Jesus in the Modern World

whosayiamIn the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was praying alone with his Disciples when he asked what people thought of him. They answered according to Matt 16:14, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets,” with Luke 9:19 adding he might be, “one of the old prophets [who] is risen again.” He then asked what they thought, and one of his chief Apostles Peter answered boldly that he was the Christ of God (Luke 9:20) with Matt 16:16 adding “the Son of the living God.” Peter essentially was claiming that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah come down to save Israel. There was no rebuke, but an acknowledgement by Jesus that is exactly who he was, and praising his spiritual insight as coming from God. Considering the violent ending of those who claimed the Messianic mantle, Jesus warned them the same fate was coming. Peter rebuked him for saying such negative expectations, and Jesus rebuked back that Satan inspired rejecting the path he was destined to walk.

Who do men say that Jesus is? Today the question is no different than when Jesus and his Disciples walked the dusty road of Jerusalem. What might be surprising is the answers. They go from the mundane of lucky preacher who gained literate followers to the traditionally religious grandiose God and Savior of the world. Like the days of his life and death, he is both mocked and praised. It could even be said that while there is a sizable world wide number of believers in his Divinity, he is slowly becoming obscure or irrelevant. This is opposite the rival religion of Islam and some other Eastern faiths. The Western views that kept Jesus “alive” have changed over the last few centuries. He is in metaphorical fragments.

It wasn’t always like this. During the first great upheaval of arguments over his identity, the questions asked exactly how divine was Jesus in relation to God. The answer more than a millenium ago, that remains the cornerstone of most modern definitions of the Christian faith, proclaimed he was God in a different form. During his life, he was likewise both fully Man and fully God. The creed of Jesus was set and a catholic church dominated, until what came to be known as the reformation sprouted Protestantism. Despite serious disagreements, for the most part Protestants shared the same creed as the church they left. Whole countries developed around particular Christian identities and churches, defending and fighting among themselves for dominance. For centuries Jesus was a driving force for both good and evil actions of history.

That began to change a century after the “enlightenment” when people started to focus more on the mind than on the spirit. For the past two centuries views of who Jesus is and was began to be questioned in ways never before taken seriously. The answers have become so mixed and branching that one method employed actually used voting over a color scheme to decide the truth about Jesus. The colors represented the probability of what Jesus did or said, ultimately to determine who he was. Most likely these new questions and the modern views they inspire came from the relatively recent Western culture of skepticism. Answers have become less important than questions about history, authority, and existence itself. Science and academics, positive as they have been, is the new religion with scientists and professors the theologians; politicians the Priesthood authority. Jesus is quickly, to the ecstasy of many, becoming sidelined. Continue reading

Thanksgiving as a Day of the Lord

thankkidsReading up on Thanksgiving in the Scriptures, I came across D&C 59 that is very fitting for the Holiday celebration. The topic is a discussion of the proper Lord’s Day observance. It could be talking just as much about the Thanksgiving season and what it can mean as a religious Holiday. Ponder the following exhortation:

13 And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.

14 Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.

15 And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance—

16 Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the afulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;

17 Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;

18 Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;

19 Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

20 And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.

21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.

What goodness could be accomplished if, as a culture, such an attitude would be maintained for longer than a day or short month. Instead, we think ahead to Christmas without the glorious anticipation of piety for the birth of the Savior. Rather, we spend most of the time running around to shop, look at the bright lights, and enjoy spectacle divorced of spiritual wonder. No longer is the focus on family, friends, or charity beyond a few token acknowledgements in word and deed. Continue reading

This Year’s City of the Bible

Salt Lake City has been named the 2013 Bible City of the year by the National Bible Association, a more ecumenical organization than other Evangelical groups with the same goal of raising Bible reading awareness. As reported on the Church News website:

The National Bible Association, which named Salt Lake City its National Bible City for 2013, will host a Concert of Praise for God’s Word in the Tabernacle on Temple Square on Saturday, November 23, at 7:00 p.m.

The program will include Bible readings by Hollywood actress Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) and her husband, producer Mark Burnett (The Voice). The program will also feature musical performances by the Singing Sensations, a gospel choir from Baltimore, Maryland; Jewish Cantor Emmanuel Perlman; the Salt Lake University Institute Singers; and the BYU Singers.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will attend and give remarks. . .

An article about the designation and activities in the Salt Lake Tribune further stated:

To those who question lumping Mormonism into that tradition, the group’s president, Richard Glickstein, simply asks: “Do Mormons read the Bible? Then they are part of the tribe.”

“Mormons do read the Bible,” explains Philip Barlow, chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, noting that the Good Book makes up half the church’s four-year scripture-study curriculum.

In fact, the King James Version is part of LDS canon. Of course, members believe in additional scripture as well, including the faith’s signature work, the Book of Mormon.

There will also be a Public Bible Reading at the Utah State Capital rotunda Monday November 25th at 12:00 p.m. The state Governor Herbert and Randy Rigby, President of the Utah Jazz, will be among others of prominence that will attend the reading.

According to the association website, “National Bible Association’s signature event, National Bible Week, has been celebrated the week of Thanksgiving every year since 1941. Our goal is to encourage everyone to read the Bible and raise awareness of the Bible’s importance and relevance to our nation as a whole, as well as in the lives of individuals.”

At least one Mormon, Ahmad S. Corbitt, is part of the trustees for the association. He did not take part in the actual decision of where would be named “City of the Bible” for this year. No notices have been given if the events will be broadcast by multi-media, although attendance is expected to be high. Although Salt Lake City has, like everywhere in the United States, no one religion that everyone follows; Mormonism is considered the dominant faith. What an honor to be part of a tradition that wants to include rather than exclude people who believe The Good Book inspired Joseph Smith Jr. to go into a grove of trees to fully experience God’s Word.

Unrealistic Expectations of Mormon Miltons and Shakespeares

Every now and then those contemplating the literary aspirations of Mormonism will quote Orson F. Whitney, “we will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own,” and then ask when or how that can become possible. That musing has now gone national thanks to an article in the New York Times with interviews of current and former Mormon writers about why this hasn’t happened yet. The result is condescension toward both Mormon literature and popular genre fiction. The answer, even by some of the Mormon writers, seems to show the usual academic bias in favor of the nebulous literary fiction.

Although artists should stretch the talent given to them, Mormon Miltons and Shakespeares are not going to exist. That dream needs to be retired. This is not because Mormons are incapable of great literature, but because the expectations are ridiculous. The New York Times article said it best while ignoring the implications, “In the United States, Jews, blacks and South Asians, while they have produced no Milton or Shakespeare — who has, lately? — have all had literary renaissances.” The nearest to the two contemporary “Bards” in prestige is Homer who lived about a thousand years before them. By that reckoning, time is on the Mormon side. Continue reading

An Insider’s Outside View of Mormon History

In the spirit of describing personal religious turning points, I am presenting this observational essay. At the same time it touches on a few posts with themes about intellectuals and faith.

The Discovery Years

While reading about the LDS history articles in the Ensign, I was reminded of my own studies. When I was young, interest in the subject started because my own personal faith had grown. My house was filled with history books both secular and religious. As a reader, I would try and find anything I could on whatever subject interested me the most.

My first full biography on Joseph Smith was by John Henry Evans, a rather unsophisticated treatment. What intrigued me about the book was less how definitive it was and more how complicated and exciting Joseph Smith seemed. Noticing more to the man and the Prophet than the author presented didn’t bother me — it fascinated me. Perhaps it had to do with my understanding of history as storytelling rather than a collection of facts that had to be accounted for to make things true.

My second encounter with Mormon history was brief, and I had already gotten a beginner’s start by reading a few chapters in Joseph Smith’s 6 Volume history. At this point my focus of LDS Church history set with Joseph Smith as the center of study. Having read one biography of Joseph Smith, I decided to find another one; and like so many other people picked up Fawn Brodie’s treatment. I read a few chapters at the start and a couple in the middle before reading the rest. Unlike so many people who apparently read her book and become disenchanted, I was unimpressed. As a teenager I could tell where history stopped and her own unfounded biases filled in the gaps. Where Evan’s book was sketchy, this one had been overproduced. Other than a few original for the time newspaper reports, “No Man Knows My History” mostly used the Joseph Smith HIstory volumes and Journal of Discourses. Much of what she writes was discussed in B.H. Roberts History of the LDS Church with a difference of opinion. Reading Hugh Nibley’s criticism about the book was not a discovery, but a realization I wasn’t the only one seeing the problems.

Before graduating High School and leaving my home for college, I read all the historical Ensign articles I could. They contained the most detail on specific topics I had access to at the time. The articles were impressive for someone who didn’t have other treatments to rely on for more information. I lament that such writings in the magazine stopped during the 90s, although one or two good articles came out later. Still, it got me reading more than the outdated books written by a small group of believers. Continue reading