Thursday, March 23, 2017

Both Harmless and Deadly

Last night, as Hector (whom you'll be happy to hear did not contract lycanthropy) was keeping watch, he saw a set of faint lights, like those of torches or lanterns, off in the woods. He roused his companions, and the sneakiest among them went off into the dark woods to investigate the mysterious lights. Even after several minutes, he didn't return. It turned out that the mysterious lights were Will-O'-Wisps, and they had tricked him into falling into a potentially-deadly pit of noxious fumes. On their own, the Wisps were harmless; they were just lights. But with a deadly trap to lure adventurers into, the Wisps had become a serious threat.

Similarly, temptations are also harmless, yet deadly. They are harmless in that they are just thoughts, but they are spiritually-deadly in that they can lead us into vicious traps. However, they share the same weakness that Will-O'-Wisps have: we can ignore them. The only way the Wisps were able to threaten Hector's companion was by convincing him to follow them, and the same is true for temptations; the only way temptations can harm us is by convincing us to follow them. We can choose not to. If we resist the temptations, they will be unable to harm us. It is only when we follow temptations that they gain the power to destroy us.

Last night, Hector and his companions learned better than to follow strange lights into the dark woods again. May we also learn not to follow such dangerous temptations. We may think temptations are harmless (and as long as we resist them, they are), but as soon as we begin to follow them, we will be at risk of finding out just how deadly they can be.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Comparing Problems

As Elder Evan A. Schmutz spoke of afflictions and trials, he reminded us that though the afflictions people suffer are (or at least seem to be) distributed unevenly, it doesn't do much good to compare our afflictions against others'. Rather, he encouraged us to learn from our afflictions, so we can gain the insights and learn the wisdom that God wants us to learn from them. It's not helpful to know whether our trials are more or less severe than another person's. Let it suffice that everyone has their own trials and afflictions and that God tailors the afflictions He gives us to best suit our strengths and needs, which vary greatly from one person to another. Your trials may be different from mine, and they may be stronger or weaker, or just as strong, but in different ways, but each of our trials are made specifically for us, and it's pointless to wish you had someone else's problems instead of your own. God's not going to let you trade, and even if He did, it would be counterproductive. Your afflictions were designed for you, to help you learn and grow. It doesn't matter if your problems are bigger or smaller than someone else's; they are just the right size and shape for you. So, let's try not to worry about who has it harder or easier than others. That's not going to help us become the people we need to be, but thankfully, our tailor-made trials will.

Should Hector Kill . . . ?

Hector didn't kill the ruffians, even though they were totally asking for it, and he didn't kill the coffin-maker because it turned out that the coffin-maker had been coerced by a coven of vampires (whom he and his companions destroyed). He also didn't kill the "mad wizard" (whom I probably haven't told you about) because the wizard's madness was easily cured and he is no longer a threat to anyone. However, Hector now has to confront yet another potential threat to the realm, one that should be eliminated as soon as possible, before anyone else gets hurt: himself.

It is entirely possible, though not yet confirmed, that Hector has contracted lycanthropy. That is, he may now be a werewolf.

In D&D, as in most mythologies with werewolves, werewolves are not entirely in control of them. When they transform, which happens non-voluntarily, they fly into a wild killing spree, attacking every human they see, and probably some other animals, too.

Hector knows that he has been bitten by a werewolf, so he knows that there's a chance that he will soon transform against his will and begin attacking innocent people. There are several ways to prevent this, but only one way is sure to work.

He could, and will, try to have his lycanthropy cured, but that will take some time. In D&D, lycanthropy can be cured as easily as casting the "Remove Curse" spell on the lycanthrope, but Remove Curse is a 3rd level spell, meaning that it would take a reasonably powerful spell caster to cast it. It's possible that one of his companions could cast this spell, if she has it in her spellbook, but there's no guarantee of that. I'm sure the no-longer-mad wizard could cast Remove Curse on Hector, but he's several days' journey away. There will be many moonlit nights before Hector can get to the wizard to remover the curse.

In the meantime, Hector must contain the beast in more conventional ways. He will soon reach a town at which he could almost certainly buy a chain and some padlocks, no questions asked, but, troublingly, the chain might not be strong enough. According to the equipment description in the Player's Handbook, a chain has a break DC of 20, which means that if you want to break a chain, you roll a 20-sided die, add your Strength bonus to it, and if the total is 20 or higher, you succeed. Hector could, on a lucky (or unlucky) roll, break the chain with his bare hands, even without whatever Strength bonus he might get for being a werewolf, and the werewolf will certainly try to break the chain. Keeping the werewolf chained up is not a reliable long-term solution.

My current plan for Hector is to try and keep the werewolf chained up until we can find someone to cast Remove Curse on him, but this plan carries serious risk. If the werewolf breaks the chain, it will be up to Hector's companions to bring the him down, and if any of them get injured and infected in the process, their problem gets exponentially worse.

One simple solution to this lycanthropy problem, and one that is sure to work without any risk of injuring others, is for Hector to kill himself. This is certainly not an ideal solution, but it's the only way to truly guarantee the safety of others. Either Hector takes his own life, or he runs the risk of taking or at least ruining others'.

Hector isn't going to do that. The situation is literally dicey, but the odds of a mishap are low enough that to take such drastic action seems unwise. But still, in this situation, the option must be considered. If any lives are to be lost because of Hector's lycanthropy, it should be his, and it seems irresponsible to risk an unknown number of lives just to hopefully spare one. However, self-harm, even in the name of sacrificing oneself for the good of others, is never a good option, and it is very rarely the best.

I don't even have to finish the question. No, Hector should not kill himself. Probably no one should. It is, at this point, risky for Hector to let himself live, but it's a risk that he is just going to have to take.

Monday, March 20, 2017

But a Small Moment

You may have noticed that I didn't blog yesterday. That was because, at the time, I was terribly sick. I won't disgust you with the details; let it suffice to say that I wasn't really up for anything, let alone blogging. But fortunately, after a half-decent night's sleep and a full day of recuperating, I'm doing much better now. In fact, I feel perfectly fine, whereas less than 24 hours ago, I felt perfectly terrible. I am greatly blessed that my illness, though miserable, didn't last long.

Of course, in the eternal scheme of things, none of our afflictions will. In mortality, we have many struggles and afflictions, including illnesses, but none of them are going to last longer than we do. When we die, we will lose our bodies which are subject to such sicknesses, disabilities, and limitations, and when we're resurrected, we'll get bodies that are immune to those sorts of things.

When we consider that we lived for an eternity before gaining mortal bodies, and that we'll continue living forever after our bodies become immortal, we realize that the struggles we have with our mortal bodies won't last very long, relatively speaking. Yes, it can be painful and difficult, especially when we don't know exactly how long our afflictions will last, but we can take comfort in knowing that, if we're righteous, no affliction will plague us eternally. And after our afflictions end and we go on living forever, that time in which we were subject to diseases will feel like our afflictions had been "but a small moment" (D&C 121:7). We can endure that long.

I know that's easy for me to say, having only been sick for about 24 hours. I know that there are many people who have suffered much worse for much longer. For them, I hope they turn to Jesus Christ for comfort. He, too, suffered greatly, but endured it well. He can certainly comfort you and give you patience and perspective, no matter how hard your afflictions are or how long they last. I can't pretend to understand what you're going through, but I can testify that, after all this was over, it will eventually feel like our times if trial were a relatively short period of time.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Martin Harris and the Book of Mormon

I don't know a lot about Martin Harris, but I've been learning much more about him through this Primary class than I had ever known about him before. For example, I knew that he had been responsible for the loss of the 116 pages, and that it had cost him his role as Joseph Smith's scribe, and I knew that he was one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, but I wasn't sure exactly how that all worked out until last week.

Last week, I learned that when Joseph Smith and the soon-to-be Three Witnesses gathered for the prophesied revelation to take place, it didn't happen at first. They prayed, but Angel Moroni didn't come. They tried again and still got no answer. Martin Harris felt that he was the reason the revelation wasn't happening, so he went off on his own to pray. Sure enough, after Martin Harris left the group, the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and the other two of the Three Witnesses and showed them the plates. After that, Joseph Smith joined Martin Harris and they both prayed earnestly, and Moroni ultimately appeared to Martin Harris as well, so he, too, could witness the Gold Plates.

Martin Harris repented, and now I'm learning that that's not all he did. Though he was no longer involved in the translation of the Gold Plates, he sold 151 acres of land to raise the $3000 needed to pay for the initial printing of the Book of Mormon. $3000 is a lot of money nowadays, and it would have been worth even more back then. Selling his land to pay for the publication was a huge sacrifice for Martin Harris, and his willingness to make that sacrifice says a lot about his character and his dedication to the cause.

Now, I've heard that Martin Harris left the church eventually, and I look forward to learning more about that. Specifically, I'm eager to learn whether or not it's true, and, if it is true, I'm interested in learning how and why it happened. However, regardless of what happened later in his life, Martin Harris was deeply involved in the production of the Book of Mormon during this part of the story. He was the first scribe to help Joseph Smith translate the plates, he was one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and he paid at least most of the cost for printing the first 5000 copies of the Book of Mormon. Whatever faults he may have had or later gained, Martin Harris was instrumental to the  publication of the Book of Mormon and he never denied its truthfulness.

It's easy to judge Martin Harris by the mistakes he has made, but he has done a lot of good, too. Similarly, it's easy to judge others by their mistakes while failing to see their good sides. So, let's not be so quick to judge others and think badly about them. There is good in everyone, and too much of it gets taken for granted or forgotten.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Printing-Mimicking Activities

I'm having fun planning the activities that go along with the lesson I'm teaching this Sunday. The printing of the Book of Mormon isn't very exciting or interesting as a topic, but the activities described in the lesson plan should be engaging enough to grasp even our rambunctious boys' attention. One of the activities is to arrange letter tiles into the phrase "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ" (without the colon), and another is to fold a sheet of paper with seemingly randomly arranged letters on it in such a way that, after you've folded and trimmed the paper, you're left with a booklet with the pages accurately numbered.

These two activities partially depict the early printing process of arranging letter stamps in a printing press, then stamping multiple pages at once onto large pages which are then folded and cut into booklets which are then all sewn together into a book. It's an amazing process, and it should be fun to partially duplicate.

These activities are mainly designed to give the kids something fun to do that can be related to the lesson, but as I explain how these activities relate to the lesson, it should help teach the kids how much thought and work went into printing the Book of Mormon, which may help increase our gratitude for it. It wasn't easy for the early saints to translate and print the Book of Mormon, but I'm sure glad they did, and I think the kids will have fun learning how they did it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


There's something funny about the idea of the Book of Mormon being the "keystone" of our religion. The keystone is the top/middle stone of an arch, and the idea is that, without the keystone, the whole arch would fall apart. But the same could be said of any other stone in the arch! Take any stone out, and the arch crumbles. In that sense, every stone is a "key"stone. The Book of Mormon isn't the only essential element of our church. We also need faith, hope, charity, love, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, inspiration, revelation, prophets and apostles, and the list goes on. Without any one of those things, this church would just be a fraction of what it is.

In fact, of all the essential elements of the church, I think that the Book of Mormon may be one of the least essential. Yes, it's a nice book, and the stories are fun, but the doctrine in it could have been taught solely through modern revelation. The Book of Mormon is great at building testimonies, but so is inspiration. And yes, it's great to have a new book of scripture to serve as a companion to the Bible, but we get enough new scripture to fill a magazine twice per year. As Mormons, we are buried under new scripture. Then, what's so important about the Book of Mormon?

I don't think the Book of Mormon belongs at the top of the arch as much as it belongs at the base, or foundation, of the arch. The Book of Mormon was and is important partly because, in Joseph Smith's time, it was practically all the early saints had. Having the Book of Mormon set them apart from the other churches, and while we were still waiting for modern revelation to come in and fully establish church doctrine, the Book of Mormon was enough to teach the core elements of our doctrine that differ from that of most other Christian churches. The Book of Mormon succinctly sums up and accurately represents almost everything that is unique about our church. The true foundation of this church is Jesus Christ, but the most basic thing about this church, besides that, is the Book of Mormon.

And since the Book of Mormon contains several powerful testimonies of Jesus Christ, it could be said that every essential element of Mormonism is found in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon isn't just the keystone; it incorporates every stone in the arch! So, there's little wonder that the book itself should have a prominent spot in that arch, perhaps in the middle, at the top.