Author: Jim F.

Welcome Wilfried Decoo

Professor Decoo, a Belgian convert to the Church in 1964 (hah! I beat him by two years), is a professor of French in the French and Italian Department of BYU, where he has been since 1999. However, he continues also to work in Belgium, during Spring and Summer terms, at the University of Antwerp, where he is head of the Didascalia Research Center. Most of his academic work is in the area of applied linguistics, but he has also ventured out from there, and he persuaded a major Catholic publisher to publish a book on Mormonism in Dutch. Wilfried has served in the Church as a branch a district president and served almost continuously as a counselor in the mission presidencies of the Belgium-Antwerp, Netherlands-Amsterdam, and Belgium-Brussels missions from 1975-2002. You’ll find his perspective on things both different than that of most who say something on this blog and insightful.

Be Patient!

Fans of Brandie Siegfried, please be patient. She intended to start blogging last Monday or Tuesday, but as sometimes happens even to professors and bloggers, life got in the way. You can expect her any day now.

Derrida is dead

Perhaps no philosopher of the 20th century caused more of an uproar in the U.S. than Jacques Derrida. Though he was not religious in any standard sense, he understood a great deal about what it means to be religious. Though he was often described in the English-speaking press as arrogant, he was in fact quiet and kind. I will miss him.

An additional guest

Professor Brandie Siegfried has agreed to take time from her busy writing schedule to guest blog for a couple of weeks. She is a professor in the English Department at BYU, teaching Renaissance literature, early modern women writers, gender studies, and Irish literary history. She did her Ph.D. work at Brandies University and has been at BYU since 1993. Brandie is very athletic (something that I overlook because I have considerable respect for her) and she, Renata Forste (Sociology, BYU), and I will be teaching in BYU’s London Study Abroad program in the Fall of 2005. (If you know those who would be interested in the program, have them contact one of us. We will send specific information. We are especially interested in finding men who will apply because, for a variety of reasons, few men do, but that notice is not meant to discourage women from applying.)

Sister Manners

Someone needs to write an etiquette book for members of the Church. I’m not up to writing it, but I’m willing to make some of the first contributions.

Spirit and Body

I cleaned the church building the other day, with the other High Priests. My job was to vacuum the chapel. As I was doing so, the organist came in to practice. She plays well, and she played hymns that I like, so it was pleasant. But as she began to play “Jesus, Lover of my Soul,� I was almost overcome. There was something about the physical activity combined with the hymn that seemed perfect to me, in spite of what might seem to be the anti-materialist theme of the hymn.

Sunday School Lesson 39

Lesson 39: 3 Nephi 17-19 Chapter 17 Verses 1-3: Does the Savior think what he has said is easy to understand? Are the things he has taught “plain and simple�? Why haven’t the Nephites understood him well? In what ways are they weak? What does it mean to ponder something? What does it mean to ask the Father for understanding?

12 Questions for Royal Skousen

Royal Skousen, Professor of Linguistics at BYU, is important for at least two reasons. First, he has developed a unique theory of language learning and use based on analogy (see his Analogical Modeling of Language, Analogy and Structure, and Analogical Modeling: An exemplar-based approach to language). Skousen’s work is important because it gives us a rigorous alternative to Chomskian linguistics. Second, Professor Skousen is creating a critical text of the Book of Mormon, beginning with as much of the original manuscript as is available. The result of a more than 15-year project, the critical edition will show all changes in the text from then through the 1981 version.

Comfort Music

I am not a connoisseur of music, I am an omnivore, and I think I recall Nietzsche pointing out that a person who will eat anything is a person who has no taste. That’s me. There are few kinds of music that I don’t enjoy.

Sunday School Lesson 38

Lesson 38: 3 Nephi 12-15 This will be one of the longer sets of notes. I would apologize for their length, but even at this length I have left a great deal unexplored. Though I will continue to post following lessons, I will spend more than one week on this material in my class. There are enough extra Sundays at the end that, given where I now am in the lesson materials, I can do so and still finish all of the materials. I’ve not had time to look carefully over this to correct typographical errors, so I apologize in advance for the one’s that I am sure you will find.

Sunday School Lesson 37

Lesson 37: 3 Nephi 8-11 Chapter 8 Verses 1-23: Why might there have been so much destruction in this hemisphere at the time of the crucifixion and so little destruction in the other?

Fishing

It seems to me that there are academic issues that saints sometimes have difficulties with and that they might be helped if they had “answers� to those questions from LDS academics who have thought about the problems. I can imagine a student in university who hears about a particular hot topic in the academy and doesn’t yet have tools for thinking about it from an LDS perspective.

Difference, Disagreement, and Contention

If I were a self-disciplined person, I would be preparing my lessons right now and preparing the presentation I’m supposed to give to new faculty tomorrow afternoon. But when we were courting, my wife, then a graduate student in educational testing, made me take a personality test. She was shocked at how low I scored on self-discipline, and things haven’t changed. So, instead of preparing for work tomorrow, I’m going writing about something that has been bothering me for a while. I’ll figure out the lessons and the presentation later, meaning a long night. Over the last several months it seems to me that there has been a turn for the worse in the comments at Times and Seasons, a change in overall tone, a turn toward more and more bitterness, cynicism, anger, and self-righteousness.

Some Random European (mostly French) Thoughts

A week and a few days ago, I returned from a trip to Europe, mostly in France. I was at a conference center in a chateau in Normandy, Cerisy-la-salle. The conference was good; its only drawback, for me, was that it was an interdisciplinary conference. I think my presentation and the discussion afterward went well, especially considering the fact that my French is, to put it mildly, barbarous. Contrary to popular mythology, people were not rude about the state of my French. They worked hard to understand me and gave me the benefit of the doubt. I was the only person there for whom English was the mother tongue.

Sunday School Lesson 35

Lesson 35: Helaman 13-16 Chapter 13 Verses 1,ff: Does the Lord threaten the Nephites through Samuel, telling them to “repent or else�? If so, how do we understand such a threat? How does it differ from bullying? If not, how are we to understand this kind of prophecy? Verse 5: What does Samuel mean by “the sword of justice�? Verse 7: What are the glad tidings which the angel brought him and which he hoped the Nephites would receive? Verse 8: Why does the Lord say he will withdraw from them because of the hardness of their hearts rather than because of their wickedness? What does the Lord mean when he says he will take his word from among them? When he says he will suffer them no longer? When he says he will turn the hearts of their brethren against them? (After all, it can’t mean he’ll send the Lamanites against them since the Lamanites are now righteous.)

Sunday School Lesson 34

Lesson 34: Helaman 6-12 Chapter 6 Verse 3: How does the attitude of the members of the Church compare here with Moroni’s attitude? Verse 9: As soon as we read that the Nephites and Lamanites “became exceedingly rich� what do we expect to read about soon? Verse 17: Why do they want gain? What does it mean to be lifted up above another? What’s wrong with it? How do we lift ourselves above others? Verse 27: Why is the comparison of the Gadianton robbers to Cain an important one for us? What does it tell us? Verse 30: What does it mean to say that Satan is the author of all sin? Does that mean I am not the author of any sins? If so, how can I be held responsible?

Sunday School Lesson 33

I’m back from a couple of weeks during which the internet wasn’t accessible–altogether, a very nice experience. This is the lesson that I will be teaching tomorrow, and I will try to get next week’s lesson out early in the week. Lesson 33: Helaman 1-5 Chapter 1 Verses 7-8: How do we understand a righteous person like Pahoran the elder having a child who was so unrighteous? For what did the Nephites condemn Paanchi to death? Why was his crime so terrible that it deserved death?

Sunday School Lesson 32

Lesson 32: Alma 53-63 Many people find it difficult to read the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon. Though I certainly understand why they have difficulty, for me the most difficult chapters are those on war at the end of Alma. I understand that they show us what happened to the Nephites, an important part of the Book of Mormon’s message. But I don’t find a lot of spiritual meaning in them, so I find myself just reading through them, not stopping to think, wonder, or meditate. I am interested in what others might contribute to helping me think about these chapters.

Nice people

Today I had to repair our sprinkler system–something unneeded by those in large cities living in apartments, or those in places with rainfall, but something absolutely essential living in Utah, especially if you’re leaving for two weeks and would like the tomatoes to be alive when you return.

We are Weird

About a week ago I went to the wedding of one of my nieces. As I sat waiting for the wedding to begin and watching people arrive, I suddenly had a glimpse of how we look to many who either are not attending church with us or are completely outside our community. In short, we look weird.

Sunday School Lesson 31

Lesson 31: Alma 43-52 The manual gives this overview of the material in the lesson: a. Alma 43–44. Led by Zerahemnah, the Lamanites come to battle against the Nephites, seeking to bring them into bondage. The Nephites, led by Moroni, fight to defend their families and their liberty. The Nephites prevail because they are “inspired by a better cause” and because they exercise faith in Jesus Christ. b. Alma 45:20–24; 46. Amalickiah desires to be king and causes dissension among the Nephites. Captain Moroni raises the “title of liberty” to inspire the people, and they covenant to follow God. Amalickiah and a few of his followers join the Lamanites. c. Alma 47–48. Through treachery, Amalickiah becomes king of the Lamanites. He incites the Lamanites to fight against the Nephites. Captain Moroni prepares the Nephites to defend themselves righteously. d. Alma 49–52. War continues between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The king-men desire to set up a king over the Nephites,…

Sunday School Lesson 30

Lesson 30: Alma 39-42 Why is the lengthy discussion of resurrection in chapters 40-31 addressed to Corianton? Why does that part of Alma’s sermon come before his discussion of the punishment of sin (chapter 42)?

Sunday School Lesson 29

Lesson 29: Alma 36-39 Alma 35:15-16 explains why Alma says the things in these chapters to his sons, Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton: because he grieved for the hardness of the hearts of the people to whom he and others had been sent as missionaries. (See Alma 31:6-7.) How does that explain what he says, especially since one of the three sons to whom he speaks, Helaman, was not part of that mission?

My Pioneer Ancestors

I joined the Church in February of 1962, as a teenager living in San Antonio, Texas, where my father was stationed at the time. (He was in the Army, studying hospital administration at Fort Sam Houston, in a Baylor extension program.) My parents and my younger brother joined at the same time. My parents were both from Knob Noster, Missouri, near Warrensburg, in Johnson County, about fifty miles east of Independence. Many of my ancestors were living in the area when the Saints were in Independence and probably took part in the persecutions. If I understood my mother correctly, I am related, collaterally, to Governor Boggs. As a result, genetically my heritage has something to do with the Saints move west to Utah, but it isn’t the kind of relation to the Utah pioneers that would qualify me to join the Sons of the Utah Pioneers.

Sunday School Lesson 28

Lesson 28: Alma 32-35 Warning: this set of study questions is long, probably the longest I’ve done so far. If you bother to go through them, I think you’ll see why. If you don’t, it probably doesn’t matter why, but this should give you some idea: In the first edition of the Book of Mormon, Alma 30-35 are one chapter (16). 1. Korihor (30) 2. Zoramites (31-32a; 35) 2a. the poor in spirit (32a) 2b. faith and the atonement (32b-34) 3. Separation of the Ammonites from Jershon (35) This suggests that we should read these stories as a piece, as a story about how Alma deals with different forms of apostasy. Alma’s sermon in chapters 32 and 33, with Amulek’s response to Alma’s sermon, are the conclusion or climax of the story. Notice that the division between chapters 32 and 33 occurs in the middle of the sermon, breaking it up artificially. The result is that we tend to treat…