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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Repairing Santa

    Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I am a notorious non-decorator at Christmas time. Almost all the neighbors around me put up respectable house decorations each year. I, however, usually contribute nothing to the outdoor Christmas-themed decor; it’s just not my thing. I keep promising myself to at least find a decent holiday wreath for the front door, but the Christmases come and go and still no wreathe. Until this year, that is. 

    I found a couple of small Santa Claus wreathes at a clearance sale last year, along with the usual gift-wrapping supplies I pick up. So when I found the wreathes again last week, I realized, “HEY! I can put one of these on the front door!” My neighbors will finally believe that I’m not a total Scrooge when it comes to celebrating the Christmas holidays.”  My reputation was saved!

    Last night, however, I opened my front door to a disturbing sight. Lying at the threshold were two tiny arms and an assortment of tiny pine cones. Even that ball of fluff thingy from the end of Santa’s cap was lying among the carnage. “Oh, no!” I gasped. “A wild critter has attacked my Santa Claus wreathe!”  I thought about that scenario for a minute, and realized that a marauding raccoon or a squirrel was probably not the reason my wreathe-Santa was now armless. I have a glass storm door in place, so the wreathe had plenty of protection from wildlife. Not from the sun, however.  The exposure of my house assures plenty of afternoon sun bearing down on the front door. Even in December, the door handle can heat up hot enough to force you to turn it gingerly. Apparently, it can also melt the glue holding on fabric Santa arms and decorative pine cones to a wreathe.

    I left the armless Santa wreathe on the door overnight, but brought him in this morning for repairs; he graced my door for two whole days.  Both Santa and my Scrooge reputation are in desperate need of a glue gun!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dear Sally - Where Do I Start...! (5 of 7)

 I have been corresponding with a Florida inmate who happens be a Mormon. I starting posting excerpts from my letters with "Dear Sally (Pt. 1)" and it has turned into a temporary obsession of sorts. If you need a bit of an education on Mormon belief, you might find these posts helpful.

Dear Sally:  
     I kept your remarks on the Mormonism article to follow up on. If we both were on the same page about what is the final authority - the Bible or the Book or Mormon - it would be easier to have a conversation. But we aren’t. I simply cannot accept that the BofM is more reliable than the Bible.  If the BofM it has any ring of truth to it, it is only because of what has been directly borrowed from the Bible. 

     There is no virtue in criticizing someone’s belief just for the sake of an argument. If you were raised in a Mormon family, it is only natural that you would have been brought up to believe in the teachings of Joseph Smith.  They are, to Mormons at least, “true doctrine.” I also see that a doctrinal debate between two persons of opposing viewpoints is usually pretty futile. That’s because although our “lingo” is very similar (Mormons even call themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS), Christian and Mormon doctrines don’t agree AT ALL on who God is and consequently who Jesus Christ is, for that matter. I do acknowledge, however, that there are many Mormons who sincerely love Jesus Christ. It is tragic to me how badly Joseph Smith has muddied the waters for his followers who truly want to serve the Lord.

     I am doing some reading on and and the more I read the more incredulous I become. Joseph Smith claims to have restored the true faith. Yet even a limited examination of his teaching when compared to the Bible reveals not a restored faith, but an entirely new belief system based on a heavy amount of proof-texting from the Bible and his own very fertile imagination.  

    His “plan of salvation” begins with a belief in a pre-mortal existence, that “Heavenly Father” (referred to by me as Mormon-God) had spirit-children with a god-mother, and that everyone’s life began in heaven with God. Mormon-God, that is. Then Mormon-God thinks to himself, “Hmmm...these spirit-kids of mine are not making any spiritual progress up here at all in heaven with me. What they need is some experience. I know! I’ll give ‘em all bodies, starting with Adam and Eve, and I’ll even erase the memories of their pre-mortal lives.  By the time they get through living an earthly life, they’ll have had enough experience with sin, suffering, heartache, and death to really improve a lot!” The following actually appears at

“If they hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit, they would have lived like that forever and never had children. Mankind never would have been born or the world populated.”

Apparently, Eve’s good looks and God’s instruction to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-28) wasn’t nearly enough. Succumbing to temptation and sin was also a requirement, according to Joseph Smith. goes on about Adam and Eve:

“They became mortal—just as we are—subject to sin, disease, all types of suffering, and ultimately death. But it wasn’t all bad because they could now feel great joy. ‘Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.’ (2 Nephi 2:25)”

Wow. What a plan - Adam and Eve fell so I could have joy! Zippity doo DAH! There is so much wrong here, I don't know where to start.

To be continued...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Oh, Them Golden Plates!

I've been corresponding with a prison inmate who happens to be a Mormon. So I've spent time investigating some of the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Some of my findings turn into blog posts, and here's the latest one.

    Anyone considering the claims of Mormonism needs to take a careful look at the account of the gold plates that were supposedly translated into the Book of Mormon. This book is the founding document on which the entire religion rests. Mormons believe the BofM and their other principle books of doctrine to be more reliable than the Bible.

    Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, purported to have a number of visions in his youth that ultimately led to the formation of his new religion. One of them concerned the discovery of gold plates on the Hill Cumorah (near Palmyra, NY) that when translated contained the Book of Mormon. Here is his account, in part, of that vision:

“While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than noonday, when immediately a Personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor."

"He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness..."

"He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do..."

 "He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent...”

    According to Smith, he was not permitted to dig up the gold plates immediately. He claimed to have received other messages over the next three years from this same “personage,” including instructions about the treasure he would find buried, and also about the woman he would marry.  Smith, who was from western New York, dated Emma Hale of Pennsylvania against her father’s wishes.   After returning to New York in the fall of 1826, he again visited the Hill Cumorah (known locally now as Mormon Hill) and was told he could go ahead and dig up the gold plates, as long as he “brot with him the right person.” That turned out to be Emma Hale, of course. So back to Pennsylvania he went, where he proposed to Emma. They promptly eloped without the consent of her parents. Smith would have been 21 years old at the time of that “revelation.”

    Back in New York, the Smiths proceeded to dig up the plates one night in the early autumn of 1827. One night, as in “the better to fool you, my dear,” in my opinion. Amazingly, Joseph also dug up a special pair of eye glasses by which he was able to read the inscriptions on the plates. He called these eye glasses the Urim and Thummim, which should not be confused with the biblical Urim and Thummim. (See Exodus 28:30) 

    Biographers report that a great deal of the Smith’s early marriage revolved around getting the plates translated. Even with the special glasses and then later a small divining stone, the work of translation was a tedious affair. Smith was a poor writer, so Emma often sat for hours writing the messages Joseph dictated to her “with his face buried in his hat, which had the stone in it.”  Who performs serious translation work with their face covered by a hat, for Pete’s sake? I think he buried his face in it to to hide how hard he was laughing to himself over the con job he was pulling off!  Fawn Brodie writes, “Perhaps in the beginning Joseph never intended his stories of the golden plates to be taken so seriously, but once the masquerade had begun, there was no point at which he could call a halt. Since his own family believed him (with the possible exception of his cynical younger brother William), why should not the whole world?” (Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 40).

    Although Emma was with her husband the night he dug up the gold plates (or whatever he previously buried in secret) Emma would relate that she never actually laid eyes on them. Even after they were brought back to their home she “never felt at liberty to look at them.” Really? What normal woman is not going to at least take a peak at a mysterious set of gold plates stored in her home? That just doesn’t seem likely, to me. Not only that, these plates were treated rather casually by Joseph Smith in light of their supernatural origin. According to Emma, “they lay in a box under our bed for months” and sometimes were kept on a living room table “wrapped in a small linen table cloth,” which she had to move each time she dusted the table. Try and imagine Moses’ wife moving the Ten Commandments around so she can straighten up the tent, and you see the absurdity here!

    Joseph even lent his only copy of the initial translation to a friend and benefactor, Martin Harris, who proceeded to lose it. So poor ol’ Joseph had to start his translation all over again, only this time the angel Moroni explained “he was not to re-translate the same material but use a second account to avoid being trapped by inconsistencies.”  Right. This is clearly how Joseph Smith covered his backside about coming up with a different version of his translation, since he probably couldn’t remember what he fabricated the first time around.

    Predictably, Joseph Smith’s closest associates (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, aka the Three Witnesses) began to press him for the privilege of actually seeing the fabulous gold plates for themselves.  What’s a false prophet to do? Smith actually needed confirming witnesses to corroborate his story, so he conveniently received a new revelation for them:

 “You shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them, for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith.”

Needless to say, Smith never showed them any plates.  The testimony of the Three Witnesses became that while they were “in the woods,” the usual location for early Mormon visions, the plates were shown to them “by the power of God and not of man.” Also that “an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon.”   (This is rather like the spiel given to adventurers who travel to Ethiopia in hopes of seeing the Ark of the Covenant. They pay their money only to be told by its custodians, “if you’re suppose to see it,  you’ll see it.”)  I can imagine what probably went through the minds of these three men. They were all told by their prophet buddy that God was about to privilege them with a supernatural vision of the plates and they were expected to testify to it. Who among them was ever going to admit to the others, “I don’t see a dang thing!” A certain fairy tale comes to mind. Altogether now:  “The Emperor has no clothes!”

     So whatever became of these famous gold plates? Surely something so important to “the restored Gospel” would be safely secured as proof to Joseph Smith’s critics. Not surprisingly, they are nowhere to be found. The official Mormon position is that some time after the Three Witnesses claimed to have also seen them, Joseph Smith returned the plates to the custody of the angel Baloney... uh, Moroni. 

     The ruse is pretty obvious. Joseph Smith's gold plates only existed in his very fertile imagination. 

Source: Another Gospel, © 1989 Ruth A. Tucker, Academie Books (Zondervan).

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Post-Iron Bowl Worship Service

     Leading worship was a tough assignment for me last Sunday. In addition to the early service which I normally lead, I also had the main service. Our pastor and staff worship leader left town for the holidays and only “the remnant” remained to carry on. Leading the second service is, for me, a lot like being a substitute teacher - it has it challenges. This week had more challenges than usual, however.  Not only was it the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day - that American holiday typically given to eating way too much of everything in sight - it was also the day after the state’s much anticipated annual Iron Bowl. The Iron Bowl, in case you don’t know, is the name given to one of the best and longest rivalries in college football between the University of Alabama and my alma mater, Auburn University.

    Unless you’re living in another galaxy, you’ve probably heard by now about the Auburn Tigers’ astonishing 34-28 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in what was truly one of most amazing finishes to a football game every witnessed.  I estimate that the last play of that nail-biter has been re-broadcast on some type of media about a gazillion times since Saturday night.  Auburn’s Chris Davis returned Alabama’s missed field goal attempt for 109 yards to win the game in literally the last second. 

Watch here: Auburn's Chris Davis returns 109 yards for the win

Thus the 2013 Iron Bowl has been duly chronicled in Auburn football history as one of the greatest moments ever for Auburn fans everywhere. War Eagle! But it also goes down as one of the toughest losses ever for Alabama fans, and in a state that practically worships at the altar of college football, what happens on a Saturday in late November can put a real damper on Sunday’s worship service.

    “Awww, Christians don’t let footballs games affect their praise, do they?” The heck they don’t! And the more emotional investment we put in the game’s outcome, the more difference it seems to make.  I observed this phenomena first-hand some years ago as a worship leader for a campus ministry based at the University of Michigan. On the Sundays following a win for the Wolverines, the praise arose easily and enthusiastically. Our congregation, which consisted mostly of college students and young professionals, needed little exhortation to “make a joyful noise.”  The Sunday after a loss, however, was another story.  Our folks had worn themselves out whooping and hollering for the maize and blue, and the “agony of defeat” had exhausted their energy. They just didn’t have much “oomph” left the next day for their sacrifice of praise.

    I don’t fault anyone for this tendency, by the way. We Christian sports lovers are, after all, just as human as any other fans.  We all tend to crash and burn emotionally in the aftermath of a defeat or loss of any kind, and especially if we’re immature spiritually and/or emotionally.  As we grow in Christ, we learn how to separate our emotional ups and downs from our service of worship more readily.  As a worship leader I’ve had to learn to recognize where people are as a congregation, emotionally speaking. Hopefully I have the wisdom these days to help people stir themselves spiritually but not to “pump the praise” beyond authenticity.  You simply can’t take people where they don’t want to go. So sometimes you exhort and and other times you abort, because if it ain’t flowing, it just ain’t flowing!

    So what happened in our local house of worship last Sunday?  Mostly we worshiped genuinely, I think, though there did seem to be that “too much food and football” cloud hovering about. I’m sure it helped that I didn’t wear orange and blue, nor open the service with “Well, praise the Lord and War Eagle! In fact, I didn’t say a word about Auburn’s win, because you never know who is going to take offense at even good-natured kidding over an Iron Bowl loss in these here parts!
     It’s probably a good thing our pastor is from Ohio.