Saints Book Club Ch. 4

Chapter 4 of Saints has it all: buried treasure and golden plates, action and romance.

Joseph’s work in assisting with treasure seeking has been the subject of much controversy. This chapter smartly positions that employment in the context of Joseph meeting and courting Emma Hale. Whether Joseph was right to use his talents in pursuit of treasure seeking or not, God used his experience to put him where he needed to be to meet Emma.

I like how the chapter describes the romance between Emma and Joseph. You can see what each found so attractive in the other. Emma had grown up in relative wealth and privilege and I suspect that Joseph seemed so different. He was rugged and rough. He had a natural charm and was gregarious and humorous. Emma likely offered Joseph a sense of refinement and class that attracted him.

It was no surprise that Issac Hale did not approve of their relationship and marriage. Joseph was a poor hired laborer whose family had little property and little standing. Joseph must have appeared uneducated and superstitious. And the rumors of gold plates and angels would frighten any would be father in law.

Amidst this courtship, Joseph is charged with fraud for his work with Josiah Stowell. The charges are dismissed after Josiah testifies on his behalf. But I can’t imagine that those charges helped Joseph’s relationship with Isaac Hale.

When Joseph visits the Hill Cumorah again, he is warned that he is still using his skills to pursue financial gain and that he must quit working with money diggers. He is told that if he does not change his ways, he will not have another chance. This makes me wonder if there are moments in our lives where God gives us a similar warning and where we have to either step up and change of lose out on precious spiritual opportunities?

As a result of his experience, Joseph also receives revelation that Emma must come with him when he goes to get the plates. But that revelation does not help with the courtship which does not go well.

And yet, Emma makes the courageous, seemingly impulsive choice to marry Joseph and go live with Joseph’s parents. I really admire Emma’s strength and willingness to defy her parents and her social standing to follow her heart and the spirit.

Despite the earlier chastisement, Joseph is given yet another warning. He is told that he has “been negligent” and that the time was coming soon where he had to get ready to fulfill God’s commandments. I love how this story teaches us about God’s ongoing patience and willingness to continue to give us chance after chance.

This chapter also shows some of Joseph’s sense of humor. After he got the plates, he pretended to be forlorn and downcast to surprise Joseph Knight with the news that he got the plates:

But when he joined the others in the house, he made a sad face and ate his breakfast in silence. After he finished, he leaned his head forlornly on his hand. “I am disappointed,” he said to Joseph Knight.

“Well,” the older man said, “I am sorry.”

“I am greatly disappointed,” Joseph repeated, his expression changing to a smile. “It is ten times better than I expected!”

The chapter also once again shows Emma’s ingenuity and passion. At one point when she learns of a threat to take the plates, Emma rides for over an hour to warn Joseph. Her efforts help keep the plates safe. Emma’s critical role has been underappreciated and I am grateful that Saints shows more of her perspective here.

Fasting from Modernity

For the past ten days, many of us have enjoyed a “fast” from social media “and from any other media that bring negative and impure thoughts to [the] mind.” 1

We often think of fasting as depriving ourselves. But when we talk of negative media, we were actually freeing ourselves to focus on the better things rather than the distractions provided by negative or frivolous media. Instead of filling the cornucopia of our life’s hours with negative and harmful distractions, we were able to focus on quieter and often more fulfilling things.

In the first hours/days, I would grab my cell phone, then realizing that I’d uninstalled the app(s) that previously absorbed far too many minutes (hours) of my life. After checking e-mail and finding little of interest, I’d often open the Gospel Library app and start reading the Book of Mormon. On impulse I filled a Saturday with commuting to the temple I hadn’t visited since my local temple closed for renovations. Rather than turning on the radio, I “turned on” the narration for the Book of Mormon.

I feel like a person who has left an evening city of noise and lights to enjoy the quiet nature songs in a field bathed in starlight.

I’ve had a chance to get around to things I’ve been wanting to do. Somehow my distracted self never had the time.

Feel free to share which thing you’ve done or appreciated or enjoyed that your distracted self would likely have missed had you not participated in President Nelson’s suggested media fast.

Notes:

  1. Russell M. Nelson, Sisters’ Participation in the Gather of Israel, October 6, 2018.

Saints book club, ch 3

Chapter Two of saints ended right after the immediate aftermath of First Vision. Chapter Three looks at the years that followed which contain some of the many highs and lows of the life of the fledgling Prophet.

I have always loved how Joseph Smith candidly admits in his history that in the years after the First Vision, he fell into temptations and lost sight of the vision that he had. How relateable. Here is how this is described in Saints:

“Joseph and his friends were young and lighthearted. Sometimes they made foolish mistakes, and Joseph found that being forgiven once did not mean he would never need to repent again. Nor did his glorious vision answer every question or forever end his confusion. …Joseph was still unsure if God was pleased with him. He could no longer feel the forgiveness and peace he had felt after his vision of the Father and Son. Instead, he often felt condemned for his weakness and imperfections.”

I love being able to click on the footnotes in Saints and instantly be transported to the primary sources. These paragraphs combined information from the well-known account in the Pearl of Great Price, and also from an earlier 1832 account. The 1832 account has some wonderful details such as Joseph’s description of how his transgressions and sins “brought a wound upon my soul.” Joseph’s earlier account also lays bare how difficult and painful these years were for Joseph: as “his Fathers family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions.”

This backdrop gives Moroni’s visit a much deeper resonance. Joseph once again needed personal reassurance of his standing before God. He had “full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation,” and yet imagine the relief he must have felt when a heavenly messenger appeared before him.

And yet, despite the vision Joseph did not become transformed overnight. The first time that Joseph tries to get the gold plates does not go well to say the least. He is warned that he must not seek the plates for financial gain. “Still, Joseph could not help thinking that he now knew exactly where to find enough treasure to free his family from poverty.” (Saints).

After Joseph is rebuked for seeking the plates, Moroni appears and Joseph Smith has another remarkable vision that I had not been aware of:

“Look,” Moroni commanded. Another vision unfolded before Joseph, and he saw Satan surrounded by his numberless host. “All this is shown, the good and the evil, the holy and impure, the glory of God and the power of darkness,” the angel declared, “that you may know hereafter the two powers and never be influenced or overcome by that wicked one.”

Joseph was undoubtedly aware of Satan after the assault proceeding the First Vision, and yet here Joseph is given to fully understand the power and influence of the adversary and how forcefully Satan would oppose him. I suspect that this must have been quite a wake up call for him.

Saints does not skimp in its depiction of one of the traumatic events of Joseph’s life–the death of his Brother Alvin. Immediately after the visit of Moroni, Joseph’s home was filled with joy. “Night after night he captivated the family with talk of the gold plates and the people who wrote them.” And then suddenly, his brother Alvin dies. The event was devastating to all the members of the household, especially Joseph Sr. who is described as “furious.” Neither Joseph Sr. nor Joseph Jr. ever forgot Alvin and many later events were influenced by his passing.

The second attempt to get the plates went slightly better than the first. Joseph got the plates out of the ground. And then he realized that the other items with the plates could be valuable and so he set the plates down out of his sight. Because he was not cautious with the plates, he is denied access to them again. Joseph had grown from the first encounter with Moroni, and yet he also still had a long way to go.

What stood out to you in this chapter? What did you learn? What questions did you have?

He Called Me By Name by Liz Lemon Swindle

Understanding 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi

Yesterday I took the time to attend the temple. Since my local temple is being renovated, attending the temple involved leaving my home before 5 am and returning to my home at 6 pm. I suppose I could have spent less time, but it seemed silly to commute 7 hours to only perform one proxy endowment for my relatives.

During the hours of driving (and the hour waiting between sessions), I chose to listen to the Book of Mormon. I adore the Book of Mormon. And as I’ve read and listened and studied over the years, my appreciation for the Book of Mormon continues to grow. Here are a few tips that occur to me, now that I’ve had a chance to power through the content of the small plates in short order.

1 Nephi

The first book of Nephi is largely associated with the sacred history of Lehi’s call as a prophet and subsequent flight to the Promised Land. I have realized over the years that it is Lehi’s preaching of a Messiah to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant that will bless all the peoples of the earth that makes the people wish to murder him. The Book of Mormon narrative moves away from Jerusalem and the Deuteronomists in short order, but Laman and Lemuel continue to demonstrate how much the Deuteronomists reviled the idea of a Messiah who, as the son of God, would be sacrificed for the world. They also represent the idea that primogeniture should determine rule, rather than righteousness.

After Lehi leaves Jerusalem, I find it notable that he sends his sons back for two things. The first and most important was the word of God, in the form of the Brass Plates. The second and crucial “thing” was the additional persons so that Lehi’s children could have families. Note that Laman and Lemuel were far less conflicted about going back for wives. For our day, I would suggest that when faced with a choice between God and family, the Book of Mormon suggests that God is more important than family, but family is extremely important.

2 Nephi

I don’t know why 2 Nephi starts with a continuation of the sacred history. My husband shared a conjecture he read that 2 Nephi starts with the preaching of Lehi as a sort of parallelism to the way 1 Nephi starts with the preaching of Lehi.

The bulk of 2 Nephi, however, is consumed with Nephi’s record of three testimonies of the Messiah.

Nephi starts with the sermons of Nephi’s brother, Jacob. These are a delight, demonstrating perhaps most clearly the understanding of how Jesus Christ saves all mankind from the transgression of Adam and Eve.

Nephi continues with Isaiah. And this is where many people give up reading the Book of Mormon (when attempting a straight read through). Isaiah is opaque. Even Nephi admits that only someone like himself, steeped in the culture and history from the time of Isaiah to the reign of King Zedekiah, can understand these Isaiah passages. As I was driving or sitting in the temple chapel during these chapters, I couldn’t do what I recommend to you. Get a good alternate translation of the Bible to help for those (man) moments when you say “Whhaaatt?!?!?” (e.g., my husband has been reading The Open Bible, a New KJV with study helps, during our family Bible readings). More thoughts on Isaiah below.

FInally, Nephi gives us his own testimony of the redemption of Israel as a nation, the continuation of a remnant of the descendants of Lehi (despite the eventual destruction of Nephi’s descendants for their wickedness), and the power of Jesus Christ to save individuals. Continue reading

President Oaks’ much-needed Conference address

A friend of mine pointed out after General Conference that the title of President Oaks’ talk could have been: “No, our position hasn’t changed, why do you ask?”

Left-wing Latter-day Saints, questioning Latter-day Saints and former Latter-day Saints keep on asking, so I guess we will keep on getting the occasional talk at General Conference reaffirming what the vast majority of active Latter-day Saints already know, to wit: “no, the Church’s position on social issues hasn’t changed.”

But President Oaks’ talk is much deeper — and much more important — than I think some people realize. Now that the transcript is up and available, let’s go through the entire talk, which is titled “Truth and the Plan.”

President Oaks starts out by pointing out we should be careful about our sources of information:

We live in a time of greatly expanded and disseminated information. But not all of this information is true. We need to be cautious as we seek truth and choose sources for that search. We should not consider secular prominence or authority as qualified sources of truth. We should be cautious about relying on information or advice offered by entertainment stars, prominent athletes, or anonymous internet sources. Expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truth in other subjects…Our personal decisions should be based on information from sources that are qualified on the subject and free from selfish motivations.

President Oaks then discusses the problem of only relying on “scientific or secular” sources for information, and sums it up:

We find true and enduring joy by coming to know and acting upon the truth about who we are, the meaning of mortal life, and where we are going when we die. Those truths cannot be learned by scientific or secular methods.

Continue reading