearance until such concerns rule every thought and action.  Somewhere in the golden mean, a person may preserve and improve health in order to accomplish goals, or to live a more meaningful, purposeful life. 


Achieving this balance has never been easy, particularly in a world where extreme forces aim continually at either destroying the physical body or glorifying it.  We are often tugged in both directions without pausing to consider who human beings really are, why we inhabit this planet we call earth, or what happens after we die.

When we do pause, we would do well to remember that over 2,000 years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem who would have the most profound influence upon all who have lived and who would yet live upon the earth.  In one way or another, this influence would be felt by all, both spiritually and physically.  But, one might ask, what does the Son of God have to do with diet, exercise or wellness?

Everything.

Even in developed countries that flow with sodas, alcoholic beverages, and myriad brands of bottled water, we are thirstier than ever.  In places that almost burst at the seams with processed food, fast food, and restaurants, we are hungrier than ever (Amos 8:11).  In a world where gym memberships are sometimes held more sacred than membership in a church, we are, spiritually speaking, flabbier than ever (Mosiah 1:13).

Early in His ministry, Jesus Christ left Judea to travel to Galilee, passing through Samaria where he was wearied with his journey.  As he rested on Jacob's well, and while his disciples had gone to buy meat, a woman approached the well to draw water.  Like Abraham's servant many years before, the Lord asked the woman for a drink of water.  The woman was surprised and asked why a Jew would request a drink of water from a Samaritan.  Jesus replied, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." (John 4:10)  Even more surprised, the woman wondered how he could supply such a drink or if he were greater than their father Jacob who gave the well.  Jesus replied,

"Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: / But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:13-14)

The Samaritan woman was shocked to discover that the Lord knew everything about her life, and as the disciples returned, she went back to the city to tell the story.  Jesus' disciples asked Him to eat, whereupon He told them, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of... My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." (John 4:32-34)  Later on, after miraculously feeding five thousand followers from a basket containing only five loaves and two small fishes, the Lord taught the way to salvation: "And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (John 6:35)

This was a revolutionary new diet that many Jews, and even the disciples, found hard to swallow.  Following these events, many scribes and pharisees accused Jesus' disciples of transgressing the tradition of the elders by eating bread without washing their hands, to which accusation the Lord replied, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." (Matt. 15:11)

When tempted, Jesus rebuked the devil by saying, "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." (Luke 4:4)  After His resurrection He gave a similar warning to His disciples,

"And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life. / For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. / For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ." (D&C 84:43-45)  As the Lord also taught His disciples, "The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment." (Luke 12:23)
 
Of course this didn't mean that Jesus was opposed to good nutrition and moderate exercise.  Quite the contrary.  After His resurrection, Jesus ate broiled fish and some honeycomb (Luke 24:42-43).  He even prepared a meal of bread and fish for His disciples (John 21:9).  He also fasted (Matt. 4:2).  He spent a lot of time walking and enjoying the great outdoors. (Acts 10:38)  And even though outward appearance was not so important to Him (1 Sam. 16:7, Isaiah 11:3), He still advocated modesty, proper dress and hygiene (1 Tim. 2:9, D&C 42:40, Alma 1:27, Isaiah 3)  Jesus fed his sheep both physically and spiritually, providing food for the famished, water for the parched, and the Holy Ghost for those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. (Matt. 5:48, 3 Ne. 12:6)

Some time after the Lord's ascension into heaven, one of the apostles revealed what conditions would be like in the latter days, including the conditions pertaining to physical health, "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; / Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; / Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth... For bodily exercise profiteth little (from the Greek meaning "for a little while"): but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (1 Tim. 4:1-8

In the first half of the 19th century, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation commonly known as the Word of Wisdom, in which the Lord outlined His law of health and promised specific blessings for obedience to this law: "And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; / And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; / And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. / And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen." (D&C 89:18-21)  This simple declaration of a law of health, given nearly 200 years ago, was so far ahead of its time that even today science struggles to keep pace with it... and when it does, it is only to vindicate the revelation.  

This revelation was given in response to the Prophet Joseph Smith's inquiry concerning the use of tobacco by some members of the congregation.  As Joseph's successor Brigham Young later explained: "When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet [Joseph Smith] entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 12, p. 158.)

In response to his inquiry, Joseph Smith received even more than he had asked for.  More than merely proscribing the use of tobacco during meetings, the Word of Wisdom set forth "the order and the will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days."  (D&C 89:2)  It was given as a revelation "for a principle with promise" and a warning.  Long before doctors promoted smoking cigarettes or celebrities promoted alcohol, long before pharmaceutical companies began advertising campaigns, and long before refined sugars, carbohydrates and processed foods came to dominate diets, the warning was given: "In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation." (D&C 89:4

This warning is as timely now as it was then.  If blessings such as health in the navel, marrow to the bones, wisdom, great treasures of knowledge, hidden treasures, stamina, and protection from the angel of death sound appealing, it would be well worth the effort to heed this waring.  By doing so, a person is better enabled to glorify God in the body (1 Cor. 6:20) rather than glorify the body itself, or destroy it.  Instead of eating to live or living to eat, we will never hunger and never thirst, feasting "upon that which perisheth not" (2 Ne. 9:51) and letting the soul "delight itself in fatness." (Isaiah 55:2) In a world that bombards us with new diets and messages about losing weight, how refreshing it is that the Lord invites us to feast and enjoy fatness.

Not long before his martyrdom, Joseph Smith taught that the salvation of the body depends upon the salvation of the spirit: "All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract, and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle, but are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all; and those revelations which will save our spirits will save our bodies."  We can exercise faith in Christ as well as our exercising our muscles.  We can nourish our spirits in addition to feeding our bodies.

In the process, we can be inspired by understanding that, "... man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy" (D&C 93:33).  Such an understanding will infuse purpose into life and the hereafter.  After all, "men are, that they might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25), not just a sleek physique and finely chiseled abdominal muscles.



Friday, March 21, 2014

Is Big Brother Watching You?: Reflections on George Orwell's 1984

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."         -O'Brien to Winston, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

Eric Arthur Blair, more commonly known by the pseudonym George Orwell, published his two most popular books well before the internet and the world wide web had even been imagined.  In 1945 he published the novella Animal Farm, and in 1949 he published the haunting dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Although his native Great Britain was not transformed into Airstrip One by the year 1984, Orwell's vision of the future, particularly as seen through the eyes of Winston Smith and Julia (the two protagonists of Nineteen Eighty-Four), contains prescient and timeless insights.

When the year 1984 actually arrived, there was no Oceania superpower in a state of perpetual warfare with Eurasia and Eastasia.  There were no real Thought Police patrolling cities in search of enemies of the Inner Party.  No one was being arrested for thoughtcrime or its heinous corollary facecrime, a Newspeak term implying a person's guiltiness of thoughtcrime based solely upon his or her facial expressions.  And surprisingly, there was no Big Brother either.  

No, there were no telescreens or memory holes.  Instead, in 1984, Dr. Jon Postel published a series of papers describing ideas that lead to the .com revolution.  That same year, the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, was assassinatedThe USSR and Soviet block boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.  Mikhail Gorbachev was rising through the ranks of the Communist Party... and the Raiders won the Super Bowl.

Of course, Orwell's nightmarish account was not intended to be a precise prophecy.  Rather, it was an incisive warning and a keen meditation on human nature (see Erich Fromm's Afterword to 1984).  Orwell's novel reminds us that power doesn't just corrupt, it reveals.  "Most people can bear adversity, wrote Robert G. Ingersoll, "but if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power." Nineteen Eighty-Four also reminds us that blind faith in human reason and naive hope in human progress lead inexorably toward a vacuum of nihilistic despair.  More often than not, despotic powers rush in to fill such a void.  In the case of Orwell's Oceania, it took constant coercion from the Inner Party for Big Brother to replace God.  Even the noble Winston ultimately displaced Truth by the doctrine of Doublethink

History is replete with facts about dictators who seized power and tyrants who oppressed.  History may record, but Orwell's fiction makes such facts palpable.  Nineteen Eighty-Four demonstrates that abuses of authority augment in the desolation of disbelief.  As one wise man astutely observed: "Decrease the belief in God, and you increase the numbers of those who wish to play at being God by being 'society’s supervisors.' Such 'supervisors' deny the existence of divine standards, but are very serious about imposing their own standards on society." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, The Prohibitive Costs of a Value Free Society

Some readers may twinge at Orwell's gruesome descriptions of surveillance, subterfuge and suffering.  Meanwhile, modern menaces lurk in the shadows like so many thought police.  Inner Party ideologies and O'Brien-esque oppressions beleaguer the Winstons and the Julias of the world.  Many are shamed into doubting their own sincerity, as if the public square were constantly being guarded by a suspicious telescreen.  As Winston understood, "It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself -- anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called. " (p.62)

Metaphorically speaking, modernity hastens us toward Room 101 in the Ministry of Love, where the rats of political correctness threaten to gnaw the face of our convictions and nibble out the eyes of our understanding.  After all, just because Winston was paranoid didn't mean that Big Brother wasn't watching him.  





 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Verses of Hope

  • "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, / Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: / Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." (Heb. 11:17-19)
  • "For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. / Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. / For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand." (D&C 58:2-4)
  • "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Cor. 2:9)
  • "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, / I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)
  • "Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free." (D&C 128:22)



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Be Water, My Friend



On the bathroom mirror in my apartment there is a note that reads "Inspire the World, Create the Future."  This little inspirational thought that greets me each morning may have induced me to seek out others who have inspired the world, and created the future, such as the legendary Bruce Lee. Although Lee was only 32 when he died in 1973, his legacy still permeates the consciousness of pop-culture, Hollywood, and martial arts.

The History Channel's documentary How Bruce Lee Changed the World traces Lee's impact on the world through his unique philosophy and fighting style.  Lee had starred in movies in Hong Kong since he was six years old, but at age 18, at the request of his parents, he left Hong Kong for a new start in the United States.  In 1964 he auditioned for the television series The Green Hornet, for which he secured the role of Kato.  Later, Bruce Lee described his philosophy on the Pierre Burton Show, a philosophy that pervades his films The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, and Game of Death:

"Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

Although Bruce Lee professed no belief in God, his closing statement on the Pierre Burton Show reveals a portion of the depth and beauty of his character and personality: "You know what I want to think of myself? As a human being. Because, I mean I don't want to sound like ask Confucius, sayyyyyy--(joking) but under the sky, under the heaven, man, there is but one family.  It just so happens that people are different."

Now excuse me as I watch Bruce Lee dispose of Chuck Norris in the Colosseum.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Faith of an Observer

For those who never met Hugh Nibley, and I suppose even for those who have met him, here is a short documentary about his life (The Faith of an Observer) that will provide an excellent background for understanding his work.  Enjoy!