Sunday, October 8, 2017

What Nephi doesn't say

[This is part two of a discussion of Hardy's analysis of Nephi and Boyce's charges against that analysis. In part one (see last post) I was trying to speak positively and to praise where I could. That, sadly, is not my point today. I am having a discussion with some other seminary teachers about why I don't recommend Hardy to seminary students.]

The authors of the Book of Mormon (and Mormon in particular) mention repeatedly the difficulty and frustration of being able to include so little of what happened among the Nephites. Nephi has much the same difficulty: an 8 year trek through the Arabian peninsula to the land of Bountiful is shortened to essentially one chapter and one event that was particularly harsh for his family. The next 30-40 years of 2nd Nephi are summarized in a few verses so that he can spend the rest of that book entirely on recording and expounding on the teachings of his father, his brother, and his favorite prophet. If his record is to include only the most sacred writings, then there has to be a great sifting and winnowing to keep only the most important records.

In his book, Understanding the Book of Mormon, Grant Hardy encourages us to ponder the details of what was left out and to construct a narrative that explains what was left out and why. As he put it:
[Literary interpretation] is not a matter of discovering truths about a world so much as assigning thematic significance to component parts of a work. It is a search for coherence and sense. It involves making connections by subsuming more and more elements in a work under a network of thematic elements.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Reblog: Book Review of Understanding the Book of Mormon

In 2011 I was writing at a different blog which is now behind a password. That Christmas I received Grant Hardy's Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide. I wrote the following review at that time.

Recently I got into a conversation on Facebook on this book and a remarkably lengthy article written by Duane Boyce calling out Hardy (and others) for bad religious scholarship. I find the Facebook format unsatisfactory when someone needs a lengthy, detailed answer. To provide one, I'm copying here my old review and the follow up posts I wrote 6 years ago. Six years ago my goal was to be honest but overall positive, so while I suggest that some parts of his treatment of Nephi (and Helaman) bothered me then, I didn't really go into detail about what exactly or why. In the next post on this blog I will go into a few more specifics about why I find Hardy's treatment of Nephi so unsatisfactory and where I agree and disagree with Boyce's criticism of Hardy's book. I've added a couple comments in [brackets] below.

The tl;dr summary of what I wrote 6 years ago is: "I recommend his book for people interested in treating the Book of Mormon like literature. He does his job and he does it well. I really appreciate insights he helped me see in Mormon and Moroni. Just don't go looking for something that isn't there. ... Hardy's book is not about understanding the messages of the Book of Mormon. There is very little talk about the Atonement or Christianity itself, how Nephite Christianity is different, how the Book of Mormon expounds on and complements the Bible's message of salvation, what the mission of Jesus Christ is or any of the fundamental points the prophets set out to make. ... Of course, given how didactic the Book of Mormon is (one of his favorite words), he may feel it unnecessary: you can't read the Book of Mormon seriously without coming away with its testimony of Jesus Christ. Hardy wants to present something New. This is an intellectual exercise. I like such exercises. The thing is, if this were all anyone read, they would not come away Understanding the Book of Mormon."

Mormon Helping Hands east of Houston

So there was this hurricane that hit Texas a while back. You might've heard about it </hipster>. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called for volunteers from around the area to drive down to Houston and other locales to help.

I went down two weekends ago with 10 other people from my local church and again last weekend with a new group of 10. Someone else was our team leader each time, but I served as assistant since I was going both times. We were joined by 150-200 others from our stake each weekend (that's the Weatherford area) and approximately 10,000 Mormons from Texas and other areas nearby.

No. I AM your father.
We arrived to help muck out houses. Mucking out means we took absolutely everything that wasn't salvageable (just about everything) out of the house to be trashed, tore out the sheet rock and drywall and insulation, and left a barebones skeleton frame in the house. The first weekend we spent the entire time helping one lady, whom I will call "Mary" - about 73 years old, she's a diabetic widow with some pretty serious mold allergies. Mold is one of the biggest problems from this flood as absolutely everything gets thoroughly soaked. Because of the mold, the house smelled absolutely dreadful and I was thankful we had taken the time to buy an industrial grade air filter because of my mold allergies. In the picture you can see the water line that went up to about 4 feet.

But if the water is 4 feet high, then it seeped up the insulation to 5-6 feet and that meant all the walls had to be taken down completely. We couldn't finish her house in one weekend, so we finished the job when we came back the second weekend. We also got to help another couple where the water had only gone up 1-2 feet. It still meant they lost most of their things and we had to remove the drywall up to 4 feet.

Picture dump 2017 - Superstar

Now what has Superstar been up to? Since he is sitting over my shoulder and ready to contribute and correct, I am writing this one in the third-person instead of as if I were him. (This was one thing he noted, clever boy.)

Last school year when we got back from South Africa, Superstar discovered the rest of his honors class had been working on biographies and becoming some famous people. He had a very limited time to pick someone and become them for a living wax museum that would welcome everyone to school. He chose Thomas Edison. He was a FANTASTIC robot, with a big button that said "Hear Tom talk" and he would not talk unless someone pushed that button. He started over everytime someone pushed the button and did so while staying in character a robot of Thomas Edison! It was amazing and highly entertaining. The other kids learned what a fun toy he was, congregating around him to 'push his buttons'. It was wonderful to watch.

"Hello. My name is Thomas Edison. I am a famous inventor who lived a long time ago. I invented many useful things in America history, such as the x-ray and the light bulb. Today is the 85th anniversary of my death."

For this year he is planning to be Colt McCoy, quarterback for the Redskins. From this you might surmise that he discovered American football this year. You would be right! He has joined a football team (with a less-than-stellar win record) where he has a lot of fun as a blocker.

On our way home from Utah, we stopped in Aspen, Colorado to visit my great-Aunt Virginia. While we were in Utah, we learned a bunch of new card games, like Wackee Six, Ratuki, and Five Crowns. He figured out how to combine the Wackee Six cards I got for my birthday with the rules for Five Crowns, so he's been teaching people to play Wackee Six Crowns.

In Aspen, we all went up the mountain for lunch to enjoy the view. Here we are playing very large chess together.

Last week the kids in his class were invited to be a superhero based on a Greek or Latin root. He got ped/pad, meaning foot, and became "The Pedomaster" (peDOMuster). He is fast and can jump.

He likes to dab. This is his (patent-pending) 4-dab, because his legs are also dabbing and are in the shape of a 4.

Walking home from a football game,
we pause for a Tarleton picture
For college days on campus we got him a BYU shirt

Here he is ready for Conference in his tent. He enjoys being a bear scout, having earned his wolf last year. "Tell them I'm the only one in my scout troop that earned Tiger scout" because when we lived in Glen Rose they had Tiger Scouts and our local group here doesn't. Superstar is also very nice to have in the car on our long drives - he hands everyone food for meals or snacks and helps JT whenever he needs some attention.

Picture dump 2017 - Princess

Princess, what's been going on with you this year?

I turned six this year and started first grade! I got to celebrate my birthday several times - at home, at the hometel, and, best of all, with my cousin A. We met up at Las Vegas during the summer because Daddy's great-aunt died and we all came together for her burial. That was sad, of course, but I got to spend so much time with my best friend, A. She gave me a mermaid tail for my birthday! It was so much fun being her twinner.

In addition to being a mermaid, I also like to be Wonder Woman, a baby, a kitty, a princess, and "coocoo baby. And I love coocoo."

I walk to school everyday with my Daddy and my brother. I love my teacher and my class. I'm very good at reading - I passed off over 200 vocabulary words in the first couple weeks of school! At the end of the last school year I joined the Stephenville High Stingerettes for some training in how to be a cheerleader. I danced to Kiss the Girl from Little Mermaid. 

I got a major haircut this year - going from long hair to shoulder length. I like my new haircut. I like snuggling with Mommy in the morning. I learned how to swing all by myself (with a push at the start) but I still like it when Mommy or Daddy give me underdogs. Superstar and I took swimming lessons too. Here we are trying to cross the obstacle course at Splashville.

Picture dump 2017 - John-Thomas 1

Okay, so I'm not going to be able to go through our entire summer vacation in detail. This much is clear. But if there is one thing I learned from accidentally deleting ALL the pictures we took in the last 3 years, we need more pictures of the kids on the blog and maybe a couple stories to go with them! Thankfully we had backups of many of the pictures.

John-Thomas - what's been going on with you this that we haven't shared here yet?

Well, Dad, glad you asked. I turned three years old nearly 6 months ago. Boy, you ARE behind on this blogging thing, aren't you? I didn't want cake for my birthday. I wanted DONUTS. We ate several dozen donuts of all kinds, colors, and varieties and from several different shops. That was fun!

I got superheroes, balls, a fire truck, and a monkey to play in my kitty house. I love them all still!

I love animals, especially my brother's dog. I steal him away every chance I can get. I also love his giant Mickey, the one as big as me - did you remember he got Mickey when he was my age or a little younger? He's the best! Too bad they're both usually hiding in brother's bed where I can't get at them....

I like to read. I love reading with my Mommy and Daddy. Here I am snuggled so cozzily in our summer hometel reading on a Sunday and posing in my sharp Sunday suit with Mommy.

I also like climbing trees and playing in bouncy houses. I run around ALL THE TIME. I like to pretend to be animals, mostly kitties or puppies, but sometimes monkeys. I'm learning how to read the letters A to I. I can count to 20. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

JT's biggest fan

Superstar and John-Thomas sleep in a bunk bed, with 3 year old JT on the bottom. When he figured out how to climb, we took away the ladder to make sure he couldn't climb into his brother's bed. Superstar had to climb up using the headboards. Last month John-Thomas figured out how to climb up his brother's bunk bed without the ladder. To prevent him from falling and hurting himself badly when he came back down, we finally installed Superstar's ladder.

The immediate reaction, naturally enough, was to encourage JT to climb into his brother's bed ALL the TIME. Then one morning he turned on the fan, climbed into his brother's bed, and started jumping up and down excitedly. That's when disaster struck.
"I'm wearing my pajamas
and I look like a pirate!"

Over tonight's hashbrown dinner, I ask him to retell the experience: "Superstar was sleeping. I was climbing on Superstar's bunkbed - not on this night. And I turn on the fan. And I got whacked in the head and I didn't get breaked in the potatoes." On saying this, he resumes smashing his hashbrowns into bits.

He got hit just above his left eye. JUST above. I carried him to our bathroom to wash out the blood, give him a priesthood blessing, and try to calm him. Once we got him some Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, he was feeling a lot better.

We went to three different doctors that morning before we found someone who could see him, and she declared that he happily didn't need stitches. He has been recovering happily since then, much more wary about climbing into his brother's bed.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Reception: Ari and Paula

Here are some pictures from Ari and Paula's wedding reception. I enjoyed being MC, which consisted of telling people the line forms to the right, dinner rolls are on the left, and when it was time for our expert dancers to get their groove on.

Religious reading recommendations

So out of all those books (see last post), I must have some opinions, right? Matter of fact, I do.

CS Lewis' George MacDonald was glorious. It's one of the very few books I have ever managed to read slowly because I was constantly setting it down to ponder more deeply on a new insight. I need to read this again and again. In the introduction, Lewis writes "From his own father, he said, he first learned that Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe. He was thus prepared in an unusual way to teach that religion in which the relation of Father and Son is of all relations the most central." In that regard MacDonald said:
God does not ... make us always feel right, desire good, love purity, aspire after Him and His Will. ... The truth is this: He wants to make us in His own image, choosing the good, refusing the evil. How should He effect this if He were always moving us from within, as He does at divine intervals, toward the beauty of holiness? ... For God made our individuality as well as, and a greater marvel than, our dependence ... [so] that freedom should bind us divinely dearer to Himself, with a new and inscrutable marvel of love; for ... the freer the man, the stronger the bond that binds him to Him who made his freedom.
 Also: "A man is in bondage to whatever he cannot part with that is less than himself" and "He who seeks the Father more than anything He can give, is likely to have what he asks, for he is not likely to ask amiss."

The King Dethroned: summer reading contest 2017

To encourage me and my brother to read, my parents established a summer reading contest. We got a small prize for every thousand pages we read and a big prize if we read more pages than anyone else.

I won every year.

One summer I made it through 15,000+ pages by spending most every summer morning lounging in my bed with a Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, or Ravenloft book in my hands.

But my former glory and prowess isn't really what we're here to talk about. I only need to mention it in order to showcase and highlight the glory of the rising sun: Superstar. Last summer he pulled ahead of me, but he stopped reading partway through the summer and I overtook him. By the time he realized it, I was far ahead and he had trouble catching up.

This summer he took a rapid lead, pushing ahead to double my page number. I thought I might be unseated, but kept plugging along at a steady, rapid pace. Eventually he paused and I struck by finishing off several longer books I had been working on for a while. I pulled ahead. This time I made sure to yell loudly and point it out to him early on. He rekindled his reading streak and struggled to catch up. Neck and neck we raced to the finish, sprinting through our books for all we were worth. I reorganized all our books so it would be easier for him to identify books in his age range. Superstar discovered Harry Potter and devoured the first four books. In the very last week of the contest, as we both crossed the 9000 page line, he pulled ahead.

When the dust settled the last night before school, Superstar was ahead of me by exactly 50 pages. Superstar is the new Reading King! The king is dead. LONG LIVE THE KING!

For his little prizes, he got some more books to read and for his grand prize, he chose the audiobook of Harry Potter IV to read him to sleep each night.

List of books we read:

Monday, September 4, 2017

Temples dot the Wasatch front

While driving up and down Utah and Nevada, we decided to try to show the kids as many temples as we could. It got them thinking about the temple and temple work a lot more, so they asked a lot of great questions about what happens there and why Mommy and Daddy love the temple so much.

Living just three blocks from a temple helped - the first temple each day came rather quickly. JT would call out "'Roni! Mroni!" when he saw the angel Moroni on them.

This summer was a time of dedicated temple service for us. LDS temple are there to unite families across multiple generations. We do vicarious ordinance work for them so they can have the same blessings of the gospel that we do. (more here).

A couple years ago Joy got really interested in doing some family history and she found and prepared the names of something like 60 family members for us to do temple work for. I admit the reason she did only 60 is because I asked her to stop at 50, knowing that at our usual pace of each of us doing one person each month, that was all we could manage in two years. We kept at it.

Then last year I got more interested in family history also. Playing around with both my history and Joy's, I prepared enough names to take us up to about 100 waiting on us. Oopsies.

As we counseled together about how we were going to get this done, we decided to do everything we could to more than double our temple work.

Joy: I had told Derrill, no, we didn't have the time. Then a week or so later I was feeling like I needed extra help from Heavenly Father. The answer I got was that I should go to the temple every other week. Then when I talked to you about it I remembered your insistence on doing more work for the dead, so yours was more altruistic *lol*

Over the summer, at least one of us was in the temple every week. In Brigham that meant a leisurely morning stroll for each of us to the temple three blocks away. In Stephenville that means a full day trip. We regularly sent one of us up to Dallas (2 hours away with traffic) first thing in the morning and they stayed there until the evening. It's been a wonderful, fulfilling, peaceful time.

The only "problem" is that despite taking care of more than 30 people's ordinance work, we still have 100+ people to do because I keep stumbling across more relatives who need work. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

The importance of one inspired word: residual

In 2002 I was graduating from BYU. It was a great day and for the most part a very happy one. There was only one thing troubling me, a task I had not been able to accomplish. I had worked on it and done my dead-level best to fulfill it, but had not been able to. I worried about it (just a little) that day. Had I done right? Had I really done everything I could? Had I missed something important?

Our graduation speaker was Pres. Henry B. Eyring, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Most of his speech was about the school motto: Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve. He emphasized the second part, going forth to serve. It was a nice little graduation speech.

Then in the middle-end of his speech, he used a word that was very significant to me: residual. He told us to do the best we can, and leave the residual in God's hands. In econometrics - the statistics that economists use, and a class I had not only taken but TAd 3 times - the residual is an error term tacked onto the end of an equation for all the things we don't know and can't control.

I suddenly felt the beginnings of understanding a very important principle. Yes, we cannot know all that God has planned or control others' choices. We can only control what we can control. But we can trust God for all that we cannot control, that the end will bring us out alright, that even the greatest trials of our life can be for our experience and benefit. Trust Him for the rest.

That one word and that phrase stuck with me for the last 15 years. How important and what a relief it was to feel that I had done all I could and it was okay to leave the residual in God's hands! I went away comforted and at peace.

I was thinking of that experience again last week for some reason and looked up Pres. Eyring's speech. It turns out he only used the word residual once - enough for me to latch onto it - and otherwise used the term "residue." Maybe my hearing wasn't 20/20 even then and I heard residual because I'd spent so much time thinking about it. Here is what he said after quoting D&C 103:35-40:
Your key and mine to rising to our potential as servants is to know our Master, to do for Him what we can, and be content to leave the residue in His hands. Let me give you an example that will face you in the days ahead. You will be torn between the demands to put bread on the table and a roof over your head, to take care of a family need, to respond to the cries of the widows or the orphans around you, and at the same time to meet the requirements of the calling you have accepted in the Church. When that happens, you will be sorely tempted to murmur, perhaps even to complain. 
But remember that you serve a Master who loves you, who knows you, and who is all-powerful. He has created not demands for your service but opportunities for your growth. You can pray to Him with confidence and ask, “What would you have me do next?” If you listen humbly and with faith, you will feel an answer. And you will, if you are wise and good, set about to do that which your Master has commanded. And you will leave the residue in His hands. As His servant I promise you that you will find that some of those residual tasks you left will be done when you return to them. Others will have been prepared for you. And you will be the stronger for the task you already tackled. 
Then, when you pray again, an answer will come again. And you will move on to the next task, at peace and not complaining. Sometimes you may not feel an answer to your prayer because your Master may not care which task you start next. But He will care that you asked. And whatever you choose to do next, you will know that the residue is in His hands.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Like father, like son - how to get to sleep

Superstar used to be the World's Greatest Sleeper. We could take baby-Superstar anywhere and he'd fall asleep in his carrier most happily. Didn't crimp our lifestyle at all! Those days are long gone, though, as Superstar has been having some trouble sleeping.

One thing I remember most vividly from my boyhood days was the level of stress and distress I gave my parents by not going to sleep when they put me to bed. I came out just about every night most of the time, often multiple times. Now I understand the stress I gave Pop and Grandma anyway.

I don't recall being particularly scared of anything - more bored and unable to get to sleep. The thing that most helped was when we got me a cassette player and bunch of tapes (here's a link for the google challenged or nostalgic) of people reading stories. If the tape finished before I fell asleep, I'd just turn it over and listen to some more. My brother also got some stories that added to our listening options. Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories and Kim, Winnie the Pooh, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, bunch of Native American legends along the same lines as the Just So Stories, bunch of others. Kim might have been my favorite snoozer - don't think I ever stayed awake long enough to finish it.

Image result for frog headband headphones
Not Superstar
So we thought we'd try that solution out for Superstar too. We got him a CD player and a fun headband with headphones and sent him off to Fablehaven his way to bed. On Sundays he listens to James Earl Jones read the New Testament.

In the two weeks since, we've only seen him come out of bed ONCE!

But there's also been one other discovery. Ages and ages ago, little Derrill LOVED being read to. I'd beg my parents to read to me constantly, the same books over and over again. So they recorded themselves reading my favorite stories and got all our living relatives to do a story as well. Those were easily the tapes I listened to the most. I transferred them to CD some time ago and wondered if Superstar might enjoy those stories too.

On a car ride last week to and from our dear friends, we listened to Pop and Grandma reading stories to little Derrill, who laughed and helped read sometimes and interacted. It was SO charming and heartwarming for all of us. Superstar did indeed ask for one of those CDs right away and listened to it several nights in a row. Sadly the aunts and uncles CD didn't work as well (which I mention in case my parents have a cleaner copy than I did and want to try preserving it again), but the Pop and Grandma CDs sound great even 35 years later.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Wedding #2 - Salt Lake City

We got tucked into our home-tel none too soon before we drove back south to Salt Lake City for cousin Ari's sealing. Ari is the eldest son of Joy's cousin-sister Laurel (who we call Lala) and Rich. We stayed with them back when we first got married. Back then, I befriended the 10-yr old Ari by playing Star Wars Battlefield with such ineptness that I won the Traitor award for killing more of my own squad than the enemy. Ari is an amazingly talented young man who dances better than I even dreamed of doing. He recently returned from a mission to South Korea, whereupon he swiftly and successfully wooed Paula.

We arrived early so we could take the kids on a tour of Temple Square. At the visitor's center we listened to the Christus statue presentation and watched a movie about family, listened to someone practice on the Mormon Tabernacle Organ*, and ate lunch under the Seagull monument. There was apparently a massive car crash on the 15 coming north to SLC, so the rest of the family was delayed and I waited in the children's playroom at the temple for a while before someone came to relieve me and the ceremony was set to begin.

Meeting family we haven't seen in ages is great. Reuniting with family we haven't seen in ages at the temple of God is even better.** The sealing ceremony was beautiful. I hope Ari and Paula wrote down some notes of what the sealer told them before they were married for time and eternity. That was the first thing Joy and I did after our sealing: stand in the hallway scribbling everything we could remember on the envelope that our wedding certificate came in. I told Joy we'd have to dig around in our journals when we got home to find those notes again.

While waiting for the bride and groom to change and come out to meet the rest of the wedding party for pictures, we got some pictures of the kids playing on the steps of the Salt Lake Temple. We got to join some of the family pics, but the kids eventually got antsy enough I took them off for a bit more Temple Square touring.

We visited this statue of Hyrum Smith, the Three Witnesses, John the Baptist restoring the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph Smith, and these gorgeous pink flowers. We also learned a little about how they built the Salt Lake temple and saw the model of its construction before we were all in desperate need of a long sit down and to refresh our blood sugar levels before driving down to Orem for the reception. (see next post)

* - I got to play that organ back in 1997 as part of a class I took at BYU on organ registration (that means picking the right sounds for the organ to make to get a particular feel).
** -  The only downside is that the temple workers had to make a very soft announcement over a microphone every so often to remind us in the waiting area to keep it to a whisper to preserve reverence - an announcement she had to make so often I jokingly expected her to mention not to leave bags unattended and to report any suspicious behavior to TSA. Way to be reverent, Derrill!

Memorial Day in Lehi

Before we got to our home-tel, though, we stayed a couple days (May 28-30) with Joy's cousin-brother* Mike and their family in Lehi, UT, just north of Provo/Orem. (Incidentally, that's also our 12th wedding anniversary. I love you, Joy!) After lunch with my uncle Sherm's family, we drove the 4ish hours across the Utah desert through unfamiliar territory until suddenly we hit the I-15 and we were HOME. I may have never claimed Utah as my home - I've only been a wayfaring visitor despite 4 years at BYU - but it sure feels good to be back!

Mike and Genevieve threw a Memorial Day BBQ and we got to spend some good quality time with a lot of that branch of the family right off the bat.

But first, a trip to Smith's Monday morning. You'd think the kids had never seen a grocery store before, they were so excited! Then again, maybe I'm the odd one for not being excited because I think Joy was also rather happy about it. Among our culinary highlights of the trip was Grandma Sycamore's bread; SO much better than Large Mrs. Baird's in Texas.**

I tried to help the kids understand Joy's complex family tree so they could figure out how they were related to all these nice people they hadn't seen in 3-15 years. Half-siblings and extended cousin-brothers just don't fit the usual diagrams! Superstar eventually got it down well enough to try to draw the genealogy lines during sacrament meeting one Sunday.