Author: Kent Larsen

Go the Distance

Migrants reach out for bread distributed by volunteers, at a border crossing between Croatia and Slovenia, in Trnovec, Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. Hundreds of migrants have spent the night in rain and cold at Croatia's border after being refused entry into Slovenia.   (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

I was struck in yesterday’s morning conference session by the quotation Elder Renlund gave, “The greater the distance between the giver and the receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement.” What gave me pause at this, since I agree with the statement, is a simple question: What do we do about the distance? This seems like a crucial question. Elder Renlund points out that this is the reason why the Church’s welfare system is designed for those in needs to seek help from family first, and then from their local leaders–i.e., from their ward and branch. But it doesn’t seem to me like this solves enough of the distance between givers and recievers; I see lots of distance within wards and branches, and sometimes even within families. Too often givers and receivers simply have completely different viewpoints and even different cultures. I have wrestled with understanding the issues and principles surrounding welfare and giving support to those…

GenConf: Sunday Afternoon Session

Choir: He Is Risen President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Choir: My Redeemer Lives Invocation: S. Gilford Nielsen Choir: He Sent His Son Elder Robert D. Hales: Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom The blessings we enjoy now are because we made the choice to follow the Savior before this life. To everyone hearing or reading these words, whoever you are and whatever your past may be, remember this: it is not too late to make that same choice again and follow Him. As we walk the path of spiritual liberty in these last days, we must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom. No one should be criticized, persecuted, or attacked by individuals or governments for what he or she believes about God. Some are offended when we bring our religion into the public square yet the same people who insist that their viewpoints and actions be tolerated in society are often very slow…

GenConf: Priesthood Session Notes

President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Choir: For the Strength of the Hills Invocation: David L. Beck Choir: On This Day of Joy and Gladness President M. Russell Ballard: The Greatest Generation of Young Adults I know I speak for my brethren when I tell you that we wish it was possible for us to know all of you personally, and to be able to tell you that we love you and we support you. … what we need now is the greatest generation of young adults in the history of the Church. We need your whole heart and soul. We need vibrant, thinking, passionate young adults who know how to listen and respond to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit as you make your way through the daily trials and temptations of being a young contemporary Latter-day Saint. … it’s time to raise the bar not only for missionaries, but also for returned missionaries and for your entire generation. I…

GenConf: Saturday Morning Session Notes

Choir: Guide Us, Oh Thou Great Jehovah President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Choir: Glory to God on High Invocation: Timothy J. Dyches President Henry B. Eyring: “Is Not This the Fast that I Have Chosen?” When we offer succor to anyone, the Savior feels it as if we reached out to succor Him. There are more hungry, homeless, and lonely children of Heavenly Father than we can reach. And the numbers grow ever farther from our reach. So the Lord has given us something that we each can do… It is the law of the fast. Your fast offering will do more than help feed and clothe bodies. It will heal and change hearts. The fruit of a free-will offering may be the desire in the heart of the recipient to reach out to others in need. … other storms and tragedies will come across the world to people the Lord loves and whose sorrows He feels. Part of your…

Times and Seasons’ 2014 Mormon of the Year: The Authors of the LDS Gospel Topics Essays

Times & Seasons is proud to announce the 2014 Mormon of the Year:  Authors of the Gospel Topics Essays. The Mormon of the Year is our annual designation of the Mormons who had the greatest impact or influence on Mormons and Mormonism during the year. Beginning in 2013 the LDS Church has published a series of essays on, under the heading of Gospel Topics, addressing controversial topics involving the church and its history. These special essays, currently covering 9 topics, represent a new approach both to public outreach and to informing the church membership on these subjects. While the publication of these essays is a step taken by the church as an institution, we feel it is appropriate to recognize their anonymous authors as the 2014 Mormon of the Year, because it is in substantial part because of these authors, and others doing related work, that the church is able to take this new approach. The essays have changed how…

Vote for Mormon of the Year 2014

This post opens the voting for Mormon of the Year. Votes will be taken until midnight Eastern Time on Wednesday, January 7th, at which time the voting will close. The voting mechanism will attempt to restrict votes to one per person. The order of the choices is set at random, and is different each time the form is presented. THE WINNER OF THE ONLINE VOTE IS NOT NECESSARILY THE MORMON OF THE YEAR!!!

For I am not ashamed…

Draw the Line

This past Monday one of the radio talk shows I listen to asked about what happened in Church during the weekend. In the wake of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, the host, Brian Lehrer, asked how the religious sermons given in the region had confronted these decisions. Of course, in LDS congregations this past Sunday was Fast Sunday, leaving the subject of the testimonies given up to those who chose to speak. In my own case, I heard no hint of a mention of these subjects, or any controversial current events, in the testimonies given or in lessons taught. Should there have been?

Expectations and Meet the Mormons


Early in my book publishing career, I worked for an innovative publisher of high-quality childrens picture books. One day, in conversation with my boss, the publisher, I criticized the Little Golden Books, a long-running line of cheaply produced picture books with very simple (and, I thought then, not very notable) stories. To my surprise, my boss leapt to their defense. Without the Little Golden Books, he explained, millions of kids wouldn’t have been read to as children, and my not have learned to read. In my focus on issues of quality, I had not realized that purpose is more important than quality, and, in a sense, actually defines what is quality. That lesson has stayed with me for about 20 years now.

GenCon: Priesthood Session

Welcome to T&S’ coverage of the Priesthood Session of General Conference. We welcome your comments. . Chorus: Rise Up O Men of God President Henry B Eyring is conducting this session. Chorus: Medley of Primary Songs Elder Quentin L. Cook — Choose Wisely “How do you expect me to catch the ball when I am worried about our country’s foreign policy?” We need unequivocal commitment to the commandments and strict adherence to sacred covenants. My concern is not only about the big tipping point decisions, but also the middle ground – the workaday world and seemingly ordinary decisions where we spend most of our time. In these areas, we need to emphasize moderation, balance, and especially wisdom. It is important to rise above rationalizations and make the best choices. One father wisely responds to his children with their numerous requests to participate in these distractions. He simply asks them, “Will this make you a better person?” In the Church we…

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #17: The Lord of Hosts has Spoken by Octave F. Ursenbach

The Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith lesson 17 covers “Sealing Power and Temple Blessings,” the ordinances restored through the priesthood which lead to our salvation, for salvation in the eternal kingdom is dependent on sealing, both to parents, to spouse and to children. The following poems addresses the role of sealing in our understanding of priesthood and of salvation.

Literary OTGD #31: My Friends and I by J. L. Townsend

Lesson 31 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual covers the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, which consist mainly of short statements meant to help guide our behavior. But its pretty easy to make these statements seem contradictory. We all agree that “pride goeth before destruction,” but what if it is pride in our work or in doing our best? And what do we say to parents who have “trained up a child in the way he should go” when that child does depart from the way? It is precisely these contradictions that the following poem addresses.

Literary OTGD #30: Strength by Mabel Jones

What benefit do we get from the temple? Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #30 covers two renewals of the temple in ancient Israel; that of Hezekaih and that of his great grandson, Josiah. It also gives the example of Hezekiah’s fending off the Assyrians with the help of the angel of the Lord following his cleansing of the temple. This apparently comes because of his righteousness. Could it be the indirect result of cleansing the temple? Does the temple lend us strength? The following sonnet sees strength in the temple, comparing its outward appearance with the inward strength it gives us:

A Baseball Team in Every Ward


In the late 16th century Henry IV of France expressed a desire that everyone in his realm would “have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” That idea showed up again in Herbert Hoover’s promise of a “chicken in every pot”—the politician’s promise of prosperity. I’m not sure whether “a baseball team in every ward” is a promise of prosperity or programming gone awry, but that is essentially what leaders of the MIA suggested in 1922—some years before Hoover made his ill-fated promise. They wrote: “Each ward should have an organized baseball club, and each stake should have an organized baseball league…”

Literary OTGD #29: To President Brigham Young by Eliza R. Snow

Eliza R. Snow

There are at least two potential problems when there is a leadership transition—the transition plan or procedure isn’t always known ahead of time, and those involved don’t always follow the plan or procedures. Mormonism’s initial experience with transition didn’t go well—I suspect for both reasons—and the transitions elsewhere in the scriptures often seem unexpected also. For example, the transition from Elijah to Elisha described in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #29 is unexpected by the Israelites, who search for Elijah for three days after Elisha succeeds him. It is, of course, Mormonism’s difficult initial transition, following the death of Joseph Smith, that led to the following poem.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #16: My Child and Thine by Ellen Jakeman


Parenting sometimes seems like a Mormon obsession. We believe it has a significant effect on the success of children both in this life and in the life to come, so it is often the subject of Mormon sermons and lessons, such as chapter 16 of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. We often find inspiration for how to handle parenting issues in Mormon teachings about the nature of our Heavenly Father and our relationship to him. Mormons assume and rely on the idea that our relationship to our Heavenly Father is similar to our relationship with our earthly parents. This assumption is found throughout our literature and often in our sermons. And it is found in the following poem.

Literary OTGD #28: The Still Small Voice by George H. Brimhall


The story of Elijah listening for the voice of the Lord (1 Kings 19:9-13) is frequently used by Mormons to describe the manner we can receive revelation. Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #28 includes that story, along with others discussing Elijah’s acts as prophet, but focusing on his listening to the Lord to accomplish those acts. While it is undeniably important for a prophet like Elijah to listen to the still small voice, in latter days Mormons emphasize that all people should receive revelation, an idea that is found in the following poem.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #15: The Marriage Vow

While the marriage practiced in the Church and taught in chapter 15 of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual is different than that taught and practiced outside of the Temple and the Church, still the underlying commitment to marriage and many of the promises made are very similar. Even after the Church under Joseph Smith introduced celestial marriage in the 1840s, the protestant views of marriage common in the U.S. still resonated for Mormons (as they do today) In fact, the following non-Mormon poem about marriage was published in the Nauvoo Mormon newspaper The Wasp on the last day of April of 1844, more than 3 weeks after the Prophet Joseph Smith had delivered the King Follett Sermon, which discusses the doctrine of eternity and eternal life. And somehow it seems almost Mormon.

Literary OTGD #27: Our Kings by Henry W. Naisbitt

It seems likely that today we (in most western democracies) aren’t influenced by leaders the same way that the children of Israel were by their kings (at least as described in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #27). I suspect that all else being equal, democracy reduces the influence of individual leaders. Still, the example of the influence of their rulers, for good or evil, is instructive today. And the following poem highlights the qualifications of leaders and how their influence is felt by those that they lead.

Her 15 Minutes at an End: Ultra Violet dead at 78

Ultra Violet

Isabelle Collin Dufresne, known as Ultra Violet, died this morning after a battle with cancer. She was 78. Dufresne was perhaps the most famous Mormon artist that most Mormons haven’t heard of. But at the height of the Pop Art movement and Andy Warhol’s Factory, Ultra Violet was well known in the New York art scene, and she is still well remembered for her memoir of that time, Famous For 15 Minutes: My Years with Andy Warhol.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #11: The Restoration by Gustive O. Larson

Gustive O. Larson

The restoration of priesthood keys is a vital part of LDS teachings, something that is emphasized repeatedly in lesson manuals, such as chapter 11 in the current Joseph Fielding Smith manual. It is also one of the most emphasized elements of the lessons taught by LDS missionaries. So it is no surprise to find the restoration of priesthood keys as a central element in the following poem, composed by a young LDS missionary in 1922.

Literary OTGD #18: What Will They Do, Let History’s Page by Charles A. Rogers

As the Children of Israel entered the promised land, they also faced a change of leadership, with all that entails. As Moses doesn’t cross the Jordan, Joshua is called to lead the Israelites, cross the Jordan and subjugate the territory promised. Lesson 18 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual portrays this time as a time when the Children of Israel re-commit themselves to serving the Lord behind a new leader. Following the death of Joseph Smith, the nascent Mormon people also had to face a change in leadership, and (although in a somewhat different manner) cross a river behind that leader on their way into a new land. Their similarity to the ancient Israelites was not lost on them, and influenced the following poem.

Literary OTGD #17: The Mountain Standard by Parley P. Pratt

Approaching the promised land has to influence leaders to remind their followers of how they should act when they enter the long-sought utopia. The goal is to live as God would have them live, covenanting to live in righteousness and harmony. In the case of Moses, as described in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 17, he gives instructions to the Israelites to help them remember their covenants. He urges them to obey the commandments and remember God and to be mindful of the rock of their salvation. While the experiences of the Mormon pioneers are similar to those of the Israelites, I’m not aware of any discourse by Brigham Young that matches this exactly. There is, however, a poem by Parley P. Pratt that touches on the same concept.

Literary OTGD #16: The Saint by W. G. Mills


The story of Balaam, as discussed in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 16, is about a prophet’s struggle with obedience and the requirements of political leaders. As portrayed in the Bible, Balaam follows the commandments of the Lord, but he attempts to get gain by currying favor with a political leader needed. I think this issue of obedience is fascinating, something that, if we all think about it, we also face.  We all have employers, friends, and others who try to influence us, sometimes against what we know the Lord would have us do. Our response is sometimes to merely appear to be a Saint, as the following poem describes.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #10: Jane Mason’s Truth

Lesson 10 of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual discusses our search for truth, citing many of the prophet’s statements on how we are to obtain knowledge of the truth and on the value of truth in our lives. President Smith teaches that truth is something we should seek and value—ideas that can be found in the following poem.

Literary OTGD #15: Exodus by John Lyon

John Lyon

As the Mormon pioneers began their westward trek, they already saw themselves on an exodus similar to that of ancient Israel leaving Egypt for the promised land. And they faced some of the same difficulties that Israel faced—such as those outlined in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 15: complaints, backbiting, uncertain knowledge of the land they were going to, and even a promised land populated by another people. The poem below, written near the beginning of the Mormon trek, urges the Saints in England to promptly take part in the trek, despite its dangers and the misgivings of many Church members.

GenCon: Sunday Afternoon Session

Conference Center

Welcome to T&S’ fifth and final round of coverage of General Conference. We welcome your comments. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf is conducting this session of Conference. Chorus: Sweet is the Work. Prayer: ? Chorus: I Stand All Amazed. President Boyd K. Packer — The Witness “Almost mid-sentence it happened. I could not describe to you what happened if I were determined to do so. It is beyond my power of expression, but it is as clear today as it was that night more than 65 years ago. I knew it to be a very private, very individual manifestation. At last I knew for myself. I knew for a certainty, for it had been given to me.” “Like most things of great worth, knowledge which is of eternal value comes only through personal prayer and pondering. These, joined with fasting and scripture study, will invite impressions and revelations and the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. This provides us with instruction from on…

GenCon: Sunday Morning Session

Conference Center

Welcome to T&S’ fourth round of coverage of General Conference. We welcome your comments. Chorus: Come We that Love the Lord President Henry B. Eyring is conducting this session of Conference. Chorus: On This Day of Joy and Gladness Prayer: Élder L. Whitney Clayton Chorus: Let Us All Press On President Dieter F. Uchtdof — Grateful in Any Circumstance “There is one thing we can do to make life sweeter, more joyful, even glorious. We can be grateful.” “Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being “thankful for things” we focus on being “thankful in our circumstances”—whatever they may be.” “When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement.…

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #09: James H. Hart’s Interview with David Whitmer

James H. Hart

I think that we often think of witnesses as something outside of the event, added to fill a particular need or satisfy the desires of the world. But I wonder if this perception might not be incorrect, if witnesses are not, in fact, an important part of the process of communicating truth. A testimony is, after all, what a witness provides, and, at least in the church, it is hard to imagine communicating truth without testimony. In the fourth D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson witnesses to the Book of Mormon are an important part of the story of the scripture’s preparation. And the following poem provides, I think, an idea of the role of the witness, along with a lot about one of the three witnesses, David Whitmer.

Literary OTGD #14: excerpt on Israel in the Wilderness from chapter 1 of The Millennium

Are commandments also spiritual fare? When Moses received the law on Sinai, was he spiritually fed? Were the children of Israel? Lesson #14 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual discusses Israel’s trek across the Sinai, their partaking of manna from heaven, which we interpret today as a symbol of the spiritual feast that our Heavenly Father provides for us. But when we read or talk about the commandments, we sometimes don’t talk about them as spiritual food—instead seeing them as temporal duties to be performed. But, the miracle of their delivery to Moses is a spiritual story, and I think the following poem describes what should be seen as a spiritual feast.