President George Q. Cannon: “The Presidency of the Church have to walk just as you walk,” he said. “They have to take steps just as you take steps. They have to depend upon the revelations of God as they come to them. They cannot see the end from the beginning, as the Lord does.”
Among the most unforgettable characters in scripture is Alma the Younger. Though he was the son of a great prophet, he lost his way for a time and became a “wicked and an idolatrous man.” For reasons we can only guess, he actively opposed his father and sought to destroy the Church. And because of his eloquence and persuasiveness, he experienced great success.1
But Alma’s life changed when an angel of the Lord appeared to him and spoke with a voice of thunder. For three days and three nights, Alma “was racked with eternal torment, … even with the pains of a damned soul.” And then, somehow, a faint memory brought light to the darkness of his mind—an eternal truth, taught by his father: that Jesus Christ would come “to atone for the sins of the world.” Alma had long ago rejected such concepts, but now his “mind caught hold upon this thought,” and he humbly, earnestly placed his trust in Christ’s atoning power.2
When Alma emerged from this experience, he was a changed man. From that moment on, he devoted his life to undoing the damage he had caused. He is a powerful example of repentance, forgiveness, and enduring faithfulness.
Alma was eventually chosen to succeed his father as head of the Church of God.
Every citizen of the Nephite nation must have known Alma’s story. The Twitters, Instagrams, and Facebooks of his day would have been filled with images and stories about him. He probably appeared regularly on the cover of the Zarahemla Weekly and was the subject of editorials and network specials. In short, he was perhaps the most well-known celebrity of his day.
But when Alma saw that his people were forgetting God and lifting themselves up in pride and contention, he chose to resign from public office and dedicate himself “wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God,”3 preaching repentance among the Nephites.
At first, Alma had great success—that is, until he traveled to the city of Ammonihah. The people of that city were well aware that Alma was no longer their political leader, and they had little respect for his priesthood authority. They reviled him, ridiculed him, and cast him out of their city.
Heartbroken, Alma turned his back on the city Ammonihah.4
But an angel told him to return.
Just think about it: he was told to return to the people who hated him and were hostile toward the Church. It was a dangerous and perhaps life-threatening assignment. But Alma did not hesitate. “He returned speedily.”5
Alma had been fasting many days when he entered the city. There he asked a complete stranger if he would “give to an humble servant of God something to eat.”6
A quote from his recent conference talk:
We need the guidance of the Lord because at any particular time some are—and some are not—ready for the additional truths of the restored gospel. We should never set ourselves up as judges of who is ready and who is not. The Lord knows the hearts of all of His children, and if we pray for inspiration, He will help us find persons He knows to be “in a preparation to hear the word” (Alma 32:6).
I liked the point that it’s ok to realize that some are not ready. We shouldn’t pressure ourselves or those in our stewardship to go out and pick and neighbor or co-worker and do this or that assignment with them. This is a much more careful and organized process than that — because “we need [and can have] the guidance of the Lord.”
Here are his 7 points about missionary work:
We need to remember “that people learn when they’re ready to learn, not when we’re ready to teach them.”5 What we are interested in, like the important additional doctrinal teachings in the restored Church, usually isn’t what others are interested in. Others typically want the results of the doctrine, not the doctrine. As they observe or experience the effects of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives, they feel the Spirit and begin to be interested in the doctrine. They may also be interested when they are seeking more happiness, closeness to God, or a better understanding of the purpose of life.6 Therefore, we must carefully and prayerfully seek discernment on how to inquire about others’ interest to learn more. This will depend on various things, such as another person’s current circumstances and our relationship with him or her. This is a good subject to discuss in councils, quorums, and Relief Societies.
As we speak to others, we need to remember that an invitation to learn more about Jesus Christ and His gospel is preferable to an invitation to learn more about our Church.7 We want people to be converted to the gospel. That is the great role of the Book of Mormon. Feelings about our Church follow conversion to Jesus Christ; they do not precede it. Many who are suspicious of churches nevertheless have a love for the Savior. Put first things first.
When we seek to introduce people to the restored gospel, we should do this in ways that are authentic and in loving concern for the individual. This happens when we are trying to help others with problems they have identified or when we are working with them in community service activities, such as relieving suffering, caring for the poor and needy, or enhancing the quality of life of others.
Our efforts to share the gospel should not be limited to our circle of friends and associates. During the Olympics we learned of an LDS taxi driver in Rio de Janeiro who carried copies of the Book of Mormon in seven different languages and gave one to whoever would receive them. He called himself the “cab driving missionary.” He said, “The streets of Rio de Janeiro … are [my] mission field.”8 Clayton M. Christensen, who has impressive experience as a member missionary, states that “over the past twenty years, we have observed no correlation between the depth of a relationship and the probability that a person will be interested in learning about the gospel.”9
Ward bishoprics can plan a special sacrament meeting to which members are urged to bring interested persons. Ward members will be less hesitant to bring their acquaintances to such a meeting because they will be more assured that the content of the meeting will be well planned to enlist interest and represent the Church well.
There are many other opportunities to share the gospel. For example, just this summer I received a happy letter from a new member who learned about the restored gospel when an old classmate phoned her to inquire about an illness she was experiencing. She wrote: “I was enlightened by the way he presented himself to me. After [a] few months of learning from the missionaries, I was baptized. My life has improved since then.”10 We all know many whose lives would be improved by the restored gospel. Are we reaching out to them?
Our young members’ fascination and expertise with social media gives them unique opportunities to reach out to interest others in the gospel. Describing the Savior’s appearance to the Nephites, Mormon writes, “He did teach and minister unto the children … , and he did loose their tongues … that they could utter” (3 Nephi 26:14). Today I suppose we would say “loose their [thumbs] that they could utter.” Go to it, youth!
I thought of a good metaphor.
When we see teaching program after teaching program, it reminds me of something that happens in our home.
With the old manuals, there was an issue of people thinking that they couldn’t stray from them, and at times this meant that people were not seeking the Spirit when they prepared. So, ta-da!, we have new manuals with more options that you can do, so you have to make some decisions and most likely that means you will pray about what to teach.
This reminds me of the sight of a pile of jackets and shoes on the floor, not put away where they should be. I remind and remind, until finally I decide to come up with a new system. New hooks! Shoe shelf! Everything seems tidy and in its place. And, everyone seems on board with the new program, so things stay much cleaner that unusual for several weeks! Success.
But of course, the new program gets old, and it’s still work to pick up your jackets and shoes and put them away. No matter what program I come up with, it’s still work to clean up. It’s easy to leave them out when we are busy, or preoccupied with the next thing we want to do. So unless someone decides they are going to do that work, or even to figure out how to remind themselves to do it, the jackets and shoes will still be all over the floor.
Teaching programs are much the same, I think. The Spirit is supposed to guide our teaching. We remind and remind and remind, but we worry that it isn’t happening. So, we come up with a new program! It is tidier, it has new ways of organizing our thoughts on teaching. It involves people in new ways. And it works! Excitement! And even prayer. The Spirit, hopefully, is more present in our lessons.
But, then, the program gets old. The hype is gone. And we are still left with the same question: Are we, as teachers, willing to do the work to listen to the Spirit? To learn how to remind ourselves to figure out how to recognize the Spirit? Are we going to do that even when we are busy or preoccupied with other things?
The vision of teaching by the Spirit has to be opened to each person individually, I think. A program, and request, a new manual all might help keep things tidier, and may even allow a lot of good to happen, but it isn’t at the heart a conversion to teaching by the Spirit. And while there are ways to imitate good teachers, being a good teacher can only happen by learning to hear and yield to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Elder Holland is going to address the teachers of the Church in a broadcast soon and the Church has invited questions and comments. It tempted me and I wrote up a comment, but I’ve decided not to post it. But I’ll leave it here in case I want to build on it or change it or see my own progression as I react to changes such at these.
As I watched teachers teach under the “old” manuals, problems usually arose when the teacher thought that the manual’s lesson *was* scripture (that is, inspired revelation that they had to follow exactly), rather than a “suggested lesson outline” as it called itself. The introductions clearly explained that the scriptures and the Spirit were what taught, and the outlines were simply an idea of how to do that, but most teachers didn’t seem to approach it that way. I really liked the broadcast in 2007 and how much that helped.
I see that with “Come, Follow Me”, since lessons aren’t given one lesson outline, teachers can’t confuse a manual lesson outline. That seems to be a great way around the problem.
However, I think there is a potential pitfall all over again to see the *program* as the inspired thing that will save souls, rather than the scriptures and the Spirit. I’m just worried that we’re so excited about this new program that we’ll sabotage it from the beginning.
Also, in teaching and in councils, I’m afraid that we’re so happy to get people talking that we’ve forgotten that there is a “head” to these meetings. It isn’t right that each person should say their opinion and everyone’s opinion is equal. It also isn’t right that we should leave people out or belittle. It seems to me that what the scriptures call describe is a group of people who come together, who are gathered in his name. Then as discussion proceeds, it is hoped that the Spirit will be working on each person in the group. As people share, it is hoped that the Spirit is helping them say much more than their opinion. It may not be something we can recognize, or that we know is for sure from the Spirit, but we have that hope as we discuss. Finally, the scriptures also say that there is someone who is the “head,” who is given the responsibility and so also the spiritual gifts, to discern and listen and then put it all together. (I like the imagine of a head, because this is how a body works. A brain needs all the signals it receives from the nerves throughout the body in order to process what is going on and make a decision.) A imagine a “head” in a council as someone who can listen to people and listen to the spirit, and then make a suggestion of how to proceed and see how the Spirit responds (by listening to the Spirit, and listening to the reactions of the council). The teaching situation is similar. A teacher is still a called leader, and still has spiritual gifts to do the work they are called to do. But they also need to recognize that those in the classroom also have the Spirit, potentially, to guide them to say inspired things. But the teacher listens and thinks and ideally is able to guide the classroom discussion by the Spirit, in response both to the classmates and the Spirit. It is a “guide” sort of situation, but not stripped of the gifts and responsibility to be a “head” in the classroom.
“I worry that we live in such an atmosphere of avoiding offense that we sometimes altogether avoid teaching correct principles. We fail to teach our young women that preparing to be a mother is of utmost importance because we don’t want to offend those who aren’t married or those who can’t have children, or to be seen as stifling future choices. On the other hand, we may also fail to emphasize the importance of education because we don’t want to send the message that it is more important than marriage. We avoid declaring that our Heavenly Father defines marriage as being between a man and woman because we don’t want to offend those who experience same-sex attraction. And we may find it uncomfortable to discuss gender issues or healthy sexuality.
Certainly, sisters, we need to use sensitivity, but let us also use our common sense and our understanding of the plan of salvation to be bold and straightforward when it comes to teaching our children and youth the essential gospel principles they must understand to navigate the world in which they live.”
Here are a few notes I took from Joe’s SMPT paper:
Shame – feeling a sense of responsibility for something you can’t actually respond/change/control.
Ashamed of accent – belongs to you, and yet, you didn’t try to learn to talk that way
Ashamed of weakness
As God says, though, He gave us weakness. Don’t be ashamed of shame. Shame here = weakness
Hebrews 12:2 says that Christ despised the shame of the cross. Doesn’t say that there wasn’t shame involved, but that he despised that shame. Joe did some work on the Greek and the work for despised means something like ignored, didn’t engage with, wasn’t worth thinking about.
He also did a lot of philosophical thinking about the word shame, and about how shame was involved with crucifixion. His reading is that what is shameful about it is that your human weakness is fully on display. Naked. Bleeding. In pain. But also: can’t swat at flies, can’t stop from peeing, etc. All human, mortal experience is on display, and you can’t cover any of it.
(Makes me think of Adam and Eve trying to cover their nakedness. I like to think in part that this is symbolic of their realization that they are weak and have no protection from whatever God might do to them. Not just that they should wear clothes like we do, but that they are completely vulnerable.)
So what does this say about Christ despising the shame of the cross? (I am summarizing my thoughts from a half-hour long philosophical paper, mind you.) It means that Christ was not ashamed of his shame. Was not ashamed of his weakness. Did not try to cover his weakness. Did not shrink from his weakness and ability to feel pain. He was mortal and did not hide that fact from the world.
In the Book of Mormon, Jacob talks in two different places about us and crosses. The discussion centered around what that might mean for us. Mostly, we talked about how the crosses of the world might be when the world wants us to feel ashamed of our shame — ashamed of our weakness. Times when the world wants to join in public social disapproval of us. (As people, or as the Church as a whole.)
(This also makes me think of the partakers of the fruit of the tree of life who were mocked by the people in the worldly building. Those who were ashamed left, and were no longer seen at the tree or the building.)
Joe also discussed the difference between not being ashamed of shame, and being completely unashamed. Here’s a summary:
Ashamed of shame = hiding of body, weakness
Not ashamed of shame = recognition of body, weakness
No shame = embrace of body, weakness
You might also say this:
Ashamed of shame = hiding of body, weakness = trying to be fully in control
Not ashamed of shame = recognition of body, weakness = admitting what we do and don’t control
No shame = embrace of body, weakness = pretending to have no control
(Only the middle one really takes up agency in a productive way)
Question for future thought: what does all this mean about our own resurrection?