Mastiffs, Pilgrims, and Thanksgiving

POSTED BY: holzapfel


Nathaniel Philbrick’s compelling story of the first English settlers to New England starts out, “For sixty-five days, the Mayflower had blundered her way through storms and headwinds, her bottom a shaggy pelt of seaweed and barnacles, her leaky decks spewing salt water onto her passengers’ devoted heads. There were 102 of the them—104, if you counted the two dogs: a spaniel and a giant, slobbery mastiff.” He continues, “They were nearly ten weeks into a voyage that was supposed to have been completed during the balmy days of summer. But they had started late, and it was now November, and winter was coming on” (Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War [New York: Penguin Books, 2006], 3).
They finally settled in what is known today as Massachusetts in 1620. “We do not know the exact date of the celebration we now call the First Thanksgiving,” adds Philbrick, “but it was probably in late September or early October [1621], soon after their crop of corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas had been harvested. It was also a time during which Plymouth Harbor played host to a tremendous number of migrating birds, particularly ducks and geese, and [William] Bradford ordered four men to go out ‘fowling.’ It took only a few hours for Plymouth’s hunters to kill enough duck and geese to feed the settlement for a week. Now that they had ‘gathered the fruits of our labors,’ Bradford declared it a time to ‘rejoice together . . .  after a more  special manner’” (117).
General George Washington set apart December 18, 1777, as a day of thanksgiving in honor of recent victories in the American War of Independence. Later, President Abraham Lincoln set aside a day to thank God for recent Union victories in the Civil War in 1861. However, it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who finally established the American tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November in 1941. Today, no matter where we live, we should take time to thank people who have encouraged us, helped us, and strengthened us. Additionally, it seems appropriate to thank God for his blessings, often bestowed on us through others.
At the RSC we are grateful to countless people who support us in our efforts to provide thoughtful essays, books, and conferences about things that matter most. We thank our donors, student staff, and business associates (printers, designers, distributors, and bookstore owners). Most of all, we are grateful to those who take the time to attend one of our conferences or read one of our books. We hope to provide “food for thought” for years to come. 

The Church in South America

POSTED BY: holzapfel


My friend Mark L. Grover is the author of a new book, A Land of Promise and Prophecy: Elder A. Theodore Tuttle in South America, 1960-1965, published by the Religious Studies Center at BYU.

When he sent me an early draft of the manuscript more than a year ago, I dove in and read it completely. I was impressed; this was a thoughtful history that a commercial press like Deseret Book would likely not publish, but it was the kind of project our donors are willing to support to preserve the story for future generations.

A word about the process: Once I am satisfied a manuscript is right for our audience, I send it out for two blind peer reviews. The reviewers do not know who the author is, so their reviews focus on the content and not the author. It helps keep scholars honest. We ask them to carefully read the manuscript and answer some basic questions: Does the manuscript provide new insights to the topic? Does the author have a firm grasp of the current literature on the topic? Is the manuscript well written? Is this the kind of book the RSC should publish? Once we receive these reviews, we then decide whether to accept it for publication. Then we begin the work of turning a manuscript into a polished book—editing, source checking, designing, and printing and binding. When the printed book finally arrives, another flurry of activity begins as we take care of copyright issues, publicity, and distribution.

No matter how many times I have gone through this publication ritual (for my own publications or for those published at the RSC), it is an exciting moment to open the box that contains a new book. I always look carefully at the cover and then begin to thumb through the book, looking at photographs, captions, and other design features. I often smell the pages as I fan through the book. I love the smell of a brand-new book. Eventually, I take the time to read the book cover to cover. Even though I have become intimately acquainted with its content through the nearly yearlong publishing process, there is still something exciting about reading it again as a complete, bound book.

Last night I took my copy of Mark’s book home and began to read. I could not put it down. I was so interested in reading the story for pure enjoyment instead of as a gatekeeper and editor. Mark provides a readable and moving account of Elder A. Theodore Tuttle’s labors in South America during a pivotal period (1960-65). He opines that it was “key to the evolution of the Church because it represented a significant adjustment in approach and direction, particularly from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City” (vi). Mark acknowledges, “It is dangerous to suggest that the evolution of the Church in South America belongs to one person or one period” (11) but adds that “in history there are always pivotal and important moments” (12). The book tells us why the five years between 1960 to 1965 represent a defining moment in LDS history in South America and why Elder Tuttle is central to that story.

Today, there are seventy-one missions, fifteen temples and more than three million members of the Church in South America. This suggests that Elder Tuttle, the mission presidents, missionaries, and courageous converts who lived and labored in the southern continent during this period laid an important foundation that has been built upon by so many more.

History provides context to the present. Mark Grover has provided us something truly significant to consider as we read about the Lord’s work spreading across a giant continent among a diverse people. It is a remarkable story of faith and courage that matches any story from the Latter-day Saint past. I think you will like it!

“In His Own Language”

POSTED BY: holzapfel


In a remarkable revelation given through Joseph Smith in 1831, the Lord said, “The voice of warning shall be unto all people” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:4). This command may have seemed overwhelming for the fledgling Church of Jesus Christ. Two years later, in 1833, the Lord expanded the Church’s mission, saying, “Every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:11).

Today, it is estimated that there are nearly 7,000 spoken languages in the world, of which some 2,600 have a writing system. However, linguists project that within a century more than 3,000 spoken languages will disappear. The world is indeed getting small, and some languages are expanding their reach, such as English and Chinese.

The Church’s effort to fulfill the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth has been remarkable and continues to be so. Our family simply mirrors what is happening across the planet with so many Latter-day Saints. My son Bailey serves in the Switzerland Zürich Mission, and my daughter Marin enters the Missionary Training Center in Provo on December 4, 2008, to begin her preparations to serve in the Hungary Budapest Mission. They follow in the footsteps of two older brothers—Nathan, who served in the Chile Osorno Mission, and Zac, who served in the Costa Rica San José Mission. I completed my own missionary service in the Italy Milan Mission. My son and daughter will join their cousins, Elders Josh Meacham and Ephraim Taylor, who are serving in the Poland Warsaw and Taiwan Taichung missions.

Equally impressive is the effort to provide translations of the Book of Mormon to the world. Today, the complete Book of Mormon has been translated into seventy-nine languages, and selections are available in another twenty-three languages. This represents 99 percent of the languages spoken by Latter-day Saints. Efforts continue to translate this book into more languages to fulfill the Lord’s command.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was on his first historic visit to Jackson County, Missouri, in August 1831 when he heard the voice of the Lord, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27). In this light, the Religious Studies Center has launched a new Web page to reach a wider audience. Finally, in response to the Lord’s command that each person hear the gospel in his own language, we have translated some of the best articles and books from the RSC’s printed library into Spanish and Portuguese, the two most common languages in the Church outside of English. Additionally, we have just added German and will be publishing a landmark book by Dr. Roger Minert, In Harm’s Way: German Latter-day Saints in World War II. We will expand our outreach by translating other books, providing Church members another way to “seek . . . out of the best books words of wisdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). We invite others to join us in this adventure and spread the word that the RSC Web site is providing valuable articles in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German.

Solitude, Silence, and Darkness

POSTED BY: holzapfel


I enjoy browsing through National Geographic when it arrives in the mail each month. The cover story of the November 2008 issue captured my attention, “The End of Night: Why We Need Darkness.” Before the dawn of the twentieth century, the world had an abundance of three commodities: solitude, silence, and darkness. “In a very real sense,” Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote, “light pollution causes us to lose sight of our true place in the universe, to forget the scale of our being, which is best measured against the dimensions of a deep night with the Milky Way—the edge of our galaxy—arching overhead” (“Our Vanishing Night,” 109).

My own experiences in the Sinai and Negev deserts allow me to imagine the ancient world—a place of vast empty spaces and remarkable and splendid wonder. The night skies are illuminated with intensely bright stars. The canyons, cliffs, craggy mountains, dunes, and mud flats are filled with a deafening silence. It ends up being a place where a person is able to consider the matchless power of the Lord—the Creator of heaven and earth. At the same time, it is a place where humans can contemplate their own dependency on God for life itself.

The ancient world offered abundant opportunities to experience nature and the Lord of Creation. Such experiences provided them perspective of the vast reach of Creation. Moses, who had been raised in the household of Pharaoh, lived in one of the most advanced civilizations of the ancient world. Interestingly, after fleeing into the wilderness of Sinai—where he experienced silence, solitude, and darkness more intensely than he had before—Moses came face to face with the God of Nature. “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10).

Given the reality of modern urban life, where solitude is difficult to find, where silence is almost impossible to experience, and where natural darkness has virtually disappeared, is there anything we can do—something that will provide us the kind of experiences that Abraham and Sarah, Zacharias and Elisabeth, and Joseph and Emma Smith had that allowed them to find God and thereby find their place in the grand cosmos.

We certainly cannot turn back time, but we can turn off the TV, turn off the iPod, turn off the radio, turn off the lights, and take the opportunity to see the natural world that God created. In the rush and hectic pace of life, we need to slow down and spend some time alone. Prophets have given counsel regarding too much organized recreation and sports, too much TV, and too many scheduled activities, both at church and at home.

We can take a vacation to a place like Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, named the first Dark Sky Park, or some other remote wilderness area if possible. Or we can take time to appreciate the magnitude of God’s creations by visiting the temple and experiencing the silence of “the mountain of the Lord’s house” (Isaiah 2:2). I believe these sacred places help us to “be still and know that [he is] God” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:16), renewing ourselves through solitude, silence, and darkness.