Thursday, May 21, 2015

Two People Exposed to the Same Facts with Two Different Conclusions: A Response To Denver Snuffer's Post on Emma Smith

It never ceases to amaze me that two different people can be exposed to the same exact stack of evidence, and yet yield two wholly different conclusions.

I write in response to this post:

There are two main points to Denver's post: 1) "Unequivocal condemnation of Brigham Young," and 2) the negative image of Emma Smith is due to fabrications by Young.

I really wish I had adequate time to write this post the way it needs to be written. I can only spare a few short minutes. As usual, while I hope to give breadcrumbs to those who care to inform themselves and form their own conclusions, I'm sure those who are set in their ways of seeing things will find this argument wholly inadequate.

First, let's start on Brigham Young. It really surprises me that Denver would condemn Brigham Young. Analyzing Brigham Young's history, we see someone who, prior to Utah, gave absolutely everything he had to give to the restoration movement. He was left penniless twice, as I recall, and spent years preaching the gospel in foreign lands, leaving behind his family. I have yet to hear anything up to the martyrdom about Brigham Young that does anything but praise his character.

After the martyrdom, what do we have? We see Brigham Young campaigning that the 12 should run the church, then taking power from the rest of the quorum. We see him seize the property of Joseph Smith (more on this later). He set up Utah as his kingdom. He vanquished church members who opposed him to nasty missions in unsettled areas. He may have ordered the mountain meadows massacre (though the evidence is weak), even if only indirectly through the blood oath of vengeance. He expanded plural marriage and had a lot of wives.

All of these things seem offensive to us. It is easy for us to see the results of his actions and proclaim that he was deceptive, manipulative, covetous, etc. But what happens when you try to imagine things from his perspective? Let's start with the martyrdom. Joseph's death left a huge vacuum. Joseph WAS the church. Brigham knew that what they had was a treasure not existent anywhere else in the church. Brigham knew that those around him were too weak to fill the void left by Joseph's death. He knew Sydney Rigdon was a scoundrel due to his abandonment of the cause while Joseph was still alive, but he also knew that Sydney had a smooth tongue and had managed to win the heart of the people to the extent that Joseph could not get the congregation's support when he, the prophet of the restoration, proposed his release. What would you have done? I would have done everything in my power to keep the machine together, and that's exactly what Brigham did. As far as usurpation goes, Brigham was adamant during his life that he would never be what Joseph was. He never tried to be. It was his successors who inflated the role of the post-Joseph president of the church. Brigham was the senior apostle (until Thomas Marsh came back, at least). His position in post-martyrdom wasn't some great usurpation. It was the only solution considering the Nauvoo Stake President's disinterest in governance and the painful alternative of admitting that the dispensation had been lost (in retrospect, humble prayer to God asking forgiveness of their condemnation would have been the optimal resolution of the succession crisis, but even that would have led to questionable results, as I have a feeling the curses promised in D&C 124 were sealed at that point).

What about in Utah? Did Brigham become a king? Of course he did. Again, what would have been a better alternative? The ranks of the Saints were decimated by the post-martyrdom splintering, resulting in many of the 20,000 Saints to remain in Nauvoo or go somewhere else (other than Utah). Brigham Young's saving grace was a new influx of converts from Europe. These people were dirt poor, and were just as likely to have accepted a free ride to the land of plenty in America as they were to have actually accepted the gospel. Brigham was flush with a demographic that consisted of a mix of dirt poor, uneducated European immigrants and lackluster Nauvoo flunkees who had managed to get Joseph and the covenant taken away from them. Moses did not score points for getting the Israelites into Zion. He scored points for keeping the camp together. I don't know of anyone during or since Brigham Young's time that could have pulled that off, except Brigham Young himself.

What about Brigham's polygamy and various other shady things he did or has been accused of? Jesus taught that a bitter fountain can't produce sweet water. Read through the discourses of Brigham Young. Sure, he was wrong on some things. And yet, there is a greater quantity of truth and light in that collection of sermons than I find in the vast majority of anything I read (excepting most scripture and all of what Joseph wrote). How could someone so wicked produce such a quantity of wisdom?

My conclusion on Brigham is that he was a man with weaknesses, just like anyone else, shouldered with an incredible burden and a few misunderstandings of what God and Joseph intended. In a day without the internet, without the Joseph Smith Papers and The Words of Joseph Smith, I see Brigham as a man who was doing his best to carry out what he understood Joseph was trying to do.

Maybe I am wrong.

Now onto Emma. It is very interesting that Denver cites the Emma Smith Lore dialogue paper (here). That is, because most of what it contains actually provides opposing evidence against his points.

The issue of Emma is a very difficult one, but not because of lack of historical evidence. The issue is difficult because in 2015 we find ourselves in a world very different than the 1830s and 1840s regarding the relationship between men and women. It is very difficult for people in 2015 to see things in a historical context in these matters. The very people who are the strongest supporters of Emma are usually those who have the hardest time shedding modern ideas of women to understand history, and thus the people who most need to be convinced are the hardest to convince. But let's try.

I want to start with the poisoning incident, but we can't start there. That incident seems ridiculous and easy to dismiss (as Denver has tried to do) unless we discuss it in the context of other contemporary accounts of Emma's behavior. Let's go to the paper Denver cited about Emma Smith.

On the topic of polygamy, here are some stories the article refers to about Emma's behavior:
-She probably first learned Joseph's practice in Kirtland with Fanny Alger, who she saw being sealed to him as she was spying on him.
-She actively preached against it's practice in Nauvoo.
-When she learned that Eliza R. Snow, who was living with the Smiths, was married to Joseph, she pushed her down the stairs of the Nauvoo house (Eliza was purportedly pregnant with Joseph's child and miscarried as a result).
-When she learned that Joseph had married a girl named Flora, and had gifted her a gold watch as a token, she accosted the girl to get her to give her the watch.

Although modern articles portray Emma as "always by [Joseph's] side, always loving,
and forever brave", we get a very different picture from contemporary sources [Note: it is true that at a very old age Lucy said positive things about Emma. To be clear, Emma had taken care of Lucy financially in a time when no one else was alive among her posterity to do so. That was a kind thing to do, and Lucy was correct in pointing it out].

William Clayton's journal and the journals of Joseph Smith reveal constant troubles with Emma. Joseph had to "reprove her for her evil treatment." Joseph had to deal with her oscillating loyalty. At one point she approved of his taking plural wives, but then changed her mind. The following contemporary account by Clayton is not an anomaly: "she abused him much & also when he got home, he had to use harsh measures to put a stop to her abuse but finally succeeded." Joseph publicly rebuked Emma at least once, resulting in her tears. Those around Joseph were very familiar with Emma's constant attacks on him and what he had to go through to endure it patiently and in accordance to D&C 121. Perhaps my favorite evidence of the status of Joseph's approval of Emma comes in looking at the timeline of sealings. Although Joseph married Emma first, he was not sealed to her for years afterward. The sealing to Emma occurred after the sealing of many other wives to Joseph, and only occurred after she (briefly) accepted plural marriage and gave her endorsement to Joseph.

Hyrum was the one who was responsible for the writing out of the revelation on plural marriage. He thought that being able to read God's word on the subject would appease Emma. Joseph laughed at him, and said he didn't know Emma very well. Hyrum took the revelation to Emma, and she went ballistic. Emma was so upset about about it that, when Joseph finally told her she could burn the revelation on plural marriage, she refused to even touch it with tongs. Finally Joseph had to burn it himself just to appease her.

The article discusses the possibility of Emma's having something to do with Joseph's return from Nauvoo. Remember that Joseph said that in coming back across the Mississippi, he was breaking God's commandment and knew he would die, having no protection from God for the first time since he started the ministry. His reason? He said if his life was of no worth to his friends, it was of no worth to him. Emma was among a small group of those who wanted him to come back. It is unsure (no one knows what the letter said, only that Joseph was angered by reading it) if Emma was among several members of the Council of 50 that called him a coward for leaving.

As for Emma not coming to Utah, I disagree with Denver when he says she would have found plenty of financial and other support there from members. This is not historically substantiated. Remember that a) Emma actively railed against plural marriage. She knew Joseph had practiced it, and lied about it. Those who knew she was a liar would not help her, and wouldn't want her around. b) Joseph was about to declare bankruptcy before his death. After his death, Emma was saddled with debt. What's more, it was not personal debt, per se, but debts Joseph had acquired in his office as president of the church. How many members came to her aid even before the exodus from Nauvoo? Why would support magically roll in had she gone to Utah? Finally, why exactly were the Saints so reluctant to support Emma? Could it be that in a small city where the president of the church was also the speaker in church every Sunday, as well as the mayor of said city, that practically everyone knew of Emma's treatment of Joseph? Could it be that they weren't very forgiving of what they had seen? (Alternate hypothesis: they were greedy, which is substantiated by their lack of building the temple, treatment of the poor in the Nauvoo exodus, etc.). In short, Emma stayed in Nauvoo because she was broke, and because she detested plural marriage.

Now we finally get to the poisoning incident. Quoting from the article:

Joseph's diary entry of 5 November 1843, describes becoming suddenly ill while eating dinner and vomiting so violently that he dislocated his jaw and "raised fresh blood." He believed he had been poisoned, but recovered enough to attend a "prayer meeting in the hall over the store" that evening.24 This was a meeting of the "quorum of the anointed" — those who had received their endowments — and most likely the "secret council" in which, according to Brigham, Joseph accused Emma of trying to poison him. Joseph's diary records that he and Emma did not dress for the prayer circle that night. Significantly, members did not customarily participate in the prayer circle if they had hard feelings against anyone else in the group.
Whatever had occurred  that day was significant enough that Joseph did not want to participate in the circle with Emma that night. The diary reads that "domestic concerns" occupied his next morning. Now, did Emma try to kill him, as Brigham said? Probably not. Could she have intentionally fed him rancid food to make him ill? This is, in my opinion, very likely. This is a women who was willing to attack ladies she barely knew over the suspicion they were engaged in plural marriage with her husband. She pushed a pregnant lady down the steps over jealousy. She regularly berated her husband in public and private until all around him were very aware of it. She would rather have a revelation of God burned than repent and receive the word of God. Do you really think she would hesitate to serve some off pork to her husband to watch him suffer?

Why does this matter?
On Brigham: I would like to think that God can look past our weaknesses and still appreciate the good we do, when we act in accordance with the best of our knowledge.
On Emma: There are a lot of false ideas that are attempted to be implemented in modern marriages that are based on fabrications to spin Emma's life in a positive way. As for me, I hold no grudges against Emma. Knowing the character of Joseph from the stories we have, I have no doubt that he has not ceased in forgiving Emma and doing whatever he could to appease her, as this is what he did throughout his life. That doesn't mean we ought to hold up Emma as some kind of light or some kind of example to follow. It is ok that a man affected the restoration without support (except in the beginning) from a woman. We don't need to invent a sidekick in that scenario to appease modern needs for so-called gender equality.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Impressions and Talk from Remnant Reunion and Yes, I Have Books

Hi everyone. I was asked by God and by Bret Corbridge to participate in the Remnant Reunion. I was only able to be there for about half the time due to some family obligations, but it was very nice to see some old friends again and to make some new ones.

When meeting people, I was surprised to hear how many of them have read this blog. I was a little disappointed that many of them did not know I have written a few books. That disappointment is not a result of pride due to lack of renown, but that I put a lot of effort into them with a conscious effort to distribute them for free (the print copies are sold for what the printer charges to print them, the pdfs are free). They are linked on the right of this blog. I hear the mobile version doesn't display the sidebar. 

My takeaway from the part of the meetings that I attended is that I am glad that there was so much tolerance present for a diversity of ideas and experiences. There wasn't anything crazy or inappropriate that I saw, just a group of sincere follows of Jesus Christ gathered to worship him and enjoy the company of like-minded souls. I believe that respect for others' beliefs is very important now and will be even more important in the future. If John the disciple ministered to you, do you think his religious culture would be similar to yours? What if a pentecostal worshipped with you? Or a Messianic Jew? You see, everyone has some truth, and the divergences in our beliefs present an opportunity to learn from another. I'm not saying that every difference means that they are right and you are wrong, but we cannot dismiss differences out of hand without first going to the Lord and asking him about them.

We frequently hear about ministering of angels. Supposedly, one receives the keys to the ministering of angels when they receive the Aaronic priesthood. And yet, how many Aaronic priesthood holders actually have seen an angel, let alone more than one? Many have tried to explain this discrepancy away with all sorts of artful rhetoric, but here is another explanation. Most of the inhabitants of this world today possess a telestial level of glory. In order to ascend to a degree of glory where they enjoy the presence of the father, they have to first ascend to a degree of glory where they enjoy the presence of the son. In order to ascend to a degree of glory where they enjoy the presence of the son, they must first ascend to a degree of glory where they enjoy the presence of angels. To ascend to a degree of glory where they enjoy the presence of angels, it is necessary to accept the words of God delivered by earthly messengers. The lack of visible angelic ministry to those who hold the Aaronic priesthood is a direct consequence of failing to heed the degree of God's word already present in your life. The first step in the process is to heed God's word as delivered by true (mortal) messengers. (Note: I'm not saying you need to worship men. I go into great detail on what I mean in "Commanded in All Things." The bottom line is that a message has value, a messenger does not. A messenger may deliver a true message in one moment, and a false one in another. The value comes exclusively from whether or not what is said hails from God.)

Revelation is hard to obtain. It takes a tremendous amount of pondering, studying, reading, etc. Consider the case of Alma. Alma was in the habit of fasting and praying for many days on specific doctrinal questions (Alma 5:46). In his instruction to his son about the resurrection, he is quick to note all the elements of his question that still remained unanswered despite having received revelation:

 11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
 12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow....
 19 Now, whether the souls and the bodies of those of whom has been spoken shall all be reunited at once, the wicked as well as the righteous, I do not say; let it suffice, that I say that they all come forth; or in other words, their resurrection cometh to pass before the resurrection of those who die after the resurrection of Christ.
 20 Now, my son, I do not say that their resurrection cometh at the resurrection of Christ; but behold, I give it as my opinion, that the souls and the bodies are reunited, of the righteous, at the resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven.
 21 But whether it be at his resurrection or after, I do not say... (Alma 40)

Given that revelation is so hard to obtain, shouldn't we rejoice when we can take advantage of another's work in receiving it? Shouldn't we appreciate their freedom from our own biases in obtaining instruction that we would reject should God tell us directly due to our sacred cows?

Those who dismiss out of hand what another claims is revelation are portraying a behavior opposite of that had by those like Joseph Smith, who carefully considered all invitations to come unto Christ until he was able to ascertain by the Spirit if they were true or false. In at least some cases, they are denying the gift of ministering angels, and will remain cut off from higher light and truth until they become humble and cease to think they know something.

Scott Stover's Discourse

Scott was asked to speak before me. We did not know the content or topic of each other's talks ahead of time, but I believe they were meant to be heard/read together. You can find his here.

I had originally intended to organize my notes into a less jumpy format. However, I feel at peace putting them up as I had them typed when I gave them.

My Discourse:

I want you to know that the Lord told me that I would speak here the day I learned about this event. When the call finally came from Brett, who I had never met before or interacted with online, I told him I would pray about it. I asked God what he wanted me to talk about. His answer was immediate, which surprised me. He said, "That which is of most value." Generally, that would mean to simply preach that your purpose in this life is to obtain an audience with Christ in the flesh, and then do whatever he tells you. You get there by doing everything the Spirit tells you, and asking often what you can do better or differently. With a random group, that would take a nice length talk, probably long enough to be a book. With this group, I know that you already know this. So the question is, given this group, what is the thing that makes it worth my driving for a few days to deliver. I didn't have to pray, ponder, or read very long to know the answer to that question.

Given what lies before us, the most valuable thing for you to hear about that God has told me is about happiness. The scriptural definition of happiness is very different than the common definition. In Spanish, there are different senses of the verb "to know." One implies knowledge like knowing 2+2=4. The other implies personal experience, like Adam knew his wife. The closest word we have in English to the latter meaning is "comprehend," I think. Today I hope you will come to know the difference between what the world sells as happiness and what God offers as happiness. But to comprehend the difference, that is going to take your own experience: a your life experience coupled with revelation. Maybe you will get some of that revelation today. Comprehending the difference will make all the difference now and in the near future. 

I have chosen to teach this concept in the context of the coming tribulation. Why? It is easy to find coping mechanisms in the current state of affairs to deal with the degree of suffering that most of us encounter in our lives. What I mean by that is that on a daily basis you are faced with a divide between your expectations (which are largely a product of what the world tells you you ought to expect) and your actual experience. In today's world, you can ignore the problem and pretend everything is ok. You can choose from a palate of activities that will change your brain chemistry to match your expectation, including prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, food, or exercise. In marriage, you can use pornography, cheat on your spouse, or get a divorce to deal with the rift between expectation and experience. You can distract yourself from the difference between expectations and experience with work, study, service, travel, or toys. Of course, none of this will actually fix the problem. All of these "solutions" are actually just distractions. By seeking to fix the experience side of the equation, they guarantee to never solve the problem, because the problem isn't the experience at all. It is the expectation. We are here today to fix the expectation. The point is, though, that if the world were to continue the way it is, a false expectation would only in very few cases lead to spiritual suicide. This is what the scriptures refer to as cursing God and dying. This is when you say to God, "You can't be real, because a real God would not allow all this to happen." This does happen in today's environment, but it is relatively rare among those with true religion. However, things are changing. Shortly, all the promised tribulations will be upon us. In that day, those who do not have realistic expectations, those who do not comprehend what happiness is and isn't, will lose faith in God. What I know about what is coming leads me to believe that very few people in the world, and probably very few people even here, are ready in the least degree to endure the sheer brutality of what we will be going through very shortly. I hope that as a result of this message, you are inoculated from the damage that could come from an incorrect perspective on these things.

This talk is not going to be about what is coming. Well, maybe a little. I have prayed and studied for years about what is coming. The Lord has shown me a few things about it. For a time, I thought I could be of a service to God and my fellowman by learning these things in order to show them to those who had not gone through the effort that I had to learn them. I thought there would be benefit in that for others, and I was willing to pay the price. The Lord told me recently that much of the "vision of everything" that even prophets have been banned from sharing--these are part of the contents of the sealed portion of the plates--pertain to the destruction that is coming. Even if I had seen everything that is coming (I haven't), I couldn't tell you about it, because to do so would be to unseal the sealed portion, and I have not been asked to do that. On another occasion I asked God "why did you bother spending so much of the scriptures warning what was coming if you were just going to put it in cryptic symbols and unclear language?" He said, "So that only those who asked me would be given to understand it." Makes sense. I realize that not everyone has time to pour through the scriptures to find and read and re-read and pray on these scriptures. So, I created a blog with almost every scripture describing the judgments coming prior to the Second Coming (I left out any that were debatable). So now instead of pouring through the scriptures to find and read and re-read and pray on these scriptures, you just have to read and re-read and pray on them. That blog is I saved you a little time. 

We aren't going to read through them today. I wish we could, but there is no time for that. But we can sum it all up briefly. God said "And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people." (D&C 88:91) If we had to limit it to one verse, that would be it. Things will be so bad that ALL people shall fear. Why? What could be so bad as to cause a universal fear in a world so sure of itself? Think of everything that has happened recently. We've had tsunamis, earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, terrible inflation, terrible unemployment, plagues, you name it and we've had it. Yet, everything is awesome. How could today's society, who is so sure that we are invincible, ever be overcome with fear to the point that it is universally debilitating? Let me ask this differently. Take a minute to imagine a scenario so bad that it would collapse mankind's hubris.  

Imagine the following scenario (I'm not prophesying here--this is hypothetical although loosely based on scripture): Over the last, say, 3 years, we've had regular magnitude 7 or better earthquakes in the continental US. Widespread droughts combined with conditions unsafe to work in mean there is no food. The dense geographical packing and general lack of skill, knowledge, and time made it impossible for food to be grown, resulting in widespread looting, riots, and murder until the cities were emptied by death or flight. Most could not survive the elements without food, water, or shelter. Bodies lie rotting all over the country, creating an overwhelming stench. An invading army has occupied the areas they did not use short range nukes on. 90% of men who survived the riots, earthquakes, and invasion were rounded up by the army into concentration camps, where they were systematically executed. A high altitude EMP destroyed all modern technology and vehicles. There is no government. I could go on, but I won't. Do you see what God has to do to provide an environment where mankind can once again be humble? Isaiah said, “Jehovah of hosts has a day in store for all the proud and arrogant and for all who are exalted, that they may be brought low. The haughtiness of men shall be abased, and man’s pride brought low; Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day.” (Isaiah 2:12,17)

Can you see why mankind will be overcome with fear?

But it doesn't say fear shall come upon some people. It says ALL people. There is a tradition floating around that there will be some sort of pre-preemptive warning and that there will be some group who will get in their pre-packed food storage trucks and gather to a safe place and party while the world burns, safely emerging when the dust is settled to inherit the earth. A scripture that could be used to support this tradition is Moses 7:61 which says, "61 And the day shall come that the earth shall rest, but before that day the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; and the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve;" (Moses 7:61) But preserved does not mean spared from tribulation. Fruit is not preserved by persisting it in its original state. It is preserved by smashing it, mixing it with sugar, and subjecting it to pressure and high heat. Joseph Smith said, "Also it is a false idea that the saints will escape all the judgements whilst the wicked suffer—for all flesh is subject to suffer—and "the righteous shall hardly escape" still many of the Saints will escape—for the just shall live by faith—Yet many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease to pestilence &c by reason of the weakness of the flesh and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God" (Joseph Smith Diary, 29 Sept 1839) In John's revelation he sees many who are given white robes by God. His angelic guide tells him "these are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Rev 7:14) These are not regular chumps off the street. These are righteous men, women, and children. It is in this passage that we find the iconic verse "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Rev 7:17) God wipes the tears from their eyes, requiring something to have put the tears there in the first place.

God clearly teaches the doctrine of abasement in the scriptures. The only way to go up is to first go down. Most people will not willingly abase themselves, so God will take care of that for them. Some few, very few, will have willingly abased themselves long before this destruction. How does that work? Abraham is the supreme example. God shows us through Abraham that it is completely possible for him to anneal an individual without affecting the general public. Abraham's refinement was not institutional. In brief, he had repeated trials related to his wife (she was taken away from him for 2 years, she had a faith crisis related to her barrenness, she had serious issues with Hagar and put herself between Abraham and Ishmael), he had a serious trial being asked to sacrifice Isaac, he had to consistently be benevolent and forgiving even when surrounded by people that continuously mistreated him, etc. Most of this would be unknown to anyone who met Abraham. I have learned that God can put an individual through extremely difficult trials without anyone around them being aware of it--even those most close to them. Don't fool yourself into thinking that everyone who has been through an Abrahamic sacrifice has a picture of themselves, the altar, and the ram in the thicket on facebook. Most of the time it is all invisible to the outsider.

We should always be extremely cautious of ideas that suggest that we are special or chosen or select in some way. When God told me that I would be speaking here, I threw the idea away just as soon as it came. I am very uncomfortable with calling myself part of the remnant. I would be very hesitant to assume that I will not experience each of the disasters prophesied in the scriptures unless God explicitly told me that I would not. I would be very hesitant to assume that I will qualify for Zion and that I will be spared from at least a portion of what is coming. The rule is destruction. The exception is mercy. I will tell you that it is very possible, and even very likely, that those in this group will be very familiar with riots, war, fires, collapsing buildings, plagues, tornadoes, hurricanes, total darkness, oppressive heat, extreme brightness, the shock of worthless money, people eating each other, etc. In fact, it is likely that many in this group will lose their life to these things. This is not just due to the fact that some or all of us will not make it to Zion. Plenty of these things will happen before anyone is gathered into Zion. The wine can't be produced without first stomping the grapes. Even if the wine is what is reserved, while the skins are thrown out, the whole grape has to be pressed. Zion will occur as a confluence of distinct, initially small groups, not as a light switch event. I've seen it. These groups will be guided by angels seen and unseen through the situations they need specifically to prepare them for what comes later. Not all groups will make it through the process. It will be an exception, not the rule. The image is of tributaries flowing into a river. Some water sources evaporate before they reach the river. Enough about that.

So how will it be to be a pressed grape? You cannot perceive how it will feel to be in these situations unless you've either been through them yourself, or if you've experienced them vicariously. This is, in part, why Isaiah says “Woe to those...who think, Let him quickly speed up his work so we may see it! Let the plan of the Holy One of Israel soon come to pass, and we will know!” (Isaiah 5:18-19) Have you even slept outside before? Without a tent? Without a blanket? While hungry and thirsty? I have. It isn't fun at all. It is actually quite miserable. And that is nothing compared to what is coming.

Were you ever forced to walk around naked for lack of clothing? How long have you ever gone without drinking clean water? How long have you gone without food? Have you ever had hungry children and had to choose who gets to eat? How long have you gone without showering? You’d be surprised how vile we all can become in mere days. Have you ever had to bathe out of a cup of water? How long have you gone without brushing your teeth? It's the little things mixed in with the big things. 

“Jehovah says, moreover, Because the women of Zion are haughty and put on airs, painting their eyes, ever flirting when they walk and clacking with their feet, my Lord will afflict the scalps of the women of Zion with baldness; Jehovah will expose their private parts. In that day my Lord will strip away their finery—the anklets, head ornaments and crescents, the pendants, chains and scarves, tiaras, bracelets and ribbons, zodiac signs and charm amulets, the rings, the noselets, the elegant dress, the shawl, the kerchief and the purse, hosiery, sheer linen, millinery, and cloaks. And instead of perfume there shall be a stench, instead of the girdle, a piece of twine, instead of the coiffure, baldness, instead of the festive dress, a loincloth of burlap; for in place of beauty there shall be ignominy. Your men shall be felled by the sword, your might overthrown in war.” (Isaiah 3:16-25)

This is just an example. The Lord is talking about women here, and there is a reason for that which I won't go into. But we can use this as an example from which we can generalize of a characterization of the small things mixed with the big things. It will be a special kind of hell.

You would have to be crazy to know what is coming and be excited for it. I have gone through much more in my life than my years suggest. I thought I was pretty good at buckling down in rough water. Then, one day, after having prayed much on it, I was working around the house when everything faded out of my vision, and I was given a vision of myself emerging out of a safe area after a plague (and who knows what else) had come through. I was with a small group of men exploring the houses nearby to find a vacated house for the families to move to. We drew straws to see who would enter the house to see if there were any corpses in the house. I drew the lot. I entered the house and saw a rotting corpse in the room, and instantly I was back in the present. The vision had occupied some time, but I estimate only a second had passed in wall time. I connected emotionally with my expectation of future events in a way I had not previously. I comprehended what it would feel like to see tortured corpses. I comprehended what it would feel like to have my own life endangered. I comprehended what it would feel like to be a risk to my family. More than anything, I comprehended that though I am reasonably comfortable with what these calamities will be like on paper (knowing them), I had no idea what they would be like to experience. I now comprehend why all men will be overwhelmed with fear, though my experience is still miniscule compared to what is coming. But my purpose here is not to bring that fear to you now. My purpose is to give you a framework of knowledge to preserve your trust in God during these horrible events.

So how do we deal with the fear that will come upon us? The answer to this question turns out to be useful for more situations than just fear. I want to zoom out for a minute and talk about suffering. The end times will be about suffering more than anything else. It turns out that suffering isn't just specific to the end times, although the suffering that is coming is the reason I selected the topic. 

To talk about suffering and sorrow, we also need to talk about happiness. There is a false tradition among Christians that sin is suffering and righteousness is happiness. While that may be scriptural, the context of our modern vocabulary renders this simplicity poisonously misleading.

Many Christians are taught the "Gospel of blessings." This is the idea that you will be happier on the gospel than you would be off the gospel. I'm intentionally speaking about the gospel like a drug. Most Christians use the gospel like a drug. They've got it all wrong. I don't want to point fingers with quotes where we could point out these erroneous teachings, but they are everywhere. 

If this perspective were right, you would see it most commonly among the most righteous. The problem with the gospel of happiness is that it is completely incongruent with the experiences of the most righteous in the scriptures. Let's start with Jesus Christ. If living the gospel generates happiness, Jesus' life should be the pinnacle of happiness. He was born at a time when everyone was trying to kill him. When the sparse record resumes, we see him leaving whatever family he had to being a ministry where for three years he would live like a nomad. He really didn't have any friends, because no one could handle his unbridled personality and wisdom. He spent his days trying to teach people who hated him and his message, who constantly insulted him, and who continued to try to kill him. Eventually he was falsely accused and arrested, whipped nearly to death, and crucified. Does this sound like happiness? We could run down the list of prophets in the scriptures and come up with similar descriptions. Burned alive, sawn assunder, living in caves, abandoning their wives and children, hunted down, preaching hard things, going naked, going without food and water, marrying prostitutes, captured in dungeons, etc.

And yet we read:
"41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, (that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness). O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it." (Mosiah 2:41) This was said by King Benjamin. He had lived through the horror of war, spent his life pastoring a people so dense that even at the end of his life they didn't get it yet, and spent his days in back-breaking primitive farming, where if the work itself didn't destroy you, the worry of whether the crop would fail or succeed would. Some happiness!

Joseph Smith said, "Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God."  (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 255–56). This was the same Joseph Smith who watched his older brother die at the hands of an incompetent doctor, watched his father struggle with business failure, poor health, and probably alcoholism, had a wife who made his life much harder than it needed to be, watched many of his children die, constantly lived in poverty, was surrounded by backstabbing men, and chronically ridiculed. Some happiness!

How do we reconcile these two extremes? The problem lies with our definitions. Scriptural happiness does not include pleasure, well-being, or freedom from pain. The scriptural satisfaction simply means peace of mind in the favor of God. Godly life is full of sorrow. God himself watches the endless suffering of his children and weeps.

It turns out that what the world considers happiness is really just an illusion. It is fleeting, temporary, or never really there at all. Prove it to yourself. Think of anything you would consider a hallmark of happiness. For every case you can either point out it's end (such as money), point out its ability to change (such as a relationship with a spouse), or some other failing. None of it is permanent. Not only that, but in each case, that which affords worldly happiness actually detracts from spiritual growth. That which feeds the natural man starves the spiritual man, and vice versa. You can't have two masters.

No wonder the wisest man who ever lived lamented, "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 1:2) Solomon set out to find wisdom. However, in wisdom he found suffering. "The more you know, the more you hurt; the more you understand, the more you suffer." (Ecclesiastes 1:18, CEV). He learned that this world can bring no lasting worth. In his words, "Our eyes and our ears are never satisfied with what we see and hear" (Eccl 1:8, CEV). This world cannot offer a fullness of joy. 

Having learned that wisdom could not bring what he was searching for, he tried finding it in the pleasures of the world. He tried hard work. He tried having fun. He tried amassing wealth. He surrounded himself with all the physical things this world can offer. He sought enduring satisfaction with women. He did not do any of these things halfway--he was probably the richest man who ever lived, had the biggest parties, the most wives, etc. Still, he concluded "Nothing on earth is worth the trouble." (Eccl 2:11, CEV)

Solomon realized that, in life, "everything we do is painful." (Eccl 2:17, CEV) The wise will suffer just as much as the foolish. He asked himself, "What do we really gain from all of our hard work?" (Eccl 2:22, CEV) 

Nothing in this world can bring you Godly happiness. Nothing in this world. Not your wife, not your husband, not your kid, not your friend, not your dog, not your job, not money, not sex, not cars, not houses, not your job, not anything in this world. Each of these things can let you down, each of these things can be taken away, each of these things is vain. I will say here, briefly, that if you find yourself deeply satisfied with one of the things I named, just wait. They say that about the weather where I live: if you don't like it, just wait. If you do like something on the list, just wait. The more you understand about it, the more it will make you suffer.

What can bring us Godly happiness? It is not in what we get, but what we give. When we willingly abase ourselves for the benefit of others, we experience satisfaction in our toil. That is Godly happiness: not an avoidance of sorrow (sorrow actually increases the more like God we become, because we can experience what Joseph called "greater contradictions" until like Jesus we experience the greatest suffering and contradictions possible). Godly happiness is not an avoidance of sorrow, but an abundance of meaning in sorrow. The more like God we become, the more willing we are to suffer for less and less return on investment.

This is what Solomon was saying whe he said that "The best thing we can do is to enjoy eating, drinking, and working." (Eccl 2:24) He wasn't saying that we should live our lives in order to party it up. Remember, he had tried that and concluded it was just as empty as any other approach to life. I believe what he was saying is that, because suffering in life is guaranteed, and because fruits of your labor cannot bring lasting joy, you must learn to find satisfaction in the toil. You must learn to abase yourself even when the result is not impressive. You must learn take the pleasurable in its time, but also see it for the vanity that it really is. What I'm saying is that if the end of your actions is what you are seeking, you will be sorely disappointed. There will always be a gap between experience and expectation. The secret to Godly happiness is to rid yourself of expectations. It will never provide what you seek. Rather, you must learn to find satisfaction with the toil that you perform to get there. As Solomon said, "We were meant to enjoy our work, and that's the best thing we can do." (Eccl 3:22, CEV)

 1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.
 2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?
 3 I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.
 4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:
 5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:
 6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:
 7 I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:
 8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
 9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
 10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

There is nothing in this world that is desirable to those who see things as they really are. 

 15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2)

We are strangers here. Not because we fit in, but because we are like kids sitting in calculus class: "Why on earth does any of this matter?" It doesn't. None of it matters outside of the current context. It's all just like the additives in a vitamin pill. What actually matters is not the majority of what this experience contains.

When we perpetuate the illusion that life is about pleasure, satisfaction, and giddyness, we will seek the wrong things. We will avoid the things that bring discomfort, even if they are of God, and seek the things the bring comfort, even if they lead us away from God. 

Godly life is a lot like sacrament wine: It is bitter. It burns. It does not taste good. Yet, it gladdens the heart. Consider this passage from Jeremiah, who had it at least as bad as anyone else.

Lamentations 3, CEV
I have suffered much because God was angry.
2 He chased me into a dark place, where no light could enter.
3 I am the only one he punishes over and over again, without ever stopping.
4 God caused my skin and flesh to waste away, and he crushed my bones.
5 He attacked and surrounded me with hardships and trouble;
6 he forced me to sit in the dark like someone long dead.
7 God built a fence around me that I cannot climb over, and he chained me down.
8 Even when I shouted and prayed for help, he refused to listen.
9 God put big rocks in my way and made me follow a crooked path.
10 God was like a bear or a lion waiting in ambush for me;
11 he dragged me from the road, then tore me to shreds.[a]
12 God took careful aim and shot his arrows
13 straight through my heart.
14 I am a joke to everyone—no one ever stops making fun of me.
15 God has turned my life sour.
16 He made me eat gravel and rubbed me in the dirt.
17 I cannot find peace or remember happiness.
18 I tell myself, “I am finished! I can’t count on the Lord to do anything for me.”
19 Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wandering makes me miserable.
20 That’s all I ever think about, and I am depressed.[b]
21 Then I remember something that fills me with hope.
22 The Lord’s kindness never fails! If he had not been merciful, we would have been destroyed.[c]
23 The Lord can always be trusted to show mercy each morning.
24 Deep in my heart I say, “The Lord is all I need; I can depend on him!”

Real happiness isn't this gushy, hedonistic experience. It's this deep abiding trust and love for God that comes as 4 verses at the end of 20 laments. 

Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I know I am not alone in praying to God saying, "Are you joking? Easy? Light? Show me what I am missing here." The answer is context. Yoke is easy/burden is light can only be true when placed in context of the alternative: sin. Satan convinces people that there is no yoke in sin. He hides the consequences of actions and overstates the benefits therefrom. Wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10), but not because righteousness is carnally pleasing. Rather, that sin is not actually pleasing, either, once you include the inevitable consequences. These are not limited to temporal consequences, as we read in Malachi:

14 Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?
 15 And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.
 16 ¶Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
 17 And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
 18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not. (Malachi 3)
Sometimes people who sin are very happy (worldly happiness) throughout life. They are missing the rich (but not pleasurable) lessons available to those who endure righteous toil. The latter are being made into jewels. Remember that part of the old Superman movie when he squeezes the coal to make a diamond? It takes a lot of pressure. 

Ignorance is not bliss. "42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them." (2 Nephi 9:42) In postponing the inevitable reconciliation with the truth, the ignorant hedonists are compounding the pain they will feel when they find out it was all in vain, like a credit card debt that continuously snowballs into a larger consequence, despite--or rather as a result of--your ignoring it.

Jesus said, “My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). God's peace is not like the world's peace. It is not tied to physical comfort or perceived worldly security. The peace had by a man of God does not exclude the possibility that he will yet endure unbearable pain and tragedy in this world. The man of God can enjoy God's peace even when being sawn in half, burned alive, watching his wife be raped, watching his children die. Most suffering comes from false expectations. If you have a correct idea of what is to come, and you refuse to believe that "tomorrow it will be different" or "when X happens I will finally be happy," you will find yourself immune to much of what we suffer.

For a moment think about all things in life that bring you comfort. Perhaps your work. It will let you down. Perhaps your pet. It will die. Perhaps your money. It will be worthless one day soon. Perhaps food. Soon you will be glad to eat plain soaked wheat. Perhaps your home. It will be destroyed or abandoned. Perhaps your family: they may be taken from you, or you will be forced to watch them suffer, or they will turn on you or let you down. As Job, all of us must at some point be stripped down to the way we came into this world to realize that it is in Christ and Christ only that we can depend. And even then, there will be--there MUST be--moments when we, like Jesus, cannot perceive the involvement of God. It will seem to us that even God abandons us. This is a mandatory experience for all who will follow Jesus.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Temporal Preparation for the Destruction to Precede the Second Coming

I am very uninterested in writing this post. There are so many ways what I am about to say can be abused in ways that will lead people into doing the wrong thing or doing things at the wrong time. Still, I know there are a lot of people who are thinking along these lines, and I don't want to stand idly by when I have accumulated a little information on the topic.

Here are a few things to do if you are interested in your wellbeing during the destruction that is to come.

1. Give to the poor.

If there were one reason for the destruction that is coming, it would be abuse and neglect of the needy. If you are in the group who is responsible for this, nothing you do will spare you from what it coming, because God has to remove you from this earth before Zion comes. Note that "the group who is responsible for this" includes many millions of people who have no idea that they are responsible for abusing the poor. The Holy Ghost can reveal to you where Babylon begins and ends in your life if you seek that information. Know that it is very likely your robes are not clean from the blood and sins of this generation.  (see for a list of many of the scriptures foretelling the destruction organized by topic)

2. Come to comprehend what is coming by asking God and studying his word. 

If you have not read the Old Testament through, and if you have not spent considerable time praying to God to ask for an understanding of what is coming, then searched the scriptures (especially Isaiah) on these topics, you have absolutely no business proceeding in this list. There are no shortcuts in revelation, and you will need real personal revelation for what is coming. Unless you get information direct from God, no amount of preparation will help you, because any general rules are useless in particular circumstances. Go to God.

3. Question your motives.

Recall that the purpose of the destruction is to humble those who have not abased themselves to the same degree as the suffering masses. If you allocate money for your own self-preservation, and neglect the poor to do so, where will you stand with God? Will all the goods and skills in the world protect you from God's judgment? Pray until you are confident that a) your preparations are to benefit those who cannot prepare for themselves for lack of resources or lack of wisdom and b) that you are adequately partitioning your means between preparations for future events and the contemporary needs of the poor. Maybe you will come up with some rule to keep things balanced.

-------Only when all these issues are addressed, read on.------

1. Water

You will die in about 3 days or less without water. Some water will prolong your life a little. Dirty water will make you wish you were dead, and will bring about that end soon enough. You could by a water filter, but if you did you would want a portable reverse osmosis filter, as these are the only ones that can filter out all the things that can kill you. They have limited lives, and are expensive. You can store water in a variety of ways before disaster. For example, simply washing out milk jugs and refilling them is an easy and mostly-free way of slowly building up a supply. Milk jugs are nice because they are small enough to move around easily. Milk jugs aren't the safest way to store water, because they are said to leech somewhat. However, in a survival situation this will be the least of your concerns. Other options include giant blue barrels and the like.

2. Food

You can live for around a month without food, depending on your BMI, activity level, and environment. But while starving, it is very hard to think straight, and your capacity to stay rational will be severely tested. Carbohydrates are hard to find in the wild, protein even harder, and fats the most difficult to find. Food storage before the disaster is an option. There are expensive marketed products for this end. You will find that the majority ingredient is filler, like rice. A better option is to buy plain wheat in 5 gallon buckets. Wheat is consumable as is. You can soak it overnight and eat it raw. You can always find flat rocks to grind it. It lasts for 30 years. You can sprout it, which changes the nutritional composition. It is very, very cheap. Storing protein is harder. There is enough protein in wheat to keep you alive. It is wise to learn what kinds of bugs you can eat. Bugs are usually easy to find, there are simple rules to remember on which ones you can and can't eat, and they are the best source of fat and protein in the wild other than game, which will be scarce, contaminated, and otherwise difficult to obtain in a disaster situation.

3. Shelter

Even with adequate food and water, most of the United States contains environments that will quickly kill you if you do not learn to mitigate them. Cold, heat, and wetness are what you want to avoid. There are easy field-expedient ways of building shelters to mitigate heat. If you live in an arid environment, it is important to know how to survive in a desert. Just knowing that you should travel at night and rest in the day may save your life. Also, knowing that if you dig a ditch (with your hands in the sand if need be) parallel to the traversal of the sun in the sky you can create a shaded spot no matter whether or not there is natural cover. Wetness can cause disease in your extremities, even if it is not cold (like a southern swamp). You need to keep your feet dry and know how to create a platform above the ground to keep yourself dry. Knowing how to improvise a roof will also help keep you out of the rain. Fire making techniques will be essential if it is very humid or cold. In warm wet environments or in desert environments, it doesn't really make any sense to have a tent. You are better off using the weight for water, food, and other necessities. In the cold, there are special challenges for which you need to be aware. A fire can keep you warm, but you need to know how to start one no matter where you are and what is on hand. Even then, a naked fire in 0 degree weather won't do too much good, and will only do any good while it is still lit. Shelter making techniques will save your life, as will a portable saw and/or a good knife.

4. Location

All of the above has been discussed in brief. Why? Because they are without context. In reality, if you live in a city, close to a city, in suburbs, or close to suburbs, then no amount of preparation will do you any good. Even a cursory reading of the prophecies about what is coming show plainly that no one will be able to survive in these areas. After giving to the poor, praying to understand, and searching the scriptures to understand, the number one thing you can do to prepare for what is coming is move. Yes, that is a dramatic thing to do. If you were Noah pre-flood, building a boat would be a dramatic thing to do, as well. But if you really believed God when he said the rains would come, wouldn't you do it? The Spirit overrides any wisdom of man. I know one man who was told by God to stay where he was, and he has trust in God that this is right, even if he dies because of it. I know a couple that was prompted to move to a suburb to set up a refuge for survivors. Without special revelation to the contrary, you are inviting your own ignominious death if you live in or around a city or suburb, period. You are boldly saying, "I don't believe God when he says that he is going to cause these events to occur."

If you chose to move, what should you be looking for? (All of this will change depending on the specific revelation you receive):
  • A place that is as little publicized as possible. Off the highway, no neighbors, no public road if possible, and in a geographic region that does not invite folks who might be travelling on foot between major cities or following geographic formations. You are looking for the kind of place you could walk right by without knowing it was there.
  • Climate. I can't give specific advice on this, but consider the pros and cons of the climate. We know that there will be big changes here (enduring total darkness and also the sun getting several times brighter/hotter), but do your best. If you live in a warm environment, that means a better growing season for growing your crops, but a colder environment means a safer place, because most people will die the first winter.
  • Ability to heat. Whether it is currently cold or not (changes will happen), is there abundant wood available? Is it already dry and easy to split/chop? Areas with coniferous forest will always have abundant dried, easy to collect and divide wood in the form of deadfall and the bottom branches of trees. 
  • Water. Although I talked about storing water above, you can pretty much forget it. You would need massive resources (think full size excavation equipment and helicopters) to create cisterns to provide enough water for a sizable group for a few years. Even then, an earthquake will take care of that. You should find places with mountain springs. That water has the best chance of continuing and remaining clean through what is to come. You can chain together very many empty milkjugs with rope and pull that nearly anywhere into the woods to use later for storage.
  • Public land. It is doubtful you can afford an isolated place in the middle of the wilderness. However, BLM land exists in abundance in certain states, and it is possible to get property close by. You can't stockpile things legally on public land, but you could stockpile supplies on your own property and shuttle it elsewhere later. No one will come and get you when there is no electricity/gasoline/etc.
If you can't change location now, for whatever reason, what should you do?
  • Your best bet is to construct camping packs with bare minimum survival supplies, and get in/stay in shape to the point that you can walk 16 miles or more per day. Here is a list of stuff I would put in each pack if it were me (disclosure, I don't get any money for recommending any of this):
  • The biggest internal frame pack I can find. I have an 85 liter bag. I have seen a 100 liter bag. For whatever reason, civilian bags lack some of the useful features of their military counterparts, like lots of outside pockets and earth tone colors. Don't buy a neon backpack. Military bags are not engineered for comfort, and you will really want that if you have to use it. Get a civilian bag as big as you can find in earth tones with outside pockets. REI has used goods sales every first saturday of the month where customers return products they don't like and you can buy them at a steep discount. 
  • Firestarters. Don't bother buying little el-cheapos. You want one at least a half inch thick and 5 inches long. These throw a lot of sparks. I've never been able to start a fire with the little ones. Matches are nice, except when you run out or they get wet. Having both is not a bad idea, but a firestarter will last a whole lot longer and takes up less space. Each person in your group should have at least two. Here is an example of what NOT to buy. This is one I own
  • A good knife. Good knives don't have to be expensive. These are great. Every person in your party should have at least one good knife. You don't want crocodile dundee, but you don't want a pocket knife, either. Besides starting fires, knives are essential for working with animals, can be used to split wood, can be used to create wood shavings for starting fires, doing surgery, etc.
  • A decent knife sharpener. You don't need more than two of these total for your party.
  • A nice camp axe. I have not balaklavayet found one of these I like enough to recommend without reservation. You want a small to medium size head with a handle as long as possible. The reason is the weight of the axe is something that will slow you down, but necessary for power. You can make up for a lightweight axe with a longer handle, which allows a faster swing (f=ma). I have one of these, and it is a little on the heavy side, but has a nice length handle and is virtually unbreakable. I have also taken a harbor freight hatchet and replaced the handle with a full-sized handle. It is light, but the handle is bright yellow (which is bad) and the head isn't very good steal (so it dulls easily) and it isn't ground right (and I don't have a belt sander to fix that). Axes are indispensable for chopping wood, which is important for shelters and fires. They are also good for butchering game and can be used for self defense.
  • The best sleeping bag money can buy. These depends on the environment where you are. The lighter and smaller-packing the better, and you can't get either for cheap. Down is great for both, but make sure it is treated or (better yet) keep it in a waterproof stuff sack and get a gore tex (also expensive) bivvy sack. The gore tex allows moisture to escape, but won't let rain in. Although this is an expensive option, it obviates the need for a tent which saves you a lot of space, weight, and also makes you much more difficult to discover to passers-by (get a camo bivvy). Try to find a sleeping bag that is earth-tone.
  • One (or two) closed-cell foam sleeping mats. There are other options, but they don't really give you any benefit for the extra money. These are not optional. Without them the ground will soak up your heat and you will be very cold. (There are things you can do if you don't have them, such as cut down a bunch of spruce boughs. Sleeping on sticks isn't comfortable, it doesn't work as well, and you don't want to leave a giant sign that said that well-prepared people are in the area). In my search, I found some for $9, but I can't find those now. Note: Get a waterproof bag for them, because if they get wet they will get mildewy and nasty.
  • Water. You will want to put as much water as possible into your pack. Keep an eye out for well-shaped juice bottles at the grocery store and reuse them. Rotate the water every 6 months. You want a good portion of the water accessible without having to drop or open your pack (here is where pockets come in). This way you can get a companion to access your water and vice versa so you can stay hydrated while walking without stopping. Camelback-type water dispensers don't work well with packs. They are designed for people who aren't on the run for their lives. Most require you to substantially unpack your pack to refill them.
  • Water purification techniques. Remember that only reverse osmosis will totally clean water. You can get a portable RO filter, but it is going to cost you a lot of bucks. Other options include iodine tablets (partial purification), boiling (very hard to do quickly and in large batches---try a portable rocket stove), etc. There are other options, like a life straw. There is no good answer here short of the expensive portable RO filters.
  • An emergency blanket. These suckers are cheap and light, but they may save your life. They will trap in 80% of body heat and weigh less than a pound. They don't allow moisture to escape, so use accordingly.
  • 550-cord. You can never have enough rope. Get in bulk for good prices.
  • Guns: Yes, there will be bad guys around. Yes, you will see animals that you can shoot. I am not taking a position on whether or not it would be wise to engage either. If you choose to carry guns, pick a rifle with a broad range of targets for the caliber. My choice is the AR-10, which is a 7.62 bullet. This will allow you to hunt everything from an elk (I've done it) down to a rabbit. It also is a much better people stopper that the 5.56. They are relatively inexpensive and hold up well. If you go with a pistol, remember that it sometimes takes a lot of 9mm rounds to stop a man. I would go with a .45.
  • On person: If there is a chance of cold, get a really nice down jacket. Pick up a goretex cover for it, which will be useful in rain or in warmer weather. Get yourself the warmest gloves you can find. My research yielded these for warmth. They aren't the most rugged, so either get covers for them or also pick up a pair of elk mittens which are very tough and still insulated. In either case, wait for a sale or rebates. I've used these and they are cheap and nice (unless it is humid), but don't compare to the other options I've listed. El-cheapo standard gloves with poly insulation are totally worthless, don't even bother. Jeans are ok and cheap. Better is to have a form fitting underclothing and jeans. Best is to have pants designed for the outdoors, but they are pricey. If it is cold and you buy yourself insulated bibs, you will love life. But sweat is your enemy, so make sure you can significantly vent them without taking them off (side zippers). Wool sweaters are fantastic. Wool endures and keeps its heat properties even when wet. Polypro is cheap and works, but is not useful when wet. A wool watch cap (or two) is essential, and maybe even a balaclava. Wool socks are a must. Comfortable, well fitting boots are a lifesaver. I personally like the Danner brand. They are pricey, but worth it. The sticky thing with boots is that in a subzero environment, you absolutely want very insulated boots. However, those same boots will be a disaster in the summer. My solution: get the insulated boots. If you end up needing to walk in the summer, go barefoot or improvise something out of animal hide, a wool blanket, or something else. Having uninsulated boots in the winter can kill you, and will definitely make you want to die.
Of course, being mobile only helps you if you have a place to go. Think about that.

I will add to this as ideas strike me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Homesteading Failure

For the last 10 months I have been fully engaged in extra-curricular homesteading. We purchased a new home in a new area. I had thought that with the economic difficulties ahead, and the food shortages ahead, creating a plot that generated enough food for us and others would be a service to many.

For the last 10 months, I have put in a herculean effort and a lot of money into fighting:
  • Huge amounts of snow.
  • Scant amounts of rain.
  • 80% rock soil.
  • Devastating bugs eating all my seedlings again and again.
  • About 50 deer that come through my yard daily.
  • Poor quality shipped plants.
  • Ravens that have eaten 37 baby chickens and one adult hen at a time.
  • Foxes that ate 5 laying hens in a day.

A sample of what I've spent my time and money doing:
  • Building a massive chicken enclosure to keep predators out.
  • Removing a pile of rocks and boulders (mostly by hand) about 15' square and 7 ft high.
  • Digging about 30 holes in the rocky soil for fruit trees.
  • Moving a few tons of horse manure onto the property.
  • Buying a dump trailer and building sides for it.
  • Hauling 16 dump loads of mulch from the wood mill around 20 miles away from us. (The plan was 65).
  • Hand hammering about 200 t-posts into rocky soil for the deer fence.
  • Hanging the deer fence.
  • Designing and installing removable gates to allow truck traffic onto the land through the fence.
  • Watering. Watering. Watering.
  • Raising baby chicks four times.
  • Sourcing, cutting, splitting, and stacking lots and lots of firewood.
  • Planting a lot of stuff.

I can say that I've spent 20-30 hours per week outside of my full-time job on this endeavor, bare minimum.

The good news is that my small children are getting experience with manual labor, and I appreciate that.

The bad news is that I grossly overestimated the benefit to cost and total time required on this project. For the money, it would have been wiser to just purchase wheat to store. The worst part is that I feel like a slave to this project, knowing so many things need to be done and so many things could be wiped out overnight (as I've seen already with random bug attacks, deer, predators, snow, snap freeze, etc.). I can guarantee that this isn't worth even half the effort and money I've put into it. It is very, very depressing.

Of course, I went into this prayerfully. I do believe that God allows us to make mistakes, and quite frequently, to help us learn things we would not otherwise learn. I think he tends to try to save us from the big ones if we pray about them. I fear I missed a very subtle answer to my prayer which, in typical fashion for his interactions with me, came after I was already partially committed to this project (had bought some things and installed some things). Hindsight is 20/20.

The lessons I've learned are:

10 Seek not to be cumbered. (D&C 66:10)

19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. (Mark 4:19)

16 Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith. (Proverbs 15:16)

When I think of the time I could have spent relaxing with my kids and working on the book I am writing instead of wasting so much labor and money that is one bear visit or cold snap away from total loss, I am deeply saddened and very anxious.

With all the trials coming, it's probably very important to think very carefully about how we use our time and resources. It is probably a good time to be slow to act and ever vigilant to preserve discretionary time.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Catching a Glance of the Man Behind the Curtain

Have you seen the Wizard of Oz?