Saturday, May 31, 2014

If Life Were Easy, It Wouldn't Be Hard

If Life Were Easy, It Wouldn't Be Hard is the second book I've read by Sheri Dew. As the title may suggest, the book talks about life's challenges and explains that life can't be easy because it needs to be hard. Why does life need to be hard? In Sheri Dew's own words, she says, "Our mortal experience is designed to test what we really care about, what we really believe, what we really want to become, and how we really feel about our Father and His Son" (pg. 7). If life did not test us and try us in all things, it could never fulfill its purpose.

To validate her point, Sheri Dew draws upon words of the prophets to discuss the purpose of life and its trials. Joseph Smith taught that God will try each of us as He did Abraham. Joseph F. Smith taught a man must be "tried in his feelings to the uttermost to see if he loves truth more than himself or the world."

That being said, the author goes on to talk about ways that we make life harder than it needs to be. We all have burdens to carry, but sometimes we try to add extra baggage to our burden. This extra baggage is often associated with sin. It can be unrepented sins of the past, or grudges and ill-will we carry with us even now. The Savior doesn't want us to carry this extra baggage that weighs us down. Indeed, He commanded us to take His yoke upon ourselves, for his burden is light.

By choosing to keep the commandments, we avoid making life more difficult than it needs to be. Not only will we be free of excess baggage, but we will also be worthy to draw upon the powers of heaven to assist us through our trials. Sheri Dew talks about the importance and power of purity and chastity. One of the things I enjoyed about this book are the examples from the author's personal life. One such example is when she needed to address a large international group on the subject of families. Sheri Dew chose to make her speech all about the Law of Chastity. It was neat to read about the effect that the pure doctrine of this commandment had upon that group.

In short, life can't be easy because it needs to be hard to fulfill its purpose. But by living worthily, we can avoid the danger of wearing us down and wearing ourselves out because we will have the strength of heaven to see us through life's trials and tests.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Lincoln Hypothesis

The Lincoln Hypothesis by Timothy Ballard has been one of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time, and I highly recommend it to anybody, but especially to latter-day saints. The book is advertised as an exploration of the possible connection between Abraham Lincoln and the Book of Mormon. It is fact that Abraham Lincoln had checked out the Book of Mormon from the Library of Congress and had it for eight months. The question is, did he read it and if so, did it have any effect on him?

While the author makes very convincing arguments that the Book of Mormon might have influenced Lincoln (I'll let you read the book to learn them for yourself), I was most impressed with what I learned about the American Covenant. When George Washington took the oath of office, he also put America under a covenant with God. That same covenant was broken just a generation later. One of Joseph Smith's responsibilities was to warn the American people to repent and return to that covenant. The author shows places in the Doctrine and Covenants where we can see this.

Unfortunately, the American people did not listen, the Lord's prophet was killed, and the decreed judgement occurred. Yes, the Civil War was a foretold consequence of rejecting God's word and prophet. Fortunately, Abraham Lincoln gained a testimony of the American Covenant for himself and helped the American people repent. Lincoln learned that God was in the Civil War and that the North could never win until the people returned to their God. There is documented evidence of the national repentance.

The research done by Ballard is first class. I learned so much from this book, especially about my role as a citizen under the American Covenant. This book increased my admiration for Abraham Lincoln, who stood by what he did because he felt strongly he was doing the Lord's will. I suggest you read it also. You may find your admiration grow just as mine did.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Joseph Smith Papers: Journals Vol. 1

Journals Volume 1 is the very first book published in the Joseph Smith Papers project. I bought this book when it first came out, and it has sat on my shelf ever since. It is actually because of this book that I finally decided to read every book in my personal library, and I'm so glad that I am undertaking that project!

A lot of the information in this book is also found in the History of the Church, which I read last year. This is due largely to the fact that Joseph Smith's journals were a primary source for the history. That being said, it was neat to see the prophet's personal insights and feelings on a variety of topics and incidents. Most of his journals were actually written by a scribe, but a handful in this book are also written by Joseph Smith himself.

Once of the most interesting incidents in this book is a fight between Joseph and his brother William. During a debate school at William's house, Joseph said he thought the school should be discontinued. William got offended at attacked Joseph, beating him in the same part of his body where Joseph had been abused by a mob when he was tarred and feathered. This incident caused a rift in the family for a few weeks. William recognized that what he did was wrong and wrote Joseph a letter to apologize, and also requested to be released from the Quorum of the Twelve, stating that the higher position he held, the farther he was likely to fall due to his passions that he easily would give into.

Joseph's answer to the letter is very insightful. He refused to release William, telling him that such an idea originated with the devil. He told him that if a man falls a step, he must regain that step. Leaving the apostleship would do the opposite of helping William achieve salvation. Furthermore, Joseph told William that what he called his "passions" was nothing more than the spirit of the evil one and that William needed to recognize it for what it was. All that being said, Joseph readily forgave his brother for the entire incident.

I loved reading Joseph's insights, instructions, and feelings. His desire to see members of the church become united was easily apparent. His admonition to shed light and not spread darkness is a great way to sum up the evils of gossip and the harm it can cause. Even where an offender is genuinely in the wrong, spreading darkness about that person does nothing to save them. We must shed light and have charity.

For an intimate look at Joseph Smith to discover his thoughts and feelings, I highly recommend reading his journals.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

God Wants a Powerful People

I am a little embarrassed to say that even though Sheri Dew is my boss (CEO of Deseret Book), I have never read any of her books until now. The book I chose, God Wants a Powerful People, is a fantastic book! And no, I'm not getting paid to say that either.

As you can probably tell from the title, the book is a call to action to access the power that God wants to give us. God has made this power available through the atonement of Jesus Christ and the restoration of the Gospel. We access this power through testimony and purity. One of my favorite chapters in this book was probably the last chapter, which defines what it means to be a true follower of Christ.

Sheri Dew bears a powerful testimony throughout the book of the power that comes from attending the House of the Lord. She also spends a portion of the book talking about priesthood power. Her perspective is unique and her testimony powerful. She talks about the clearly distinguished roles of men and women and how ordination to the priesthood for men does not give them any advantage over women, for both are blessed equally through the priesthood.

At one point she says, "God does not love His sons more than His daughters." I agreed with that, giving it no second thought. But then she followed it up with, "And God does not love His daughters more than His sons." That hit me pretty strong. Growing up, I've always heard an emphasis placed on how precious God's daughters are to Him. It seems like we're always trying to place one gender above another in importance, and the reality is that God loves both equally. Both are precious to Him.

For a good, uplifting book that will encourage the reader to keep striving to live the Gospel, I highly recommend God Wants a Powerful People.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Virtue and the Abundant Life

A while ago there was a small competition at work and I won a copy of Virtue and the Abundant Life. Each chapter is an essay written by a different author that explores some aspect of Virtue, but usually looking at it in a different context. The book was edited by Lloyd D. Newell, Terrance D. Olson, Emily M. Reynolds, and Richard N. Williams. I want to highlight just a couple favorite parts.

Camille S. Williams talks about the virtue of womanhood and motherhood. She recalls the story of the woman who anoints the Savior's feet with expensive ointment, which leads some of the disciples to murmur about the act, thinking the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Williams says that people today do the same thing as those disciples; the reduce women to economic value, thinking they waste their education and talents to be mothers, rather than seeing the bigger picture of what these women are accomplishing. The truth is, the world desperately needs the healthy, loving relationships that women have the disposition to create and sustain. This womanly intuition is a critical virtue.

I also enjoyed an essay by K. Newell Dayley, who teaches that "the arts" (theater, music, paintings, writing, etc.) are a tool meant to be used to promote virtue. Have we not all come away from some experience with the arts feeling inspired and enlightened? And yet, too often, people use the arts to promote vice instead of virtue. Dayley talks about how virtue in the arts led him to write the songs "I Feel My Savior's Love" and "Faith in Every Footstep." I thought it was cool that he originally wrote "I Feel My Savior's Love" to be the perspective of a Nephite child being blessed by the Savior.

The whole book is great with inspiring points and great stories (such as Daniel K. Judd's story of Skeletor being baptized). The authors do an excellent job of discussing virtue from nearly every angle and also discussing truth. Absolute truth does not change from person to person, no matter what their opinions or beliefs are. Our duty is to seek out the truth and hold fast to it. Only by clinging to virtue will we ever find the abundant life promised by the Savior.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Kingdom Keepers VII: The Insider

I have been a faithful reader of the Kingdom Keepers series by Ridley Pearson, but I seem to have a love/hate relationship with his books, especially as the series progresses. Book seven is the most recent book in the series, and is also the concluding volume. I have to admit I was left completely dissatisfied. I will give my reasons, but be warned that this post will be a spoiler.

1. Not all of the content in this book is the author's. At the beginning, Pearson mentions that he had a fan fiction contest, and he used passages that he liked the most that his fans came up with. These passages are marked with a code inside the book and a footnote tells you who that passage belongs to. Now, from the viewpoint of those fans, getting published in a book by a favorite author would be pretty neat. But as a fan of the series, it was frustrating to be pulled from the story every time I saw the symbol indicating that the content was not the author's original work. Maybe that's too picky of me, but it really bugged me.

2. A lot of questions and inconsistencies were not resolved by the end of this book. If nothing else, even more were brought up! Certain things were mentioned in previous books that went on to be completely disregarded later (such as the entire premise that the kids had to be in hologram form to be able to see any Disney characters). I know that authors rarely re-read their books, but for all the statements and suggestions that Pearson made, he certainly should have gone back through his series to make sure he tied up all loose ends.

It happened in this book as well. They face off Ursula, who indicates that she isn't necessarily with Chernabog and the other OTs, but she also isn't with Finn and the good guys. So what was her agenda? Why did she steal the folder from Fantasia for them? And why did the OTs need it so much in the first place? It was very annoying to have little plots brought up, but then have nothing done with them.

3. This is a carry-over from the last complaint, but the seventh (and last) book didn't even really end! They defeated the bad guy (without Mickey's help, which irked me. Mickey healed the kingdom, but that was it). But then at the end they realize, "Oh, no! It's not all over! Wayne must have left us a message!" But do we get to hear what the message is? No. Of course not. All we know is that at least one villain is still alive and is trying to summon back the others from the dead. I did some research and learned that the author is planning on doing a short spin-off series, but whereas this series is officially over, I was frustrated by the ending. Very frustrated!

4. I really didn't like how much this series "matured" (for lack of a better word). Some adult content is lightly sprinkled into the last few books, but the darkness and gruesomeness was a little much, especially for a series targeted towards middle readers (ages 8-12). Granted, as the series advances, its characters get older, but you still have the younger audience reading it. The violence in the book was gruesome, and if depicted on screen the same way it was in the book, it would probably come close to an R-rating.

There are parts of this series that I absolutely love, but I feel like so much more could have been done with it. I wanted to see more interaction with Disney characters. Granted, this book had more than any other, but it still wasn't nearly enough. The characters were there, and when they did show up they usually had to remind the Keepers that they were ready to help, but they were hardly used. Even Mickey wasn't really used, and the dramatic final battle scene was a big disappointment to me.

It's so sad to look forward so much to a book, only to be disillusioned by it. Oh, well. This all started out as a great idea with a lot of promise. I guess, to sum it all up, if I had been the author to come up with this idea, I would have handled it very differently.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reflections of Christ

Thousands of people have seen the Reflections of Christ exhibit by Mark Mabry. By publishing his exhibit in book format, Mabry has ensured that many thousands more will be able to enjoy the same experience. For those unfamiliar with Mabry's project, he photographed reenactments of the Savior's life, showing some simple and some deep images portraying Jesus Christ and His mission.

The book does more than just give a collection of photographs, however. First of all, it begins with a story of Mabry's journey to get to that point. The project came to him from little bursts of inspiration and revelation at a time. Some of this personal inspiration he received was something as simple as, "Change your music." Others were perhaps more difficult (such as having a strong impression to throw away all his art books that included "artistic" nude pictures). As he was cleaning up little corners of his life, he felt more guidance from the Spirit, and ultimately the inspiration to do this project--using his talents to do something of true value and to bear testimony of the Savior.

At the end of the book there is a section for each photograph that explains a story behind it, offers deeper meaning, or even has comments from some of the actors who were portraying the scenes. These comments often add deeper meaning to the photograph than might initially meet the eye, and they also encourage the reader to study the photographs more closely, and perhaps notice something that they didn't notice before. Although this project may seem like a simple idea, it can certainly have a profound impact on someone, especially as it allows the Holy Ghost to bear testimony of the reality of these events and the Savior's mission.