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.
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.
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.
We continue our Q&A with Armand Mauss, LDS author and scholar. See Part 1 for a full introduction. 5. Let’s talk now about some of the issues you discussed in your memoir, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (U of U Press, 2012). In Chapter 6, “Recurrent Visits with the Race Issue,” you recount how you conducted research on the LDS race issue during the 1960s for your dissertation on Mormonism and minorities, filed at UC Berkeley in 1970. That put you smack in the middle of the most contentious issue in the Church during a difficult ten or fifteen years (particularly difficult for many LDS scholars) right up to the 1978 revelation. Yet you held the middle of ground of not exiting the Church or being pushed out as a harmful critic while, at the same time, publishing scholarly analysis and gentle criticism of the existing LDS policy and remaining a fully active…
Way back in April 2004, almost exactly ten years ago, Armand Mauss was the very first Times and Seasons 12 Questions guest (see Part 1 and Part 2). A lot has happened in the last ten years, so Armand has graciously agreed to answer 12 more questions. He was a Professor of Sociology for many years at Washington State University (the other Cougars) and is the author of two must-read books for students of Mormonism, The Angel and the Beehive (1994) and All Abraham’s Children (2003). With Lester Bush, he co-edited a collection of essays, Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church (Signature Books, 1984). He recently published his memoirs, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (U of U Press, 2012).
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…
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.…
I attended priesthood session at my local chapel. About sixty men and boys in attendance. One woman. It was snowing when I left home. I decided to reward my choosing the right with good consequences, so I stopped by my local Wendy’s and bought a small vanilla Frosty. On the way I listened to a few minutes of my current audio CD, Neptune’s Inferno, about the US Navy at Guadalcanal. Right now (in the CD) the US heavy cruiser San Francisco (which survived the fight) is trading fire with the Japanese battleship Hiei (which didn’t) in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. There were a dozen ships on each side in a wild, confusing night melee. A lot of good young men on both sides died that night, November 12, 1942.
Welcome to round two of T&S sort-of live coverage of General Conference. President Eyring conducted this afternoon session with President Monson (in attendance) presiding. Opening prayer by Ian S. Ardern, a Seventy, and music by an Institute Choir from Orem, Utah. Direct quotations of a speaker are given in quotation marks; other text represents my own summary.
Welcome to T&S sort-of live coverage of General Conference. President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session with President Monson (in attendance) presiding. Opening prayer by Carl B. Cook, a Seventy, and music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Direct quotations of a speaker are given in quotation marks or blockquote form; other text represents my own summary of their remarks or, where noted, my own comments.
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.
This is a discussion T&S permabloggers Julie and Dave had last week about the new book Letters to a Young Mormon (Maxwell Institute, 2014) by Adam Miller (also a T&S permablogger). Dave: Three things a reader should know about Letters to a Young Mormon: It is short, 78 pages if you count the title page. It is published by the Maxwell Institute, part of their Living Faith series (each volume in the series is an “example of faith in search of understanding” by “a scholar who has cultivated a believing heart …”). And it is written by a philosopher, which is always a plus. But I wonder how young a Mormon needs to be to be part of the intended audience. My sense is that anyone from twelve to a hundred would enjoy the book and profit from reading it. Julie: Good question. An interesting bit of reception history here: I’ve seen reviewers mocked for assuming that the book was actually…
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.