I started teaching seminary three weeks ago. We’re off to a great start. I don’t have any goofballs in my class, so that helps. As I started preparing before the semester began, I tried to figure out how to present the Doctrine and Covenants in a way that could be compelling to high school students. The strongest memories I have of my own seminary years are the rides to and from the seminary building.
I’m not sure whether the fact that I remember the transit more than the classes themselves says something about the quality of the instruction or just the nature of the teenage mind. Regardless, I hope to present the material in a way that it will stick with the students, so I’ve chosen to teach the book in reverse. We started with the martyrdom in Section 135, and then spent the last three weeks covering the Nauvoo period from 124 to 132.
What hit me for the first time while teaching these was that Nauvoo under Joseph Smith only existed for about four years — about 2% of our church history! Yet those four years so heavily influence our identity today.
My own parallel to Nauvoo was the two months right before my mission. This “golden age” in my life was spent enjoying the magic of friendship, summer romance, sunrises, night skies, and hiking through the golden grass (or dead brown stickers, depending on who you ask) of the hills around my home, all without any real responsibilities. If I could organize my life to represent any time in my history, it would be those two months. And, the fact is, the work of my life since that time has been focused on trying to do that, in a realistic way.
The relevant similarity I see between Nauvoo and those two magical months of summer is that neither was really a sustainable situation. I’m no historian, but I would bet that is true of most cultural golden ages. Perhaps the point of a golden age is that it isn’t sustainable — it challenges and directs us by showing what we have the potential to be, and what we currently lack the capacity to maintain. It’s the visions I’ve received during the ephemeral magical moments of my life that have served to guide and direct my labors during the largely unremarkable years of labor that have formed the bulk of my years. I imagine that’s as true of the church as an organization as it is in the lives of its individual members.