It was an unfortunate case of mistaken identity.
I was 11 years old and was shopping in a Pamida store, when I found something to show my brother. He didn't come when I called. Since I could see him from the corner of my eye, I knew he was ignoring me. "Tim!" I said again, "Look at this!" Annoyed when he still didn't respond, I walked toward him. He was bent over, facing away from me, the seat of his pants temptingly within reach of my foot.
I like to think I didn't kick; I prefer to recall it as a slight tap with the toe of my shoe. Regardless, my brother jumped and spun around with a breathless "Excuse me?"—except it wasn't my brother. It was a middle-aged woman in a blue Pamida smock. My brother was two aisles away, I discovered as I ran toward the door, my face flaming.
Embarrassing, to say the least. I have never entered that Pamida since, afraid the woman in the blue smock will recognize the source of her recurrent nightmares.
Sometimes mistaken identity isn't so funny; sometimes it goes far beyond mere embarrassment.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asked His disciples what people were saying about Him. They replied, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets."
Talk about mistaken identity! Some Israelites were convinced Jesus was a man who had died centuries before. Others weren't quite sure but admitted He was a bit out-of-the-ordinary. They were impressed with His miracles, and His peculiar teachings gave them something to talk about over supper. That's as far as it went.
Unperturbed, Jesus asked, "But whom say ye that I am?" Peter spoke up: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
What would you have said? Who is Jesus to you? A religious teacher? An irrelevant historical figure?
Later, Jesus explained His identity this way: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
Peter got it right. Jesus was--and still is--the one and only Son of God, the one and only way God has provided to come to God. His identity is all-important and non-negotiable. So are the consequences for your beliefs about Him.
I am sorry to say I was not listening to the sermon. No, I was thinking how lonely, unfair, and--above all --how misunderstood my life was.
I have forgotten why, but that particular morning I was ready to boil over. It was then that an infinitely patient God, knowing I wasn't paying attention to my dad's preaching, placed a thought in my head: journal.
Of course, I thought it was my own clever idea. As soon as I got home that afternoon, I raided Mom's closet for a notebook. The victim I chose had a dark blue cover to reflect my mood, and it was college ruled so I could cram all my self-righteous assertions into its unsuspecting pages.
I wasted no time. Finally, I thought, I have an outlet for self-expression. Make that selfish expression. Every time my fragile feelings got hurt or the world didn't treat me with the respect I deserved, I marched to my bedroom, whipped out my notebook, and wrote. And wrote... and wrote.
I'm not proud of the way I began journaling. But I'm thankful, oh-so-thankful, the Lord not only gave me the idea, but also patiently guided my writing. The blue notebook was followed by the green one, and then the red one... Likewise, immature rants gradually gave way to a more balanced perspective. I began documenting my aspirations and honest soul-searching; then my meditations on God's Word and written prayers.
My journals chronicle my spiritual journey, and I've kept all of them. They contain written expression of thoughts and ideas just between God and me. But sometimes I go through a period when the journal gathers dust and the pen lies still. I'm not sure what brings on dry spells, but I do know I am not the same when I'm not journaling regularly. It means I'm not internalizing that which the Lord is teaching me.
Well, I've had a dry spell recently, and I've needed a jumpstart. Enter a remarkable little book:
Yes, I admit it. All of this has been leading up to a book recommendation.
Me, Myself and I AM is a sleek little hard-back book that packs a punch. All it does is ask questions. But when those questions are probing questions about your relationship with the Lord, all you need is a little honesty and you're well on your way to some serious introspection. Warning: you may not like what you discover about yourself. I'm on page 48, and I've had a few surprises, veteran journaler that I am.
Not all the questions are life-changing, granted. But who doesn't like listing their favorite foods and cool Christmas presents?
Then you turn the page and have to confront this one: "Three things I do currently that I am not proud of." Or how about, "The word that best describes Jesus' place in my life is..."
Bottom line: this book, coupled with the all-important honesty-factor and a little time, is an effective way to get to know yourself and your relationship with Jesus for what it really is. Even after I make it though page 83, I've got plenty of fodder for journaling on my own again.
Me, Myself and I Am can be purchased here: http://www.christianbook.com/
Want a FREE copy for yourself? Leave me a comment. Any comment.
Onward and upward!
Is it any wonder this book caught my eye? The last two years, and especially the last few months, have been full of uncertainty for me. Job, home, relationships, ministry, finances: all have been up in the air and only very recently have a couple of these been somewhat resolved. In light of this, the concept of the Christian life as Adventure is intriguing. I yearn for a God-glorifying attitude in the face of constant circumstancial instability. It's my hope that this book will help me find and keep that.
At surface, I concur with Mark Batterson's premise; whether I find his conclusions to hold up to Biblical truth is yet to be determined. Here's where YOU come in to play. I want a reading partner. In fact, I have a copy of Wild Goose Chase to give away. If you're interested, leave a comment here recommending a book you've recently read.
I once found a site on the net,
A page that I'll never forget.
And now I don't fret;
There's no cause for sweat
When ending a line with "Tibet".
Limericks usually don't lend themselves to more serious subjects, but I feel a need to vent a bit on this apartment hunt:
A roof and a sink and four walls
(The sink can be really quite small)--
That's all that I need
(I'm not into greed);
I just want a place "home" to call.
These are three or four websites I've discovered recently that are worth passing on. Finding each was like discovering a diamond in the middle of an endless dewdrop-covered web. That metaphor needs some work, but in the meantime I present:
RhymeZone... Where has this site been all my life? (Oh yeah, Al hadn't invented the internet yet when I was a child.) Type in a word, hit "Search" and boom, you've got a list as long as Santa's of every word and phrase that rhymes with it. The drawback is no weird proper nouns... I tried "Karisa" and the search rejected it. "Clark," on the other hand, brought forth such results as "spark," "remark," "Yellowstone National Park," and the ever-useful "cabbage bark". I don't know about you, but I feel a whole new inspiration to write limericks. Stay tuned.
FolkAlley is a site devoted to folk music in all its forms, bluegrass to blues, Woody Guthrie to Nickel Creek. Not that I endorse all the political innuendo-laden music, but if you're willing to take it with a grain of salt, this site is a gem. Here you can find a page offering hours of free music from scads of musicians of most every genre, recorded live.
Tokens is something to keep an eye on. It's a fresh and freshly-conceived approach to a broadcast performance. Perhaps it could be described as Garrison Keillor meets C.S. Lewis. The host describes it as "part theology lecture, part cultural analysis, part old-time radio show, part good conversation, part good music; all of it serious, and all of it, for us at least, fun, and we trust it will be fun for you, too." The jury is still out, but what I've heard I like. A lot.
And since it is quite possible that you, the one long suffering reader of my blog, have as much interest in music or poetry as in the textile exports of Slovakia, I offer you www.isitchristmas.com
Of course, I also took it upon myself to teach the girls how to make a respectable shadow bunny...
I was also The Missionary--meaning I told the kids a little about my ministry in Utah every day. They had a contest, girls against boys, to raise money for my gas back to Provo. It was a weight contest; every day the girls would put their money in a bucket on one side of a scale and the boys in the other. On the last day of VBS, one boy brought a grocery bag full of pennies! Altogether, the kids contributed about $220! So I'll have plenty of gas money for my trip west next month, and even some left over to hit every Wendy's between Hoisington and Provo. Love those Frostys!
In my e-mail inbox, I have a folder labeled "Keep What is Worth Keeping." (It's a line from a poem by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik...but that's a whole other post.) The folder is for non-personal-correspondence that I consider worthy of hanging onto and even referencing in the future. Once in a blue polka-dot moon, an e-mail makes it into that folder that was forwarded from my mom. She likes to send me e-mails with subject lines like "Fwd: 10 More Uses for Vinegar!" and "Fwd: Hints to Protect your Credit Card Account." Most get deleted with hardly a glance (no hard feelings, Mums, if you're reading this), but like I said, the rare informative and legitimate message is worth keeping.
Otherwise, approximately 95% of my "keeper" e-mails is comprised of messages I've received through a gem of an e-mail subscription. It's called "In the Nick of Time," and it's sent by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.
Dr. Bauder's premise for "In the Nick of Time" is this: "American Christianity needs leaders. American Christianity needs Christian leaders. Christian leaders explain the Scriptures, bringing them to bear upon life's urgent questions. Christian leaders exemplify the life of faith, finding their ultimate satisfaction in God alone. They unite intellectual discipline with ordinate affection, turning their entire being toward the love of God."
To the noble end of developing such leaders, Dr. Bauder (and the occasional guest contributor) pens essays examining relevant and often controversial topics. Past subject matter includes Christians and theater, Christians and scholarship, Christians and educational choices, observing the Sabbath, church organization, and church planting.
I'm no philosopher or theologian--but I do want my faith to comprise more than just a set of Sunday school lessons. In the last two years especially, I have gotten to know scads of folks who blindly believe what they've been taught, with little or no real thought. I shudder to think of my faith resembling that in any way. That's why I started subscribing to "In the Nick of Time" about a year ago. I truly desire to "unite intellectual discipline with ordinate affection, turning my entire being toward the love of God." I hope you do, too.
Of course, I must reference the other splendid element of these e-mails: poetry! Dr. Bauder dusts off a short sampling of classic Christian verse for the close of each e-mail. What depths of wisdom (and entertaining spellings!) lie in the poems of John Bunyan, William Cowper and the like! Worth reading...worth keeping.
You can subscribe to "In the Nick of Time" or check out the archives here (copy and paste into your browser's address bar): http://www.centralseminary.edu/index.asp?m=674
The duct tape was Dad's idea, after Trixie started chewing on the bandages. Do not try this at home, kids. Duct tape, as it turns out, is merciless when it comes into contact with hair. When we went to the vet's to get Trixie's dressing changed yesterday, he had to cut a good bit more of her hair off. Vets have nightmares about pet owners like us, I'm sure. Pets have nightmares about pet owners like us. But at least Red Green would be proud.
A few days ago, I didn't know the difference between the calls of a speckle belly goose and the snow goose. I had no idea Barton County is plagued by out-of-state poachers. I never realized one of the downtown pole art features a pair of greyhounds. And I certainly didn't know what went into a Redneck Tour of Cheyenne Bottoms.
Thanks to some great local activities last weekend, I have been enlightened.
This was my first Wetlanders Festival and I was impressed. From the Waterfowl Calling Championship to the demonstration by Game Warden Brian Hanzlick and his dog Alley to the pole art hunt to the Redneck Tours—everything was well done and well-attended.
I appreciated the educational bent of the Festival and I certainly increased my knowledge of Cheyenne Bottoms, hunting, local talent, and all things redneck.
His was the first stop for the Redneck Tour Bus (a pontoon boat on a trailer, towed by a very un-redneckish sleek Chevy truck) I rode, along with five other tourists and our worthy tour guide, Bubba. Doc Payne was manning an antique cannon on the side of the road. There was a sign propped up against it advertising the doctor's medical services—all three of them.
Apparently, Doc Payne specializes in the fine art of pulling teeth. As we watched, he brandished a pair of 14-inch rusty pincers and generously offered to take care of any toothaches. From the looks of Bubba's “redneck teeth” (or lack thereof), Doc Payne had made a profitable career choice.
I think we upset Doc Payne by turning down his tooth-pulling services, because he kept mumbling and waving a cannon ball at us. He seemed to think he would find comfort in the dirty glass bottle he pulled out, however. He pointed to the one lens of his glasses painted red—which, through Bubba's interpretation, we were made to understand was a result of the “red-eye” in his whiskey bottle.
Finally, Doc Payne was left waving and muttering in the road, as the tour bus carried us across the Bottoms to more redneck adventures.
That was Saturday. On Monday I uploaded my photos from the digital camera and began sorting through the pictures I had snapped during the Festival. I came across a good portrait of Doc Payne...and that's when the mystery deepened.
I e-mailed the photo to Rod Harms, who had signed me up for the Redneck Tours, asking him to identify Doc Payne. Shortly after that, I received a call from Gene Manweiler, owner of Hoisington's Manweiler Chevrolet dealership. Rod had forwarded my e-mail to him.
Gene had done much of the work coordinating the Redneck Tours (hence the sleek Chevy truck) and had called to help answer my question. Except he couldn't. Turns out, Gene didn't know who was underneath Doc Payne's wig. The character's appearance alongside the Bottoms backroad had been a surprise to him, too. He had played along with the Doc, though, for the sake of us tourists—but he does admit he couldn't understand half of what the man had mumbled through his fake beard.
When the last tour bus left, the Redneck Tours staff shed their plastic teeth, tore down the misspelled signs along the trail, and met back at Gene's home overlooking Cheyenne Bottoms—all except Doc Payne. No one knew who he was or where he had gone, Gene said.
Later on Monday, another e-mail appeared in my Inbox, indicating Gene had discovered the identity of the mysterious Doc Payne. However, he said the Doc didn't want to reveal who he is—a request Gene was honoring. Those rednecks stick together like honey on a biscuit. The only hint I have is that Doc Payne is “a prominent local citizen.”
The man was so well-disguised—even his voice was altered—that it could have been anyone. I went home and took a hard look at my own dad, scrutinizing his face for the tell-tale marks of a tie-on beard. Not that I'm good at seeing through a disguise... It had taken me a while to realize Bubba was Gene Manweiler himself, underneath an unkempt Willie Nelson-esque hairpiece.
So I'm left with a mystery. And since I've failed at my journalistic duty of uncovering the truth, I turn to my meager skills as a poet:
There once was a man in disguise
With beard on his face and shades on his eyes
He won't tell his name;
He thinks it's a game!
If so, it's the kind I despise.
This doc has me out on a limb.
Is he Bob? Is he John? Is he Jim?
He makes my job hard
(I'm reporter, not bard!)
A Payne in the Bottoms--that's him!
1. This is the office where I work. To avoid looking at the unbearable clutter, I sometimes close my eyes and curl up in a fetal position on the 40-year old vinyl desk chair.
(Yes, the wall is purple. The former owner was a huge K-State fan.)
2. We have this great filing system for our back issues. Patent pending.
3. At some point in the building's long and grim history, an individual (I'm guessing a pre-pubescent girl, from the looks of the exclamation point) cheerfully set out to bring order to the chaos. Just one box into the process, she was apparently overcome by the hopelessness of the situation. I can't blame her. Her efforts are preserved and stand as an enduring monument to the frailty of the human spirit.
4. Something tells me that even if the bathroom sink were to give forth water with any sort of regularity, it would not be the sort of water one would want to wash one's hands in.
5. This is the ceiling directly above the toilet. The ceiling panels are being held up by the light fixture--none too secure itself. It does lend a sense of urgency when doing one's business.
6. I should have laid a coin beside this rat trap to give size perspective. It's massive. For months, I had vaguely wondered the dark reason for its existence. Today, a lady who used to work here told me the story. One day 5 years ago, she heard noises in the bathroom; this led to the capture of what she claims was "a cat-sized rodent." Since no others of this size have shown up, she thinks it probably wasn't a rat; her guess is a renegade prairie dog. At any rate, the trap has stayed since that day.
7. This is a yellowed document nailed to the wall, titled "Safety and Health Protection on the Job." One line reads, "The Williams-Steiger act requires that each employer furnish his employees a place of employment free from recognized hazards that might cause serious injury or death." I can't help but wonder if Mr. Williams and Mr. Steiger didn't mean to imply caving ceilings and gargantuan rat traps as forms of "recognized hazards." Actually, I think the constant, insurmountable clutter is more hazardous to my mental health.
8. Oh the irony of it. The irony! This sign hangs high on a wall--faded, smeared with dirt, splattered with paint--but still boldly proclaiming its long-forgotten message: Neatness Counts!
Hey you! Yeah, you. The one staring at the monitor.
Mind if I give you some advice?
It is simply this:
Keep a reader's journal.
You thought I was going to advise changing your underwear daily or taking vitamin C supplements, huh? I'll leave the tidbits of common sense living to your mother; I want to address this void in your life that you probably didn't know you have. After all, I myself hadn't even heard of such a thing until March 6, 2004. Oh, I'd been keeping track of books I'd read ever since I was 12 or so...but it wasn't until that blustery day in Virginia Beach that I saw an actual hard-cover book entitled The Reader's Journal. It had a little nick on the cover and had thus been relegated to the clearance table--which is the only place to shop in bookstores, if you ask me. (Henry Ward Beecher once exclaimed, "Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore!" But I wonder if even Hank himself wouldn't find today's book prices a bit steep.)
I am sure there are many different versions of reader's journals out there and I just didn't know it. I'm glad this area of ignorance didn't last any longer than age 21.
Let me tell you about my reader's journal, which quickly became one of my most beloved books itself. It is divided into 11 sections, each cleverly titled with a famous work of literature which describes the purpose of that section.
One section I use often is Great Expectations. It is there that I record books I would like to read. I'm always on the lookout for good reads and when I hear of one I add it to my list of great expectations. Then I take my reader's journal with me whenever I visit the library. Gone are the days of aimless wandering amid bookshelves thinking, "I wish I could remember that one author's name who wrote that one book I heard about!"
Another section (Sense and Sensibility) is for detailed records of the books I have read and my thoughts about them. Thus, with the flip of a page, I can find what I was reading in October, 2006: Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag ("Great character development and interesting storytelling techniques. Reminded me of Willa Cather's work--the land, Dakota territory, was such a big part of the plot. Made me long for the prairies...") My dad, for example, never watches a movie or reads a book twice. But I return to favorite books over and over again and its always like a reunion with an old friend. With my reader's journal, I have a record of my dearest book-friends.
Then there's Kidnapped, for recording lists of the books I have borrowed or lent. (If you borrow a book from me and don't return it: beware!) And there are other sections for recording addresses of bookstores or libraries, memorable quotations from favorite books, lists of books I have given or received as gifts, and those I have added to my every-growing personal library.
The great Francis Bacon wrote, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some to be chewed and digested." Keeping a reader's journal, I believe, helps one be aware of every bite and savor the best.
Light and rain,
Rain and light.
One is wet,
The other bright.
Bob and Henry,
Henry and Bob.
Both wrote poems
I want to rob.
It's not Pulitzer-worthy--you know that. But that orange "Publish Post" button has a tempting glow. You can go to bed satisfied if you just post something. Tomorrow, you will roll your eyes at it...maybe even delete it. But tonight, you will sleep the sweet sleep of the published blogger.
What I wasn't quite expecting is the downright silliness on the surface of AP's story. I say "on the surface" because it quickly becomes obvious that, though AP, with a boyish adventurousness, invites his readers to share in the quirky world of Aerwiar--complete with talking lizards, snot-wax candles, toothy cows, and a revolting recipe for "maggotloaf"--his real concern is that his readers are given cause to ponder the eternal truths of our own world. In fact, as I read, I began to envy AP for the incredible fun he must've had writing this book! He peppers thoughtfulness with humor, deep truths with goofy fantasy. That's a nearly impossible recipe to pull off--even trickier than mixing up a batch of maggotloaf!--but Andrew Peterson does it as well as it can be done, I dare say.
Whether or not you fully embrace the wacky humor of the author, you will be drawn into the story and amazed at the twists the plot takes toward the end of the book. One of the mysteries I figured out a few pages before the characters did--and when it hit me, I actually had to lay aside the book for a minute to process the stunning and glorious implications. Later, a conversation among the main characters prompted tears on my part, as it gave me a glimpse into the beautiful mystery of self-sacrificing love, epitomized in Christ's love for the Church.
Some mysteries remain with the closing of the book. What tragic secret does Arthram harbor about his past? What will happen to the Igiby children? Will the sea dragons sing again? These questions will be answered in the coming installments of "The Wingfeather Saga," and along the way I look forward to lots more laughs, a few more tears, and plenty of food for thought--none of it maggotloaf-type fare!
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400073847
And now the cool part...
I was privileged to secure two pre-release copies of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness for a blog tour of the book. One copy has my name on it and it shall remain in my library for ever and always...but the other copy is up for grabs! Leave a comment on this post and I will randomly choose a comment-er on Saturday, March 22, as the happy recipient of the book. I'll send it straight to your home and you can begin "The Wingfeather Saga" for yourself!
The following is an article I wrote for today's Hoisington Dispatch.
Kingdom Kids Offers Fun with a Purpose
Welcome to Kingdom Kids, a weekly after-school Bible club for children in kindergarten through 6th grade. For the next ninety minutes, the kids will hear a Bible story, learn a Bible verse, play games, and sing songs—all of it what leader Roland Broeder likes to call “fun with a purpose!”
This is the sixth year that Hoisington Bible Church has been holding a kids' club. “Our purpose from the beginning,” Pastor Gary Clark explains, “was to make boys and girls aware that God has a plan and purpose for their lives, and that plan and purpose begin with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We want the kids to be 'kingdom kids': to know God and be a part of His family.”
In addition to Broeder and Pastor Clark, there are four regular staff from the Church and several others who help as needed. Some Church members give to fund the program; others provide supplies for the snack time that begins every Kingdom Kids club.
Predictably, “snack time!” is one enthusiastic answer you'll get if you ask the kids what their favorite part of Kingdom Kids is. Other responses include, “the games,” “singing,” “playing Zonk” (a popular review game), “meeting new people,” and “learning about Jesus.”
Broeder explains his favorite part of Kingdom Kids using a story. “Three or four weeks ago, there was a little girl who got hurt, but she told me she didn't want to go home because she wanted to hear about God. It melted my heart! Hopefully, we're changing lives for eternity—and in the present, too.
Changing lives is a constant theme of the club. As the kids hear the adventures of Samuel, Saul and David from the Old Testament, they are challenged to apply what they learn to their own lives. “David had to wait years after Samuel anointed him king of Israel, before he actually began to rule as king,” Broeder teaches, “But what about you? Are you patient for God to reward you when He decides the time is right?”
Later, the kids work on memorizing I Peter 5:6, a verse about being humble and waiting on God's timing. Then they play a game, reviewing the Bible story by drawing pictures and letting their teammates guess what they're drawing. “Mountains!” one boy guesses when a row of triangles is drawn. “No, it's a crown!” another exclaims, “King Saul's crown that the messenger brought to David!” It's apparent they've been listening.
Why is it important to learn those old Bible stories? Pastor Clark says, “Because the Bible is God's unchanging truth for every situation and time. We want the kids to evaluate life decisions in light of what God teaches—everything from 'What should I do with my life?' to marriage to end-of-life decisions.”
That's a lot to get across to children when you only have an hour or two every week. But Pastor Clark recognizes parents play an important role, too. “We want to reinforce the moral and spiritual values that the children are learning at home. We appreciate the opportunity parents allow us to teach and work with their children.”
When I checked out No Man Knows My History, I was planning on a skim read. That was three weeks ago, and I have just now finished the epilogue. I read every word, including the footnotes, and I anticipate appendices A, B, and C to provide another few days of top-notch reading.
This book is the definitive, thorough biography of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism. Thinking of the detailed research author Fawn Brodie performed in order to write these 500 well-documented pages makes my head hurt. Nor was the book simply a dry recitation of names, places and dates. Brodie's rich, colorful language would make the most drab historical figure leap off the pages of her book.
But Brodie's subject was anything but a drab historical figure. No, indeed! I wonder whether anyone at all has ever squeezed so much drama into thirty-nine years of life. There were Joseph Smith's spectacular religious experiences, of course; but controversy, scandal and persecution were just as much a part of his days. His charismatic personality drew people to him—rich and poor, young and old, Americans and internationals—but many turned traitor and some of his closest friends became his worst enemies. He was a dreamer and a schemer; he rewrote the ancient history of America, he gave revelations as from God, he attempted miracles (sometimes successfully), he ran for President, he earned a reputation as a champion wrestler, he escaped from the law multiple times, he married over forty women, he formed his own army and founded his own city. He was rarely treated fairly; either he was adored and blindly obeyed or he was savagely attacked with word and weapon. He fell victim to the hostile frontier mob and in the end died a violent and unjust death at their hands.
Yet for all his biographer's hard work, Joseph Smith remains an enigma to me. Reading one page made me shake my head at his genius, the next at his outrageous blunders. He kept extensive journals, but these contain only guarded expressions of his thoughts. It's as if he expected to be the subject of a 500-page book. There is, therefore, no way to know his mind. Quite frankly, I am mystified by Joseph Smith.
"In a wanton moment of self-searching," Brodie writes, "[Smith] said with a kind of wonder: 'You don't know me; you never knew my heart. No man knows my history. I cannot tell it: I shall never undertake it. I don't blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself'" (366).
More baffling than Joseph Smith's life is his legacy. How could a man—a poor, uneducated man at that—singlehandedly raise up an entire religious system, complete with its own prophets, missionaries, scriptures, business holdings and social culture? One hundred and sixty-four years after Smith's death, Mormonism is 13 million strong and steadily growing. And each individual convert must confess Joseph Smith was a prophet and the first book he authored ( The Book of Mormon) is true.
It would seem, then, that Joseph Smith was successful. He sought after fame all his life; now his face plasters billboards and looks down from fireplace mantles across Utah and around the world. He wanted to speak for God; now his books are confessed by millions to be equal with the Bible. He yearned for respect; now he has the unparalleled glory of a martyr.
It could be argued, however, that success is measured by the extent that one's work endures through the passing of time. In this respect, couldn't Joseph Smith be labeled a failure? After all, the church that enthusiastically claims him as prophet does not claim many of his teachings. He taught that the Lamanites of The Book of Mormon were the "principal ancestors" of the American Indians; the LDS Church has changed his wording, realizing this claim to be completely unjustifiable by modern science and archeology. He specified his son Joseph III should be his successor; after his death, the church was split into several factions, with the majority following Brigham Young. Perhaps most notably, he claimed "spiritual wifism" to be "a command of God" to last "for time and all eternity"; today the LDS Church denounces all who practice polygamy. And the examples could go on and on. There is no doubt that mainstream Mormonism today is vastly different than in Joseph Smith's lifetime. Essentially, the prophet is ignored among his own people. His work has not stood the test of time.
Being a Christian, I cannot help but draw a contrast with the person of Jesus Christ. His words have endured for thousands of years. His teachings have remained the same. Although not all of His prophecies have been fulfilled yet, not one of them has been changed to accomodate modern discoveries. His historical claims have been backed up repeatedly by archaeological proof. There is no need to backtrack, gloss over, or give more recent revelations. Jesus Christ is Truth. And truth doesn't change. It endures.
Like Joseph Smith, Christ remains something of an enigma to me. However, the mystery surrounding Christ is not dark at all. It inspires awe, not a confused shake of the head. The more I learn about Christ and the closer I grow to Him, the more I find Him to be, well, Himself. I have never found cause for disillusionment. That's one point where Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith differ irreconcilably. The only surprises I encounter in Christ's character are good ones. And the more of those surprises I find, the more I long for. I will be happy to spend my eternity endeavoring to plumb the depths of His wisdom and ways.
No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, Second Edition by Fawn M. Brodie. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971.
Who lived in a Kansas town rural.
She stayed with her folks
To prevent going broke,
And gave the newspaper a whirl.
On Tuesdays she taught girls and boys,
Who hollered and made lots of noise.
Kansas was great,
But she couldn't wait
To return to the west--oh joys!
Here I sit with my laptop and my journal, looking back on 2007... Before it becomes ancient history, I thought I would review some highlights and notable memories. I do this in the form of an awards ceremony. It's like The Memories Emmys. Except without the $5,000 dresses and the "I want to thank my make-up artist for always being there" speeches.
Fiddlesticks. I just realized my journal only goes back to July; the previous journal is sitting in some cardboard box in Provo. OK, so it's more like "Best of the Latter Half of 2007"...
Most Interesting Food Tried: Tie between octopus tentacles and pig tongue. My weekly supper with my Chinese and Taiwanese friends was always a culinary adventure! (FYI: octopus is strangely chewy; pig tongue is rather tasty!)
Best Hike: Squaw Mountain, 8/25. It was a moderately difficult hike--which is perhaps more a statement of my lack of physical prowess than of the height of the mountain--but the view on top was sensational, all 360' of it! Utah Valley and the city of Provo to the west, and to the east miles and miles of rugged mountain wilderness, seemingly untouched by civilization.
Best Concert: The Wailin' Jennys in Park City, UT. Heavenly, flawless three-part harmony from a trio of Canadian singer-songwriters. This event would also win an award for Highest-Priced Ticket Karisa EVER Purchased...but it was worth every penny.
Best FREE Concert: Sam Bush and David Grisman in Salt Lake City. Two legendary mandolinists on one stage...for FREE?! I'm there! This event could probably also get some kind of award for how many standing human beings I've been squashed against at once. But I'll leave that one alone.
Funniest Teaching Moment: While I was teaching a Bible story to some kids at my church, one of the students suddenly gasped with a horrified expression! Noticing he was looking at my feet, I abruptly halted mid-sentence, thinking there was some massive hairy spider crawling up my pants. When I found nothing and asked the student what was wrong, he replied (still horrified), "Your shoes! They're so... different!" Mind you, they were the same nondescript brown shoes I have been wearing for the past 4 years. Evidently, something about them is shocking to that young boy. I laugh every time I put them on now!
Best Purchase: Mandolin. Sure, it's made in China and it has a bad 7th fret. But still! It's beautiful because it's the beginning of realizing a long-time dream.
Most Sobering Moment: Leaving Mrs. R. She had been my senior care client for over a year and had grown dear to me. A shut-in, she sees nobody except her daughter, her doctor, and her church's visiting teachers. When I had to quit my job and leave Provo, I knew that this dear, lost lady would likely never have contact with a believer again. Sobering, indeed. And how many more are there in/near Provo just like Mrs. R??
Best Wildlife Spotting: Bull moose. My folks and I spent a few days at Brighton, UT, a ski resort in the mountains. While taking a walk one evening, Mom and I stumbled upon a huge bull moose lying in the grass, not 10 feet away! We were too surprised to be scared, I guess, so we just stood there gaping. Wow, was that sucker BIG. Later, we read that a sign of a moose being annoyed (and thus dangerous) is when he lays back his ears; I remember our moose doing that. So this could possibly be filed under "Closest to Being Mauled Beyond Recognition by a Wild Animal," as well.
Most Notable "Helpless Female" Moment: Calling Chris late at night because I "smelled something." See, I was house-sitting for some friends, and when I caught a whiff of an unidentifiable odor, my over-active imagination conjured up a picture of their house burning down--because of my negligence. How would I explain THAT one?? So I called Chris and woke him up. Trooper that he is, he drove over and went through the entire house with this helpless female meekly following him around, murmuring helpful things like, "It smells stronger here," "It's probably nothing," and "So you don't think their house will burn down?" Chris finally sniffed out the culprit: the locked up motor of a ceiling fan. (The pathetic thing is that I had to choose this Helpless Female moment out of many nominees. I should probably just come to terms with this role, as much as I despise it.)
Most Unlooked-for Blessing: A $1,000 check. This arrived in the mail the day before I left Provo, enclosed in a Christmas card from some old friends. I kept looking at it again and again to make sure I had counted the zeros correctly! Really, though, it was just case-in-point of God's unbelievable provision of my needs throughout all of 2007. He keeps surprising me with how He provides for me--and it is often through the sacrificial gifts of believers sensitive to His leading. An awards ceremony isn't complete without a few tears, and I feel 'em coming on...
Greatest Privilege: "Letting my light so shine before men that they may see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven." Not that I succeeded at this even half so well as I should have... But 2007 was a year of realizing anew my privilege of bearing and demonstrating Truth in a culture of deception. That meant scrubbing my elderly clients' toilets till they shone! That meant taking the time to share the gospel with two confused young women I ran into while hiking with some friends. That meant making it a point to nurture a heart of compassion for unbelievers. ...Because everything I do, in word or deed, should be for the Lord's glory. Whether people notice or not, whether I see results or not, my job is simply to let my light shine. Hide it under a bushel? NO! I'm gonna let it shine...
Shine in 2008, I'm gonna let it shine!