Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Shock of Contrast!

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Shock: 1) extreme surprise; 2) sudden overwhelming dismay or outrage …

Shocking things seem the norm in these days of “reality” TV, bombastic talk-hosts, up-the-anti newscasts, and political Humpties.[1] But with repetitious exposure, like the torture scenes from Iraq, the shock wears off as pundits assuage conscience and justify cause. Thus we “progress” from shock to benign acceptance to titillating entertainment.[2]

One wonders if this happened to Isaiah (700s BC) walking naked and barefoot for three years as a symbol and warning to those who looked to Egypt and Ethiopia for security (Old Testament Isaiah 20)? Or to Hosea (also 700s BC) who took an infamous harlot to wife whose subsequent conceptions were the blatant children of whoredoms (Old Testament Hosea 1:2; 2:4). Both prophets acting under specific instruction from God!

But in our day, without the daily visual—with only the written account—we remain too shocked to read with comprehension the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying:
Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. And they [the misguided people] shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory (Old Testament Isaiah 20:2-5).
We cannot abide even the literary shock of a naked prophet. We prefer to remove only his “upper garment, like a slave or exile” (KJV: LDS footnote at 20:2a). Or more conservative yet, we confine our vision to the removal of “his upper garment …, and to have nothing on but his tunic (cetoneth);” which was “opposed to common custom” (Old Testament Student Manual, Vol. 2: 157).[3]

But that is not what is written in Holy Scripture. There the shock of contrast is too great. We skip loins and buttocks as if God were above such prophetic imagery. Whether Isaiah was fully naked or more likely draped with a meager loin cloth that exposed his buttocks[4]—we are not prepared for either scene, and thus miss the shocking vision and transformative power of both his prophecy and his symbolic truth.

Hosea does not fare much better—nor have the depth charges of the symbolic and parabolic that have been stripped from our “sophisticated” culture and consciousness. We seem to have lost, not only the ability to read between the lines, we can’t even read the lines themselves.

Makes one wonder (with all our latter-day excesses and distractions), if there might not be other shocks of contrast in the wings!

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[1] Unfortunately, too few were Humpty Dumpties as was proven in the latest election. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men” seem to have retired in favor of all the king’s money.
[2] Just ask Jack Bauer devotees.
[3] See (14-32) at http://www.ldsces.org/inst_manuals/ot-in-2/manualindex.asp reproduced here:
(14-32) Isaiah 20:2. What Was Meant by Isaiah Walking “Naked and Barefoot”?
“With the great importance attached to the clothing in the East, where the feelings upon this point are peculiarly sensitive and modest, a person was looked upon as stripped and naked if he had only taken off his upper garment. What Isaiah was directed to do, therefore, was simply opposed to common custom, and not to moral decency. He was to lay aside the dress of a mourner and preacher of repentance, and to have nothing on but his tunic (cetoneth); and in this, as well as barefooted, he was to show himself in public.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 7:1:372.)” [Relevant questions: Were sensitivity and modesty the norm imposed on slaves and exiles whom Isaiah was symbolizing? And can we ever, with our limited vision, impose our “moral decency” upon the God of Abraham (who was commanded to sacrifice his son); or upon the God of Hosea; or the God of Nephi1 (who slew Laban); or the God of Moses/Joshua/David/Elijah/Elisha, and so forth (and their participation in the deaths of countless numbers)? The shock of contrast and contradiction keeps us, too often, from reading, let alone acknowledging, what is written. Or admitting that we shall never understand God with the rational mind alone.]
[4] –the common lot of many slaves—

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What are we attracting?

Our present world seems consumed with theories of attracting (accumulating?) wealth, fame, power, prestige, etc., etc.,—in short, the things of this world. Are these things not the substance of LoA[1] pitches and promotions? Finding favor with the Universe? Tuning in to energies that will materialize our material desires—grant our wills and wishes? But do we ever ask what the Divine Mentor attracted? What His Will and Desire was?
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (New Testament John 15:18-19).

Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work (New Testament John 4:34).
Consider also the words of Isha Schwaller de Lubicz:
Many are those who project their imaginings outside themselves and create gods “in their own image and likeness.” The powers they would adore are those that can grant them all the boons they yearn for in this world and the next. They are answered by Christ’s word: “Ye know not what ye ask” (Mark 10:38).

Their wish is for an idol to protect and favor them, or else for a divine being who can be loved possessively. But paradises, like gods, are made by men according to their desires, and their misfortune will be that they will often find what they have imagined. But what we can imagine is no part of the inexpressible Divine.

An omnipotent desire is one which animates the very cells of your being and makes you able to seize and grasp the object of your affinity. Such a desire has magic power, and, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, man uses it imprudently. For the god, or power, which answers him is of the same nature as his desire. The money-grubber invokes the powers of money, the social climber the powers of the social order, and the thinker invokes intellectual powers. Thus the seeker is ruled and restricted by his affinity. This is his hell, or purgatory, in which he is already confined in this present life.

As for the so-called “spiritual desires,” the potency of “the Desire” must not be confused with these anemic wishes for spirituality, or emotional longings toward some God or other who is expected to reciprocate, to show good intentions, and to provide all the scenic effects which lull the pious into an illusion of beatitude.

… When the illusory vanishes, reality appears. The necessary experience is to recognize the real in the midst of the world of illusion.

To do this I must clear my own ground, eliminate all that is not my true self, and create in myself the milieu which can attract the Spirit …[2]
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[1] Law of Attraction
[2] The Opening of the Way: A Practical Guide to the Wisdom of Ancient Egypt by Isha Schwaller de Lubicz (Trans. from the French by Rupert Gleadow), © 1981, Inner Traditions International, New York, p. 78.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lesson from an Old Prophet*

(*with an assist from the JST)

In the Old Testament (I Kings 13) we have a somewhat disturbing story of a man of God who under strict instructions delivers a dire warning to Jeroboam, king of Israel. After a furious, then humbling and miraculous encounter, the king mellows and invites the man of God home (to the palace?) for refreshment and a reward.

The man of God replies:
If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place: For so was it charged me by the word of the LORD, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Beth-el (1 Kings 13:8-10).
Shortly thereafter, upon hearing the dramatic events related by his sons, “an old prophet in Beth-el” rides off after the man of God and extends another invitation to return to Beth-el and eat bread. The man of God again refuses, repeating the strict instructions of his errand. Whereupon the old prophet says (as corrected in the Joseph Smith Translation):
I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water, [that I may prove him; and he lied not] unto him. So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water. And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came unto the prophet that brought him back: And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and hast not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee, But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the LORD did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers (JST: 1 Kings 13:18-22, JST correction in bold).
What is the lesson? What is the warning? Here, an old prophet counsels a younger one to disregard a personal directive from God and follow his [the older prophet’s] contrary counsel. Joseph Smith tells us that the contrary counsel was to prove the man of God. If we read the rest of the story, we see how dire the consequences were.

So what is the lesson? Perhaps it is this: that personal directives from God—including personal directives of the Holy Spirit— are NEVER to be over-ridden—not by a spouse, not by a good friend, not by a bishop, not by a stake president, not even by an apostle or prophet.

And might not a corollary of this be: that we never act upon anyone’s word (or inspiration), no matter who they are or what position they hold, unless we have our own personal confirming witness?

Have we not been warned about trusting in the arm of flesh? And been advised that the wise are those who “have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived” (D&C 45:57)?

Consider these:
Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house. Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me (Old Testament Micah 7:5-7).

O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 4:34).

The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world (Doctrine and Covenants Section 1:19-20);
Again, a quote from George Q. Cannon[1]:
It is indeed our right and privilege to have the companionship of the Holy Spirit of the Lord, and we need it.

Even children may have it if they will, and need not be left to walk alone on earth. Every woman should win and keep it for herself, and never try to walk by another's light. If she puts her whole trust in another, even if he be her husband and a good man, he will surely some time fail her. Let her learn to stand alone so far as human aid is concerned, depending only on God and the Holy Ghost.

Do not, brethren [and sisters], put your trust in man though he be a bishop; an apostle, or a president; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place, they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. They could still see that He is just and true, that truth is lovely in His sight, and the pure in heart are dear to Him.

Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or men.

Therefore, my brethren and sisters, seek after the Holy Spirit and His unfailing testimony of God and His work upon the earth. Rest not until you know for yourselves that God has set His hand to redeem Israel, and prepare a people for His coming.

If any present have it not, let me advise you to begin seeking for it this very night. Pray, fast, study, and open the doors of your hearts that wisdom may enter; and you shall know when you have received the Holy Ghost by a great increase of faith, courage, strength, understanding, and all good gifts. This is indeed a precious gift, the source and fountain of all other gifts. Ask for it, therefore, until you receive it, because we should have it.[2]
In short, even this blogger’s thoughts and questions should not be blindly accepted or rejected. I raise these matters because it seems in these latter-days that we too often neglect (maybe are even counseled at times to disregard) the Holy Spirit as our guide in favor of the easier path of trusting and following leaders and pundits without sufficient thought, assessment, and confirmation.

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[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Q._Cannon
[2] “Need for Personal Testimonies” discourse delivered by President George Q. Cannon, in Manti, Sanpete County, on the Evening of Feb. 15, 1891. Reported by L. L. Dalton. (Collected Discourses, 1886-1898, Vol. 2; Brian H. Stuy, ed.; see also Millennial Star, 53:674.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

PEF or PIF?

Some years ago at a BYU alumni leadership meeting, Elder JKC spoke about the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) initiated in April 2001. He said, in essence, “I will not tell you the amount of the fund, but church members have been exceedingly generous and the fund is very, very, very substantial.” Then he explained that all PEF donations were invested and that only the interest earned was used for educational loans.[1]

I was somewhat amazed to hear that this enormous fund was locked away to earn interest when the immediate need for educational opportunity was so enormous—not only in “3rd world” and developing nations, but even in industrial and advanced ones where there are poor and needy in every town, city, and rural community. I could not understand this investment in banks (etc.) rather than immediate investment in people’s educational needs and dreams. It reminded me of several years ago when many, many Wards also invested their local budget monies in banks instead of adequately funding their programs. When the authorities announced a centralization of finance, where all funds were to be turned to the Church (for centralized reallocation), many wards went on buying sprees (often for scouting equipment) to use up their excess surpluses before centralization deprived them of their investments.

In 2010, with many members unaware of the “investment” strategy of their PEF contributions, the ENSIGN announced the success of the fund for “38,000 participants in 42 countries.”[2] In nine years, that amounts to about 4,200 educational assists per year—a huge blessing, of course, for those assisted—BUT how much more could have been done with this enormous fund? How many languish without hope when the huge fund is administered sparingly (when compared to its size) by a few, including volunteers?

What could Greg Mortenson[3] have accomplished with PEF monies? How many children, adults, and communities have been blessed by the initiative of one man, his supporters, and his local recruits?

Why can’t we trust the members to continually replenish the PEF? Aren’t they doing so? This is not a frozen fund, so WHY do we resort to business school strategies of BIG finance? Why do we trust in the vagaries, excesses, and volatility of financial markets? How much did PEF lose in the downturn? Why do we read the parable of the talents as if it were a treatise on increasing the money supply? Why do we pretend that the Perpetual Education Fund is like the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, when in size and administration it is not?[4] Why is there so little transparency? Why, if education is so important, do we not seek out every possible educational need (regardless of age) and invest more in people than in financial instruments? Why do we, in déjà vu of other times, places, and peoples seem so easily distracted by the business of business and the promise of profits? Is our capital fund the priority or our brothers and sisters?

Why do I raise these questions? Because even the wisest of the wise, as in King Solomon, could not maintain his balance and divine perspective when surrounded by wealth and power! Are we any different? Or do we need persistent Socratic questioners of every stripe who annoy, and perhaps even infuriate and displease, those who walk in the corridors of power and wealth? Jesus himself was one of those “offenders.” Just take a look at the number of ?-marks amongst his words. Perhaps He would have us all asked a few more questions.

In the words of Brother Brigham and Brother George Q. Cannon:
Brigham Young: Some may say, Brethren, you who lead the Church, we have all confidence in you, we are not in the least afraid but what everything will go right under your superintendence; all the business matters will be transacted right; and if brother Brigham is satisfied with it, I am. I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves, for this would strengthen the faith that is within them. Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are, this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord. ¶ Every man and woman in this kingdom ought to be satisfied with what we do, but they never should be satisfied without asking the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, whether what we do is right. (Brigham Young, October 6, 1855, Journal of Discourses, 3:45)

George Q. Cannon: Do not brethren [and sisters], put your trust in man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support is gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him, and not in any man or men. (George Q. Cannon, Millennial Star, 53:674)

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[1] See “The Perpetual Education Fund: A Bright Ray of Hope” by Elder John K. Carmack, Ensign, Jan 2004, p. 37+ which confirms this at: http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=d20774536cf0c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
[2] Perpetual Education Fund Thriving Nine Years Later, Ensign, February 2010 http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=f2e8b3d7e4b66210VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Mortenson (May 10, 2011: Recent news has clouded his reputation. What have been his accomplishments is still uncertain.)
[4] As a revolving fund, emigrating loans were made out of donations, not the interest on donations. “How shall I Gather?” by William G. Hartley, Ensign, Oct. 1997
http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=53be57b60090c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD . See also “They Came by Handcart” by Paul H. Peterson, Ensign, August 1997 (at subheading: Gathering to Zion) http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=86ec57b60090c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
 
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