Leadership in Difficult Times: Courage, Faith, Knowledge and Vision

Allen Gewalten zum trotz, sich erhalten!
(“Despite all the powers, maintain yourself!”)

      The life of Sophie Scholl changed on the day she and most of her siblings were arrested by the Gestapo. Along with her brother Werner and her sister Inge, she was summarily removed from the family home in Ulm (a small town about 75 miles from Munich) and taken to a local jail.

Ulm, Germany in the 1930s

Their parents stood by helplessly as their children were handcuffed and their home was ransacked by the secret police. Sophie was 16 years old at the time while Inge and Werner were 20 and 15, respectively. Her older brother, Hans (19), had been taken into a custody a few weeks earlier.[1] The year was 1937.

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Leadership in Difficult Times: Forgetting

      In 480 BC, Xerxes, King of Persia, invaded Greece. He hoped to conquer and subjugate the region, succeeding where his father, Darius, had failed. Athens and Sparta, along with their respective allies, united to drive the Persians from their shores a second time.[1] Their decisive naval victory at the Battle of Salamis arguably changed the course of history.[2]

Battle of Salamis (1868), by Wilhelm von Kaulbach
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The Brightest or the Blackest Page

      In the late summer of 1786, the Continental Congress authorized a meeting in Annapolis, Maryland to address the problem of burdensome restrictions placed by the various states on interstate commerce. Only five states sent representatives. Lacking a quorum, they were unable to conduct business. So, with time on their hands, a group of them planned a rebellion.[1]

      The first step in their plot was to send a seemingly innocuous letter—penned by Alexander Hamilton—to the Continental Congress. In this missive, he asked Congress to direct the states to appoint commissioners to gather in Philadelphia in May of 1787 to consider such changes to the Articles of Confederation as would “render the constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the union.”[2] Congress assented to their request but limited the remit of the Philadelphia gathering to revising the Articles of Confederation.

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Women in The Old Testament

Set forth below is the text of a talk I gave on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2022, in the Sacrament Meeting of the Arlington First Ward, Arlington, Virginia.

      When Margaret was expecting our first child, a colleague of mine asked whether we were planning on a natural, drug-free birth. That was our original intent, I told him, until I learned she wanted me by her side in the delivery room. There was no way I could endure the ordeal of child birth without a couple of really stiff drinks and a valium beforehand. [Pause till laughter subsides.]

      As much as Margaret would love to be the subject of my talk, I have been asked to speak on women in the Old Testament. This is a vast topic about which many books have been written, so I will focus my remarks on the way women in general were regarded in the Hebrew Bible and on experiences in the lives of a few of them.

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A Praiseworthy Rebellion

      In a recent essay, I discussed the many flaws in the “wise choice” explanation for Eve’s decision to partake of the forbidden fruit. In this piece I advance my own explanation of Eve’s actions in the Garden, to wit: when she partook of the fruit, she was engaging in what I call a “praiseworthy rebellion.” Specifically, she made a conscious decision to yield to the serpent’s entreaties because, for her, Eden was no longer Eden. This thesis is not entirely of my own creation, though I do give it my own “Latter-day twist.”

“The Garden of Eden,” byLucas Cranach the Elder
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Jehovah’s Temple Project

      Mormons pride themselves on being “a temple-building” people. Yet we often miss, or fail to comprehend, numerous references to temples throughout the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, a compelling argument can be made that much of the Bible is one long meditation on the subject of sacred space. And it begins at the beginning.

      Contrary to popular belief, the creation story in Genesis does not purport to explain the origins of the universe; nor is it a literal description of how our world came to be. Rather, it is an account of the transformation of the material cosmos, which had evolved over eons, into a place where God can interact with his children. 

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Did Eve Make a “Wise Choice”?

      Humans crave certainty. Puzzles, mysteries and riddles are okay—so long as they have a solution. But when we encounter an enigma that defies explanation, we often sweep it under the rug or concoct a solution based on logic so twisted it would be the envy of a Cirque du Soleil contortionist. And this is especially true when we stumble upon befuddling paradoxes in our sacred texts, such as the story of Adam and Eve.

“The Garden of Eden,” by Thomas Cole (1828)

      The conundrum presented by the third chapter of Genesis—Was Eve’s decision to partake of the forbidden fruit a sin? a transgression? a necessary evil? or something else?—has been the subject of countless books, essays, and debates since ancient times.

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God at the Comedy Club

      In the beginning there was poop. God then molded the excrement into human form, which he then tickled. This caused his creation to laugh and come alive.  

      This is not my lame attempt at humor but rather the creation myth of aborigines of South Australia.[1] And the importance they ascribe to humor in the act of creation is not unique.

      Hactcin, the God of Jicarilla Apache, first created the animals, and laughed at the abundant variety of creatures roaming the earth, each with its peculiar habits and idiosyncrasies. It is said this is why people today laugh at the behavior of animals. 

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Robert Edward Lee

      Never in the history of the United States has public opinion changed so swiftly regarding an historical figure—absent the discovery of new information about the individual’s character or actions—than is the case with Robert E. Lee. 

      Almost instantly after his surrender, he became “universally admired even by those who have no sympathy toward the cause for which he fought.”[1] These sentiments also prevailed throughout the 20th century. Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Regan and countless others held him in high esteem. He was, according, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “one of our great American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.”[2] Winston Churchill wrote that Lee was “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived, and one of the greatest captains known to the annals of war.”[3]

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A Massacre That Likely Never Happened

      The majority of biblical scholars believe the infancy narratives found in Matthew and Luke are ahistorical (i.e., not factual).[1] Rather, they are an example of a creative genre of Jewish theological writing known as Haggadah, meaning “narrative.” The author starts from a scriptural text—the Old Testament, in the case of Matthew and Luke’s birth stories—and then improvises liberally, using symbolism, typology and allegory “to create a new story that reapplies the truths, hopes, patterns and meanings of the scriptural past to the present.”[2]

      In an essay I penned last year, I discussed the symbolic significance of the Magi and the Old Testament passages Matthew drew upon to explain how the Savior’s message would be received by the Jews and the Gentiles.  This essay picks up where the previous one left off: the story of the Massacre of the Innocents and the flight of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt. The most common reasons why most scholars believe this account is not historical are the following:

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