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Monday, December 21, 2015

347: WINTER SOLSTICE: "SUNTURN" or THE RETURN OF LIGHT

The day before Joseph Smith was born was the twenty second of December. That day is called the “Winter Solstice” otherwise known as the “shortest day” of the year. Out of 365 days, that day has the least amount of light which makes it the “darkest of days.” The dawning of day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of brighter days. That day is a symbol of new beginnings and greater light.

The term 'solstice' derives from the Latin word 'solstitium', meaning 'Sun standing still'.

On this day the Sun seems to stand still and its southernmost position as seen from the Earth and then reverses its direction moving northward.  Some prefer to use  term 'sunturn' to describe the event.


 
 
 



Sidenote:
The Feast of Juul (or Yule) was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice.

People would light fires to symbolize the heat and light of the returning sun and a Juul (or Yule) log was brought in and burned in the fireplace.  The Yule Log often was an entire tree, carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony and sometimes, the largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth, while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room.

The log would be lit from the remains of the previous year's log which had been carefully stored away and often slowly fed into the fire through the Twelve Days of Christmas. Tradition dictated that the re-lighting process was carried out by someone with clean hands.



Thursday, December 17, 2015

346: RACISM

 Racism and the past ban on priesthood for blacks is one of major controversial issues that the LDS Church has faced. The Church has released statements as well as an essay with the hope of  distancing itself from the highly racist statements made by early Church leaders. Even though the ban was lifted in late 70's, many members of the church have wondered how exactly how the revelation occured to finally grant the opportunity for blacks to recieve the priesthood.


 


The Deseret News published a letter on June 9, 1978 declaring that a revelation had been received by Prophet Spencer W Kimball lifting the ban on black men receiving the Priesthood. The BYU newspaper, the Daily Universe also published an article with the headline: BLACKS GET PRIESTHOOD: GOD REVEALS NEW POLICY TO LDS PROPHET.  But did God actually reveal this this to President Kimball? How did it really happen?

Recently, a transcript and audio of an interview with LeGrand Richards has been released. It sheds more light on how exactly the policy change/revelation occured. If interested here is a portion of the transcript. The interviewers last name is Walters. (but not to be confused with Barbara Walters)

WALTERS: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Christ appeared to the Apostles. I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Now are any of those stories true, or are they all…

RICHARDS: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it’s hard to get leaders that don’t have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build that temple. And then, if we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. So Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it.

He asked each one of us of the Twelve if we would pray – and we did – that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. And then he invited each one of us in his office – individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can’t always express everything that’s in your heart. You’re part of the group, you see – so he interviewed each one of us, personally, to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. And then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against that proposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood.
Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group together, and then we prayed about it in our prayer circle, and then we held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children. And then the next Thursday – we meet every Thursday – the Presidency came with this little document written out to make the announcement – to see how we’d feel about it – and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it – the Twelve and the Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Petersen, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our President, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Petersen, and read him this article, and he (Petersen) approved of it.

WALTERS: What was the date? Would that have been the first of June, or something?

RICHARDS: That was the first Thursday, I think, in May. [June?] At least that’s about when it was. And then after we all voted in favor of it, we called another meeting for the next morning, Friday morning, at seven o’clock, of all the other General Authorities – that includes the Seventies’ Quorum and the Patriarch and the Presiding Bishopric, and it was presented to them, and they all had an opportunity to express themselves and then there were a few of the brethren that were out presiding in the missions, and so the Twelve were appointed to interview each one of them. I had to interview Brother Rex Reeve and read him the article and asked his feelings. He was thrilled because he labored down there in Brazil and he knew what it would mean for those people. And so every member of the General Authorities, to a man, approved it before the announcement went out.
Now we had a letter from a colored man up in Ogden, read like this; he was a member of the church, and he said “If the Lord is willing to let me have my wife and children in this life, why wouldn’t He be willing to let me have them in the next life?” That makes sense, doesn’t it?

And then, you know, the Lord gave revelation to Prophet Joseph where He said that “There is a law irrevocably decreed in the heavens before the foundation of the Earth was laid upon which all blessings are predicated and no blessing can be obtained except by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated.” Well all that means is that if you want to raise wheat you’ve got to plant wheat, doesn’t it? If you want corn then you’ve got to plant corn. Well if I plant wheat and get a harvest and the colored man plants wheat and takes a good care of it – why isn’t he as much entitled to the harvest as I, you see?
And then, um, [untelligible] and so.

WALTERS: Well I was going to ask you about
RICHARDS: So we figured the same with spiritual blessings. If the colored man lives as good as I do, he can serve the Lord and so forth, why isn’t he as much entitled to the blessings as I am? It’s been a united decision, there’s been no adverse comment by anyone of the General Authorities.
VLACHOS: What about intermarriage? Is it okay?
RICHARDS: what?
VLACHOS: Is it okay to marry?
WALTERS: Intermarriage, is that in view too?
RICHARDS: Well, no. Never before this decision was reached we’ve always recommended that people live within their own race – the Japanese ought to marry Japanese, the Chinese ought to marry Chinese, Hawaiians ought to marry Hawaiians and the colored people ought to marry colored.
WALTERS: And that would still be your position?
RICHARDS:: That is still our position. But they are entitled to the temple blessings and the sealing of their wives to them. It’s all conditioned on their living. Now if they live right and they’re devoted and they’re good clean living – why shouldn’t they get the blessings?
WALTERS: Now when President Kimball read this little announcement or paper, was that the same thing that was released to the press?
RICHARDS: Yeah.
WALTERS: There wasn’t a special document as a “revelation”, that he had and wrote down?
RICHARDS: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.
WALTERS: Was that the letter you sent out to the various wards?
RICHARDS: And to the Church; and to the newspapers, yes.
VLACHOS: Will that become a part of “scripture”?
RICHARDS: Yes, I’ve already thought in my own mind of suggesting we add it to the Pearl of Great Price, just like those last two revelations that we’ve just added.
WALTERS: At that point, is there a special reason why you add it to the Pearl of Great Price rather than to the Doctrine and Covenants? Is it just more convenient to put it in there instead of adding another number or something?
RICHARDS:: I don’t know, we didn’t discuss the reason, which book it should go in, but the Pearl of Great Price was written and assembled later than the Doctrine and Covenants was and my Grandfather was one that organized the Pearl of Great Price. So when we discussed it in our meeting, we didn’t discuss whether it should go in the Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price. We just discussed how to add those two revelations to the Pearl of Great Price.
WALTERS: Will this affect your theological thinking about the Negro as being less valiant in the previous existence? How does this relate? Have you thought that through?
RICHARDS: Some time ago, the Brethren decided that we should never say that. We don’t know just what the reason was. Paul said, “The Lord hath before appointed the bounds of the habitations of all men for to dwell upon the face of the earth,” and so He determined that before we were born. He who knows why they were born with black skin or white and so on and so forth. We’ll just have to wait and find out.
WALTERS: Is there still a tendency to feel that people are born with black skin because of some previous situation, or do we consider that black skin is no sign anymore of anything inferior in any sense of the word?
RICHARDS: Well, we don’t want to get that as a doctrine. Think of it as you will. You know, Paul said “Now we see in part and we know in part; we see through a glass darkly. When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away, then we will see as we are seen, and know as we are known.” Now the Church’s attitude today is to prefer to leave it until we know. The Lord has never indicated that black skin came because of being less faithful. Now, the Indian; we know why he was changed, don’t we? The Book of Mormon tells us that; and he has a dark skin, but he has a promise there that through faithfulness, that shall again become a white and delightsome people. So we haven’t anything like that on the colored thing.
WALTERS: Now, with this new revelation – has it brought any new insights or new ways of looking at the Book of Abraham? Because I think traditionally it is thought of the curse of Cain, coming through Canaanites and on the black-skinned people, and therefore denying the priesthood?
RICHARDS: We considered that with all the “for’s” and the “against’s” and decided that with all of that, if they lived their lives, and did the work, that they were entitled to their blessings.
WALTERS: But you haven’t come up with any new understanding of the Book of Abraham? I just wondered whether there would be a shift in that direction.
VLACHOS: Is the recent revelation in harmony with what the past prophets have taught, of when the Negro would receive the priesthood?
RICHARDS: Well, they have held out the thought that they would ultimately get the priesthood, but they never determined the time for it. And so when this situation that we face down there in Brazil – Brother Kimball worried a lot about it – how the people are so faithful and devoted. The president of the Relief Society of the stake is a colored woman down there in one of the stakes. If they do the work, why it seems like that the justice of the Lord would approve of giving them the blessing. Now it’s all conditional upon the life that they live, isn’t it?
WALTERS: Well, I thank you for clarifying that for me, because you know, out in the streets out there, there must be at least five, ten different stories about the way this happened.
RICHARDS: Well, I’ve told you exactly what happened.
WALTERS: Right. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
RICHARDS: If you quote me why you will be telling the truth.
WALTERS: Ok, well fine. You don’t mind if we quote you then?
RICHARDS: No.
WALTERS: Ok, that’s great!


..................................

A friend of mine sent me the following thoughtful email regarding racism. I always appreciate hearing new perspectives on important topics. Here it is:

......

  First of all I acknowledge that there is racism in the book of Mormon and that it has been used to justify wrong behavior and to perpetuate racism in modern times. That's wrong. I hope we know that now. I personally think that scripture generally can and unfortunately, often is used more as an authoritative instrument of abuse than as a means to enlightenment.

  When Jesus used scripture, he "opened to us the scriptures" (Luke 24:32). He used them to open a discussion, not to close it with an exclamation point or to put an end to a matter. If something truly is holy writ, I don't think it should be used to beat people up, to compel or coerce or get them in line, and certainly not to justify doing things that common sense will tell you is wrong.

  I think the Nephites suffered from a form of racism. Even though Nephi had to remove his people from his brothers, these Nephites were not necessarily a good example either. When they were getting preached to by someone who was a witness of God, they are told, "if ye were holy I would speak unto you of holiness; but as ye are not holy, and ye look upon me as a teacher, it must needs be expedient that I teach you the consequences of sin" (2 Nephi 9:48). These people were "not holy" even after they were separated from the Lamanites.

  The Nephites may have still had a witness of God among them, but they were unholy and often did not follow what their holy men taught. The Lamanites did not have holy men among them. They were "cut off" from their connection to God (which is more dangerous, recognizing when there is no authentic connection with God, or believing there is one, when there isn't, or having pretenders act as though they are holy when they are not?).

   As a separate people the Lamanites began to have a "skin of blackness" come upon them. The only method that is mentioned to transmit this "skin of blackness" was by "mixing with their seed" (2 Nephi 5:23). To assume that this skin change just magically appeared is reading something into the text that isn't stated. The only method that is stated is that this could be transmitted by mixing seed. Later the book of Mormon says that at the same time these people came into this new land, there were other people all ready settled in the land and names the Jaredites and Mulekites specifically. Whether or not there were others is left open but without specifics. It may be implied because even though nothing is said specifically about these groups until much later, shortly after settling into this new land, the Nephites are tempted to take on "many wives" (Jacob 1:15).

    The possibility of having "many wives" seems to indicate that they settled near some aboriginal people. Since mixing seed is the only method mentioned about how this skin color could be transmitted, it seems likely that there were at least some aboriginal people, who all ready had this "skin of blackness" and that the Lamanites were "mixing seed" with these aboriginal people such that their seed inherited this darker skin. Much later, a group of Lamanites, the people of Ammon, leave their homeland and move back with the Nephites (Alma 27, 90-77 BC). It takes several generations to pass by, but apparently the darker skin became no longer distinguishable from the Nephites (3 Nephi 2:15, 5-16 AD). To me, this explains how this skin color came about. It's basically just genetics.

   When skin color is first mentioned, the Nephites, as an unholy people, were apparently quite turned off by the darker skin. To them it was not "enticing" (2 Nephi 5:21). They suffered from some form of racism even though they were supposed to be the righteous group. Since colors can be used as symbols, where someone using darkness to cover themselves, can imply hiding evil, and someone using light for a covering can imply openness and truth, the Nephites apparently thought that their skin color was evidence that they actually were living the truth and the Lamanites were evil. That's an error. It's racism. Jacob addressed the fallacy of their racism when he said, "the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you" (Jacob 3:5).

    Jacob goes on to warn them that if they think skin color is a reflection of personal purity then that wrong-headed idea will eventually be corrected because, "unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God" (Jacob 3:8). Then he tries to shake them from their racism altogether, by giving a direct command, "Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins" (Jacob 3:9). What more could he say to get them to stop judging "because of the darkness of their skins"? To me, this makes it clear that the Nephites really did suffer from some racism. It is also clear that the "word of God" gives a commandment, to not judge or "revile", because of skin color. That didn't mean the Nephites didn't do it. The fact that it had to be addressed this way implies that they did. But they are clearly taught and warned against racism by one among them who who did have an authentic connection with God.

   If the book of Mormon really is for our day, then it ought to address real problems that we face in our day. Racism is a real problem we face in our day. It is addressed in the book of Mormon. I think when viewed from those who actually are holy, and not by pretenders or simply a people that is supposed to be religious, it is not condoned, but is given as a command from God to not judge because of skin color. The same Nephi, who first tells us of the darker skin coming upon the Lamanites is also the same person who says of God, "he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God" (2 Nephi 26:33). That is how God feels about it, even if the Nephites acted differently. I think it is terrible that rather than learn from the errors of the religious Nephites, and accept the chastening that their prophets gave them, the church instead has accepted the Nephites as examples and historically has chosen to follow their errors, including on this issue of race.  (written by Jared)

Monday, December 7, 2015

345: LIGHTS IN THE HEAVENS

Woke up early this morning and took a few photos in the mountains. Despite the cloudy forecast, the sun, moon and Venus were all visible on this first day that many around the world observe the Festival of Lights.
 
This morning there was a lunar occultation which happens when the moon passed in front of Venus. Venus has passed behind the moon several times this year, but Monday was the first time that it was visible in the United States. Once the moon moved in front of Venus, it took a little over an hour for the planet to emerge from the other side.

 
The moon and the morning star (Venus) just before the moon passed in front of the planet on December 7, 2015
 
Photo taken at almost 10,000 feet elevation of the sunrise this morning (December 7, 2015)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

344: "A GREAT MIRACLE HAPPENED HERE"

The following post is dedicated to our friends who we are praying and fasting for this day.


Above is a photo of the candles we light in our home. 
 
Years before the birth of Jesus Christ, a false religion began to be practiced in many parts of the Holy Land. In 175 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes became king of Syria and made a determined effort to change the Jewish religion. At first he met with considerable success, owing partly to a popular Greek movement among the Jews themselves.

However, on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev in 165 B.C., a small group of patriots known as the Maccabees stood up for their true religion and defeated Antiochus IV and those who followed his ways. This brave group of "preservationists" restored and rededicating their Temple which had been defiled due to improper worship of false gods and inappropriate rituals being performed within the Temple walls.
 
  •  “The sons of Israel (Maccabees) went up to the Temple and rebuilt its gates and purified the Temple from the defilement. And they sought after pure olive oil to light the lamps therewith, but could not find any, except one bowl that was sealed  from the days of Samuel the prophet and they knew that it was pure. There was in it [enough oil] to light [the lamps therewith] for one day, but the God of heaven whose name dwells there put therein his blessing and they were able to light from it eight days. Therefore, the sons of Israel made this covenant and took upon themselves a solemn vow, they and the sons of Israel, all of them, to publish amongst the sons of Israel, [to the end] that they might observe these eight days of joy and honor, as the days of the feasts written in [the book of] the Law; [even] to light in them so as to make known to those who come after them that their God wrought for them salvation from heaven.   (Excerpt from the Hebrew text with an English translation in the Scroll of Antiochus.)
An observance to remember this miracle that the one-day supply of oil burned for eight days, giving time for the preparation of new oil has been observed now for thousands of years since 175 BC. In the scriptures it is called the "Festival of the Dedication". We read in John 10:22

"And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. 
And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch." 

In the following verses, Christ speaking in the Temple to the Jewish priests and religious leaders on this memorable day, he said "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand."  However, the religious leaders did not like the words Christ spoke and tried to stone him.

This "feast of dedication" referred to in the New Testament is has now known as the "Festival of Lights", but more commonly referred to as Hannukah, which comes from the Hebrew word for “dedication,” or “consecration.” It has been observed from thousands of years since the day of the rededicating of the Holy Temple.

The lighting of  candles remains a central element of this celebration, with one candle being lit each night. Eight of the candles represent each night the temple oil burned; the ninth is a servant candle, known as Shamash, which is used to light the others. Three blessings are said during this time with a prayer honoring God as the one who "performed miracles for our ancestors in days of old."
 
A children games are also often played during this 8 day celebration, with the best known being the spinning of a dreidel, a pointed, four-sided top. The top has four letters representing the phrase "Nes gadol hayah sham," or "A Great Miracle Happened Here."

Tonight at sundown begins this eight day observance.

Next year in 2016, the feast of dedication or Hannukah will begin the evening of Saturday, Dec. 24 until the evening of Sunday, Jan. 1.

 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

343: ADVERTISING OUR MULTICULTURAL GLOBAL CHURCH:

The latest Christmas video that the LDS Church just released spotlights children from around the world. It is called A Savior is Born. It is beautifully produced and showcases an African girl and boy as well as other children from the Middle East, Asia, South America, and Europe.

 
 
The scriptures recited by the children about the birth of the Savior is wonderful and the video is moving. This video will help the Church get their message across that they are a Multicultural Global Church  (despite the centralized leadership only comprised of white successful businessmen from Utah.) Hopefully by hiring an advertising agency to produce a Christmas video/Church ad featuring beautiful children from all over the world and with a website link and Church logo at the very end will bring the true Spirit of Christmas to those who see it.

That being said....


To be honest, ( and I know I am being very critical that I most likely will need to repent of) the video reminded me of the Benetton ads that begin in the 1980's with their "United Colors"  ad campaign. Benetton was one of the first to use a multiracial advertisements designed to show that their company was accepted in all countries of the world. The ads were very successful especially since they featured these well dressed children with perfect smiles from every continent.

But is this really what the children look like around the world? All of the children in the Church video look they have been hand selected from the same modeling agency that Benetton used for their advertisements and/or look like they shop at City Creek Mall.  
 

 

 The reality is that too many children around the world live in poverty and don't dress or look as healthy as the models who are paid to be in a video or in an advertisement. Please watch the below video from the Liahona's Children Foundation.  
  
 
 
While both videos are touching, the last video is humbling to watch and reminds me of the true meaning of Christmas and the importance of giving and striving to become one of His disciples as we celebrate His birth and His mission at this time of year. 

"And remember in all things the poor and the needy,
the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things,
the same is not my disciple."
 
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