Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price

Well, as sad as it may sound, Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price by George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl has got to be the worst book I have read in a long time. As a story book, or fictionalized book, it may have passed off as an okay book. But as a good trying to offer helpful insights into the Pearl of Great Price, it failed miserably.

Let me begin by talking about the good things in this book. Don't worry. This won't take very long. When talking about the Prophet Joseph Smith, the authors respond to the question of why didn't Joseph Smith heal everybody if he really had the priesthood. Their answer is that the ancient apostles didn't heal everybody either, and they cite some examples to prove that point. I thought that was interesting.

They also suggest that although the Garden of Eden was a paradise, Adam and Eve still worked in it, as they were told to take care of the garden. The difference between the pre-fall work and the post-fall work is that the post-fall work included thistles and thorns that made the work harder.

Ok, now time for the bad.

The authors repeatedly elaborate on the stories in the Pearl of Great Price with no scriptural basis whatsoever. They don't just suggest possibilities, they teach their ideas as fact. This drove me nuts! For example, they claim that the angel appeared to Adam to explain sacrifices on a day when he was particularly depressed. The scriptures say nothing about him being depressed, especially on that day. This is just one of numerous examples.

At one point, they argue that the Pearl of Great Price contains "misquoted" words because it doesn't fit with their interpretation of the event. They argue that the words were either transcribed incorrectly or else printed incorrectly. What kind of blasphemy is that?

Later on they quote from an account from John...but this account doesn't exist. Here is the account they claim is "recorded of John." See for yourself if you think this is made up: "It appears that Jesus and His Apostles had been on a tour of preaching the Gospel throughout the land of Jerusalem. As they neared the end of their journey, they, because of the rigors of foot-travel, became weary; they were almost exhausted and sought much needed rest. In a nearby field they laid themselves upon the ground, and John, whom Christ loved, put his head upon the Savior's breast and slept."

Yeah, that's not in the Bible anywhere. But then again, neither is Isaiah chapter 85, which the authors quote at one point.

The research is shoddy, the explanations little more than fantasy, and very little commentary on the actual doctrines. This book reminded me of Elder Bruce R. McConkie's counsel to avoid drinking from the muddy stream, but to instead go straight to the source. This book is not staying in my library.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The First 2,000 Years

I have been interested in reading The First 2,000 Years by W. Cleon Skousen for some time now, and that time finally arrived! Some parts of it I found very enjoyable. Some parts I found myself being a little skeptical. But overall, it was a good read and it is definitely thought-provoking. Perhaps everything didn't happen the exact way that Skousen explains it, but it does provide an interesting viewpoint to consider.

However, instead of dwelling on the things I didn't like so much, I want to share some ideas from this book that I enjoyed. I may not agree 100% with these ideas, but I enjoyed them so much because they were new thoughts to me and made me ponder.

Early in the book Skousen talks about the relationship between priesthood and motherhood. He argues that the priesthood is meant to put men on equal footing with women. As mothers, they naturally have more influence on their children than anyone else. This gives women a lot of power in the world. The priesthood gives authority to the men, which allows men and women to then work, equal in authority, to raise their children. I have heard many theories on the priesthood, but this was a new explanation to me.

At another place in the book, Skousen discusses why the Jaredites were commanded to take so many animals with them on their journey to the promised land. Skousen suggests that after the flood, there was no life to be found anywhere in the Americas. The Jaredites were commanded to replenish the life of both animals and humans. While I had never considered this before and it does make sense, I also think that some animals could have migrated to the Americas before the earth was divided in the days of Peleg.

One of my favorite things about this book was how Skousen outlined the lives of the patriarchs. It was so interesting to me to see how many of them overlapped. In fact, Adam and Seth both lived to see the city of Zion built by Enoch before they passed away. When Zion was translated, Methuselah wasn't left on the earth alone. He still had his grandfathers living on the earth. Interestingly enough, Methuselah lived until the year of the great Flood. I had never realized before how much their lives overlapped.

I am excited to read the next volume!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Young Men Mutual Activities

I received a copy of Young Men Mutual Activities by Blair & Tristan Tolman when I was 16. Blair Tolman was my seminary teacher and I won this and one other book for being the first student to memorize all 25 Book of Mormon scripture mastery. I had flipped through the book before, reading an idea here or there, but I actually read the whole thing cover to cover this last week.

As the title suggests, the book is full of ideas for activities with the Young Men. The last chapter even includes ideas for Young Men and Young Women to do together for combined mutual nights. A really neat feature of this book is that if a particular activity will help fulfill a merit badge, the authors always make mention of that.

Many of the activities are practical ideas that will lead to growth and development in the young men. Others are just plain fun activities. One of my favorite suggestions was to play Gospel Family Fued, where the leaders poll various members of the ward and the young men have to guess the top survey results (for example, name an animal in the Book of Mormon).

This book was published in 1998, and so some of the activities are a little outdated. For example, young men can no longer visit an airport and practice finding different gates, etc. Also, the widespread use of the internet and cell phones takes away the challenge from other activities, such as a trivia scavenger hunt. Instead of being able to find people who actually know the answer to the trivia questions, anybody could just look up the answers on the internet, thereby defeating the purpose of the activity (although I did like that a suggested trivia question had to do with Disneyland).

Even though a revised edition may be in order, I still think this book would be a great springboard for new ideas.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Journey Beyond Life Vol.1

I just finished reading Journey Beyond Life by Michelle R. Sorensen and Dr. David R. Willmore. This book is now out of print, which is sad because it was a good book. I inherited the copy that belonged to my Grandpa Wanlass. After he passed away, it was found on his desk, bookmarked with one of his business cards. It was possibly the last book he had been reading. I found his business card still inside when I began reading the book.

Many of the stories I read in this book are also found in Life Everlasting. However, there were a few things that stood out to me that I feel are worth sharing here.

On page 89 there is a story of one woman's near-death experience. They do not say who this woman is or where they got their information. However, at the beginning of the book the authors state that some people they spoke with asked to remain anonymous, so this is apparently one of those people. Anyway, she talks about her life passing before her eyes in such a way that she can perceive every choice she made and how she could somehow sense the Lord's approval or disapproval of each instance. She also talks about seeing angels escorting her spirit to her birth when her life began. I love that concept of being escorted by angels to mortality.

Another neat story that I enjoyed comes from Brother LeSueur. His brother Frank had been unexpectedly killed by some outlaws. One night he passed into the world of spirits, and among his many experiences, he had the privilege of seeing his brother teaching a group of spirits. A beautiful woman was standing by him, and Brother LeSueur learned she was to be his wife. Shortly after this experience, and after returning to mortality, a woman came visit him and told him that as her daughter was dying, she said she was to be married to Frank. When she showed Brother LeSueur a picture of her, he immediately recognized her as the woman standing next to his brother. Accordingly, they did temple work for them and had them sealed.

Experiences beyond the veil are always interesting to read about. They vary so widely that it is sometimes difficult to understand how things really are there. The authors of this book were careful not to teach anything as doctrine, although where they had supporting statements from general authorities, they used them. To me, the most important thing to come away with from these stories is not a "newly discovered doctrine or theory", but rather an understanding of the importance of things of eternity. These stories serve as a reminder that we can be called at any time, and we must be ready. If we are, a beautiful place called Paradise awaits us.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Sisters Grimm

I have had The Sisters Grimm by Matthew Buckley sitting on my shelf for a while now. The other night I was in the mood for some fiction, so I picked this one up and read most of it before going to bed. I didn't realize it at the time, but it is apparently the first book in a series of nine.

As I have said before, it is always difficult to review a fictional work, because I do not want to give away part of the plot. Basically, the story is about two sisters, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, who go to live with their grandmother in Ferryport Landing. Their grandmother is a little eccentric (and Sabrina isn't even convinced she's their real grandmother). As events unfold, they realize they are part of an amazing legacy that has a very close connection to what the girls always believed were fairy tales. A connection that, at times, may seem a little too close for comfort.

The story was engaging (remember, I read most of it in one night), but I wasn't jumping into my car to go buy the next book when I finished. If I had the next book, I certainly wouldn't mind reading it, but this book didn't pull me in enough to actively seek out and finish the rest of the series.

On a personal note, I found the book both inspiring and discouraging when it comes to my own writing. I am working on a fairy tale book of my own. I was disappointed to see that some of my ideas had already been used in this book. But maybe that just means they really are good ideas, right?

Overall, this was an entertaining read. My mom would call something like this "brain candy."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

History of the Church Vol. 4

So far, Volume 4 of History of the Church might be my favorite volume. This might be because it begins the Nauvoo period, and I have a special place in my heart for Nauvoo. But there are many other things I enjoyed. I want to share some of them.

On page 120, Brigham Young writes to Joseph Smith. I was touched by the end of his letter: "I request one favor of you, that is, a letter from you, that I may hear from my friends. I trust that I will remain your friend through life and eternity." I thought this was really neat, and gives some insight into the brotherhood that existed between these two men.

On page 264, Brigham Young explains how the scriptures could be interpreted that the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart. The Lord testified to Pharaoh so clearly through the signs and wonders, that Pharaoh had two choices: repent, or harden his heart. Because the Lord only left him two choices, it was interpreted that the Lord hardened his heart.

On page 335, Parley P. Pratt has a small humorous poem. They had met together for a conference, and someone brought a cake that lifted their spirits. Parley concludes his poem with: "When sinking in sorrow/Fresh courage we'll take/As we think of our friends/And remember the cake." This made me chuckle.

On page 445, Joseph Smith explains that charity covers sins. Those who do not accuse others of sins will actually have their own forgiven. This is similar to the Savior's teaching that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Another neat thing about this volume was the dedicatory prayer of Elder Orson Hyde in Jerusalem. I enjoyed reading all about his mission to the Holy Land.

Page 461 included the famous quote about the Book of Mormon being the keystone of our religion.

Page 475 talks about tithing. The Lord expects us to pay tithing on what we currently have, rather than speculate what we might have, or hold off because we might be able to pay more in the future.

This volume also included the famous Wentworth Letter, as well as the founding of the Relief Society.

I was really touched by a short discourse by the prophet where he explained why some infants pass away. On page 553 Joseph Smith says, "The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world. They were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth." What a profound and comforting statement!

Last of all, I enjoyed the many discourses in this book regarding baptisms for the dead. During on discourse, on page 596, Joseph Smith said (quoting 1 Peter 3:19-20): "Here then we have an account of our Savior preaching to the spirits in prison, to spirits that had been imprisoned from the days of Noah. And what did He preach to them? That they were to stay there? Certainly not!" While I found this statement funny, it also struck me how the prophet was able to lay everything out in plain light that it might easily be discerned.

I am looking forward to continuing this series.