Sunday School "Cools"

Ok, here's a page whose objective is not so much to divulge familiar gospel jewels or promote LDS apologetics, instead, it’s for some of my own amiable - and hopefully profound and stimulating - exegesis. These comments are some personal observations and spontaneous insights (or "cools") while studying the lessons or during Sunday School discussions. By the way, if you happen to disagree and dismiss them (cools) altogether, it is well to remember what Aristotle once said:

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

With that in mind let’s start entertaining some thoughts, even if we do not - or will not - accept them; also, lest we be considered uneducated. (*grin*)

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I’ve devised and drew up this line graph. It’s a representation - in its simplest form - of an important and profound gospel principle. I’m going to leave it up unlabeled for now. But I will be back to add notes, scripture references and interpretations - incrementally - for the different parts of the graph. Meanwhile you can study, ponder, analyze and contemplate it together with your own interpretation. :)

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The Feagaiga in The Old Testament (O le Feagaiga i le Feagaiga Tuai)

Our lesson in Sunday School this past Sunday (3/23/2014) was on Joseph (son of Jacob) and the focus was on integrity and sexual morality. Though the seduction of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife was the main reference, the killing of Shechem was also included. The latter incident is often referred to as the "Rape of Dinah" daughter of Jacob (Genesis 34:1-2)
1. And Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.
2 And Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her; and he took her, and lay with her, and humbled her.

Shechem was a Canaanite prince who abducted and defiled Dinah. Simeon and Levi, brothers of Dinah, then avenged their sister’s defilement by killing Shechem, his father Hamor and others.

During the discussion, Dearie mentioned the similarity - in principle - of this action by Levi and Simeon to the feagaiga (covenant between the bother(s) and sister) in the Samoan culture. Note the following excerpt from "The Feagaiga" post in this blog:
[The] feagaiga gives rise to the expression: "O le tuafafine o le mea uliuli i le mata o le tuagane." ("The sister is the pupil in her brother’s eye.")Consider the sensitive and the vulnerable nature of the pupil which is protected and covered immediately when in danger of any external intrusion. Likewise, the sister is immediately protected by her brother[s] when she is in harm’s way. The brother attends to her and ensures she is cared for and protected. Sometimes, the brother takes this protector role to extremes especially when he suspects any advances of a sexual nature towards his sister by a suitor. The boyfriend [or admirer] usually gets beaten up for the slightest attempt to romance and woo the sister.
For my part in the discussion, I shared this:
... that the outrage and vengeance by Simeon and Levi became one of the reasons for Jacob’s indignation, and as a result deprived the two sons (hence tribes) of the blessing and inheritance of any specific land tracts, like other tribes. Instead they were scattered in Israel with Judah absorbing most of them. Hence during the division of Israel (circa 924 BC) between the Northern and Southern kingdoms, Judah and Benjamin in the south also included Simeonites and Levites - the latter especially since the temple was in the Southern Kingdom. While the Levites were blessed with the priesthood (possibly through divine appointment and/or the roles of Moses and Aaron), Simeonites, on the other hand, diminished and dwindled towards the time of the Babylonian captivity. One of the important lessons to be learned here is that choices can have far-reaching effects, and can still come back to haunt - or bless - us and therefore may have unforeseen consequences.
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 Eat the Word!
“Eating one’s own words” is not a favorable idiom and metaphor in everyday talk. “Eating the Lord’s word(s)”, on the other hand, is a pleasant and savory expression. The very “act” - of eating the Lord’s words - is even sweeter and more joyous. How should the Samoans interpret such a metaphor? Is the concept foreign to them? Well, let’s start with the scriptures. Here are some specific incidents in which people/prophets “ate” the word(s) of the Lord.

Jeremiah:
“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart:...” (15:16)

Ezekiel:
“Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll.
And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.” (3:1-3)

(By the way that was not a bread/dinner roll, but a scroll... hahaa... makes for an interesting Bible trivia.)

John the Revelator, was given a small book by an angel and he ate it:
“And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.” ~ (Revelation 10:9)

Even Job alludes to the same metaphor.
"... I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” (23:12)

And David too:
“How sweet are thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” ~ (Psalms 119:103)

And Nephi (Book of Mormon) admonishes us to feast on the words of Christ:
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
(2 Ne. 31: 20)

“Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” ~ (2 Ne. 32: 3)

And the Samoan connection? Well, the Samoans have the exact concept of being fed with words, eating or feasting on words in their vernacular. It is found in this common expression used in the context of child rearing and parenting.

“O le tama a le manu e fafaga i fuga o la’au, a’o le tama a le tagata e fafaga i upu ma tala.”
Literally, “A young of a bird is fed with tree blossoms, but a child is fed with words and discourse.”

Now here’s my beef with the Samoan translation of the 2 Nephi verses in which “feasting” is translated using the word “fiafia” which means “happy” or “joyous” (“...ia fiafia i upu a Keriso;”).  Why not “ia ‘aai* i upu a Keriso” or better still, “...ia fafagaina* outou i upu a Keriso” since the metaphor “of eating or feasting on words” is perfectly kosher and native to the Samoan language? “Fiafia” does not effectively capture the scrumptious and ambrosial essence of the metaphor. Hopefully in the next revision/edition, this change is made.

(*a’ai and fafagaina both mean to eat, feast on or be fed with.)

Note: The pejorative "fagaupu" (lit. be fed with malicious words) is also a common word in the Samoan language.

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 November 30, 2010
I guess I have been "Cools"y challenged in the last several weeks, so here’s trying to be repentant and remorseful. LOL!

Isaiah and the Samoan Connection
There are a lot of lessons in Isaiah but this year I have tried to see a particular subtext - besides the familiar ones - that I have personally liked. There’s one that is linked to my life as a child growing up in Samoa especially in my relationship with parents and grandparents. It has to do with reproach and rebuke. Most Samoan parents are known for scolding/chastening their children. From this, comes the expression “O le matua alofa e ‘ote ma faatonu” literally, “A loving parent reproves and chastens.” A parent always shows “an increase of love” after the chastening as in one of my favorite scriptures:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;" ~ (Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-43)

In the Book of Isaiah, this pattern of paternal disposition of reproof and love is not lost to a keen student of the scriptures. Throughout the book, God rebukes Israel for disobedience, rebellion, idolatry and evildoing. He chastises them, but in the concluding chapters we have some of the most esteemed verses in all scripture that describe the breadth and depth of God’s love through Christ’s suffering and ultimate sacrifice (Chapter 53) and in the succeeding chapters where we find the promises of Zion, the Millennium and the Second Coming - all messages of redemption, hope and love.

And so the Samoan concept and expression “O le matua alofa e ‘ote ma faatonu” (“A loving parent chastens”) is supported - in principle - by the scriptures. In fact in Hebrews 12: 6 we find a specific endorsement: “For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.”

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September 2, 2010:

Good Job! ...hahahaa

Remember Job? What are some of your impressions of the man?

The most common impression people have of Job is that he is patient - of course. He has in fact become the universal bellwether and model for patience, hence the maxims such as “Job’s patience”. Moreover, some people also believe that Job never complained, instead he quietly and patiently suffered and endured his struggles and trials - or did he?

During our class on Sunday, some had the same thoughts and impressions. The general understanding was that Job never murmured or complained against God. I think the lesson manual added to this misconception by highlighting and pitching Job’s virtues only - understandably, I guess.

But I begged to differ. In the unassigned chapters (those not included in the assigned/suggested readings), the more fragile Job is revealed. He did in fact “question” and/or complained about his trials. He showed signs of doubt and weakness. He felt much despair and at times became quite desperate. He became weary of life. Because of the severity of his physical pain and other struggles, he expressed his wishes of being stillborn or dead after birth:

“Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?” (Job 3: 11)

He became desperate and declared it:

“My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope.” (Job 7: 5-6).

And he complained too:

“Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (7:11)

During Job’s exchange with his three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar), he oscillates between dire petrifying despair and unshakeable faith and trust in God.

Job did complain, otherwise he would not have felt remorseful for his protestation and admitted to God that he had erred.

“...therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (42:3, 5-6).

Do we need to know the “impatient” side of Job?
Yes! We definitely need to know and understand the human side of Job - or any model figure in the scriptures for that matter.

Why?
It’s more real that way. We can better identify with him as an ordinary, vulnerable and fallible human being. It would also help dispel the myth held by some that the story of Job is not real, only an allegory. The more we can identify with a character like Job as an ordinary person, the more we can relate and understand his challenges and how he overcame them. Then we will understand that he was mortal, just as we all are. Such knowledge and understanding make our challenges and journey in mortality real, feasible and workable, not just viewing them - especially the promised rewards - as pies in the sky (pun intended). The best example is Christ. The closer He was to Gethsemane and the cross, the more mortal He became. Why? In that way He feels like a mortal and therefore understands and identifies with us mortals - for whom He suffered - and vice versa. It is only when Christ is in a mortal condition while suffering that the Atonement is considered complete.

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August 16, 2010:

It’s all in the mind....

Last Sunday, (Aug. 8th, first Sunday at our new ward), our lesson was on the temple. We discussed some of the kings in the southern kingdom of Judah namely Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Josiah - the good/righteous ones. Throughout that time, depending on the reigning king, the temple was either trashed and plundered or restored and renovated. Moreover, Judah was under constant threat from its neighbors, especially Assyria.

So one of the cools I was able to pick up from the lesson was in Sennacherib’s use of psychological means to try to convince and turn people against their king (Hezekiah) and God. It’s like a mini version of today’s “psychological warfare”. In real contemporary military battlegrounds, we find the same tactic employed by the use of leaflets and other psychological means of trying to get citizens of a particular country to revolt, especially against their leader and/or their ideologies. Sennacherib’s version is found in 2 Chronicles 32: 9-19.

For example in verse 15:
“Now therefore let not Hezekiah deceive you, nor persuade you on this manner, neither yet believe him: for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of mine hand, and out of the hand of my fathers: how much less shall your God deliver you out of mine hand?”

Oftentimes, in eventuality, real war still breaks out in which weapons are used and consequently, blood is spilled.

But as churchgoers, our real battle - with the adversary - is more psychological There are no literal tactical maneuvers, heavy bombardment, battle plans or mass movement of tanks and artillery. No stealthy warplanes or unmanned drones. No missiles or bombs. Satan’s mission, as Sennacherib’s was, involves the changing and convincement of our minds to turn against God. It’s a clever tactic. Once our minds are changed, our actions will naturally follow.


Here’s another cool ... Out of sight out of mind ...

Imagine for a moment having only one copy of the scriptures for an entire community, and only kept at a chapel or other designated place? Imagine further having to travel to that place just to have access to the scriptures, and pick a number then maybe wait - who knows how long - in line to finally read them. That’s apparently similar to what happened in Judah and Israel  - northern and southern kingdoms. The book of the law was found in the temple during Josiah’s reign. These people did not have individual copies like we do today. And so some may rationalize that the people’s spiritual deterioration at Josiah’s time was due to the limited access to the law and the commandments. The point, however, is that making scriptures widely available to the masses can and will certainly help in forging better and stronger spirituality among the members.  It's quite a blessing to have our own sets and copies of the scriptures; not to mention their availability online and in many other places, and in different forms and media types as well.

Now let me mention another similarity to the above concept, which has to do with the temple. I’m talking about the propinquity or nearness of members to the temple. A few years ago President Hinckley, during the beginning of his temple building campaign, said the Church is going to “take/bring the temple to the members”. Consider therefore that in some parts of the world, a trip to the temple can still be arduous, expensive and takes days if not weeks. So taking/bringing the temple to the members seems an idea born out of the same privation concept suffered by Israel of the Old Testament.  It’s the same problem that people in the northern kingdom had with the temple being in the south in Jerusalem, a deprivation and disadvantage that Jeroboam - king of the northern kingdom - resolved by constructing idols for his people to worship so they don’t have to travel to Jerusalem. That would have weakened his power from the possibility of having lost some of his people to Judah when they go to the temple.  Coolio!


... fai mai lava nai matua: "Sole, ko'aga i le loku."



July15th, 2010:
Law of the Harvest  (O le Tulafono o le Seleselega)

No, no, no, I haven't been skipping church. The lack of updates in this section of the malae does not mean I’ve been sluffin at church ....LOL!

There actually have been some “cools” pondered in absentia.  We had been studying and discussing David and Solomon in the past two weeks. Now remember David and Bathsheba?  The teacher asked what David did that led to his committing adultery with Uriah’s wife.  A member of the class answered: “Malosi le kuku paipa o Kavika!” “Ua maka i fairy fo’i...kilokilo fua ia Pakisepa la e ka’ele.” By the way, remember that the baby from the ensuing affair died. But Solomon was also a child of the “marriage” - David and Bathsheba’s.

Anyway, if we trace the genealogy and line of Christ, which includes David and Solomon we find people who committed adultery and other abominable sins. So what lesson can we deduce from this?  That we each, individually, are responsible and accountable for our own actions and choices. In other words, your great great grandfather can be a murderer or the sifi o gaoi in the whole village, and yet you can still - from your own choices - turn out to be a good, virtuous and responsible person. The stigma may be there, but in God’s fair and righteous judgment, you reap what you sow.

Similarly, though in a reverse sense, if your dad was a church minister/ faife’au or bishop, or king of Samoa, you cannot rest on his laurels believing they will somehow “save” you, simply because of who yo daddy was. “E paddle lava lou canoe”, in other words. This message was made clear by Christ when He chastised the Jews.

While Christ was preaching the need for everyone to repent and be baptized, the Jews, having prided themselves as children of Abraham, think therefore that they are exempt from such ordinances based solely on the fact that Abraham was their father. Here’s Christ warning them:

“... think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”  Matthew 3:9

Basically what Christ was saying, is: “Aua le mika’i mai fai mai o oukou o fagau a Apelaamo, aua e mafai lava ga ou fai aku i ma’a gae e aumai ai gi fagau ma Apelaamo.”

Now, the Samoan culture has this big thing about title/honor succession through families, like aiga kupu, aiga kau lagi and others. Such honors only pertain to this life - worldly honors and ways of men. However, when it comes to God’s judgment and being saved in His kingdom, you better be prepared to answer for yourself, and yourself only. You will not be saved based on your blood or ancestral line; you still need to keep the commandments and principles of the gospel through Christ to be saved. E pa’u lava le samala i le ulu o le fao, o le fui giu fo’i i le lapalapa. E ke selesele foi i mea ga e lulu. (Law of the Harvest).

Ia lava lega "kool" mo le gang, o loa e momoe.
 
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Jealousy vs. Envy (Lotovale vs. Mataua)
This past Sunday (6/13), our lesson was on Saul and how he conspired against David. The word “jealousy” therefore was part of the discussion. Thrown into the mix also were Samoan translations, of course, since it was a Samoan class anyway. And so lotoleaga, lotovale and mataua appeared on the whiteboard.

Mataua - also spelled matau’a - seemed archaic to most of the class members, simply because it’s not used in every day conversation. “Mataua” actually means “envious” more than “jealous”(lotovale/lotoleaga). What’s the difference, if any? During my own lesson preparations and study, I came across a commentary in which a subtle but profound difference was mentioned, at least in the English connotations of the words. Interestingly, it placed “envy/envious”, hence mataua, on a higher diabolical level than jealousy (lotoleaga/lotovale).

Envy is jealousy plus more. Jealousy is when you feel resentful and bitter against someone because he or she has something you covet. Perhaps a "positive" aspect of jealousy is when it motivates oneself to work hard to do/have the same or better than that other person.

Envy goes a step further. Not only you want to outdo the other person but you also conspire to deprive or rob the other person of the opportunity or the thing/things that you’re coveting.

Here’s an example, in a nutshell:

Jealousy (Lotovale/Lotoleaga): Man "A" walks out of his workplace and sees his so-called friend’s car with brand new tires with shiny elegant rims. He looks at them, admires them, feels jealous and walks off. He resolves to save enough money to buy similar or better rims and tires. Two months later he bought himself nice rims and tires too.

Envy (Mataua): Man "B" walks out of the workplace, sees the tires and rims, and became jealous. But he goes a step further. He was not only determined to get similar or better rims and tires, but also plans to slash this other person’s tires and breaks the rims. The next day, he carries out his plans and destroys the rims and tires and then continues to work on getting his own hardware.

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Children and Obeying Their Parents
Here’s another "cool"  from the same lesson on the two kings - Saul and David. First let me introduce the issue/problem by citing the following scriptures:

Eph. 6: 1
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.

Col. 3: 20
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

The two scriptures seem contradicting. But perhaps the more important question arises from the second scripture. Do the children have to obey their parents in ALL things? Well, personally, I think the answer is “No!”  And we go to the story of Saul, Jonathan and David for the concurring answer. Saul wanted his son Jonathan to kill David.  Jonathan did not buckle. He loved David and therefore obeyed the Lord more than his evil-minded father.

So the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother ....” needs to be heeded with the predicate that “...as long as what the parents require of the children is righteous and virtuous.”   That is if "to honor" entails and means also "to obey".

Therefore, this expounds and elaborates the first scripture (Eph. 6:1) in proper perspective, which is, for the children to obey their parents only “in the Lord”, meaning the children should obey their parents insofar as the parents' wishes are in line with the Lord’s will - and not necessarily in all things.

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Physiognomy or Contradiction?

Today (June 6th), our lesson was titled: “The Lord Looketh on the Heart” a moral taken from Samuel’s search for a king to succeed Saul. God instructed Samuel to go to a man named Jesse who had eight sons, one of whom will become king. Samuel looked first at Eliab, the oldest, and here is when the Lord gives Samuel this advice from which the lesson title is taken:

“Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Obviously, the Lord was trying to remind Samuel an important lesson to be learned from Saul - the deposing king. It seems that one of Saul’s qualifications that made him fit to be king was his physical appearance, especially his height. Saul was “...a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.” (1 Samuel 9:2)

After evaluating the other seven sons, Samuel was finally introduced to David (the youngest) and here’s where that interesting “cool” is found. Remember the Lord does not look on the countenance or outward appearance. But when David was brought in, his physical outward appearance - according to the text - seemed to have played a role in his selection to be king. Here:

“Now [David] was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the Lord said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he." (1 Samuel 16:12)

Again, according to the scripture, David was handsome. He had red hair (ruddy), a beautiful countenance and goodly to look to. In that verse it seems that David was anointed king based partially - if not solely - on his outward appearance.  Outward appearance is certainly being lauded and extolled here.

So is there some contradiction in all of this? Does the Lord look on the HEART exclusively, or does the person’s OUTWARD APPEARANCE have its merits as well? Because the latter certainly seems to be an underlying message and convincement in both cases of Saul and David.

Or is the Bible trying to tell us about the art of physiognomy? The Greeks, who had profound influence on the Bible, did espouse physiognomy.

(What is Physiognomy?  It is the art of determining character or personal qualities from the features or form of the body, especially the face.)

The Samoans, at least in their parlance, also believe in physiognomy. They have this expression that says: “E iloa atu lava i ou mata ma ou foliga le ituaiga tagata e iai oe” - meaning “Your face and countenance can reveal what kind of person you are”.

...well, just a “cool” to entertain