Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"To rule and do according to their wills"

Now for a topic I normally don't talk about, wild sex parties. Yesterday I read a news update about the trial of the former head of the International Monetary Fund. What struck me was how removed the whole thing is from any sense of right or wrong or even a hint of morality.

It reminds me of a friend of mine who was robbed while on his mission in Argentina. After being assaulted in the street and being forced to give up whatever cash he had, his assailant reached his hand into his pocket and removed my friend's watch. When my friend went to the police to file a report they were entirely unconcerned that my friend had been assaulted in the street. They were not willing to even write up an official report, even when he told them that the guy had taken his money and had stolen his watch. It was only when my friend added the detail that his mugger had reached his hand into my friend's pocket and removed the watch himself did the police suddenly get concerned. Somewhere in there they felt a line had been crossed.

My friend got a black eye from the altercation, had his money and watch stolen but, according to the police, that was OK and he should just deal with it. But reaching into my friend's pocket? Now that had gone too far. Usually the legal lines are drawn long after the moral outrage is long past.

Returning to the story of the former head of the IMF (and potential president of France), I could not help but think about the ridiculousness of what was being argued about. This supposedly respectable leader of government and the prosecutors in the case were reduced to arguing whether four wild sex parties per year were excessive and regular. As one blogger put it:
""The prosecution gives the impression of unbridled activity," [the former head of the IMF] testified Tuesday. But in fact, "[t]here were only 12 parties in total. That is four per year over three years," he added helpfully, although that makes it sound a lot more "regular" than he probably intended. Mon Dieu, can the head of an international monetary fund not enjoy one group licentious evening per quarter? he seems to be asking. Yes, he just can't be the organizer, say prosecutors."
 The thing is the current law that he is being prosecuted under, and probably won't be convicted under, were probably written by the former head of the IMF or by his fellow politicians and in the French government. That is, the very laws that make their actions unprosecutable were written by the very people involved in these wild sex parties. As I read these news stories a certain scripture came to mind:
4 And seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment-seats—having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God, and not in the least aright before him; doing no justice unto the children of men;
5 Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills—
Seems to describe the state of law in certain countries at the moment.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Stories from My Mission: Thanksgiving in Argentina

In my second area of my mission in the city of Sáenz Peña I had been in the country for about nine months. I was with my third companion, Elder Palazuelos, in the area. The neighborhood where I worked was generally very poor, and most of the streets were unpaved. So when it was dry, which was often, we were very dusty, and when it was raining, which was often, we were very muddy. But it was a relatively large city (about 80,000 people) and "el centro" (downtown) area was richer than the rest of the city. Richer is a relative term since it meant that some people were not in danger of starving and may have even had a small disposable income. My area didn't cover el centro so I really didn't get to talk to people who had much money or access to basic resources.

One of the members that lived in el centro, who had plenty of money, had heard from different missionaries about the American tradition of Thanksgiving. He wanted to give the American missionaries a treat so he told them that he could prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for all the American missionaries in the zone. The member happened to live in the zone leader's area so our zone leader let us know that there was a member who was willing to fix us a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We were all excited to hear this because generally Argentine food was not know for being particularly tasty. We were all looking forward to having something different and to celebrate Thanksgiving half a world away from our families.

As Thanksgiving drew near our zone leader let us know the details about when and where the dinner would be held. Unfortunately for our zone leader, Elder Adams, he found out that he had a zone leader conference he had to go to so he was quite disappointed that he would miss it all. The day before Thanksgiving Elder Adams left for Resistencia and his companion stayed with Elder Palazuelos and me.

The entire week of Thanksgiving was wet and rainy and miserable. My companion was sick a lot so we couldn't get much done. I think that week we only managed to log 18 hours of actual missionary work with one lesson taught the entire week (it turned out that my companion really was really sick, he wasn't faking it, he eventually had to go home because of it, like it was potentially life threatening kind of sick).

Thanksgiving day I spent with my companion and with the zone leader's companion. At one point the other Elders in the zone showed up and my companion went with them to take care of business and I was left with the zone leader's companion, and that is another story for another day.

When the zone leader had arranged with the member to have Thanksgiving dinner Elder Adams had clearly told him, "The most important part of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey. You have to get a turkey." The member told Elder Adams that he would have no problem getting a turkey since he knew a farmer who raised turkeys and was willing to sell him one. Elder Adams explained to the member the importance of the turkey and said, "If for what ever reason you can't get a turkey, then get a duck. If you can't get a duck then get a chicken. The important thing is it's a bird. It has to be a bird."

So in the evening we traveled to the member's apartment (bigger than most houses in Argentina) to have Thanksgiving dinner. All of us were thinking of turkey, which had been promised to us, rolls, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and all the other goodies that somehow are entirely absent in the Argentine diet.

We got to the apartment and the member and his family greeted us warmly and then said, "Sorry Elders, we couldn't get a turkey. So we got a pig. It's in the oven."

Fortunately they didn't speak English so they couldn't understand what the American missionaries said. We were good natured about it but we were all a little like, "Really? You couldn't get a bird? Any bird would do." Further more the "rolls" were standard Argentine stick bread (bought by the kilo). The potatoes were boiled but not mashed (and not seasoned, not even salt). The pumpkin pies were bought from a local bakery, where apparently the baker had never heard of the invention of sugar, or salt.

Then the pig came out.

It still had the hair on it.

Not that it had much hair to begin with, but what hair it had was still there.

Then they served it to us.

My slice came from right near the surface. It had about 3-4 inches of fat covered in 1/2 inch skin (still with the hair on it) and then the barest trace of meat on the bottom.

I didn't eat it.

I think the only thing good about the dinner was the canned corn.

Then for an after dinner treat they served us a drink called Anana Fizz. The members in Argentina like it since it's like Sparkling Cider, but pineapple flavored. The great selling point for members of the church is that it is "alcohol free", which as I found out later, "alcohol free" in Argentina means less than 3% alcohol. So not really "alcohol free". I think all the other Elders woke up the next morning with headaches. They blamed it on the food. I read the label on the bottle carefully in the middle of my second glass, and I didn't have any more after that. I woke up the next morning just fine.

Elder Adams, who was so upset to miss Thanksgiving dinner returned the next day. Heard all about our misadventures, and then didn't feel so bad about going out of town for a zone leader conference.

Rosh Hashanah and the Angel Moroni

Recently I was thinking about certain historical dates and noticed a coincidence that was too symbolic to be just a random coincidence. I know that I am not the first to think of this connection but it is not too widely known. So I thought I would mention it spread the knowledge to my two readers (Hi Mom!).

The angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith on the night of September 21, 1823 (this happened to be a Sunday). This happened to be the third day of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, which is a week long holiday to commemorate the 40 years that the children of Israel spent in the wilderness.

After showing the gold plates to Joseph Smith, the angel Moroni instructed him to return to where the gold plates were buried in exactly one year's time. Joseph returned to the place on September 22 for the next four years, until Moroni finally allowed Joseph to get the plates, in 1827.

In 1827 the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah happened to fall on September 22 (or from sundown on the 21st until sundown on the 22nd). The holiday of Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year but it is not called Rosh Hashanah in the Bible, instead it is referred to as "a memorial of blowing of trumpets". By tradition it is a day of judgement when the books of life are presented before the Lord and everyone is judged "by the books" so to say. The righteous are sealed up to eternal life, the wicked are sealed up to destruction and everyone else is given 10 days to repent when final judgement is pronounced on Yom Kippur, which is the day of atonement.

So we have a holiday that is celebrated by blowing a horn, the books of life are presented out of which men are judged, but a space is given for men to repent before final judgement on the day of atonement. And it was on that day that the angel Moroni chose to give the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. We have picked up some of this symbolism with how we portray Moroni on our temples, but perhaps he should have a rams horn and not a straight trumpet.

We associate Moroni with the angel spoken of in the Book of Revelation:
6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
In the revelation the next angel to follow proclaimed the downfall of Babylon. But between those two angels the gospel must be preached and carried to all nations. Only then will Babylon be overthrown.

I like to think that Moroni chose that date to fulfill the Law and for the significance that it had for him even if Joseph Smith didn't know the significance of the date.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"She's gonna poke my eyes out!"

The teacher in my Elder's Quorum mentioned this today and I had to go look it up and I thought it was pretty good.

So you may know the parable of the unjust judge found in Luke:
1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.
 That part in verse five that reads "lest by her continual coming she weary me" is apparently very different if you read the original Greek. The word that is translated in the King James Version as "she weary me" is ὑπωπιάζῃ which literally means "to strike under the eye" (i.e. to give someone a black eye). As the teacher pointed out (in a former life he was a classics major) the connotation of the word ὑπωπιάζῃ is sort of what the Greek equivalent of WWF fighters do to each other by trying to gouge each other's eyes out.

So perhaps a better rendering of verse five might be:
5 Yet because this widow keeps getting in my face, I will avenge her, or else one of these days she's gonna come here and poke my eyes out.
I think the Bible is a tad bit more interesting if you learn a little Greek.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Stories from My Mission: A Tool in the Hand of God

My worst companion on my mission was my last companion. Of all of my companions he was the most difficult, the strangest, the most worrisome, and the only one that I felt should not be a missionary.

I had already been in my last area with two different companions. While it was unusual to have three different companions in a single area I had had three companions in my previous three areas so getting a third companion was not unexpected. I had two transfers left and while my mission president usually did not put missionaries into an area for only two transfers it did happen. So I was sort of halfway expecting to be transferred to a new area for my last two transfers since my current companion, Elder Larson, had only been there for one transfer.

But on the morning of transfers we went to the mission office (it was only a short bus ride away from my area) to find out who was being transferred. We walked through the door and the office elders quickly told my companion that he was going to be transferred instead of me. I asked who my new companion would be and all anyone would tell me was, "Elder Tanner, I'm so, so, so sorry." I think someone even gave me a hug of condolence. I finally had to corner one of the APs and get him to tell me who my new companion would be (he was a little surprised that no one had warned told me yet).

He told me my new companion's name, but it was a missionary I had never heard of before. I went out to talk to a few other elders who had also come in to find out where they were going and who their new companions would be. There was one Elder who asked my who my new companion would be and I told him. He looked at me and said, "What did you do to be put with him?" We talked some more and he asked me about some of my other companions. I listed them off to him and at each one he winced at the name. At the end he looked at me and said, "Does President hate you? Why would he keep putting you with so many bad Elders?"

Despite my apparent legendary list of "bad companions" according to everyone I talked to this last one would be the one to top them all. About this time Elder Dacoli, who was a friend of mine, arrived. Elder Dacoli and I had never been companions but we had been in the same zone a few times, and we had worked together occasionally and we even had one very special spiritual experience together. Elder Dacoli was the nicest, most Christlike person I have ever had the pleasure to know in my life. Preciously when he had asked me who my companions were he would always have something good to say about them, even for the ones who were quite insufferable. I am sure that Elder Dacoli could find something good to say about each and every person he ever met. Which is why when I told Elder Dacoli who my new companion was his response surprised me.

I mentioned who my new companion was and all he said was, "Oh. Well Elder, good luck." That was perhaps the most damning thing I could have ever imagined Elder Dacoli to say. He didn't even offer to say anything positive about this Elder. I began to wonder what I was getting myself into.

I don't have the time or energy to compress the next six weeks into a single blog post, but I'll give you the highlights. I'll call my companion Elder A.

On his very first day in the area I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because I had learned from so many of my previous companions that to have charity and to not criticize or judge were critical for being a good missionary and also a good person in general. So my initial thought while walking around with Elder A was to give him an opportunity to show me who he was before I made any judgements.

Because I had been in the area for three months I knew it pretty well and I could have just gone where ever I wanted without telling Elder A and he would have had no idea. But I was committed to making this a good companionship so I would stop occasionally and talk to him and explain to him where we needed go and why. We had one set appointment with the rest of the afternoon free. He seemed resistant to going to our appointment, but he eventually consented. Unfortunately the person we were looking for wasn't there so we had to turn to finding people.

I consulted a map of the area and decided to go to a particular neighborhood where I had never been before. I told this to Elder A and he immediately questioned why we were going there. I said that I had been in almost every other neighborhood but this was one I had never before visited and I felt that we needed to go there. He said that we shouldn't go there. We discussed it for a while until finally he asked which direction we needed to go to get there. I pointed north, down the street and he promptly started walking south, in the opposite direction. I had to hurry up to catch up with him. I asked him where he was going and he said, "I don't think we should go that way."

I tried to reason with him but it really didn't work. I got him to turn at the next block, but every time I indicated which direction we needed to turn he would go the exact opposite direction. After a while I stopped talking to him and tried to subtly get him to go in the direction we needed to go. After a few twists and turns (I knew the area very well and had a good mental map) I knew we were back on track and he had no idea we were headed in the direction I had originally planned to go.

When we finally got to the particular street that I had felt we needed to go to Elder A looked down the street and said, "Now that you have wasted our time getting us here, now what?" I indicated a house on the corner and he promptly went to the one on the opposite corner (which actually wasn't a house, it was a small shop and after a brief and awkward conversation with the person working there we moved on). I got him to move down the street stopping occasionally to talk to people. There was one person who was not interested and I said good day to them by my companion persisted and tried to set a time to come back to talk to them. Awkwardness ensued (we never saw them again).

As we moved down the street it turned into a minor battle, with Elder A throwing himself at every person who showed no interest and curtly ending conversations with every person who showed a grain of interest. There was one young man sitting outside his house plucking on a guitar. We approached and I introduced myself. I gave a brief rundown of who we were and the message we were sharing. At that moment the young man said the words that every missionary dreams of hearing on a first encounter, "Hey, that sounds really interesting I would like to learn more about your message. We can talk right now because I have time, and maybe you can come back some other time and we can talk some more."

Elder A heard those words and promptly said, "Well it's been good talking to you but we need to move along." and walked off. My jaw dropped down into the street. I ran after my companion and caught up with him at the end of the block. I asked him what he was doing and he said, "He obviously wasn't interested." To which I replied, "He told us he was interested."

For the next six weeks this same scene played itself out over and over. If I said we needed to go one way he would go the other. If I thought someone was progressing he would disagree. Elder A contradicted me in every way possible. It got to the point that members were approaching me and asking if the mission president knew about Elder A. I told them he did. I knew the mission president knew about him because I did something I had never done before. I requested a transfer, but the mission president turned me down.

It was about this time that I was talking to one of the APs. We had gone to high school together so he was willing to give out more information than normal. He said that the decision to put me with Elder A was made at his first meeting with the mission president after he became an AP. He said that they stood there with a map of the mission, with all the missionary pictures and started matching up companions. When they had nearly finished they had three or four Elders who pictures were left at the bottom of the board and they didn't know what to do with them. For some of them they just stuck them off in their own area and hoped they didn't do anything stupid.

But for Elder A they had a hard time because they had to find someone to be his companion who would not get mad and hit him in the face (something that apparently happened before). They finally decided to give him to me because they knew I wouldn't hit him, and fortunately I didn't prove them wrong.

After six weeks I couldn't stand it any more and asked my mission president for a transfer. He just told me that I only had to survive six more weeks and then I could go home. I really didn't appreciate hearing that. It was one moment when I really didn't feel like sustaining my priesthood leader.

That evening Elder A and I were back on the street with me doing our usual, not telling him where we were going and hoping he wouldn't suddenly decide to do something stupid. There was a less active member I had been trying to find for a while and I wanted to stop by his house. As soon as Elder A figured out that we were going in a specific direction he began his standard practice of taking random turns and trying to steer us away from where ever I wanted to go. Eventually I got us to the right street (we only had to circle the block two or three times before I got him close enough to turn down the right street).

About half way down the block Elder A realized that we were getting to where I wanted to go and promptly went to the opposite side of the street. I walked up to the house to clap only to realize that my companion was standing 40 feet away down the street. I went back to try to get him to just cross the street but the harder I tried the worse it got.

Finally something in me snapped and I did something I have never done with anyone since. I got confrontational. I looked at Elder A and demanded to know what he was doing. He waffled behind some excuses that he didn't think we should be here or he didn't think it was worth trying to find this person, but I didn't let it go like I had before. I kept pressing and demanding to know why he was so resistant to crossing the street. I told him that he didn't even have to talk, just cross the street. He continued to refuse and then asked why I was getting upset.

I really didn't want to do this in the middle of the street, but I really didn't have any other option. I told him bluntly and directly, "Elder, you are destroying the work in this area. You are an active impediment to the work of the Lord." Elder A responded by saying that I was destroying the work just as much and began to list of ever minor infraction I had ever committed, including wasting time walking long distances only to find that the people we were looking for were not home. He listed every personality flaw that he thought I had (or the ones he had enough where with all to know about).

I told him that really didn't want to have this discussion in the middle of the street since it would be a very bad idea to have people see two Mormon missionaries arguing in the street. I insisted that we go back to our apartment but he wanted to have it all out there in the middle of the street. After a while I finally convinced him to go back to our apartment.

As soon as we got in I sat down with him and again told him that he was destroying the work of the Lord and was an active impediment to the Church. He again told me that he was no worse than me. I asked him why he contradicted me on every decision and refused to go anywhere I had decided to go.

Finally after six weeks Elder A opened up and began to be honest with me. He said that our mission president had threatened to send him home, and if he was sent home from his mission he would be too embarrassed to go to Church so he would probably just leave the Church. So when our mission president had read him the riot act he had decided that he would strenuously keep the mission rules. Unfortunately in his mind "keeping the mission rules" meant contradicting me. Before he had met me he had apparently overheard one of the Elders in the office talking about me and my previous companion Elder Larson. The office Elder had remarked at our teaching stats, which were unusually low, and was wondering if we were doing any work out in our area.

Elder A took that and assumed that I was the laziest, good for nothing, rule-breaking-est missionary there ever was and came to the conclusion that in order to be a good missionary he needed to contradict every single decision I ever made. He told me that for the last six weeks he had intentionally been making my life difficult because he had it fixed in his mind that I was a bad missionary. All this time I had just been thinking he was stupid. I had no idea that he was malicious as well.

I acknowledged that I was not a perfect person and even accepted some of the things he had listed off as to why I was a "bad missionary", but insisted that minor personality flaws or even just basic human traits did not make me a "bad missionary". I again reiterated the fact that by actively creating disharmony in the companionship he was actively destroying the work of the Lord. I then quoted to him D&C 1:19-23 which reads:
19 The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—
20 But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
21 That faith also might increase in the earth;
22 That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
23 That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.
I emphasized the "weak and simple" and said that I do not have to be a perfect person, nor live up to Elder A's standard of perfection in order to proclaim the gospel. I only had to give all that I am and the Lord would make up the rest.

That night we came to a kind of a truce. He agreed to stop contradicting me in every decision and we both agreed to do the work we needed to do.

In the weeks leading up to this confrontation I had often wondered why this Elder was on a mission. He barely knew the doctrine, he did not get along with other missionaries. His first companion had apparently hated so much that he had to be moved in an emergency transfer (I hear physical violence was involved). Elder A took just about every thought and twisted it around in such a way that it made me wonder just how much lead paint he had licked as a child. I could not understand why he was not sent home. He was confrontational, irrational, had broken just about every mission rule possible without actually breaking any commandments. In my mind it made no sense to keep him there in the mission field.

So I began to pray.

I prayed and asked to know why Elder A was still on a mission and had not been sent home already. The answer came not all at once but through a series of revelatory experiences and through the gift of discernment such that I learned things I could never have learned any other way.

Elder A had grown up in a very poor neighborhood in an especially poor South American country. For the first 10 or 12 years of his life he had lived in a mud hut with a cardboard roof (a kind of very stiff paperboard coated in tar to make it water repellent). When he was an early teen his family had managed to get a free house in a government housing block. It had two rooms and was made of very basic kiln fired building blocks. He never got far in school but his family had joined the Church and he had gone on a mission out of genuine desire to give back to the Lord for what the Lord had given him. His family was too poor to provide any help so the full time Elders in his branch had provided shirts, pants and shoes so that he could go on a mission. Our monthly stipend that we got (at that time was ~550 pesos or ~$200) was more money than he would typically make in six months. He had never felt so rich in his entire life. He had never been able to afford the food he was now eating. He relished in the the sense that he could talk and people would listen to him because his entire life he was poor and no one listens to the poor.

All this power and wealth went a little to his head. When our mission president had told him that he needed to follow the rules or be sent home, he may as well have told Elder A that he would be cast into hell for all eternity because it had the same effect. That's when he became my companion.

Over the next few weeks there were minor incidents where the spirit nudged me and said, "Look. That is why he wasn't sent home." There were little things that happened that may seem minor to our understanding but were great in the sight of God. Because of my personality there are people who I would have a hard time talking to about the gospel. There are people who would have a hard time talking to me about anything for that matter. If there is someone in my area that cannot hear the gospel because their personality does not match mine that is OK because there in the mission there is usually another Elder or Sister somewhere who can reach them and when the time is right the Lord will rotate those missionaries in and put them in contact with those people.

But with Elder A there were people who were very special or very unique who would have a hard time hearing the gospel from any other missionary. But Elder A was just the right person at the right time to contact a few very specific people, people who did not join the Church as far as I know, but in the eternal scheme of things they needed their chance to hear the gospel.

After several weeks of observing and learning I was praying one night about my companion when I got the distinct impression and received a clear answer to my prayer. It said, "He is mine. I will do with him as seemeth me good. He is a tool in my hand and as long as he is here I will use him to do my work. He is not perfect but neither is anyone else. I know my servants and I know how to use all my servants in the way that is best for them. I will do the same for him as I will do for you. For all who will be my servant, I will use. My knowledge is sufficient that I can do my own work, even with the weak and simple things of the earth. Remember,
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
"My servants are my own and I shall not lose them, and they will do my work."

From this I learned to trust in the Lord, because He knows so much more than we do. After that I was perhaps the only one in the entire mission who had anything good to say about Elder A. I began to see him as God saw him and it changed everything I knew about him. There were so many other missionaries who wanted to offer their negative assessment but from that time on I always strived to say only good thing about him when talking to other missionaries. I think I had more good to say about him than my mission president (sometimes I wonder if my mission president understood why he never sent Elder A home). I don't know if anyone noticed that I only had good things to say about Elder A but I know that God noticed. And he thanked me for it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rabbath Ammon: The City With the Greatest PR Campaign Ever

[Author's Note: When I originally started writing this I intended this to be a lighthearted post about I verse I recently read in the book of Deuteronomy. So if that is all you care about then just skip down to where it says "Original Post". But I just couldn't resist looking up some basic information about the people and places mentioned in that verse. That turned into an even more in depth look at some Biblical history that I was not very familiar with. That in turn lead to more searching and more reading and more ideas.

By the time I decided to stop I was turning a short lighthearted post about a single verse into a Russian Novel. I had 20+ tabs open in my browser and I was trying to figure out how to distill that much information into a single post. After a while I decided that I didn't have to, nor did I want to attempt that. I had unintentionally hit on a very rich subsection of Biblical history that very frequently gets misinterpreted. Some of the topics that I came across in researching that one verse have been used (almost) more than any other part of the Bible as the basis for some of the most fantastical, misguided, insipid, and just plain wrong Biblical exegesis.

My original short post was turning into a post on how a single word in the Bible can be used as the basis for an ever expanding repertoire of tall tales and theological speculation that leads into the truly bizarre. But rather than flesh it all out into a complete post I threw it all away and went back to my original idea of a short, humorous a long boring "Author's Note". I'll provide the links but if you want to go down the rabbit hole and take the blue pill then you will have to do your own research.

A few links to get you started:

One of those links will lead you down a path of pure history, another down a path of linguistics debates, another down a path of speculation and fantasy and the fourth down a path of a combination of all three. I leave it as an exercise to the interested reader to figure out which is which. Now back to my regularly scheduled post.]

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Every PR department dreams of coming up with the ultimate ad campaign. One that will work it's way into popular culture and be used cultural icon or even become a standard figure of speech. But of all the PR departments that have ever been there was one that out did them all because they managed to get their star tourist attraction mentioned in the Bible along with a seemingly prophetic endorsement from Moses himself to go see it.

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses (or his ghost writer(s)) is recounting their travels in the wilderness and the various wars fought and victories won, when he mentions one king they fought against and killed, Og king of Bashan. After listing the cities they captured on the far side of the Jordan River he then mentions Og again includes a little tidbit of tourist trivia.
"For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man." (Duet. 3:11)
In other words, "Hey look at this guy we killed. He was HUGE! Like HUGE! Like a GIANT! You don't believe he was a giant? Well Mr. Smartypants, you can still go see his bed. It's over in Rabbath Ammon. Just across the Jordan River. It's HUGE! His bed is, I mean. But seriously, you can still go see his bed! Just take a look and measure it out. Only a GIANT would have a bed that big. And we KILLED him! Go us!"

So the people in the city of Rabbath Ammon had something there that was a major tourist attraction that they called Og's bed. We don't know what it really was (some translations say sarcophagus rather than bed) but apparently by the time the parenthetical statement (almost all other translations put it in parentheses, but not the KJV) was inserted in the book of Deuteronomy it was a major tourist attraction. So the PR department of Rabbath Ammon outdid them all and got a shout out for their main tourist attraction put in the Bible with the apparent approval of Moses.


[Author's End Note: Yes, another boring one that deals with scholarly stuff and actual history. Before you think that Moses was out endorsing tourist attractions in Gentile cities, keep in mind that this was a parenthetical statement that was added much later. So even if Moses had written the book of Deuteronomy he most likely did not insert that little gem.

"Wait!" you say. "What do you mean 'even if Moses had written the book of Deuteronomy'. But Moses did write the book of Deuteronomy! Didn't he? That's why it is called one of the five books of Moses." Weeeeelllllll....There is an idea out there that has some credence to it that says that Moses did not actually write the book of Deuteronomy.

The theory goes something like this. King Josiah (b. 643) and his priests were in the middle of a major religious reform in Jerusalem. Along the way they found what they called "the Book of the Law" which was probably the core legal code laid down by Moses, as preserved by the scribes over the years. Over the next few years little bits of history and introductory material was added, including the parenthetical statement about king Og. This book became the basis of Josiah's religious reforms, but was not part of the original writings of Moses. If this was the case then the book of Deuteronomy may not have been part of the Brass Plates taken by Lehi into the wilderness. So originally there were only the four books of Moses, and not the five that we now have.

In any event, I doubt it that Moses was the one who mentioned Rabbath Ammon's main tourist attraction.]

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Expecting Perfection

I found this little nugget of wisdom in a journal kept by Joseph Smith (written by others) from December 1841 to December 1842. This entry is found on October 29th, 1842.
"[Joseph] said he was but a man and they must not expect him to be perfect; if they expected perfection from him, he should expect it from them, but if they would bear with his infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, he would likewise bear with their infirmities." [Source]
How often do we demand perfection from our leaders, but we complain and protest when the same is done to us?