O Jerusalem

Yesterday’s announcement that the United States will officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is controversial to say the least. Indeed, of all the contentious claims in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the status of Jerusalem is the ultimate landmine. Having spent quite a bit of time studying the conflict, I am well aware of how complicated the final status of Jerusalem ultimately is. And having lived for several months with a Muslim Bedouin family in the Negev, I also know how sacred Jerusalem is for the Palestinians and I long for a peace that recognized their shared claim to the holy sites of Jerusalem.

With all of that being said, I felt prompted to share my personal reaction to the decision. I frankly didn’t expect it to resonate as deeply with me as it did. Though I was born in Israel, I have not lived there for more than several months at a time since childhood. But reading about the decision nevertheless brought tears to my eyes.

As I read about Trump’s decision, I thought about the generations of my ancestors who longed to return to their ancestral homeland. Their souls hungered for home. They prayed and sang of Jerusalem. They ended their worship with the eternal hope that next year they would be in Jerusalem once more. And with the Psalmist they declared “if I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand whither.” (Jewish Study Bible). Some of my ancestors were able to fulfill their dream and make Aliyah to Israel. Others were brutally murdered because of their Jewish heritage and faith.

For the Jewish people, the land of Israel is not merely a nicety. It is a matter of spiritual and temporal salvation. It is a refuge from the storm of anti-Semitism. It is a place where the connection to the past and to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is particularly strong. It is the land promised by God. And Jerusalem is at the center of that ancestral claim.

Yet despite that ancient connection, there is a concerted effort to deny Israel’s historic claim to Israel. UNESCO, an arm of the UN that recognizes sites of historic and cultural significance, recently attempted to whitewash the Jewish history of Jerusalem completely away. And so as I read about Trump’s announcement tears unexpectedly came to my eyes. The United States was declaring that it recognized the historic claim of the Jewish people. It was pushing back against a false narrative that would wide away Jewish history from the land.

There is room to debate and discuss the necessity of such a step, given that it merely acknowledges the reality on the ground for at least 50 years. Whether the decision was wise given the inevitable backlash remains an open question. And whether this will help or injure peace efforts is yet to be seen. But what seem undeniable to me is that the Trump administration has acted in solidarity with the eternal longing of the Jewish people. Although the “nations rage” and the “peoples plot in vain” (Psalms 2:1 NIV), the call of the Jewish soul to Jerusalem will remain forever. No peace deal, no settlement, and no negotiation can proceed that undermines that basic fact.

(Although it is somewhat secondary to the point of this post, as a Latter-day Saint I also see the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land as a fulfillment of many great and marvelous prophecies from Isaiah to Joseph Smith).

Edit: I want to link to this post by Sahar Qumisiyeh who is a Palestinian Latter-day Saint to offer a counter perspective.

LDS Perspectives – Catching Up!

It’s been a few weeks since we blogged about LDS Perspectives podcasts, which have been great. Below are the episodes you may have missed if you haven’t subscribed directly to the LDS Perspectives feed. As always, feel free to comment on anything that strikes you about these episodes.

December 6, 2017: An Introduction to Higher Biblical Criticism with Philip Barlow


Russell Stevenson talks with Dr. Philip L. Barlow about factors in the nineteenth century that changed how scholars interpreted the Bible, including the introduction of historical criticism.

Dr. Barlow is the Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University. He earned his PhD from Harvard University. Dr. Barlow’s books include The Oxford Handbook to Mormonism (co-edited with Terryl Givens) and Mormons and the Bible: The Place of Latter-day Saints in American Religion. He is also the author of “Adam and Eve in the Twenty-First Century: Navigating Conflicting Commandments in DLS Faith and Biblical Scholarship,” which appeared in the most recent issue of Studies in the Bible and Antiquity.

December 1, 2017: Musicians David Archuleta and Jenny Oaks Baker talk with LDS Perspectives about #LightTheWorld and how they have lived their faith in their respective high-profile musical careers.


November 28, 2017: Richard Turley on the Aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre


Laura Harris Hales and Richard E. Turley talk about the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Turley has written extensively on the Mountain Meadows Massacre including Massacre at Mountain Meadows with Glen Leonard and Ronald Walker and the recently released Mountain Meadows Massacre: Collected Legal Papers with co-editors Janiece Johnson and LaJean Carruth. Continue reading

The Nephite Pride Cycle and the Early Saints

Two years ago, I wrote a post on this blog discussing devotional uses of the Book of Mormon by the early Saints. This week, I came across another inspiring example of the usage of the Book of Mormon by early church leaders.

1836 saw the Latter-day Saints in Kirkland enjoy unparalleled prosperity and spiritual outpourings. The newly dedicated temple resulted in incredible manifestations and visions. And a land boom resulted in spiking land prices and financial stability. In those conditions, many members began to grow disaffected by efforts by Joseph Smith and other Church leaders to direct temporal and political affairs. As the murmuring and opposition intensified in the start of 1837, David Whitmer, one of the Book of Mormon witnesses, delivered what appears to have been a powerful sermon. Wilford Woodruf describes the sermon as follows in his journal on January 13, 1837.

“Met at candlelight with the quorums of the Seventies and was
favored with a lecture from President David Whitmer. He warned us to humble ourselves before God lest his hand rest upon us in anger for our pride and many sins, that we were running into in our days of prosperity as the ancient
Nephites did. It does now appear evident that a scourge awaits this stake of Zion, even Kirtland, if there is not great repentance immediate and almost every countenance indicates the above expectation, especially the heads of the Church. (See Dec. 11th, 1836.) May the Lord in mercy enable us to meet every
event with resignation.”

I find this to be a remarkable example of how the Book of Mormon had taken moral and spiritual significance in the life of the Saints. The reference to the Nephite pride cycle is dependent on the listener having read and internalized the narrative arc of the Book of Mormon. And Whitmer expressly invokes that story to call his people to repent and to cast off pride and dissension. And it is clear from Woodruf’s account that he (Woodruf) fully understood the point of Whitmer’s message. In this critical period, Whitmer called upon the power of the Book of Mormon to invite repentance and draw us closer to Christ.

What also struck me was how consistent this usage of the Book of Mormon is with one of the more prominent contemporary uses of the Book of Mormon. For instance just last month Elder Wilford Andersen delivered a penetrating sermon on the Pride Cycle.

Elder Andersen described with great clarity the traps of the Pride Cycle, and perhaps more significantly he described how we can escape from that Cycle:

“Brothers and sisters, let’s be honest. Most of us, like the Nephites of old, have ourselves taken a few laps around the pride cycle. I used to wonder how the Nephite nation could run the entire cycle in a period of as short as five years. I have since come to believe that we can run the cycle in five years and we can run it in five minutes. It is a pernicious pattern of thinking and behavior that permeates our society. It is so common that it sometimes becomes hard to recognize.

Are we consigned to continue forever in this endless do-loop of despair? Is there no way to get off the pride cycle? There is. In fact, there are two points on the pride cycle where we can exit—one to our eternal destruction and the other to our everlasting happiness.

At four o’clock, when we are facing failure or affliction and feel like all is lost, if instead of becoming humble we become angry; if we lose hope or give in to self-pity; or if we begin to blame others—including God—for our misfortune, then we will exit the pride cycle. But we will exit downward to destruction, as did the Nephites of old.

But at ten o’clock, when it seems like we can do no wrong, when all is going well, if instead of becoming proud we become thankful, then we will exit the pride cycle. But this time we will exit upward toward God. To exit the pride cycle at ten o’clock, we must recognize that every blessing we receive comes from Heavenly Father. He is the source of all that is good in our lives—the fount of every blessing.“

Just like Wilford Woodruff, David Whitmer, and the early saints, we can learn much from the Nephite Pride Cycle of the Book of Mormon. May we like Wilford Woodruff he humbled and allow our prosperity to bring us to gratitude rather than pride.

Of Sirens and Judgment

Ulysses and the Sirens, 1891, John William Waterhouse

In Western mythology, Sirens were beings who lured humans to fatal folly by their seductive singing.

Last year in Believing Lies, I wrote of a relative, “Riley,” who had fallen prey to modern Sirens promising affection and gold. At that time I was taking legal action to obtain guardianship and conservatorship of “Riley.” I spent the majority of that post talking about how people come to believe obvious lies.

Six months ago in On Dementia and Traitors, I wrote of how Riley had traveled from the east to a western state. I spent the rest of that post talking about how perceptions of dementia and traitorous acts affect people.

My hope in my battle to protect Riley had been to get Riley evaluated by an expert who could provide unimpeachable guidance on what Riley needed. When Riley took themself to the west, they were put under emergency and then temporary guardianship and it was stipulated that Riley would undergo a capacity assessment by an expert. The expert specified was Dr. Lichtenberg of Wayne State University, Director of both the Institute of Gerontology and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and the Founding Director of the Wayne State University Lifespan Alliance. Dr. Lichtenberg is a national expert on financial capacity of elderly persons, having completed thousands of evaluations generally and nearly 200 capacity evaluations. Continue reading

George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation

George Washington issued a proclamation on October 3, 1789, designating Thursday, November 26 as a national day of thanks. In his proclamation, Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of Americans prior to the Revolution, assistance to them in achieving independence, and help in establishing the constitutional government.


By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.


Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.


and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.


Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington