Monday, December 30, 2013

In Case You Missed It

The Church's conspiracy to hide all of its most damning historical embarrassments grows deeper!

In case you missed it, these items from the Church's Gospel Topics website are excellent resources.

The topics thus far covered are:

1. First Vision Accounts

2. Race and the Priesthood

3. Are Mormons Christian?

4. Plural Marriage and Families in Utah

5. Book of Mormon Translation

My understanding is that the Church plans on releasing more articles in the coming months on other sensitive topics. Here's wishing the Church continues this excellent work, and that conspiracy theorists can find their tin hats before it's too late!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Three Recent Sermons

If you are now or have ever gone through a crisis of faith, I would recommend these three recent sermons by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elders Jeffrey R. Holland and D. Todd Christofferson.

Come, Join with Us

You can read the address online here.

Lord, I Believe

You can read the address online here.

The Prophet Joseph Smith

You can read the address online here.

Some highlights.

From "Come, Join with Us":

The search for truth has led millions of people to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, there are some who leave the Church they once loved.
One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”
Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.
Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.
In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.

Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.
Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.
Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the “facts” really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.

And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.
I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.

From "Lord, I Believe":

When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.

The second observation is a variation of the first. When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.

So be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work. As one gifted writer has suggested, when the infinite fulness is poured forth, it is not the oil’s fault if there is some loss because finite vessels can’t quite contain it all. Those finite vessels include you and me, so be patient and kind and forgiving.

From "The Prophet Joseph Smith":

In counseling patience, I simply mean that while some answers come quickly or with little effort, others are simply not available for the moment because information or evidence is lacking. Don’t suppose, however, that a lack of evidence about something today means that evidence doesn’t exist or that it will not be forthcoming in the future. The absence of evidence is not proof.

When I say don’t be superficial, I mean don’t form conclusions based on unexamined assertions or incomplete research, and don’t be influenced by insincere seekers. I would offer you the advice of our Assistant Church Historian, Rick Turley, an intellectually gifted researcher and author whose recent works include the definitive history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. He says simply, “Don’t study Church history too little.”

Finally, don’t neglect the Spirit. As regards Joseph Smith, we seek learning both by study and by faith. Both are fruitful paths of inquiry. A complete understanding can never be attained by scholarly research alone, especially since much of what is needed is either lost or never existed. There is no benefit in imposing artificial limits on ourselves that cut off the light of Christ and the revelations of the Holy Spirit. Remember, “By the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

Die schöne Müllerin (Part 1)

A part of what I want to do on this blog is highlight some of my favorite pieces of German literature, poetry, music, film, etc.

I thought a perfect place to start would be by going through Wilhelm Müller's 1820 poetry cycle Die schöne Müllerin (the beautiful [female] miller).

What's so wonderful about this poetry cycle, besides the elegant lyrics of Müller, is that Franz Schubert, one of the giants of the Romantic era, and one of my favorite composers, set the poems to music. (You're going to get plenty of Schubert on this blog.) So you get both poetry and music: two for the price of one!

A bust of Schubert outside the Schubertkirche in Vienna, Austria.
With that, let's get right into it.

Das Wandern

Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust,         Wandering, the passion of the miller!
Das Wandern!                                         Wandering!
Das muß ein schlechter Müller sein,        He must be a terrible miller,
Dem niemals fiel das Wandern ein,         who never feels like wandering.
Das Wandern.                                          Wandering!

Vom Wasser haben wir's gelernt,           We've learned this from water,
Vom Wasser!                                          from water!
Das hat nicht Rast bei Tag und Nacht,   It never rests in day or night, 
Ist stets auf Wanderschaft bedacht,         and only thinks of its journeying
Das Wasser.                                           The water!
Das sehn wir auch den Rädern ab,        So too we see this with wheels,
Den Rädern!                                          the wheels!
Die gar nicht gerne stille stehn,              They cannot by any means stay still,
Die sich mein Tag nicht müde drehn,    and turn all day without getting tired.
Die Räder.                                             The wheels!

Die Steine selbst, so schwer sie sind,    The stones, even being so heavy,
Die Steine!                                            the stones!
Sie tanzen mit den muntern Reihn        They dance along with the cheerful ranks,
Und wollen gar noch schneller sein,     And even want to go faster,
Die Steine.                                            The stones!

O Wandern, Wandern, meine Lust,     O wandering, wandering, my passion,
O Wandern!                                         O wandering!
Herr Meister und Frau Meisterin,         Master and mistress,
Laßt mich in Frieden weiterziehn        let me move on in peace,
Und wandern.                                     and go wandering!

The story begins with our narrator, a restless miller who yearns for the freedom to adventure wide into the world, cheerfully singing along as begins his journey. The nature imagery (what else would you expect with Romantic poetry?) in the opening poem can hardly be missed: water, stones, etc. Nature, then, is a part of us. You might even say it's in our . . . wait for it . . . nature. We yearn to explore, to move, and to adventure throughout nature. 

Most important, however, is the imagery of the wheels. This will actually become very important later on in the story, when our young miller is led to a mill and the eponymous beautiful daughter of the miller.

And now, Schubert's setting of this piece.

As much as I can, I will try to find and post any recordings of the incomparable baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925–2012), who, many would agree, provided the definitive rendition of many of Schubert's innumerable Lieder–––including Die schöne Müllerin

Some Thoughts on Literary Borrowing

John H. Walton
From the evangelical biblical scholar John H. Walton.

When comparative study is carried out at this conceptual or cognitive level, some adjustments in methodology need to be made. When literary pieces are being compared to consider the question of dependency among them, the burden of proof has been on the researcher to consider the issues of propinquity and transmission. After all, if Israelite literature were to be suspect of borrowing an Akkadian text, the claim of borrowing would need to be substantiated by evidence that the Israelite writers were aware of the Akkadian text and could plausibly have access to it. Questions of literary genre, structure, and context would all need to be investigated, as well as the geographical, chronological, and national or ethnic context from which the literature had arisen.

(John H. Walton, Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology [Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2011], 3.)

Although Walton is speaking specifically about supposed literary borrowing by the author of Genesis 1 from other ancient cosmological texts, the same principle applies to the Book of Mormon and those who wish to argue that it is the product of plagiarism (i.e. the Book of Mormon is the result of Joseph Smith's pilfering View of the Hebrews, Manuscript Found, or the most recent text du jour–––The History of the Late War Between the U. States and G. Britain).

Unfortunately, I haven't seen many critical studies that actually engage in the proper methodology outlined by Walton. Usually it's just a haphazard, helter-skelter, grab bag approach of finding a number of "parallels" that usually exist only in the mind of the parallel hunter.