Monday, March 30, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 13: What Worked?

Here is your chance to share your successes with Lesson 13. What approach seemed to work? What topics generated intersting discussion? Did you try something new?

If you taught an earlier lesson, you can share your experiences here.

Give us your input!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Discussion Forum: Getting the Word Through Joseph Smith

So, I am having a really busy week at work, and have not had much time to think about a post for this week's lesson. I am hoping you all will help out. The lesson focuses on what we have obtained from the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Some of the obvious things include:

1. A knowledge of the nature of God and the Godhead
2. An understanding of personal revelation
3. The Book of Mormon, and other modern scripture
4. The Inspired Version of Bible
5. A more complete understanding of the creation and the fall
6. The Plan of Salvation, with all that entails
7. The Priesthood
8. Temples

Not a bad list. But, what would you focus on? What other things do you think we in our dispensation know or understand because of the Joseph Smith? How would you elicit meaningful discussion of his role? As a teacher, what do you think our objective should be with this lesson?
And, this is Gospel Doctrine Underground, so I have to ask: Like all of us, Joseph was a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses. What do you think of Joseph Smith as the Lord's conduit? What were his greatest gifts? What were his greatest challenges/stumbling blocks? And do you talk about those during the lesson? How?

I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Getting Started: Gospel Doctrine Lesson 13

Lesson 13 focuses on Joseph Smith and his role in bringing forth scripture and “plain and precious” doctrines as part of the restoration. If you are not familiar with it, the Church’s website has a collection of presentations on Joseph Smith given at a 2005 International Academic Conference sponsored by the US Library of Congress. I especially liked Terryl Givens' and Elder Oaks' presentations. I have tried to find it in print form online, but so far, no luck.

Jim F. at Times & Seasons did his usual and masterful, verse-by-verse analysis of some of the scriptural material here. It contains some good discussion questions. Brad Constantine includes a great story (from Our Heritage) about two young women’s efforts to save unbound pages of Book of Commandments from the mobs in Missouri, here.

Hope that gets you all thinking. Feel free to share any resources you have, and don't forget to comment on what worked well in your past lessons, here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Worked? Gospel Doctrine Lessons 11 and 12

Our friend Easton suggested in a comment on an earlier post that it might be helpful to hear from others what worked (or did not work) in the lessons we are teaching. Because I am not sure what lesson most people are on, I thought I would solicit thoughts and feedback on Lesson 11 (The Field is White) and Lesson 12 (The Gathering of My People).

Please leave comments about how you taught these lessons and what was successful. I am always interested to hear good questions that generated discussions or topics that really engaged the class.

Let's hear what worked!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

So, Does "Gathering" Work?

Gathering is a big Mormon theme. Almost from its modern foundation, the Church has gathered. As insiders, we tend to think of gathering in pretty positive terms. We gather together for affirmation, strength and safety. We gather together in stakes to strengthen each other and to build the Kingdom. We gather to the temple to learn and save our ancestors. Examining it from the inside, gathering is all good, right?

To the outside observer, I am not sure are gathering has always been successful. The first commandment to gather to a specific location directed the Saints to Kirtland, Ohio. (See D&C 37). But then, almost immediately, Jackson County, Missouri was identified as Zion and gathering began there, too. Unfortunately, both gatherings were temporary and did not provide much peace or safety. Persecution and apostasy (fueled by the collapse of a Church sponsored bank) plagued Kirtland. Responding to the perceived threat of a concentration of (arguably arrogant) Mormons, mobs and an all-out war drove the Mormons from Missouri.

The story in Nauvoo is not that different. The Saints gathered there, almost out of default. They built a very successful city and started a temple. Soon, however, understandable Mormon efforts to consolidate power and defend themselves led to more fear and persecution, and the martyrdom of the Prophet and his brother. Another gathering place was abandoned.

The Mormons moved west and gathered in an isolated valley - - this time away from the rest of society. From around the world, members of the Church were commanded to gather to the latest Zion, in the Rocky Mountains. At incredible sacrifice, Saints left families, livelihoods and homes and dragged themselves across a continent. For fifty years or so, the gathering continued. Many died and were impoverished. Wards and branches in Europe emptied. Salt Lake City grew into a major city. But, maybe that was just the law of averages. You know, third (or fourth) time the charm.

So, does gathering work? It clearly has accomplished amazing things. Cities and temples and a place for God’s Church to grow. But it has almost always engendered fear and suspicion, pride and persecution. Could there have been another way of doing this? Or, to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous statement on democracy, is gathering the worst system for building the Kingdom of God, except all others that have been tried?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 12: The Gathering of My People

Here are some materials to start your preparations of Lesson 12, "The Gathering of My People." This link has an interesting summary of the history of “gathering” by Global Mormonism, a BYU project that compiles scholarly research on the LDS Church. The old lesson materials at Keepapitchinin contain some good questions and nice tidbits, including a story of Lucy Mack Smith leading a group of early converts to Kirtland (with a bit more detail than the Our Heritage version). And, finally, here is an old Ensign article by Milton Backman on the Ohio period. Its scholarly tone struck me as quite different from what you see in the Ensign today.

Of course, if you know of good resources for this lesson, please share!

Friday, March 13, 2009

What to Say, What to Say?

OK, I admit it. I am having a hard time deciding what to do with Lesson 11. As commenter Mormon Heretic stated in a recent post here at GDU, what is the point of including all these mission calls to specific individuals in the Doctrine & Covenants? What are you and I supposed to glean from them? I am having a hard time coming up with the themes I want to talk about. The manual focuses on serving with your heart, might, mind and strength, preparing to serve, blessings of service, etc. There are some nice ideas there, but I am wanting more.

Here are two ideas that have occurred to me.

1. These sections highlight the idea that the core of service to God is saving souls. Section 18 teaches this in very clear terms. Maybe your calling is gathering sheaves in the missionary field, or maybe, like Thomas Marsh, you are called to be a “physician unto the Church, but not unto the world.” D&C 31:10. Whatever your calling, it is about bringing souls to Christ.

2. I also like the “if you have desires to serve, ye are called to the work” idea. If you are like me, you have great intentions, but lots of reasons not to jump in and serve. The timing isn’t right. You don’t really know that person. You don’t want to overstep your bounds. You are busy. A prominent theme in these sections is that we need not wait for a special calling or assignment. (Interestingly, the message of Section 11 is a little different). There are opportunities to save souls all around us, and we should jump in feet first. I think this idea ties in with the Pres. Eyring quote in the manual, although he is really addressing missionary work.

So, what do you think? What do these sections say to you? How would you present Lesson 11?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lesson 11: The Field is White

As usual, I am starting the week with some information to get you thinking about Lesson 11. Jim F at Times & Seasons prepared this analysis, which focuses primarily on Section 4 of the D&C. Bruce Constantine at prepared these materials, with a lot of historical information on the various sections in the lesson. And, Keepapitchinin has its weekly walk down gospel doctrine memory lane, here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Is He Talking to Me?

One of my ongoing challenges with the Doctrine & Covenants is trying to decide what, exactly, I am supposed to do with it. So many of the revelations, particularly the earlier ones, seem to be directed to specific individuals, facing specific situations. Section 25 is a perfect example. This revelation closes with the Lord telling Emma Smith, “[T]his is my voice unto all.” Yet, the section is a tangle of general admonitions to avoid pride and worldliness and keep the commandments, along with very specific directives that were clearly intended for Emma and her unique situation. She was told to support Joseph in his calling, act as his scribe and compile a hymn book. These were not instructions for “all”; they were personal instructions for her.

The challenge repeats itself over and over in the D&C. Many of the sections are in response to specific questions or directed to specific individuals. Yet they have become scripture, supposedly with broad - - even universal - - application. See D&C 1:38; 25:16. How do you interpret these revelations and decide what they really mean to us? Is it reasonable to conclude that Lord’s instructions to Oliver Cowdery on translating the gold plates are a pattern for how I seek answers to my prayers? Does the direction to Emma to support Joseph in his calling as a prophet and “rejoice in her husband, and the glory which shall come upon him” really have application to how I should treat my wife? What am I to make of the Lord’s instructions regarding whether specific missionaries were to travel by land or water?

I wonder if our attempts to "liken the scriptures unto ourselves" are sometimes a bit too superficial. Maybe Emma’s instruction to rejoice in her husband was more about accepting and embracing the challenges the Lord had given her. Maybe it teaches us more about submission and gratitude than about marriage and family relations. For me, that is the challenge of the Doctrine & Covenants - - trying to understand what the real message is for us. For that, I think we need to know the context and background, in addition to the words. We cannot always take things as they appear on the surface, but need to think and study and work at it. Realizing this makes me appreciate Joseph Smith all the more. Understanding revelation is hard work.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Talk Amongst Yourselves: Emma Smith

As the wife of Joseph, Emma Smith was witness to many of The Restoration's key events. She has been the center of controversy almost from the beginning, although she seems to have experienced something of a rehabilitation in the LDS Church during the past 20 years or so. She is the key figure in Lesson 10. Here are some snippets from other sources relating to Emma:

D&C 25:3-4 Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called. Murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen, for they are withheld from thee and the world, which is wisdom in me in a time to come.

“I feel very anxious to see you all once more in this world. The time seems long that I am deprived of your society, but the Lord being my helper, I will not be much longer. … I am filled with constant anxiety and shall be until I get home. I pray God to spare you all until I get home. My dear Emma, my heart is entwined around you and those little ones. I want you to remember me. Tell all the children that I love them and will come home as soon as I can. Yours in the bonds of love, your husband.” (Letter from Joseph to Emma Smith, January 20, 1840, from Chester County, Pennsylvania).

“Joseph used to say that he would have [Emma] hereafter, IF HE HAD TO GO TO HELL FOR HER, AND HE WILL HAVE TO GO TO HELL FOR HER AS SURE AS HE EVER GETS HER.” (Statement of Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, Volume 17, page 159).
So, what are your thoughts on this interesting woman?

Monday, March 2, 2009

New Stuff for Lesson 10, and a Lesson 9 Follow-On

Here is some resource material for Lesson 10. Jim F. at Times and Season did a very good, verse-by-verse analysis here. As usual, we have Keepapitchinin’s post with vintage lesson materials. Keepa takes an interesting approach, focusing on Emma Smith and marriage. Along the same lines, I found this lesson overview, which talks a lot about Emma. I have not decided what to do with this since I cannot readily tell where it comes from. But it is interesting.

Finally, I ran across this post by Andrew Ainsworth at Mormon Matters regarding myths associated with the “One True Church” idea. If you have not done lesson 9 yet, it has some interesting quotes. Or, maybe you will want to do some follow-up.