Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fire and Steel: The Storm Descends

The Storm Descends is volume two in Gerald N. Lund's Fire and Steel series. This book mostly takes place in Germany in the aftermath of World War I. The effects of the lost war on the German people are felt strongly in this book, perhaps especially for the surviving soldiers who fought in the war. The government was seen as incompetent with rebellious groups popping up throughout the country to spread radical communist ideas.

Hans Otto Eckhardt finds himself surrounded by this turmoil. Returning from war as a wounded soldier, he finds no benefits awaiting him and a country that looks very bleak. Confronted on all sides by opposition, Hans finds comfort in home and family, and also in a nurse who cared for him while in the hospital. He finds himself wanting their relationship to be more than nurse and patient, and she seems to also want to pursue a relationship with him.

But when Emilee discovers a series of poor choices made by Hans, she struggled to know if she really wants someone like that in her life. She wants a man of character who can weather any storm. Can Hans be that man? When the storm descends, what kind of man will Hans prove himself to be?

I really enjoyed this book and can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Westly: A Spider's Tale

Westly is a unique story written by Bryan Beus about a young caterpillar named (you guessed it) Westly. His father is king of the butterflies, and Westly wants to make him proud. He looks forward to emerging from his cocoon as a beautiful monarch butterfly and hopes he will have impressive wings as well as the skills necessary so that the people will want to follow him as a ruler one day.

But something goes terribly wrong when Westly emerges from his cocoon as a spider! In horror, he runs away from home and lives among the "dirt eaters," the inferior bugs that are banned from the butterfly paradise. Westly learns to develop talents as he works among them, forging friendships and and learning the valuable role these insects play in their world. He also gets special training from a Raven that knows all about spiders and is able to teach Westly how to create webs. It turns out that in the end Westly is able to save the day strictly because he is different.

This book would appeal to young children, especially those who may feel they are different from "normal" kids. I had a little trouble understanding exactly where this was taking place. They described themselves living inside an atrium with a locked door, but then also hinted that it was the butterflies' ancestors who created this haven. But this explanation seems impossible. I would have liked some more back story with this. But this is me, a thirty-year-old talking. I am sure that young kids reading this book probably won't think twice about it and will enjoy the story for what it is.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How to Be Like Walt

Recently my boss let me borrow the book How to Be Like Walt by Pat Williams. Hands down, this is THE BEST book on Walt Disney that I have ever come across. The book is a biography that follows Walt's life in chronological order. However, Williams ends each chapter with a lesson we can learn from Walt based on that period of his life that will help us be more like him. Here are a few nuggets I particularly enjoyed:

Towards the beginning of the book, Pat Williams gives his first lesson as a way to NOT be like Walt--don't smoke! He talks about the start of Walt's smoking habit and how it eventually killed him.

Walt Disney liked to do the impossible. He was constantly ridiculed, but he always proved them wrong. The author states that the world could do without a thousand critics and not miss them, but it would be a whole lot different if it lost one Walt Disney.

Walt was a great salesman. A true salesman is a noble profession. He (or she) acts with high integrity, believes in his product, is passionate about it, and establishes great relationships. That is exactly the kind of man Walt was.

Walt's name was slandered by disaffected employees. He was called anti-semitic, a womanizer, and other things. These rumors were lies. Walt's favorite composers, the Sherman Brothers, were Jews. Other important people that he loved and trusted were also Jews. He was also fiercely loyal to his wife. He once said to Ken Anderson, complaining that some of his staffers spent their evening womanizing, "Boy, I just can't understand that, Ken. It's like women are their hobby." Ken Anderson noted that Walt could not imagine how a married man could be unfaithful to his wife.

Walt's vision for EPCOT was to create a true Utopia, but after the death of both him and his brother Roy, this final dream of his was forgotten and Epcot became another theme park. Walt wanted it to be an actual community where people could live, and where new technologies could be tested to solve the many problems facing society. Sadly, his dream will have to wait.

This book was such a joy to read. I laughed out loud. I eagerly followed Walt's adventures. And I confess that when I read about his death, I cried real tears. Everybody who knows me knows that I love Disney. But most of all, I love the man that started it all and gave it his name. Reading this book is the closest I've been able to come to know the inspiring man that is Walt Disney.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Answers to Gospel Questions Vol. 4

Volume Four of the Answers to Gospel Questions series continues to look at answers from the scriptures for questions submitted to Joseph Fielding Smith. A lot of the questions I already knew the answers to, but it was still interesting to read President Smith's responses.

My favorite part of this book was a comment that the author made about divorce on page 200: "There never will be a divorce among those married in the temple if both of the parties, husband and wife, are living their religion; they will never separate. How can they if they keep the commandments of the Lord?"

In some of his responses, President Smith seems to express frustration that the inquisitor did not take the time to study the scriptures to find the answers on their own. He emphasizes that if we desire exaltation in the life to come, we need to put forth more of an effort now to diligently apply ourselves to study and learning.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff

The fourth President of the Church was Wilford Woodruff. I thoroughly enjoyed reading more about his life and teachings. He was the last President of the Church who personally knew Joseph Smith and he is able to offer a unique perspective.

On page 33 President Woodruff says, "The Lord is with this people, but as Latter-day Saints, I do not think that we always prize our privileges." He uses that phrase a few times, and I really like it. It makes me reflect on how I can do better at prizing my privileges.

Page 61--"There was one of the leading Elders of the Church who went before the people and undertook to preach certain principles. Joseph heard of it and desired him to present the doctrine to him in writing. He wrote it, and when he completed it read it to the Prophet. He asked Joseph what he thought of it. "Why," said Joseph, "it is a beautiful system, I have but one fault to find with it--" "What is that, Brother Joseph?" Joseph said--"It is not true." We need to be careful to always teach truth and not things that appeal to our emotions.

Page 105--"Do you suppose these devils are around us without trying to do something? Are they asleep? Have they not a work to perform? I say to my brethren who bear the Priesthood, we have got a mighty warfare to wage with these spirits. We cannot escape it." A great reminder that there is a spiritual battle we fight every day.

Page 112--"The head of the family should not do all the praying himself, but should call upon members of his family to pray, and to ask the blessing at [the] table." Good counsel to let each member of the family have an opportunity to grow their relationship with God.

Page 129--"I would advise you to get all of your blessings written and preserve them... I do feel to enjoin it upon you to make a record of every official act of your life. If you baptize, confirm, ordain, or bless any person or administer to the sick, write an account of it...If the power and blessings of God are made manifest in your preservation from danger... you should make a record of it. Keep an account of the dealings of God with you daily." I need to be so much better at doing this. God really does bless us so much and all to often we don't recognize his blessings, nor do we remember them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Answers to Gospel Questions Vol. 3

The third volume of Joseph Fielding Smith's Answers to Gospel Questions continues to take questions from people both from within and without the Church (it is usually easy to determine which is which). In this book, I felt that President Smith was very blunt in his answers. Some of his bluntness actually made me laugh.

For example, on page 119, he is speaking of idol worship. He states that if somebody chooses to worship animals, the sun, moon, stars, etc. "the Latter-day Saints would not interfere. Naturally, we would consider any worship of that kind to be extremely stupid, but in accord to the law of agency." Like I said, blunt, but perhaps a little humorous.

Some of his blunt answers are directed at members of other faiths trying to attack the Church and its doctrine. Smith spares no pains to prove the veracity of the Church and to utterly abolish any foundation the contenders tried to build.

One thing I liked about the author's answers in this book is that he not only uses sources from modern revelation, but also uses sources more familiar to the submitter of the question. Several times he quotes from the Catholic Bible, and other times he quotes from religious scholars not of our faith. Through his answers, Smith demonstrates himself to be very well read and educated.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor

John Taylor was the third President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, following Brigham Young. Unfortunately, I do not own the Brigham Young manual, so John Taylor is next on the list. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his teachings. John Taylor was known as the Champion of Truth, and he lived an honorable life. Here are a few quotes from his book that I particularly enjoyed.

Page 33-"The world says... I am my own master; I am an independent being; I will take my own course, etc. Some of the Latter-day Saints almost say the same thing; not quite, but they would like to get near it. 'I am a free man; I will be damned if I don't do as I please, etc.' Well, I will tell you another part of that story. You will be damned if you do act as you please, unless you please to do and to keep the laws of God."

Page 94--"It is good for the elders to become acquainted with the languages, for they may have to go abroad, and should be able to talk to the people, and not look like fools... You may say, I thought the Lord would give us the gift of tongues. He won't if we are too indolent to study them. I never ask the Lord to do a thing I could do for myself."

Page 164--"If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those whom you might have saved had you done your duty."

Page 187--"You may deceive the Bishop and you may deceive the President of the Stake, and you may deceive the General authorities of the Church, but you cannot deceive the Lord Jesus Christ nor the Holy Ghost. You know yourselves better than anybody else and if there is anything wrong in you, now is the time to repent and make yourselves square with the Lord; and if you do not repent, the time will come when you will be humbled, and the higher up you get the greater will be your fall."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Answers to Gospel Questions Vol. 2

I just finished reading Volume 2 of Answers to Gospel Questions by Joseph Fielding Smith. I love the way that he just says it like it is. This book includes a lot of instruction, but also some rebuke to those who do not study the scriptures as much as they should, and especially to those who try to study things that don't really matter. Here are a few of my highlights:

On page 45, while discussing the nature and mission of translated beings, President Smith made the following comment, which really impressed me: "Even in the days of apostasy, and apostasy has occurred several times, the Lord never surrendered this earth and permitted Satan to have complete control...our Father in Heaven held control and had duly authorized servants on the earth to direct his work and to check, to some extent at least, the ravages and corruption of the evil powers."

Page 67--Baptism was not a new thing to the Jews. "When John the Baptist came from the wilderness crying repentance and baptizing all who came to him, his act did not seem to create any curiousity as if he were introducing some new and strange doctrine. The repentant Jews took it as an ordinance well known among them and so it was."

Page 88--"It may be true that some of the smaller children who attend the Sunday Schools and sacrament meetings with their parents are too young to realize the significance of this sacred ordinance, but what injury can come to them or to the ordinance if they are permitted to partake? We know that the feelings of the Savior were very tender toward little children."

Page 178--This chapter talks about blacks and the priesthood. While the chapter was interesting, what I enjoyed most is the attitude that President Smith had. He was certain that one day the blacks would receive the Priesthood. This was 20 years before the revelation on the priesthood was received.

I am excited for the next book!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fire and Steel: A Generation Rising

 I have to confess, I have never read any of Gerald N. Lund's historical fiction novels before (although I am a big fan of his doctrinal books and his science fiction book The Alliance). This was a new experience for me, and I quite enjoyed it!

One reason that I enjoyed this book is because it takes place in Germany (Bavaria) and gives a lot of historical information about the country. I found this particularly interesting because lately I have been doing family history work for ancestors in Germany. Lund begins the book with a history lesson about Germany that leads up to the point in time where the novel begins. I really appreciated that.

The story itself was interesting. It shows how the statement "Decisions Determine Destiny" is true on a personal, family, and international level. We follow a certain German family, first through the parents and then through their son as certain choices they make lead the family to crucial decisions. It also gives the reader a look at what the misssonary efforts were like in Germany at the time. This book takes the reader to the end of World War I and sets the stage for future books leading up to World War II. I am excited to finish the series.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith

For the last several years (with a brief exception) the manuals for study in Priesthood and Relief Society have been Teachings of Presidents of the Church, with each year focused on the teachings of a particular president. I have decided to go back and re-read each manual since there is a good chance I didn't read half the lessons during the course of study (oops, confession time!) Rather than read them in the order in which they were studied, I have decided to read them in chronological order of when they were the President of the Church. Therefore, Joseph Smith is where I began.

I love Joseph Smith and revere him as a prophet. I want to highlight just a few of my favorite passages from his teachings.

Page 66-"But when this fact is admitted, that the immediate will of heaven is contained in the Scriptures, are we not bound as rational creatures to live in accordance to all its precepts?"

Page 73-"It is the will of God that man should repent and serve Him in health, and in the strength and power of his mind, in order to secure His blessing, and not wait until he is called to die."

Page 132-"No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator."

Page 243-"My dear Emma, there is great responsibility resting upon you in preserving yourself in honor and sobriety before them [their children] and teaching them right things, to form their young and tender minds that they begin in right paths and not get contaminated when young by seeing ungodly examples."

Page 318-"The moment you permit yourselves to lay aside any duty that God call you to perform, to gratify your own desires; the moment you permit yourselves to become careless, you lay a foundation for apostasy."

Page 356-"You cannot be too good."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Answers to Gospel Questions Volume 1

I inherited the Answers to Gospel Questions series by Joseph Fielding Smith from my Grandpa Wanlass. The book is exactly what the title says it is. This book is a compilation of questions people had written to The Improvement Era, along with the author's answers to those questions. Smith answers the questions based almost entirely on the scriptures, with a few clarifying statements from general authorities and scriptural scholars.

I want to highlight a few of my favorite questions and answers from this book.

One person asks about the term, "Son of man" that the Savior often uses in referring to Himself. Smith explains that the Father calls Himself Man of Holiness. When the Savior calls Himself Son of Man (the "Man" should be capitalized in the New Testament), he is referring to Himself as the Son of God.

In another chapter, the author talks about Jesus being our Mediator with the Father. He points out that the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's First Vision can be found entirely in the statement that the Father introduced the Son and then Jesus is the one who spoke with and instructed Joseph. Had Joseph claimed that God the Father answered all his questions, he would have been proven a liar, for since the Fall of Adam it has been Christ who has had interaction with men. This doctrine Joseph could not have known at that time. What a neat insight!

Other interesting questions that are answered have to do with Sabbath Day observance, the Word of Wisdom, and meanings of certain words used in the scriptures. The author also gives historical insights into the land of Egypt and the interactions between the descendants of Cain and Shem.

I am eager to continue reading the series!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Philosophical Basis of Mormonism

The Philosophical Basis of Mormonism is the text of an address by Elder James E. Talmage delivered before the Congress of Religious Philosophies held during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Elder Talmage was selected by the presiding authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to represent them at this event. The Church was honored to have been invited, as they were one of three Christian churches who were invited.

Elder Talmage gives a brief history of the Church's name and nickname (the "Mormon" church) and then spends most of the discourse on the existence of God and our relationship to Him, the Fall of Adam, the need for a Redeemer, the establishment of His church in the meridian of time, the apostasy and falling away from said church, and the restoration thereof in our era. He concludes his discourse by discussing the mission of Christ's church in our day to prepare for the Second Coming.

All thoughts and explanations are straightforward and mostly quoted from the Bible, although latter-day scripture is used sporadically throughout Talmage's discourse. This is a great text for somebody who wants to get a snapshot of the Church and its beliefs.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Brigham Young: The Colonizer

For a history of Utah and the colonization efforts of the LDS Church, I highly recommend Brigham Young: The Colonizer by Milton R. Hunter. The author has done extensive research to paint the most accurate picture of the settlements created by the early saints. I can definitely say that I learned a lot and it was fun to read how Utah came to be what it is today.

I was particularly interested in Brigham Young's reaction to the Gold Rush happening in California. Here are a few quotes from him found on page 181 of this book:

"If we were to go to San Francisco and dig up chunks of gold, or find it here in the valley, it would ruin us... I can stand in my door and can see where there is untold millions of rich treasures of the earth--gold and silver. But the time has not come for the Saints to dig gold. It is our duty first to develop the agricultural resources of this country...As for gold and silver and other rich materials of the earth, there is no other country that equals this; but let them alone; let others seek them, and we will cultivate the soil; for if the mines are opened first, we are a thousand miles away from the base of supplies, and the people would rush in here in such great numbers that they would breed a famine. . . When the Saints shall have preached the gospel, raised grain, and built up cities enough, the Lord will open up the way for a supply of gold to the perfect satisfaction of his people; until then, let them not be over-anxious for the treasures of the earth are in the Lord's storehouse, and he will open the doors thereof when and where he pleases."

I also enjoyed reading about Brigham's policy regarding the Lamanites (Native Americans). He counseled his people to first of all build forts in each new settlement to create some distance between the two parties. One of the apostles, George A. Smith, carrying out Brigham's policy in a new settlement told his followers to begin building a fort immediately and said, "It is unpleasant I know but it is also unpleasant to have one's back stuck full of arrows."

After ensuring the safety of the settlers, they were to appoint one person among them to be the trader with the natives. They were also to help them by teaching them to cultivate the soil and raise their own food. Many tribes welcomed these lessons and were grateful for the help they received from the Mormons. Brigham counseled again and again to treat all the natives with the utmost Christian charity. Because of his policy, the Mormons and natives, for the most part, got along extremely well, and much better than any other party crossing into and through "Indian Territory."

Overall I quite enjoyed this book and I am happy to have it on my shelf.