On Teaching Seminary

As regulars here know, I teach early morning Seminary. I love the students in the class, which includes my 15-year-old daughter. My Seminary teaching style is relaxed. Today, for example, we covered the first couple of chapters in Job, intermittantly reading and talking. (“Could Satan really talk to God like that?” “Was Job a real person?”) Tangents — mostly generated by the random firing of dendrites inside the brains of the most outspoken young men — are a regular feature of the class. We laugh a lot. Once or twice a week, we eat breakfast. We learn something new on most days. And occasionally, we have a genuine spiritual experience.

Civic Religion – Again

For those not aware of the fact, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Locke v. Davey a few hours ago, holding that it did not violate the Free Exercise Clause for the State of Washington to exempt divinity degree applicants from an otherwise available scholarship fund. I am not going to comment here on the opinion itself, but there was a line from Justice Scalia’s dissent that brought to mind an earlier discussion here at T&S on civic religion.

Turning BYU into Bob Jones

Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon on one reason the Federal Marriage Amendment is necessary: “Religious freedom, too, is at stake. As much as one may wish to live and let live, the experience in other countries reveals that once these arrangements become law, there will be no live-and-let-live policy for those who differ. Gay-marriage proponents use the language of openness, tolerance and diversity, yet one foreseeable effect of their success will be to usher in an era of intolerance and discrimination the likes of which we have rarely seen before. Every person and every religion that disagrees will be labeled as bigoted and openly discriminated against. The ax will fall most heavily on religious persons and groups that don’t go along. Religious institutions will be hit with lawsuits if they refuse to compromise their principles.”

Lent

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season for many Christians. At Christmastime, there was some conversation about the virtues of non-Mormon worship, including the observance of the Christian calendar.

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like Unto…a Starbucks?

Jesus loved teaching with metaphors from the mundane. You remember the stories in Matthew: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed….like unto leaven….like unto treasure hid in a field. He holds up a comparison and invites his listeners (sometimes with His help) to extract meaning and insight. Imagine my surprise in a recent epiphany that the kingdom of heaven in my day is also like unto a Starbucks!

Welcome Our New Guest Blogger: Linda Hoffman Kimball

Many of you may already know Linda Hoffman Kimball from her work as a columnist at beliefnet.com and for Exponent II. Or from her novels (Home to Roost and The Marketing of Sister B). Or perhaps from the essay collection she edited, Saints Well-Seasoned: Musings on How Food Nourishes Us — Body, Heart and Soul. Her latest work is Chocolate Chips & Charity: Visiting Teaching in the Real World, which has already cracked Cedar Fort’s Bestseller List even though it just came out in January. I first met Linda in the Hyde Park Ward on the South Side of Chicago, where she, her husband (Chris) and three children were the backbone of a very transient ward. Like me Linda was baptized into the Church during college (Wellesley College), having been raised a devout Methodist. After Wellesley, she earned an MFA from Boston University, where her thesis was on Art as Propaganda in Nazi Germany. She now lives in Evanston, Illinois,…

The Receding Second Coming

As a kid growing up on the Wasatch Front, I figured that the Second Coming was just around the corner. I remember being Primary age and thinking that I would not have to worry about post-mission plans — the world would be over by then anyway.

Sunday School Lesson 9

Lesson 9: 2 Nephi 11-25 This week’s study questions are a little longer than usual but much shorter than last week’s. Chapter 11 Verses 2-3: Nephi tells us he has two reasons for delighting in the words of Isaiah and writing them down: he can liken them to his people, and Isaiah, like Nephi and Jacob, is a witness of Christ, so that the three stand together as witnesses of him. What reasons might there be for the words of Isaiah to be given to us? For other reasons, see 1 Nephi 19:23; 2 Nephi 11:2-6, 8; 2 Nephi 25:3.

Church Canards

When you hear it over the pulpit, it makes you cringe. You know that it isn’t true, but you also know that this will not be the last time you hear it. Somehow, these stories, sayings, or beliefs have infiltrated the Church consciousness (my theory is that many of them are borrowed from “mainstream Christianity”), and we have the most difficult time getting rid of them. Here is my favorite: “As Jesus said, ‘I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.’” Aarrgh! Here at Times & Seasons, we want to provide a non-violent means of relieving yourself of your frustration. Share your favorite canard. If you don’t have a canard, exactly, perhaps you have a favorite trite story or poem (“Footsteps in the Sand” anyone?). Or the musical number from hell. (No, not that. I’m talking about the song that you just cannot abide.) Share away. We’re here for you.

Family Ordination?

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” reads in part: “The family is ordained of God.” What does this mean? (This is one of my wife’s puzzlers.) My inital reaction was that it meant something simple like, “The institution of the family — being defined as a husband, wife, and children — was created by God for the eternal benefit of His children.” But the use of the word “ordain” seems to imply something more than mere creation or invention of the institution. It implies a Divine imprimatur and may suggest that the family is the exclusive vehicle for eternal progression. This seems consistent with Church doctrine (whatever that is), as I understand it. More interestingly, use of the word “ordain” connotes some connection to the Priesthood. The word “ordain,” of course, is related to “ordinance” and to “order,” thereby invoking the notion of authority. Is this significant? Perhaps this is intended to refer to the temple sealing ordinances. Any…

Education and Class

As someone not that far removed from a “redneck” heritage, I think that Gordon has hit on something very important: often our discussions of R-rated movies and such is, for both sides, really a discussion of class. One side sees itself as sophisticated and informed. The other side sees itself as obedient and faithful. The first sides accuses the second of being anti-intellectual. The second side accuses the first of being proud and unwilling to take counsel.

Millet on “The Passion,” R-rated Movies, and Evangelicals

Another one of those typical “what-do-the-Mormons-think?” articles this morning in the Deseret News, this one on “The Passion of the Christ” and the supposed challenge which its R-rating poses for members of the church. (I always love these articles by the way, because they differ not a whit in their form from the sort of articles we often had to write back at The Daily Universe: call up some random religion professor–it was usually a religion professor–and get them to talk on the record about what everybody had already beaten to death in elder’s quorum the week before. The more straightforward Deseret News article on showings of “The Passion” in Utah is here.) This one has some notable nuggets in it though, because Professor Robert Millet (the BYU religion professor they managed to get on the phone) was willing to elaborate at some length on why he’s going to see the movie.

Welcome again, Kristine!

For the past two weeks, we have all enjoyed Kristine’s thoughtful presence on this blog, in posts like this and this and this. No one wants this to end, including Kristine, who recently agreed to carry on as a permanent blogger. Welcome again, Kristine!

Managing the Donor Base

I have been meaning to write about this for a while, and Brayden’s comments on the centralization of budgeting have spurred me on. So here is Nathan Oman’s based-entirely-on-meager-evidence-and-speculation theory of Church financing. Or at least a part of it.

What I did over summer vacation

Last summer, I belatedly spent my first term at BYU, as a Summer Fellow at the Smith Institute for Church History. There were eight of us, working under the direction of Claudia Bushman. Our topic was the history of Mormon women in the 20th century.

My 18-month Mission

In April 1982, the First Presidency announced that male missionaries would thenceforth serve missions of 18 months, rather than two years. The justification for the change: “It is anticipated that this shortened term will make it possible for many to go who cannot go under present financial circumstances. This will extend the opportunity for missionary service to an enlarged body of our young men.” I had been a member of the Church for less than six months. In September 1982, I was called by President Spencer W. Kimball to serve in the Austria Vienna Mission for a period of 18 months. After returning home, I obtained a teaching position at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. On November 26, 1984, during my first semester as a teacher at the MTC, the First Presidency announced that the length of missions would be changed back to two years.

The Landscape of Memory

I am facinated by the way in which a place carries with it the memories of a people. The Civil War provides an example of what I am talking about. The trauma of that event is seared into the landscape of the eastern United States.

The Grammar of Inequity

All this talk about scriptures brings up a perennial discussion topic which I think has so far gone undiscussed on Times & Seasons. Does it matter that the language of our scriptures is all based on older English usage which allowed the use of he/him/his to refer to persons of either gender? How about in our hymns?

STQ: Old Testament Stories

This morning my Seminary class discussed 2 Kings 2. At the end of that chapter are the following verses: And [Elisha] went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. That’s it. That’s the whole story. Let me summarize: Some youth mock the prophet for his bald head, he curses them, and a couple of bears rip them apart.

Humility and Excellence

*Warning: Lengthy and self-indulgent blathering!* On Sunday, I had what might have been, for a better person, a humbling experience. For me, it was merely humiliating. I was playing a violin solo for the special musical number during Sacrament Meeting. This in itself is a little embarrassing for me–I was a decent violinist a long time ago, but haven’t taken lessons or practiced seriously in many years, so I’m really not very good anymore, but there’s nobody better in my ward, and I’ve thought it important to offer my talents, such as they are, even though a bushel feels to me like a better place for them–ad Dei majorem gloriam and all that.

Zeezrom

We are reading the Book of Mormon as a family, and last night we came to the story of Amulek and Zeezrom. Would it surprise you to learn that Zeezrom is my favorite character in the Book of Mormon? Of course, Zeezrom was a lawyer, who is described as “a man who was expert in the devices of the devil.” (Alma 11:21) At one point in the exchange with Amulek, Zeezrom attempts to purchase Amulek’s testimony against God, and Zeezrom fails. (Alma 11:22) But when Amulek describes spiritual death, “Zeezrom began to tremble.” (Alma 11:46) Then Alma jumps in, calls Zeezrom a liar and reads his mind — “Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit.” (Alma 12:3) At this…

My Big Problem With the Big Commandment

The greatest commandment, so says Jesus, is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. I confess that I have always had a difficult time understanding, let alone obeying this commandment. I take it to mean that God wants me to love everyone. I frankly find the idea of this impossible.

Sunday School Lesson 8

Lesson 8: 2 Nephi 6-10 This week’s Sunday School materials are much longer than previous ones. It isn’t that there is so much more material, but that I decided to try to cover the whole assignment rather than only part of it. I came to that decision because we often stop reading the Book of Mormon when we get to Isaiah and I wanted to see how Isaiah’s teaching are connected to the events of the Book of Mormon as well as its teachings.

Un je-ne-sais-quoi

Russell mentioned that he is “a doubting, debating, Socratic philosopher.” I’m at least sympathetic. Neither of us would be doing what we do?teaching philosophy of some kind?were that not true. I’m happy to say that the longer I live, the less often I have difficult religious doubts, the more I feel that my intellectual life and my religious life are of a piece. But that has not always been true.