Archive for ‘Meditations’

June 17, 2019

The way, the virtue, the book

I spent some time contemplating the Tao Te Ching over the weekend, especially the first chapter. The book is short; it can be read in a couple of hours (or less), yet it can also be pondered over a lifetime. “Tao” (or “Dao”) means “the way.” Jesus’s statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” may merit reconsideration after reading the Tao Te Ching. It may be more profound than initially understood from the western viewpoint.

The control of one’s passions is one central theme of the Tao Te Ching: “He who does not have desires sees [the Tao’s] mystery. He who always possesses desires only sees it superficially.” Similar themes are found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions, including the Mormon temple rites. A Mormon interpretation of the previous lines could be:

He who has bound his passions can fully contemplate the mysteries of godliness.

He who is bound by his passions cannot receive more than the lesser portion.

Another concept from the Tao Te Ching that ought to fit nicely into Mormonism: “The reason that Heaven and Earth can be eternal and enduring is because they do not live for themselves; therefore they can live forever.” Consider the saying of Jesus: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Laozi had previously written in the Tao Te Ching: “The sage puts himself behind others, yet finds himself in front.”

We have something familiar here, yet with the potential to change the way we look at what we already have.

May 28, 2019

An Islamic Dispensation?

I share the following with the caveat that I have but superficial knowledge of what I write, and therefore write it against my better judgment. On the other hand, I find the subjects fascinating, and if perhaps I can capture the interest of someone more prepared than I, it may be that we all benefit from that person’s wisdom on the matter.

In particular, I wonder if there is, or was at one point, a legitimate dispensation of the gospel at the heart of Islam. The movement, in both its doctrine and its history, should strike Mormons as something strangely familiar. Muhammed gathered those who believed in his revelations into the “Ummah,” or community, which was meant to be a civilization of peace while the rest of the world destroyed itself in war. Not only does it correspond extremely well to the Mormon concept of “Zion,” but it appears to have been about as successful as the Latter-day Saints have been at establishing Zion. Islam teaches that the Jews and the Christians had been given the word of God, but that wicked men had corrupted the scriptures, necessitating the provision of a new revelation – the Koran – to restore the truth that had been lost. Here then, is the Joseph Smith story over a millennium before the birth of Joseph Smith.

The events immediately following the death of Muhammed should look strangely familiar to careful students of Latter-day Saint history. The Ummah was led by Caliphs; much like Brigham Young called himself a “yankee guesser” rather than a “prophet,” and stated that the Latter-day Saints should only trust him insofar as he is right, the Caliphs affirmed that they were only to preserve and interpret the revelations received by Muhammed, and the community should only accept their decisions to the degree that they were correct, which, coincidentally, was always. God would not allow a Caliph to lead his people astray.

Muhammed taught that Islam was not compulsory; persuasion was the only acceptable tool to bring people into the religion. Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, faced with the practical necessity of keeping together a community going in a hundred different directions after the death of the prophet, made apostasy punishable by death. Muhammad’s teaching about non-compulsion was interpreted in light of practical necessity to apply only to initial conversion to Islam.

Abu Bakr and Omar, the first two Caliphs, set about to collect Muhammed’s revelations into an official compilation – the Koran. In doing so, they often discarded copies of the revelations that had been written down at the time the revelation was received, in favor of what their trusted companions remembered the revelations as containing. It was taught that the memorized versions were more reliable than the written versions. There were some concerns that the official version of the Koran was arranged and edited to suit the Caliphs’ interests rather than to preserve the revelations exactly as received by Muhammed. However, modern orthodox Islamic doctrine is that, by the grace of God, the Koran has been perfectly preserved to this day. On the other hand, anyone who picks up a copy of the reproduced manuscripts in the Joseph Smith Papers can immediately see that LDS scripture has been modified to suit the interests of the early LDS leaders.

I provide only a brief overview of similarities. Even in minor points of doctrine some striking comparisons can be made. For example, the Koran teaches that God perfected the seven heavens (2:30); Joseph Smith stated that he visited the seventh heaven. I suspect that Mormons would benefit from a thorough study of Islam.

This doesn’t apply only to Islam, however. Zoroastrianism reveres Ahura Mazda as the supreme God. The name includes a masculine and a feminine word. The masculine word “Ahura” means “Lord,” and according to Zoroaster it referred to God as the creator. The feminine word “Mazda” means wise, and thus according to Zoroaster God is also the “wise one.” The different genders show that God’s nature is all-encompassing. Mormons believe that God is a Divine father and mother, and at least one branch of Mormonism includes the teaching that the father represents the creative power, and the mother represents wisdom.

Joseph Smith taught that Mormonism is intended to include all truth. He spoke of digging up the ancient records and bringing them all together in one place. My own brief glance at a couple of religions suggests that other religions may indeed have something to bring to Mormonism, if we will only take them seriously. I am surprised that I didn’t have to dig far at all before treasures started appearing. What rich treasures of knowledge await us if we make some small effort to uncover them? Here I am, a nobody in the extreme southwest corner of the United States, mostly disconnected from the covenant community and more concerned about stumbling over the practical needs of day-to-day life than the things of God; how much more could we obtain if someone smarter, more diligent, or more inspired than me – that is, anyone in the covenant community – were to look into one of these religions and dig up and share with the community the hidden knowledge that it contains? Shoot, if all of us did it, I imagine that the remainder of the Book of Mormon might as well be unsealed by the next conference, such would be the knowledge poured out upon the covenant people.

But I may be getting carried away. Finding a little knowledge, after all, is an exciting thing.

April 2, 2019

A pattern in the Answer and Covenant

Perhaps I’m late to the party, but this morning I noticed an interesting pattern in a portion of the answer to the prayer for covenant (the pattern begins at paragraph 2 of T&C 157). It looks to be somewhat chiastic in form, and recites A) the beginning/a new beginning; B) breaking the original covenant and continued work necessary to reobtain the original; C) the Lord’s effort to reestablish the covenant; D) the requirement to love one another as brothers and sisters rather than to be angry and harshly criticize; E) the Lord’s desire to provide his people with light and truth/understanding; F) the Lord’s admonishment and reproof of his people; G) contentions and disputes among the Lord’s people; H) the need for those who love the Lord and have well-intentioned hearts to do better/follow Wisdom in aligning their behavior with their hearts; I) a commendation for diligent labor; and J) a covenant offered for the Last days: the Book of Mormon.

I wonder what the purpose of this pattern is. I assume it’s not a mere show of rhetorical skills, but rather suggests a deeper meaning that can be extracted from the text with study, prayer, and pondering. It’s certainly something to think about.

A. I covenanted with Adam at the beginning,
B. which covenant was broken by mankind.
C. Since the days of Adam I have always sought to reestablish covenant people among the living,
D. and therefore have desired that man should love one another, not begrudgingly, but as brothers and sisters indeed,
E. that I may establish my covenant and provide them with light and truth.
F. For you to unite I must admonish and instruct you, for my will is to have you love one another.
G. As people you lack the ability to respectfully disagree among one another. You are as Paul and Peter whose disagreements resulted in jarring and sharp contentions.
H. Nevertheless they both loved me and I loved them. You must do better.
I. I commend your diligent labor and your desire to repent and recover the scriptures
J. containing the covenant I offer for the last days.
J. For this purpose I caused the Book of Mormon to come forth.
I. I commend those who have participated, as well as those who have offered words of caution,
H. for I weigh the hearts of men and many have intended well, although they have spoken poorly. Wisdom counsels mankind to align their words with their hearts, but mankind refuses to take counsel from Wisdom.
G. Nevertheless, there have been sharp disputes between you that should have been avoided.
F. I speak these words to reprove you that you may learn, not to upbraid you so that you mourn.
E. I want my people to have understanding. There is great reason to rejoice because of the work that has been done.
D. There is little reason for any to be angry or to harshly criticize the labor to recover the scriptures,
C. and so my answer to you concerning the scriptures is to guide you in other work to be done hereafter;
B. for recovering the scriptures does not conclude the work to be accomplished by those who will be my people:
A. it is but a beginning.

March 28, 2019

Baghdad, continued

Continuing my discussion on the Baghdad sections of the Restoration scriptures, I want to continue looking at the statements under the assumption that Baghdad is a symbol representing the world, including the society in which we live. It has been written that a symbol is a “this” pointing to “that,” and we lose its value of we assume that “this” is in issue instead of “that.” Thus, if my understanding that Baghdad is a symbol in these texts, then we’re missing the point if we think that they mean a terrorist group taking over a city in Iraq will be the catalyst for the end of the world. On the other hand, there must be some relationship between the symbol and its meaning, and understanding that relationship would likely aid in understanding the text. Thus, there is value in thinking about the city in Iraq if we keep it in proper perspective.

It is worth considering again the latter part of the “Lamentation for Baghdad,” which reads: “Distress shall overtake them, for those who come shall have no pity.” Keeping in mind that Baghdad is a symbol, this suggests to the mind a comparison with Nephi’s reworded version of Malachi’s prophecy:

“For behold the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea and all that do wickedly, shall burn as stubble; for they that cometh shall burn them, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” T&C 1, JSH 3:4.

Could “those who come” in the lamentation be the same as “they that cometh” in Nephi’s version of Malachi’s prophecy? In the one, “those who come shall have no pity,” and in the other, “they that cometh shall burn them… that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Could the latter be properly described as having no pity? If they that come shall, by their nature, burn the proud and the wicked, and – even if they don’t desire to cause that suffering – they come anyway because the salvation of their family takes priority over the comfort of those whom they know not, would it not be accurate to say that they “have no pity” on the proud and the wicked? This certainly looks like a prophecy about a side effect of the establishment of Zion on the wicked in the last days.

With this in mind, I would suggest that it now becomes appropriate to consider the “this” part of the symbol. Could terrorist attacks on a city in Iraq be illustrative of the fear and danger on the proud and the wicked of the last days? Imagine the terror that a group like ISIS inflicts on the inhabitants of a city under siege. The suffering when the inhabitants are subjected to strict new laws that they are unaccustomed to following. Although ISIS is wholly evil, there is likely some analogy between the suffering under that kind of terror organization, and the suffering experienced by the proud and the wicked in the presence of holy beings. Of course, terrorists “have no pity” because they delight in cruelty, while the visitors to Zion “have no pity” because they are performing a mission and can’t help the fact that the proud and the wicked are unable to bear their presence. “This” is a symbol for “that” fit for a limited analogy, but they aren’t the same thing.

“Flee to Zion” indeed. These texts are admittedly somewhat frightening to me, who fits the description of “proud” and “wicked.” I find in them an urgent call to repentance.

The Baghdad texts in the Restoration Scriptures are certainly interesting. They seem like prophetic literature akin to what we find in the scriptures, with symbols and depth of meaning that can be extracted through study, prayer, and pondering. I hope Denver Snuffer won’t take offense at the fact that I am not inclined to credit him for this. I find his own writings helpful and clarifying most of the time, and at other times obtuse (perhaps because of excessive care in choosing his words), but not necessarily having the same qualities or fruitfulness upon continued examination as these or other texts that appear to be revelations. I consider this to be a sign of God’s work in the present day. Its existence should give hope to those who wish to commune with God in this life.

March 25, 2019

On Babylon, Baghdad, and Lamentations

The following entry is in the context of an interesting movement occurring within Mormonism, and for outsiders – including Latter-day Saints – it may appear confusing or nonsensical. If you stumble across it accidentally, please accept my apologies for bothering you with these strange curiosities. For those curious souls, I don’t have a link to a good background and summary of the movement, except perhaps the Prayer for Covenant and the Answer and Covenant in the movement’s scriptures (identified as “Restoration Scriptures” herein).

The Restoration Scriptures include two items that were originally short blog posts entitled “Babylon” and “Lamentation for Baghdad” on Denver Snuffer’s blog. Due to the brevity of these posts, I hope that Mr. Snuffer will not object to my inclusion of them in there entirety below, for ease of discussion.

The blog entry entitled “Babylon” was published on February 18, 2015, and recites: “The God of Heaven tells me all the world should pray that Baghdad does not fall.” It is also found as Section 168 of “Teachings and Commandments” in the Restoration Scriptures.

The entry entitled “Lamentation for Baghdad” was published on May 28, 2015, and recites: “Days of distress are upon Baghdad and the days of their troubles are begun. Distress shall overtake them, for those who come shall have no pity.” It is also found as Section 170 of “Teachings and Commandments.”

The covenant community seems to have taken interest in these two blog posts, as evidenced by their inclusion in the Restoration Scriptures. I, too, find them interesting, although I must admit that I also find them rather cryptic and wonder about their meaning. The only detailed discussion of which I am aware is an excellent analysis by Adrian Larsen, in which he discusses Baghdad and the region’s historic role, the terror group ISIS’s interest in it, and ISIS’s declaration of a caliphate.

Notwithstanding the excellence of Adrian’s analysis, my own consideration of the blog entries leaves me wondering if a fixation on Baghdad and ISIS tends to misleading conclusions about the meaning of these statements. I would certainly tend to look at the matter in the same literal fashion, but the title of the first post, connecting Baghdad with Babylon, suggests to me that the matter ought to be looked at a little differently. Admittedly, this raises more questions than answers, but the questions are what I wanted to raise in this post anyway.

Where I perhaps differ from Adrian is that without that title, I would have placed little emphasis on Baghdad’s proximity to Babylon. I have tended to consider them as separate, and thus never associated the two in any way other than geographic proximity. However, with the title “Babylon” appearing to equate the two, I am no longer inclined to think simply of “Baghdad” the city, or “Babylon” the city, but in terms of Babylon as used as a representation of the world in the scriptures. Such a perspective suggests it is not the fall, distress, and troubles of an Iraqi city that are at issue, but the fall, distress, and troubles of our own society. Our own “days of distress” are upon us, “and the days of [our] troubles are begun.” The ultimate message would seem to be: “flee to Zion.”

This raises several questions:

What does “Baghdad” mean in the statements? Is it the Iraqi city? Is it Babylon (the world)? Is it something else entirely?

Are the statements about us, rather than terror groups and inhabitants of Iraq?

What would it mean to pray that we, or the society in which we live, “does not fall?” What does this “fall” that we’re at risk of constitute, or look like? What, if anything beyond prayer, can be done to prevent or postpone it?

What are the distresses and troubles that are upon us?

Who is coming, who “shall have no pity?”

Why is “Baghdad” used, instead of some other city that we might better associate with modern-day Babylon, such as “Washington, D.C.,” “New York,” “London,” or “Brussels,” etc.?

I certainly wish I had answers. I am a terrible student of scripture, incompetent even to ask intelligent questions. The above are much more than I’d normally think to ask.

On the other hand, a Foreign Policy magazine article suggests that some remnants of ISIS are hanging out around Baghdad these days.