Author: Kent Larsen

Literary OTGD #13: excerpt on the Exodus from chapter 1 of The Millennium

The story of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt is one of the iconic stories of western religious culture. And that story has descended to Mormonism, showing up, of course, in lesson #13 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual. And we Mormons basically see the story in the same way as other Christians—an oppressed people is led by the hand of God out of opression and into a promised land. But the story has gained other cultural meanings for Mormonism. Best known is naming Brigham Young as the American Moses, and the Mormon pioneer trek as a new exodus to a promised land. But that isn’t the first association. In the following, Parley P. Pratt sees a future comparison to the promised return of Israel’s 10 tribes.

Literary OTGD #12: excerpt on Joseph from From Out of the Dust

Orson F. Whitney

Today, we Mormons see the “coincidence of names” between Joseph of Egypt, Joseph the son of Lehi and Joseph Smith as anything but a coincidence. They shared names allow us to make connections between the three cases, adding to our understanding of their histories. And Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 12 allows us to revisit some of the parallels, such as Joseph’s separation from Israel, and eventual reunion, as well as his visionary nature. Elder Orson F. Whitney, who served as an Apostle from 1906 to 1931, recognized this connection, and included it in his epic poem Elias in the following extract.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #08: What fair one is this, from the wilderness trav’ling

William Wines Phelps

The purpose of the Church as an organization is sometimes ignored by Church members, who take its presence as given. While we know we are supposed to have a Church, we don’t often think about why the organization is needed. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith manual, chapter 8, examines the purpose and the future of the Church through the statements of Smith. Of course, looking at the reason for a Church is nothing new. Early Mormons struggled with aspects of this, since many of them were influenced by the congregationalist models of other restorationist churches, in which local pastors are selected by the deacons of each congregation, and were against the traditional model of the Church of England. The following poem shows some of these tensions and gives a broad vision of what the role of the Church is.

Literary OTGD #11: Joseph’s Temptation


[I’m sorry that I’m a bit behind in getting these posted. I’m hoping to do one each night for the next 3 nights to get caught up.] Temptation is a constant. We all struggle with temptation to do that which we should not, and often these temptations involve significant sin or things that could lead to significant sin. Worse, as Joseph’s story indicates, even when we have acted properly, we can be seen as a sinner or in error, and treated accordingly. Sometimes this is because others are mistaken, and other times it is because those who judge have different values from ours. The following poem claims that, even though others mistakenly found Joseph guilty, he still won the approval of the Lord.

Literary OTGD #10: Our Golden Wedding

William Walton Burton

The marriage process in Abraham’s family (covered in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 10) is very different that the common experience in the Church today (at least in North America). Arranged marriages, polygamy, dowries and working for a wife are all discussed in the source chapters in Genesis, while the marriages are still eternal, evidently the same way that marriages in LDS Temples today are eternal. But while there are clear differences, there are also similarities in how these marriages work. Isaac and Rebekah, as well as Jacob and his wives, work together to make the union productive and to raise their children. The couples toil together, and apparently grow together over decades. This kind of work is described in the following poem.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #07: Restoration


Given how much we talk about Joseph Smith in lessons such as lesson 7 of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith manual used in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings, you might think I would run out of poetry about him. That isn’t likely to happen. Smith is also a common subject of Mormon poetry — but nowhere near as common a subject as Christ. As the prophet who introduced the current dispensation, restoring the gospel to the earth, according to what we teach, Joseph Smith’s role and the restoration he initiated and shepherded is vital to the world today, a foundational element of both Mormon theology and culture. The following poem makes the connection between this event and Mormon culture and history.

Literary OTGD #09: Saturday Evening Thoughts

Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac is one of the most difficult to understand episodes in the Bible, and it is also a regular subject of LDS lessons, such as Lesson 9 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual. Despite its troubling nature, this event is seen as a clear type of Christ’s sacrifice, and it is often portrayed as an ideal of the righteous sacrifice we should ourselves be willing to make. Both of these views of Abraham’s dilemna appear in LDS poetry, and the latter view—that we too are expected to sacrifice for sake of the gospel—is expressed in the following extract from a poem by Eliza R. Snow:

Literary OTGD #08: Go search and say

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is found in the material covered in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual, lesson 8, is one of the more bleak stories in the bible. Its depressing to think that a city cannot be saved from its own wickedness, and that there was not one person there who was innocent enough to merit its salvation. Regardless of what their sins were (lets not go into that), the destruction of an entire city is heartbreaking. I think the following poem captures some of the pathos and the meaning that can be found in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, and many other, similar stories in the bible.

Literary OTGD #07: The Gathering

If doctrines can have ideological parents, then the doctrine of the gathering is clearly descended from the Abrahamic covenant, the same that is discussed in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 7. Throughout the scriptures, when the Lord talks of “gathering” his people, he is refering to Israel, the descendants of Abraham. The covenant speaks of giving his people a promised land—the place where his people will be gathered to. Indeed, the gathering is simply a part of how the Lord’s covenant with Abraham is fulfilled. I think that many of the elements of the Abrahamic covenant are found in the following poem, although it seems to primarily discuss the gathering.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #06: Testimony Meeting in New Guinea and Brown-Crusted Bread

When we cover the sacrament in our lessons, the focus is usually on the doctrines behind the ordinance. In lesson 6 of the Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith manual those doctrines are found in remembering the atonement and in the covenant made at baptism and renewed by the sacrament. However, I think there is a bit more to the role of the sacrament and sacrament meetings than these doctrines—social meanings that might be found in the following two poems.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #05: Over the Waves of Sin

Walking on water

When we talk about faith in Mormonism, we often emphasize the idea that the important part of faith is not just belief in something true, but faith in Jesus Christ. And while we use lots of examples of faith, sometimes those examples leave out the role of Christ in our lives and in our faith. The Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith manual lesson #5 explores both faith and repentance, including the role of Jesus Christ in each. So the following poem seemed to fit very well.

Literary OTGD #06: Gleanings from Scripture

Lesson 6 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual seems like a difficult lesson to me. It covers both the story of Noah and the flood as well as the story of the tower of Babel. The lesson combines these disparate stories under the very general topic of worthiness and avoiding the evils of the world, which may not give most teachers much to work with. While I can’t really tell teachers where to go with this, I did find a poem that also addresses these stories (and a few more) in a very general way.

Literary OTGD #05: Age after age has roll’d away

David W Patten

While many teachers will focus their teaching of Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #5 on the story of Cain and Abel, that is only half the lesson. The other half of the lesson is the story of Enoch and his city—perhaps a more positive example for us today as we strive to live the admonition “be ye therefore perfect.” The following poem is like the story of Enoch, one of the most unusual works in its corpus. As the prefatory paragraph indicates, it came out of an LDS meeting in which Elder David W. Patten (still at least 2 years before he was ordained an Apostle), spoke in tongues.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #04: The Old Folks

While ‘strengthening the family’ might seem like code for a political position these days (please, no politics on this post), lesson 4 in the Joseph Fielding Smith lesson manual seems to boil the idea down to the ways in which we live together. The lesson says stronger families come from “spending time together, loving each other, and living the gospel together.” In most of our poetry, this is something assumed—background to another message the poet is trying to communicate. So in the following poem the ideas behind strengthening the family are part of another message, celebrating those who have the most practice at being part of a family.

Literary OTGD #04: O Adam

When we talk about the Fall and its roll in the plan of salvation, as Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #4 does, the focus naturally (and properly) is on the effects of the Fall and its relationship with the atonement. But the Fall is also the story of a relationship between Adam, Eve and God. his makes it easier to put ourselves in the place of Adam and Eve, and in the process learn, in a very palpable way, the consequences of a separation from God and the need for a way to return to Him. In that sense, the following poem, a kind of dramatization of the events, might help.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #03: A Christmas Idyl

When we talk about the plan of salvation, as Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith lesson #3 does, we focus on several key elements: the pre-existence, the fall, the atonement, the resurrection and the judgment. That’s a lot of ground to cover—and often our lesson manuals cover each of those elements separately. Likewise, it is difficult to come up with a single poem that covers all of this territory. But Elder Orson F. Whitney, who served as an Apostle from 1906 to 1931, seemed to love writing poetry about the gospel and the plan of salvation, producing several works that covered this same territory.

Literary OTGD #03: Eternity of Matter

In our science-oriented world today, its hard to see the creation stories in the Bible and Pearl of Great Price as recounting actual events or having meaning beyond a simple myth explaining the origin of life. So when we teach the creation in classes like the current Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 3, I believe the best option is to put the story in a gospel context, and emphasize its meaning as part of our understanding of the purpose of life, rather than historical or scientific events. Although written in the 1840s with a traditional view of the creation, the following poem does put the creation into a Mormon gospel context, placing the creation, as we understand it, as a necessary part of the plan of salvation and happiness; part of our eternal progression.

Vote for Mormon of the Year 2013

This post opens the voting for Mormon of the Year. Votes will be taken until midnight Eastern Time on Tuesday, 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!!!

Update: Nominations for 2013 Mormon of the Year

For the past two weeks readers have made nominations and seconded nominations for the 2013 Mormon of the Year designation. So that the status of nominations and seconds are clear, I’ve compiled the list below of those who have been nominated and seconded (and who will therefore appear on the popular vote ballot), those who have been nominated, but not seconded. Please see the original post for rules and qualifications.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #02: A Stranger Star O’er Bethlehem

The second lesson in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, used in Priesthood and Relief Society lessons in the coming year, discusses the life of Jesus Christ and his role in the plan of salvation; quite a lot to cover in a single lesson. In the texts included, Smith ranges from Christ’s birth as the only begotten son of God, to his role establishing a pattern for us to follow, to how we are His sons and daughters through the atonement and through our obedience to His teachings. Fortunately, Mormon poetry, like our teachings, emphasize the role of Christ, making it relatively easy to find poetry that covers similar territory, like the following text, once a hymn included in LDS songbooks.

Literary OTGD #02: Shadows and Whisperings

Mormon beliefs about the pre-existence are an important part of our understanding of our purpose in this life and the meaning of the life to come. The beliefs covered in the second lesson in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual, “fore-ordination” and the “war in heaven,” are no exception. But, it is also worth remembering that what happened in the pre-existence is veiled from our memories. The details most relevant to individuals are something we don’t know. Our own specific missions aren’t clear. We are left with “shadows and whisperings.”

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #01: O My Mother


The new Joseph Fielding Smith manual for the Relief Society/Priesthood lessons presents a minor logistical problem—it has 26 lessons, which may mean teachers will have to drop two of the lessons (since two lessons each month are taught from the manual). Because of this I will post poems for the next few weeks so that teachers can choose from at least 4 of the lessons each week. The first lesson focuses on God, his attributes and nature, and our relationship with him. But while we have poems and hymns that discuss this, I though the following poem would be a different way of introducing and thinking about this subject.

Literary OTGD #01: Metamorphosis


For the coming year, I’ve decided to post poetry for use in Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society classes two weeks ahead of when they would normally be used, instead of a week ahead as I’ve done in previous years. I’m doing this to allow teachers a bit more time to prepare and integrate the poetry into their lesson plans (if they wish to use the poetry), and because, in the case of the Priesthood/Relief Society manual, there are more lessons than can be covered in a year. Working two weeks ahead will give the teacher time to decide which lessons to drop, and still (I hope) have the poetry available on time.

Arm in Arm


We were headed to the car. As we left the building, my wife slid her arm in mine, in part because the sidewalk was still slick after the snowstorm earlier in the week. And when we reached the curb and waited for the light to cross the street, my personal space was invaded.

Literary Lorenzo Snow #24: Christ is Born, the Joyful Story


Finding Mormon poetry that talks about Christ is not hard at all. In fact, of all the Mormon poetry that I’ve read (considering only poems written by Mormon authors), the number of poems about Christ surpasses by far the number of poems about any other single individual. If this is a good proxy for what Mormons believe, then there is no doubt: Mormons worship Christ, not Joseph Smith. But the final Lorenzo Snow lesson for the year focuses on the mission of Christ, mentioning also that he has visited the earth in the latter-days and will come again. That particular mix of ideas is actually quite difficult to find in Mormon poetry (or at least in what I’ve collected so far). The following poem is nice, and its short, and actually does mention many (but not all) of the ideas in the lesson.

Literary Lorenzo Snow #23: Stanzas

Eliza Dorsey Ashworth

There is no shortage of poetry about Joseph Smith, the subject of lesson 23 of the Lorenzo Snow manual. But Snow’s views on Joseph Smith are focused not on his martyrdom or on his role as the initial prophet of this dispensation. Instead, Snow focuses on Joseph Smith’s character—an unusual subject for the early Mormon poetry I’ve collected so far. But the following poem does briefly mention some of Joseph Smith’s character traits:

Literary DCGD #46: Zion

Perhaps the most difficult issue in discussing the idea of Zion is defining exactly what we mean. Even though D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson #46 is titled “Zion—The Pure in Heart,” its first section is titled “The word Zion has several meanings” and lists no less than six. Of these, I’ve seen evidence in Mormon poetry for two or three definitions. First, the early Mormon poets used Zion in a millennial sense, to mean “The New Jerusalem.” They also used ion to mean “The dwelling place of those who are exalted,” or perhaps even simply “Those who are exalted.” And, from the poetry I’ve read, it seems that Zion was also used to mean “The Church and its stakes” and “The members of the Church.” In the following poem John Lyon seems to use all three.

Literary DCGD #45: Marriage

Mary Ann Morton Durham

The Mormon conception of marriage is central to our theology and understanding of the next life. We see marriage as the beginning of eternal families, and a key element of eternal progression. Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson #45 explores this belief, but, I think, doesn’t quite get at how or why marriage might be so central to eternal life. The following poem may explain somewhat.