Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Life Beyond

When my Grandma Lemley passed away, Lynn Sybrowsky gave me The Life Beyond by Robert L. Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie. This was a very nice gift from her, and I read parts of it then. But not until the last couple days did I read the entire book.

A lot of the information in this book was not new to me. In fact, I had read much of it already in other books this year (without meaning to, I’ve apparently collected quite a few books on this same subject). This book deals with the spirit world, leading on to the resurrection and kingdoms of glory. Throughout this book, I collected a few nuggets of truth that I would like to share.

We often think and assume that those on the other side of the veil can see our every action. After all, we are taught that there are spirits all around us. However, the authors quote Charles W. Penrose and state that, just as we can’t see those in the spirit world, so likewise are they separated from us. And unless God wills it and permits it, they do not have contact with us. This was new a new teaching to me, but it makes sense. After all, in Life Everlasting, which I read earlier this year, there were many accounts where spirits in the spirit world asked how certain people were doing. If they were able to see everything going on with us, there would be no need to ask that question.

I have also heard it taught that when we cross to the other side of the veil, our memories will return. This is certainly false doctrine, for it would place everybody in the spirit world at an unfair advantage in hearing the Gospel. Therefore, the veil that is placed over our minds at birth is not entirely removed at death. In all likelihood, the veil will not be taken away completely until after the resurrection. The Lord has not yet revealed much on this subject.

Finally, I really liked a part towards the end where the authors declare that God is a successful parent. Just as Alonzo Gaskill states in his book Odds are You’re Going to be Exalted, they argue that God’s plan was created to save the majority of His children. It is capable of saving all of them, but still grants them their agency. God will truly save far more of His children than He will lose.

Monday, April 29, 2013

More Mouse Tales

In More Mouse Tales: a Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland, David Koenig adds more to his first book. More what? More humor, more information on how the park works, more stories I didn’t want to read, and a lot more criticism. To be fair, a lot of his criticism has to do with Michael Eisner (of whom I am no great fan), and the personnel he brought into the park. The author makes a very good point that you can’t run a show like a retail store. Disneyland is a show, with shops and restaurants included. Under Eisner’s management, the focus largely shifted to the retail aspect. At least now I know who to blame for the disappearance of some of my favorite shops when I was younger.

To continue with the business aspect of the book (which is how the book concluded), Disneyland’s management made a big mistake by cutting down on costs by basically trampling all over their employees. Before long, everyone who had been there since opening day quit. They couldn’t handle the new approach. The magic was gone. The business was not run the way Walt would have done it. I greatly respect Walt as a business man. You have to take care of the people working for you if you want them to preserve your brand. Walt would listen to anybody. That doesn’t mean he always did what was requested, but he would listen, and when he liked an idea, he gave it the green light.

Walt’s philosophy was to keep money in his guests’ pockets. Eisner’s philosophy was to take everything you could and leave them with nothing. Sadly, you can tell Disneyland maintains this philosophy, as prices go up year after year. I still love Disneyland, and I completely understand that Disneyland is still a business. But I think it’s important for its executives to remember exactly what business they are in. On that much, the author and I can agree.

As for the rest of the book, it was fun to read how different attractions have worked throughout the ages, and I especially enjoyed reading the humorous mishaps that happen now and then, along with silly questions and comments from guests. However, once again, the author shared some stories that I did not care to read.

Have these two books given me information about Disneyland I didn’t have before? Yes. Have they thrown a lot of dirt on Disneyland? Absolutely. Am I less of a Disney fan? No. Call me na├»ve. Call me ignorant. Or maybe, just call me a believer. I am a believer in Walt’s dream, and there is still magic in the park. It is a place of happy memories for me. Instead of boycotting it, or spreading snide comments about it, or looking for all the dirt I can, I will do my best to contribute to the goodness of it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mouse Tales

Amy and I received Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears look at Disneyland by David Koenig as a present. I was excited to read the book, because I love learning fun facts about the park, especially what goes on behind the scenes. At the beginning, the author talks about the day when he discovered the "magic" wasn't real, and became fascinated with how the magician works. I thought I was going to love the book. Sadly, it was a HUGE disappointment!

Although Koenig claims to be a fan of Disneyland, his word choice reveals him to be otherwise. For example, the following phrases have a tone of disdain for the park: "Disneyland is a complex show designed to manipulate guests," "Imagineers have had to get crafty when adding new rides," "The park has been equally creative and deceptive in paying tribute."

Despite the author's extremely poor word choice, his book does contain some elements that are both fun and add to the magic of the park. For example, he gives a list of words in "Disney-ese," wherein employees are called cast members, customers are called guests, etc. There is also a part of the book where the author describes a mini-tornado that hit the park, threatening guests riding the Skyway. They successfully rescued those stranded in the buckets, took them to First Aid, and entertained them with characters. He concludes the story by saying, "Only at the Happiest Place on Earth could you hope to snatch hundres of people from a harrowing, life-threatening ordeal and send them home safe--and smiling." This, to me, captures the magic of Disney.

The author also describes many of the pranks performed by cast members. Some were quite humorous, such as the Jungle Cruise skipper who claimed the hippos were his pets, and when the skipper on the next boat shot at them as part of the ride, he returned fire at the other skipper for shooting his pets. Or there are the cast members who hid behind the bushes, and when the skipper fired at the hippos, they returned fire and surprised the skipper and crew. There is also the skipper who took out an empty boat, squirted himself with ketchup, and leaned over his ship as though he were attacked and killed by natives.

Although these pranks were fun to read, others were highly inappropriate, and I was disgusted to read them. Even worse than the pranks performed by the workers, however, were the actions of many guests who come into the park. I was repulsed by some of the things I read. The author makes the point that no matter how much you make Disneyland different from the outside world, you are still bringing in outside people with their un-Disneyland-like personalities. While that is true, I did not care to read many of the stories the author chose to share.

This book is not authorized by Disney in any way, and it plainly shows. I am well aware that the park is not perfect. I am fully aware that accidents, and even deaths happen. I am fully aware that Disneyland sometimes does things wrong, and I certainly know that many guests do not belong in the park, where they just try to ruin the magic for others. However, all that being said, I don't like the attitude of pointing out all faults, weaknesses, and problems. Let's focus on the positive, on what works, and then build that to make it better. And, let's be honest, some things just don't need to be shared. This is NOT a book I would recommend, especially for children. To be honest, I can't even recommend it for adults.

Friday, April 26, 2013

An Eye Single to the Glory of God

I have been pondering on the subject of discipleship for a while, which is why I was excited to read An Eye Single to the Glory of God by Robert L. Millet. This book is subtitled, "Reflections on the cost of discipleship." What an accurate subtitle! Being a true disciple of the Savior Jesus Christ is no cakewalk on Easy Street. I confess that at some points in the book I began to feel very discouraged and I wondered if I could ever be a true disciple. Millet does not sugar coat the life of a disciple. He is very direct in explaining what the Savior expects of us.

At one point, exactly when I was feeling most overwhelmed, the author changed my perspective. It is almost like he knew how I was feeling. He talks about reactions to the cost of discipleship, and how some people consider the cost to be too great. But when we think about what our salvation cost God the Father, and definitely what it cost Jesus Christ, how can we complain? How can we say we are being asked to give too much when they gave everything?

Most of the time, when we think the cost is too high, it is because we have placed the greatest value on things of a telestial nature. The foolishness in doing so is that everything of a telestial nature will not and cannot endure. When Christ returns, the earth with receive a paradisaical glory, or in other words, a terrestrial glory. That will later be followed by a celestial glory. In all truthfulness, discipleship demands that we relinquish our love of telestial things only to prevent us from deep sorrow later on when these things cannot endure.

The book also gives helpful indicators to allow us to see where we are on the path to discipleship. One of these is unexpected challenges. When we are surprised by something, our true nature shows in our reaction. For at least a split second, we are stripped of any mask we are wearing. This will allow us to see whether or not we are truly charitable at the core, or if we are merely pretending to be. Another great indicator is genuine peace. If we can feel peace, then we know we are on the right path, because peace is a foretaste of the blessings we will inherit if we endure as faithful disciples.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

History of the Church Vol. 1

I have long been eager to read the History of the Church by Joseph Smith, and finally decided to do it this year. Yesterday I finished the first volume. I absolutely loved getting the perspective from the prophet of the Restoration, and I am eager to continue reading the rest of his history. For my review, I want to just pick out a few passages:

I have been told that the title page to the Book of Mormon was written by Moroni, not Joseph Smith. Although I accepted this teaching, I never knew where it came from. I learned in chapter 8 that this was taught by Joseph Smith himself, as he gives an account of exactly what was on the plates he translated.

In chapter 17, Joseph talks about the time when William E. McLellin tried to duplicate a revelation to make it sound more sophisticated, and failed. I loved Joseph's remark: "It was an awful responsibility to write in the name of the Lord." This one sentence gives some insight into the humility of the prophet and how he viewed his calling. In fact, Joseph's reaction to revelation he received was inspiring to me. For example, in chapter 18, Joseph gives his feelings on The Vision, and it was neat to read his rejoicing words. It was also very interesting for me to read Joseph's teachings to a member in chapter 24, where he said, "We never require at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case." Sometimes we, as human beings, get the feeling that something doesn't apply to us, or that we deserve different and special rules. This teaching of the prophet dispels that argument.

The history also contains some darker stories. I had never read Joseph's firsthand account of being tarred and feathered before. My heart ached for him as I read what he had to endure. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him to hear the voices of some of his former friends and associates as they brutally tortured him. I had also heard that Sidney Rigdon likely suffered some mental damage that night, and after reading Joseph's account, I have no doubt of it.

I also enjoyed reading excerpts of publications of the Evening and Morning Star, as well as letters written by members of the Church to each other and to governing officials. I especially enjoyed the teachings of the Church leaders, sometimes to a specific individual. For example, Orson Hyde and Hyrum Smith wrote and taught Brother Gilbert that if he turned away from his covetousness, which came about as a fear that God wouldn't provide for His saints, "then the Lord will open his coffers, and his [Brother Gilbert's] wants will be liberally supplied."

Finally, I want to share one last teaching where I learned much from the prophet. In chapter 32 Joseph teaches, "The man who willeth to do well, we should extol his virtues, and speak not of his faults behind his back." I can hardly wait to begin the next volume! The first volume ends in the midst of the Missouri persecutions in Jackson County. The second volume should begin with Zion's Camp, and I am eager to read the prophet's perspective of that historic event, as well as the many other glorious things about to unfurl in Kirtland.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bridging the Divide

I cannot say enough good about Bridging the Divide by Dr. Robert L. Millet and Rev. Gregory C. V. Johnson. Dr. Millet is a religious professor at BYU (and was also the dean of religion). Rev. Johnson is a devout evangelical. These two men have come together to demonstrate how to have courteous and meaningful conversations with each other about their beliefs, and even how to have strong inter-faith friendships. They do all this without compromising their different convictions of truth. Although both would love the other to convert to their faith, they do not try to prove each other wrong by debating and confronting each other on different issues. Their genuine purpose is to learn to live together in love and understanding.

The book begins with an introduction from both authors, explaining that they have done at least 50 public conversations together. The next portion of the book then gives an example of this conversation. They are funny together, but completely honest in their answers. Just as it hurts Latter-day Saints to be told they are not Christians, likewise Evangelicals are hurt when we say that all their creeds are an abomination. Through their dialogue, the authors show how to be sincere, yet gentle.

The next portion of the book is an example of questions received from different audiences and answers from both authors. The questions often take on an accusing tone and sound harsh. It is amazing to see both Dr. Millet and Rev. Johnson receive these questions and then answer them in such a way that disarms the hostility and opens the way for understanding.

The book concludes with a message from both authors about how to continue this great work of reaching out. Both sides need to let go of pride and let the genuine love of the Savior be the source of all interactions. There is much good that both groups can accomplish together, even without giving up their differences. Also, by engaging with other people about their faith in an open and courteous matter, we will learn more about them, and more about our own beliefs as well. I can definitely say that I learned a lot just by reading this book.

If I may, I want to compare the feelings evoked within me by this book with a scene from the musical 1776. At one point, John Adams and John Dickinson erupt into a huge argument in the middle of Congress, calling each other names and dueling with their canes. They are broken up by Caeser Rodney who reminds them that they have forgotten the true enemy. Likewise, too often Mormons and Evangelicals get into similar petty arguments over differences (some real, some imagined) and forget that the real enemy is Satan. Together, both sides can work to stem the tide of evil and prepare the world for the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Life Eternal

I think I inherited Life Eternal by Lynn A. McKinlay from my Grandpa Wanlass, but I'm honestly not sure. The copy I have was printed in 1954, and it is plain to see the wear and tear on the book. Anyway, I own it, so I read it. Right away, I was struck with deep respect for the author. This book is actually a series of four lectures he gave to a group of young adults in Bountiful, Utah. At the very beginning of the first lecture, he states that he wants to stick as close to the teachings of the prophets as possible without giving his opinion. He declares on the very first page that he will strive to not say anything that cannot be supported by scripture and teachings of the prophets, and invites correction if he makes a mistake.

I enjoyed the author's teachings about the Fall, the commandments given to Adam and Eve both before and after, and how those commandments and prophecies are fulfilled even to this day. I also loved how the author really tries to give us a glimpse of how much we honored and respected Michael before this earth life, and when his descendants rose up and called Adam Michael in Adam-ondi-Ahman, the veil was most likely taken away and they remembered Adam for the wonderful man he was, and therefore felt a great respect and reverence for him. This was a really neat to me, and I had never thought about the story that way before.

When an angel appears to Adam and Eve and commands them that all they do should be in the name of the Lord, the author makes a point that "all the things that Adam did were to be done in the name of the Son--not just a certain few selected things that did not interfere with his private wishes." If we truly did everything in the name of the Son, we'd probably be doing more of the right things.

In talking about the things we gain from our experiences and callings, the author points out that even when one is released, that person does not lose everything he/she gained from the calling. Callings are given to enhance us, and the gifts and learning we receive from accepting those callings stay with us forever, even if our responsibilities are changed. This reminded me of Elder Holland's talk from last October's conference.

This book was very informative and well-researched. It was a little hard to get through it at some points, simply because the style of the book is a lecture. Although I cannot promise an engaging read, I can promise that it will be informative and enlightening.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Kingdom Keepers VI: Dark Passage

I declared the fifth Kingdom Keepers book (Shell Shock) to be the biggest disappointment of 2012. I am very happy to say that in Kingdom Keepers VI: Dark Passage, Ridley Pearson has redeemed himself. This sixth book in the series was very intense, making me feel like I could not turn the pages fast enough. The ending of the book was more satisfying than the last, although not so satisfying that I am left with no questions. There is a lot that I still want to know about the characters.

A few books ago, we learned that Mickey Mouse has been kidnapped. Nothing has been said since then. I really hope this is addressed in the next book (which should take place in Disneyland. I am very excited about that). Also, the fate of the Disney Villains is very much left hanging in the air. I am intrigued. Also, Ariel mentions that the good characters have been fighting this battle for a long time, and they have their own magic. We have only received a taste of this in previous books. I am eager for more!

I also loved how this book addressed friendship and teamwork. Several times and in several places the characters talk about how they can do much more when they are together. I also liked its discussion of what it means to be a good guy. In one scene, two of the Kingdom Keepers have the chance to kill one of the villains. One of them really wants to, but the other refuses to do so, and is repulsed by the idea. This character states that to resort to killing makes the Keepers no better than the villains. This lesson is learned all too powerfully at the end of the book.

I am glad that this book was not a disappointment like the last one. I am genuinely looking forward to the next book, which sounds as though it will be the last. I hope the author can tie up all loose ends in a satisfactory way. This series has a lot going for it, and the sixth book plays its part well.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Seeking the Spirit

Seeking the Spirit by Joseph Fielding McConkie is a great book. It is really short (only 112 pages) but full of inspiring (and sometimes humorous) stories sandwiched by doctrines that come purely from the scriptures and teachings of latter-day prophets.

The main purpose of the book is to teach about personal revelation and how to recognize it. Many people receive revelation without realizing it, and others think they are receiving revelation, when it is really not. Through basic steps and doctrines outlines in this short book, we can gain a better understanding of how God communicates to His children.

I particularly liked a part of the book where the author teaches that God’s way is to give line upon line, precept upon precept. He points out various examples in the scriptures where the Lord gives step-by-step instructions, rather than giving everything at once. For example, Cornelius in the New Testament didn’t have an angel appear and say, “Cornelius, you need to believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized. Simon Peter can do this for you.” He was simply told to get Peter. This pattern of revelation can be found throughout the scriptures.

The author also talks about the individual responsibility each person has for revelation, while also discussing the importance of meeting together often, as we are commanded to do. For example, although one elder has the authority to bless and heal, we are instructed to call for two elders. This is because each elder sustains and builds the faith of the other. Through greater faith, the Lord can work faster.

Although this book is out of print, it is available as an ebook. It is quick and easy to read, and I found it very beneficial.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hashbrown Winters and the Whiz-tastrophe

The final book in the series, Hashbrown Winters and the Whiz-tastrophe, takes Hashbrown and his friends into another dimension of hilarity—literally! A freak accident involving Whiz’s special…um…talent plummets the tree house gang into a world where everything is centered around laser tag, and the game never ends. There, in this alternate universe, Hashbrown finds his double, who decides to take Hashbrown’s place and leave him and his friends stuck in this alternate universe forever.

I am sad that this is the end of the series, and especially sad that this last book wasn’t longer. It left me wondering about the alternate universe and its history. I wanted more of the characters. I wanted more of the secret code. I wanted more wacky escapades. If this wasn’t the last book, perhaps I would feel more content, but part of me can’t settle with the idea that this is the end of the Hashbrown adventures.

I strongly recommend the Hashbrown books. The author has done an incredible job of creating a new universe, and the characters who inhabit it are a lot of fun. The books leave you feeling like an honorary member of the tree house club, and after all, what could be cooler than being part of Hashbrown Winter’s inner circle? Give the series a try and befriend some of the greatest unforgettable characters you’ve ever met in youth fiction.

Hashbrown Winters and the Phantom of Pordunce

The third installment of the Hashbrown series concerns the Phantom of Pordunce. Something dark and evil has emerged in Pordunce Elementary. Hashbrown doesn’t really believe in ghosts, but still... Strange things have been happening. What is that eerie red light coming from underneath the door in the abandoned classroom? Why is the lunch lady absent for several days when she has never missed a day of work before? And what is it that could possibly even have the school bully spooked?

As if a creepy ghost wasn’t enough to trouble Hashbrown, his friend Bubblegum is moving, a new girl seems intent on taking his place as the marble champion, and his tree house is rigged with the deadliest of stink bombs and he only has three days to find some kidnapped pets before the bombs are set off. What is Hashbrown to do?

Fortunately, his friends all stand by him as they work together to capture the ghost and get things back to normal…well, normal for Pordunce, that is. Dive into another fast-paced adventure with the tree house crew you can’t help but love.

Hashbrown Winters and the Mashimoto Madness

The adventures continue with Hashbrown Winters and the Mashimoto Madness. Everything seems to be going great with Hashbrown until the new kid, Mashimoto, tries to steal away his friends and put an end to his tree house club. Sure Mashimoto’s tree house is going to have an elevator, a plasma TV, a waterbed with fish inside, and even a working jetpack, but not even those cool gadgets will get in Hashbrown’s way.

In a hilarious tale of what it means to be a true friend, join Hashbrown as he recklessly tries to prove his original tree house is better than anything Mashimoto can come up with. Could Hashbrown go so far that he will actually lose his friends Measles, Whiz, Bubblegum, Four Hips, Pigeon and even his best friend Snow Cone? Could some new friends help him save face with his old friends? And what is with the strange criminal activity going on inside the school? Could it somehow be linked with Mashimoto?

The adventures at Pordunce Elementary continue with a school prison called Pordutraz, a mysterious pawn shop in the school’s basement, and a secret code that has a phrase for every imaginable scenario. Not only will you laugh, but you’ll also grow fond of these bizarre, yet endearing characters.

The Adventures of Hashbrown Winters

The Adventures of Hashbrown Winters by Frank L. Cole is a humorous treat. If you enjoyed Sideways Stories from Wayside School, then chances are you will like Hashbrown Winters as well. What kind of a name is Hashbrown Winters? Well, if you think that name is odd, then you have obviously never visited Pordunce Elementary School, where almost everybody has a nickname. But it isn’t only the nicknames that make this school unique, there is a student called the Oracle, who has been in his locker for seven years, there is a sixth grade mafia that has taken over the teachers’ lounge, and there is even a talking cockroach.

This cockroach is actually the source of Hashbrown’s troubles in this book. It just so happens that this cockroach is owned by the school bully, Hambone. When Hashbrown does the unthinkable, the school bully is set on revenge. Now if he hopes to survive, Hashbrown is going to have to use his wits and some help from his friends to make the school a safe place to live for everybody.

Forget the word “reality” as you dive into this book for a fun read. You will enjoy Hashbrown’s adventures at Pordunce, where anything is possible.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Temple

I loved the beginning of The Temple by Truman G. Madsen! I highlighted a lot of things in this book that I thought were very deep and very profound. I highly enjoyed the candid way the author spoke, especially about his own experience in coming to love the temple and its ordinances. The only part of the book that I didn’t enjoy was the last chapter. Although it was extremely informative, it didn’t seem to fit the rest of the book very well.

Here are some insights I gained from the book that I would like to share: When the early saints first learned the doctrine of redemption for the dead, they rushed to the Mississippi River and began to perform baptisms in a very unorganized fashion, so much so that Joseph Smith had to tell them to wait until it could be done in order. The question is, do we go to the temple with that same enthusiasm to perform the work for our kindred dead?

The author also discusses how our homes can be mini temples, and also gives the steps to do so. Among these are to make our homes alive with beauty, just like the temple grounds. We ought to have family dinners and make them a time of teaching and conversation. This point is made by the author’s wife, who points out that eating was always meant to be an activity done together, just as a baby cannot feed without its mother. Despite all the chaos that might happen inside a home, it will feel hallowed if the people living therein are consecrated to the Gospel.

This book really made me appreciate the temple more. It is a place of revelation, and it is a place where we can literally take lessons and apply them in our homes and personal lives. We ought to go again and again to learn these lessons only the Spirit can teach us.

Answers to Your Questions About the Doctrine and Covenants

Simultaneously with the previous book I posted about, I also read Answers to Your Questions About the Doctrine and Covenants by Richard O. Cowan. I purchased this book a number of years ago because I actually had Brother Cowan as my teacher at BYU for the third course in Church History.

This book reads like a FAQ section of a website. The author based this book on questions he has heard while teaching the Doctrine and Covenants. However, like most FAQ sites, there were many questions I had that were either glossed over or completely ignored. Of the questions that were answered, many had statements from Church leaders to support the answer, but many did not. I would prefer more citations and evidence.

Sadly, I have to conclude that this book will not necessarily make the Doctrine and Covenants easier to understand, though it might answer a question here or there. I would not recommend this book as a solitary reading guide, although there is some information that might be helpful.

Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants

Since we are studying the Doctrine and Covenants this year for Sunday School, I decided to read Steven C. Harper’s Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants. I enjoyed the insights that Harper provided so much, that I immersed myself in the Doctrine and Covenants and read the entire book in just three months, rather than spreading my reading out over the entire year.

Harper dedicates a chapter in his book to nearly every section in the Doctrine and Covenants (sometimes he combines a few sections into one chapter). He then divides each chapter into three sections: origin, content, and outcomes. He explains the circumstances surrounding the reception of the revelation. I gained so much insight this way, and it really brought the revelations to life for me. Then, when discussing content, Harper glosses over the section, just giving a summary of it while letting the reader drink more deeply through personal effort. Finally, the outcomes explain how the revelation was received and what happened as a direct result thereof.

Among many other things, I highly enjoyed learning more about consecration. I loved learning exactly what the Lord expects when He command us to consecrate everything to Him. I also felt like I was on a journey with Joseph Smith and I got to know his concerns and ambitions very well. It was incredible to see how much he yearned to extend the choicest blessings to the saints, and the deep challenge it was to prepare them for the blessings.

Reading this book has made me want to read further on early members of the Church, whether or not they stayed faithful. If you have ever wanted to make the historical portion of the Doctrine and Covenants come to life and make more sense, I highly recommend this book!