Tag Archives: Hawaii

Even More Top Gospel Teaching Tips, According to Science

The three first “commandments” of gospel teaching I offered were these:

  1. Thou Shalt Have Grace for Those Still Improving
  2. Thou Shalt Master the Material
  3. Thou Shalt Not Go Over

You can read about them in my earlier post on gospel teaching.

When I initially stared brainstorming this post, the “commandments” below are the ones I actually thought of first. Once I started writing, though, I was worried that people would yell at me if “thou shalt have grace” wasn’t number 1 (and they’d have a fair point, I guess).

Nevertheless, I’m ready to give you another three, each of which I consider to be hugely important.

Continue reading Even More Top Gospel Teaching Tips, According to Science


The Top Gospel Teaching Tips, According to Science

A number of years ago, I found myself sitting in an Elder’s Quorum meeting. For as long as I can remember, Elder’s Quorum lessons had focused on the teachings of different presidents of the Church (this year, for example, we’re studying the teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith). That year, though, church leaders had insisted that, instead, we would spend the year studying the newly revised Gospel Principles manual.

A (thankfully) small part of me thought that such an exercise was a little… basic. I’ve since come to appreciate how inspired that direction was.

One such feeling of appreciation came to me on that Sunday I sat in that Elder’s Quorum class. The lesson was on the Spirit World, and the teacher began by drawing a version of the Plan of Salvation diagram that most Latter-day Saints are familiar with.

After finishing he said, referencing the diagram. “When I, uh, when I was a missionary teaching the Plan of Salvation, it’d only take me, like, 15 minutes to do this whole thing…”

He then started drawing circles around the Spirit World part, continuing, “…and the lesson wants me to spend the whole time on THIS part right here….”

He stepped back from the white board, his eyes locked on the circles he’d just completed as if he were pausing to consider just how to continue. When he did, I didn’t know what to think. Continue reading The Top Gospel Teaching Tips, According to Science

I Hope they Call Me on a Mission…

My favorite robot testicle blog (calm down, it’s a metaphor) posted an interesting Q&A with Craig Harline, the author of the book Way Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled but Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary.

(What a title! I haven’t read the book, though I am curious to after reading the Q&A.)

Having as many countries in the world as we have, and having missionaries who served in as many different decades as we have, I don’t doubt that mission experiences are as varied as the number of people who served LDS missions. Add in variables for different mission presidents and companions and backgrounds and expectations and emotional intelligence and…

That’s a lot of variety.

I feel like it would be tremendous fun to get some type of panel together, made up of Latter-day Saint men and women who served missions in different countries and at different times and under different circumstances, just to hear different answers to the same questions. Maybe that’s a fun project for later.

For now, I decided to answer these questions from my own mission experience. Continue reading I Hope they Call Me on a Mission…

Correlation is for the Dogs

Lots of Rules

Mormon missionaries have a lot of rules. You can read them for yourselves in the Missionary Handbook.

There are 92 glorious pages, filled with gems like these:

  • “Refer to other missionaries, including your companion,
    as “Elder” or “Sister” and their surnames, not
    by their first names, nicknames, or surnames alone.”
  • “If you play basketball, volleyball, or another sport, do
    not allow the situation to become intense or competitive.
    (For example, do not keep score.)”
  • “Do not watch television, go to movies, listen to the
    radio, or use the Internet (except to communicate with
    your family or your mission president or as otherwise

I’ve intentionally taken these rules out of context to heighten their “weirdness,” particularly for those who aren’t familiar with how Mormon missions work. They demonstrate some examples of the “do”s and “don’t”s that I was expected to live by for two years. Continue reading Correlation is for the Dogs

“I am the True Vine”

You might have heard that a young Latter-day Saint was barred from missionary service for his views on homosexuality and so-called same-sex marriage.

There are two things you can be fairly confident of at this point. The first is that there is almost certainly more to the story. The second is that, of course, I have something to say about it. Continue reading “I am the True Vine”

What Makes Me Mormon

We Aren’t All the Same

Joanna Brooks was interviewed on The Daily Show just this last week (full disclosure – Brooks drives me a little nuts). A missionary I served with in Hawaii posted a link to the interview, and added that Brooks is an important voice in the world of contemporary Mormonism.

I replied, intentionally tactful, “Certainly interesting, arguably important, but far from definitive….”

He replied, “She may not be definitive, but that’s kind of the point…. Her viewpoint, along with the viewpoints of others, shows that there isn’t just one way to be Mormon. I’m excited that she will be able to show a wider audience that we aren’t all the same.”

It’s true that we’re not all the same. Mormons are diverse (I recently stumbled upon the Mormon Transhumanist Association, for example), and at this point, with more Latter-day Saints outside of the United States than inside of it, it’s wrong to force-fit everyone into the same Republican, Conservative, white, middle-class, Utahn mold.

What is the Same?

Still, it got me thinking – what does make someone Mormon? As different as we can be politically, socially, or economically, what is it that defines us?

For example, in her interview, she mentions a parental embargo against caffeinated soda. I’ve heard of similar practices among Mormon families, most often in the interest of living more fully the law of health that Latter-day Saints abide by (I, for one, am not one of those caffeine-free Latter-day Saints – I take my Dr. Pepper leaded, thank you).

Obviously, this doctrinal quirk neither qualifies nor disqualifies someone from legitimately calling themselves Mormon. But the question remains – if not soda-quirks, what is it that does define us? Ignoring for a moment the question about what things may disqualify us, what qualifies people as Latter-day Saints?

I think a good place to start is with the covenants we make when we’re baptized. It’s probably not a bad idea to look at the temple recommend questions, either. I’m still undecided on the question, so I’m open to your feedback.

(And if you’re offended by the mere idea of trying to define boundaries, check out my posts on the preface to C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.)

A Drunk Prophet is Better

There is one thing I feel fairly confident about when it comes to defining what makes someone Mormon.

Dan Jones was one of the early converts to the Church in the days of Joseph Smith, and had an intriguing experience with the prophet (there is a fuller account, and a far better treatment of it, on the Mormon DNA post “How Much Can Mormons Take?” for those who are interested).

In summary, Joseph decided to “test” Dan Jones. He went to the wharf in Nauvoo and acted like he was drunk, convincingly portraying the gait, speech, and hiccuping of someone who is inebriated. Intending to board Jones’ boat, he said,

“Boat ahoy, Hallo Come and help me aboard Captain [Jones], for I’m afraid to fall off that plank into the river. Now hold fast, steady there all safe. Now Captain you see I’m a leedl boozy tonight, been drinking a leedl wine with a friend; but what of that I’m a Prophet if I am drunk; that I am. Well look here Captain, you hold my note [in other words, “I’m in debt to you”], don’t you? Well I have just called to tell you that I don’t mean to pay you a cent of it, that I wont. Now ain’t I an honest man to tell you so? I tell you I never mean to pay you a cent, there now help yourself.

“You may think I am not a Prophet but I am a Prophet if I am drunk. There I told you what I came for, I wont pay a cent that’s all. Now help me ashore again, I know I’m a Prophet, don’t push me off the plank, or I’ll be a fallen Prophet, if not a drowned Prophet, Ha, Ha, there ashore safe let me go sue, sue away, I tell you I don’t care, good night.”

(I find this hilarious, by the way. You can’t tell me Joseph wasn’t a talented man.)

After this exchange, Joseph left the wharf and found Willard Richards, another notable early Saint. He asked Richards if he would go speak with Jones, and see what Jones would say about Joseph’s drunkenness. Richards agreed.

At the wharf, Richards met Jones, and asked if he’d seen the prophet. Jones said that he had. Richards offered that Joseph may have been drinking, and Jones agreed, adding,

“He had his three sheets in the wind or thereabouts.”

(I don’t know what that means, but I expect the modern equivalent would be that “He’s drunk off his….” Well, you get the picture.)

Richards asked what Jones thought of this, and Jones responded,

“If he drinks until doom’s day, he can’t drown that truth which is in him, nor the little that is in me neither. Tis true that I would rather have a sober Prophet, but then if we can’t get a sober one, a drunken Prophet is better than no Prophet at all, so I will hold on to the one we have got, drunken or sober. That’s what I think to do Doctor.”

Of this story, Mormon DNA writes,

“Dan Jones didn’t care if Joseph Smith was a drunk. That is, he cared, but it didn’t influence whether he thought Joseph was a prophet or not. Dan Jones had a spiritual confirmation that Joseph was a prophet, and that’s all he needed to know.”

I think this is a good starting point on the road to defining who “is” Mormon and who isn’t, whether or not your names are officially on the records of the Church. In this case, Jones didn’t allow personal feelings or beliefs to upstage his witness, his spiritual confirmation, that Joseph was a prophet, called of God.

While there is place in the Church for all kinds of people and all kinds of opinions, some things are paramount. I think that our willingness to follow (actively, and not blindly, mind you – but that’s a different conversation) Church leaders is paramount. What do you think?

[UPDATE] Michael Purdy, the Church Spokesman, said something recently that I think relates to the discussion of setting boundaries. He said,

“It is patently false for someone to suggest they face church discipline for having questions or for expressing a political view. The church is an advocate of individual choice. It is a core tenet of our faith…. Church discipline becomes necessary only in those rare occasions when an individual’s actions cannot be ignored while they claim to be in good standing with the church. Every organization, whether religious or secular, must be able to define where its boundaries begin and end.”

See the article here.

The Youth Activity from Hell

We had a relative visit from back east last night. He just moved there for a job, but has to come back here every other weekend to finish an E-MBA he’s pursuing. He flies in Friday night and sleeps over, then spends 8 hours in class before flying back home.

He slept over at our place last night, and we got to hear some stories about the goings on in his ward, including what leaders thought would be a good youth activity.

They decided it would be good to read the Book of Mormon…

in its’ entirety…


within 36 hours…

Oh, brother.

The Activity

The youth and their leaders met together at the church Friday evening to start reading the Book of Mormon. They read constantly, and finished for the night after 9pm.

After a good night’s rest, they met again at the church at 8am, and then powered through the rest of the Book of Mormon, wrapping up around 11pm.

Throughout the evening and day they were free to come and go to use the restroom or eat.

My relative’s son had a miserable time at the Friday night portion. His parents offered to let him decide himself whether or not to go back Saturday, but to make sure to ask Heavenly Father. He told them later that Heavenly Father didn’t want him to go, and passed on the Saturday session.

Forgetting the Purpose

One of the greatest lessons that I took from my mission was to always consider the purpose in what I was doing.

Teaching Towards a Commitment

For example, we would often teach gospel lessons to those who were investigating the Church, but we were given full leeway over what to teach and how to teach it. That’s quite a responsibility, and proved difficult until I discovered a trick.

First, we decided what we wanted to have happen as a result of our lesson. Missionaries would usually leave what we called “commitments”, something an investigator would agree to do. It might be to pray every night, or to read the scriptures, or to come to church, or to stop smoking, or even to get baptized.

Next, we would pick the gospel principles that would support that commitment. If we were going to commit an investigator to read the scriptures, we might teach about prophets, or how the scriptures answer “questions of the soul”, or how we can each receive personal revelation by reading the scriptures.

Finally, we’d put those principles together logically and plan how to team-teach them.

The Youth Activity

Sounds fairly simple, right? Well, this has literally revolutionized my life and nearly everything I do in a teaching or leadership capacity.

And what’s more, as simple as it is, few people seem to do it themselves. Answering the question, “What do I hope to accomplish?” before setting out full-steam ahead is a foreign concept to far too many I encounter.

This youth activity, for example – what did the leadership hope to accomplish by a reading of the entire Book of Mormon in two sittings?

In some of my organizational behavior classes I’ve learned that in order to stay attentive, adults need to change gears every 20 to 30 minutes. You need to move from a lecture to video, and from a video to a case study, and from a case study to a breakout session, even if you’re only working with 90 minutes. Otherwise, people lose focus and won’t absorb what they hear, even if they think they’re drinking it all in.

And what of different types of learners? Auditory, visual, and kinetic learners learn in very different ways. One type of activity (say, reading from the text for hours on end without any discussion or commentary) may not materialize into any long-term effects.

So I ask again, what did the leadership hope to accomplish? If they wanted the youth to get a broad overview of events in the Book of Mormon, there are better ways (reading or watching Book of Mormon Stories, for example, or going over the CES timeline). If they wanted to present some important doctrinal highlights from the Book of Mormon, there are also better ways for that.

What might they have accomplished doing this activity?

They might have taught that it’s not important to retain what you read as long as you get it done. With scripture reading we’re checking off a box, and even though none of those kids will remember the slightest bit of what they read they can all say with pride that they’ve finished the Book of Mormon.

They might have taught that consistency is not important. Why read the scriptures each day when you can force it all in to a weekend or month? How much easier it is to “procrastinate the day of your repentance”!

They probably taught some of the youth to hate the scriptures. Some might have been pressured to participate, whether by leaders, parents, or peers. Now, that’s fine when we’re pressured to do good things, but I’d venture to say it may be hard to see the fruits from this activity.

And that’s just off the top of my head.


What’s the take-away from an experience like this?

The primary take-away is probably that it is essential to consider what we want to accomplish before we do a task. Always be asking yourself, “What do I hope to accomplish?”, and then reevaluate what you’re doing in the light of that purpose.

Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg was a decisive and bloody part of my nation’s history. It was the battle with the largest number of casualties in the Civil War, and is considered a major turning point of that war.

When I was in Hawaii, my mission president taught us three lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg, one from each day of the battle. Lest there be any Civil War buffs reading this blog, keep in mind that these lessons simplify a very complex battle.

I also won’t work too hard to apply each of these lessons. They fit many different situations, and perhaps you can get the most out of them applying them to your lives yourselves.

Day 1 – Recognize and Seize the Moment

On the first day of the battle, Confederate forces met Union forces at Seminary Ridge. During the course of the day, the Confederate forces pushed Union forces back to Cemetery Ridge.

But it was getting late. It was 4:30pm on a hot, southern afternoon, and the troops had been fighting all day. They were tired, and they were hungry. The Confederate troops called it a day.

But the Union forces did not rest. They spent the night reinforcing their line.

The Confederate army never regained this advantage, and they lost their chance to take the hill.

I like the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, particularly the last stanza:

We have not wings, we cannot soar;
But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
The cloudy summits of our time.

The mighty pyramids of stone
That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known,
Are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear
Their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear
As we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.

Day 2 – Hold the High Ground

The Confederate forces wanted to take hills south of Cemetery Ridge. Cannons there could overlook the entire battlefield, and would be a significant advantage.

The Confederate force (the 15th Alabama) attacked the Union force (the 20th Maine) on Little Round Top several times. By the end of the fourth attack the 20th Maine, led by Lt. Chamberlain, had only 200 men and no ammunition.

The Confederate forces readied themselves for the fifth attack on Little Round Top. What did the Union men decide to do? They fixed their bayonets and charged the Confederate forces climbing the hill. The 15th Alabama fled in fear.

Have faith that you will be supported, sometimes even miraculously, as you hold to higher ground. Don’t be afraid to fix your own bayonets in defense of the high ground.

Day 3 – Strengthen the Core

The Battle of Gettysburg ended on its third day. Having failed in attacks on both Union flanks, Confederate forces engaged in what has come to be known as Pickett’s Charge. With around 12,500 men, the Confederates attacked the very core of the Union line.

How was the Union able to repel such a force? It was because their core was strong; their fundamentals were solid and their commanders involved.

In preparation for the main advance, the Confederate army fired at the Union line to soften up artillery and infantry. Unfortunately for the Confederate forces, Union artillery was unaffected by a Confederate barrage. Union commanders wisely ceased artillery fire slowly, giving the appearance that their cannons were being destroyed one by one. When Confederate infantry begin crossing the 3/4 mile plain towards the Union front line, they were exposed to heavy Union cannon fire (from the intact cannons) and suffered great casualties.

Union forces also flanked the Confederate forces. When Union fighters began to take casualties, Union leaders bolstered their moral. One commander, General Hays, had two horses shot from under him while he rode across the battle line shouting, “Hurrah! Boy’s, we’re giving them hell!”

Ultimately, Confederate forces suffered over 6,500 casualties because the Union was prepared to defend their core.

This is an age of political correctness, but we should not stand unprepared for attacks at the very center of our beliefs because we’re waiting for dogs nipping at the periphery.


Hopefully these lessons will have application to you. Good luck in the battle.

The Hawaii Honolulu Mission Motto

I’m still spending time in my wife’s class, and today happened to be Hawaiian Day! Before we left for school, I pulled out a box with some things from Hawaii, and it brought me back to the wonderful two years I spent there as a missionary.

In the Hawaii Honolulu Mission, we have an incredible motto. It goes like this:

We are grateful to be in the Hawaii Honolulu Mission – the Aloha Mission. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is our message; love of God and others is our motivation; and obedience to the commandments and mission rules is our strength. By sharing the gospel with others, we can give them the “ha”, the breath of life, even eternal life. Aloha!

You might not have noticed, but this motto is an acronym of sorts for the word “Aloha”.

  • Atonement of Jesus Christ
  • Love of God and others
  • Obedience to the commandments and mission rules
  • HA, the breath of life, eternal life

If you’d like to learn more about this motto, read this devotional talk by President and Sister Peterson, who served as the mission leaders soon after I left.

(The only thing I find is missing from this motto is mention of the Restoration. If I could be so bold as to suggest a change, the last full sentence would begin, “By sharing the restored gospel with others…” I know, I know, when am I ever not so bold?)

Another quasi-motto centered around the Kukui nut. We were taught,

“The Kukui nut was prized by the Hawaiians because the kernel is rich in oil. Each kernel burned for three minutes. It reminds us of the light of the Savior which fills our souls, not for three minutes, but for eternity.”

I’m so grateful to have served in Hawaii. There is not a day that goes by where I am not influenced by my experience there.

The Parable of the Apple

My Recent Missionary Moment

It’s been rare while I’ve lived here in Utah, but every now and then I am able to have a discussion with someone about some of the basic doctrines of the Church. These “missionary moments” are enthralling, and take me back to my days in Hawaii when I was able to do this each and every day for two years. I absolutely love talking about the Restoration of the gospel and Church of Jesus Christ, and the blessings that gospel has brought into my life.

Unfortunately, my most recent dialogue of this nature turned out to be less than sincere. I expect my peer was laying the foundation to their own “witnessing” experience, which consisted of (in this instance) criticisms of the Book of Abraham, the Book of Mormon, the deification of man doctrine, the Plan of Salvation, and the personal revelation that comes through the Holy Ghost.

Disturbingly, I’ve never understood the contrast of our respective “witnessing”. Mine involves bearing testimony of my Savior and the things which I know to be true; theirs so often involves bearing testimony of things which they seemingly know to be untrue, and yet have never been experienced or investigated. I’ve seen more logical sense in the fanboy wars between Call of Duty and Battlefield fans.

But I digress.

I bring this up because this experience reminded me of a parable that is sure to comfort any downtrodden missionary.

The Life Cycle of an Apple

Review with me the life cycle of an apple.

It starts out as a seed, which somewhere along the way finds a soft spot of ground and germinates.

What then? This seedling grows into a strong, tall tree which eventually blossoms.

These blossoms soon turn into beautiful, bright red fruit.

Hopefully, each apple is picked while it is still ripe and delicious. But what happens when it is left on the vine too long? In that case it would rot and eventually be discarded. If it was picked too early it would likewise be discarded, and eventually rot all the same. The fruit has to be picked at the right time – not too soon, and not too late – in order to be ripe, healthy, and tasty.

But once it’s discarded, fallen off the tree, it begins the cycle all over again. The seeds within the fruit are ready to germinate and grow trees of their own.

The “Apples” We Pick

How are the people of the world like apples? In sharing the gospel, have you ever encountered a rotten apple? I’m sure you have, just as I have. We meet someone and share with them the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, only to find that they were not quite ripe. Is that an opportunity lost forever?

Of course it’s not! We pick them, move on, and then leave them to regrow and wait to be picked once more.

God and Growth

In our overabundant harvest of rotten apples, do we ever get discouraged with the lack of growth that takes place? I know that I have. It seems like we tend to our orchard, faithfully watering and planting, but we never see a harvest. How can that be fair?

While it’s easy to become concerned, it’s important to remember that God is in charge of seed growth. He knows his children well, and has a unique plan for each of them to receive the gospel. Paul taught,

“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase (1 Corinthians 3:5-6).

Our Examples

It may be worthwhile to point out just two examples from the Book of Mormon who persevered even after facing rotten apples.

Nephi was himself rejected in Zarahemla. What happened after he picked some rotten apples? The Lord told him,

“And now behold, I command you, that ye shall go and declare unto this people, that thus saith the Lord God, who is the Almighty: Except ye repent ye shall be smitten, even unto destruction.”

And what did Nephi do?

“And behold, now it came to pass that when the Lord had spoken these words unto Nephi, he did stop and did not go unto his own house, but did return unto the multitudes who were scattered about upon the face of the land, and began to declare unto them the word of the Lord which had been spoken unto him, concerning their destruction if they did not repent.

“And it came to pass that thus he did go forth in the Spirit, from multitude to multitude, declaring the word of God, even until he had declared it unto them all, or sent it forth among all the people” (see Helaman 10:11-12, 17)

Alma also faced rejection, in a city called Ammonihah. The Lord told him,

“Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you.

“And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city; yea, preach unto them. Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them” (Alma 8:15-16).

Rotten Apples

We can’t tell by ourselves who is ripe and who isn’t; let us pick as much as we can without regard to the outward man, knowing that God is aware of the heart of each person (see 1 Samuel 16:7). Only then will we get the chance to

“pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you” (see Alma 32:42-43; see also Doctrine and Covenants 10:18).

Don’t be concerned with rotten apples. This fruit that is precious above all else is a soul of infinite worth. The ripe fruit, the elect, are out there; they are even now only kept from the truth because they don’t know where to find it (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:12). Seek those elect. Seek the ripe apples.