Lesson 43: “The Shepherds of Israel” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings: Ezekiel 18:21-32; 34; 37

This lesson brings together diverse texts from Ezekiel, where the only through-line might be the wisdom of turning to God when everything else lets you down. Ezekiel is a prophet from the time of the Babylonian captivity, so he knew something about being let down by everything else. [Read more…]

Informal Gospel Study Groups

sarah-noltner-749896-unsplash

“Do you have Priesthood approval for that gathering?”

It’s a question I’ve heard numerous times, and it’s always bothered me.

Over the years, across the country and even the world, I’ve participated in many informal gospel study groups.   They’ve often sat at the core of my social circles and been the site of some of my powerful spiritual insights. [Read more…]

Lesson 38: “Beside Me There Is No Saviour” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Reading: Isaiah 40-49

These chapters are a flashpoint for several reasons, most having to do with context. Scholars generally see Isaiah 40 as the beginning of “Deutero-Isaiah,” because whereas (most of) the earlier chapters of Isaiah assume a location in 8th century BCE Judah, chapter 40 depicts God returning to Jerusalem and its temple after a long absence, and chapters 44 and 45 explicitly name Cyrus (ca. 600-530 BCE), founder of the Persian Empire. For this reason and others, scholars therefore associate these chapters with the exilic or post-exilic period.

These scholarly conclusions have resulted in pushback from some LDS teachers, though. The familiar version of the argument that I’ve heard is that “scholars don’t believe in prophecy,” which implicitly or explicitly equates “prophecy” with “the ability to see the future” by doing such things as naming Cyrus before he was born. Mormon investment in this argument derives from the fact that the Book of Mormon quotes from Deutero-Isaiah, which means that Book of Mormon historicity rests in part on these chapters’ having already been written ca. 600 BCE, before the exile.

In my view, however, texts that try to call Israel to keep worshiping Yahweh as God even though Yahweh apparently didn’t prevent the destruction of the temple or the exile should count as pretty darn prophetic, especially given that predicting the future is a pretty narrow subset of what Hebrew prophets do. I bring this up because class members are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with these issues, and good teachers should try to be aware of the kinds of questions and objections students might make, even if they’re not voiced. Sunday School that doesn’t attend to the actual needs and concerns of class members is a waste of everyone’s time. [Read more…]

Lesson 33: “Sharing the Gospel with the World” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings: Jonah and bits of Micah (2:12-13; 4:1-7, 11-13; 5:2-4, 7-8; 6:6-8; 7:18-20)

In addition to their content, these readings provide an occasion to talk about how varied (or not so varied) the Bible as a collection can be. Mormons tend not to think much about the different genres of biblical texts, nor about why such differences might matter for the practical applications we take away from the texts. Put bluntly, what happens when we read Jonah as a satire about prophets rather than as a “straight” story about a prophet? And what difference does it make that Micah repeats a few verses from Isaiah, more or less verbatim? (Or is it the other way around, and we’re assuming that the “major” prophet is the source for the “minor” one? So confusing.) [Read more…]

Lesson 29: “He Took Up…the Mantle of Elijah” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings: 2 Kings 2, 5, 8

Manual Goals:

  1. To help class members understand how the authority (mantle) passes from one prophet to another.
  2. To encourage them to obey the words of the prophets, and
  3. To assure them that the power of God is greater than any other power.

Introduction

Ahh, Elisha. The prophet of God who made bears eat children because they mocked his baldness. A reminder that even the prophets have human failings? A biblical example of male fragility? An object lesson about evil-speaking of the Lord’s anointed? We’ll talk more about the bears in a bit. [Read more…]

Lesson 28: “After the Fire a Still Small Voice” #BCCSundaySchool2018

This lesson takes up the stories of Elijah from 1 Kings 17-19: the drought, God feeding him in the wilderness, his meeting with the Widow of Zarephath and her son, his encounter with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, and his encounter with Yahweh at Mount Horeb. Elijah is something of a paradigmatic prophet, so I’ll focus the discussion (somewhat in the spirit of Abraham Joshua Heschel) on questions of what these texts can teach us about a prophet’s relationship to God—and, crucially, what kind of relationship these prophetic stories call us to have with God. [Read more…]

Lesson 14: “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Learning Outcomes:
To encourage class members to partake of the Lord’s spiritual water and bread, sustain his chosen leaders, and obey his commandments so he can make of them a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

Readings:
Exodus 15-20, 32-4
[Read more…]

Lesson 13: Bondage, Passover, and Exodus #BCCSundaySchool2018

Objective: To bring class members together as participants in God’s liberatory work.

Readings: Exodus 1-3, 5-6, 11-14 (optional: read all of Exodus 1-15) [Read more…]

Lesson 11: Because the Lord Was With Him #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Genesis 34, 37-39[fn1]

Learning Outcomes

By the end of class, students will be able to:

  1. Discuss how and why the scriptures subvert our expectations as readers.
  2. Identify different models of divine aid illustrated in the scriptures.

Introduction

In many ways, the story of Joseph in Egypt is the superhero origin story of the Israelite people. I mean, yeah, we’ve had some feints at origin already, everything from Adam and Eve to Noah to Abraham. And Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all received a covenant wherein God promised them land, descendants, and blessings.

But it’s Moses and the exodus from Egypt that really kicks things off. And without Joseph? The Israelites wouldn’t have been in Egypt to miraculously escape, and Moses wouldn’t have led them in the desert for forty years (and created the typology embraced by everybody from Jesus to the Nephites to African-Americans to Mormon pioneers). [Read more…]

Lesson 10: Marriage in the Covenant #BCCSundaySchool2018

ReadingsGenesis 24 – 29.

Introduction:   I volunteered to give this lesson for BCC precisely because I’m a temple-divorced, now-engaged-to-a-Catholic Mormon woman.  The Old Testament manual instructs teachers “As you discuss the importance of eternal marriage, be sensitive to the feelings of class members who have not been married in the temple or whose parents have not been married in the temple.”  But other than that note, it doesn’t provide any practical tips about what that “sensitivity” might look like.  I hope here to provide a model for how we can use this episode in Genesis to spark discussion on how everyone can achieve more Christlike relationships, without assuming that all temple marriages are happy, nor that all non-temple marriages are miserable.

[Read more…]

Lesson 7: The Abrahamic Covenant #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Genesis 12:1-8 (KJV, NRSV), 15 (KJV, NRSV), 17 (KJV, NRSV)

Romans 2:25-29 (KJV, NRSV), 4 (KJV, NRSV), 9:1-18 (KJV, NRSV) [fn1]

Learning Outcomes

I’d hope that class members come away from this lesson with circumcised hearts, believing God’s promises to all people so that they can have that belief reckoned to them for righteousness.

Introduction

For me, the tension animating this set of texts is one between exclusivity and inclusivity. The manual includes a quote from Joseph Fielding Smith conveying the idea that most (but, implicitly, not all) members of the Church have the literal blood of Abraham flowing through their veins. This gesture works to make us as Mormons genetically part of an exclusive club to whom particular promises are due, and the manual uses quotes from Pres. Benson and Elder Packer to emphasize the responsibility that people in the club have to evangelize the people outside. Taking this stuff literally, though, requires disregarding the probability that if a man who lived ca. 5000 years ago has any living descendants at all, then every person on earth is likely to be among their number. (It also has messed up racial implications; see fn1.) Whom shall we proselyte if everyone’s already in the club? [Read more…]

Lesson 6: Noah Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Moses 8

Genesis 6-9, 11

Learning Outcomes

To understand the importance of the story of Noah and the flood.

To come away with an appreciation for the complexities of Godhood, prophethood, regularpersonhood.

Introduction

I know there are many spiritual lessons to be learned from the story of Noah and the flood, but what I really want to focus on is exactly how large the ark was, how many cubits deep the water would have been, and how the animals managed to not eat each other. [Read more…]

Lesson 2: God Knew Abraham #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Abraham 3, Moses 4:1-4

Learning Outcomes

By the end of class, class members will be able to

  1. Describe strategies for profitably reading Abraham.
  2. Evaluate what it means that God knew us before we were born.

Introduction

Eight years ago, I was sitting in a Sunday School class in Chicago with my daughter in my lap. I was probably half paying attention to the lesson, when suddenly the discussion started getting heated. People were arguing that we definitely, most certainly don’t believe in predestination. We’re foreordination people! Then others would pipe in that they didn’t see any substantive difference between predestination and foreordination. [Read more…]

“You Lost Me,” Tension in the Church

Image result for satanic smurfsThis was an interesting article I recently read by an Evangelical-raised woman about the things that happened in her life where she felt a disconnect with what her church told her. The article was titled “How I Became a Heretic (or How the Evangelical, Conservative Church Lost Me). Some of her moments included: [Read more…]

Death by (Correlation) Committee

Image result for primary teacher ldsA topic that often comes up in online discussion groups among Mormons is the teaching manuals. As most of us know, these are written by a committee called the Curriculum Committee (under the oversight of the Correlation Committee). [3] “Correlation” was a byproduct of decades-long efforts to standardize materials, culminating in the 1960s, a huge effort to amass all leadership, budgets, publications, and teaching materials under one hierarchical, priesthood-overseen umbrella rather than separate auxilliary heads as it had been in the past. (See footnote 3 for a much more thorough explanation of the history.) This was to quash rogue teaching that might occur when these things were being done under separate oversight. As with anything where uniformity is the goal, blandness and groupthink is often the result (whereas rogue teaching, inequity, and folklore is often the result of the other approach). Because teachers in the church are average church members using these manuals to the best of their ability, lesson quality varies greatly. Additionally, everyone who has held a teaching calling (and that’s most active members) has an opinion on the materials they are provided and how effective they are.

You can listen to a podcast describing the curriculum process here. Just reading the overview of it on that same page is very interesting. You can read the transcript of an interview with Dan Peterson about his time on the Curriculum Writing committee here.
[Read more…]

The Thermostat Wars

There’s one thing that’s driving a wedge between men and women in the church every single week, that creates discomfort and distrust for both. Is it polygamy? Gender roles in the proclamation? No. It’s the Gospel Doctrine Thermostat Wars. Every week the drama plays out again in my Arizona ward: the men want the AC cranked up, and the women are shivering under pashminas and cardigans. It’s largely because of the ridiculous dress code at church in which women (who are often colder anyway) have bare legs and feet in sandals and short sleeves while the men (who are often warmer anyway) are wearing socks, closed shoes, heavy pants, jackets, long sleeved shirts buttoned to the neck.

I would say this is a heated argument, but not from where I’m sitting. [Read more…]

We Should REALLY Argue More at Church

Image resultI hope I will be forgiven for co-opting Sam Brunson’s excellent post and title (found here), but I wanted to investigate the WHY a little bit more. Ardis points out that debate used to be a staple at church (at least for the men of the YMMIA) during the early part of the 20th century. We also know that in the earliest days of the church, the School of the Prophets was known for hearty discussion and debate (as well as tobacco spitting and smoking). Based on my own memories, growing up in the church in the 70s and 80s, church classes used to involve more debate than they have in my advancing years. That could be the nature of the ward I grew up in, but I suspect that it’s a byproduct of the calcification of correlation that has continued since its introduction. The church–like every organization–becomes more bureaucratic with growth, not less. I’ll explain what I mean. [Read more…]

Lesson 12: “The Gathering of My People” #DandC2017

Did you know that I was originally supposed to do last week’s lesson (“The Field is White Already to Harvest”)? But I was traveling in India with my wife and couldn’t get around to it in time, so Stapley did it instead. So if you were not pleased with that lesson’s write-up, you should think long and hard about whether I am to blame or whether Stapley is to blame. If you also hate this week’s write-up, then maybe you should think about getting your lesson write-ups elsewhere.
Anyway, ON TO THE QUOTES!
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Lesson 6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart” #DandC2017

This week’s lesson is a continuation of the aborted Oliver Cowdery translation attempt. Bummer for you teachers who rotate weeks with another teacher; there’s a BIG overlap in chapters here with both this week and last week’s lesson focusing on the same three sections of the Doctrine & Covenants: 6, 8, and 9. This one throws section 11 in the cart, but really, the majority of the lesson is still focused on the same material as last week. You’re the loser who drew the short straw because your rotating cohort got first dibs on the good stuff.

The first “attention activity” is the suggestion to bring a radio to class. Apparently, a radio is an old-timey electronic device that was used to receive transmitted sound waves from the air. People used to use these devices to listen to talk show programs as well as music, all interspersed with housewives gushing about the newest dish washing soap and doctors recommending their favorite brand of cigarette “for your health.” Radios were also used in the Netflix series Stranger Things to communicate with the Upside Down. Since it’s probably impractical to drive your car into the classroom, perhaps there are some functional portable radios at the Desert Industries or in your grandfather’s attic you could pick up for your object lesson. [1] [Read more…]

I Believe the Book of Mormon is… Multidimensional

I had a vinyl banner that hung in my bedroom—a gift from one of my Primary teachers. It was distressed to look like an ancient manuscript, and on it were printed the Articles of Faith. Next to each Article, a blank circle hovered. As I memorized each Article, I would check them off with my teacher and she would give me a sticky-backed button to place in the circle… each Article had a different button, and I remember the anticipation I felt as I waited to see the image on the button’s obverse. The whole affair felt like an ancient rite of passage, passed down to me by those who’d paved the way before.

I never completed it.

[Read more…]

John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 8-Summary.

[Here’s all the previous parts: Part 1 (Introduction–Construction of the Gospels), Part 2 (Incarnation and the Wisdom Literature), Part 3 (John and his community–The Jews), Part 4 (More on Community, Feasts, Doc. and Cov. 7), Part 5 (John and ecclesiology–Joseph Smith’s Struggle), Part 6 (John and Joseph Smith’s revelations and preaching–Holy Ghost–Election), Part 7 (John and the Historicity of Scripture).]

You can read the whole series here.

I’m summarizing a few things here, so there are spoilers for the previous posts if you haven’t read them.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 7-John and the Historicity of Scripture.

[Part 6 is here. The finale is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

There is an issue with John’s Gospel that’s related to Doc. and Cov. 7, but I avoided it when I brought up the revelation. This seemed like the right place to discuss it, the back end of what I originally planned, since it leads to a natural conclusion and where this whole thing was supposed to end up. But I’ve since realized that it really belongs in an extended study of resurrection texts, so I’m just going to hit a few of the high spots here, and then come back to it in some Easter posts. Maybe.
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Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson #7: 2 Nephi 3-5

This approximates the lesson I taught in my ward today, adding a few things I wanted to get to if we’d had more time.

In 1999 I was a missionary in Helsingør, Denmark (familiar to Shakespeare buffs as the setting for Hamlet). In the good ol’ Danish Mission getting let in to teach was a pretty rare occurrence, but we met this woman, taught her a first discussion, and even came back for a second. When we showed up for the third, though, we found the Book of Mormon hanging in a bag on her doorknob, with a note saying, “God is not a racist. 2 Nephi 5:21.”

Obviously I’m still around, almost 17 years later, so this episode (and that verse) didn’t destroy my testimony, but it does raise questions about what to do with passages, like that one, that grate against our modern sensibilities. (Mike’s recent post has some good ideas!) Conveniently, today’s chapters talk a good deal about scripture, giving us occasion to think about such questions. [Read more…]

John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 6-John and Joseph Smith’s Revelations and Preaching-Holy Ghost-Election.

[Part 5 is here. Part 7 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

While Joseph Smith appeals to John in working out the meaning of Election, at the same time John’s texts in chapters 14, 15, 16 become vital in both the Mormon egalitarian ministry of knowledge and the Mormon temple priesthood (and John 15 is the opening text for Smith’s announcement of choosing apostles in 1835): “God hath not revealed any thing to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve & even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to–bear them.” This comes to a head in John’s treatment of the Spirit. In the other Gospels, and Acts, the word used for the Spirit is a word without gender, pneuma—breath. It appears for example in Gabriel’s speech to Mary, the Greek version (LXX) of Genesis at the creation, and James 2:26, a favorite, though perhaps misused “body” and “spirit” text. John employs a different word to enhance or stand in for “Holy Spirit” that is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, Parakletos (pa-ROCK-luh-toss, is close enough) and it has masculine gender. In other words, John is speaking (writing) of a person.
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The Book of Mormon and the Bechdel Test

Speak up, but don’t talk too much.

When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol.  When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines.  I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene.  I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts.  She agreed with me, and I got the part! [1]

The Bechdel test [2] is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story.   [Read more…]

John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 4-More on Community-Feasts-Doctrine and Covenants 7.

[Part 3 is here. Part 5 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

Another unfortunate thing about this divorce between John’s group and the synagogue: they lose a powerful and fulfilling tradition. The feasts, celebrations, and cultural links with the past that acted as a continuing force of discipline, values, and stability drifted away, their meaning diminishing over time. You lose your own identity when something like this happens in some respects. That seems represented in the Gospel.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 3-John and his Community-and the Jews.

[Part 2 is here. Part 4 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

In Paul, and later in the Synoptics, the central act is that Jesus died for us, and God brought him back in resurrection. John keeps much of this certainly, but he draws us back to the Prologue (John 1) in statements like “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son.” That is, God sent Jesus into the world, from a preexistent state. It’s not a reference to the end of Jesus’ life, atonement/resurrection, it’s a reference to its beginninglessness, it’s a passage about Christmas—Word became flesh. God’s Son came down, and brought God’s life with him (life in himself)—the life that he can give (here and now!) is God’s own life—eternal life. That seems to be John’s message, and it’s a message that Joseph Smith extracted and sacralized-sacramentalized. In John’s Gospel, Jesus offers people eternal life while he’s in conversation with them and with the disciples. John never uses the term “apostle”–he’s virtually anti-clerical–this tells us something of his presentism perhaps and the ecclesial nature of his community. The Book of Mormon carries the terminology of John when Jesus chooses Twelve and in many other places.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 2-Incarnation and Wisdom Literature.

[Part 1, here. Part 3 here.]

You can find the whole series here.

John is unique among the four Gospels in that it speaks of incarnation (John 1). The other Gospels never speak of a previous life for Jesus. In John, Jesus lived with God before mortal life. And everything he says and all his acts conform to what he heard and saw with God in a preexistence (John 5). Joseph Smith makes a huge thing of this, and it forms one of the two pinnacles of the final part of early Mormon teaching. Once you start to think this way, and John does it right from the beginning, it changes everything. The other Gospels make it clear that Jesus is speaking for God, but they never give an explanation of the genesis of that teaching. John does this, and it turns into one of the two pillars of Mormon cosmology.
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Are Mormons Anti-Modernists?

As the Ammon Bundy headlines continue to dominate the news cycle, many have been wondering whether these views are inherently Mormon as the Bundy clan claims or if Mormonism encourages these types of attitudes.  While this episode has a libertarian theme, which may or may not relate to the question of anti-modernism, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2013 about the anti-modernist streak that seems to be emerging in various faith traditions, including Mormonism.

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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 1-Introduction and the Construction of the Gospels.

I wanted to say goodbye to our New Testament year and hello to the Book of Mormon. I did a few posts in 2015 about the NT, but nothing much about John. John’s Gospel is a key text in the restoration, and I think it’s important to see how the genesis of the Gospel finds a home in early Mormon works of scripture and discourse. I’m just scratching the surface here. There are book-length treatments that await this point of view. This stands as a kind of prelude to some Easter material I want to post around the holiday.
[You can read the whole series here.]
[Part 2, here.]

John the apostle of Jesus and brother of James | the beloved disciple | John the Evangelist? | John the Elder | John the Redactor | John the Revelator. Five or six identities, possibly six different persons/traditions, associated with the New Testament and in a number of ways, early Mormonism, including the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith’s revelations. To start out, I want to consider the Gospel of John and then to some extent the rest of what usually goes by the name, Johannine corpus. That includes the Gospel, the Letters (1, 2, 3 John) and Revelation.[1]
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