Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Mary, the Mother of Jesus - A Christmas Message

Worshipped, summoned in prayer, and enshrined by millions, Mary, the Mother of Jesus may well have been the most famous of all women. Yet of her life, we know startlingly little. Except that hers was the womb that carried the Son of God.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has this month been named 'The Most Powerful Woman in the World' by the National Geographic Society.

So powerful is she, that Mary has become the figure of a strong faction of Christians the world over. She has been 'seen' in many places ranging from the clouds to mugs of hot chocolate.

In Mormonism and growing up in the church, not much is or was said about Mary. Probably due to the dearth of scriptural records about her. She is pretty much swallowed up by the words and deeds of her divine son. That baby Jesus, who came forth from her womb became the Almighty Lord, the Mediator between God and mankind, the Redeemer of all women and men from the Fall.

So what is it that made Mary such a powerful lady?

In speaking of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, of Jesus' parentage and how he was conceived, I tread carefully, but don't hesitate to share my opinion which has been formed after many hours, days, weeks and months of earnest thought and study on the topic.

Mary is powerful because she was a virgin yet somehow not a virgin; pure and untainted yet somehow overshadowed and touched; relate-able yet entirely incomprehensible. This power all revolves around the conception of Jesus Christ.

We know that Mary was a virgin in that she had yet to enter into a sexual relationship with any man. She was planning on marrying Joseph at the time of perhaps the most hallowed event in human history - the conception of the Lord Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary.

Of that sacred event, we have the following record:

"Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:34-35)

The angelic message was concluded with the phrase:

"For with God nothing shall be impossible." (Luke 1:37)

Mormon author James E. Talmage explained the power of Mary and the conception of Jesus this way:

"Mary's promised Son was to be 'The Only Begotten' of the Father in the flesh...the event was unprecedented...also it has never been paralleled...That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of...the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof...In his nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity, declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate - after their kind. The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental, and spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents - one immortal and glorified - God, the other human - woman."

(Jesus the Christ, from Chapter 7)

What a thrilling statement! This is the passage that produced flurries of thoughts in my mind on the conception of the Saviour.

I do not here make any conclusions as my limited mind has not wrapped itself around this miraculous event of the Virgin Mary becoming the carrier in the womb of Jesus the Christ in partnership with the God of the heavens.

That's where being a virgin yet being pregnant doesn't quite add up to the finite mind.

However, since God is not mortal, Mary was able to retain her virgin status in the whole story of Jesus' conception and birth. Whether that conception was a result of mortal sexual relations between God and Mary through the familiar action of penile penetration, or by some other divine method of reproduction which we know not of (except Mary, which only further adds to her power), I dare not definitively say.

All we do know is that however that sacred event unfolded, it is destined to remain for some a sacred silence; for others a riveting mystery; and yet for a few a flagrant conspiracy.

Yet something happened between the God of the universe, and Mary the Mother of Jesus. We do not know if it was physical or spiritual, maybe both, maybe neither. But there was a union; the Child Jesus grew up with a half-mortal, half-immortal genetic structure, allowing him to carry out the anguish of his suffering in the garden, the inescapable pains of mortal death on the cross, and the miraculous feat of his resurrection.

Two mortal parents just wouldn't have done the job.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Saviour Jesus Christ. Just 9 months earlier, the seeds that set His birth in motion were divinely planted within Mary the Mother of Jesus.

This is what makes Mary the most powerful woman in the world.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The missing voice of the Lamanites

For years now I have wondered about the Lamanites and the absence of their voice in the Book of Mormon. The BoM is pretty much written entirely by those who identified themselves as Nephites and is therefore heavily biased in their favour.

We are heavily influenced to feel that the Nephites were the good guys and the Lamanites were the bad guys during this 1,000 year record of these people. 

Could one family really cause 1,000 years of hatred and enmity, so bad that it resulted in the entire annihilation of both peoples, leaving just one man remaining to complete the history and bury it in the ground?

You see, history is just that. It's written by one voice at a time, while other voices are either lost or subterfuged so that they are blurred from existence. We can never understand the full history of anything. Which leads me to the lost voice of the Lamanites.

The lost voice of the Lamanites.

It all started with two intolerant Arabs named Lehi and Nephi, who, in the BoM record, are obviously cast as the 'good guys' who believe in God while Laman, the elder brother of said Nephi, is continuously painted as the instigator of all contention. But it was simply because of Laman's disbelief in the God that his father and brother so devotedly trusted, that led to him losing what was rightly his - his father's inheritance.

We always look at it from the point of view of Nephi, well, because that's the only perspective we are offered in the BoM. 

What if we looked at things from a different angle? 

What type of record would we see if it was written by Laman? 

A painting depicting Nephi in one of numerous tussles with his brothers, Laman and Lemuel. I wonder how Laman would have recorded the events while they travelled for eight years through the Arabian desert?

We only ever get told about Laman, and his 'partner-in-crime' Lemuel, by Nephi. Unfortunately, we don't get to hear their thoughts and feelings, like we do with Nephi. We are made aware that things became so heated between the brothers that Laman attempted to kill Nephi on a few occasions, which was hardly surprising given the strict Old Testament Law of Moses this family would still have followed and which pervaded everyday life. 

I can appreciate that that didn't help the family relationship too. But do we understand why Laman felt so bad about his younger brother?

Laman was enjoying life in Jerusalem, was part of a rich family, and as the firstborn, was in line to rightfully receive his father's inheritance. His perfect life was shattered by a dad who claimed to see visions telling him to leave Jerusalem and wander around the desert. They were then sent back and forth on long journeys home only to trade away all their possessions to a king who tried to kill them - for a historical record. 

You can see why Laman would have 'murmured' while traipsing through the Arabian desert.

After giving up their house, possessions and guaranteed meals each day, Laman and Lemuel were obliged to wander through the hostile Arabian desert for 8 years with suddenly no hope for the future, no idea where they were going, or what would become of them. Then after landing in America, after struggling through one perceived injustice after another, their father hits them with this bombshell:

"And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael, behold, if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish. And if ye will hearken unto him I leave unto you a blessing, yea, even my first blessing.

But if ye will not hearken unto him I take away my first blessing, yea, even my blessing, and it shall rest upon him."

(2 Nephi 1:28-29)

Can you begin to imagine the utter disbelief and shock that Laman must have felt after hearing that his very birthright would be taken away from him if he didn't follow his little brother, who would now be a leader over him?!

From Laman's point of view, this must have felt like a scandal.

I similarly come from a spiritually divided family. But just because the non-believing parent doesn't go to church, read the scriptures or hold the same values as we do, doesn't mean that parent is in the wrong. He is still the leader of the home and no decision should be made without his approval or consent. His voice is just as important as our religiously-influenced voices.

And so I wonder with great intrigue about the missing voice of the Lamanites and how it would have sounded.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Donald Trump Politics and Mormon Belief

Any Mormons watching the Donald Trump campaign trail should see somewhat "eye to eye" {Isaiah 52:8} with his politics and stances. The December 15th debate hosted by CNN (very poorly again, I must say. It appears they are intent on "stirr[ing] them up to anger" {Alma 48:1-4} as was seen in the hilarious duels between Trump vs Bush and Trump vs Paul, for example) highlighted once more the politics of Mr. Trump.

Donald Trump comes across as a strong dictator figure who knows what he wants, will stop at nothing to get it, and will let no-one stand in his way. At the same time, he speaks the truth and has no time for trifling with words {see D&C 32:5}.

But wait a minute, can't Mormons relate to this sort of dictatorship style of leadership? Doesn't Mormon theology state very similar things about Jesus Christ?

The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is an event that Mormons look forward to and enjoy speculating on, yet have no specific date as to when it will happen. And what is it really all about? It's a political event ushering in communism. It's about Jesus coming to demolish all earthly governments and set up his own government with himself as the dictator, with no elections and no change in leader!

As early as the Old Testament we read that "the government shall be upon his shoulder," {Isaiah 9:6} emphasising his potential leadership on earth. While of course, this would refer to his kingdom, or church, it worried the leaders of government enough in his mortal days that Herod ordered all infants below 2 years old to be slaughtered, in an effort to protect his own leadership.

Obviously, if Donald Trump were to be sworn into office next November, he would have a maximum 8 years to serve before he would be obligated to step down.

Mr. Trump's two main stances are to build a wall to separate USA from Mexico, and to block the immigration of Muslims for a period. The building of the wall, as Mr. Trump explains, is to keep illegals from entering the country, amongst whom are drug abusers, dealers, rapists and murderers. The prevention of Muslims entering the U.S. would be enforced under Mr. Trump to stop possible ISIS infiltration into the country. Both sound like decent ideas; both would be very difficult to implement. This is not too dissimilar from Mormon belief where the Book of Mormon states that we should "come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things..." {Alma 5:57} Exactly who the 'wicked' are, in both the Book of Mormon explanation and Mr. Trump's plans, can be difficult to decipher. Yet both have this idea of 'separation' from perceived wickedness.

Mormon theology condones and promotes a dictatorship that is ideally led by "just men to be your kings" {Mosiah 23:8}. It is also very clear on the future government of the earth which will be led by Jesus:

"...every ear shall hear it, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess, while they hear the sound of the trump, saying: Fear God, and give glory to him who sitteth upon the throne, forever and ever; for the hour of his judgement is come." {D&C 88:104}

So Jesus will be the government leader forever without being elected to the position, will be feared, or revered, by all, and will enact laws without approval from anyone else. 

In conclusion, Jesus will separate the wicked from his people AKA he will only allow a certain group of people to be under his government while other groups will be excluded. Sound similar to Mr. Trump's planned policies? Building a big wall, temporarily blocking Muslim immigration?

And before anyone cries 'blasphemy,' I am in no way comparing Donald Trump to Jesus Christ; just demonstrating the similarities in governmental leadership styles and policies, which should be of great interest to Mormons.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Building Bridges in Interesting Times

We are living in very interesting and troubled times. The growth and 'coming out' of the gay community has produced a lot of noise and posed many questions for individuals and organisations, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here we have a religious organisation with revered divine laws which finds itself increasingly struggling against new State laws regarding homosexuality and the now legal union of man and man, woman and woman.

These are interesting times.

Not that the Church has not handled troubles before. Succession in the Presidency, plural marriages and the exact identity of who is eligible to receive the priesthood are just a few examples of how the Church has struggled within itself and with the State regarding important matters.

New resolutions, stances, and laws have always caused a stir and are impossible to please everyone. I believe a healthy discussion of such things is important, and I was fortunate enough recently to be involved in such a discussion on a facebook post. 

This post was written by a friend with a number of ex-Mormons participating in the thread. It went on for a few days as I attempted to have enough empathy to at least leave a good impression with those who have been undutifully treated by the Church, yet also demonstrate a defence of the faith to give credit where it is due.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a couple of private messages from those who took part in the discussion expressing their appreciation for my efforts and wishing me all the best, despite possessing unceremoniously opposing views on the Church to me. I replied and reached out to two others as well:

It's refreshing and encouraging to see what can be accomplished in terms of building bridges with those of other faiths, and indeed, those who once belonged to our faith. Some differences of opinion may well be irreconcilable but at least we can discuss and be respectful and understanding in these interesting times.