Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Is It Ever Too Late?

I was recently going through my phone pictures and deleting stuff because my memory was full. I guess it’s a consequence of my document everything philosophy. In the process, I came across this beauty and just couldn’t delete it.

file this under 'too short for this weight'

It’s a screenshot of my electronic health record for a new patient I was seeing about a month ago. Check out the weight and height data: there isn’t a misplaced decimal or typographical error here. As part of my evaluation of her, I asked her why she was here. She said it was because of her weight and wanted to be evaluated "before it got out of hand”.  

She easily won the “understatement of the week” award. Maybe I should have just stood up and said “Elvis has already left the building” and walk away.  But this lady still had hope that her disease could be treated. It’s hard to walk away from that kind of courage--even if the BMI is 70.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one that can’t turn my back on the hopeful penitent.
Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me. Mosiah 26:30
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. D&C 58:42
As I read it, this is not a “limited time only” offer.  Joel, a prophet of Judah, foretold some pretty awful things that would  accompany the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that, while describing the war and desolation that would precede the great and dreadful day, he also gives us cause for hope. Joel points out that the Lord would be there waiting until the last possible moment for men to turn to him:
. . . rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for his is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness . . .  Joel 2:13

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Idolatry: To Each His Own

Originally published on May 19, 2014 at Modern Mormon Men

Photo credit: Reid’s iPhone 
When I saw this gypsum wall panel from the Ancient Assyria exhibit at the British Museum last year I was absolutely blown away. How could you not love this guy? He's got the full package including a flawless fauxhawk, perfectly man-scaped facial hair, exaggerated upper body musculature and a steely-eyed stare that would intimidate anyone and everything.  Even his accessories are spot-on: custom robes, choker, wrist bands, biceps bands, and a pair of sweet daggers.

I've read several theories about who this guy was, but the best one says this is an image of Nisroch. Nisroch was the deity that King Sennacherib of Assyria worshipped [1] after running rough-shod over the Kingdom of Judah.[2] But I didn't need to know any of those details to be an instant fan and immediately make this image the home screen on my phone.

Call it a personal character flaw if you like, but there really is something innate that makes humans easily awed. We are highly visual creatures, and iconography is therefore very powerful. It’s not difficult to see how an Assyrian peasant or soldier would readily count Nisroch among the gods that he worshipped. Ancient Israel was just as easily impressed: the first of  the ten commandments starts with "thou shalt have no other gods before me" and the second goes on to forbid any graven images. The Israelites were expressly forbidden to "bow down thyself to them, [or] serve them."

It seems that idolatry was the great Achilles’ heel of ancient Israel. The Old Testament reads like a lengthy chronicle of the Lord trying to pull His people back from the brink of destruction brought on by this idolatry. Yet  idolatry is as prevalent now as it was in the past. The Lord was speaking about the modern era when He warned that idolatry was carrying us closer to the brink.
They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall. (D&C 1:16)
The rituals of worship and the pantheon of gods that are being worshipped have changed over the millennia. But whether it’s Nisroch, or our latest iteration of a god created in our own image, modern idols still receive a lot  of mankind’s resources, time, energy, and veneration.  If idols insert themselves before God on our list of priorities, it doesn’t really matter if they are base idols (greed, lust, power, hedonism) or noble ones (health, education, family, etc). [3]

It is argued all the time that our God has a great inferiority complex in demanding primacy in our devotion and worship. I don’t see it that way, but instead see the simple inability of the gods of the modern pantheon to save us. In this regard, things haven’t changed at all since Assyrian times. In spite of the awesome power of the Assyrian army, the siege of Jerusalem somehow failed and 185,000 Assyrians woke up dead. Sennacherib was forced back to Ninevah to invoke his gods in ornate temples adorned with the loot of his conquests. It is intriguing to wonder about the splendor of the icon that loomed over Sennacherib in the Temple of Nisroch, when his sons interrupted his worship to kill him (2 Kings 19:37Isaiah 37:38). Though Nisroch didn’t come through in the end for King Sennacherib, his image still makes a cool home screen for your phone.


[1] There are accounts in 2 Kings and Isaiah that also refer to Nisroch.  Philological arguments link Nisroch to Nusku, Assyrian god of fire that served as the messenger of Ashur. Ashur was one of the principle Assyrian deities and also had an eagle-man form. Nusku was said to be the god appointed by Ashur to aide the Assyrian king in overthrowing his enemies. This likely explains why Sennacherib was in the temple of Nisroch rather than the temple of Ashur when he met his well-deserved demise.
[2] The Taylor Prism gives Sennacherib's own account of his spoils in this war (here).
[3] This GC talk by Dallin H. Oaks that speaks to this issue. C. S. Lewis also wrote extensively on modern iterations of the age-old problem of idolatry:
"Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is." - C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

"It's not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love, or patriotism, or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion." - C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Back to Basics

While visiting Vilnius, Lithuania we had a chance to attend church. By some stroke of luck we happened to be visiting on the day of District Conference. All the saints in the entire country gathered to hear from the Baltic Mission President/Matron as well as an Area Seventy from Russia. It was the best ‘in-the-flesh’ church meeting I’ve been to in many years--and most of it was translated into English from Lithuanian or Russian. 

It certainly didn’t take long for us to be noticed, or to be welcomed. I didn’t know this young missionary or the Lithuanian brother that he grabbed when I offered to email his picture to his mother, but the look in his eye is something rare and beautiful. One week earlier we were speculating about which of 15 capable guys in the ward would be the new High Priests Group Leader, how much the Friends of Scouting assessment for the ward would be, and when the Ordain Women movement would be creating their next spectacle.  Talk about first-world church problems! Meanwhile, in Vilnius, the saints worked like dogs to keep their beautiful branch afloat.  Their love for the missionaries, the Brethren, the gospel, and the Lord was almost overpowering. It made me miss our Branch in Boston where we were so small, so vulnerable, so over-worked but so in love with one another and with the gospel.

We would all do well to take a moment and go back to the basics, and rediscover the beauty and power of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ in it’s pure and simplest form. I really didn’t know what I expected to find in Eastern Europe in a former Soviet state, but it wasn’t this. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Empty Calories

Both faith and testimony are living things that require nurture and care or else they will decline and eventually fade away. We could no more sustain our bodies by intermittently eating or drinking than we can sustain our faith and testimony with sporadic spiritual nourishment. Yet frequently we do so  through laziness, distraction, pre-occupation or being over-committed. 

I recently got sucked into a 5-book, 3800 page series on Genghis Kahn. It's not exactly the kind of stuff that fortifies faith, but very interesting none-the-less.  For a couple of weeks, I read little else. I have also enjoyed reading blogs full of insight and commentary by clever members of the church. But once again, I've noticed that this material doesn't always leave me embiggened or inspired. 

There is merit in being aware of, and enriched by the world we live in. I’m a big advocate of being well-read. But recently it dawned on me that although historical fiction and the witty commentary from the bloggernacle is indeed tasty, it has limited nutritional value from a spiritual perspective. You simply can't consume enough of it to be spiritually nourished. Paul's description of people that were "ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7)" somehow seems relevant in this regard.

By contrast, I can't remember an occasion when I wasn't inspired and uplifted by the scriptures or a General Conference talk.  Accordingly, I set Genghis down and picked up the scriptures and noticed an immediate difference in how I felt. I also went through the 'blog's I'm following' list and deleted a bunch of stuff.  My snark coefficient is high enough as it is. I found a lot of it was simply bringing me down, and adding no nutritional value--spiritually speaking.  

Let's face it:  junk food is in no danger of going extinct in both a literal and metaphoric way. I just need to use a little more moderation in how much I consume in one setting.  Genghis Khan and his exploits will still be there tomorrow or even next week.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Initially Published at Modern Mormon Men on May 6, 2014

It has happened again.* This time it's the largest coin hoard ever discovered in the USA. A couple walking their dogs stumbled upon another coin hoard on their property in Northern California. Known as the Saddle Ridge Hoard, it contains 1427 coins in total form 1847 to 1894, with many being in mint/uncirculated condition.  It may be worth up to US $10 million. Not a bad find for just checking out an old rusty can at the side of the path.

This treasure lay hidden for over 100 years. It's secrets are long forgotten and it's richest unclaimed. I can't help but think of the account in the Book of Mormon that described how the people would hide their treasures in the earth to try and keep them safe from the Gadianton robbers.  These treasures were lost as "they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again (Mormon 1:18)."

These stories lend themselves to teaching moments as much now as they did in the Lord's day.  Jesus introduced the Parable of the Rich Fool with a warning to "beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."  This man's ground produced in great abundance--so much that he had to pull down his old barns and build bigger ones.  Having secured his wealth, he determined to 'eat, drink and be merry'.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:20-21).
I would love to have a coin from the Saddle Ridge Hoard.  It would probably be a better investment to work on being rich toward God.


* Here are links to some old posts on coin hoards discovered in Israel, Northumberland, UK and the woods north of London