Curiosity Killed the Cat. (But it Saved me in Sunday School)

Aug 31, 15 Curiosity Killed the Cat. (But it Saved me in Sunday School)

Posted by in Education, Featured, Sunday School

These days Sunday school is tough for me; I often get bored and sometimes I even get annoyed or frustrated. Sometimes I don’t like the way the lesson is being taught or comments from other class members. If I’m annoyed and or frustrated enough in class I will shut down, or tune out, or leave… yikes! I always have an e-book handy as a distraction; jumping on the wifi and checking social media is a pretty common alternative activity for me. Between mediocre lessons, sexist, racist, or homophobic comments from the peanut gallery or just good old fashioned ignorance, gospel doctrine can really raise my blood pressure! I’m working on my PhD in psychology and my day job is a psychotherapist. One of the main goals I have for clients is for them to experience fewer self-defeating emotions and more self-promoting emotions. Self-defeating emotions are extremely unpleasant and lead us to destructive outcomes (whether that be clinical or behavioral). Self-promoting emotions lead to constructive outcomes. Curiosity is a self-promoting emotion; when we feel curious we can operate functionally, we can make constructive decisions. A few weeks ago I attempted to implement the strategy that I often teach to clients, I decided I would adopt an attitude of curiosity about Sunday school. My inner-dialog up until that point had been something like this “I know that Sunday school is going to be bad, the lesson will be dumb, and people will say offensive things, it’s going to suck!” So it was no shock that, when I got to class, if I couldn’t distract myself, or just skip it all together, I would stew in my misery. It was awful, not super productive, and not good for my blood pressure. I just don’t need that kind of stress in my life, and especially not at church. So put my preaching to practice and attempted to change my experience of Sunday school. I actively disputed my previous thoughts and replaced them with more helpful thoughts. The following...

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Start a Foyer Sunday School in Your Ward

I love the scriptures as much as anyone, except for maybe Colby. I read the Old Testament in 40 days and 40 nights when I was in Seminary. The girls were so impressed I had three requests for the Sadie Hawkins dance that year. The look in my Seminary teacher’s eyes when I crossed off Malachi from my reading chart will always stay with me. In my many wonderful memories of Seminary, it is second only to the look in his eyes when he suspended me from Seminary two months later. Because I love the scriptures so much, you might think that I love Gospel Doctrine and Sunday School. You would be wrong. Our Gospel Doctrine curriculum is the most correlated and boring of all of the manuals. Nobody bothers reading the scriptures in preparation for the lesson; you’re lucky if the teacher has read the chapters. Half of the lessons cover ridiculous amounts of material, like all 150 Psalms in one 50 minute class, and we waste half of that 50 minutes first waiting for everyone to show up, then singing all seven verses of A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief and then listen to the old High Priest in the back praying for literally forever. The other half of the lessons covers just a handful of verses so that we can prooftext the Old Testament to say whatever we want it to say to prove that Mormonism is the Most Important Church of All Times. I’ve heard the rumors about mystical lands far away where they only do two hours of Church instead of three. I’ve even heard the rumors that there are apostles behind the scenes pushing for two hours here in the US. However, these rumors are unlikely to come to fruition. Do I think the up and coming new adult curriculum will help Sunday School? No. And not just no, but Hell No. With the current Gospel Doctrine lessons we at least pretend that we are studying the scriptures....

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The Woman Taken in Adultery in History and the Gospel of John

The question of what is original and what is not to the earliest version of any book of scripture can be a very sensitive subject. This is compounded when you are discussing a section of one of the Christian gospels that deals specifically with a well-known story in the life of Jesus. The reason it can be controversial is because the conclusion has implications for how a faith community might approach or even think (or believe) about a certain text. The narrative that I will briefly discuss is found in John 7:53-8:11, which is the story of the woman “who had been caught in adultery.”[1] This pericope has long fascinated readers, and only over the last few centuries was its originality to the gospel of John put into question. The field of textual criticism and the New Testament has opened a new view to these verses that cannot be ignored. This view should be appropriated in any understanding of the gospel of John even if only because scholars are at a consensus in understanding the non-originality to the gospel of these verses. Scholarship and faith can work in tandem, and do not need to be at odds with one another. Although this is a controversial subject for many it is indisputable that John 7:53-8:11 is not original to the gospel of John. There are several evidences for this position that need to be mentioned.[2] First, the story is not found in any of the earliest Greek manuscripts of the gospel of John or in the earliest verse-by-verse commentaries on the gospel by the church fathers.[3] Second, these verses intrude on the surrounding narrative, in both context and style, that would have originally connected John 7:52 to 8:12, even if one might argue that it connects well with 8:15, 46a. Third, there are several manuscripts that place this pericope after Luke 21:38 rather than in the gospel of John. This fits a little better with the context in Luke (i.e. cunning questions presented to Jesus),...

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Seeking Liberation

Dec 17, 14 Seeking Liberation

Posted by in Featured

A Gospel of Liberation. A Gospel about liberation. That’s what I need. That’s what I seek. That’s why Church is hard for me sometimes. It can be so individualistic in ways that feel imprisoning to me. I need a gospel that is collective… in voice and in action. I need a collectively liberating Gospel after the tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. I need a gospel that is active in liberating people from captivity, and most importantly, allowing people to name their captors. Especially if I am one of them or complicit in their captivity. Liberation is not comfortable when you are part of the captors. Naming captors is a key element in naming pain, shame, and finding the freedom necessary to be. To move into and through transformative change – conversion, if you will – a chance to be whole. There are times that it feels splitting to be at Church. But, I come. And I stay. And I listen. And I continue to seek glimmers of freedom. Shimmers of liberation. I am not liberated by holding another captive by my ill-informed judgments, believing that it is righteous for me to judge any person beyond myself or those within my stewardship. I am not liberated by having my integrity challenged. I am not liberated by siblings in the gospel who promote fear over family or family bound by conditions. “I the Lord am bound when you do what I say…” He has said, “Love one another…” He has said, “Preach nothing but repentance….” I’ve often wondered what was there to repent about in the 1830s and 40s, of American and British Culture? What was so widespread that everybody needed to be involved in repentance whenever a missionary approached? We hadn’t fully hit industrialization because our industry was still slavery. Imagine God asking for repentance during times of chattel slavery and indentured servitude?  It’s never happened in my Sunday school lessons, and these days, if it isn’t correlated, it isn’t preached, it seems. “But when...

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The Authorship of Isaiah and Its Bearing on the Book of Mormon

Scholars today recognize that the full text of Isaiah was not written by a single individual named Isaiah in the latter half of the eighth century BCE, but rather that the text was written by at least two, and more probably three, individual authors spanning a period of about four centuries. Generally scholars identify chapters 1-39 with Isaiah of Jerusalem,[1] although this becomes complicated when one takes into account the fact that chapter 1 was written as an introduction to the sixty-six chapters of the book, and chapters 24-27 are recognized as a “Little Apocalypse” that was added in the later stages of the composition of the book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-55 are commonly referred to as Deutero-Isaiah, or Second Isaiah, and 56-66 as Third Isaiah, or Trito-Isaiah. Over the course of the last century and a quarter Mormon scholarship in general has not reacted kindly toward this transition in modern biblical scholarship. B. H. Roberts, although more open to academia compared to many of his contemporaries,[2] was one of the first to respond negatively to the findings of 19th century scholarship on the composition of the book of Isaiah. In an address delivered in the Logan tabernacle on April 2, 1911, Roberts rejected the “Higher critics” due to their “insist[ing] that the miraculous does not happen, that wherever the miraculous appears, there you must halt, and dismiss the miraculous parts of the narratives.”[3] Roberts interpreted the dismissal of the change of style and historical setting that biblical scholars perceived in the later portions of Isaiah as rejecting the role of divine prophecy. Although this may have been true for some scholars of the time, for many it was not the question of whether an ancient Israelite could prophesy accurately about the future, but rather whether or not all of the details, changes in setting, and even the historical shift in focus from the Assyrians to the Babylonians, and then to Cyrus and the Persians, could be best explained by assuming that these were...

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Repurposing Sunday School

This post must begin by acknowledging the current events regarding the excommunication of Kate Kelly. Regardless of how you feel about the excommunication, we should all be mourning together. We should all be grieving. We should all follow our baptismal covenant to comfort each other and bear each other’s burdens. We need to avoid using this as some piece of evidence to prove that our view or approach is right. The Catalyst But I digress. This post is not directly the excommunication. It is about an idea which was brought to light in an interview on RadioWest with church spokesperson Ally Isom. First, it’s important to note what Ally Isom from public affairs had to say about the autonomy of the Pulbic Affairs department: Well first let me be clear that public affairs does nothing in isolation or insulation from our church leaders. We act at their explicit direction. In fact, we have a number of them who chair a committee who sit in counsel with us regularly. They are well aware of our efforts. They are well aware that I’m here today. They are well aware of what the message would be going forward. We do nothing in isolation… [Public Affairs work] is actually a First Presidency assignment and we work in concert with them very closely. Just a couple minutes after her statement that public affairs does nothing in isolation from the church leaders, there was this surprising exchange (Doug Fabrizio in italics & Ally Isom in bold): How and where may a member express doubts or opinions in good faith? It seems like what you were saying before is ‘do it wherever you want, but use the right tone, use the right questions… What if you believe, as some women do, that it’s time for the church to give women the priesthood? Where do you express that?   There are many avenues to express that and discuss that.   Where? In public?   No one is questioning your ability to discuss it...

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Discovering the Old Testament: Sacrifice, Sin, and the Cosmic Order

By Sheldon Greaves, Ph.D. In this week’s installment of “Discovering the Old Testament” we spend some time exploring the ancient Israelite sacrificial system, which is one of the more opaque parts of Biblical law. For most modern readers it has something to do with burning lots of animals to remove sins for reasons that aren’t clear. Beyond that is where most people’s eyes glaze over.  In fact, Israelite sacrifice brings together some of the more important concepts of ancient Israelite monotheism. You’ll be relieved to know that we don’t go deeply into detail about the sacrificial system. Instead we’ll look at some of the basic assumptions behind Israelite sacrifice and how it differed from practices from neighboring nations. Why is this important? One reason is that ancient Israelite religion did not leave behind anything like a specific theological guide. We don’t have a Summa Theologica for ancient Israel. Instead, we have to look at the rituals and slowly, carefully, tease out the theological ideas that lay behind them. One thing we learn is that ancient Israel’s sacrificial system has a lot to teach us about the relationship between Israelites and the Temple priests who served them. Where other religious communities hid their sacrifices and rituals behind temple walls and figurative walls of secrecy and bureaucracy, Israel’s sacrificial system was public, out in the open, and every Israelite was expected to know it. These and related differences have profound implications for Israelite and later Jewish theology. For links to all the episodes of “Discovering the Old Testament,” visit:...

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Become as a Little Child: Angry, Scared, and Open

Whenever I’ve been in a Sunday School class of some kind, and one of the scriptures that contains the phrase “become as a little child” is read, the inevitable question usually follows: “And how can we become as a little child?” or “In what ways should we emulate child-likeness?” The answers are usually the same-be obedient, humble, willing-and I really only half-listen, like when a song comes on the radio for the third time that day. However, one day as I was listening to these answers, I thought “Wait, what kind of kid is obedient all the time? Some kids are willful and defiant. Kids can be exhausting and frustrating because they often don’t obey!” But as I thought about this, something hit me that was unique about a young child’s relationship to its parents: A child brings everything to their parent. Not just sweetness and obedience, but they give them their anger, their boredom, their hurt, their excitement, their imagination, etc. In short, they give all these things to their parents, looking to them for examples and help on how to manage these new feelings and experiences with an innocent trust, even if that trust is sometimes pouting, angry, and throwing toys. I thought of how children don’t hide their emotions from their parents until they are a little older and learn what is viewed as acceptable and unacceptable. I’m sure each family has habits good and bad that have been passed on from these practices. Personally, I am often uncomfortable sharing or expressing anger in a direct way where I acknowledge what I am feeling. I seem to think it would diminish me in the eyes of others. In fact I would rather share trauma or deeply personal information before getting close to anger. Anger makes me much more vulnerable. So as I was sitting in Relief Society one Sunday, thinking over these things, the lesson referenced or made me think of one of my favorite scriptures, Omni 1:26 which reads “And...

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What Latter-day Saint Christians Should Know About the Old Testament

WHAT LATTER-DAY SAINT CHRISTIANS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE OLD TESTAMENT Note: Although I use academic studies throughout this post, I have moved all of the bibliography to the end of the document in order to facilitate a more convenient reading for those not interested in the notes. If you are interested in seeing where I am getting my ideas (or just to use the list of books to find some good reading) please look at the notes. It is a difficult task for a modern day Christian, even Latter-day Saint,[i] audience to approach a study of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.[ii] We are far removed from the Jewish worldview, let alone its rituals, practices, and lifestyle, so that when a year’s curriculum approaches that requires the serious student to focus the mind on the Old Testament we are not well equipped to understand that body of texts. I might ask the reader if you have ever read a full book of scripture? If so, which one? Is it the Book of Mormon? The Doctrine and Covenants? Maybe it is the New Testament? The Pearl of Great Price does not count for this situation because it is too short, but does the Old Testament receive the honor of being on your “completed” bookshelf? These questions are not asked to instill guilt, but rather to show what it is that we are more familiar with as a community and on an individual level.[iii] We do not spend much time at all in studying the Old Testament, and when we do it is only topically and through a Christian lens,[iv] which distracts us from the ever important questions, “What did the author intend to say?” and “How would his original audience understand the text, or what mechanisms in their society did they have available to them in order to interpret it?” How does one gain an interest in studying the books of the Old Testament, especially in their historical context? I cannot create interest in anyone, but I...

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Old Testament – There’s Better Books Out There

Old Testament – There’s Better Books Out There As 2014 grew closer I began thinking about Sunday School and the upcoming study of the Old Testament (link). A week ago I walked into Seagull Book and was overwhelmed by the number of Old Testament commentaries for sale. I’m sure all of these publications were written with an eye single to the glory of God with all proceeds going to help the poor, sick, and otherwise afflicted. What kind of a Mormon would sell scripture knowledge for money? (I have a hard time not typing what I’m thinking.) Anyway, I decided to use my post this month to discuss some of my thoughts on the Old Testament. The authorship of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) has been discussed and debated by scholars within and without the Church for centuries. With higher criticism came the documentary hypothesis (link). To say that Mormonism’s response to the DH has been varied would be an understatement. Church authorities and scholars exist on a continuum from liberal to conservative (see Barney, Kevin. Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis). The debate goes on today. I’m familiar with the subject and try to stay current, but I’m no expert. Bible authorship is something I think about on occasion, but I can’t say that I have a justifiable opinion. My biblical hermeneutic is comprised of at least seven principles I use to interpret and understand its text. (This list excludes spiritual mechanisms.) 1. Limitations of Oral and Written Histories 2. Syncretism (here) 3. Language 4. Translation 5. Prooftexts (here) 6. Presentism (here) 7. Human Fallibility 8. Time Moving forward I’ll assume most will concede the influence of these principles on the Bible. As I consider this issue I’m often left wondering, what is real? It’s a ridiculous question to ask, but I ask anyway. Today it inspired a follow up question: What did they really say? A question as ridiculous as the first, but like always I ask anyway. My brain responded by churning out bible...

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