Year: 2009

Ring Out Wild Bells

Following up on Kaimi’s post concerning “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” I thought we ought to take the opportunity to read over the full text of Lord Tennyson’s “Ring Out Wild Bells,” another frequently sung hymn whose lines concerning injustice, social inequity, political divisiveness, and faith we never sing!

December and Magic

December, like childhood, is an opportunity for us to experience an enchanted world, and regain some of the understanding we too quickly lose – and often anxiously jettison – after childhood.

OT Lesson 1 Study Notes: Moses 1

As the title of this post says, these are notes for studying the lesson rather than for teaching it, though presumably one who studies the lesson will have material from which to teach it.

Studying the Old Testament

What are the scriptures for? How should we use them? How do we use them? “Proof-texting” is a procedure that begins by assuming we know the doctrines and then searches through the scriptures to find something to back up the belief. Because it begins with what we assume we know rather from what the scriptures teach, proof-texting always runs the danger of “wresting” the scriptures. Jesus accuses the Jews of wresting the scriptures by proof-texting in John 5:39. See also 2 Peter 3:16, Alma 13:20, and D&C 10:63. “Wrest” is the word from which the modern word “wrestle” comes, and it means “to twist or wrench; to pull violently.” How do we avoid wresting the scriptures? Read 2 Nephi 25:1. Why didn’t Nephi’s people understand Isaiah? According to Nephi, why do we find the Isaiah difficult? Why do we find the rest of the Old Testament difficult? What does Nephi say is necessary to understanding Isaiah (2 Nephi 25:4)? How might that apply to the Old Testament as a whole. What is the spirit of prophecy? The phrase occurs in the Bible only once, in Revelation 19:10. But it is a very popular phrase with Book of Mormon writers: Jacob 4:6; Alma 3:27, 4:13, 5:47, 6:8, 9:21, 10:12, 12:7, 13:26, 16:5, 17:3, 25:16, 37:15, and 43:2; and Helaman 4:12-23. (It also occurs in D&C 11:25 and 131:5; and in Joseph Smith History 1:73, Footnote 4.) How would the spirit of…

What is the Old Testament?

The version of the Old Testament used by Protestants and Jews today contains 39 books. Catholic Bibles include 9 more books, as well as 2 additions to Daniel and 1 to Esther. At least some of those 9 additional books were used as scripture by Saints of the 1st century AD. For various reasons (mostly historical rather than doctrinal or revealed, I would guess) Latter-day Saints use the same version of the Bible as do the Protestants. The major difference between the Protestant and Jewish Bibles is that the order of the books in each is different. The Protestants arrange the books chronologically, and the Jews arrange them according to the scriptural authority they give the books. (The New Testament is arranged, not chronologically, but according to type: Gospels, history of the early Church, then letters. The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants are arranged more-or-less chronologically.) As you can see in Mike Parker’s chart of the Old Testament (which includes a schedule for reading the Old Testament in a year), Jews divide the Old Testament into three parts, each part less authoritative than the last, though all three parts are authoritative: the Law (or “Instruction,” namely the instruction a parent gives to a child), the Prophets, and the Writings. Scriptures such as Acts 28:23 reflect this arrangement. For other scriptures that also reflect it, see Zechariah 7:12; Matthew 5:17, 7:12, and 22:40; Luke 16:16, and 24:44; John 1:45; Acts 13:15 and…

An Overview of Genesis

It is daunting to be posting anything about scripture when Eric Huntsman is posting alongside. It ought to be daunting in any case, but it is easier to ignore the fact that I am a mere dabbler when my posts stand alone. In any case, I will be posting revised versions of my study questions for the Old Testament Sunday School lessons. I begin with several posts of background. These will all be cross-posted from Feast Upon the Word, a site you should become acquainted with if you aren’t already (and it is the blog daughter of its more important mother site, a site for commentary and explication of LDS scripture, Feast Upon the Word). I will keep insisting on this as I go, but it is important to remember that these are not notes on how to teach a lesson, but study notes on the lesson material. Of course, one could study using the notes, then create a lesson. So they aren’t irrelevant to teaching the lesson, just not intended as lesson materials. Genesis The Hebrew title is bereshit, “In the beginning,” the first word of the text. I. “Genesis” is a transliteration of the Greek title of the book, genesis. Speaking of Genesis, Margaret Barker says: The word bara´ [“to create”] is similar in sound and form to the word for covenant, berith, and the Hebrew dictionary suggests that the root meaning of “covenant” is “to bind.” This similarity of…

Nominate the 2009 Mormon of the Year

Its that time of year again. The media are already reviewing the important news stories of the year, Time has selected its Person of the Year; so we should get busy selecting the Mormon of the Year. For those who don’t remember, last year at this time T&S selected Mitt Romney as the Mormon of the Year for 2008. I think the ground rules are basically the same as last year (suggestions about changes to the rules are welcome – I’ve tried here to clarify some assumptions we made in the rules last year): Nominees must be Mormon somehow — those who have not yet been baptized aren’t eligible. Nominees must have been living at some point during the year. The LDS Church First Presidency (including the Prophet) and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are not eligible (because they would win every year, making the selection pointless). Nominees must have had enough of an impact to have made the news during the year. Collective nominees (i.e., all those who did x) are welcome. Please don’t vote YET!! We’re just calling for nominations at this point. Voting will begin January 1st. This year, when you nominate someone, please provide a link to somewhere (such as wikipedia, news stories, etc.) where we can get further information on them). AND, please give us some rationale for why you think this person should be Mormon of the Year. Like last year, we will take nominations…

Lucan Infancy Narrative

[Once again, these are just notes, and they do not even begin to do the subject justice, but yesterday’s Matthew notes were able to spark some good discussion. I will response and comment as I can today, but, hey, it is Christmas Eve Day!] While Matthew’s is largely from Joseph’s perspective, Luke’s from Mary’s This does not mean, however, that Joseph and Mary were necessarily the sources—rather that the evangelists focused on them and what they represented Luke included poetic passages or songs to personalize the characters of his infancy narrative (canticles, more below) Luke adds the stories about John the Baptist as literary foils to compare and contrast with the story of Jesus While Matthew and Luke differ, and even conflict, on some details, the important facts are all confirmed by the Book of Mormon Mary was a virgin from Nazareth, where she divinely conceived Jesus (1 Nephi 11:13–20) Jesus was the son of God and his mother was named “Mary” (Mosiah 3:8) Jesus was born near Jerusalem (Alma 7:10; Bethlehem is 9 km south of Jerusalem, hence “at,” or in the region, of Jerusalem) Mary was a precious and chosen vessel, who conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost (Alma 7:10; not of the Holy Ghost as in Matt 1:18, 21) Luke’s Infancy Narrative. Doublets: John the Baptist and Jesus [Luke’s prologue to his gospel (1:1–4)] Birth of John the Baptist Foretold (1:5–25) Birth of Jesus Foretold…

The Matthean Infancy Narrative

[Christmas realities have hit, making me admit that full length blogs the last two days of Christmas week are just not feasible! So forgive me as I just post here some “notes” on Matt and later Luke, consisting of largely recycled material from my class lectures!] Matthew’s is largely from Joseph’s perspective, Luke’s from Mary’s This does not mean, however, that Joseph and Mary were necessarily the sources—rather that the evangelists focused on them and what they represented For Matt, Joseph’s proposed status as a Davidid makes Jesus David’s true heir, although admittedly through “adoption” or legal recognition by Joseph, not literal descent Matthew does not mention Nazareth until the end of his account, presenting the possibility that Joseph was from Bethlehem and Mary was from Nazareth Was it an arranged marriage and Joseph went to Nazareth to retrieve his new bride? The problem of the “census” is will be treated in the next blog on the Lucan infancy narrative Joseph and Mary had a “house” in Bethlehem and intended to return to there from Egypt (Matt 2:11, 22) Structure of Matthew’s Infancy Narrative Formula quotations cite Jewish scriptures (usually from the LXX or Greek translation); they give authority to Matthew’s account and demonstrate that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy Genealogy (1:1–17) Conception and birth (1:18–25) first formula quotation, 1:23 = Isaiah 7:14 LXX Visit of the Wise Men (Epiphany; 2:1–12) second formula quotation, 2:6 = Micah 5:2, 2 Samuel 5:2…

Studying the Infancy Narratives

This Christmas Eve, most of us will at least read the “Christmas Story,” as found in Luke 2:1-20. As we approach the holiday, a few more diligent souls will read all of the Infancy Narratives, as found in Matt 1-2 AND Luke 1-2. Yet even when reading (as opposed to just remembering or “thinking” about) these familiar texts, the tendency will be to harmonize the two accounts, resulting in a hybrid vision of the birth of Jesus that accords nicely with the Christmas pageants that we will watch and the Nativity scenes that we have set up. But our Christmas creches—which confidently put three kings (as opposed to two or more magi or wise men) at the stable (not mentioned in Luke, although he does record a manger) along with shepherds and various animals under a star—are the result not only of jarring harmonization, but even some creative fabrication. This harmonizing tendency is alive and well in the LDS community, perhaps as a result of Elder Talmages well-known and familiar Jesus the Christ, Elder McConkie’s The Mortal Messiah, and our Gospel Doctrine’s curriculum, each of which draws from all four gospels to produce and fill in a rough chronological account of our Lord’s mortal life and final salvific acts. This impulse is natural enough: after all Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection were historical events, so the four surviving, canonical accounts should represent those events accurately. Yet the four gospels were…

Christmas with Autism

In April of 2008, our son Samuel was diagnosed with autism . . . But in this Christmas week, I wanted to share some specific experiences that we have had with our special needs child, first the challenges that the holiday posed and then the wonderful blessings that we have experienced together as a family. . . . As we celebrate the birth of our Lord together, the spirit is not only filling my home, it is reaching my precious son in ways that I pray will make an indelible mark on his memory and soul.

Unsung: By prophet bards foretold

The text “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” written by Unitarian minister Edward Sears, included haunting verses about war and social inequity. Nowadays, there are several versions of the hymn, as different denominations (including the LDS church) have altered the words in one form or other. The original words remain well worth reading (and singing) this Christmas season:

Calling All Introverts

There’s hope! At least that’s the message of a couple of posts I read through lately (here and here) presenting an interview with Adam McHugh, the author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. By “Church” he means Evangelicals, not the LDS Church, but the discussion is still relevant to us.

An LDS Observance of Advent

A recent spoof on Conan O’Brien that has made the rounds on the Internet highlights how little many outside the Church know about LDS practices. The hilarious skit, ostensibly in honor of a “Mormon Christmas,” points out that we really do not have many LDS-specific holiday traditions, at least not many that anyone can readily point to. There are ward Christmas programs a week or two before Christmas. There is the First Presidency Christmas Devotional at the beginning of December. And, as I wrote yesterday, for those in Utah, or perhaps farther afield thanks to PBS, there is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert. But there is not really anything that I would call an actual LDS worship service focused solely on Christmas. There are, perhaps, occasional exceptions. My mother recalls attending candlelight Christmas Eve services growing up in her ward in Cedar City, Utah. When I was a bishop we did a special Christmas musical and scriptural fireside one year when Sunday evening fell a couple of days before Christmas. I have heard of other ward families that try to do something more devotional than the usual “ward Christmas party,” one even on Christmas Eve, but I have not heard of any Christmas Day services except on the rare occasion that Christmas falls on a Sunday. The reality is that the focus in our community is, perhaps rightly, on family and family traditions. The challenge that many of us…

A Mormon Image: Newport Beach Temple Wedding

or, an untraditional Mormon couple in traditional clothes. After the ceremony while I was walking through the temple halls, people were coming out from all over the place to gawk at my dress. I think most of them had never seen formal Vietnamese wedding regalia before. What’s funny is that the Vietnamese traditional dress (ao dai), seems, to me, to be more suited for the temple than American wedding dresses with its floor length, high neckline and long sleeves. Unlike many others before me, I didn’t have to wear anything over or under my dress to make it appropriate for the temple. Submitted by Kim Nguyen — This photograph is part of our ongoing series highlighting Mormon images. Comments to the post are welcome. In addition we invite you to submit your own images to the Mormon Image series. Other photos in the series can be found here. Rules and instructions, including submissions guidelines, can be found here.

Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert

[Choir policy keeps members from posting or blogging about the Choir before and even during events.  Here I am sharing only some very general information about the concert after it is over. Although I will respond to comments, I do not intend to speculate on policies, how guests are chosen, etc.] Perhaps the most important thing that the Tabernacle Choir does is provide music for several of the session of General Conference. After that, our biannual tours rank high as perhaps our most overt and perhaps important missionary outreach. While the weekly broadcasts of Music and the Spoken Word fill a similar purpose, probably the most exciting event to participate in is our annual Christmas concert. Since the dedication of the Conference Center almost ten years ago, the concert has reached a stunningly large audience: 21,000 for a ticketed “dress rehearsal” Thursday evening, 42,000 for the official concerts Friday and Saturday night, and then nearly another 21,000 for the Sunday morning broadcast, which includes many numbers from the concert and then is followed by a “mini-concert” that is not broadcast but includes most of the remaining repertoire. That equals about 84,000 people who are the recipients of this annual gift by the Choir and church to the community. For the past several years, some 90% of the PBS stations in the U.S. have been broadcasting the previous year’s concerts. I first attended one of the concerts the year before I…

Truant Blogger Here at Last

First, apologies for keeping you all waiting. The Choir’s Christmas concerts were last week, which was also the last week of BYU’s fall semester. This week I am in the midst of finals. And in the few moments I squeeze out, there are family Christmas preparations to make! I am a complete neophyte to the Blogosphere, having hardly read much of it and having never contributed outside of a single stint on the Mormon Theology Seminar. Still, when my friend Julie Smith approached me, I told her there were two times of the year that I would be interested in participating: Christmas and Easter! We’ll see how this goes and perhaps you will have me back for Holy Week. Although some of the comments I saw posted to the announcement of my guest stint suggest that a few of you know who I am, I am not assuming anything . . . So, although I do not know whether it is typical to introduce oneself, let me share some of my background and then what I plan to share with you this next week. I did my graduate work in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania and then came back to BYU where I taught the full breadth of Classics (Greek and Latin language and literature, Greek and Roman history, mythology, civ, etc.) for nine years. Then, in 2003, I “got religion” as a result of writing…

Do We Need A Fifth Mission?

The news is out that LDS leaders are adding a fourth mission for the Church: caring for the poor and needy. According to an official LDS spokesman cited in the Salt Lake Tribune article, the new mission (or purpose or emphasis) will be included in the new edition of the Handbook of Instructions to be issued next year. With a publishing deadline looming, I propose that we put our collective heads together and see whether we need a fifth mission as well. Perhaps adding a fourth mission alone is not enough to fill in the gaps apparently missed by the first three missions.

Charity Free Riding

As we all know, the gospel is overrun with economic doctrine.  On that note, I noticed a quote about free riding from President Monson (which I just saw at Mormon Times): “I am confident it is the intention of each member of the church to serve and to help those in need,” he said. “At baptism we covenanted to ‘bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.’ How many times has your heart been touched as you have witnessed the need of another? How often have you intended to be the one to help? And yet how often has day-to-day living interfered and you’ve left it for others to help, feeling that ‘Oh, surely someone will take care of that need.’” Under reasonable assumptions it is not hard to show that if people only give out of an altruistic desire to see others better off, and they have no personal gain (emotional or otherwise) from being the giver, than most people will free ride and leave the giving to the very rich (who have nothing better to do with their money).  Since this doesn’t happen as much as that theory suggests, a likely cause is that givers are those who perceive some individual gain from giving — either because it makes them feel good or, as King Benjamin pointed out, it was essential to their salvation. Thus “pure altruists”, as defined by those who have no personal gain from…

An initial question

Why do we use first initials for LDS leaders who otherwise use their middle names? M. Russell, L. Tom, D. Todd, L. Whitney — we all know who these people are. What is the reason for continued usage of first initials, rather than simply saying “Russell Ballard” or “Todd Christopherson”?

The globe and the gourd: Christianity in a global world

It’s a small object, not a simple one: a Peruvian nativity carving, fashioned inside a gourd from intricate wood figures painted in bright colors. It was on display at the creche festival last weekend; I lingered over it for a moment, pointed out the tiny llama to my children, and moved on long before its meaning had bloomed. The object is a simple commemoration of Jesus’ birth, that much we read on its surface. But it’s also a tale of the complex intersection of Christianity and globalization in the modern world. Any powerful set of ideas will make several curtain calls in the long drama of history. Christianity has taken the stage in the company of an empire or two, conflicts both local and far-flung, and migrations and social movements of all sorts. In our current scene, Christianity is one of the ideological actors competing to explain and direct an accelerating pageant of globalizing geopolitics. In a sense, Christianity has been waiting for this historical moment for centuries. Globalization promises a technological marvel: a world of regional economies and societies finally and fully integrated by a globe-girding network of communication and exchange. Expanding global markets, physical infrastructure, and networked electronic media make the peoples of the world more available to one another now than they have ever been. But as a technological process, globalization is sorely inadequate to meet its own grand promise: technology needs narrative to interpret and integrate…

A Mormon Image: Waiting by the Earthstone

AMI - Ross

This is a picture I took of my eldest son and daughter, waiting outside the Salt Lake Temple after my niece’s wedding. As it was a Friday in June, there were many people waiting outside for wedding pictures. My children, while not exactly reverent and not at all quiet, certainly found plenty to keep them busy during the wait.

by Keryn Ross