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Monday, June 8, 2015

Post-Millennial Book of Mormon Scholarship

Hi Tennis Shoes Readers,

The following is a rough "Chapter Note" from my latest Tennis Shoes novel entitled Thorns of Glory. (No firm estimate on its release yet. I just go to work everyday.) I hope I have expressed my ideas as well as they can be expressed. If not, I'd be happy to entertain suggestions for improvement, even grammatical. However, if the writing already offers a clear, concise opinion on a certain matter, just let it go. I don't believe in beating dead horses. Strive to stick to information that you think I may not know. I'm not interested in repeating all the data and arguments presently batted back and forth in a myriad of blogs. So here goes:

                        POST-MILLENNIAL BOOK OF MORMON SCHOLARSHIP

The geographical setting for the Hill Cumorah and other locations in this novel are, for all practical purposes, speculative. For a detailed description of some of the research that was the foundation of the general region I have selected, the reader is directed to the notes for Chapter 7 of Tennis Shoes Adventure Series Book 12: Drums of Desolation. I should mention that as new research has emerged and more convincing arguments have arisen, I have sometimes revised my opinion of Book of Mormon geography, such as rejecting, for the most part, a popular suggestion that dates back to (about) the 1970s proposing the location of the ancient battleground of the Hill Cumorah as on or near El Cerro Vigia in Veracruz, Mexico. A lengthy discourse of why I felt the landmark was no longer suitable is covered in my notes for Chapter 15 of Tennis Shoes Adventure Series Book 11: Sorcerers and Seers. Over the quarter century that the Tennis Shoes Series has been in development, I have sometimes felt inclined to alter perspectives. This seems the most appropriate way to approach Book of Mormon studies. Unfortunately, it means certain premises offered in my earlier novels of the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series may now be inaccurate. This is not to say that these stories are any less of a "thrill-ride" for their readers, but the rationale behind certain premises may (and I emphasize may) have become obsolete. Why admit such flaws now as I am purportedly writing the last volumes in the series? I suppose because, in the end, I'd rather be perceived as honest and open-minded rather than closed-minded and rigid, especially on an area where even our Church leaders remain officially neutral.

Substantial effort has been made over the decades (almost two centuries now!) to pinpoint the geographic locations of the Book of Mormon. Ever since this volume was first published in 1830 opinions about the setting for cities and events have morphed and altered. Certain tenets have fallen in and out of favor. For the first 100 years after its publication, most Latter-day saints were satisfied with the idea that Book of Mormon events encompassed both hemispheres. Saints who have little interest in scholarly pursuits on this topic may still embrace the same general perspective.

During the first half of the 20th century LDS researchers began to examine the text more carefully and concluded that these events took place in a more limited environment--an isolated geographic area. They compared verses that mentioned directions, the flow of rivers, relationships between cities and other landmarks, as well as other information, alongside emerging developments and methodologies in related secular sciences. An intriguing Book of Mormon geography in Mesoamerica started to congeal that seemed eminently plausible. Many Latter-day Saints became excited. On occasion, and unfortunately, this information seeped into our proselytizing efforts around the world. However, over the last decade or so we have watched enthusiasm for that geography wane—and for reasons that seem to have little to do with the quality of the scholarship.

The next generation may define the golden era of Book of Mormon research as the latter half of the 20th Century. It was during these decades that some of the most thought-provoking, disciplined, and creative LDS thinkers presented their most lucid and well-vetted scenarios. Pursuing this research was quite expensive, and for the most part it was funded by the Church through Brigham Young University under the umbrella of such organizations as F.A.R.M.S. and N.W.A.F.

The scholars of this era, trained in professional University disciplines, built upon each other's work and strove to maintain fundamental objectivity despite their core belief in the Book of Mormon. In other words, they did their research, presented the information, and then, in the best tradition of the scientific method, stood back and allowed the "chips to fall where they may." I note that such scholars were not always perfect in their objectivity, but for the most part they remained remarkably disciplined.

More importantly (in my mind, at least), scholars of the 20th century allowed the average lay member of the Church the freedom to ask the question: "Where did the Book of Mormon take place?" After all, if the volume is true, it had to take place somewhere. LDS scholars of the past generation gave Church members a kind of license to ponder such matters without fear of censure—even from fellow Latter-day Saints, who occasionally felt inclined to remind members that testimony should be based upon faith, not science. 20th century archaeologists, and other LDS scientists, helped us to understand that no such conflict existed, that the two issues were unrelated, and that faith and science could rationally coexist. Disclaimers were often presented side-by-side with scholarly research reaffirming the tenet that personal testimony always trumped science, and that the latter was only meant to supplement the former.

Oftimes those who indulge in scholarly studies have felt irritated by warning voices within the Church, suspecting that some of these fellow believers are better defined as busybodies rather than well-meaning shepherds. I have experienced this same frustration. Despite this, I believe most warning voices are sincerely trying to protect the flock, and frankly, their concerns are not wholly unjustified. Some members of the faith have allowed science to trump spiritual conviction. At times new research has caused well-publicized "evidence" of the Book of Mormon to come under fresh scrutiny. This scrutiny has sometimes shattered former perceptions. As a result, testimonies have sometimes been shaken. The same phenomenon occurs when some members learn isolated details about Joseph Smith or Church history that appear to contradict former understandings. These spiritual challenges—or "tests"—have always existed for Latter-day Saints. The adversary has a wide array of stumbling blocks to place in our paths. Those who launch into any intellectual pursuit, including Book of Mormon research, do so with varying levels of spiritual maturity. There is always the risk that an individual's testimony may falter, no matter how vigilant the warning voices of well-meaning shepherds.

Still, it seems rare that intellectual pursuits are solely responsible for apostasy. It appears commonplace that this "falling away" is accompanied by matters of personal worthiness. I once asked a prominent LDS scholar if he had ever known someone who fell away from the Church strictly because of some doctrinal conflict, whether related to Book of Mormon archaeology or some other intellectual pursuit. This PhD scientist had also served as a bishop. He solemnly replied that, in his experience, he'd never known anyone to apostatize strictly because of doctrinal conflicts, but that individual apostasy was invariably accompanied by serious issues of transgression. I've certainly never pursued a wide sociological study of this, and the point of view of one bishop is hardly the basis of a reliable aphorism. Others might cite anecdotes of apostasy devoid of sins or misdeeds (or object to such a stereotype as it applies to their own decision to abandon the faith). But for what it's worth, the parallel rings true for my own personal observations.

"Moderation in all things" seems to be an appropriate axiom in matters of intellectual study. Many saints can recount anecdotes of friends or family members who have left the Church after becoming obsessed with so-called "mysteries," some of which may seem like "straining at gnats" rather than serious doctrinal controversies. I once met an individual uniquely obsessed with the particulars of the Word of Wisdom. He focused upon "eating meat sparingly and only in times of winter," as well as other verses in D&C Section 89. He harshly judged the general membership of the Church for non-obedience and also spoke disapprovingly of Church leadership for non-enforcement.

Not many years ago I watched a number of friends and acquaintances abandon the Church after articles appeared proclaiming that ancient inhabitants of the Americas could not trace their DNA to the Middle-East, apparently disproving a basic Book of Mormon tenet that at least some descendants of Native Americans had Jewish origins. Later studies have revealed fatal flaws in these initial criticisms and a lack of understanding of mitochondrial DNA. In spite of this rationale defense by respected geneticists, my friends and acquaintances have not, to my knowledge, returned to the Church. To read several articles discussing this subject, go to: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/dna-and-the-book-of-mormon-johnson and https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies?lang=eng, among others.

Another close friend fell away from the Church in the 1980s after the publication of the "Salamander Letter"--a document purportedly penned by Martin Harris, one of "three witnesses" shown the Gold Plates by the Angel Moroni. This "document" appeared to restyle the Church's narrative about its earliest days and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. One sentence suggested that Joseph Smith was given the macabre commandment (by a magical spirit or "white salamander") to drag the body of his deceased brother, Alvin, to the hill where the plates were deposited. The letter intimated that the origins of the Church were more closely akin to witchcraft and folk magic than traditional Christianity. Later this letter, along with other historical documents, were exposed as forgeries, and the forger, Mark Hoffman, was sentenced to life in prison for murder. Still, these developments did not cause my friend to rejoin the fold. By then he'd reinforced his apostasy with other anti-LDS propaganda. (For an insightful review of the "Salamander Letter" event, see Elder Dallin H. Oaks article at: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1987/10/recent-events-involving-church-history-and-forged-documents?lang=eng.)

With these events in mind, it's understandable why well-meaning Church members sometimes discourage the study of Book of Mormon archaeology or geography, fearing gullible inquirers might fall into similar deceptions. A case can certainly be made that the testimonies of some Latter-day Saints are never entirely disentangled from the "learning of the world." The scriptures address this flaw repeatedly. In Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life the prophet describes those who have partaken of the fruit, but after hearing the laughter of onlookers in the "great and spacious building" they did ". . . cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed (1 Ne. 8:15)." Another example is Sherem in the Book of Jacob, who refused to believe in Christ, the Atonement, or any other doctrine until the Lord (or Jacob) showed him a sign (Jacob 7:13-16). Am I suggesting that some Church members who study Book of Mormon geography and archaeology seek similar signs? Absolutely. Am I suggesting that this tendency describes everyone who pursues such studies? Absolutely not. I believe those in the first category are vastly in the minority.

Like most Latter-day Saints, I gained my testimony the "old fashioned way," precisely as outlined in Moroni 10:3-5. Studies in Book of Mormon geography have only served to paint a more vivid picture of cultures that might have evolved from the Nephites, Lamanites, and Jaredites. Such studies have helped illuminate the complexity of the civilizations portrayed in the Book of Mormon, but I've sought to never allow such studies to interfere with my personal testimony.

Sometime around the turn of the 21st century the study of Book of Mormon archaeology and geography fell upon hard times and became somewhat foggy in its motives and disciplines. Privately-funded sources rejected virtually all of the work done by LDS scholars over the last half century. Despite the development of an intriguing Mesoamerican model of Book of Mormon geography, these forces remain determined to establish a geography they believe existed in the earliest days of the Church—a model placing Book of Mormon territory inside the borders of United States, primarily in the East and Great Lakes regions, including the hill near Palmyra, NY where Joseph Smith found the Gold Plates in 1823. This is commonly known as the "Heartland" model of Book of Mormon geography.

Heartland supporters have embarked upon an aggressive campaign to overwhelm and diminish any theories related to the Mesoamerican model. The scope of this phenomenon may be unprecedented in LDS history as it relates to Book of Mormon scholarship. Those who follow its progress have likely observed that the issue divides the lay membership of the Church in a visceral way. As suggested by its name, the Heartland "movement", at its core, is energized by statism and American exceptionalism. One of its most touted principals is that America is the only nation in the western hemisphere that qualifies as "blessed" or as a "promised land" according to 2 Nephi 1:5-9 and other Book of Mormon verses. In the words of Rodney Meldrum, President of the FIRM Organization and a foremost Heartland advocate, "This is the promised land. The prophecies and promises indicate that the United States has to be at least some part of the Book of Mormon, because practically every one of these promises in it can only really be applied as the United States. It is a nation 'above all other nations,' and a 'mighty' Gentile nation. Well, what other nation are they talking about here? I don't think that they are talking about Guatemala here."

This concept has proven attractive to many American Latter-day Saints, despite the fact that several Church Presidents and other LDS general authorities have expressed that the same "prophecies and promises" could be applied to other lands and nations in the New World. President Brigham Young taught in August of 1852, "The land of Joseph is the land of Zion; and it takes North and South America to make the land of Joseph (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol.6, p. 296, Brigham Young, August 15, 1852)." President Heber J. Grant stated, “I am a firm believer that this country, both North and South America, is the choice land of the world, a land choice above all other lands, according to the words of the prophets in the Book of Mormon. (Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, October 1937, p. 98)."

My favorite quote may be from Ezra Taft Benson to the Saints in Bolivia in 1979:
"God raised up wise leaders among your progenitors which afforded Latin American countries political freedom and independence. I only mention the names of a few whom God raised up to accomplish His holy and Sovereign purposes: Jose de San Martin, Bernardo O’Higgins, and Simon Bolivar. These were some of the founding fathers of your continent. I believe it was very significant that when independence came to the countries of South America, governments were established on constitutional principles–some patterned after the Constitution of the United States. I believe this was a very necessary step which preceded the preaching of the gospel in South America." (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Righteous Need not Fear,” La Paz, Bolivia, 10-18 January 1979, in Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 695.) For additional statements from other Church leaders, including J. Reuban Clark, David O. McKay, Spencer W. Kimball, and others see: http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Geography/Statements/Twentieth_century).

I will state here that, for me personally, when it comes to the labels I place upon myself, of none am I more proud than that of being an American—except one: That of being a Latter-day Saint. If these two labels ever came in irreconcilable conflict, I'm afraid the first would be dwarfed by the second. I pray, therefore, that such a conflict never arises in my lifetime.

Heartland advocates also tend to emphasize the preeminent authority of Joseph Smith in matters of Book of Mormon geography over and above statements by subsequent Church leaders, despite the fact that Joseph himself remained open and did not declare a firm Book of Mormon geography. Throughout his life Joseph Smith made various statements suggesting a Book of Mormon connection in both North and Central America, but never identified any specific Book of Mormon location. Some feel this was deliberate; that he preferred to leave such matters to faith. Yet Heartland supporters carefully select statements from Joseph Smith's life (generally statements prior to 1835) and shape him as the undisputed resource of all geographical information related to the Book of Mormon, ignoring any subsequent messages from Church leadership to the contrary. For example, Harold B. Lee stated, "Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was or where Zarahemla was, He’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think?" (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, Deseret Book, 1996, pg. 155).

The idea that Joseph Smith was superior in authority to all other Church Presidents is hardly new. Such a conviction was the motivation for many members to abandon the Church in the days of Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and up to the modern age. Heartland advocates might deny this tendency as a core flaw, but their teachings come razor close to reasserting a familiar pattern. Even the title of their documentary series, Joseph Knew, implies that Joseph Smith taught something about Book of Mormon geography that later Church leaders somehow did not pick up on, and that it took modern, lay LDS researchers to uncover and popularize it.

It's important to note that the rise of Heartland "movement" coincides with two intriguing phenomenon: 1. The defunding and reorganization of certain Church-supported groups such as F.A.R.M.S. and N.W.A.F. that for decades actively pursued Book of Mormon apologetics and scholarship, and 2. the rise of political conservative movements in the United States who feel threatened by modern liberal policies in American politics. Such movements include the "Tea Party Patriots" who powerfully influenced election results in the 2010 mid-terms and beyond. The vacuum created by the first phenomenon and the retrenchment inspired by the second have given Heartland supporters an undeniable surge in popularity, despite the fact that most LDS scholars still dismiss their theories as amateurish and agenda-oriented, fitting the model to science as opposed to allowing science to shape the model.

Of particular concern, Heartland advocates have stated that their model can be confirmed by personal revelation. An analysis of such statements can be found here: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/misguided-zeal-and-defense-of-the-church-2. Although direct promises of spiritual confirmation have been tempered in recent years, and some of these statements may have been removed or revised, it is still common for them to advise those who study their model to simultaneously seek spiritual guidance. On the surface this is harmless enough. One presumes that believing Latter-day Saints pursue this advice in every facet of their lives. So to specifically mention this principle in direct association with theories not endorsed by the Church seems ill-advised. The inference is that proponents of these theories have received spiritual confirmation—and that you can too. Most Latter-day Saints recognize that any such spiritual confirmation is in direct contradiction of Church policy and the established pattern of general revelation for the Church as a whole as outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants (see Section 21 and Section 28).

Over the past few years heated debates have arisen between advocates of Mesoamerican models and the Heartland model. Neither side has been entirely immune from letting the rhetoric degenerate into insults and name-calling. Some members of the Church, recognizing an intense spirit of contention, have expressed a preference not to indulge in any discussion of Book of Mormon research or geography, which may have the equally negative effect of inhibiting or stunting any natural human curiosity that Book of Mormon believers should feel free to foster.

In the end this present-day cycle in Book of Mormon scholarship may run its course and prove perfectly healthy. Church members may feel more inclined to solidify their testimonies based upon spiritual criteria before embarking upon other theoretical pursuits. We can hope that future scholars will represent the highest professional disciplines, and will therefore vet, enhance, and improve their Book of Mormon studies while allowing our natural curiosity to breathe—but without permitting contentious proselytizing for one side or the other to infect the research. Admittedly, I presently judge the fruits of LDS researchers who believe the Book of Mormon took place in the Eastern United States to be sloppy, forced, and agenda-driven. However, I want to remain open to the idea that this may not always be the case. Stranger things have taken place in the history of academic progress, although at present a complete abandonment of the excellent research offered by LDS scholars of the last 30-50 years seems not only ludicrous, but reckless and damaging.

Like any other well-meaning protector of the flock, I'm equally inclined to say that it really doesn't matter where in the New World Book of Mormon events took place as long we hold firm that they did take place somewhere in the New World. Whichever Book of Mormon model ultimately settles into place as the most plausible, it cannot be understated that an overarching respect for present Church leadership stands supreme and must never be blurred. In addition, I implore all saints to acknowledge that the blessings and promises found in the Book of Mormon are available to faithful saints in both hemispheres—as well as righteous members across the globe—and that such discussions should never be allowed to devolve into debates about the superiority of any people or nation based upon exceptionalism or pride. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Thorns of Glory Prologue

Hey Tennis Shoes Fans!

I suppose it's about time. I've considered posting the Prologue for a couple months now. There's always a trade-off. Folks seem to like to know that I'm busy writing, but irritated that there's a brutal cliffhanger at the end of these postings. With that in mind, dive in! I'm presently focused on other parts of the book. No predictions on when I'll be finished. I just go to work every day.

Oh, someone asked me about books like Eddie Fantastic or Daniel and Nephi on Audio. Yes, I can still get those for customers. After all, I'm the author. :) Just call the number above.

As always, ignore typos or other errors in this Prologue. This is only a rough draft. Uniquely, it's written from the perspective of Jim's son, Harry, which is a first. Enjoy!


Prologue

Harry

This is where my father usually starts some kind of philosophic rambling. It's just my father's way whenever he opens a story about our families' adventures. I couldn't say why it's become my task to write the opening of this particular account. I think my father's prologues are actually rather profound. He's the philosopher. I'm not the philosopher. At the moment I'd had no idea where my father was, so somehow the torch has fallen to me. Therefore I'll do my best to offer some of the thoughts that crossed my mind just prior to the devastating events about to befall my family at the Hill Cumorah.

When I was a boy I experienced a terrible accident that had left me crippled. The accident took place during the destructions that befell the city of Jacobugath in the New World after the death of the Savior. My memory is vague on details. According to my father, I was standing beneath a stone wall when the earth shook and the wall collapsed. Hundreds of stones buried my body. Apparently I almost died. When I came to my senses there was no feeling in my legs. I couldn't move them. Couldn't even budge. Somebody might've sawed them off and I wouldn't have felt a thing.

For the next year I remained in that physical condition. I had no reason to believe it would ever change. This all happened a long time ago, but I suppose I went through all of the different stages of disbelief, anger, denial, resentment, etc., that anyone who experiences such a tragedy goes through. And yet I distinctly remember that my mind eventually settled into a kind of acceptance. I'm not sure of the exact moment that I reached this mental state. I think it was a couple months prior to the miraculous healing I received at the hands of Jesus Christ. Yes, I really came to accept that for the rest of my life I would require the help of others to fully function and make the most of my contribution to the world. What I remember distinctly is that I taught myself how to get around pretty well using just my arms and hands. I think it drove my father a little crazy when he'd find me a couple hundred yards away from the place where he'd left me. I was starting to take pride in the fact that for the most part I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. Plus, I remember my biceps and triceps became rock-solid during that year.

Don't misunderstand me. My gratitude was overflowing when the Savior laid his hands on my head and healed me. But I also remember that for a couple days I felt a strange sense of regret. Perhaps I regretted that I was going to lose all the attention I'd been receiving. No, I don't think that was it. I'd gained a certain sense of self-esteem during that year and in some strange, nutty way, I think I was afraid that self-esteem might evaporate. It didn't happen, of course, and any such fears or regrets were only fleeting. It wasn't long before I was running, jumping, and climbing for all that I was worth and praising God in my heart for the miracle that He'd bestowed upon me.

It might sound strange, but in the hours prior to the attack on Cumorah, I found myself pondering that year of my life. I pondered the various stages of fear, anger, denial, and acceptance that I went through. All those memories coursed through my mind as I observed the citizens inside the fortifications of Zenephi. After the attack commenced they remained still in their encampments, mostly stricken with shock. Nearly all of them wore expressions of mortal terror. Fear burned like acid in the very marrow of their bones. It was heart-wrenching to witness the scenes before me: mothers with small children clutching her robes, people huddled close to fires, sobbing quietly, relatives inquiring about a father or husband or some other loved one who manned one of the fortification walls, wondering when or if they might ever see this person again.

I could hear other mutterings from Nephite encampments. The emotions were almost universally negative—hatred against the Lamanites and Gadiantons and curses against God, who in their eyes had failed to deliver them from this catastrophe. I also heard rabid complaints against Mormon and the Nephite Council. To the average citizen of Zenephi, no party was above contempt. According to them every bit of their circumstances was the fault of others. No one acknowledged a particle of responsibility. I listened for vocal prayers among the masses and heard none. Oh, there were plenty who criticized God, but none who appeared to seek His protection, power, or mercy. This alone seemed incomprehensible. How could so many souls have grown so cold? My heart wept that the only vocalizations I heard were laced with blasphemy and blame.

All of the women and children – some toddlers barely old enough to walk – were armed with weapons. I saw one kid, no more than four or five years old, gripping the hilt of an obsidian sword. He could barely lift the thing. How could anyone think this boy could fight back?—that he might offer the slightest advantage when the Lamanites finally spilled over the defensive walls and spread across the bowl, hacking and chopping everything that moved or breathed? Nevertheless, no man, woman, or child who could wield a weapon was spared the responsibility.

Earlier in the evening I'd watched two young children – one of them a girl – sparring with remarkable determination and ruthlessness. They took the match as seriously as I've ever seen amidst any pair of combatants. Their dodges and parries may not have been skilled or pretty, but if their instructors had allowed it, their strikes would have been lethal. The instructor was usually a patient mother. A mother, yes, but she taught these children exactly how to deliver an effective deathblow. If the child was over the age of 10 they were educated in the fine art of slashing the femoral artery below an enemy's groin. If the child was younger, they were taught to stab toward an attacker's face. I winced and shuddered whenever I saw these practice sessions. What time of year was it? November? December? It occurred to me that as the children of my own century decorated Christmas trees or waited in line to sit on the lap of Santa Claus, the children of the Nephites were learning how to gouge out the eyes of a Lamanite warrior.

Of course my own personal circumstances were no less dire than the rest of these condemned souls. Not only was my family threatened by the prospect of Lamanites invading from without, but we also worried about Gadianton ghosts materializing out of the gloom and attacking from within. It was a terrible reality to feel so many threats from multiple directions. Yet these were the emotions that would likely keep all of us awake for the rest of the night.
It might seem peculiar, but in those initial hours, as the attack on Cumorah unfolded, I felt unreasonably calm. My sense of inner peace seemed almost abnormal. I had no fear of death. That didn't mean I was going to roll over and let myself or my family be killed. However, if today turned out to be my day to die, I was completely willing to accept it. And I felt sure it was my memory of being crippled for a year and meeting the Savior that was responsible for my state of mind. Adding to my placidity were the years I'd spent on Lincoln Island in the Aegean Sea, honing my skills with a sling and finding other ways to survive. And perhaps most recently, the thing that had honed my perceptions of this calamity was the hour I'd spent that morning with Jonas, one of the three Nephite disciples who would never taste of death. He'd visited me while I was in the clutches of King Sa'abkan of the Lamanites. It was Jonas – and my faith in God – that made it possible for me to escape and rejoin my family.

Jonas had delivered a message to me of unparalleled confidence. He'd assured me that everything was in the Lord's hands. Even the events of this horrible day – every nuance and variation – was to be understood as it was overseen by the universe's Grand Designer. This might seem contradictory to some: How could a God of love ever sanction the awful and bloody events about to unfold? How could He allow the slaughter of so many thousands of women and little children – so many innocent lives? But Jonas had explained, through the Spirit, that such a grim outlook represented only the perspective of the living – us poor blokes stuck in the temporal world. On the other side of the veil the viewpoint was entirely different. Homecomings were about to occur– reunions with the Savior and His angels, not to mention reunions between long-separated family and friends. Many of those who wallowed in terror were on the cusp of relishing a sudden embrace of relief – a welcome reward after enduring the unendurable. Before this day was over, countless souls who'd forgotten whatever names and identities they may have held in the pre-earth life would have such memories restored in the blink of an eye. They'd remember everything. How was it that death had ever become a thing so dreaded by humankind? To any person who was thoughtful, intelligent, and spiritual, dying should have been something to be welcomed and embraced.

No one ever viewed a disaster like this in those terms. They saw it purely from the perspective of the world. And certainly for some – those whose spirits had become irretrievably evil and corrupt – it would be a day of reckoning, a day of descent into the purging fires of hell. Who could say what percentage of these souls on Cumorah's slopes would experience an ecstasy of joy or a crucible of guilt within the next 24 hours? It wasn't for me to judge. I only knew that it was all meant to be. It had been forewarned. Foretold. For decades the Lord had stretched out his hand to the Nephites – a welcoming hand of redemption. That hand had been swatted away one too many times. The fruits of judgment were about to be reaped. Every portion and parcel of tomorrow's events were being shaped, whittled, and honed by God's justice and mercy. I knew that the Nephite people felt nothing of the solemnity that I felt. Shucks, I wasn't even sure if many members of my own family felt those same perceptions. During much of the evening Mary had been clutching my hands so tightly that it turned my fingers white. Nevertheless, I felt such perceptions. I felt terribly blessed that somehow the warm fires of peace had managed to encompass my soul so thoroughly.

Surely most people would feel honored to have experienced some of the miracles that I, Harry Hawkins, had experienced during my life. Eh, perhaps some might've been scared out of their wits by a visitation from someone like Jonas. Others might've taken for granted having their broken spine healed by the Savior of the world, much like the nine lepers in Luke who quickly dispersed without so much as a "thank you" to the Master who'd made them whole. Some might have bragged about any clear and obvious miracles until they were blue in the face. And maybe such bragging would've brought about exactly the opposite result of what they'd expected. I believe no aspect of our relationship with God is more important than trust and loyalty. To put it rather bluntly, a recipient of God's miracles must have the self-discipline to "shut up." That is, they must have the ability to keep such things secret in their hearts, unless God commands otherwise. Blabbering about such events, especially to those who would trample them underfoot like pearls before swine, might nullify some of the blessings such miracles were meant to bring about. Even when it came to sharing such events with our dearest loved ones I had the attitude that great care had to be taken. I just felt it was best to keep sacred things sacred.

That hour with Jonas had reconfirmed everything I'd learned during the year I was crippled. And also during those three years as a castaway on Lincoln Island—The idea that God is undeniably in control – no matter the outcome of any situation. Some might interpret a philosophy like that as an excuse not to act, to become complacent and just let fate rain down upon them. However, that's not the lesson that I learned. I learned that most often the blessings that God showers upon us are integrally connected to our individual choices and actions. The two can't be separated. There's a peculiar balance between feeling buoyed up purely by Godly faith and feeling compelled to act as if nothing is buoying us up at all. Pausing to analyze such things too fastidiously is often a serious mistake. The idea is to just flow with these kinds of things. We've all heard the expression: Believe as if everything depends upon God and to act as if everything depends upon you. Oh, how I wish that sentence could never strike anybody as a threadworn clichĂ©! Because in my experience there are very few people with the courage to believe this expression is true at that critical moment when it mattered most. This was one of those moments. The Lamanite warriors were finally launching their attack. Truthfully, I think my life experiences had made the concept of God's intimate involvement a natural part of my thought processes, almost like a fifth appendage. And I couldn't help but feel a keen sense of sorrow for those who had not attained the same conviction.

Over the last few minutes the Lamanite drums had gone utterly silent. This silence had come after what had seemed like weeks of relentless pounding, hammering, and thundering of instruments across every sector of the Lamanite and Gadianton ranks. Now every drum had become hauntingly still. The effect of this unexpected change upon the Nephite masses was palpable. It further frayed or clenched every human nerve. It seemed as if a new kind of fear was building intensity amidst the people.

The trench filled with bitumen tar between Mormon's innermost defensive wall and the natural obstacle of the Sacred Deer River continued to rage in flames. This black ooze stretched along the entire length of the southeastern line. As flaming arrows had ignited this substance it sent up a wall of flames 100 feet into the starry sky. This was the only sight to occupy our eyes as the night wore on. Despite the burning trench, everything else was eerily quiet. No additional arrows. No more drums. Every Nephite sheltering inside Cumorah's bowl had to be wondering what game their enemies were playing. No moment yet in this war had struck me as more unsettling to the average soldier. An eternity had passed since the besieged populace had been able to speak without raising their voices above the percussion of drums. Now, for the first time in weeks, they could hear the inhale and exhale of their lungs. They could hear their own heartbeats, the rush of blood in their veins, the rumblings inside thof empty stomachs, and the awful whisper of impending death just beside and somewhat below their listening ears. We could also hear the quiet rumble of flames in the trench and the mournful groan of the wind. What did it mean, this sudden silence? The change in Cumorah's atmosphere wrapped itself around the Nephite nation like the tentacles of some invisible monster. Were the Lamanites planning a midnign assault? Did they intend to unleash some secret weapon upon our fortifications in the wee hours before dawn? What if burning away the bitumen moat had been a deliberate, calulated act? A prelude to something incomprehensibly horrifying?

The stench of petroleum was thick in our nostrils. Smoke was beginning to obscure the shapes of tents and the silhouettes of people amidst the candle and lantern light. A breeze blew most of the smoke northward, sparing the lungs of most families in the bowl. It would be particularly oppressive for the soldiers of the Scorpion Division under the command of Gidgiddonihah, as well as other divisions defending the eastern escarpments. As lantern light near and far appeared ever more ethereal in the din, I imagined that hallowed glow – the beckoning light – described by those who'd given accounts of near-death experiences: the "light" that urged them forward into the arms of their Maker.

Still, my own nerves remain steady, like Damascus steel. I credited some of this steadiness to the fact that I was surrounded by loved ones, men and women of extraordinary faith – Mary, Steffanie, Uncle Garth, Jacobah the Lamanite, even my young cousin Rebecca. Sakerra McConnell, too, seemed firmly entrenched in her faith, although I wasn't so sure about her impetuous brother, Brock. The only regular member of our company who was missing was young Jesse, the orphan from ancient Israel. He was presently in the care of Mormon's personal physicians inside the commander's private compound, suffering from an arrow wound in virtually the same spot in his shoulder that had been pierced a few weeks earlier. It seemed likely that Mormon's compound had by now been overwhelmed by the injured warriors of Joshua's Fox Division—those who'd recklessly and courageously stormed the eastern escarpments earlier today in an effort to rejoin Mormon's forces.

The result of Joshua's charge was terrible loss of life. Causalities no doubt littered the grounds inside the commander's headquarters, hundreds who had suffered at the hands of the Lamanites and lightning warriors of Teotihuacán. Many condemned Captain Josh, calling it foolhardy to think his army could ever cross those marshes and reached the walls considering the odds he'd faced. But most described Joshua as a hero—a man who had surveyed his only opportunity to join re-Mormon inside Cumorah' iss fortifications and acted quickly by way of the only possible route. Joshua himself had gone MIA during the operation. Gidgiddonihah claimed that he'd witnessed the very moment when my cousin disappeared into a geothermal vent in the side of the cliff. Right now Joshua's whereabouts were an utter mystery – a fact that only added to the turmoil in the hearts of his sister, Rebecca, and his father, my Uncle Garth.

It seemed only a moment ago that Gidgiddonihah, accompanied by a small contingent of warriors, had reached us with news of Joshua's disappearance. Gid arrival was just before the drums fell silent. Only moments after his message had been delivered the volly of arrows had begun to ignite the trench. He was quickly summoned back to the eastern escarpment by his second in command, a soldier of like mind and temperament named Ukiah. The Scorpion commander departed leaving behind only Jacobah, the faithful Lamanite convert who'd once served as Ryan Champion's bodyguard. Jacobah carried a Nephite spear, nearly seven feet in length, one that had been cleverly designed like the Roman lance or pilum (or so Apollus had boasted) to snap on impact so that it couldn't be retrieved by the enemy and flung back. I noticed that Jacobah stared at me with a strange intensity, as if he had something to say, but had not yet worked up the nerve to say it.

In the ominous absence of battle drums, we felt sorely torn whether to watch the lands before us to see if the Lamanite Army would rush through the flames or study the near distances behind us and on either side to defend against a possible attack by Gadianton ghosts. Only yesterday these demons had somehow abducted Megan and Apollus. Our companions' whereabouts were no less mysterious than the whereabouts of Joshua Plimpton. Not a trace had been left to offer us a clue about where they'd gone. There was no way to know if they were alive or if any of them would return, and it was clear that such a fate could swallow any one of us whole at any instant.

So even while my heart was at peace, every nerve-ending along each inch of my flesh remained on high alert. If a ghost had appeared in front of me, I'd have reacted out of habit and training, not out of fear. Maybe this wasn't a good thing. Maybe a warrior's reaction time would be swifter if he was just a little terrified. Any thread of complacency – however thin – might be the difference between life and death.

As we waited and watched to see what would happen next on this epic night, I once again met the intensity in Jacobah's eyes. He couldn't seem to stop staring at me. Finally I called him over.
"What's on your mind, Jacobah?" I asked casually. "It's obvious you want to say something."
"Yes," he confessed. He glanced at the ground, then looked directly into my eyes. I think he also studied my nose, still a bit purple and bent out of shape from abuses it had received at the hands of King Sa'abkan and his minions.

Jacobah ultimately just came out with it. "I wish to serve as your bodyguard."

Mary glanced from me and back to him.

I studied Jacobah curiously. "You served as Ryan's bodyguard for a long time. Now you feel compelled to serve someone else? I thought you were serving Gidgiddonihah and the Scorpion Division."

"I have already discussed this matter with Commander Gid," said Jacobah. "He is willing to accede  to my wishes."

"Why serve me?" I said dismissively. "I'd rather you served one of the women. Or perhaps young Rebecca."

Jacobah shook his head. "All of us serve the women equally. Naturally, if one of them is threatened, I would serve them first. But it is my inclination that I should specifically serve you."

I crooked an eyebrow. "Why?"

He hedged a bit and replied, "Because, Harry Hawkins, it is clear that you are less experienced in warfare than some of the others. And yet I sense that your life is particularly valuable to this company."

I frowned visibly. His statement was not complementary. I felt embarrassed. I think in the firelight I might have even been blushing. "I'm not any more important than anyone else. And I'm certainly not as inexperienced as someone like Ryan Champion."

"True," Jacobah agreed, seeming to take in my broken nose once more. "Nevertheless it is my inclination to serve you."

Others in the group were now listening in on our conversation. Uncle Garth looked away, fighting a smile. Brock blurted a single laugh.

"Wh-what about my uncle?" I asked awkwardly. "He certainly needs your services more than I do."
"Perhaps so," Garth replied, "but shucks, Harry, I don't think a middle-aged man like me is going to attract as much as attention in battle as a young bull like yourself."

I countered with, "In the heat of battle I don't think anyone's age is going to make any difference whatsoever."

Jacobah realized how embarrassed and uncomfortable I felt. He said, "Please don't be offended, Harrison. I don't pretend to fully understand why I am beset with this inclination. I suppose you are free to reject my services, but . . ."

"But what?"

"But . . . I will probably follow my inclination anyway." He continued to stare humbly at the ground.
I grunted with a sound that was somewhere between laughter and resentment. 

"You mean to tell me you're going to serve as my bodyguard whether I agree to it or not?"

Jacobah nodded, still looking down. " It is my inclin—"

"Your 'inclination!' Yes! I get it. I just don't understand it. I don't need a bodyguard, Jacobah. It's already my job to protect Mary and the other –"

"Naturally," Jacobah interrupted, "by association I will aid you in such duties. For now I simply ask that you . . . tolerate my increased attention."

"It's ridiculous!" I snorted.

Mary touched my arm. "It also seems harmless."

"I just don't need a bodyguard," I repeated to her quietly, though everyone else overheard.
"Of course you don't," said Steffanie, a hint of levity in her tone. "But Jacobah sounds rather determined."

I looked skyward, still shaking my head. I felt a sudden rush of self-reproach. It was almost as if God had recognized my inner placidity and interpreted it as pride. Therefore He'd sent Jacobah to assuage any dangerous tendencies toward cockiness. Well, God was never wrong about these things. Therefore, I sighed in resignation.

"Fine," I said to Jacobah, rather tartly. "But if anyone else in this company is hurt because you're sticking so close to me –" I pondered how to finish this sentence and came up with, "–I'm going to be upset."

Brock now laughed unreservedly. Even one corner of his sister, Sakerra's mouth had curled into a smile.

As suddenly as our hearts had lightened our expressions sobered and our countenances fell. The weight of the moment settled back upon us, and the anxiety everyone felt about our missing and injured loved ones. We stared back toward the flaming trench. A waft of petroleum fumes curled over us and made our eyes water. The stench sent Rebecca into a coughing fit. We covered our mouths and noses with our hands, but there was no way to entirely avoid it.

Kerra squinted as she seemed to peer intently into the blackness beyond the flames. "What are they doing out there?" she whispered to no one in particular.

Her gaze was so earnest and concentrated that the rest of us felt drawn to gaze at the same location where her eyes were focused. Was it possible that she perceived something that the rest of us hadn't? Or was she just exercising her intuition?

It was her brother who asked, "Do you see something out there, Sis, or are you talking just to hear yourself talk?"

Kerra paid her brother a fleeting, scornful glance, tempted, I think, not to answer his question at all. When she noticed that others appeared to have some form of the same question on their minds, she quipped, "The latter, for now. But I have a strange feeling that—"

That's as far as she got before an entirely unexpected sound overwhelmed us from an unexpected direction. It erupted from behind us – a chilling sound – like the infuriated cry of a monster or some other gargantuan beast, but echoing and twisted as if the noise had been distorted by the forces of relativity. I was berating myself inwardly even as my body was spinning around. It should have been perfectly predictable that the instant we allowed our concentration to become fiercely drawn elsewhere that the Gadianton ghosts would strike.

The first thing my eyes perceived was a pulsing circle of cold blue energy, elliptical in shape, hovering about 10 feet away and one meter above the earth, spreading outward like a pattern of waves created after dropping a boulder in choppy waters. The edges were expanding rapidly. At first the circle was convex, bulging inward, as if trying to suck something into its vortex. But in less than a second the bulge flipped outward, concave. It was immediately apparent that something evil was about to be expelled—regurgitated—directly on top of us.

In that instant I realized the seriousness of Jacobah's "inclination" to become my full-time bodyguard. I was also forced to acknowledge the truth behind his appraisal of my actual skill-level as a warrior. Before I could even reach back my hand to snatch the obsidian blade from behind my shoulder, Jacobah had already leaped in front of me and hoisted back the full weight of his 7-foot spear to hurl it into the heart of the vortex.


Something was definitely emerging from that concave bubble. The terrible roar transformed into something like a monster's maniacal death throes. It increased to a piercing volume, as if it might shred our eardrums and blow us backward like an explosion. Whatever was coming out of that vortex it was massive enough that we all felt certain there was nowhere to run or hide – nothing to permit our escape. 

Copyright @ 2015 Chris Heimerdinger

Friday, January 9, 2015

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Keep the Free Items Coming With Every Order!!!


I hope everyone enjoyed (or IS enjoying) Tennis Shoes Vol. 12: Drums of Desolation. I'm very proud of this book. It's one of my finest works. It was truly a story of great care and detail, and, I hope, FUN! Most readers might be surprised to reflect that the whole story only covered two or three days. As readers know, those were several very INTENSE days. I hope readers enjoyed that the Akish (subplot) finally had a rousing conclusion, and I hope they appreciated the introduction of great new characters like Muskah (yeah, he's a battle mammoth, but pretty cool). And the scenes with Harry while captive among the Lamanites remain some of the finest stuff I've ever written. (Those who've read the books realize what I mean.) I know there remain many questions still unanswered. Trust me. They will all be answered. And Gidgiddoniah with a love interest?? I envisioned that twist from the time I decided to merge the Tennis Shoes Series with the Zarahemla Series. Having said that, both characters come from very different places emotionally and I don't know how it will all work out. I know that must sound crazy that even the author doesn't quite know how it will turn out. This is when writers use that famous (and agonizing) quote: "I just let the characters write themselves." In other words, actions and decisions have to be true and real to the circumstances, and sometimes I need to flesh out those circumstances before I fully know the results.

Having rambled on about all that, I hope all customers over Christmas appreciated getting "free items" with every purchase. Most people asked for a copy of the DVD Passage to Zarahemla, but I've had many also request my book Muckwhip's Guide to Capturing the Latter-day Soul, and the hardbound edition of A Return to Christmas as well as the music "Whispered Visions" from the movie Passage to Zarahemla. I love those songs. That music CD is the only thing I've ever created that I enjoy as a consumer. I don't enjoy my books because I know how they all end. But music! It often comes into my ears as if I didn't have anything to do with composing or even singing; I just enjoy them like any other listener.

I STILL HAVE MANY FREE ITEMS ON HAND! Even those who ordered LDS items from me on Amazon last year noted my occasional "secret gift" with their orders. It was my way of blowing away the competition, whether Deseret Book or Seagull or Amazon. AND I'LL CONTINUE TO DO SO! When you call me directly to place an order for any usual product using my phone number above (and talking with me. I'm really not that famous, so please don't hesitate to call), just let me know what "free item" you would like your order to include. Here's a more concise list of free items:

--DVD of Passage to Zarahemla
--Novel of Passage to Zarahemla
--"Whispered Visions" music from Passage to Zarahemla
--Muckwhip's Guide to Capturing the Latter-Day Soul
--A Return to Christmas (Ballantine hardbound edition)

There are also several items you can add to any order for a deep discount:

--Escape from Zarahemla novel: $6.95 (normally$14.95)
--Escape from Zarahemla audio CD: $12.95 (normally $27.98)

I may also be the only place right now that you can still get the 1-5 Audio Gift Sets (6-10 is on backorder but should be available soon) or the BOOK Gift Sets of 1-6 and 7-12. Costco was the only store where this special set was available before Christmas. Well, Costco and, of course, THE AUTHOR HIMSELF. You will save a ton a money if you suddenly want an entire autographed collection of the books. ALL BOOKS and CDS and DVDS are signed by me. Those who call 801-870-2070 can request that they be signed in way that is "personalized". In other words, signed to just your family or to an individual who might be getting them for a birthday or other occasion.

I thank everyone profoundly for all the support and success we achieved this season. Now I am braced for the barrage of questions from fans asking "When the NEXT Tennis Shoes is coming out?" Well, I'm writing it. I'm writing it even today. But it's too soon to predict a release. I hope later this year. But I'd have to write fast to meet that goal. A safer bet would be the spring of 2016. In any case, you won't be waiting YEARS (plural). The title will be Thorns of Glory. I'm excited about the unfolding story and enjoying watching it come to life. THANK YOU, THANK YOU FOR YOUR READERSHIP!

Stay close to the Lord,

Chris Heimerdinger