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Archive for the ‘Books I Have Read’ Category

There is a subtle self-deception going on in all of us. It is an absence of love, real love. Being the victim, putting ourselves “above” another simply because our weaknesses, or the way we manifest them, are different.

We all mistreat each other at times. Sometimes without even knowing it. We lack judgement, fail to take all into account. Instead of becoming defensive or warring, we need to take into—actually internalize—the reality of the other person’s view or feelings, knowing that even if their perception or interpretation is faulty, we also are not immune to such imperfections.

War begins when we seek revenge in our hearts. The swinging of blades is a mere formality.

Christ’s atonement works in two ways: It forgives our sins and offers us all we need to be able to forgive others. Christ offers to pay the price for those who have hurt us so that we need not seek revenge or harbor hatred in our hearts.

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In the book What Paul Meant by Garry Wills, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Lincoln at Gettysburg, I got an unusual interpretation of the writings of this early Apostle. At times Wills seems to go a little too far with surmises based on very little evidence. However, Paul is sometimes controdictory to a degree in his writings, so one cannot be blamed for simply making a choice between two equally valid interpretations. Throughout the work Wills shows scholarly knowledge and quite creative insight that makes this book an interesting read for anyone who has sometimes wondered what Paul was thinking, even if you may not agree with every conjecture made.

Paul has been a source of division ever since the beginning of Christianity. Early apocryphal writings of Peter and James, in the second century, would refer to Paul as a tool of Satan. Paul has been perceived down through the centuries as a prophet of doom and gloom and self-loathing. Some have even claimed he “hijacked” Christianity and that since he never met Jesus during His mortal ministry he effectively founded his own religion. They claim that Christ’s teachings only have a bare influence on Paul’s writings and philosophy. Others, of course, claim he was one of the most inspired of Jesus Christ’s disciples and worthy of all due respect and emulation.

Garry Wills makes the argument that most are not really reading Paul correctly and are not taking into account the circumstances, culture, and purpose of his writings when they make harsh judgments.

Following are insights I gleaned from this book and my thoughts upon reflection on it later. These do not necessarily reflect exactly what Garry Wills wrote or intended, but were inspired by his diligent study. On a side note: Although I know nothing of him other than from this book, Mr. Wills seems to me to be a somewhat unpleasant or at least unhappy man. As might be reflected by the book’s title, the arrogant tone and exclusionary interpretations Wills gives sounds a note of caution in taking this book as too much of an authority on what Paul really meant.

We have reason to believe Paul’s letters are the earliest Christian writings that we have. They predate the four Gospels and other New Testament books. If this is so, Paul’s perspective on the doctrine of Christ may be the most fresh and accurate.

Although Paul preaches that women should follow a certain decorum, a sort of subservience to their husbands, his long track record of working directly with and alongside women shows a more complex view. He honors all the women he mentions with affectionate or respectful titles such as “prophetess,” “emissaries,” “fellows in the struggle,” “protectress” or even like his mother. Women shared prison time with him. His council not to marry he applied equally to women showing that they could be independent of men in bearing witness of Christ. There were even pairs of women missionaries. He also speaks favorably of women prophesying  in meetings. This would seem to run counter to his council that they should remain silent in all gatherings.

Paul’s views on marriage may be understood in the light of how desperate he saw his mission to be. He knew a revolution on a world scale was coming, though he may not have known perfectly the specifics. At it turned out, the change he was implementing was the conversion of the known world to Christianity and not the immediate second coming and the end of the world that he may have thought. But if the end were coming, marriage among the missionaries and the raising of children could be considered a distraction to the conversion effort.

Paul’s council that women should ask of their husbands in private gospel questions reflects his perceived need of a tempering influence, or stabilizing effect that many women benefit from in a marriage. Likewise, men receive equal benefits from the influence of their wives, like a better sense of compassion and commitment. Giving husbands this sort of loyalty or reverence strengthens their ego and feelings of worth that enables them, if not abused, to be better providers and protectors.

Also, mere conjecture, Paul was running the risk possibly of creating a religion primarily of only women. Evidence of this might be found in his lengthy advise about part-member couples and families. The gospel of Christ might have had more appeal to women in that time—a time and culture that may have been highly patriarchal among the pagans. His council to the women of the church of difference to men may have been an attempt to make the gospel less threatening to men in some way.

Six of the seven “most authentic” letters of Paul are directed to gatherings with specific problems. We could think of Paul as trying to implement “damage control.” We must recognize that this is not the complete Paul and that he may not be the grumpy hard-liner we perceive. We get good ideas of the more pleasant Paul through his sermon on charity and other instances.

Although Galations is Paul’s most vitriolic letter, it is important to note that we don’t have the other side. He may be fighting fire with fire. He also later regretted his harsh tone. This letter, probably like most of his, was dictated to a scribe, but he put his own hand to the end of it to write with emphasis in an effort to convey his anger at the time. This is also his only letter addressed to a whole region and not a specific city. He sent copies to several towns in the area. Again, we don’t know the specific attacks leveled at him in this dispute, but they were probably equally heated.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon he asks that Philemon’s slave, who was probably assisting Paul as scribe of this very letter, be returned to him after payment of some debt. He was probably successful in his request and the slave’s continued service probably ensured the survival of this particular letter.

It is interesting that slaves made up as much as one-third of the urban population during Paul’s time. In his preaching that slaves obey their masters Paul was probably quite practical in not wishing to stir a revolution or social upheaval of such a great scale. Additionally, slavery at that time was much different than what we are familiar with in the American South of 150 years ago. Most slaves were educated and did much of their master’s business. They acted as tutors, scribes and bureaucrats. These slaves could join and act within the church and often when a master joined the church his/her whole household, including slaves (who were considered part of the family), joined with them.

First and Second Corinthians are a jumbled mess of cobbled together letters that were probably only a few of many. Often when new letters arrived at a gathering of the church, they were simply added onto the end of the same scroll as previous letters. Then when they were copied, no notation was made to indicate where one letter ended and another began.

Paul was combating arrogance and segregation within the Corinthian gatherings into the spiritually “more gifted” and “less gifted.” Paul seems to step back from simple rebuking (may not have been working) by acknowledging spiritual gifts, but clarifies their real purpose—to bless all church members. These charismatic spiritualists (who were taking money for their services) were probably indeed more advanced in some understandings, like in the eating of meat from idols issue, but were missing the whole point of Christ’s gospel of love. Also, the “anything goes” attitude that seemed to be growing among them may have led to Paul’s rebuking of the “unlawful,” at least to the sensibilities of the time, marriage of one of their number to his late father’s second wife, who was of no blood-relation and maybe even the son’s own age. Just postulating: this may be an effort on Paul’s part to reign in the arrogant members and help them see the value and reality of the spiritual sensibilities of others, even if they are “less enlightened.”

In Romans, Paul spends most of the book showing that God still honors his commitment to the Jews. This is in reaction to the Gentiles’ dominance among the church members in the area and their persecution of the Jewish members for their continued observance of some of the Jewish dietary laws. Paul then councils all to be considerate of each other’s proclivities and stresses the dominate role love must play in these matters. One can get caught up in trivial matters at the expense  of the whole point of Christ’s gospel.

Paul says that God has not repudiated the Jews, but elsewhere says those under the Law are under a curse. He is not anti-Jew but anti their observance of old and now fulfilled covenants. He did not “leave” the Jews to join an as yet unformed Christian church structure in opposition. He was really only on one side of a family quarrel. There were only Jews who did not accept Christ, Jews who did accept Him as the Messiah of the Jewish people, and Gentiles who were being “brought in” to accept Christ as the Messiah of the Jews. Paul uses only the Jewish scriptures and puts all in the context of the Jewish tradition. He was never an anti-semite. When he talks about Jews obstructing the gospel, he is often speaking about the church-member Jews who are not living up to their new commitments and trying to incorporate unnecessary aspects of the Law and impose them on their new Gentile brothers. He is not denigrating the Jews as a people.

It is interesting to note that it was the Christian Jews that betrayed Paul and Peter to their martyrdom in Rome. One can see the battle for the soul of the new religion right from the outset. The apostasy was in ful force even before the deaths of the first apostles.

A misunderstanding is also prevalent in Paul’s supposed denial of the Jewish Law. Some extrapolate from this that he is anti “works” for the sake of faith, which is the basis of most of Protestantism. Rather, Paul was only trying to reconcile Jewish traditions with those of the “new Jews” brought in from among the Gentiles. Remember, Paul did not think of himself in an “us versus them” mentality in the sense of “Christian” and Jew. All were in a continuation of the Jewish faith through the advent of the Messiah. To him this was all merely a “revolution” within Judaism that also extended the benefits of the Jewish faith to all people, becoming more inclusive, but still honoring its roots, or foundation. Some wanted to enforce all the Law upon their new-found brothers among the Gentiles and others wanted to throw off too much in the liberation they saw in the Messiah. Paul is trying to chart a path of reconciliation between these two groups. He attacks both camps (both of which he addresses as Jews) in their extremes of law observance or their abandonment of moral values.

Paul talks of “natural law” or the conscience or general knowledge of right and wrong as being akin to the “Law” given to the Jews. Having the gospel of the Messiah, previously only promised to the Jews (or so they thought), now given to the Gentiles was meant to humble them. But it was, and is, a great blessing in the end because, through them, the whole world will be blessed. The Gentiles were being more faithful to their natural law than the Jews were to their covenant law. Both laws were from God, and so both are worthy of the Messiah’s atonement. Paul is saying this is all part of God’s plan.

The new Gentile converts in Rome were not honoring the traditions of their Jewish brothers. This was the specific problem Paul is addressing in his letter to the Romans. The Jews, including the ones of the “Christian” sect, had all been expelled for a short time from Rome under Emperor Claudius. After his death, they were allowed back. The Gentile converts, who had never left, were having trouble with the demands of the Jewish minority who insisted on still observing aspects of their old Law. They had been on their own for a time, still growing and benefiting from the spiritual effects of their faith and did not develop or see the need for these outer observances. Paul is trying to get them to respect the Jewish customs and give them honor for being the caretakers of the Messiah’s holy scriptures and prophecy. At the same time, he is trying to get the Jews to value the fact that the Gentiles are now “chosen” also and much of their custom is of equal worth to God.

Paul puts the blessing of the gospel to the Gentiles as a side-effect to the betrayal of trust found among the Jews. This is good doctrine used to keep the Gentiles humble, but I feel it was only used for this purpose. God never “chose” the Jews to be better than the Gentiles but to bless the Gentiles. Now the Gentiles were being set up to be a blessing to the Jews. The Gentiles should not brag about being grafted into the root at the expense of the natural branches, they are still dependent on the same root. It was mainly for this very same bragging on the part of the Jews that the natural branches were cut off.

Paul views Gentile converts as “honorary Jews.” To him, there is no shifting of God’s promise or covenant from the Jews to the Gentiles. Though man may go back on a promise or violate a covenant, God will never betray. How the non-converted Jews will still receive of the promise, Paul leaves up to God.

Jesus never founded a “new” religion, but rather fulfilled and continued the Jewish one on the track for which it was always intended. Jewish customs, to an extent, could be continued as a reminder of the path and covenants God had made to Israel and expressed also by Jesus. At the same time, these customs, not all of them, did not need to be necessarily followed by Gentile converts.

The idea of a Zion society, both geographically centered and spread throughout the world, is found in Paul’s pleading to the church gatherings to contribute to the welfare of the Jewish church members in Jerusalem. He talks of the need to help and take joy in each other within the body of Christ much like the different parts of our physical body complement each other, never taking advantage or being jealous. He is specifically adamant that Jerusalem be aided, it being seen as the headquarters of the movement and the location of prophecy for much of the last days. Aiding Jerusalem by the rest of the world could also help express gratitude for the spiritual heritage the Jewish members there are now granting to everyone. Paul also saw a danger of divisions arising among the now wide, and soon to be wider, spread gatherings. They all needed to be rooted in the source, the city and culture of the Messiah. The Jerusalem brethren also needed reassurance that as the church grew they and their contributions will not be forgotten.

When Paul takes these contributions to  Jerusalem he may have caused a showdown with James and the church leaders there. They were already having trouble with the “unconvinced” Jews there and were being accused of corrupting Israel with their Gentile converts. By accepting this large contribution from the diaspora, the church would be exacerbating the situation. Paul knew this but probably underestimated the precariousness of the situation. On the other hand, he may have wanted to incite a showdown that would force a choice among the Jews. The record is silent on what happened to the contributions he brought. Whether or not it had an effect on the downfall of the church in Jerusalem we don’t know.

There seems to be continued conflict between the diaspora and the church in Jerusalem. James, the brother of Jesus, who was not supportive of Jesus during His mortal lifetime, is now the leader of the church there. Some, including Paul, may have had issues with this. Paul seems, however, to be desperately trying to reconcile the factions.

Some inconsistencies in the text of Acts and Paul’s own words lead us to suspect whether he was actually a Roman citizen. He says he was flogged on several occasions by Romans which was illegal to inflict on a citizen. Paul himself never mentions or infers his citizenship in his own writings.

It appears through other sources that Peter and Paul were betrayed by their own. Tacitus states that most Christians were discovered during Nero’s persecution through informants. Clement of Rome, writing in about 90 AD (30 years after Paul’s death), describes Peter’s and Paul’s deaths after a dissertation on the ill effects of rivelry, such as that between Cain and Abel, David and Saul, etc. Though the details of their execution may have been forgotten by this time, the reasons and the effects were probably still fresh.

Some sources hint that Paul was able to make it to Spain, which was his goal—the western-most region of the known world. He probably then went back to Rome to try to deal with the problems there. Clement says he “won through to the trophy of endurance”—indicating that he was tortured in the end and/or died an ignominious death—one that Luke may not have been able to bring himself to include in his book of Acts.

Paul is often misread, based on Luther’s take on his writings, to champion “grace” at the expense of “works.” This has led to no end of strife through the centuries. Believers in “grace” often become proud and even arrogant in their “helplessness,” feeling those preaching doing good works are controlling and even somehow evil.

Overall this work by Garry Wills was overly opinionated. I found myself saying, “What?” a little too often. The author seems to put too much value in the contrary views or at least gives “more equal” credence to what seems to be simply arbitrary interpretations. Mr. Wills seems to have some sort of agenda, though it is hard to pinpoint what it might be. I would not recommend this work for an introduction to Paul, by any means. However, I think it does have some cautionary value if you are fairly familiar with the standard Paul taught in Sunday School.

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These are the notes I took while reading the book What Happened to the Cross: Distinctive LDS Teachings by Robert L. Millet. They are my interpretations and thoughts and are not specifically a recounting of what is in the book, nor may they be exactly what Brother Millet intended. However, I tried to stay faithful to the structure and theme of the book. These notes will help to remind me what I learned and may be of some use to others for unique insights into what distinguishes Mormons from the rest of Christianity.

Chapter 1: In the Spring of 1820

  • Quakers believed in modern revelation and that the Bible contained errors.
  • Unitarians and Eastern Orthodox Christians believe in a separate Godhead.
  • Universalists and a Unitarians believed in eventual salvation for everyone.
  • Joseph Smith’s first vision prove the reality of Satan.
  • It also proved the separateness of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
  • Later  Joseph Smith stated that God has a physical body, though this did not seem to be a major doctrinal issue at the time. It was several years (1842) before a statement was clearly made. Or at least that we have a verifiable record of.
  • There is a distinct order in heaven with God in charge and Jesus next. This was made clear from the first vision where God the Father spoke first and introduced His Son.
  • Joseph Smith is the head of a Gospel Dispensation like Moses, Adam and Jesus Christ. As such, he is the leading prophet and main source for doctrine. Prophets since him are sort of caretakers, though they do have all the same authority as he had. The major and foundational revelations came mainly from Joseph Smith.
  • It was specifically revealed that other churches do not contain the complete Gospel and have a few fundamental flaws holding them back. “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

Chapter 2: Setting the Keystone

  • The Book of Mormon is the “most correct” book in terms of Gospel truths and not necessarily in grammar, structure or other content.
  • The Bible contains the fulness of the Gospel, but not in the same coherent form as the Book of Mormon.
  • It verifies the reality of miracles and the divine mission of Jesus Christ. It backs up the Bible.
  • The Book of Mormon does not contain all the latter-day doctrines, such as eternal marriage, but contains the fulness needed for salvation and leads one to exaltation.
  • It makes plain and clarifies the Gospel found in the Bible and other scriptures.
  • Acceptance of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is critical for acceptance of the rest of latter-day doctrine and Joseph Smith as a prophet.
  • Book of Mormon precepts are often contained in the “And thus we see…” passages in the book. These are simple and concise restatements of the preceding story or idea. Easy to remember maxims that bring the remembrance of the story or idea and how it may apply today.
  • There is no other credible explanation of the origins of this wisdom in the Book of Mormon except as Joseph Smith said.
  • The significance, if not the truthfulness, of the book can be attested by the nature and intensity of those who attack it. It is of no harm to them or society in and of itself.
  • The Book of Mormon specifically address our time. Unlike the Bible which, though it addresses prophecy, does not talk directly to the people of the future.
  • Book of Mormon prophets saw our time and chose stories and writings and speeches that would best apply to our situations.
  • The sword of Laban symbolizes the effort, struggle and sacrifice that has been put forth to bring and preserve holy scriptures.
  • Valuing the Book of Mormon by studying it regularly has a power beyond the mere words or specific teachings. A power to change your heart, to resist error and to understand life more deeply.

Chapter 3: Living Doctrine

  • All our doctrine is rooted in the Atonement of Christ and His mediation and mercy. All other doctrines are only appendages.
  • Keeping the doctrine pure: 1. Teach directly from the scriptures. 2. Present doctrine in the same way it is taught to us by our prophets and apostles. 3. Use scriptural commentary from apostles and prophets found in General Conference addresses and other sources. 4. Focus on plainness and simplicity. Do not teach on the edge of our knowledge. It is not always wise to relate all truth. 5. Acknowledge there are some things we do not know, but what we have is sufficient.
  • The doctrine of “blood atonement” that was spoken of by Church leaders in the past is an example of “revival rhetoric.” (Compare Enos 1:23)
  • What is our doctrine?: 1. Teachings of the Church as a whole are narrow and focused on key principles, not on peripheral subjects that have little to do with salvation. 2. Many of the Church leaders’ statements of the past are misquoted or taken out of context. Doctrine taught today supersedes the past. We are commanded to pay more attention to living oracles. 3. If something is questionable, we ask if it is found in any of the following: a) The four Standard Works of scripture; b) official declarations or proclamations; c) taught or discussed in General Conference or other official gatherings of the Church leaders; d) in the General Handbooks of the Church; e) in approved curriculum of the Church. It should meet at least one of these criteria. This does not preclude that their are some things that fall under “sacred silence,” such as doctrine contained within the Temple ceremony.
  • We do not believe in prophetic or apostolic infallibility. Not every word of the Bible is exactly how God spoke it. Moses, Peter, Paul, Joseph Smith and others made mistakes and had their human weaknesses. We cannot discount the whole man because of some imperfection in statements or opinion. A whole life and mission must be taken into total context, much like the Bible and other scripture.
  • Seeing that the Lord still trusts imperfect leaders shows that there is hope for everyone, even in their weaknesses.
  • Every prophet, every apostle, and every Church leader is going to be flawed. They have the right to be wrong at times and to change and improve. The inspiration and guidance from God can still come to them just like it can to each of us.
  • True doctrine has “sticking power.” It grows and deepens, clarifies as years go by.
  • Innocent speculations are often taken as doctrine by others not of our faith.
  • All faiths have imperfect histories. Catholics had the Crusades and the Inquisition. Martin Luther wrote anti-semitic works. Southern Baptists justified slavery.
  • Much of Christianity believes in theosis—human deification. The Bible plainly teaches it. See 2 Peter 1:4, Romans 8:17, 1 Corinthians 2:16, Matthew 5:48, 1 John 3:2.
  • The light and insight received in revelation in June 1978 supersedes all the speculative slivers of light or darkness that preceded it like the sun would outshine a star. Reasons may only be known to God.
  • If some doctrine is not currently being taught or is not found in current official Church publications it does not necessarily mean it is true or not true. It only means it is not important at this time and need not take our undue attention or energy.
  • God and humans are not of a different species.
  • We know absolutely nothing about God before He became God. It is not a central or saving doctrine. It need not be believed or understood to be in good standing in the Church.
  • We do not know whether Jesus was married or not. Such knowledge does not pertain to our salvation. Beware of too much speculation.
  • It is just as important to know what we don’t not know as it is to know what we know.
  • This does not mean that we should be satisfied with a superficial understanding of doctrine.
  • One can have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel without understanding much of it, but to retain that testimony one must continually strive to learn and understand the Gospel on deeper and more complete levels. (Many truths thus revealed are only for ourselves—we paid the price. It is up to others to put forth the effort on their own to get similar insight.)

Chapter 4: Christ’s Eternal Gospel

  • God’s plan for human kind is not so readily apparent in the Bible, but is spelled out more clearly in the Book of Mormon.
  • In my opinion: This is one reason there are fewer denominations based on the Book of Mormon as opposed to the Bible.
  • Acts 10:43, “To [Christ] give all the prophets witness.”
  • The Bible gives the impression that God’s plan of salvation evolved over time or changed. A closer look shows that He was battling the weaknesses of the people more and maybe could not reveal as much.
  • Scripture was not as valued in ancient times. The king Josiah “discovered” scripture in the Temple.
  • We believe the plan of Atonement was always the same from the beginning.
  • All covenants and obligations have existed form the beginning and have never changed.
  • Ancient prophets had priesthood authority and were called to the office and did not assume their roles on their own.
  • Jacob had the temple endowment and “key words” were given to Adam, Noah and others.
  • 2 Nephi 29:7,12. The Lord will inspire all people of the earth and they shall write it. All that God thinks they should have. Alma 29:8.
  • Relics of truth can be found among other cultures and religions, temple practices and myths.
  • All truth comes from God and Jesus Christ.
  • Truth is eternal and always has been. Any change is in our own perceptions.
  • Though ancient and modern religious rites may be similar to ours, they are a parody of the complete truth. As such they are still of value and worthy of respect. (The ancient Egyptians knew their rites were incomplete.)
  • The temple endowment is an allegory of the basic truths of our existence and duties. As such, it is flexible to the understandings of the times, but it is still complete and whole. It was revealed in whole, in its essentials, and was not cobbled together from disparate sources like much of the rites and practices of others.
  • Everyone is blessed with a certain amount of light. If they are true to that light, they are blessed with more.
  • In many ways, coming to the knowledge of more truth is really an awakening to what we formally knew in the preexistence.
  • Converts to the Church don’t “leave” another church, usually, but obtain more or “come home.”

Chapter 5: The Infinite and Intimate Atonement

  • The Atonement is timeless. It is “retroactive” and has always applied even before it actually occurred in time.
  • The Atonement overcomes death. Corruption must put on incorruptibility.
  • The Atonement defies mortal law and logic. How we are forgiven defies our complete explanation. The justice of right and wrong, mercy and forgiveness, restitution and punishment are not all fully understood.
  • The Atonement is infinite and eternal because Jesus Christ is an infinite and eternal Being.
  • The Savior redeems all that He creates. The Atonement is infinite in time, putting and end to preceding prototypes and animal sacrifice, and infinite in the number of people redeemed. This includes all people on other worlds created by Him.
  • The Atonement goes beyond payment for sins. It covers all infirmities, mistakes and weaknesses—anything that is corrupt or corruptible.
  • Christ can heal us, cure us of burdens and fears. We can leave our burdens at His feet and trust Him. By following Him like a righteous parent we can be at peace.
  • The Atonement is infinite in power or scope, but personal enough for every single person. Christ knew each of us individually, incomprehensibly, through His atonement and suffering on the cross.

Chapter 6: What Happened to the Cross?

  • We need to probe and ponder the Atonement and try harder to understand it on a much deeper level. Each of us is not limited, except by ourselves, from the same knowledge of it as the prophets. Though probably none of us fully comprehend it in this life.
  • Paul gloried in the cross precisely because the Jews and Romans despised it. The Jews believed anyone “hung from a tree” was the vilest of scum (as indicated by God in Deuteronomy) and crucifixion had a long heritage of being the most degrading way to execute the despised. (Think of ways many people would think of “disposing” of Adolph Hitler.) How could a God allow Himself such an end? Paul thought that that was the very reason Christ chose such a form—to show He descended below all things to understand and raise all.
  • The symbol of the cross did not come into use until the 4th and 5th centuries.
  • We have no quarrel with the use of the cross as a symbol. We use symbols ourselves like the angel Moroni and CTR rings as reminders of the holy.
  • Baptists too did not use the cross until the 1830s.
  • Puritans did not use the cross and may of the early LDS were of Puritan descent.
  • There are many direct references to the cross in our latter-day scriptures and hymns and official writings.
  • We have no official doctrinal position on the use of the cross as a symbol.
  • We are somewhat unique among many Christians in that we put more emphasis on the part of the Atonement that took place in the Garden of Gethsamane.
  • The Garden Scene is not depicted in art and ceremony as much as it should.
  • It is in the Garden that Jesus necessarily suffers the withdrawing of God the Father’s spirit. This is to complete the Atonement in some form, but this also happens on the cross.
  • Sweating blood from every pore is only found in the Gospel of Luke. Scholars have argued that it might have been a later addition to prove Christ’s divine nature.
  • The sweating of blood has been backed up as a reality by modern scripture.
  • All the agonies of Gethsmane reoccurred upon the cross. The cross is still the culmination of the Atonement sacrifice.

Chapter 7: The Greatest Gift

  • All the programs of the Church do not save or redeem us. Our salvation lies only in Christ the Person.
  • All our works and efforts are ultimately insufficient. We have not the power within ourselves.
  • Faith unto repentance is made possible to us through giving us the Atonement to look to.
  • The Gospel of Christ is not only of salvation in “the by and by,” but is an influence for change here and now. The power to forgive, overcome weaknesses, and restore what we cannot restore can have their effect here in mortality to make us happy and give us peace. Not all may be reconciled or fully overcome in this life, life by its very nature is hard and a struggle, but comfort—supernatural power—can be a gift to everyone through their faith in Christ’s Atonement.
  • True faith always manifests itself through works, righteous actions, and proper relations. Not always perfectly, but neither is our faith always perfect.
  • It is therefore important that we are judged by our works. Someone who has done non-repented evil works cannot abide the presence of God.
  • We cannot rely on ourselves to be saved, but must work in concert with Christ to produce the change of heart within us to become as He is. He will not save us against our will. Once our will is changed, faith and works are inseparable.
  • We must open our hearts and put forth our hand (works) to accept the proffered gift of grace. His grace will not save us if we do not accept it, or go through the effort of accepting it—meaning the effort to be close to Him by doing and being as He would have us be.
  • Hebrews 12:2. We are incomplete. Christ is the “finisher” of our faith that fills in a huge gap. We are complete “in him.”
  • We are not saved “after” all we can do, but more in spite of all we can do. Sometimes all we can do is turn from our sins and the Lord takes it from there. This is a daily and lifetime pursuit, a maturity and growth.
  • We need to always balance our longing to improve with the hope and happiness or comfort that with Christ we will make it.

Chapter 8: Beyond the Veil

  • Death is only a transition from one state to the next. We died from pre-mortality to come here.
  • Joseph Smith said that God instilled in us a natural fear of death so that we would not corrupt His purposes by trying to go before our time. We would do everything we could to get there if we did not have this fear.
  • Prophets and other Church leaders have hinted and hypothesized about the nature of the joy and rest the righteous have awaiting them in the next world unencumbered with bodies and certain limitations.
  • No righteous person is taken from this life before his time.
  • It is our limited vision that keeps us from rejoicing at the opportunities given to the righteous dead.
  • The post-mortal spirit world is here on this earth around us.
  • Those who go to Spirit Paradise grow in wisdom, have no pain and rest.
  • The entire spirit world is a prison of sorts because we are incomplete without our bodies.
  • Persons in the spirit world are aware of the happenings in this world.
  • 1 Peter 3:19 refers to the prison of the spirit world as not having bodies. Christ did not go to the “hell” part but organized missionaries to go (D&C 138:30).
  • Once ordinances are done for the dead, they are free to go over to Paradise if they accept the Gospel.
  • Lorenzo Snow believes a great majority of those in the Spirit Prison will accept the Gospel. The conditions of Satan’s temptations will be gone and our own characteristics will come forward. Habits, traditions and flaws developed  in this life will need to be overcome, however.
  • Spirit matter will course through our veins instead of blood in our resurrected bodies.
  • Our resurrected bodies will be raised to that glory for which we are worthy. These bodies will be given a “portion” of that glory we attained to and then a “fulness.” We will grow to a complete joy in our eternal world. Except the sons of perdition. D&C 88:28-32.
  • We will always retain our individual identities. Others will recognize us and us them. We will grow to everlasting and unchanging perfection just like Jesus Christ and God the Father, but, like Them, retain our own identity.
  • The atonement redeems everyone in the sense that we will all be allowed back into the presence of God, at least temporarily, to be judged and sent to our kingdoms of glory.

Chapter 9: God and Human Tragedy

  • God will not force us to be careful or righteous. To do so would violate our agency for which we are here to prove.
  • Many of us don’t want a Father in Heaven so much as a senile grandfather in heaven. A benevolent force that ensures a good time is had by all. But growth and understanding cannot be acquired this way.
  • God cannot give us free will and at the same time ensure we always use it the right way.
  • We are in the “second act” of the Plan in this mortal life. We are here to learn and grow through trial, suffering and tragedy. Most rewards and happiness is reserved for the next life. “Happily Ever After” does not occur here.
  • The Lord Jesus Christ can reveal to us the lessons we need to learn and how to overcome. He has descended below it all.
  • We learn more about ourselves and our strength and faith through trials. We learn more about who we are.
  • Continual repentance is the best contribution anyone can make toward solving the problem of evil.
  • Evil is never just “out there,” but is also “in here.” We need to address our personal issues and control what we can.
  • We can borrow on God’s eternal perspective to help us deal with pain and sorrow here and now. God does not “mope” around in despair over the suffering and choices of His children. Past, present and future are all one eternal now for Him. He has an infinite and eternal perspective.
  • We can have confidence despite our trials because we know in the end the Lord and righteousness will prevail no matter what the “score” is at the moment.
  • A key to Christ’s mission in mortality and the doctrine of His Gospel is to give us hope, a promise of a better world, a reason to “hang on,” to replace despair with peace.

Chapter 10: The Blessings of the Temple

  • 1 Corinthians 15:19. “If in this life only we have a hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” Why or how would someone in the afterlife need a “hope” in Christ? If this life is their only chance, it would be too late for “hope.” They either accepted Christ or they didn’t. We would be most miserable if we or loved ones did not have a fair opportunity to accept Christ regardless of our state of life.
  • Concerning baptism for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:28-29), Paul would not, of all people, have argued for the foundation doctrine of the Resurrection using a questionable practice. Baptism for the dead had to be authentic.
  • There are several account of preaching to the dead in the Apocrypha, and the accepting of Christ by the dead. Coincidence? Even if the Apocrypha can’t be fully trusted?
  • Peter’s brief mention of preaching to the dead suggests that is was common knowledge to the extent he didn’t need to expound upon it (1 Peter 3:19 & 4:6). Taken at face value there is no other interpretation other than what they say, namely that Christ’s redemption practices extend beyond the grave.
  • Joseph Smith: “It is no more incredible that Christ should save the dead than that he should raise the dead.”
  • The endowment in the Temple seals us to the Abrahamic covenant.
  • Jesus taught many things pertaining to the kingdom of God during the 40 days of His post-resurrection ministry to the apostles and others. This was the time the Church was fully established and with the day of Pentecost became endowed with power.
  • Many ceremonies such as washings, anointings, sacred clothing, new names and sacred marriages are mentioned in the apocryphal ancient Forty Day literature.
  • Similar outpourings of the Spirit and visitations and visions, like the days of Pentecost, occurred during a four month period to many Church members in 1836.
  • The temple ordinances affirm our link to the ancient priesthood, the power of God and the eternal covenants He made with Abraham and gives those same promises to us.

Chapter 11: The Living Canon

  • Many of the Apocrypha books are included within the scriptures of the Old Testament up through Martin Luther’s time. They were usually designated as such by being placed together after the Writings.
  • The books of the New Testament were slowly cobbled together during the first centuries. They did not reach their present order and content until the end of the fourth century. Many books were disputed that we consider authentic simply because of long tradition.
  • Much of the Apocrypha writings do not have the restraint the canonized works of the New Testament have. They try too hard to fill in the gaps and expound too deeply on fanciful ideas.
  • However, with a limited canon one might assume if the scriptures don’t specifically address an issue, God must not care. This can also lead to scripture worship or “Biblioidolatry.” (This is what the Jews were guilty of in part with their worship of the Law found in their scriptures.)
  • Revelation precedes scripture which is merely the product of revelation. Revelation is the true source of knowledge even when we have scriptures.
  • Those who have reason to fear are the ones who cry, “We have enough and need no more.”
  • Is not our message as Latter-Day Saints the same as the early Church—that the heavens have been opened and revelation has come again?
  • All Christian churches rely on doctrine and tradition outside the scriptures. Even Evangelicals rely on post-New Testament councils and creeds and linguistics.
  • And there is no final authority on scriptural interpretation when differences arise.
  • The Bible is a record of revelations and the ministries of Christian churches turned it into a handbook. The Bible became a text to be interpreted rather than an experience to be lived.
  • Joseph Smith stood for direct divine revelation in the same way as the earliest Church, not on a mild influence-like revelation or the single revelation serving for all time in the incarnation of Christ.
  • The Bible is foundational in nature. The Book of Mormon assumes a working knowledge of the Bible and the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ.
  • Although each canon of scripture (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants) contains the fulness of the Gospel individually, they build upon each other, and particularly upon the Bible, to reach fuller understanding.
  • We revere divine revelation whenever it comes and from sources like living apostles and prophets as well as ones past on, but the ones canonized in the Standard Works are the ones binding upon all saints.

Chapter 12: A Personal Witness

  • Our testimonies are always fragile. They change and grow. The testimony we have now may not be the same as we have years from now.
  • You usually don’t need to answer anti-Mormon questions and arguments because it is not answers they are looking for. They only wish to tear down and are filled with hatred though calling themselves Christians.
  • Refuse to allow things you don’t know to tarnish or unsettle the things you do know.
  • God is pleased with all sincere and inspired religious devotion, no matter the specific circumstances of church membership, but the Latter-day Saints have special gifts to offer to the world’s religious discussion—our pre-mortal existence, the real purpose of our being here, eternal perspectives on marriage that would revolutionize and revitalize society.
  • The work of God and His Church is ongoing, expansive and everlasting.

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40 Ways Brigham Young coverThe unconventional approach taken by the authors of the book40 Ways to Look and Brigham Young makes for convenient and informative reading. They take an aspect of his personality, a particular way he was viewed by others, or simple hard data and put each into a series of 40 chapters. These chapters are not necessarily chronological but portray each trait, view or incident as it relates to the total man and his total life.

Below, I’ve listed some of the things I learned about him that may not have been common knowledge to the average Mormon:

  • Brigham Young  had more than 30 wives. Not all at once, of course, he outlived several and at least 10 and possibly 2 more divorced him. Two or three younger ones were only married to him while they crossed the plains and then divorced him. I guess marriages were a bit more “fluid” in those days. A divorced General Authority in the Church today is completely unacceptable. (Other GAs back then were divorced from plural wives as well. Orson Pratt eventually divorced his first wife.)
  • Brigham was considerably enlightened when it came to dealing with the Indians. Although he said the Mormons were prepared to kill every Indian if necessary, he could not figure out why a man would shoot an Indian for stealing something when the Indian didn’t know any better and not a white man for doing the same thing who was taught it was wrong. The culture of the Indians was quite exasperating to Brigham, however, and he tried to convert and civilize them as best could be done.
  • He tried to be a good steward of nature. When annual celebrations were held in the mountains commemorating the arrival of the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, he personally stayed afterwards, alone, to make sure all the campfires were completely put out. He advised settlers to minimize the number of trees they cut down and encouraged sawmills and frame houses to make the most use of the wood. He went to great efforts to preserve City Creek Canyon in its natural state and lamented the creek’s necessary destruction within the city.
  • Deseret_second_bookBrigham was somewhat self-conscious about his lack of formal schooling, particularly his inability to spell correctly. (His spelling was really bad—even worse than mine.) This may have been a contributing factor in his development and encouragement of the Deseret Alphabet. One goal of this unique and totally phonetic alphabet (which was loosely based on short-hand techniques) was to aid foreign-language converts to be literate in the English language’s often irrational spelling conventions. Of course this idea was a total flop, but Brigham was certainly not unique in his attempt to make the English writing style more reasonable. He thought he might just have the power to start a revolution in this arena of society, being isolated as the Mormons were at the time. Didn’t have some conspiracy to control all, just wanted to take advantage of every perceived opportunity. Some ideas paid off, for the betterment of the human race, and others didn’t.
  • Much more to come. (If I get around to it.)
  • For a graphic I created that compares Brigham Young’s wives, when he was married to them, and how many he had at a given time, click here: Brigham Young’s Wives

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Sidney Rigdon CoverTruman G. Madison once quoted a definition of religious fanaticism as “Someone who doubles his speed when he has lost his direction.” This is an apt description of Sidney Rigdon as portrayed by Richard S. Van Wagoner in his book, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess.

This book primarily deals with Rigdon’s relationships and correspondence with others rather than digging into what made him “tick,” so to speak. There is no doubt Sidney was mentally ill at points in his life and particularly during his last 30 years or so. Any effort to figure out the full nature of this illness is problematic given the limited resources we have of his life. The author postulates that he probably would have benefited from modern medical treatments and led a fairly normal life if he had been born 150 years later. Indications are that he suffered from bipolar disorder and manic depression.

Sidney definitely picked up speed as he spiraled further and further down into fanatic delusions over the course of his life. Van Wagoner brings up some interesting points in his biography. I will simply bullet-point some things I learned through this account below:

  • Sidney’s wife was extremely loyal and faithful to him throughout his life. This was, on the whole, probably a blessing—everyone needs unconditional love—but it was also a curse in that her loyalty also enabled him in his more extreme delusions, particularly later in life.
  • Rigdon was sadly estranged from his family later in life, probably because they could not tolerate his increasing irrationality and delusional pronouncements. They did not know of his continued correspondence with a handful of followers in the last years of his life. Only his wife was involved in such affairs.
  • Sidney retained a strong belief in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and emphatically denied he had anything to do with the writing of it, as some had claimed. There is no evidence that the standard narrative of his conversion is false or inaccurate in any substantive way.
  • Sidney Rigdon contributed much to the doctrines of the Church. He was there at Joseph Smith’s side almost from the very beginning. Much that is in the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants can be found in Sidney’s own preaching and writings before he joined the Mormon Church. Their are some Champelite aspects to Mormon doctrine, but I believe one could argue that Sidney was already preparing himself (or being prepared) to recognize and receive the true church when he found it.
  • He and Joseph Smith had a number of “falling outs” in their career together. No doubt part of this was a failure to understand fully Sidney’s mental condition, but it seems there were some elements of jealousy and unbecoming greed on the part of Joseph Smith as well. They were both in rather desperate times and were nearly always in abject poverty. Care must be taken to not judge either of them too harshly given their times and circumstances, which I think the author does a fair job at doing, but it is still a little sad and disturbing.
  • Sidney Rigdon followed Joseph Smith in all of the Church doctrines except polygamy. He thought this practice was the downfall of Joseph Smith as a prophet, but refrained from stating such until after Joseph’s death. This may have been exacerbated by Joseph’s propositioning Sidney’s 17 year-old daughter without his knowledge (at first). Joseph was most humiliatingly rejected by her and the whole matter came to a head with Sidney and the rest of his family.
  • Van Wagoner makes some rather definite interpretations based on insufficient evidence at times in the book. He states that both Joseph and Sidney were inherently lazy when it came to physical labor (who wouldn’t be given the labor involved in keeping body and soul together back then), and used their position in the Church to bully funding and temporal support  for their efforts in organizing the Kingdom, translating the Bible, and such. There are some damning statements from both of them on this order, but the author fails to put these in context with their overall writings and statements on “priestcraft” and their ideas of a Zion community. (“Priestcraft” meaning persons being paid to teach the Word of God or making their living as a representative of God, or even worse, getting rich off the Gospel. One essential of a “Zion” community, in their definition of the time, was having all things in common. This is tricky when you are also trying to avoid priestcraft. You can always claim someone is not “pulling his weight” when he is spending most of his time getting revelations from God or leading the Church instead of working the fields like everyone else.)
  • Sidney seems to have become increasingly bitter towards the Church headed by Brigham Young. He briefly accepted Young’s argument for leadership of the Twelve after Joseph Smith’s death when he quite defiantly “lost” to him in the public debate. However, I think Van Wagoner paints an unfair portrait of Brigham at this time that seems inconsistant with what I’ve read of Young’s writings and biographies.
  • After being excommunicated from the main body of the Church, Rigdon tried to set up several new Zion communities. First on a farm he induced some of his followers (including William McClellen) to purchase on credit in a valley northeast of Pittsburgh, PA. They eventually lost the land due to nonpayment of the remainder of the note on it. It reverted to its original owner and many of Sidney’s followers lost a substantial amount of money, including his older brother who lost his entire farm which he had mortgaged for the down payment. His second attempt was in Iowa. Though he never visited the small village established there by his few remaining followers, he kept in constant correspondence with them—many times demanding money from them. Many of these letters were written as “revelations” and written in the Lord’s voice (“I the Lord… “).  His final delusional Zion was to be established in Canada just across the border near the shore of Lake Superior in Ontario. Rigdon developed a hatred of the United States and its “evils” and proclaimed in the name of the Lord that Zion needed to be established outside the U.S. This little community didn’t last long after his death and never consisted of more than a few family homesteads. Once again, due to poverty and lack of health, he never visited this site either.
  • Priesthood callings, functions and authorities were quite haphazard during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. Birgham Young must be given credit for organizing the chain of command in this area based on Joseph’s directions. It is clear, at least until the final few days of his life, that Joseph Smith did not plan on dying when he did. The Church was probably a little too charismatic around his personality and authority. I think one might make the argument that God took him for this very reason. I also think, given the power he had, Joseph showed rare insight into the nature of despotism and exercised good restraint. He could have easily gone too far. In some ways, he may have. All of this was unfortunate for Sidney. My personal opinion is that Smith recognized the instability inherent in Sidney’s personality but didn’t have the heart to fully relieve him of his position in the Church. This proved to only contribute to Sidney’s downfall by infusing his delusional wanderings with a sense of injustice at not being allowed to lead the Church.
  • Rigdon felt he had all the priesthood authority needed lead the church of Christ on the earth. He gave this priesthood authority to his wife and she acted as a “prophetess,” writing several “revelations” later in his life. After his death she tacitly led his followers, but mainly only pronounced blessings on them. (Van Wagoner claims Joseph Smith also gave “priesthood” authority to his own wife Emma, but I think the evidence on this is not specific enough in its terminology to warrant such an interpretation. I don’t know though—I didn’t look up his sources on this.)
  • Sidney and his son Wycliffe seemed to entertain the thought of Sidney’s reuniting with the Saints in Utah off and on (though I don’t know how serious Sidney was). Brigham Young offered to pay his railroad fare and moderate expenses to come out, but only half-heartedly. Sidney turned that offer down but later, in one of the strangest of his letters, offered to come out if Young would give him $100,000 in gold and silver. Brigham did not reply to this but reportedly wondered if Sidney would take $100,000 in greenbacks instead.
  • Van Wagoner makes the point that Sidney was unfairly treated after the death of Joseph Smith and cites some convincing evidence along this line, but I think he is putting late 20th century compassion on a time and place where it is a bit unfair to assign such values. Little was known of mental conditions back then and any aberrant behavior (which Rigdon was prone to) would be interpreted more as “evil” influence rather than illness. He was mistreated, no doubt, but he was also dealt with much kindness and love at times as well. Some did understand that he was not always “right in the head” so to speak.

Overall, I got out of this book a portrait of a brilliant man with a peculiar set of human weaknesses that eventually took him down an unfortunate path. His pain and regret led him to many troubling delusions and many around him suffered because of it; however, he left his mark in the doctrine and structure of the Mormon movement that cannot be ignored. Other than Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon probably had the most influence on the early development of the Church. Much of his deserved credit was downplayed after his falling away, but this book, and others, can bring some of that credit back.

On a side note: There were some troubling agenda-driven overtones in a few places of the book. The author states some evidences of all-too-human behavior among the early Church leaders, but fails to “balance” it out with their “divine-like” attributes as well. I could tell he was trying hard to paint Sidney in the best light possible (mainly in the first half of the book) but needed to denigrate other Church leaders to do so. There is some unnecessary, or at least unrelated, content in the appendixes and notes to each chapter that, though interesting in their own right, served only to belie the author’s bias rather than enlighten the text.

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Red River book coverI just finished reading Red River by Lalita Tadamy. This book is a fictional account of her forebears from the last events of Reconstruction after the the Civil War down to the early adulthood of her father.

This book focuses mainly on the men of the family. I understand her previous book, Cane River, was mainly about the women.

The main theme I sensed throughout the narrative was the struggle of these men to claim their right to be simply accepted as full and equal men—”real” men with the exact same wants, talents, curiosity, freedom, striving, and quest for happiness of all men. But, they couldn’t escape the “mark” of their race. A touching element throughout was their desire to learn. From the struggle to be allowed to learn to read to the pursuit of higher knowledge they had to waste incalculable energy just to fight for the mere privilege to get ahead. One character prized his hard-earned “library” of mostly used books and wouldn’t let just anyone touch them. These books took on a symbolic role for him. They represented knowledge, and thus freedom and self-determination, but they also represented his defiance toward the role the whites wanted to impose upon him. It is sad to think of all the wasted potential these men possessed—wasted because they were expending most of there reserve energy struggling just to get the same opportunities taken for granted by the white men.

This book illustrated for me the depth and variety of personal inner struggles of each of these men—struggles I did not understand well, being a white man, but Tadamy described them through her character’s thoughts in a way that resonated and helped me comprehend, at least to a little better degree, the world facing black men in an overpoweringly white culture. Each of the men she created and developed responded to their society in different ways, but there was the common element of oppression throughout all their lives. These singular struggles taken as a whole were formed by, but also shaped the truly unique American society we live in today.

I wouldn’t say this novel has a plot in any conventional definition. It is written more or less in the style of a family history—stories you would hear at family reunions, but more as it would be told through the thoughts and minds of the storytellers. The book starts off strong with a lot of action and heightened emotional tension as the black men experience a tragic struggle to retain the rights they thought they had been awarded with emancipation. Tadamy bases her, at times quite dramatized, accounts on actual history, but it is a very fragmented history that for many years was hidden and much was thus forgotten. Later, the book slides into a more prolonged account of the multi-generational effects of the realizations acquired through the earlier pivotal struggle.

In some ways these black men and many of the African-Americans today would define themselves by their struggles. This, in my opinion, is somewhat tragic. I’m Mormon, and throughout the early years of Mormonism, and to a lesser extent today, we were almost overpoweringly defined by the persecution heaped upon us. Even today, I think, we spend an inordinate amount of time in our worship services emotionally honoring the sacrifices and struggles our forebears experienced to the expense of the whole point of our religion, that point being to become as Jesus Christ is. Not to denigrate the pain and efforts of those who came before—their perseverance through struggles is certainly an aspect of Christlike character—but, it seems to sometimes overpower the many other aspects of Christ’s teachings and example that are equally important. This, in a way, has happened in African-American society on the cultural rather than religious front. Rather than taking more pride in their unique and colorful heritage, they harp on the discrimination they’ve suffered, and sometimes still suffer, to the expense of original thought and their own personal and cultural development. Yes, their past struggles define them to some extent, but I hope they don’t allow themselves to become like the Shiite Muslims who still hold a lethal grudge for a single assassination nearly 1,500 years ago. It’s kind of like blaming the Jews of today for Christ’s death 2,000 years ago—at some point it simply becomes stupid.

I can’t imagine a thousand years from now the descendants of today’s African Americans still harping on the abuses their umptenth great grandfather suffered through slavery, but that risk is always there. We should not deny the reality of their struggles, but books like this, if not countered by equally emotional positive reinforcement of all the good and the progress we have made, could needlessly prolong the healing. It’s like Mormons continuing to hate Missourians for running us out of their state 150 years ago, ridiculous!

This book runs this risk because it poetically dramatizes some incredibly horrible things. It is all based on facts, but the details of those facts are missing. The author does a superb job of filling in those elements with highly emotional experiences, which could be taken as gospel-truth when it is still only poetic speculation. I wouldn’t change any of it necessarily, I would have just liked to have seen, since she is speculating anyway, more positive accounts of good things whites did to sort of counterweight the horrible.

Unfortunately, I kind of got an idea of where the author stands through a comment she made in the back matter of the book about the “victimization” of African Americans in the hurricane Katrina catastrophe. This is what stupefies us white folk. We feel we are bending over backwards to not be prejudice and then African Americans continue to make blaming remarks like these. Saying we “still have a long way to go,” and such. African Americans have every opportunity and then some that white folk have! Occasionally they may have to put in a little more effort, but don’t we all sometimes. For every black caught in the floodwaters of Katrina there are many, many more who have excelled to their potential, much like the author of this book. Simply because some have not chosen to take advantage of opportunity, they find it all too easy to blame “The Man.” No one is holding the blacks in New Orleans down! When the hurricane was coming, no one told them, “No, you can’t leave.” No one said, “You got to live (or continue to live) in the low land where the water might come.” They all have television, they all know what opportunities are out there—they’re not stupid! It’s sometimes just easier to blame, and their successful “brothers” all too often take their side, merely on racial grounds rather than character. Not to denigrate the Katrina victims and their trials. Many chose to stay for good reasons, whatever they might be, and we should help them like we would help anyone, black or white.

Now, all that said, there will always be some injustice in the world. As long as people are still human, there will be someone out there who hates me because I have green eyes. You will continue to find a few knuckle-dragging, emotionally damaged, prejudiced people out there, but they should in no way be allowed to even cast a shadow on the vast, vast majority of us who could care less about how much melanin someone has in their skin.

To conclude, this book is an excellent read and should be read by all who want to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of African American culture. Just need to remember to feel gratitude that, for the most part, we have all overcome—blacks and whites alike.
Below is basically what I’m getting at:

How much can discrimination explain? from FEE on Vimeo.

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where-god-was-born-book-coverAuthor Bruce Feiler takes us on a journey through the cradle of civilization to investigate the people, culture, climate and historical record of the land where our Western conception of God was assembled.

The book is filled with a wonderful variety of interviews with the personalities that make up today’s Middle East, from Egypt to Iran. He interviews a Mormon army commander in Iraq, a head of the Zoroastrianism religion in Iran, and archeologists in Israel, to name just a few.

He describes new and intriguing (at least to me) possibilities in king David’s personality and times—how he might have conquered Jerusalem through underground cisterns and the possibility of being an outsider rather than full Israelite. He describes the origins of the pyramids in Babylon and the dramas of the Jewish Exile there and the pivotal role these events played in our development of perceptions of God.

Feiler explores the Islamic, Christian and Zoroastrianism cultures of today and the links between them and the Jewish heritage of the past and present. Being proud of his Jewish heritage, he sometimes leans toward arrogance in his emotional personal insights (don’t we all), which doesn’t detract from the narrative at all, but is disappointing nonetheless. (My personal insight: The Jewish people will never acquire the respect they seek until they start proselytizing their religion. The fact that they don’t “share” sets them apart as “above” us heathens, and as long as they do so they will be hated for such arrogance.)

This book is an engaging read with many touching personal stories and accounts of strength and caring along the way. It is beautifully written and is very insightful. I gained a better understanding of the ideals and hopes, and “baggage,” the people of the Middle East—and by inference, the rest of us—have to work with in their quest for God.

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