January, 2001 | Meridian Magazine
Discover the Grandeur of Africa this February - GRAND AFRICA SAFARI

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February 3, 2023

Church Sends Aid to India Earthquake Victims

In response to the devastating earthquake that hit western India last week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is shipping relief supplies to the areas most impacted by the disaster. More than 600,000 pounds of food, blankets, clothing and medical supplies either are already purchased in India or will be shipped from Salt Lake City to the devastated areas.

The Church has also sent immediate emergency funding to India to help local relief agencies purchase supplies for refugee camps. An additional $25,000 will be donated to the Prime Minister of India’s relief fund for search and rescue operations and to establish temporary shelters for those who have lost their homes.

The emergency supplies will be distributed by charitable organizations such as the Diwaliben Mohanlal Mehta Charitable Trust and the Share and Care Foundation. The Asia Area Presidency will continue to evaluate additional needs and recommend any further assistance.

To access additional resources related to this article, see:

Staying Spotless in a Sea of Slime – Part 1

Staying Spotless in a Sea of Slime – Part 1
by Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd

With online access, the forbidden fruit is only a click away, and it is easy to rationalize that “No one will ever know,” or “It won’t hurt anyone to take just a quick peek.”

NOTE: This introduction is longer than we intended, and we apologize if the material is not as uplifting as you have come to expect from Meridian. But the first step towards fighting an enemy is to be able to understand it, and that is the foundation we are trying to build today. You should now be able to understand why the Prophet is concerned, and why every member (and especially parents) should be vigilant in safeguarding families from this evil.

If you review the talks given at the Priesthood session of the last General Conference, you will find a common theme that runs through most of them. Of the six talks presented that evening, four of them – including all three of the talks by the First Presidency – warned both the young men and their fathers of the evils associated with pornography. President Hinckley counseled the fathers, “If they want to get involved in pornography, they can do so very easily. They can pick up the phone and dial a number with which they are familiar. They can sit at a computer and revel in cyberspace filth.”

Comments from some of our local leaders confirm that pornography – particularly online pornography – is becoming more of a problem for a growing number of members of the Church. Although pornography can be attractive to women as well, their internal wiring usually causes them to be more repulsed than aroused by such material. So it is generally the men that have to be on guard to keep their resources up against this particular temptation.

The problem is that online access to pornography is just so easy. Before the popularity of the Internet, people had to work to acquire pornography, and there was always the fear that someone you knew would see you coming out of the magazine shop or the video store. But with online access, the forbidden fruit is only a click away, and it is easy to rationalize that “No one will ever know,” or “It won’t hurt anyone to take just a quick peek.”

We have all heard the stories (or perhaps had the personal experience) of children using the computer for a school project who accidentally stumble upon some seedy adult site. The reason this happens so often is that the owners of these sites want you to find them. They fill their web pages with hundreds of dirty and suggestive words (as well as innocent words with suggestive double meanings) so that your search engine is more likely to find them. Another common trick is to build an imposter site with a name similar to a popular site. The U.S. Justice Department has tried unsuccessfully to shut down an adult web site with a name similar to the one for the White House (www.whitehouse.gov). If little Jimmy and Julie want to write a letter to the new president but type in the wrong name, they are going to be in for an unwholesome surprise.

One of the secrets of the industry is that companies that provide search engines and portals make a good deal of their money from pornographers and other businesses who want their sites to be found. Have you ever noticed that the banner ads appearing on the pages of search engines seem to magically correspond to what you are trying to find? For example, if you search for “buy CDs online,” it is not uncommon for a banner ad to appear for companies that sell music online. This is not just a matter of chance, but is a result of money being paid to the owners of the search engine for displaying that ad, or having their site appear near the top of the search results page. Because pornography is one of the largest cash cows on the Internet, you can bet the pornographers are providing a good deal of the income for the people who create search engines and portals.

As if all of this weren’t bad enough, it is not uncommon to receive one or more unsolicited email messages each week inviting you to visit new adults sites. Most of these contain imbedded links to the site, so that all you have to do is click on the message and your browser will display the first page of the material. Most of these offers are pretty honest (and graphic) about what they are selling, but some are more subtle. Some of them will have subject lines such as, “In Answer to Your Question.” or, “Here’s the Information you Requested,” so that you will open the message instead of deleting it unread. Once you open the email and the message is displayed, the text may not even give any hint that the site in question contains adult material. Teasers might say only, “Click here for something we know you will like,” or, “Come and see some of our favorite pictures from this summer.”

The obvious goal of most adult sites is to make money, so you will not have to stay long before you are asked to enter a credit card number to pay for further exploration. This will keep youth and children away from the most explicit material, but most sites still offer “free previews” that can be pretty raw. Other sites are run by private individuals, men’s magazines, and glamour photographers who display their erotic works free of charge, although they usually warn you that people under the age of 18 should not view the material (as if that would stop any hormone-charged teenager). The bottom line is that someone who is looking for erotic material can find lots of it even without a credit card.

If you think the material displayed on these sites consists of pretty girls in skimpy swimsuits, then you must still be stuck somewhere in an episode of “Father Knows Best.” Most adult sites contain hard-core stuff, with ample material for just about every fetish or perversion. About the only thing that is currently banned is child pornography, and there are even groups fighting to ease the restrictions on that. One “businessman” recently argued in court that he should be able to display photographs of adults having sex that had been digitally altered so that the faces on the bodies were those of children. His logic was that because no children were forced to have sex to produce the pictures, they were not really child pornography. This logic assumes that the only danger of child pornography is in posing for the pictures.

In His introduction to the Word of Wisdom, the Lord tells us that it was prompted, “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days…” (D & C 89:4). This scripture has come to mind many times over the past few years, as the abuses of the tobacco industry have come to light. For many years the industry discredited and falsified health studies, while increasing their efforts to market tobacco products to new generations of victims. When called upon to testify before Congress, the leaders of the major tobacco companies raised their hands and swore to tell the truth, but then blatantly lied about their activities and intentions. Many of those involved in the pornography industry employ similar tricks to try and legitimize their tawdry product.

Many of us don’t realize the amount of money made by the panderers of pornography. It is estimated that the “adult entertainment” industry has gross revenues of 8-10 billion dollars per year. To put that in perspective, pornography rakes in more than the annual domestic box office revenues of the movie industry, and more than twice the annual revenue of major league baseball (“U.S. News & World Report,” February 10, 1997). With that kind of money financing their efforts, it is easy to see how the industry is making great progress in making themselves look acceptable – if not respectable. It is amazing how fast the doors will open if you hire some good lawyers and public relations people, and make a few strategically-placed political contributions.

For a number of legal and technical reasons, we have to realize that our governments can provide us only limited protection from smut. As pornography becomes more and more pervasive, we must expect that the standards expected of Latter-day Saints will be increasingly higher than those embraced by the rest of the world. Although our governments can protect us from the most hideous abuses, it will always be our responsibility to make up the difference between the higher law of God and the lower law of society.

This introduction is longer than we intended, and we apologize if the material was not as uplifting as you have come to expect from Meridian. But the first step towards fighting an enemy is to be able to understand it, and that is the foundation we are trying to build today. You should now be able to understand why the Prophet is concerned, and why every member (and especially parents) should be vigilant in safeguarding families from this evil.

In our book A Parent’s Survival Guide to the Internet, we explain some techniques for protecting your family from pornography and other harmful material. In future columns, we will summarize and present some of these ideas in the hope that you may fortify your home against this growing sea of slime.

2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.




Why Your Thoughts Are Worth Preserving

Why Your Thoughts Are Worth Preserving
by Marvin Payne

Whether an audio recording or scribble in a notepad, your journal is worth keeping.

In my last column, I called to repentance several of you who have imagined your journals wouldn’t be worth reading and preserving. There is always some value and usefulness in your work. Take the story Marilee told me about how she was one day, many years ago in the first year of her very happy marriage, listening to an album of mine, called The Planemaker, when suddenly her husband’s voice whispered up off the tape, “and here is Marilee snoring…” and the rest of the cassette was filled with those very much more personal expressions. This is true love. Imagine how eager he would have been to preserve some record of her speaking actual words! You see, you can’t go out and buy a tape of Marilee snoring, but you can always drop by your local Deseret Industries and find a Marvin Payne album.

A few months ago, shopping for props for a show my wife Laurie was directing and I was designing, we were in the American Fork D.I. and I said to her, “I’ll bet you ten bucks I can go over to that LP rack and find an album of mine.” She took me up on it, and a few minutes later I returned with two titles of my own, and one other I’d played guitar on. I didn’t take the money. But Neil Diamond could have made a bundle on a similar bet. There were eight or nine dusty copies of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” I have him beat. Once in the Provo D.I,. I found two cases of an album of mine called “Grasshopper,” still in shrink-wrap. (A case is 25 LPs.) Had it been called “Crickets,” and had it been deposited in the American Fork store, a miracle may have ensued. If seagulls can eat through shrink-wrap.

Actual True Tip: Recording memories on tape is allowed. At some point, they ought to betranscribed though, because tape dies. You can edit them at that point, too, if you want. A number of people have asked (okay, “one” is a number: Debi asked) “How do I become comfortable with my own musings? I sit down with my journal and all of my favorite gel pens and immediately become conscious of what I “should” write or what would be “appropriate” to write. I need to “let my hair down” and don’t know how to do that –any ideas?? First of all, you have to be careful about “letting your hair down” because you may not be able to get it back up again. I know.

But just talking your life through, even with an audience of one or two, might feel more natural and right-brained than writing. That’s how we got from my mother the story of “The Drunk and the Sled,” and “The Suitor and the Scrubwater.”

Another Actual Tip: My dad once sat down to write a history of his life year by year. In the entry for his second year, spent in the Mormon colonies in Mexico, he wrote that, faced with the challenge of learning two languages at once, he gave up on Spanish in favor of English, recognizing that he had to converse with his parents before ever having to engage his countrymen in conversation. In his fifth year he saw Haley’s comet. He was pretty excited. Try the year-by-year method.

You might think anybody can go to the mass media and read all about Haley’s comet, or the more recent strange ascension of George W. Bush and beatification of LaVell Edwards, but no one but you will write how you felt about any of these events. You can indeed write about big historical things, not only because your reportage may actually be more true and less “spun” than the official versions, but because of the invaluable record of your response to those events. Which brings me to Yet Another Actual Tip (back to Debi’s question): A very straightforward technique is simply to write what happened and then how you felt about it.

Bam, bam, one two. My great-great grandfather, John Brown, was one of Brigham Young’s scouts in the vanguard party of pioneers in 1847. He wrote wonderful journals that have been a rich source for historians as well as a treasure to his family. The entry that most “turned my heart to the fathers” followed this “I did, I felt” pattern. He wrote about boldly preaching to the priesthood holders under his leadership, calling them to repentance and being filled with the Spirit. He outlined the subjects and problems he addressed and the sweeping effect of his preaching, creating in my mind a picture of power and eloquent solemnity. Then he wrote, simply, “I felt like a little child. I melted. I knew the feeling. And if I hadn’t known it, I would very much have wanted to know it.

(The fact is, I have come to know John Brown fairly well, as James Arrington, Steven Kapp Perry, and I made him into the protagonist for our big fat musical drama “The Trail of Dreams.” So far, I’ve played him a hundred and fourteen times in that piece, and shown up as John Brown for a number of less formal portrayals [“Fifty or so” is a number]. And my one-month-old son is named for him. So write a journal. You may get a musical written around you, and people named after you.)

Before we leave Debi’s question, let’s remember Huck Finn, who discovered that “you can’t pray a lie.” For me, the absolute best effect of prayer has been to force me regularly into moments of being honest. Writing in a journal can also do that for us, if we refuse to write a lie. But you have to be careful. About a year ago I was preparing to undergo open heart surgery, not an emergency deal, just a simple three-stitch repair, but it required major excavation to get there. Since there was a remote possiblity of not surviving it, I drew up a little informal will (backstage at South Pacific, mentioned a couple of columns ago). In it I assigned the care of my journals to my oldest son, with the instruction that if they were ever to be published, even in a limited way, he should use compassion and good judgement with regard to the feelings of people who are mentioned there. I didn’t really balk at the prospect of presenting myself as riddled with foibles and failures, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. I survived, so I don’t know what he would have done. But what I have hoped, in looking back on those passages, is that I wrote about other people in a balanced way, setting their stories of struggle in the same context of goodness and growth in which I hoped mine would be seen. Real life is messy. What we’re writing about is real life. Whenever I’ve caught myself in the middle of writing an entry that was so “correlated” as to feel like a lie, I’ve scratched it out and started over. But I have also scratched out stuff that, after the passion of writing, felt dangerous, hurtful, or useless.

John Brown kept handy pocket-sized journals of his adventures, all in pencil. In old age, he copied them all into one big book. Most of his editing was historical and factual, but such a process might also allow for the overlay of that “growth” context. Some years ago, I did this with my much shorter missionary journal. I think just about any story that ends with repentance and grace is a good story. A reminder: hope is also “the truth” and ideals are also “the truth.” We can write that truth, too.

Final Actual Tip, Purely Practical But Fun: A number of you (“four” and “five” are both numbers) are still stalled at that “How do I get started” place. Try this. Write a document called “My Life According To ____________________(fill in the blank).” It could be “houses in which I’ve lived.” “Church jobs I’ve done.” “Cars Ive driven.” “Pets I’ve chased around.” “Degrees of hair loss.” You will find bundles of memories hanging from every item on your list. You will quite suddenly be writing good history and enjoying it. I had a blast writing “My Life According To The Acquisition And Disposition Of Various Fretted Instruments.” There have been (hold on while I check…) thirty-one guitars, four banjos, three bass guitars, and three ukes, so the document is several pages long, because each instrument connects with specific places, songs, tours, people, and performances. And each of those places, songs, tours, people, and performances is a window into more and more living, more and more feeling, more and more sharing. And though I keep telling myself I’m done with all that horse-trading (my unbreakable pattern of “buy high, sell low” is killing me), that document is often expanded.

Next time: How a journal can be your key to romance!

Send your thoughts to [email protected].


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.



Losing the 116 Pages

Editors’ Note: This is another excerpt from The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor. Articulate, passionate, and engaging, Mother Smith takes us to places in the heart of Joseph Smith we see nowhere else.

In this room, Mother Smith’s kitchen and dining area, Martin Harris revealed to the Smith family that he had lost the manuscript.

This book differs from the book that has been traditionally available because it has been re-edited to be as close to her original words as possible and includes 100 photographs and 600 footnotes to put the events she describes in context.

Martin Harris, having written some one hundred and sixteen pages for Joseph, asked permission of my son to carry the manuscript with him in order to let his wife read it, as he hoped it might have a salutary effect upon her feelings. He also wanted to show his family what he had been employed in during his absence from them. Joseph was very partial to Mr. Harris, on account of the friendship which had manifested in an hour when there seemed to be no earthly friend to succor or to sympathize. Still, Joseph, for a long time, resisted every entreaty of this kind.

At last, however, since Joseph felt a great desire to gratify the man’s feelings as far as it was justifiable to do so, he inquired of the Lord to know if he might do as Martin Harris had requested, but was refused. With this, Mr. Harris was not altogether satisfied, and at his urgent request, Joseph inquired again, but received a second refusal. Still, Martin Harris persisted as before, and Joseph applied again, but the last answer was not like the two former ones. In this, the Lord permitted Martin Harris to take the manuscript home with him on the condition that my Son was responsible for its safety. This my son was willing to do, as he could not conceive it possible for so kind a friend to betray the trust reposed in him. But there is no doubt of this indulgence being given to Joseph in order to show him by another lesson of bitter experience how vain are all human calculations, and also that he might learn not to put his trust in man, nor make flesh his arm.

Mr. Harris now took the most solemn oath that he would not show the manuscript to any save five individuals who belonged to his household. His anxious desires were now gratified, for he hoped that this might be the means of carrying the truth home to their hearts. The idea of effecting a union of sentiment in his family animated him very much.

He was now fully prepared to set out for home, which he did carrying with him one hundred and sixteen pages of the record in manuscript.

Immediately after Mr. Harris’s departure, Emma became the mother of a son, but she had but small comfort from the society of the dear little stranger, for he was very soon snatched from her arms and borne aloft to the world of spirits before he had time to learn good of evil. For some time, the mother seemed to tremble upon the verge of the silent home of her infant. So uncertain seemed her fate for a season that, in the space of two weeks, Joseph never slept one hour in undisturbed quiet. At the expiration of this time she began to recover, but as Joseph’s anxiety about her began to subside, another cause of trouble forced itself upon his mind. Mr. Harris had been absent nearly three weeks, and Joseph had received no intelligence whatever from him which was altogether aside of the arrangement when they separated. He determined that as soon as his wife gained a little more strength, he would make a trip to New York and see after the manuscript. He did not mention the subject to Emma for fear of agitating her mind in her delicate health.

In a few days, however, she soon manifested that she was not without her thoughts upon the subject. She called Joseph to her and asked him what he thought about the manuscript. “I feel so uneasy,” said she, “that I cannot rest and shall not be at rest until I know something about what Mr. Harris is doing with it. Do you not think it would be advisable for you to go and inquire into the reason of his not writing or sending any word back to you since he left us?”

Joseph begged her to be quiet and not worry herself, as he could not leave her just then, as he should not dare to be absent from her one hour while her situation was so precarious. “I will,” said Emma “send for my mother and she shall stay with me while you are gone.”

After much persuasion, he concluded to leave his wife in the care of her mother for a few days, and set out on the before-mentioned journey;. Only one other passenger was in the stage besides himself, and since this individual did not seem inclined to urge conversation, Joseph was left to the solitude of his own imagination. But the sensations which he experienced when he found himself well seated in the stagecoach cannot be imagined by anyone who reads this, for they have not been in like circumstances, and, of course, they cannot be correctly described.

There were various causes acting upon his mind which were calculated to have a very peculiar effect upon him. In the first place was the consideration of the calling which he had received at the hand of God many years previous, to do a thing unlooked for by the generation of which he lived. He cast his eyes abroad upon the age now present upon the earth, and reflected that he stood alone, an unlearned youth opposed to all the casuistry and learning and ingenuity of the combined world. He considered that he had been called to extend his search up to the throne of God and bring down the precious things of heaven above into the midst of the sons of men, despite all their preconceived opinions and prejudices. These were so great that in order to gratify a pride of popularity and sustain a fashionable religion, they would and did strive, and even before this had used all their ingenuity, to take away his life to prevent the truth from coming forth-that their own opinion would no receive injury.

But this he did not regard, while he was sure of the strong support of the arm of the Almighty Ruler of men.

There remained another item of consideration of tenfold weight and of more vital importance than any of those. He had not now that feeling of justification which assured him of the especial favor of God, for he feared awfully that he had ventured too far in vouching for the safety of the manuscript after it was out of his possession. Should the manuscript be endangered, the consequence which must ensue was inevitable, which was that he would not be permitted to retain the plates until he should be able to translate them-and perhaps that he might never have the privilege of touching a finger to the work, which until now he had been the blessed instrument in the hands of god to bring to the knowledge of mankind.

Nor was this the worst apprehension that disturbed his mind. The hot displeasure of the Almighty would be kindled against him for turning aside from the injunctions which were laid upon him, and for calling upon his Heavenly Father to grant him an indulgence that was not according to the instructions of the angel of the Lord. For it now appeared to him, upon reflection, that he had acted hastily and in an inconsiderate manner, and that he had regarded man more than his Maker. Whilst these thoughts, accompanied by ten thousand others, pulsed in rapid succession through his brain, there was but small opportunity of rest and little relish for refreshment. Consequently, Joseph neither ate nor slept while on the route.

This was observed by his fellow traveler, insomuch that when Joseph remarked, as he descended from the stage, that he had still twenty miles to travel on foot, the stranger objected saying, “I have watched you since you first entered the stage, and I know that you have not slept nor eaten since you commenced your journey. You shall not go on foot twenty miles alone this night, for if you must go, I will be your company. And now tell me what can be the trouble which makes you thus desperate and also weighs down your spirits to such an extent that you refused every proffered comfort and convenience.”

Joseph told the gentleman that he had left his wife in so low a state of health that he had reason to fear that he would not find her alive when he returned; also he had buried his first and only child but a few days previous to leaving home. The explanation was given in truth and sincerity, although there was heavy trouble lying at his heart that he did not dare to mention.

“I feel,” said the kind stranger, “to sympathize with you, and I will go with you, for I fear that your constitution, which is evidently not strong, will be insufficient to support you. You will be in danger of falling asleep in the forest, and some accident befall you.”

Joseph thanked him for his kindness, and they proceeded together. When they arrived at our house, it was nearly daylight. The last four miles of the distance, the stranger was under the necessity of leading Joseph by his arm, for nature was too much exhausted to support him any longer, and he would fall asleep as he stood upon his feet every few minutes.

When they came in, the stranger said, “I have brought your son through the forest because he insisted on coming, but he is sick and wants rest and refreshment. He ought to have some pepper tea immediately to warm his stomach. After you have prepared that, I will thank you for a little breakfast, as I am in haste to be on my journey again.”

When we had complied with the first direction, Joseph requested us to send with all possible speed for Martin Harris. We did so, and after the stranger left (whose name we never knew), we prepared breakfast for the family as soon as we conveniently could-for Martin Harris came in such haste, when sent for, that we supposed he would be there and ready to take breakfast with us before we were ready.

It was nor nearly six o’clock, and he lived three miles distant. At eight o’clock, we set the victuals on the table, looking for him every moment. We waited till nine, and he came not, till ten, and he was not there; till eleven, still he did not make his appearance. At half past twelve we saw him walking with a slow and measured tread toward the house, his eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the ground. When he came to the gate, he did not open it but got upon the fence and sat some time with his hat drawn over his eyes. At last he entered the house. After we sat down and were ready to commence eating, Martin took up his knife and fork as if to use them but dropped them from his hands. Hyrum said,”Martin, why do you not eat? Are you sick?” Martin pressed his hands upon his temples and cried out in a tone of anguish, “Oh! I have lost my soul. I have lost my soul.”

Joseph, who had smothered his fears till now, sprang from the table, exclaiming, “Oh! Martin, have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath and brought down condemnation upon my head as well as your own?”

“Yes,” replied Martin, “it is gone and I know not where.”

“Oh, my God, my God,” said Joseph, clinching his hands together. “All is lost, is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned. It is I who tempted the wrath of God by asking him for that which I had no right to ask, as I was differently instructed by the angel.” And he wept and groaned, walking the floor continually.

At last he told Martin to go back to his house and search again. “No,” said Mr. Harris, “it is all in vain, for I have looked in every place in the house. I have even ripped open beds and pillows, and I know it is not there.”

“Then must I,” said Joseph, “return to my wife with such a tale as this? I dare not do it lest I should kill her at once. And how shall I appear before the Lord? Of what rebuke am I not worthy from the angel of the Most High?

I besought him not to mourn so, for it might be that the Lord would forgive him, after a short season of humiliation and repentance on his part. But what could I say to comfort him when he saw all the family in the same state of mind that he was? Our sobs and groans and the most bitter lamentations filled the house. Joseph, in particular, was more distressed than the rest, for he knew definitely and by sorrowful experience and consequence of what would seem to others to be a very trifling neglect of duty. He continued walking backwards and forwards, weeping and grieving like a tender infant until about sunset, when we persuaded him to take a little nourishment.

The next morning he went home. We parted with heavy hearts, for it seemed as though all our fond anticipations, that which we had fed upon and which had been the source of so much secret gratification to us, had in a moment fled, and fled forever.

Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Twelve: The Culprits-Who We Blame for How Hard It Is to be a Functional Family Today

Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Twelve: The Culprits-Who We Blame for How Hard It Is to Be a Functional Family Today
by Richard and Linda Eyre

Part 12 begins our discussion of the “culprits” . . . the forces that, often unintentionally, are destroying our families and making it almost impossibly hard to be a parent in today’s world.

Note: In this twenty-six part column, Richard and Linda Eyre explore the recent revolution of the family from the honored centerpiece of society to a disrespected and seemingly redundant appendage to the larger corporate and cultural institutions of our new world. Re-valu-ing the family, the Eyres believe, is the only alternative to America’s demise. The sequence of the column is: A. Re-valu-ing the family (part I); B. The “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); C. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); D. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); E. The “cause” (parts 8, 9, 10, 11 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 12, 13, 14, and 15– how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 — what you as a parent can do about it); H. The “case” (parts 23, 24, and 25 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention), and I. Finding or forming a family support group (part 26).

Culprit (kl’prt) n. one guilty of a fault or deserving blame for an unhappy condition

They were all established to support, sustain, and supplement the family. But in their instinct for self-preservation and growth, they now supplant and substitute for the family while (wittingly and unwittingly) attacking its roots.

Mixed Blessings
In our family, what we try to do with our vacations is to get away from society as we know it. One summer where we had a particularly long vacation coming, we went for five weeks with all the children, high into the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon and attempted to better understand our pioneer roots by building a log cabin. We were an hour’s jeep drive away from electricity and a world away from the kids’ peer groups and from life as usual. We started in a tepee and moved into the one-room log cabin when the walls were part way up.

The whole experience was the perfect illustration of the friend/foe nature of modern society and of the love/hate relationship most parents develop with technology and with large institutions. On the one hand, there were so many things we missed from “regular life.” We missed the convenience, the entertainment, the information, the communication, the readily-available goods and services. But we loved the simplicity, the togetherness, and the unity we felt as a family. We worked together, we talked together without being interrupted by the phone, we ate together, we played simple board and card games together, we hiked and swam in a mountain lake together. We were each other’s best friends and best helpers. Our family was the only institutions there. It was both the hardest and the greatest five weeks of our lives.

In pointing a finger at “large institutions,” in blaming them for the undermining and sometimes willful destruction of the smallest institution, we should be aware that we are making culprits out of our biggest beneficiaries.

So let’s think first about who and what these larger institutions are — and about what we owe them. Let’s consider what they have done for us as well as what they have done to us.

Our financial and industrial and business institutions have made a quantity and quality of goods and services available could not have even been comprehended a century ago. Our legal institutions have protected us, our medical institutions have lengthened and improved the quality of our lives, our media/entertainment, informational and educational institutions have opened the world to us and delivered enjoyment as well as enlightenment. Our governmental institutions have preserved our freedom and provided a safety net for people unable to care for themselves. All combined, the emergence in the twentieth century of stable, sustained larger institutions have dramatically increased our wealth, our access, our freedom, our awareness, our health, and have enhanced our tolerance and our capacities to understand each other. They have changed the world, made daily living less harsh and less punishing, and given us convenience and opportunity that our great grandparents could not have imagined.

So why call them culprits — these large and recent institutions? Simply because, despite all the good they may provide, they are endangering and undermining families. They do this by expanding and enriching themselves at the expense of families and by ignoring the values that are necessary to preserve families. They are thus the classic, macro example of a mixed blessing.

The question then, is not how we can set the clock back or how we can eliminate these large institutions. Who would want to? The question is how can families successfully coexist with them. How can families take and benefit from what larger institutions offer them and yet not be swallowed up, or made redundant, or lose their sanctity or their priority in our minds?

Since these larger institutions did not even exist until the twentieth century, these are relatively new questions. How can we, as individuals, revalue our families, accepting all the good that can come to us from larger institutions, while sidestepping or skirting or shielding ourselves from the bullets of family irrelevance or abdication that they shoot in our direction? And how can these larger institutions themselves be persuaded to re-examine their policies and practices in light of their effects on families. How can they be reminded that they were created to serve families and that they themselves can only survive over the long term if families survive?

A Closer Look at the Larger Institutions that Threaten Families
I was flying home from a trip to a rural, backwood part of Mexico, traveling with my six-year-old daughter. We’d become acquainted with a very poor family there and had been in their tiny, dirt-floored home. I turned to my daughter in the next seat and said, “Saydi, they sure live in a different world, don’t they?” She gave me a blank look.

As we talked, I realized she hadn’t really noticed the differences as much as the similarities. She knew that they were a family like us — that they loved each other and did things together. She was too young to focus on the materialistic.

Some things never change: the innate, intuitive, inherent love of children and family and the natural emotional tendency to prioritize spouse and children, to consider family the most important element of life. These feelings, these priorities have not changed from the beginning of time. And they are the same within all families, regardless of where they live and where they are on the socio-economic scale.

But while the essence of families doesn’t change, other things change completely: the emergence of larger institutions — economic, social, governmental and informational — that are so driven toward self-preservation and growth that they sweep aside and swallow up the very families (or smaller institutions) they were intended to serve.

Historically, the only societal units larger than families or clans were churches and governments. Until the twentieth century, and particularly the last half of the twentieth century, there was nothing else big enough or powerful enough to threaten the family on a widespread, macro basis. Not that the success or functionality of families was assured. Marriage, and parenting have never been easy and relationships and commitment have always been subject to failure, but never before had there been other bigger units of society that were strong enough (and self-serving enough) to actually undermine and substitute for the family and to create pervasive anti-family attitudes and paradigms.

For the most part these larger institutions are not philosophically anti-family. On the contrary, they reach out to families, they frequently cater to families and sell themselves or their services or their goods to families, they often pose themselves as the servers, the suppliers, even the slaves of families. But there are ways in which they are practically and in practice anti-family. What they are and much of what they do and big parts of the paradigms they create work against the cohesiveness, the commitment and the continuity of families.

There are ten broad categories or types of larger institutions that must be put on the culprit list. Although some overlap, five are basically from the private sector, three from the public, and two from the community or voluntary.

1. Work and professional institutions

2. Financial institutions

3. Merchandising institutions

4. Entertainment and media institutions

5. Information and communication institutions

6. Political and governmental institutions

7. Educational institutions

8. Courts and legal institutions

9. Community recreation and social/cultural institutions

10. Religious, psychological and self-help institutions


Next week: A closer look at the “big institution” culprits — at their characteristics, and at what they do for and against families.


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.



Adventures in Washington: An Insider’s View of the Tabernacle Choir’s Visit to the Inauguration

Adventures in Washington: An Insider’s View of the Tabernacle Choir’s Visit to the Inauguration
by Robb Cundick

Intense, hurried, soggy, exhausting, yet exciting and inspirational. That is the Tabernacle Choir’s trip to the Bush Inauguration in a nutshell.

Brother Craig Jessup leads the choir with passion and love.

Early on the morning of January 18th we flew from Salt Lake City aboard a single chartered MD-11 wide body. Four hours later we deplaned directly to buses at rainy Baltimore-Washington International and proceeded to two Marriott hotels in the beautiful Baltimore Inner Harbor area. Thirty-five miles north of Washington DC, this was the closest the Choir could find so many rooms on such short notice. We had a couple of hours to check in and enjoy a delicious dinner, then change and head off to a full dress rehearsal for Friday evening’s concert.

Another major challenge for Choir leadership had been arranging for a concert hall. Fortunately the small but beautiful Center for the Arts at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia was available, but that made for a ninety-minute bus ride from Baltimore. However we soon discovered 90 minutes was only in the rare event there wasn’t a traffic jam on the Washington Beltway. Our first negotiation of this pathway seemed almost as long as the plane ride! Still, this meant we could enjoy the spectacular Beltway view of the Temple as we traveled to and fro, and despite the rainy weather, when it first came into sight we felt a thrill in our hearts and were left fittingly inspired for the events to follow.

Friday morning provided the only free time of the trip. I had a visit with my eldest son, who by a strange twist of fate was interviewing for the Assistant Controller position at our very hotel that day (yes – he got the job!). While some enjoyed a respite in the hotel, many visited such attractions as the Baltimore Aquarium or Fort McHenry, site of the battle that inspired the text of our opening selection for the concert that night: “The Star Spangled Banner”. The Fort McHenry visitors told us they sang the anthem for the Park Service Employees, and it was a moving experience for all.

The Choir was at its best for the concert Friday evening. Brothers Craig Jessop, Mack Wilberg and Barlow Bradford had programmed a lavish banquet of music, from Brother Wilberg’s beautiful and spirited hymn arrangements, to patriotic favorites, to the boisterous “Cindy,” to selections from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” and two glorious choruses from my own Father, Robert Cundick’s “The Redeemer.” This concert had it all; rapidly paced and sans intermission, it ended with the perennial favorite encore, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” followed by our always-heartfelt “God Be With You ‘Till We Meet Again.”

For the first time, talented members of the brass, wind, and percussion sections of the new Orchestra at Temple Square joined us on tour to supplement the organ accompaniments. What a wonderful boost they provided to the performance! The 1600 seat auditorium was filled with an enthusiastic audience that included members of Congress, employees of Foreign Embassies, and members of the Church. With three encores, they clamored for more -despite Brother Lloyd Newell’s cautioning, “Don’t encourage them – they have over 1200 pieces in their repertoire!”

Adding the Orchestra at Temple Square to the performance at George Mason University was thrilling.

Thank goodness for the Friday morning break, because the rest of the tour became a true marathon. Arriving back at the hotels at 11:30, we were to be in concert dress and at breakfast by 5:30 a.m. Buses left promptly at 7:00 a.m. in order to have us at the Pentagon parking lot for security procedures at 8:30. There we passed through metal detectors that seemed to complain no matter how many things we took out of our pockets. I was treated to a custom hand frisking by an MP – I’d never been frisked in my life.

The parade was not to start until afternoon — why did this procedure have to start so early? Well, this was Washington after all — home of our nation’s bureaucracy. Fortunately we were afforded the luxury of a heated tent, where after a careful check of our identification we spent the next three hours amid other parade participants such as the colorful “Red Hot Mammas” from Idaho (I understand they do an entertaining routine with shopping carts, but we didn’t see it). There was also group of participants from the yearly Christmas re-enactment of Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware. Clothed in period dress including three-cornered hats, they called attention to the historicity of the day. There were also men dressed as Buffalo Soldiers. Portable latrines were available outside the tent and as I returned from a visit, here came Abe Lincoln, rushing along fretting that the misty rain might unglue his beard. A Mariachi Band provided a coup de grace to the festive atmosphere, with some of the Choir members organizing a sing along.

At last we were allowed to re-board our buses. As a Travel Coordinator I was to account for every person on my bus, and I soon discovered someone was missing. The poor fellow had been in the latrine and returned to find the tent to empty. He was soon collared by two military attendants who escorted him straight to the bus as though to jail. Each bus was assigned a military security officer who had strict orders that no one was to enter or leave until we reached our float. We mistakenly thought our wait was over when our attendant told the driver he could move out. However a police car soon chased us down with lights flashing, and a red-faced officer told us to return immediately.

The Choir’s performance at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia was received with great joy by the audience.

Oh well – the brief tour around the Pentagon parking lot at least provided a small diversion. Our chagrined Navy escort (who turned out to be a recent convert to the Church) soon had to admit over his hand radio that it was he the culprit who had given approval to leave. “It was my mistake, Sir.” I worried that he was destined for court martial, but as he later visited with his officer outside the bus I could see a sheepish grin and knew that all was forgiven. He later told us that the motto for this operation was similar to the Marines’ “Semper Fidelus” (always faithful), only with a slight modification: “Semper Gumby” – always flexible! Probably an old military joke, but it provided a nice laugh for us and helped keep the atmosphere light.

Our bus driver was able to find the inauguration ceremony on the radio, so we listened to both the Vice Presidential and Presidential Swearing-in Ceremonies as we waited. We also heard President Bush’s Inauguration speech. All of this again impressed upon us the magnitude of the historical event in which we were participating.

Finally, a police motorcycle brigade arrived to escort the bus convoy (there were seven Tabernacle Choir buses along with many from the other participants) into the city proper. Good – some action! I had never had such an escort, and it was exciting to see motorcycles blocking freeway entrances and pulling over cars in front of us to clear the way. I could see how a little too much of this could give one a swelled head. Our sense of importance evaporated quickly, however, as the escort dumped us on a side street and disappeared, leaving us to more interminable waiting.

Finally, at around 1:30, we covered the final distance to where we disembarked and walked a few more blocks in pouring rain to our float. The float was simple, but impressive in its enormity. There were two flat bed trailers, hooked together and pulled by a tractor. We sat eight across on forward-facing benches in over 40 rows. There was only one place to enter, so loading was lengthy and tedious. Those of us who had listened to the experiences of prior inaugural participants did not have trouble keeping warm. We wore layers of clothing under our concert dress along with hats, gloves and long dark overcoats. Each of us wore matching bright yellow plaid scarves to maintain a sense of uniformity. As it turned out, the concert dress would have been unnecessary, for although we had planned to remove our outerwear while passing the President, it later proved to be impractical.

The boarding of the float took on an almost comical nature as we squeezed together in heavy rain, accompanied by the incessant barking of dogs. Dogs? Yes – who should be right behind us but Susan Bucher of Alaskan Iditarod fame along with her team of drenched doggies, howling in discomfort and impatient to mush! Hurry up, we were told – you’re going to hold up the whole parade! Finally, loading complete, our float crawled forward a couple of blocks to join the innumerable bands and floats waiting for the parade to start.

At last there was a break in the rain and we could lower our umbrellas. Though clouds continued to threaten, conditions turned out to be not nearly as bad as had been feared. But it was time to wait yet again, for the parade would not begin for another hour or two, and we didn’t actually join it until around 4PM. The scene was colorful, with bands, military formations, floats and flags everywhere to be seen. A gigantic, noisy helicopter circled round and round over what I presumed to be the White House, hidden from our view to the left. To our right was the Capitol Building, still wearing multiple draped flags from the Inaugural Ceremony. As I surveyed this scene I considered what an incredible feeling it must be to be the man in whose honor all these events were taking place. All around were the emblems of a powerful nation, peacefully transferring its executive power.

Two lines awaited entrance into the parade. The bands were to our left, and since there seemed to be more of them than anything else, multiple bands would pass before our line edged forward. Many were high school bands whose cheerleaders, majorettes and drill teams were, for the most part, dressed in scant clothing. Some of these poor girls were shivering and crying, and this quickly awakened the mothering instincts of female members of the Choir. Upon boarding our buses that morning we had been handed packages of chemical hand warmers – small bags that will stay warm for several hours once exposed to air. Advised by our compatriots that these would be useful, most of us had already brought our own supply, so there was a great surplus of them. Our float suddenly became a dispensary as we distributed hand warmers to the passing bands. Once they discovered what we were handing out, the youths flocked to our side like birds to bread. I wondered if the warmers would really be that much help, but later learned that some of the girls said after the parade they’d never forget the help from the “Warmin’ Mormons”.

At last it was our turn to join the throng on Pennsylvania Avenue. At first, confusion seemed to reign. Our float was equipped with a sound system that was to play music we had recorded the prior Sunday, and to which we would add our live voices. But it took a few minutes to get things working. There were some glitches, including the almost immediate failure of one of the four amplifiers. I found it to be a little disappointing to tell the truth – the conditions were difficult to say the least. But we gave it the very best we could and finally got going, singing alternately, “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America”. We would wave and smile to the crowd while rubbernecking to try and catch a glimpse of Brother Jessop or Brother Wilberg’s conducting.

Parade route was drenched in icy rain, wind and cold weather.

Though the crowd was diminished by the bad weather, people along the parade route sang along and waved back to us, and despite the tough conditions we could see that many were moved and most were in a festive, patriotic mood. People called down for our attention from windows and roofs of the buildings above. Though there was the occasional negative language of protesters towards us, the overwhelming reaction was of enthusiasm. But when our brief moment in front of the President finally arrived, it overshadowed everything leading up to it.

The White House was almost last on the parade route. As we approached we could see that the whole area was brightly lit, and just at that point the rain started in earnest again. A sign indicated that bands should stop playing for a time so as not to interfere with the sound of those who were actually passing the President. Our float paused for a moment, then turned the corner into the bright lights and sped towards the reviewing stand as we launched into the closing verse of “Battle Hymn.” Finally we were singing something so familiar that we hardly needed to glance at our conductor. We could look to our left as we approached and then all-too-quickly passed our new Commander in Chief and his entourage.

But what a moment! I became oblivious to the rain as my eyes quickly drew to President Bush and his father, our former President. Both stood and moved forward as they smiled, waved, and even blew kisses to us. They were not fifteen feet from where I sat. Indeed, had it not been for the bulletproof glass it seemed I could almost have touched them. Their response seemed genuinely affectionate, and I felt a sudden surge of excitement and joy at the privilege of being a participant in this monumental occasion. These emotions swept away my earlier disappointment, and we finished the parade a short time later still feeling an exuberant glow.

What to say after that? We returned to the hotel by 7:30 and I did have one more choice experience that day – dinner with my East-dwelling son Joel, Daughter-in-law Kristin, and three month old Mandy the Wonder Baby – my first grandchild. It was yet another event that ended all too soon. Then off to bed with another early wake up call – we had to pack and have our bags down to the bus at 5AM. Pulling out at 6:15, we headed for our last task – the weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast followed by a “Mini-Concert,” again at George Mason University.

It’s always a struggle to get going at Sunday Morning Rehearsal before the Broadcast, but with two straight partial nights’ sleep it seemed nigh unto impossible this time. Brother Jessop exercised admirable restraint in his complaints about our hideously drifting pitch and general lack of energy. However, I suspect most were doing as I was – just trying to survive the rehearsal, pray like mad for a boost of energy, and save my remaining voice for the performance. When we have given our all we know we can rely on the Lord to make up the difference, and as always, He came through. The broadcast and concert were once again filled with joy and the Spirit. We could board the buses one last time and head for the airport feeling that we had accomplished all that the Lord had asked of us. And how fitting to catch one more glimpse of the Washington Temple – this time backed by a cold but beautiful blue sky.

As we landed in Salt Lake City, one last memorable event capped the experience. Someone had playfully thrown a pillow that happened to catch and remove one Brother’s toupee. People in the back started giggling and before we knew it, pillows were flying everywhere. The fire of the majority finally concentrated on two particularly militant Brethren in the center, and they were almost buried under a mountain of pillows. Hopefully we can be forgiven for a Sabbath pillow fight – it was a great stress reliever as we ended this hurried marathon and walked out to the welcoming arms of our families.


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.




Kenneth Cope’s Musical Testimony of Joseph Smith

Kenneth Cope’s Musical Testimony of Joseph Smith
by Maurine Jensen Proctor

The man behind such seminal LDS albums as Greater than Us All and Women at the Well shares an interactive musical and visual testimony of Joseph Smith.

Put your interactive CD-ROM in the computer and a four minute movie on the life of Joseph Smith passes before your eyes. Floating in space is a ball with fiery magma cracks which cools into a blue planet which dissolves into the head of a baby. Joseph Smith is born, foreordained from the foundations of the earth to be the prophet of the last days. Then in quick dissolves you look over Joseph’s shoulder through candlelight at a scripture in James, see a long shot as he walks into a grove in spring, enter a log cabin where an angel is visiting, run through Joseph’s life in glimpses and flashes until a camera moves up the stairs at Carthage and a bullet passes through a wooden door. The music undulates and swells, moving with the camera. With the new interactive CD-ROM, Joseph Smith, the Seer, you have just entered into new possibilities in your understanding of Church history.

And suddenly you have choices. Do you want to study Joseph’s early years or Zion’s Camp march or catch new glimpses of Nauvoo? It is all at the click of your mouse.

The man behind the music for this new dimension in gospel learning is Kenneth Cope, familiar to Latter-day Saints for his numerous well-loved albums including Greater than Us All, and Women at the Well.

A year ago Kenneth got a call from Chris Jones, a man with a vision who was starting CapitalMedia. His dream was to use instructional multi-media not just to teach the gospel, but to teach with an emotional impact, creating something beautifully done and well-crafted. Would Kenneth create the music and an accompanying album for the CD-ROM? It would be something new for Kenneth-to write music and have it deliver the meaning without words.

“I’m a man with a message,” Kenneth says. “That’s who I am. This would be the first time I would orchestrate something that had to bring emotion and understanding without lyrics, using no other tool but the music itself. ” Kenneth gave Chris the answer he has given to others who have approached him with projects. He had to think and pray about it.

Kenneth and his wife, Kathy had a prayer about it before they went to bed that night, and he said, “I got the answer right then.” He knew he was on board.

Kenneth loved the possibilities of Joseph Smith, the Seer. Like a film, creating the expanded possibilities of a CD-ROM involved the talents of a team. Researchers and scholars, 3D artists and photographers were involved. The expertise of Susan Easton Black, Richard Cowan, Joseph McConkie and Larry Porter were lent to the project.

“We journeyed to the Church history sites to capture photography. We looked for textures and angles, the sides of trees and the rough wood of buildings so that the artists could come home and build graphics and images on the computer,” said Kenneth. The final product would be a rich panoply of photography, interactive maps, text and graphics, burnished with the art of Liz Lemon Swindle. What’s more it would contain over 30 hours of narration with professional voices taking parts to bring Church history alive.

Kenneth’s Witnesses
It was a dream project for Kenneth whose love for Joseph Smith started in a series of small moments while he was young. “I remember going to the Manti pageant which started with this boy praying, and then looking for the plates on a hillside,” said Kenneth. “From that intent prayer came all that followed-the restoring of the gospel, converts gathering, crossing the plains, and eternal blessings in temples. Then the pageant ended with that same boy on a hillside. He was only a young man, and because he believed and had faith, he could be a pure receptacle for God’s word to come through him. I felt the Spirit.

“Then,” said Kenneth, “I was a junior, attending a high school for the performing arts in Houston Texas, about 45 minutes from my early morning seminary class. Every day as I took the bus to school, I pulled out a Book of Mormon and read. Day after day I read and felt that God was in it.

“Next, I served in Switzerland and France on my mission, and we kept ourselves busy tracting. There were not a lot of homes– mostly apartment buildings-and we climbed and climbed and knocked and knocked. I was so busy that once for some time I hadn’t had much personal study time. I’m not sure why. Anyway, I felt empty. I remember praying, ‘I’ve got to get the Spirit; what can I do?’ The answer came that I should study the scriptures. ‘ I can’t do it on this bike right now,’ I said. The answer came, ‘Do you know any by heart?’ I had memorized Joseph Smith’s first vision, so I thought, OK, and started quoting it. With each word the Spirit got stronger and stronger. I hadn’t been looking for another strong witness that Joseph was who he said he was, but I got it.”

Making Music
Parallel with these early stirrings of the Spirit in Kenneth’s life was the love of music. He’s sung since he was a child. “I had harmonies in my head,” he says. “One day when I was in about fourth grade, I was riding with my mother in the car, singing harmonies in the back seat and she turned to me and said, ‘Honey, you have a gift.’ That’s probably the first time I recognized it. It was later that I learned I could write music, too.”

Kenneth is passionate, emotional, and like any artist, he writes about what moves him deeply. For him, above all else, shining like a beacon in his soul is the gospel of Jesus Christ. “I felt like the Lord would use my talents in his service,” he said.

After Kenneth married, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. He thought if he could break into the big scene and gain confidence and clout, he would be able to make better art. His goal was to have an impact. “I would do Latter-day Saint music and try to network down in L.A.” he said, “but it just kept coming back loud and clear. “I’m glad you’re here, but I have other treasure for you that is not in this city. I want you to make music for my people.” After five years in Los Angeles, the Copes moved back to Salt Lake and “since then I haven’t had a chance to breathe,” says Kenneth.

A Testimony in Music
“What am I supposed to say now? What am I supposed to do now?” These are the questions Kenneth asks as he conceptualizes and creates music. Before the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, Kenneth felt to write a musical biography of the prophet that he called My Servant, Joseph. Based on Kenneth’s deep study of the prophet, the songs took listeners through Joseph’s life, with moving renditions of poignant scenes. Emma’s grief at losing a baby, the bond stronger than death between Hyrum and Joseph, the triumph of the message from Cumorah-Kenneth captured these in music where his testimony of the prophet is felt as well as understood.

“I love Joseph Smith for his humanity, his love for life and people.” says Kenneth. “He had the doctrines of eternal life flowing from his lips; he saw and knew things that other people didn’t. He submitted to a lot of abuse that most people would have refused to endure, and still he reached out to people. He’d go out of his way to find people in need and give them confidence. He found ways to get close to them. People loved him because of it.

“I love the truths he restored. I love that he found a way to hear the voice of God with such clarity. I’m trying to learn how to hear that voice in my own life, and Joseph stands before me as an example.”

The Spirit’s Help
Kenneth relies on the Spirit to help him create music. “I’m not a Mozart who sits around and all this music flows into me and I can’t get it out fast enough,” admits Kenneth. “I want to affect change. I want to be better and I want to help people to be better. I want my music to instill in people the desire to take a step upward and outward. If I don’t have the Spirit I’m just going to be sitting there with blank paper before me. If the Spirit doesn’t touch the music and touch the people who are hearing it, nothing happens. God has to work on us, turning what’s inside of us to loveliness and ennobling us to be more like him.

“You know when you get the music right. You know when you connect,” said Kenneth. “Lots of times it brings emotion to me. I had the words and music for the chorus of “Never a Better Hero,” and I had some ideas for the lyric, but I needed really good music When it came, it felt like the right thing. Sometimes it comes easily. Sometimes I work and work and have to think about it for a long time.”

Joseph Smith, the Seer
For the Joseph Smith, the Seer, Kenneth called upon the richness of his feelings for the prophet. He captures the prophet’s humanity in a piece called “Sleigh Ride.” Kenneth said, “It must be remembered that while Joseph was a prophet, intent on magnifying his office, he was also a man who rejoiced in the temporal earth God had created for humankind ‘to please the eye and to gladden the heart-and to enliven the soul’ (D&C 59: 18,19). He knew the long-term value of regularly “unstringing the bow.” At Kirtland, over the course of a few months, just before the temple’s dedication, Joseph mentioned in his history more than a dozen times something about sleigh riding.”

He creates a song with Hebrew overtones that describes the long-standing tradition among the Jews concerning a prophet ben Joseph, who would make an earthly appearance before the glorious coming of the Christ. He captures the “Tears Flowing Fast” when Joseph said farewell to Emma before the martyrdom.

As he wrote the soundtrack, Kenneth felt the consistent dream of his soul realized. He connected.


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.




How the UN System Impacts Family Policy

How the UN System Impacts Family Policy
by Professor Richard G. Wilkins
Director, The World Family Policy Center, Brigham Young University

The citizens of the world must be made aware-and quickly-of an important new reality: the United Nations not only sets international, but domestic, law and policy.

The UN System has embarked upon a detailed (and on-going) series of conferences dealing with nearly every social issue of importance to modern society. These conferences have issued declarations on the rights of children, women, men, social development, the environment, and the process of human settlement. These conferences, “[m]ore than any previous events of their kind, have fostered the mobilization and participation of civil society and the private sector in the affairs of the international community.”(1) This “mobilization” of “civil society” is an important new development.

Until relatively recently, the nation/state was the only component of the international legal system that was subject to international law.(2) Local governments and individuals, although components of the nation/state, were not considered to be subject to the international legal system. Instead, that system regulated the relationships between nation/states, much like the nation/states regulated the relationships between individuals.(3) Nation/states, in short, were sovereign entities and the internal affairs of those nation/states (including the rights and obligations of their citizens) could not be interfered with by other political entities.(4) With the arrival of the United Nations and the many organizations that make up its specialized agencies, however, important evolutionary change has occurred.

Perhaps the most significant development has been the expanding number of international conference agreements and the inclusion in those agreements of matters pertaining primarily to the status of the individual. No longer is the relationship between states the primary (or only) consideration of international law; rather, international law increasingly deals with the “rights” of groups and individuals. In fact, under the UN system, international law is now concerned with nearly every important aspect of modern life. UN conference declarations address not only political matters, but “legal, social, cultural, economic, technical and administrative matters as well.”(5) Accordingly, the UN now plays an important role in defining “issues,” establishing “solutions,” and allocating responsibilities with respect to the international “answers.” The net result is that formerly local policies may now be governed by decisions made at an international conference.

UN’s Impact on Domestic Policy
Indeed, during the past decade the UN has come to have a tremendous impact on domestic policy. The growing influence of international law on national law is the result of many factors, including increased international trade, the burgeoning number of international treaties, the creation of new international organizations and the direct and indirect regulatory actions of UN organs such as the World Bank. But one of most important (and least recognized) effect of the United Nations System on domestic policy flows from the System’s rapid creation of enforceable international custom.

Unlike treaty law, customary international law is binding on the nations of the world even if those nations do not formally consent to be bound by that law. Customary law, in short, is exceedingly potent. As a leading commentator on international law has noted, once a customary norm has been recognized “the intention manifested by a state in regard to a given [treaty] is henceforth of little account: whether [a state] signs it or not, becomes a party to it or not, enters reservations to such and such a clause or not, [the state] will in any case be bound by any provisions of the [treaty] that are recognized to possess the character of rules of customary or general international law.”(6)

Precisely because of the extremely broad reach of customary law, it is vital to understand how that law is formed. While the exact mechanisms by which customary international law is formed are subject to some debate, most modern scholars have concluded that customary law is developed (at least in significant part) by the mere repetition of legal principles over time. As a leading international scholar stated, “[c]ollective acts by states, repeated by and acquiesced in by sufficient numbers with sufficient frequency, eventually attain the status of law.”(7)

The former legal counsel to the United Nations, Erik Suy, has been even more blunt. Although acknowledging that UN proclamations purportedly do not “create law,” Mr. Suy nevertheless concludes that customary international law “may arise . . . through the mere repetition of principles . . . to which states give their approval.”(8) Mr. Suy is not alone in that opinion. Scholars have recognized (and emphasized) that “multilateral fora often play a central role in creating and shaping contemporary international law.”(9) Indeed, Professor Charney notes that “[t]hese fora include the United Nations General Assembly, regional organizations, and standing and ad hoc multilateral diplomatic conferences, as well as international organizations devoted to specialized subjects.”(10) Professor Charney concludes that, “[t]oday, major developments in international law are often begun or supported by proposals, reports, resolutions, draft treaties or protocols debated in such fora..”(11)

The broad, binding effect of customary international law, coupled with the reality that such law can be created by the simple repetition of language at various UN meetings, raises a vital question: “At what point does a ‘nonbinding agreement’ turn into an international agreement, a promise into a unilateral act, fact into custom?”(12) While no precise answer is possible, a general rule can be stated: previously non-binding norms become enforceable international law when (in the capacious words of one scholar) they have been repeated “with sufficient frequency.”(13)

Many of the norms that are now being repeated with regularity at UN conferences are exceptionally hostile to home, family and religion. This process could be used to create an international legal system that would seriously intrude upon traditional conceptions of family, marriage, parental rights – and even religious freedom. Indeed, my attendance at UN conferences during the past four years has persuaded me that there is a concerted effort to “discover” and “recognize” new “rights” (such as abortion, sexual pleasure, homosexual marriage and autonomy rights for children) in long-accepted treaties and conference declarations. At the same time, there is a concerted effort to diminish long recognized, explicit rights, such as the right to free religious practice, the right to freedom of conscience, and the prior right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.

These dangers to family, home, religion and faith are compounded by the recent creation of the International Criminal Court. That Court, while ostensibly designed to enforce only the most “serious crimes” facing the international community, could well be used to enforce a number of social norms (including those relating to abortion, homosexuality, children’s rights, and marriage) articulated within the UN conference system.

As a result, it is becoming increasingly important to pay close attention to the United Nation’s articulation of new social norms (which could become binding customary law or, even worse, “crimes” prosecuted by the new International Criminal Court). It is absolutely imperative that the incoming Bush-Cheney Administration appoint personnel in the Department of State and in the United States Mission to the United Nations who have the insight and expertise to guide the United States – and the world – out of these perilous waters.

1. Nafis Sadik, “Reflections on the International Conference on Population and Development and the Efficacy of UN Conferences,” 6 Colo. J. Intl L. & Pol., p. 249, 252-53 (1995).

2. Oscar Schachter, “The UN Legal Order: An Overview” in I United Nations Legal Order at I I and 24 (Oscar Schachter and Christopher C. Joyner, eds. 1995); Oleg 1. Tiunov, “Concepts and Features on International Law: Its Relationship to Norms of the National Law of the States,” 38 St. Louis U. L.J., p. 915, 916-19 (1994).

3. Tiunov, “Concepts and Features,” 38 St. Louis U. L.J., p. 915, 916 (1994).

4. Ibid., at 916-19; Richard B. Bilder, “An Overview of International Human Rights Law,” in Guide to International Human Rights Practice 3, at 4 (Hurst Hannum, ed. 1992, 2nd ed.).

5. Martin A. Rogoff & Barbara E. Gauditz, “The Provisional Application of International Agreements,” 39 Me L. Rev., p. 29, 29-30 (1987).

6. Prosper Weil, Towards a Relative Normativity in International Law, reprinted in Anthony D’Amato, International Law Anthology (Anderson Publishing) at 152.

7. Higgins, The Role of Resolutions of International Organizations in the Process of Creating Norms in the International System, quoted in Frederic L. Kirgis, Jr., International Organizations in Their Legal Setting (second Ed. 1993) at 341.

8. Erik Suy, Innovations in International Law-Making Processes, reprinted in Gerhard von Glahn, Law Among Nations (6th Revised Edition) at 16.

9. Jonathon I. Charney, International Lawmaking in the Context of the Law of the Sea and the Global Environment, reprinted in Michael K Young and Yuji Iwasawa, Trilateral Perspectives on International Legal Issues: Relevance of Domestic Law and Policy (First Ed. 1996) at 19.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Prosper Weil, Towards a Relative Normativity in International Law, reprinted in Anthony D’Amato, International Law Anthology (Anderson Publishing) at 148.

13. Higgins, The Role of Resolutions of International Organizations in the Process of Creating Norms in the International System, quoted in Frederic L. Kirgis, Jr., International Organizations in Their Legal Setting (second Ed. 1993) at 341.


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.



It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night
by Jonathan Walker

It Happened One Night is an enjoyable comedy, but beneath it all, Capra tells a story of people who need to learn to find happiness by treating each other as human beings and not as means to an end.

People all over struggled because of the Great Depression and the film industry suffered also. Between 1930 and 1933, the industry had seen a 25% drop in attendance and half of the major studios were on the verge of bankruptcy. 1934 proved to be the turn-around year, and It Happened One Night was its sleeper success. In a single year, downer movies like I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang gave way to the incomparable financial success of Shirley Temple. One may say that this turn was hinged on the success of Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.

Heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) refuses to remain under her father’s thumb. He has protected her from life and now she wants to live. Indeed, she has gone off and eloped to the first man she has met on her own. But her father (Walter Connolly) won’t have it, and he has spirited Ellie away and kept her captive on his yacht. She breaks away and jumps overboard. If she can make it to her husband King Wesley (Jameson Thomas) in New York she’ll be forever free from her father, but he alerts the country with promise of a huge reward. Ellie has little experience taking care of herself and so the down-and-out newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable) sees an opportunity to deliver her to her precious Wesley and deliver a wonderful story to the paper.

Throughout the film there are instances of people not seeing each other as people, but as means to ends. Ellie uses King to get away from her father. King uses Ellie to get at her father’s money. Peter Warne uses Ellie to revive his ailing journalism career. Oscar Shapely (Roscoe Karns) tries to use Ellie to satisfy his lust and then greed. The singing driver doesn’t see a newlywed couple, but a suitcase to steal. Ellie’s father uses Ellie in trying to control her. All would not be right with the world until this human commercialism ceased and people began to see each other for who they are.

Peter is very high-minded in his disdain over Ellie’s attempt to buy people off with money. He is disgusted that she hasn’t the decency to simply ask for help if she needs it. Conversely, when they are at the nadir of their fortunes Ellie was willing to accept a meal from the singing driver who picked them up while hitch hiking. Peter refuses and when the driver is gone, he confronts Ellie. Was she going to “gold dig that guy for a meal”? “Sure I was. No kidding, I’m hungry.” Ellie still saw people as a means to her own ends.

The irony is thick, though, because Peter uses Ellie just as commercially. He makes it very clear that he is not “interested” in her; his only interest is what her plight can do for his career. Granted, he does maintain the illusion that their relationship is mutually beneficial. He gets a story, she gets safely to New York. When she decides to reject the proposal, he makes it clear that he will capitalize on her anyway. If she runs, he will cash in on the reward money. He will get his story (he will use her). The only question is whether she will also benefit.

Peter has to be stripped of his intellectual superiority and Ellie must lose her upper-class superiority for them to finally connect as people. Only then they start to see each other as people, not means to an end. But it’s not all humor. This stripping away of their facades had serious moments as well, such as when Ellie succumbs to the raw carrot out of sheer hunger and when Warne works all night to find a way to propose to Ellie only to feel he has been manipulated. Even though they have come to admit their love for each other, their emotional journey isn’t over. Both Ellie and Peter feel that they have been used and then discarded. So, they revert back to their old selves. Peter’s only concern was that he had been “taken for a ride” and so meets with Ellie’s father to be reimbursed. While he does refuse the reward money, he also refuses to have done another some good. When she feels Peter has rejected her, Ellie’s only concern is to stop “running around” and settle down. “It doesn’t matter how or with whom.” To her, King is a means to an end.

Ellie’s father has not treated her daughter with the respect that he ought to, either. Instead of giving her the opportunity to grow and learn, he has insulated her from the world. Ellie is the example of what happens to people when they are not given their agency to make decisions. Not only do they rebel, but they find they are completely unable to make important decisions. Ellie could no more choose a proper husband (because she had never been given enough leeway to even talk with men) then she could make proper use of her limited funds (because she never had financial responsibility before). He learns, though. The first great act of allowing Ellie to make her decisions was when he held his peace at the formal wedding for Ellie and King. He gave her a way out and he would not interfere again, even if he did not agree with her decision.

Finding happiness is where Ellie wouldn’t jump in the surf simply to escape her father, but to live life to it’s fullest with Peter Warne. Love is a motivating influence. It makes us care for another because of her qualities and in spite of her weaknesses. As Peter makes clear to Ellie’s father, we can be crazy to. But, one of the most important things about love is that it can teach us how to treat each other-if we’re paying attention. We can both be who they need us to be and find contentment in who they are.



2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.



The Sahara: An Act of God?

The Sahara: An Act of God?
by John P. Pratt

Only a few thousand years ago, the Sahara Desert was a fertile savanna teeming with animals and people. Was it an “act of God” that transformed it so dramatically into a barren sea of sand? Just what constitutes an act of God? Was the Sahara the valley of Shum which Enoch saw in vision that would be cursed with much heat and barrenness forever?

The Sahara was once an Eden.

An article entitled “Exit From Eden” in Discover magazine focuses on what has been a mystery to scientists: How could the now totally barren and virtually uninhabitable Sahara Desert have once been like a lush garden of Eden? The article points out that in March of 1999 at Murzuq Sand Sea of southwestern Libya, scientists have

“. . . found bones of crocodiles, hippopotamuses, elephants, and gazelles as well as wind-blown ridges of lake-bed chalk­evidence that the region had been dotted with bodies of fresh water. Years ago in the northern Sudan, Pachur found traces of a lake that may have been as large as Erie. In that same region he traced the course of a river that once flowed east into the upper Nile, crossing several hundred miles of what is now utter desert. He has found other rivers that flowed from the Tibesti Mountains 600 miles north to the Mediterranean Sea, through the core of the Sahara. That region now gets less than two-tenths of an inch of rain each year.

“Along those lost rivers, between 6,000 and 9,000 years ago, giraffes munched on acacia trees, elephants sprayed water from their trunks, hippos wallowed in the mud. And people lived there too. They were shepherds and cowherds, hunters and fishers, and they were starting to settle down in small villages and cultivate grains such as sorghum and millet. Pachur believes that Sahara then was an Eden.”[1]
The article goes on to point out that there is evidence that the spectacular climatic reversal occurred within “just a few centuries,” which until now has defied explanation by meteorological computer simulations. Following this introduction of the problem came the surprising transition sentence, which seemed incongruous in a scientific article:

“Miracle or catastrophe, the birth of the Sahara was not an act of God.”

The article then goes on to say that finally the computer models have been fine-tuned enough to show that such a rapid change is within our comprehension after all. It concludes that the most recent calculations can explain the change in terms of astronomical cycles and that the reversal could have predicted it ahead of time. Anyone interested in details can find the entire text of the article on the Internet.

The sentence that jumped out at me was the inference that this discovery proved that the climatic reversal was not an “act of God.” Thinking of a literal interpretation of that phrase, I wondered about the implications. Had the author been afraid that anything that could not be explained by our modern science must indicate that there is a God, and hence felt obligated to announce that atheists need not fear that this is evidence supporting the existence of God? Or was I overreacting, and he was simply using “act of God” as a legal term that is found in my home owner’s insurance policy? If the former inhabitants of the Sahara had an insurance policy that included “acts of God,” would they have been covered or not when their homes were buried by sand? Just what is an “act of God” anyway?

What is an “Act of God”?
There are at least two dictionary definitions of “act of God”. Some dictionaries focus on forces of nature which are uncontrollable: “the operation of uncontrollable natural forces”[2] or “a sudden action of natural forces that could not have been prevented, as an earthquake or hurricane.”[3] Surely this is not the definition that the author had in mind because man cannot control any of the astronomical cycles which are now thought to have caused the climatic change.

The other definition focuses on natural events which cannot be foreseen: “an extraordinary interruption by a natural cause (as a flood or earthquake) of the usual course of events that experience, prescience, or care cannot reasonably foresee or prevent.”[4] This is apparently also the legal definition, which in simple terms is “something which no reasonable man could have expected.”[5] But even this definition could raise legal questions as more and more hurricanes and even tornadoes and earthquakes are now being predicted. The book Acts of God points out that Hurricane Andrew of 1992, which caused the loss of the homes of hundreds of thousands, was predicted nearly a year ahead in the Old Farmer’s Almanac.[6] Does that disqualify it from being an act of God? Not in the minds of the editors of that book, who included it.

In any case, this latter definition is clearly the one which fits the article about the Sahara. In fact, if the author had simply used the more pedestrian but precise word “unpredictable” instead of “an act of God”, we probably all would have been spared my tedious analysis. Probably all that the author was saying is that the birth of the Sahara could have been predicted, but he certainly hit a nerve with me as I looked for potential science and religion articles.

What Does God Think?
But now that we are this far into it, let’s pursue these ideas. What does God consider to be an “act of God?” By that I mean a third definition: what does God take credit for doing? Is the sunrise an act of God? What about the rain? The Lord answers these questions, “your Father which is in heaven . . . maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sendeth rain on the just and the unjust” (Mat. 5:45). In fact, he takes credit for many precise destructions by weather:

“And again he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the east wind, which bringeth immediate destruction.” (Mosiah 7:31)

“And it shall come to pass that I will send forth hail among them, and it shall smite them; and they shall also be smitten with the east wind; and insects shall pester their land also, and devour their grain.” (Mosiah 12:6)
“Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked.” (Jeremiah 23:19)
“And they that kill the prophets, and the saints, the depths of the earth shall swallow them up, saith the Lord of Hosts; and mountains shall cover them, and whirlwinds shall carry them away, and buildings shall fall upon them and crush them to pieces and grind them to powder.” (2 Nephi 26:5)
Perhaps the best recorded historical example of the destruction of the wicked by a great storm was the extremely precise Nephite account at the crucifixion of the Savior:

“And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land. And there was also a great and terrible tempest; and there was terrible thunder, insomuch that it did shake the whole earth as if it was about to divide asunder. And there were exceedingly sharp lightnings, such as never had been known in all the land. And the city of Zarahemla did take fire. And the city of Moroni did sink into the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof were drowned. And the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that in the place of the city there became a great mountain. And there was a great and terrible destruction in the land southward. But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth; And the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough. And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate. And there were some cities which remained; but the damage thereof was exceedingly great, and there were many in them who were slain. And there were some who were carried away in the whirlwind; and whither they went no man knoweth, save they know that they were carried away. And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth. And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land. And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease–” (3 Nephi 8:5-19).

Was all of this destruction a case of the elements having gotten out of control? Was it caused by Satan? Was it random, destroying everything and everyone in its path. And were these events “acts of God”? Fortunately we have the answers to all of these questions given by the Lord himself, as a voice heard in the darkness by the survivors of the catastrophe:

“Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof. And behold, that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof to be drowned. And behold, that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth, and the inhabitants thereof, to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come any more unto me against them. And behold, the city of Gilgal have I caused to be sunk, and the inhabitants thereof to be buried up in the depths of the earth; Yea, and the city of Onihah and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Mocum and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof; and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come up any more unto me against them. And behold, the city of Gadiandi, and the city of Gadiomnah, and the city of Jacob, and the city of Gimgimno, all these have I caused to be sunk, and made hills and valleys in the places thereof; and the inhabitants thereof have I buried up in the depths of the earth, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up any more unto me against them. And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them. And behold, the city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof, because of their wickedness in casting out the prophets, and stoning those whom I did send to declare unto them concerning their wickedness and their abominations. And because they did cast them all out, that there were none righteous among them, I did send down fire and destroy them, that their wickedness and abominations might be hid from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints whom I sent among them might not cry unto me from the ground against them. And many great destructions have I caused to come upon this land, and upon this people, because of their wickedness and their abominations. O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” (Nephi 9:3-13)

Thus, the Lord caused the destructions, and the demise of each city was carefully designed with a purpose to match the sins. Cities that the Lord did not want rebuilt were covered with mountains or sunk in the ocean. And as for the definition of “act of God” based on predictability, all of these events were predicted. Scientists can predict with precision the rising of the sun, and sometimes even get the prediction of rain right, but prophets can predict even rare disasters. After the great Nephite destructions, the Lord pointed out that they had been predicted.

“And now, whoso readeth, let him understand; he that hath the scriptures, let him search them, and see and behold if all these deaths and destructions by fire, and by smoke, and by tempests, and by whirlwinds, and by the opening of the earth to receive them, and all these things are not unto the fulfilling of the prophecies of many of the holy prophets.” (3 Nephi 10:14)

The catastrophes had been predicted by Samuel the Lamanite, right down the very day on which they would occur, being the day of the death of the Savior (Friday, April 1, A.D. 33, Gregorian).

“Yea, at the time that he shall yield up the ghost there shall be thunderings and lightnings for the space of many hours, and the earth shall shake and tremble; and the rocks which are upon the face of this earth, which are both above the earth and beneath, which ye know at this time are solid, or the more part of it is one solid mass, shall be broken up; Yea, they shall be rent in twain, and shall ever after be found in seams and in cracks, and in broken fragments upon the face of the whole earth, yea, both above the earth and beneath. And behold, there shall be great tempests, and there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great. And many highways shall be broken up, and many cities shall become desolate.” (Helaman 14:21-24)

Thus, being predictable does not disqualify these catastrophes from being “acts of God.” Now let us consider the future. The Lord has predicted that some of the greatest disasters are yet to come, targeted especially to the wicked. For example,

” . . . what will ye say when the day cometh when the thunders shall utter their voices from the ends of the earth, speaking to the ears of all that live, saying- Repent, and prepare for the great day of the Lord? Yea, and again, when the lightnings shall streak forth from the east unto the west, and shall utter forth their voices unto all that live, and make the ears of all tingle that hear, saying these words–Repent ye, for the great day of the Lord is come? And again, the Lord shall utter his voice out of heaven, saying: Hearken, O ye nations of the earth, and hear the words of that God who made you. O, ye nations of the earth, how often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not! How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind, and by the great sound of a trump, and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long, and by the voice of glory and honor and the riches of eternal life, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!” (D&C 43:21-25)

And again:

“For not many days hence and the earth shall tremble and reel to and for as a drunken man; and the sun shall hide his face, and shall refuse to give light; and the moon shall be bathed in blood; and the stars shall become exceedingly angry, and shall cast themselves down as a fig that falleth from off a fig-tree. And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people. For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand. And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.” (D&C 88:87-90)

These scriptures make it clear that not only are the coming destructions acts of God, but they are meant to be recognized as God preaching his own sermon with the voice of tempests and earthquakes. We are supposed to confess the hand of God in all things (D.C. 59:21).

What about the Sahara?
Now let’s get back to the Sahara. Was the transformation of savanna to Sahara an act of God or not? The scriptures may answer that very question for us. Enoch had a vision far into the future in which he might have actually seen the valley of Shum be changed into the Sahara Desert. If that identification of Shum is correct, then we are not only told it was an act of God, but also that it was a result of wickedness, which follows the pattern of the other destructions caused by the Lord. Consider the following account:

“And I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face; and he said unto me: Look, and I will show unto thee the world for the space of many generations.

“And it came to pass that I beheld in the valley of Shum, and lo, a great people which dwelt in tents, which were the people of Shum.
“And again the Lord said unto me: Look; and I looked towards the north, and I beheld the people of Canaan, which dwelt in tents.
“And the Lord said unto me: Prophesy; and I prophesied, saying: Behold the people of Canaan, which are numerous, shall go forth in battle array against the people of Shum, and shall slay them that they shall utterly be destroyed; and the people of Canaan shall divide themselves in the land, and the land shall be barren and unfruitful, and none other people shall dwell there but the people of Canaan;
“For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever . . .” (Moses 7:4-8)
The identification of Shum with the Sahara Desert is only speculation at this point, which would require much more research to substantiate. I’m not aware of any scholarly work devoted to identifying the valley of Shum, but Hugh Nibley does compare these verses with some from 1 Enoch.[7] The best evidence for the Sahara being Shum is probably the discovery that the Sahara used to be a fertile, inhabited land, and is now the largest desert in the world. It is tempting to note that the Sahara also seems to fit very well with being somewhat south of what the scriptures call the land of Canaan (Israel and Palestine), but it must be remembered that Enoch is prophesying before the Flood, before the continents were divided. Moreover, the people of Canaan to whom he refers are not the descendants of Canaan, Noah’s grandson. They are the descendants of another Canaan who lived in the time of Enoch, because we are later told that “it came to pass that Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent” (Moses 7:12). Note also that Canaan is spelled differently from the great patriarch Cainan, Enoch’s great-grandfather (Gen. 5:12-18), whose people were righteous (Moses 6:41). The main point for this article is the irony that the transformation of the Sahara might actually be explicitly mentioned in the scriptures as having been an act of God.

In conclusion, the real acts of God are much more inclusive than the dictionary definition. He preaches his sermons with the tempest, earthquake and whirlwind, hoping to induce the wicked to repent. We might all do well to recognize the hand of God in all the events of nature, because “any man who hath see any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power” (D & C 88:47).

1. Kunzig, Robert, “Exit from Eden“, Discover 21: 1(Jan. 2000), pp. 84-91.
2. The Oxford American Dictionary of Current English, Oxford, 1999.
3. Random House Webster’s Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus, College Edition, 1992.
4. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 1999.
5. A.P. Herbert, Uncommon Law, 1935, quoted in Benjamin Watson, Acts of God, Random House, New York, 1993.
6. Quoted in Acts of God, op. cit., p. 45.
7. Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.2, Ch.4, p.197 – p.198. He compares Moses 7:5 to 1 Enoch 56:6, which refers to the Parthians and Medes being to the east of Canaan, whereas the valley of Shum was to the south.

2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.




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