30 November 2006

Xmas Gift for My Daughter -- Please Help

I know this is a silly abuse of your time and my blog, but please help me if you can.

There is a commercial running lately, which I haven't seen, that advertises a toy that my daughter (3) wants. My wife has seen the commercial but--in her own words--is sooo captivated by the little girl in it that she doesn't remember the name of the toy. She just remembers the song she is singing:

"At six o'clock in the morning I wake up..."

The toy is some kind of microphone/karoake/playback thingy. My wife is certain that it is made by Fisher Price. And no--I cannot find it on the Fisher Price web site, nor was their customer service at all helpful when I called them.

If you know the name of the toy, please tell me. Thanks!

(And if you must know, I am completely wrapped around my daughter's finger and I like it there very much.)


28 November 2006

Husband, Santa, Business Partner, or John?

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but I haven’t had the time to refine it; however, a recent post by Jim F urged me to publish “as is.”

One of the themes I have been developing throughout the year as I study the Old Testament in preparation for teaching Sunday School is that God is not a vending machine. You can read some of my posts on the subject here:

Commandments as Rewards
Taking in Adultery
Prostituting Oneself Before God

A brief summary of my point: A relationship with God is developed through obedience and faith; the ultimate purpose is oneness with him; obedience out of a desire for blessings (health, wealth, etc.) rather than a desire for oneness ignores the greater reward and is an attempted abuse of God.

Jim F calls this believing in the Santa-God; I call it treating God like a vending machine, a business partner, or a john. This perspective reminds one to pray for forgiveness, guidance, and mercy, and not for "rewards."

The problem I have with this is embodied in Nephi’s emotional prayer:

“O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy. O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever… Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee.” (2 Nephi 4:33-35)
Nephi is clearly asking for temporal blessings (and curses) and he implies that his own righteousness and trust in the Lord give him reason to expect to be accommodated. But wait! we're not supposed to ask God for anything—make a xmas list, feed quarters into the vending machine—because that is not what God wants our relationship to be.

What to do then, with Amulek’s teaching?
“Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.” (Alma 34:20,25)
Is there a paradox? God wants us to focus on the eternal relationship we can have with him, thereby dispensing with the cares of the world—what’s a few missing sheep in the eternal scheme, right? But at the same time, he seems not only to want us to ask for temporal blessings, he also seems quite mindful of our worldly concerns (Matthew 10:29) and indeed wants us to be attentive as well (Gospel Principles, Ch 27).

Personally, I feel like God really wants me to care about my job and my health, my car and my Frisbee game, the loss of a loved-one, family vacation, and so on. And I believe that in some ways those blessings are contingent upon my righteousness. I can’t reason why I feel that way—just that when I pray I feel that I should pray for those things and when I sin I sometimes notice how I miss out. That’s “an ‘n’ of one,” as they say, but that’s my “n.” Still, I can’t resolve my two beliefs.


26 November 2006

Art for Art

A reason commonly given for the importance of early music education is that it enhances a child’s test scores in other areas, most notably math. I haven’t cared to look up the data because the whole idea seems utterly misguided. I see these findings employed chiefly in three ways:

1) By companies trying to sell “learning enhancement” products
2) By music teachers desperately fighting for funding in high schools (or other institutions).
3) By concerned parents who bought what was being sold by those in #1.

The problem is that the argument ignores the value of music in and of itself, focusing instead on how music makes us better at other things. The message many people get, consciously or subconsciously, is that, “Music is good because it makes you better at things that actually matter.” With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why people decide to strip funding from music and redistribute it to math and science—because, after all, math and science are actually useful.

Even if funding were not reduced, there is still the problem that making “brain power” the goal will inevitably cause people to overlook the cultural benefits of the humanities. Imagine what would be lost if the entire focus of a reading of Hamlet was to expand one’s vocabulary, rather than to experience the angst of a man torn between loyalty and love. I think the better solution is to promote music for the good that music directly provides.

An obvious parallel exists in the Church. Bishop Brown spoke about this years ago:

“Brethren, sometimes Aaronic Priesthood work is misdirected. Sometimes when leaders see young men losing interest in the Church, they redouble their attempts to devise major events week after week, including super-activities, teen-age parties, and visits to exotic places, hoping thereby to compete with school activities, clubs, or television for the attention of our youth. ‘Entertaining activities are what our young people want’ some leaders seem to think, and ‘we have to give them what they want if we are going to keep them active.’ Even though young people may attend such activities for a time, they experience no conversion through them, often consider it no special honor to hold the priesthood, and then move into adulthood immature and poorly prepared for service to the Church and mankind.” (Ensign, Nov 1975, 66)

For a somewhat related post from another blog, please see here.


18 November 2006

Why Favor (or Even Have) Israel?

Why does Israel seem so favored by the Lord? We are all God's children, so he should love us (ie. treat us) all the same, right? Then why do we find promises like this one throughout the scriptures:

"Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people." (Exodus 19:5-6)
The answer is also found in the scriptures:
"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.

"Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.

"I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it." (Isaiah 41:10...20, emphasis added)
Israel is a special witness of or example before the Lord. That means they are greatly blessed and sorely cursed:
"Even all nations shall say, 'Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger?'

"Then men shall say, 'Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers: For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them: And the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book: And the LORD rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.'" (Deuteronomy 29:24-28)
The House of Israel is a light to the Gentiles. Many, of course, do not recognize that light and persecute the Jews and pay no attention to the covenants God has made with them. Others, however, will be introduced to Jehovah through the witness of the Jews in Jerusalem:
"Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, 'We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.'" (Zechariah 8:22-23)
I like how Max I. Reich puts it:
"The nation of Israel was chosen to be the trustee of the divine self-revelation, culminating in the Messiah." (The Messianic Hope of Israel)

(As a side note: a Jewish friend commented on the difficulty of becoming a Jew. They don't seek converts and they make it very difficult to convert---the process may take years. My friend summed up by saying, "You'd have to be crazy to want to be a Jew anyway. Life is so much easier not being a Jew and you can still get all of the same blessings in the afterlife.")


14 November 2006

God’s Promises

The Book of Job offers many lessons, and one is that conventional wisdom about God is often wrong. As an example, read Eliphaz’ claim:

"Call to mind now: Who, being innocent, ever perished? And where were upright people ever destroyed? Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble reap the same." (4:7-8)
This may sound good, unless one reads the first and last chapter of Job. In the first, we learn that "[Job] was pure and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (1:1), so hardly one deserving of destruction. In the last, we read God’s own rejection of Eliphaz: "My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right" (42:7). The Book of Job leaves us with a God who blesses and curses whomever he pleases.

So what should we make of these verses:
"And keep the charge of the LORD thy God...that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest" (1 Kings 2:3)
"The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy" (Psalms 145:20)
"He that is righteous is favored of God" (1 Nephi 17:33-35)
"Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?" (D&C 58:31)
"I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say" (D&C 82:10)
With the Book of Job under our arm, we might be reluctant to enter into any agreement with the Lord, fearing that we are either mistaken in our theology (God does not strike bargains) or misplacing our trust (God is too unpredictable). In regard to the latter, we turn to Alma’s words:
"For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers" (Alma 37:17)
Alma makes something very clear: God will fulfill the promises he makes to you, the individual. By including this phrase, Alma reminds us that promises are non-transferable; a promise made to one person or group does not necessarily apply to another.

Numerous examples support this idea. One is found in the Book of Mosiah. King Mosiah’s sons decided on missions in hostile Lamanite lands, and their father understandably feared for their lives. The Lord comforts Mosiah with a promise that he would "deliver [Mosiah's] sons out of the hands of the Lamanites" (Mosiah 28:7). While parents today would like to have that same promise as they send their sons and daughters around the world, tragically some missionaries in recent years were not brought home safely.

While this may seem like "harsh doctrine," it is important to understand. The alternative incorrectly assumes participation in certain promises, only to be discouraged or disbelieving when results fall short of expectations.

It is far better to identify which promises have actually been made. Many promises found in the scriptures are available to anyone who complies with the requirements—we could call these "opt-in promises." Notice the inclusive terms "all" and "every":
"For every one that asketh receiveth" (Matthew 7:8)
"sanctification...to all those who love and serve God" (D&C 20:31)
Additionally, modern prophets extend promises on behalf of the Lord:
"Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will...[read the Book of Mormon]..." (GBH, A Testimony Vibrant and True, Ensign, August 2005)
Lastly, while the promises made to King Mosiah may not be ours, we can certainly follow his example. He sought and received a promise specific to his need, and so can we. Patriarchal blessings are one source of these "personalized promises," as are personal prayer and priesthood blessings. Furthermore, King Mosiah brings out an important point often lost in discussions of Job: God is open to ideas. We see this with Abraham, Alma the Younger, and John, among others.

The bottom line is that God is a God of promises. He retains complete control over the terms and the participants, but once he makes a promise he is bound. So why include all those stories in the scriptures if the promises only apply to the people in the stories? Because they demonstrate that God has a habit of making and delivering on his promises:
"For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers." (Alma 37:17)