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:
Mahonri Stewart recently released two of his plays–The Fading Flower and Swallow the Sun–together in a single volume. I found both of them to be so compelling, that I’m truly sad that no productions have been put on or are scheduled within 1,000 miles of where I live on the East Coast. More than just enjoyable, however, I found that they presented a strong and compellingly Mormon artistic perspective. While there is no doubt that the subject matter of both plays is Mormon, what really struck me was less the viewed and more the viewpoint. The Fading Flower centers around the faith struggles of Joseph Smith’s youngest son David, who was born after his father’s death. As he grows older, he is caught between the rival factions of the RLDS Church (with whom he was raised and with his brother serving as President) and the Brighamites (the objects of his missionary endeavors). So the setting is clearly Mormon, but what…
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.
Object Lesson: The Gold Coin Supplies: Either a $1 coin (such as the recently issued gold coin) or a half-dollar coin. A small bag of dirt. A few miscellaneous objects, such as a pen or paper clip. Lesson: The teacher holds up the coin and asks the class, “What is this?” (Wait for the class to answer: It’s a coin.) “What is its value?” (Either a dollar or 50 cents, depending on the coin type.) Teacher drops the coin on the ground. Kicks it. Steps on it. Lifts up the coin again. “How much is it worth now?” It’s still worth a dollar, isn’t it? Teacher takes a pen or paper clip, and scratches the side of the coin. Covers it in dirt. Lifts it up. Asks again, “How much is it worth now?” It’s still worth a dollar. You are children of God with infinite value. You are worth an infinity of these coins. Please don’t forget this. Some…
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.”
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.
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 Uchtdorf is conducting this final session of Conference, with music by the Tabernacle Choir. Invocation by another female, Sister Stephens — they seem to be everywhere this Conference! Benediction by a male Seventy. Direct quotes of a speaker are in quotation marks, otherwise the text is my summary of their remarks.
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…
President Eyring conducted the afternoon session. President Uchtdorf read a long list of sustainings and releases, notably releasing President Dalton of the Young Women and calling a new President (Bonnie Lee Green Oscarson) and counselors. The annual audit report and statistical report were read: there are now 3005 stakes and 347 missions. In what follows, direct quotations of a speaker are given in quotation marks; quoted scriptures cited where possible; and other text represents my own summary of the speakers remarks. I will try posting updates after each speaker this session.
President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Opening prayer by a (male) Seventy and music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Direct quotations of a speaker (based on my real-time listening) are given in quotation marks; other text represents my own summary of their remarks.
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:
Lesson 13 of this year’s Gospel Doctrine manual reviews some of the most important contributions of Joseph Smith—the scriptures he brought forth. Through Joseph Smith we have not only the Book of Mormon, but also the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price and the inspired version of the Bible. In addition, Joseph Smith provided important clarifications of doctrine upon which much of Mormon doctrine is founded. The following poem addresses Smith’s inspired writings.
One of the most modified Mormon doctrines is the doctrine of the gathering—the idea that Church members should move to a central gathering spot to build up Zion in this dispensation. D&C lesson 12 teaches about this doctrine, the subject of many of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. Under this doctrine, Mormons have “gathered” to Kirtland, Ohio, Independence, Missouri and other areas in that state, Nauvoo, Illinois and Salt Lake City, Utah and perhaps other places. Other Mormon sects have likewise sought to gather members to central locations. Hundreds of thousands of converts have left their homes to travel thousands of miles as a result of the teaching that saints should be gathered in one place. And often after reaching the gathering place, they have suffered persecution there, and then moved to a new gathering place. In the following poem, Evan M. Greene expressed the feelings of the saints about this commandment.
One of the early focuses of the Doctrine and Covenants is missionary work. Repeatedly the Lord advises the Church in revelation that “the field is white, already to harvest,” and encourages missionaries to labor with “all your heart, might, mind and strength.” Church members are urged to prepare and to “open your mouths” to warn and convert neighbors. And these themes did appear in early Mormon poetry, including this work, which was written by the first Mormon missionary to die in the field outside of the United States, Lorenzo D. Barnes.
Chapter 6 of the Lorenzo Snow manual discusses President Snow’s teachings about perfection—his encouragement of gradual improvement, diligence and patience and the role of repentance in obtaining perfection. One of the concepts that stands out to me is the requirement for patience and endurance in reaching perfection. These themes can also be found in his sister’s poem that follows.
Lorenzo Snow’s teachings on man’s destiny and on the nature of God have often been met with both criticism from non-Mormons and wonder from members. His couplet about the past of God and the future of man (mentioned in the lesson), encapsulates an important part of Mormon theology, something that has been even encapsulated in our poetry, such as in his sister Eliza’s well-known poem, today sung as the hymn O My Father. But that hymn is not the only poetical expression of these teachings.
Lesson 10 of the Gospel Doctrine manual for the Doctrine and Covenants is one of those lessons that is a bit hard to characterize. It covers D&C 25, addressing subjects like “husbands and wives should support and comfort each other,” “meekness and pride,” and “rejoice and be of good cheer.” I found it hard to come up with a single subject that covers all of this, and the best I could do is a poem about friendship.
The formal organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, subject of Gospel Doctrine lesson #9 this year, was the culmination of many preparatory steps that Joseph Smith and his fellow believers took. When the organization occurred, the group had new scripture, new authority from God and a new prophet at its head. In the ensuing years it added other key elements to its structure, beliefs and practices, some of which are described below in John Hardy’s hymn. In a real sense, at least most of these elements are what we are talking about when we speak of the restoration of “the only true and living church.”