Monday, December 7, 2009

'Tis the Season for Purple Tights

Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given in Hiram, Ohio in 1832. This revelation was the first of a succession of “Exaltation Revelations”—sections 76, 84, 88, and 93. These revelations don’t just talk about receiving eternal life, but about reaching exaltation. The Lord reveals that gaining eternal life means gaining immortality and being “saved,” but exaltation is something more; it is the acquisition of the highest degree of glory within the Celestial kingdom.

The prophet described his mindset and curiosity before the reception of section 76: “It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one.” This statement leaves me incredibly impressed with the profundity of Joseph Smith’s thoughts, and his inspired curiosity. This is what I call scripture study! Joseph Smith was not merely a tool in the building up of God’s kingdom, but also an influencer, a leader, an inquirer. He used his rational abilities to assess the truths that were left, and draw out the discrepancies he saw. And then, instead of submitting to incomprehension, he ponders and asks questions.

In a speech entitled “By Study and Also by Faith,” former BYU president, Rex E. Lee, talks about two approaches to learning and acquiring knowledge—the rational and the extrarational. He speaks of the First Vision saying, “…in the space of just a few minutes, a boy of fourteen years learned more about the true nature of God than had come from centuries of the best rational effort of the world’s best minds. The process was extrarational. It did not depend on study, thought, or contemplative inquiry. It came through revelation, through direct contact between a mortal man and his Father in Heaven. Joseph Smith’s experience is the most outstanding example of extrarational learning that has occurred since the resurrection of the Savior….” I agree. The First Vision was truly a remarkable manifestation of the power of the Spirit. President Lee goes on to say, however, that we must not forget all the studying and pondering that preceded this vision. Joseph understood that this pattern needed to continue on in all his gospel study and revelation. President Lee explains the necessity of such study, saying “No matter how righteous you are, no matter how carefully you cultivate the companionship of the Holy Ghost, there are vast amounts of knowledge which you need to acquire and which you are not going to receive through revelation. The great plan of eternal progress anticipates our growth and development through use of our mental skills, the kind of progress that can come only through the strenuous application of our reasoning abilities.”

The saints’ reaction to section 76 was one of discussion, dissension, and debate. Brigham Young said he even had to put it on the shelf for a time because he realized it might drive him out of the church. President Lee gives further instruction for situations such as this, and I want to add my testimony to his that this is true: “…it is almost inevitable that there will be some instances in which the rational method will lead us to some conclusion—not many, but some—which is at odds with what we know to be true because it has been revealed from God…The answer is not to stop the rational struggle with the problem, but rather to recognized the fallible nature of the rational process, the infallible nature of the extrarational process, and the inescapable conclusion that where inconsistencies in results occur—until such time that they can be reconciled—it is the extrarational that must prevail.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

'Tis Sorta Like a Videogame

In Section 49 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord refutes several beliefs of a religious group called the Shakers—the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. As the Lord corrects some of these traditions, we are able to gain some insight into the purpose of the earth and the nature of the creation.

The Shakers believed that a celibate life was considered higher than marriage. The Lord contradicts this belief in the revelation, saying, “whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.” He goes on to teach us that a man should have one wife, and “they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.” This verse raises the question of what exactly IS the end of the earth’s creation. In other words, what is the purpose of this earth God created for us? How are we to use the earth, and what is our purpose here? From what I understand, I believe God was teaching us that marriage is a sacred thing, meant to bring man and woman together so that they could multiply. In the next verse, it says “And that it might be filled with the measure of man.” God wants us to replenish the earth. From the days of Adam and Eve, he commanded us to join together, male and female, and continue to bring spirits to this earth to gain bodies and experience joy.

The Shakers also believed that the eating of pork was specifically forbidden, and many of them did not even eat meat. The Lord refutes this belief as well, saying, “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and raiment, and that he might have in abundance.” This part of the revelation again gives us insight into the purpose of the earth and its many creations. The Lord created animals for our use. He cautions that we use them wisely and sparingly, but ultimately, the earth and all its creations were made for the use of man.

It is interesting to see the earth cast in this light. It is very much viewed as a sort of ‘tool’ for us to use on our journey to exaltation.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Jelly's in the Fridge

This past week in my Doctrine and Covenants class, I was able to hear a lecture from Rita Wright about the new exhibit at BYU’s Museum of Art—“Types and Shadows.” During the next class period, we were able to actually go to the museum and discuss a few of the works in the exhibit.

I had an interesting experience, because I went to the exhibit on my own time the week before, and I formed my first impression about many of the works, but then I was able to go again and hear the perspectives of Rita and my classmates. There were a couple pieces that I completely discounted and disliked the first time I saw the exhibit. However, my second time through, I came away with different insights. I found the whole experience of pondering art very similar to what happens when I ponder the scriptures.

When I went on my own time, I saw Bennion’s painting called “Daily Bread.” It depicts a middle-aged looking woman wearing an apron and cradling bread in it. She looks very ordinary. She stands in stark contrast to the religious figures of the works surrounding her in the exhibit. At first, I hated the picture. I saw it, saw how illogical it seemed within the religious mindset I had come to the exhibit with, and I moved on without trying to interpret its meaning.

The second time I saw it, however, I knew it was in this exhibit for a reason, so I forced myself to draw out its religious meaning. To me, her apron is the most prominent feature of the painting. The apron can mean a lot of things; it can represent holy garments, earthly roles and purposes, caretaker duties, and more. The message I saw most clearly was that this woman, whoever she is, has a role, a purpose. I can see that she has responsibility for something—perhaps a family. The loaf of bread can communicate many messages as well. Perhaps this woman is a provider. She is the one responsible for feeding her children, her neighbors, her fellow man. But then, the bread could also cast the woman in a creator role. Like Eve, she could be a creator of children—a woman with stewardship over God’s people.

After coming to these realizations, and understanding the spiritual implications of the painting, the aspect of the painting that most perplexed me was the woman’s expression. It is not a happy one. She looks tired, weary, almost apathetic. She looks as if she’s put her best effort into that bread, but now she wants me to take it, and she never wants to think about that loaf of bread again. If I was right and this woman had such important provider and creator duties in her earthly life, why would the painter portray her with this kind of attitude? What sort of spiritual message does that teach us? My immediate thought was—aren’t we to do all things cheerfully? Aren’t we to have joy as we serve our Father in Heaven and accomplish our purposes on earth? But my next thought was that I don’t always do what I need to do with a smile on my face and a heart full of love and gratitude. Sometimes I grow weary. Sometimes I do things because yes, I have faith that in the end I will be rewarded, but in the moment I’m doing it, I’m just tired.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who's Worthy of a Brownie and a Pixie Stick?

In the Doctrine and Covenants we are able to read the Lord’s commands to the saints to move to Ohio. As we’ve gone through the several revelations and the historical context in class, the similarities between the Exodus in the Old Testament and the “exodus” of the LDS saints have become apparent.

New York—the “land of enemies”—represented Egypt for the Israelites. The latter-day saints were asked to leave New York and travel in the “wilderness,” eventually ending up in Ohio for a time. In Ohio, the saints received the “Law”—Section 42. Similarly, the Israelites wandered through the wilderness and Moses received the law at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19 & 20). Both of these movements of people eventually migrated to the land God designated for them—their own “promised land,” which was the Salt Lake valley for the latter-day saints.

Both of these journeys are a broader, spiritual metaphor of the journey we take through the plan of salvation. As a fallen race, we are vulnerable to the temptations and influence of Satan. We are among enemies—people and influences that want to thwart our progress towards the “promised land.” God commands us to leave these enemies behind, to perform a personal exodus from such situations and influences. The journeys through the wilderness are not unlike our mortal life on earth. We are to be tried and tested, guided and challenged, shaped and formed. However, we aren’t expected to do it all on our own mortal wisdom and guidelines. God has given us a “law.” The gospel and the scriptures are our guiding forces through this life on earth. If we abide by the commandments contained in them, God promises us the reward of a “promised land”—this can mean happiness, spiritual confidence in the sight of God, or other blessings that come from obeying the commandments. Finally, if we follow the right path, receive the law, try our best, and use the Atonement to make up for our failures, we are promised a great reward—a “promised land.” In other words, we will reap the blessings of the Celestial Kingdom and eternal life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Inside Out > Outside In

Section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants is designated “The Law,” and is a composite revelation that reveals many doctrines and organizational direction from the Lord. The Lord begins the section with “Hearken,” and proceeds to counsel the church on many matters. The first “law” (4-9) concerns missionary work, saying that we should “go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two, in my name.” The next issue is how we should go about gospel teaching (11-17). In this section of the revelation, the Lord instructs that we “teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fullness of the gospel.” In the next few verses (18-29), the Lord lays out the “law” of ethics and values, addressing the commandments not to lie, steal, kill, commit adultery, etc. He ends with the claim “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments.” Next, the Lord discusses the Law of Consecration (30-38), ending with the core principle of this concept, “For inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.” In verses 40-42, the Lord discusses a law concerning cleanliness and labor, touching on modesty, plainness, pride, and idleness. Next is the law of sickness and death (43-52) where the Lord talks about the powers of the Priesthood in healing and the glory of the resurrection after death. In 56-61, we learn the law of scripture and our duty to proclaim the word of God to all the ends of the earth. I love verse 61, which tells us, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” The Lord even states that the scriptures, as a whole, should “be my law to govern my church.” In verses 79-87, we get the law concerning the laws of the land. Essentially, we are a church that obeys the laws of the land, and if there be any issues or discipline in the church, it must be dealt with by at least two witnesses. Lastly, the Lord speaks of the law of offense (88-93). The Lord counsels that if offense is given, we must as a church, deal very carefully with the people involved. These things should not be publicized and the person in error should be given chance to repent and confess.

I felt as if this section revealed a lot about the nature of our God and His son, and the way in which they want their kingdom to be conducted. I felt there was great emphasis on order and appropriateness, all complemented by a dose of mercy, understanding, and compassion. Things must be done in a just and upright way, but they must always be done in the context of the Atonement and the pure love of Christ.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Last Piece of the Puzzle is the Best

Provo, Utah has something called the Crandall Printing Museum. I was able to take a tour through it last semester, and it was so interesting, I went through the 2-hour long tour and then stayed a long time after to talk to the staff. The museum has three main exhibits—three printing offices, each holding one of the following: the Gutenberg Press (a replica of the same press used to print the first Bible), the Benjamin Franklin Press (also known as the “free press”), and the Ramage Press (the first press used to print the Deseret News in Salt Lake Valley).

The entire experience was quite impressive, educational, and personally spiritual. The tour guides went through and explained the entire process of printing a page of text. The fact that Gutenberg spent the time to figure out this method of casting each and every letter, setting each letter in the correct order, and experimenting to find the right ink to print this text, is an enormous feat. His work had great repercussions throughout history and impacted the course of many religious lines. The change his work wrought on the accessibility of the Bible to the common man is something to be celebrated every time I pick up one of the many Bibles laying around my house, and any other book I use to further my education and awareness. This increase in the distribution of the Bible, and this expansion in the demographic who was able to access it led to much religious discussion, debate, and reformation. People could now see the doctrine for what it was, and interpret it using their own intellect and life experience.

As a side note, one of my favorite features about Bibles from this time period, which was also exhibited at the museum, is the decorative art that the monks added in by hand once the text was printed. I can’t get enough of the hand-painted art in old Bibles. I find it touching that these men spent such a great deal of time making the holy texts as beautiful as they could.

The scriptures are a great blessing that our Heavenly Father gave us through the work of many inspired and divinely motivated men. Gutenberg and others spent hours upon hours setting text to print the holy words; the monks of the time spent hours upon hours hand-painting a single page of the Bible to make the text as beautiful as it is holy. I often don’t take the time to pour over a passage of scripture as these men did. I left the museum shocked at the amount of time and effort that had to be put into reproducing the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon as Joseph Smith brought it forth during the restoration. I realized how blessed I am to have these inspired, hope-filled words of my Heavenly Father to guide me through the test of life. I left with a newfound resolution to value these texts with a greater devotion to their words than I have before. I know the Bible and the Book of Mormon are the word of God, and I thank all those who came before me and ushered in a time where these words can be read by all of God’s children.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Lover of Seasons and Overcast

Section 37 of the Doctrine and Covenants is the first commandment issued from the Lord concerning a gathering. He commands the saints to gather in Ohio because of the persecution of the enemy, and so they can receive the law (Section 42).

The geographical gathering that occurred throughout church history has had a huge impact on where I am in life today. Many of my Brimhall ancestors were pioneers and participated in this gathering—all the way to Salt Lake City and then to Arizona. All my relatives remain in the western U.S., and if it wasn’t for this command to move early in the church, then my parents wouldn’t have grown up where they did, and I wouldn’t have been raised in the area I was. This situation is similar for many kids in the area I grew up in—Mesa, Arizona. There is an outrageous amount of members in my neighborhood, and I was blessed with in-school seminary and an amazing amount of wards and stakes in such a small distance. The many commands in early church history for the saints to continue moving west has profoundly impacted the path my family has gone down, and the influence of the gospel in my life.

Today the Lord continues to issue a command to “gather.” We are to gather in our wards and stakes, and to lift where we stand. I cannot express how powerful my home ward is. I was taught by Sunday school teachers and Young Women’s leaders that took a great interest in my life and my spiritual needs. I was prepared by an army of leaders who wanted to send our youth into the world, equipped and ready to face the tactics of Satan. There was constant gathering occurring in my ward as I grew up. Ward members were always reaching out to other ward members and neighbors of other faiths. We visited each other, we looked out for each other, we lifted each other in the gospel. It was a ward where the members tried to emulate Christ and give momentum to the Father’s plan through constant love and gospel teaching. I was spoiled as a youth. In my particular circumstances, the gathering impacted my growth in the gospel profoundly. I was surrounded by a strong body of saints who shaped me into who I am today, and despite the cultural disadvantages that can arise, I wouldn’t trade that kind power that comes with a gathering of saints for anything.