Despair is, I think, one of the most difficult parts of the human condition. While the sources of our despair today are very different from those suffered by the early saints, the feelings are just as real and difficult. Where do we turn for peace? The following poem explores the despair we all feel—the same discussed in Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson #28—and provides an answer to it.
What do we mean when we talk about help from God? Our religion, and lesson 14 in the Lorenzo Snow manual, teaches us that we should rely on God for the help. Yet when we think about how this help actually works, it isn’t about God doing things for us, at least not usually, its about the guidance and strength that he gives us so that we can do what needs to be done ourselves. That is the strength that is described in the following poem.
We often assume in our perception of trials and challenges that the trials aren’t our fault, that these challenges are something that happens to us instead of something that happens as a result of our choices. While it is certainly true that some trials—natural disasters for example—are not by our choice, others are at least the consequence of our own choices. And, in some cases, we actually choose to undertake things that we know will be difficult. Does that mean that they are not still trials? Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson 27 illustrates this. The Church members during the Kirtland and Missouri periods were sometimes innocent of what they were being persecuted for. But other times they brought the persecution on themselves. And, in the case of Zion’s Camp, they chose to do something difficult, even though they knew that it would be hard.
What is the purpose of the Relief Society? While we think we understand its purpose based on what the women’s organization does today, the things that Relief Society does have changed radically since its founding in 1842. And the Lorenzo Snow lesson on the Relief Society shows this change, since his comments reflect a focus on charity and providing for the poor that we don’t hear much today—since that function is now handled by the welfare program. But before the welfare program was developed in the 1930s, the Relief Society WAS the welfare program. It collected and stored foodstuffs for later distribution to the poor, seeing to the welfare of everyone it could serve. This role can also be seen in the following hymn, which appeared in LDS hymnals in Lorenzo Snow’s day.
Our understanding of missionary work has changed and evolved substantially over Mormon history. Where we know assume that missionaries are young, during the 19th century missionaries were more mature and married. Where the sacrifices of missionaries today are usually parts of life postponed, during the life of Joseph Smith they meant real hardship for families, the missionary begging for food and even danger of physical assault. Still, then, as now, those brought to a knowledge of the gospel were grateful, as was the author of this poem.
What should the priesthood mean to us? How should it influence who we are and how we act? These questions are part of nearly every Mormon lesson on the priesthood these days, and lesson 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine manual is no exception. And I think the following poem fits this basic topic well.
I frequently hear claims that many church members are leaving the Church, that those who have been raised in the Church, or who have converted have become disillusioned. For a variety of reasons members do leave the Church, and it may be that they are leaving faster now than they did 50 years ago; although we don’t have the data to say for sure. It is clear that this has happened throughout the history of the Church, sometimes in greater numbers than in other times. D&C gospel doctrine lesson #24 addresses this, urging members to “be not deceived.”
It is nice to see our duties described in a way that makes clear their role in our communities. Take tithing, for example. Lorenzo Snow’s teachings in the current Priesthood/Relief Society manual (lesson 12) clearly cover our obligation, outlining how much we must provide and how tithing is a commandment of the Lord. But the lesson doesn’t put obedience to this commandment in context. It doesn’t show how it works in our everyday lives and what its effects are on our community. I think this poem does put the commandment in context.
I occasionally see from both inside and outside of the Church those who suggest that Mormons are somehow against education. While there certainly have been some anti-intellectual ideas floating around the Church almost from the beginning, the general tenor of Church teachings have always been supportive of education, and D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson #23 is no different. Church leaders have repeatedly, since the days of Joseph Smith, made it clear that education is not just good, it is part of the very purpose of life. Today’s poem sees education as a crucial element in the progress of man:
One of the most difficult concepts for many (perhaps even most) Church members in U.S. culture today is the idea that we should let the Lord direct our lives. Part of the difficulty lies in our desires, which may be righteous, but also may not be what the Lord would have us do. How often do we ask what he wants us to do? Another source of doubt about this concept is knowing what the Lord would have us do, even if we have asked. We sometimes feel like we are asking and not getting an answer (although I suspect this is usually our own fault somehow). Not knowing the answer leads us to a choice: either do nothing or do what we think best instead. In the following poem, John A. Widtsoe, an Apostle from 1921 to 1952, echoes the pleas for guidance that we all feel or should feel.
The word of wisdom is strongly connected with who we are as Mormons—it has become as much an identifier as pork is for Jews and for Muslims. We emphasize the importance of this teaching in lessons like the current Gospel Doctrine lesson (#22), and we teach it to kids almost from birth. But while section 89 was received by Joseph Smith in 1833, it really didn’t become an identifying characteristic of Mormons until past 1900 and, as I understand it, was only included among the Temple recommend questions in the 1950s. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that it was early in the 20th century that we first have songs for children, like the following poem, that encourage keeping the word of wisdom. In this poem keeping that commandment is not only encouraged, it explicitly says we keep it as part of our identity; Because We’re Mormons.
When we think of the second coming of Christ and the things that will happen in the last days, frequently our focus is on the prophesied destruction and the “signs of the times.” But as the focus of D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson 21 shows, we need not put our focus there, but instead we can focus on what will happen to the righteous and the millennium that will be ushered in by the second coming. That same kind of focus can be seen in the following hymn by W. W. Phelps:
It seems like a few verses in the D&C are all we know about the life after this. Lesson 20 of the Gospel Doctrine manual covers D&C 76, 131, 137, and part of 132, and in these scriptures we discover a structure for the hereafter, a segregation of the children of God into groups based on the lives they live here on earth. But the descriptions in scripture are far from specific—after all, how much information can be provided in a few hundred words? I don’t know if the poem below adds much or not. Written by Orson F. Whitney, named an apostle just two years after this was published, this poem is dense, employing sophisticated language and imagery to portray what is in the scriptures. Does it give additional insight? You tell me.
We tend to talk about the benefits of the temple more than the obligations. In the temple we may gain knowledge, revelation, be sealed to our families, and give our relatives who have passed on the opportunity to accept necessary earthly ordinances—all important elements described in the Lorenzo Snow manual lesson 10. But these benefits come with some obligations (beyond those required to qualify for a recommend), such as the obligation to attend the temple periodically, support temple work, do genealogical work, and even work in the temple when called. On a practical level, these obligations are quite different from the expectations experienced by the Saints in Nauvoo and understood by them before the Nauvoo Temple was built, as can be seen by the following poem.
How thin is the veil? Might we remember bits of our experience there? Could a melody we heard there be familiar to us here? (assuming we even heard melodies there). The idea of the pre-existence and of the other elements of the plan of salvation, discussed in D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson 19, are a source of endless wonder and speculation. We just don’t know much about what our existence before and after this life was and will be like. But, perhaps nothing says more about our belief in the plan of salvation than our fascination with speculating about what the life before this one was like, and what the life after this one will be like.
Given the rumors circulating about closing canneries and the reasons for doing so, Times and Seasons asked the Church’s PR department for a statement and received the following: The Church is not closing canneries and is not limiting the variety of goods available to Church members. Over time, we will be reducing the number of facilities where the packaging of dry goods occurs. Instead, Church home storage centers will offer the same or additional commodities in pre-packaged form, at no additional cost.
The sacred and eternal nature of families is regularly taught and believed among Mormons today. But it wasn’t seen as quite as obvious to Church members in the middle of the 19th century. The teaching that our family relationships extend past this life and are modeled on the family relationship we had before this life developed throughout the life of Joseph Smith, culminating with the King Follett discourse (given just before his death) and with the temple ordinances. The teachings of Lorenzo Snow on this subject (seen in the Lorenzo Snow manual chapter 9) thus represent a very developed understanding of how these relationships fit in the plan of salvation. For many earlier Church members, however, it seems to me that these teachings were mostly comfort on the loss of loved ones, especially children. And it is in comforting those who have lost children that the eternal nature of families can be seen. An example is the poem selected for this…
We are a temple-building people. Today we are more removed from the process than ever. Where Mormons once donated money, materials, time and effort to building temples in Kirtland, Nauvoo, St. George, Salt Lake and elsewhere, we participate less and less in the process, first no longer providing materials, then over time less and less labor, and more recently we no longer even have fundraising specifically for building temples or any other building. So we might today be excused from understanding completely how much building temples was part of the life of early members of the Church. Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson 18 addresses the doctrine behind temple building, and the poem I’ve chosen for this lesson adds a millennial tone to the doctrine.
Its hard to find poetry about tithing! I suppose since tithing wasn’t emphasized as much by the Church before the beginning of the 20th century, Mormon poets didn’t focus on the concept. Or, it might simply be that the subject matter doesn’t work well in poetry; certainly the word “tithing” isn’t very poetic, leaving me with visions of bad poetry in which every line ends with a present participle. Its enough to set my ears ringing! But, I suspect that tithing is such a basic concept that my chronological review of poetry, still mired in the late 1840s, just hasn’t come across the poetic reactions to the principle. But I did finally come across the following poem, which gets close, mentioning “the outlay of your money for the Church.”
I made a mistake. The week before conference the LDS Church Growth blog, analyzing a Church news release, projected that the number of missionaries serving could pass 100,000 by the end of 2013 or early 2014. When the news appeared in a facbook group I follow, I thought it seemed overly optimistic. I realized soon after the announcement last October that we would have a surge in missionaries, as 18-year-olds joined the 19 and 20-year-old Elders serving, and as 19 and 20-year-old Sisters joined the 21 and 22-year-old Sisters serving. So, I though, the number of missionaries will jump to 80,000 or 90,000 and then fall back down to something a bit above current levels, as we get to a missionary force that mainly started at 18 (for Elders) and 19 (for Sisters). To confirm this, I put together a spreadsheet model. And I was quite surprised.
When we discuss the Sabbath in lessons, we can either focus on the things that we should not do to keep the day holy or we can focus on the things we can and should do. The 16th Gospel Doctrine lesson for the Doctrine and Covenants focuses more on the latter than on the former, discussing attending Sunday meetings and taking the sacrament first before moving on to the concept of a day of rest and keeping the day holy. And I think for most Mormons today the focus is on what we do on the Sabbath—go to Church.
After I returned home from my mission I attended a single’s ward in suburban Washington D.C. in which we had an unusual sacrament meeting one Sunday. One after another ward members came to the podium and delivered the words of the children’s song “I am a Child of God,” each in a different language, a language they knew personally. The effect was surprising; all of us were unified—no one was left out from being a child of God, regardless of race, creed, sex or language. My family experienced a similar surprise several years ago when we arrived at Yankee stadium for a ball game in mid April. We arrived in the middle of the first inning and, after a while, we became a little confused—all of the players were wearing the same number. It took us a little while to figure it out, and when we did the impact was big. Symbolically every player was Jackie Robinson; everyone was number…
Character not only matters, Lorenzo Snow seems to indicate in the material included in lesson 8 of the Lorenzo Snow manual, it is how we are judged, how the Lord “knows our heart.” This prioritizes, of course, character development, which is, in the end, the focus of this lesson. While I don’t have a Mormon poem that discusses character development itself, I have found several that do discuss what character traits are important, including this one.
I had a hard time finding a poem that fits with this week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson on spiritual gifts. There just aren’t many that even mention spiritual gifts, and most that do seem to be predominantly about another subject. But I was finally able to find one that focuses on the gift of healing, one of the gifts most emphasized in the LDS Church today. There are many others, of course, and the current tendency seems to be to classify things as spiritual gifts that are part of the normal process of learning and living the gospel—things like teaching, testifying and showing compassion as opposed to the more miraculous gifts of healing, speaking in tongues and prophecy. The following poem is almost a healing blessing itself.
President Henry B. Eyring is conducting this session of General Conference. Choir — Go Forth in Faith Conducting — President Henry B. Eyring Choir — Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise Invocation — Elder Steven E. Snow President Dieter F. Uchtdorf — “The Hope of God’s Light” It is part of our condition as mortal beings to sometimes feel as though we are surrounded by darkness. …But even though we may feel lost in the midst of our current circumstances, God promises the hope of His light–He promises to illuminate the way before us and show us the way out of darkness. We don’t have to wait to cross the finish lines to receive God’s blessings. In fact, the heavens begin to part and the blessings of heaven begin to distill upon us with the very first steps we take toward the light. …The darkness may not dissipate all at once, but as surely as night always gives way to…
President Uchtdorf conducted the priesthood session, which included a number of strong and inspiring talks. Choir — Arise, Oh God, and Shine Invocation — Elder Ronald W. Rasband Choir — Nearer My God to Me Elder Robert D. Hales — “Stand Strong in Holy Places” Brethren, if we are faithful in the priesthood, this armor will be given to us as a gift from God. We need this armor! If you judge your actions and the standards of the Church on the basis of where the world is and where it’s going, you will find that you are not where you should be. As we press forward along the path, we build progressive spiritual strength —strength in using our agency to act for ourselves. In the strength of the Lord we are able to stand against any philosophy or creed that denies the Savior and contradicts the great, eternal plan of happiness for all of God’s children. We are not…
This April we begin the month looking forward to what comes from 12 men and a few more. We will watch what they do and say, perhaps learning some lessons from them. We may disagree and perhaps even be disappointed in what they do. But we will watch, and what we see will inform how we see the next six months. One of these men has already made a strong statement this week, raising our expectations for this year. Will our expectations be met?
In Mormonism we talk a lot about concepts like “enduring to the end” and “faithfulness in times of trial” (the subject of the current lesson in the Lorenzo Snow manual). We teach that trials are a necessary part of life, burdens that we need to pass through in order to learn the lessons of life and build our abilities for the next life. Children face these same lessons as they become independent of their mothers (and fathers), as Mormon poet Coral J. Black explores in the following poem.
What does it mean to consecrate? What are the kinds of things we must do, the attitudes and priorities we must have when we consecrate all that we have and that we are to the Lord? Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson 14 explores the Law of Consecration, focusing on these attitudes and priorities and little on the practical effects of those attitudes. I believe that when we actually do live the law of consecration, our actions will be more like the ideal described by Eliza R. Snow in her poetic description of the Relief Society: