Tag Archives: Missionary Work

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


Them’s Chores

I heard a story yesterday originally from a preacher who grew up in Detroit. He’d spent his whole life in the inner city, and when he was still young he went to visit his grandparents on their farm in northern Michigan. He heard the birds like he’d never heard them before. He saw the blue skies like he’d never seen them before. It was wonderful.

The next morning, his grandpa woke him up at 6 o’clock (he hadn’t ever seen that before either). They walked outside, and his grandpa handed him a metal pail. There was a chicken coop across the way, and his grandpa pointed to it and said, “Take this pail, and go and collect any eggs.” He did.

When he got back, his grandpa gave him a bucket of slop. “Take this and go feed the pig.” He did.

It went like this all morning, before the young boy had even eaten breakfast. Finally, his grandpa took him inside where breakfast was waiting for them. After eating his fill, he threw himself on the sofa in the living room. Continue reading Them’s Chores

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

“It Ain’t in My Bible No More”

I went to my grandpa’s funeral last weekend. During the service, I heard a story that I’d heard a time or two before. I didn’t mind – it’s a good one.

My grandpa served in what was then the Southern States mission, right in the heart of the Bible Belt. One day, while tracting, my grandpa got into a discussion about the way the Church practices proxy baptisms for the dead. The man he was speaking with challenged him to defend that belief by going to the Bible, even handing him his own copy of the scriptures.

My grandpa obliged, and turned to the scripture in Corinthians that Latter-day Saints sometimes use as a proof-text. “There it is, right there in your Bible,” he said, handing the man back his Bible. Continue reading “It Ain’t in My Bible No More”

Byers’ Remorse

Keli Byers attained a level of stardom (or infamy, depending on your view) recently when an article she purportedly authored appeared in Cosmo (the shining bastion of journalistic excellence that it is). It’s title?

I’m Fighting BYU’s Ban on Sex.

It turns out that Byers also has a blog entitled The Hypocritical Blogger (“hypocritical,” I think, because she says that she hates blogging, but still ironic given the positions she takes in Cosmo). On September 1, she published a post as a follow up to the Cosmo piece. It’s title?

I’m Not Fighting a Ban on Sex. Continue reading Byers’ Remorse

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

“This is for the Record”

Geez Cousin you are super into this whole thing.”

I had posted a link to Kate Kelly’s excommunication letter, released by Ordain Women, on Facebook. I thought that it provided an interesting counter to some of the claims that Kelly has made about the process she has gone through. It wasn’t the first time I’d posted or written about the recent controversy, either: Continue reading “This is for the Record”

“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.