Saturday, June 24, 2006

Agag, Saul, and the Church in Politics

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
-- 1 Samuel 15:3
What western mind doesn't recoil in horror at such a command from the Lord as this one delivered to Saul? We see it as a primitive and barbaric command. And we may be right.

Perhaps, upon receiving such a command, any of us would refuse the order from the assumed safety of our moral high ground.

Of course we realize that Saul didn't fully obey the commandment either. Probably not for the same reasons that you or I might be reluctant to do so, but he failed to obey nevertheless. Saul was supposed to kill all of the Amalekites, but he didn't. He saved (at least) the king of the people alive. That king was Agag.

Perhaps Saul thought of a dozen reasons for preserving the life of the king. Perhaps he recognized the morale booster it would be for his people to see their enemy in captivity. Perhaps Saul was respecting the customs of his people. Perhaps he saw future political advantage in dealing with other nations by saving Agag alive. We don't really know all the reasons why Saul didn't obey. We just know that God wasn't happy.

Samuel the prophet comes in and kills Agag himself.

Years later the story gets more interesting. Fast forward to Esther 3:1. In this verse we meet Haman and we learn that Haman is a descendant of Agag. That is supposed to cause you to do a double take. Isn't this the same Agag who wasn't supposed to have any descendants?

If you're halfway up with the times, you've seen the VeggieTales version of this story and you know who Haman is. (How did anybody know Old Testament stories before they invented VeggieTales?) Haman nearly succeeded in orchestrating the massacre of the Jews in that kingdom. Only the heroic Queen Esther saved the day.

If only the earlier command of the Lord had been followed! How did a descendant of Haman survive? We don't know, but it seems clear that the Israelites didn't do a very good job with their earlier assignment under Saul. Even though it creeps me out to think that such a command to end the lives of women and children could ever be right, it appears that the Lord might have a higher and more merciful purpose in mind. (I suppose it goes without saying that you had better be darn sure you're getting your revelation from the right source before you carry out a command of this magnitude.)

My thoughts are definitely not God's thoughts. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out where I could be headed with the title of this post.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sarcasm: Sucker of Joy

One temptation that I'm particularly vulnerable to is the tendency to sarcasm. It was a significant part of my youth. It is a cheap (and easy) form of humor that doesn't really lift us up. I have found that as sarcasm increases, joy decreases. I don't think that happiness and sarcasm can exist in the same place at the same time. If you are unhappy, perhaps you can try what I did: decrease your use of sarcasm.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

In the Footsteps of My Father

I was a pretty independent minded child. I loved my parents, but I really wanted to have my own identity. Since I was small I heard how much I was like my father, in appearance and mannerisms. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer changed frequently, but the unspoken answer in my head was, "Not a trainer like my dad." My father has been a professional trainer for all of my life. He is good at what he does.

In college, I studied computer science. I got a job working for a small company working on a software application for processing automobile loans. When the lead programmer left the state, the software was getting long in the tooth and was in need of a complete rewrite on a new platform. The company decided to outsource the future development of their product to a consultant and I was out on the street looking for a new job. I was still a student and I scanned the on-campus job listings.

The only job that looked remotely interesting (and reasonably well paying) was a job in the computer training department. I landed the job and really clicked with it. I got good reviews as a teacher and I took on more and more responsibility in the department. Eventually, a full-time position was created in the department and I was hired to fill it. I'm still working there to this day.

So here I am, doing the one thing that I said that I would never do. I'm a trainer. And I love it. Sometimes it creeps me out how much I talk like my dad when I speak in public. It turns out that I inherited a lot of the same gifts and quirks that he has. This is not the direction I ever thought that I would head, but it is working out remarkably well.

I have more than one Father. I sometimes wonder what traits I inherited from my other Father. Is there an invisible hand guiding me to be like him without my full cooperation? Are these the "tentacles of Divine Providence" reaching out to me and pulling me back into the presence of God?

If so, I am grateful. I'd be very happy to be like both of my fathers.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Orange Pop, a Celestial Drink

The following post is from my father, George Ross. Thanks for writing this, dad!

What does orange pop have to do with exaltation? As it turns out, a great deal. While serving in the U.S. Navy over 40 years ago, I met a man named Dennis. Dennis and I were stationed aboard the same ship and became good friends.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Dennis was his choice of drinks. While on liberty, the rest of us would opt for beer or other alcoholic beverages, but Dennis drank exclusively orange pop. You see, Dennis was a Mormon – the first Mormon I had ever met.

We all teased Dennis mercilessly, but he stayed true to his beliefs. Again and again we would order him all sorts of drinks, but he would just smile and order orange pop. It became a contest with his shipmates to see who could break Dennis down. None of us succeeded.

Even though I was one of the most dedicated teasers, my admiration for Dennis was strong. It made me want to know what it was that gave him such conviction.

I remember one day Dennis pulled a picture from his wallet and said, “When we get out of the Navy, I want you to meet this girl.” It was his girlfriend’s best friend. I was immediately very impressed.

Well, we did eventually get discharged and Dennis stayed true to his word. He introduced me to a wonderful and beautiful girl, who just happened to also be a Mormon.

Partly because of her charm and partly because of Dennis and his orange pop, when this girl asked me to meet the missionaries, I readily agreed.

The rest is history. The girl became my wife, the mother of my six children – three of whom have served honorable missions.

And to think, it all started with orange pop.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Marriage Amendment: Won't Pass, So Church Safe to Support?

With Elder Nelson going to Washington to appear with President Bush and advocate for the new Marriage Amendment, I wondered if the Church really cares if this becomes a part of the constitution or whether they see this as a very public way to get out in the public eye on this issue and influence the debate across the entire nation rather than only in the few states where they have considerable political sway.

Few changes are brought about by moderates. For example, the extreme voices in Civil Rights made the more logical and moderate positions more palatable to a larger percentage of the population. Extremists serve a useful role by often shifting the consensus in the direction of their extremity, if only slightly. Could the Church be trying to play that role here?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

LDS Sheet Music on lds.org

I just noticed a link on the Church homepage to some new music resources online. There has been a lot of music published in the Church magazines over the years. Now that sheet music is available. There are also a few other resources including MP3s from seminary video music and information on how to submit music to the annual church music competition.

It is interesting to see some of the music that has been published there over the years. For example, I found "You're Not Alone" by Michael McLean. That song includes the note:
Copyright © 1982 Shining Star Music (ASCAP). All rights reserved. Making copies of this music for use within the Church is permitted. This notice must be included on each copy made. Not appropriate for use in sacrament meetings or stake conferences.
I don't know if the disclaimer about appropriate places for performance are included on most of the songs, but it must warm the hearts of some LDS bloggers.

The cool thing is that the music is available for those that will find it useful like me.

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