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.