The New Testament

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How exactly do you review a religious work? I mean, the New Testament is quite possibly the most influential text ever written. As far as literature goes, I would argue that it’s the best of any scripture I’ve read, because it’s in fairly chronological order and tells a full story – sort of. Except that the story gets told four times, then commented on, and then there’s a slightly related prophecy at the back.

The New Testament is one of my favorite books to read, because I’m a Christian. Reading an account of Christ brings a spirit of humility and general goodness into my daily routine, as well as providing an example of the kind of person I want to be. My faith in Christ has made me who I am, and continues to shape me into a better person. I also find it poignant that in the spiritual economy of things, God felt that my salvation was worth the life of a God. So this book influences me deeply. Still, I’m not sure I would recommend it for a book club unless your group of friends is really interested in religion.

I would, however, recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it at least once, regardless of religious beliefs. (So maybe if your book club hasn’t read it yet, you ought to give it a shot.) People talk about Jesus all the time – trust me, you’ll find opportunity to discuss it. Also, I would recommend the epistles of Paul to most of my LDS friends, because I think sometimes we get so caught up in modern scripture that we forget about them. And they’re some of the best doctrinal commentary I think I’ve ever read.

Jesus Christ is the example we’ve set most of our society on (or claimed to), and I feel like this is a must-read. It builds faith for those seeking faith, and builds understanding for those seeking to understand faith. And if you’re trying to be a good person, I think it does a good job of providing a hero to follow. The King James Version (which I read) is a little dry and Shakespearean, but if you can follow the language, it’s worth it for the poetic effect. If not, pick up a more modern translation. ♥

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The Old Testament

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Woof. The Bible is not easy reading. I don’t even remember when I started in Genesis – but I just finished the Old Testament, and I’m super proud of myself, and of course I’m counting it for this year’s book count.

Now, how does one go about summing up the entire Old Testament? It’s complicated. And not just “1200 pages” complicated (although it is). It’s that the book is actually a collection of much smaller books, written by various different prophets and historians, and many of them out of chronological order. So the best I can hope to do here is to find some kind of running theme.

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My dad knew someone who had read the whole Bible, looking for a thesis to the whole work. I think her conclusion was that the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” was supposed to be answered, “Yes, you are – or at least, you’re supposed to be.” (In the words of Jeffrey R. Holland: “…although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother…”)

Anyways. I’m not going to spend an eternity here dissecting individual books of the OT – but I would say the most prominent (and relevant) theme I found to connect to my own life was the question, “Do you want a God or not?” Most of the prophets who contribute to this work ask, in one way or another, why the children of Israel keep contradicting themselves. When the Israelites aren’t following God’s commandments, they tell the prophets to leave them alone and find other “gods” who will condone the lifestyle they want. But when the Israelites are in trouble, suddenly they want a God of vengeance and justice, and they get mad that God isn’t being consistent. And the prophet’s like, “Well, do you want God to follow His own rules or not?”

Basically, everybody wants God to take their side – but they don’t want to have to take God’s side. They want a God who will back them up, no matter what they decide to do, with no demands in return. So… they just want to be God.

I thought this pretty accurately described our society today. I’m not saying it describes everybody – but let’s face it: most people just want to be accepted for who they are. Even if who they are is a total jerk. And while I think we should certainly be accepting of people, that doesn’t mean everybody  has the right to be a total jerk. It doesn’t mean everybody’s doing the right thing, just because they say they are. And it doesn’t mean we have to be okay with every decision people make. On the flip side of that, we should take a good, hard look at the way we’re living our own lives. Are we mad when the cops pull us over for speeding? And if we are, do we have any right to get mad at the other drivers on the road when they ignore the law? Basically, I feel like the Old Testament draws a connection: if you want protection, you have to follow the rules. If you want God to defend you, you have to pattern your life the way He asks. ♦

 

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story…?

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I have a tendency to stretch the truth when I tell a story, and it drives my husband crazy. My brother throws a slice of pizza, and it hits the wall. By the time I tell it, the pizza makes a perfect, beautiful arc, spinning several times in the air before sticking to the wall, leaving a perfect triangular sauce imprint, and then delicately falling to the ground. Ethan corrects me every time, telling me I can’t just change the facts for a good story.

And I think, “But that’s what makes the story worth telling!” I mean, which is more fun to read? A descriptive narrative of what (may have) happened, or the sentence, “So my brother threw some pizza against the wall the other day”?

Having said that, there’s a line to draw. I sincerely hope I would never stretch this story so far as to say that the pizza shattered the window, flew into the street, and killed a man who was outside protesting cruelty against baby seals. That’s ridiculous. The first story has an artistic bias: mine. The second story is blatantly false.

One of my husband’s coworkers was recently asked to find another job. Based on his rambling blog post about it, several news stations immediately picked up the story, and now there are headlines all over the place talking about how this man was fired for explaining homophones on a grammar website. This poor victim was fired because his boss – who owns a school that teaches English grammar – thought that the word “homophone” implied homosexuality, and he didn’t want his school to represent a gay lifestyle.

Of course, that’s not what actually happened. But that’s what the news reports. Because “Man Fired For Doing His Job Poorly” doesn’t go viral very quickly.

I’m not here to harp on “homophonia.” I’m just here to point something out. I have a degree in History. I spent years studying the way stories are told, and I’m here to gently remind you that everything you will ever hear has gone through a filter: somebody wrote it down. And that person usually wasn’t God – so there’s a bias. If you read my blog, my stories might be a little more spectacular than in real life. If you read the Salt Lake Tribune, it will probably be liberal, and it might be anti-Mormon, depending on the reporter. If you read the Deseret News, it will probably be conservative, and pro-Mormon, since it’s a Mormon newspaper. If you read the Pope’s twitter feed, please expect to hear some things about God, the Bible, and Christianity in general. Duh.

My concern is that I see an increasing trend on social media to read the headlines – and nothing else. My major taught me to read the author’s name and the sponsor who pays for the message before I even read the headline. That’s how I determine the bias. If the author works for Gatorade, don’t be surprised when all the “studies” show that Gatorade is the best energy drink out there. Gatorade wouldn’t pay to publish anything else. As a historian, I worry when I see people spread inspiring quotes about cell phone etiquette and attribute them to Abraham Lincoln. I worry when news headlines I know are false start going viral and nobody questions the one-sided reporting. I’m especially concerned when people attribute “genuine” quotes to such religious leaders as Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and even Jesus – religious leaders who, conveniently enough, are not actually on social media, and cannot defend the use of these statements.

I’m not telling you to stop sharing inspiring quotes. But please, people – if you’ve never read the Bible, don’t assume you know what Jesus said. If you haven’t studied Dr. King, don’t tell me what he would have done in this situation. If you haven’t read more than one viewpoint, don’t assume the news is handing you facts on a silver platter. Do some research before you throw yourself behind a statement or cause. It might take a little longer for that quote to go viral, but at least you’ll know it’s not a hoax. ♦

Healing the Imperfect

I found today’s favorite scripture. I’ve been reading through the Old Testament – and so far, 1 and 2 Chronicles have been pretty dry. But I found this in 2 Chronicles 30:18-20. For context, Hezekiah the king just inherited a pretty wicked people from his pretty wicked father, and he’s trying to turn things around in the kingdom. So he calls all the people together, holds a special Passover celebration, and invites everybody. Most people just laugh, but some people come, even though it’s the wrong month and they haven’t had time to go through all the purification they would normally need.

“But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary. And the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.”

Two things I like here: One, the people still came, even though they weren’t totally ready. I used to feel like God was unapproachable unless I was perfect – that I wasn’t worthy to pray if I felt like I had any serious problems. But these people were ready to come back to God, because they knew they needed His help to become pure. The second thing I really like is that the Lord didn’t just accept them – he healed them. He wasn’t just willing to overlook the faults of His people, He made them clean and healed their spiritual scars.

It makes me glad to remember that God will take us just as we are, and as long as we’re willing to come to Him, He’ll make us better every time. Maybe it’ll take time, but we should never be afraid to ask for His help. He always gives it – always has, and always will. ♥

Thoughts on the Phrase, “One God”

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Growing up, I was always a little confused how there could be one God, but three Gods. There’s Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Who are separate. But there is only one God. How can that be?

I think many Christian denominations teach that this is actually one Being, working in three separate spheres. Mormon doctrine teaches that these are three separate Beings, who are united in their purpose. But this still confused me; the scriptures say very clearly that they are one – not three.

I think the answer – at least as far as I interpret it – is in 1 Corinthians 12. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (verse 12). A body is made up of several members, but they all act together to form one body. Follow that up with verse 14: “For the body is not one member, but many.” I don’t get all twisted around trying to figure out whether my right arm and my left arm are separate or not, just because I call them both “arm”. I have two grandmas and two grandpas, and a whole slough of cousins, but I don’t get frustrated trying to figure out whether they’re all the same person. The word “church” is singular, but that doesn’t mean there’s only one member. Why can’t there be three members of “God”?

I see God as a title, not as a person. The Godhead (or Trinity, if you will) functions like a council. God the Father, God the Son, and the Spirit of God can be separate Beings, while still working together toward the same goal – being one with one another. They all love us the same, and they all know how to help us the same, so they work together as one God for our salvation. I guess it’s the same as saying they’re one in purpose, but for some reason it makes infinitely more sense to me to say it that way. Probably because I had to figure it out on my own. ♦

Ask, and It Shall Be Given

I was reading the scriptures today, and read in Matthew 7:7-8:

7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

This is hardly uncommon. In fact, Jesus said this pretty much every time He turned around. Which led me to wonder – why the redundancy? It just seems like a whole lot of words that say the same thing. So I thought about the words a little more. What exactly is the difference between asking, seeking, and knocking?

Now, I’m no theologian. And I can’t tell you what the Lord meant when He said it. But I can tell you what it means to me now. And being me (and not a theologian), I didn’t think about the original language of the text – I thought of sign language. As I tried to understand the scripture better, I tried putting it into sign. And what I found was that those three verbs are entirely different.

In sign language, the main difference between these verbs is the movement. When I ask God something, the movement is from me to God. When I seek, it’s for an object – I do the moving. When I knock, a door opens. And when I thought about the responses, I realized that the responses match the actions perfectly.When I ask from God, I receive from God. When I’m seeking an object, I find the object. And when I knock, the door opens – and I have to move through it, or it doesn’t have any purpose. In essence, Christ is asking me not just to expect an answer, but to ask God’s help in finding the answer, then to look for the answer myself. And when I’ve asked, sought, found, and received an answer, it’s then my responsibility to act on it – to knock, and then walk through that door. Whatever my answer is, it should bring me through an open door, closer to God. ◊