Monday, November 30, 2015

To Love at All Is To Be Vulnerable

C.S. Lewis
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell." 

- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Voices of the Past, of the Present, of the Future

I have always been impressed by how seamlessly the voice of living prophets confirms the truths that were taught by ancient prophets.  This seamlessness is also discernible in the living prophets' witness in relation to their more immediate predecessors.  In other words, the voice of the living prophets takes precedence over any previous prophets, but there is a seamlessness to the message that they proclaim, because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.

To illustrate the truth that the living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works, President Ezra Taft Benson remembered that President Wilford Woodruff once told of an interesting incident that occurred in the days of Joseph Smith:

"I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living prophets and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented, although not as extensively as it has been here, when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: ‘You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.’

"When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham I want you to go to the podium and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.’ Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: ‘There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now,’ said he, ‘when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.’ That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation; ‘Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.’ (Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 18–19.)"

The same principle applies to the living oracles today.  One thing that is clear, however, is that there is a continuity and a consistency between ancient and modern scripture, and between past and present prophets.  It is a continuity worth paying attention to.

During the Saturday morning session of the General Conference of April 1971, President Spencer W. Kimball delivered an address entitled "Voices of the Past, of the Present, of the Future."  This talk is a perfect example of the seamless continuity and consistency in the voice of the Lord as revealed through ancient, modern, and living prophets.  In fact, President Kimball begins his talk with the following observation: 

"History repeats itself, and we need only return to the past to learn the solutions for the present and the future. The Corinthians seem to have been troubled by the same conflicting messages we hear in our own time. Paul told them:

'For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?'"

During the most recent General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer of the Seventy declared:

"The Apostle Paul taught us about comparing communication to musical instruments when he wrote to the Corinthians:

'And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?

'For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?'2"

Elder Schwitzer, like President Kimball, and like the Apostle Paul, helps us to discern the voice of the Lord amidst the cacophony of different voices in the world.  (Elder Oaks has also spoken eloquently on a similar topic).  

Like Paul before him, and like living prophets after him, President Kimball does not mince words. He reminds his audience of Paul's prophecy that some would depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1).  He warns of the variety of voices that promote hedonism, sensuality and sin.  He warns against violations of God's law of chastity and punctuates his warning with a memorable punchline: "Strange, the proponents of depopulating the world seem never to have thought of continence!"

Although President Kimball spoke with a raspy voice, his message could not have been clearer: "Why do we speak in this vein? Why do we call to repentance when there are such pleasant subjects? It is because someone must warn the world of its doom if life does not change directions."

President Kimball then recalled to mind the classic lines from Alexander Pope's Essay on Man:

"Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace."

I cannot count on one hand, or two for that matter, the number of times that I have heard our current prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, recite these same lines (click here for just one example).

Just as his warning and rebuke of sin is firm, President Kimball's love and kindness is deep in the invitation that he extends at the conclusion of his talk:

"We extend to every listener a cordial invitation to come to the watered garden, to the shade of pleasant trees, to the unchangeable truth.

Come with us to sureness, security, consistency. Here the cooling waters flow. The spring does not go dry.

Come listen to a prophet’s voice and hear the word of God.

The Lord does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His church stands firm and unchangeable. Sin will not be tolerated, but sincere repentance will be rewarded with forgiveness."

The words of the living prophets, those whom Brigham Young called the "living oracles," take precedence over previous prophets and scripture, but there is a seamless continuity and a consistency of truth that commands our attention, and persuades us to sincere repentance and obedience.

To read more about the general conference talks from 1971, see the following blog posts:

The Greatest Power the World Has Ever Known

Leo Tolstoy
This morning in sacrament meeting one of the speakers made an interesting reference to Leo Tolstoy. The story that was shared probably contains folkloric elements, but it is still a good story. Even if the account isn't entirely and historically accurate, the observation is nonetheless true (for more detailed explanations, see here and here):

"Count Leo Tolstoy, Russian author and statesman, in conversation with Andrew D. White, United States foreign minister to Russia, in 1892 said, “I wish you would tell me about your American religion.”

“We have no state church in America,” replied Dr. White.

“I know that, but what about your American religion?”

Dr. White explained to Tolstoy that in America each person is free to belong to the particular church in which he is interested.

Tolstoy impatiently replied: “I know all of this, but I want to know about the American religion. … The church to which I refer originated in America and is commonly known as the Mormon Church. What can you tell me of the teachings of the Mormons?”

Dr. White said, “I know very little concerning them.”

Then Count Leo Tolstoy rebuked the ambassador. “Dr. White, I am greatly surprised and disappointed that a man of your great learning and position should be so ignorant on this important subject. Their principles teach the people not only of heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis. If the people follow the teachings of this church, nothing can stop their progress—it will be limitless.

Tolstoy continued, “There have been great movements started in the past but they have died or been modified before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and fourth generation, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.”

Friday, November 27, 2015

One Gleam of the Glory

Dante Alighieri
"O somma luce che tanto ti levi
da concetti mortali, a la mia mente
ripresta un poco di quel che parevi
e fa la lingua mia tanto possente,
che una favilla sol de la tua gloria
possa lasciare a la futura gente;
ché, per tornare alquanto a mia memoria
e per sonare un poco in questi versi,
più si conceperà di tua vittoria."

- Dante, La Divina Commedia, Paradiso XXXIII, 67-75

"O Highest Light, You, raised so far above
the minds of mortals, to my memory
give back something of Your epiphany,

and make my tongue so powerful that I
may leave to people of the future one
gleam of the glory that is Yours, for by

returning somewhat to my memory
and echoing awhile within these lines,
Your victory will be more understood." 

- Dante, The Divine Comedy, Paradise XXXIII, 67-75 (translated by Allen Mandelbaum)

A Prayer Before Study

St. Thomas Aquinas

Ineffable Creator,
Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom,
have established three hierarchies of angels,
have arrayed them in marvelous order
above the fiery heavens,
and have marshaled the regions
of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high beyond all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul
the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
refine my speech
and pour forth upon my lips
The goodness of Your blessing.

Grant to me
keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning,
subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.

May You
guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,
who live and reign, world without end.


Ante Studium

Creator ineffabilis,
qui de thesauris sapientiae tuae
tres Angelorum hierarchias designasti,
et eas super caelum empyreum
miro ordine collocasti,
atque universi partes elegantissime disposuisti,

tu inquam qui
verus fons
luminis et sapientiae diceris
ac supereminens principium

infundere digneris
super intellectus mei tenebras
tuae radium claritatis,
duplices in quibus natus sum
a me removens tenebras,
peccatum scilicet et ignorantiam.

Tu, qui linguas infantium facis disertas,
linguam meam erudias
atque in labiis meis gratiam
tuae benedictionis infundas.

Da mihi
intelligendi acumen,
retinendi capacitatem,
addiscendi modum et facilitatem,
interpretandi subtilitatem,
loquendi gratiam copiosam.

Ingressum instruas,
progressum dirigas,
egressum compleas.

Tu, qui es verus Deus et homo,
qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum.

The Pure in Heart

C.S. Lewis
"It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to."

- C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Character of God

The Prophet Joseph Smith
"Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive. … God does not look on sin with [the least degree of] allowance, but … the nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs." 

- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 257, 240–41.

Man Approaches God

C.S. Lewis

"Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God. For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help?" - C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Great Secret

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Saturday, November 7, 2015

On Children

C.S. Lewis
"In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are 'good,' it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. In the first place, most children show plenty of 'prudence' about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St, Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only 'as harmless as doves,' but also 'as wise as serpents.' He wants a child's heart, but a grown-up's head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim." - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

G.K. Chesterton
"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." - G.K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy