Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Christ On Trial

(Previous: "What Is The Law of the Land?")

It has been an informal custom of mine at Easter time to watch The Greatest Story Ever Told or King of Kings when they come on TV.  This is a tradition that goes back to when I used to watch these movies with my mother, and a tradition I've shared with my own children as they were growing up.  But in recent years, as I've grown to have an appreciation for the real Jesus, I've wondered if these films didn't actually do us all more harm than good.

There's little doubt that most of us pick up and retain lasting impressions from the biblical epics we watch, more so even than from our readings of scripture. And while the Jesus I came to know from these movies is good and heroic and noble and perfect, there is one attribute I never felt from either of these incarnations.  Neither the Jesus from The Greatest Story Ever Told, nor the Jesus portrayed in King of Kings seemed to me particularly approachable.

The Jesus I was exposed to in these classic films, and later through Franco Zeffirelli's magnificent Jesus of Nazareth, inspired awe and admiration for sure, but something was lacking.  Jesus always came off as very somber and serious.  Every miracle was performed to an accompanied swell of music as though it was a very big deal every time he lifted his arm. Impressive? By all means.  But where was the joy in his face, the unmistakable charisma that attracted those throngs of people to him?  I just didn't see it.  With these films as my guide growing up, Jesus inspired awe, but he never really clicked with me on a personal level.  He seemed humorless and distant.  Not exactly someone I would feel comfortable sitting with for an hour.  If Jesus were to show up at my door, I was sure I wouldn't be able to think of anything to talk with him about.

As I grew into a teenage boy with all the angst and problems of young adolescence, I realized I would no more enjoy being in the presence of Jesus than I was at my yearly Aaronic priesthood interview with the bishop.  And oh, how I dreaded those interviews!  I knew that Jesus, like the bishop, had the ability to look into my eyes and know my embarrassing 13-year-old secret boy sins.  I admired the Lord. I loved him and respected him.  I even feared him.  But was I really looking forward to meeting with him? Nope.

Thank goodness I wouldn't have to face him until I died.  No need to die of embarrassment before that.

In recent years I have learned to let these movies go. They may have been good for one or two viewings, but I realize that repeated exposure to them may have warped my vision, and worse, warped my children's vision. The Jesus of the movies is perfect, yes, but he is also distant, unapproachable, and sometimes scary.  This is not the Savior I should have taught my children about. I've learned in recent years that the real Jesus is much more a friend than I had ever imagined, and actually spending a few minutes with the real Jesus in casual conversation would be a delight.

So these days as Easter rolls around I seek other things besides these movies, something to read or listen to that actually brings Christ closer, that aids in my appreciation for His infinite love.  I have elsewhere in this forum recommended Cleon Skousen's classic talk The Meaning of the Atonement, to give one excellent example. And this year I read a remarkable piece of fiction: Christ On Trial: An Easter Hymn by Paul Toscano.

The story centers on a young attorney, Clifford Harward, married with a couple of kids, who chokes on a fish bone and dies.

During his time out of body, Cliff has a near-death experience where he meets Jesus, who has an interesting request. It seems Jesus has recently been charged by Satan with the crime of blasphemy, and Clifford Harward is the lawyer Jesus wants to represent him at trial.  The trial is to take place on some other dimensional plane, and the prosecutor Cliff will be going up against will be Satan himself.  The trial will be completed in one day, each side will present only three witnesses each, and the defendant, Jesus, will not be testifying on his own behalf.  Further, Cliff will not have the opportunity to voi dire the jury, as jury selection has already been conducted by the prosecutor. It looks like a bit of an uphill climb.

Cliff Harward is not a particularly religious man -he doesn't even attend church. On top of all that, Cliff is not a trial attorney, he's a bankruptcy attorney, which means he has virtually no experience in open court.  And if Cliff loses this case, the penalty his client faces is death. Again. Only this time permanently.

So there's that.

In spite of Cliff's reluctance, the defendant persuades Cliff to take the case, and Cliff is returned to his body in the hospital.  He has only weeks to prepare. 

As far as I'm aware, this is Toscano's first work of fiction, and he uses the story as a framing device to explore some of the pervasive misconceptions about Jesus that are held by many who claim a belief in Christ.  Although the story is not Mormon-centric, it's easy to see many of our own among those who have created a god in the image we assume him to be, such as with this exchange featuring George Hobson, one of the prosecution's witnesses. George is a modern middle class man who has had some success in life, for which he credits his strong religious beliefs. He has been asked about the benefits of his religion:
I think religion taught me the meaning of hard work. There are a lot of similarities between religion and business.”
Would you please explain this?” said the prosecutor. “I'm sure we'd all be interested in your views.”
Well,” said George, evidently flattered to find someone interested in his opinion, “the main thing is that nothing in this world is free. There's no free lunch, so to speak. What a man gets is what a man earns.”
And how do you derive this teaching from the defendant's religion? asked the prosecutor.
It's all through it,” said George, in a tone that suggested that it was obvious for anyone to see. “The whole point of it is that if you work hard and keep your nose clean, God will back you up. It’s the same kind of principle you find in the army—you work hard, you keep the rules, and the army takes care of you.”
Has the defendant taken care of you?” probed the prosecutor.
He takes care of the people who take care of themselves. I've worked hard, and I take care of my family so that we're not a burden on anybody.  He takes care of people who take care of themselves,” said George firmly.
And what about people who are less fortunate than yourself?” asked the prosecutor.
Most unfortunates I've met lack initiative. If they had initiative, they'd get educated and make their own opportunities,” said George. And then he added quickly: “Don't get me wrong. I contribute to my church and give to the United Way and that kind of thing. But nothing is really going to happen for people unless they make it happen.”
How does the defendant fit into your belief?” asked the prosecutor.
I'm afraid I don't understand your question,” replied George.
Let me put it another way,” said the prosecutor patiently. “What, in your view, is the defendant doing for the poor?”
I think he encourages them to stand on their own two feet. And he gives them examples,” said George.
Examples?” said the prosecutor, as if he were confused.
Sure,” smiled George, leaning back a little. “People who are successful are examples. I don't have a college degree or professional training. And if I can do it, anybody can do it. After all, we live in America. People here can make something of themselves if they have initiative.”
And you learned this view from the defendant?” asked the prosecutor slyly.
You bet, I did,” cried George. “That's how the system works. I go to church and I make a contract. I keep my nose clean, work hard, be responsible, and I get the dividends.
I don't know exactly how other people look at it, but my view is that God wipes the slate clean. He clears all your debts, so to speak. Then, he becomes your creditor. After that, it's like insurance. You pay the premiums; and when trouble comes, you can rely on the coverage,” said George.
 [George is asked about the blessings in his life; his good fortune, his family, and his children's successes.]
And do you feel gratitude to the defendant for all this?” asked the prosecutor.
Sure, I feel gratitude,” said George expansively. “We've worked hard, and we have a lot of things to be thankful for.”
I think a lot of us Mormons hold the George Hobson view of the gospel, although it is not supported anywhere in scripture.  We spend our lives trying our best to do everything right; we attend church, hold family home evening, pay our tithing, go to the temple.  We work hard, keep our nose clean, and hold up our end of the bargain. Yet more likely than not, somewhere along the line things often fall apart.  We wonder why God has decided not to hold up his end, and we feel betrayed.  Reading this passage from Christ On Trial reminded me of the days when I thought this was the way it was supposed to work.

All Things Will Work Together To Unravel For Good
As a child of the fifties growing up on Zorro, Davy Crockett, and The Mickey Mouse Club, I had one ambition in life from the time I was seven years old. When I grew up I wanted to work at Disneyland.  Happily, this was an achievable ambition, because the house in Anaheim I grew up in was located exactly one mile from Disneyland, and on the very same street.  I could walk there.

When I turned eighteen I auditioned for the Christmas season of Fantasy on Parade, landing a part as a gypsy puppeteer in the Pinocchio unit.  After that I was cast in the Cinderella unit in the first Main Street Electrical Parade, and when that ended, because I was tall and thin, I was offered a slot in the character department, where I would roam the park in costume as Goofy, Captain Hook, and the Big Bad Wolf.

Now I was on my way.  The character department was often a stepping stone into supervisory and management positions in Disneyland's Entertainment Department, where a guy with ambition and the right connections could eventually end up overseeing parades and special events.  I had the ambition and I was developing the connections. The man who was to become my mentor, the director of the first Electrical Parade, began feeding me assignments here and there within the department that sent me to Los Angeles for special Disney themed events.

I liked these events because more often than not I got to wear a tie and an official looking blazer with the Disney logo on the pocket, which gave me a certain cachet. Sometimes I got to hobnob with the stars. One time late at night in an empty theater lobby Jack Gilardi and his wife, Annette Funicello, wandered over to where I was standing just to chat with me about the deteriorating quality of Disney movies since Walt Disney had died (this was the era of such duds as Superdad, Charlie and the Angel, and The World's Greatest Athlete). Lionel Hampton's band members invited me to hang out with them on the rest of their L.A. tour, and I got to ride with Lionel himself in the back of his limo. Debbie Reynolds told me of her plans to one day open a Hollywood Motion Picture Museum. I chatted with James Garner on set at Disney Studios and was surprised that in person his makeup looked orange. Another time I saw Fred MacMurray without makeup and was surprised how old and ordinary he looked in person.  I stood next to another old man on the set of "Pete's Dragon," and didn't recognize him as Mickey Rooney until he spoke. Red Skelton once told me a joke.  I wish I could remember it, but the whole time he was talking all I could think about was "Red Skelton is telling ME a joke!"  I was even at the Academy Awards one year, watching on a monitor backstage as Sacheen Littlefeather made her notorious protest speech in accepting the Best Actor award for Marlon Brando.

This was the life I wanted. I was climbing the Disney corporate ladder, and it was only the beginning. Then at 21, a time when most of the other guys my age were returning home from their missions, I suddenly felt compelled to go myself, so I put in for my call.  I didn't worry about my career at Disney; it would be there when I got back. I was assured of that by my mentor.  I would be able to slip right back in where I left off.  Besides, I was on speaking terms with the Vice President of Disneyland's entire entertainment division, a man so high up the chain that most of my co-workers had never even met him.

I had my connections in place. Of course, chief among them was the Lord Himself, who I knew would shower blessings upon me when I got back because I was putting him first by serving a mission.

I was called to the Missouri-Independence Mission, and when I found myself in Marceline, Missouri, Walt Disney's boyhood town, I asked the postmaster if there were any remaining commemoratives of the Walt Disney stamp that had been first issued from that post office back in 1968.  He went to the vault and came back with the last ones: 6 blocks of four.  I bought them all for their face value of six cents each, along with the two remaining First Day Covers.  I sent a block of stamps and one of the covers to Disneyland's VP of Entertainment as a gift, along with a note telling him where I got them and that they were the last ones ever.  He wrote me back an effusive thank you note and told me to be sure and stop in and see him when I got back.

I was in the catbird seat. When I got back, I'd certainly be leapfrogged into a comfortable position on the Disney corporate ladder.

But when I returned home in the spring of 1975, I was stunned to learn that the VP had resigned from Disney and gone to Washington to produce America's national bicentennial celebration coming up the following year.  Shortly after that, my friend and mentor left the company.  This was unexpected.  I knew other people in management, but we weren't close, so the plum assignments I had hoped to get when I came home were going to others.  There was still a place for me in costume, and I was welcome to work Disneyland's Bicentennial parade, but the sad reality was that by leaving for my mission, I had lost my place in line.  Had I stayed I would be further up the corporate ladder, but by choosing to serve the Lord first, I had shot my career in the foot.  None of this made sense. What was going on here?

I stayed on at Disneyland for another two years going nowhere, and finally quit in frustration. Opportunities eventually led me to Provo, but for years I puzzled over why God had let me down so thoroughly.  Hadn't I proven myself by serving a mission? Paying tithing? Doing everything I was supposed to? So why didn't God hold up his end of the bargain?

In the end, things worked out for me, because if I had stayed at Disneyland I would have never ended up in Provo where I eventually met my wife Connie, the woman who is my soul mate.  Sometimes God doesn't give us what we want, but he'll give us what we deserve.  So I had to give up the career of my dreams in order to get the girl of my dreams.  I'm happy with that trade.

But I got off lucky compared to others.  Buying into this idea that "I'll do this for God, then He'll do this for me" can be devastating for people when they get hit with the double whammies of life.  If you live long enough you may learn that even though you do everything you're supposed to do, God can make no guarantees.  Jobs are still lost, illness intrudes, careers evaporate, divorces occur, fortunes disappear, children go astray. Sometimes our children even die.  When we've done everything we knew we were supposed to do, yet life becomes one disaster after another, we wonder why God let us down.  Why did he fail to hold up his end of the bargain?

Rarely do we ask ourselves "What bargain?"

Getting Him Wrong
I few years back I saw a movie based on the real life experience of one Neale Donald Walsch.  Walsch had been praying fervently for months, then one day, he says, God started talking to him in his head. He grabbed a legal pad and began writing down what he was hearing.  It was compiled into a book and published under the title "Conversations With God."

Now, like any good Latter-day Saint, I'm conditioned to be skeptical of anyone claiming to get messages from God, especially if those messages have not come down through "the proper channels." But I'm less inclined than I used to be to dismiss such things out of hand, particularly when I know nothing about them. (These days my skepticism is more acute toward those who claim divine revelation yet don't produce anything at all.)

At any rate, I have never read Conversations With God, so I'm not qualified to render either judgment or an opinion.  All I did was watch the movie. And in this movie, Walsch is sharing his experience with a group of people and taking questions from the audience.  A woman asks if God has a message for humanity that Walsch can encapsulate in about a paragraph.  Walsch replies, "I can put it in five words: 'You've got me all wrong.' "

Most of us have got God all wrong.  If we don't imagine him as a magical being who bestows automatic blessings on those who work hard and keep their noses clean, we picture him as some version of The Great And Powerful Oz, who we must approach with fear and trepidation and who demands the performance of an endless list of chores before he'll grant our wishes.  Rather than simply allow Jesus to draw close to us, we deliberately keep him at a distance by carefully checking the proper format of our prayers instead of letting them flow naturally from our hearts.  We consciously sprinkle our prayers with archaic "thee's" and "thou's," using a language Jesus never spoke himself, because we believe he is keen on formality.

Paul Toscano, Author of Christ On Trial, has been been interested most of his life in the true attributes of Christ.  As editor of the Ensign magazine in the 1970's you could expect an article with his byline to contain more meat than usual. Later, he co-authored a book with his wife, Margaret, Strangers In Paradox: Explorations In Mormon Theology. That book introduced me to the reality that the religion of my youth was much broader, deeper, expansive, and wonderful than I had ever imagined. 

Born into a devout Sicilian Catholic family from Southern California, Toscano joined the LDS church in high school and almost immediately moved to Utah to attend BYU.  From the beginning Paul was intrigued by the differences between the static, iconic Jesus of the Catholic religion and the living Jesus as revealed through the Restoration.  At an age when the most pressing religious question in my own life was what shirt I was going to wear to the stake dance, Paul Toscano was already contemplating the mystery of Godliness.  As he stated in an interview in 2007:
“I didn’t leave my family in California to join Mormonism so that I could run across the recreation hall with a spoon in my mouth and an egg and sit on a balloon.  I was interested in the revelations from God through Joseph Smith. That’s what I was converted to...I became intrigued with Mormon doctrine.  I was interested more in the teachings." 
In Christ on Trial, Toscano uses the trial as a way to introduce ideas about Christ and man's relationship to Him.  Although the story is not overtly "Mormon" (there is no hint that the main characters might be LDS), the astute Mormon reader will find much within it that rings familiar.  And much more still from LDS teachings that many of us have forgotten, or perhaps never learned in the first place.  In addition to the surprises that surface during the trial, the discussions that take place during recess between Cliff, his wife, and the defendant are extremely illuminating.

Contrary to what you might expect, the trial does not go well. Halfway through the day, Cliff is incapable of thinking of effective ways to impeach the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses during cross examination.  The whole thing is turning into a disaster, though Cliff can't tell what the defendant is thinking about his efforts one way or the other.  Is he worried about the outcome? Cliff can't tell.

Cliff is clearly out-gunned by the prosecution, who comes off making more sense sometimes than we'd like him to. We tend to forget that long before he rebelled against God and became the dark lord of the underworld, Lucifer was a being of light and virtue who wanted what most of us want: to see good triumph and evil destroyed.  This version of Satan is unexpected; we are not used to thinking of him like this. Far from a devious manipulator, the prosecutor reveals himself as he must have seemed long ago: a valiant champion of all that is right and good and noble.

We get a taste for how persuasive the Son of the Morning must have been in the pre-existence, as the prosecutor argues in favor of good winning over evil. It is a compelling argument most of us would find ourselves agreeing with if we didn't know who was promoting it.  Further questions are raised such as why is it that Jesus demands all this attention for himself?  Why does the defendant insist that mankind "come unto him" first, instead of simply abiding by the principles of love and kindness?  Doesn't it make more sense that people be allowed to simply live by the great principle of love, and put all else second?  Why should we worship this megalomaniac who claims to be our god, and why does he demand our love? Which is greater, Christ or love?

Toscano weaves the answers to these questions within the narrative, but we are kept guessing as to how it all will end until the very last. There are twists and turns a-plenty, as just when you think things are going one way, the author pulls a surprise.  I wasn't even close to the end of the book before I was caught up short, a sudden awareness of the magnificent love of Christ as my eyes filled with tears and I had to pause just to allow myself to bathe in what I had just experienced.  This is an amazing story, and incredibly moving.  At only 288 pages, it would make perfect reading for a Sunday afternoon.

Christ on Trial: An Easter Hymn is available at Amazon for the Kindle, or you can get it at Barnes & Noble which should work for all other e-reader formats. The price is a very low $4.14.  All you do is download it onto your computer or other device.    In order to make the book inexpensive and easily accessible, it was has not been published in a hardcopy edition. 

If you'd like an effective way to cut through the ubiquitous chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps this Easter and truly be spiritually fed, you couldn't do much better than this. This is the way to spend your Easter.

I have one more Disneyland story that I think is worth telling.  In 1980 I was shown a Kodak photo of a couple of pre-teen kids at Disneyand posing for a picture with Goofy. The guy inside that Goofy costume is me, though of course I have no memory of that photo being taken.  I posed for hundreds of such photos each day.  I wish I could reproduce that picture for you here, but it has been lost to time.

Ordinarily it would be impossible to tell who's actually in that costume, because depending on the shift or the day of the week, there were at least three of us members of "The Zoo Crew" available to play a particular character any given week. But this picture was taken in late 1972, an election year when Disneyland was running a mock promotional campaign promoting Winnie the Pooh for President.  I had taken to wearing a Pooh For President button on every costume I wore that summer, and that pin is visible in that photo on Goofy's blue vest.  I was the only character who wore the pin on his costumes; none of the other guys was that zealous.  That's how I know it's me in there with one arm around that boy and another around his sister. 

From the day and date stamped on the photo, I could pretty well tell what was going on in my life at the exact time that picture was taken.  I had been in love with a girl named Marie from Santa Ana whom I'd met at a Young Adults regional activity. I was twenty years old, she was nineteen, and we were at the point where we were seriously talking marriage.  A few weeks previous to when this photo was taken, Marie, who had been working as a waitress at Marie Callender's, had found a better paying job selling cookware.  One day she admitted to having fallen in love with her new boss, and we were over.

I was shattered. Worst of all, the guy Marie was leaving me for was not LDS, so I was convinced she was not only dumping me, but throwing away her eternal salvation as well. I grieved over her as though she had died.  For a long time it was difficult for me to be at work in that silly costume, flopping around in those oversize shoes and shouting "Gawrsh!" in my Goofy voice.  Sometimes at "The Happiest Place On Earth," posing with my arms around tourists like those kids in the picture, I would be thinking about the loss of Marie and my eyes would start filling with tears.  I was spared public humiliation only because no one could see my real eyes inside that giant Goofy head. It was a rough time for me. I had lost my true love. There would never be another.

So, back to that photograph. The picture was taken by the father of those kids on the family's first and only vacation to Disneyland. The beaming boy on my left is Robert Bradfield, ten years old, from Provo, Utah.  My right arm is around the shoulder of Robert's smiling sister; a tall, gangly, freckle-faced twelve year old.  Eight years after that photo was taken, I met that girl again and she became my wife.



Anonymous said...

Our 3 year old son, when he prays now, he just tells stories to Heavenly Father about what he had been doing that day or what he is thinking about. He used to pray like most people do. I love the way he now prays. He has a real conversation with his Father. I wish I did that naturally. It is the most beautiful thing.

He is God, but He is also our Father. Probably the coolest one and we don't even know it. This may sound strange, but I'm gonna type it anyways. As I just wrote this paragraph, the idea came to me, if God is my father, then why don't we have some father-son time? Why don't I invite him to a baseball game? Probably because he would have better things to do...but I'm sure with his time, he would love to go to a baseball game with me (or any of us) and hang out, be friends, enjoy time together. Maybe we should have personal time with our Father and invite him to something, and really do it.

Maybe we might actually develop a real, full relationship. I know that my relationship has only two pillars: rigid mostly repetitive prayers and when I serve others and feel a spiritual connection emotionally with him.

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for sharing your story. I loved hearing it. For I grew up in your ward too, 1 mile from Disneyland. I went there all the time growing up, it was like the city park to me. Only 75 cents to get in!

You were probably about 10 years older than me, so you probably wouldn't have remembered me or my family. It sounds like I'm about 2 years younger than your wife. But I remember your parents & what house was yours.

I always wanted to work at Disneyland too, my dream was to try out for 'Snow White'. But my family moved to Utah when I was 15, so that ended that dream.

But I wanted to say, that though Heavenly Father can't promise & give us everything we want in 'this' life, for our valiancy, I believe he does promise & guarantee us that we will have 'everything' we want in the next life, (if it's a righteous thing), if we are valiant in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I like the quote from Pres. Packer:

"There are three parts to the plan. You are in the second or the middle part, the one in which you will be tested by temptation, by trials, perhaps by tragedy...,
Remember this! The line 'And they all lived happily ever after' is never written into the second act of a play. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right."
Elder Packer, Satellite broadcast, 7 May 1995, 1-2.

yogalife24 said...

I loved this post! Thank you! This book seems very "C.S. Lewis"-esque. A unique perspective that removes blindness from eyes and minds. We will add this book to our Easter reading this season.

Another I would offer is: "Come, Let Us Adore Him" by Denver Snuffer. It is a regular for Christmas and Easter in this home. Heartbreakingly poignant. To coin your phrase, so well written above, "...I wasn't even close to the end of the book before I was caught up short, a sudden awareness of the magnificent love of Christ as my eyes filled with tears and I had to pause just to allow myself to bathe in what I had just experienced."

Amen, Brother Alan, Amen!

Alan Rock Waterman said...

I wish you had told me who you were. My memory is not what it was (especially regarding kids much younger than me)but I probably did know your family. If you wish to remain anonymous, please email me directly at or look me up on Facebook.

I actually do believe we can have everything we righteously deserve in this life. I don't believe we are forced to wait until the next. But what I have learned, as I pointed out in the article, is that if we believe that just because we are doing what we believe God wants of us, there is no "bargain" that he has agreed to. Those who get caught up in the belief that God owes them for their righteousness risk a crisis of faith when things go wrong.

But truly, If we "pray always, and be believing, all things will work together for [our]good." That doesn't mean, of course, that all things will turn out the way we expect, but they do work together for our good.

Matthew said...

The story of that last photo is absolutely priceless!

Jeremiah Stoddard said...

Okay, I just purchased the book. I'm not exactly wealthy these days, but it's worth five bucks for something that might help me appreciate Jesus a little more. Paul Toscano's an interesting enough person in the first place; between that and your recommendation, buying the book's a no brainer...

John Penn said...


As always, you've hit a nerve. I love Paul and his Christology even more. It is as deep and love-centric as anything I've ever heard. I've tinkered with the notion to purchase this book in particular. I have a long trip on Easter Sunday, sounds like I just filled my time in the car.

Steven Lester said...

Well, stuff about you that I never knew before. Concerning Disneyland, I wonder if when you worked there you knew of a person named Andy Palumbo? He was my friend when we were both in the Air Force ROTC program. He started by driving the parking lot trams, and then moved into some sort of management position the last time I saw him and spoke with him. He was a very handsome and kind-hearted person who was seemingly quite popular amongst the crews there. He had to be kind-hearted to have been my friend. After I die, I plan on looking him up and seeing whatever his life had been like over the years.

Personally, I am quite unable to pray to "Father" because I have absolutely no idea (or no memory) of what or who He is.

As for Joshua, His most favored son, I have imagined watching him talk to a large group within which I am, and feeling absolutely not a drop of affinity with him. Mr. Success in everything he does, perfect of face and body, heroic soldier who never shrank from pain or suffering, even when he could, beloved son of a God literally, who always won against the most terrible of foes. I have nothing in common with him, except possibly in cameo. When I could do it without being noticed, I would turn and walk away, because it would have been a really big crowd, so worthy of admiration would he be. This is because the closer I was to him, the more accused I would feel, and who needs the pain from that? Love? I don't think so. Frankly, in a way, I consider him to be rather trapped by his perfection, and for that reason I do feel sorry for him. I'm sure he doesn't feel that way, but then how could he?

Alan Rock Waterman said...

You write "the closer I was to him, the more accused I would feel, and who needs the pain from that?"

You appear to be a victim of your upbringing and conditioning. We are taught that Jesus will judge us at the last day, and we interpret that to mean he will condemn us. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one you'll ever meet will be more accepting of you just the way you are.

As for your question of who the Father is, Paul Toscano discusses that by citing sources found in Mormon scriptures and teachings in his book "Strangers in Paradox. In the past century we've managed to muddy that up pretty good too, but the early Saints didn't seem to have the difficulty with the concept that we do. If you go back to our roots and the early teachings, it's perfectly clear.

Di said...

Love the Disney photo story.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Steven, I forgot to mention that no, I don't remember Andy Palumbo. Heck, I don't remember most of the people in my own department.

John and Jennifer said...

Seeing Jesus as unapproachable and distant really does get in the way. Thanks for pointing out one of my stumbling blocks. Oh, if I could just go back and be a child again.

Jeremiah Stoddard said...

I loved Toscano's book, "Christ on Trial." After reading it, I second Rock's recommendation. It's not for everyone, of course; I can think of a few members I know who would take offense at some of the ideas inside. If you're reading this blog, though, you can probably handle it. ;)

Unknown said...

Thank you for mentioning "Christ on Trial."
I enjoyed it very much.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to look into the book by Toscano. First, however, I need to have some background on Toscano, because unless I know something about the author and feel comfortable with him as a person, I'm not really interested in reading what he has to say. In other words, the reputation has to precede the trust. I AM positive about this, however. And that is that none of us really knows who Jesus is fully. I have found that the more I try to "be like Him" I feel that I know Him a little better. Maybe that's how we come to know him in the end, anyways. Just as Jesus only did what he saw His Father do, and He is one with the Father, the only way we can really know Him is to do His works. To do what we know He did. Problem is, we need to know what he really did! Much was revealed in the early Mormon church about the nature of God and the truth about Jesus which is kept from the general church membership today. I don't know how anyone in the current LDS church can really know Jesus if you are kept from knowing "what he did"!!! So I am left to study the words of the early prophets, seers and revelators - their journals and discourses - to learn what Jesus did do that was exactly as His Father did. I hope this makes some kind of sense to someone! Winnie

Alan Rock Waterman said...

I linked to the excellent six part interview that John Dehlin conducted with Paul Toscano in the body of the piece, but if you missed it, here it is:

This should give you some excellent insight into the author. I can't think of a better place to start, other than his writings.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rock. I'm one of those Mormons (not active because I believe the current church leadership have abondoned ship) who believes in the restoration, Joseph Smith and all that was revealed from the heavens at that time. We part ways where you and John Dehlin believe that Brigham young was a wicked man who promulgated the practice of plural marriage on his own and not because Joseph Smith received the law and lived it under direct command from God. There are other very important doctrinal differences we have, such as restrictions on Priesthood, etc., as well That being said, I believe that in due time we'll all know the truth, whatever it is (because nobody knows all the truth). I'll look into the video you recommended. Winnie

Anonymous said...

I just viewed all 6 parts of the above video. I enjoyed getting to know Paul a little bit. Although I don't agree with his theology exactly (but again, who really knows Jesus Christ until He reveals himself to us), I thought he made several thought-provoking points which I appreciate and have taken in. Winnie

Anonymous said...

This was awesome Alan I hope you don't mind me quoting you a lil bit on my blog. I remember sitting in a priesthood meeting on my mission and hearing another missionary recount a story of how before he left on his mission he was in deep financial trouble and how he prayed to the lord and informed the lord that he had payed his tithing, and then proceeded to ask for monetary blessings. His testimony was that he received his blessings, so that meant that god always held up his end of the bargin. Now 8 months later im strongly compelled to ask what bargin? where in the scriptures does the lord say if you give the church ten percent of your earnings, you will be blessed with more money?

Alan Rock Waterman said...

That's an impressive blog you have there, Joseph. Consider me a new follower.

Anonymous said...

‘Well, how ‘bout that’ stories are interesting indeed. Paul Toscano and I served on our missions in Italy at the same time. That's my story story. But I liked yours better about how you later met that same girl who ended up becoming your wife. I suppose truth is sometimes stranger than ficiton. Like the Mormon church’s ‘story’, which to a lot of people becomes so stilted it eventually turns them around to tell their story as: “Well, that ‘bout does it.”

Anonymous said...


When are going to post a new blog? I have been waiting very impatiently to read your next excellent perspective.

-Ben Horton

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Soon, Ben. And thanks for your interest. We have had some health problems around here that have kept us both off-kilter for the past little while, but look for a new post within the week.

Fusion said...

Hi Rock,

Loved the article, and like Ben above, I am eagerly anticipating your next effort. In fact, I pretty much check every day in hopes that you have written something new.

After reading 'Why Mormon history is not what they say', I am positive that a similar article is required on whether or not the Temple ceremony we have now in the Church (TM) is sincerely the one Joseph taught and administered to the early saints- ie, the ORIGINAL and real Endowment. Since my first visit to the Temple as a missionary (I had just joined the Church a year earlier, but at age 25 was persuaded to go on a mission), I have a suspicion that Brigham Young did not teach the true endowment, but a masonic one instead to appease his fellow masons and his own ego. Is there any evidence that Joseph taught these things we have today, which may be influenced by masonic concepts? Or is it, as I feel, a product of Brigham's uninspired mind? Is the LDS endowment another avenue to establish Brighamite-weird concepts like polygamy and the Adam-God theory, amongst others?

Would love to hear from anyone about this, if anyone has info on the ORIGINAL Endowment, of Joseph Smith. And, were garments something Joseph instated or Brigham?

Much love

Anonymous said...

Is there really any proof that Joseph taught an endowment ceremony at all?

Alan Rock Waterman said...

I share your questions about the temple endowment, Robert. Scott Anderson has put out a book, "The Development of LDS Temple Worship" that I would very much like to get, but at $32.97, that price is a bit steep for me right now. I wonder if that book would contain some answers.

I do own David Buerger's "Mysteries of Godliness" which reveals that the practice of wearing the garment night and day was not always done. On page 146 he shows that the temple garment was originally worn only on special occasions. I assume that meant during priesthood ordinances. It was George A. Smith who suggested it be worn all the times as a protection, but he was no one in authority, just a guy with an idea (This was not George Albert Smith, later president, but a different George A. Smith).

My own opinion is that Smith's suggestion has given the garment superstitious powers of "protection" in the minds of members that it was never meant to obtain, resulting in the ridicule we now endure over our "magic underwear."

We only have Brigham's word that he got the endowment word for word directly from Brother Joseph, but I'm a bit skeptical, since after Joseph's death Brigham even changed the architecture of the Nauvoo temple from the design Joseph originally authorized. Add to that the completely new weddings held in secret, and I begin to wonder how much if any of that would have been sanctioned by Joseph Smith. Certainly the Kirtland temple was not put to such uses.

I think poor Joseph gets blamed for a lot of stuff he never had anything to do with. It wasn't even his idea to have a masonic lodge in Nauvoo; that was pushed by John C. Bennett, who turned out to be a guy willing to stab his friends for his own ambitions. No question that Brigham took to masonic ju-ju like a duck to water.

My understanding of the endowment under Joseph Smith was a simple blessing of sorts extended to those about to embark on missions, and nothing like our ritual today. How about it, reader? Does anyone have any thoughts?

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Other than the formal sendoff for missionaries of the day, I don't think so. Brigham Young said Joseph taught it to him, and we seem to have taken his word for it. Seems odd to me, as Brigham was ever away on missions. When exactly did this take place, and did Brigham Young have such a good memory that he could retain every word

Fusion said...

Thanks Rock.

You know, the more I think of Brigham, the more I feel the LDS Church is of Utah-nite origin ie not truly of Joseph Smith, and that Brig was nothing less than an opportunist, and in fact perhaps a lot more. I feel he is the one who may hold the 'keys' to all the real truth in this, our almost-two-century decay as a church of truth. A decay that has been continuing since Brigham rounded up the poor early Saints to the Rockies. I said to my wife years ago when we first got married, that no matter what I did, I NEVER got a witness to Brigham being a prophet. Now that I am learning so much to the affirmative, I also said this lately to a couple of friends in the church and was very surprised that they don't seem to be my friends anymore ;) In fact, one of my closest friends since I returned from my mission in '99, has kept serious distance from me since I sent links over to your 'Abandoning polygamy' and Zomarah's 'Thomas S. Monson is a prophet...' (fantastic) articles. You guys are costing me my friends! ;)

Anyway, in terms of the endowment- I feel strongly that our present endowment just isn't right. When I went through for the first time in New Zealand's MTC, I shuddered from head to toe and wanted to run out, BAD- in fact, I was weeping in fear and a kind of shame. And I am definitely not known for my fear in situations like these, quite the contrary. But this was downright heavy, and very disturbing. Anyway, that night I had one of the worst, weirdest nightmares (won't talk about it here as I don't want to freak anyone out) which culminated in hearing a loud voice in the middle of the night promising by name to 'get me', which woke me up. Very strangely, I looked down at one of my companions and he was crying, shaking in fear. I asked him if he was awake and he sobbed that he was awoken, 'hearing an evil voice'. This is something I have never been able to forget. Much more followed, but I digress.

I truly struggled with the Temple that first time but went back in a week determined to not let it beat me. It was no different, but I persisted. Since then I have been many times and even accepted that perhaps it's a case of me, the wicked, finding truth too hard to bear. So I just gritted my teeth and learned to love it. However, the feelings never left. The last couple of years I have experienced a new awakening, and in turn, in the Temple something completely new- I simply can not stay awake at the temple, no matter what. I sleep almost the whole couple of hours- I mean, gosh, the depth of sleep is unbelievable. My poor Wife is completely embarrassed, and tells me the men are elbowing trying to wake me up, to no avail. So much so that I have stopped going coz it is just a waste of time and just unexplainable- after all as a professional musician/composer, I can often go days without sleep. Hmm, maybe it is the Spirit...and He's trying to teach me another line, another precept...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rock, that's what I thought. I highly doubt that the ceremony came from Joseph at all.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

I don't feel Brigham was an opportunist. I'm inclined to the view that he and the others who embraced polygamy were very sincere in their beliefs, and perhaps even a bit frustrated that Joseph wasn't coming on board.

When you think about the enticements of the Cochranite practice, you can see how appealing living as the Patriarchs did would be to those newly exposed to a restoration of all things. It would seem to fit right in. So I don't doubt the sincerity of those who came to embrace the principle.

It still remains, however, that Brigham Young was not a prophet, and he specifically claimed that he was not. He was sustained as president of the Twelve, and not as the successor to Joseph Smith as prophet, seer and revelator. But I don't think he was out to trick anyone. It is only our modern distorted view of him that places him on a pedestal as the mouthpiece of God. He was known as The Lion of the Lord for his take-charge ability to lead, but not as The Mouthpiece of the Lord.

Coltharp Golden Years! said...

It's interesting how we vary in our perspectives and spiritual experiences on an issue. I, myself, have felt the power of the Holy Ghost testify on many occasions that Brigham Young was speaking by the Holy Ghost (you can't say "by the spirit", you have to say by the Holy Ghost, because there are many spirits, and our job is to learn to discern the spirits and discern truth). He declared many times that he was speaking in the name of the Lord, and not only have I felt that about him as a person, but about the doctrine he taught. I think people give Brigham Young a bad rap. While he did declare that he was not a prophet, I believe he was speaking in the context that he didn't want people comparing him to THE prophet, Joseph Smith. He felt very inadequate in that area. However, when you look at the definition of what a prophet is, you'll see that he was a prophet, as are any of us who speak by the spirit of revelation. There's one bright star in all of this, and that is that some day we'll all know the truth and won't need to "wonder" anymore.

Anonymous said...

That ending with you dressed as goofy and your future wife at your side is worthy of a Disney movie in itself. Beautiful stuff Rock. I'm an old romantic I guess.

dsds said...
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R. Metz said...

vabna islam; even muslims seem to visit this blog. Is there not a moderator operating here? This is coming from behind a cow.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Right you are, Mr Metz; finding and weeding out the spam is a constant chore; I often don't see them coming.

My piece on Temple Marriage seems to get the most outrageous spam, since whatever algorithm attracts them seem to be older pieces with the word "marriage" in them. Not a week goes by where someone comes on with a long paragraph on how some african witch doctor cast a spell on her philandering husband that got the husband to love her again and come back.

These comments were actually pretty entertaining. So if you catch them before I do, you're welcome to enjoy the read.

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