Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Creative Home Teaching: Ideas Wanted

What are your best ideas for creative home teaching?

During a lunch conversation recently, a friend told me about a talk he heard in Utah about the need to be more open in how it is done. The speaker suggested that it might be OK to come by late at night for a few minutes when that's what schedules demand, or to stop by with a plate of cookies on a Saturday morning. Listeners were asked to focus on the essence of home teaching which is showing love for others, something that can be done in many ways.

So let me ask you, what are some creative examples of home teaching that you've tried or seen? I'm looking for interesting approaches that can help others be more effective. This includes tips for those being home taught - we should try to help those trying to do their duty, even when we are "too busy" to be home taught.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Free Loot from Mormanity for Supporting Chem. Eng. Scholarships at BYU

Help a young person have a better life by giving the gift of education. I'm on a mission to advance scholarships for students at BYU's Chemical Engineering Department, a department that provides outstanding training in one of the most exciting fields, giving broad skills that can help transform our world into a better place by solving problems in energy, environmental quality, food production, water quality, and so forth. But many students need your help to get through the long and challenging program. Will you join me in making a tax-deductible donation for scholarships? As an incentive, I'm giving out some loot. For anyone making a donation of at least $50, I'll send you your choice of a genuine 90% silver half-dollar that is over 60 years old (a "Walking Liberty" half-dollar, one of the most beautiful silver coins in our nation's history). With silver now at $17 an ounce and likely to rise much further, especially when inflation inevitably kicks in, this collectible beauty is a smart thing to own. This prize will be available to the first 50 donors who donate this week (on or before Oct. 1).

In addition, for the first 3 people who donate at least $150, if you wish, I'll also send you a free signed copy of my newly published hardcover book from John Wiley & Sons that includes a touch of BYU, Conquering Innovation Fatigue: Overcoming the Barriers to Personal and Corporate Success by Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins, and Mukund Karanjikar. Though the retail price is just $43 (less at Amazon), the insights and stories in the book could make it the most valuable secular thing you read or acquire this year. The perfect gift for graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, and even divorces (be sure to give two copies in that case, his and hers - and if the book ends up saving the marriage, I'll give a refund for the second copy!).

You can donate online using a special BYU URL for LDS Philanthropies: http://give.byu.edu/engineer. Be sure to select the Chemical Engineering Department to qualify for the loot I'm giving. You can also make a pledge and send in a check, if you prefer. Then email me or mail me a copy of your receipt or some portion of it, along with an address for me to ship your loot, and you're good to go. My email is jeff at jefflindsay dot com. Use the term "BYU LOOT" in the subject line to help me catch it.

This is a good time to be generous. Dig deep, make a generous donation to support scholarships at BYU, and enjoy some loot that could eventually more than compensate you for your kind gift to others.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Need for Reverence: One Hour of Chaos Is Worth a Thousand Anti-Mormon Books

In the great battle for human souls, one hour of chaos in Sacrament meeting is worth a thousand anti-Mormon books.

One of the interesting insights one obtains in talking with non-LDS folks who have looked into our faith is just how difficult we members can make it for others to have any interest in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. The people who walk through our chapel doors for the first time to attend sacrament meeting may come with heightened expectations about the joys of worshiping with "the real" Church of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, for at least a few, what they find may disappoint or upset them - especially if they've been to a "real" church before, one like the Lutheran Church or the Roman Catholic Church where meetings are generally conducted professionally and where the congregation tends to be quiet and reverent.

Yes, of course, we Latter-day Saints are proud that we emphasize families and that we encourage whole families to attend our main worship service, Sacrament meeting, where children are welcome (for the most part). Many of our congregations and perhaps a majority of parents do a great job when it comes to reverence. But there are far too many problems. I would encourage all of us to step back and look at what's happening. Chances are we could do much better in many of our wards and branches. Apathy about reverence is not just making it hard for our fellow members to enjoy the meeting. It's keeping people away who could accept the blessings of the Gospel if only we weren't so inconsiderate. It's not just kids, of course, but adults as well who can talk and be sources of distraction in meetings. We need to be more sensitive to those around us and make sure we aren't creating barriers to the workings of the Spirit.

Here's email I received yesterday which reminded me that it's time to raise this issue again:
In our ward in [an East Coast city] it could only be described as somewhere between a picnic and chaotic event. Most families with children dump out their "activity bag" as soon as they claim a bench (which usually happens between when the Bishop starts and the Sacrament ends) and the snack fest ensues. It is becoming the trend for some children to wander from family to family to see what everybody else has. The loud voices, wandering, crunching and talking is killing me. The leaderships families are counted with the offenders, so approaching them, I fear, would be a direct offense.
First, let me say that we all need to be compassionate and tolerant of families with kids and especially the challenges of being a parent of young children. We want our families to feel welcome and our young mothers and fathers to be part of our worship. Kids will make noise, and we need to recognize that. Newcomers should be warned that it may be noisier than they are used to because we encourage whole families to attend and often have a lot of small children. But welcoming families and being understanding of parents with young children is not the same as embracing systematic chaos. We can do much better. Not only must we be understanding toward parents with energetic kids, but toward those who have come to sacrament meeting to learn and to worship.

Brothers and sisters, all the efforts our missionaries go through to get someone to walk through the door can be wasted if we neglect reverence. They can be wasted if you keep your screaming child in the chapel instead of immediately retreating elsewhere to be considerate to the rest of the congregation. They can be wasted if your idea of worship is to have a bench of children playing with electronic games and munching from three bags of snacks throughout the meeting, never attempting to pay attention to the messages from the pulpit. Yes, kids will be kids, but kids can be trained and might not always need a massive bag of toys and vast collection of snacks to sit quietly for an hour (but I know from experience that they can really help at times - but there are some poor choices to avoid here). One thing that helped with our four boys was preparing them during the week, teaching them how to sit quietly and providing instructions on what is appropriate and not in the chapel.

I suggest we all step back and consider what impact our family's behavior and our personal actions are having on people, including those who might be visiting for the first time.

Bishops, your own families face the special disadvantage of not having a father. At least not one there on the bench to help kids be reverent. As a result, your young family (if this fits) may well be one of the most challenging examples of poor reverence, even if your wife is a true supermom. You may need to get some help for your family or take special steps to prepare (I think most already do this). The example of reverence or chaos that your family sets will have an effect on the whole ward. You must be the driver for enhanced reverence. Your example, your instructions, and your inspired direction to the ward can help tame the chaos and create an atmosphere more conducive to the Spirit, one that will give visitors a chance at becoming members. How to improve reverence is worth prayerful consideration and periodic discussion in your ward council meetings. It affects some of the most fundamental aspects of the Church: our ability to worship meaningfully, and our ability to attract and retain members.

One hour of reverent worship, where members and visitors can feel the Spirit of the Lord, can be more influential than a thousand books and websites. Let's give people a chance!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Teachings from an Early Christian Epistle: The Letter to Diognetus

A beautiful early Christian writing, the Letter to Digonetus, has been dated at 100-150 A.D. and is sometimes called the earliest example of Christian apologetics written to a non-Christian audience (some additional background is given in the Introduction at CCEL.org). Its author is unknown.

Here are a few excerpts that might be of interest to LDS readers. Chapter 6, for example, discusses our dual nature, explaining that we have an immortal spirit contained within our physical body. A simple point, but one that has been the subject of much confusion among some in modern Christianity.
Chapter 6. To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.  2 The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world.  3 The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world.  4 The soul, which is invisible, is kept under guard in the visible body; in the same way, Christians are recognised when they are in the world, but their religion remains unseen. . . . 7 The soul is shut up in the body, and yet itself holds the body together; while Christians are restrained in the world as in a prison, and yet themselves hold the world together.  8 The soul, which is immortal, is housed in a mortal dwelling; while Christians are settled among corruptible things, to wait for the incorruptibility that will be theirs in heaven.  9 The soul, when faring badly as to food and drink, grows better; so too Christians, when punished, day by day increase more and more.
Chapter 7, at least as I read it, speaks of the role of Christ and His relationship to the Father in terms very similar to the nuances of LDS theology. Christ, though (implicitly) a separate being, is like the Father and is God also, but under the direction of the Father, who had Christ act as the Creator and who sent Him into the world.
2 On the contrary, it was really the Ruler of all, the Creator of all, the invisible God himself, who from heaven established the truth and the holy, incomprehensible word among men, and fixed it firmly in their hearts. Nor, as one might suppose, did he do this by sending to men some subordinate—an angel, or principality, or one of those who administer earthly affairs, or perhaps one of those to whom the government of things in heaven is entrusted. Rather, he sent the Designer and Maker of the universe himself, by whom he created the heavens and confined the sea within its own bounds—him whose hidden purposes all the elements of the world faithfully carry out, him from whom the sun has received the measure of the daily rounds that it must keep, him whom the moon obeys when he commands her to shine by night, and whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon. He sent him by whom all things have been set in order and distinguished and placed in subjection—the heavens and the things that are in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and the things in the sea, fire, air, the unfathomed pit, the things in the heights and in the depths and in the realm between; God sent him to men. 3 Now, did he send him, as a human mind might assume, to rule by tyranny, fear, and terror?  4 Far from it! He sent him out of kindness and gentleness, like a king sending his son who is himself a king. He sent him as God; he sent him as man to men.
In Chapters 9 and 10, we have reference to the great Plan of God, established with His Son, Jesus Christ, that allows us to be free and capable of sinning, but also provided escape from our sins. The fruits of the Fall, including the free agency we have to choose God or to choose sin, appear to be part of God's great Plan of Salvation, to use LDS terminology. Indeed, God's Plan gives us power to become something much more than mere children in ignorance, but beings of knowledge and capability who can become "imitators of God" through service and charity.
Chapter 9 And so, when he had planned everything by himself in union with his Child, he still allowed us, through the former time, to be carried away by undisciplined impulses, captivated by pleasures and lusts, just as we pleased. That does not mean that he took any delight in our sins, but only that he showed patience. He did not approve at all of that season of wickedness, but on the contrary, all the time he was creating the present age of righteousness, so that we, who in the past had by our own actions been proved unworthy of life, might now be deemed worthy, thanks to God's goodness. Then, when we had shown ourselves incapable of entering the Kingdom of God by our own efforts, we might be made capable of doing so by the power of God.  2 And so, when our unrighteousness had come to its full term, and it had become perfectly plain that its recompense of punishment and death had to be expected, then the season arrived in which God had determined to show at last his goodness and power. O the overflowing kindness and love of God toward man! God did not hate us, or drive us away, or bear us ill will. Rather, he was long-suffering and forbearing. In his mercy, he took up the burden of our sins. He himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us—the holy one for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. . . .

Chapter 10 If you too yearn for this faith, then first of all you must acquire full knowledge of the Father.  2 For God loved men, and made the world for their sake, and put everything on earth under them. He gave them reason and intelligence, and to them alone he entrusted the capacity for looking upward to him, since he formed them after his own image. It was to them that he sent his only-begotten Son, and to them that he promised the Kingdom in heaven which he will give to those who love him.  3 And when you have acquired this knowledge, think with what joy you will be filled! Think how you will love him, who first loved you so!  4 And when you love him, you will be an imitator of his goodness. And do not be surprised to hear that a man can become an imitator of God. He can, because God wills it.

5 To be happy does not, indeed, consist in lording it over one's neighbors, or in longing to have some advantage over the weaker ones, or in being rich and ordering one's inferiors about. It is not in this way that any man can imitate God, for such things are alien to his majesty.  6 But if a man takes his neighbor's burden on himself, and is willing to help his inferior in some respect in which he himself is better off, and, by providing the needy with what he himself possesses because he has received it from God, becomes a god to those who receive it—then this man is an imitator of God.
Many interesting passages for contemplation!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Spiritual Dangers (and Blessings) of Blogging

Moments after Latter-day Saints got the message that blogging could help share the Gospel, we began to hear refreshed warnings about the dangers of the Internet, and not just for all the filth that it enables, but for the great time sink that it offers and for the distraction it can be from all the good we can be doing. This is a serious issue. I blog, have Web pages, and even Twitter a little. They are all distractions from many things I should probably be doing instead. Blogging takes way too much time, as does everything else interesting on the Web. I'd be more productive if I dropped it all completely. All that keeps me dedicated to squeezing out an occasional post or Tweet or Web update is a selfless desire to help the world and unbridled narcissism, or something in between.

In "Good, Better, Best," Elder Oaks wisely reminds us of the trade-offs inherent to every choice with our finite time in mortality:
Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best.
I wonder where Twitter falls on the good to best continuum? Perhaps micro-blogging is totally off the chart, next to macro-blogging.

In May, Elder Bednar cautioned against being absorbed in social Web sites and specifically mentioned Twitter, to the chagrin of some of us who had fallen prey to its lure. A video of his May talk was shown on the last Sunday in August in the combined Relief Society and Priesthood meeting I attended, along with some direct and occasionally painful warnings from the bishop of the ward. One of the great advantages to being on the High Council and visiting other wards is that when a bishop gives council that hurts, I can process it as counsel to his ward and not to me. Sweet. And I wasn't there in my home ward to hear our bishop say much the same thing to my ward (according to my son, who was there and listened). So I'm excused, thank you.

Fortunately, the pain of Elder Bednar's tough counsel for those of us who blog and micro-blog was mitigated at roughly the same time by welcome spiritual guidance from an Apostle, Elder Dieter Uchtdorf, in his General Conference address in the Spring of 2009, printed in the May 2009 Ensign, entitled "We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down":
Sometimes the things that distract us are not bad in and of themselves; often they even make us feel good.

It is possible to take even good things to excess. One example can be seen in a father or grandfather who spends hours upon hours searching for his ancestors or creating a blog while neglecting or avoiding quality or meaningful time with his own children and grandchildren.
Sweet! There's an Apostle, in General Conference, discussing blogging not as something inherently questionable, but as something that can be good. How good? AS GOOD AS SEARCHING FOR OUR ANCESTORS. Family history work, one of the most important spiritual activities in the Church with eternal significance, something worthy of vast sacrifices on the part of faithful members, has been placed on the same plane as blogging. While we must be careful not to do either too much, we LDS bloggers can find solace in knowing that our work is far more spiritually significant that we ever dreamed. Except perhaps when we're blogging about Britney.

Seriously, though, I agree with all the warnings regarding misused time and Internet excesses. The resources of the Internet, like anything else that is fun, can be addicting or a source of harmful excess. We must always practice self-control and wisdom and not twitter away or blog away our lives. When we do pursue social networking, what is our goal? What is our goal for all the things we do in life? Are we seeking to build up the kingdom of God, fulfill our duties, and bless the lives of others? Are we seeking to be honest, diligent employees doing our best and earning our pay fairly? Are we looking for ways to magnify our callings and do more good? Then maybe that blog, those tweets, or that Warcraft mission will achieve something meaningful.

At the same time, it is natural that new technologies will create social tension and distrust as non-users or late adopters question the changing lifestyles of early fans or fanatics. Some developments that are promising and useful may be viewed as foolish by outsiders. If some of our local and other leaders occasionally seem a little too concerned about the opportunities of rising technologies, let's be patient with them, while also being humble enough to actually listen to the counsel and honestly consider whether we have a problem that might need correction.

Christmas Every Week

A friend of mine was recently asked what church he went to by a new colleague at work. Upon learning that he was LDS, the woman replied, "Oh, you people don't do Christmas, do you?" Many of us have encountered people with exactly that misconception. Yes, we are Christian and do celebrate the birth of Christ - pagan social aspects included. In fact, when it comes to "Christ Mass," the celebration, worship, and remembrance of Christ, we have it every week during our Sacrament service, similar to communion. Each person who has covenanted to follow Christ by accepting baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost is asked to renew that covenant weekly by partaking of the Sacrament. The ceremony of administering the sacrament may look pretty quiet and dull, but it can be an intensely spiritual moment of renewal and personal reflection on our relationship with Christ was we partake of the bread and water of the Sacrament (yeah, we've been using water for a while instead of alcoholic wine, but for us the water still symbolizes the blood of Christ). So while we put up Christmas lights, pass out presents we can't afford, eat too many sweets, and promote the slaughter of young Christmas trees in December (helping to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so I guess it's green), we also stay focused on the real message behind Christmas and do so every week of the year. Many other Christians do the same, of course. May we all make every week a true Christmas celebration, and go easy on the sweets and credit card expenditures in December.