Thursday, October 30, 2008

Deluge of Thoughts Precipitates Writing Drought

I haven't been a great blogger as of late and I think it's due to having too much on my mind.

For one, I'm concerned with the long-term outcome of this year's presidential election. Will it be President McCain or President Obama? Does either one truly have our best interests in mind and the ability to mobilize the deeply divided American citizenry to achieve those best interests? With such a deeply divided citizenry do we even know what our best interests are? Are our differences about what constitutes our best interests the source of our division? Are our differences so great, so insurmountable that the ideal of a united America is a myth of a bygone era? What of "united we stand, divided we fall?"

I'm also concerned about the passage of Proposition 8 in California and what the outcome of this issue will mean for the other States. I do not think it wise to redefine the traditional concept of marriage: that marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, that ideally children are raised by a loving father and mother, that the family is the most fundamental, foundational unit of a healthy society.

I'm concerned that my religious beliefs may cause some to brand me as a bigot. I am not a bigot. I have never resorted to violence to attempt to force others to believe as I do. I have never promoted or condoned any acts of violence toward any person with differing views. What is it exactly about my beliefs that would make me a bigot?

I'm concerned at the development of a "tyranny of tolerance"; that tolerance toward religion and faith in God and those who espouse them is diminishing, while various groups demand tolerance for their particular viewpoints. Such unidirectional tolerance is in actuality intolerance. This concerns me.

I have other concerns too, but maybe I should save them for another post so that I'll have material to help end this writing drought.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Faith, Works, & Grace: A Mormon Perspective

I had a wonderful conversation yesterday with a friend of mine who is an evangelical Christian. We talked about faith and works and grace and the need to rely on Jesus Christ for our salvation. He asked questions about some of my beliefs as a Mormon and I tried to answer to the best of my ability.

Afterwards, I had a lot to think about because my friend seemed to believe that Mormons trust in their works to get them into heaven. I found that interesting because I don’t believe that and I’m a Mormon. If there is any substance to that claim then I think that we Mormons haven’t been clear enough about our beliefs.

What do Mormons believe about faith, works, grace, and Jesus Christ’s role in our salvation? Are we saved by grace? Are we saved by works? Do faith and works conflict with each other? I don’t think they do if we understand what each is and what each is for.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Christians, Mormons included, center their faith in Jesus Christ as the sole source of salvation. Faith, then, becomes the motivating force in the Christian’s life, driving him or her to seek to do God’s will in all things.

And what of works? Well, unfortunately this is a very loaded concept. But I don’t think it needs to be. Let’s turn to the Bible to see what is said about works.

Jesus, Paul, and James each teach the importance of works as an aspect of discipleship. (Matthew 5:16; Acts 26:20; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:10; 6:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Titus 2:7, 14; 3:14; James 3:17-26)

And Jesus, Paul, and John also teach that we are judged and rewarded according to our works. (Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 11:15; 2 Timothy 4:14; Revelation 2:23, 26; 20:12)

But Paul says that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Is Paul contradicting himself on the issue of works? Is he contradicting his Master, Jesus, or his fellow servants, James and John? What are we to do?

Like the Christians in Joseph Smith’s day Christians today “of the different sects [understand] the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12)

What are we to do then? Should we throw out the Bible entirely? God forbid, as Paul would say. What we need is some corroborating but clarifying testimony to support the Bible. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2 Corinthians 13:1) We have such a testimony in the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon was given for “the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace,” (2 Nephi 3:12) and for the intent that we believe in the Bible. (Mormon 7:9) So, let me turn to the Book of Mormon to examine the interplay of faith, works, grace, and our reliance on the Savior for salvation, and let’s see if we can shed any light on this matter.

On the title page of the Book of Mormon we read that one of its purposes is to convince the “Jew and the Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God….” Later we read that “all mankind [are] in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on [the] Redeemer,” (1 Nephi 10:6) who is Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, we Mormons rely “alone upon the merits of Christ, who [is] the author and the finisher of [our] faith” (Moroni 6:4; emphasis added); indeed, we rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19; emphasis added).

What does the Book of Mormon say about grace and its role in our salvation? First, “redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth” (2 Nephi 2:6).

Second, “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8)

Third, a plea: “….My beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God…and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved” (2 Nephi 10:24).

Fourth, “…We labor diligently…to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).

This last verse is probably the one verse in all scripture unique to the Mormons that is misunderstood to mean that we believe that we are saved by works. But a careful reading of the rest of the Book of Mormon clarifies this completely.

Perhaps the best way about it is to understand our terms. What do we mean by works? King Benjamin captured it nicely when he taught his people that “all that [God] requires of you is to keep his commandments” (Mosiah 2:22). Is it work to keep the commandments? I should think so. Fortunately, keeping the commandments is not all drudgery: we experience joy, happiness, and success in our lives as we keep the Lord’s commandments.

“Well,” one might point out, “it is impossible for a mortal to actually keep all of the commandments all of the time. Something’s got to give.” This is true, and herein we see the mercy of God’s plan for his children. In providing a Savior to work out an infinite and eternal atonement, God could bring about the conditions of mercy and repentance.

As recorded in the Book of Mormon, one group of converted sinners understood best what the extent of their works was. They had been a vicious, wild, and wholly godless people. But they had come to know their Savior. They had repented of their sins. Their king related that “it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God” (Alma 24:11; emphasis added). After that, knowing their repentance was sincere and that God is mighty to save, their guilt was swept away. (See also, Enos 1:2-8)

Upon baptism, we enter into a covenant with God, a contract of sorts, wherein He promises to save us from sin and death and the devil, but He asks us at the same time to work in His kingdom to assist Him in bringing about “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). We fulfill our obligations to God by following in the footsteps of His Only Begotten, Jesus Christ, and seeking to lead others of God’s children to Him.

So, let me recap a bit. We believe, unequivocally, that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The clause “after all we can do” refers to our obedience to God’s commandments (truly all He requires of us), and our ability to repent sufficiently. All this is made possible through the enabling power of the atonement, which is grace.

Joseph Smith stated it this way, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (Articles of Faith 3).

Mormons do believe that God requires obedience of His children in order for them to receive His blessings. (See D&C 130:20-21) But it is inaccurate to say that Mormons believe that they earn God’s blessings. Blessings are gifts from God and cannot truly be earned by the merits of mortal, imperfect men and women; else, like impudent children, we might boast one to another of our achievements. Rather, God bestows His blessings on His own terms.

“Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God.” (1 Nephi 17:35) Though God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” (Matthew 5:45) only those who love Him and keep His commandments will be saved in His heavenly kingdom (Mark 16:16; John 3:5; 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Corinthians 2:9).

In the end, God will not force any of His unrepentant children to come home to live with Him in eternity. But as long as the earth stands, the invitation to “come unto Christ and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32) will remain extended.

I hope that I haven’t added to the confusion by what I have written here. I am grateful to be able to share my perspective on these very important concepts. They have brought me peace in this life and can do the same for you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

In a Pickle

Every once in a while one of the other exercise science students offers money to anyone who will be a part of his or her research study. I like to participate in these as often as I am able for at least two reasons: 1). I get some pretty sweet moolah, and 2). I get to learn a number of nifty experimental design features and protocols that I otherwise might not have learned.

I read once that Midwesterners are most likely of any group of people in the United States to use the phrase "in a pickle". I'm not sure why that is, but after volunteering to be a subject in a study examining the gastric emptying rate of pickle juice versus water, a study designed and carried out by Kevin from Wisconsin, I came to know a little better what it means to be in a pickle.

Here's me, not fully knowing what I'm getting myself into, but giving my full consent to do it.

After being weighed, Kevin gave me a beaker of water to drink to flush my stomach of anything that might be in it. I drank it and sat for 30 minutes to let it do its work.


Periodically, 5 mL blood samples were taken throughout the test, so Kevin put a catheter into my right arm.

Then it was time to put in a 67 centimeter (2.2 feet) plastic tube up my nose, down my throat, and into my stomach. First, I had to numb up and lube my nose:

Then, Kevin gave me the most amazing wild cherry-flavored throat-numbing spray:

After focusing the chi, I was ready to insert the tube:

The most difficult part is passing the uvula area at the back of the throat. Mission: Try not to hit the gag reflex.

Glad that I had gotten past the worst part, I kept on swallowing and pushing, swallowing and pushing until the tube had reached my stomach.

Then Kevin flushed my stomach with water:

With the tube in my stomach, I then had to drink something like 7 milliliters (mL) of water for every kilogram of body weight (body mass for you real sticklers). That worked out to about 705 mL (about 3 cups). On top of that, I had to drink it all in 1 minute and 30 seconds. Since Kevin is studying the difference of the rate of exit out of the stomach between water and pickle juice, I had to complete all these steps twice. So where you read that I had to drink 705 mL of water, also realize that on another day I had to drink 705 mL of pickle juice; all in one-and-a-half minutes.

Over the next forty minutes Kevin infused phenol red into my stomach, took samples of the water (or pickle juice) from my stomach, and sampled blood from my arm, while I periodically rated my level of nausea.

Later Kevin would analyze the samples he drew from my stomach to determine how much phenol red was present (phenol red doesn't leave the stomach very quickly compared to the two test fluids), indicating the rate of exit from my stomach of either the water or pickle juice.

In total, I twice spent over an hour and a half in that dilapidated dentist's chair with a tube down my throat. All this for $40 and a greater understanding of my field of study. In the end I think it was worth it, though I would probably think twice before I did this type of study while exercising like they do at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

A friend of mine also wrote about this with even more pictures illustrating the process. Her account is well worth reading: Musings of a Mad Scientist.

So what do you think? Was it worth it? Would you do it for $40? After going through this and comparing these procedures with those of my thesis, I'm even more confused why we can't get enough teens to come in to only run on a treadmill. I don't even joke about needles in their presence; they've got it easy.

(Photo credits: Dave Nielson)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

An Unsung Hero

Lately, I've been studying the history of the London Missionary Society and its accomplishments in the Samoan islands. Not only is their history fascinating in its own right, but some of the personalities involved in the initial evangelizing of Samoa are quite remarkable.

I don't mean to do John Williams any injustice by not focusing this post on him and his incomparable work; indeed, were it not for Williams's enthusiasm, the message of Jesus Christ might not have made it to Samoa until many years later than 1830.

But one whose work is often passed over is that of the Reverend George Pratt, from Great Britain. According to The History of the London Missionary Society, 1795 - 1895, "Mr. [and Mrs.] Pratt reached Samoa [on October 26th, 1839], [and he] laboured there for forty-one years," Mrs. Pratt having died sometime while in Samoa. (4) Forty-one years in Samoa! What a sacrifice, and one that cost him his wife's life at that. Surely this man and his life's work is worthy of our admiration and attention.

"...Worthy of the highest regard and honour, the Rev. George Pratt, who [laboured] in the district of Matautu, on the island of Savaii, did a work of lasting worth in shaping the Christian thought and life of his flock." (1)

But perhaps his most enduring accomplishment was the Rev. Pratt's work on the translation of the Holy Bible into the Samoan language. "While many willingly and lovingly contributed their share of toil in the Samoan translation of the Scriptures, to Mr. George Pratt belonged the chief honour, and to his remarkable linguistic skill and diligent scholarship much of its great excellence was due. " (4)

One of the Rev. Pratt's colleagues, Mr. Samuel James Whitmee, eulogized Pratt with the following:

To him, more than to any other person, although several rendered efficient aid, the excellence of the Samoan version of the Scriptures is due. I think I may say he did more than all the rest put together. The translation, and then the revision of the Samoan Bible, was the great work of his life. To this he devoted almost daily attention for many years, with the result that the Samoans have a Bible which, as a classic, is, and will be to them, very much what the Authorized Version has been in England. (4)

Another wrote,

Only those who have had a share in such work can understand its difficulty. A beginning was made with the New Testament. Book by book this was put into the Samoan language and issued to the people, who from the very first were trained to purchase their books with their own money. The New Testament completed, the Psalms followed, and at intervals the rest of the Old Testament. Afterwards the first translations were carefully gone over word by word three or four different times, and numerous corrections made, so as to make the translations as perfect as possible, and in this work...most of all, as stated above, Mr. Pratt took the securing the result. (1)

In fact, the translation of the Bible into Samoan is considered so good that as of 1894, "all further revision [had] been laid aside, the present translation being regarded as practically as perfect as it can be made," (1) and Spencer Churchward, twentieth century linguist and writer of a remarkably good Samoan grammar, remarked, "There can be no doubt that the Samoan Bible is almost faultless." (5)

Apparently, the Rev. Pratt stood "pre-eminent as a student and master of the Samoan language," (1) and he

spoke it like one of the natives of a generation now passed away, before the language had suffered from modern corruptions. He was so familiar with the classic traditions of the people, and could illustrate and give points to his speech by such telling references and allusions, that it was always a treat to the natives to hear [Palate] speak. He had no uninterested hearers. He accordingly had little patience with missionaries who were contented with an imperfect knowledge of the language of the people to whom they preached, or who were given to careless speech. (4)

Moreover, "'Mr. Pratt was a specialist. He was a born linguist, and he faithfully used and cultivated his special talent in the service of Christ." (4) On June 5, 1876, Mr. Pratt wrote, "For my own amusement in 1875 I wrote out a syntax of the Samoan grammar."

I was led to do this by observing, while reading Nordheimer’s Hebrew Grammar, that the Samoan, in many points resembled the Hebrew. Shortly afterwards the Rev. S. J. Whitmee asked me to contribute the Samoan part of a comparative Malayo-Polynesian Dictionary. I at once, with the aid of pundits, commenced revising the first edition of my Dictionary, which was printed at the Samoan Mission Press in 1862. I read through the Hawaii, Maori, Tahiti, and Fiji Dictionaries, and from these I obtained some words which occur also in the Samoan dialect, but which had been overlooked in the first edition. I also culled words and examples from Samoan genealogical accounts, songs, traditionary tales, proverbs &c. In this way I have been enabled to add over four thousand new words or new meanings. (3)

As mentioned, in addition to his work on the Samoan Bible, the Rev. Pratt compiled a Samoan - English dictionary and wrote a grammar of the language, (3) both considered standard works to this day. He also translated a number of parables and allegories from many lands into Samoan, including a number of Aesop's fables. (2)

And so, this man, remarkably gifted in languages, of whom it was also said that "...his Hebrew Old Testament and his Greek New Testament were among his most cherished companions, whether he was at home or travelling," (4) spent out his days seeking to raise his English- and Samoan-speaking peers' understanding of both the Samoan language and the word of God.

I think I can say that anyone who learns Samoan as a second language is indebted in some way to the Rev. George Pratt. That all Samoan-speaking Christians are indebted to him for the Samoan Bible goes without saying. His work will stand as an eternal memorial to his dedication to a noble work.

1. George Cousins, The Story of the South Seas, London Missionary Society, 1894.

2. George Pratt, O Faataoto ma Tala Faatusa Mai Atunuu Eseese, Religious Tract Society, 1890.

3. George Pratt, A Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language, 3rd ed., Religious Tract Society, 1893.

4. Richard Lovett, The History of the London Missionary Society, 1795 - 1895, H. Frowde, 1899.

5. Spencer Churchward, A Samoan Grammar, 2nd ed., Spectator Publishing Co., 1951.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Koko Rice

Like Kopai Koko, and Suafa'i, Koko Rice (or Alaisa, Samoan for rice) is one of my favorite Samoan dishes that is easy to prepare here in the States. Deb and I recently made some koko rice for our friends, Justin and Angela. I thought I'd share some pics and the recipe so you can make your own if you'd like.

First thing, you need only five ingredients: water, white rice (not instant), sugar, coconut milk, and, of course, Samoan cocoa. The last is kind of hard to get unless you have connections, so you can use any cocoa powder. Just know that Samoan cocoa has a very distinctive taste that cannot be matched or beaten by any domestic cocoa powders.

I'm not good at making recipes; when I cook I experiment till I feel I've gotten things right. So for you who want more specifics, here's a recipe for Koko Rice I found online at Samoan Sa'o:

  • 1 Cup Calrose Rice
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 Can Coconut Milk
  • 5 Table Spoons Grated Koko Samoa
  • Granulated White Sugar

Add rice and water in a sauce pan. Bring the water to a boil. After the water reaches a boil reduce the heat to low, cover, and let the rice cook for 20 min. (watch carefully as the water may boil over.) After 20 min. Turn off heat, add coconut milk, koko Samoa, and Sugar to taste (You'll probably need a lot of sugar.) then stir and serve hot with butter and bread or just by itself.


If you don't have koko Samoa you can use cocoa powder. You obviously won't get that unmistakeable koko Samoa flavor.
If you don't have calrose rice you can use any white rice.

This recipe also works with hot coco mix. But, instead of using 5 tablespoons koko Samoa, I added 10 Tablespoons of hot coco mix and 3 Tablespoons sugar. It tasted good but if you can get koko Samoa don't waste your time with hot coco mix.

My way is a little bit different. I like to cook the rice first in a rice cooker. While the rice is cooking, I grate the koko.

Then I put a large pot of water on the stove and turn the heat on to medium high. I mix in the powdered koko like so:

I sweeten the koko to taste with sugar. Some like it really sweet, others like it almost bitter. I am usually conservative with the sugar to accommodate the bitter enthusiasts, and put out a bowl of sugar for those sweet types. After I've sweetened the koko, I scoop in the cooked rice.

Then comes the coconut milk. Don't by coconut cream or creme d'coco, or whatever it's called, it's nothing like the coconut milk used in this recipe.

Share the deliciousness with friends:

Photo credits: Angela.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Samoa Part 20: Milovale's Faith

On Upolu, south of Pesega, in the Vilimaa area, up at the top of the road there is the source of the area’s name: O le Vilimaa--the rock grinder, or in more familiar terms, the gravel pit. Right before one enters the compound one can look to the left and notice a house. There lived an old lady 76 years of age (as of 2001) named Milovale. She was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but hadn't been to church for about 3 months: the time that she had lived in that house with her daughter and Catholic son-in-law, since the time she moved there from further away on Upolu.

We asked Milovale if we could get a ride to come and pick her up on Sundays and take her to church. She enthusiastically agreed. We told her that we probably couldn’t get her a ride for the upcoming Sunday but definitely for the next.

On Sunday morn while we were listening to the message of the speaker in the English-speaking ward, someone came to us and told us that an old woman and her daughter had asked for us. We exited the chapel to find Milovale and her daughter; they had walked from the Vilimaa to the chapel without really knowing where to go. The weather was hot, she had no water to quench her thirst, and the dust of the road only mocked her, I’m sure, as she set out, a 76 year old woman, to go to church. She hadn’t known exactly where the church building was, she just set out to find it.

The first thing that she asked for was a tithing slip and envelope that she might be square with the Lord and contribute to her son’s mission fund as he was serving in New Zealand. I did not see how much she put in the envelope, but I am certain that it was comparable to the widow’s mite.

The great faith of this woman drove her from the comforts of her daughter’s home to attend the meetings of a congregation unfamiliar to her. She had arrived 2 ½ hours early and patiently waited until the Samoan-speaking ward started, and she then remained there for the full 3 hour block. We secured a ride for her to take her home after the meetings.

Elder John H. Groberg who served his mission in Tonga, a close neighbor to Samoa, once wrote about the Tongans' faith. I think it is equally applicable to the faith typical of the Samoans. He wrote:

I would not characterize their faith by the English word simple, but rather the word profound. If we say there is a "simple faith," then by extension we need to say there is a more complex or sophisticated faith and that one faith may be superior to the other. I do not believe this. I do not believe there are various types of faith, such as simple or advanced or complex or sophisticated. I believe there is just faith or lack of faith. We either have faith or we don't. Of course, some have stronger faith than others. (1)

It may seem a simple thing for Milovale to have walked all the way to church that day in the blistering heat, but it still took faith to do it. Her example illustrates that faith is a principle of action, not only belief. Her belief in the resurrected Savior impelled her to church that morning despite the inconveniences of going.

After witnessing Milovale's expression of faith my own faith was strengthened. My desire to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only increased (see James 1:22). And thus, "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6); that is, as we see the natural expressions of others' genuine faith in Christ, the fire of their faith kindles within us the desire to also live by faith. Such is the power of true testimony.

1. John H. Groberg, In the Eye of the Storm, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993, pg. xii.