Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Helaman 1 - Humanity on Display

This chapter has human nature on display for all to see. My time in the Air Force showed me most military planners prepare to fight the last war. Not only generals and admirals, but also politicians (especially so) and defense contractors are prone to this. The people who change the face of warfare are the underdogs who are so desperate to win, they'll fight in a way no one expects.

When Russia invaded Afghanistan, its tactics were based completely upon how they beat the Germans in WW2. They couldn't deal with anti-tank and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. The US Navy is still committed to aircraftcarriers because that's how they won the war in the Pacific. But cruise missiles are a daunting challenge for them.

This trait even happens in Helaman. Moronihah believed the Lamanites would attack just like they did when his father was in command. Only they didn't and as a result, the City of Zarahemlah fell to the Lamanites.

The Lamanites, thought the key to victory was the shields, protective garments, and weapons of the Nephites. Divine aid was something they couldn't grasp or imagine. So, while they capture Zarahemlah they still lost big by getting themselves surrounded. The armor and weapons they'd put so much trust in didn't help them at all.

It's vignettes like this which are so unerringly accurate in showing the humanity of the good guys that lead me to the conclusion, this book is not made up. Tolstoy maybe could have pulled it off. Joseph couldn't.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Alma 62-63 - The End of the War

There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from the end of the war. One is an exclamation point on need for national unity. Internal strife and factions almost destroyed the Nephites. The Nephites won only after the Chief Judge Pahoran, backed by the military might of Captain Moroni, put an end to the dissension.

Another lesson is given a choice, the masses, the people who actually get sent to war to fight, don’t like fighting and won’t. The Lamanite armies not only lost the battles, but also the war in large part because their soldiers defected and joined the Ammonites. No soldiers… no army. No army… no war. You really have to stir people up emotionally to get them to go to war because by nature people are appalled and terrified by it.

We get another glimpse into the different culture of the Nephites with the end of the war. They demobilize to a certain extent, but Moroni oversees the construction of more “places of defense” or refuge throughout the country. He then retires and hands over command of the army to his son, Moronihah. (Can you imagine the Commander of the Joint Chiefs saying, “I’m retiring now, so my son is going to take over in my stead.” Not in America.) The Nephites were okay with that. It would never happen here.

Helaman resumes the role of High Priest, but soon dies. Shiblon becomes custodian of the records. But he’s old too and knows he’s going to die soon. Since Pahoran doesn’t want the records, they are given to Helaman’s oldest son Helaman. I just have to comment here for a moment. We assume the custodian of the records is THE High Priest. Like so much of the Nephite society, these high leadership positions seem to be handed down from father to son among the Nephites. The judgeship passes from father to son. The army passed from father to son. The church did with Alma the Younger getting the job after his father. And then Helaman got it from his father.

Lest you think it was coincidence that the church leaders were such good men, I think the better interpretation is this patrilineal descent from father to son is something Heavenly Father worked with. So, he made sure men worthy of the callings were born at the right time to the right family.

And so ends the Book of Alma. The stage is set for the next epoch of the Nephite saga.

Personal Note: This actually is the end of my first pass of blogging through the Book of Mormon. It was  nearly a year ago, July 5, 2015 to be exact, when I made my first post on Helaman chapter one. Rather than rehash things, After this post I'm going to spend some time consolidating these entries into book form. Surprisingly, it's 47,000 words long - about 150 pages. I plan on posting it to Amazon where you can get it for free, or $0.99 if I must charge something for it.

In the mean time, about once a week, I'll post entries consisting of my impressions of our Gospel Doctrine lessons. It'll be more Book of Mormon goodness, but I'm going to spend most of my writing time working on a new Sci-Fi novel. I had a chance to pitch the idea to a book publisher recently and they really liked the idea, so I want to work on that to see where it goes. I plan on posting chapters to another blog so you can read along if you'd like.

I love feedback. If you'd like to see the contents of the past year's blog posts in a book, please let me know. The amount of interest will tell me how much effort to put into putting it together.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alma 59-61 - Capt. Moroni and Pahoran

There is not a better example in scripture of statesmanship than that of Pahoran’s response to a Capt. Moroni’s scathing letter. I’ve mentioned in a previous post where Moroni’s temper gets the better of him. Here it shines. Yet, it’s hard for me to fault him when you think of the context in which he wrote the letter.

It was a difficult time, and that’s a huge understatement. While there was some good news from Helaman about the war, there was considerable cause for concern too. Helaman’s small force had recaptured all the Nephite cities in that part of their nation. Yet his undermanned forces, were hurting for supplies, and ill fed. They held on through sheer faith.

Moroni just heard of the loss of the City of Nephihah. Additionally, his forces were understrength and underfed too. Without food and supplies, you don’t have an effective fighting force. Such were the conditions of Moroni’s army.

When you combine their dire straits with the shocking news of the Nephihah, you can begin to understand how concerned and fearful Moroni was. He knew from first hand experience, the government could send more men and supplies. That it wasn’t told him things were not well at home. Like us, Moroni knew the greatest threat to the Nephite society came from inside. Rot from inside would destroy them faster than an invading army could.

With these things weighing on his mind, he penned a letter to Pahoran excoriating him for betrayal and dereliction of duty. When I think of the craven, self-righteous and self-serving politicians we have today, there’s no way Moroni would survive writing such a letter to our current leaders. Not so with Pahoran. To his everlasting credit, he didn't take offense but saw the anxiety and fears in the letter and answered those.

I can’t help but think that in a quiet, personal place, Moroni’s prayer of thanksgiving to God for Pahoran’s reply was more than a little emotional. Such is the patriotism and faithfulness of Moroni to the cause of liberty and his people. Such was Pahoran's statesmanship. Would that we had such men as these in our military and government today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Alma 56-58 - The Sons of Helaman

The tale of these 2060 young boys who went to war is another insight into the vast differences between the Nephite culture and that of Upstate New York in the early nineteenth century. No one today would think of making a 16 year old commander in chief of a nation’s army. Yet this is what the Nephites did when they made Mormon commander of their armies. Not even in 1829 would that sort of choice be made. The question is why? I don’t know if the Sons of Helaman set the precedent or whether they followed an existing tradition, but the Book of Mormon refers to them as young men. If you can be appointed commander of an army at age 16, what does “young” mean?

There’s no way to tell from what I understand of the record to say how old these young warriors were. But if someone who is 16 years old is old enough to command an army, I suspect the “expected” age to serve is younger. The “unexpected” age to serve, which is what these boys were, is younger still. It seems reasonable to me to assume it wasn’t age, but ability to wield a weapon that became the criteria for them. 

On a tangential note, I once read part of an autobiographical book whose title I’ve now forgotten, of a woman’s experiences living among the Hopi Indians. This happened around the beginning of the 20th Century. In it, she recounts how they adopted her into their society and let her see the Prophecy Stone. It has inscriptions which speak of the “Lost White Brother” who will one day return. There are other prophetic inscriptions explaining what events will happen before he does. One warns them to always seek peace because their forefathers renounced war by burying their weapons in the ground. How critics will explain that away?

On another tangential note, did you know the Navajo sing the same tune Jews do, when they recite the scriptural account of the creation? You need to watch a presentation by Michael Ballam about his thoughts on the Gospel in the 2011 BMAF conference. It’s on Youtube. Find the video and listen around the 7:30 mark of an encounter with some Navajo indians. It's thought provoking.

But, I digress. These young men’s faith and Helaman’s boldness as a commander lead to miraculous results as they defended Nephite lands. It’s a powerful lesson on faithful actions in the face of overwhelming odds. They weren’t crazy, but they did take some pretty big risks. And because of the protection earned for them by their fathers’ righteous sacrifices, they became the Nephite’s “secret weapon” which turned the tide of the war in that part of the land. You can't make this up: boys turning the tide of a war? Yet it and a myriad of other stories are there for the taking. A feast of lessons on faith, just waiting to be had.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Alma 49-55 - The War Years of Moroni

Most of the rest of the Book of Alma deals with a series of wars between the Lamanites and the Nephites. These aren’t the only wars between the two peoples. In fact, their history is filled with them. So why did Mormon spend so much time on these wars if he wanted to deal with war and its effect on a society? He was involved in a lot of wars himself so he could have spoken with greater effect had he used his own stories. So, again, why?

I think it’s because they are more like us than any other culture in the Book of Mormon. They had “elected” judges and we have democratically elected politicians. They had a society where religion and politics were separated some what, while ours is much more so. Their biggest down falling was pride, so is ours. In their day, the religious were in the minority as it is today. The threats to their religious liberty and lifestyle were closest to the ones we face. And so he wrote about their wars for our benefit.

I also think this section of the book has more to say about our role as religious citizens of a country than any other in the Book of Mormon. We read about the terrible threat of internal dissension. The invading Lamanites weren’t as dangerous as were the Kingmen and Amalikiah or his brother Ammoron. They were such a great risk, Moroni gets special dispensation from the people to take draconian steps to crush the dissent. (Support us or die!) It was blunt and brutal and effective. It gives a clear lesson that the greatest enemies are the ones from within.

It also talks about keeping covenants in the face of great adversity. The Ammonites were about to renounce their covenant of peace to help the Nephites fight. It took a lot of persuading by Helaman and others to get them to change their minds. But it also led to the advent of the stripling warriors. These two thousand young men became the lynchpin of the Nephite defenses on a different front. I’ll write about them in more detail later.

The bottom line is, this is what God thinks your involvement in civic affairs and politics should be. He covers the spectrum from civic involvement all the way to direct combat with enemy forces.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Alma 47-48 - The difference one person can make

If you ever wondered what difference one person can make, this section in the Alma should convince you that one person can make a BIG one! On one hand you have Amalikiah who’s ambition and lust for power was insatiable. He was Machiavellian in that whatever moved him closer to his goal, regardless of the cost on other people, was acceptable. Murder, betrayal, fraud were all on the table. In contrast, you have Moroni who lead by example, personified sacrifice, hard work and always making the harder right choice.

It’s worth pointing out, they both needed help of other people. One of the greatest differences between them is how they inspired other people. Amalikiah appealed to people’s sense of justice, their self interests and their patriotism. Moroni appealed to the same, including religious duty, but unlike Amalikiah, he told the truth.

To discern between the two is the challenge. I pity the Lamanites to a degree because they were deceived and went to war under false pretenses. They gave their lives for a lie.

So, how do you tell the two apart? We are faced with similar dilemmas in our day. We have many voices appealing to our self-interest, patriotism and sense of justice. Which is the safe way forward through all these competing messages? Ultimately, it comes down to the basics it always does: prayer, talking to God. Scripture study and pondering, where we listen to Him and by serving others, which gets us more in tune with God’s spirit.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Alma 45-46 - A Nation at the Crossroads -- Amalikiah and the Title of Liberty

interesting that when a really bad guy shows up, God provides a good guy to counter him. Things get interesting when the people then choose which guy they want to follow. In our own history we had Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (apologies to all who liked Carter). More recently we had Obama and Romney. In the current election cycle we have Trump, Cruz, Sanders and Clinton. The Nephites had Amalikiah and Captain Moroni.

It was events like this which prove the prescient warnings Mosiah II gave when he set up judges. He warned when the voice of the people chose evil over good, the judgements of God would begin to be poured out upon them. In my life, I’ve seen the warning validated by events. In 1980, America chose Reagan. Most of you may be to young to remember, but I remember the boom years of the ’80’s and 90’s brought on by “Reaganomics.” I also remember America’s unquestioned world leadership at the time.

Now, we have a nation morally adrift and an economy and presence in the world which is not much more than a shadow of what it was. While we can blame Obama, it was the voice of the American people who chose him over Romney. We made that choice. Now we’ve chosen Trump and Hillary over Cruz. Is there any question the coming four to eight years will be more of the same? (Yeah, it’s kind of a sour pickle day for me.)

We can see from this passage in the Book of Mormon what happens when the voice of the people make the hard right choice over the easy one. They made the right call supporting Captain Moroni’s Title of Liberty. While Amalikiah’s avarice and ambition lead to a war. Mormon observes these people were the happiest in all Nephite history up to the time after the Savior appeared to them.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mosiah 7 - A Look back at Ammon, a Nephite Warrior

Our Gospel Doctrine class yesterday taught out of Mosiah 7-11. I was so fascinated by Ammon, head of the Nephite expedition to find out what happened to the People of Zeniff, I wanted to make a short mention of him here.

Ammon is a descendant of Zarahemla, in other words, he’s not a Nephite by lineal descent, only by assimilation. Add to that, Mormon refers to him as a “strong and mighty man.” If Hebrew is the language being spoken here, then this is an idiom. Its meaning: “a great warrior.” When I think of great warriors in our society, I immediately think of a Navy SEAL kind of person. When you think about what they were called upon to do, it should be evident why such men were chosen for the mission. I doubt they were civilians but in a real sense, trained military professionals given a mission by the King.

Consider the context of the time. They weren’t just going on an expedition to find someone, though they were. They were doing so by going into a foreign, hostile, nation. While the conflict wasn’t immediate and on going — they weren’t in what we’d call today a “shooting war.” Capture still meant at least imprisonment and possible death. Imagine sending a SEAL team deep into ISIS controlled lands to see if the residents of a city are still alive and extract them if necessary. Added to the complexity of the mission is the fact they are going without logistical support and without any certain idea of where to go. This is a recon mission into hostile territory where they must live off the land — all without being seen.

It makes Ammon’s lineage all that more interesting. Why of all people was he sent? What interest did an assimilated Nephite have in a bunch of Nephites who left his country probably before he was ever born? I don’t know, but he did. And so he went. He’s one of the people from the Book of Mormon I think I’d like to talk to some day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Alma 43-44 - Captain Moroni

Excluding the Savior, if the number of pages dedicated to a person is a sign, then after Alma the Younger, the most important figure in Mormon’s abridgment of the Nephite record is Captain Moroni. This observation is strengthened by the fact that of all the prophets available to him, Mormon chose this man’s name for his own son. Moroni. The angel which adorns the cover of this book was named after a famous Nephite general!

As you read later in the narrative, Mormon gushes in admiration for him. So, it’s with great interest we meet this 25-year old who’s given command of all the Nephite armies. Given the structure of the Nephite culture, Moroni is of aristocratic birth, yet he’s not your typical aristocrat.

Think for a minute just upon Moroni’s actions in this part of the book. Though he’s general of the Nephite armies, he’s humble enough to ask Alma for divine help in knowing where his enemies plan to attack. To see how extraordinary this is, imagine a general today asking President Monson, what our enemies are going to do next. Imagine a general who is merciful to an army that has shown no mercy. Yet that’s what he did.

At the same time, he has a temper and it gets the better part of him. I’ve always thought it was a nice touch to show some of his humanity. It’s on much clearer display later on.

Moroni has alway been my personal hero in the Book of Mormon. He exemplified the type of military man I aspired to be: courageous, yet humble before God. A brilliant strategist, yet also willing to learn from others. It’s my opinion that many of the innovations he uses he learned from the Jaredite record. We see that in this passage in how he armed and protected his soldiers. Moroni’s army didn’t consist of mobile light infantry, but armored heavy infantry.

And he uses them to great effect. Sun Tzu would have admired how he maneuvers Zerahemna into  fighting him while crossing a river. You can’t exactly move fast and avoid things being thrown at you while you’re knee deep in water. Because of these actions, choices, and fervent prayers for help, Moroni’s smaller army defeats the larger Lamanite one.

Mormon makes an observation of about war which to me shows this is not some fanciful portrayal of a conflict. Instead Mormon labels war what it is: the work of death. We read about the see-saw of battle as first the Nephites then the Lamanites have the advantage. We read of the prayers and the courageous stand and the ultimate victory by the Nephites. Then there's Moroni’s graciousness in sparing the lives of the Lamanites. We also read the onerous task of dealing with the dead. While it was a great victory for the Nephites, we also see its cost.

It’s something to think about.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Alma 39-42 - A Letter to Corianton

We are the beneficiaries of Alma’s great love for his son Corianton. While the doctrines he teaches his son are important for us to know. How he treats his son, is of no lesser value. By today’s standards, if Corianton had been a missionary for the church, he would’ve been sent home for what he did. Who of us have had children who’ve done things that have broken our hearts? I think it’s for these people that we have this letter Corianton.

As such, this letter is a template which people can use to deal with children who’ve broken commandments with grievous consequences. What do we see? Alma matter of factly states what he’s seen and the consequences of his son’s actions. He warns him of the end of the path his son is on, but there are no bromides or other incendiary comments.

Then following the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost, he answers his son’s questions. He lets the interests and anxieties of his son lead the conversation if you will. Always, love comes through Alma’s words. I can’t help but think he was close enough to his son he could have such a conversation. He also studied the scriptures, prayed, fasted and pondered so he could answer those questions.

Such is the example for us. As I see it, the lesson is: build a close relationship and maintain it so when called upon by need, your child knows you love them as you speak to them. Let their questions and concerns guide what you say. And most important, be a good enough disciple yourself the Holy Ghost can draw on what you’ve studied and learned in the past to answer the questions.