Administrating Teachings for Our Times

I like the idea of Teachings for Our Times. In an education system that encourages correlation, the program allows local leaders to make decisions based on the needs of students. This year, I was delighted to find that our stake did not choose the talks for these monthly lessons and passed that responsibility to the wards. I was asked by the bishop to come up with the TFOT lessons for the fist six months of the year, and I went through a process to make that happen. Based on my experience, here are some ideas related to the administration of Teaching for Our Times: [Read more…]

My Mormon thanks

1. A young, newly married woman was called to our ward’s nursery. A week later, she called and asked if she could come over to our home and get to know our nursery age child. She spent an hour on the floor with our two year-old, reading and rolling balls, laughing and singing. Thank you, A, and all of those who serve with love.

2. At one point in the last year, I was feeling low. I was overwhelmed by my faults and the impossibility of overcoming them. One Sunday, Brother J got up and bore his testimony about how hard it was to be good, and how he prayed for strength and, even though he felt like he fell short, he knew that he was acceptable in the sight of the Lord because of his desires, and that all he could do what continue to strive. Thank you, Brother J, and all of those in my ward and on the internet who are willing to open their lives and share their struggles. It has made a huge difference in my life.

3. Several of my home teaching charges have really needed me these last few months. I have received phone calls in the middle of the night, had involvement with law enforcement at several levels and grieved with a family over the death of a father and husband.  It has not been easy, and I have been required to make some tricky decisions. I alos recognize that I have thrived spiritually and socially. I am grateful for a community which requires me to take my commitment to the Gospel out on the mean streets, to take the question of what Christ would do above the level of cliché or rhetoric.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Feel free to share your Mormon thanks.

Cumorah quiz

True or False:

Based on what I have read and understood, the hill in New York is the actual, physical location where Moroni buried the plates.

Different models of justice

I recently listened to a podcast featuring Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize winning economist and philosopher. (If you want to hear it, here it is.) He has a new book about justice, in which he argues that a universal or idealized concept of justice should not be our goal: rather, we should focus on the obvious injustices and eliminate them.

The interviewer mentioned a parable Sen uses in his book that I found intriguing. I will paraphrase:

Imagine a flute. Three children each have a claim on the flute.

The first child should have the flute because she can play it well, and the others cannot.

The second child should have the flute because he has no other toys with which to play, and the others do have toys.

The third child should have the flute because she made it.

Of course, the purpose of the parable is to show the competing definitions of justice. But I wonder: according to contemporary Mormon Christianity, who should get the flute? Extra points for textual support. [Read more…]

Fathers and hearts

We travel to California every two years, mostly to see family. However, when we had been there a few days, I realized that my parents were not doing as well as I had thought. They had kept elements of their health problems secret from me and my siblings, and it was only because I was living under their roof that I sorted a few things out. [Read more…]

‘Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.’

I’ve been thinking a lot about being dogmatic, about how a system of  ideologies can color our thinking and shape our perception, keeping us from truth or not allowing ourselves to consider facts as they are. Avoiding ideological blinders has become increasingly difficult, and blogging has not helped. I aspire to be less ideological in my reading and thinking. But is it possible to be non-ideological and religious?

This morning, I read President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, and I was struck by his approach: [Read more…]

Stake Dance, 1986 (part 2)

Like I did in part 1, I have changed the names and extracted some embarrassing details.

When we arrive at Norms and I open the car door for Paige, the others having gone ahead to get a table, she gets out and gives me that same serious look she gave me at the dance, the eye contact we avoided there, and I feel close to her, closer even than when I kiss her a moment after. We go into the diner — the others are seated, menus out. Baz and I exchange a nod and smile before I sit down. [Read more…]

Stake Dance, 1986 (part 1)

In the mid 1980s, I spent many Saturday nights at Mormon stake dances around Southern California. There were several to choose from each Saturday, and the better ones would pack in several hundred kids from all over Southern California.

This post  was a journal entry dated February 1986, when I was sixteen years-old, but I wrote it several months later, and I seem to be writing in my Kerouac phase. I’ve taken out some embarrassing self-awareness and changed the names, but I’ve tried to leave the spirit of it intact. [Read more…]

Special Music: Redux

About a year ago, I posted about our ward’s experiments with music here, here and here. Since two members of the music committee are leaving the ward, it seemed like a good time to report.

First, our successes: the music has been good. Since the end of the summer holidays, we have had one or more special musical items (dare I call them performances?) in nearly every meeting (excepting most fast and testimony meetings). While there is a core of  musicians who perform regularly and an a capella quintet who perform every month as a mini-choir, there has been quite a variety of music. We’ve had violins, kanteles, four-handed piano, an upright bass, guitars, muted horns, an accordion, and the list goes on. While pieces from the current and past LDS hymnbooks have been prominent, classical and traditional Finnish religious music has gotten a lot of play as well. The quality has sometimes varied, but not the sincerity. Here are a few other things we’ve done that have gone especially well: [Read more…]

How a ward communicates

Recently heard in a ward council meeting:

‘I know more about ward members from their Facebook pages than I do from home teachers or visiting teachers.’

Is that a bad thing?
[Read more…]

Youth fireside or false hypnotic memory?

I think this really happened, but one can never be sure.

We went to the church building on a Sunday evening, and the foyer was decorated vaguely like an airport terminal. The buffer zone was set up like an airplane, and we pretended to be going somewhere. Then the plane crashed, and we were taken from room to room, reenacting the post mortal world or the judgment — I don’t remember that part so well. The grand finale was going into the chapel to see all of our parents dressed in all white clothes, hugging us as we came in, congratulating us on our valiance. [Read more…]

The Prophet and the Prison

Looking for something else, I ran across this the other day:

Marvin J. Ashton, “The Prophet and the Prison,” Ensign, May 1980, 35 [Read more…]

Things I wish people wouldn’t say in church, part 319

In a church talk, a member introduces herself or himself and includes this, presumably as a means of establishing their success as church members:

‘We have 6 children, and all of them served missions and/or married in the temple.’

How much empathy does it require to understand how a majority of parents and others might feel about themselves and their families when hearing this?

My mission

Twenty years ago today — 4 January 1989 — I entered the MTC as a missionary, headed for the Netherlands Amsterdam mission. Following a grand tradition, I thought I would reflect for a moment on that experience. [Read more…]

‘I Do Not Seek for Glory’

There are a few Christmas songs in the Finnish LDS hymnbook which are not in the English hymnbook. One is entitled ‘En etsi valtaa, lositoa,’ which gets translated into the English as ‘I Do Not Seek for Glory.’ The original lyrics are from the Finnish poet Zacharias Topelius, written in Swedish. The tune is by Jean Sibelius. The English translation is by J.J. Mary Hatakka.

[Read more…]

Tithing settlements

How do you feel about tithing settlements, on a scale from 1 to 10?

1 = ‘What a massive waste of time and energy. I refuse to participate.’

10 = ‘I treasure the moment when I can publicly declare my sacred offerings.’

For myself, I waver. Of course, it’s no big deal to show up and meet with the bishop in order to answer a question, but it seems like an awful lot of energy is expended on this one issue. I wish I could get a better sense of any doctrinal reasons for doing them in the way we do. A few years ago, after an odd interaction where it seemed I was being investigated, I refused to go again, but I got over it.

So I’m going with a 6: I’m not hostile about them, but neither do I have any enthusiasm: I see the tithing settlement as a basically empty gesture, but one which does me very little harm. But I might ask the bishop’s family about that.

The Mormon Reader: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The idea for this grew out of a series of conversations I’ve been having with a Mormon kid in my high school English class about the books we read.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has faced considerable criticism over the years: most recently for its use of racist language and a questionable depiction of an African American, more generally for its cynicism regarding human nature and criticism of social authority. Regardless, I would argue that Twain’s Realist premise — that idealism and social mandates ought to be rejected in the face of pragmatism and experience — raises some useful questions for the Mormon reader. [Read more…]

All Saints Day

This will be the Message from the Bishopric in the November ward newsletter (after being translated into Finnish, natch). Just a bit of devotional for the holiday.

I am always touched as I go past a cemetery on Pyhäinpäivä (All Saints Day) and see all the candles. I appreciate the effort so many people make to honor their dead, and I think a little about what the gospel has taught me about death. [Read more…]

Who I’m voting for (and why)

If you’ve been waiting for someone at BCC to post an opinion of the current election, here it is. [Read more…]

Meeting at the temple

Five years ago today, I took a very early morning flight from London to Stockholm, and then took a train to the suburb of Västerhaninge. There, on the temple grounds, I met Vaimoni for the first time in two months, who had taken the overnight ferry from Finland with her parents. My parents had also flown in from New York, where they were serving a mission. (When I asked if the mission president gave them permission to come to the wedding, my father said, ‘We let him know we were coming.’) It was an exciting moment: my parents and Vaimoni had not yet met, and since the two sets of parents didn’t share a common language, there was a flurry of translations. [Read more…]

General Conference Helsinki style!

1. We’re nine hours ahead of SLC, so the morning sessions start at 7 pm here, and the afternoon sessions at 11 pm. Many people listen to or watch the morning sessions at home and go to a church building for Priesthood and Saturday afternoon session, which are shown delayed over the satellite on Sunday afternoon. Of course, Sunday afternoon session never gets shown at all, so if something really important happened in that session, we’d be the last to hear about it. (Although the zealots who stay up until 1 am listening to conference would smugly email us, I guess.) [Read more…]

‘I’m a Stranger, I’m a Pilgrim’

We sang this in sacrament meeting a few weeks ago (listen here):

1. I’m a pilgrim, I’m a stranger
Cast upon the rocky shore
Of a land where deathly danger
Surges with a sullen roar,
Oft despairing, oft despairing,
Lest I reach my home no more. [Read more…]

Teaching with the missionaries

This is adapted from a journal entry in spring 2002, about six months after I had moved to Helsinki. Names and details have been changed, but the mixed feelings I had at the time about my own mission and missionary work generally have been left intact. Any efforts to alter those feelings are several years too late.

So I went on a teach with the missionaries last night.

They are the kind of missionaries that I disliked on my mission — humorless, scanning everything for its righteousness quotient, earnest to the point of callowness. They know the missionary book forward and backward, but they don’t seem to know anything else. Needless to say they’re ZLs. [Read more…]

On being peculiar

I’ll come right out and say it: I’m not interested in being peculiar. Not for it’s own sake. I’m interested in doing what is true and doing all I can to be more like Christ, but I don’t really care to go out of my way to display my removal from the ‘world.’ I have no desire to identify myself as starkly different from my non-Mormon neighbors and friends beyond the application of rock-solid gospel truths applied in my life. [Read more…]

Summer, 1983

I’ve been going through some of early journals recently, and I’ve created a post out of the content of a few of the entries. This should fulfill the quota of ‘anecdotes and short stories’ for which BCC is apparently famous.

In early 1980s Dave and Julie Elliot* lived down the street from us. They were a mormon married couple in their early twenties, and they were incredibly cool. (They still are, actually.) Both my sister and I were enthusiastic music fans, and the Elliots encouraged that with a vast and progressive record collection. (Dave made me my very first mix tape.) They seemed to like having us around, and my parents approved of their influence on us.

In 1983, they decided to go to a day of the US Festival, a rock and technology festival held in Devore California, about an hour’s drive from us. I was 14, my sister was 16. They offered to take us with them, and my parents agreed. That may surprise you, but my parents subscribed pretty strongly by the ‘teach correct principles … govern themselves’ idea. When I asked them about it many years later, they said that they felt that this would be a good way for us to explore something we would be interested in and would come into contact with anyway, but with knowing and trustworthy guides. [Read more…]

Happy St. John’s Day

As you may know, we at BCC are big fans of the liturgical calendar. So I wanted to give a big shout-out to St. John’s Day, or as it is known in Finnish, Juhannus. It is celebrated here this year on the 21st, the Saturday closest to the June equinox. For, as you may already know, St. John’s Day is basically the celebration of Midsummer, the longest day of the year. [Read more…]

Requiem for a Scooter

Last month, my father-in-law and I loaded up and tied down one of my last pretensions of youth: a 2000 50cc Italjet Torpedo Scooter. He hauled it off to an outbuilding on his farm, where it now rests with my sister-in-law’s half-stripped Volkswagen bug and a wooden boat that is literally generations in the making. [Read more…]

On learning: a graduation speech

I am this year’s faculty speaker at our graduation. Here’s what I said after the traditional humorous anecdotes about the graduates:

I hope you have the sense of accomplishment you richly deserve. You have learned an amazing amount. But the real richness, the real accomplishment does not lie in the scores you will get on your exams. To learn in order only to get exam scores is like earning money only to look at the pictures on the bills. The real value of your learning is not only in those scores, nor is it only in the facts and ideas you have stored away in your memory – it is the knowledge of how to learn, the pattern of thinking and processing that strenuous learning requires. An athlete or a dancer, through the repetition of a specific series of movements, will develop a muscle memory, allowing them to make those same movements with greater ease and grace; likewise, serious thinkers develop an intellectual muscle memory, allowing them to process information and ideas with greater ease and dexterity. This is the prize you carry with you, more valuable than any exam score could be. But it can atrophy through as lack of use, as an athlete’s muscle can lose its strength. [Read more…]

Zeniff and me

In March, Natalie posted about ways of reading The Book of Mormon, especially close reading. I’ve tried applying the close reading skills I teach as a high school literature and composition teacher — a sort of basic formalism, which involves coming to conclusions about the author’s intentions based on the text and the techniques used by the author. [Read more…]

Engagement tales

In London, we had dinner with a group of young married American couples who made up about half of the active population of our ward. Someone told the story of how they got engaged –it involved a scavenger hunt around Utah Valley — and other couples picked up the theme, telling of the elaborately romantic gestures involved in popping the proverbial question. There were horses and orchestras and airplanes involved in these stories, with weeks of planning and a fair amount of money. I mean, how cheap can it be to rent a suit of armor?

Someone asked how we got engaged, and my wife laughed. I told them the story.

We were at H’s apartment on a Monday night watching The Matrix on TV. During a commercial, H was in the kitchen, and as I saw her through the door, I said, ‘Hey, we should get married.’

And she agreed. [Read more…]