Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bored in Church? --Matt 22: 37

"Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."

Stephen used to say that all our minds means both conscious and unconscious. It is good to be able to make new connections and insights in church, but even when that fails, the constant repetition of basic gospel truths help our love of God become habitual, thus fulfilling that portion of the commandment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What makes our days so hard? D&C 82: 3

"For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation."

About a month ago, someone in church repeated a variation on the story that when people of the current rising generation die, they'll be greeted by spirits who are awed that they lived in times when it was so difficult to live the gospel. In some versions of the story, there's a pre-existence element as well: we were Generals in the War in Heaven and thereby proved ourselves prepared for the challenges of 21st century life, or something like that.

The First Presidency has issued letters emphasizing that these stories are neither doctrinally accurate nor helpful, but the stories keep getting told.

I think it's because in a larger sense, we really do feel that we've got a uniquely tough job. We live in a culture of material excess, in an atmosphere of sexual irresponsibility, and get made fun of at school for being Mormon. Who could have it worse?

I'll live it mostly to the reader's study of scripture and history to answer that question. My guess is that careful study will reveal that we:
-worry a lot less about forgetting our faith every time we move, either by choice or because someone took over land, slaughtered thousands of our people, and forced us into slavery.
-have an easier time studying scripture, since we know how to read, and since we don't have to risk our lives getting copies of the scriptures to read from.
-don't live in a culture where every other church in town has ritual prostitutes.
Maybe our times are not so bad after all. Maybe, from a historical perspective, it's downright easy to live the gospel today. Peer pressure probably does not compare to invading armies. The worst of Hollywood probably doesn't hold a candle to the sexual and violent entertainment promoted by certain brands of Biblical-era idolatry.

So what is the challenge of this stage of the last days?

Along with scriptures on the internet comes the commission to preach the gospel in all the languages of the world. Along with the relative political stability we prosper under comes the commission to build Zion before things turn really sour again. Along with a knowledge of numerous gospel laws comes the necessity not only to live them, but also to be ready for more commandments and revelations, to hope for them even.

Unto whom much is given, much is required. That's the real burden of our days.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Foreordained -- 2 Sam 12: 5-7

"And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man." (2 Sam: 5-7)

When God went to choose a spirit, before the foundation of the world, to become the most famous king of Israel, it was of this moment that he thought, when Nathan the prophet would tell the sinning king the parable of the little ewe lamb. Men who would be mighty kings in other lands were passed over: God chose David because the others would have had Nathan killed, his body left for wild dogs to fight over. David had a soul that could face its own sins. David alone, of the unborn kings, would find the strength to say, "I have sinned before the Lord." David alone, of all the kings, would count each subsequent trial as necessary and just.

This is why the Messiah was sent to the lineage of David.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday School Blues--D&C 88: 122

"Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege." (D&C 88:122, emphasis added)

To say that Sunday School today turned into a conversation between the brother in the front row and the teacher would be to overstate the extent to which the teacher was permitted to contribute.

There's nothing wrong with the brother who monopolized our class; he seems like a very interesting guy, and he doesn't always take over. But today, whatever filter normally prevents him from immediately speaking to almost every question was malfunctioning, and so he single-handedly cut off the participation of most of the class.

According to the scriptures of the restoration, we are all supposed to speak, and we are all supposed to be privileged to hear from the wide range of perspectives available in our classes. Perhaps this is because a living church needs words that are themselves alive: the right answers are not enough; in our classes, we need answers infused with the individual spirits of those speaking them. No matter how insightful one individual may be, if he or she speaks in a way that cuts off, rather than encourages, that participation by other class members, the Lord's directive on gospel education is not being followed.

[Insert embarrassed look here.]

You will probably not be surprised to hear that I fear I am guilty of the very offense I now preach against. As you can tell from this blog, I like to talk about the gospel. A lot. I think my own ideas are cool and that everyone wants to hear them and that I do a service to the world when I talk or write. (Doctors, I think, call that narcissism. It's the -ism I'm best at.) The truth, however, is that church classes are better when people like me are careful not to talk too much.

So, in the spirit of repentance, today I have prepared advice for my fellow over-exuberant class participants. Do you know who you are? I hope so.

Tips for the talkative student:
1) Be aware of your own talkativeness. Do you find yourself speaking much more than others? Do you find yourself wanting to weigh in on every question? Don't be ashamed. That words and ideas come to your mind quickly is a spiritual gift. Do be cautious: this gift is one that sometimes gets in the way of others.
2) Carefully choose when to speak. Because I know that I will want to answer open-ended questions, I avoid volunteering to read scriptures and answering fact-level questions. These opportunities are better left to those who might struggle more to think quickly of responses to open-ended questions, but may find themselves responding to a scripture they themselves read out loud or elaborating on a fact-level answer they give to a question. If I volunteer for everything, I take away opportunities others might make use of to develop their own thoughts, and in the process, rob myself of their insights.
In addition to avoiding those two kinds of participation in most cases, I try to distinguish between responses to teacher questions that will be most useful to me personally and ones that will be most useful to the class as a whole.
I try to avoid speaking on questions that get good responses from my classmates and direct my comments, when possible, to times when they might help improve the class energy and get more people thinking/speaking rather than times when they will get in others' way.
3) Bring a pen and paper to class. If you are at risk of talking too much, this may prove extremely helpful. With a pen and paper, you can respond to every open-ended question the teacher asks, but in a way that doesn't monopolize the class and does give you a record of your insights. You also will have extra opportunities to respond because you can write ideas that come to you because of your classmates' comments. I think you'll also find that the Spirit will help you more when you're trying to help the class be conducted in accordance with the Lord's counsel.
After church, you can talk over your scribbled-down insights at home with loved ones, post them on a blog, or fold them into a paper crane and set it on your windowsill.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Doubt & Awe: Mark 6: 49-52

"But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:
For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.
And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.
For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened."

What happened with the apostles in this case should not be surprising.

A fisherman can see a miracle performed with bread and easily accept it as miraculous: but perform a miracle on the sea, which he knows intimately, and he'll be shocked, amazed, and even afraid.

It was the bakers who were shaken to the core when Jesus fed the multitude with bread. Each of us harbors the greatest doubts in the area of his or her own expertise.


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