Transgressors in Eden

This Sunday in Sunday School, we’re going to study the Fall.[fn1] The lesson quotes Elder Oaks distinguishing sin from transgression[Read more…]

Toward a More Productive, Fulfilling, and Successful Missionary Program

A little over six months have passed since the Church held its mission president training meeting that was double-billed as a worldwide leadership training meeting relating to missionary work to which all members were invited (either in person at the BYU Marriott Center or virtually, by way of the internet) and which was preceded by unprecedented fanfare. [Read more…]

Five Goals

2013-12-07 00.02.27One of my most vivid memories as a boy growing up in the gospel-centered home that I did is of a Family Home Evening that we had when I was maybe four, in the basement of our little starter home in Bountiful, Utah. Mom and Dad helped my little brother and me trace our hands with blue marker on poster board. We cut those out, and then wrote on the five fingers of each hand our life’s goals, which we arrived at with Mom and Dad’s gentle persuasion:

1. Get Baptized and Receive the Holy Ghost

2. Receive the Aaronic Priesthood

3. Receive the Melchizedek Priesthood

4. Go on a Mission

5. Get Married in the Temple

That remains a pretty ideal life’s plan for young men in the Church today1—and there is a lot of good to it. Speaking personally, those were good goals for me, and they served me well. Over the years, I have also become more sensitive to the fact that sometimes ideals aren’t attainable, and that within Mormon culture the pain of unmet expectations or attainments can be really acute, even brutal. I want to speak in this post to a slightly different set of expectations that I wish we laid more cultural emphasis on—expectations that, in my view, are more attainable for a larger percentage of our willing young men and that might be more easily adapted to young women, as well.

[Read more…]

Mormon Marriage Equality

Are men and women partners or competitors?  What about in marriage?  Do men feel threatened by wives with successful careers?

Are Mormon marriages more equal or less equal than other marriages?  Do Mormon women feel that they are taken seriously and treated as equals by their husbands?  Are they encouraged to follow their dreams?  Do they find their work (whether at home or in the workplace) meaningful and rewarding?  In the give and take of marriage, are men and women giving and taking fairly?

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.  In the book, she talks about several things we can do to help women achieve their potential and to help men and women feel more equal and personally satisfied, within their personal lives and in the workplace.  This list includes things like: [Read more…]

A new (but actually old) list of suggestions for increasing opportunity for women and girls in the Church

rsmeeting

Look at that beautiful missionary choir! How about filling in some of the seats below them as well?

Quiz time!

When was the following suggested?

“Within the Church, changes in four key areas would create increased opportunity for women and girls:

1. Improve women’s access to decision-making forums.

—Examine meetings from which women presently are excluded. If women were to contribute, would it help the decision-making process? If so, open such meetings to women’s auxiliary heads or other relevant women leaders at the ward, stake and general levels of the Church.

—Within the corporate offices of the Church, employ more women in a greater variety of positions.

—Develop and emphasis leadership training skills for women so that they can more effectively participate in meetings.

2. Increase access to ward callings and duties. Several ward callings and offices have evolved into priesthood callings. Such callings should be reevaluated to determine if priesthood is a necessary prerequisite. Where it is not, women should serve in those offices equally with men. [Read more…]

Songs I Wish Were in the Hymn Book

Growing up I always thought the image on the hymn book was Angkor Wat.

On my mission, in one city my companion and I had to walk 45 mins to get to our area to teach.  We were newly together and frankly, she was driving me nuts.  She insisted on singing hymns the entire time we walked through the banana fields and winding rural paths. Relentlessly.  Finally, I couldn’t take it any more, so I started belting out Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”  She recoiled as if I had just taken a big swig of Vodka, wiped my mouth, and then offered it to her.  But then, she accepted the proffered folk song olive branch and started to sing it with me.  She shrugged and said she guessed it was not inappropriate even if it wasn’t a hymn. [Read more…]

Drowning in Modesty Guidelines at Girls Camp

Trying out for a role in The Boyfriend? No, just packing for Girls Camp.

Marcel Proust said: “People wish to learn to swim and at the same time to keep one foot on the ground.” That seems an apt description of the Girls Camp and Youth Conference modesty guidelines for Young Women that have emerged in some wards and stakes.

I have heard a few stories on the internet over the last few years about wards and stakes who have created increasingly onerous dress requirements for the YW, including at girls-only events like Girls Camp as well as Youth Conferences.  I naturally assumed this was a handful of crackpots in isolated areas trying to out-righteous each other for scraps of praise until last week when my sister-in-law shared with me that her stake is now requiring all girls to wear both a tee shirt and knee length shorts over their one-piece swimsuit to swim–at Girls Camp!* [Read more…]

Religious Belonging & Dunbar’s Number

Everyone must stay in these arbitrary groups we’ve created.  Don’t cross the streams.

A few years ago I read a great book by Nicholas Christokis and James Fowler called Connected:  The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks.  There are a few points about social networks that I’ve been thinking about as relates to our social networks like the church, Facebook, and the blogs we frequent.

Given the findings of the book, the most important aspect of our church life is our local ward.  At work we used to say that to an employee, their direct leader was the whole company, for good or bad.  The same can be said of our local wards:  to members, the experiences in those local wards are the whole church experience (or nearly so).  Having a ward you like and where you feel accepted is therefore pretty important.

[Read more…]

My Primary story

They released me from Primary, and people keep congratulating me on “graduating” and “coming back to adult church.” I don’t feel like being congratulated. I’m sad.

People say I was in there a long time, and I say, “Not so long. Only three years.” And they’re like, “Only three years?” Well, considering I was content to stay there the rest of my life, yes, three years doesn’t seem like a very long time at all. [Read more…]

Reading as Response, an Introduction Courtesy of BYU Studies

BYU Studies has posted an understanding, helpful response today to the article in the New York Times (“Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt”) that has caused some stir in Mormon circles online over the weekend.

BYU Studies’ Editor-in-Chief, John W. Welch, notes that “BYU Studies may shed some important light on those subjects. While no one has all the answers to every question, the BYU Studies website, together with many other resources and publications, are now easily available to provide many well-researched and well-written treatments of topics of current interest. We invite people to familiarize themselves with this website. It may come in very handy.”

I really like the BYU Studies response and the selection of potential starting points for reading about certain historical issues offered there. Reading about and candidly discussing our history is the perfect response to this problem. [Read more…]

For the Strength of YOUth

In a recent post, frequent commenter Ardis noted her experience with the standards of the church that have been pushing similar themes since the mid-1960s.  This reminded me of a post I did elsewhere noting some of the “timeless standards” from the 1965 pamphlet.

There is a new trend in the church to elevate the For the Strength of Youth standards to something that should be applied to all members, not just the youth.  I’ve experienced first hand and heard online from others that local wards have reviewed the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and standards with the adults, explaining that it applies to them as well.  In our Singapore stake, this was presented in a talk called “For the Strength of YOU.”  What’s behind this trend?  Here are some possible theories: [Read more…]

An Eclectic View of D&C 77: Part 1.

This series constitutes a leisurely stroll through the halls of Doctrine and Covenants section 77. I don’t have any particular schedule in mind, future posts will appear as seemeth me good.

One of my favorite sections of the Doctrine and Covenants is 77. It is a favorite because it is a fruitful field for the discussion of the meaning, methods, and interpretation of Joseph Smith’s revelations in particular and to some degree, revelation in general.
[Read more…]

Keys

Roman Key

A Roman iron key, c. 1st–3rd century AD. 185 mm (7 1/4″) long, “head” of key measures 2 1/4 x 2 3/4.”

As Rebecca J just noted, the theme for youth instruction for the month of June is priesthood and priesthood keys. In the revelations of Joseph Smith, the Biblical leitmotifs of opening and closing, of binding and unbinding, and of sealing and unsealing all come to be associated in deeply significant ways with the priesthood orders of the Church. In this post, I will focus on the theme of opening and closing as it connects to the imagery of keys.

[Read more…]

Laying on of hands and other new church history website content

imagesI don’t know if you are following all the new releases on the JSP and Church History websites, but much of it is completely fascinating. For instance, did you see this story about “A Bit of Old String: Mary Whitmer’s Unheralded Contributions” by my favorite historian ever? Add it to your files about women in church history.

And then there’s this new entry  within the topic section of the Joseph Smith Papers site: [Read more…]

Dichotomy of My Faith

Trigger Warning: the following post contains frank discussion of childhood trauma induced by another and the aftermath. This is a trigger warning as well as general warning to those who may feel uncomfortable with the subject matter.

Edgar-Degas-Blue-Dancers-15496.jpg_thumbI was raped and sexually abused by a next door neighbor as a very young child. He threatened to kill me and my family if I told. I say this only to put this post into the context of my lived experience.

The problem with chewed gum, worn shoes, licked cupcakes, crushed roses and sticky candy (none of these lessons I’ve ever actually been taught) have been discussed enough here,  here,  here,   here, herehere,  here, here,  lots of times here,  here and a million other places. These lessons are terrible in their own right and hurt women and girls in real ways. However I reject the notion that without these lessons rape victims would feel a sense of self and worth and cry out, fight back, and be whole.

Little girls in Bangladesh feel worthless and unwanted after rape without lessons of chewed gum, licked cupcakes and Jesus. In a matter of moments rape sucks every drop of self-will out of you. In that moment of compulsion, God granted self-determination no longer exists. Your body is beholden to the violence and lust of another. There is nothing you can do and it changes you forever. You wonder if you have any choices at all. You wonder if you will ever be able to act—or will only be acted upon, dependant on the mercy of merciless.

You replay it over and over and try to stop it, to fix it. You can’t, but you keep trying. You wonder why God let it happen, and you are told it’s because of agency-and you pretend you still have yours. The truth is religion can be very harmful. My own religion can be very harmful. [Read more…]

Using the Youth Sunday School Curriculum to Train Future Missionaries

I am happy to introduce a new monthly youth Sunday school series at BCC: adapting the youth Sunday school curriculum to train future missionaries.

In my own ward I’m fortunate to teach 17-18 year-olds. Some of them already have turned in their mission papers and are awaiting calls. Others are working on their papers. The Sunday school curriculum adapts itself easily to teaching the youth how to share the gospel both with investigators in a formal setting and with friends. [Read more…]

Getting It Right

YWMedallions

Note: Names have been changed to protect privacy. 

When I entered the chapel on Sunday just at the start of Sacrament meeting, I noticed that all four members of the Young Women’s Presidency were seated on the stand. Seated next to them was the smiling face of a young woman who had just completed the last of her Personal Progress requirements and would therefore be receiving her Young Womanhood Recognition Medallion.   After the meeting started and the rest of the ward business had been taken care of by a counselor in the bishopric, our Bishop stood up and took a few moments to explain the long and difficult process of earning the medallion.   [Read more…]

Revelation and Surprise

XGCA1_011

Nazareth

This is another installment in a series of posts based on the monthly themes from, “Come, Follow Me,” the new youth curriculum for the Church. Here are the previous posts for January, February, and March

A mother gives birth to her child, a composer writes a new song, and a gardener’s planted seed sprouts, all to some degree of surprise. It’s not that these events were unexpected, but that the specific manner of their unfolding could not be entirely predicted. There was a moment of prestige—of revelation—natural to each. We live in an age of almost constant scientific, historical, and creative revelation, and therefore of surprise. How fitting, then, that this dispensation was inaugurated by a young man who turned out to be—and is still turning out to be—full of surprises as well.

[Read more…]

Unequal equalities

It strikes me that a lot of our disagreement over feminist issues in the church comes from one variation or another of straw-man argumentation. It is much easier to disagree with a caricature of our intellectual opponent’s argument than with the real thing.  I’m going to talk about a particular type of caricature here today; Alison Moore Smith provided several last week. It is useful to note these things, because, hopefully, they will help us move past superfluous and irrelevant grandstanding and focus on the important arguments in any debate. Also, world peace might spring up. [Read more…]

The last place you should look for advice

I don’t know about you, but I was an idiot as a teen. [Read more…]

Mouths of Babes — Does Can Mean Should?

O be wise, what can I say more?

Jacob 6:12

A Mormon boy from an affluent neighborhood in Utah, barely 18 years old, will leave a few days after graduating from high school for the crushing poverty, suffering, and misery of Sierra Leone. This isn’t the plot of an off-color Broadway musical. It’s going to happen in a couple of months to a real person.[1] He’s not going to experience mere culture shock; it will be an entirely different world, a different universe. Nothing in the boy’s lived experience up until this point is going to have prepared him for even the smallest percentage of what he is going to observe landing there. I hope and pray he survives!

There isn’t much difference between an 18 year old boy and a 19 year old boy — both are teenagers still, both usually as green as can be. On paper it’s a wash. [Read more…]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart, by the Holy Ghost”

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically.  The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life.  While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.

First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at lds.org and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift.  While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well.  Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.

If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. [Read more…]

Poll: Should the BSA end the ban on gays?

It could happen. Maybe it should happen. What do you think?

Whatever your opinion, the BSA is gathering feedback. Call 972-580-2330 during business hours, or email nationalsupportcenter@scouting.org. And, as always, explain yourself in the comments.

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #5: “This Is the Spirit of Revelation”

Robin Scott Jensen is an editor with the Joseph Smith Papers, working extensively on the Revelations and Translations series. As always, his work represented here is his alone and not representative of the church nor the JSP. He has posted with BCC before on his detailed work with the revelations. And even though he is a Sunday School instructor for the 16-17 year olds, the welcomed youth program put a kink in his planned D&C lectures, so he instead shares one with us today. -EmJen

Two remarkable points stand out to me when I think of Joseph Smith and his revelations: his willingness to share his prophetic responsibilities with others and the ever-evolving way in which he introduced new revelation to the Saints. These two points complement and inform one other and can shed light on our own understanding of what it means to receive revelation.

The revelations to Oliver Cowdery regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon have become more and more fascinating to me as I step back and try to understand what Joseph Smith was actually doing. A man less than thirty years old, with no formal education, claimed visions of an angel, the discovery of ancient plates, and their subsequent “translation.” And he promptly offered his scribe, whom he had known for less than a month, to share in this critically important and spiritual task. Oliver quickly learned what subsequent members would discover. Mormonism was a participatory religion. Joining Mormonism meant joining with full commitment—both temporarily and spiritually. This commitment stretched people beyond their comfort level. In the first revelation to Cowdery, dictated in April 1829, the Lord tells him that he had a gift. This was a gift that “cometh from above” and promised “great and marvelous” mysteries.[1] But there was more. Besides the gift of knowing mysteries, the Lord promises him another gift: “behold I grant unto you a gift if you desire of me, to translate even as my servant Joseph.” What an incredible statement. I would love to have heard a bit of the pre- or post-revelation conversation between Joseph and Oliver.

But it was not to be. The story is well known: Oliver attempted to translate, failed, and received an additional revelation instructing him in the necessity of doing more than simply asking. “Behold you have not understood, you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no though, save it was to ask me.”

But hang on. [Read more…]

We bow our heads and close our eyes (and hope no one calls on us)

So I’m still a Primary teacher. Nobody’s fired me yet. I have the eight-year-olds this year. It is a bit of an adjustment after teaching the ten-year-olds. Most of my teaching experience is in junior Primary, but that’s not saying a lot. I was never any good at teaching junior Primary (although I like being around junior Primary-age children). My husband and I taught the ten-year-olds for a whole year, and I’m afraid it made me a bit soft. All the kids could read, and their silliness was tempered by their need to appear cool. Also, you could say stuff like, “Listen up, jerks,” without crushing their tender little spirits. Eight-year-olds are different. They’re only a little less silly than six-year-olds. They also only read a little bit better than six-year-olds. So reading from the scriptures is more challenging for them. I mean, it was clearly torture for the ten-year-olds, but ten is a good age to start boring kids to death, I think. Just a little bit, so they have a solid foundation for being bored in Sunday School later on. But I feel bad doing that to eight-year-olds. They’re still so cute. [Read more…]

The Implications of Encouraging Early Marriage in a Global Church

This is the first of a two part response to Elaine Dalton’s recent BYU Devotional speech.

Globally, early marriage is inextricably linked to development and human rights concerns. I believe that the words of a general officer of our worldwide church should be considered from a worldwide perspective. In this light, some of her conclusions are troubling. [Read more…]

The Priesthood is not a superpower

I ordained my son a deacon a couple of weeks ago.  The first thing he did when we got home was to facetiously wave his hands toward a chair and attempt to move it with the power of his mind and/or Priesthood.  I immediately told him, “The Priesthood is not a superpower.”  It is something that, I suppose, bears repeating. [Read more…]

Science is so cool. You are part Neanderthal!

Q_and_PicardHow deeply I love studying the wonders of the universe. There was a report of a four billion light year across object! That’s 4,000,000,000 light years! Not miles. Lightyears! I watched a show on PBS last night that talked about the recent complete sequencing the the Neanderthal genome. A species near our own, but vastly different, and guess what? Unless you are from Africa, from one to four percent of your genome is Neanderthal! African populations missed this introgression. Now that’s genealogy! (If you don’t believe this, I would encourage you to become an activist demanding the release of all death row inmates convicted on DNA evidence. It’s of the same type.) [Read more…]

The Pedagogy of Sunday School (part 1)

I was recently called for the fifth time as a Sunday school teacher, and once again I am very pleased. I teach professionally — mostly high school, mostly English and humanities — and I find the process of preparing and delivering a lesson comfortable and enjoyable.

Because my professional obligations having shifted in recent years, I have been thinking more about the way we teach and the way we learn in Sunday School, applying the same pedagogical concepts of teaching literature to high school students to the teaching of Sunday School. Today I will talk muse a little about methodology and outcomes.

I generally teach Gospel Doctrine in the same way I teach a literature class. We have a text and we are looking at the text’s apparent purpose and its methods in pursuing that purpose. As I generally do with literature, I make the assumption that the text is successful, doing an analysis of the text rather than an evaluation.

But what reading of the text do we favor? As J. Stapley pointed out there are different approaches, and I am certainly interested in offering flavors of all of those readings. In the end, my job is not to offer a single reading of the text, whether that reading be my own or the authoritative reading.

As a literature teacher, I want students to develop their own reading, supported by the following:  [Read more…]

Reflections on the Primary program

(Don’t worry, they’re benign.)

My husband and I have been team-teaching Primary for a little over a year now. My husband has teaching Primary for the last…maybe five years. He’s a veteran–and an excellent Primary teacher. He used to teach with another gentleman, but then our ward split and he lost his teaching partner. Our ward is still enormous and can afford to call priesthood-holders to the Primary, but for some reason they thought it might be cute if they called me to teach with him. Or, you know, they felt “inspired” to do it or something. At any rate, I was not excited to accept the calling. In fact, when the bishopric counselor extended the call and asked me, “So how do you like that idea?” I said, “Actually, I don’t like it at all.” It was the thing I feared most (aside from being called as a Cub Scout den or Activity Days leader): having to serve directly with my husband in a calling that he was clearly better qualified to fulfill and magnify. That would cover just about every calling in the church, I think, since none of them yet require tap dancing. My husband and I are not competitive with each other. I mean, I’m not competitive with anyone, but I’m certainly not competitive with my husband, who is more talented and better liked than I am in just about every respect. No offense to him, but it’s hard enough living with him. I don’t really need to work with him too.

When I told Brother J that I’d need to think about this new calling, he said he understood my reluctance. But he was mistaken; he thought I just didn’t want to serve in Primary. Actually, I like Primary. I think it’s one of the better places to spend your time on Sunday. [Read more…]

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