Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: The Book of Mormon (aka Stuff I believe, part IV)

I'll admit: I've been dragging my feet posting this for three weeks now, but here I go...

Here's the deal. My religious sentiments are dear to me, so it's for my own protection as well as my respect to others (via the old standby of avoiding the topics of religion and politics in public discourse) that I don't bring it up in everyday conversation. I have blogged about it in the past, like here and here, but I like to pick my spots--and they tend to be few. I have no problem discussing my religion with people who bring it up with me (respectfully). So if you have ANY question, you can ask me and I won't be offended. I've heard it all from polygamy to "magic underwear." I know that Mormonism is a different bird when looking at it from the outside in. I have no problem with that; I get it.

With that out of the way...

I like to review the books I read (like this, this, and this). But reviewing the Book of Mormon is a different thing. Generally speaking, Mormons read what we deem to be scripture (the Holy Bible, Book of Mormon, etc.) on a continual basis. We read at our own pace and times, but you'll rarely find a practicing Mormon that doesn't have a bookmark in some form of scripture on his overnight stand. I read books of scripture more than once. It's an ongoing thing, whereas the other books I review on my blog I have read once for entertainment purposes, and typically won't plan to revisit them for a long time; likely never.

But I'm reviewing the Book of Mormon formally because last month I finished reading it in a way I never had before. Rather than reading it a nibble here and a nibble there; a chapter here, a scripture there, like usual, I dove into to it in July with the thought of finishing it in one month. If you read one chapter a day, you'll finish it in about eight months. As logic would have it, the inverse is also true!

So, I did it. Eight chapters a day for a month. About 45 minutes each night.

If you're not familiar with the Book of Mormon, but you have some exposure to the King James version of the Bible, they are very similar. They read the same way; chapters and verses, old-style English (with thees, thous and thines).

But there's a little more to it than that....

What's actually in its pages? Is it a bunch of parables? Quotations from Joseph Smith? I understand that many people kinda, sorta want to know without having to pick one up and see. Let me see if I can help.

What we (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) believe it is is an ancient record, similar to the Bible, that testifies of the divinity of Jesus Christ. It was not written, but rather translated by Joseph Smith. In other words, other men wrote it, and Joseph Smith took their writings and translated them into English. While the Bible primarily takes place in the "old world" (Israel, etc.), the Book of Mormon takes place on the American continent. Where specifically? We don't know for certain, but the general consensus is around Central and South America.

What's actually between its covers? Honestly the best description is in the various intros found at the beginning of the book itself. If you'll allow me, let me point you to these links to three brief reads:

1) Title page
2) Introduction; (feel free to skip the testimony of the witnesses and of Joseph Smith, unless you want a little extra reading--though I do recommend them. But I'm trying to give as brief a taste of the book itself as I can offer)
3) A brief explanation about the Book of Mormon

Between those three references, you get a decent idea about what's in the pages behind them.

There is a common narrative that runs through the Book of Mormon, which is the one that follows the history of a family that left Jerusalem approximately in 600 B.C. and re-settled in the Americas. The patriarch of the family is named Lehi. He has several children, but his sons Nephi and Laman are principle to the unfolding of the narrative. As it continues on, over hundreds of years, the writings follow the posterity of Nephi and Laman--the former called Nephites, and the latter called Lamanites. Basically, they don't get along. Over time, this distinction is more about philosophy and culture rather than blood lines. That is, genetically, the two groups get pretty intermixed through the generations, but the labels are still used as a means of describing these two connected but distinctly separate societies. It's like the Montegues and Capulets played out over the course of 1000 years. There are other societies that make cameos called the Muelekies and the Jaredites, but for simplicity's sake, I'll leave that aside for now.

This is a lot of set up for what will be a brief review.

Reading the Book of Mormon over the course of a month helped me condense the epic. There are various histories, messages, and storylines that I would normally take a week or two to get through. In this reading, I'd get through them in a night or two. As such, I felt like I saw them up close. I made connections from one chapter to another that I normally would lose by setting the book down several times between chapters.

I gained a clearer picture of the chronology than I ever have before. But, also caught a unique vista of the whole book. Here's what I learned, remembered, or felt was emphasized in this most recent reading:

- People then and people today are the same. We love, we fight, we succeed, we fail, we remember God, we forget Him.

- Societies are fragile things. When we remember God and put him first, individuals, families, and societies experience more peace and an increase in joy and meaning in life.

- For some reason (and I have my hunches) there are always individuals who want to bring down families and societies, and they do it through deception and there is no boundary to the means they'll use to do it. It happened then, and it happens today.

- Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. It stinks, but we have to learn to love God and our brothers and sisters of mankind in spite of this. It will eventually all be okay. Rather, it will eventually all be magnificent!

- Jesus Christ is real. He lived in and around Judea. He died. Somehow, though I can't explain it, He suffered and died for everyone's sins and pains; he knows them all intimately and can and will take them on Himself and remove them from us. He was resurrected and He lives today--literally. He knows each of us individually. He cares for us, and wants us to find Him. He hopes (and literally prays) for our well being, but He will absolutely not take away our right to choose Him. He wants and needs us to follow Him willingly. He will never force us to do it, but as we humble ourselves and sincerely try to emulate his example, we will experience more peace in spite of the fleeting joys and pains of life.

Friends, family, and online strangers--thanks for indulging me. If you've read this far, thanks. I don't "get religious" in public often, and I don't think I've ever done it to this extent. But, writing is a process that helps me get things off my mind and heart, and this was no exception.

Please don't hold it against me if my subsequent posts return to my typical irreverent, pointless mental meanderings.


CJ said...

That is quite the accomplishment. I don't understand how you have the time to work, have family time (i.e. be a good father, husband, brother,etc.) read books for fun and for religious purposes, what all the strange old movies you watch. You are the man!

Anna M said...

You always write so well what I hope to convey. You've got a gift.

And thanks for indulging me in this intense reading. I loved it. I loved reading with you. What's next?

LuckyMatt said...

Nice write-up of a book that is also dear to me.

Laraine Eddington said...

I loved your review, as I love this book.