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...]

The radical notion that women are people: part three of a million parts

When I was in Young Women, we had an annual activity which I absolutely despised, which was the box social. Each young woman would make a dinner for two and put it in a box and decorate the box, and then all the young men would bid on the different box and the highest bidder would get to eat the dinner in the box with the young woman who had prepared it. (This was all done with fake money so no one would be reminded of anything unsavory, like prostitution. Not that a box social is anything like prostitution, because it isn’t. I’m just saying, everything was on the up and up.) I refused to participate in this activity for the following reasons (in order of importance):

1. I was no fun.

2. I thought it was unfair that the young women always had to cook for the young men. Yes, the young men were in charge of bringing dessert, but big whoop-de-do. Which do you think is easier to prepare, a portable and palatable dinner or a portable and palatable dessert? I’ll give you a hint: Oreos come in a bag. [Read more...]

Review: Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith”

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2012
Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780615593449
Price: $11.99

Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more...]

A Tale of Two Infographics

Here is an infographic the church’s Newsroom put out to explain the structure of our local lay leadership. (sorry for lack of embedding, I don’t want to hotlink their image, and mine is a PDF)

Newsroom Infographic: Lay Leadership in the LDS Church (Update: this has been changed from the original version)

While understanding they were working within very tight space and reader attention constraints, I thought it could be made a little more complete. Now, dear reader, please understand that I am an engineer and thus have aesthetic sense only for things others don’t think even have aesthetics, such as java code and mathematical proofs. I am not a graphic designer, and this isn’t about whose is prettier–I concede that contest from the outset.

Alternate version: Lay Leadership in the LDS Church (updated)

But, beauty flaws aside, I think you will find that there are some striking differences between the two graphics. Not only in terms of quantity of additional detail, but the qualitative general sense one gets from the image overall. In particular, the ratios of blue and pink in each.
[Read more...]

Some random thoughts about Relief Society

Last month I was visiting my father’s ward and happened to notice a blurb in the ward bulletin about the upcoming Relief Society birthday. It gave a (very) brief history of Relief Society’s origins followed by an invitation for the ladies in the ward to attend a “Hats Off to Relief Society!” tea in honor of the organization’s anniversary. (By coincidence, my own ward was planning a hat-themed tea party for the Relief Society’s birthday. Or maybe it wasn’t a coincidence. Maybe there’s a church-wide conspiracy to get Mormon women to wear more hats. I had intended to do more research on the subject, but the project has since fallen by the wayside, I’m afraid. Anyway.)

The reason I found this blurb noteworthy was that the heading for it read “Separate But Not Equal.” What was the author trying to say? It’s like they had just enough knowledge of history to know that they didn’t want to compare the formation of Relief Society to Plessy v. Ferguson, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to let go of the segregation theme. (That would have made for an interesting tea party, wouldn’t it? Probably better that they went with the hat thing.)

Anyway, it was a head shaker. Part of me was tempted to imagine the bulletin being written by some subversive person wanting to draw attention to the gender inequality in Mormonism, but I know that it was probably just somebody not really thinking about what they were doing. Now I’m using it as a mildly amusing anecdote to introduce a not-particularly-coherent post about Relief Society. [Read more...]

Word Cloud: For The Strength of Youth

My ward got the new “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlets today. Not really pamphlets, though, as the new version is well over 6K words. The counsel inside is wide-ranging, and as I was reading through it this morning, I wondered what a word cloud of the text would look like—which words are most used in FTSOY? Here’s what I found:

The cloud supports my opinion that the booklet is wide-ranging, as there are lots of different ideas and topics represented, but the biggest words aren’t tied to them. And it might just be me, but I think the word cloud conveys an impression of “warning” language. Do you agree? Which words are more frequent than you’d have thought? Which would you have expected to be more prominent?

Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!

Note and/or WARNING: The following post is a response–or not really a response, but a sister post, if you will, to this piece at Feminist Mormon Housewives. If you are uncomfortable reading about anything having to do with menstruation, I suggest you cast your eyes round about for a more genteel blog today.

Last year my oldest child had her first opportunity to do proxy baptisms for the dead at the temple. A bit of background: my daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome. Church is difficult for her for a variety of reasons, but she is particularly concerned with (and fixated on) gender issues. She was anxious about going to the temple for the first time, not really knowing what to expect (and not being totally down with this church thing in the first place). Her Young Women leaders asked me to come along for this trip to help her feel more comfortable and show her the ropes. (Not that I would have any clue about “the ropes,” as I hadn’t done proxy baptisms myself in about 14 years and never at this temple–but it’s the thought that counts.)

So at the temple they herded all the youth into that little room where they tell you all about what you’re going to be doing. I still had to change into my white clothes, but I realized I had to tell my daughter something first, so I went into the little room and the older gentleman addressing the youth then turned to me and asked, “Sister, are you here to ask The Question?” [Read more...]

Poll: Home and Visiting Teaching edition

It’s that time of year again, vowing to lose ten pounds, read your scriptures daily, hold FHE, and become the ward’s world’s best home or visiting teacher! (poll below the fold) [Read more...]

Technologizing Sunday School Study

“This study guide is designed as a companion to your study of the Book of Mormon. It is divided into numbered sections that correspond with the lessons in the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine course. Each section provides the week’s reading assignment and questions to enhance your study. You may use these questions to improve personal application of the scriptures and to prepare to make meaningful contributions to class discussions.

“You share with your Gospel Doctrine teacher the responsibility to help the class be successful. The Lord has said that teachers need to “preach … by the Spirit of truth” and that those who receive “the word of truth” should “receive it by the Spirit of truth” (D&C 50:17, 19). Come to class prepared to contribute insights, ask questions, share appropriate experiences, bear testimony, and listen attentively to the teacher and the other class members. When you have studied the reading assignments and pondered the questions in this study guide, you will be better prepared to experience the fulfillment of the Lord’s words when He said, “He that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22).”

I only half listened to the Gospel Doctrine teacher as she read this from the Book of Mormon Class Member Study Guide on Sunday, so engrossed was I in preparing my notes (via mobile phone and tablet, both which sat on my lap)  gathered from the Bloggernacle and lds.org.

[Read more...]

Can this Primary lesson be saved?: Being pure and righteous

My husband and I teach the CTR 6 class.  Actually, Brother J has been teaching Primary for the last four years, so he’s an expert.  But our ward split and the other gentleman who team-taught with him went to the new ward, and so a few weeks ago they called me to be his new teaching partner.  I’ve served the majority of my adult years in Primary, starting when I was 18; I’ve been a Primary pianist and a Primary chorister, but I’ve only served as an actual in-the-trenches Primary teacher once, and that was thirteen years ago and only for a few months before they had to release me.  If you must know, I had a nervous breakdown.  I blame the five-year-olds.  But that’s another story. [Read more...]

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich lecture: “Stirring up LDS History” Live Blog

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Updated to now include video of the lecture.

Sponsored by Sunstone and Friends of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah

Relief Society sisters now have a new resource—a compact history of the Relief Society called Daughters of My Kingdom. The new manual, which is to be used from time to time for lessons given the first Sunday of each month, is not only unusual for its focus on women but for its chronological organization. Most Church manuals are organized thematically, offering little scope for discussing change over time. Despite its uplifting narrative, this manual may require a new set of skills. As teachers of women’s history know, you can’t just “add women and stir.”

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich taught her first Relief Society lesson more than fifty years ago, when she was an undergraduate attending a student ward at the University of Utah. She began teaching women’s history at the college level in 1975 when she was a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of many books and articles on early American history and women’s history and is now completing her first book-length work in Mormon history, “A House Full of Females: Family and Faith in Nineteenth-century Mormon Diaries.” She is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University.

[Read more...]

Goal Tending and Missionary Work

In our ward council last month, the ward mission leader gave a short address on the importance of setting achievable goals. He’s new in the calling and in the ward, and because our ward doesn’t baptize much, momentum is somewhat against him.

As a first step toward reversing this, he assigned us to go to our quorums and auxiliaries and set specific goals for each group, which he can then collate into an all-up ward missionary goal for 2012.

The key to baptisms, he told us, is to set achievable goals and work toward them with faith. It’s a quantitative message which I’ve heard in countless missionary-themed meetings, as I’m sure you have too.

I’ve generally rolled my eyes at such talk, but the way I think about goal-setting has changed significantly in the two years since I started working in the ad industry. You might not know it from watching TV commercials, but good ad agencies are experts at setting goals and measuring results.

[Read more...]

The Psychology of Foreordination

This guest post comes from frequent BCC reader Erich (comments under “Observer fka Eric S.”).

We took up Ephesians 1 and “predestination” last Sunday in Gospel Doctrine. After performing the requisite semantic dance with various terms, we got to discussing the concept of being “chosen” and “foreordained” for this or that. What struck me most was the way LDS culture perceives these concepts. The lesson dialogue focuses on prophets, leaders, and esteemed historical figures in the gospel and restoration period (e.g., Jeremiah, Abraham, Paul, Joseph Smith, etc.). It is reiterated that these individuals were foreordained and then chose their stations. Invariably, the discussion resorts to how grateful so-and-so is to be born in America, post-restoration, into a Mormon family, and on and on . . . . This seems to be the consensus of thinking around the topic.

Then, whether by express statement, omission, or by implication, the idea is presented that those who are not so privileged to live in Post-Restoration Mormon America were not valiant in a pre-mortal existence. Again, this is the consensus of thinking around the topic. [Read more...]

A Chieko Okazaki Sharing Time Lesson


This was originally posted one year ago. It is being re-posted in honor of Sister Okazaki, who passed away this week.

Continuing with the theme of how awesome I am at my callings, I thought I would share one of the more successful Sharing Time lessons I’ve done in my current calling in the Primary presidency.

The theme for Sharing Time was “Family members have important responsibilities” (last year’s program). I was to do a week on mommies’ responsibilities, a week on daddies’ responsibilities, and a week on kids’ responsibilities to the family. Sis. Okazaki gave a great talk about the Japanese word kigatsuku, which means being aware of one’s surroundings and doing good without being asked, which fits perfectly with kids’ responsibilities in the family.
[Read more...]

Chieko Okazaki (1926 – 2011)

Chieko Okazaki

Chieko Okazaki

What is the appropriate way to mourn the passing of an individual with such limitless optimism and cheer as Chieko Okazaki? How can our hearts not ache and rend at the loss of someone whose life deeply influenced so many? And yet, can a memorial full of anguish appropriately honor the one with the sunny spunk to tell us to Lighten Up?
[Read more...]

Sanctified Memory

Last Tuesday, I attended the funeral of a long-time English department colleague, Richard G. Ellsworth, who was also in the Provo ward of my childhood: Oak Hills II. Richard was our enthusiastic chorister, the kind of conductor who invested his body and his hair (it was long enough to react to his arms’ energetic movements–and he always led us with both arms) in every phrase of music.

When I was about ten, he was my Sunday school teacher for the simple reason that his son was the most mischievous child in class. I’m sure the bishop pulled Richard out of whatever other calling he had so that the Ellsworth kid would have his father right there. [Read more...]

Church-Hacker #9: For Type-A Teachers

When I taught Gospel Doctrine, I completely gave up hope that any class members would ever read the material ahead of time. BCC regular Chris Gordon says there’s another way:

I had a teacher once who, you know, actually did something other than beg to try to help his class read ahead and participate in the discussion. Nearly every week around mid-week I’d get an email like this:

Dear Gospel Doctrine Class,

For those of you who missed class on Sunday, we hope to see you soon. We had a great discussion on [insert lesson name with hyperlink to lesson and related scriptures], in which we focused primarily on x and y.

As a reminder, for Sunday we’ll be covering [lesson name with hyperlink]. I’d like to spend some time discussing a and b, but we’ll see where the discussion goes.  Hope to see you there.

Have a great week,
Teacher

It was never particularly long, worked great for when I was in toddler limbo, and was a great way for me to at least glance at the lesson ahead of time via hyperlink. I also understand that the teacher made it a point to include on the mailing list those whose callings keep them from attending Sunday School, to help them feel included.

Occasionally the teacher would also include links to talks or other resources related to the subject matter, probably depending on how much preparation had already been done by email time. The teacher would often also include attachments or links to resources and/or quotes used in lesson prep in lieu of or in addition to handouts.  There are always the folks who don’t use email and I’m not sure what the teacher did to help them.

Love the idea. And if sending the email becomes a part of a teacher’s regular lesson prep, it might not even be that much of an extra burden. The only issue for me would be revealing my sources (I wouldn’t be able to crib quite so liberally from Feast Upon the Word Blog and Wikipedia anymore).

Teachers, would you be up for this level of engagement with your class members? And class members, would you care?

____________

Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (the church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.

Resource Constraints & Shifts In Religious Behavior Patterns

The recent issue of BYU Studies contains a paper written by my co-blogger Jonathan Stapley regarding the Relief Society’s burial services the early 1900’s.  The paper addresses a decline in Relief Society burial preparations, and largely attributes this decline to the Relief Society’s inability to compete with professional burial service providers. I think this is reasonable, but found it somewhat incomplete when I looked at the data.  In particular, I was curious about the speed of the decline in burial preparations over time, and wondered if there might be more to the story than an inability to provide equally good burial services. In any case, it seemed like an excellent opportunity for rampant speculation. [Read more...]

Church-Hacker #7: The End Time

This week’s Church-Hacker was submitted by BCC reader Raymond, and should immediately be instituted in every ward throughout the church.

Why is it acceptable to go over the allotted time in meetings, but taboo to end early? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

It kills me whenever I see a teacher nervously look at the clock wondering how to “fill” more time. Just stop. No one will complain if we finish early. Another recurring problem is teachers who can’t stop until they get through their material. We appreciate the effort you put into preparing your lesson, but we’d appreciate it even more if you stopped on time. I tune out the teacher as soon as it’s time to leave anyway.

[Read more...]

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