Author: Gordon Smith

March Madness

Earlier tonight the NCAA announced the men’s basketball tournament bracket, and BYU barely made the field for the second year in a row. Also for the second year in a row, BYU will be playing the defending national champion, though most “experts” give BYU a better chance this year against Syracuse than they had last year against Connecticut (which was a fairly close game, by the way). Some of my best memories from my time at BYU are connected to sports, but I will confess to being surprised when Merrill Bateman, then President of BYU and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, placed such a heavy emphasis on BYU sports. This excerpt from an article written by Greg Call’s brother portray’s Bateman’s attitude toward BYU sports: “Cougar sports play a vital role in furthering the mission of both the school and its sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Bateman said it’s essential that…

The Filmody of the Latter-Gays

Having bled dry the secular culture, filmmakers have had to find new wine to fill the old bottle of liberating oneself from convention. They’ve found a homegrown subculture juicy enough to do it. Transgressively moral Mormon, I present you to yourself. You’re the wine. An alert reader ran across a film called Latter Days and suspected it might have something to do with, well, us. As this sympathetic article shows, it does.

The Physicality of the Atonement

All of the discussion about The Passion has prompted thoughts about the importance of the physical in the Atonement. This topic has been touched briefly in some of the comments below, with Melora opining that “Christ’s atonement did not need to be violent and bloody,” and Matt responding, “but the atonement was preordained to parallel the violent and bloody slaughters of the sacrificial lamb.” I am interested in the unspoken premise of these arguments, namely, that the physical pain and death endured by Jesus was part of the Atonement. In my view, the physical pain the Jesus experienced at the end of his life may have been an important part of Jesus’ personal development, but it was, at most, a small part of the Atonement.

STQ: Temples & World Peace

My Seminary class has just started studying the Book of Isaiah. Chapter 2:2-4 contains the oft-quoted verses: And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD?s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. While most Mormons…

Enhancing Nature

At first blush, this may not seem like a serious entry, but it is. (Well, mostly serious anyway.) The other night, I was watching television just before midnight. I don’t remember the program for sure, but since I have a limited palate, it must have been Law & Order, Monk, or a college baskeball game. In other words, nothing that would have signalled to me that I should be especially cautious about the commercials. Suddenly, I was assaulted by a commercial featuring a woman talking about “that special part of a man’s body.” I could not believe what I was watching! And, of course, like a gawker by an accident, I could not change the channel. I just sat there, slack-jawed. She kept saying that phrase over and over, using her tone to put it into italics.

Discussing the Gospel

Over the course of the past four months, several people on this blog have mentioned that they appreciate the opportunity provided by T&S to discuss the Gospel in depth. Does this strike anyone else as odd?

Losing a Child

On March 5, 1987, my son Neill Earl Smith was born. Three months later, he died of pneumonia. He was a victim of a rare neurological disorder known as Werdnig-Hoffman Syndrome. He would be 17 years old now. My wife and I have had five other children, but I still miss him.

T&S = Instructor’s Manual

I just returned from a conference in Oregon, and found an email from a T&S regular, who related a story about her husband using one of our discussions to teach a Seminary class. I have done the same thing (several times), and I was wondering whether anyone else has had a similar experience. Do you ever use the insights gained here in teaching?

High School

Driving my daughter to Seminary and then to high school this morning, I learned an amazing amount about the social structure of Middleton High School. According to my daughter, the most despised group is the “Populars.” This is ironic because, as you may know if you have teenagers, the Populars aren’t … they just act like they are. The “Semi-Populars” (at this point, I am already beginning to think that she is making this up as we go) are really the most popular. These are kids who don’t act popular, but are really decent people, usually with a good sense of humor. The Freaks are fun. Well, at least those who are into drama and art. Some people are freaky in a creepy sort of way, and they are definitely not fun. The Druggies come in at least two varieties: Mild and Hard Core. The former are just dumb, but the latter might be dangerous. The Jocks are what they…

“One Flesh”

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to spend more time with my wife, and since she didn’t object, this is one resolution that I have kept. My motivation is partly short term — my wife is my best friend, and I enjoy our times together. But I also am motivated by the idea of eternal companionship. Indeed, I like all of the doctrines of unity: marriage, Zion, exaltation. These concepts inspire me. With regard to marriage, we are told that “man [shall] leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Genesis 2:24. Also, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” 1 Cor. 11:11. I understand these scriptures to mean that I must become one with my wife in the same way as Jesus become one with the Father. I can think of no better way of doing this than reading…

“Good Books”

How are we to understand the injunction to “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people”? More to the point, how do we choose the books we will or will not read? This post was inspired by The Da Vinci Code, which I have been reading with my wife. One of my vices is that I love a well-written mystery. While this book has occasional moments of suspense, Dan Brown is a clumsy writer who makes the story as tedious as it is implausible. But I am not here to do a book review. Instead, reading this book has prompted some thoughts about the nature of “good books.”

Hello, Out There!

Early this morning, our Site Meter rolled over the 20,000 visitor mark. Kaimi noted the first 10,000 five weeks ago, on January 22. That first 10,000 required nine weeks of blogging. Based on traffic this week — which passed 400 visitors per day for the first time on Wednesday — we will reach the next 10,000 sometime well before the end of March. Although I rarely purport to speak for all of the bloggers on this site, I think that I can safely venture the following: we all appreciate the opportunity to engage in this forum, and express thanks to our visitors, particularly those who take the time to share insights about Mormonism. Keep coming back, and tell your friends!

On Teaching Seminary

As regulars here know, I teach early morning Seminary. I love the students in the class, which includes my 15-year-old daughter. My Seminary teaching style is relaxed. Today, for example, we covered the first couple of chapters in Job, intermittantly reading and talking. (“Could Satan really talk to God like that?” “Was Job a real person?”) Tangents — mostly generated by the random firing of dendrites inside the brains of the most outspoken young men — are a regular feature of the class. We laugh a lot. Once or twice a week, we eat breakfast. We learn something new on most days. And occasionally, we have a genuine spiritual experience.

Welcome Our New Guest Blogger: Linda Hoffman Kimball

Many of you may already know Linda Hoffman Kimball from her work as a columnist at and for Exponent II. Or from her novels (Home to Roost and The Marketing of Sister B). Or perhaps from the essay collection she edited, Saints Well-Seasoned: Musings on How Food Nourishes Us — Body, Heart and Soul. Her latest work is Chocolate Chips & Charity: Visiting Teaching in the Real World, which has already cracked Cedar Fort’s Bestseller List even though it just came out in January. I first met Linda in the Hyde Park Ward on the South Side of Chicago, where she, her husband (Chris) and three children were the backbone of a very transient ward. Like me Linda was baptized into the Church during college (Wellesley College), having been raised a devout Methodist. After Wellesley, she earned an MFA from Boston University, where her thesis was on Art as Propaganda in Nazi Germany. She now lives in Evanston, Illinois,…

Sunday School Lesson 9

Lesson 9: 2 Nephi 11-25 This week’s study questions are a little longer than usual but much shorter than last week’s. Chapter 11 Verses 2-3: Nephi tells us he has two reasons for delighting in the words of Isaiah and writing them down: he can liken them to his people, and Isaiah, like Nephi and Jacob, is a witness of Christ, so that the three stand together as witnesses of him. What reasons might there be for the words of Isaiah to be given to us? For other reasons, see 1 Nephi 19:23; 2 Nephi 11:2-6, 8; 2 Nephi 25:3.

Church Canards

When you hear it over the pulpit, it makes you cringe. You know that it isn’t true, but you also know that this will not be the last time you hear it. Somehow, these stories, sayings, or beliefs have infiltrated the Church consciousness (my theory is that many of them are borrowed from “mainstream Christianity”), and we have the most difficult time getting rid of them. Here is my favorite: “As Jesus said, ‘I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.’” Aarrgh! Here at Times & Seasons, we want to provide a non-violent means of relieving yourself of your frustration. Share your favorite canard. If you don’t have a canard, exactly, perhaps you have a favorite trite story or poem (“Footsteps in the Sand” anyone?). Or the musical number from hell. (No, not that. I’m talking about the song that you just cannot abide.) Share away. We’re here for you.

Family Ordination?

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” reads in part: “The family is ordained of God.” What does this mean? (This is one of my wife’s puzzlers.) My inital reaction was that it meant something simple like, “The institution of the family — being defined as a husband, wife, and children — was created by God for the eternal benefit of His children.” But the use of the word “ordain” seems to imply something more than mere creation or invention of the institution. It implies a Divine imprimatur and may suggest that the family is the exclusive vehicle for eternal progression. This seems consistent with Church doctrine (whatever that is), as I understand it. More interestingly, use of the word “ordain” connotes some connection to the Priesthood. The word “ordain,” of course, is related to “ordinance” and to “order,” thereby invoking the notion of authority. Is this significant? Perhaps this is intended to refer to the temple sealing ordinances. Any…

Education and Class

As someone not that far removed from a “redneck” heritage, I think that Gordon has hit on something very important: often our discussions of R-rated movies and such is, for both sides, really a discussion of class. One side sees itself as sophisticated and informed. The other side sees itself as obedient and faithful. The first sides accuses the second of being anti-intellectual. The second side accuses the first of being proud and unwilling to take counsel.

Welcome again, Kristine!

For the past two weeks, we have all enjoyed Kristine’s thoughtful presence on this blog, in posts like this and this and this. No one wants this to end, including Kristine, who recently agreed to carry on as a permanent blogger. Welcome again, Kristine!

My 18-month Mission

In April 1982, the First Presidency announced that male missionaries would thenceforth serve missions of 18 months, rather than two years. The justification for the change: “It is anticipated that this shortened term will make it possible for many to go who cannot go under present financial circumstances. This will extend the opportunity for missionary service to an enlarged body of our young men.” I had been a member of the Church for less than six months. In September 1982, I was called by President Spencer W. Kimball to serve in the Austria Vienna Mission for a period of 18 months. After returning home, I obtained a teaching position at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. On November 26, 1984, during my first semester as a teacher at the MTC, the First Presidency announced that the length of missions would be changed back to two years.

STQ: Old Testament Stories

This morning my Seminary class discussed 2 Kings 2. At the end of that chapter are the following verses: And [Elisha] went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. That’s it. That’s the whole story. Let me summarize: Some youth mock the prophet for his bald head, he curses them, and a couple of bears rip them apart.


We are reading the Book of Mormon as a family, and last night we came to the story of Amulek and Zeezrom. Would it surprise you to learn that Zeezrom is my favorite character in the Book of Mormon? Of course, Zeezrom was a lawyer, who is described as “a man who was expert in the devices of the devil.” (Alma 11:21) At one point in the exchange with Amulek, Zeezrom attempts to purchase Amulek’s testimony against God, and Zeezrom fails. (Alma 11:22) But when Amulek describes spiritual death, “Zeezrom began to tremble.” (Alma 11:46) Then Alma jumps in, calls Zeezrom a liar and reads his mind — “Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit.” (Alma 12:3) At this…

Most Inspiring Rock Song Ever?

Last week, Kaimi made this Comment: “Possibly the greatest rock song of all time: Hotel california.” This was followed by a few expressions of incredulity, including this from cooper: “Hotel California??????? Ugh! Gross. Blech!” Kaimi defended his choice on grounds that the song had a great guitar solo, and he backed up his assertion with this ranking. When I heard Hotel California on the radio today, it reminded me of this exchange and started me thinking. Rock music can be rated along various other dimensions: best vocal (should we just agree by acclamation that Bohemian Rhapsody wins this?), best drum solo (anything by Keith Moon), best rock ballad (hmm, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd?), etc. How about the most inspiring rock song ever?


As I drove home from work today, I heard an announcement for an upcoming program on Wisconsin Public Radio dealing with the topic of contentment. Implicit in the announcement was an assumption that contentment is a worthy life goal. This caught me off guard. Honestly, it has never occurred to me to pursue contentment. I’m not sure I even know what it means.

STQ: Blind Obedience

The words “blind obedience” have a negative connotation. They imply something different from “obedience,” standing alone, which is generally thought to be a good thing. The expression “blind obedience” could suggest faith in the face of uncertainty, but it doesn’t. Instead, it suggests unquestioning adherence to inherently imprecise rules, even in the face of silly or adverse consequences.

The Worst of Times

Tonight the Church Education System sponsored a satellite broadcast from Temple Square, featuring Elder Boyd K. Packer. As an early morning seminary teacher, I was invited to attend. Elder Packer and Elder Eyring, who introduced him, both made comments to the following effect (paraphrasing): “the world has never been more wicked, and it will not get any better.” I have no reason to dispute this, but why are General Authorities (and, by way of imitation, members) so fond of saying such things?


The Book of Mormon uses the term “priestcrafts” as follows: “priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.” (2 Nephi 26:29) Last weekend, I visited the “local” LDS bookstore (located about two hours away, near the Chicago temple) and discovered a new book about Jesus, written by a man I had met several years ago while practicing law. Although we met only briefly, my impression of this man was very favorable, and I am pretty certain that he could teach me a thing or two about Jesus. Nevertheless, whenever I visit an LDS bookstore, the verse quoted above about priestcrafts pops into my head. Mormons tend to associate that idea with televangelists, but I wonder …

Welcome Our Newest Guest Blogger: Kristine Haglund Harris

Regular visitors to this blog will recognize Kristine as the outspoken, ABBA-loving, mother of three who currently has a vice grip on second place (among non-bloggers) in the Comments sweepstakes. Just this week, I learned that Kristine’s brother Rich was my student two years ago at Vanderbilt Law School. While living in Tennessee, I also met Kristine’s father, who is a Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt. Having spent several years in Germany in her youth, Kristine was naturally drawn to the study of all things German at Harvard (A.B.) and Michigan (M.A.). She tells me that her youngest child will be in preschool three mornings a week next fall, so she is considering a move back to school to finish her Ph.D., “though not in German — something more practical, like history or religion.” (That last comment being partly TIC, I think.) She has also been a Summer Fellow (2003) at the Smith Institute of Church History. We are all…