Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reflections: That Ye May Believe

That Ye May Believe by Neal A. Maxwell
That Ye May Believe has a wonderful premise; to wit, Neal A. Maxwell wanted to write letters to his grandchildren "as if they were older."  He said "while my answers do not now intersect with their present capacity to so ask questions, it seemed desirable to attempt a blend of anticipation, affection, and counsel."  I adore this idea.  In some ways this little book is a blog before blogs came into existence; albeit, a blog written a whole lot better than most.  Neal A. Maxwell's intellect shows through these brief letters, yes, but so does his sentimentality.

That Ye May Believe as a book is somewhat problematic by definition.  These letterssome several pages in length, others only a few paragraphsoften left me wanting more.  Maxwell was a brilliant writer, thinker, and spiritually influential leader.  I loved reading his commentaries on usually ignored topics.  Someone like Maxwell wouldn'tand rightly sofocus on some of the more mundane topics in his public speeches.  However, his insights on dealing with an unkind friend are as interesting to me as are his comments on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, albeit one topic has more eternal significance than the other.  Similar to The Lord's Way, That Ye May Believe pulls the curtain back a bit on the thinking of men who are not only very, very smart and thoughtful but also had (or have) very important ecclesiastical positions, especially for Latter-day Saints.  It's not canonized scripture, but it is certainly worth understanding and appreciating.

I find the idea of That Ye May Believe wonderful.  Writing letters to your grandchildren in anticipation of questions they have not asked yet is a genealogical gem.  Being somewhat of a writer myself, I was immediately attracted to the idea of doing something similar.  In a way, the various blog posts (including my several Thousander Club book reviews) I have written and will write can be letters to posterityno matter how embarrassing some of them might be in a few years!  Reading That Ye May Believe was a nice reminder to think not only of the current generation but of the many generations yet to come.  Rather than being a vanity project to achieve some fa├žade of immortality, a book like That Ye May Believe shows how meaningful a connection to future generations can be.  Those generations won't need to wonder what Maxwell felt or thought on certain topics and issuessome of the most important, such as his belief in God.  That's not vanity.  That's wisdom.

Although it will leave some readers wanting, such as myself, That Ye May Believe is a great little book.  The book and the writing is brief and conciseto a fault.  I wanted more because Maxwell had so many incredible insights to share.  However, what he did write shows very clearly what he did believe.  And for me, as well as his grandchildren I'm sure, Maxwell has helped me believe as well.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: The Lord's Way
Reflections: Learning in the Light of Faith
Reflections: The Great Divorce

Friday, August 18, 2017

Reflections: The Iliad

The Iliad by Homer
Reading a story like The Iliad does a few thing.  First, it reminds me how little mankind has changed in relation to our desires, our vices, and our virtues.  Second, it reminds me how little stories have changed.  Heroes, villains, gods (or circumstances beyond mortal control), death, honor (or lack thereof), love, hate.  It's all here.  In terms of being a milestone of Western literature, The Iliad deserves its place; nonetheless, readers will have to abandon some of their modern sensibilities when it comes to narrative and structure in order to enjoy it.

Some of the oddities (for a modern audience) of The Iliad's narrative become very apparent very quickly.  For example, the author appears as much interested in providing otherwise irrelevant genealogies in the middle of a frantic battle scene as he does in describing the battle.  This could become tedious, as it did for me at times, for a modern reader. Yet, I felt it provided an interesting insight into what societies of that age valued.  Honor and glory was inextricably linked with family and duty.  Knowing which Trojan slew which Achaean (Greek) was critically important.  Furthermore, readers of today may assume they know certain elements of the story and be somewhat surprised by the "true" story.  For example, the love affair between Helen and Paris is hardly mutual.  Helen despises Paris, as do most of the Trojans, for the misery of war he has brought upon both peoples.  (At the start of the story, which actually chronicles the end of the war and ignores its beginning, the Achaeans are debating over and struggling with what I couldn't help but see as the sunk-cost fallacy).  There is no "true love" story to be found here between the two individuals at the center of the war.

Moving beyond the story's antiquated elements, the myth is as compelling as one would expect.  There is both admirable heroism and repulsive cowardice on display in this tale.  I admit I really enjoy these "Sword and Sandal" stories, especially those which emphasize attributes not usually heralded in modern culture. (Gates of Fire was my favorite fiction book in 2015). When I read the following statement from Odysseus"Though cowards quit the field, a hero, whether he wound or be wounded, must stand firm and hold his own"I am moved by the courage and honor of a bygone era.  Subscribing to the Joseph Campbell school of thought, I think The Iliad showcases those elements of The Hero's Journey we're still witnessing in story after story after story.  To my earlier point, although The Iliad's structure and pacing is odd to us; it's not all that different from our modern stories.  Reading The Iliad not only provides insight into an ancient culture and ancient peoples, it provides insight into ourselves.  We are not all that different from our distant ancestors.

The Iliad is wonderful.  It is, in my opinion, as relevant today as it was when it was first recorded.  True, a reader may have to sift through seemingly irrelevant elements of the story, but the fundamentals of this storylove, loss, war, hate, honor, and, yes, even faithare as compelling today as they were thousands of year ago.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Gates of Fire
Reflections: Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture
Brow Bruising Reads: The Hardest Book I Have Ever Read