Category: Features

Sunday School lessons – Book Reviews – Interviews

Literary DCGD #6: May I Remember Thee

The principle of personal revelation is a foundation of Mormonism, a key to our understanding of the gospel. And few places in the scriptures make this as clear as in D&C 8 and 9, which are discussed in Gospel Doctrine lesson 6. There we learn, among other things, that faith is a key aspect of personal revelation. Thus to receive personal revelation, we need to remember the Lord, as is described in the poem I selected for this lesson.

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness

[This is the fourth in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The first three installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions, Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, and Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings] Now knowing a portion of my background, you can probably guess I’ve had opportunity to give a fair amount of consideration to the concepts of personal responsibility, repentance, and forgiveness. Please take this post as exactly that, my own considerations on these topics, long thought out, studied, prayed about, discussed, and applied, but still open to question/ suggestion/ correction/ reinterpretation. This is also about individual, rather than institutional forgiveness, though I’d love to hear insights from any who have served/ are serving as church leaders where their judgments about people are required in their church work. We’ve talked a bit about accountability in relation to mental illness. I want to start…

How a concussion made me think of Stephenie Meyer and Francis Hutcheson

Last semester, my first semester studying Greek, I sustained a mild concussion. I have mostly recovered now. I still have problems with bright lights that makes nighttime driving intolerable, but for the most part, I’m functioning normally. But for a few weeks there, I couldn’t think straight. It hurt to concentrate. Reading even a light novel was difficult, and translating Greek was nigh impossible. Just looking at Greek letters caused me pain. But my handwriting was spectacular. Any notes I took about lectures I attended during that time are the most clearly written, beautifully precise notes I have ever taken. Sketching was fine too, so the concentration required to look and draw was painlessly available to me. It was strange to experience this involuntary shift in my capacities. I tend to think that what I think, how I think, is what I am. But if my cognitive functions are subject to physical manipulations, some of which are outside of my…

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings

[This is the fourth in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The other installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions, Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, and Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness] During graduate school (in a different field of study), I worked in the university’s office for staff and students with disabilities.  I learned a great deal about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and about how individuals with a variety of disabilities qualify for and obtain accommodations in their work and schooling to enable them to do the work they otherwise (disability aside) are able to do.  As a neophyte, I was most surprised by accommodations given for “invisible” disabilities.  For example, did you know that an individual with certain types of anxiety can qualify for a handicapped parking permit, giving them accessibility to classrooms and other needed campus resources they would…

Literary DCGD #5: A Scene in Virginia

The spirit of revelation described in D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson #5 isn’t always credited with all that it deserves. During our lives, I think, we often receive inspiration that we don’t attribute to anything but our own decisions, while that inspiration makes subtle changes, pushing us towards the better. Other times personal revelation is very clear, appearing as the kind of direct communication whose source is all but undeniable. The following poem is an example of when and how personal revelation can appear, along with a meditation on nature and how it should turn our vision o the truth.

Literary DCGD #4: Interview with David Whitmer

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 Lorenzo Snow #2: For Baptism

[I am traveling for the 4th annual Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference — please excuse the delay in posting this.] From the beginning of Mormonism, Baptism has been a central focus of our preaching. Baptism must be done in the correct manner and by the correct authority, and should be followed by the gift of the Holy Ghost. And this is the focus of the second lesson in the Lorenzo Snow manual used in Priesthood and Relief Society. Of course, our baptisms have always been accompanied by hymns, and the following hymn appeared in Emma Smith’s first hymnal in 1835 and in subsequent hymnals through 1841, but disappeared thereafter. It was likely sung at baptisms during the first decade of Mormonism (perhaps even the baptism of Lorenzo Snow).

Literary DCGD #3: The Young Seer

[I am traveling for the 4th annual Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference — please excuse the delay in posting this.] Of our mythic founding stories, the First Vision is surely the most important. It appears regularly in manuals and conference talks, as well as in the missionary lessons, where it is among the first things that converts to Mormonism learn. So naturally it is a frequent subject for Mormon poetry. But most of the poetical treatments of the First Vision that come to my mind are descriptive, tell what happened instead of the role of the First Vision in the ages. And even when that role is discussed, I haven’t seen a more unusual approach than the excerpt below, which brings rich imagery to its view of the initial event of the restoration.

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34)

[This is the first in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The subsequent installments are available here: Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions,  Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings, and Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness] Not many years ago, a younger sibling of mine sought to stop her unbearable emotional pain by ending her mortal life.  While she succeeded in completing her suicide, she did not consciously chose this path, and she is not fully accountable for her desperate and tragic actions. In some ways, she is in a safer place, as she is now beyond reach of some of the individuals, circumstances, and influences that had power to destroy her soul. I also believe that many of her challenges continue, and some may even be greater.  I do not know the ultimate destiny of her soul. But I know for sure that…

Literary DCGD #2: Praise ye the Lord

The second Doctrine and Covenants lesson makes the point that this modern scripture talks and teaches of Christ. That focus was easy to find in many Mormon poems and hymns, but the following poem has the advantage of talking about the Lord for what He has done for the Latter-day Church. Eliza R. Snow probably needs no introduction for most members, as her poetry still appears frequently in our hymnals. And in this poem her combination of praise for the Lord with references to the latter-day work makes this a good match for the lesson.

Literary Lorenzo Snow #1: Provo Sunday School

I love the first lesson in the Lorenzo Snow manual. It seems like Snow’s love of learning is second to none among latter-day Prophets. And his statements about learning are wonderful: “Though we may now neglect to improve our time, to brighten up our intellectual faculties, we shall be obliged to improve them sometime. We have got so much ground to walk over, and if we fail to travel to-day, we shall have so much more to travel to-morrow.”

Vote for Mormon of the Year 2012!

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

Literary DCGD #1: On the Latter-day Dispensation

The initial lesson in the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History course of study points out that the revelations found in the text are meant for our time and cover our dispensation, while the history presented is the history of our people, as opposed to those who lived aeons ago. This course should, therefore, be relevant to us today in a way that the other Gospel Doctrine courses can’t hope to accomplish. The poem below discusses not only a few of the major events that opened our dispensation, but also follows the prediction often made; that our dispensation has a great destiny leading to the coming of our Lord.

The Opposite of Epistemic Humility

[This is Part 4 of a 4-part series. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.] In my first three pieces I’ve spent an awful lot of time talking about epistemic humility. Now I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the antithesis of epistemic humility: extremism. My definition of the term is non-standard, but I believe it both fits as the antithesis of epistemic humility and matches our intuition that there’s something to extremism that is more than merely being far removed from the mainstream. After all, if you live in a society where child sacrifice is the norm and you consider it an abomination you are an extremist in a technical sense, but that lacks the pejorative connotations that we typically bundle in with the term. People believe things for a lot of reasons, but the very last reason is that they have gone through some kind of rational evaluation of the evidence and logic and concluded that the belief in…

On Learning from False Models

[This is Part 3 of a 4-part series. Part 1. Part 2. Part 4] In this post I want to present a secular example of epistemic humility. As with the religious example, I hope that this one will also provide some intrinsically interesting ideas. I also plan on reusing these ideas in the next couple of posts. Like my first example, the second highlights the fertility that arises from knowingly maintaining contradictory views. In this case the conflict is between the highly stylized model of human behavior used by economists (homo economicus or the rational agent) and real, live human beings. It was John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith who put homo economicus through an early beta stage, but it was the generation of economists writing in the early 20th century who created version 1.0 of this model by rendering it mathematically precise. They did this because economics was suffering at the time, and perhaps suffers acutely to this day, from physics…

Why Literary Gospel Doctrine Lesson Posts

For the past year each Monday afternoon my “Literary BMGD” posts have appeared each Monday — perhaps confusing some readers who have wondered exactly what these posts were all about. And those who clicked on them to read what they had may have been surprised to find that they were… poetry. What exactly is BMGD and why poetry? If I am going to continue these posts, I should probably explain:

Faith is a Work in Progress

[This is Part 2 of a 4-part series. Part 1. Part 3. Part 4] I appreciate the kind welcome to T&S and all the good comments and questions. I know I haven’t responded to some of them yet, and I’ll try to rectify that soon, but I wanted to make sure I had this post ready to go. My goal is to live up to my promise to walk through a religious example of epistemic humility in action. At the end of the last post, I suggested that one of the dangers we face when our beliefs conflict with each other is that we will fictionalize one of those beliefs by compartmentalizing it. At the other extreme, we can so privilege certain beliefs that anything which contradicts them is dismissed out of hand. Both of these approaches spare us from the anxiety and frustration of cognitive dissonance, and both of them also cut us off from further growth. The alternative, and this is…

The Wise Man Doubts Often, And Changes His Mind

[This is Part 1 of a 4-part series. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4] I’m happy to have a chance to do a guest stint here at Times and Seasons, and over the next two weeks I want to use my borrowed soap box to talk about epistemic humility. Epistemic humility is an awareness of the limits of our ability to know. It is an admission that we are ignorant of things that are true and that we accept as true things which are not. Hence the title, which comes from a longer saying of Akhenaten: “The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubts not; he knows all things but his own ignorance.” In this piece I hope to explain why epistemic humility is a serious concern, and in subsequent pieces I’ll shift the focus to implications and responses. Although it has become something of a buzzword recently, the philosophical history of epistemic…

Nominate the 2012 Mormon of the Year

Its that time of year again. The media will soon start reviewing the important news stories of the year, Time will soon select its Person of the Year (Mitt Romney has been nominated); so we should get busy selecting the Mormon of the Year. For those who don’t remember, T&S selected Mitt Romney as the Mormon of the Year for 2008, Harry Reid for 2009, Elizabeth Smart for 2010 and Jimmer Fredette for 2011. As in the past, the choice does not mean that the person is a good Mormon or even a good person. This designation is solely about the impact the person has had. Note: Last year we changed the nomination procedure: Nominations must be seconded! In addition, we ask that when you nominate someone you use your real name, rather than an online nickname or pseudonym. We hope this will make sure that nominations are serious, and not in jest as some have been in the past. I…

Literary BMGD #48: My Friends and I

The final lesson for the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine class covers Moroni 7-10, the final Book of Mormon prophet’s closing advice to readers, including teachings about faith, hope and charity, the conditions of salvation, spiritual gifts, the role of the Holy Ghost, and how to judge between good and evil. The motivation for this latter counsel is somewhat captured in this poem, which looks at the extremes to which our friends can sometimes push us, and the feeling of being lost or torn between opposites that can happen if we try to follow their advice.

Literary BMGD #47: While of these emblems we partake

Including the sacrament prayers in Moroni 4, and indeed all the instructions in Moroni 2 through 6, seem almost like an afterthought to the Book of Mormon—kind of like “Oh, yeah, you’ll need to know this stuff too.” And these instructions only make sense if they are written for us today, for Moroni himself is apparently the only surviving follower of Christ at his time and place. Evidently the peoples of the Book of Mormon had this information recorded elsewhere and Mormon didn’t include it where it was given (presumably at the time of Christ’s visit). Of course, the basic ideas and symbolism in the ordinance is described elsewhere in the Book of Mormon and the rest of our scriptures, and there it is clear how central the ordinance and its symbolism is to the gospel.

Literary BMGD #46: Trials and Happiness

I often wonder how Mormon managed to keep it together. He saw his own civilization decaying around him, perhaps while he was in the midst of abridging the record of the Jaredites, summarizing the details of their decline and destruction, which was so similar to his own. Yet despite this, in the final chapters of Ether (12-15 are covered by this lesson), Mormon talks about the role of faith. Its an example of faith, I suppose, that he was able to show its importance while he himself must have felt in the midst of trials. And perhaps it is from enduring these trials that Mormon himself gained such insight into faith.

Literary BMGD #45: Song of the Exiled Saints

The Book of Ether contains the story of the Jaredites — a story that parallels the overall history told in the Book of Mormon. And, as I’ve observed here before, the story also is somewhat similar to that of the early Saints, who travel to a foreign land at the direction of the Lord, seeking a place where they may live in righteousness. Ether 1-6 tells the beginning of this story, including the revelations given to the Brother of Jared, his exemplary faith and the journey of his people to the promised land. While their home has descended into chaos because each person can not communicate with others due to the confounding of the language, still, I think, they must have had some longing for the familiar surroundings of their homes.

Literary BMGD #44: The Book of Mormon

As Mormon completes his own record in Mormon chapters 7, 8 and 9, he prophesies about the role that the Nephite records will have in the future, saying that the record will come forth in the latter days, in a day of great wickedness, and urging readers of the book to believe in Christ. This role of the Book of Mormon was a very common theme in Mormon poetry, including this poem, written under the pseudonym “Equator.”

Literary BMGD #43: Christ’s Ministry to the Nephites, part III

Mormon, the book in the Book of Mormon written by its compiler, is perhaps the most depressing of the book of scripture. It might be subtitled ‘the Decline and Fall of Nephite Civilization.’ And its author was all but hopeless in his assessment. But unlike Gibbon’s perhaps better known description of decline and fall, Mormon also describes the future effects of his record, predicting that millions will be convinced to come to Christ by the story he tells. In the following poem, Parley P. Pratt also traces this same history, in part three of his poetic description of Christ’s ministry to the Nephites.

Book of Mormon Comics

I love stories. A narrative strikes me as the most fundamental way of ideas with other people. And by ideas, I mean not only the bare events of the narrative, but also abstract concepts, morals, and emotional truths. It makes sense to me that our basic scriptural texts have strong narratives. The Old Testament is a collection of stories, with the consequences of one generation’s choices setting the stage for the actions of the next. The Book of Mormon also has very strong narratives. Other classic stories that we are familiar with, we feel free to reimagine. We update fairy tales, retell myths in modern settings. Even the stories of Genesis are recognized as archetypes that we re-present and reinterpret. But too often Mormons tend to shy away from this type of creative engagement with the text and narratives of the Book of Mormon, perhaps from a kind of self-censorship that fears corrupting in some way the most true book…

Literary BMGD #42: The Gospel

In the final minutes of his visit with the Nephites (3 Nephi 27), Christ makes clear that the church established for the Nephites must bear his name and teach his gospel. He even specifies elements of his gospel: the atonement and resurrection, the final judgment, repentance, baptism, faith in Jesus Christ, the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. I don’t think it would be very hard to connect any Mormon doctrine to this list.

Mormon of the Year candidates from this past summer?

In May I asked readers here to look at those who had made the news during the first part of the year and suggest who among them should be considered for “Mormon of the Year.” The theory is that looking at the question periodically during the year means that we will include those who have been forgotten by the end of the year. This way, we avoid a bias towards recent events. So, I’d like to suggest that we look at who has made the news since April and suggest possible candidates for “Mormon of the Year.”