Friday, January 30, 2009

Though I See But Dimly Now...

Tonight, as I drove home a car filled with sleeping children (and thankfully for her sake, a sleeping wife as well), I found my mind wandering as it so often does. At first I was on a fairly open, and for a while even well-lit highway. As I turned on to the dark country road surrounded by trees on either side, I started to think of how much the small path ahead mimicked our view right now. We can only see a short way ahead. We do not know what obstacles might lay in our path. We really only know what tomorrow might bring, or perhaps a week or two. We have no idea where we will be in that dark abyss beyond the headlights.

Then my mind turned again. I thought of a time, almost five years ago, when I was asked to go on a drive in the dark of night. The call came about 10:00 PM from our branch president. We were being asked to report to Navarre Beach, FL, where Hurricane Ivan had come ashore a few days prior. I immediately asked, "Are we sure it's safe? Are we even allowed to go there? I was told a bridge was out in that direction."

He calmly replied, as I am sure he had several times before that night, "They would not ask us to go if we weren't allowed or if it were unsafe."

My faith grew a great deal on that trip, and on the subsequent hurricane relief trips we took as a branch. The Lord would not ask us to go if it were not safe - for in my mind, the men asking us to go were doing so by his direction. And so, as I drove on tonight, I smiled at the thought I have had during the past few months over and over, as acquaintances have asked me questions like "What will you do if you aren't accepted?" or "How can you sell your house without knowing where you're going to be?" Then there have been the questions from professors, trying to understand why I would pursue a doctorate at this stage in my career - not because they doubt I could or should, but simply to know more of my intentions. With so many I have answered, and with others I very much wanted to, "The Lord would not ask us to go if he didn't want us to get there."

So now, safely back at home, having seen the whole path home only a little at a time, I imagine the living room in my future home. I will have followed the path a little at a time, having put my faith and trust in my Lord that I would make it there and beyond. I know - I KNOW - I will be there soon. For now, I am content to see but a little way ahead, for it is in these moments when my faith grows.

-- Robert

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When They Start Talking About Real Estate...

That's a pretty good sign.

What do I mean? Today my phone interviewer began by apologizing for not calling me first. His actual apology was, "My colleagues would be very upset with me if they found out I forgot to call you." He then explained that they were very interested in my application, so he didn't simply mean they would be annoyed at his general rudeness, but rather his rudeness to me in particular. I found that an excellent start to the conversation.

He asked me two simple questions: 1) why his school, and 2) what do I want to do after a Ph.D. I answered them to his satisfaction, and then the conversation turned even more casual. He asked if I had been to his town. I don't think I have and I told him so. He let me know that living in town near campus was very good if I had children to worry about in public schools, but outside of town the schools were not so great.

(see title of post, make connection)

We talked about questions I had about the program, and I definitely liked all he had to say. He gave me the good advice to get to know the faculty at every school where I am accepted before deciding where to go.

"It's not really like any other situation," he explained. "It's not really like a student/teacher relationship. We're accepting you into our world. It's more like making you a part of a family. If you don't think you will get along with the people at a place, then you shouldn't go there."

I have mentioned before on this blog how welcoming the academic community has felt to me thus far. What he said just furthered that feeling of acceptance and camaraderie that I have already connected with on a basic level. I also felt very excited by his general reaction. After all, most of the schools I have applied to are similarly excellent in their own rights. If his school is so excited to have me, hopefully all of them will be.

-- Robert

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Scheduled Visit And a Phone Interview

I have now made plans to visit a second school (my first visit was back in the fall when I was just submitting my applications). My wife and I are very much looking forward to that trip (we enjoy traveling together) and to the prospect it might hold for our future.

Tomorrow, I have a phone interview. The school was among the earliest I considered, but as others attracted my interest, it went by the wayside on my radar screen for a while. Now, with the prospect of being accepted there becoming very real, I must say I am intrigued again.

Now my hope is to hear from at least two more in the two and a half weeks before my trip, so I will have more of an idea of where I stand with them as I am visiting this campus. I actually figured out a way to visit one, two, or three more schools on our trip with only an extra day of driving involved for one and two, and one more for the third. We could even stay with family on that trip in several locations, making it a somewhat reasonable trip to make in terms of cost. The problem would be coordinating it all, and the extreme length of the trip for the kids and my wife. It would be an awesome trip, though. We actually have a friend here who made just such a trip as he decided where to go to law school (he was accepted at all those he applied to). Ironically, in the end, he chose the one right where he lived, but he said they loved the trip as a little family (their oldest son was fairly new at the time, I think). We'll see what happens in the coming weeks, I imagine.

-- Robert

Monday, January 26, 2009

And the Hits Keep on Comin'...

Today I got an email from another school asking me for a phone interview. Perhaps I will begin to hear from more and more of them as the deadlines pass in the coming weeks. It is very nice to read things like "I am writing because you have presented a very strong application for our program." Hopefully they all feel that way.

-- Robert

Friday, January 23, 2009

Daddy Daughter Date

Today I got the privilege of picking my daughter up from school. My wife had taken our sons to a nearby town to do some shopping for the baby, so she needed me to go. I got her, and we went to lunch together, and I let her know it was our "Daddy daughter date". She enjoyed repeating that phrase throughout the meal, and it was really fun to see how many people still remark on her amazing ability to speak so clearly and with such a command of the language. Because she is small for her age, people assume she is younger, but also she has been this way from the beginning.

With a newborn, it can be easy to overlook the children already here. I am glad I've had the chance with my daughter and my first son to spend time with them individually to let them know they are still my children, still some of my favorite people in the whole world, and still important to me. In my older son's case, I spent time with him while our daughter was at school and the baby had just come home from the hospital. I plan to continue giving some individual time to each child as the years go by.

-- Robert

P.S. This post might have been longer and more poetic, but I started it as my daughter was happily drawing at my father's desk while we were waiting for my wife to get back. I managed to write "Today" and save it (I had work to do but wanted to remember the special moment) before she started throwing a fit because she was so tired. It was still great to spend time with her, but it was harder to write as much after handling the fit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


After my post yesterday, this email almost feels like an answer to an unspoken prayer. I got an email inviting me to visit one of the schools. In fact, it was from the school that hasn't actually closed their application process yet, which I take as a strong indication that they want to accept me. The actual phrase used was "like to invite you to spend a day with us to consider being a... PhD student" (I omitted the name of the school only).

I almost feel like a kid at camp who just got a letter from home. I would really love to go to the school, so this trip might well be to our future home. Maybe we'll know by the time we make it (we have to wait until the baby is six weeks old). It falls right in line with our plan with each child: long road trip early in life to instill "road readiness". We have done that with our daughter and with our first son, and they are very good travelers. We love taking trips as a family, in fact. If other schools invite me, then we might have to arrange to see some of those as well. For now, though, this trip will work out nicely because we were already planning to go see my wife's parents in a few weeks.

-- Robert

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


What is it about doing taxes and thinking about last year? Every time I prepare my tax returns, I find myself thinking "Was it really just last year that I..." or "Wow, last year we sure spent a lot on...."

It's also a time to plan ahead. If I got a sizable refund for a certain year, then I know I overpaid taxes (No, I do not think of it as a tremendous gift from Uncle Sam, despite what he might wish). So I consider ways to reduce my taxes paid to avoid such refunds in the future. All in all, it's almost like having a New Years Eve reflection and a New Years Day Resolution - only in dollars and cents.

This post probably has no deeper meaning. I just find myself doing my taxes and thinking about the recent past and the oncoming future. At least I know I won't be paying so much in taxes for a while. That's one benefit of living on a graduate school stipend, and of having three beautiful children.

On a somewhat related note, someone (okay, it was my accountant) asked me today if I got in. He wasn't negative about it, but he was probably the first person who seemed to really suggest that I ought to wonder IF I will get in. I made my case to him, explaining the reasons why I felt sure that at least one school would accept me. I didn't list "I feel called from God to do this" among my reasons (perhaps I should have), but I explained why schools might find me a good choice. I'm not down about it, but it did give me a momentary pause. A "what if" moment. But it passed. I cannot let doubt stand in my way. I know I will get in somewhere, if not multiple places. Then I can quit doubting acceptance and start doubting what exactly I am getting myself in to (just kidding, mostly). I am looking forward to knowing where I can go.

-- Robert

Monday, January 19, 2009

Going for a Walk

Whenever I have gotten out of the habit of taking walks, I have quickly forgotten one of the main benefits. Sure, the exercise is good for me, but one of the best parts of a long walk can be the time to simply let my mind roam. When my wife and I walk together, we have great conversations about many topics. Sometimes we end up telling the kids stories so they will fall asleep in the stroller. But on walks by myself, I find at least as much enjoyment from the chance to let my mind run its own proverbial laps.

I've never noticed that building before... oh, this route is definitely the easier one... this certainly is a quiet neighborhood... what will it be like when I get back to school... what will our new home be like... where will my children be going to school.... where will I be going to school.....

And so on. I have had some of my best ideas in life while taking a long walk. I have also noticed a lot more of the world around me - much like my professor once told me, "The world you see is the same size, it's the amount of detail in which you see it that is different." It took me a moment to grasp his meaning, but it has fascinated me for more than a dozen years since (how many professors can anyone say that about?).

I know this much: I am looking forward to some long walks around the campus of whatever college accepts me. The thought alone invigorates me.

-- Robert

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Six Years, A Thousand Memories Ago

Six years ago this weekend, I stood on a precipice of sorts. I was looking forward to amazing new possibilities for me in the future, but I was also facing a great fear. I had high hopes that a business plan I was working on was going to turn into a lucrative opportunity for my planning partner and for myself. I was afraid I was going to lose a relationship with one of the most amazing people I have ever met.

So I got on a plane. I flew to Salt Lake, where I could investigate the future of both concerns. There was a similar business to the one we hoped to start that happened to be in a Salt Lake suburb. In fact, our research had only uncovered that one business at the time, so it was the only place I could hope to check out. At the same time, my dear friend was headed back to college in Idaho, and I knew she would be passing through the area. We had, after all, arranged to meet that Saturday night. I had asked her to bring me something. We had discussed it, argued about it, and probably cried over it - so I decided it was time to settle it.

That Friday, I checked out the business. In two hours, I made one basic note, "If this is our business model, we had better be looking for jobs soon." When the business had to begin operations for the day because I showed up, I took that as a bad sign (it was a movie theater, and I apparently woke the manager from his nap when I asked for a ticket). I knew further investigation would be a waste, so I checked on how early my friend would reach the area the next day. I believe we met in the morning, but that detail has faded somewhat from memory.

I remember never wanting the day to end. We met in downtown Salt Lake and walked over to Temple Square. There we met up with another couple. None of us were technically dating within the group. We just each had some inclinations to do so. We toured the Visitor's Center, walked around the temple, and then toured the Conference Center. The peace in that place was palpable even to me, even then. I remarked at the time, "God is in this place." My group was kind enough to deflect the missionaries questions as to which of us were not members. They wanted me to appreciate my experience without feeling bothered or pressured. Without a doubt, it still stands as one of the best days of my life.

After the square, we all walked over to a mall to meet up with other friends. A mutual friend was due to be married in a few weeks, and she was in town to look at some wedding-related items. Make that the third couple to join the group. The engaged couple broke off again, though, and we all returned to Temple Square. I had parked at the mall there, and my friend needed to get on the road. After all, she had a date that night with some lucky fellow.

Neither of us wanted to leave. Well, I didn't want her to go. But a promise was a promise, and I didn't expect her to break her date for me. So, instead, we found ourselves standing at our cars, wondering when (and perhaps if) we would ever meet again. Our first meeting had been just under a year before, and we had enjoyed this one even more than that. Still, so many things seemed to stand in our way, so we simply couldn't be together. One of the biggest obstacles was in her hand.

"I hope you don't hate me for giving you this," I remember her telling me. I found it an odd remark, since I had asked her to bring it. I promised to look at it that night. We embraced for a long moment - both too short and too long. Then we separated. The day was just a little darker for the parting.

Now we look at it together. We discuss it. We show it to our children. We give it to friends who show an interest (and probably some who have no interest). Most of all, though, we share it between us, no longer an obstacle but instead a cherished bond.

Six years. One thousand, two hundred, and ninety days. A world away from where we were. And back on another precipice, looking on an uncertain future. At least this time none of that uncertainty comes from our relationship. Sure, we might wonder how we can afford this or that, or where we will be in six months and again in five years, but we know whatever happens, we'll be together, come what may. That alone makes the view spectacular. After all, I can see my wife and three beautiful children in it, and what could ever be more beautiful than that?

-- Robert

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Just When I Thought We Were Done Here...

Tonight, mostly so we could get out of the house, we decided to drive to a nearby town to look for something we were interested in, to get some good Japanese takeout, and to let the kids play in Chick-fil-A's playplace. As we settled in to our table near the glass window, we struck up a conversation with the couple next to us. The wife was clearly close to the end of a pregnancy, and so she noticed the baby with some great interest. We also noticed their son was about our older son's age and started comparing notes on parenting.

After we had talked for a while about giving birth and post-birth experiences, the husband asked me, "So are you from the midwest?" I laughed, since he was only the second person to guess that. I told him I was from Atlanta and he remarked, "Yeah, I guess Atlantans don't really have an accent. But you both sound you're from the midwest."

My wife explained where she was from, which brought the natural question everyone asked, "So did you meet at UGA?" We got perhaps the thousandth opportunity to share our experience of meeting each other (amazing to think that was now seven years ago), why we hit it off, how we courted (in our own peculiar way), and how we ended up where we are. Each time I felt sure I was boring the husband with it, he would ask another question showing he was paying attention, and possibly even interested.

We found out they were graduates from FSU's music school, so they had something in common with my wife (much of her schooling was spent in schools of music). We also found out that he was in urban planning because we mentioned our meeting in Salt Lake (he was fascinated by their transit system). He was also a graduate from a masters program, like me. He even took a lot of interest in my pursuit of a doctorate.

The most notable interest was how dejected they became when we did mention our plans to move. I picked up on it the moment I mentioned it (No, I don't go around telling random strangers, "Yeah, I'm getting a doctorate." It came up in conversation, I swear). Then the wife explained that her two best friends in the area were from Kansas and Virginia - and they had both moved home. About that time, the husband even said, "This is the nicest conversation I've had since we moved up here." I asked if they were new in town and they said, "Not really. We moved here three years ago."

Wow, did we know how they felt. We spent several years feeling fairly lonely as a couple, and have only made some great friends over the past year or two. And now we meet this great couple (our wives exchanged cell numbers) just as we're getting ready to leave. Still, a friendship might well have formed this night, and I don't plan to write them off simply because we're leaving. It was a great night, and a completely random event, so it almost made it that much neater. My wife and I even joked on our way home that we might have met our "replacements" for our friends we're leaving behind. They certainly seemed like they would get along well with at least one couple we know, probably two. That would be a great legacy to leave - pairing up some friends just as we depart.

Time will tell. For now, it's just a nice evening to talk about.

-- Robert

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Heard From a School!

They got my whole application! Yes, I know, it's somewhat tragic how excited it made me simply to have my application acknowledged, but still, knowing that it was complete and having an idea of when their review will begin really helps me pass the time.

I have heard from other schools that immediately ackowledged receipt of my personal materials for the application, but I have not heard from others that have let me know they had everything. I know at least one other two others do and feel certain three others beyond that do.

In checking up over the weekend, though, I discovered that my various transcript requests were all insufficiently sent to the last school. It was lowest on my list, but it still annoys me that such a thing as paperwork would hold up any application. The deficiency: the various schools only sent one copy of the transcript to one department instead of one to two different departments, per my request and that schools requirements. So I guess that's one place I won't be going.

Just a few more months and we'll actually know something about where I might get to go!

-- Robert

P.S. I realize I sound pathetically excited over a minor bit of email, but at least it's news, right?


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Perhaps Another Viewpoint Would Be More Enlightening

I was looking at Mormanity (thanks for the hat tips, Jeff) and noticed a link to this post comparing Christ from the Book of Mormon to the Christ of the Bible. It was a nice read, but then I noticed another post in the comments section that blew me away: A Baptist Minister believes the Book of Mormon. He pointedly states that he is not leaving the Baptist Church, and I will warn anyone reading it that the verses he quotes come from the Book of Mormon as published by the RLDS Church in 1908 (not the LDS version of the Book of Mormon) that I read from. Still, those verses I read are quite consistent with ours and the amazing thing to take away from it is that a Baptist Minister can see the "plain and precious truths" contained within the Book of Mormon. How wonderful. It's quite a read: The Baptist Version of the Book of Mormon.

-- Robert

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Great Moments in Bringing a Newborn Home...

The first time everyone in the house is asleep simultaneously is just an amazing moment. The first time everyone gets to take a nap together is almost more amazing. After all, we have a newborn, a two-yeard old, a four-year old, a Mom (age 26), and a Dad (age 31). Getting everyone to sleep at the same time... winning at powerball seems to have better odds at times.

Yet here we all are, that is, once I nod off. We're doing well at home, though, for those wondering. Our daughter adored the baby well before he was born and still does, and our son has really warmed up to him. He's even learning to say " 'at's my 'aby 'other" - that's my baby brother. We're still working with initial sounds on syllables. It's beautiful, nonetheless. As is our new little boy. Like I asked my wife as I just held him in the hospital, "How much bigger can your heart grow?" She said, "Three sizes, like the Grinch."

Hopefully mine didn't start out that way, though. Off to sleep.

-- Robert

Friday, January 9, 2009

King Benjamin

As I watched another series of Brant Gardner videos (1, 2, 3 4, and 5), I came upon this wonderful story about King Benjamin (which starts towards the end of three and finishes at the start of four). King Benjamin, at the end of his rule, gave a very important speech to his people that many Latter-day Saints know and love.

Before giving his speech, he has a tower constructed from which he can be heard by more people. He then proceeds to tell them things he is not and which has not done. He is not more than a mortal man. He has not required the people to pay tribute to him as king. He has not asked them to sacrifice people unto him. Then he explains to them that he is abdicating the throne, and that his son will take over, but they will not be his son's people. They will be Christ's people.

The Mesoamerican setting lends a great deal of explanation to this story, as Brant Gardner explains. The reason to point out he was mortal was because most kings in that area at that time were being treated as though they were gods on the Earth. There were also people who impersonated gods for a time. He set himself apart from that way of being. He likewise pointed out the things he had not required of his people because those other things did require tribute and sacrifices. And he wanted his people to be one people because they had previously been two groups brought together by circumstance but now formed into one nation.

Gardner then goes on to explain why King Benjamin had his tower built but Mosiah did not require one years later when he spoke to even more people (when he told them there would be no more kings). He speculates that it was because a temple had been built there in the meantime (perhaps it was under construction at the time Benjamin spoke). Does that make sense based on any evidence?

In the place where John Sorenson, the noted LDS scholar of Mesoamerican archaeology, places Zarahemla (the city where King Benjamin gave his great speech) which has been called Santa Rosa, a non-LDS archaeologist found a temple. At the bottom of the temple, he found a plaster floor, which seemed peculiar since most temples from that time period were simply filled with pottery and other things to fill them in. He had the floor dug up and found that beneath the floor were two varieties of stones: one group was smooth river stones and the other was sharp edged gravel. The two groups were completely separated so that no mixing of the stones occurred. The archaeologist speculated at that time that he believed two groups had made the floor by putting the stones down to symbolize their separate groups and then plastering it over to make show they had become one nation - just as King Benjamin was asking them to. So perhaps the people built the temple after King Benjamin's speech to signify what he was calling upon them to do.

What a fascinating way to take the Mesoamerican culture of the day - with divine kings abounding who demanded taxes and blood sacrifice contrasted against King Benjamin's people looking toward Christ instead - and shed a new light on an already beautiful passage of scripture. I do like how Brant Gardner concludes his remarks (on video five) by pointing out something very peculiar for a scholar to point out. He acknowledges that no scholar will ever prove the Book of Mormon is true. It simply is, and the Holy Spirit testifies of that truth to those willing to listen. Scholars can only hope to give us more appreciation of something we already know is true by helping us understand the motivations of the people and the setting in which they lived, thereby helping us see more of who they really were and appreciate all they did. I know that nothing I ever do will prove to anyone else that the Book of Mormon is true, but I certainly enjoy learning more about this beautiful book full of so much wonderful counsel for living life. I enjoy sharing what I learn with those I come in contact with. The only way anyone can know the Book of Mormon is true is to pray about it and receive an answer from the Spirit, like I did.

-- Robert

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Newborn Son

Now that I have given my wife a chance to post some pictures of our new little boy, I can now write my own post welcoming him to the world. He is the second son I have watched enter the world, and the third child. Each one has come ready with his or her own personality. In the case of our new son, he seems calm and peaceful. He might express displeasure at something for a moment, but he then settles down to simply experience it. Will that attitude continue? Only time will tell. For now, I am simply thankful that he is exactly what I wanted: healthy.

So, my son, I welcome you to this world. I look forward to all you will teach me, and hopefully to what I might hope to teach you. Your big sister already adores you. Hopefully she won't treat you like her own personal baby doll. She will probably dote on you quite a bit for a while, though. Your brother, well, that may be another story. You have, after all, taken his position as "baby". Also, he is somewhat disconnected from the fact that you are now part of the family. He will clue in soon, and I feel sure he will love you, but hopefully not by playing "pow pow" with you. At least not yet. I have a vision that one day you two will be best friends, much like your sister is with him already. Just know that you have a wonderful family who you will bring much joy to.

Oh, and one more thing: your Mom. She loves you more than her own life. She loves all of her children that way. Sometimes she may be tired, and sometimes she may show her love by keeping you straight, but she still loves you. For now, though, she will spend much of her energy on you, so I hope you are thankful. You are blessed to have her. So am I. So sometimes she has to come first. Most of the time you will. For now. Enjoy it while you can. It's a big world.


-- Robert

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Orson Scott Card and Brant Gardner

A week ago, I had never heard of Brant Gardner. Then I stumbled upon this video*, where he explains his background as an interested party in Book of Mormon archaeology. I loved his reference to "seeing the dog" - once a hidden image within a picture is visible it cannot be "unseen". I found his style very engaging, and his method of explaining complex facts very effective. So I watched more and more of his videos. Then I heard a reference in this video** (the transcript of the series is available here) to Orson Scott Card. Since Card has been one of my favorite fiction authors for some time, I wasn't sure I had heard him right at first, so I listened to the part over to be sure he was actually mentioned. I noticed a slide showing the quote and ran a search for the title, "The Book of Mormon: Artifact or Artifice" and found it.

Orson Scott Card continues to blow me away. He takes on so many different topics in his writing. He shares his thoughts in so many settings. In this case, the article was adapted from a speech he gave at a conference held at BYU. He does not speak about archaeological evidence here at all, really. Instead he uses his expertise - that of writing - to explain some things about the nature of the Book of Mormon. He explains how much the culture of an author plants itself within anything the author writes - even if that author is working hard to conceal his background. Card then explains the Book of Mormon itself in terms of who handled the writing of it. Which sounds complicated. But here goes: the Book of Mormon is an abridging of the writings of Nephi, Jacob, Enos, and various authors after them by Mormon, who then wrote accounts of Alma, Mosiah, Helaman, and Moroni, followed by his own book, then a book called Ether about a people called the Jaredites who had almost died out when their account was brought forth to the primary people in the Book of Mormon (the Nephites), and finally his son concludes the book with his own book, Moroni. This "book" was compiled on golden plates over a thousand years (600 BC to 400 AD) by its authors, and then hid up in a hillside for another 1400 years.

Enter Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith received the golden plates four years after first being led to them by an angel (Moroni, who hid it in the first place). Joseph Smith then translated the book by divine inspiration (it was Hebrew language written in Egyptian letters). Card explains how Joseph Smith's influence as a translator might exhibit itself properly (or unproperly):

If the account he gave us is true, then the Book of Mormon must be what it purports to be, which is the record of an ancient people written by an ancient author, and Joseph Smith's role in providing us with the Book of Mormon was solely as translator. Therefore, we should find his influence in the book, or the influence of any other 1820s American, only where we would expect to find a translator's influence: that is, in matters of word choice, consciously or unconsciously linking Book of Mormon events to experiences that he and his American readers could understand, choosing the clearest language he had available to him, fitting ideas he found in the book into existing American concepts as best he could.

Simply put: his use of language would shade how he translated words, but it would not change the underlying meaning if he was not the actual author. If he was the author, though, then he would fall back on his own culture - or a need to explain a deviation from his culture to his readers somehow - when creating the story. Card's references to Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe and even I Love Lucy to explain how much culture shows up writing are spot on.

Does the Book of Mormon contain such connections to 1820's culture, the culture Joseph Smith had grown up when the Book of Mormon was published? In Card's view, no, it simply does not. The only references are, as he says, in choice of language - Joseph Smith didn't write the Book of Mormon in Bulgarian because he doesn't speak Bulgarian (not how Card put it, but just a thought of my own there). Not far from where he grew up, French was the predominant language, but he did not speak it and therefore didn't use that language, either. No, he used the English he knew to translate. No translation from one language to another is ever perfect (Card is absolutely write) simply because the phrasing of certain words, the idioms that have meaning to one people and not to another, and even the different layers of words that might all have one word in another language (Greeks have something like four words for different types of love, for instance) cannot be conveyed completely without something getting a little lost in translation. The King James Version of the Bible was embellished greatly by its translators who wanted to make certain points to the readers or just make the prose sound more flowery in some way. Still, the underlying culture of the Book of Mormon shines through as completely distinct from that of Joseph Smith. Indeed, it shines through as the interests and purposes of different writers exhibit themselves. Nephi wrote largely to make a record of his journey to this new land, and to record the great deeds for his people to remember. Mormon was much more interested in military campaigns - especially of a certain Captain who he named his son after. And then there's the changing of culture over time, and the fact that three different cultures are talked about in this book. The complexity is unreal, yet never inconsistent within a part or in the whole. Card wrote, "Search all you like through that book. I have, and I can't find a flaw. Yet we should expect to find a consistent pattern of getting it wrong. Not just one example, but thousands of examples within a book that long, but - they are not there."

So does this article prove the Book of Mormon is true? Here is what Card thinks about such a notion:

Now, does this mean that I've proved the Book of Mormon true? Obviously not. You can always still suppose that perhaps Joseph Smith or whoever wrote the Book of Mormon was the greatest and luckiest creator of phony documents from made-up alien cultures ever in history. The Book of Mormon only matters because it's a life-changing book.

The truth, the important truth of the Book of Mormon is only understood with the Spirit through faith. If you don't believe in the book, it's not going to change your life. And I mean believe in it in a way far different from believing it's a genuine artifact. You have to believe in it also as something meant for you as a guide to your life. So, I have very little interest in attempting to prove the book. I haven't proven it here. The only real proof is when you prove it with your life, living the gospel it teaches and participating in the Church that was established with that book as the mortar holding it all together.

I absolutely agree. Proof is not needed for faith. Proof is needed for knowledge. As Christ told his disciple, Thomas, "because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." Whether someone chooses to believe any book of scripture - the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or any other - comes down to faith, and how that faith is acted upon.

Me, I just loved this whole article and wanted to share it. I read over half of it to my wife as we waited to be admitted to a birthing room for our new son. I imagine it will have a special place in my heart for that reason in years to come. And yeah, I love that a great author respected outside our faith has turned his brilliant eye to analyzing the Book of Mormon and found no fault in its narrative. And I just love reading more things that make me love the work of Orson Scott Card on a new and deeper level. So there's that, too.

-- Robert

P.S. I am posting this on my son's birthday to give my wife the chance to write about him first. Then I'll write my thoughts, I'm sure, when I find time.

* This particular video actually is a six part series of videos, the rest show up in my list of related videos when I watch so I won't post them all here.
**This video is part of a six part series, but the first reference I heard to Card was in part one or two.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

For Anyone Wondering...


Yes, my professor got in all my recommendations, and most of them before they were due. I am deeply in his debt (and the debt of my other recommenders) for all the effort put in.

And no, we still do not have a new baby, yet. My wife hopes that her appointment tomorrow will help things begin to progress, and maybe he will come tomorrow or the next day. If that happens, I cannot promise when my next post will be. I may write regularly about the wonder of another son. I simply can't promise what time will be available. My hope is that our joy at his arrival will have time passing by so quickly until March is here and we begin to hear from schools notifying me of acceptance or rejection.

I am not looking upon my son as a great distraction, though. I look forward to the days ahead, as we look at his beautiful face and hands, as we watch him begin to exhibit his personality, and as we learn how incomplete we truly were without him.

UPDATE: It does appear that our son will be born today, barring a really long labor. We'll try to update more when he arrives.

-- Robert

Monday, January 5, 2009

LDS Temple and the Ancient Temple

People often ask me questions about the temple. I have been asked things as simple as "What do you do in there?" and as complicated as "Why do you think we need temples today?" I've also been told that I need to quit "wasting" so much time by going so often. In the end, though, the temple is a special place that I only talk about with those who truly seem interested.

Then Saturday I was listening to a great conversation with
Margaret Barker, a Methodist minister. I hadn't looked at her site in a while, and she mentioned her upcoming book so I went to look. Something drew me to look at her papers, and I ran across one entitled "Belonging in the Temple" which talks about how central the temple once was to Jews and early Christians. The first passage that really drew my eye was this one:

The most famous of the wise men was Moses, and he received this vision of the cosmos on Sinai. After being given the ten commandments, Moses was on the mountain for six days, and then entered the cloud of the divine glory for a further 40 days and nights (Exodus 24. 15-18). Moses was entrusted with detailed instructions for building a place of worship, initially the tabernacle, but later the temple. It was to replicate what Moses had seen on the mountain (Exodus 25.9, 40), and what he had seen was a six day vision of the process of creation. This is why the Books of Moses begin with an account of the six days of creation. Genesis 1 is Moses’ vision. The creation was itself the real temple of the Creator, and worship in the temple maintained the creation.
The sanctuary of the temple, the holy of holies, corresponded to Day One, the source and origin of all things, the presence of God. The second day was the firmament that screened the presence of God from human eyes, the veil of the temple, and the outer hall of the temple represented the material creation, the third to sixth days. Since the temple represented the creation, any sin in creation or human society was a pollution of the temple, and so when the temple was purified, the whole of creation and human society was renewed and restored. This purity entailed not only observing the moral and cultic laws; it also embraced what we should nowadays call national customs. The Israelite believed he was one of the chosen people, and to be cast off, to lose this status, was the worst situation he could envisage. Thus the prophet Isaiah gave words of comfort to his people in exile: ‘I have chosen you and not cast you off, says the Lord; fear not, I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God…’(Isa.41.9-10).

I don't talk a lot about the temple, like I said, but that passage positively made my hair stand up on the back of my neck. To anyone who has been to the temple, that is an amazing passage to read from a source who has nothing to do with our church at all. I won't go into greater detail as to exactly why, but just know that the passage deals very clearly and directly with what our temple deals with, and I can say with a near surety that Joseph Smith knew nothing of the texts that Margaret Barker used to derive that information when the temple ceremony was implemented.
Then I read a little further, and this passage stood out to me also:

Any breach of the divinely given commandments damaged the bonds of the covenant. It did not matter that it was an inadvertent breach; the bonds were still damaged or even broken. The priests therefore had two roles; they had to give the correct teaching, and exclude anyone who broke a bond of the covenant; and they also had to provide a way back into the community for the penitent person who had not only recognised the fault, but had also done everything possible to restore the damage. Then the Lord forgave what had been done and the sinner was readmitted to the community. Forgiveness and acceptance were dependent on repentance and conformity.
Any breach of the covenant bond was, by definition, a sin, and the result of sin was ‘iniquity’, ‘awon, a word that literally means distortion. Such distortion polluted the creation and had to be corrected. This was done by the Lord absorbing the pollution, and in so doing, cleansing and restoring the creation and human society. It was ritualised as the Day of Atonement, the autumn festival for the new year.
Atonement was the blood ritual that restored the cosmos. The blood of a goat was taken into the holy of holies by the high priest, and then brought out again, sprinkled and smeared in various parts of the temple to ‘cleanse and consecrate’ the temple and the creation it represented. The high priest than transferred the sins to the head of a second identical goat - the scapegoat - which was driven away into the desert. This ritual is the key to understanding the world view of the temple.
First, the high priest was the visible presence of the God of Israel. He was the incarnation of the Lord. The goat he offered as sacrifice represented the Lord, and so was, in effect, a substitute for himself. And blood, in this instance, represented life (Lev.17.11). The Day of Atonement was the Lord himself offering his own life to renew the creation and to restore human society. Plague and punishment were averted because the broken bonds of the covenant were repaired and the protection restored.

First off, no, we do not perform the ceremony with the goat in our temple today. Christ himself became that sacrifice when he was crucified, as all Christians know. I just don't know that all Christians realize that he was actually performing a ritual that had been done symbolically up until that time in a way so much like his actual sacrifice - he took upon himself the sins and died with them. I read the passage to my wife, and her eyes immediately showed recognition as she listened. I had also read her the passage about the temple and she was pretty amazed by it, but this time I could tell her mind was turning. She got up and found her copy of Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles. She then turned to page 171 and showed me
this passage:

(25-1) John 17:1. The Significance of the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus
With a perfect understanding of his mission and that the time of his atonement was “at hand,” Jesus concluded the teaching portion of his ministry with a prayer—a prayer which has sometimes been referred to as the high-priestly or great intercessory prayer. (See
John 17.) These designations are not inappropriate, for, as we shall see, Jesus, our Great High Priest, first offered himself as an offering; then, as Mediator, he interceded on behalf of worthy members of his kingdom. The pattern for this had been established in ancient Israel.
Once each year, the presiding high priest in ancient Israel entered into the holy of holies, the most sacred place within the tabernacle. There he would perform certain rites in connection with the Day of Atonement, a day set aside for national humiliation and contrition. Having bathed himself and dressed in white linen, he would present before the Lord a young bullock and two young goats as sin offerings, and a ram as a burnt offering in behalf of his sins and those of the people. The high priest’s role was that of a mediator, or one who interceded with the Lord in behalf of the people. His role, of course, was but a type of the great mediating role of the Savior in our behalf. Thus, when Jesus pleaded to the Father for all those who believed on him, he did so as our Intercessor, or Great High Priest.
The prayer he offered on this occasion had three distinct parts:
In the first part (see
John 17:1–3), Jesus offered himself as the great sacrifice. His hour had come.
The next part of the prayer (see
John 17:4–19) was a reverent report to the Father of his mortal mission.
In the last part (see
John 17:20–26) of his prayer, Jesus interceded not only for the eleven apostles present, but for all who shall believe on Jesus “through their word,” in order that all would come to a perfect unity, which unity invested Christ in them as Christ is in the Father. Thus all would be perfect in unity, and the world would believe that the Father had sent his Son.

It is amazing to me how much people mock the LDS Church as un-Christian. Here I sit and read an article about the temple by a Methodist seminary teacher, drawing on sources unconnected to the LDS Church (at least, she didn't come to us to find them), and I see not only similarity, but almost exact agreement. The part describing the role of the high priest is almost exactly the same in both sources. I don't need these materials to feel firm in my faith, nor do I need anyone else to look at them and say "Wow, he's right!" I just enjoy sharing things that fascinate me, and things that confirm what I already know tend to fascinate me. They at least make my head nod and my mouth form a smile as I think, "I knew it, but wow, this is cool."
I can't articulate my thoughts more clearly on this matter. I just really enjoyed checking these materials out, and the conversation my wife and I shared over them. Building faith together as a couple is always fun for me. I hope someone else finds the materials just as interesting.
-- Robert
P.S.: I used the bolding to offset my writing from the cited writing. If I had a better way to distinguish them, I would have. My apologies if it makes the post look strange.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

YouTube - Some Great Discourses

This week I have been enjoying some great videos on YouTube. One is a conversation with Margaret Barker over lunch, edited together to keep relevant comments together. She fascinates me because of her research on the Bible, specifically temple theology, Jesus as a second God (Jehovah), and God having a body. I have only read small parts of her work, but everything in it has been very enjoyable to see. She teaches theology in England for the Methodist Church. Listening to the sixth video got me to look for a book mentioned there and instead find this article which explains various clear scriptural bases for the idea that God has a body.

Another series was by John Sorenson who has done a great deal of research on the actual setting for the Book of Mormon. He was among the first to suggest southern Mexico and Guatemala as a very logical location based on the descriptions of various cities in the Book of Mormon. In his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, he draws a map on a blank page (as he writes each reason for the placement of the map) until he has the whole map drawn, then he explains in very valid, scholarly language why that map fits extremely well in the location above. He then goes on to show how places known in current archaeological digs are exactly where they ought to be on the real map based on the one he drew.

The third series was by Daniel Peterson, a professor at BYU. He discusses the argument about DNA being used to disprove the Book of Mormon in what I would describe as a very humorous but extremely informative manner. He says in this first one something I think I will remember to use when I join his profession: "a professor is someone who talks in other people's sleep." The main points of these six videos, though, is to explain how unreasonable it would be to expect to ever use DNA evidence in a meaningful way to prove or disprove the Book of Mormon people ever came here, and he cites (again, in a very humorous manner) several top geneticists whose papers were included in a compilation (which is what he is presenting). The geneticists happen to be LDS, but their credentials speak for themselves. I plan to look for more of his videos simply because he has such an engaging walk of sharing data. He also wrote this article which I found after finding the first one from (website for the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, which is an LDS group).

So while YouTube might have some silly videos, and some raunchy videos, it has some wonderful ones as well. It is largely responsible for Randy Pausch's fame near his death from pancreatic cancer. It also has helped information disseminate among academics and then out into the world more rapidly than ever before. I say that because a student at Carnegie Mellon used it to show people how to make an interactive white board with a Wii remote (making it possible for data being drawn with a pen on a normal whiteboard to be stored on the computer the Wii remote is connected to) for about $50-80 total cost, and that video got a large number of engineers and computer scientists working on applications within a week. I would say that makes YouTube a pretty valuable tool in the information era.

Note: Tomorrow, look for a post comparing a passage from an article by Margaret Barker called "Belonging in the Temple" to a passage from a book called Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles. I found the first passage and read it to my wife who immediately went and got her copy of the book to show me the second.

-- Robert

P.S. Note that the video of Johnny Lee on Tad is not his original video, but he got on there because of the original video.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Seven Pounds

Last night, my wife and I went to see Seven Pounds, which is a story of redemption through personal sacrifice. The story was deep, and often hard to follow, but that was the crux of what Will Smith's character hoped to accomplish. He wanted to do good for good people through his sacrifice as someone guilty of a grave sin. In one sense, I am thankful that forgiveness does not require a pound of flesh to be redeemed. In another, I wonder how much better the world could be if all people who had made such a terrible mistake felt remorseful enough to try and make up for it.

I do believe that forgiveness does involve making things right - making restitution in a sense - but some might argue his method on how might take it too far. Perhaps it bordered on "an eye for an eye" a little too much.

My thoughts on this movie are far from hashed out, though. I am simply putting it out there. I like movies that make me think. This one definitely had us in a mode of thoughtful consideration when we left. It is one of those great movies best watched once, though perhaps a repeat viewing in a few years would be all right.

-- Robert

P.S. Anyone wanting to see this movie because of this post, check out the service that counts swear words and other bothersome elements in case something it it might appear offensive. I wasn't offended, but I wanted to issue that warning.