In the early 1950s, the Karnaphuli pulp and paper mill, one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises in the recently established country of Pakistan, commenced operations. For raw material, the plant drew almost exclusively upon the vast bamboo forests along the upper reaches of the Karnaphuli River in East Pakistan. The suppliers of the bamboo and residents of the region, in addition to the venture’s founders, had high hopes for the project.
During the start-up phase, the business had its fair share of managerial difficulties and other troubles, but by the end of the decade it had begun to prosper. Then disaster struck. The bamboo began to flower.
This is a story about a planet called Vulcan. No, not the place where S’chn T’gai Spock—better known as “Mr. Spock”—was raised by his Vulcan father and human mother. This is about a planet in our Solar System by that very same name. It differs, however, from all the rest in one important respect: no one has ever been able to find it.
To understand the mystery of Vulcan and how it was eventually solved, we must first turn our attention to a different—and quite real—planetary body: Uranus. While Uranus was discovered towards the end of the 18thcentury, during the early 1800s astronomers were beginning to wonder whether it might actually be a star. Those doubts had arisen because the planet was not adhering to Newton’s theory of gravity.
We generally feel more comfortable around those who share our beliefs and outlook on life, who think the way we do. The naysayers, gadflies and critics in our ranks can be such a bother. They often challenge our perspective and compel us to rethink our opinions. Even when they do it politely and diplomatically, it can be unsettling.
Leaders likewise do not like dissenters. This is especially true with religious organizations, which are hierarchal in nature and believe their authority originates with God, thus shielding their actions and decisions from questioning. But heads of organizations of all stripes, in moments of frustration, often throw up their hands and say: “Why is it so hard for you to do what we ask, to simply conform?”
Throughout history, most societies have embraced the notion of an afterlife where the spirits of the dead reside. Such a belief frequently spurs the living to find ways to stay in touch, or otherwise maintain a connection, with those who have gone before. And some cultures do it in unique ways.
Mormons, for example, perform religious rituals in their temples on behalf of their ancestors, believing those ordinances will cement familial bonds through the eternities. The Catholic Church—until the Reformation quashed the practice—offered intercessory prayers and elaborate masses for the departed. Today, adherents of Catholicism frequently look to those beyond the veil (Saints) for assistance with matters in their daily lives.
As a passionate student of the American Civil War, I have visited many battlefields and other historical sites where the Bellum unfolded. But still on my list—until the fall of last year—was Charleston, South Carolina, the location of Fort Sumter, where the War Between the States formally began on April 12, 1861. I went there primarily to pay homage to Major Robert Anderson, the commander of the U.S. forces stationed in Charleston and perhaps one of the most important unsung heroes of our country’s fight for survival.
Major Anderson was ordered to assume command of two companies of Federal soldiers stationed in and around Charleston in November 1860, shortly after Lincoln was elected President. Tensions were high and talk of secession was rampant, creating a hostile environment for anyone sporting the uniform of a U.S. Army soldier.
The Healing of the Syrophoenician (Canaanite) Woman’s daughter, chronicled in both Matthew and Mark, is an episode in Christ’s ministry we tend to pass over or sweep under the rug because it is embarrassing and difficult to explain. The challenges posed by the text, however, are no excuse for leaving it out of a manual or treating it superficially. Indeed, ignoring inconvenient scriptures or ones that fail to reaffirm our beliefs shows an unwillingness to engage with them on their own terms and infantilizes both the teaching and learning process.
Towards the end of his ministry, Christ is around the Sea of Galilee where he performs many miracles and continues to preach his gospel. But he becomes so fatigued by the relentless crowds that he decides to get out of Dodge. He heads north to the region of Tyre and Sidon—the major seaports of Syria and Phoenicia—in search of privacy, solitude and rest. But, no sooner does he arrive than he is accosted by a mother seeking help for her sick child:
There is only one church calling I have ever coveted: Primary pianist. By means of inspiration, manipulation, and sometimes prevarication, I have managed to secure that posting, off and on, for around 25 years. My heart broke when three years ago back surgery compelled my release.
When people ask why I enjoy serving in this auxiliary so much, the first reason, on a very long list, is: “I have learned more about the gospel of Jesus Christ in Primary than I ever have in a Sunday school class or priesthood quorum.”
We frequently study the events, teachings and stories in the scriptures in a vacuum, giving little thought to what came before or what follows afterward. While we may appreciate the need to read a given passage in its proper historical and cultural context, we often fail to ask the question: is there something more I can learn about this narrative, parable or miracle by comparing it with what I just read or what comes later? A good illustration of what we gain by pursuing this line of inquiry can be seen when we contrast how two Old Testament Patriarchs—Noah and Abraham—interacted with the divine on certain occasions during their lives.
Each of the synoptic gospels recounts two miracles Christ performed on the Sea of Galilee. The first is Jesus calming the storm while the second is the Savior walking on the waters.
Jesus Calms the Storm
After a long day of teaching people near the shores of Galilee, Jesus proposed to his disciples that they cross over to the other side and continue their work there on the morrow. So they all piled into their boat and began what they thought would be an uneventful trip. But then the weather suddenly changed.
This essay is based loosely on some remarks I delivered at a flag raising ceremony in Arlington, Virginia on July 4, 2018.
What does it mean, “to be an American”? What defines us as a people? Some believe it is our fierce independence and dogged questioning of every new proposition, character traits often confounding to others. Baron von Steuben, a Prussian general who was enlisted by General Washington to train the raw recruits of the Continental Army, quickly encountered these vexing qualities.
Upon arriving at Valley Forge he discovered that his new charges were much different than the European soldiers he was used to commanding—men who were bred to deference and accustomed to obeying their superiors. In a letter to an old Prussian comrade after the war, von Steuben explained how he had to modify his regular approach: “You … tell your soldier, ‘Do this,’ and he does it; but I am obliged to say [to an American], ‘This is the reason why you ought to do that,’ and then he does it.” This should not have come as a complete surprise to the General since these were the same folks who had recently asked: “Why should we have to pay a tax on tea we didn’t consent to and, why don’t we have the right to elect representatives to Parliament?”