Author: Kent Larsen

The Gospel According to “A Christmas Carol” I

At Christmas time, one of my holiday customs is to read Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol. I may be a little obsessed with the story — I have three different audio versions on my phone, including one produced by members of my home ward. As a result of reading it and re-reading it, for me this story has passed from mere entertainment to something much more1. First, in this post, lets look at what A Christmas Carol says about charity and relationships. In a second post I will address what it says about sin and burdens and relationships. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story. Dickens introduces us to Ebenezer Scrooge and his attitude to Christmas. When he is approached by fellow businessmen raising funds for charity, Scrooge rejects them saying, “Are there no prisons?” “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again. “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?” “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.” … Scrooge concludes, “I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.” “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.” “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.  While…

The Standard Christmas Sacrament Meeting

My sister recently sent the planned text for the sacrament meeting program in her ward (she is involved in the planning) to me and the rest of our siblings for our suggestions. It was fine, lovely even. It was full of Christmas hymns with brief introductory and concluding texts. Sound familiar? Other than this type of sacrament meeting dominated by Christmas hymns, the only other format I’ve seen is one or two Christmas talks supported by a few hymns — basically a normal Sacrament Meeting where the content is focused on Christmas. Is there room for something else?

Taking President Hinckley Seriously

In the April 1997 General Conference Pres. Hinckley said everyone deserves “three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God’”1. If local leaders take this seriously, then: What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t think they are worthy? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who hasn’t resolved a serious sin? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t wear garments? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t pay their child support? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who smokes or drinks? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t pay their tithing? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t keep the sabbath day holy? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who supports teachings contrary to those of the Church? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t follow the teachings of the Church with their family and others? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t obey the law of chastity? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who are living in a same-sex relationship? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t sustain the General Authorities? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t have a testimony of the restoration? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t have a testimony of Christ? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who is an atheist? Please repeat the above…

Toward a Universal Thanksgiving

This coming Sunday our neighborhood will hold its 6th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving celebration. As many as 500 members of Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Mormon congregations will join together for a program giving thanks and blessing children, followed by a communal thanksgiving dinner1. As I’ve participated in the planning for the celebration each year, I’ve been pleased that our congregations are able to agree on so much. The nature of the holiday helps, I think, because Thanksgiving is nearly a universal holiday

Tithing and Rules

My brother-in-law called me last week to get my advice about a tithing question, in part, I think, because I have an accounting degree. He had inherited his parent’s home, and needed to pay tithing on it. But it would take time to sell the home, if he decided to do that, and the value of the home might change between the inheritance and when it sells. How should he decide what the home is worth in order to calculate how much tithing he should pay? I know that this type of question has been asked a lot—my brother-in-law is far from the first to ask what the rules are. And actually, he isn’t the first to ask ME about what the rules of tithing. And the Bloggernacle is full of post after post addressing tithing and what the rules are.

They are closer than you think

I read with horror the news this week that 9 fundamentalist Mormons in Northern Mexico were murdered, as did many of you. But at first, no doubt like many church members, I thought that this news had nothing to do with me. After all, they aren’t members of the Church, as the public affairs statement made by the newsroom makes clear. Then I read the last name of several of those killed.

Mormon Life on the Moon

I’m old enough to remember the moon landing, 50 years ago today. And I’m old enough to admit that I thought humanity would be much farther along in exploring our nearest neighbor than we are. But I’m encouraged by recent activity — it feels like we are close to going back and going back permanently. If I’m right, then it won’t be too long before members of the church are on the moon, eventually on a permanent basis. So, I’ve been wondering, in a somewhat lighthearted vein, what will life be like for church members who are on the surface of the moon?

Go the Distance

I was struck in yesterday’s morning conference session by the quotation Elder Renlund gave, “The greater the distance between the giver and the receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement.” What gave me pause at this, since I agree with the statement, is a simple question: What do we do about the distance? This seems like a crucial question. Elder Renlund points out that this is the reason why the Church’s welfare system is designed for those in needs to seek help from family first, and then from their local leaders–i.e., from their ward and branch. But it doesn’t seem to me like this solves enough of the distance between givers and recievers; I see lots of distance within wards and branches, and sometimes even within families. Too often givers and receivers simply have completely different viewpoints and even different cultures. I have wrestled with understanding the issues and principles surrounding welfare and giving support to those in need recently. As a result I started reading a book on the subject recommended to me, Bridges out of Poverty, a manual for those working with the needy, including community and religions leaders like bishops and stake presidents. This book suggests, among other things, a very simple idea: those in different economic classes live in different cultures. Simply put, the way that those in poverty think and act, even when they think and act logically, is different than the…

GenConf: Sunday Afternoon Session

Choir: He Is Risen President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Choir: My Redeemer Lives Invocation: S. Gilford Nielsen Choir: He Sent His Son Elder Robert D. Hales: Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom The blessings we enjoy now are because we made the choice to follow the Savior before this life. To everyone hearing or reading these words, whoever you are and whatever your past may be, remember this: it is not too late to make that same choice again and follow Him. As we walk the path of spiritual liberty in these last days, we must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom. No one should be criticized, persecuted, or attacked by individuals or governments for what he or she believes about God. Some are offended when we bring our religion into the public square yet the same people who insist that their viewpoints and actions be tolerated in society are often very slow to give that same tolerance to religious believers who also wish their viewpoints and actions to be tolerated. The general lack of respect for religious viewpoints is quickly devolving into social and political intolerance for religious people and institutions. As disciples of Christ we have a responsibility to work together with like-minded believers, to raise our voices for what is right. Brothers and sisters, we are responsible to safeguard these sacred freedoms and rights for ourselves and our posterity. Elder…

GenConf: Priesthood Session Notes

President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Choir: For the Strength of the Hills Invocation: David L. Beck Choir: On This Day of Joy and Gladness President M. Russell Ballard: The Greatest Generation of Young Adults I know I speak for my brethren when I tell you that we wish it was possible for us to know all of you personally, and to be able to tell you that we love you and we support you. … what we need now is the greatest generation of young adults in the history of the Church. We need your whole heart and soul. We need vibrant, thinking, passionate young adults who know how to listen and respond to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit as you make your way through the daily trials and temptations of being a young contemporary Latter-day Saint. … it’s time to raise the bar not only for missionaries, but also for returned missionaries and for your entire generation. I remind you returned missionaries that your preparation for life and for a family should be continuous. “RM” doesn’t mean “Retired Mormon!” As a returned missionary, you “should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [your] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” Please use the skills learned on your mission to bless the lives of people around you every day. Do not shift your focus from serving others to focusing exclusively on school,…

GenConf: Saturday Morning Session Notes

Choir: Guide Us, Oh Thou Great Jehovah President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Choir: Glory to God on High Invocation: Timothy J. Dyches President Henry B. Eyring: “Is Not This the Fast that I Have Chosen?” When we offer succor to anyone, the Savior feels it as if we reached out to succor Him. There are more hungry, homeless, and lonely children of Heavenly Father than we can reach. And the numbers grow ever farther from our reach. So the Lord has given us something that we each can do… It is the law of the fast. Your fast offering will do more than help feed and clothe bodies. It will heal and change hearts. The fruit of a free-will offering may be the desire in the heart of the recipient to reach out to others in need. … other storms and tragedies will come across the world to people the Lord loves and whose sorrows He feels. Part of your fast offering and mine this month will be used to help someone, somewhere, whose relief the Lord will feel as if it were His own. Choir: “Have I done any good” President Boyd K. Packer: The Plan of Happiness The door had a frosted glass window, but if I stood close to the glass, she could see my shadow outside. She would slip out with a cookie and a kiss. The rest is history. The end of all activity in…

Times and Seasons’ 2014 Mormon of the Year: The Authors of the LDS Gospel Topics Essays

Times & Seasons is proud to announce the 2014 Mormon of the Year:  Authors of the Gospel Topics Essays. The Mormon of the Year is our annual designation of the Mormons who had the greatest impact or influence on Mormons and Mormonism during the year. Beginning in 2013 the LDS Church has published a series of essays on, under the heading of Gospel Topics, addressing controversial topics involving the church and its history. These special essays, currently covering 9 topics, represent a new approach both to public outreach and to informing the church membership on these subjects. While the publication of these essays is a step taken by the church as an institution, we feel it is appropriate to recognize their anonymous authors as the 2014 Mormon of the Year, because it is in substantial part because of these authors, and others doing related work, that the church is able to take this new approach. The essays have changed how many members understand Church history and doctrine, and offered a Church-sanctioned explanation of difficult issues for many others. As these essays have been released, they have increasingly received attention from both members online and in the press, culminating with the recent set of essays on polygamy published this past fall. Topics such as whether and in what sense Mormons are Christian, distinctive Mormon teachings on the human potential to become like God, and questions from Mormon history about polygamy and…

Vote for Mormon of the Year 2014

This post opens the voting for Mormon of the Year. Votes will be taken until midnight Eastern Time on Wednesday, January 7th, at which time the voting will close. The voting mechanism will attempt to restrict votes to one per person. The order of the choices is set at random, and is different each time the form is presented. THE WINNER OF THE ONLINE VOTE IS NOT NECESSARILY THE MORMON OF THE YEAR!!!

For I am not ashamed…

This past Monday one of the radio talk shows I listen to asked about what happened in Church during the weekend. In the wake of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, the host, Brian Lehrer, asked how the religious sermons given in the region had confronted these decisions. Of course, in LDS congregations this past Sunday was Fast Sunday, leaving the subject of the testimonies given up to those who chose to speak. In my own case, I heard no hint of a mention of these subjects, or any controversial current events, in the testimonies given or in lessons taught. Should there have been?

Expectations and Meet the Mormons

Early in my book publishing career, I worked for an innovative publisher of high-quality childrens picture books. One day, in conversation with my boss, the publisher, I criticized the Little Golden Books, a long-running line of cheaply produced picture books with very simple (and, I thought then, not very notable) stories. To my surprise, my boss leapt to their defense. Without the Little Golden Books, he explained, millions of kids wouldn’t have been read to as children, and my not have learned to read. In my focus on issues of quality, I had not realized that purpose is more important than quality, and, in a sense, actually defines what is quality. That lesson has stayed with me for about 20 years now.

GenCon: Priesthood Session

Welcome to T&S’ coverage of the Priesthood Session of General Conference. We welcome your comments. . Chorus: Rise Up O Men of God President Henry B Eyring is conducting this session. Chorus: Medley of Primary Songs Elder Quentin L. Cook — Choose Wisely “How do you expect me to catch the ball when I am worried about our country’s foreign policy?” We need unequivocal commitment to the commandments and strict adherence to sacred covenants. My concern is not only about the big tipping point decisions, but also the middle ground – the workaday world and seemingly ordinary decisions where we spend most of our time. In these areas, we need to emphasize moderation, balance, and especially wisdom. It is important to rise above rationalizations and make the best choices. One father wisely responds to his children with their numerous requests to participate in these distractions. He simply asks them, “Will this make you a better person?” In the Church we encourage and celebrate truth and knowledge of every kind. But when culture, knowledge, and social mores are separated from God’s plan of happiness and the essential role of Jesus Christ, there is an inevitable disintegration of society. Many choices are not inherently evil, but if they absorb all of our time and keep us from the best choices, then they become insidious. Our daily conduct and choices should be consistent with our goals. We need to rise above rationalizations and…

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #17: The Lord of Hosts has Spoken by Octave F. Ursenbach

The Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith lesson 17 covers “Sealing Power and Temple Blessings,” the ordinances restored through the priesthood which lead to our salvation, for salvation in the eternal kingdom is dependent on sealing, both to parents, to spouse and to children. The following poems addresses the role of sealing in our understanding of priesthood and of salvation.

Literary OTGD #31: My Friends and I by J. L. Townsend

Lesson 31 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual covers the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, which consist mainly of short statements meant to help guide our behavior. But its pretty easy to make these statements seem contradictory. We all agree that “pride goeth before destruction,” but what if it is pride in our work or in doing our best? And what do we say to parents who have “trained up a child in the way he should go” when that child does depart from the way? It is precisely these contradictions that the following poem addresses.

Literary OTGD #30: Strength by Mabel Jones

What benefit do we get from the temple? Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #30 covers two renewals of the temple in ancient Israel; that of Hezekaih and that of his great grandson, Josiah. It also gives the example of Hezekiah’s fending off the Assyrians with the help of the angel of the Lord following his cleansing of the temple. This apparently comes because of his righteousness. Could it be the indirect result of cleansing the temple? Does the temple lend us strength? The following sonnet sees strength in the temple, comparing its outward appearance with the inward strength it gives us: