Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Blog For Your Sabbath Day: Scripture as Literature

"How can you have any pudding if you don't--"
From time to time I've had the unique experience to interject the creation story into my English curriculum. Now, why I would do such a thing has nothing doing with a covert desire on my part to spread Christianity among my students. When I introduced the Judeo-Christian creation story to my students, invariably it wasn't the atheist, agnostic, Wiccan, gay-lesbian, transgender who--you might think--raised their voices in protest at having religion "shoved down their throats", thus violating the separation of church and state that I support. Au contraire, I have consistently found this batch rather open-minded and receptive when teaching them how to thinking than rather what to think. When presented as literature, we find the study of religious scripture an exciting intellectual venture in understanding human nature.

The blowback I'm alluding to came from the small contingent of Christians whose parents, upon hearing of my assignment, immediately went to DEFCON 2, flushed the bombers from their bullpens and lobbed a nuke or two at my teaching credentials. Their objections rested on how I bookended my study of the first few chapters of Genesis with other creations stories from Native American legends and other ancient literature. Somehow this constituted pulling down their God (and mine) to the level of fictional comic book characters. Before you could say "burned at the stake" I was assuaging the fears of my principal, and when the squawking was loud enough I did a little one on one with the superintendent. This has happened only twice in my short teaching career, but it illustrates how study of religious text in public schools is a touchy subject. Nonetheless, the study of the creation story in Genesis is a great way to teach kids how to read, particularly in the use of reading strategies. This should only be pulled off as part of a comparative lit unit along side the texts of other faiths. One thing to have angry Christians lined up at the high school office, another entirely when it's the ACLU.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Blog for Your Sabbath: Warriors in the Saturday of Time

Hey, Latter-day Saint youth. Why you attended church on Sunday is the question I want you to think about. Was it of your own volition? More than likely you felt compelled by greater forces: parents, home teachers, ward leaders, all who insisted you be there, for your own good. You showed up, more or less, because your friends were there. For most years that’s what got me to church for nine o’ clock sacrament meetings, what hauled me out of bed for early morning seminaries, to endure laborious service projects and activities. My friends were there. Girls I liked were there. But to attend for the spiritual enlightenment? This wasn’t a main pursuit, although at times it turned out to be a fringe benefit, especially when a particular youth speaker might touch my heart and cause me to contemplate my future.

1974 Album Cover

You are the future of the church, a new generation full of youthful strength and vigor. But hey, that’s what the general authorities of my youth told me twenty-five years ago. Back in my youth there was a musical written by members of the church called Saturday’s Warrior. You may have heard of it. I saw a performance of it while serving my mission in 1986. When it was first performed back in the early 1970s it proved to be a very popular musical among Latter-day Saints. I’m not so much interested in discussing the ins and outs of the musical’s plot. I do want to explain the musical’s title.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Blog for the Sabbath: Calculated to Exalt

President Lorenzo Snow
Which came first...the chicken or the faith? I ask this tongue in cheek. Today's third hour lesson comes from Teachings of the Prophets: Lorenzo Snow: Learning by Faith. I'm assuming this means that a type of learning, secular or otherwise, comes by faith, that is, using faith to learn. Or is it learning about those matters that are strictly spiritual? To the saints President Snow explains:
"In this system of religion that you and I have received there is something grand and glorious...The whole idea of Mormonism is improvement—mentally, physically, morally and spiritually. No half-way education suffices for the Latter-day Saint."
On the books, yes. Those are the rules of the road. Gather as much knowledge as one can.
"It is profitable to live long upon the earth and to gain the experience and knowledge incident thereto: for the Lord has told us that whatever intelligence we attain to in this life will rise with us in the resurrection, and the more knowledge and intelligence a person gains in this life the greater advantage he will have in the world to come [see D&C 130:18–19]."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Blog for the Sabbath: Tender Mercies of Repentance

"It may not be the end of the world...but you can sure see it from here." The proximity to the end, the cessation of days, the termination of breath--we've seen the apocalypse played out in literature and cinema. How apropos this saying is when the armies of the Chaldean juggernaut bears down on Judah. Through an endless parade of prophets like Zephaniah, Nahum, Lehi, and Jeremiah, the kingdom Judah was warned to repent. Now, it is too late; the nation will not divert from their present course. The hammer has already fallen and in Jeremiah 21: 8-10 what bears down on them is clawing at their door:
8 And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I set before you...the way of death.
9 He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence...
10 For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, saith the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.
Let us summarize: Jerusalem WILL be destroyed, wantonly, in extreme prejudice. In last week's Sabbath I wrote at moderate length on the degenerative state of both Judah in Israel and the Nephite-Lamanite contingent in the Americas and the threat of judgements to be poured out on them by the Lord. Nonetheless, allow to me to go the other direction with Jeremiah 21: 8-10 and illustrate the tender mercies of the Lord:
8 And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I set before you the way of life...
9 He that...goeth out, and falleth to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey.
10 For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, saith the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.
In the Lord's tender mercies, he understands better than we that amongst the wicked are those unrighteous who do not delight in the desecration of humanity, they who retain a glimmer of the Light of Christ, they who through the adverse conditions would humble themselves sufficiently to start anew. For these individuals the Lord's caveat allows them to live, to walk the earth, and who wouldn't want to stay alive, to avoid starvation, torture or execution? Not follow the commandments, perhaps, but continue breathing with the hope of a better tomorrow? Absolutely! Many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Judeans, took the Lord up on his offer, fled beyond the walls of Jerusalem and they surrendered, crying and wailing to the Chaldean armies for mercy. As the Lord promised, the invaders held back their blades from upon the supplicants but immediately carried them captive out of the promised land and back to Babylon.

Unfortunately as time settled, these ex-pats clung to the assumption that they had completed their allotted consignment, and had suffered sufficiently and therefore the Lord would work out their release. False prophets among them, like the cursed Shemaiah, heaped false hope upon them to get gain. To put the kibosh on this momentum of hopelessness, Jeremiah sent the Lord's word through courier, a message of reality: Brace yourselves for a long stay. In Jeremiah 29:
10 For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
70 years?! If one were 10 years old at the time, they would reach the delicate age of 80 years before returning to Jerusalem. For anyone older, those chances of physically returning alive back to the promised land drop off rapidly. To soften this bit of sour news, the Lord gave this commandment:
5 Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
6 Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
7 And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
Peace? How is that possible so far from home in an alien land and culture...for seventy years? Why bother starting anew with the painstaking process of constructing a new city? Why press on with their lives, taking spouses, having children to raise up? By doing so, the Lord promised Judah they would have peace in their lives. How? The Lord's purpose placing them in such circumstances is to prepare them for a higher calling.
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
14 And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.
If Judah desired to live, well then, their existence among the Babylonians in peace was a prerequisite. If they needed to have the creature comforts of life, to have the joys of human existence through familial relationships, their focus must be outward, forging a state of heart, mind and soul towards the Lord. By staking a life in a hostile environment, their natures would evolve as they worked side-by-side with their neighbors. Judah would seek the Lord and eventually find him, and when they came calling he would answer and lead them back.

Such is the process for all of us: flee the wicked state we are enveloped within, fall before our state of guilt, surrender to repentance and start anew.