How to “know Brother Joseph again” using the First Vision

linford-first-vision[Another part of my ongoing "Tips for Teachers" series. See the associated links here.]

My friend’s ward has an interesting Elder’s Quorum lesson schedule and I’m not sure how wide-spread it is in other wards. It goes like this:

1st Sunday: EQ Presidency Message
2 & 3rd: PH/RS manual
4th: “Teachings for our Times” (usually a conference address)
5th: Bishopric message

As EQ president, he gets to select lesson topics once a month. For the past few months he’s made use of the Church’s new Gospel Topics essays on issues like “Race and the Priesthood,” “Becoming Like God” and “Book of Mormon Translation.” This month he decided to focus on the new piece about the First Vision so I told him about a lesson I put together back when I taught Elder’s Quorum lessons in my Maryland ward.

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Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, or Why I Might Be Okay With the 3-Hour Block

Last night, my wife and I went to hear the final performance in this season’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Chicago residency. Pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel performed all five of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and cello.  [Read more...]

Is the new Sunday School curriculum a step forward?

A while back I gave a sacrament talk about how the Restoration is an ongoing thing. It was tough to gather enough recent rhetorically requisite quotes from authority to uphold my main thesis, so I was particularly happy when President Uchtdorf delivered this one:
Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.”
It’s wonderful (and for me, paradoxically egotistically self-affirming) to hear from the pulpit that we still have important things to learn as a Church, not just as new converts. But isolated statements like this one are up against some institutional inertia sustaining the view that we have pretty much everything figured out, especially Truth-wise. If we want to know how the “ongoing process” perspective play out in our actual church lives we might take a look at the Church’s recently announced plans for a new Sunday School curriculum for adults. The new curriculum has the potential to paradoxically affirm the idea of an ongoing process of Restoration while also denying or obscuring it.

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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...]

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.
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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.

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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...]

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.

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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...]

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...]

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...]

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.

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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...]

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.

Harmonizing the Text with History

Tomorrow is stake conference, and then a week from tomorrow I’ll be teaching GD lesson 21, which is JS-M. I haven’t actually prepared the lesson yet, but in pulling some stuff together I noticed something that was new to me and which I thought was interesting. [Read more...]

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