I think we can all agree that within Mormonism there is a certain kind of ambivalence toward intellectualism, even if we aren’t quite able to put our finger on it. On the one hand, it seems clear that Mormonism embraces intelligence as such, going so far as to equate it with the Glory of God. Along these lines we are also told to seek truth and knowledge from the best books and counseled that to be learned is good so long as we don’t abandon the faith. On the other hand, there are at least as many passages which warn us of the learned and scholarly who preach the philosophies of men according to the understanding of the flesh. These tensions within the scriptures leave one wondering what place, if any, is to be found for intellectuals within the church. (more…)
The first priesthood blessing I gave terrified me. How does one, exactly, pull inspiration out of the air and give a blessing? No one ever described this to me; they just said it’ll happen. But I had no idea of how the words would come to me.
We can divide priesthood blessings into two components: the procedure, and the mechanics. We’re really good at discussing blessing procedure; that is, the steps to giving a proper blessing. But how does one pick the words they use? That’s the mechanics.
Below are some of my observations on priesthood mechanics, including an explanation of how I seek out inspiration in a blessing.
Do the Words Matter?
Firstly, do the words even matter in a blessing? Elder Oaks pointed out that in healing blessings, the recipients faith and God’s will, not the verbiage used, determine the outcome. So why should we fret about what to say? The words serve at least two functions in a blessing. First, when the priesthood holder echoes God’s will, the words enliven the spiritual environment where the blessing is given. I think that this can give the recipient confidence in God’s power to heal. Second, inspired words can help the recipient receive personal revelation.
A basic distinction which I draw in my attempts to undermine intellectualism, a distinction which I think serves to highlight the contingent nature of the intellectual’s values, is between a pre-modern/religious worldview and a modern/secular worldview. Very briefly, the ways in which statements and actions are justified within a pre-modern, religious worldview include appeals to authority, tradition and revelation. By contrast, within a modern-secular worldview statements and actions are justified by appeals to egalitarianism, logical coherence and empirical data. So many of the debates in the bloggernacle can profitably be construed as a competition as to which of these worldviews is the uniquely right way to view some phenomenon.
I assume that most people in the bloggernacle are aware of the Liahona/Iron Rod distinction wherein those who surrender personal responsibility by following the prophet (like the Iron Rod) are contrasted with those who accept a more robust kind of responsibility by following their own spiritual promptings (like a Liahona). This metaphorical distinction, I submit, is nothing but the philosophies of men mingled with scripture – a clever sophistry which serves to undermine the prophets by democratizing priesthood authority. (more…)
One of the authors which has greatly influenced my present ambivalence toward intellectuals and academia is the sociologist Alvin Gouldner. In this post I would like to briefly summarize his critical perspective on academia and then use this perspective in order to reframe various points and episodes from the scriptures.
Before I proceed, I should clear up (muddle up would probably be more accurate) my use of some terms. I have and will continue to use the terms “academia”, “intellectuals”, “scientists”, “philosophers” and “those with a modern mindset” roughly interchangeably. I consider all of these (sub-)groups to be different manifestations of what Gouldner call the Culture of Critical Discourse (CCD). (more…)
One of the salient contrasts in Lehi’s dream is that between those who cling to the iron rod and those who enter the great and spacious building. On the one hand, the former grope about in a blinding fog, doing their best to find their way along a path which they cannot see. The latter, on the other hand, are (somehow) able to see this path from their vantage point up in the building, but are thus unable to follow it. The question I wish to raise is this: which is more rational, to do without understanding or to understand without doing? Indeed, one can interpret the river which separates the rod from the building as the distance which is required for any kind of “objective” analysis. Obviously, Lehi thinks it better to follow the path rather than survey it from a distance. (more…)
In preparing for this lesson, I have thought long and hard about the material within, and today I would like to focus not just on what President Smith said about living what we believe, but also on how he lived what he believed.
[An] observer wrote of George Albert Smith: “His religion is not doctrine in cold storage. It is not theory. It means more to him than a beautiful plan to be admired. It is more than a philosophy of life. To one of his practical turn of mind, religion is the spirit in which a man lives, in which he does things, if it be only to say a kind word or give a cup of cold water. His religion must find expression in deeds. It must carry over into the details of daily life.”
George Albert Smith is well known throughout the church for his religious conviction and for his compassion and careful shepherding of the world after WW1 as an apostle and after WW2 as President of the Church. But did you know he was nearly blind?
When he was 18, he found work with a railway surveying party. While working this job, the glare from the sun on the desert sands damaged his eyes. This left George Albert’s vision permanently impaired, making it difficult for him to read and causing him discomfort throughout his life.
George’s eyesight, for most of his life was so bad that he needed to have others write for him and read to him, because it gave him terrible headaches to try and focus and read. This in a time and place where there was limited technology, and so his responsibilities perpetually required reading and writing. None would have blamed Smith if he had given up. Yet Smith’s own conviction which he preached was that: (more…)
I recently finished The Bible Now by Richard Elliott Friedman and Shawna Dolansky. Freidman follows his regular pattern of faking out potential buyers of his book by putting only “The Bible” in the title of his book even though he will only be discussing the Old Testament. As in previous efforts, his work here is sufficiently excellent that this trickery can be forgiven. (more…)
So my wife is taking a “mommy vacation” this weekend to see her new niece in far far away, and I am teaching Gospel Doctrine for her. I’m a bit nervous about it (because my wife is the greatest Gospel Teacher I have ever met, and I don’t want to mess it up for her), so once again am putting my lesson here for your thoughts and recommendations. It’s a power point, so I know that dings me for some of you, but hey, I may flip it over to prezi for church, if that makes it any less “corporate”…
Anyway, some fun facts from my lesson for those not inclined to look through the power point.
1. Paul compares us to temples in two different ways. The one quoted in the title of the lesson has nothing to do with Sexual Morality, but is an analogy related to the problem in Corinth of clicks being formed for each group taught by a different minister. The analogy is Christ is the foundation, The Ministers are the Builders, and when we are built up in the Gospel on the Foundation of Christ, we are not the Temple of Paul or Apollos, But we are the Temple of God. Paul even goes on to call for missionaries to not be self-deceived that they are building up Glory to themselves.
2. Paul was a tent maker, and worked for Priscilla and Aquila while he was in Corinth. How did I not know that?
3. Corinth is 1200 miles from Jerusalem, that’s like driving from Texas to either Coast.
4. The Athenians coined a slang term “Corinthianize” as a Euphemism for fornicate.
5. Paul promoted excommunication for a member who had Corinthianized with his father’s wife.
Tomorrow, I am teaching Elder’s Quorum lesson #38 “Eternal Families”- and have decided, after reading Jonathan Stapley’s incredible article this week, to review the history thereof. Sadly, I don’t have Sam Brown’s accompanying article, so am relying on Gordon Irving’s earlier work for that piece of it.
Anyway, here is my simple timeline for my lesson (emphasis on my trying to keep it simple). Can anyone with access to Sam’s article, or with direct knowledge, help me out and make sure I don’t have any outdated concepts in my history. (like no adoptions before 1845 or the role of the concept of polygamy)
Here is the lesson I prepared this month on Missionary Work. We are a bit behind other wards, due to Stake Conference and an odd repeating of one lesson twice last year.
I am actually teaching this next Sunday, and it feels a little long and disjointed to me. Any feedback would be appreciated.
I am teaching Elder’s Quorum this Sunday, and have been asked to teach on Elder Oak’s “Two Lines of Communication”. In getting ready, I thought I would take Natalie B.’s advice and search out the priesthood line more deeply. (This admonishment, after all, dovetails nicely into Elder Uchtdorf’s encouragement in conference to learn more, which my past few posts have been on.)
Anyway, according the “Handbook 2: Administerng in the Church” section 2.1.1:
“Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to Priesthood leaders to direct, control and Govern the use of his priesthood on earth.” It is “the right to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction.”
Jesus Christ holds all the keys and confers them to his Apostles on the earth. The President “is the only person on earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys.”
The president of the Church delegates priesthood keys to other priesthood leaders. For their designated responsibilities, and in their jurisdiction, they become the “presiding authority”
Counselors do not receive priesthood keys, the function by “delegated authority”. Auxiliary presidents do not receive keys. They receive “delegated authority”.
If Priesthood keys are “authority” to perform “designated responsibilities” that are “delegated” to them, what is the difference between priesthood keys and the “delegated authority” that Auxiliary presidents and Counselors have?
Is this a distinction without a difference? If not, what is the difference?
This continues my series on the homework assignment Elder Uchtdorf gave us during the priesthood session of General Conference, to read sections 20, 84, 107, and 121. After my write up on these four sections, I may return with some thoughts and additional areas of study.
First, a test: What is the oath and covenant of the priesthood? Don’t peek anywhere, just think of it in your own words and if you have something, post it in the comments before reading any further. (I say this because I admit I had no recollection of what it was, and not as some sort of “gotcha”.)
Context here is very important. It was revealed in September 1832, 2 and ½ years after Section 20 was received. The Prophet was very active in translating the bible at this time, and there is a lot of connection here between his understanding of the work he did with the book of genesis, particularly. It was received while Joseph was meeting with six Elders, freshly returned from missions, and in a time when the Prophet’s mind was pregnant with the proposed temple in Missouri, and the Zion to come forth from its successful construction and dedication. It was in this context that Joseph framed this revelation. It is basically impossible, and very fitting, to disconnect the priesthood here described from the woven tapestry of missionary work, temple work, and the building of Zion.
A brief overview of the first 42 verses:
1. After establishing that the temple would be built and the glory of the Lord would rest there, the revelation begins to discuss explicitly priesthood as a thing which can be transferred from person to person. (vs. 1-17)
2. There are two priesthoods. The greater priesthood has two functions: To Administer the Gospel, and second to unlock the knowledge of God. The Power of Godliness is made visible in the ordinances of the priesthood, and would not be visible without these ordinances. This is because you cannot see God without the ordinances. (vs 18-22)
3. From Moses to John the greater priesthood was denied the people due to unwillingness. The lesser priesthood included baptism and repentance and faith and the Carnal Law. Also, offices of the priesthood are explained and separated between the two priesthoods (vs. 23-31)
4. Vs. 6-31 were a giant aside, like a tv show recap for anyone jumping in at the middle. “Previously in the revealed word of God….”, In a lot of ways, this covers a lot of ground Joseph Covered in his translation of Genesis. Anyway, when you get to verse 31, It is good to think back to the earliest verses where the temple is established and God’s glory is resting there.
5. In this temple, those holders of the two priesthoods will make an offering to God, and because of this are filled with glory. For whoever obtains the two priesthoods and magnifies their calling is sanctified by the spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. They become heirs to the promises made to Moses, Aaron, Abraham, the church and kingdom, and the elect of God. (vs 31-34)
6. All those who receive the priesthood, receive Christ. All those who receive Christ’s servants, receive Christ. Those who receive Christ receive the Father, and those who receive the Father receive all that he has. This is according to the oath and covenant of the priesthood. If you receive the priesthood, you receive the oath and covenant. And if you break the covenant, you’re in trouble. You are also in trouble if you don’t receive the covenant. (35-42)
1. The accepted understanding of the oath and covenant of the priesthood is that we receive/obtain the priesthood and then magnify it, and in doing so, God ultimately will give us all that he has. I think this is one of those situations similar to the Word of Wisdom, where what the scripture literally says and means has become less important than the accepted understanding of it., because to me, the scripture itself is less clear than the accepted understanding.
2. The Oath in the Oath and Covenant is most plausibly explained by reading the JST vs. around Abraham in Genesis 14:25-40, where Melchizedek is ordained to the priesthood, after the order of Enoch, where God makes an Oath by himself to grant power to those ordained to the priesthood, according to their faith.
1. Where does this leave faithful women?
2. What does it mean to magnify the priesthood?
In General Conference- President Uchtdorf asked that we study the scriptures and handbooks and become experts on the doctrine of the priesthood. He told us this would help us to live up to our privileges as priesthood holders. He told us to start with Doctrine and Covenants chapters 20, 84, 107, and 121. In an effort to do that, I will be posting basic impressions I get from each of the four D&C sections he mentions, then further my study as time goes on. I’d love your thoughts and input as well.
Context- This was the original articles and covenants of the Church, prepared for the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830 (though not completed until later). The greatest current reading I am aware of for the context from which this revelation came is in BYU Studies 43:4 (2006)- having to do with how Oliver Cowdery put together a fore-runner to this document. It cannot be said Joseph used Oliver’s document (which he was commanded to prepare in another revelation) as the foundation of his revelation, as they are very different in several regards, but it can be said that Oliver provided revelatory input of his own from his previous revelation into the Articles and Covenants (As all evidence indicates that Oliver helped write D&C 20). I don’t have the Joseph Smith Papers to check what stance they take on this.
Today at 1:30, I’ll be teaching this in Elder’s Quorum. Last week, Elder Ballard taught us in Regional Conference to not “over complicate” the Gospel. I’m trying.
Defining Sacrifice in LDS theology
Sacrifice can and has meant a variety of different things. The definition I like the best in the context of LDS theology comes from our concise little manual “True to the Faith” published in 2004. It says, “To sacrifice is to give up something valuable or precious, often with the intent of accomplishing a greater purpose or goal”. In a way, this definition is very similar to the use of the term in the game of Chess, where the pawn may sacrifice itself for the benefit of the entirety of the team. The pawn is killed for a greater purpose, but does not necessarily receive any direct benefit for itself. I sometimes hear people say sacrifice is giving up something good now for something better later. Thus we end up with sacrifice sounding like investing in a 401k plan. This doesn’t ring true to me. While it may be true that we give something up for something of higher value, the “something of higher value” may not directly have benefit for ourselves, and does not necessitate that benefit. The manual asks, “Why is it important to sacrifice as the Lord asks without expecting anything in return?” I think it is because the greater purpose or goal we are to give up is greater than ourselves. It is the glory of God and all mankind. Anyway, I think this concept of sacrifice as giving up for a greater good is useful as we think about religious sacrifice before Christ, of Christ, and in our lives as Christians.