Thursday, October 25, 2018

Commas Matter.

A couple of things I found while pondering punctuation in the scriptures.
1. "...people, who are of the House of Israel," means something different from "...people who are of the House of Israel." I believe based on the context that the first is used but the latter was intended. (This is just one example where the phrase appears: "...the work of the Father shall commence in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants which he hath made to his people who are of the house of Israel." The comma would indicate He has no other people but the house of Israel, which flies in the face of the doctrine that all of mankind are God's children. Leaving the comma out indicates we are talking about a specific group of God's children with whom he made specific covenants, but leaves open the possibility that He has other children with whom He has also made specific covenants that are not addressed in this verse. We have wars (literally) over this idea--that God only has one people and which is it--and it's all cleared up by properly punctuating.)
and 2. "touch upon them as much as it were possible for Christ’s sake" means something different than "touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ’s sake." When I realized it was the latter that was actually used in the scripture, I laughed. The comma turned a perfectly acceptable phrase into a swear, and we've been reading it that way for a hundred years. Oops!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

My Latest Project

One of my most boring and ultimately most valuable classes in college was the senior seminar I took with Royal Skousen doing an analysis of the Book of Mormon text, comparing what's in the printed edition with the handwritten versions.

Some things I learned:

* There were two handwritten editions of the Book of Mormon: the original and a copy of the original they made to take to the printer, not wanting to lose the only copy. The original copy went into the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House, which leaked water and damaged parts and destroyed parts. The Church now owns most of the parts, but a few are in private hands. The printer's copy we have, but it does have a few copying errors.

* The Book of Mormon, as organized by Mormon, had chapter breaks and a few chapter/section headings built in, but they do NOT match the most recent edition's chapter breaks. At some point, someone (I want to say Orson Pratt, but I'm not sure) who had authority broke the Book of Mormon into chapters and verses to match the Bible more closely and make it easier to refer to specific parts, make notes, and study. He also added chapter headings. Later, footnotes were added. The most recent (2013) edition of the Book of Mormon made an attempt to clarify which chapter headings were original and which were added.

*The original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon has the original chapter breaks and no verse numbers. It is MUCH easier to read without all the "noise" added to make the Book easier to study. But the 1830 edition has errors in it, many of which Joseph Smith himself went through and fixed for the second edition. The errors in the 1830 edition were of two sorts: copying errors and formatting errors. Most of the copying errors came from the difficulty in reading a handwritten text with nonstandard spelling (so we get things like "wickedness" being replaced with "woundedness" in one verse and "Lamb" replaced with "Lord" in another; and thanks to the spelling issues, on the last line of the Book of Mormon we still have no idea if it originally--when Moroni wrote it--said, "wholly without spot" or "holy, without spot."  Fortunately, they mean the same in context so it doesn't matter.)

* The formatting errors in the Book of Mormon came from a peculiarity of the production process. The handwritten manuscript transcribed while Joseph translated did not include punctuation or paragraphing. The chapters breaks were marked with the word "Chapter" but no chapter numbers. New and difficult words (especially names) Joseph spelled out letter by letter (we know this because a phonetic spelling was crossed out and followed by a corrected spelling in the manuscript), but other words were not spelled out by Joseph and are spelled phonetically and nonstandardly on a regular basis, reflecting their dialect (so you get things like "genealogy" spelled in a way that reveals Joseph pronounced it like most people in southern Utah still do).  Sometimes, the person taking the dictation forgot the correct spelling and went back to the phonetic spelling. Usually that was caught and corrected, but the name Pahoran is still spelled incorrectly, even in the 2013 edition (the original manuscript on the first appearance of that name spelled it out as Parhoran.) Anyway, paragraphing and punctuation were not revealed but instead were inserted later, primarily by the printer, EB Grandin. And he did a terrible job, breaking single sentences into different paragraphs and making the whole document a commastorm.

So it's that last part that has bothered me for years.

I find the official study edition very, very difficult to read because of the formatting. Single sentences are broken into different verses. Paragraphing is nonexistent. People read it like they do poetry, with little pauses at the ends of lines instead of where the meaning breaks. For years now, when I wanted to just read the Book and not cross-reference and footnote and mark it, I've turned to my trusty 1830 replica edition. I can't just read the study edition that is the official edition. It's just about impossible for me to get through because of the formatting, chapter breaks, etc. I mean, the original chapter breaks were put in by the original authors, and if you read them you find that they are thematically organized. The new chapter breaks actually obscure this layer of meaning that was put in by the original ancient authors (which breaks this author's heart!).

For years I've longed for an 1830-style format with the 2013 corrections of the errors introduced by Grandin (and by the printer's manuscript), and with updated formatting and punctuation because Grandin did just a dismally awful job with those.

When President Nelson made his request in conference that the sisters read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year, I knew I couldn't succeed unless I had my 1830 replica edition so I could read fast and easily. And it was packed. So I prayed for help finding it, and then I stood up and surveyed the room. One box stood out to me, and I opened it up and there on top was my 1830 replica! So out it came, and I started reading with a pencil in hand to start marking, as President Nelson requested, the parts that mentioned the Savior.

But reading with pencil in hand totally put me in editor mode, and I found myself horrified and distracted by the awful punctuation of the 1830 edition. Commas everywhere, without rhyme or reason. It was unreadable with a pencil in hand because my copyeditor instincts took over and I found myself marking the thing up--copyediting.  I checked the 1981 edition I use for studying and found that the Church has corrected a lot of Grandin's punctuation storm, but it looks like they still relied mostly on what he did to punctuate. A lot of it is still not correct according to the rules of punctuation.

So....I looked up the copyright permissions on the website, and it says you can use the church materials for personal use. So I downloaded a copy of the Book of Mormon--just the text of the 2013 edition, so it's the most updated and corrected text, and I prayed and asked Heavenly Father if I could make myself a copy of the Book of Mormon in the format I want to read, with the non-revealed parts fixed, and the text left untouched. I got a resounding YES! answer to my prayer, so I set to work.

I've basically said to myself, "If I were in Grandin's spot, how would I have done this?" My rule is that I can't change anything that was revealed to Joseph Smith (no word changes, no shuffling paragraphs, etc.), but anything anyone else added to the text is fair game (line breaks, paragraph breaks, punctuation, chapter headings, false chapter breaks, etc).

First thing to go was the new chapters and verses. I went back to the original chapter breaks, and I'm putting in normal paragraphing. And finally, I'm doing a complete re-punctuation of the entire text. Everything else I'm faithfully, religiously sticking with what the original authors wrote. Just redoing the formatting to make it easier to read. So far I've finished all of First Nephi. I wish I'd found a way to keep the footnotes, but my computer would not process the formatting of footnotes. (I'm using Google Chrome Docs instead of Libre Office, so my formatting options are sorely limited.)

And, lo and behold, it's SO Much easier to read without all the bad punctuation. The Book of Mormon text says it's plain and simple to read, and I've never found it completely simple. But it turns out a lot of that is the punctuation being in all the wrong places, so your brain pauses where it shouldn't, obscuring the meaning.

In doing this, I've engaged in the meaning of the Book of Mormon in ways I never have before.  I've learned things and internalized and understood things that I missed before. And I've discovered some linguistic "forms" that are used throughout the text that are kind of fun. And I've really finally felt the clarity and simpleness and plainness that Nephi said he gloried in, and that we buried in a flood of commas and semicolons that mostly marked the end of lines instead of segments of meaning. It's quite delightful.  I can't wait to get to the rest of the Book!

I think when I'm all done, I'll find a way to print a copy for myself so that finally I will have an edition of the Book of Mormon that is easy to read to myself and easy to read aloud to my children. That would make me very, very happy indeed.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Sometimes we run to aid, sometimes we stand as a beacon

I had an experience recently that has ended up being very important to me, and I wanted to share it. The easiest way is to just cut-and-paste from my journal. So here you have it, from my entry on September 26, 2018:

On Tuesday, we drove an hour to Great Sand Dunes National Park. I had prepared myself for something like the sand dunes we went to when I was a kid. I was not prepared for what it really was: a two-mile-high, 30-square-mile mountain of sand, accessible only by hiking across nearly three-quarter mile of relatively level but overly soft sand that in the spring is covered with shallow water but was dry this time of year.

We checked out the visitor’s center and then sunscreened up to go play in the sand, in the pounding sun. The edges of the flat section had small, scruffy trees, but the dunes themselves were Sahara-bare. So Tim and the kids set off toward the dunes, and Emmy and I trailed along behind, the sand hot and sneeping into our sandals. It was really hard walking, like on a beach, and we got about a third of the way to the dunes before we were both done. Emmy said she didn’t want to jump on the sand anyway, and I didn’t, so we turned around. Immediately, I spotted a shady spot beside a fire pit, away from where most of the people were coming into the area, but on a hillside in the shade. So we turned back and went there.

I had deliberately worn a bright neon pink shirt so the kids could spot me in a crowd, and it ended up being a good thing. Tim realized we didn’t make it, and he jogged back across the dunes and found us just fine because of my shirt. We told him we were going to stay right there in the shade and play. He went back to the other kids, and they played a while and then Nathanael trotted back to us, spotting my bright pink shirt and making a very straight line right to me. Then Tim brought Elijah and Jack back. We dug down to the wet sand not far under the surface and made sand castles. Soon all the kids and Tim were back again.

So we went off to find a place to fill all our 10 gallons of empty water jugs and have a picnic, and finally settled on an empty group camp site. I filled the jugs first, while Tim set up a picnic, and it was a good thing I did because not long after I had them all stowed away, a volunteer camp ranger came and kicked us out of that site because it was for camping, not picnicking (never mind that nobody was there and nobody was going to be there). We had done what we needed that part of the park for, so we picked up and asked where we were allowed to picnic, and then we left.

By then, the wind had picked up and dark clouds had blown in. There was a tiny trinkling of rain, but not much, and the kids wanted to play in the sand again. Caleb and Anda and Tim were done. But Nathanael, Elijah, Benji, Dan, and Jack wanted to hike back to the dunes and try a sled we’d found abandoned by the garbage cans.

It didn’t work.

But it wasn’t hot anymore, so I followed the boys across the flat to the dunes because I figured Jack would get tired and want to come back right away, and I could walk him back. Emmeline had on a bright pink jacket and she and Tim were playing in our same spot from earlier in the day. I could just see her, a bright pink speck in the distance, but I knew I could find them from that bright pink speck. It was surprising, standing up on the dunes with the boys, that the spot we were playing in was far to the right of where most people were going, and it didn’t look “right”. But I knew it was right because I could see Emmy’s bright pink jacket bobbing along. She was doing was I had done earlier with my bright pink shirt--acting as a beacon to show me the right way to go. She was so very tiny that she was easy to miss--it was easy to look the wrong direction, and I had to really choose to search for the little pinprick of pink. But once I found her, I could focus on her little bobbing dot and move toward it. She was a “beacon”--but she was just a point of pink. Hard to see. But not impossible. So that’s where my family was, and the van, and rest and shelter.

Pretty soon, a vicious wind picked up. It was so strong that a crow trying to fly into the wind was blown the other way and finally had to turn around and fly where the wind willed. The boys had abandoned the sled, so I was holding its rope and I’d filled it with cast-off shoes. Once the sun was obscured by the storm clouds, the sand was no longer burning hot, and so the shoes came off. Even filled with the shoes, the wind picked the sled up and tried to whip it from my hands. The sand blasted Nathanael’s bare legs (he was in shorts, and I in jeans). It was so hard he would turn his back on the wind and curl up inside his coat until the gust passed. Jack would crouch in his coat, too, and Daniel (such a saint), would immediately drop down behind Jack and lay on his side, making an effective wall against the wind to protect Jack. Nathanael quickly got weary of sandblasting, and he and I decided to head back. Jack wanted to stay, so I let him. Dan promised not to lose him, so Nat and I headed back toward the big kids and Tim, following Emmy’s bobbing pink dot to know where to go.

We had to wait for the wind to soften a bit, or Nathanael couldn’t walk for all the sandblasting his shins were getting. But we made it, sled and shoes in tow. I looked back at our track when we arrived at Tim and the big kids and Emmy (ready to fall face first onto the sand and rest). It was very wobbly. We did not make a very straight line because the pull toward where everyone else was going was so strong. We kept drifting that way and then spotting Emmy’s pink jacket and correcting our path. She was a lighthouse for us.

The boys played on the dunes a while longer, and Tim made pictures with rocks in the sand while Anda used rocks to play a game of sand bocce and Caleb took pictures and audio recordings (he collects visual textures and random foley-like sounds). I sat beside Emmy and her sand castle and Nathanael sat on her other side and she and he kept building. And I talked to the big kids and Tim and kept my eyes on the dunes where I could not see the kids, but knew they were playing. I could just see little speck figures moving around, but not our kids. Eventually, the wind picked up again (it was cold!), and I saw the boys appear, one at a time. Elijah I recognized because he had his coat off and he was swinging it. Then he put it on and started trudging toward us. Behind him I saw Benji, who I could recognize by the flash of bright orange--his shirt--inside his coat. So I knew the figure beside him was Daniel. But no Jack?

I knew right away that Dan had to be carrying Jack. I had no doubt about it--I knew he wouldn’t have left Jack. But that trek was difficult with just walking myself across the three-quarters of a mile of sand. And Dan was carrying a heavy 5 year old, and battling the wind. I turned to Tim and said, “I’m going to take the sled back out there and drag Jack back. Dan’s carrying him.” I pointed out the kids and Tim said he should go--he could piggy back Jack back and it would be faster and easier. So he set off on a jog toward the kids.

Meanwhile, Elijah was battling the wind, head down, and he had veered off course. He wasn’t looking for me, and so he was heading too far to the left, to where most of the rest of the people were going. And then I could see he was to the left of that, even. He didn’t even realize he was heading astray. “Turn, Elijah, turn back….” I kept saying to him, but I didn’t even bother to shout. It was over half a mile away, and the wind carried my voice the wrong direction.

Anda, Caleb, Nathanael, and Emmeline headed for the van to get out of the wind. And I knew Tim was going to have to rescue three kids at once: Dan from the weight of Jack, Jack from being too little to go any further, and Elijah from getting lost. I started to fret--I was standing here doing nothing, while Tim was running across the sand and my boys were struggling. I saw Benji double back to try to help Dan, but it was too much. I started to pace, needing to help, but I was too far.

Then the thought popped into my head: Just stand still so they know where to go. That is helping. They need to see you. 

I threw my jacket wide so my bright pink shirt was visible from so far away, and I stood as still and tall as I could, being a beacon to them--the same lighthouse that Emmy had been for me.

Tim then caught sight of Elijah going the wrong way, and he diverted his course to catch the one who was going astray. He got Elijah back on track, and then he doubled back to Dan and Benji and relieved them of their burden of caring for the weakest of us. And I stood there, watching them all and knowing that I was helping by showing them where they were supposed to come to.

So I stood there, my pink shirt pointing the right away and helping them find the most direct route back through the blowing, shifting sands, and the Spirit whispered to me, “This is why we stand in holy places.” Tears flowed down my cheeks while I still stood, being the anchor and the beacon so that my little brood could get out of the painful sandblasting storms in the quickest, easiest way possible. My tears flowed and I pondered. I wanted to help, but this was a job for the priesthood. So I sent my priesthood holder out to fetch the one who was too weak to make it back, to strengthen the ones who were struggling to help, and to catch the one who was going astray before he was too lost to turn back. But then all of them--priesthood included--needed me to stand and show them where to go, and that someone was waiting to receive and comfort them and acknowledge their struggles and thank them for their sacrifices and love them and give them a refuge and a rest and food when they got back. We stand in holy places, I understood, to show others where they need to aim for, and because being the beacon helps them get there. We stand in holy places so the ones going astray can find the way back, and so the ones on their way but struggling have somewhere to look for comfort and hope and encouragement, and so they don’t get lost, too. I understood that sometimes we run out to rescue, and sometimes we stand still so everyone can find their way back. Especially when the pull of the wrong way is so strong.

When Elijah got within earshot, he said, “I was going the wrong way, but Dad told me and once I saw you, I knew where to come.” His track was very straight. I remembered earlier in the day when Nathanael had been the very first to trudge back through the heat to the sandy, shady shelter we’d found. I had marveled at what a straight line he made in coming to me. I asked him how he had found me, and he said, “Dad told me which direction to head, so I did and once I saw you there, it was easy.” I realize now that it was important for them to see me, but before they could see me they had to trust Tim and follow his instructions. This is so much what faith is, and what we are supposed to do. Nathanael couldn’t seem me at first, even though I could see him. The lay of the dunes obscured me. But he followed his father’s instructions perfectly and made a straight line until he could see, and then he could come right to me. Elijah spotted me from afar and came toward me, but the storms were too strong and the pull of the way most people were going was distracting, and once he couldn’t see me, he ended up going astray by accident. But his father saw that and redirected him, and he followed those instructions until he, too, could see, and he came to me.

It was all so amazingly laid out before me--the understanding that I was working even by holding still, and that sometimes you can barely see the indicators of the right way to go and you really have to cling to them because it’s just a prick of light instead of a bright beacon--to stay focused and tune out the distractions or you lose sight of the way, and of why we stand in holy places, and that sometimes we seek and sometimes we stand, and the idea that we follow the instructions first even when we can’t see and that eventually leads us to see so we can move forward more quickly and surely. And all of this is faith and the gospel.

We loaded up in the van and headed back, watching a gorgeous sunset as we drove.


This has been important to me as I listened to General Conference. The prophet asked the women to step away from social media, which I was attempting to use to help people see issues that we need to act on. At first, I thought, "I can't leave people who need help! What about the immigrant children, and people who need more information on a topic, and people who need encouragement, and....and...and...." and the thought came to mind, "Sometimes we seek; sometimes we stand."