I've appreciated Alma the Younger's poetic style for a long time, so I sat down to try my hand at a hymn influenced by his words. This work is based on Mosiah 27:24-31 and Alma 36:12-24
I was caught fast by sin's cold chain,
He took away my pain.
My limbs received their strength again,
I stood upon my feet.
I stood in darkness, endless night,
'til Jesus touch'd my sight.
Then oh what joy, what marv'lous light,
my soul was filled with joy.
The world groans in its bitterness,
but soon the Son will bless.
Each knee will bow, each tongue confess,
that Jesus is the Christ.
I don't have any music written for this, but it should work well with the music from any 8686 hymn (slower music seems to fit the best).
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
I'm spending a lot of time looking at home teaching and other indicators of conversion in my ward right now. The desire for a quick fix to poor home teaching is not only not going to help 'fix' home teaching, it's liable to hurt.
(This entry's title comes from my comment at John's blog.)
The elders quorum presidency was reorganized two weeks later. I have two wonderful brethren serving as my counselors, a member of the young men's presidnecy and the former second counselor. The following week, the last of the cascading callings took place. While there will be changes in the future, we've hit the end of a series of changes that have been enlightening and inspiring. At one point during this course, I wrote the following in my journal:
There are a number of brethren in the ward who could be called as our new bishop. This has lead my family and I to do a great deal of thinking and praying -- Are we living the gospel to the best of our ability? Are we going to be able to support our new bishop and his counselors? Will we be able to be a strength to the ward in this time of change?
No matter what happens, this has been a fruitful time for us. We have identified many places where we can improve. I hope that we will exercise our faith and make these improvments.
Indeed, times of change present us all with many opportunities for introspection and growth. It's up to us whether we'll take advantage of those opportunities.
When the call came (in mid-October), I was again blessed with a confirmation of the call. The new bishop is a very humble man, who has a great deal of leadership experience. His first counselor was first counselor to our previous bishop as well. The new second counselor was serving as the president of the elders quorum, which meant there was more churn ahead.
In a nice show of meekly serving, the former second counselor helped pass the sacrement the week after the reorganization (we have three active Young Men). He ended up passing sacrament to the new bishopric and the others on the stand.
In the days leading up to Stake Conference (in September), I seemed to spend more and more time praying that I'd be able to have a witness of the callings being made. It was on my mind a lot, and the speculation that whirled about made the topic hard to avoid.
During one of the initial sessions, I had the opportunity to sit with Elder Sorenson. It's always interesting to be in the presence of a general authority, in my experience they bring a special presence. Having just been taught by him, and knowing that we had either already called, or was just getting ready to call, the new stake president I felt a strong confirmation of the business he would be conducting.
Then in our Sunday morning session, Elder Sorenson announced the new presidency. The president and his first counselor where both called from the high council. They were men who I respected and who's spirituality I'd experienced. The real shock came when they announced the new second counselor, my bishop. Over the last two years I've worked closely with him as the ward clerk and as the ward mission leader. I know that he'll be a tremendous asset to the stake and will make an excellent counselor. Once again, I felt a strong confirmation of the calling of these brethren.
With our bishop moving on to a new calling, more changes lie ahead.
On a completely unrelated note, I'm saddened to see that so many people are getting involved in the apparent action against Brother Palmer. Publishing a press release or otherwise discussing something that should remain a private matter strikes me as both inappropriate and incredibly sad.
Pattern Name - a handle for identifying the pattern.
Problem - a description of when the pattern applies.
Solution - the elements that make up the pattern.
Consequences - the results and trade-offs of applying the pattern.
So, why is all of this important? I've been thinking about the roll of local church leaders in perfecting the saints (see Retrenchment and Reaching Out), and I'm starting to boil my ideas down into a catalog of patterns in a pattern language for perfecting the saints.
Here are the patterns I've been thinking about so far. I'm going to try to write about one each week, I'd appreciate any comments to help improve the patterns I describe or to add others that I've missed.
Perfecting the Saints: Pattern Catalog
- Agents of Change
- Families on the Edges
- Focus Families
- Focused Effort
- Follow the Spirit
- Home Teaching is the Key
- Not Just Once a Month
- The Rising Tide
- A Six Month Window
- Teaching Teams
- To Serve and Protect
- Touching Everyone
- The Transition
I've already subscribed to their feeds with my bloglines account.
I love the fact that Deseret Book is making a leap into blogging. I think
you've made some good decisions in having Michael McLean and John Bytheway
as your first two bloggers. I'm anxious to see who else ends up blogging
for you. I have a couple of concerns though:
1) Bloggers for hire don't seem to have the voice or the passion that
most bloggers do. I'll be anxious to see how this works out. For
example, neither of Michael nor John has posted any replies to the
comments on their blog entries -- blogs work best when they are a vehicle
2) You don't provide an rss feed for the blogs. this makes them almost
useless for me. I use an aggragator to browse blogs I'm interested in,
then jump to the blog to read the entries that catch my attention. I
think you'll find that this will become the way almost everyone reads
blogs -- please don't paint yourself out of that picture.
There are a number of interesting, strongly written LDS blogs out
there. I hope to see good things from Deseret Book's bloggers as well.
I'm looking forward to seeing more of Tyro's thoughts.
I'm a sucker for information about Alma the Younger, so I was pretty jazzed. This article is a nice introduction, and it really whetted my appetite for more.
Thanks for writing it Br. Talley. When is the next articles due out?
I pointed out that you could combine these statistics to get a rough measure of private activity among all memebers. Doing so indicates that general LDS and non-LDS private activity rates are about the same.
Dave then pointed out that there are two possible explanations: 1) the church encourages public acts over private ones, or 2) the church is able to encourage public acts even among those who are not privately active. While I don't have any real evidence, I lean to the second view Dave mentioned. While it's dangerous to speculate from an unsupported base, I wonder if there are lessons to be learned here.
Last night I attended a meeting about Home Teaching, inactivity, and missionary work. In our stake we're home teaching about 40%, inactivity levels are pretty high (we have over 450 propective elders), and convert baptisms have dropped to less that 50% of last year's rates. We've obviously got some work to do. The question is: Where do we apply our limited resources?
One school of thought would be that we should focus on those who are not publicly active, encouraging them to attend church meetings and fellowship with their fellow saints. Hopefully as some of them respond to this invitation and become publicly active, some of those will become more privately active as well.
Another tack would be to focus on the publicly active but privately inactive members first, encouraging them to become more devoted, more deeply converted. As these members begin to exercise greater faith, they will be better able to reach out to those that are not publicly active. I think this was the idea behind the 'retrenchment' movements of the 19th century.
Do we need to retrench before we can reach out?
In his essay "Is Theology Poetry", C.S. Lewis refactors the title into "Does Christian Theology owe its attraction to its power of arousing and satisfying our imaginations?" which reminded me of Jeff Lindsay's recent post The Anti-Mormon Plea: PLEASE Don't Pray about the Book of Mormon. We are often accused of letting our feelings or our imaginations take the place of "real inspiration" when we ask people to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon or when we bear testimony of our experiences after having done so ourselves.
In another essay, "Transposition", Lewis gives a good model for dealing with this. He describes transposition as the representation of a richer reality in a poorer medium. Believing that it is better to blame ignorance than malice, I believe that this concept applies very well to spiritual experiences like praying about the Book of Mormon. Those who have not experienced spiritual promtings (viewing the transposition from beneath in Lewis' words) have no basis for knowing that the Spirit does testify in repsonse to prayerful seeking, and will deride our testimony as the effects of imagination. Those who have had this experience (seeing the transposition from above), can see and respond to the fuller picture.
In answer to his reworked question, Lewis answers that true Christianity does not appeal to our imaginations, but to something higher. It makes unpleasant (from a natural perspective) demands on us which only make sense after we have undertaken to answer them. When we are able to view the transposition of our faith from above, then we find that it appeals to our Spirit. When we act on the word, we find that we are drawn closer to God. When we pray in faith to know that the gospel has been restored in these latter days, we hear the Spirit's whispered response.
After I started thinking about this, but before I posted it, I saw a pair of posts related to this grouping of ideas over on Ebenezer Orthodoxy — A Second Witness and On the Authentication of Scripture.
I think Ebenezer is dead on. We often forget that God has a different perspective than our own, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8). A couple of years ago, I had an experience that became a parable in our family (we collect a lot of these, I don't know why.)
As a family, we were staying in a hotel on a Sunday. As we were trying to get ready for church, my daughter couldn't find her dress shoes. She and I were standing on opposite ends of a largish closet. We had both partially opened the sliding door from our end (creating an open space, then the overlapping doors, then another open space) and were looking into the closet when she asked if I knew where her shoes were. I glanced down at the floor of the closet and saw them sitting there.
When I told her where they were, she said she couldn't see them. I told her just to trust me and reach into the closet. I had a perspective that let me see the shoes that she couldn't. As we drove to church, we talked about what had happened and realized that it was a nice little illustration of how we sometimes need to let go of our point of view and trust the Lord to achieve the end He has in mind.
a bird's eye view
To Speak of Many Things
I hope you enjoy them as much as I have been.
I'll be sorry to see the current presidency disbanded. They're all great men, and have done a wonderful job in their callings. I have faith that the new presidency will be every bit as inspired (and inspiring). Succession happens, I can deal with that.
I'm saddened that we (as a stake, as a people ...) are so prone to speculating over who will fill new positions that the rumour mill kicked into high enough gear that the current presidency felt a need to counteract it by announcing the upcoming change.
But the kicker, at least to me, is that we care so little about stake conference (or general conference for that matter) that we need to tell people that there's a special occasion so that they'll come. It almost seems that some people feel conference is a week off from church.
I enjoy the resonance between this vision and the Savior's Parable of the Sower. Both discuss the same four kinds of people:
1) Those that hear the message, but don't do anything about it. In the parable, they are desribed as falling by the wayside and being eaten by fowls. In Lehi's dream, he says that multitudes felt their way toward the great and spacious building (apparently ignoring the rod and the path to the tree altogether.)
2) Those that hear the message and start to obey, but fall away quickly. The Savior says that these fell into stony places and sprung up, but having no root withered in the sun. In the dream, these would be those that started along the path to the tree but lost their way in the mist.
3) Those that hear and accept the message, but are lost to the world. The parable describes these as falling among thorns which choked them. In Lehi's dream, these are the multitude who make it to the tree and partake of the fruit only to hear the scoffing of those in the great and spacious building and become ashamed, falling away.
4) The last group are those that hear and accept the message and then endure to the end. The Savior describes them as falling into good soil and bringing forth good fruit. Lehi says that "other multitudes" pressed forward, holding to the rod, and partook of the fruit of the tree.
Without further ado, the timeline:
|173 BC||Alma(1) born in Nephi-Lehi|
|151 BC||Mosiah(2) born in Zarahemla|
|150-148 BC||Abinadi teaches in Lehi-Nephi, and is martyred|
|145-120 BC||Alma(1) leads people in Helam|
|147 BC||Alma(1) teaches at the Waters of Mormon|
|c. 130 BC||Alma(2) born in Helam (see Alma 5:5)|
|124 BC||Mosiah(2) begins to reign|
|120 BC||Mosiah(2) authorizes Alma(1) to organize the church|
|100 - 92 BC||conversion of Alma(2)|
|91 BC||Alma(1) dies at 82 years old, Alma(2) becomes the High Priest|
Mosiah(2) dies at 63 years old, Alma(2) becomes Chief Judge
|87 BC||Alma(2) wounded in battle|
|86-85 BC||Alma(2) baptizes thousands|
|83 BC||Alma(2) gives up judgement seat|
Alma(2) preaches in Zarahemla and Gideon
|82 BC||Alma(2) preaches in Melek and Ammoniha (with Amulek)|
|81 BC||Prison in Amonihah cast down|
Alma(2) and Amulek preach in Sidon and return to Zarahemla
|81-77 BC||Alma(2) reunited with Sons of Mosiah|
|74 BC||Alma(2) gives "Oh that I were an Angel" sermon|
Dispute with Korihor
Alma(2) leads mission to Antionum (Zoramites) with sons Shiblon and Corianton
|73 BC||Alma(2) instructs Helaman(1), Shiblon, and Corianton|
Alma(2) teaches Helaman(1) again
Alma(2) is translated
Helaman(1) becomes High Priest
I've enjoyed Daniel Peterson and William Hamblin's articles in Ideas & Society for quite a while. Their recent piece on Najaf is a good example. It provides a brief, "tour stop"-like introduction to why Najaf is important in Shi'ite (and Sunni) Islam. There was enough meat to make it fun for me to read, but approachable enough for me to point it out to my teenager. The only thing I'd like to see is a pointer to further information.
Thanks for the work Brothers Peterson and Hamblin.
In fact, their proximity to us even brings an added benefit. While they might not provide the same kind of insights into the scriptures that the early fathers do, their modern focus can apply more directly to our own light. Our shared context can also make their exigesis more approachable to us.
Over the next couple of weeks I'll try to post some entries about conference talks from the past.
Over on Mormanity in Jeff's post on Alma 36 and chiasmus (see also his follow-up) I asked about finding a community for discussing potential chiasms. In one of my comments, I promised to post something, and here it is.
In Alma 26:6-8 there are what I think are some interesting parallelistic patterns, an extended parallel, a simple parallel, and a chiasm. Here's my attempt at laying them out:
A Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the
storm at the last day;
B yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by
but when the storm cometh
C they shall be gathered together in
A that the storm cannot penetrate to
B yea, neither shall they be driven with
C whithersoever the enemy listeth to
a they are in the hands of the Lord of the
a they are his;
A and he will raise them up at the last day.
B Blessed be the name of our God;
C let us sing to his praise, yea,
C let us give thanks
B to his holy name,
A for he doth work righteousness forever.
So, what do you think?
O THAT I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
This scripture is quoted frequently by members of the LDS church to help instill a desire to do missionary work. It seems to capture the drive to bear testimony and share the gospel very well. For me though, it has begun to take on a second meaning -- a warning about taking scriptures out of context.
In Alma 29, Alma the Younger begins with this heartfelt exclamation, but over the next few verses repents and recants his wish (see vv 3, 6-7, and 8).
In fact, Alma 29 becomes a great example of how seeing hebreaisms can help clarify scriptures. Alma 29 is composed of two large chiasms (vv1-7 and 8-17) which encapsulate at least 6 smaller parallel patterns (vv 2, 4-5, 9, 9-10, 11-13, and 15-16) (See Donald Parry. TheBook of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns. 1992. pp 260-1.) Looked at through this view, you can still see the powerful message about missionary work as well as awarning against aspiring to roles outside your stewardship -- and the desire to pull a verse out of context is harder to justify.
I'm not done putting my thoughts about Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers into a readable state, but I thought I'd better try to get a couple of more things written in the meantime.
While reading Jeff Lindsay'spage on "Bicola, Tricola, Paired Tricola, and Isaiah Variants in 2 Nephi 12 of the Book of Mormon: Authentic Hebrew Poetry?", I got interested in Bicola and Tricola. I went hunting and found The Pivot Pattern in Biblical Hebrew as another reference. It wasn't about the same thing. Rather, a specific kind of tricola in which the 2nd colon "belongs semantically to the first and third cola alike." (Wilfred G. E. Watson) -- for example:
Hearken unto the voice of my cry,
my King, and my God,
for unto the will I pray.
I was pretty excited as I read the paper, and went to look at the examples that they listed. Then, I hit a problem:
|citation||example translation||KJV translation|
|Joel 4:20 (Joel 3:20)||But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation.|
|Genesis 4:24||If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold|
The pivot pattern shows up well in a very literal translations, but not so well in the KJV. This presents a problem, the Book of Mormon is closer in style to the KJV than the literal translations used in the paper. So it looks like I'm going to need to try to get a bette rhandle on deconstructing the Book of Mormon text to get at the original (Hebrew) structure to see the pivot patterns that I believe are there.
When I wrote "Scriptural exegesis can really only be performed by individuals in a ministerial role -- anyone else lacks the context to really understand how the scriptures should apply to our lives." in Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, I had misremembered Hall's comments and inadvertently combined two points. He didn't claim that the fathers believed that you must be a practicing minister to be a successful exegete, but that you needed to be a practicing Christian and that their ministerial role added a dimension of practicality to their understanding of the scriptures. Neither of these ideas is new. In them, I hear echoes from conference talks and lesson manuals.
Developing a love of the scriptures should be more than an act of Christian duty, is should be a Christian activity (as opposed to an academic exercise). The scriptures were written under the influenceof the Holy Ghost and are more effectively read under the same influence. Prayer, pondering, keeping the commandments, and living up to the covenants we've entered into keep us attuned to the voice of the Spirit and will help open our minds to the scriptures.
Serving in a ministerial capacity helps focus our attention in scripture study on those practical matters pertaining to our stewardship. Our service provides a laboratory for working out the real world application of the lessons we learn. The insights that we gain as we pray, ponder, and study the scriptures, while seeking the Lord's help in our callings, will cast new light on the scriptures. (I see this as one of the blessings of magnifying a calling.)
- The first is that the fathers operated in a very different milieu than we do.
- The second has to do with their temporal proximity to the scriptures (Hall calls it 'Hermeneutical Proximity')
- The third is that the scriptures were a large part of their personal and communal lives.
Their temporal proximity to the scriptures provides the fathers with access to a number of clues that we lack. For example, Hall points to the intertextual links between different books in the scriptures -- links that we might miss. He points out Matthew 5:5, which several of the father's connect with Moses (and in the case of Theodoret Numbers12:3) as a case in point.
The deep inclusion of the scriptures in early fathers' lives came about through several means. Many of the fathers expected that a reader wanting to understand the scriptures would read them frequently and intensely, even several hours a day. The stories and songs in the scriptures formed a part of community life, Hall compares their role to that of music today. Finally, educational models of the day focused on memorization, giving the father's anadmirable well from which to draw as they read.
How does all of this affect me? Well, first, I can read the fathers -- reading their exegesis can give me the opportunity to see through a different lens, gaining insights that I might have missed on my own. Next, I can try to apply their tools to my own scripture study -- trying to avoid applying my cultural preconceptions to the scriptures; developing an understanding of the the textual methods of the day; and immersing myself in the scriptures through reading alone, as a family, and through listening to the scriptures being read or sung.
- (from the book) Scriptural exegesis can really only be performed by individuals in a ministerial role -- anyone else lacks the context to really understand how the scriptures should apply to our lives.
- (from the book) Early christians interacted differently with the scriptures than modern christians do, because they read (and sang) them communally.
- (from the book) There is a real benefit to modern christians who will make the effort to read the patrilogia. The insights of these men might challenge modern assumptions, but can also shed light on the scriptures because of their proximity to them.
- (a personal take) Conference talks (especially those by Apostles) are similar in many ways to the patrilogia. Do I spend enough time studying them (especially those that pre-date my membership in the Church)?
Hopefully as I spend some time re-reading, I can put my thoughts about the above into bloggable shape.