Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Personal

"The goal here is for people to understand that any institution, any collection of people, is really just a manifestation of the beliefs of its members."
--Scott Swofford, director of media in the LDS Church's Missionary Department

The Church published this on their blog after the release of 4.0. The point of the new site is to facilitate, "...more effective person-to-person connection modeled after unique qualities found in face-to-face communication." We send over 51,000 missionaries out to all countries of the world, attempting to teach people this message through face to face communication. Indeed, Christ himself went among the people, teaching His sermons, appointing his disciples to go and do the same. It seem the key form to liberating this gospel out of obscurity, the key to spreading the church, is person to person communication, is personal, is the individual.

I commented in my earlier posts that the Book of Mormon, a key to conversion, is a personal account of the happenings on the American continent. Here's my thought process:
  • The Church's strongest tool for conversion is the "personal" what.
  • Through launching 4.0, the Church has utilized the resources available through the internet to put a personal face on the what.
  • While this has increased the viewings of the website ("Visitors to have nearly tripled over the past year to 650,000 per month, thanks to promotional efforts and a growing public interest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" -- LDS Newsroom), we as members of the LDS church can take it a step further. We can further liberate the messages of the gospel from the stigma of "Mormon" or self-marketing by creating our own forums where we share our thoughts about our religion.
What is more liberating than the breadth and depth one gets through reading others' interpretations? The reason literature exists at all is because personal interpretations differ. There is no one reality to which we all subscribe, for each person's understanding of existence makes for as many realities as there are people to create them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Finding My Angle

"Its appeal is as timeless as truth, as universal as mankind. It is the only book that contains within its covers a promise that by divine power the reader may know with certainty of its truth."
Gordon Hinckley
"The Power of the Book of Mormon"

There has been some confusion as to what my angle is here. When I contend for a "liberating form" of the Book of Mormon, am I suggesting a new, revamped, digital version or am I pushing for a more personal version of the book? Honestly, I'm not 100% sure. There are elements of both within my argument. But if asked which I see taking the book further, I would say I'm not pushing digital versions as much as personal versions through the digital. Confused? Don't worry, me too!

My Idea
The Book of Mormon is a personal account of the histories of a people. These people had scripture (1 Nephi 4), and read/comment on that scripture. Those commentaries have become our scripture. This idea of personal knowledge, personal interpretation, being scripture is amazing. When the Book of Mormon is read as only an impersonal document, it is a stale unchanging record. However, we see all the time, people read themselves into different accounts and suddenly the book is brought to life! Nephi recognized this when he commented:

And I did read many things unto [my brethren] which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scripture unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning. -- 1 Nephi 19:23

Indeed, Nephi clearly states that his purpose in writing on the plates, " that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, and be saved." 1 Nephi 6:4

Nephi didn't say he only wanted to bring people of his day to God, but said he wanted to persuade men, all men, to come unto God. Suddenly there is personal application and we see the book's relevance to Christianity not just 1,400 years ago, but today!

The New Epistemological Crisis
--How do I know what I think I know? Read my blog?
It's like during the Renaissance, with the emergence of the printing press, suddenly people began to have their own copies of the Bible and questioned the church's authoritative voice on scripture. The Bible was suddenly open for interpretation, for the general public to make personal, and it was everywhere. I believe the way to liberate this book out of a form which makes it seem objective and impersonal, is to publish personal commentary on the book and use social networking devices (Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, etc.) to publish that commentary. This is the way to bring the book to all the earth, one person/personal blog post/Facebook update at a time.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Evaluating What's Out There

As I have been getting some feedback and consulted with some people who are more current in this field than me (shout out to Prof. Burton!), I realized this idea I have is not incredibly original. It has been argued and pushed before. The idea of Mormon blogs is nothing new to the internet. The website, my personal internet demi-god, has a whole page on LDS blogs and a simple Google search reveals these "Mormon Blogs."

However, I would also contend that these blogs are not doing the job they set out to do. I would consider my internet knowledge that of your average reader's. I had no idea these blogs existed until I began doing some research. Fair enough, they're not hard to find. But they do seem to be grouped under the category of "Mormon Blog" which really does not promote the everyday image I believe we need to get The Book of Mormon everywhere. Granted, when your average Mormon is blogging about the Book of Mormon, this does present a bias. But when you write personal feelings, human responses, when the writer is not contending why Gadianton really isn't to blame for the Gadianton Robbers (come on, really?), but rather commenting on how their religion is their life, not just a day of the week, that is when the bias leaves and the "human" emerges. We want to remove the stigma that labels The Book of Mormon as only a "Mormon" book and show it as one more work of scripture which furthers christinaity.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Putting the Money Where the Mouth Is

Ok friends, I have put my money where my mouth is and started a "scripture blog":

The first post is a bit explanatory, and in subsequent posts I will begin writing on what I learned through my scripture study.

This brings up a question I've been wrestling with. I am trying to avoid stigma. Obviously I will have some stigma, as I am discussing the Book of Mormon and am a Mormon myself. However, would it be better to have the blog be a personal blog, and insert a few posts per week with a more spiritual vein, or is it ok to have a blog which specifically discusses what I learned in reading the scriptures that day? What are your thoughts? Would one be better than the other, or is it 6 of one and a half-dozen of another?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Book of Mormon 2.0 Take 2

After I got some feedback, I have specified my idea a bit more as to what I'm actually proposing. The idea is far from complete. I have been posting my process of thinking, not my product. This is just another step towards narrowing and focusing my idea!

The Book of Mormon 2.0

Each form of the Book of Mormon has met the needs of the society it was written in. From the laboriously carved golden plates of Mormon’s time, to the digital editions online today, each form has slowly made this book accessible to more people worldwide and liberated the messages within through the medium of presentation. New print editions, like The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition, have brought back the original narrative form as well as highlighted the literary aspects of the book, creating a form which presents this book as both a spiritual document and literary work. It has been represented multiple ways in print, why not online? It is my contention that the form of the Book of Mormon can be pushed further, modified from thin pages to digital web pages, from impersonal commentary to personal experience, from a stigmatized scripture read only by Mormons, to a literary and spiritual book which furthers Christianity.

The LDS Church has digitized the Book of Mormon and has attempted to put everyday faces on the church with the new website. However, these sites come with a stigma of biased representation. Readers might question the validity of the Church’s self-marketing. Even associations (such as the AML) or discussion forums (such as the bloggernacle) which discuss the Book of Mormon are obviously associated with a bias and cater to a fairly narrow audience. These forms of presenting the Book of Mormon are specific, not a part of everyday internet reading. Personal blogs, on the other hand, have become a part of daily internet reading and reach a broad audience. Personal forums must be created where we personalize the messages within the Book of Mormon; forums where discussion can occur; forums where we peak society's interest and help all types of people confront and take charge of their personal salvation.

As the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring others to Christ, Ezra Taft Benson proposed that the Book of Mormon needed to "flood the earth." However, he put the responsibility not on the church, but on its members. Personal narrative converts. Just as the Book of Mormon, a personal account of history by prophets of old, has been a tool in converting millions of people worldwide to the gospel, the way to bring others to the book, is to bring that personal narrative back into the book. Personal testimony, experiences and beliefs all based upon scripture fill our general conferences, sacrament meetings, firesides, Sunday school lessons, etc. If that is what the leaders of the church use to teach the messages within the Book of Mormon, then I believe when every member writes their personal narrative, or experiences with the Book of Mormon, using social networking tools such as Facebook, twitter, and even, linking the blog to a person, to share that work, the endless personal experiences will be the liberating form or medium through which the Book of Mormon will flood the world.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Book of Mormon 2.0

As I have been discussing the emergence of the Book of Mormon, my point has not been to simply present research on a subject which seems unimportant in light of the actual goals of the book. As I have discussed The Book of Mormon's emergence and how it has slowly been flooding the earth, I plan to propose what I believe to be the best way this book can be accessible to all the earth.

Welcome to Book of Mormon 2.0
It has been the vision of past and present-day leaders of the LDS church to, "...flood the earth with the Book of Mormon" (Benson). In this technology-driven 21st century, the way to bring the Book of Mormon to all corners of the earth is to digitize it. However, it is not enough to only have the Book of Mormon available. Society must be informed of its presence. It is my contention that the internet, blogs particularly, is the medium through which the Book of Mormon will flood the earth. It is not enough to have a link where one can order a printed copy of the Book of Mormon. Forums must be created where we personalize the messages within the Book of Mormon; forums where discussion can occur; forums where we peak society's interest and help all types of people confront and take charge of their personal salvation.

That, my friends, is my mission with this project. How will such a feat be accomplished? In m
y next posts I will discuss how a personal blog can become one of the greatest missionary tools available.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Personal Narrative

I have a vision of artists putting into film, drama, literature, music, and paintings great themes and great characters from the Book of Mormon.
-Ezra Benson
It's no secret that the general public is more inclined to read a blog post than sit down with a book of scripture. Ezra Benson, a past leader of the LDS church, envisioned members recreating this book to further its reach within the world. Now understand, I do not mean to suggest we are to re-translate/rewrite the Book of Mormon. In my previous post, I suggested that personal commentary on the book, real-life responses, stories depicting the power of the words within the book, that will bring this book to all nations everywhere.
I posted about the ways the text of the Book of Mormon has been changed, and how each change has freed the accessibility a bit more. Take that same passage (1 Nephi 2:19) and see how the personal voice changes the message from, "This is the word of God preaching to you" (which leaves little room for discussion, because honestly, who's going to fight with God?!) to, "This is Becca Hay, down the street telling you my thoughts" (which opens the door for questions and comments):
Personal Voice
As I was studying my scriptures this morning I read 1 Nephi 2:19-22. I had a few thoughts. First, the Lord called Nephi, "Nephi," indicating He knows him by name. Isn't that amazing? Out of all the billions of people who pray to God, He knows each personally, by name. Also, these verses teach how one is to pray, for the Lord praises Nephi for seeking, " (the Lord) out diligently and with lowliness of heart." That seems to suggest that we might not always be answered the first time, the Lord may see how serious we are about finding and hearing Him, so we must be diligent. Slow and steady wins the race! To have lowliness of heart suggests an attitude of humility necessary to hear the Lord. Both the blessings the Lord promises Nephi (be led to a land of promise, be made ruler and teacher over thy brethren) are predicated upon Nephi's obedience to the Lord's commandments. I've learned that too, if you keep the commandments of the Lord, He blesses you.

In your opinion, do you believe this was a more effective presentation of the material? I don't mean was it more spiritual than just scripture, I'll be the first to say it's not. But could this possibly open the door for discussion and/or peak interest to reading even those few verses? What are your thoughts?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Liberating Form

Why would it be important to explore the emergence of the Book of Mormon? My intentions was not to bore my audience with seemingly meaningless stale dates and details. My intention was to set the stage for the following discussion of how to best represent this book to the world.

I believe that the current form of the Book of Mormon, though liberating in its ability for clear, concise communication, stifles audiences' ability to view this work as literature.

The Book of Mormon contains many types of writing including intricate Hebraic poetry, memorable narratives, rhetorically effective sermons, diverse letters, allegory, figurative language, imagery, symbolic types, and wisdom literature (Encyclopedia of Mormonism). When these literary feats are butchered and confined to verses, the average reader does not pick up on their presence.

Take for example, this passage in 1 Nephi 2:19:
Standard Version:
19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea a land which is choice above all other lands.
21 And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
22 And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.

1830's version:

And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying, Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart. And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea a land which is choice above all other lands. And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.

Notice how the "voice" of the Lord stays current through the entire passage. In the versified version, His voice seems to get lost with each progressing segment.

Modern Version
Notice how though the words stay the same, the form changes and thus changes the meaning of the words:
And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying:

Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith,
for thou hast sought me diligently,
with lowliness of heart.
And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments,
ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise;
yea, even a land which I have prepared for you;
yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee,
they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments,
thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.

This new way of viewing the work, bringing the literary overtly back into the text, gives more meaning the words. However, I believe, this can be taken one step further. Bringing the personal voice into this text, through people responding to the characters and lessons taught in the book, will answer President Kimball's challenge for our members to, "...effectively use it as a missionary tool, and let us know how it leads us to Christ and answers our personal problems and those of the world."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Emergence of the Book of Mormon: Current Editions

"I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."
Joseph Smith Jr.

So, yes, in my previous post exploring the editions of the BoM, I ragged a bit on the versification of the book. Being a literary scholar (can my undergradness claim such a title?!) I think the narrative was sacrificed for convenience's sake. But, I understand it and when people request a free copy of the BoM (if you don't have a copy you should get one!), they get the versified version. That's great! It's not the literary structure people are examining, it's the content and no matter the edition, the content is GREAT!

However, there are some current editions which I think are awesome!

The Apocryphile Press publishes a version of the BoM which resembles the first publication in the 1830's, before the versification.

My favorite version which I've found is entitled, "The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition" and, simply put... It. Rocks. This version is not versified and the editor of this book comments, "I have added quotation marks and paragraphing, inserted parentheses and semicolons...poetic passages...have been set into poetic form with clear line breaks and stanzas...this type of editing not only gives emphasis to the narrative, it also highilights the literary qualities and complex internal structure of the text" ("This Reader's Edition").

It edition allows the scholarly, or literary to manifest itself in this spiritual document. This, in my opinion, enhances the quality of the reading experience and allows for greater insight and understanding. Is it worth the $15? Yes, it totally is!

The Emergence of the Book of Mormon: Translation and Editions

"Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth…a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven."
-Oliver Cowdery

About 1,400 years after Moroni buried the golden plates, Joseph Smith uncovered them at the hill Cumora and on Sept. 22, 1827. After he retrieved the plates, he began the process of translation. Through the course of the translation Joseph used four different scribes who wrote as he translated aloud (Encyclopedia of Mormonism).

Royal Skousen, a leading scholar on the Book of Mormon, wrote an article entitled, "Book of Mormon Editions" in which he chronologically follows the emergence of the Book of Mormon.
  • 1830: 5,000 published in Palmyra, New York. Minor grammatical changes, no versification.
  • 1840: 2,000 editions published in Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith compared the printed text with the original manuscript and discovered a number of errors made in copying the printer's manuscript from the original. Thus the 1840 edition restores some of the readings of the original manuscript.
  • 1852: Editor Franklin Richards added numbers to the paragraphs to aid in finding passages.
  • 1879: Edited by Orson Pratt. Major changes in the format of the text included division of the long chapters in the original text, a true versification system (which has been followed in all subsequent LDS editions), and footnotes.
  • 1920: Edited by James E. Talmage. Further changes in format included introductory material, double columns, chapter summaries, and new footnotes.
  • 1981: Edited by a committee headed by members of the Quorum of the Twelve. This edition is a major reworking of the 1920 edition: The text appears again in double columns, but new introductory material, chapter summaries, and footnotes are provided.
Now, I understand this may seem a bit dry. The main reason I am so interested in this emergence is looking at the versification of the book. A picture of the original manuscripts show the even flow of the narrative Joseph translated. The book was meant to be read as just that, a book. That may sound strange, but having read the versified version my whole life, when I was able to read a facsimile of the 1830 edition my entire reading experience changed!

I read 1 Nep 2 as we read it today. Chopped up into verses. My mind went into "scripture mode" (similar to "sleep mode" J/K!) and I read. As I was reading it from a literary standpoint, I noticed how certain verses belonged in the same "paragraph" and where a natural end to a paragraph would be. Then came the 1830 facsimile of the Book of Mormon and boom-bam-baby, my reading experienced a complete 180! Reading it as a novel, I saw the story, more than the highlighted verse. There was flow. I read emotion into it, something lost to me in the chopped-up version published today.

Example: 1Nep 2:19-24. 6 verses in the current format, 1 paragraph in the 1830 edition. Type that section, then read it. The difference for me: The Lord's "voice" stays current through the entire passage. I "hear" Him speaking through the entire passage, something lost to me when I read it in chunks. The running text directly ascribes the dialogue to the Lord.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Emergence of the Book of Mormon: Origins

"The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible" ("Introduction").

I feel before I begin explaining the emergence of the Book of Mormon, it is important to understand a fundamental principle of the book.

The Book of Mormon is a record or history of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.
It begins with an account of how the first inhabitants of America got there. It tells how they crossed the seas and came from Jerusalem to the Americas (about 591 B.C.) and proceeds to give a history of those people on the American continent.

The Golden Plates
The actual text of the Book of Mormon is a compilation of four kinds of metal record plates (Explanation of the Book of Mormon):
  1. The Plates of Nephi
  2. The Plates of Mormon
  3. The Plates of Ether
  4. The Plates of Brass
It is called "The Book of Mormon" as one of the prophets within the book, Mormon, made an abridgment of these four plates onto one set of golden plates (ex. Think of a history research paper: many books'/documents' worth of information compiled/abridged into one research paper). The first account on the plates (The Book of 1st Nephi) dates back to about 600 B.C. The book continues on spanning until about 421 A.D. This idea of divinely inspired, ancient text spanning many generations is not so different from the idea of the Bible. Indeed, the two are comparable.

Each of the four plates which Mormon compiled into the golden plates, were written on by the hand of the current prophet. Nephi, the first prophet in the Book of Mormon, states, "I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand;" (1 Nephi 1: 3) He states that he writes in the "...language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians " (1 Nephi 1:2)

When each prophet was about to die, he passed the plates on to the next record keeper and thus within the Book of Mormon, we get a history which spans from about 600 B.C. to about 421 A.D.

After Mormon completed his writings and compilation, he gave the golden plates to his son Moroni (about 401 A.D.), who added a few words of his own and was directed by the Lord to hide them in the hill Cumorah to be preserved until the Lord saw fit to bring them forth again. The golden plates were not brought forth for another 1,400 years.

The 2 S's of the Book of Mormon: Combining Science and Spirituality

What do you get when you cross an octopus and a mink? A coat of arms!

What do you get when you cross science and religion? A mess.
No, no, just kidding! You get theology.

Theology is the rational and systematic study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truth ("Theology"). It is the rationale behind religion, the science behind the spirituality. Through my blog I am attempting to give a theological analysis of the Book of Mormon. Please understand, I am not attempting to replace spiritual experience with only scientific fact. Rather, I am trying to support, strengthen and deepen spirituality through viewing the book as both a work of literature and a book with words inspired by God. The more I study things, in many different ways, the more my belief in the thing is strengthened.

Parley P. Pratt, one of the apostles of the early LDS church, wrote a work entitled, Key to the Science of Theology. He claims that with the changing society religious knowledge must and should expand with it. It is imperative that questions be asked, discussed and thought about. His final statement echoes that of my motive for starting this research project.
[If his book] serves to open the eyes of any of his fellowmen on the facts of the past, the present, and the future; if it leads to investigation and inquiry and calls public attention to the greater and more particular truths which have been or are about to be revealed as a standard by which to unite the people of all nations and of all religions upon the rock the sure foundation of divine eternal uncreated infinite and exhaustless Truth, it will have accomplished the end aimed at by the Author.
Some may be hesitant to question, for the LDS church is a church of answers. But let us never forget, it began with a question.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Flooding the Earth: Saturating the World With the Book of Mormon

"I have a vision of flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon"
--Ezra Benson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1988

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it has always been clear to me that one of my main responsibilities is to share the truth and knowledge found within the pages of the Book of Mormon. This responsibility has never been more exciting a challenge than now, in the 21st century, when modern technology allows for easy access to LDS church resources, and the bloggosphere allows for personal narrative to be published world wide. Technology has allowed people to flood the internet with their ideas, thoughts, and has created a society uniquely connected through virtual reality.

President Ezra Taft Benson, 13th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, saw the great opportunity technology afforded when he said:

"In this age of electronic media and mass production of the printed word, God will hold us accountable if we do not move the Book of Mormon in a monumental way" -- Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon

And moved it has! With 107 full text translations into other languages (including languages without a tradition of writing and visual translations into American Sign Language) and over 3 million copies produced yearly, the Book of Mormon is covering the earth (Translations of the Book of Mormon).

Yet, more can be done. It is my belief that the internet, blogs particularly, has become this generation's most liberating form of publication. It is my contention that when people begin discussing the Book of Mormon online, a socialized "Scripture Journal" if you will, viewing the book not just as a spiritual text, but as the inspiring work of literature it is, when we digitally flood the earth with discussions of the Book of Mormon, when we move the book in that monumental way, that is when President Benson's vision will be fulfilled.