Author Archives: deanwebb

Our Most Important Assets Are…

Frequently, I hear “our employees” as the closer for that sentence. Nice sentiment, but is it backed up by evidence? When we do a risk assessment, we consider our assets and what it would cost us if they were not available, if they had to be replaced.

I’ve seen firewalls and encryption and digital loss prevention systems put in place around databases, source code, and trade secrets. I have yet to see a company that has proactively made similar protective efforts around its employees. Given the efforts some go to in order to hire those same employees in the first place, I find such a lack of protections ironic.

After all, if a company is willing to offer better benefits, higher pay, and better working conditions than another company in order to attract talented employees, it is definitely showing a value for those employees at the time of hiring. But that value seems to be discounted almost immediately through HR practices that limit bonuses and vacation in the first year of work, annual compensation rules that limit increases in pay, and management choices to restrict lateral moves within the company. These are endemic, even at companies that think they don’t have these problems.

So, the employee stays with the company for a while and then notices other firms dangling bigger and better opportunities. If a person asks for a raise, however, such requests are frequently met with denial or stalling tactics. The current employer basically encourages its employees to actively seek out better opportunities, secure them, and then come forward with an offer letter and a notice of departure. Only then do the negotiations start in earnest, in the hopes that a matching counter-offer is sufficient to retain the person who already made a decision to leave and found a place to go to.

If a person could actually go to a manager, talk about dissatisfaction with current conditions, and then walk out with those conditions addressed to the point where the person won’t bother to look for a better place to be – including the possibility of an out-of-cycle pay increase, then, yes, that is a place where the greatest assets are the employees.

Otherwise, may we please ask that people no longer say “our greatest assets are our employees”? The greatest assets are the ones where investments are made to keep them from walking out the door.

10 October 2021, 9:32 AM

Love, true love, is oneness with God and all the other elements and souls that are at one with God.

Love, true love, is forming a bond with another person that transcends time-space: it is to make the connection with that person something that is at one with the force or forces that bound and define the universe as we know it. It is to make a bond that transcends time-space, even though we cannot fully conceive what that very arrangement implies for eternity, other than a state of oneness.

The Prodigal Son and The Book of Alma

In the early middle chapters of The Book of Alma, there is an account of Nephites who, full of grief over how they used to persecute the faithful, have renounced their royal lineage and dedicated themselves to a life of preaching. This life of preaching is directed towards the enemies of the Nephites, the Lamanites. These four repentant missionaries are ridiculed for thinking that they could convert the Lamanites. They record that others said it would be better to kill the Lamanites than to try to talk to them. It is clear that the enmity between the peoples is not a one-sided affair.

The four missionaries, against the expectations of their peers, are successful in converting a substantial number of Lamanites to their belief. Other Lamanites oppose that conversion and threaten to destroy the convert population. The converts in their thousands seek refuge among the Nephites. The Nephite leadership grants them a portion of their lands and welcomes in the fellow-believers. In a sense, the prodigals have returned after many generations.

Like in the parable of The Prodigal Son, there is resentment. While not directly connected in the narrative of The Book of Mormon, it’s just after the arrival of the converts – who are not asked to change or assimilate in any way – that we see records of parts of the Nephite population cracking along tribal and social lines.

Unasked in the narrative are the questions that these groups must have had – why are these enemies suddenly granted lands? What about the rest of the tribal groups that have been loyal all these years? Do we trust these converts? Is it wise to have such people, so recently enemies, given a place of trust in our nation?

Consider a statistic from after the Second World War. The Allies surveyed the German population about their attitudes toward Jews and racism in general. The survey came back with 12% of the population expressing extreme antisemitic attitudes, 18% of the population expressing strong antisemitic attitudes, and another 21% of the population showing as not particularly antisemitic, but generally bigoted in their attitudes towards other ethnic and cultural groups – racists, in a word.

An important key in the narrative of The Book of Mormon is how the convert population, who demonstrated complete pacifism and accepted death rather than lift a weapon, continues to show that pacifism after they have emigrated to Nephite lands. That implies that, among the Nephites, they faced attacks and chose to submit to violence rather than become part of it. And who would those attackers be? The Nephites who refused to shed their hatred – the Nephites who refused to forgive.

This refusal to forgive then goes beyond acts of violence directed at the immigrants. The Nephite confederation itself begins to split. In the hundreds of years of enmity portrayed in The Book of Mormon, given the “kill them all” attitude expressed openly among the Nephites, it should not be a surprise that a sudden embrace of these Lamanite converts should lead to rifts in the Nephite population. One group, the Zoramites, portray themselves as victims and defect to the Lamanite tribes. Another group, the king-men, refuse to accept the legitimate government of the people and seek to create their own political structure with them at the top. Both the king-men and the Zoramites are hostile to individuals portrayed as loyal and faithful to the Nephite church, so it stands to reason that they are just as hostile, if not more so, to the Lamanite converts. If their attitudes were as hardened as those of the postwar Germans, this is no stretch of the imagination.

The parable of The Prodigal Son is as much about groups of people as it is about individuals. When enemies reconcile, we cannot allow ourselves to refuse to join in the reconciliation, at risk of becoming enemies ourselves. A prosperous group that paints itself as a group of victims when a less-fortunate population is taken in is a group that itself is making an enmity towards God, for God is Love.

The risk of any period of extremism and rivalry is that the feelings run so deep that reconciliation is impossible. Both sides of the rivalry are then doomed to destruction as they make mutual war on their common enemies, those who have shed the rivalry and who have found a way to forgive.

A List of 100 Beloved Songs, Where 100=164…

  1. Amnesty International – The Price Of Silence (06:58)
  2. AR Rahman, Srinivas & Chorus – Chale Chalo (06:40)
  3. Staple Singers – Freedom Highway (02:55)
  4. Ralph Stanley – O Death (02:30)
  5. Elvis Presley – Peace in the Valley (03:21)
  6. Todd Rundgren – Shine ( 8:13)
  7. Yuzo Kayama and The Launchers – Black Sand Beach (02:20)
  8. Slade – Merry Christmas Everybody (03:28)
  9. Alejandra Guzman – Reina de corazones (03:09)
  10. Linda Rondstadt – La Charreada ( 3:45)
  11. Los Lobos – Volver, volver (03:46)
  12. Shakira Mebarak – Estoy Aqui (03:54)
  13. Little Richard – I Don’t Want to Discuss It (02:24)
  14. Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds (04:32)
  15. Johnny Cash – The Ballad of Ira Hayes (04:07)
  16. Johnny Cash – Man in Black (02:52)
  17. Guy Clark – L.A. Freeway (05:18)
  18. Guy Clark – South Coast of Texas (03:46)
  19. Guy Clark – Desperados Waiting for a Train (05:50)
  20. Gary P. Nunn – What I Like About Texas ( 4:28)
  21. Robert Earl Keen – The Front Porch Song ( 6:34)
  22. Rusty Wier – Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance ( 3:46)
  23. Rusty Wier – Agua Dulce ( 3:52)
  24. Patsy Cline – Crazy (02:42)
  25. Aretha Franklin – Old Landmark (02:56)
  26. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – This Train ( 2:48)
  27. Ray Charles – Lift Every Voice and Sing ( 3:19)
  28. Sarah MacLachlan – Silence (DJ Tiesto Mix).mp3 (11:10)
  29. Natalie Merchant – Kind and Generous ( 3:58)
  30. Heather Small – Proud (04:28)
  31. Seal – Crazy (05:56)
  32. Seal – My Vision (04:47)
  33. Angelique Kidjo – Voodoo Child (03:48)
  34. Angélique Kidjo/Joss Stone – Gimme Shelter (04:07)
  35. Amadou & Mariam – Sénégal Fast Food (04:18)
  36. Amadou & Mariam – Masiteladi [feat. M] (03:56)
  37. Fiamma Fumana – 1.0 (04:20)
  38. Kishore Kumar – Yeh Dosti Hum Nahin (05:21)
  39. Devdas – Dhola Re Dhola ( 6:36)
  40. Shankar Ehsaan Loy – Kuch To Hua Hai (05:19)
  41. Shankar Ehsaan Loy – Kal Ho Naa Ho (05:21)
  42. K3G – Bole Chudiya (06:49)
  43. Baghban – Meri Makhna Meri Soniye (07:01)
  44. Faces – Ooh La La (03:31)
  45. Mountain – Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin) (05:52)
  46. Pink Floyd – Have a Cigar (05:24)
  47. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (05:21)
  48. Tommy Bolin – Wild Dogs (04:40)
  49. Tommy Bolin – Post Toastee (09:00)
  50. Todd Rundgren – Determination ( 3:12)
  51. Deep Purple – Pictures Of Home (05:06)
  52. Deep Purple – Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming (07:31)
  53. Dio – Don’t Talk To Strangers ( 4:53)
  54. LGT – Fiú (03:44)
  55. Jethro Tull – Skating Away ( 3:28)
  56. Jethro Tull – One brown mouse ( 3:20)
  57. Jethro Tull – Life Is a Long Song ( 3:17)
  58. Janis Joplin – Move Over (03:39)
  59. Janis Joplin – Get It While You Can (03:23)
  60. Wishbone Ash – Blowin’ Free (05:19)
  61. Mothers of Invention – Wowie Zowie (02:52)
  62. Three Dog Night – Shambala (03:27)
  63. Slade – How Does It Feel? (05:55)
  64. Steely Dan – Your Gold Teeth (06:59)
  65. Steely Dan – The Royal Scam (06:32)
  66. Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald( 6:39)
  67. Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown ( 3:40)
  68. Cat Stevens – Oh Very Young ( 2:40)
  69. Joe Walsh – The Confessor (07:07)
  70. Black Sabbath – Falling off the edge of the world (05:05)
  71. Mavrin & Kipelov – Vot i vse dela! (06:05)
  72. Uriah Heep – The Wizard ( 3: 2)
  73. Uriah Heep Circle Of Hands Live 1973 ( 8:55)
  74. Jackson Browne – Running on Empty ( 4: 6)
  75. Grateful Dead – Box of Rain (05:18)
  76. Freddy Fender – Corrina, Corrina (02:20)
  77. Grateful Dead – Ripple (04:09)
  78. Grateful Dead – Touch of Grey (05:49)
  79. Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley 1969 (02:37)
  80. Grateful Dead – Throwing Stones (07:21)
  81. Free – Fire And Water (03:57)
  82. Elton John – Philadelphia Freedom (05:23)
  83. The Doobie Brothers – China Grove.mp3 ( 3:15)
  84. David Gilmour – Deafinitely (Album Version) (04:28)
  85. The Beatles – Something.mp3 ( 3: 2)
  86. Ringo Starr – It Don’t Come Easy (Starr, 1971)-251.mp3 ( 3: 2)
  87. The Beatles – Old Brown Shoe (03:20)
  88. The Beatles – It’s All Too Much.MP3 ( 6:17)
  89. Badfinger – Baby Blue (US Single Mix / Remastered 2010) (03:35)
  90. Bad Company – Seagull.MP3 ( 4: 3)
  91. Isley Brothers – Harvest for the World.mp3 ( 3:34)
  92. The O’Jays – Put Your Hands Together (04:07)
  93. The O’Jays – For the Love of Money (07:19)
  94. Dobie Gray-Out on the floor.mp3 ( 3: 6)
  95. The Isley Brothers – This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) (02:50)
  96. R. Dean Taylor – There’s A Ghost In My House (02:25)
  97. The Four Tops – Bernadette (Mono) (03:02)
  98. The Contours – Do You Love Me (02:51)
  99. The Dell Vikings – Whispering Bells (02:27)
  100. Bobby Marchan; The Clowns – Don’t You Just Know It (02:33)
  101. Bobby Marchan – There’s Something on Your Mind, Pts. 1-2 (04:50)
  102. The Del Vikings – Come Go with Me (02:41)
  103. Little Richard – Midnight Special (03:59)
  104. Lou Rawls – This Song Will Last Forever (05:05)
  105. Black Sabbath – Spiral Architect (05:29)
  106. Glenn Hughes – Days Of Avalon (05:58)
  107. Deep Purple – The Long Way Round (05:39)
  108. Arthur Rubinstein – Liebestraum No. 3 in A-flat (05:06)
  109. Mikael Tariverdiev ~ Seventeen moments of spring (Main theme)-140.mp3 ( 4:22)
  110. Khachaturian – Adagio From Spartacus-140.mp3 ( 8:30)
  111. Concerto in D Major RV. 93, II-Largo, Vivaldi, performed by Eric Larkins-171.mp3 ( 5:25)
  112. Schubert D189 An die Freude.wmv-251.mp3 ( 3:21)
  113. Johann Strauss II – The Blue Danube Waltz-251.mp3 (10:59)
  114. Guqin – Track 1 (05:40) (OK, I have no reference for this, but it’s great…)
  115. Khwaja Mere Khwaja By AR Rahman.mp3 ( 6:58)
  116. John McLaughlin – Joy (18:12)
  117. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Haq Ali Ali Mula Ali Ali.mp3 (27:43)
  118. Pete Seeger – Abiyoyo (05:13)
  119. Harry Belafonte – Turn The World Around.mp3 ( 6:32)
  120. The Specials – Pressure Drop-251.mp3 ( 4:17)
  121. Amar/Cheb Khaled – El Harba Wine (04:33)
  122. Natacha Atlas – Yalla .mp3 ( 5:49)
  123. Simon Shaheen – Bashraf Farahfaza (05:43)
  124. The Erkose Ensemble – Bahriye Ciftetellisi / Rumeli Karsilamasi / Anadolu oyun havasi / Karacali / Kasap havasi (12:58)
  125. Kailash Kher/MIDIval PunditZ – Ali (06:33)
  126. MIDIval PunditZ – Kesariya (07:16)
  127. Monsoon (with Sheila Chandra) – Ever So Lonely [1981 EP Version] (03:42)
  128. Nova June – Another Try (06:24)
  129. Db Boulevard – Another point of view (05:36)
  130. Belanova – Yo Nunca Vi Television (03:36)
  131. Mfsb – Tsop (The Sound Of Philadelphia) (05:46)
  132. Diana Ross & The Supremes – Reflections (02:52)
  133. Diana Ross & The Supremes – Forever Came Today (03:16)
  134. Earth Wind and Fire – Dancing In September.mp3 ( 3:44)
  135. Earth Wind and Fire – Getaway (03:48)
  136. Earth Wind and Fire – Shining Star (02:51)
  137. Gil Scott-Heron – Free Will (03:42)
  138. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – Wake Up Everybody (07:32)
  139. Lou Rawls – My Ancestors (Digitally Remastered 00) (03:09)
  140. Lou Rawls – Groovy People (03:18)
  141. The Jackson 5 – I Want You Back (02:58)
  142. The Jackson 5 – I Am Love, Pts. 1-2 (07:25)
  143. Nigel Hall – Gimme a Sign (03:23)
  144. The Staple Singers – Respect Yourself (04:56)
  145. The Staple Singers – Walking In Water Over Our Head (03:52)
  146. The Staple Singers – Heavy Makes You Happy (Alternate) (03:41)
  147. The Staple Singers – This Is a Perfect World (04:22)
  148. Thelma Houston – Dont Leave Me This Way (05:42)
  149. Yvonne Elliman – If I Cant’ Have You (03:00)
  150. Tavares – More Than a Woman ( 3:32)
  151. Gloria Gaynor – Never Can Say Goodbye (06:16)
  152. Cojones – Rocker (03:21)
  153. Sky Valley Mistress – She Is So (06:00)
  154. MOS GENERATOR – Woman Song (04:22)
  155. Wo Fat – Lost Highway (05:25)
  156. Vuelveteloca – La Niebla (06:11)
  157. Strange Majik – Curtain Up (04:03)
  158. Spacegoat – Cosmica (04:32)
  159. Spacegoat – The wooden path (03:39)
  160. Honeymoon Disease – Electric Eel (04:39)
  161. Deaf Radio – Revolving Doors (04:32)
  162. Black Sky Giant – Planet terror (04:04)
  163. 1000mods – Pearl (03:31)
  164. Hawkwind – Master of the Universe (Live).mp3 ( 7:40)

Paracelsus, Galen, and COVID-19

There is a long history of popular opposition to public health measures. Given the old-timey Latin-sounding names in the title, you shouldn’t be surprised that I will reach back 350 years to start this story. During the time surrounding the English Civil War, there was a medical debate between the schools of Paracelsus and the older tradition of Galen. Followers of Paracelsus put forward notions that excrement of various types could heal a range of diseases: followers of Galen were much more restricted in their application of excrement. The conservatives who held to Galen found common cause with the conservatives that supported the king, the Royalists while those who wanted to upend the medical establishment found their allies in those who wanted to upend the monarchy, the Parliamentarians.

After the Parliamentarian victory, Paracelsus was required learning for all English doctors and pharmacists. This included the recipe for “Sheep Nanny Tea”, also known as just “Nanny Tea.” The two key ingredients were fresh sheep manure and wine. Nanny Tea was identified as a cure for smallpox. That’s important, remember that. When the monarchy was restored, however, the Galen school of medicine came back to the fore and the Paracelsians were relegated to the country healers who still resisted royal authority over their beliefs.

Let’s remember that the English Civil War included a religious element – the Puritan faction of the Parliamentarians wanted to remove Catholic influences in The Church of England. The Independent faction of the Parliamentarians wanted permission to practice their faith as they saw fit, even outside The Church of England, which put them in conflict with the Puritans. The Puritans also had a radical sect among their numbers, the Fifth Monarchists, who were preparing England for the return of Christ as King on or about the year 1666. All of these groups were in conflict with the established, traditional Church of England that held itself to be the one and only church for all of England. Even though the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 returned the Church of England to authority in religious matters, disgruntled Puritans and Independents still clung to views that the government should not be so intrusive in people’s lives as to dictate a person’s creed or belief.

This resentment of government influence probably strikes a chord with nearly every American, in one way or another. But, running deeper, is the association of what were disparagingly referred to as “folk remedies” with that anti-establishment view of government, with the rural people being at odds with the urban, royalist establishment.

And before anyone jumps up and shouts, “Oh my gosh! That’s so much like what we’re facing in 2021!”, I will say that we’re not yet ready for 2021. We first need to go to around 1900 in the US state of Utah.

I picked Utah because I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and want to better understand how there’s a current split between members of my church along a number of fault lines. Other denominations may also be experiencing similar breaks – maybe the lessons learned from history can help us all. Onward.

In 1900, a smallpox outbreak had occurred in Utah, likely caused by a person who fled a quarantine in Butte, Montana who arrived in Sanpete County. As the smallpox spread, it brought out sharp divisions in Church membership over how best to respond to it.

The smallpox outbreak was not variola major, with a 20-40% fatality rate, but a strain that had emerged in the USA after the Civil War, variola minor, with a 1-2% fatality rate. It was still a rough disease to deal with, but the lower fatality rate had made many people question if quarantine measures that were developed to address the higher-fatality strain were really appropriate for the lower-fatality strain.

Cue concerned debate about the role of government in public health: it should not be surprising that predominantly rural Utahns took up opposition to government involvement and the urban Utahns mostly favored intervention for the sake of public health. It should also not be surprising that the rural groups took government involvement as an affront to their faith and folk remedies and that urban groups took resistance to government involvement as people clinging to unenlightened thinking.

With the Mormon population, there was an added dynamic surrounding declarations of current and former leaders of the Church. The official title of the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And even though members are now advised to avoid the short-hand notation of “Mormon” when denoting the church or its members, we sill all engage in a short-hand reference to our leader as “the Prophet.” Just as calling church members “Mormons” causes people to forget or not realize that the faith is centered around Jesus Christ, calling the leader “the Prophet” causes people to forget or not realize that he serves primarily in an administrative capacity and that prophetic revelation is not part of his day-to-day duties.

I say that because whenever there is a split in the Church, it’s up to The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to work to end the contention and to keep the membership unified as an ecclesiastical body. If there’s revelation for the Prophet, so be it. But most of church history is full of discussion, compromise, changing views, outside pressures, internal rifts, and long, sleepless nights for those at the top as they juggle all these influences as they do their level best to keep things going forward.

It seems as though Presidents of the Church make decisions that either cause a small number of members to leave the faith, or they make decisions that cause a large bloc of members to leave the faith. So it was from the beginning, with Joseph Smith himself constantly faced with attrition of membership over his choices and statements. In a movement striving to bring in all people as one, any loss has a pain associated with it, and the Presidents have striven to bring back anyone who has left or chosen not to associate with the general membership.

So, in 1900, the Church is faced with a smallpox outbreak and one group of members insisting that the state must be vaccinating one and all and the other group insisting that they will reach for their shotguns before some intrusive statist “injects Babylon into their arms.” The pro-state, pro-vaccine group pointed to current leadership statements in favor of vaccinations. The anti-state, anti-vaccine group in turn pointed to statements by Brigham Young that were hostile to the medical profession and insisted that folk cures and faith-based cures were superior to vaccines. Enter a steamin’ hot cup of Nanny Tea at this point, because that was one of the folk cures being touted to help deal with smallpox instead of a vaccination.

This is not to say that the anti-vaccine faction was a bunch of bumpkin throwbacks to the 17th Century: the editor of The Deseret News was one of the leaders of the anti-vaccine faction, along with other prominent Church leaders, physicians, and educators. There were also those who were very much in favor of vaccinations, just not mandatory ones at the hands of the state. Here, a Libertarian argument for personal freedom joins with those who generally distrust vaccines. Utah had only recently come out from under Federal control that had disenfranchised Mormons wholesale and had disincorporated the Church and seized its assets – is this the same government to be trusted with public health measures? Would it use a vaccination campaign as the thin end of a wedge to reassert itself in persecuting Mormons?

In the cities, Catholics, Episcopalians, and Jews mostly supported state-mandated vaccinations with an option for those who did not want to be vaccinated to ride things out at home. When schools opened in Salt Lake City in January 1900, about 62% of the student population – mostly Mormons – stayed home, their parents in staunch opposition to either vaccinations or to the school forcing their children to be vaccinated in order to attend.

When the President of the Church spoke publicly in favor of vaccinations, members of the anti-vaccine faction responded with an outcry and pled with him to seriously reconsider what he was saying and how that was an affront to their faith.

At the same time, the Church was also going through a gradual strengthening of The Word of Wisdom from a set of recommendations to actual commandment-level requirements. Part of this gradual strengthening was from influence of the larger Prohibition movement in the USA. If we look at the Mormons of the day, we would find those who generally felt that the state should be totally uninvolved both in vaccination and in prohibition, those who wanted state-run vaccinations but no prohibition, those who refused state-run vaccination programs but insisted upon state intervention in prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol, and those who felt that a comprehensive state public health system meant both vaccination and prohibition programs. And the President had to do his level best to keep them all united in faith.

And though each group would want to call out the other as having a stance that was inconsistent with the core beliefs of the Church, the fact of the matter was that those who cited a current prophet’s support for their views would find themselves in contention with those who either brought up the views of a former prophet or who questioned if the prophet was himself articulating a formal policy or merely speaking ex cathedra.

As for the non-Mormon faiths that predominantly supported vaccination, it was only the Evangelical Protestants that found common cause with Mormon efforts to tighten up the Word of Wisdom – Episcopalians, Catholics, and Jews did not have strong prohibitionist support in their memberships. On a side note, the state of Utah was considered “one of the wettest states in the nation” in 1907 and was also the state that provided the final ratification needed of the amendment to repeal Prohibition in the USA.

Getting back on track, and I know that this has been a big ramble, and there is more ramble ahead, the same dynamics that colored the factions in the English Civil War provided near-equivalent coloration to the vaccination debate in the smallpox outbreak of 1900. Paracelsians and Libertarians in the country; Galens and Statists in the city, more or less. Out in the mission fields, there were mission presidents who required all missionaries to have smallpox vaccines and those who refused them. Where Mormon missionaries were unvaccinated, local governments often enforced quarantines – vaccination came to be seen as a requirement for sharing the gospel. Even so, there was an Apostle serving as a mission president in Mexico who refused to be vaccinated on principle that it went against the idea of faith healing who then later died of smallpox. Vaccination in the mission field was by no means a uniform decision.

The vaccination debate also broke along political faction lines in Utah. Rather than go into details, let it suffice to say that one party was mostly in favor of requiring vaccinations and another was mostly against that sort of thing. Imagine the tension resulting from a debate that involves both hardline political AND religious stances.

By the early 1920s, however, the man who was a strongly anti-vaccine editor of The Deseret News in 1900 was now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who officially signed off on a declaration from the President of the Church in support of vaccines. In case we forgot and need reminding, people are capable of change over time. I’m sure the loss of an Apostle to smallpox helped to color that decision. However, the Church statement did not go into areas of public health – that debate remained.

Even in recent official Church statements supporting vaccination programs and the idea of vaccination itself, the statements stop shy of advocating government involvement in such program. In fact, strongly pro-vaccination statements from 1978 and 1985 and 2000 have been watered down with the inclusion of a personal judgment option in the March 2021 update to the General Handbook. That’s not to say that one prophet was better or worse than another: that is to say that one President of the Church faced different pressures and concerns than another had to deal with.

When I look at the decisions made around The Word of Wisdom over time, I see more of the concerns in the top leadership regarding taking something from a strong recommendation or sincere urging to the level of an out-and-out commandment. More often than not, this is a matter of debate in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It is a gradual move in one direction or another, frequently because of outside pressures manifesting themselves in factions among the membership. A too-sudden move risks a major rift in the membership. Even a change accompanied with revelation, such as the 1978 Official Declaration on the Priesthood, is an example of work in progress, not a sudden direction change.

So now I come to the promise of the title: the current COVID-19 pandemic. The divisions of old have been preserved through the centuries. We saw them again in the smallpox epidemic, we will see them again in the next epidemic. So it shall be. I may side with one or the other, but it does not mean that I have a right to force my view on anyone else. I can strongly encourage, I can urge, but if I become combative with another, am I able to encourage or urge? No, I am not. Nonviolent principles, in my view, have to extend to language as much as they do for physical actions. I am going to be in church services with people who disagree or agree with me, but not in a binary sense. There will be degrees of agreement and disagreement, and when we add another issue, we add another dimension to the tracking of said agreements and disagreements. Rather than complicate things and track all the issues I have a strong view on, maybe it is better for me to look instead for a way to sit next to my brothers and sisters in faith and allow time and positive spiritual influences to improve us all in the long run. It is a difficult choice to accept, but it is the one chosen by The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

For further reading, I strongly recommend “The Religious Politics of Smallpox Vaccination, 1899-1901” from the Utah Historical Quarterly. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume84_2016_number1/s/166487

I also recommend “Mormons and Compulsory Vaccination” from MormonPress. https://www.mormonpress.com/mormon_vaccination

Both of these articles were written pre-COVID-19 and, as such, exist outside the charged atmosphere that emerged as a consequence of the latest pandemic.

If you are interested in the history of the Word of Wisdom, “The Word of Wisdom from Principle to Requirement” offers an interesting read. https://www.jstor.org/stable/45224999?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

In the New Testament, there is the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The story is simple: 10 young women go to await a wedding reception. The women are all virgins – their morality and spirituality is not in question here. These are not sinners and saints, these are all good people, ready to enter into the reception – a symbol equating with the kingdom of God.

But there’s a delay. The delay is long enough that all 10 go to sleep. Again, no fault on any of those who await – they are all fine up to this point.

And then the bridegroom arrives. It is time to go to meet him. All the lamps have run low on oil. Five of the virgins have brought extra oil with them – they trim their lamps. The other five ask for oil, but the first five decline. They cannot give of their oil, the other five, the foolish five, have to go out and find their own oil.

If we take a view that the oil is personal preparation, it’s clear to see how it cannot be shared. Can I share my obedience with the disobedient? Can I share my love with the hateful? Can I share my charity with the ungiving? Whatever fictions are made to stretch my virtues, the underlying fact is that these characteristics cannot truly be shared. We must attain them for ourselves.

There is no miracle that awaits the five foolish ones, to provide them with additional oil. They were righteous and without fault in many ways, yes, but they lacked yet that final bit of preparation, that final extension of faith needed to understand what is required of us to enter into the kingdom of God.

The miracle was that the bridegroom arrived. We do not know the hour or the time in which we will be called to meet Him, but we know that the hour or time will arrive. We must have the faith to endure waiting longer than we thought initially necessary. We must have the faith to accept circumstances outside our control – and the humility to accept that our ideas about God may be partially or substantially incorrect, even though we trust and believe in Him enough to make the initial preparations to meet him, as did the foolish virgins. We must be prepared to admit that our initial thoughts are incorrect and that we have much more ahead of us than simply showing up and expecting a short wait before we head on in to Heaven.

The Journeys of Otok: A Mategosan Folk Cycle

I.
Once there was a boy who wandered in the forest. Robbers had killed his parents and the boy would have perished of hunger and thirst had not a pine-marten taken pity upon him and whispered to him which berries were good to eat and where a spring was to be found that he might drink of it.

The pine-marten asked the boy what his name was, but the boy replied, “I know not – I cannot remember what my mother and my father called me.”

The pine-marten replied, “Since I have taken you in, I shall give you a name. Remember it, boy, for it tells you of your fate! You are named Otok Kestena!” (Island of Chestnut Trees) “You will use the name Otok with one and with all, but Kestena keep you secret, that none else but you or I will know of your place of refuge!”

The boy understood the pine-marten and promised always to keep the secret of the chestnut trees. Islands in the world, there were many of those: but islands covered with chestnut trees none knew of, they were as secret as Otok’s second name.

Otok followed the ways of the pine-marten in the forest and grew happily enough. When the boy was old enough to be a man, the pine-marten said to him, “See now! You are strong in your youth and I am now old in my age, such is the way of the world! As I prepare to lay myself down, you must make ready to bring yourself up! Seek you a wife, find people who will follow you, and make your way to the land of your fate and there you shall be a ruler, happy and prosperous!”

Otok asked the pine-marten, “Old friend and forest-father! How do I know such things are true and not dreams?”

The pine-marten replied, “Ah! when you were a new babe and I was in my youth, I saw the three Royenitzes who spoke of your fate as you slept one night. I listened as the first said that you were to be an orphan wanderer. The second then said that you would only have one true refuge, an island covered with chestnut trees. The third said only if you found a people who would leave their prosperous lands to join you in your undiscovered refuge would you know happiness. So I remembered these things and watched over you. Lucky are you, Otok, to be a man that knows his fate!”

Otok gave great and humble thanks to the pine-marten and laughed and wept with his forest-father for three more days as the pine-marten passed from the world. A good burial gave Otok to the pine-marten, deep in the ground where the wolf would not dig. Otok mourned the pine-marten and, having completed his mourning, went to seek his wife, his people, and his land.

II.
Otok wandered alone in the forest. All his life he had lived in the forest and did not know where the lands of humans were. One day, he happened to see a wolf licking a wound on its back leg. Though the wolf was stronger than he, Otok stepped to where the wolf could see him. The wolf was ready to pounce upon Otok, but Otok held up his hand in peace and said, “Wolf! Slay me not! I know your secret weakness, and should you slay me, I shall shout it aloud with my dying breath, that all the forest may hear of it! Spare me, and I shall aid you in battle. What say you, O Wolf?”

Wolf said to Otok, “It is better to have a stranger befriended than a whole world know of my weakness. I shall spare you, man, but tell me your name, that I may know you from other men, with whom I share no alliance.”

“Otok is my name, and one day, I shall ask you to guide me to where the other men are.”

Wolf said, “Otok is such a short name. Surely, there is more in your name, will you tell it to me?”

“Otok is my name. It is short, yes, but it will suit me well should there be no more name. If you have more to name me with, I would hear it now.”

The wolf obliged his ally. “Here is a secret for you, Otok – add Zaton (cove) to your name, for I once heard the sun whisper that the most beautiful of all human maidens lived by a cove by the sea, and there you should seek your wife.”

Otok thanked the wolf and wandered more in the forest. One day, he saw a lion tending to a wound on its belly. Though the lion was stronger than he, Otok stepped to where the lion could see him. The lion was ready to pounce upon Otok, but Otok held up his hand in peace and said, “Lion! Slay me not! I know your secret weakness, and should you slay me, I shall shout it aloud with my dying breath, that all the forest may hear of it! Spare me, and I shall aid you in battle. What say you, O Lion?”

Lion said to Otok, “It is better to have a stranger befriended than a whole world know of my weakness. I shall spare you, man, but tell me your name, that I may know you from other men, with whom I share no alliance.”

“Otok is my name, and one day, I shall ask you to guide me to where the other men are.”

Lion said, “Otok is such a short name. Surely, there is more in your name, will you tell it to me?”

“Otok is my name. It is short, yes, but it will suit me well should there be no more name. If you have more to name me with, I would hear it now.”

The lion obliged his ally. “Here is a secret for you, Otok – add Hrast (oak) to your name for once I heard the wind whisper that the hardest-working men he ever saw lived among the oak trees, and there you should seek your kinsmen!”

Otok thanked the lion and wandered more in the forest. One day, he saw a giant eagle nursing a wound on its wing. Though the eagle was stronger than he, Otok stepped to where the eagle could see him. The great eagle was ready to pounce upon Otok, but Otok held up his hand in peace and said, “Eagle! Slay me not! I know your secret weakness, and should you slay me, I shall shout it aloud with my dying breath, that all the forest may hear of it! Spare me, and I shall aid you in battle. What say you, O Eagle?”

Great Eagle said to Otok, “It is better to have a stranger befriended than a whole world know of my weakness. I shall spare you, man, but tell me your name, that I may know you from other men, with whom I share no alliance.”

“Otok is my name, and one day, I shall ask you to guide me to where the other men are.”

Great Eagle said, “Otok is such a short name. Surely, there is more in your name, will you tell it to me?”

“Otok is my name. It is short, yes, but it will suit me well should there be no more name. If you have more to name me with, I would hear it now.”

The eagle shook its head. “No, Otok! Others may give you more names, but I shall not give a name to you until you have proven your worth to me in battle.”

Otok understood without complaint and said, “So be it, Great Eagle. When I have helped you in battle, you shall give me more to my name.”

III.
Otok traveled on in the forest and one day saw Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle readying themselves to fight each other. Between and before them was a dead ox-bull. Otok could see that each of the three wanted to claim first share of the prize. Otok could also see that each of the three feared that the other two would join forces and drive him away. Otok could further see that each of the three wondered which of the other two would be the weaker partner, the better choice of ally to defeat the third with. For always the strongest seeks a weak ally against a third power, that the weak ally may be subjugated when the third power is no more.

Otok stepped to where all three would see him, and declared, “I am here to help my ally in battle!”

At the same time, Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle all said, “Good!” Then, at the same time, Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle knew that Otok was an ally to them all. And one who is an ally to all is one who can be trusted to make a just peace, for it is in justice that alliances are preserved. Weaker than all three of the others in strength and weapons, in his knowledge and bargaining, Otok was stronger than all three combined.

Otok mediated between Wolf, Lion, and Eagle and brought them to agreement on a fair division of the meat and bones of the dead ox-bull. Otok asked for no meat or bones for himself, such was his wisdom, for there can be no justice when the judge takes part in the spoils.

Happy were Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle to not have a battle, for each secretly feared that his secret wound would prove his undoing. Wolf departed with his portion. Lion departed with his portion. As Great Eagle made ready to feast upon his portion, Otok reminded him, “O Great Eagle! Did I not help you in battle, or do I yet owe you that service?”

Great Eagle nodded. “Indeed, Otok, you have helped me in battle, and I have not forgotten my pledge to you. Now hear me well, for I shall name you Govornik (speaker). You win battles with words, and so it shall be. Never will you bear arms, for in that day you bear arms, you shall die. Think much, and speak the words born of mature thoughts. Far and wide have I flown and I have seen troubles among men. Wars and battles are coming to the men of these lands.”

Great Eagle continued. “Here is a riddle I have heard the moon whisper as it passes over the lands of men and gives them dreams. ‘Earth, sea, sky – each realm has its champion, and each realm does battle with the other. Fight one and be crushed, befriend all three and prosper.’ Remember those words, Otok Govornik, and think on them, my friend. But tell me one thing, friend, who tutored you in your ways?”

Otok replied, “My forest-father, the pine-marten.”

Great Eagle nodded. “Lucky you were to have a pine-marten for your guide and tutor. Had the wolf tutored you, you would have been taught to bite, but you have no jaws. Had the lion tutored you, you would have been taught to maul, but you have no claws. Had I tutored you, you would have been taught to fly, but you have no wings. The pine-marten taught you to be clever, and look, you have words! So I say lucky you were to have a pine-marten teach you.”

Otok humbly thanked Great Eagle for all his words and left the forest that day, to walk in the lands of men.

IV.
Otok followed the setting sun and arrived at the seashore. He followed the seashore until he came to a beautiful cove. There, in the beautiful cove, he saw a beautiful maiden. Otok called to the maiden, “My name is Otok and I am not yet betrothed. Have you yet been promised to another?”

The maiden replied. “I am called Pučina (open sea) and I am promised to the one who is friend to the sun, the wind, and the moon. Prove that you are that man, and I shall be your wife.”

Otok said, “I shall prove my three friendships and shall be your husband.” With that, Otok set out to prove his friendships with the sun, the wind, and the moon.

A year later, Otok returned with a sack of grain, a barrel of fish, and a bucket of dried mushrooms. Pučina asked, “Tell me, Otok, what have you brought me?”

Otok said, “Fair Pučina, I will tell you. A year I have spent making friends with the sun, the wind, and the moon, and these are their gifts to me, as proof of that friendship. Would I have grain enough to spare had not the sun smiled upon me and helped me to grow my crops? Would I have fish enough to spare had not the wind guided my boat in the waters? Would I have mushrooms enough to spare had not the moon caused them to grow and shone its light to guide me to where they were?”

Pučina smiled and said, “That is good, Otok, you are indeed a friend to sun, wind, and moon. You shall prosper without conquering and your people shall know peace. Tell me now more of your name, that I may know you more.”

Otok said, “Wolf gave me the name Zaton, and it is here in the cove that I find you. Lion gave me the name Hrast, and it is among the oak trees that I will seek my people. Great Eagle gave me the name Govornik, and it is only with words, not arms, that I make my way in the world.”

Pučina asked, “Have you any other names?”

Otok said, “One other name, the pine-marten gave me. But this is a name that I must keep secret. Forest-father he was to me, and I promised him that I would keep it a secret, for my fate is in it. But the day my fate is made certain, you will know that name without my speaking it to you, for you are a woman and you will know of things that men must be told.”

Pučina nodded and smiled, “Well have you spoken, husband Otok, and we will learn to love each other in the years to come.”

V.
Otok followed the edge of the cove to where there was a river. He then followed the river upstream to a wood of oak trees. In that wood were several villages. The people of the villages worked very hard and were always ready to aid one another, just as Lion had said he had heard whispered by the wind.

But Otok did not make his home in that wood of oak trees: he did visit each village and he and his wife Pučina made good friends of the people, but Otok did not take up a dwelling there.

Instead, Otok traveled on in the lands surrounding the wood of oak trees. To the south, Otok saw an army that marched under banners of wolves. They would dig deep into the earth each night before sleeping, that their camp would be surrounded by ditches and mounds. The men of the army saw Otok and demanded that Otok tell them of the lands to the north.

Otok said, “To the north is a river. South of the river are plains where you can grow bountiful crops. Though a people lives there, if you promise them safety when they depart, they shall give that land to you, that you may farm it and soldier no more. Let them depart in peace and you shall have the land without war.”

The leader of the army under the banners of wolves said, “So it shall be! If we can gain the land without war, it is a good thing that our blood be not shed.”

Otok departed and then sailed on the seas to the west. There, he saw a navy that sailed under the banners of lions. They would unfurl their sails and move swiftly here and there, that they might claim the whole of the sea as their own. The men of the navy saw Otok and demanded that Otok tell them of the lands to the west.

Otok said, “To the west is a river. Along the river are mighty oaks, excellent timber for mighty ships. Though a people lives there, if you promise them safety when they depart, they shall give those oaks to you, that you may build merchant ships and bring prosperity through trade, that you have commerce instead of war. Let them depart in peace, and you shall have the timber without war.”

The leader of the navy under the banners of lions said, “So it shall be! If we can gain the timbers without war, it is a good thing that our blood be not shed.”

Otok departed and then went to the mountains to the north. There, he saw great castles with high towers under the banners of eagles. They would build the tall towers to survey the land around and establish their rule. The men of the castles saw Otok and demanded that Otok tell them of the lands to the south.

Otok said, “To the south is the river. On the north bank are rolling hills, which offer magnificent views of the surrounding lands. No enemy from the sea or land would be able to pass unmolested from castles in those hills. Though a people lives there, if you promise them safety when they depart, they shall give those hills to you, that you may build mighty castles in them and establish the borders to your lands so that none make war upon you. Let them depart in peace, and you shall have castles without war.”

The leader of the castles with the high towers under the banners of eagles said, “So it shall be! If we can set our borders in the hills without war, it is a good thing that our blood be not shed.”

Otok then returned to the villages in the oak woods. He called to their elders to come to him to learn of what he had discovered in his travels. The elders gathered before Otok and Otok told them of the great forces to the south, west, and north that were converging upon the oak woods by the river. He told them of the army that marched under the banners of wolves that would make war to win the plains. He told them of the navy that sailed under the banners of lions that would make war to win the timbers. He told them of the castles with high towers under the banners of eagles that would make war to gain the hills. A great and terrible war approached their lands.

The elders asked, “How will we escape the war? We wish only to live in peace and to work to feed our families. We can defend against bandits, but how do we survive such a terrible war?”

Otok said, “I know a way, but you will follow me to a secret place I have not yet been to. You will know that I shall arrive there because it is my fate to take a people in prosperous lands to such an undiscovered place, where they will live in happiness. Lucky am I to know my fate, and lucky are you to be joined to it, if you but give your consent to follow me.”

The elders said, “That is well and good, your story is entertaining. But what tokens do we have of its truth?”

Then the wife of Otok, beautiful Pučina, stepped forward and said, “That I stand before you as the wife of Otok is part of that proof. He befriended sun and wind and moon to gain my hand, and now we are married and we learn to love each other.”

The elders said, “So that is a proof, a witness to your fate. What other proof have you for us?”

Otok replied, “I was named Zaton by friend Wolf, and it was in a cove that I found my wife. I was named Hrast by friend Lion, and it was in the woods of oak trees that I found you, who I ask to be my people. I was named Govornik by friend Great Eagle, and it is with words that I bring peace to those who listen. I have been given the riddle from Great Eagle: ‘Earth, sea, sky – each realm has its champion, and each realm does battle with the other. Fight one and be crushed, befriend all three and prosper.’ So we see that the wolf-banners of the earth, the lion-banners of the sea, and the eagle-banners of the sky are ready to battle. While none of them may we fight, we prosper in the peace we bring to them.”

The elders said, “So it is. We are convinced and shall follow you from our lands of prosperity to the undiscovered island of your fate.”

VI.
With the people of the oak woods following him, Otok returned to the cove where he had met Pučina. There, they stood on the edge of the land that they could walk no more as the sea they could not sail wet their feet and the wind howled cold and bitter through the mountains, chilling their bones.

Otok addressed them all: “Otok is my name, and it is to an island that we will travel and find our refuge. I have been given names by Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle, but greatest of all is the name given me by my forest-father, the pine-marten. Alone I know my secret, but you shall all know of it when we arrive at our place of refuge. Pučina shall be the first to know and, through her, you will know as she knows, for she is mother to you, and mothers can teach lessons without speaking.”

An elder asked, “How shall we travel to the island that is undiscovered?”

Otok replied, “I cannot guide you there, but I have made friends of the sun, the wind, and the moon. They will help us arrive to the island of refuge.”

The people settled in the cove and awaited for Otok to bring them to the island of refuge.

One day, an old ship drifted into the cove. A single man stood at the rudder. He was older than the ship and looked to be weary of the world. He called down to the people of Otok to bring him safely to shore, and this they gladly did. On the shore, Otok asked him, “How did you come to be among us?”

The old sailor replied, “I awoke this morning and saw in the sun a promise. So I set my bearing to where the sun rises and traveled to this point. I am old and seek a place where I may rest my bones, and the sea is no place for resting.”

Otok said to him, “Let us use your boat that my friend the sun guided to us and we shall take you to a place of refuge, where you may rest your bones.”

The old sailor said, “Well and good is to be in the company of a friend of the sun! I shall join with you and your people this day.” At that moment, the people of Otok set about to prepare the ship for a voyage.

When the ship was ready, the people of Otok boarded the ship and made ready to sail. As they sails were unfurled, the winds ceased to dodge here and there among the rocks and caves. The winds made an end of their constant squabbling around the shores and with unanimity, made as one and gave a direction constant and true to the ship bearing the people of Otok. Through waves and mists, the ship continued on its unerring path. The people sang praise to the friend of the wind, and that it was well and good to be in his company.

One day, an island covered in chestnut trees lay before Otok. When Pučina saw it, she knew at once the secret name the pine-marten had given to Otok. When Pučina turned to face the people of Otok with a smile on her fair face, the people learned from their mother that this was the place of refuge. At night, the wind gave a great gift to its friend Otok as it caressed the tides to gently land the ship on the shores of the isle of refuge, the isle of the chestnut trees, the Island of Mategosa.

Is There One Among You?

“And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!” – Alma 5:20-21

We often think that if we do not personally mock or persecute that we are innocent of such accusations. We think that if we are constantly and consistently polite and careful with our personal interactions, we are free of the charges of mocking and heaping persecutions on others. But we must look beyond the personal experience if we wish to be judged correctly.

The first place to look is in the minds of the persons we interact with – we cannot read those minds, but we know that they are not our own. How do we know that what we think of as polite and proper is interpreted to be the same way in the minds of our neighbors, the people we meet and work with directly? How often did politeness give an appearance of kindness as it papered over apartheid, segregation, and antisemitism? Even as I speak of those things as national policies, they had impacts on the personal level to where the persecutors were unaware of how hurtful they were because, in their minds, they were always polite and proper.

When we use words that are pointed out to us as having a negative implication to an audience, we should seek to stop using those words. Accusing the audience of overreacting or taking us the wrong way is not a defense – it is not a rethinking, a repentance. When we rethink, we repent. When we repent, we not only become aware of how to keep peace on earth, but also how better to approach God.

And when we look at the larger picture, we must be sure and certain in not supporting legal regimes that “heapeth persecutions” on one or more groups. Mockery may or may not be in the legal wording: older American laws specifically stated that Blacks, Latinx, Asians, First Nations, and other cultural minorities were to be restricted vis-a-vis their White counterparts – mockery and persecution, combined. Modern American laws may remove the direct mockery, but preserve the persecution by creating use cases defined by factors common to those cultural minorities.

Gender and sexual preference are also targets of laws that create persecution. Again, they can be directly called out with mockery directly included with the persecution; or, they can be indirectly implied, with the mockery buried under cleaned-up words. But, with or without the mockery, the persecution remains as an indictment against the godliness of the people that put it into place.

“And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yeah, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting you hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?
“Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God… and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?” – Alma 5:53-55

Alma makes it very clear that he is speaking to a society, not each person as an individual. This is a collective sermon that targets inequality in the society. As above, the supposition of being better than another person can be masked by politeness and protocol. If I say I am the same as everyone else but then expect to be treated differently due to my status, wealth, profession, or some other irrational criteria, then I am quite likely a hypocrite. I should strongly note that differentiated treatment to overcome disability or poverty is justice, not discrimination. Preserving one’s power through denial of justice is discrimination, is persecution, is mockery of one’s own brother in the most ungodlike way possible – the building up of a kingdom rooted in cruelty, injustice, and the violence necessary to support such a thing.

The door is not yet closed on those who persecute – as long as we have thoughts, we can rethink them. We can repent and choose instead to treat one another as equals not only in our personal relations, but in how we frame the laws of our nations. It means we must think harder and produce solutions that may not seem intuitive, but if we wish to attain the pearl of great price, those efforts are part of the price we pay for the treasure of Eternal Life.

The Ancient Origins of Mategosan Banking

Mategosan archaeology indicates the earliest formal settlements began around the 9th Century BCE. A few fishing settlements of the Delmatae tribe, identified by their burial methods and a shrine to Vidasus, bear witness to the earliest permanent inhabitants of the Mategosan islands. Later, as a result of the Great Illyrian Revolt, the Romans sent in colonists from Latium to settle and pacify the islands as part of a larger move to incorporate the province of Illyricum.

Mategosa was seen as a strategic hold in the Adriatic on the main route for shipping Dalmatian gold back to Rome. Cassius Dio noted that Mategosa provided a watchful eye over the ships carrying the gold. In his typical cynicism, Cassius Dio also commented on how Mategosa also seemed to have an outstretched hand to collect any parts of those shipments that went astray.

There was no overt brigandage or piracy in these transactions: although the ancient records are sparse on these matters, what records we do have either hint or directly accuse the Mategosans of being part of a greater chain of financial arrangements, always with the implication that imperial treasuries were involved as partial beneficiaries of these diversions of gold, the Mategosan middle-men being the other party that answered the question, “cui bono?”

All of the Claudian emperors enjoyed the secrecy and creative accounting provided by their Mategosan citizens. The island itself, while ostensibly part of the province of Illyricum, had a special governor appointed to oversee the special administrative arrangements performed on the island. The nummularios (money-changers) of Mategosa would register the inbound shipments of gold by “reviewing” the cargo manifest of the ships. In reality, the Mategosans were making an identical copy of the manifest, bar a change on the amount of gold in the shipment. The doctored manifest would be returned to the ship after an appropriate amount of gold had been removed to true-up the figures.

The removed gold would then go on to the treasuries of both the Emperor and the nummularios of Mategosa. Over time, each of the family groups on Mategosa became involved in the gold traffic. The proceeds of their operations did not go to just one person, but were considered to be assets for each family as a whole. The Claudian period is where we see the development of the familial/clan social structure in Mategosa that persists to this day.

After the Claudians, there was a gap in imperial usage of the Mategosan connection. Dalmatian cargo was interrupted during the chaos of The Year of the Four Emperors and the Flavians did not renew the system favored by the Claudians. Trajan, however, revived the old gold route, along with the diversion on the docks of Mategosa harbor. Commodus neglected the arrangements and the lack of private finances is considered to be a contributing factor to the instability of his regime. Septimus Severus worked with the Mategosans, but is an exception in the regnal list for many years, as the Empire became more chaotic and the Crisis of the Third Century commenced.

The reign of Gallienus was a period of governmental stability in the 3rd Century, even if the frontiers of the Empire were fraying and regional governors were often rebelling. Gallienus visited Illyricum several times between 253 and 258 and stopped at Mategosa more than once: it is unclear if the islanders were able to convince the Emperor to take advantage of their services. Given that the economy collapsed during the later years of his reign, it is unlikely that he did. Or, if he did, he did not make effective use of such services.

What we do know is that the gold began arriving again at Mategosa during the 260s. From the transactional records we have, we can determine that once again the Mategosans were changing manifests, but they do not seem to have included the Emperor in their arrangements. In the turmoil of the next 20 years, the Emperors forgot completely about Mategosa. By the time of Julius Nepos in 474-480, the Dalmatian coast was accountable to the Emperor only because he lived there. After the fall of Julius Nepos, Mategosa fades from history with the rest of the Dalmatian coast. But the gold, hidden away in the underground cavern systems of Mategosa, never lost its luster. As trade and banking returned to the region following the establishment of the Byzantine theme of Dalmatia and the Kingdom of Croatia, Mategosa was ready to provide the secrecy and special arrangements that are often attached to that industry.

The Implication of “Skins”

Racism is any thought, law, action, custom, or practice that provides treatment or outcomes that are different based upon race. Nationalism is the same, but for culture. Sexism for gender, and so on. All of these can be gathered under the umbrella of “irrationally discriminatory treatments and/or outcomes.” And while it is very easy to say “I am not a racist” as a smokescreen that exempts one from deep self-examination, it is much harder to say “I am an antiracist” and then work the difficult work of removing one’s own prejudices – conscious and unconscious – that result in irrationally discriminatory treatments and/or outcomes. These treatments and outcomes are not only as a result of one’s own personal interactions, but also because of the public policies one supports or opposes, based on these lurking biases.

To say, “I am an antiracist” means that we are actively re-thinking our thoughts and changing our ways – in a word, repenting. We do not just ask for forgiveness, but we must make real and meaningful changes in coming to accept all people as equals. The word of God has in the past been used to justify irrationally discriminatory treatments and/or outcomes – but such usage is the word of God, perverted. When I read the scriptures, I read that God provides a path of salvation to all humanity. Male and female, black and white, bond and free, young and old, warm and cold, wet and dry – make up your opposite pair and God provides a path of salvation to the extremes and the folks in the middle. All of them.

To be an antiracist, therefore, is to accept the equality mandated by God and to unravel it from toxic ideas of people who created misleading and damnably incorrect ideas to rationalize their own unjust concentrations of wealth and power, relative to other groups. To be an antiracist is to accept that one’s own mind has been infected with any number of these ideas and that removing those ideas is going to be a lifelong process.

And that brings me to Chapter 4 of Alma in the Book of Mormon.

“And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them…” – Alma 4:6

Even with context, it’s a harsh assessment. While modern readers are frequently quick to assume that the skins in question are the human epidermis, it’s more likely that the author was referring to how the Lamanites “were naked, save it were skin which was girded about their loins”. Animal skins, in other words. And that this is in a discussion about how their allies the Amlicites marked themselves with red paint in their foreheads indicates that the markings are elective, not markings from birth.

Even so, this is a discrimination: the verses that follow talk about the incorrect traditions of the Lamanites and how those who intermarry with them joins with them in their curse. Those who leave the Lamanites to join with the Nephites are noted by their change in dress style, are numbered among the Nephites, share in their customs, and are otherwise indistinguishable from the Lamanites. So if this is not racism, it is still nationalism or tribalism, is it not?

The proscription on mingling with the “other” in this case is a religious one. The idea being that the children of such unions will have divergent guidance, at best, and will not be able to grow up with the proper knowledge and faith necessary for salvation. Given that the Nephites themselves were constantly dealing with rebellion, apostasy, and general unrighteousness, however, one cannot consider that being among the Nephites was a sufficient condition for living a good life, dedicated to God. The Nephites may not have dressed in dark animal pelts as the Lamanites did, but when they put on costly apparel, they generally embark upon the road to perdition.

Just as the Amlicites painted their foreheads red, just as the Lamanites wore the pelts of dark animals, the Nephites that chose to wear costly apparel marked themselves in their rebellion to God. So what is the solution for these problems? Is it Kurtz’ rage to “Exterminate the brutes”? While there are Nephites who believe that very thing, the righteous among the Nephites reject that solution.

When God provides a path to salvation for us all, it is not at the edge of a blade or the barrel of a gun. It is through kind invitation and patient teaching. The solution is not to curse the enemy, but to pray for them and to show them kindness and mercy. Here, therefore, is a rational discrimination. There are differences, yes, but they do not prevent a person from accepting God’s invitation to salvation. They may add interesting twists and turns in that path, but so it is with all of us and our personal journeys.

The rational discrimination is to not assume that they know everything that you know and that you do not know everything that they know. The rational discrimination is to await the learning opportunities for yourself as avidly as you do for them. Once the learning is underway, we are all prepared to be a “we” and not an “us and them”. And it is as a “we” that we approach God. An unconditional, loving, equal “we”.

That is not to say that the Nephites as a people were ready to drop their prejudices at this point in the narrative. There were two bodies of people in attendance at King Mosiah II’s farewell address and reform of the government. The Amlicites emerged as a rebellious faction from within the Nephites. Class divisions appear as the people choose to wear costly apparel – are any of these groups ready to see the Lamanites, the generationally-established “others” as anything but different?

I would say that the more righteous a person is, the easier it is to see beyond the differences defined by human thought and see the eternal equality that God sees. I would say that the more righteous a person is, the easier it is to ask for that equality before God to be made evident in law and society and church.