My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

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Curt Sunshine
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Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by Curt Sunshine » 24 Jun 2014, 19:36

Priesthood and Priesthood Keys: Elder Oaks' General Conference talk - Part 4

Last Sunday, we covered the last five paragraphs of Elder Oaks' talk - with paragraph defined loosely. :P
I close with some truths about the blessings of the priesthood. Unlike priesthood keys and priesthood ordinations, the blessings of the priesthood are available to women and to men on the same terms.


I mentioned that Elder Oaks said this, with different words, multiple times throughout the talk (including in the upcoming paragraphs) - but that he was about to use two specific examples that rarely have been discussed in those terms in the past.
The gift of the Holy Ghost and the blessings of the temple are familiar illustrations of this truth.


We defined "the priesthood" one more time (the power of God) and I asked the students if they could list times / events in life when we could say we represent God in some way. The obvious responses were ordination for the young men and baptism, so we talked about those and others.

1) We believe we all are children of God, so, in a very real way, if we believe that, we also believe we can represent him as his children. That is emphasized in our theology by our belief in the light of Christ, which we equate with our consciences. Everyone, with a few exceptions, represents God in this way.

2) When we are baptized, we covenant to take the name of Jesus upon us - to become "Christian". That is a direct commitment to do what Jesus would do and represent him.

3) When we are confirmed, we are told to receive the Holy Ghost - which we equate to striving to understand and do the will of God.

4) We talk of the Priesthood in terms of service - which, phrased differently, is participating in the work and glory of God.

5) When members are endowed in the temple, every ordinance men experience, women also experience - and women perform almost all of them. We talked about each ordinance - what it is meant to convey, what blessings are promised, what covenants are made, what symbolism is used, etc. I told them that there are two primary wording differences for men and women in the endowment and the sealing - and that I personally see them as cultural remnants of our earlier history that don't match a lot of what has been taught in numerous talks over the last couple of decades and the last part of what we discussed last week from Elder Oaks' talk. (the description of marriage as a full partnership of equals) I told them that this talk ought to change the way we look at those wording differences and that I hope the wording is changed at some point, now that Elder Oaks has changed the framing with this talk.

All of these things are "exercising the authority and power of the Priesthood" - and all of them are available, according to Elder Oaks, to men and women alike. Currently, the only exceptions are, in his words, "priesthood keys and priesthood ordinations" - and those can change if the top leadership receive revelation that would change the historical "pattern" they see right now.
In his insightful talk at BYU Education Week last summer, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave these teachings:
“Our Church doctrine places women equal to and yet different from men. God does not regard either gender as better or more important than the other . . . When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which is priesthood power . . . Access to the power and the blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children.”


This is another reiteration of one of Elder Oaks' central themes - but it is one of the first times I have heard two apostles say unequivocally that women are endowed with priesthood power when they attend the temple. As was the case with his words earlier in the talk, Elder Oaks did NOT frame this as women having access to the priesthood power men are given; rather, once again, he framed it explicitly as women having / being given the same power men are given - that the priesthood power they exercise is their own power, endowed directly and personally to them.

We talked about the temple garment - the "garment of the holy priesthood". I explained that both men and women wear symbolic clothing ("robes") in the temple that represent the ceremonial clothing temple priests wore in the Old Testament time. Thus, in the temple, men dress as priests and women dress as priestesses. We talked about how men AND women leave the temple "clothed in the garment of the holy priesthood" - which means, in a tangible way, BOTH men and women "hold the priesthood" when they leave the temple. In other words, when women wear the garment, they are "putting on the priesthood" once again, symbolically - and that the garment is the tangible representation of their priestess robes outside the temple. Again, with that in mind, when women do the Lord's work outside the temple, they are doing it as priestesses through the priesthood power with which they were endowed when they first went through the temple.
I testify of the power and blessings of the priesthood of God, available for His sons and daughters alike. I testify of the authority of the priesthood, which functions throughout all of the offices and activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I testify of the divinely directed function of the keys of the priesthood, held and exercised in their fulness by our prophet/president, Thomas S. Monson. Finally and most important, I testify of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose priesthood this is and whose servants we are, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


I told the students that if they wanted an interesting experience they should go through the talk again, in its entirety, and count the number of times Elder Oaks said that men and women both have access to the power and authority of God and exercise it in everything they do in the Church. I asked why he would have to repeat it so many time, and, after we talked about that, I told them that I think it's because members who are close to my age and older need to have it repeated that many times to have it register and to understand and accept it. I asked them to be patient when they heard members repeat the former framing - to understand how hard it can be to let go of things that were learned when those people were teenagers and early adults - but to commit to make sure they helped change the Church into more of what Elder Oaks described than it currently is.

I told them that I would prepare another lesson for next week, but that I hope to spend the class as a Q&A session about the talk. I asked them all to read the talk during the upcoming week from start to finish and highlight anything that jumps out at them - either things that really impress them or things about which they have questions.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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SunbeltRed
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Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by SunbeltRed » 25 Jun 2014, 18:03

These are great! Been really enjoying these recaps!!

Curt Sunshine
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Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by Curt Sunshine » 04 Jul 2014, 12:15

Last Sunday was the 5th Sunday, and, since I was leading the 3rd hour combined lesson on "Using the Internet to Share the Gospel", I decided to teach the same lesson in my Sunday School class, as well. I justified it in a month with a topic of "Priesthood" by mentioning that preaching the Gospel is framed as a priesthood duty and that Elder Oaks had used serving missions as an example of how women are authorized to exercise priesthood authority - meaning that sharing the Gospel online can be seen as a priesthood duty for both men and women. (Creativity can be fun - and it shows how easy it is to justify what we want to do if we try. :lol: )

I read (and we discussed briefly) the following sentences from Elder Ballard's commencement speech at BYU-Hawaii in Dec 2007 ("Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet") that was reprinted in the July 2008 Ensign:
I am in my 80th year. By some accounts that makes me pretty old. Actually, some folks think some of the Brethren may be too old to know what’s going on in your world. Let me assure you we are very much aware.

Ours is the world of cyberspace, cell phones that capture video, video and music downloads, social networks, text messaging and blogs, handhelds and podcasts. This is the world of the future, with inventions undreamed of that will come in your lifetime as they have in mine. How will you use these marvelous inventions? More to the point, how will you use them to further the work of the Lord?

There is truth in the old adage that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” In many cases it is with words that you will accomplish the great things that you set out to do. And it’s principally about ways to share those words that I want to talk to you.

The emergence of new media is facilitating a worldwide conversation on almost every subject, including religion, and nearly everyone can participate. This modern equivalent of the printing press is not reserved only for the elite.

There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches . . . Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.

All of you know that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are reminded and encouraged continually to share the gospel with others. The Church is always looking for the most effective ways to declare its message.

Now, may I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration.

Remember, as the proverb states, that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that contention is of the devil (see 3 Nephi 11:29). There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent . . . We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have.


I then shared ten suggestions for internet participation taken from a post by Daria Black in February 2007 that I found when I started blogging entitled "The Blogger's Guide to Comment Etiquette", plus two more I added, and we discussed how each suggestion relates specifically to sharing the Gospel online. For this summary, I will skip the obvious applications but add an explanation for suggestions that aren't as obvious.

1. Write a comment, not spam.
Spam is the bane of all webernet existence and has caused many a blogger to resort to counterproductive measures such as closing their comment section. Even worse than spam, however, are comments that do little more than consume bandwidth. What most bloggers are looking for is feedback that continues the discussion about the topic at hand. Comments like “You don’t know what you’re talking about” or “I was here first,” are not helpful.

Take the time to read the blog entry and put some effort into writing a response that adds to the conversation and/or helps the blog writer. Your comment is your calling card. The webernet is an open rolodex and as such, how you present yourself through your words will tell people whether or not they want to look you up.


I simply mentioned that the first few comments a person writes in any comment thread (and the first few posts a person writes on a new personal blog) can establish that person's reputation and determine, to a large degree, how seriously that person will be taken by others. I emphasized that they don't have to try to write "perfect" or deeply profound comments and/or posts, but they should try to make sure they are commenting and furthering the discussion - or creating an opportunity for thought and/or conversation.

2. Stay on topic.
This policy may differ from blog to blog. Some blogmasters don’t care if the participants drift off onto tangent. Others will do a round house kick on you if you get too close to the white line. As a general rule if you find that you fall into a discussion with other visitors about something unrelated to the post, offer to email them privately.


We talked about "threadjacks" and how it is impolite to change the course of the discussion from what the author of a post intended - that when a person takes the time to write something, respect is shown best by honoring that intent. I did mention that some blogs and authors don't mind threadjacks, especially if lots of comments and good discussion have occurred prior to the threadjack.

3. Respect the rules.

Some bloggers will have an official comment policy in place. Usually because of issues they’ve run into with their feedback. Read it and respect it. Visiting someone’s blog is just like being a guest in their house. The last thing they want is you pooping all over their couch and doing so will usually result in them pushing you out the front door.

The kids got a kick out of that image. (I had to warn the adults in the 3rd hour about it and offer a quasi-apology before we started.)

4. Comments should be comprehensible.
Make an effort to use good grammar and spelling and to communicate your thoughts clearly. People cannot respond effectively to your concerns if they cannot understand what they are in the first place. Don’t forget that people cannot see your expression or hear your voice. Flame wars are often the result of a misinterpretation of the meaning of your words. This is why smilies and snark tags, such as “sarcasm”, were invented. Use them.

Also, be sure your writing reflects the level of formality of the blog. Throwing around slang terms on a blog that is highbrow may cause you to appear uneducated even though you are Mensa member. On the other hand, using language more suitable for a doctoral thesis on a blog that is very informal may come across as pretentious and snooty.


We talked about how lots of people assume Mormons are ignorant and how badly worded comments, with grammatical and spelling errors can reinforce that perception and actually hinder sharing the Gospel in a meaningful way. Again, I emphasized that comments don't have to be perfect and can include a mistake here and there, but that lots of people write a comment or post in Word first and run SpellCheck prior to copying it into a comment or post.

5. Avoid setting the whole blog ablaze when flaming a topic.
Let’s face it there are some subjects in life that, no matter how hard we try, cause us to flip out at the mere mention of them. But while you have the right to act like a jerk when the topic is raised, unless you want to be banned from the internet I suggest you refrain from doing so.
I mentioned, explicitly, that there is a reason some people refuse to talk about religion and politics - that they are highly emotionally-charged issues. We listed some religious topics that fit that description: abortion, gay marriage, morality, polygamy, witnessing/testifying, abuse by leaders, etc. I simply pointed out that we need to comment and post about these topics as carefully as we can, understanding how emotional they are.

We talked about respect for differing views and the idea that all people have the right to worship according to the dictates of their own consciences - without being called stupid, blind, idiotic, apostate, etc. for following their own consciences.

6. Follow up on comments.
Be sure to respond to comments directed at you even if just to say you don’t wish to talk about the subject. Services such as Co-Comment can help you track conversations you are involved in.


In the context of sharing the Gospel, I mentioned that I had commented recently on Facebook about a newspaper article that badly mis-characterized the recent statement from the FP and Q12 about the priesthood and apostasy. The title was, "LDS Church leadership says that only men are worthy to have the priesthood" - and my comment was simply, "That title is extremely inaccurate - and the inaccuracy is important." I told them that a high school classmate with whom I had not talked in decades responded with, "Why is that, Ray?" I then had a chance to go into more detail about what the statement actually said, as well as Elders Oaks' and Ballards' most recent statements about the priesthood.

If I hadn't looked at that thread (followed-up on my comment), I would have missed a golden opportunity to share the Gospel with that friend in that way. I also pointed out that it would have been simply disrespectful not to follow-up and answer a sincere question.

7. Keep it to a reasonable length.
Most blog topics don’t require more than a one or two paragraph response. Avoid writing a novel especially if it is your first visit to a blog. It also helps to read the other comments to make sure you are not adding to the broken record effect.


I asked the students how they respond when they realize something they want to read is multiple times longer than they thought it would be. They all agreed that they often skip it entirely. I mentioned that when the same person writes long epistles all the time, people simply see the person's name and skip all of their comments entirely. I told them they can't share the Gospel if nobody reads what they write.

I also emphasized that it is better to say, "I agree with Mary," or, "Wonderful comment, Mary," than to say exactly what Mary said in another comment.

8. Link to your sources.
When citing material to make your case, provide a link so that the participants can read it at their leisure. Be careful of linking to your own website when you first start commenting at a group site, since this can be seen as spam if you are a first time visitor.


Particularly when sharing the Gospel, if you are quoting or summarizing someone (like an apostle), sharing a link to what they actually said is important - and allows someone to go to lds.org, for example, in a non-threatening way. They might or might not read more there, but at least they have the opportunity to do so. It's also critical to make sure you quote or summarize them accurately, since it can be highly embarrassing to have the person read the linked talk and come back with, "I read your link, and the person didn't say what you claimed was said."

9. Do not feed the trolls.
They’ll just follow you home and poop on your doorstep.


The students loved this, and we talked about how intentional trolls often strive to derail good conversations by being inflammatory and diverting the thread into a verbal fistfight - and how they will keep doing so if fed but leave if ignored. I also used it as a chance to talk about how we (Mormons) can be trolls, if we: 1) go to conversations about other religions and start preaching the Mormon gospel there (like commenting on baptism for the dead in a thread about Catholic communion); 2) do nothing in our comments except call people to repentance; 3) go to a liberal or conservative blog and comment from the opposite perspective simply to show them how wrong they are; etc.

I also told them that they should read each comment as if someone else was writing it to them - and that, if they wouldn't like it being said to them they probably shouldn't say it to someone else - that they might be acting as a troll if they submitted that comment.

10. A word about anonymous commenting.
For one reason or another, people feel the need to make anonymous comments. This practice is not right, wrong, good or bad. In some cases this is the only option available especially when personal safety is a concern. However, just so you know using a pseudonym is the same as talking to people with a paper bag over your head which can hurt your credibility. Even when leaving negative comments, it’s best to leave either your name or your web identity.
I told the students that I agree completely that there are times and situations when commenting anonymously is important, and I used StayLDS as an example (without mentioning the site name but talking about people who are struggling with faith crises and are worried about how family, friends and church leaders might react if they used their real names), but that, generally speaking and especially when sharing the Gospel, if they don't feel comfortable attaching their real name to a comment they probably shouldn't submit the comment as written.

The last two suggestions (the ones I added) were:

11. Don't participate just to argue, correct, testify or call to repentance.

We had talked about that with a couple of the other suggestions, but I wanted to emphasize it at the end of the lesson, as well.

12. Pick compatible group blogs.

I told them that my personal blog has a section that lists multiple Mormon-themed blogs, another one that lists a few aggregators of Mormon-themed blogs and another one that is my personal blog roll of individual blogs I like to read regularly. I mentioned a few of the larger group blogs in order to illustrate just a bit how diverse the options are: By Common Consent (one I really like), Times & Seasons (one I tend to like but don't read nearly as often as BCC), Millennial Star (an extremely conservative one), Feminist Mormon Housewives (obviously not a conservative one, which drew some chuckles), Wheat & Tares (one that addresses a wide range of topics from multiple perspectives that I tend to like), Mormon Momma (less doctrinal with more of a "faithful" slant), etc. I told them to look for a forum that fits what they want to get out of online participation - to make it a positive experience of growth and learning and not just a place to share the Gospel.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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SunbeltRed
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Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by SunbeltRed » 06 Jul 2014, 13:46

Curt,

This is great! Somehow our 5th Sunday turned into a testimony of the importance of the ordinances so we didn't get any of this. Would you mind if I passed this along to our Bishop? I will of course edit any references to you or this site and perhaps some of the commentary.

Want to make sure you would be ok with using outside of here.

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Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by Curt Sunshine » 06 Jul 2014, 15:29

SR, feel free to share anything I write in this thread with anyone. In most cases, you won't have to edit anything, since I already to that to the extent necessary, but, in a case like this last one, please remove the reference to this site.

The same applies to anything I write here. If you want to use it, I'm fine with that. Generally, when I reference or share what someone here has said, I simply say something like:
"A friend once said / wrote the following, and I really like it / it really made me think / I had never thought about it that way / etc."
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

Curt Sunshine
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Posts: 16570
Joined: 21 Oct 2008, 20:24

Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by Curt Sunshine » 12 Jul 2014, 22:27

I just realized I didn't write the summary of my lesson last Sunday. Here goes.

The topic this month is Ordinances and Covenants. I really like the first verse cited in the first lesson outline - the "theme verse" (D&C 84:19-20), which says:
And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.


I began by casting ordinances as symbolic actions within the administrative Priesthood (what is performed by others - currently only ordained men) and covenants as the responsibility of the "priesthood of believers" (things men and women both do through the authority and power of the priesthood we discussed last month when analyzing Elder Oaks'' talk). I told the students we would be talking for at least a couple of weeks about specific ordinances, what they mean (the symbolism of each one), the covenants associated with them and what "power of godliness" they manifest. To set the stage, we talked about the relationship between ordinances and covenants - focusing on the idea that the ordinances symbolize, in a tangible, physical manner, the covenants we make with God and ourselves and that living covenants is how divine power (the power of godliness) is manifest. To illustrate that relationship, we covered baptism, the sacrament and confirmation after baptism.

In the spirit of a summary, the following is the result of our discussions. Keep in mind that what follows was not presented in a lecture format but rather through discussion, as I try to do nearly every week.

Baptism means, literally, immersion. (The original meaning of "to baptize" means "to immerse".) The symbolism of baptism is the burial of one's old life and a birth as a "new creature in Christ". By being immersed in water, the person symbolically is immersed anew in Christ and emerges as a "Christian" - or, in Mormon terms, a god in embryo or a developing God, someone who is following Jesus in an evolutionary, progressive way. S/he is born into godhood, so to speak, and begins a journey toward perfection (completeness, wholeness, full development) in Christ.

The covenants we accept at baptism all deal with actualizing (making literal) the symbolic meaning of the ordinance. We promise to take Jesus' name upon us, always remember him, stand as a witness of him, keep his commandments, etc. (I skipped the comfort, mourn and bear burdens covenants, since we are going to devote as much of the lesson tomorrow as possible on that concept.) The power of godliness that is manifest in baptism is NOT in the physical ordinance itself, and there is no magic / sudden / automatic power involved. Rather, the power is activated when a person acts on the covenants: becoming a real disciple of Christ, always remembering him (and acting on that remembrance), standing as a witness of him (not just in word but in deed, as well) by doing the things he did and asked us to do (loving, not judging, serving, teaching, supporting, embracing, etc.). The power is the metamorphosis that occurs when a "natural (wo)man" becomes unnatural or godly - literally becoming a new person, just like the ordinance symbolizes.

The word "sacrament" means "a visible sign of an inward grace; something regarded as possessing a sacred character or mysterious significance." The "inward grace" symbolized by the sacrament is being cleansed by Jesus' blood and body - and we normally talk about it in terms of remembering Gethsemane and Golgotha and what occurred there. However, it's more than just remembering Jesus during the ordinance; it is supposed to be remembering his sacrifice for us and being cleansed anew (renewing our baptismal covenants). Thus, the power of the sacrament is the exact same as being baptized - the continuation of the metamorphosis to which we commit initially, contingent on us actually living the covenants on a continual basis. The exact composition of the sacramental elements can change (wine to water, for example, or military rations, when bread and water are unavailable), as long as the meaning and power remain unchanged.

"Confirm" means "establish the truth, accuracy, validity, or genuineness of; corroborate; verify". Confirmation, at its most basic level, simply validates publicly what is performed privately (or in front of a limited number of observers). Part of that is for the person who was baptized, so s/he can claim a cleansed state without disputation from others, but the primary focus is on the rest of the community - an official stamp of approval by the leadership certifying acceptance into the group. The added Mormon element is the second part of the ordinance - the charge to receive the Holy Ghost. That symbolizes the beginning of divine assistance in the new journey of discipleship - and the power of the ordinance occurs, just like with baptism and the sacrament, when we act in such a way that we really do "receive the Holy Ghost" (or, more generically, listen for and follow what we believe to be God's will in our lives).

I made a point to talk about why it is wrong to say that we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost when we are confirmed. That wording makes the primary "actor" (the one who is active as the primary subject) the person who performs the ordinance, while the wording ("receive the Holy Ghost") clearly puts the responsibility for the actualization of the power squarely on the person who has been baptized.

We also talked about how baptism does NOT bring anyone into the Church, since a person who died immediately following being baptized would never have been, officially, a member of the Church.

Finally, we talked about how the blessing that commonly is pronounced along with the confirmation is NOT part of the ordinance itself but rather a cultural practice to provide guidance and revelation to the person. If the person performing the ordinance ended it right after the admonition to receive the Holy Ghost, it would be considered a full and proper confirmation.

To wrap up the lesson, I simply pointed out that the power of each of these ordinances is manifest ONLY if the person on the receiving end takes the covenants seriously and uses the ordinances as a symbolic launching pad toward developing the characteristics of godliness that allow God to make us what we would not become on our own - that the power of godliness is a transformative process of continually lived and internalized action, not symbolic actions performed once or even periodically.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

Curt Sunshine
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Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by Curt Sunshine » 17 Jul 2014, 20:36

Last Sunday, we talked about only one aspect of ordinances and covenants: the baptismal covenant to bear one another's burdens, mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need to comfort.

We spent the entire lesson talking about: 1) the fact that the Gospels detail a LOT more time spent serving people than time spent preaching; 2) exactly whom Jesus served during his mortal ministry (lepers, the sick and afflicted, the unclean, the despised, the poor, the powerless, etc. - his "kingdom of nobodies", as a friend of mine once wrote) and whom he did NOT serve (the religious leadership, the rich and famous and influential, etc.); 3) whom he might serve if he was born and ministered now; 4) how all of that relates to our own baptismal commitment to bear, mourn and comfort and, overall, to take Jesus' name upon us and become more Christ-like.

The list of whom he might serve now was created by the students and included: the sick, the poor, unwed teenage mothers, alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, the homeless (especially those who are mentally disabled). I pressed them to keep adding to the list, asking them to consider those who are marginalized specifically by our current Mormon culture and not already on the list, and they added homosexuals and the divorced. I personally added church members who see things differently than a locally dominant culture, struggle with aspects of faith and remain silent in order not to feel rejected in their congregations.

We talked about how natural it is to try to avoid becoming unclean or hurt (and how, in some cases, that is an unfortunate necessity) and how that translates inter-personally and socially into avoiding people who we see as unclean and/or dangerous - either physically or spiritually. We talked about how doing so is diametrically opposed to becoming Christ-like (except in the extreme cases when it is necessary), since he spent his entire ministry interacting with, serving and physically touching the people whom everyone else labeled as unclean and avoided in order to remain clean.

To end the lesson, I quoted my oldest daughter after she went through the temple for the first time. She said:
Dad, we spend so much time trying to build up the kingdom of God on earth that we forget to establish Zion.


I told them that we aren't really fulfilling our baptismal covenants if we aren't serving people who live outside our comfort zone - if we aren't helping people in a deeply personal, individual way who are rejected by other people, even people within our own church circles. I mentioned how much we construct our service projects around helping "our own" and too often ignore the people around us who are carrying the heaviest burdens, mourning alone and need comfort the most desperately. I asked them to think about the people on the list we created and look for ways to reach out to SOMEONE - actively and directly - who would be on that list. I told them that such an effort was vital to being a true disciple ("follower") of Christ - since, to do so, we have to be willing to go where he went and serve whom he served.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

Curt Sunshine
Site Admin
Posts: 16570
Joined: 21 Oct 2008, 20:24

Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by Curt Sunshine » 21 Jul 2014, 19:48

Yesterday, we focused on the lesson outline: "How can I make the sacrament more meaningful to me?" We had talked the first week about the sacrament and the covenants associated with it, but I really like the way the opening paragraph of the outline is worded, so I used that paragraph as the foundation of a deeper look at how to maximize the concept of the sacrament in practical terms in our lives.

The lesson outline starts with the following:
During the sacrament each week, we should examine our lives, ponder the Savior’s Atonement, and consider what we need to do to repent of our sins. We do not need to be perfect in order to partake of the sacrament, but we should have a spirit of humility and repentance in our hearts. The sacrament can become a source of strength and an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to living the gospel.


I started by reminding everyone of a lesson we had last year about repentance - particularly how we only understand half of the concept of repentance when we focus solely on remembering our sins / mistakes and vowing not to repeat them. (If anyone wants a fuller look at that concept before continuing with this lesson summary, read the following post from my personal blog, since our discussion was based on that post: "A Fresh View of Repentance" - http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2008 ... tance.html)

I asked everyone what "repent" means, and they remembered that it simply means "change". I explained that we were going to talk about two ways to try to repent: 1) the traditional focus on recognizing past sins and committing to not repeat them; 2) changing our very nature by developing characteristics that will help us not feel and act in the same way we naturally would.

I mentioned that the first approach (the traditional steps of repentance method) is necessary for "hardcore" sinners (similar to what addicts might have to do because they might struggle with a temptation all their lives but simply have to commit to a sheer force of will no matter how long it takes, along with other strategies), but that, for most people, just suppressing an inclination generally results in that inclination eventually erupting through built-up pressure - which, as one student said, leads to a vicious cycle of failed attempts and self-criticism. I call this reactive repentance, and I stressed that the ONLY focus of this sort of repentance is to remain as good as we are at any given point - to not let our "badness" overcome our goodness, so to speak. There is no real "growth" in that approach; rather, it is much more of a fight to remain stationary.

The second approach is to recognize a weakness and work to develop a characteristic that will eliminate the inclination / weakness / undesired action. This also is focused on "change", so it is "repentance" every bit as much as the other approach.

I asked the students if any of them had ever lost their temper and acted toward someone in a way that they regretted. (I picked a fairly generic issue in order to make it personal for all of them but avoid embarrassing anyone.) They all grinned and raised their hands. I asked them how they could change that - how they could go about trying to not do it anymore - other than simply committing not to do it. I asked them to think about exactly what they could do to tackle that particular issue. Eventually, we came up with the following:

1) Develop more patience;
2) Learn to understand the other person better - both their view/perspective and what things in their life might lead them to say and/or do something that bothered the students enough to get upset and lose their temper.

We talked about patience being the "lower" standard and understanding being the "higher" goal. One of the students in the class has Asperger's Syndrome and occasionally says something inappropriate or off the wall. He said it was okay to use him as an example, so we talked about why everyone else didn't get mad at him and lose their tempers when he said or did something that might make them mad if someone else said or did it. They all said they understand and love him - and, beside being a wonderfully tender moment, it helped them see what I meant about repentance being more than just not doing things. It also can mean doing something to improve one's self and change actions as a result.

One student said he would like to read the scriptures more, so we talked about how repentance also can apply to things that aren't seen as sin but are strictly things we want to do better. For this discussion, I focused on the idea of needing to examine one's life and make "repentance" a very practical exercise. We talked about needing to think about themselves and when they are most alert - to look at their real-life schedule and choose a time that will work to read the scriptures - to actually calendar the time so it becomes habitual - to perhaps let others know so they can remind us of the commitment - etc. There were seven people in the room, and we came up with at least four approaches that would be best for someone.

This highlighted that repentance is an individual thing - that there is no one-size-fits-all, universally right approach - that nobody ought to try to force someone else to repent in the same way that person does.

Finally, I returned to the sacrament and pointed out that the ideal is not just to "think about Jesus" but rather to have faith in the Atonement enough to examine our lives and use the sacrament as a way to recommit to a practical examination and plan to change - to move from a warm fuzzy spiritual contemplation to a difficult, reflective, practical exercise founded on a spiritual hope.

I left them with the request to pick something that they want to improve about themselves and start focusing on doing so, if only one thing at a time for a limited time and if only to make some limited improvement during that time (rather than trying to overcome it completely and be "perfect" at it in the short-term).
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

Curt Sunshine
Site Admin
Posts: 16570
Joined: 21 Oct 2008, 20:24

Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by Curt Sunshine » 28 Jul 2014, 23:00

Last Sunday was the final week to discuss "Ordinances and Covenants", so I borrowed a copy of the Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2 - intending to highlight some of the ordinances we hadn't discussed previously and the general policies surrounding performing ordinances. (Section 20) It didn't go fully according to my plan; it turned out to be a much better discussion than I could have imagined.

I started by revisiting the foundational concepts we had discussed in the first lesson this month:

1) Ordinances are actions we perform to convey a specific meaning or message. They are symbolic and have NO power whatsoever except what we give to them. For example, if baptism was about immersion in water only, we could have people jump into a pool and call it baptism - or we could eat some cake and drink some fruit punch in the cultural hall and call it the sacrament.

2) Covenants are the actual meaning of the ordinances - meaning the power and purpose of ordinances is wrapped up in what they motivate us to promise to do and then actually do. Again, without covenants, there is no power whatsoever in ordinances - since it's not performing them that is the key but rather what we choose to become as a result of participating in them.

I then explained what I had in mind, held up the handbook and asked how many of them knew that the handbook was available to all of them online. I shouldn't have been surprised due to their ages, but most of them (whose parents almost all have prominent callings in the ward) didn't know there was a handbook that contained the official church policies and general counsel. Due to that, I took a few minutes to read through the section titles and go through how to access the handbooks online - step-by-step, so they could do so anytime the wanted.

From 20.1 (General Instructions), I showed them the part about saving ordinances needing authorization from the person who holds the keys to the performance of that ordinance (the person who is authorized to control, direct and oversee it), then we read the general format of all ordinances:
1. It should be performed in the name of Jesus Christ.
2. It should be performed by the authority of the priesthood.
3. It should be performed with any necessary procedures, such as using specified words or using consecrated oil.
4. It should be authorized by the presiding authority who holds the proper keys (normally the bishop or stake president), if necessary according to the instructions in this chapter.


I modeled what something like a baby blessing would sound like if only the minimum requirements were included ("Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ and by the authority of the priesthood, I give his child the name of Jane Doe" - perhaps with an additional, "and bless her with everything you desire to give her. Amen.") - and stressed that such a blessing would be every bit as meaningful as one that lasted for 15 minutes. We discussed the danger of allowing blessings to become about us and our oratory skills. I told them about my varying experiences with blessings - how I have participated in hundreds of blessings throughout my life, with only a handful where I can say, without doubt, that I spoke revelation directly from God. I explained that even though I couldn't say that about the other hundreds, I was glad I had participated in them in order to experience the overpowering ones.

We talked about what kind of ordinances require exact wording (e.g., baptism, the sacrament, temple ordinances, etc.) and which ones don't (e.g., all blessings, confirmation after baptism, etc.). We talked about what is necessary for someone in one ward or branch to perform an ordinance in a different location (approval from the leader in that other location) and how that decision might be made (a letter from the other Bishop, a phone call, an active temple recommend - although that last one might not be accurate, if someone had sinned egregiously after receiving it, etc.). We then read 20.1.3 about that situation, and I pointed out the use of "should" - as opposed to "must". I told them we would revisit that issue at the end of the lesson.

From 20.1.1 (Participation in Ordinances and Blessings) and 20.1.2 (Worthiness to Participate in an Ordinance or Blessing), we talked about ordinances that require a current temple recommend and the Melchizedek Priesthood (primarily the "saving ordinances") and the difference between being the voice in an ordinance (representing the church leadership) and simply participating (less strict standards, with more discretion given to the local leader). We also discussed how baptism does NOT require either the Melchizedek Priesthood or a current temple recommend, even though it is considered a saving ordinance - which means there are a LOT of fathers who may perform that ordinance for their children who might assume they can't. I told them that I hope when they are leaders of any kind that they are mindful of such situations and allow fathers to do so as much as possible.

I mentioned that, as I read the handbook, I am struck by how many policies and how much counsel HAD to have been the result of members doing really stupid things. I mentioned how much smaller the current version is than in the past, but, even now, I envision the leadership sitting down to discuss the handbook and saying:
You're kidding me! They did WHAT?! Ah, crap, now we're going to have to write a policy and give counsel about that. :roll:
At this point, the lesson took a different turn than I had expected. We read the following:
Those who participate are usually limited to a few, including priesthood leaders, close family members, and close associates such as home teachers. Inviting large numbers of family, friends, and leaders to assist in an ordinance or blessing is discouraged. When too many participate, it can become cumbersome and detract from the spirit of the ordinance. Those who perform an ordinance and those who preside are the only ones required. Others provide support and sustain the spokesman.


I asked the students why the policy is usually to limit those who participate in ordinances to "a few" people. They were a bit stumped by that, so I asked them what would happen if a large family, with lots of adult relatives (like mine), wanted to have all of those people (say 35) help bless a baby. (I used an extreme to make the point obvious.) I gave them a visual illustration of how each person would have to stand in order for all of them to reach the baby - and we spent a few minutes laughing at the possibilities. When we had stopped laughing, I pointed out that what had just happened in our classroom (laughing at the visual image) is precisely why the policy is in place - along with the desire to not have ordinances become a contest to see who has "the most righteous" posterity / family or create concern about overlooking anyone and having people be upset that they weren't asked to participate.

Somehow, that discussion led to a different discussion about what happens when an entire congregation becomes invested in an ordinance and it becomes more than an individual experience and more of a true community (group unity) event. I shared the gist of one of my favorite blog posts ever, "Ninety One Words" (http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/20 ... one-words/) - about a young man with a severe stutter being asked to say the sacrament prayer. I described how, by the end of the prayer, the entire congregation was mouthing the words silently - praying for the young man to have or receive the strength he needed to get through it. I explained how the sacrament had never meant more to that congregation, since they were united in support of someone else and were inspired to consider the words themselves more carefully and deeply than had happened previously in their lives. (Please read the post. It is stunning.)

The story really touched the students, and one of them shared an experience he had witnessed in his previous ward, prior to moving to our ward. He said the missionaries had been referred to and started teaching a man who was in the hospital being treated for the effects of being severely overweight - somewhere over 500 pounds. He accepted the message and asked to be baptized, but he couldn't fit in the church's font - so the Bishop arranged to perform the ordinance at a pool in the community. About a dozen or so people got into the pool, and someone said the baptismal prayer at the edge of the pool next to the man. After the prayer, people outside the pool used a fireman's tarp (the kind that is used to catch people who jump from burning buildings) to lower the man into the pool, where the people in the pool took the tarp and allowed it to sink to the bottom so the man could be immersed - then lifted the man back out of the pool and set him and the tarp back on the edge of the pool.

We talked about how it is moments like those experiences when what too often becomes little more than rote, autopilot actions suddenly take on real, deep meaning - when necessary exceptions almost force us to see the ordinances as they are intended to be - when we become truly invested in them and realize how much they mean to those who see and feel the power of the symbolism and are determined to participate no matter the difficulty.

We were almost out of time at that point, so I simply mentioned how important it is to read the handbook carefully and notice the choice of words, especially those like "should", "must", "can", "might", "encouraged", "discouraged", "forbidden", etc. I told them that I personally read everything with an eye to the most charitable, inclusive application possible - that I would rather err on the side of inclusion and charity than on the side of exclusion and judgment. I shared the story told here (without sharing the name of the site, obviously) about someone being denied the opportunity to have his baby blessed during sacrament meeting because he wasn't a member at the time - and I pointed out that there is nothing in the handbook that says a non-member can have a baby blessed, but there also is nothing in it that says it can't be done. I told them that I believe it our Christian duty to make our decisions based on what we feel would be the best for the people involved - what we would want if it was us making the request, as long as such a request was not explicitly forbidden in the handbook. I told them that they all probably will be leaders of some sort in the Church at some point in their lives and that I hope they will read and apply the handbook policies and counsel as expansively as they can - to make as many ordinances as "communal" as possible.

There was a spirit during the last part of the lesson that I couldn't have anticipated, and I am grateful it went differently than I had planned.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

Curt Sunshine
Site Admin
Posts: 16570
Joined: 21 Oct 2008, 20:24

Re: My New Calling: Sunday School Lesson Recaps

Post by Curt Sunshine » 03 Aug 2014, 16:26

I took a unique approach today, after talking with my wife about what was going to happen in YW. (My wife is the Personal Progress Leader, and the entire presidency was gone today, so she arranged the lesson.) The topic for the month is "Marriage and Family", and since our daughter just returned from her mission in Germany, my wife asked her to talk with the girls during the third hour about how marriage and family is different in Germany and what she learned about those topics from her mission. I thought that would be an excellent lesson for the boys, as well, so the girls in my class joined the next younger class and left just the boys in my class (since the girls were going to hear from her the next hour, anyway).

Sarah started by mentioning that she had thought a lot about how to address the topic, since she had been bored stiff when she was their age by lessons about marriage and family. She said she always thought:
"I'm 14 (or 16). I don't care about this topic right now, especially since I've heard about a thousand lessons in my life about it."


That got a nod and laugh from everyone.

She then spent the time talking about how the German people, generally, and the German members view marriage and family - and she shared some specific examples of people and families with whom she had interacted on her mission. There is no way I can remember and record everything she said, so I am going to focus on four things that were striking to me.

1) She said that Germans value family, but they tend to cut off family members entirely who do anything that is against the family wishes - even some things we would view as trivial, but especially "bigger"things, including joining the LDS Church. (One example she used is a woman in one ward whose aunt refuses to acknowledge the woman's presence when they are riding the same bus.) The fascinating result of that tendency is that members of the Church tend to go to the other extreme when they embrace the importance of family - meaning they try hard to not let ANYTHING separate them from their kids, even leaving the Church or not living standards the members view as extremely important.

She said it is very common in the wards where she served to have visiting family members who are not church members attend meetings on Sunday, even if those visitors have left the Church entirely and had their names removed from the records - that they aren't there to support the Church but rather to be with family. She said, essentially, that it's easy to see how strongly people REALLY believe in family by how they treat family members who disappoint them in some way - and there was an amazing spirit that was almost tangible when she was talking about that.

I wish everyone in the Church who badgers, hounds, judges, dismisses, rejects or in any other way mistreats family who struggle or leave could have been in the room to listen to that part, especially.

2) She said that Germans tend to be very loyal and are very committed to keeping their word - and that causes surprising issues with marriage. She said that the default in Germany is for boyfriends and girlfriends to live together, starting often as early as 16. She said they live together until they split up and simply move in with their new boy/girlfriend. Apparently, Germany has a VERY high divorce rate and a VERY low marriage rate - with the underlying assumption / belief that it's no big deal to be with whomever you "love" at the moment and then move on to the next person - and the next person - and the next person . . . She isn't sure which came first - the casual non-marriage attitude or cynicism caused by the high divorce rate, but she said the general attitude among the younger generations is:
"Why get married? It never lasts, anyway, so why bother with a ceremony and promises I'm not going to keep?"


They are devoted deeply to honesty and loyalty, but they are so jaded by such a long history of failed marriages being the norm that they have given up trying in order not to break what they see as impossible promises. This is such an assumed given by now that the people she met generally were okay with the Word of Wisdom (at least, that Mormons would accept it, even if they couldn't) and tithing (since all the churches collect money in some way from their members) - but the vast majority of people simply couldn't understand the concepts of the Law of Chastity, lifelong monogamy and eternal marriage. Again, however, when it did "click" for someone who then embraced it, it became an incredibly important, powerful part of their life - to such an extent that they would NEVER accept disowning or hounding their family members into adversarial relationships.

3) She talked about how that same attitude leaks into how the members interact with each other and those who are investigating the Church - their "extended family". Over half of the members in each unit where she served (often well over half) did not have the traditional family structure, so they saw the Church's teachings about the family as an ideal toward which they could strive in their own unique situations and which they could try to initiate for their own children - to break the cultural cycle of their own lives. They never beat themselves up over not being in the "ideal" situation; rather, they focused on having as close to an ideal "church family" as possible by accepting everyone who entered the church building as "family" and doing anything possible to make them feel loved, no matter their personal life situation.

This is the daughter who told me after her first temple trip that we work so hard to build the kingdom of God on Earth that we often forget to establish Zion, so it was especially touching to hear her describe a church experience that, while obviously not perfect, shows how it is possible to establish Zion if people are really committed to it.

4) She said that the missionaries who were the most successful working with investigators and inactive/less-active members were the ones who accepted each person and worked with them individually in whatever way honored their individual agency and showed real respect.

As an example, two Elders had taught a nine-year-old boy whose mom was active (having left the Church officially but being rebaptized about ten years ago) but whose father had requested his name be removed from the records and never rejoined. His mother wanted the boy to be baptized, but his father wouldn't give permission. The Elders taught the boy all of the lessons in about two weeks and then tried to convince the father to change his mind. To say it mildly, it didn't work.

Sarah and her companion started teaching the boy the lessons when they replaced the Elders in the ward and quickly were told about his father's opposition. Given the situation, they taught the boy about once a month and spent more time serving the family in whatever way they could - and praying every day that the father would change his mind and allow the baptism. After finishing all of the lessons, they told the father that they were done teaching the boy, that they believed he was ready to be baptized whenever the father decided it was the right time and thanked him for letting them teach his son. They continued to pray daily for the boy and his father, stopped teaching the boy and continued to serve the family as they had been.

Shortly after Sarah transferred from the area, the boy's aunt called her and told her that the father had been so impressed by the simple respect the sister missionaries had shown him as the boy's father that he had told his wife, completely out of the blue, that he would give his permission for the baptism. Less than two hours later, someone from the Area Presidency office called the mother to let her know that they wanted to schedule an interview to renew her temple covenants - not knowing her husband had just given his permission for their son to be baptized. Sarah said it was her favorite experience of her entire mission - that praying so intently for so long for the family had helped her love them (non-biological family) in a way she hadn't realized was possible previously. She said it helped her understand better how the German members felt about "extended church family" being real family - how powerful the concept of "sealing" can be when it is seen as communal and not just about biological families.

Finally, she served about 2/3 of her mission (about a year) in what used to be East Germany. As a humorous but touching aside, she said that EVERY German member who had been in the Church for at least two generations knows Thomas Monson personally and absolutely adores him - personally but also for getting the temple built in Freiberg, which was a lifeline and indescribable strength during their decades of isolation. For example, there was a Bishop in one ward whose sister is the young girl President Monson has mentioned giving special candy to when he was visiting Berlin on one trip. They still call him "Elder Monson" instead of "President Monson" and say:
"We know he is the Church President, but he is and always will be our Elder Monson."


It was a wonderful lesson, and I really wish more people could have heard it - but I am quite certain it made an impact on the youth who were there.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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