Teaching the very familiar

January 23, 2008 | 85 comments
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The Elder’s Quorum this past Sunday was Lesson 1 from the Joseph Smith manual. It consists almost entirely of direct quotes from Joseph Smith-History, and it’s material that everyone in Elders Quorum has seen several dozen times. How do you go about teaching the very familiar?

I tried a broad approach of bringing in new information to keep people interested, and weaving it into the lesson, while still sticking to the basic lesson contours. I was very worried going in, that the entire class would go to sleep anyway. It helped that the classroom — err, stage — was freezing, which lessened the likelihood of dozing.

We started out with the most interesting tidbit I could think of to try to generate some up-front interest and wake the class up:

When was Joseph Smith-History written? 1838. How many times did Joseph Smith record his First Vision experience? A total of eight. (The JS-H version is one of the last.) Are the descriptions all the same?

No.

And from there, we launched into a discussion of Joseph Smith’s purposes in recording his experience. His early writings on the First Vision emphasized the personal nature of it all. They tend to break down into, “I saw God, and was forgiven of my sins.” In fact, as Dean Jessee suggests, Joseph seems at first almost not to get the whole prophetic calling part of it all. It was not until later that Joseph seemed to understand the broader meaning, and that later, deeper understanding is evident in the 1838 description of the Vision. We talked about the possibility of Joseph Smith growing into the realization of the broader import of the First Vision, and what that might mean. (I meant to bring my copy of Opening the Heavens, but accidentally left it at home, so I didn’t have the exact text of the early descriptions, but we still discussed the overall idea.)

From there, we switched to the JS-H text, and read the initial few paragraphs, up to the point where Joseph talks about the religious climate of the time. And here, we detoured again, into some historical background. We talked a little bit about the Second Great Awakening, and the Burned-Over District. And we discussed follow-up questions:

What does it mean that Joseph’s vision took place at a time when much of the country was embroiled in urgent religious debate and spiritual self-examination? That the place where the vision occurred was practically the epicenter of the phenomenon? That nearby people like Campbell were arguing for a broad return to Biblical principles? (Quite a few early church converts were Campbellites.) How does it link to the family history as “seekers” or as unaffiliated Christians? (Close relatives like Solomon Mack and Lucy Mack Smith prized their spiritual independence.) And we briefly discussed the chronology. What was Joseph’s family life like in 1820? (Financially unstable, that’s what!) What was the work that they were doing to survive?

In the context of that history, we talked about James, and about the Vision itself. About the spiritual import of God’s commandment not to join other churches. About the reasons for Joseph going into nature to seek God — are we supposed to find God in nature, too? About the meaning of Satan’s attempted interference. And about the place of the Vision in our religious framework. Very familiar ground, almost all of it, but the class was into the discussion, and it went well.

We had just a moment for reactions to the vision, and briefly talked about historical context. It was the Second Great Awakening, and of course the preachers were hostile. (It wasn’t just Joseph Smith; as Bushman notes, everyone was claiming to have visions and dreams.)

And then, we flat ran out of time, and the lesson ended. So there was some material that we just weren’t able to get into. But I think it went well, overall. We covered some very familiar ground, but in a somewhat new way. And hopefully, class members took away information that enriches their understanding of the First Vision.

I didn’t hear a single snore.

85 Responses to Teaching the very familiar

  1. Keri Brooks on January 23, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    When this lesson was taught in my ward’s Relief Society, it was an approach that I hadn’t previously considered, but that I found valuable. The instructor used the Joseph Smith story in the same way we would use a story about a Bible or Book of Mormon prophet, namely, to liken the scriptures to ourselves and figure out what principle we could learn from it. We ended up discussing personal revelation and how to get answers to our questions.

  2. The Only True and Living Nathan on January 23, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    I taught this lesson last Sunday, too (mainly because I was wrapped up in other EQ stuff and forgot to call on someone to give it until too late). My focus would have meshed in well with both of those: I brought forward the idea (most famous, I suppose, from the “crypto-Quinn” essay) that Joseph did NOT see the First Vision as the beginning of his prophetic calling, but a personal experience. The verse we all quote from James was not only meant for a foreordained revelator, but speaks to ,any man who lacks wisdom; and Joseph’s conclusion is that he had proven James true — that any man can ask God and receive. (In fact, I speculated that the spectacular character of the Vision, as opposed to something less “flashy” like the prompting of the Spirit not to join any, may have been necessitated more by Satan’s opposition to Joseph’s prayer than by Joseph’s future prophetic mission.)

  3. Ray on January 23, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Kaimi,

    That’s the exact approach that I like best – ground the presentation in the provided materials, but add insight and nuance and deeper meaning in order to teach even any of the long-timers. I would have enjoyed your lesson very much.

    Ray

  4. austin s on January 23, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    I thought Joseph Smith only recorded four versions of the first vision: 1832, 1835, 1838, and 1842. Am I missing out on half of them?

  5. bbell on January 23, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I discussed at length the different versions, the history of the christian church up until 1820 with a focus on English speaking Protestants, and the doctrinal implications of the first vision

    Really good stuff in that lesson. I like the manual a lot.

  6. Kaimi Wenger on January 23, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Austin,

    I drew from _Opening the Heavens_ (John W. Welch, ed., BYU Press, 2005). According to an article by Dean Jessee, in that volume, the eight written accounts are:

    1. The 1832 history.
    2. Nov. 9, 1835, JS Journal.
    3. That journal entry, as incorporated into the 1834-36 History.
    4. Nov. 14, 1835, JS Journal.
    5. That journal entry, as incorporated into the 1834-36 History.
    6. 1838 JS-History.
    7. 1842 Barstow History.
    8. 1843 Rupp History.

    (If you don’t count the 1834-36 incorporation as separate statements, then there are actually a total of six, not eight.)

    Jessee also gives the texts of contemporaneous accounts by others, such as Orson Hyde.

  7. Gina on January 23, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Interesting approaches. Our teacher in RS started the lesson by asking \”What did Joseph/ we learn from Joseph\’s vision?\”

    A great discussion ensued about the nature of the Godhead, the fact that none of the current religions of the time were correct (not the answer Joseph was expecting), the nature of Satan, priesthood power, etc.

    The teacher happens to have 2 recently returned missionaries and 2 out on missions. She discussed the power of the actual words of the vision and how whenever the vision is quoted or read, the Spirit testifies.

    Good lesson!

  8. Scott Fife on January 23, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    In our HP Group, at the start of the first lesson, our instructor asked if anyone had visited the Sacred Grove, and for their reaction to their visit. Three brethren in our group raised their hands, and each one described their feelings as they walked the same ground where young Joseph Smith had experienced the First Vision. It turned out to be a very special experience to hear these brethren describe their Sacred Grove visits. As we heard the emotion in their voices, it was as if they were bearing testimony to this great event. It turned out to be a wonderful way to start the lesson.

    In this manual, there are many historical sites that are mentioned in nearly every lesson. Many in our RS and PH classes have visited these places, and have been touched by the experience, and I believe it adds much to the class, when the instructor invites input on these visits.

  9. Carlos on January 23, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    “bringing in new information to keep people interested,” “I drew from _Opening the Heavens_ (John W. Welch)” “How many times did Joseph Smith record his First Vision experience?”

    Interesting that the brethren specifically ask us not to do that.

    That is they specifically ask that we quote only from the book and discuss those quotes without outside references.

    I suggest you re-read the Introduction again where it says Teaching from this book:

    “Do not set this book aside or prepare lessons from other materials.”

    “Dedicate a significant portion of the lesson to reading Joseph Smith’s teachings in this book and discussing their meaning and application”

    You have much more material in the chapter than what could be covered in the 40mins so why teach something else especially when you shouldn’t be. I suspect that it may be too much influence from these mormon blogs

  10. Macy on January 23, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    I think that discussing the other accounts would have to be attended to very carefully and would require a good handle on and explanation for any variations in the different accounts. Obviously, Kaimi was well-equipped to do that, but I think a teacher has to really be prepared to cover material that can cause some members to become defensive or troubled about this. Like Ray, I would have enjoyed Kaimi\’s lesson.

  11. Kevin Barney on January 23, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    I personally really dislike the instruction not to use any enrichment material whatsoever. Kaimi’s lesson sounds great. If you don’t do something like what he did, you will absolutely lose anyone who has been a member longer than two years. If I ever leave the Church, it won’t be out of some doctrinal or historical concern but rather sheer boredom. Heck, our *teenagers* are already bored to tears by the lessons. And it doesn’t get any better over time. So when people want to stifle a good teacher like Kaimi from giving what sounds like a terrific presentation, it really makes me want to pull my hair out.

    One of the reasons Kaimi’s lesson plan appeals to me is the easy inoculation it provides. It is so easy to introduce the variant First Vision accounts in this kind of setting in this kind of a lesson. I take it that no one fell over for shock and ran from the room screaming. You can introduce almost anything in this way in a church classroom, and people will absorb it. But we don’t do that. And you wouldn’t believe how many people learn about variant First Vision accounts from a hostile source and promptly lose their faith. And it’s such a silly issue to lose one’s faith over, but it happens all the frickin’ time. (Trust me, I know whereof I speak.) These people all could have been saved if they only had had a teacher like Kaimi who took his responsibilities to teach the Gospel seriously.

  12. Macy on January 23, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    I understand what Carlos is saying, or more importantly, what the manual states about using other materials. I think the benefit of having a discussion of the other accounts Joseph gave of the first vision is that members who are not aware of this and may be, at some point, exposed to it by someone who is antagonistic toward the church, will have been introduced to this information by someone who has presented it in a more honest and proper context.

  13. Carlos on January 24, 2008 at 12:25 am

    #11 “If you don’t do something like what he did, you will absolutely lose anyone who has been a member longer than two years”

    Kevin – I didn’t lose anyone, and we had a very good mostly testimony based discussion of the first vision. The fact that God the father and Jesus appeared to Joseph is overwhelming when spoken of with the Spirit’s company. You don’t need to have a charismatic lesson to get people’s attention -and my HPGroup men have been members for decades and heard it all before.

    And as for inoculation and discussion on the various first vision accounts we all have these blogs, for the people interested in these out there subjects because many members just aren’t interested.

    Now please don’t get me wrong here, I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed this lesson too by Kaimi but here or at Sunstone or mormonmatters . It is not appropriate for priesthood lessons because the brethren ask us not to, and they specifically ask us not to do this in church.

  14. Chris Brower on January 24, 2008 at 4:01 am

    Carlos,

    It seems to me that Kaimi met both the criteria you listed as required:

    “Do not set this book aside or prepare lessons from other materials.”

    “Dedicate a significant portion of the lesson to reading Joseph Smith’s teachings in this book and discussing their meaning and application”

    I don’t see the problem. And you would probably do well to allow Kaimi’s own leaders to chastise him if he does something wrong. It is not becoming to act like the enforcer of very minor matters of little known policy.

    As for Kaimi’s lesson–it sounds very good. I would have liked to participate in such a lesson, but alas, I am busy sitting in sharing time instead.

  15. john f. on January 24, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Kaimi, I don’t have the manual to hand right now but weren’t some of the paragraph quotes in the lesson actually from the 1832 account? Or is that in lesson 2 (which we did last week in my ward)?

  16. Costanza on January 24, 2008 at 9:46 am

    The fact of multiple accounts of the FV is actually mentioned in the lesson itself. It’s sort of buried in fn4, but it’s there. So Kaimi, as I understand the “rules”, is completely justified in using that as a discussion starter.

    John F., the note also indicates that all of the material is drawn from the 1838-1839 account.

  17. Costanza on January 24, 2008 at 9:49 am

    John F. is correct though, that a portion of the 1832 account is found in lesson 2.

  18. Nat C. on January 24, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Our instructor did three things:

    1. Told of a personal experience he and his family had in the sacred grove on a spring day when they had the entire grove to themselves.
    2. Asked the class to make a list of the important truths Joseph Smith learned from that first vision.
    3. Discussed challenges to the truth and accuracy of the gospels in the Bible arising from the time lag between Jesus’ death and resurrection and when these books were first written down and questions pertaining to translation going all the way back to the first time anything was actually written down, and how these challenges demonstrate the need for three things we proclaim to the world we have: a living prophet, continuous revelation, and a corroborating record, all of which go back to the first vision in the Sacred Grove and the restoration that followed.

    Frankly, I don’t think there is any subject, however familiar, that can’t be made fresh and interesting as a lesson with a little creativity.

  19. Ardis Parshall on January 24, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    We got only the standard catechism: “And what do we learn from the account of the First Vision?” “We learn that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are two distinct individuals.” “We learn that God the Father and his son Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bone.” “We learn that God knows us as individuals, by name.” “We learn …”

    Some of you have offered wonderful ideas for teaching the familiar, demonstrating that, as Nat just said, with a little creativity — some good questions, some thoughtful preparation — the most familiar topics can be taught with interest and response from the class. Applause to all of you!!

  20. Costanza on January 24, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Ardis,
    We also got the thing about the Gods (Father and Son) having bodies of flesh and bone. The problem, of course, is that we have no reason to believe that Joseph learned this from his FV experience.

  21. Mark B. on January 24, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Reading the introduction as barring any use of materials other than the lesson manual (and the scriptures, presumably) is sort of like reading Elder Packer’s statements about music in the church as barring the use of any non-hymnal music in our worship services.

    Elder Packer didn’t say that, although I’ve had people tell me that’s what his words mean. Likewise, the manual doesn’t say that outside materials cannot be used–just that the manual should not be tossed aside and outside materials used in its stead.

    (I could raise some questions about whether some of the stuff in the hymnal is appropriate in a worship service–or anywhere outside a circus or a tavern–but that deserves a thread of its own.)

  22. Costanza on January 24, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Mark,
    Over Christmas last year, the temple in Idaho Falls banned several Christmas songs found in the hymnal from being played on the organ in the assembly room (where people wait for the sessions to start). The reason for this: false doctrine! Apparently the temple president (or whoever makes such decisions) objected to Christmas songs that feature angels with wings and Christ’s birth occurring in wintertime. Although I wish it were, this isn’t a joke.

  23. SmallAxe on January 24, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I think the power of Kaimi’s approach is that he had the time to do the extra reading/research and the skill to tactfully present the material. The problem, of course, is that most teachers in most wards lack either one (or both) of these things. This problem is exacerbated when teachers assume that they have done the research and have the skill, yet really haven’t and don’t (although bless their/our/my heart(s) because they/we/I try). Hence the (IMO ‘ridiculous’) counsel not use other material.

    It seems that one way of relying on the textbook, keeping the material fresh, and following the guidelines of preparation is bring new questions to the material. One of the problems we seem to have is that we fall into the same patterns of asking the same questions and therefore getting the same answers. On a side note, most of the questions already in the manual facilitate this repetition, but fortunately the manual doesn’t say we can’t ask different questions. Reading material beyond the manual could help with asking new questions (and it may help in answering questions that come up in class), but is not required. Interesting questions for the first lesson might include things such as “What role did the Bible play in Joseph’s experience?” Underlying this question are other questions such as “How do these ancient texts relate to our modern times?” It doesn’t seem that they give us an answer per se to our question but provide a basis for going to get an answer–an element of personal creativity in times that have changed since the texts were written. Or we could talk about how Joseph challenged the power structures of the religions of his time, and when doing such is appropriate, etc.

    Not that this is a perfect solution, but it seems to maximize the opportunity for a fresh look at the material while keeping in guide with the directives of the manual.

  24. Sean on January 24, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    I also taught this lesson in Elders Quorum last Sunday. We spent some time discussing the appearance of the Father. Several times in the scriptures His voice is heard from the heavens but He hasn\’t appeared and spoken to anyone before. President Hinckley spent some time on this topic at the last general conference. This all led to a great discussion on the need for our Heavenly Father to be present at this event. Why? For centuries the entire Christian world held the false belief (and a foundational, core belief) of the Trinity. The only way to break that would have been to have two Members of the Godhead present and to have heard from each of Them. And that\’s exactly what happened. The fundamental principle of the personality and character of God was finally reintroduced to the world.

  25. john f. on January 24, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    re # 22, that’s ridiculous. That’s too bad.

  26. Ivan Wolfe on January 24, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    In my class, we talked about how using the scriptures as a conduit to personal revelation. We did read from the JS manual, but the discussion focused on how we can apply the scriptures to our lives. Most of the discussion dealt with people talking about how they found answers to their problems or struggles or questions by reading the scriptures. It was a good class.

  27. William Smith on January 24, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    As it happened, I taught this lesson in HP Group on Sunday. I had been to Palmyra last year in late April and showed photos of the area, the cabin, grove. Some people were surprised to see that the vision likely took place when there was no leafy greenery filtering the heavenly light as it descended. We talked about other accounts and there were a number of questions about encounters with folks troubled by other details emerging from those accounts, etc. We discussed the process of “vacination” regarding issues in the foundational stories. This I think can be a family issue, where parents should give some broader discussion at home, if possible – bolstered by testimony. In all it was a fun, very spiritual (for me at least) experience. We didn’t have much time, and that is an important issue when presenting material outside the manual. One should do some justice to the material. But for that audience, things worked well I think.

  28. Ray on January 24, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    #24 – Amen. When I teach the FV, I always focus on the fact that, in many ways, Heavenly Father as a distinct, individual Being had been killed by the Apostasy – so it was essential that the vision include He and His Son standing side-by-side. I mention that literally everything else Joseph learned from the FV (which does not include the corporeal nature of Godhood – that is taught in the Bible perfectly well) is either secondary to or a direct outgrowth of the actual existence of a unique Heavenly Father.

    I also usually focus on JSH 1:19 and point out what JS was NOT told in that verse – parsing the words to correct the misinterpretations that are so common in the Church. There is so much that way too many members assume about what Joseph was told that simply isn’t an accurate explanation of the words themselves. I’ve never read a more profound, accurate, concise summary of the Apostasy and the need for a Restoration than that one verse, so I usually spend at least 15 minutes dealing with nothing but that verse. (I once had a chance to focus on that verse for a full hour, and it was awesome.)

  29. Darrell on January 24, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    #28
    Not to cause a threadjack, but Ray could you give us some examples of what JS was not told in that verse and what some of the “misinterpretations that are so common in the Church” are? You have my curiosity all riled up.

  30. Ray on January 24, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Threadjack response:

    Kaimi, if you don’t mind me answering Darrell’s question on this thread, let me know. Otherwise, Darrell, I will post about it on my blog next, since you know where to find it.

  31. DavidH on January 24, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    We have an email list of high priest group members. I sent around links to several articles in the Ensign about the various versions of the First Vision and some of the other historical issues associated with it. I also included links to some BYU Studies, Dialogue, Journal of Mormon History, and FAIR articles related to the subject, as well as the history of the First Vision in Mormon thought and teaching (basically, it was not emphasized until late in the 19th Century). I could not link to Kathleen Flake’s book, but I included a reference. I also included a link to Professor Paulsen’s piece on the embodiment of God, which was referred to in a footnote in Elder Holland’s last conference address.

    At the beginning of the email, I listed the following questions for discussion (we actually got through only four or five of them Sunday).

    1. What was the significance of the First Vision to Joseph Smith as a young teenager and as he grew older?

    2. What was its significance to his family?

    3. What has been the significance of the First Vision to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

    4. What has been the significance of Joseph’s First Vision to you when you first heard it or over the years?

    5. Why did Joseph’s “mind [become] exceedingly impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of [his] immortal soul” (p. 28)? What does it mean that he “became convicted of [his] sins” (p. 28)? What did he do about it?

    6. Why did Joseph search the scriptures? How were they helpful or not helpful?

    7. What conclusions or tentative conclusions did Joseph reach as he “pondered” and “reflected” on his concerns?

    8. What importance is it to us that the “pillar of light” appeared to Joseph “just at [a] moment of great alarm,” “when [he] was ready to sink into despair and abandon [himself] to destruction”?

    9. What did Joseph learn about the form, nature, and personality of God the Father and the Son from his First Vision?

    10. What reasons might Joseph’s minister, and the “professors of religion,” have had for their “prejudice” against him and rejecting his account? Joseph does not specifically mention the reaction of common people–how do you think they reacted? How would you react if someone claimed a similar vision today?

    BONUS QUESTION (I do not know the answer): Why is this experience called the “First Vision”?

    ************************************************

    I know at least a few of the brothers actually read the email and some of the linked articles before our class (I sent the email the Tuesday before). Some of them expressed appreciation. But, most importantly, my mother told me she liked the email (I copied her on it as well).

  32. Kevinf on January 24, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    I’ve always wondered about the boundaries between using the manuals exclusively and bringing in additional material. Look at the exact statement from the manual as quoted:

    “Do not set this book aside or prepare lessons from other materials.”

    I interpret this to mean that I should not decide arbitrarily that the lesson should be about something other than the first vision, and then prepare a lesson exclusively from some writings by CS Lewis or something else. It’s pretty easy for me to say that Kaimi followed the instructions pretty closely by using the materials from the lesson, and bringing in a few closely related quotes or source material that is cogent and helps to frame the lesson itself.

    I was in a ward conference session in our stake when this lesson was taught, and the first counselor in our Stake Presidency taught this lesson almost identically to the way Kaimi describes. He actually held up some printouts of all 8 versions, mentioned that they were written at different times for different circumstances, but that we would be using the account found in JSH in the Pearl of Great Price. Perfect example of Kevin Barney’s inoculation technique.

  33. Costanza on January 24, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    The question is, does the passge in question mean that we should not “prepare lessons [exclusively] from other materials” or “prepare lessons from [any] other materials.” I use other materials all the time, but I tend to doubt that I’m technically justified based on the statement in the manual itself.

  34. Kevinf on January 24, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Costanza, the exclusive factor is how I interpret it. I have no idea what the writers and editors of the passage mean, outside of that, and I know that I can ask all 10 bishops in our stake, and our stake presidency, and get multiple different answers.

    It kind of gets to the issue of why a particular person is called to a teaching position anyway. I believe that the Lord wants us to use all our gifts, and as such, teach as we are inspired, working within the guidelines and instructions as best we can.

    (Tongue in cheek comment: I don’t recall the manual talking about table displays or centerpieces, so I am assuming they are okay as well. A recent EQ I visited in our stake was interesting. The EQ president brought a table cover and a sports trophy for the table in the classroom, with the comment that he didn’t want the PH to look bad compared to the RS when it came to lesson prep and presentation!)

  35. Costanza on January 24, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Kevin, that EQ President’s name must be Brother Quixote. I’m afraid that it will take much, much more than a tablecloth and a trophy to accomplish his stated goal of besting the women. Nice effort though.

  36. East Coast on January 24, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Having been in a RS class a few years ago where the substitute teacher finished up her lesson with a cute little story book about God being a woman, I would tend to agree on a policy of restricting lessons to the materials at hand.

    My personal teaching style tends to be visual and heavily experience-based, so if I had been teaching (and if I had even been able to be at church) I probably would have shown the First Vision movie and spent time talking about peoples’ experiences at the Sacred Grove (not too far from us, so most ward members have been there) and their experiences gaining a testimony of the First Vision. Lots of comments; class ends with singing “O How Lovely Was the Morning.”

    Sticks to the materials. People get to know each other better. Everyone can participate if they like and even if they don’t they have something to think about.

  37. Ray on January 24, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Sometimes we think too hard.

    “Do not set this book aside or prepare lessons from other materials.”

    Here is what Kaimi did, in his own words:

    “I tried a broad approach of bringing in new information to keep people interested, and weaving it into the lesson, while still sticking to the basic lesson contours.”

    1) Did Kaimi “set this book aside”? Absolutely not.

    2) Did Kaimi “prepare [this lesson] from other materials”? No, he prepared it from “this book” and added supplemental materials to broaden the students’ understanding of what was presented in “this book”.

  38. Ardis Parshall on January 24, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    I’ll be teaching Relief Society this week, and was assigned two conference talks from the priesthood session that were directed toward teenage boys. Since many in my class will be women in their 80s and 90s, it might be fun to stick exclusively to the lesson materials and discuss with them the history of the Fosberry Flop. Because of course this material will capture their interest, is directly relevant to their lives, and will lead to a greater appreciation of the gospel and an increased commitment to better living.

    Or I might be wicked and modify the lesson materials slightly. What say ye all?

  39. Costanza on January 24, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Ardis,
    Unless the Fosberry Flop is something that can be cured with some sort of supportive undergarment, my guess is you should go with something a little more age/gender appropriate.

  40. Ray on January 24, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    Oh, Costanza, that was spit-take worthy.

    Ardis, very insightful comment.

  41. Joe on January 24, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    Wow, I wish I was in your class. My wife taught this lesson in RS last week using the manual and a couple links I showed her from the bloggernacle. I also gave her “Opening the Heavens” and told her to at least read the introduction to the first vision accounts, if not to use them then to be prepared in case someone brought them up.

    If I were going to take the hard line of not using [any] other materials, it would require either a lot of self-censorship or a lot of reading straight from the manual, because any comments or insights I might have that don’t come from the manual come from another source. So I read the instruction as being “within reason”, and I read Kaimi’s lesson as being both reasonable and superb.

  42. Joe on January 24, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Oh, and Ray, I’ll be checking your blog for that post. I’m curious too and would love to hear your insights.

  43. Ellis on January 24, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    The wonderful thing about all the handbooks and manuals is that they always have that qualifier about adapting to local circumstances. And there it is right in D. & C. 53:9 “. . .and that which is taught [us] by the Comforter through the prayer of faith.” Having said that, just because some of us have read something over and over again doesn’t mean that everyone has. I was present in a class when the teacher (a recently baptized member) admitted to not being particularly knowledgeable about Joseph Smith. The conclusion of the whole lesson was that if Joseph hadn’t restored the church someone else would have.

  44. adcama on January 24, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    Kevin Barney #11 – as always, you are spot on.

  45. Kaimi Wenger on January 24, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Ray (30), by all means, participate in the threadjack. It sounds like a good one.

  46. Carlos on January 24, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Chris Brower #14 – You obviously didn’t read all the post. New information was brought in and he referred to ‘Opening the Heavens’ arguments discussing the various accounts of the first vision, something which isn’t a part of that Lesson 1. That’s fine for a blog or Sundance but its the first presidency who asks us not to do this on Sunday. (I’m also a group instructor). The church asks us to study the 1842 account only.

    But as to your little “very minor matters of little known policy” -its in the front of the book where it actually tells you how to prepare and teach the class. But off course you wouldn’t read that and then these classes are know as boring & long.

    And, are we not asked to comment here?. I wasn’t acting as some enforcer. If anything your words are ‘enforcers’ words. And regarding the local leaders, I doubt the Bishopric or Stake will ever find out about these things unless there is a very pro-active high councilor who sits in the class and also reads the front of the lesson manual. Something which doesn’t happen too much.

    37. “and added supplemental materials to broaden the students’ understanding of what was presented in “this book”. Can’t you see that this is what the church asks us not to do? The only book in these classes should be the manual and nothing else, reading from ‘Opening the heavans’ in preparing the class is also what they ask us not to do. But off course you are free to do whatever you want to in your own class; you don’t need to listen to me at all!

  47. adcama on January 24, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    “The only book in these classes should be the manual and nothing else”

    I guess the scriptures are off limits too….ah well, who needs ‘em anyway? Carlos, could you let me know if those become important again?

  48. Carlos on January 24, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    C’mon adcama, you know what I mean. It includes the scripture as it says in the ‘preparing lessons part’. But wtf, I’m through with the petty arguing.

  49. Ray on January 24, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    #46 – Carlos, so those of us who comment here and disagree with you who serve in Bishoprics, High Councils and Stake Presidencies need to repent? Is that the gist of your comments?

    I mean that in complete seriousness. I am not being sarcastic. I truly want to know the answer to that question, since your comment is pointed directly at me.

  50. Carlos on January 24, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Ray, what? How did you reach this ‘need to repent’?

    I’m really through with this arguing, but I’ll answer this one time now because I honestly don’t know how you could have read it that way. I was just pointing out what usually happens in church in that they just don’t know what happens in every class. Its impractical to know that and impossible really. And I doubt that the Elders Quorum president would bother to analyze what the class is about since they are always desperate to find teachers and don’t need to offend any. But maybe your Ward is different, I don’t know.

    I pointed to you in #37 to disagree with your suggestion of bringing in added supplementary material, and in disagreeing with you here in that the author did actually “prepare [this lesson] from other materials” by discussing the various first vision account that Opening the Heaven brings up (as do the blogs).

  51. DavidH on January 24, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    There is a school of teaching thought within the Church that akin to “sola scriptura”–I would call it “sola manual-arum”. Like the parol evidence rule in contracts, this school of thought would confine all lesson preparation to the manual. Or, to paraphrase the parol evidence rule–“a written [lesson manual] embodies the complete [source of information about the subject matter]; the [manual] is the sole repository of the [information that may be taught]” (with possible supplementation by the Standard Works, and faith promoting experiences and testimonies). Of course, even the parol evidence rules admits “extrinsic evidence” by way of clarification–which I would analogize to “extrinsic (non-manual) supplementation.”

    The manual makes no secret of the multiple accounts–one of the alternate accounts is found in the manual itself in chapter 38 (the Wentworth letter). Indeed, the introductory section of chapter 1 includes paragraphs excerpted from the 1832 account, and the footnotes point out that there are varying accounts. These references, in my view, “open the door” to extrinsic, non-manual supplementation.

    Apart from the “sola manual-arum” school of thought, there is a more liberal interpretation within the Church that I would call the “sola correlated-atum” school of thought. That is, while extrinsic materials might occasionally be used, it is permissible to use them only if they have been properly correlated by official Church sources. This is a form of “quality control”.

    The Ensign has printed several articles with respect to the various accounts of the First Vision. Hyperlinks to those articles may be found in a section of lds.org devoted to that subject (plug in “first vision accounts” on the lds.org search engine), which section is also illuminating.

    Thus, there is plenty of “correlated” information about the multiple accounts of the First Vision, to allow for such discussion within the “sola correlated-atum” school of teaching.

    Some of us, though, belong to the “sola lesson topic-um” school of teaching. We use materials that are relevant to the lesson topic even if they are not in the manual or on lds.org. In doing so, we follow the example of many of the Brethren who, in general conference talks, do the same in illustrating the gospel principles they teach. Even President Hinckley has been known to quote from the “Main Stream Media” at times. This school of teaching might also be called “teaching by the spirit-itum”–that is, we use our best judgment to seek the spirit and prepare ourselves and lessons to present the topic and materials at hand–including extrinsic materials to teach and further clarify or explain the topic when we feel that it is warranted.

    My apologies to Kevin Barney and other true Latin scholars, with further apologies to contracts law and evidence professors.

  52. Josh Lawnmower on January 25, 2008 at 5:07 am

    Perhaps another hang up with some instructors is this second to last paragraph from Elder Oaks:

    “As we approach 2008 and a new course of study in our Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Societies, I renew our caution about how we use the Teachings of Presidents of the Church manuals. Many years of inspired work have produced our 2008 volume of the teachings of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of this dispensation. This is a landmark among Church books. In the past, some teachers have given a chapter of the Teachings manuals no more than a brief mention and then substituted a lesson of their own choice. It may have been a good lesson, but this is not an acceptable practice. A gospel teacher is called to teach the subject specified from the inspired materials provided. The best thing a teacher can do with Teachings: Joseph Smith is to select and quote from the words of the Prophet on principles specially suited to the needs of class members and then direct a class discussion on how to apply those principles in the circumstances of their lives.”

    (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, ‘Good, Better, Best’, Conference Report Oct 2007 &/or Ensign/Liahona Nov 2007)

    I’ve had the fortune (‘blessing’ would be the Happy Valley phrase, right?) of being the only EQ instructor last year in my ward. Having to teach both Teachings: Spencer W. Kimball and the Teachings for Our Times lessons helped re-entrench me in the gospel. Now I’ve been also called as the wards only substitute SS instructor. This means that I get to prepare each weeks lesson of Gospel Doctrine, Gospel Principles and Preparing for Exaltation. I have found that the old joke: ‘a correlated manual, the standard works and the Holy Spirit walk into a classroom’ can work surprisingly well in giving those who have been long-timers in the gospel a fresh experience. But at the same time, I except (and depending on who is attending class in EQ that week), expect things in the course of the discussion to travel a little sideways doctrinally. I find this healthy, and more then often insightful in ways not expected.

    What I find slightly irritating (especially after I was privy to what the manuals actually said) is teachers that decide that the material covered is dumb, old news, or beneath the learning of the class (or the teacher for that matter). To actually have a GD teacher wave the manual to the class and then begin a prepared lecture, with the extent of class participation being qued readings from prepared slips of paper distributed before class more boring than any ‘keystone’ discussion of the Book of Mormon. While studying Paul’s final epistles before his Roman execution, we opted out of scripture and instead listened to recitals of Longfellow in an attempt to more fully grasp Paul\’s message.

    As for the comments about inoculation, I had a similar experience last year. Discovering how much I enjoyed teaching President Kimball, I checked out his biography. I then found a little tome called The Mormon Experience. Next on my reading list was An Insiders View to Mormon Origins. Talk about faith shaking. But despite all of the little (and not so little) trembles that swirled about in my mind over the ponderings of Joseph Smith’s many different First Vision accounts, my mind was continually drawn back to my Seminary teacher and the lessons provided during Church History year. After some prayer and much reflection, I realized that I had received a spiritual witness of the truth of the First Vision and that everything would be okay. While questions may linger, it was still true. Further study introduced my the FARMS and FAIR, but a testimony should conquer all, in my opinion.

  53. John Smith on January 25, 2008 at 5:49 am

    “SS instructor”, wow, from Germany?

    Just kidding.

    I agree with you and those here who want the lesson book to become more important than side issues or outside sources. What Elder Oaks says should be memorized by everyone who teaches in church. The fact that some commentators disagree with this here in this thread shows everyone just how dangerous these bloggs can become since they teach members incorrect principals.

    But hopefully reason will win and teachers will do what Elder Oaks asks: “The best thing a teacher can do with Teachings: Joseph Smith is to select and quote from the words of the Prophet on principles specially suited to the needs of class members and then direct a class discussion on how to apply those principles in the circumstances of their lives.”

    The discussion on the various versions of the first vision would not have a place in a priesthood class.

  54. Ardis Parshall on January 25, 2008 at 6:35 am

    John Smith, I’m running out of time to prepare my Relief Society lesson (see comment 38). Can you help me out by suggesting some questions about that Fosberry Flop thing so that I can “direct a class discussion on how to apply those principles in the circumstances of [the] lives” of my octogenarian lady class members? Is it permissible for them to substitute canes and walkers for the high jump poles, and does it violate doping rules for them to take pain killers before they jump in case they break a hip in landing? And where exactly does one purchase support hose to match one’s team uniform? I sure don’t want to contribute to a dangerous blogg tradition of teaching members incorrect principals.

    Unlike support hose, one-size-fits-all doesn’t apply to gospel teaching.

    Should anyone be curious about my subversive plans, I’ll be scrapping the sports stories and all talk about how my great-grandmothers can prepare themselves to ride a bicycle 10 to 15 miles per day by working out rather than playing video games so they will be prepared when they grow up to be 19-year-old male missionaries. I’ll be converting the theme from “preparation” to “enduring to the end,” and focusing on Elder Perry’s areas of emphasis — physical, mental, social, intellectual, emtional — and how my sisters can raise the bar in their own lives by doing such radical things as, oh, I don’t know, following a therapist’s rehab plan to recover from a stroke, or bearing a testimony one more time.

    But if you think Elder Oaks would really prefer me to warn my sisters against isolating themselves by excessive text messaging with those arthritic fingers of theirs, I’ll be sure to heed your call about rigid adherence to assigned lesson material.

  55. Kevin Barney on January 25, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    David H. #50, I really liked your little paradigm of different ways to approach the proscriptions about outside materials. That’s a good way to think about the different points of view.

    Here’s a little help with the Latin. Instead of sola manual-arum, how about solus libellus, which literally means “the little book alone.” (Libellus is the diminutive of liber, “book,” and seems about right for what we mean by a “manual.”)

    Instead of sola correlated-atum, how about solum ordinatum, lit. “that which has been arranged alone.” Since correlation is a modern technical term, I tried to describe the process a little bit.

    And instead of sola lesson-topic-um, how about sola thema dictati, lit. “the topic of the lesson alone” (in which thema is a well attested Greek loanword into Latin).

    I would suggest our Nacle SS Presidents use this as the basis for the next inservice meeting, except I don’t think they actually do inservice anymore.

  56. Kaimi Wenger on January 25, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Ardis, you’re a rebel without a cause.

    And we all know that after you give your wild-and-crazy lesson, you’re going to put (back) on your leather jacket, hop on your Harley, and head over to the tattoo parlor. Deviating from giving instruction on the Fosberry flop, indeed . . .

  57. queuno on January 25, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    My favorite “we’ve heard this a million times” teaching crutch is to play devil’s advocate and let quorum members sort it out.

    In fact, when our teacher got stalled during the first JS lesson, I asked something like, “So what does it matter that Joseph Smith say both God the Father and Jesus Christ? What elements of the gospel or our tradition are impacted by that? Couldn’t we have the sealing power with a Trinitarian God?”

    *That* led to a very interesting discussion that didn’t deviate from the book.

    (And it doesn’t violate any of Carlos’ slightly misinterpreted rules on how to teach a priesthood/RS lesson. I used to be considered the Lesson Manual Fascist, with an occasional foray into actually likening the priesthood lesson to our lives by discussing the overfit problem.)

  58. Joel on January 25, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    When I teach a lesson, as I did for three out of the last four years, the most important thing for me is the purpose of the lesson. What am I trying to do? I remember one Gospel Doctrine teacher that asked questions to “provoke” (his words) the class. Sometimes this approach worked, and other times it completely ruined the class for me. I am in another class right now where the questions are so leading and experience based that I feel we don’t learn anything at all because we don’t take the scriptures seriously. I think the manual’s guidance is given to protect us for both of these types of teaching. When I teach, instead of striving for provocation, I strive for edification. When I remember that I am trying to promote edification, the outside materials that I introduce will be for that purpose (bringing light and truth into the hearts of the people in my class that will hopefully help them to become better people). I think that codifying teaching philosophies takes us too close to the letter of the law and too far from the spirit of what we are trying to do as gospel teachers.

  59. Ken on January 25, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    “The discussion on the various versions of the first vision would not have a place in a priesthood class.”

    Why would you assume this, not having heard a single word of the lesson in question?

    I can easily imagine a priesthood lesson that brings in non-manual sources to confusing or non-uplifting effect, especially if the aim is more related to the teacher’s curiosity or ego than the class’s well-being.

    I can (more) easily imagine a priesthood lesson in which the teachings in the manual are carefully supplemented, as directed by the Spirit, with other related quotes *from the same prophet*, in an attempt to emphasize what is truly central and beautiful about the First Vision. (This approach seems absolutely consistent with the Elder Oaks quote, by the way.)

    Why would you assume Kaimi taught the former? Since I don’t have specific knowledge of the needs of his particular quorum, or the mantle of inspiration that comes with the calling to teach them, I’d be inclined to give *a complete stranger over the Internet* the benefit of the doubt.

  60. Latecomer on January 25, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Supplemental resources or not, a prepared lessen would have been welcome in comparison to our “pinch hitter.” The counselor who gave the lesson commented when opening the book and seeing the lesson title, “what a good lesson this could have been.”

    I am currently teaching gospel doctrine in our ward. For the last two weeks, one class member has felt the need to fill us in on the particulars of Lehi’s occupation. Interesting as that may be, it was definitely not relevant to the lesson material. Yet on the other hand some of the best (most spiritual, most interesting, most meaningful) lessons I have given were a result of a class member steering us slightly off course. I guess my point is that supplemental material is not required to move the discussion off topic.

  61. Ray on January 25, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    #45 – Thanks, Kaimi. The short version:

    “I was answered that I must join none of “them” (the religions about which Joseph was praying – which, in and of itself, is a fascinating point),

    for they were “all” (those about which he was praying, NOT necessarily all universally – although I won’t argue with reading it that way from a practical perspective, given what happened later) “wrong” (NOT evil, bad, abhorrent, abominable, contemptible, disgusting, laughable or any other derogatory description – simply “not right”);

    and the Personage who addressed me said that all their “creeds” (NOT teachings, doctrines, sermons, understandings – simply “creedal assertions” [NOT specifically or - in my mind - addressing the Apostles' Creed or the Nicean Creed, but rather Protestant versions like the Westminster Confession]) were an “abomination” (something that, having been **defiled**, is abhorrent [e.g., the Trinitarian creed that effectively killed the Father as a separate Being]) in his sight;

    that those “professors” (NOT ministers, priests, pastors, priests, etc. but any who “profess / teach”) were all “corrupt” (NOT evil, bad, abhorrent, abominable, contemptible,disgusting, laughable or any other derogatory description – simply “not pure”);

    that: “they draw near to me with their “lips” (“preach of me” – with NO denoting hypocrisy or intentional misleading or any other bad motive), but their hearts are far from me (since their creeds corrupt and make impure, but, again, NOT addressing motive or sincerity at all),

    they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a “form” (appearance, perhaps, OR “structure / framework”, but NOT addressing motive or sincerity at all) of godliness, but they deny the “power” (“capability of doing or accomplishing something” – think of what we teach as our ultimate goal as being the true “power” of godliness) “thereof” (“of God, NOT denying power TO God, but just denying the power OF God [i.e., they teach that God is indescribably powerful as man would define it, but deny that He has the power that we understand as belonging to "Godhood" - the power to make us godly. They do NOT deny that He is powerful; they literally deny His power.]).”

    I hope that isn’t too confusing in that form. It’s very abbreviated, but it points out, I think, some of the terrible potential consequences of misstating what Joseph was taught in the vision.

  62. Darrell on January 25, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks, Ray. Thought provoking stuff.

  63. John Smith on January 25, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    Ardis Parshall #54 “Should anyone be curious about my subversive plans”

    I am now very concerned. I’ll have to send in the SS to sort you out re #52 & 53

    But seriously you going off on a tangent here because those talks where given by 70 something or 80 something year old men directed to the youth. Therefore your preparation should revolve around the “how to talk to the youth to get a spiritual message through their very thick heads” as the general authorities manage to do. Maybe those gandmas in your class have grandkids who are teen boys or maybe they want to be able to talk to that awkward 14 year old who home teaches her with his dad. I don’t know, you need to pray and find out what is best for your particular situation obviously. Maybe its all about relating todays youth with Jose Smith Jr when he had the First Vision, or something else.

    -by the way Elder Oaks would want those grannies to know what excessive texting is so they know how to talk to their youth.

  64. Ray on January 25, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    Got that, Ardis?

  65. John Smith on January 25, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    #59 Ken, “Why would you assume this, not having heard a single word of the lesson in question?”

    We all go by what Kaimi wrote in the story:

    ” We started out with the most interesting tidbit I could think of to try to generate some up-front interest and wake the class up:

    When was Joseph Smith-History written? 1838. How many times did Joseph Smith record his First Vision experience? A total of eight.
    (The JS-H version is one of the last.) Are the descriptions all the same?

    No”

  66. mls on January 26, 2008 at 12:15 am

    With or without strict adherence to a prescribed lesson outline, with or without supplemental or complementary materials … the boredom described frequently in this thread is most often a boredom born of either insincere teaching or insincere listening … or both. Sincerity in this lesson probably mandates opportunity for both teacher and listeners to hear (perhaps along with historical particulars) the openness of the heart in which someone in the room (please, o please someone!) shares frankly and honestly how his or her life has been touched by the account of the First Vision. I don’t even want to qualify what “touched by” the account may mean … perhaps it was the kind of experience in which tongues of fire descended … perhaps “merely” the kind of experience in which one is given pause to reflect and meditate on the things of eternity and experiences a fleeting but real sense of peace and communion with a loving Father. If the Sunday School experience becomes too much like an exegesis of texts instead of an opening of hearts in the room, then we’re all pretty much lost in this business of “No Greater Call.” I don’t think I’m saying it’s an either/or scenario here. I really mean “too much like.” There are often useful moments for exegetical help … but I yearn for those experiences of real sharing … not just sharing about Joseph Smith, but sharing with Joseph Smith. The preposition “with” draws us into the circle of his experience, as though he were still living and among us … but then, isn’t he?

  67. Ardis Parshall on January 26, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Youth be damned.

    John Smith, try to imagine this: Week after week, year after year, you go to priesthood meetings. Nothing is ever aimed at strengthening *your* life and meeting *your* spiritual needs. Instead, every discussion is about how you can relieve the struggles of your widowed grandmother. Never talk about the powers and responsibilities of the priesthood; instead, always discuss how your grandmother should enjoy temple worship despite being hard of hearing and feeling cold at anything under 85F. Don’t ever discuss strengthening your marriage or raising righteous children — shove all that aside so that you can discuss end-of-life issues, and how your grandmother must be looking forward to seeing grandpa again. Don’t practice baptizing, and don’t talk about what is appropriate in infant blessings — instead, the only priesthood ordinance you can ever talk about is how to dedicate a grave.

    And even though none of that helps you live your life today, keep telling yourself that someday you too will be lucky enough to be old, and you can finally reap the rewards of all these years of geriatric focus in church.

    Grandmothers are weary of church lessons always aimed at young people and young families. You won’t understand, but giving them yet another hour of church where their own lives are irrelevant and all that matters is young boys is worse than useless. It hurts.

    My 90-year-old visiting teaching companion confessed to me last week in tears that she feels invisible in church. She isn’t needed, isn’t wanted, and nobody ever addresses her needs in lessons and talks. Her great grandsons already have the bulk of church attention — they don’t need her to waste one more hour in Relief Society discussing their lives as if young males were the only part of God’s creation that matter.

    Young males, get over yourselves.

  68. Ray on January 26, 2008 at 1:21 am

    Got that, John?

  69. Kaimi Wenger on January 26, 2008 at 2:34 am

    I hear you, Ardis.

    I think my current bishop does a phenomenal job at realizing which voices aren’t being heard, and trying to draw eyes to those people. A month ago, for the Sacrament meeting right after December 7th, we had talks from some older ward members, who were veterans of Pearl Harbor. (One talk was borderline inappropriate in its language — I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, wondering how out-there it was going to get.)

    We don’t have nearly enough of that kind of interaction with older ward members. A limited number end up in certain leadership positions — Stake RS sort of things. (More so for the men, given High Priests and High Council, but still limited). The rest, have a very circumscribed role.

  70. John Smith on January 26, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Ray – no.

    Ardis – look, you still don’t get it. It is up to the teacher, that’s YOU, to make it interesting for the grannies without going to other sources, that’s other than the talks they gave you. But you could go back to the Bishop, or counselor and ask them to change the talks because of all of your excuses. Maybe they will.

    But honestly reading your comment, all I can think off is: get over Yourself, and get on with the job. Ask God how you can make those talks relative to the grannies, maybe ask the grannies to talk a bit about how they dealt with their children’s problems back in the 40’s or when ever. But its up to you to fulfill your assignment properly. If you can’t, well then go back to the Bishop and give him all these excuses you gave me in #67. Then the problem is back in the Bishops court as usual.

  71. Ardis Parshall on January 26, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    John, my dear fellow, being so new to T&S, you don’t know me well enough to recognize how wildly out of line you are in thinking I need this counsel from a stranger. That’s okay — no hard feelings (other than, perhaps, your multiple references to the elderly sisters in my ward as “grannies.” That’s disrespectful to them and a bit offensive to T&S’s readers). Rest your mind and spirit where our Relief Society lesson is concerned, and join me in a heartfelt prayer of gratitude that neither of us comes within the other’s stewardship.

  72. Ray on January 26, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    John, since I jokingly was playing “referee” in #64 and #68, let me simply echo something Ardis said in #70. It is a good idea when you first start commenting on a blog to try to get a feel for the regulars – and especially for the permas and admins. (I am neither, just to make it clear.)

    The lady you are taking to task . . . I won’t embarrass her by trying to recite a sample from her resume, but suffice it to say that she is a recognized and respected scholar – literally the LAST person about whose teaching methods a faithful member who knows her would complain. I know of very few scholars who would challenge her understanding of Church History – and they only would do so out of misplaced arrogance. I know of no member of any administrative level who has ANYTHING but praise and respect for her. Not all of us agree with everything she says, but I know of nobody who would dream of chastising her over how she prepares a lesson or a post or her research or anything else. Chastising Ardis over something like this . . . Just something to considered.

    Due to Ardis’ reputation not only here but throughout the entire Bloggernacle, I would suggest simply stepping back and re-evaluating what Ardis has said. Imho, there is not a single hint of impropriety in anything she said. I hope no teacher in the Church would read verbatim the exact same words in a lesson to a 7-year-old Primary class, a Teachers’ Quorum, a YSA class and a RS class of older sisters. I hope each and every one would teach the central message, evaluate any suggested questions, stories and/or activities and adapt the language, examples and stories to each unique class. At heart, she said she would take the assignment she was given and adapt the central message to her individual class rather than use the exact examples from the talk that, in and of themselves, had NO relevance to that class. That’s the sign of an excellent teacher – basing the lesson on the material provided, but presenting it in a way that will resonate with the actual students.

  73. Ray on January 26, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    #71, not #70. I must have dropped me brain.

  74. East Coast on January 26, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    I must admit I’m in a little distress trying to figure out whether to be offended or dissolve in hopeless laughter over someone telling Ardis to “get over Yourself.” Unfortunately, dissolving in hopeless laughter is winning out. Oh my goodness. I needed a good laugh today after finishing a medical article about a certain type of heart operation and its risks. Thanks for the laugh, John Smith, but I would echo Ray’s comment #72 and if I were you I would seriously consider apologizing to Ardis.

  75. Ardis Parshall on January 26, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Much as I appreciate friends rushing to my defense, I have to say that scholarship isn’t always of great help in church teaching, except as it gives broader tools for wrestling with difficult scriptural passages or sacred history or challenges in adapting lessons to unusual situations. And nobody owes me an apology — if anything, I owe John a little bit of an apology for yanking his chain so hard. It didn’t occur to me that anyone would not recognize the humor in the presentation of this talk in a dogmatic, literal way when the audience had changed from teenage boys to elderly women. If our stake president had chosen to have us study Sister Beck’s talk, something just as ludicrous could have been written by an elders’ quorum instructor in the singles ward who was faced with teaching his bachelors the finer points of child-bearing.

    A teacher in a gospel setting should identify the core message of a lesson, as apart from any teaching apparatus (the suggested questions and proposed chalkboard illustrations that are included in the Sunday School teachers’ manual, for instance), and then prayerfully seek a way to deliver that message successfully to a specific class.

    As Ray realizes — and exactly as Kaimi did in the illustration that started this thread — I *have* identified the core message of the talk “Raising the Bar.” It is *not,* as John assumes, to instruct elderly sisters on how they should help young male relatives — assuming they have any — prepare to serve missions at age 19. It *is,* as Elder Parry says, a talk about “what each of you can do to raise the bar even higher as you [not your young male relatives] prepare for [missionary] service.” Full-time missionary service was the emphasis of his talk, given in a Priesthood Session attended by potential full-time missionaries; full-time missionary service is not in the sights of many of my elderly sisters, so that part has to be adapted. He then goes on to “offer a few suggestions” which are phrased as “you could” and “it might include” — no hard and fast rules that must be drilled into the souls of my sisters.

    We will discuss the areas of life that Elder Parry discussed; we will talk about church service missions; couples missions; and a broader “mission in life” — for the oldest sisters whose lives have narrowed down to Sunday church services and remembering to eat breakfast, helping them identify ways to “raise the bar” by making one more contribution (bearing a testimony, humming along with the congregational singing) will be, I hope, a reminder that they are not invisible and still have missions to serve.

    I hope that soothes the hardliners — if not, this group of sisters on this one morning is *my* responsibility, not theirs.

  76. Kaimi Wenger on January 26, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Isn’t the Fosberry Flop one important way to, literally, “get over oneself”? :P

    (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one.)

  77. Kaimi Wenger on January 26, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    A teacher in a gospel setting should identify the core message of a lesson, as apart from any teaching apparatus (the suggested questions and proposed chalkboard illustrations that are included in the Sunday School teachers’ manual, for instance), and then prayerfully seek a way to deliver that message successfully to a specific class.

    Exactly right, Ardis. (And your upcoming lesson sounds great; certainly, likely to be better than the “six lords-a-leaping” approach for the older sisters.)

  78. John Smith on January 26, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    #71 Ardis -Thank-you so much for calling me ‘dear fellow’ since they usually say ‘dear John’ and think its a joke. But no offense intended with the grannies, my grandma is granny for me, so I guess the plural is grannies? But then you’re the brilliant scholar so I’ll have to change for you only. I’ll start calling them nanas? In a loving way of course.

    Ray – so you’re the brilliant scholars’ hitman. I preferred you as a referee, it was more humorous. But no offense either my dear brother in the faith.

    But please allow me to comment on what you said if I may. This part “but suffice it to say that she is a recognized and respected scholar – literally the LAST person about whose teaching methods a faithful member who knows her would complain” makes me realize why they had to excommunicate the famous September six. You see if the Bishop tells you to do something then there is a line in the sand between you actually doing it or not. And as I said before you can go back and give all these excuses and get another talk to cover but when the boss in church, ie the Bishop, asks you to do something specific, which in Ardis case is covering those talks to youth given by men the same age as the grannies, oh sorry nanas, then basic religious obedience would demand that the faithful member prays about it and then goes off and does what is asked. You can off course return to the Bishop and ask for other talks due to those excuses, but then again that Bishop can reject you’re request and tell you to just get on with the job.

    But Ray this has nothing to do with her scholarly credentials. She may well be a brilliant teachers but the bosses in church asked her to cover something specific and…well I’ve already covered this.

    And this “I hope no teacher in the Church would read verbatim the exact same words in a lesson to a 7-year-old Primary class, a Teachers’ Quorum, a YSA class and a RS class of older sisters. I hope each and every one would teach the central message, evaluate any suggested questions, stories and/or activities and adapt the language, examples and stories to each unique class.”

    Well she didn’t actually say that. She really wanted other talks than the ones given to her which were given directed to the youth. Re #54 and #67

    (Hopefully they won’t ban me now since T&S is infamous for banning anyone who doesn’t get the feel for this blog. Very biased place this one)

    #74 East Cost – No.

  79. John Smith on January 26, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    #75 Ardis:

    “If our stake president had chosen to have us study Sister Beck’s talk, something just as ludicrous could have been written by an elders’ quorum instructor in the singles ward who was faced with teaching his bachelors the finer points of child-bearing.”

    Sorry, I did read this before posting, but what you are saying is a wee bit frustrating to me, because those kids in the Elders Quorum DO need to know what sister Beck said because they will, or could, be fathers one day. They need to have some grasp of what a mother goes through to appreciate it more. That is it is better if they do know the finer points of child-bearing.

    “It is *not,* as John assumes, to instruct elderly sisters on how they should help young male relatives — assuming they have any — prepare to serve missions at age 19. It *is,* as Elder Parry says, a talk about “what each of you can do to raise the bar even higher as you [not your young male relatives]……..full-time missionary service is not in the sights of many of my elderly sisters, so that part has to be adapted. He then goes on to “offer a few suggestions” which are phrased as “you could” and “it might include” — no hard and fast rules that must be drilled into the souls of my sisters.”

    Finally! your seeing the light here. I see you did find an angle to address these talks for those elderly sisters. And yes, I was suggesting only and the ‘assumes’ is also just a suggestion because I obviously don’t have those sisters here in front of me. It’s still you to you as the teacher to find a way of covering these talks without going off to other ones.

    Hey, but after this ‘conversation’ we’ve had, maybe it would be a good idea for us to cross paths? Re #71, whatya say there girl?

    #76, yeap, see there is inspiration there in those talks for elderly sisters.

  80. Ardis Parshall on January 26, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    John Smith — Don’t remember Elder Parry’s “Raising the Bar” talk very well, do you? Else you’d realize that my 54 and 67 are very much part of that talk, minus the irrelevant (to my class) illustrations.

    You are not banned, John. You are very strongly urged not to continue your participation in this particular thread. Please read our comment policy (a link is found on the right-hand side of your screen, just above “Notes from All Over”), and when you (1) someday have something to say that could conceivably be of interest to anybody but yourself, and (2) understand and can abide by the comment policy, you’re welcome to comment again.

    Until that distant day, adieu.

  81. Ray on January 26, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    Wow, Ardis and I are now on par with the September Six – simply because we believe in following the counsel we have been given when preparing lessons in church.

    John, I will not continue this discussion. I do not want it to go where it will go if I do. My initial response is too close to what I am committed to avoiding to go further. Suffice it to say this:

    When you stereotype and generalize about those you don’t know – those who are doing their best to live by the Spirit while also following the counsel of their apostles, prophets, and local leaders – those whose dedication and sincerity and testimonies those leaders do not question, you are stepping into shadowy territory that is full of quicksand and fog. Despite my disagreement with your assertions about lesson preparation, I have not and will not accuse you of apostasy – nor will I belittle you. I don’t know you well enough to make that kind of judgment. If you re-read what I wrote, there is no judgment of you directly – just a comment about reserving judgment until you have had a chance to understand those with whom you are conversing.

    I disagree with your criticism of Ardis’ lesson prep, since I feel her explanation is exactly what the Brethren encourage. I cannot extrapolate from that, however, to a judgment of your worthiness. Again, I simply don’t know you well enough to do that.

  82. Ardis Parshall on January 29, 2008 at 12:46 am

    For what it’s worth, my Relief Society lesson went rather well. When we talked about different aspects of our lives — the areas Elder Parry had listed as necessary preparation for prospective missionaries — I called on women who made as complete a contrast as possible. When we discussed physical health, for instance, a young woman whose baby is due any day said that physical health for her right now meant attention to nutrition far more than attention to her weight or how far she could walk, and raising the bar meant that she would try harder to remember the exercises that will help make delivery easier. The oldest woman in the ward said that physical health meant being able to live in her own home and do her own housework, and raising the bar meant being more careful to think about her limits and to remember her age before she tried to lift something heavy.

    The entire lesson went that way, and an unexpected bonus was that women kept remarking how they had suddenly realized that “raising the bar” meant improving from where they stood individually, that it did NOT involve arbitrary standards or competing with each other, because our different stages in life and spirituality and emotional circumstances meant that we had individual needs, and should make individual progress.

    FYI.

  83. Kaimi Wenger on January 29, 2008 at 1:10 am

    That sounds like a great lesson, Ardis. Even better than asking 93-year-old Mabel to please re-enact the Fosberry Flop in front of the class.

  84. Ardis Parshall on January 29, 2008 at 10:50 am

    But maybe not as entertaning? /wink/

  85. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 5, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    This is some time after the original discussion, but for what it is worth, I have been teaching gospel doctrine in my ward since I moved in 7.5 years ago. We have a general authority, a memvber of the First Quorum of 70, who built a home in the area a few years ago and drops in a few times a year. I teach my lessons the way Kaimi does, providing added insight on the scriptures and (especially when we are covering the D&C or Joseph Smith-History) the history involved. The GA LIKES my teaching style. He once got up and admonished the class for not helping me get set up so I would have more time to teach. His job is visiting stakes and missions and setting things in order. So I think that is a confirmation that the way Kaimi taught is consistent with the intent of the Brethren.