Category: december

Partaking of the Fruit of the Tree

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s: “I looked and beheld a tree . . . and the bbeauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the cwhiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” It had never struck me before how much meaning the Book of Mormon adds to our celebration of the Christmas tree. Scripture is rife with references to the Tree of Life, and the notion of everlasting life certainly accords well with what I was taught as a child: that the evergreen Christmas tree was a symbol of the eternal life brought to us by Christ. But Nephi’s education about the interpretation of the tree in 1 Nephi 11 is more specific. In answer to his query about the meaning of…

Quotes of Note- McKay on Running the Church

“Men must learn that in presiding over the Church we are dealing with human hearts, that individual rights are sacred, and the human soul is tender. We cannot run the Church like a business.”-David O. McKay Diaries, May 17, 1962, as quoted in “David O. McKay and the Twin Sisters’: Free Agency and Tolerance” by Gregory Prince, Dialogue 33:4 (Winter 2000):13. I read this as saying, we need to be sensitive to other people; we cannot make hard decisions and simply say, “this is business, not personal” as if real people were not involved. I wish we had more context for the statement by McKay.

Quotes of Note: Elder Hafen on Independence

Quotes of Note will be a recurring series of lesser-known General Authority statements of interest, as conversation starters. I’m starting with a favorite. “We need to develop the capacity to form judgments of our own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives. We won’t always have the security of knowing whether a certain idea is “Church approved,” because new ideas don’t always come along with little tags attached to them saying whether they have been reviewed at Church headquarters. Whether in the form of music, books, friends, or opportunities to serve, there is much that is lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy that is not the subject of detailed discussion in Church manuals or courses of instruction. Those who will not risk exposure to experiences that are not obviously related to some Church word or program will, I believe, live less abundant and meaningful lives than the Lord intends. We must develop sufficient independence of judgment and maturity of perspective that we are prepared to handle the shafts and whirlwinds of adversity and contradiction that may come to us. When those times come, we cannot be living on borrowed light. We should not be deceived by the clear-cut labels others may use to describe circumstances that are, in fact, not so clear. Our encounters with reality and disappointment are, actually, vital stages in the development of our maturity and understanding.” Elder Bruce Hafen,…

Beyond Translation: Job and Isaiah at Ugarit? Part 2

In Part 1, I promised some Biblical examples of where translation alone fails to convey all the meaning an Israelite would have grasped. I’ve broken these examples into three fuzzy categories. 1) Israel is often described in the Torah as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” We probably all have milk and honey in our kitchen, yet not quite what is described here. In the Old Testament, milk doesn’t usually come from cows, and honey doesn’t come from bees. Cattle were primarily used for beef, while milk came primarily from goats, only rarely from cattle. Israelites didn’t raise bees, so honey was likely difficult to acquire. “Honey” was a boiled-down thick sweet syrup, usually made from dates or  some other fruit, though on rare occasion “honey” does seem to clearly indicate bee-honey. Israel, we might say then, was “a land oozing with chèvre and fruit-honey.” 2) Several times in Genesis 1, curious circumlocutions appear. There’s no mention of the sun or moon, but “greater light” and “lesser light.” Even though the account culminates in the seventh day, the Sabbath, there’s no mention of “sabbath.” And lastly, though we have the world bifurcated into water and dry land, the seas are mysteriously plural. All of these are explainable via polemical context. First, both the sun (shemesh) and moon (yareach) were also the names of those deities outside Israel, just as Ra designated both sun and sun-god in Egypt. We can…

Helpless as a Baby

This is the time of year for Christmas devotions. This year my thoughts have been on the impulse to serve the needy that we have at Christmas. We don’t have it at Easter. My thoughts have also been on the Christ child. The religious significance of the grown Christ, on the cross and in the garden, is obvious. But what did Christ do for us as a bare baby?

December and Magic

December, like childhood, is an opportunity for us to experience an enchanted world, and regain some of the understanding we too quickly lose – and often anxiously jettison – after childhood.

Christmas with Autism

In April of 2008, our son Samuel was diagnosed with autism . . . But in this Christmas week, I wanted to share some specific experiences that we have had with our special needs child, first the challenges that the holiday posed and then the wonderful blessings that we have experienced together as a family. . . . As we celebrate the birth of our Lord together, the spirit is not only filling my home, it is reaching my precious son in ways that I pray will make an indelible mark on his memory and soul.

Unsung: By prophet bards foretold

The text “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” written by Unitarian minister Edward Sears, included haunting verses about war and social inequity. Nowadays, there are several versions of the hymn, as different denominations (including the LDS church) have altered the words in one form or other. The original words remain well worth reading (and singing) this Christmas season:

December: Preparing for the Annual Sunday School Curriculum Reboot

In the Church, December means different things to different people. If you’re three, you will soon be exiled from that zone of energetic irreverence known as Nursery to your first real class, Sunbeams. If you’re a bishop, holiday cheer is tempered by the month-long grind of tithing settlement. But one change we all look forward to every year is the annual Sunday School curriculum reboot. The anticipation is palpable. Yes, even this year, with the Old Testament waiting in the wings. Any course of study gets old after twelve months. Universities run on quick 10-week quarters or endless 16-week semesters. Gospel Doctrine is like a 52-week BYU religion class. We’re ready for a change. December is your month to prepare. And prepare you must. The LDS Bible offers an archaic English translation based on scholarship and original manuscripts five centuries behind the times. Moreover, the narrative is cut up into little snippets (enumerated verses), poetry and prose are made indistinguishable, and chapter headings and footnotes often do their best to Mormonize the text rather than bring the reader into the world of the Old Testament. To get what you deserve from your personal study and Sunday School attendance, you need a supplement or two. If you’re on a tight budget, you can put the titles on your Christmas wish list. If you’re devious, you can kill two birds with one stone by just buying the book you want as a…

I’m Sick and Tired of December

I’m not Scrooge and I’m not the Grinch, either—but December is enough to make me feel like one of those guys. It’s only December 6, and I’m feeling sick and tired of this month. Could we schedule anything else? Seriously. I cut back on parties and try to simplify, just like nice mommy articles suggest. I do. I make or buy four carefully chosen presents per child in pre-set categories, so I don’t overspend. I refuse every invitation I can. But what else are we going to cut? The first grade Gingerbread Man play, the Christmas piano recital, or the December Dance Showcase? The Christmas Cruise or the Living Nativity? The ward Christmas party that we’re helping with or the employees’ Christmas party (not that—I got to meet Ben Huff’s parents!)? I admit that I set myself up for failure years ago by starting traditions like decorating the Monday after Thanksgiving without fail and cooking a specific Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas day morning breakfast, and Christmas day luncheon. What am I going to do—disappoint everyone by serving cold cereal and leftovers? Refusing to put up decorations this year like I threatened to do? Every year my dreams of sitting cozily by the Christmas tree and reading cute stories flitter away just like the glitter dust we throw at the city’s “Lights On” Ceremony. I am tired of decorations. There is too much clutter and mess, and I resent the time…