I may choose to ignore people who comment anonymously. I choose never to be anonymous online myself. I have little tolerance for this behavior.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database


[Today's posting is late, courtesy of Comcast related computer problems.]

If you are interested in family history/genealogy you ought to be aware of the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database. It's been around for over thirty years. Currently it is available on the Church history web site although http://www.mormontrail.lds.org works too.

Previously unaware of it, a Deseret News article entitled, "Pioneer database thriving and growing" caught my attention. It later migrated onto Mormon Times.

Here's a description of the database from the web site:
Between 1847 and 1868, Mormon emigrants traveled on the pioneer trail in more than 250 companies departing from various outfitting places. These companies in which about 60,000 LDS Church members traveled include freight trains, independent companies, handcart companies, and various types of other Church companies. . . .The database is a compilation of names obtained from rosters and other reliable sources of individuals that traveled on the pioneer trail during this 22 year time period. It does not focus on railroad travel, but rather trail travel. It identifies the companies in which approximately two-thirds of the Mormon emigrants traveled on the trail. . . 
A Church history librarian created it by personal initiative.  It was not part of his official duties. As a convert he does not directly benefit from it either. Later, Church employees and volunteers have expanded it. From the news article:
As the database information progressed, so did technology — to the point that the LDS Church was ready to create an online site for the initial 40,000 names. Balshore [Church history librarian creator] and others rushed to get the first 3,000 journals transcribed to accompany the names.
"We had two dozen church service missionaries transcribe 3,000 journals in just two years — that blows me away," he said "That's a lot of work, and those things are hard to read. Many of them are trail journals, written after a full day of walking, written as they sit down in the dirt near the campfire with mosquitoes biting them."
Unlike other databases, individuals can submit their own information to this resource. The database grows by about 75 names every week. See this link form more information on how to search it.

Researching pioneer information can be fascinating. Don't neglect resources compiled by higher education which can certainly complement the Church's offerings. Brigham Young University and the University of Utah are both excellent resources.


Oops! Should have pointed to this article too, "Pioneer trail database: Historian honored for online compilation" published November 27, 2010 in the Church News.

Monday, November 29, 2010

King Bentomin: "Most of the world will never hear of Lucas Bento"

The Church will officially launch its new web site replacing the old lds.org with the beta site many of us have been exploring. A short time ago they launched the new "Church News and Events" site instructing us to update our RSS feeds:
The Church News and Events page (news.lds.org) makes it easy to find official news of the Church online. Along with providing original content, Church News and Events brings together headlines from each of the Church's official news sources, including Public Affairs, Church magazines, Mormon Channel, and Church News. Church News and Events can already be found at news.lds.org and can be subscribed to via an RSS feed. The current Around the Church site on LDS.org and associated e-mail and RSS feed will no longer be updated beginning November 30, 2010, when LDS.org is replaced by the current beta site.
Sometimes the most interesting articles are the ones most deeply buried. I found a little gem entitled, "The Impact of One Righteous Man" by Stephen and Susan Harms and Torey Ellis from a link on the new Church News and Events Site. It directs to the web site for the Zambia country site in the Southeast Africa Area. A link for the full article can be found under, "Building the Kingdom One Brick at a Time" with the following summary.
Lucas Bento found the Church when he had to leave his native country of Mozambique to get medical treatment in Portugal. After his recovery, he returned to his isolated village in Mozambique and taught the gospel to his family and other villagers. When the missionaries came to Luaha two years after Lucas’s baptism, 18 members of Lucas’s family were ready for baptism.
From the full article we learn how Lucas got his nickname as "King Bentomin":
The Nampula missionaries who travel out to his village once every six-weeks have lovingly dubbed him “King Bentomin.” They recognize in him many of the qualities that made King Benjamin a great leader. Brother Bento, who is now 72, is looked upon as the spiritual leader in his village and has tirelessly worked to ensure that all his extended family has access to the blessings of the gospel in spite of a multitude of obstacles that would have discouraged most people. Over the years, this Melchizedek Priesthood holder, living out in the jungle of Africa, continued to plead with mission presidents to send missionaries to teach him and his family the restored gospel. He wrote letters. He spent precious money for transportation to Nampula to visit with the leaders of the newly formed branch there. Due to his years of patient persistence and prayers an officially recognized group of the Church was formed there on August 28, 2010.
Would that all our converts had this man's persistence and fortitude. He built his own, state of the art, chapel for his new found faith in a remote part of Mozambique in the Mozambique Maputo Mission. The article and pictures of this remarkable achievement appear to have been taken by missionaries there. King Bentomin has been too busy building the kingdom to engage in his own self-promotion.
And what does Lucas Bento a.k.a. “King Bentomin” have to say about these events? He humbly states, “I have waited for this day for a long time. It has been my life’s work to prepare and teach my family. Today I am very happy.” This echoes King Benjamin, “I spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.” (Mosiah 2:16)
Since his remote village has no electricity, no running water and no access except by barely navigable road after four hours of travel, Lucas Bento probably won't be doing many interviews or photo ops. But, we can still admire him from afar and implement the lessons the article tells us we should learn from his story:
1. One person standing true to the gospel in spite of difficult or isolated circumstances can make a difference. One can be true to gospel principles even when far away from centers of Church population.
2. In times when we feel helpless, overlooked, unimportant, or impatient about our current situation, we can always work toward our goals.
3. When we are truly converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we will also be converted to looking after the welfare and well-being of our families, oftentimes putting aside our own passions, interests, and desires in their best eternal interests.
4. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not the same as the organization of the Church.
That last point looks like it could be good for a series of postings. I'll have to keep it in mind. . .

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"It's sacrament meeting, not stand-up comedy"

In the past I've written a little bit about giving Church talks. See Giving Talks in Church -- For Mormons and More and Giving Effective Talks in Church: A Personal Story.

A Mormon Times article entitled, "Five tips for a better sacrament meeting talk" yields the following:

1. Do not begin a talk with the story of receiving the assignment,
2. Do not spend too much time introducing yourself.
3. There is no need to justify the topic.
4. Use humor sparingly, if at all.
5. Teach something, don't just speak on a subject.


I find his five recommendations helpful. As much as I enjoy humor it has its limitations in Church. It can be "intoxicating" for the speaker if the congregation laughs at his/her stories. Here is some guidance from "Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching."
Use light humor. With a lighthearted touch, you may be able to turn the person back to the lesson. However, you should never be sarcastic or use humor to embarrass or control.
Avoid sarcasm and demeaning humor.
Introductions to lessons should do more than get learners’ attention. If an introduction does not relate to the lesson, it will probably detract more than help. For example, if a Sunday School teacher tells a joke at the beginning of a lesson, the class members may become attentive, but they also may be led to think about things that will keep them from focusing on the principles to be taught.
The reason most humor is used at the beginning of a talk or lesson is generally because it grabs the audiences attention. However, the quote above points out that if grabbing the audience's attention does not directly relate to the lesson it "will probably detract more than help." As the Mormon Times article points out, "it's sacrament meeting, not stand-up comedy."

With humor, let's be careful out there . . .

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ugh! Another Sports Posting: "Go Out and Get Some Mormons"

I didn't know that today is the legendary BYU-Utah game. This fact intruded on my consciousness today while reading my typical news RSS feeds. Well, I guess yesterday's post was well-timed, at least for me. It won't do anything for my standing with my alma mater though.


So, here I am reading Mormon Times, minding my own business,  thinking I'm immune to sports for at least another ten years and voilĂ , another sports story. Why did I read it?


This one entitled, "Do returned missionaries give BYU a competitive advantage?" discusses BYU's so-called advantage with mature, returned missionaries. I remember the LaVell Edwards' classic quote:
"When we weren't winning, nobody said anything about the missions," legendary coach LaVell Edwards said in 1984, the year BYU won the national championship. "But once we started winning championships, why did people all of the sudden make it an issue? They used to say we couldn't win because of missionaries. Now they're saying we win because of missionaries. I wonder where all those people were when we were losing."
This unfair advantage is lamented by everyone it seems. See below for a collection of disparate quotes in the article:
"What's with these missions? They hide you away and you get to work out for two years, right?"
"It's a typical BYU offensive line. They're 30 years old and weigh 400 pounds."
Colson's solution to the so-called BYU advantage? "The best thing to do," he replied, "would be to go out and get some Mormons."
"I remember as a coach at New Mexico or as a player at Oregon State coming to play BYU and thinking, 'How are we going to beat those guys? They've got all of those old guys on the line and they're big and mature. Man, we're just young guys.' 
Indeed, opposing coaches, and the national media, often complain publicly about the ages of BYU players when the Cougars are successful, as if that is the sole reason for that success.
"Why isn't anybody's underwear in a wad over the fact that BYU, 9-0 and ranked ninth in the country, fields a team that is, by and large, a special-ops force crushing Webelos," wrote Rick Reilly, then of Sports Illustrated, in 2001, in an article titled, "Brigham Young? I Don't Think So."
Reilly pointed out that half of BYU's players that year had served missions, and 21 of them were at least 24 years old, giving the Cougars an unfair advantage.
"I look in their locker room and see guys with receding hairlines," then-Wyoming coach Vic Koenning told Reilly. "I look out and see a lot of my guys still wearing their high school letter jacket."
But over time, those young men, and their experience, maturity and leadership, prove to be a strength."
I've seen plenty of RM's (Mormon parlance for returned missionaries). I've also seen plenty of pre-mission young men and currently serving missionaries. My first question: What does maturity have to do with missionaries? They are fundamentally incompatible concepts.


My second question: What does football have to do with maturity? They also are fundamentally incompatible concepts.


Another Mormon Times article informs me that the BYU-Utah game "will be the largest gathering of returned missionaries in college football." Oh goody . . .

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pride, Rivalry, BYU and the Utes: A Thoroughly Disgusting Spectacle

I hate sports. The great thing about the Internet is that you never have to deal with it if you don't click on "sports" or a sports icon. Well, the Superbowl does hit the main news headlines about a week before the big game. Only then does sports intrude on my consciousness.

Why such strong feelings from a former competitive athlete? Simple, I was put off by the unnatural importance people give to it. So, a posting on sports is uncharacteristic of me.

I didn't expect it to intrude on my consciousness while reading GetReligion.org. But, because it did, I'm posting on it.

First a wonderful quote from President Uchtdorf's Priesthood address, "Pride and the Priesthood" from November 2010's General Conference.
Perhaps there is no better laboratory to observe the sin of pride than the world of sports. I have always loved participating in and attending sporting events. But I confess there are times when the lack of civility in sports is embarrassing. How is it that normally kind and compassionate human beings can be so intolerant and filled with hatred toward an opposing team and its fans?
I have watched sports fans vilify and demonize their rivals. They look for any flaw and magnify it. They justify their hatred with broad generalizations and apply them to everyone associated with the other team. When ill fortune afflicts their rival, they rejoice.
For those of you who need a little history about the rivalry between BYU and the University of Utah I offer the following from Austin Murphy's article, "The Right Call" in the November 8, 2010 edition of Sports Illustrated:
The BYU-Utah rivalry, the so-called Holy War, is often described as a clash between church and state: the devoutly Mormon Cougars versus the secular Utes. (Certainly there are plenty of BYU fans who choose to see it that way.) The fact is, roughly half the players on Utah's roster are LDS.
. . . Last year, after tossing the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to beat Utah 26--23, BYU quarterback Max Hall spoke from his heart about his feelings for the Utes.
"I don't like Utah," he said. "In fact I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, their fans.... I think the whole university and their fans and their organization is classless."
At Rice-Eccles the previous season, Hall contended, Utah fans "threw beer on my family" and "did a whole bunch of nasty things.... They deserved to lose."
Utah fans got less upset about that rant than they did about a self-righteous pronouncement by Cougars receiver Austin Collie following BYU's last-minute 17--10 victory over the Utes in 2007. "When you're doing what's right, on and off the field," Collie proclaimed, "the Lord steps in and plays a part."
The fact that there were 27 returned LDS missionaries on the Utah roster probably didn't enter Collie's mind. But implicit in his remark—and this is the attitude that drives Utes (LDS Utes in particular) around the bend—is the belief that the Cougars and their fans are literally holier than thou. That, at least, is what Utah fans choose to infer.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey summed the situation up well in her November 12 posting on GetReligion.org entitled, "A Mormon rivalry."
Half of the University of Utah’s team are Mormon, and one of the players says some of his Mormon teammates of them feel that BYU players think they’re better Mormons because they go to a church-affiliated school.
[The author's errors are preserved for accuracy. Ignore them and focus on the point she made.]

I'll close with President Uchtdorf:
. . . Pride is sinful, as President Benson so memorably taught, because it breeds hatred or hostility and places us in opposition to God and our fellowmen. At its core, pride is a sin of comparison, for though it usually begins with “Look how wonderful I am and what great things I have done,” it always seems to end with “Therefore, I am better than you.”
When our hearts are filled with pride, we commit a grave sin, for we violate the two great commandments.7 Instead of worshipping God and loving our neighbor, we reveal the real object of our worship and love—the image we see in the mirror.
Pride is the great sin of self-elevation. . .

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Laie, Hawaii Temple Rededicated


The video above was released by LDS Public Affairs. The Newsroom issued, "Laie Hawaii Temple Rededicated by President Monson"

Included was an ocean view from in front of the temple. It shows my favorate perspective of looking down the long drive to Temple Beach. See below:

I included more information about this view in a prior blog posting. See the drive from the Ocean on this Flickr image. This aerial view gives some stunning perspective to the grounds.



The Church News published some news/photos from the events surrounding dedication, the rededication itself and a photo gallery. See how General Authorities look in Hawaiian garb instead of their traditional suits.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So What Are the Basics?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf's November 2010 General Conference Address Saturday morning had an unusual amount of wisdom. I'm picking one item a day and posting some reflective comments on his quotes.
So What Are the Basics?
Elder Uchtdorf lays out his recommendations. As I read them it reminded me of my own efforts to concentrate my scripture study on how I could be a good missionary. I decided to go through Preach My Gospel.


I get nervous nowadays when someone talks about reading Preach My Gospel. It's not the sort of thing you read. It's primarily a work book, and you have to work through it.


It is marvelous. I'm in awe of it. I've never seen anything better written, organized, presented, etc. I finally feel I have a grasp of the fundamentals in a way that I can teach others.


Try it and see if you don't agree with me.

(I am moving and will not have access to media for about one week. My postings will be added automatically on a set schedule. However, I will not be able to moderate any comments until I am back online. I'm sorry for the delay. I appreciate your patience.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Hurtful Diversions or Heartless Chambers of Isolation"

Dieter F. Uchtdorf's November 2010 General Conference Address Saturday morning had an unusual amount of wisdom. I'm picking one item a day and posting some reflective comments on his quotes.
Printed material, wide-ranging media sources, electronic tools and gadgets—all helpful if used properly—can become hurtful diversions or heartless chambers of isolation.
I spend a great deal of time online, but I don't play video games. I rarely watch videos, almost never listen to music, and spend very little time in social networking. Most people seem prone to making them "hurtful diversions." I'm more concerned about the isolation.


In my youth, people assumed that ALL television time was bad. It is a classic example of attacking the media rather than the use people make of it. Being on the Internet is the modern equivalent of this perceived vice.


I read high-quality stuff but I have to remember Elder Oaks caution about not everything being worth the time we devote to it.


Instead of attacking the media, let's focus on how we make use of it. And, let's only evaluate our own use, not others.

(I am moving and will not have access to media for about one week. My postings will be added automatically on a set schedule. However, I will not be able to moderate any comments until I am back online. I'm sorry for the delay. I appreciate your patience.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Use a Pencil

Dieter F. Uchtdorf's November 2010 General Conference Address Saturday morning had an unusual amount of wisdom. I'm picking one item a day and posting some reflective comments on his quotes.
There is a beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions.
For example, it wasn’t long after astronauts and cosmonauts orbited the earth that they realized ballpoint pens would not work in space. And so some very smart people went to work solving the problem. It took thousands of hours and millions of dollars, but in the end, they developed a pen that could write anywhere, in any temperature, and on nearly any surface. But how did the astronauts and cosmonauts get along until the problem was solved? They simply used a pencil.
Leonardo da Vinci is quoted as saying that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”3
When you consider that "post-it notes" are considered one of the most important inventions in the last century you can see the sophistication in simplicity.


Take a look around you. How much of the complication in your daily life comes from looking for too intricate a solution?


Try and reprogram your mind to see simplicity.


(I am moving and will not have access to media for about one week. My postings will be added automatically on a set schedule. However, I will not be able to moderate any comments until I am back online. I'm sorry for the delay. I appreciate your patience.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"It's rather easy to be busy"

Dieter F. Uchtdorf's November 2010 General Conference Address Saturday morning had an unusual amount of wisdom. I'm picking one item a day and posting some reflective comments on his quotes.

Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. 
We use being "busy" as an excuse to ignore family, friends, obligations, spouses, hobbies, goals, scripture reading, church callings and just about everything else you can think of as an excuse to not do other things.

I'm reminded of something I learned in studying personnel (I refuse to call it human resource development.) When you work overtime, stay or come in at all hours, constantly work etc., people don't admire you for being committed and a hard worker. They wonder why you can't get your work done during the day like everyone else.

Always being "busy" simply proves we can't manage our time.


(I am moving and will not have access to media for about one week. My postings will be added automatically on a set schedule. However, I will not be able to moderate any comments until I am back online. I'm sorry for the delay. I appreciate your patience.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Pace of Life

Dieter F. Uchtdorf's November 2010 General Conference Address Saturday morning had an unusual amount of wisdom. I'm picking one item a day and posting some reflective comments on his quotes.
When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be.
I so often hear the rationale, "When things slow down we can do [insert activity, event here]. But things don't slow down. This is life. We either have to slow our pace or eliminate some of the things we are dealing with.

Because of chronic illness I have been forced to simplify my life. I think I am experiencing old age early. I'm dealing with many of the limitations that eventually force people to slow down, whether they truly want to or not.


I'm trying to slow down. And, I'm trying to want to as well.

(I am moving and will not have access to media for about one week. My postings will be added automatically on a set schedule. However, I will not be able to moderate any comments until I am back online. I'm sorry for the delay. I appreciate your patience.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

The New Handbook and the Context it was Presented

My reaction to the Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting that introduced and covered the new Handbook seems to be very different than many people. I am delighted that Vol. 2 of the Handbook is now online and available to us all. I share the feeling that we truly have inspired leaders. However, the context in which everything was presented was highly disturbing:


Consider some of President Monson's opening remarks:
Most of you are in possession of your copies. Read them. Understand their contents. Follow them. As we of the First Presidency meet together in our regular sessions each weekday, we must, of necessity, deal with and correct errors which are made by Church leaders in administering the affairs of the Church. Most of these errors could be avoided if such leaders were familiar with the handbook and followed the policies and procedures outlined therein.
If we’re not familiar with policies and procedures, aberrations can creep into our Church programs.
Over the years, we’ve had to correct many attempts by well-meaning leaders to change some of the programs of the Church.
The point, however, is that in almost all cases, if the leaders would only read, understand, and follow the handbook, such problems would not occur.
You may think you know how to handle the situation when, in fact, you may be on the wrong track. There is safety in the handbooks.
So, Church leaders aren't doing things properly because they aren't following the policies and procedures of the Church. So much so, that our Prophet has to caution us all in a leadership training meeting. This is definitely food for thought.


In fact, it sounds a lot like the issues I brought up in my series on Church leadership corruption. People may not like that title (especially the word "corruption") but the issues I brought up are what President Monson brought up.


No matter what calling we have in the Church currently and in the future we can and should make sure we are operating within the guidelines the Church has given us. Present Monson concluded his remarks:
My brothers and sisters, whatever your current leadership calling is, the new handbooks will be a treasure to you. They will be a blessing to you and to those you serve as you read them, understand them, and follow them.
Let us make certain we follow The Prophet

Thursday, November 18, 2010

John 12:43 "They Loved The Praise of Men More Than the Praise of God" [Desirae Brown and Shingles]

I am one of the national winners in the GovGab Guest Writer Challenge. GovGab is a U.S. government blog from the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies located in the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

They announced the national winners on November 15 and are publishing one winning blog entry a day all week long on GovGab. My winning blog entry, “Adult Immunizations” appears today, Thursday, November 18, 2010.


So, what does this have to do with Mormons? Well, I'll tell you.

President Hinckley warned:
“It is so very important that you do not let praise and adulation go to your head. Adulation is poison. You better never lose sight of the fact that the Lord put you where you are according to His design, which you don’t understand." Originally from “Messages of Inspiration from President Hinckley,” Church News, July 1, 2000, 2. Quoted in Paul E. Koelliker, “Recognizing Righteous Leadership,” Ensign, Jul 2010, 30–32.
Adulation is poison. I ought to know. I've earned enough of it. All through school I earned, or was bestowed, one honor after another. But, I didn't want A LOT of them. I wanted them ALL. I wonder now how many people ended up abased so that I could be exalted. My satisfaction only lasted a short time before I needed something else to buoy me up. Or was it another "fix" I needed?  It makes me sick to think about it now.


So, I have another honor now to further corrupt me. Or perhaps if I can somehow deal with it differently, I can turn it into a REAL positive.


I certainly can't deny Heavenly Father assisted me. When I first read about the contest I immediately thought about adult immunizations. The winners would be published right after the flu season got underway. I thought my idea was perfectly timed. Or was it my idea?


A quick search of GovGab assured me the topic hadn't been done yet for adults. I quickly wrote up a narrative, edited it after a few days and decided to send it in. I thought to myself, "It can't be this easy, can it?" It can, and was, with Heavenly Father's help.


My emotional self is puffed up. My intellectual self tells me that this may be an opportunity to do a great deal of good. Perhaps my fifteen minutes of fame can achieve something. After reading an article entitled, "Mormon pianist Desirae Brown looking at uncertain future because of rare eye ailment" a purpose occurs to me.


Desirae Brown is one of the 5 Browns. All five Mormon siblings are concert pianists. I was able to hear them play and speak at a missionary fireside in the Kansas City area a few months back when they were performing here. Desirae wore dark glasses. Her brother explained her eye condition and how she had already endured several surgeries. I don't think they had a diagnosis at that time, but they still had hope. Now they have a diagnosis, she is blind in that eye and there is no hope of regaining her vision. In fact, her other eye is also threatened. The diagnosis astonished and saddened me. It also explains my reasons behind this posting today.
"It took a while to diagnose it because this is so rare."
Brown has acute retina necrosis, a condition caused by the chicken pox virus that lingers in the system and sometimes comes back in adults as shingles or, as in her case, an attack on the retina.
It usually attacks both eyes. Brown, her husband and her four siblings are praying that her right eye will remain good.
Thirty-one is awfully young to have to deal with chicken pox/shingles complications. There is a vaccine against shingles or reemergence of the chicken pox virus. I include the information in my GovGab guest writer blog entry.

So, please don't congratulate me for for yet another award. Please don't tell me you read my posting. Please DO tell me the posting helped you resolve to get immunized or that you DID get immunized. In the end, that will mean a lot more.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Perfect Poster Child of Resilience and Strength

Dressed in a beige coat, the young woman walked quickly as she braved a phalanx of photographers and TV cameramen that would have flattered even an A-list Hollywood star. But this was no red carpet scene.
It was outside the courthouse in Salt Lake City and the woman was Elizabeth Smart, 23, plucked from obscurity and into national fame by one of the most horrific kidnappings in US criminal history.
These are the opening paragraphs of "Mormon kidnap horror emerges in trial that has gripped America in The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper. Much is being made of Mitchell, Smart's kidnapper. Much of still being made of Mitchell, especially how his religious delusions have their roots in Mormon beliefs.

But, religion also seems the source of Elizabeth Smart's strength and resilience, and the strength and resilience of her family.

Usually in stories such as Elizabeth's we hear of sinking into drugs and/or alcohol, self-destruction and other maladies. Occasionally, we hear stories of recovery and people climbing back to build a new life. But, in Elizabeth's case her story only climbed higher.
For many, the brave, attractive figure of Smart represents today's Mormonism. Still deeply committed to her faith, she is resilient and was the perfect witness against her former captor. She comes from a family of hardworking Mormons, illustrating the church's reputation for strong families and high moral values.
Smart's face is one the church is proud to show off and her story of survival and enduring faith has been praised by religious leaders across the region. She is the perfect advert for one of the world's fastest-growing religions, one that is seeking ever greater political and social influence.
There will always be interest in the sordid details of Elizabeth's horrific experience. But, I'm hoping at least some interest will develop in how she survived, healed and flourished. There is a profound story there too . . .

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Burundi and Angola: Branch President AND Relief Society President?

Many years ago a Stake President of mine spoke about his mission experiences. I don't remember where he went but he said the Church was new there. In addition to being a full time missionary he had to serve as the Branch President. He said he didn't usually mention that he also had to serve as the Relief Society President.

Burundi and Angola, both African countries have just been dedicated for missionary work. In an article entitled, "Apostles bless two African nations" (see also photo gallery) in the Church News it states:
Elder Holland expressed his feeling that Africa had been held in reserve by the Lord in the spirit of "the last shall be first" and that Africa would someday be seen as a bright land full of gospel hope and happiness.
Existing members and new members of these two countries will have to take on Church responsibilities very fast. In areas like this it isn't unusual to be called as Branch President within months of baptism.

In a religion course at BYU, Dr. Richad O. Cowan told us that the Church measures Church strength not by increases in baptisms but by priesthood holders, specifically Melchizedek priesthood holders. These are the men that shoulder the bulk of leadership anywhere in the Church.

In honor of Burundi and Angola being dedicated for missionary work I've compiled some links to information, Church articles and news concerning them both.

Angola:
Country profile from Newsroom
Church Continues to Grow in Africa, October 20, 2005 — News from the Church
Pioneers in a Land of Explorers, Ensign, Ensign, April, 1997
The Secret of His Success, New Era, May, 1992 

Burundi:
Establishing Eternal Patterns, Ensign, October, 2004
From Burundi to Zaire: Taking the Gospel to Africa, Ensign, March, 1980


Update: Article entitled, "Burundi Pioneers: Faithful family lives the gospel in small African nation" published December 4, 2010 in the Church News.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hate is Hate

Mark Paredes writes a blog entitled Jews and Mormons for The Jewish Journal. In a recent posting he describes the Anti-Defamation League coming to the support of Mormons:
When I called the ADL’s Phoenix office to thank them for their support, one of their leaders made an interesting observation: “They can’t fool me, Mark. I know that the anti-Mormons of today were in many cases the anti-Semites of yesterday.” In many cases he’s right.
We get a little preoccupied in evaluating the source of the hate, the target of the hate, the nature of the hate, etc. We need to remember it is all hate.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

No List of Rules for Sabbath Day Worship

I consider Orson Scott Card a philosopher as well as a writer. In a recent column entitled, "Sabbath suggestions for dad," he gives several reasons why a list of Sabbath dos and don'ts is no desirable.
. . . a list of rules would remove from us any reason to think and pray about how we should go about honoring the Lord on the Sabbath.
Obedience to rules is great but isn't the process of how we go about deciding to honor the Sabbath as important as the end product? Isn't this how we learn to make right choices? Where would we be if all the right choices are just given to us in a list of dos and don'ts, a list of rules? Isn't it fundamentally different if we impose our own list of rules on ourselves instead of having one imposed on us? Isn't that what agency is all about?


Let's all take our responsibility to honor the Sabbath more seriously.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Secret Societies: Combinations -- Conspiracies

Having studied politics and public administration extensively, I'm fascinated by the Gadianton Robbers in The Book of Mormon. Dr. Daniel Peterson wrote a recent piece for Mormon Times entitled, "Gadianton robbers and historical parallels." There are some intriguing points. However, a very basic one he makes is crucial:
(In Joseph Smith's day, the word "combination" was essentially a synonym for "conspiracy.")
It is always important to understand what a word meant to the person writing it. Old dictionaries have value for this reason. This is why librarians keep hordes of them even though individuals only need one current one.

I'm not one of those people who see "Commies behind every tree" as one of my political science profs put it. Yes, conspiracies are concerning but I'd hate to get preoccupied with conspiracy theory when there are so many direct frontal assaults like the deterioration of the family.

Conspiracy theory advocates are at the heart of what is alarming, in my opinion. I've often wondered if Satan uses them to deflect attention away from his most important efforts.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Utah Compact: The Church and Others Speak Out on Immigration

In this blog, I prefer to point out things I haven't seen in other places. I have written on immigration before (8/23/10, 9/21/10, 9/26/10) but there is something that needs to be pointed out.

The Church is a supporter of The Utah Compact. This is an effort by many sectors of society to speak with one voice on immigration. (You can sign it too.) On November 11, the Compact was signed. It is already posted on Wikipedia. However, in the Church's official statement it specifically does NOT mention the purely legal issues. And even though the Church supports it it did not officially sign it, although Mark Willes did. "The Church regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform."

The legal points that the Church's statement does not underscore are the following:
Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries—not Utah and other countries. 
We urge Utah’s congressional delegation, and others, to lead efforts to strengthen federal laws and protect our national borders. 
We urge state leaders to adopt reasonable policies addressing immigrants in Utah.
We respect the rule of law and support law enforcement’s professional judgment and discretion. Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code. 
Legal reasoning is usually lost on the public at large but I think the Church has taken a prudent approach in what it did. In our federal system, immigration policy is under the national government's jurisdiction. States cannot enact laws based on powers given to the nation. If illegal immigration is a problem that does not automatically mean states can or should do something about it. In addition, immigration falls under civil law not criminal. Obviously, the Church is staying out of these issues. If Sandstrom feels targeted that is his problem.


Here's a rundown of Utah and Mormon news sources on the issue:

KSL


Update: The New York Times Editorial page has praised The Utah Compact in an editorial published December 4, 2010 entitled, "The Utah Compact."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Response to "Thoughtful Christian" Concerning Sgt. Calvin Gibbs 10/05/10 Post

On October 5, 2010, I posted, "Sgt. Calvin Gibbs: How Mormon Is He?" This has been one of my most accessed postings for reasons I don't totally understand. Interestingly enough, most of the searches that sent viewers to this posting were ones searching his wife's name, Chelsy M. Gibbs. After "Thoughtful Christian" posted a comment I decided to post a thoughtful response in a new posting.

Thoughtful Christian's words are in bold and my answers immediately follow.

Do you really care more about him being a nominal Mormon than a strong one?

I do actually. People often extrapolate a single Mormon's actions to the entire Church body. Whether this should happen is immaterial to the fact that it does. News media always seems to mention if someone is Mormon whether it has anything to do with the news item or not. To be fair, a Lt. Colonel friend of mine pointed out that this also happens to Marines, or former Marines. There is an inference that we should know better because we are Mormons (or Marines.) On the other hand, Mormons seem to feel our religion is validated every time BYU football wins but I won't go into that just now . . .

I am appauled [sic] that this article defends a religion rather than a human being and his trials on earth.

I didn't intend to defend a religion or a person. My posting only evaluated how Mormon Gibbs' was based on the indicators and hints available from current news media. I know other Mormons  would wonder and I hadn't seen the issue dealt with anywhere else. I prefer to blog on issues that don't get covered in other places.

[I did not react to the misspelling because we are all prone to them as well as typos. I tried to react to the merit of the comment. I ask other readers to respectfully do the same.]

A religion is not what makes a person.

Our religion is what makes Mormons. My religion is what has made ME. Everything I have done, am, or will do is because of my religion. I will certainly acknowledge this may not be true for other religions or people. I'm not an expert, but I do feel I can speak for the vast majority of Mormons, especially strong, active, faithful Mormons.

Perhaps Calvin's faith in God has grown due to what he has had to go through.

That could very likely be the case. I would hope so.

I believe that more importantly than anything else, Calvin has gone through a lot and with prayer and believing in God's plan for Calvin, things will work out according to our good Lord.

Prayer and belief can do a great deal for Calvin. Thank you for invoking our Heavenly Father and His interest in Calvin's welfare as well as our own.

I understand that you, Krista, must be a Mormon and are defending your religion.

You are correct. I am Mormon. I thought I had it all but tattooed on my forehead. You can't get more Mormon than I am. In all fairness, I was ready to conclude that Calvin was a strong Mormon if the indicators had suggested otherwise. I wasn't consciously intending to defend all Mormons just the Church's teachings whether they are followed by individuals or not.

What I ask of you as a follower of Christ, is to be a christian and ask for God to protect over Calvin and truly believe that the Lord has a plan designed for Calvin.

If you are inferring that you consider me to also be a follower of Christ I appreciate the compliment. I do believe Heavenly Father has a plan designed for Calvin. But, I also believe that Satan has a plan for Calvin too. Which plan Calvin follows is his choice.

We are here as humans that are to support each other rather than tear each other down and dictate to what degree of a Mormon Calvin was. He may have had trying times with his faith but like I said before, God has a plan.

You are certainly correct in asserting that true Christians support our fellow human beings in their trials. I can see now that my posting could be viewed as tearing down when my intent was to be factual. Even if I was only factual I should have included a disclaimer or clarification pointing to what true Christian behavior should consist of. I accept the censure.

And now he is stronger, as his faith has been challenged and he has reformed his relationship with God. Perhaps, this is part of God's plan.

He may well be stronger. It is inconceivable to me how someone could endure what he is going through, whether he is guilty or innocent, and not strengthen. To my thinking, his would be one of the most difficult trials this life has to offer. I'm not sure how I would hold under this sort of challenge. It reminds me of the saying, "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

It's not any of us sinners (humans) place to judge how God's plan is carried out.

A timely reminder, thank you.

I think I should also point out that Gibbs and the others deserve military due process as well as Christlike behavior from the rest of us. Our prayers would certainly be helpful.


11/10/10 New York Times, "Sergeant Accused of Killing Afghan Civilians Faces Hearing"


Recent news reports indicate Chelsy Gibbs is present for her husband's legal proceedings: The Olympian and Seattle Times.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Church Wants Volunteer Photographers!

It's difficult to keep up with all the Church's media advancements. On October 22, the Audiovisual Department Facebook page sent out a call for volunteer photographers. Here's the complete announcement:
The Audiovisual Department is in the process of building an online library of photos that will be available for Church use and for members to use on their blogs, websites, lessons, activities, etc. Responsibilities include taking photographs and weekly electronically submitting 20 or more photos to the Church! Interested? Contact us at volunteerphotographer@ldschurch.org with your qualifications! 
This effort seems to be in addition to the Flickr project that I posted about earlier.

You can also register with the Audio Visual Department for other future projects. they have a generic application where you can fill out your qualifications and they will notify you if they need your expertise.  Here is the Google Docs link.

The Facebook page also has tabs for jobs with AV as well as volunteer opportunities. The page first went up on September 15th. So check it out.

In fact, I should point out that on the volunteer tab they list a different email for being a volunteer photographer. Here's what it says:
The Audiovisual Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is looking for volunteers who are able to work from their home area. Experienced member photographers are needed in every country who are willing to share their photographic talents with the Church and Church members. The Audiovisual Department is in the process of building an online library of photos that will be available for Church use and for members to use on their blogs, websites, lessons, activities, etc. Responsibilities include taking photographs and weekly electronically submitting 20 or more photos to the Church
To volunteer, contact us at photovolunteer@ldschurch.org with your qualifications.
A few years ago when they standardized the Sunday School curriculum so that we all taught the same topic every Sunday I remember going into the media center at my local meetinghouse and a desperate teacher said to the librarian, "Are there any other pictures of David and Goliath?!" It hit me that every teacher would need the same picture every Sunday. I thought, "Yikes, I hope somebody in the Church has anticipated this problem." Every meetinghouse will need multiple pictures of the same thing. To my knowledge, only digital tools can really provide the solution we've needed for several years now.

I hope this later volunteer effort really takes off. We all stand to benefit.