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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dreaming on a Midnight Clear

I must say, I have some of the wildest and weirdest dreams.

Maybe that's less of a statement and more of a confession. Maybe it's a confession that one might naturally expect from a guy who makes his living as a storyteller. But I gotta tell ya, some of my dreams are the most bizarre, fantastical, and imaginative spectacles that my brain has ever produced. But are they really mine? Or did these visions originate somewhere else?

First, lemme tell you about what I dreamed last night--the night before Halloween. That's right. I'm gonna tell you an actual story idea that came to me in a dream within the last 24 hours. Then afterwards I'll analyze how I changed it and adapted it from the real details of the dream.

The story is about two missionaries in a foriegn country behind the (former) Iron Curtain. Let's just say Ukraine. See, my son is in the Ukraine. (I think in my dream it was the Ukraine, too. Makes sense, right? But that's neither here nor there. Could just as easily be Romania or Belarus. Anyway...)

One of these missionaries witnesses a murder. It's a murder involving very powerful elements of organized crime in the former Soviet Union. Any kind of conviction hinges on the testimony of this single Elder. (His companion, for whatever reason, did not get as clear a look at the event or the perpetrator.) Trouble is, the murderer has shady connections that tie him to very popular and powerful government leaders. Also, the presence of the Church in this place is tenuous at best, and this single LDS missionary suddenly has the power to expose something utterly rotten--something that threatens to destroy this nation and its political system. As a consequence, this Elder's choices may get the Church outlawed or booted from the country, thus destroying the work of the Lord in that corner of the globe. The plot, of course, involves scenes of nail-biting action and near brushes with death for the two missionaries. It also entails plot twists involving recently-baptized members whose faith and dedication is tried in the midst of the political turmoil, as well as betrayal and intringue, mass corruption and crime that may, in the end, nullify any criminal conviction or positive outcome through this Elder's testimony anyway. So the Elder must ask, why risk his life or risk hindering the Gospel in that nation by doing the right thing?

Neat idea, eh? And yes, that was the very idea that came to me just last night. It was as if this dream lasted all night long. Yeah, I know what they say about REM sleep and how dreams are intermittent and time-limited throughout our sleeping hours. But seriously, this thing went on and on and on. And what a roller coaster ride! It was great! I was on the edge of my seat--er, mattress--throughout the entire night.

You might wonder, if the idea was so great, why am I blabbering about it here on a public blog? Well, partly because I have no idea when I might get around to writing it. Frankly, it's terrible timing for me to be getting new story ideas. I'm so deeply immersed in the next Tennis Shoes novel that I can't think about much else. And after that I have other ideas I'd probably rather pursue. Sometimes it seems like the next twenty years of my creative life are already booked. So why would I be given such a story idea now? I'm frankly not sure. Maybe that's why I decided to blabber. At least it can entice me to write an interesting blog about dreams. :)

I really oughta know better than to spout off my story ideas. See, I had a bad experience back in the 90s where I sat alongside another LDS author at an autograph party at a ZCMI in the Pine Ridge Mall in Pocatello, Idaho (back when there were ZCMIs). Must've been a rather slow autograph party, because while making small talk with this fellow author, I revealed vivid details of a story idea about a sequel to Mark Twain's masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn. I told him how Mark Twain actually started a sequel, but never finished it. I told him how I'd intertwine the Mormon migration west into the plot because, coincidentally, this was close to the same time period as the original novel. So I planned to immerse myself in Mark Twain's writings, adopt Huck's (and Twain's) narrative style, and spin a yarn about about Huck and Tom and Jim going west with Brigham Young and the Saints.

But, truth be told, I was too busy writing Tennis Shoes books at the time. Thus, I never got around to writing this book. But, lo and behold! a couple years later this very same LDS author who I sat by in Pocatello, Idaho published a novel utilizing my exact idea! Sheesh! What a guy, right? Well, I'm not gonna give you the author's name or any other details because, for all I know, the whole thing was innocent. This author may have literally forgotten where he first heard it. He may have honestly stashed it away in his subliminal memory and voila!, one day he thinks it was his to begin with. No biggie. (And if anybody out there happens to know this author's name or his book, don't bother revealing such in the "comments" area, 'cause I won't publish it.) Fact is, if the Lord has blessed me with anything, it's story ideas. I've never lacked ideas. Now executing ideas...that's sometimes not so easy. But my supply to choose from has always seemed endless.

Actually, these days, most ideas come to me while staring at my computer screen. The source doesn't really seem all that miraculous--just the natural consequences (and blessings) of daily habit and discipline. But at least two of my books are based directly on dreams. The first is Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites. That concept came to me on my mission in Gainesville, Florida (of all places). The second "dream" novel is A Return to Christmas. One night I just dreamed about this, sort of, LDS version of Prince and the Pauper (Twain again? Hmmm. But, truth be told, my Huck Finn thing was not from a dream.)

I'm pretty confident that other novels--or significant portions of those novels--have also come from dreams. To be perfectly blunt, I'd have to say that I owe a big part of my living as an artist to dreams.

Now let me clarify a few things. Really, I think the only aspect of the actual "dream" that inspired Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites was the core idea of two boys going back to the time period of the Book of Mormon. I think Frost Cave--a real cave near my home town in Cody, Wyoming--was also part of the dream. But beyond that, I had to flesh out the rest of the plot while I was very much awake. Same with A Return to Christmas. Most of the details from the dream itself were quickly forgotten--probably within hours. It was only the core concept that remained in my memory, and that's what I had to work with.

It's the same with the dream I had last night. The paragraph above only gives a brief outline of the story. To be accurate, even some of that wasn't part of the dream. The dream was mostly action and dialogue and confrontation and dark streets and seedy court rooms and lots of Russian accents. The whole political intrigue thing was not in the dream--expect maybe the organized crime part. I made up the rest while I was awake. (Some of it while I was actually writing the paragraph!) Also, in the dream, I happened to be playing the part of the missionary, which no longer makes sense since I'm in my forties and much pudgier. (For some reason I always seem to see myself in dreams a lot younger and skinnier. Go figure.) So I obviously took myself out of the story. In addition, I don't think the Church or missionary work itself was ever threatened in the dream--another detail I added while I was awake. Then there were other odd parts that made no sense. I was firmly determined to tell you about those parts when I first decided to write a blog about dreams, but...hmmm. Can't much remember those details now. Weird, eh? Oh well. (Sigh.)

The point is that, for me, going to bed at night is often and literally as entertaining as going to the movies. My dreams are frequently that cool. Now the big question: WHY??? Where do dreams come from anyway? And why am I blessed to receive such fascinating ones? Okay, maybe for some readers it doesn't seem so surprising. I'm a storyteller, right? Wouldn't it be expected that I'd have entertaining dreams? Then again, maybe if my dreams weren't so entertaining, I'd have never become a storyteller. So which "chicken/egg" thing came first?

All right, sometimes my dreams are not that cool. For some reason when I'm sick or when I've overeaten the evening before I can have horrible dreams. Tormenting, awful dreams where events repeat over and over or make no sense or where characters illogically reverse roles or when settings in Paris transform to my childhood bathtub. But more often than not I am utterly enthralled. So once again, what is the source--the wellspring--of dreams? Some dreams are so surprising and unfathomable that I don't think it'd be fair to credit them to Heavenly Father or the Adversary. And yet they're almost always creative and mind-bending and totally entertaining. So I guess, it'd be safest and most logical to credit them to Heavenly Father. But for some dreams, would He really want to claim credit? Some time ago I dreamed that my daughter was a serial killer. Where in blazes did that come from?

Once on my mission I listened to a talk tape by Truman Madsen on Joseph Smith (I can't think of many Elders who didn't listen to those particular talk tapes!) Anyway, on one tape--and I have to paraphrase the quote because I've never seen the written text--Brother Madsen reported Joseph Smith as saying, "The Lord often comforts us with dreams even if they have no particular meaning or significance at all."

We're all aware of the fact that the Lord uses dreams to inspire, teach, and prepare us. Jacob's ladder was a pretty cool dream. Joseph in Egypt also had some inspiring dreams (and dream interpretations!). Lehi's dreams were downright magnificent. Even the wife of Pontius Pilate was told in a dream that Jesus Christ was a just man (Matthew 27:19). Not that the dream of Pilate's wife brought about any beneficial action.

We all know Joseph Smith had remarkable dreams. In fact, W.W. Phelps wrote about the very last dream of Joseph Smith. This one is so cool that I'll even give you a link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/8259505/Joseph-Smiths-Last-Dream

Many scientists and inventors have claimed that ground-breaking ideas came to them in dreams. Friedrich August Kekule, an organic chemist famous for his work with the molecular structure of carbon compounds, wrote how he was on a train and fell asleep: “and lo...atoms were gamboling before my eyes...I saw how the larger ones formed a chain, dragging the smaller ones after them, but only at the ends of the chain...The cry of the conductor: 'Clapham Road,' awakened me from my dreaming. I spent a part of the night in putting on paper at least sketches of these dream forms. This was the origin of the 'Structural Theory'" (Edmund W. Sinnott, "The Creativeness of Life," in Creativity and Its Cultivation, New York: Harper, 1959).

The famous physicist, Johannes Kepler, said he "envisioned" the fact that Mars rotated on an elipse in a dream (95.C. W. F. Everitt, "Maxwell's Scientific Creativity," in Springs of Scientific Creativity, 133). The Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who wrote the equations of electromagnetic theory, was once asked how he solved his problems. He replied, "I dream about them" (Brown and Luckcock, "Dreams, Day-dreams and Discovery," 695).

I don't doubt that many of us have experienced profound and prophetic dreams. It seems to be part of life on planet earth. But the trick sometimes is the ability to cull the gold from the dross. If a dream can't be successfully transformed into something useful while the dreamer is fully awake, it may not really serve a practical purpose. Sometimes separating what's useful and what's not useful in the myriad of images found in a dream is a difficult task. But for me, personally, I've usually found that it's a task worth undertaking.

Wilford Woodruff wrote: "...There are a great many things taught us in dreams that are true, and if a man has the spirit of God he can tell the difference between what is from the Lord and what is not. And I want to say to my brethren and sisters, that whenever you have a dream that you feel is from the Lord, pay attention to it (Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 22:333).

Unfortunately, I feel I'm only partially successful at this. I must also confess that I've sometimes had what I felt were brilliant dreams, but because I was lazy and never wrote down or recorded them, they progressively grew more and more foggy with each waking moment until they disappeared entirely. Also, I think sometimes it hasn't been my fault. A few weeks ago I had a story idea come to me in a dream that I was convinced was one of the most powerful story ideas I'd ever received. Oh, I would have written it down. I wanted to write it down badly. But the plot of the dream and its concepts were so complex, so overwhelming, that getting it down quickly enough before the structure began to fade was simply impossible. I remember asking in my mind, "What was the point of that? Why give me such a tremendous idea if I'm just gonna forget it an hour after I wake up?" I literally panicked over this one. But as each moment passed, the dream grew more and more obscure in my memory and I couldn't bring it back.

Sometimes Providence has smiled and I've been a bit luckier. I remember when I had the idea for the song "Whispered Visions," sung by Katherine Nelson, and which I put in the movie Passage to Zarahemla . I conceived this song while I was fully awake and driving home on Bangerter Highway from the Salt Lake Airport. It came to me virtually and wholly intact. I hummed it in my head over and over and over. But then I arrived home, got distracted, perhaps heard some other music in the background, and suddenly it was gone! I'd lost it entirely. For an artist few things are more depressing than losing a great idea. And that night I was very depressed. So before I went to bed, I prayed to have it returned. And Heavenly Father heard my prayer. The next morning, just as I was emerging from that dream state before waking, the tune came back to me lock, stock, and barrell. Or in other words, the verses, the chorus, the bridge--it was fully restored in my mind. (And this time I was smart enough to sing it into a digital recorder!)

I wish I had more answers for the reader on the nature of dreams. If nothing else, last night's dream made at least one positive contribution to my art. It compelled me to go back today and rewrite a scene in my latest "Tennis Shoes" novel. I think a portion of this scene I've already put in another blog.

Basically, Marcos and Josh find themselves in the Rainbow Room, but in the distant past, before the room has fully formed. In fact, Marcos actually does something that "brings about" the miracle. I won't give away those details. But I will paste a part of the description that Marcos gives of what takes place in the "dark void" around him. As you read it, you'll see how it relates to dreams.

"It was as if we were witnessing an act not unlike the primordial act of creation. Light becoming matter. Matter becoming element. Electricity forming into molecules. Joshua forgot to mention how some particles vibrated incessantly, like lightning flashes or strobes. This was how I might have imagined the universe would look when the Gods first created a cosmic body—star or planet—in the midst of unorganized space. Or how it appeared as they heaved the breath of life into a billion particles of dust. Joshua thought I was controlling it. I didn’t believe this. God was making it happen. Nevertheless, I still felt that it was happening because I somehow willed it to happen. Things were reacting to my creative imagination, as if in harmony with a kind of music in my mind. It was influenced by Joshua, too. Don’t let him tell you otherwise. He sells himself short if he insists that he played no part.

"In a way it was like a dream. I’d had many dreams where I didn’t control the succession of events—where I felt I had no power over what I saw or what occurred. And yet who else was in control? My brain was certainly the source of these images. They were part of my psyche. They were inspired by events from my previous day or from the previous years of my life. But not all of them. There was more to it than that. Some images, I was certain, had not originated in my mind. They were from somewhere else. I felt sure that dreams were not purely random events—not mere flashes of synaptic energy. Some other power in the universe also participated. And like my dreams, it was the same with what was occurring around us. I did not understand how all these shapes and colors came about, but somehow it was the power of my mind combined with this other power—this mysterious, universal, celestial power—that had set matter and elements free."

Well...does that offer any enlightenment about dreams? Eh, probably not. I suppose it's all still a mystery. But what a wonderful mystery! One of my favorites, as a matter of fact. And so, for the miracle of dreams, I express to my Heavenly Father my public and eternal gratitude.

(c) Copyright 2009, Chris Heimerdinger

(My personal thanks to Brandon Wilcox of Rexburg, Idaho for putting up a "counter" on this blog for me a few weeks ago. (Sorry for being so technologically challenged!) This blog has been great fun, and a satisfying outlet for ideas and thoughts. There are apparently many readers, but not as many who leave comments. I strongly welcome comments and hope we receive much more participation.

Lastly, I'm offering a last ditch effort to unload some
signed Tennis Shoes and Passage to Zarahemla stuff for Christmas presents. See the Ebay list at: http://shop.ebay.com/liahona10/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_from=&_ipg=&_trksid=p4340.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The "Evolution" of Evolution

So...a few nights ago I caught the much-advertised evolutionary special called Discovering Ardi on the Discovery Channel. I was fascinated. For those who missed all the hype, including ads in a multiplicity of magazines and internet banners on every website across the WWW, this show documented the 15-year scientific pursuit surrounding the discovery of the oldest known hominid (cave man) fossil discovered in the sands of Ethiopia in 1993. Since that time paleontologists and paleo-artists and paleo-motion capture experts (what? you never heard of that field before?) have been piecing together dozens and dozens of tiny fragments, cat-scanning the fossilized bones, and recreating a three-dimensional vision of what this "creature" may have looked like, how it behaved, what its environment was like, etc., etc.

The catchphrase of the documentary was "Darwin could only dream of finding this." And indeed, like many shows on educational television, it was necessary to cull through the intellectual "rabbit droppings" in order to appreciate the truly fascinating tale of the painstaking efforts of modern science to collect and then reconstruct a four-and-a-half-million-year-old fossil.

Darwinian evolution wasn't the only sales job that the documentary filmmakers tried to push on the viewing public. There was also the obligatory speech at the end about global warming and the destruction of the planet by modern "hominids", and a finger-shaking reminder that unless we started properly worshipping Mother Nature and treating her with significantly more respect, all of these painstaking efforts to rebuild fossils would become a monumental waste of time (because we'd all be dead and could no longer appreciate it anyway).

But that's okay. Cliches about deforestation and mass extinction are lobbed at the viewer with virtually every documentary that highlights science and planet earth. The challenge for the viewer--and I think I've become rather good at it (if I do say so myself)--is to learn to filter out the nonsense and voodoo and get down to the core of truly fascinating and mind-bending information that a show like this has to present. I think as consumers of information we must learn this skill. We are, after all, commanded to learn all that we can in this life. But when such information is consistently sandwiched inside false and corrupt ideology, it becomes essential to separate the wheat from the chaff so that we don't miss out on many educational gems.

In one of my Tennis Shoes novels, I recall that I trumpeted the idea that the purpose of life was not to discover all the answers, but to formulate all the questions. An LDS anthropologist I met recently called many of these "tunnel" questions, meaning that they were the questions we would ask the angel that we (presumably) will meet in the "tunnel of light" after we die (as he or she guides us back to our heavenly destination). Examples of such questions would be: "So how do the doggone dinosaurs fit into the picture?" or "Why do we have evidence of civilizations in the Mississippi Valley that pre-date the earliest civilizations in Mesoamerica that we've already pegged as Jaredites?"

I think I've refined my thoughts about gathering questions since those days when I first wrote Feathered Serpent, Part One . My suspician now is that after we die, and after all our memories of pre-earth life are returned to us, we'll find that we already know the answers to most of these so-called "tunnel" questions. We won't need an angel to explain them. But even so, this does not relieve us of the responsibility, as touted in the scriptures, to learn everything that we can here in mortality and thereby gain an indispensible advantage in the world to come. (For a more accurate rendering of the concept, I suggest re-reading Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19.)

I am starting to suspect--and this is a new idea for me--that much of the so-called "advantage" to be gained by all this studying is simply learning how to learn. I'm not really sure how many actual answers or even questions our Heavenly Father expects us to accumulate in this life. The primary objective--through diligence and obedience--is to exercise our minds and thereby "open up the synapses" (so to speak) so that our brains can finally receive pure light and knowledge directly from the fountain of God.

I emphasized the word "obedience" because we don't often think about the fact that gaining knowledge and intelligence is integrally connected to obedience (again see D&C 130:18-19). And yet it is so obviously interconnected that it can be very dangerous to ignore it. How many times, for instance, are we baffled when seemingly intelligent, educated, and well-meaning people have blatantly wrong ideas? Just as a single dramatic example, how much light and knowledge does a human being need to have in order to understand that abortion is wrong? For many of us we simply cannot comprehend how a fellow member of the human species can draw a different conclusion. I'm sure many readers could think of dozens of other examples. But so often one cannot correct or change the mind of a person who espouses wrong ideas by using rational arguments or logic. Obedience--the kind of obedience that attracts the light of Christ--is often the only way to truly "liberate" a soul from seriously misguided ideas. Sin breeds wrong ideas. Living contrary to God's commandments opens our minds and souls up to the corrupting influence of the Adversary. Obedience (alongside continual repentance) is often the only cure.

For many of us the very word evolution evokes such a distasteful image that we immediately distrust and reject anyone who tries to perpetuate such notions. And yet a blanket rejection of the core concept may not be our wisest approach. The truth is that evolution is a catch-all term that refers to many complex theories with numerous tenets and branches. Latter-day Saints might be surprised to learn that they do actually believe in evolution. What they reject are specific theories that suggest that an ameoba becomes an elephant. Simplified, these kinds of evolutionary theories are known as "Darwinian Evolution."

I think Latter-day Saints are willing to concede that changes take place in various species of animals over multiple generations. We can observe this happening when a virus develops a mutation that makes it impregnable to current vaccines. Yup, that's evolution. But this kind of evolution is known as "genetic drift." Another name for Darwinian evolution is "natural selection." But even that would be an oversimplification, because, again, most reasonable people would concede that natural selection plays some kind of role in the variances of characteristics of certain species over time. We just reject the idea that a one-celled organism becomes a Tyrannosaurus Rex or that a salamander becomes a pelican. In short, we reject the idea that Homo Sapiens evolved from the chimpanzee. But it seems that in recent years evolutionary biologists have mostly rejected that idea as well!

Many Christians and/or Creationists would be surprised to learn that even within the scientific community there are bitter arguments and ongoing feuds between proponents of natural selection, random genetic drift, and a myriad of other variations of the evolutionary model. From Discovering Ardi I was surprised at how many basic Darwinian tenets scientists now have to alter or change because of what the "Ardi" fossil has taught us. For example, the long-held concept that bipedality (walking on two legs) developed when man's ancestors moved out onto the open plain is now seriously questioned because of the Ardipithecus ramidus fossil. Also, Darwin's landmark theory that men descended from chimps is being significantly altered. It now appears (according to "Ardi" scientists) that chimps and men both descended from the same common ancestor. We just haven't pinned down that ancestor yet. What??? This means basic evolutionary science is now rejecting an idea which has been in the textbooks since I was a child! Suddenly a layman begins to wonder just what the heck we do know!

Many strange conclusions are proposed in this documentary. These conclusions tend to reveal just how human and fallible scientists really are. The most bizarre conclusion for me was the idea that, in the process of natural selection, bipedality and smaller canines (teeth) became dominant human traits favored by females in their selection of a mate because it meant that the mate (men) were better able to carry food back to the cave. Where did that logic come from? Tell that to the couch-potato husband who watches television while his wife lugs in the grocery sacks! This documentary also proposes the silly rationale that hominid fossils are rare because hominids were not as stupid as other primitive creatures by allowing themselves to get stuck in the mud. Yeah, there's overwhelming evidence to suggest we're too smart for that, right? Just observe the average two-wheel drive owner who insists on taking his vehicle into the mountains or who feels intellectually certain that the mud puddle up ahead couldn't possibly be too deep!

This documentary popularizes the idea that "Ardi" was bipedal or that she (it?) walked upright on two feet. But after a few quick searches on the internet one finds many articles and statements from other scientists who adamantly oppose that conclusion. The pelvic bones of this fossil are simply too smashed to decide how many limbs it used to ambulate. "Huh?" you say. "You mean scientific geniuses often disagree???" I also learned that there are serious disagreements as to the bipedality of the former "queen of the hill" (as far as oldest hominid skeletons)--which was the Australopithecus fossil known as "Lucy" which is 1.2 million years younger than "Ardi." There are now studies which suggest that "Lucy", like other apes, was also a "knuckle-walker", which again leads one to wonder exactly how many conclusions drawn by paleontologists can be considered accurate or helpful at all!

Please correct me if I'm wrong--because I couldn't believe this when I heard it--but in the Discovering Ardi documentary I learned that the entire case for human evolution is based on about 300 total fossils. Could that really be true? Obviously there are hundreds of thousands of fossils catalogued from every continent on the globe. But are there really only 300 Neanderthals, Homo Erectuses, and Australopithecuses, etc., in the fossil record? This is incredible! It means the sheer breadth of conclusions that have been drawn from such a narrow sampling of material is utterly mind-boggling. No pollster on earth would feel secure with conclusions drawn from a sampling of 300 surveys. So we really do know very little about the history of this planet. But not to worry. As with so many other questions related to salvation and the eternities, we should all be humbly and patiently waiting for Heavenly Father to reveal more--in His own good time and when we are prepared to receive it.

Really, the only thing mankind seems to have learned from all the digging and scraping and reassembling in Ethiopia is that a now-extinct female primate once roamed eastern Africa at a time when the landscape was much more forested. That's it! That pretty much sumarizes the extent of our verifiable knowledge. But don't be discouraged. Let the scraping and digging and hypothesizing continue! Again, that's why we're here in mortality.

I only wish that more scraping and hypothesizing were being done by individuals whose scientific speculations were shaped by celestial principles of obedience.

(c) Copyright 2009, Chris Heimerdinger

Friday, October 9, 2009

Apocalypse in Moderation

Ever since I was a kid the prognosticators or "pseudo-prophets" of the world have attempted to paint scenarios for what the world will be like at the very end. What I mean is, they offer ideas regarding what it will be like at the very, VERY end. Or as I sometimes call it, the last last days.

Latter-day Saints seem to be somewhat less aggressive in pursuing the hobby of Apocalyptic speculation than other Christian denominations. I think this is because, for the most part, our Church leaders deliberately balance such discussions with visions of hope and comfort, enthusiastically proclaiming that it is "okay" to set long-range goals and not allow ourselves to become obsessed with calamities and "doom and gloom." Instead, they encourage us to move forward with faith. Nevertheless, they remind us to heed our Prophet's voice and "stand in holy places." (See D&C 45:32, D&C 87:8, D&C 101:22).

Still, there are some Latter-day Saints, and many, many people in other Christian demoninations, who make regular and concerted efforts to vividly portray and point out "warning signs" for the rest of us by publishing pamphlets, writing books, filming documentaries, and utilizing other media in an attempt to interpret Bible prophecy. And there is always a perpetual effort to marry such interpretations with current world culture and events.

Honestly, I'm not especially critical of this practice. Don't the scriptures repeatedly warn us to "watch and be ready" (D&C 50:46)? I believe the tendency to think about such things is perfectly natural. All inquisitive Christians, including Latter-day Saints, instinctively ponder upon the dynamics, scenarios, and cultural phenomenon that might trigger the cataclysmic events that will lead to the Second Coming. If you want to re-start your mind to percolating about such matters, just re-read Section 45 of the Doctrine and Covenants, or the JST Translation of Matthew, or any part of the Book of Revelation.

But despite our persistent inquisitiveness on this subject, I'm still amazed at how often we get it totally wrong.

By saying this please don't envision me as some kind of wise sage on a hill quietly chuckling at all the speculating fools down below. Actually, I tend to be no less enthralled by the latest visions and predictions offered up by intelligent and spiritually-minded writers, speakers, and High Priest Group Leaders as anyone else. Such subjects grab my attention more quickly than perhaps they ought to, especially considering how many Gospel habits that I must still improve and how I often feel so totally unprepared for "the end." Still, I think "speculation in moderation" is perfectly fine. The trick is to do so without driving away the Spirit. How do we do that? Well, meat before milk is always a healthy posture. We should also avoid being so dogmatic with our personal theories that we start sounding like an authorized representative of the Twelve. Lastly, we should never do so at the expense of neglecting Family Home Evening or helping our sons carve their Pinewood Derby cars.

When I was kid, years before I joined the Church, I was deeply affected by a movie I saw entitled The Late Great Planet Earth. This documentary was a hodge-podge of conclusions about the "end of days" that may have leaned a little too heavily toward fear and paranoia. It was narrated by the late, great Orson Welles, who used his considerable oratorial skills and flare for the melodramatic in his role as host. (Why the producers chose as their host the very man who'd created the "War of the Worlds" radio program--a show that perpetuatd one of the most famous media hoaxes in history!--is a fascinating question. But I digress...)

Despite whatever fear-mongering the film perpetuated, for me personally it still served a useful purpose. I think I can safely credit that film as an important factor that set me on the path to thinking about Christianity. This path eventually led to my conversion to Christ, and finally to my conversion and membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So, yes, though seriously flawed and dated, the film played a significant and influential role in my young religious life.

The 1970s weren't really all that different from today as far as folks trying to offer up rational predictions for how the "last last days" will play out. It seems that every generation is firmly convinced that theirs is the very last generation before the Savior's Second Coming. Ours is no different. Except that, finally, this generation happens to be RIGHT. (Sorry, my tongue may have just got stuck in my cheek.)

Back in the 1970s every prognosticator seemed convinced that events culminating in the end of the world and the rise of the ultimate "anti-Christ" would involve the Soviet Union and "Godless Communism" (as the little pamphlets distributed by our town's local Baptist Church used to put it). In the 1990s many of those ideas adjusted to fit visions fostered by the popular Left Behind series of novels. (Even a few LDS authors have jumped on this bandwagon and produced a novel or two of their own with similar themes.) After 9-11 the prognosticators began to adjust their visions to include Islamic terrorism. And these days many Christians have some very "unsaintly" ideas about our current president and how he might be helping to pave the way to worldwide destruction. (That is, if they're not simply convinced that's he's the anti-Christ himself!)

I am not innocent in nurturing some of my own pet ideas and theories. But in so doing I freely admit that they bear no more weight than theories proposed by others. And significantly less weight than any ideas proposed by Prophets. In recent years I have tended to wonder how China fits into the proverbial puzzle. The Late Great Planet Earth wondered about China too since, at that time, they were the only nation on earth that might field an army of 200 million men (apparently that number correlates to some prophecy in Ezekial or Daniel, but I can't remember which (A reader has informed me the verse is Rev 9:16)). Today China has their fingers in virtually every global economy. They manage or control both the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. They supposedly have more active spies in the United States than the Soviet Union ever had at the height of the Cold War. Apparently they have successfully stolen our plans for the Stealth Bomber in a recent espionage effort. With all that, it's easy to wonder if the next World War will somehow involve conflict between China and the West. After all, China seems just itching to reclaim Taiwan, and the timing seems so right for them to invade that island while an appeasing world looks on and shrugs its shoulders--something that would have never happened in decades past.

However, it's also true that China's policy of "one child per family" has led to one of the steepest population declines in modern history. I heard about this situation several years ago from some friends of mine who visted China as tourists. They spoke of the extraordinary imbalance of Chinese men compared to women. Just a couple days ago the news media finally grabbed hold of this story too. It reported that in future years there will be almost 30 million Chinese men lacking Chinese wives. This imbalance can't help but have global ramifications. It might by itself lead to military confrontation. Haven't several wars in history been fought over females? The Greeks? The Priests of Noah? I can't quite recall.

But even more interesting than the dynamic of China in shaping the future is the impact anticipated by the Islamic faith. Years ago I was made aware that by 2025 the population of the Netherlands will exceed that of native Hollanders. (Is that what you call them? Hollanders? Hollandaise? Oh, the Dutch! (duh) Anyway...) Another report I listened to suggested that by 2050 the majority population of every country in Europe will be Muslim. The reason for this is simple: massive immigration. But even more "impactful" is the fact that Europeans just aren't having kids. In France alone Muslim families average 8 children per household, while native Frenchmen average about 1.5 kids per household. This shift in demographics for Europe is reportedly so imbedded as to be irreversible.

And things really aren't that much different in North America. If it wasn't for the Latino culture, America today would actually have a declining population. Traditional white Caucasions just don't seem to want kids anymore. And if you find that intriguing, think about this: Even Latter-day Saints--in particular American Latter-day Saints--don't seem to have as many children as in generations past. Maybe the trend in LDS family size has changed with the success rates of LDS temple marriages. I understand that the percentage of temple marriages that succeed is now only incrementally better than marriages among the general populace. Whereas in the '60s and '70s, the success rates for couples who married in the temple improved almost two to one. Obviously the Lord hasn't changed. Somehow we have changed.

But back to demographics...Over the next three or four decades the Islamic population in America is projected to explode to approximately 50,000,000 Muslims. By the beginning of the 22nd century, if current birth rates and immigration trends continue, America will be a majority Islamic state. I've watched interviews with leaders in Islamic nations who remind their citizens: "We don't need homicide bombers or terrorists. We just need patience."

The solution if we want to maintain our nation's Christian heritage seems simple: Christians gotta have more babies! But is it really that simple? Obviously the first thing that needs to happen is a fundamental attitude adjustment regarding the sanctity of life. In a recent Ensign article Elder Nelson reminded readers that there are more than 40 million abortions in the world every year. 40 MILLION! And that's only in one single year! But even if there's hope for reversing this attitude in the United States, experts believe that for Europe the situation is too far gone. Europe can no longer avoid the fact that it will have a Muslim majority in a few short decades.

There's no doubt that these kinds of politics and shifts in demographics are going to dramatically effect the world that our children inherit. But exactly how will these scenarios effect events leading up to the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior? If I knew the answer to that, I'd be a very rich, famous, and handsome man. (I know handsome must fit in there somehow.) But the answer is simply unknown.

I once had a very interesting conversation with an Islamic woman who happened to be our tour guide on a trip to the pyramids of Egypt. I could tell that she genuinely disliked Americans. She made no secret of the fact that she much preferred tours with Italians or Germans. Of course, she didn't say this outright. But it was strongly implied as we spoke one on one. However, she also said something about Mormons and Muslims that I've never forgotten. It was her impression that the two world religions with the strongest members--by that she meant the two religions whose members were least likely to convert to another faith--were Muslims and Mormons. I have no idea how she drew that conclusion. And I say again, it was just her opinion. But it stuck with me. And if the sentiment has even a shred of accuracy, it seems to add a new dimension as I ponder the looming shift in worldwide demographics. Don't ask me what it all means, but it adds a new dimension nonetheless. Maybe it's just alarming to imagine what would happen if these two religions somehow became opposing forces.

Alas, we really don't know how these matters will impact events of the last, last days. Still, I certainly think pondering and speculating is permitted. However, lest we get carried away, we should remind ourselves that the scriptures plainly teach that "no man knoweth the day or even the hour" of the Savior's coming, "not even the angels"--not even the Son if you read the Gospel of Mark!--but the "Father only" (See Matt 24:36, JST Matt 24:30, Mark 13:32, D&C 39:21).

This seems to hint that our focus should not necessarily be demographics or politics. It should be individual and family righteousness. It should be daily repentence and improvement. It should be mastering Gospel basics and recommitting to traditional LDS ideals and values. For example, sometimes I become very impatient when I hear a young couple talk about putting off children for a couple of years until the bread winner finishes school or becomes established in a career. Granted, the Spirit will guide individuals, and every circumstance is unique. But the basic principle being communicated here is just wrong. Certainly I am sympathetic to newlyweds who want to take a year or two to get to know each other. But much longer than that and--if I might adopt a stereotypical country boy accent--"it just don't seem rawt." So often I hear stories about how close a husband and wife become by acheiving financial and career goals by striving together. Such a mutual achievement becomes the cement that holds a marriage together when times get tough. And frankly, a family is often blessed at the exact moment that it needs blessings. In other words, when a couple decides in righteousness to start their family, the Lord just makes positive things happen. There's no other explanation. Having children is always such a sacred thing. It should never be undertaken without Spiritual influence. But Heavenly Father is perfectly aware of our needs. And if we follow His guidence, we will find that our lives are always rich in opportunities. I sincerely believe that. Sometimes it just takes a slight tweak in attitude. But that tweak can make all the difference in the world.

Yes, the Apocalypse is coming. The Savior will one day return and the Millennium will promptly commence. But if thinking about such events generates feelings of anxiety, we might want to adjust our spiritual approach. The scriptures remind us regularly that we need not fear. Rather than focus on the calamities, we need to focus on the glory. Rather than think only about Armageddon, we should think often about Adam-Ondi-Ahmen. And then we just need to focus on making the Gospel of Jesus Christ the guiding light of our lives.

So keep pondering. Keep studying. Keep praying. And as the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie so often stressed--"Stay in the mainstream of the Church."

The rest, I feel certain, will take care of itself.

(c) Copyright 2009, Chris Heimerdinger