Friday, September 28, 2007


It has been kind of a tradition I've had with myself and my journals to review as many birthdays as I can remember when my birthday rolls around. I think this started about the time I went on my mission. So this year I'm doing this in cyberspace... oooooh

First I suppose I'll cast my mind back to my big 16th birthday. This was spent in the family van traveling north--home from a trip to Disneyland during UEA (Utah Education Association) break. I think we stopped on Santa Monica Blvd and visited the grounds of the LA temple. I seem to remember a photo of me with my longish curly hair and a Green Day t-shirt standing on the temple grounds (I likely had a chain on my wallet too).

The next year I remember well. I had been working unheard of hours at the new Riverwoods Hogi Yogi/Teriyaki Bowl (now Stix) all summer, and that had not really taking a back seat when school started. I think after seven or eight hours at school I hurried off to work and at a managers' meeting was treated to a free small frozen yogurt by the powers that were (and just so happen to be still) on that, my 17th birthday. Ten years ago now... hmm. That was also the year that I worked on Thanksgiving to provide a total of two customers something to eat all day. I don't think that restaurant has been open on Thanksgiving since.

What I remember most about my 18th birthday, aside from receiving my Patriarchal Blessing earlier that month, was that my then "good" friend Emily decorated my car (called "Starbolt" affectionately by my friends and me). I went to school and ... I'm pretty sure that I had Lenito's for lunch, likely a chicken chimi.

The year that passed between 18 and 19 is one of the longest of memory for me--so much seemed to happen. I switched jobs, bands, and basically peers, and then they all kind of meshed together by the end of it all. I finished high school and got a mission call, and began relationships that would affect my future in ways I could not have sensed. But what I remember most about September 29, 1999 was going to the Mt. Timp Temple in the afternoon and sitting in the Celestial Room with the sun shining through that beautiful window and thinking: This must be what heaven feels like. My friends Aaron and Spencer were out of town (they were in Vegas at a Goldfinger concert), and I think my cake had a picture of Michigan on it.

Spring Lake, Michigan is where my next birthday found me. Elder Merritt and I were working diligently to spread the Good News to the folks in Spring Lake and Grand Haven. Mom sent me a box of cake mix and a disposable cake pan and some party favors. Elder Merritt and I baked the cake (after a district meeting that morning and lunch at Fudruckers) and took it to a less-active member's house and celebrated there. We drew faces on the balloons.

Another year and I was on the tail end of my mission. My companion, Elder Eales, and I drove up to the Makinaw Bridge and got some pictures there, and then went to a town that housed an outlet mall where I bought a watch. It was, I think, our only preparation day that transfer period.

How much was to change over the next year, I had no idea. But on September 29, 2002 I was on top of the world because just the night before Jessica had said "Yes" to a marriage proposal. It remember that it was Sunday, so I'm sure I went to church and things, but most of all I remember Jessica wearing the little engagement ring I got her during the cake and icecream that evening.

We move then to 23... we were living in the condo and Jessica was three months pregnant with Joshua. I went to class early that morning--Modern Hebrew taught by Monica Richards. And later it was off to Biblical Hebrew from Don Parry. I think I remember not wanting anyone at school to know that it was my birthday. Then I'm sure I went to teach at the MTC later... and so it was. Oh yeah, this was the infamous (to our family anyway) BYU Bookstore splurge day.

The next year Joshua was six months old and Jessica was working on her capstone semester for nursing. We were extremely busy at this time: Jess was going to two clinicals a week (12 hour shifts) on top of plenty of class time and group projects, while I was working my way through second year Hebrew, a class on Texts and Ancient Temples, and a Book of Mormon class taught by John Bytheway (among other things). I was working hard at the MTC to support us, inasmuch as Jessica's last two jobs had ended with the businesses she worked for closing (B. Dalton Books in January and The Total Health Institute in the summer). Do I remember much about the day specifically? Not really. I'll have to go to my journals to find out.

Two years ago we were the newish owners of our beautiful house. Jessica was well into her first year as an RN and I got my first ever opportunity to teach seminary. This was the trial run: we went into a class at Provo High and taught for half a period. I remember the scripture block was 1 Nephi 20-21 (Isaiah chapters!). I taught Matt Davis's class and he was gone because his wife had just had a baby. That semester I was in the first classes of the official Ancient Near Eastern Studies major: Dana Pike's History and Culture of Ancient Israel and Gaye Strathearn's Introduction to Ancient Near Eastern Studies.

And then last year we had a couple months before welcomed Morgan into our home and I got up early to go teach my "A" day class at Lone Peak. I would come home from teaching for about an hour or so before going to school and when I would come in the house and say something Morgan's little face would light up at my voice. I'm sure something like that happened this day.

And now today. The weather is blustery and beautiful. I got up with Morgan and ate some breakfast... Jessica and her family got me the 16 volume Teachings of the Prophets set from Deseret Book--what a collection to have!

So now, Happy Birthday John Paxon (an old Chicago Bulls player--as an early adolescent I was proud to share my birthday with him) and Darin in Jackson, MI (he is 47 today) and Scott Martin (an old co-worker from Teriyaki Bowl, born on the same day in the same hospital as me) and also Tony Gunn; and whoever else shares this birthday.

Thoughts of Late

Last night I read an article in the Reader's Digest about humor and gender. It concluded that women have more sophisticated senses of humor and that men, though finding some of the same things funny, will laugh at just about anything as long as it "looks" funny. I suppose that may be the case generally, but it seems to me that 90% of the stuff people think is funny out there just isn't... like, for example, comics in the newspaper.

What ever happened to funny, clever jokes in comics? Why can I read through an entire page of comics and never even chuckle? Did Bill Watterson and Gary Larsen use all the good jokes, and then after retiring their work take all the cleverness with them? (Actually, I have to say here, parenthetically, that Scott Adams is rather clever and very funny, but as for the vast majority of stuff... eh.) I'm really hoping that someday my ten-year-old niece becomes a syndicated comic writer, because her stuff is actually funny, like her adventures of Forgetful Man, a rather scatter-brained superhero. Her art is subtle and her writing clever ... two elements commonly missing in today's comics.

The other evening we celebrated my dad's birthday with a surprise party at Chuck-a-Rama. It was wonderful--he was very touched. And to top it all off, I had the opportunity to shake hands with someone I really admire, someone who affected the way I taught seminary at Provo High and whose quotes about Scripture study lined the walls of the classroom, with quotes like this:
"[The scriptures] are an instrument by which you can receive revelation. If you knew how to work the instrument, and if you had properly prepared your heart, you could take it into your hands, open it just about anywhere, and receive customized guidance from the Lord."
The author of this statement, and the man I was so thrilled to meet, is Elder Gene R. Cook. The above quote comes from his book Searching the Scriptures. When I shook his hand he asked if he knew me (that is, if I had met him before), I told him no, but that I used his book a lot and also his talk that is on CD called Thirteen Lines of Defense. In that talk he speaks about how to protect yourself against immorality. It is a classic. He then asked if I was married and had children. I said yes, and he said, "Keep it up." What a great man.

Monday, September 24, 2007

ER and Surgery

This weekend was a little bit different.

The security guards at UVRMC are used to my coming in late on Saturday night to visit Jessica at work (Jessica's sister, Jenessa, who lives with us, listens for the boys while I visit her), but this last Saturday was a bit different. At about midnight I checked in at the security desk, but this time it was because Jessica was in surgery getting her appendix removed.

I took her to the ER at 5:00 on Saturday afternoon. We spent two and a half hours in the waiting room as the pain in her belly got progressively worse. After getting a room in the ER we waited another hour or so before a physician was able to see her--two minutes before the pain subsided significantly and she was feeling kind of silly about being there. But after another hour or so and a CT scan, it was determined that she indeed had appendicitis (the doctor called it a "slam dunk diagnosis"), and that she needed to have that little, apparently useless, organ removed.

The surgeon visited us and told us he had another appendectomy scheduled at 11:00, so he would operate on Jessica afterwards. So then another hour passed and a tech assistant from the OR came and wheeled Jessica off to surgery. She was brought out around 1:30 am and admitted to her own unit (Pediatrics) where her friends took excellent care of her.

She is now home and in a lot of pain, but at least not septic from a bursting appendix...

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I have always really liked autumn. This could likely be explained by the fact that when I was a child I looked forward to my birthday. I suppose I still look forward to my birthday, but not for the same reason as when I was turning, say, ten. It was all about presents then. Now it's more about being able to celebrate something with those I care about... that's really all I have to say about birthdays.

And now to why I love fall today.

I know that instruction and inspiration is available all year round, but every six months there is something that I look forward to with more anticipation and excitement than just about anything. This excitement really began seven and a half years ago--the looking forward to the first weekends in April and October.

"And there came prophets in the land again, crying repentance unto them--that they must prepare the way of the Lord or there should come a curse upon the face of the land" (Ether 9:28).

Elder Holland used this verse as the title for his Conference address a year ago. I driving to the Salt Lake airport with Jessica and some of her family to drop someone off, and we were listening to Conference. I knew Elder Holland would be speaking last (before President Hinckley's final remarks anyway) because he hadn't yet spoken in any other session. I looked forward to that talk, and when it happened I was not disappointed. With the energy very distinct in his personality, Elder Holland bore testimony of exactly why I love the fall: General Conference.

And this Conference is one that I'm looking forward to with even more anticipation than usual. For one thing: I need it. I need the inspiration of the inspired leaders of the church. I need the strengthening of the Spirit that always attends these sessions. And another thing: there will be a new counselor called to the First Presidency. The world lost one of its best men when President Faust passed away. He was the very embodiment of humility and pure love. What I love about President Faust was his unabashed relationship with his dear Ruth. There is so much about their relationship that is inspiring, but I'll just share one simple example.

Not long after returning from my mission there was a Regional Conference held in the Marriott Center. Jessica and I attended and could not wait to hear from the visiting authorities, among whom were President Faust, Elder Maxwell, and Elder Groeberg. The thing that I noticed was that during the singing of the hymns, President and Sister Faust would hold hands. After how ever many years of marriage, they still liked to hold hands--such a simple yet profound gesture--as a sign of their deep and wonderful affection for each other.

Who will be called to fill the vacancy in the Presidency? If it is a member of the Twelve, who will then fill the vacancy in that quorum? If I were still in school there would likely be speculation about this in some of my classes, especially the religion classes. Though in 2004 it was in a class on Texts and Ancient Temples that the most speculation went on: the professor was very confident that he knew who would be called. (He was wrong, but can we imagine the Twelve without Elder Uchtdorf and Elder Bednar?) Something we have to accept is that the leaders of the church are indeed growing older and will not be around forever--there was always hope in my heart that the leadership of the church would forever be what it was from 1995-2004, the longest stretch of continuity in the First Presidency and the Twelve in the history of the church.

However things turn out, it will always be as the Lord wills, and that is something to know. So with the beautiful fall colors and the cooling of the air comes this tender mercy so wonderful for those who know that there are in very fact prophets in the land again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A BYU Education

Ten years ago I was approaching my 17th birthday, was a junior at Provo High School, and as for my future figured that I would eventually be living in Southern California playing the drums in a band and working at a convenience store to pay rent on my tiny place near the beach. If anyone asked me about college I would laugh and say that I wasn't planning on college, I was just breezing through high school getting good grades but in really easy classes, not preparing at all for higher education.

And for years I figured that was the way it would be, until a General Conference in April 2001. Everything changed during the two days of ten hours of instruction from inspired leaders. It seemed that each of them spoke about the importance of education. And so, after returning home from Michigan in December 2001, I enrolled at UVSC for the Spring semester 2002. But this was not to last long, inasmuch as a certain young lady whom I found very, very, very cool went to a different school--that one across town. The one I made fun of for all of my adolescence: BYU! Suddenly, BYU seemed like a great place to study, and so I applied and (after making the deadline by minutes) was accepted on a trial basis for a summer term. I did well and then spent the next five years working on six different majors until I finally settled on Ancient Near Eastern Studies--thanks mostly to Dan Belnap for that. It was his Book of Mormon class in summer 2002 that inspired me to look into learning Hebrew.

Winter 2007 came along and found us (the SANE club) sitting in a class that would be life changing, at least for me. To quote Dr. Seuss, this class went along at a break-necking pace, and yet the professor would begin each class with the refrain, "We're behind!" We would then ride an academic roller coaster in which we would learn about all manner of things having to do with Biblical Studies and the approaches modern scholars take to a study of the texts of antiquity.

Perhaps most impressive to me was the day in which our professor told us he was trying to "scare the hell out of [us], literally." It was a day when we had been discussing Latter-day Saints and biblical academics. It seemed that what he was attempting to get through our hearts and heads was that in this field of study there is more potential for losing our testimonies than in any other academic discipline. This is primarily because in Biblical Studies a large portion of what goes on is the questioning of things considered absolutes and simple facts--a quest which when set upon can at first be shocking.

I'll illustrate with a simple example: The Documentary Hypothesis

If a Latter-day Saint were asked who wrote the first five books of the Bible, they would likely say, "Moses." And why not? The titles to each of the books say that they are the books of Moses, and that is what the Judeo-Christian tradition has taught for thousands of years. Yet in the last few centuries this assumption has been questioned by students of the Bible from many different backgrounds. The questions began when students noted things in the text that seemed inharmonious with Mosaic authorship, such as the account of Moses' "death" (Latter-day Saints would specify and say "translation") as recorded in Deuteronomy 34. How could Moses be the author of this? Or perhaps even more unlikely, could Moses really have been the author of this verse?
(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)
Numbers 12:3

These types of questions were followed by hundreds more, and many theories have been put forth attempting to answer them. The widely accepted view today among scholars is that the five books of Moses, as they are often called, or the Pentateuch, were written by four different people/groups of people over the course of a few centuries, and ultimately put together to form the Pentateuch. This theory is called The Documentary Hypothesis. These four "sources" as they are called have been determined by stylistic analysis and other features which seem to distinguish the uniqueness of each source. They each have a particular voice, a way of viewing deity, certain names they use for God, ways of portraying the individuals they are writing about, and emphases in general. All in all (and in general terms) the Documentary Hypothesis is rather convincing, and on the surface seems formidable for those who "believe the Bible to be the word of God" (Article of Faith 8). Could it be that Moses is not really the author of the Pentateuch? But that would mean questioning a central fact in our faith! Or would it?

The thing with traditions is that they are just that: traditions. Nowhere in the Pentateuch is there any indication that Moses is in fact the author of these books. We ought to be careful telling the Bible what it is and what it isn't when it does not make such claims itself. The closest thing is found in Numbers 33:2 in which it is noted that Moses did indeed keep a record of the journeyings of the Israelites, but it does not say that the book of Numbers is that record. If anything the sense is that the book of Numbers is a retelling of what Moses originally wrote. And so it could well be. Do I, personally, believe that Moses kept a record? Yes. And I think Latter-day Saints have a pretty pristine version of the first part of this record in the Pearl of Great Price. (Incidentally, the Lord told Moses something about what would happen to his writings over the course of time in Moses 1:40-41.) But the book of Moses, though similar to the opening chapters of Genesis, is so different that it does not harm my testimony at all to consider that what is in the Bible is not so much original Moses stuff, but his story retold by others later.

Perhaps what is most concerning to many are the conclusions many of the scholars who come up with these theories propose, such as: If Moses did not write the Pentateuch, there was no Moses, no actual Exodus, and the story of the Bible is fiction. I think that is going way too far. In fact, here is my point. For a Latter-day Saint, the idea that a book was formed by someone taking the writings of many different people from different time periods and putting them together to form a sacred work of scripture is as familiar as the words, "And now I Mormon . . . speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi" (Words of Mormon 1, 3). The Book of Mormon is in very fact what scholars are claiming, much to the chagrin of millions of believing Jews and Christians, the Bible is: namely, a book taken from lots of records and formed by others centuries after the events took place. And to use the methodologies the scholars do to determine that there are multiple authors to books of the Bible, we can indeed conclude the same thing about the Book of Mormon--there are multiple authors. They each have their own personalities, styles, and ways of viewing the world and events. In other words, the Book of Mormon could not have been fabricated by one man, but is the product of many different individuals, a claim that the book makes throughout!

In a very superficial way, I have thought about this and other methodologies that scholars use to study the Bible, and have seen how a careful reading of the text of the Book of Mormon in the way the Bible is read, we can see that the Book of Mormon comes out as exactly what its authors claim it is, and the Bible turns out to be not necessarily what tradition claims it is, but something that we can still trust as the word of God. Indeed, as Nephi saw in vision, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon establishes the truth of the Bible in so many ways! (see 1 Nephi 13:38-40)

So I guess I am a long way from a tiny place near the beach in Southern California, and I couldn't be happier. I will forever be grateful for my BYU education.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Someday I Will

Eventually I'm going to tackle the issue of source criticism and my views of it concerning the Book of Mormon in general. I really look forward to doing that, but I need to wait until I know I have enough time to take care of it.

Right now it's nearly 8:00 am and I just know that Morgan will wake up soon, which will mean my time at the computer will end...

Above is a wonderful picture of Morgan from last Thursday. As the sun was setting we were playing in the backyard. Morgan was busily sweeping the lawn with a big push broom (that is one of his prime responsibilities) and Joshua was in the very back of the yard with the hose making a rather large mud puddle. Suddenly Morgan decided he was really interested in what his big brother was doing and toddled to the back of the yard and within three or four minutes looked like this. I ran inside to grab the camera and get a picture of my little Huck Finn--isn't he just adorable?

The other above picture I am using so I can put it on my profile... this is from Easter. I can't find that beautiful argyle sweater vest--I hope it will turn up somewhere. I wanted to wear it to church this last Sunday--dang!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tender Mercies

A few years ago Elder Bednar gave a talk in conference that a lot of people really liked. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the title of this talk used by more than one seminary student during my year and a half experience of teaching here in Utah Valley. On the last day of class at Lone Peak High School I had the students each stand up and share their favorite scripture with the class. One young lady stood up and introduced her verse by saying that this passage of scripture was a tender mercy in her life. This, I'm guessing, came from Elder Bednar's talk, which was entitled "The Tender Mercies of the Lord."

Here is a link to the talk:,5232,23-1-520-33,00.html

Incidentally, it is my prediction that in the next while (could be a few years yet)Deseret Book will publish a collection of Elder Bednar's talks and the book will be called one of two things: Tender Mercies or In the Strength of the Lord. But since I didn't get the Editorial Assistant job at Deseret Book I cannot say for sure, because I don't have the inside scoop.

Elder Bednar begins his talk relating what it felt like during his first General Conference as a newly sustained member of the Twelve. Just before he addressed the world-wide audience the intermediate hymn was sung: "Redeemer of Israel." This comforted him in his anxiety to speak to the millions of church members and he thought of a verse from 1 Nephi 1 in which Nephi asserts that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen because of their faith. Elder Bednar considered the singing of this hymn a tender mercy from the Lord...

That hymn has been a tender mercy in my life as well. One experience in particular was a ZLC meeting in the basement of the mission home in East Lansing, Michigan. The Spirit was poured out on that occasion as a small group of missionaries stood and sang with President and Sister Church that marvelous hymn.

But the tender mercy I wanted to post about is Jack Johnson. The other day I was feeling rather low about not having been hired to teach seminary, and I was teaching a group of prospective seminary teachers in my mind (this is really pitiful, but since I'm not teaching any actual classes I have to do it in my head). I was telling them that most of them would not get hired, and if they felt like me about it, it could well be a partial fulfillment of what Joseph Smith said about everyone being tested like Abraham. Then I told them that what they did for a living really didn't matter, but what really did matter was the person they would (or already had) take to the temple and make eternal covenants with. This was a wonderful sermon to myself, but I was still feeling kind of poopy about the whole thing, but when I went to bed Jessica (the most sacred and glorious tender mercy of my life) had her iPod on and gave me one of the ear phones. We went to sleep that night listening to Jack Johnson's song "Better Together." It was exactly what I needed... a very firm confirmation that "Love is the answer at least for most of the questions in my heart. Why are we here? Where do we go? How come its so hard?... It's always better when we're together." etc.

So my goal is to stop whining inwardly about what could have been and notice the tender mercies all around--and if I'm ever having trouble I can always turn on some of that wonderful melodic and peace-bringing JJ.

My First Blog

First of all: an explanation for the title of my blog...

As a missionary for the LDS church a few years ago, I was serving in Lansing, Michigan (a wonderful place) and one of the members of the church out there left us a message on our answering machine which began, "Elder Stake-n-Shake and Elder Holdinator!" So that's that.

OK, so the reason I wanted to start this blog in the first place was catalyzed by something I read yesterday. I picked up the book Discourses of Wilford Woodruff and started reading from the beginning. Before I got past the first page I came across something that caught me off guard, and it also reminded me of sitting in a Doctrine and Covenants class at BYU a few years ago...

This is what I read:
If there was a point where man in his progression could not proceed any further, the very idea would throw a gloom over every intelligent and reflecting mind. God Himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end. It is so with us. We are in a probation, which is a school of experience.

Now, granted, this passage was selected by G. Homer Durham from the Journal of Discourses, so it was not something that Elder Woodruff (not President at this time, the date is December 6, 1857) personally wrote down, but is recorded as saying. However, it seems rather explicit and difficult to miss the point of it.

So, my first response was the same as when I heard a BYU religion professor, who shall possess perfect anonymity here, teach the same thing in the context of D&C 130:9 -10 which talks about those who are on the earth in its celestial state and how they will be able to look down into the surface of the earth which will be as a sea of glass, or a really big urim and thummim, and will be able to discern anything concerning lower kingdoms; they will also possess their own personal white stones by which they can learn individually concerning higher orders or kingdoms. This professor then concluded that if we, in the celestial kingdom, will be able to learn things about higher orders, that God must be doing the same: learning about higher orders and kingdoms than He Himself enjoys and possesses.

As a student in his class I was shocked at this doctrine. Particularly because of a rather popular talk among Latter-day Saints that was given on the campus of BYU in June of 1980. The talk was given by none other than Elder McConkie, and it was entitled The Seven Deadly Heresies. For those not familiar with the talk, Elder McConkie lists seven "popular" doctrines that are taught in the church that he says are utterly false. The first of these is the above stated doctrine, namely, that God is still progressing in knowledge. He said (but this was not in the version published in print) that any who believe this "have the intellect of an ant and the understanding of a clod of miry clay in a primordial swamp." Incidentally, Elder McConkie also notes that God has been ruling in the heavens for "almost 2,555,000,000 years." I have to admit, that as a missionary I thought that must have been an unpublished revelation and could not wait to tell people how long God had been God--but that's the miracle of this work, right? That 19 year-old boys all zealous about learning odd and amazing tidbits of information bear the work of the ministry...

Anyway, I also turned to Elder McConkie's father-in-law, Joseph Fielding Smith to see what he had to say about this subject in Doctrines of Salvation. Not surprisingly, I found that he addressed this very thing in the opening pages of volume 1, specifically pp 7-10. He says, in effect, first that we cannot teach such a thing because there has never been a revelation stating this explicitly, then states that God's perfection is not relative. "I believe that our Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ are perfect. I offer no excuse for the simplicity of my faith." He then cites a number of scriptural passages which say that God knows all things.

So why bring all this up? I really don't know, but it seemed like something to "blog" about. In the future I plan on blogging about all sorts of things--this will be just kind of what is on my mind: a journal for anyone who cares to read it. Should be fun.