Book Review: Proclaim Peace

Proclaim Peace: The Restoration’s Answer to an Age of Conflict was written by Patrick O. Mason and J. David Pulsipher. The premise of the book may seem obvious at first glance, it’s a book about peace, but to stop there would be discounting the incredible message that Mason and Pulsipher convey in their writing. Principles from this book have stuck with me, caused me to ponder, and more importantly, they caused me to act.

One of the concepts that is so powerful is the way they lay the foundation for peace in teaching about love. They start by using Doctrine and Covenants 121:41 in a way I hadn’t ever considered before.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned

Doctrine and Covenants 121:31

In short, lasting change only comes about when our actions and responses are loving. That doesn’t mean they are passive, but that they are not contentious. Using examples from familiar scripture stories, we then get to see how it is only through love that change becomes long lasting. This quote, from the end of chapter three, hints at some of the incredible stuff in there:

Power and influence can be obtained in multiple ways, but the can be maintained only according to princilpes that engender mutual trust, assent, and ultimately love. Conflict is inevitable in this life … How we respond to that conflict will impact not only our own lives but potentially generations to come

p. 65

These principles have me rethinking so much about how I treat others. Although I’ve heard about the importance of love and empathy my whole life, the framework this book uses to teach how important they are struck me in a whole new way. I am doing my best to apply what I learned to my relationships, my teaching, and all my interactions with others. If I want to make a difference in this world, it has to be founded in love or it will be fleeting.

Of course, the book recognizes that using love to create peace won’t be easy. As the scripture above teaches, using love as a peacekeeping solution also requires long-suffering. We have to be patient, we have to be dedicated to our purpose, and we have to be willing to sacrifice.

Love is not guaranteed to work. Then again, neither is violence. Violence often fails to achieve its goals, and yet we keep coming back to it. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that despite thousands of years of practice we either have not mastered the technique or have not found the right combination of lethal force to always attain our objectives. Conversely, as soon as love – in the form of forbearance, forgiveness, reconciliation, persuasion, negotiation, meditation, diplomacy, and nonviolent resistance – doesn’t produce immediately desirable outcomes, we tend to toss it aside for something “stronger.”

p. 119

I am having a difficult time conveying how much I loved the book. Typically in my book reviews I sprinkle principles of the book with personal stories or insights. I found myself struggling to do this in the review of this book, not because it wasn’t impactful, but because it has sunk so deep into my soul that I am having trouble articulating what an impact it has had on me. I have gained insights that helped me with my relationships, my temple worship, my job, my teaching, and my parenting. How can I convey that in a few short paragraphs?

There are some aspects of this book that forced me to hold a mirror up to myself and confront aspects of my thinking and culture that aren’t easy for me to address. It is messy work, but I want to become the kind of peace maker and peace keeper I read about in these pages. I can see the potential for how loving, but active, peace will help me become more Christlike. It’s going to be hard, and I’m going to make mistakes, but I am motivated and excited to try!

Book Review: Zion Earth Zen Sky

Zion Earth Zen Sky is a memoir written by Charles Shirō Inouye. He grew up in Singurd, Utah with parents who met at an internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming during WWII. He came from a long line of Pure Land Buddhists (p. 4) and from his ancestors he learned the art of being what he calls a “raker, to be constantly practicing our values” (p. 13). Throughout the book he uses raking, referring to the practice of raking sand in zen gardens, as a way to highlight the constant attention and diligence needed to maintain our values in life.

The book is not written in a format that was familiar to me. As it states in the forward by J. Scott Miller, “the haiku poetry interspersed throughout the work, the seemingly random changes of focus, and the nonlinear nature of the narrative may first seem out of place, even jarring to the readers expecting either an autobiography or novel. Yet that jarring is precisely the point of Charles’s choice to write in the manner he does, effecting the kind of shock to the rational mind that is invoked by the Zen practice of using unanswerable riddles, kōan, to disrupt logical expectations and invite questions about where the tale, or life, is going” (p. XII).

That perfectly describes my experience in reading Zion Earth Zen Sky. Initially I found the format a little frustrating. I wanted more, I wanted it to be more linear, I wanted it to have more resolutions, but as I kept reading I recognized that if my desire to have everything wrapped up in neat little packages was fulfilled, the memoir wouldn’t be nearly as genuine or thought provoking. The reality is, life is messy and full of unanswered questions. Inouye doesn’t try to guess at the answers to those unanswered questions and instead honors the space of uncertainty that all of us live in.

One of the princilpes I really connected with in his book is Inouye’s constant struggle to resist the desire to withdraw into himself and ignore the people and needs around him. After he returned home from his mission, he recognized that in all his effort to do good, he may have missed the point. Speaking of the relationships he left at home, he said:

Missionaries are told to forget the world, to focus on the work at hand. But did I go too far in my need to please god? I began to wonder if my search for purity was just another excuse to separate myself from other people. … In trying to reach perfection by obeying all the rules and working hard to stay clean, I’ve been going the wrong direction – not into life but away from it.

p. 83-84

This is a weakness I see in myself as well. In my desire to draw closer to my Heavenly Parents I often want to leave my complicated relationships behind rather than do the hard work of creating heaven within those needed and vital relationships. Eternal life isn’t just about what we become as individuals, but who we are within the context of our eternal relationships. Although we are only held accountable for our own choices and actions, we cannot separate ourselves from our relationships and become who God is helping us become. Inouye speaks of the danger of this type of separation in his experiences as a home teacher (now ministering brother) when he says:

Our designated connection is a godly way to help people like me learn to overcome a tendency to avoid others. I know that, left alone, my life would become increasingly limited. Not knowing God’s gentle commands, I would seek association with those who share my values and experiences. I would avoid all others. As a result, my life would steadily become narrower and more impoverished. I would slowly lose real human interaction and understanding.

p. 124

This is a very eye opening and important principle to understand! If we begin to limit ourselves to people and situations that don’t ask us to grow, our lives shrink down to nothing. At least nothing meaningful. This is a temptation all of us constantly face. Relationships are hard, but the burden of loneliness is even heavier. We have to be willing to engage in connecting with others for our own lives to have meaning.

This reflects what Inouye says about commandments in general, “we aren’t smart enough to live without commandments. Without a little help, it doesn’t occur to us to do the things that are necessary for our growth and for the salvation of others” (p. 129). I can readily admit that the difficulties I’ve faced in life would have turned me into a completely selfish person if I didn’t have God constantly reminding me to engage in relationships. It’s not that my selfishness would truly stem from a desire to think about myself above others, but out of a desire to protect myself from the potential pain that comes from the vulnerability of opening myself up to others.

Of course, this isn’t the only principle Inouye covers in the book. He also talks a lot about the importance of education, respecting religious traditions, cultures, being a minority, missionary work, and more. He doesn’t shy away from tough topics and he doesn’t try and project himself as a perfect person. He does a fantastic job of portraying himself as a diligent disciple whose journey of growth was much more circuitous than he may have initially expected.

On a personal note, I saw a lot of my father in this book. He died when I was nine and I don’t have many memories of him. Though Inouye and my father had many differences, they were born in the same year, were at BYU around the same time, served overlapping missions in Japan (Inouye in the Sapporo mission and my father in the Osaka mission), both had an older sister who died as a child, and both got so discouraged that they attempted suicide (though my father was successful). Reading Inouye’s experiences helped me to better understand the context of some aspects of my father’s life. It was completely unexpected, but I was grateful for it!

I really loved reading Zion Earth Zen Sky. I found it spoke to my soul and brought peace. It helped me to consider my own struggles in different ways and asked me to consider the perspective of someone different than me. I will continue to think about some of the things Inouye talked about for a long time and I hope I can use what I’ve read to become a better person.

Book Report: Where the Soul Hungers

Where the Soul Hungers by Samuel M. Brown is simply described as “one doctor’s journey from atheism to faith.” It’s relatively short, divided into four sections filled with essays about Brown’s musings about life.

However, that short description completely fails to describe the connection I felt as I read the way Brown vulnerably and realistically opens his heart up to the reader. Though he frequently describes himself as an analytical, even detached scientist, his ability to articulate the emotions and internal dialogue of his life in various circumstances speaks of a soul that feels deeply and loves wholly.

One of the underlying princilpes that runs through the whole book is Brown’s journey to feel belonging and to understand his divine nature. After an adolescence of atheism, he finds himself coming to know God. However, knowing God is only the start of his journey. He said, “The image of myself as the never-understood outsider took much longer to leave me than my atheism did” (p. 42). Though atheism hasn’t been a part of my own journey, like many others, I’ve also struggled with feeling like a “never-understood outsider.”

One of the ways that feeling has eased in my life is to focus on seeing life as a process of building relationships rather than as a series of transactions. Instead of seeing righteousness as an equation where obedience turns into blessings, I’ve been trying to see righteousness as a series of choices that strengthen my relationship with Divinity and that relationship creates a blessed life. It’s a difference I still have a hard time articulating, but it’s made a significant impact on the choices I make and the way I relate to others.

Brown’s journey also reflects a growing understanding of how our relationships are the means of creating a meaningful existence. This is a long quote, but it’s worth including in it’s entirety:

Our contemporary culture tells us that people should seek their own bliss and not get too involved in the lives of others. It’s better to have a good job, a nice place to live, and fulfilling hobbies than to do the strenuous work of community. But the gospel tells us that we are nothing without other people and that the measure of our lives is how richly we have loved. The culture warriors tell us that our opponents are incomprehensible and unforgiveable, their sins so outrageous that they fall beyond our obligation to love them. But the gospel tells us that we are to love well and often – even, especially, our opponents.”

p. 26

I’ve mentioned before that one of my biggest gospel struggles is the balance between individual agency and the connections of community, so perhaps that’s why I saw it again and again in the pages of this book. But I truly believe that “Jesus called his disciples to know themselves in the faces and hearts of the people they loved, just as he knows himself in their faces” (p. 48). To me, this means that the more we see Christ in our imperfect selves, the more we should increase in our ability to see Him in the faces of others.

Though we may struggle with feeling like we don’t belong or we may see ourselves standing outside the families, communities, or organizations we wish we were enveloped in, the reality is that we all belong with Christ and with each other. This is a message I really needed to remember this week as I simultaneously experienced the highs of achieving long worked for goals and the challenge of confronting some of my most difficult imperfections. This book seemed to speak to my conflicted soul and felt like I made a new friend to walk with me in my journey of growth.

Book Review: Thinking Otherwise

James E. Faulconer, a professor of philosophy at BYU and a senior research fellow at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute recently released the book Thinking Otherwise: Theological Explorations of Joseph Smith’s Revelations. I think the best way to sum up this book is to admit that it straight up slapped me in the face and said “Hey, you can do better. It’s time to grow.”

I was just happily reading along, my mind already working hard to wrap my brain around the incredible things Faulconer wrote about the nature of God when I got to this part in the chapter titled The Privilege of Scripture Study:

We come to the things we read already having an idea of what they have to say. … It is as if we see through the words on the page to what we already have learned them to mean, but we don’t really read the words themselves. We read our own thoughts and minds rather than the scriptures. The result is that we don’t hear the invitation to come to Christ as it applies to each of us here and now in the particular way that this scripture we are reading makes that invitation (as opposed to the way that other scriptures do), so we also don’t demonstrate that we are hearing in our interpretations. We cannot help but simply repeat ourselves over and over.

p. 89

Guilty as charged.

So often the insights I see in the scriptures are memories of things others have taught me and my eyes are merely scanning the page jumping from one remembered insight to another without considering what I may be missing. Sometimes I do this because it feels like other people are so smart and I have nothing worthy to contribute. Other times I do this because mentally overwhelmed and scanning my eyes over the page is all I can do that day.

Of course, the insights of others are valuable. Prophets, apostles, teachers, and others can help give us a framework for our gospel study. But only we can determine what each doctrine and principle means in our lives. The doctrines and principles of the gospel are activated in our lives when they are lived in our relationship with Christ. Since each of us will have an individual relationship with Christ, ultimately the greatest truths revealed to us through our scripture study will be through our own careful study.

The insights of others don’t necessarily broaden our understanding unless they introduce new questions, new ways of righteous living, and new connections in our relationship with Christ. Insightful as they may be, they only have purpose when we expand upon them and live in them.

When I merely jump from insight to insight, I am reading with the assumption that I already know what the scriptures have to tell me and I have already learned every possible thing from them. I become a robot reading more out of obedience hoping that something will jump into my mind with little effort on my part. Faulconer warns of this when he says:

If we want to know the things of God, we must beware of a fanciful, flowery, or heated subjective imagination. That kind of imagination steers scripture to mean whatever pops into our heads when we read it. If passages of scripture mean whatever we imagine them to mean, we risk turning them into mirrors in which we see only ourselves and our ideas and our emotions. In that case they will not teach us, because they will not challenge us and take us beyond where we already are.

p. 122

Again, guilty as charged. I have a tendency to look for things that conform what I already know to be true rather than looking for things that challenge my understanding and foster growth. Even worse, after doing that kind of uninspired reading, I then have the audacity to get frustrated that my study session didn’t strengthen me the way I wanted it to. In short, I am only doing half the work of scripture study while wondering why I am not getting the full reward.

For years I’ve thought a lot about the difference between feeling the promptings of the spirit and heeding the call to come unto Christ. So often we talk about church meetings as if being a spirit-filled meeting was the goal of the meeting. In reality, the goal of the meeting, the ultimate goal of the Holy Ghost, is not just to feel something, but to persuade us to act.

If I am to become more thoughtful in my scripture study, I need to do more than just scan the pages looking for pieces of inspiration. I need to study and examine my scriptures in a way that moves me to act in ways that help me to become more Christlike. To help my life become another living testimony of Jesus Christ, just as is implied by the subtitle of the Book of Mormon.

Though there were many, many insights and principles Faulconer shares in this book, ultimately the most important thing I took from it was a renewed desire to carefully study my scriptures. Even in the few days since I’ve accepted that invitation, I have already been introduced to new questions, new topics of study, and new insights that are personal and applicable to my life.

Book Review: Moroni a brief theological introduction

It’s no secret that photography is not a strength of mine, as evidenced by this photo. I almost cropped it to be more book and less background, then I realized the book on the top of the stack at the bottom is my well loved copy of The Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon and the painting at the top is by Brian Kershisnik who did the artwork for this entire series.

I am legitimately sad that I’ve reached the end of this series! I am constantly thinking about each of these books and I am so grateful for everything I learned from them. Moroni, the last book in the series, is written by David F. Holland, and I am blown away by the insights in this volume.

Early on in the book, Holland writes about the loneliness Moroni experienced. That wasn’t necessarily new, but I hadn’t ever considered that Moroni did, in fact, choose that loneliness. He said:

As agonizing as prolonged solitude is to souls wired for connection, Moroni concluded that there is in fact something worse: a community in which inclusion comes at the price of core convictions. And so he walks on, alone with his faith in Jesus, maintaining his mentally projected sense of place among a community of righteous writers and reflecting on what a well-ordered, Christ-centered people once looked like.

p. 18

It would have been so easy for Moroni to use his unending loneliness as a justification for abandoning his mission and seeking out a community. This is exactly the kind of situation where we tend to use the phrase “I didn’t have a choice!” When we say that, we aren’t really saying we are without choices, we are saying that we don’t like the choices we have. Moroni had to choose between a life of mortal loneliness or community without Christ.

The difficulty of this choice strikes me because Moroni is being forced to choose between two eternal yearnings. Our souls are made to create community. The fact that we have the sealing power, which is intended to connect God’s family forever, is evidence that our desires for community, connection, and family are eternal. Yet, on the other side of this choice is another eternal yearning: to become like Christ and to be His true disciple. The fact that Moroni has to prioritize one eternal yearning over another almost feels impossible. From the outside it’s easy for us to see the right choice, but I think I’ve underestimated how difficult it must have been to be living with that tension.

I know this tension is not unique to Moroni. There are so many people who have had to make similar choices between eternal yearnings in their own lives. It is a reminder to me that having compassion and empathy for these situations is so important. When two true parts of yourself seem to be in contrast, there are no easy answers.

Holland also wrote about the doctrine of agency in a way that has been so meaningful. The doctrine of agency has been something I’ve been fascinated by and studied for years. When my husband was excommunicated as a result of actions stemming from his pornography usage, I took so much comfort in understanding that because of agency my eternal progression was not in any way stunted by his choices. Yet, at the same time this quote by President Nelson constantly runs through my head, “In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.” How to balance the responsibility of individual agency with the need for family connections to gain exaltation is one of my most enduring gospel questions.

In breaking down Moroni 7, Holland added to the pool of resources I’m using to better understand my question. There are a lot of aspects to his treatment of agency and I had a really hard time choosing a quote that represented the depth of understanding I gained.

Jesus gave us the power to choose and the ability to choose well, the capacity to see all and the light by which to see it all.

The divine act that has enabled us to choose and change is actually a more inexplicable wonder than the moving of mountains or the parting of seas.

p. 79-80

The connections Holland made between the doctrine of agency and the atonement of Jesus Christ are things I’m going to have to continue to ponder. I love the insight that one of the greatest wonders Christ gave us is the gift of choice. It has helped me to have more gratitude for what Christ truly has offered us.

What I’ve shared is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other wonderful parts, including: Holland’s beautiful chapter on the ordinance of the sacrament, grace and works, or the difference between faith and hope. All of it is absolutely wonderful!

This book on Moroni really highlights the difference between looking at the past with the desire to learn from it and looking at the past with the desire to change it. When we use the phrase “eternal perspective” it isn’t just looking forward to what happens after death, it is looking at all of it. The whole everything. The good and the bad. The past and the present. The me and the others. We can have hope for a better future by acknowledging, not erasing, the mistakes of the past and allowing that to inform our present. When we do that, we will see Christ in our lives as we never have before because in every place we look, He is there.

Book Review: Ether a brief theological introduction

I am continuously amazed at the insights and principles people can draw out of the same scriptures I’ve been reading my entire life. I conservatively estimate that I’ve read the Book of Mormon at least 70 times, and yet every one of the books in the brief theological introduction series has introduced me to ideas and principles I hadn’t even begun to consider. The book on Ether, written by Rosalynde Frandsen Welch, has given me much to consider as I look to strengthen the connection between myself and Jesus Christ.

The role of the reader or learner in bringing scripture to life is one of the things Welch highlights from the book of Ether. She writes:

Moroni comes to understand that the success or failure of the Book of Mormon as an event will be determined by the way it is received by its reader, not solely by the way it is constructed by its writer. … [Moroni’s} role is simply to marshal the raw materials, the potential. It is up to the reader and the grace of God to breathe over the words and bring them into being as scripture.

p. 75-76

As a reader, that is sometimes really frustrating. I want it all to be on the shoulders of the writer. I want to be able to pick up the scriptures and get everything I need out of it, right when I need it, with little effort on my part. As nice as that sounds, if that’s how scriptures worked they would not fulfill their divine purpose of helping us to become like Jesus Christ. My efforts to wrest revelation out of my study is a vital part of the process. Only when we share the burden of making the scriptures holy are we participating in the work of change.

For Moroni, who worried about his weakness in writing, that understanding must have been a huge relief. Though I obviously haven’t ever been given a task as monumental as his, I can relate to worrying that my efforts are insufficient. Pretty much every time I head home after a girls camp, youth conference, or EFY session I fret about whether or not I fulfilled my purpose and whatever awkward or embarrassing thing I inevitably did. I know I did my best, but the imperfect nature of my best can haunt me.

Side note: I wrote a blog post a few years ago about revelation I received after my interview with the church media department for the Addressing Pornography website videos. Click here to read that post.

In those moments when I am the one fretting, I take great comfort in knowing that my job as a testifier of Christ is just to do my imperfect best, create opportunities for the Holy Ghost to be present, and then allow the Spirit to work with the learner to come unto Christ. As Welch writes:

When we open [the scriptures] with the intent to receive, the Book of Mormon unfolds as scriptures in our eyes. The work of the Father commences. A veil drops. We are brought back into God’s presence.

p. 87

This ties in to another principle Welch conveys. She makes a connection between the book of Ether and the infinite and eternal nature of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. She says:

Ether’s vision underscores the central purpose for the inclusion of the Jaredite record with the Book of Mormon: namely, to show that Christ’s saving grace excludes none, no matter how far flung in time or place or experience from the main body of Israel.

p. 92

Isn’t that such a beautiful aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is not limited by time, place, ethnicity, or any other thing that makes us different and individual. Christ is available to all who are striving to do the best they can with whatever knowledge they have.

Sometimes that is easier to believe that about others than ourselves. Sometimes we think Christ can’t or won’t save us. As if we were able to find the one loophole in the infantine and eternal suffering of Christ. It’s almost as if we worry that we will pray and Christ will say “Oh, I totally forgot to atone for that. I’m so sorry. You’re on your own and it’s not looking good for you.”

The realty is we are not going to bring the entire plan of salvation down with our mortal behavior. Those problems, sins, and weaknesses, whether they be our own or those of someone we love, are not ever beyond the scope of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As Welch writes, “The book of Ether is Moroni’s historical ‘proof of concept’ for the universal salvation promised in Christianity.”

The book of Ether, as seen through the eyes of Welch, is a book that allows the weak to work miracles, gives the outsider a home, and promises salvation to all who believe. We can, like Ether, see the gentle and patient finger of the Lord in our lives as we do our part to have faith in Him.

Book Review: Mormon a brief theological introduction

It seems fitting that I finished this book the morning after a huge windstorm that knocked our power out for 27 hours. At 5:30 AM, the rest of my house was sleeping and so I was alone in the cold and the dark reading by headlamp curled up in a blanket (okay, it was a snuggie and it was totally worth it).

The Mormon volume of this series is written by Adam S. Miller. Miller refers the book of Mormon (written by the prophet, Mormon, not the Book of Mormon as a whole) as the “beginners guide to the end of the world.” Miller weaves together a message of hope while simultaneously showing reverence and respect for the loss that comes with the destruction of the Nephite people.

Miller’s insights on the doctrine of justice were fascinating to me. He starts by framing it within the doctrine of creation:

If all creation is recreation, then God’s creative work may not only be unfinished, but it may be unfinishable

The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints teaches that “the Lord organized elements that had already existed” (source) and as such in a sense reformed or recreated the world. That work continues as we live in an ever changing world. Our hearts, our nature, or relationships, and even the very world around us are constantly changing and being recreated, affected by our agency.

As Miller lays out in his book, recreation requires the end of the previous state. Thus, the work of recreation is intertwined with the work of ending. But when the two doctrines are viewed together, we can see the loss that comes with ending is also the start of something new.

That principle already has my mind spinning, but it didn’t stop there! He dovetailed this into the doctrine of justice in a way that completely blew my mind. Instead of seeing justice as a punishment for the past, Miller proposes

The law [of justice] is fulfilled by asking: what, on this occasion, is needed to re/create the world as a just world? If hard consequences are needed to express love and fulfill the law, then love enforces hard consequences – but as a form of grace, not as an act of revenge.

This frames the law of justice not in looking to the past, but in looking toward the future. The law of justice doesn’t mean that God is looking back at what punishments the people deserve, but what the people need to become what God intends for them to become, like Him.

Thus, justice is not seen as the act of a vengeful God, but one who loves His people enough to not allow us to live a lawless existence. Miller then goes on to add the doctrines of sacrifice, grace, and of course the Atonement of Jesus Christ to build a full picture of how we can have hope in the end of the world.

Pondering these perspectives has been such a blessing for me. It is so easy to get caught up in viewing what is ending that we lose sight of what opportunities we now have to create. It is so easy to get caught up in seeing justice as punishing the past that we forget that it can also create growth in the future.

In the few days since I started this book I found myself looking at the concept of change differently. I started looking at consequences differently. It has reframed my thinking from one of hopelessness and loss to one of hope and rebirth. I can both sorrow for what I’m losing while being willing to sacrifice for something new. It’s a beautiful process!

Book Review: 3rd, 4th Nephi a brief theological introduction

I’ve always viewed 3rd and 4th Nephi as the climax of the Book of Mormon. This is where Christ visits the Nephites after his crucifixion and resurrection. Everything leading up to it is preparing us to understand how important Christ’s visit is, and honestly most of the stuff after these books is pretty sad as it’s filled with destruction and war.

The 3rd, 4th Nephi contribution to the brief theological introduction series is written by Daniel Becerra and, as usual, is filled with perspectives and principles that required me to reevaluate what I know and understand about the the teachings in these books. This started in the very first paragraph of chapter one when Becerra writes:

The Nephites did not know Christ as his followers in Palestine did. They never saw him hungry or thirsty. They never saw him tired or sick or bleeding. They had also never witnessed him calm the storm, heal the sick, and raise the dead. Like us, they relied primarily on teaching, preaching, and revelation to understand this being who was both God and human. And yet the still did not know quite what to expect.

p. 6

I had honestly never consciously and deliberately considered how differently the Nephite’s experience with Christ was. Though both His followers in Palestine and in America had first hand experience with Christ, neither of them had the benefit of each other’s records. Like us, they had prophets and apostles who testified of Him, but it is likely that the only first hand experiences with Christ were personal and sacred experiences. In a lot of ways, prior to His visit the Nephites had far less information about Christ than we do!

I don’t know about you, but even with the recorded first hand experiences we have available to us today, I still have a lot of questions about Christ and His character, which really helps me to better understand their initial reaction of confusion and even fear when He first appeared.

Another aspect of the book that really stood out to me was the way Becerra talks about Christ’s teaching on education

p. 75

As a non-traditional student who is still (probably forever) working on their Bachelor’s degree, it really highlighted to me the beauty that is the church’s BYU Pathway Program. Seeing the direct connection between the purposes of that program and the teachings of Christ helped me to see the miracle it is in a whole new way. The church is making huge strides in making “chances for learning” available to all. If you want a college education, the church has a way to make that happen for you. Of course, you have to be willing to put in the work, and it is a lot of work, but an education is available to the people of the world in unprecedented ways that will create unprecedented change. And I think we are only just starting to see the difference it will make!

At the end of the book, Becerra adds this:

p. 88

It is just a reminder to me that although I spend a lot of time and energy learning how to relate Christ’s life to mine, it is just as important to see Christ for who He was in the context of His mortal life and allow that to influence the way we treat others around us. If I, as a white “rich” (relative to the world) American Citizen can directly relate to a poor minority convict from another era of time, I can find elements of myself and Christ in others. I just need to put in the work.

A Christlike society is going to be something that requires a lot from each of us. With everything that’s been going on in the past year in the United States it can sometimes feel like a Christlike society is getting further and further away. But perhaps just like the Nephites recognized Christ because of His wounds, we too need to be more willing to see and recognize the wounds in others. People of all political parties and situations are wounded and hurting. When we acknowledge that similarity and strive to work to heal (not fix!) each other, we are moving society toward Christ.

“If you’re a stranger to your own wound, then you’re gonna be tempted to despise the wounded” (Father Gregory Boyle, quoted on p. 32).

Double Book Review: Alma 30-63 and Helaman

This series. I know I keep talking about it, but every single one of them has been incredible. They speak to my soul in a way that’s difficult to describe. I find myself thinking about them for weeks and months afterwards. I keep trying to describe what I’ve learned from them to other people and eventually just say, “Okay, I’m doing a terrible job describing the principle, you have to read them!”

I have to admit that I was a little nervous to read the Alma 30-63 volume of the series by Mark A. Wrathall. I loved the book on the first half of Alma so much I had a hard time imagining how the second one written by someone else about the same prophet could even come close.

However, my fears were completely unfounded. When I finished the last page and closed the book I literally said, “Wow, that is one impactful book!” Wrathall is a professor of philosophy at Oxford and his experience plays a huge part in the way he analyzes these chapters in Alma. Some of my favorite parts include how Wrathall breaks down Korihor’s arguments and his treatment of Alma’s sermon on the seed. Seeing these interactions deconstructed and labeled really helped me to better understand the fundamental teachings in a way that has been so thought provoking.

If you’ve ever wondered how faith and belief are different, this book is for you. If you’ve ever felt frustrated at your lack of knowledge of eternal things, this book is for you. If you’ve ever been frustrated at the tension created by seemingly contradictory doctrines or desires, this book is for you.

The section on tension was particularly powerful to me because it helped me to find peace with a very present tension I’ve been struggling with this week. This book helped me to make some connections that have already made a difference in my life and helped me to understand God’s will for me in a new way. I am really grateful not only for this book in general, but the timing in which I was able to read it.

I highly recommend this book!

I was also able to read the volume on Helaman by Kimberly Matheson Berkey this week. I know it is starting to feel like I’m overselling this series or that this is all hyperbole, but I am completely sincere in all my gushing. This book helped me to see Helaman in a completely new way.

Berkey points out that many of us mentally skip over Helaman as we get excited about Christ’s arrival in 3rd Nephi. I admit that I have 100% been guilty of that. As I read this book I was constantly amazed at how much the things in the book of Helaman are so incredibly important in the context of our lives today. There were so many passages that I read and thought, “Wow! I wish everyone could understand that!”

This book is centered around the theme of sight. It talks a lot about how we can get so distracted by the different masks we wear that we don’t, or can’t, acknowledge our own blind spots.

It actually really reminded me of this chart that is often used by therapists and counselors:

This book encouraged me to take a deep look at myself and evaluate whether or not the weaknesses and pride that is so easy to spot in others is present in my own soul. I found myself wanting to weed out the distractions I use to justify not growing in areas that are hard.

If your relationship with social media or politics sometimes overwhelms you, this book is for you. If you find yourself keeping others at arms length because you are scared they won’t like you if they get to know you, this book is for you. If you want to learn more about how repentance is not just remission of sin but a impetus for righteous change, this book is for you.

Both of these books are relatively short, but they both pack a punch. My only wish is that someday the Maxwell Institute will build on these brief theological introduction books and give us more!

Book Review: Alma 1-29 a brief theological introduction

At the beginning of the year, I was struggling with a long plateau in my scripture study. I was still reading, but I felt disconnected and uninspired. I continued to read partly out of habit and partly out of faith that if I kept trying I would eventually feel renewed again.

Then I stumbled across the Brief Theological Introduction Series published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU. Don’t let the word theology intimidate you, it just means “the scholarly practice of exploring a scriptural text’s implications and its lens on God’s work in the world” (p. viii of all the books in the series [yeah, that’s not a very scholarly reference, deal with it]). In words that are more familiar, theology means to use our life experiences, knowledge, and perspectives to “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23).

There are 12 books in the series covering each major book (some of the smaller books are combined and there are two for Alma) each written by a different author. I have read the first six and I have been amazed at what I’ve learned. This series has without a doubt been one of the highlights of my 2020. Along with some other resources, this series has not only helped me to feel connected to the scriptures again but has helped me to really see the people in the scriptures.

Fun fact: Kylie and I were in the same ward when my husband and I were newlyweds. She was my visiting teaching companion sometime between 2003-2005. It was a very transient ward and I was a complete disaster at the time so it isn’t likely she remembers me, but I’m going to claim “knowing” her.

I most recently finished Alma 1-29 written by Kylie Nielson Turley The story of Alma as seen by Turley is touching, empathetic, emotional, and very real. She highlights his wickedness, the depth of his repentance, the consequences of his choices that haunted him throughout his life, and the faith and devotion he developed in Jesus Christ. Though the stories were all familiar, Turley helped me to feel the stories.

By far, I was most impacted by her perspective on Alma and Amulek’s experiences in Ammonihah. Before I read the book I had listened to a couple of interviews Turley did (like this one and this one) so I had some idea of what to expect, but I was absolutely gutted as I read about it in the book. I’m not going to spoil it by giving you some watered down recap of it, so you’ll have to discover it for yourselves, but it has impacted me deeply. I have been thinking about it ever since I heard the first interview months ago. The woodcut pictured below is a perfect visual representation of how it felt to read the chapter.

Woodcut Illumination by Brian Kershisnik on p. 90

A quick aside: I read the first 5 books in the series on my kindle. The Maxwell Institute was kind enough to send me this book and the book on Helaman in print and I had completely underestimated the impact the visual and tactical elements of the print copy added to the experience. They are gorgeous.

I am more aware of Alma’s wickedness and mistakes, but instead of making me like him less it helps me to relate to him more. I discovered a man whose gifts have been used for both evil and good. I discovered a man who did his best only to have everything turn out terribly. I discovered a man who was pushed to the limit in his discipleship. I have felt those things too. I now see some of myself in Alma.

I really struggle to communicate the depth and range of feelings this book brought out in me. However, Turley unsurprisingly summed it up well:

Excerpt from page 128

GIVEAWAY – CLOSED

I cannot recommend this book and all the books in the series enough. If you’re torn about whether or not you want to read it, listen to or watch one of the interviews linked above, which are both free. I really, really want more people to read it and so I’ll help someone get started: Leave a comment on this post and I will send one person a physical or digital copy of this book (though you know which I would recommend).

Giveaway will close Wednesday, December 16h, 8:00 PST.

(And I’ll just give you a hint: Since I’ve majorly neglected my blog over the last few years, I will likely not get very many entries and you have an excellent chance of winning!)