“…whether by mine own voice…”

        In 1864, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a serious problem in the Sandwich Islands, what today we call Hawaii. The head of the church’s mission there had abused his stewardship and needed to be replaced. Elders Lorenzo Snow and Ezra T. Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve were dispatched to set things in order. To assist them in this endeavor, they recruited a young man who had just returned from a three-year mission in England and who had previously served a mission in Hawaii, where he learned the language and became well acquainted with the islands and their inhabitants.

        After a long voyage, the party’s ship lay anchored in a channel at their destination. The seas in this region were rough, and traversing them could be dangerous unless you had the right kind of boat, were familiar with the currents, and knew the location of a man-made breakwater. Our young missionary possessed this knowledge, which he shared with his companions, recommending that they enlist the help of the locals and their specially designed boats to get ashore. But Elders Snow and Benson would have none of this.

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Mary and the Sword

      Winston Churchill was a passionate student of history and wrote extensively on the subject, including celebrated multi-volume accounts of the two world wars. An important lesson he derived from his studies is captured in one of his most famous quotes: “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.”

      This mindset is a prerequisite to divining the meaning of biblical prophecies, which are less about the future and more about the past and what we need to learn from it. And there is no better illustration of this principle than the second oracle of Simeon chronicled in Luke. 

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The Gift of—and to—the Magi

      Christmas stimulates our senses like no other holiday. The dazzling holiday lights and decorations, the scent of pine from the tree and the aroma of roasted chestnuts emanating from the street vendor’s cart in the big city, that first sip of cinnamon-laced eggnog (we’ll pass on the fruitcake, thank you very much), the heft and feel of an unwrapped present, and the warm embrace of friends and family with whom we reunite. And my favorite of all: the laughter of children and the music of the season. Especially the music. 

      The sensory appeal of the holiday is not surprising since Christianity is very much a materialist religion, emphasizing the physical world and the human body as vehicles of the divine. In Medieval Europe this belief often found expression in an intense desire to be near the relics of the saints and martyrs, sacred objects that were frequently venerated in magnificent religious structures. The Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, for example, was built in the 1240s by Saint Louis to house the Crown of Thorns, believed to have been on Christ’s head during the crucifixion.[1]

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A Christmas Story

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

1 Timothy 4:12 (KJV)

      Gene Weingarten, an award-winning author and writer for The Washington Post, was trying to come up with a topic for his next book. While bouncing ideas off his editor, he said: “What if we randomly pick a day from the recent past—last 50 years or so—and write about what happened in the United States during those 24 hours?” 

      His editor liked it, and so the two of them, on New Year’s Day, 2013, headed to Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington where they imposed on some fellow oyster lovers to help them select a date between 1969 and 1989. Through the drawing of three numbers—a day, a month and a year—from an old green fedora, a day was chosen: December 28, 1986. 

      The two of them were crestfallen.

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The Origins of Christ Jesus

      Since Advent begins today, it seems appropriate to turn our attention to the infancy narratives found in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. 

      When we study these scriptures, we typically skip over the verses at the beginning, which deal with the Savior’s ancestry. I imagine we do this because we assume they do nothing more than recite Christ’s lineage, just like the family trees we create on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. We also may be a bit perplexed by the numerous differences between Matthew and Luke’s genealogies. 

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Grace and Gratitude

      ’Tis the season of giving thanks for the gifts we have received.

      While most of us appreciate the importance of gratitude, we typically give little thought as to how we express it. We don’t stop to ask: “How should I give thanks? What is the best way to show my appreciation?”

      The importance of the manner in which we express our gratitude is embodied in the very word “thanks.” As the German philosopher Martin Heidegger observed, the word “thank” is etymologically similar to the word “think.” “To think” in German is denken while “thanks” is danken.[1]

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Resistance is Necessary, not Futile

    “What’s in a name?” Juliet rhetorically asks in reference to Romeo’s clan: the Montagues. The answer, as she would soon learn, is: “quite a lot.” And in the world of the Old Testament, names were hugely important.

      The creation story underscores its significance when God gives a name to our world and to each of its features and inhabitants. For the Israelites, your name was an essential part of your individuality and created a link between you, your ancestors and descendants, preserving your connection with the living even after you have departed.

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Incest

      Well, I’ll bet the title of this essay got your attention! I mean, when was the last time you read a post about incest on a website devoted to religious, scriptural and historical subjects? But what better place to find it than in the Book of Genesis where Lot is warned by some angels to take his family and get out of Sodom—a place known for its deviancy—before all hell breaks loose. Literally! His wife doesn’t make it—too much sodium in her diet, apparently—but his daughters do, though the first thing on their minds, once they have fled to the hills, is seducing their father. And you thought the Kardashians were strange!

“Sodom and Gomorrah afire, by Jacob Jacobsz. de Wet d. J., c. 1680
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The Fifth Commandment

      When my parents married, my mother was not a member of the church and my father, who hailed from a long line of Latter-day Saints, had been inactive for some time. But they each retained a strong belief in God and desired to find a place to worship where they both would feel comfortable. 

      When I, their firstborn, arrived, they were attending the Presbyterian Church in my hometown, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. So I was baptized and added to the church register shortly after my birth. 

Cutest Baby Ever
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The Color of God

      One of our favorite family traditions when I was young boy—one we shared with millions of other Americans—was gathering around the television every Sunday evening to watch Bonanza, an American Western set in Nevada near Carson City. The show chronicles the adventures of the Cartwright family, owners of one of the largest ranches in the state: the Ponderosa.

      The family patriarch was the thrice-widowed Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), who had three sons of varying temperaments. The show, which ran a record 14 seasons on NBC, was popular because it offered both comedy and drama, and told compelling stories about the challenges the family, and those in its orbit, confronted.

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