Well-known Mormons in the Salt Lake City Cemetery

If you like cemeteries and you like Mormons, you’ll love the Salt Lake City Cemetery. The oldest known burial here was in 1847, a child named Mary B. Wallace. Two years later, George Wallace was on the committee that recommended the place to Brigham Young. The cemetery covers 120 acres and there are now (September 2015) over 124,000 people buried here (out of a total 130,000 burial sites).

Presidents of the Church
Eleven Presidents of the Church are buried here: John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George A. Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Howard W. Hunter, and Gordon B. Hinckley. I’m missing a couple of photos, but here are most of them –

Members of the Quorum of the Twelve
Including George Q. Cannon, Hugh B. Brown, James E. Talmage, Neal A. Maxwell, Bruce R. McConkie, J. Golden Kimball, and Anthon H. Lund –

Missionary Martyr Joseph Standing
One of the most curious memorials to me is for Joseph Standing, an early missionary of the Church to the Southern States. He was killed by a mob near the town of Varnell, Georgia in 1879. The memorial reflects some hope of heavenly vengeance.

Early missionary to Georgia
Early missionary to Georgia
"There is no law in Georgia for the Mormons"
“There is no law in Georgia for the Mormons”

Joseph Standing memorial

Tough words for the murderers of missionary Joseph Standing
Tough words for the murderers of missionary Joseph Standing
Missionary martyred by a mob of 12 men in Georgia
Missionary martyred by a mob of 12 men in Georgia

Those who created the memorial wanted to make sure we remembered the names of the mob members. A poem concludes:

Our brother rests beneath his native sod,
His murderers are in the hands of God.
Weep, weep for them, not him whose silent dust
Here waits the resurrection of the dust.

Here are a few more headstones, including those for Truman O. Angell, Porter Rockwell, Karl G. Maeser, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, William Clayton, and W. W. Phelps –

Cardboard Boat Race

Fun combined mutual activity last night – each class built a boat out of only cardboard, caulk, tape, and some paint. Each vessel had to hold at least one person. The Beehive Ark (marked “Made by Beehives” in quiet protest of the other boats that had more outside help) lasted quite a bit longer than anyone expected and it took 2nd place among the young women.

Notes on the Book of Esther

Last year I had the best calling in the Church: Gospel Doctrine teacher, during study of the Old Testament. I wrote out fairly detailed notes for each lesson and figured I’d post some of them here in case they’re helpful to a future teacher. 

Esther is an interesting book. It doesn’t read like the rest of the Bible. It’s one of two books (along with The Song of Solomon) that doesn’t mention God, although it does assume a sense of guided destiny and it mentions fasting. It’s the only Old Testament book that wasn’t found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It also has some historical issues – for example, Mordecai would have to be over 100 years old for the dates to work out right. It’s possible that it started with some historical events that were passed down orally and someone eventually wrote them down, mixing up a few dates and names in the process.

Let’s start by reviewing the characters involved in this story.
Ahasueras – king of Persia, also named Xerxes (Greek) – has a palace in Shushan, the capital of Persia, 482 B.C.
Vashti – First queen
Mordecai – Esther’s cousin (2:7) who raised her after her parents died – Jewish
Esther – Second queen – Hebrew name Hadassah
Haman – Agagite, main villain

Chapter 1 – The Party
King throws a big party to show off his wealth, lasts 6 months (v. 4)
Then they have a 7-day feast, all the guys in palace garden, all the women in the royal house.
v. 8 – all-you-can-drink

v. 10 – At the end of the 7 days, the king wants to introduce his wife to his guests. He sends for her and. . . she refuses to come. For some reason she didn’t want to leave her party and join a drunken brawl in the garden.

The king is offended and asks his counselors (wise men) what he should do about it. v. 17 – they tell him he needs to come down hard because as soon as the women of the city find out the queen disobeyed the queen, mass chaos would ensue. So, the king writes a royal decree that says Vashti is no longer queen and her royal estate will go to another (v. 19)

Chapter 2 – “The Bachelor”
Chapter 2 describes what’s essentially an ancient version of the reality tv show, The Bachelor. The king’s servants find young women throughout the land to compete for the position of queen. One of these is our hero, Esther. She and her cousin Mordecai are Jewish, but Mordecai tells her to not let anyone know about it. Once they gather all the contestants together, they get to live in the palace and get massages and beauty treatments for a year (v. 12).

The king meets with one woman per day and doesn’t invite any of them back. Until he gets to Esther. v. 17 – love at first sight! Another big feast to celebrate the new queen. During this celebration, Mordecai uncovers a plot to assassinate the king and tells Esther to tell the king. The plot is foiled and the plotters are hanged.

Chapter 3 – Enter the Villain
Haman was a descendant of Agag, which I’m sure you all remember from 1 Samuel. Agag was king of the Amalekites, which were the group Saul was commanded to completely destroy – but Saul got in trouble for holding on to some of their animals, claiming he wanted to use them for sacrifice. So, Haman had likely inherited a deep hatred for the Jews.

Haman was promoted to some high office by the king and everyone was supposed to bow to him. Mordecai refuses and Haman decides it’s time to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. He was apparently prone to overreaction. He convinces the king to write a decree stating that all Jews shall be killed on the 13th day of the 12th month of that year.

Chapter 4 – Mordecai tells Esther to talk to the king
Mordecai panics and tells Esther she needs to tell the king she’s Jewish and get him to reverse his decision. Esther says (v. 11) that she’s not allowed to speak to the king unless she’s invited in by him, and that hasn’t happened in a month. Violating this rule is punishable by death. Interesting relationship.

Mordecai points out that Esther will be killed as well and then says, v. 14, that this might be the whole purpose of her becoming queen, to save her people. Esther asks Mordecai to have the Jews in the city fast for three days and then she’ll approach the king. v. 16 – “If I perish, I perish”

Chapter 5 – Esther approaches the king
The king is fortunately happy to see his queen and holds out the golden scepter as a sign that she is permitted to approach. She proposes a banquet for the king and Haman. At the banquet, she seems to chicken out and proposes a second banquet. v. 9 – Haman is stoked that he got invited to the banquet. He brags to his wife and friends (v. 12) that no one else was invited. But his happiness is stifled as long as he sees Mordecai alive (v. 13).

Haman’s wife, Zaresh, said, “You know what will make you feel better? Build a giant gallows (75 feet tall) so you can anticipate the hanging of Mordecai. Then you’ll be able to enjoy your second banquet.” (That was kind of paraphrasing v. 14.)

Chapter 6 – Mordecai is honored
The king has insomnia and asks one of his servants to read a history book (yawn!) to him. In it was recorded the fact that Mordecai saved the king’s life way back in chapter 2. He realizes that Mordecai was never honored for his good deed. Then Haman shows up, with really bad timing. He is excited to tell the king about the awesome new gallows he prepared for Mordecai’s execution.

In v. 6-9, the king asks what would be the best way to honor someone. Haman assumes he’s describing his own reward, so he says he should be put on the king’s royal horse and paraded through the city. v. 10 – the king says that’s a great idea and asks Haman to honor Mordecai in just the way he’s described. He goes home to tell his wife about it and the king’s servants show up to take him to the banquet.

Chapter 7 – Banquet #2
Haman joins the king and queen at the second banquet and Esther reveals that she’s a Jew and the king’s decree means her own death. The king asked how this happened and Esther pointed at Haman across the table.

The king is so angry, he goes out into the garden. Haman decides to plead with the queen and follows her into her bedroom and falls on her bed. The king walks in (v. 8). A servant (who must not have been a fan of Haman) reminds the king about Haman’s 75-foot gallows and the king says, “Hang him on it.” (v. 9)

Chapter 8 – All is Well
Mordecai takes over Haman’s position, the king can’t reverse the decree but he makes a new one that the Jews can attack the people that were going to kill them.

Chapter 9 – Vengeance
The Jews attack their enemies and in v. 19 they designated the 14th day of the 12th month as a feast day. This is called the Festival of Purim (v. 26), which is still celebrated by many Jews today – it falls next on March 4-5. They exchange gifts of food and drink, donate to the poor, eat a big meal, act out the story of Esther. They have noise-makers to boo every time Haman’s name is mentioned. They used to even burn Haman in effigy.

So, that’s Esther.

What’s the purpose of this story — what is the author trying to teach readers? Any thoughts on what we can learn from Esther’s example?

Trying to deal with life in exile. They can still influence and improve their situation. Heroes still exist. Individuals still have a role to play — the guided actions of one can affect many. And a little hope for vengeance.

Notes on the Book of Daniel

Last year I had the best calling in the Church: Gospel Doctrine teacher, during study of the Old Testament. I wrote out fairly detailed notes for each lesson and figured I’d post some of them here in case they’re helpful to a future teacher. 

Daniel is another story that takes place in exile – earlier than Esther, in Babylon. We’re pretty familiar with these stories, so I’ll briefly summarize.

Chapter 1 – good eating
King Nebuchadnezzar requests that some of the children of Israel live in his palace, learn their language and history, etc. Four of these were named Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel. For some reason, Daniel keeps his Hebrew name in the Bible while the other three are referred to by their Babylonian names (v. 7):
Hananiah – Shadrach
Mishael – Meshach
Azariah – Abed-nego
Daniel – Belteshazzar

Food was provided to them. We sometimes use this story as a Word of Wisdom tale, but it’s not that they were smoking and drinking coffee. They were eating food considered by Jews to be ritually impure (probably because it had been sacrificed to idols). v. 8 – Daniel didn’t want to defile himself. Still, there are some obvious parallels – they were setting themselves apart by their diet.

v. 10 – prince of the eunuchs is worried that they will get skinny and it will reflect poorly on him (you “endanger my head to the king”)

They propose a short test. They’ll eat vegetarian and drink only water for 10 days and then the prince of the eunuchs can determine if they’re better off with their own diet.

v. 17 – Reminiscent of the Word of Wisdom here, because they are blessed with knowledge and wisdom, blessings beyond just health.

Boyd K. Packer – “As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.”

How can we avoid assimilation with Babylon?

We’ll skip Chapter 2 today and go over it in depth next week. It’s so good it gets its own lesson.

We’ll come back to Chapter 3 at the end of the lesson.

Chapter 4 – More Dreams, interpreted by Daniel
Daniel interprets more of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, which foresee the king’s fall into madness

Chapter 5 – The Writing on the Wall
Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar takes over the kingdom and starts raiding the storehouse of things that used to be in the temple. While they reveled, a hand appeared and wrote something strange on the wall. He called all the usual wise men to interpret, but none could. The queen tells him about Daniel (v. 12). The king calls him in, offers him money (which Daniel refuses) and Daniel interprets the writing on the wall (v. 25-28). That’s the end of Belshazzar – he dies that night. (This is where the idiom “The writing’s on the wall” comes from.)

Chapter 6 – The Lions’ Den
New king: Darius. Daniel was in a position of power and the king liked him. This made the other leaders jealous and they sought a way to get rid of him. They realized (v. 5) that Daniel’s religion was his big weakness. So, they tricked the king into making an irreversible decree that no one can pray to anyone except the king himself for 30 days. Punishment: lion’s den.

v. 10 – Daniel still prayed to God, three times a day. The bad guys saw him praying and told the king. v. 14 – the king was “sore displeased with himself” and wished he could get Daniel out of it, but that darn decree was irreversible. v. 16 – I have to put you in the lions’ den but hopefully your God will deliver you. They put Daniel in and sealed the exit.

The king had a rough night – couldn’t sleep, eat or listen to music. He got up early and rushed down to the lion’s den.

vv. 20-23

Then the king made another decree, irreversible in a different way, that the guys who tricked him into trying to harm Daniel should be thrown into the same den of lions. v. 24 – “and the lions had mastery of them” before they even hit the ground.

Darius sent out another decree that worshiping Daniel’s God was a good idea for everyone.

What’s the message of this story?

Chapter 3 – The Furnace – “But If Not”
King Nebuchadnezzar sets up a 90-foot golden idol and gathered all the people together to see it. At the sound of the music, everyone had to bow and worship it. Punishment for non-compliance: death by fiery furnace. Everyone bowed except three young men: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They get ratted out by some people who have it in for the Jews. The king is furious and calls for them. He gives them one more chance (v. 15) – when the music plays, you guys better bow or it’s off the to furnace.

v. 16 – “we are not careful to answer thee” means “we don’t need to defend ourselves” or “we don’t need to answer you”. Bold words.

And here’s the key part of the story for me, vv. 17-18. Our God will deliver us, but if not we will still not serve thy gods.

Their response gives us something to think about, to evaluate our own faith against that phrase “but if not”.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:

“We will [not] always be rescued from proximate problems, but we will be rescued from everlasting death! Meanwhile, ultimate hope makes it possible to say the same three words used centuries ago by three valiant men. They knew God could rescue them from the fiery furnace if He chose. ‘But if not,’ they said, nevertheless, they would still serve Him!” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 45; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 35).

“But If Not” by Dennis E. Simmons, April 20014 Conference

The three young men quickly and confidently responded, “If it be so [if you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand.” That sounds like my eighth-grade kind of faith. But then they demonstrated that they fully understood what faith is. They continued, “But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”  That is a statement of true faith.

They knew that they could trust God—even if things didn’t turn out the way they hoped.  They knew that faith is more than mental assent, more than an acknowledgment that God lives. Faith is total trust in Him.

Faith is believing that although we do not understand all things, He does. Faith is knowing that although our power is limited, His is not. Faith in Jesus Christ consists of complete reliance on Him.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego knew they could always rely on Him because they knew His plan, and they knew that He does not change.  They knew, as we know, that mortality is not an accident of nature. It is a brief segment of the great plan 6 of our loving Father in Heaven to make it possible for us, His sons and daughters, to achieve the same blessings He enjoys, if we are willing.

They knew, as we know, that in our premortal life, we were instructed by Him as to the purpose of mortality: “We will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.”

One with immature faith might be willing to believe as long as God blesses him in the way he thinks God should, as long as the work progresses in a way that makes sense to himself. As long as fellow believers behave a certain way. As long as prophets and leaders don’t show too much human weakness. But what do we do when “but if not” situations happen?

Back to the story

The king is furious and commands the furnace to be stoked to 7 times its normal heat. The guards who open the door die from the burst of heat.

v. 24-25 – the king sees a 4th person on the furnace. King James translation is “like the Son of God”, but the Hebrew is more like “son of the gods” or “a divine being”. In v. 28 he refers to the 4th as an angel. He’s impressed by the deliverance and makes a decree that anyone who disses these three will be cut up. The three are promoted.

How will we respond when living our religion becomes more difficult?

All of these stories showcase people who showed courage and faith to do what was right, even at the risk of their own lives.

Dennis E. Simmons – April 2004 General Conference

Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not… . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.

Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.

Thomas S. Monson – 

The world can at times be a frightening place in which to live. The moral fabric of society seems to be unraveling at an alarming speed. None—whether young or old or in-between—is exempt from exposure to those things which have the potential to drag us down and destroy us. Our youth, our precious youth, in particular, face temptations we can scarcely comprehend. The adversary and his hosts seem to be working nonstop to cause our downfall.

We are waging a war with sin, my brothers and sisters, but we need not despair. It is a war we can and will win. Our Father in Heaven has given us the tools we need in order to do so. He is at the helm. We have nothing to fear. He is the God of light. He is the God of hope. I testify that He loves us—each one.