Repeat of “Reading the Old Testament in Context” Fireside, in Rochester MN

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 9.55.57 PMMy Oct. 8 fireside in Claremont will be repeated in Rochester MN on October 22. (Flyer) It’s on “Reading the Old Testament in Context” and is a version of my Sperry Symposium presentation which will be in Provo, October 28. The firesides and presentation are an adapted form of the 25-page paper I submitted for Sperry, so the paper has some things the presentations won’t and vice-versa. So I’ve decided to take that paper, and will just post it in sections here as blogposts, starting in November.  Continue reading “Repeat of “Reading the Old Testament in Context” Fireside, in Rochester MN”

Fireside Oct. 8 on Reading the Old Testament in Context

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 10.34.46 AMIf you live in the Los Angeles area, I’ll be giving a fireside on October 8, entitled “Reading the Old Testament in Context.” Flyer (PDF).

As you might guess, this presentation is oriented more towards understanding the Old Testament, reading it like an Israelite or a Hebrew scholar, than devotional or personal application readings of the Old Testament. Those aren’t entirely separate categories, but I assume most Mormons are experienced in the latter and not so much in the former.

I will talk about becoming a “competent reader” (a quasi-technical term) and introduce four kinds of context, moving from the simplest to the most complex. For each of these, I have numerous examples from the Bible, modern parallels to help drive the point home, and study suggestions/questions.

  • Textual Context– By this I mean we need to read what comes before and what comes after a line or verse, especially across verse and chapter boundaries. Those divisions are largely medieval impositions on the ancient text and sometimes break up stories or sections. If you start a book or movie in the middle of one section, and then end randomly in the middle of another, you’re not really getting the whole story as it is meant to be communicated.
  • Historical Context– This includes elements of the historical setting which are relevant. Because the Old Testament authors spoke to their contemporaries who shared this knowledge, they did not provide explanations about or identify people, places, customs, laws, or events. These things went without being said, but modern readers need them to be made explicit in order to understand
  • Linguistic Context– What should we know about language of the Old Testament to better understand it? This includes aspects of both Bible translation from Hebrew/Aramaic into English and usage characteristics of Hebrew. I single out three: poetry, paranomasia/wordplay, and allusion.
  •  Literary Context– This is the most complex section, where I introduce the idea of genre. We experience this natively today, with books, movies, restaurants, which all come in different kinds, each with its own conventions and expectations; You know what kind of clothes to wear and what kind of food to expect if I say “burger joint,” you know the conventions and truth-claims of the Romantic Comedy genre. But we rarely understand that this kind of thing applies to scripture as well.  I talk about the Bible as a library of different kinds of writings, a collected edition or anthology of different genres, set off by genre markers. I drill down into the historical genre, arguing that modern expectations of historical writing are largely journalistic ideals (i.e. verbatim quotes, neutral reporting, a priority on historical accuracy), but ancient history-writers did not remotely follow these conventions. What were the conventions of ancient history-writing? I cover much of the same ground as in my LDSPerspectives podcast and elsewhere on the blog, but more formally and organized, with citations and examples.

I’ll make the text of this available one way or another in late October or early November, as part of my gearing up for Old Testament in January. I have several things in mind for the blog, so check back. In the meantime, listen to the podcast and watch my screencast about the rediscovery of the world of the Old Testament.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

On Elder Hamula

You have likely heard that a member of the 70 was recently released and excommunicated. Elder Hamula was the mission president of a member of the bishopric who spoke in the ward I visited today. He reminded me of two things.

First, I have sometimes wryly remarked that perhaps Mormons would be less inclined to put Church leaders on high pedestals if they fell from them more often, since the last Apostle excommunicated was Elder Richard R. Lyman in 1943. In all honesty, I’m quite surprised this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often. George Q. Cannon saw a silver lining in such excommunications.

Do not… put your trust in man though he be a Bishop, an Apostle or a President; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. … Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or woman

– Elder George Q. Cannon, as quoted and elaborated on here by a LDS historian. My underline.

So, let’s not speculate, but refocus our faith where it ought to be.

Second, I just feel bad for the guy. The only thing worse than making serious mistakes is having it publicly known that You Really Screwed Up. Whatever you yourself do, in person, on the internet, etc. take thought. How would you feel if your words or actions were known publicly? I can’t find it at the moment, but on my mission, I found a teaching from Joseph F. smith to the extent of “never do anything in private that you would be ashamed of in public.”

There but for the grace of God go you and I.

My LDS Perspectives Podcast on Genre

Ben contemplates his words, at Petra.

Ben contemplates his words, at Petra.

I was interviewed last year for the LDS Perspectives podcast, which I recommend. Therein, I allude to a lot of different books and papers, linked below. I also cited John Widtsoe on genre, from his 1930 book In Search of Truth available online here Widtsoe said,

“As in all good books every literary device is used in the Bible that will drive the lesson home. It contains history, poetry and allegory. These are not always distinguishable, now that the centuries have passed away since the original writing.”

Here is further reading that I alluded.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

Free Book! and It’s a Good One!

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 1.24.43 PMI’ve often had Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible on this or that list of books I recommend. It’s April’s Free Book of the Month at Logos (link). If you’ve read my previous posts about Logos (link #1, #2), you know that entry-level Logos is free and like a supercharged Kindle, runs on Mac, PC, ios, and Android. It’s what Infobases or Gospelink could have been. Continue reading “Free Book! and It’s a Good One!”

How to Use Greek and Hebrew: New and Improved

genesis-hebrew2I’ll get back to my Transitional Mormonism and Tradition, but I was really excited about this development. 

I’ve seen several bad uses  flagrant abuses of original languages recently by people who don’t actually know the languages. They’re typically relying on Strong’s Concordance, which can be used legitimately (see my article here, the section called “original language resources”) but 99% of the time, Strong’s is abused by people who just don’t know better. They use it as a lexicon, as a guide to meaning, but this is highly problematic. If you read something citing Strong’s to establish what a word means, you can be fairly certain the authors have not actually studied Greek or Hebrew, and I strongly recommend not giving that source any scholarly weight or authority in Gospel Doctrine or Seminary.

I am terribly pleased to inform you that there is a new technology-assisted way to move directly from the KJV to legitimate scholarly Greek and Hebrew tools. And it’s free! I’ll provide a description, then walk through the steps to get it, demo some things on video, and then make some suggestions.

Logos just released the free version of its new engine, Logos 7 for Mac, PC, iOs, and Android. Logos is like a supercharged Kindle on steroids, which I use as my research library. I buy all my academic and popular books in it when possible. Back in 2000, I started using it because there was a screaming deal on the Anchor Bible Dictionary (which has been cited in General Conference!) With the upgrades and free resources now provided in version 7, the Basic engine will let you jump directly from the KJV to a decent basic Hebrew/Greek lexicon, included.  Moreover, it comes with both a decent Bible Dictionary and Study Bible, free (both produced by Logos.)

You will need to create an account, but the basic engine is indeed free. You will probably get marketing emails trying to get you to buy a package of books and higher-level functionality. You don’t need to do this, but if you’ve got the cash, go for it. BTW, once you create an account AND fill out a marketing thing, Logos gives you $20 credit every year on your birthday.

How to Get the Free Stuff

  1. Go here to get the free engine. It should ask you to create an account.
  2. It will download an installer file, which will then download the rest of the program and (I believe) the free resources. After downloading and installing, it will draw some processing power to index the new books.
  3. If you don’t see them in your library after everything downloads and indexes, here are the links to some free stuff you should have.
    • Lexham Bible Dictionary
      • Lexham is one publishing name Logos uses (Faithlife being another.)
    • Abridged BDB
      • This is the Hebrew lexicon, a simplified version of the $20 100-yr old lexicon most first-year Hebrew students buy, named after its authors
    • Faithlife Study Bible
      • Essays, introductions, visuals, diagrams, and verse-by-verse notes.
  4. Logos also does a free-book-of-the-month, with one free and one related for $1.99. This month, two books by N.T. Wright.
  5. Other free books are here. Pick up the Greek New Testament, SBL edition, Lexham English Bible, Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs, and perhaps the Classics, Arabic, or Civil War And 19th Century America collections.
  6. Other books and series go on sale regularly, with both monthly sales and specials, and you can get steep discounts on Pre-publication or Community Pricing.

Supercharge your Old Testament study for $70

Things to learn to take maximum advantage of the free stuff

    • Learn the Hebrew alphabet and vowels here. Hebrew alphabet intimidates more than it is actually difficult. Practice the consonants with Psalm 119 in our KJV. It’s a Hebrew alphabet acrostic, so the letters are printed there.
    • Both BDB and CHALOT will use some unfamiliar but important terminology for verbs. You should learn what qal, niph., hiph, etc. mean or you won’t understand the range of meanings in the definitions for verbs. This is a decent introduction to this vocabulary.

Things I’ll point out in the screencast demo 

  • Note the scripture pop-ups.
  • Lock panes to scroll together.
  • Corresponding Words visual filter. (Only in the KJV or other purchased interlinears. I don’t do much with this in the demo, so click the link and watch their video.)
  • Link Bible to a lexicon! This and the KJV interlinear are the key to cutting out Strong’s.

(I recommend watching 1080p so you can read the text.)

Logos has an active forum free of theological discussion (where I am the resident Mormon),  a good wiki, and lots of how-to videos linked within the wiki.

So, go forth and download, but remember to keep some intellectual humility! You still don’t know the languages, you’re just using much better tools.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

The Blog in the Coming Year and D&C

From BYU Special Collections-

From BYU Special Collections

I’ve agonized a bit over how to handle D&C this year. Here’s what I have decided and why.

If you compare my posts from the last few months to virtually any of my Old Testament posts, you’ll notice a distinct difference in length and quality. I’ve not been very happy with what I put out for the 2nd half of the Book of Mormon; I’ve taught that half much less, and so had far fewer blog-ready notes. I’ve also been wrestling with challenging coursework and papers, which do not allow much luxury time to overcome my note deficiency to write posts I’m happy with.

For the D&C and my next semester of coursework, I have even fewer notes and anticipate even less time. Consequently, I’m not going to try to write a weekly post on D&C lessons. The quality won’t be there, which would only increase my stress as I tried to crank out a weekly post in a timely way. I bet several wards are already into D&C lesson 2 or so.

What I will do is write on D&C occasionally, interspersed with my normal topics of LDS history, scripture, science, and Genesis. I have a few rough drafts of posts (both D&C and other) that can go up without too much effort, and then I anticipate slowing to 2-4 posts a month.

During my winter break, and now that family has returned home, I’m making a sustained Herculean attempt to finish my Genesis 1 manuscript and get it submitted in January. I have managed to set aside everything but writing for the next 20 days, so wish me luck.

Lastly, it is the season of gratitude. For all of you have supported me and my research by making Amazon purchases through my book links (that is, if you go to Amazon through here, I get a small referral credit. You just shop like normal though) or by donating directly to help me cover tuition (get an autographed copy of my book, once published!) I am deeply grateful.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

BoM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 45-46: Ether

A few general notes about the Book of Ether.

First, unlike the other two Book of Mormon migratory peoples, the Jaredites (as we call them) are not Jews under the Law of Moses. Abraham>Isaac>Jacob (Israel)>>>>Moses. They’re not even Israelite (also a late term) or Canaanite, but Mesopotamian. So they are operating under a different set of religious ideas, different language (Sumerian, Akkadian, something else? Hebrew isn’t an option), different cultural background than the rest of the Book of Mormon. And indeed, Ether has a different feel to it than the rest. It’s largely political history, stories of wars between scheming royal families, imprisonment, regicide, etc. All very Game of Thrones-y.

Second, Ether has often been read as directly confirming the historicity of the Bible’s accounts of both the Tower of Babel story and the Flood, the first because of  Jared talking about “the tower” and language change, the second because of Ether  13:2 “after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord.” It is assumed that this refers to the Genesis flood. There are a few problems here, which I think are illustrated in principle by a story told by Elder Oaks.

I remember the reported observation of an old lawyer. As they traveled through a pastoral setting with cows grazing on green meadows, an acquaintance said, “Look at those spotted cows.” The cautious lawyer observed carefully and conceded, “Yes, those cows are spotted, at least on this side.”

We need to take careful account of the text, and not go beyond it, leaping to conclusions. The first issue is that Ether is, I think, the most heavily edited and translated book we have. Records of some kind are kept by the Jaredites and centuries later, edited and compiled by Ether. These plates are then translated (edited?) by Mosiah. 500 years later, they are re-edited by Moroni (Eth 15:33)who makes expansive and editorializing commentary into the Book of Mormon, and then they are translated again by Joseph Smith. So although it appears we are reading an immediate first-hand eyewitness account of a tower and language change, in actuality that record passed through lots of minds and editing, who we know inserted their own comments to the record.

Another issue is that Mesopotamia had its own traditions. The Sumerian epic of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta describes a time when all humans spoke one language (Sumerian), but because of a conflict among deities, the language was changed. The text is fragmentary, and scholars differ about how much this dovetails with Genesis 11 which few, if any, take as historical and with good reason. Note that Ether never refers to “Babel,” only “the tower” and “great tower.” Mesopotamia certainly had towers and great towers in the form of ziggurats. Genesis shows strong Mesopotamian influence in the short Tower of Babel story, and is probably using Mesopotamian traditions to argue against and ridicule Babylon as a source of confusion, not education and high culture. As for “waters receding” this is an offhand comment by Moroni, perhaps based on something he’s read (Mesopotamians had several flood stories), but it’s not a direct witness to anything except the tradition Moroni has received.

In short, I think we need to read critically and not assume Genesis and Ether are talking about the same thing, the same way.

Outline

Ether 1-Introduction, summary, lineage.

Ether 2- Begin voyage, cross, camp, build barges. 2 Problems.

Ether 3- Bro. Prepares stones, mountain episode.

Ether 4 –Moroni is fulfilling commandments/prophecy in writing them on   the plates. Testifies of their truth and a vision he had.

Ether 5-Moroni- don’t translate sealed portion and three witnesses.

Ether 6-Moroni, “and now, back to our story”. Load barges and go, 344 days (v.11) Jared gets old, picks a king.

Ether 7-The soap opera begins.Rebellion, murder, wars, prophets, etc. houses divided.

Ether 8-Continued. Akish and secret combinations. Warned against them.

Ether 9- Continues. Some kind of drought, and snakes. People repent  sufficiently for God to send rain.

Ether 10-More history.

Ether 11-Starts getting bad. “Began to be wars and contentions.” Reject the prophets.

Ether 12- get to Ether and Coriantumr. Ether and faith, Moroni diverges. Faith, atonement, charity.

Ether 13- ether and the New Jerusalem. Beginning of the end. Ether prophecies to Coriantumr. No one repents.

Ether 14- curse upon the land. Coriantumr vs. Shiz. Coriantumr wounded.

Ether 15- Wakes up, remembers Ether’s prophecy. Final battle.


Notes and tidbits

2:8-11 Curse on those who don’t obey God. This would be quite prominent in Moroni’s mind, as he’d just seen it happen to his own people. He wants Gentiles to have that example in mind.

2:13-14 The Jaredites get to the beach and apparently get too comfortable. Four years later, Brother of Jared is chewed out by God for three hours for not praying during that time. Note that after the less comfortable trip across the great waters, the first thing they do when they land is pray and give thanks (Eth 6:12). What’s the connection between our life situation, prayer, and giving thanks?

2:16-  Barges. Problem solving and the nature of revelation. (v. 25) What do you want me to do? Revelation (particularly here) includes a human component and God rarely just hands over answers.

“Usually we think of revelation as information. Just open the books to us, Lord, like: What was the political significance of the Louisiana Purchase or the essence of the second law of thermodynamics?…aside from the fact that you probably aren’t going to get that kind of revelation…this is too narrow a concept of revelation.”- Elder Holland.

3- See M. Catherine Thomas, “The Brother of Jared at the Veil” for some temple typology here.  Link to paper, Amazon link to the book.

5:1 Moroni is writing from memory.

12:26-27 Listen in your classes. We tend to misread this as “weaknesses” plural, but the text has “weakness” singular. I suspect this is the weakness of mortality, not a divinely selected package of problems customized for each person.

15:33 People of Limhi find plates. (Mos. 8:8-9). Coriantumr among people of Zarahemla    (Omni 1:21).

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

BoM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 38: 3Nephi 12-15

Screen Shot 2016-10-08 at 10.52.09 AMToday we enter into a very interesting section of the Book of Mormon. Like the Isaiah chapters, it closely parallels a section of the Bible. Like the Isaiah chapters, there are some subtle differences. 3Ne 12-15 parallels the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5-7. It’s been lined up so that if you want to compare verses (and you should!), subtract 7 from the Book of Mormon chapter number to get the right verse in Matthew, e.g. 3 Nephi 12:48  ≈ Matthew 5:48. Let’s compare these.

KJV Mat 5:48 Book of Mormon 3Ne 12:48
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.

Close reading and comparison of the KJV and Book of Mormon sermon can generate some interesting and productive questions. For example, in the KJV, only the Father is perfect. In the Book of Mormon, the Father and Jesus are perfect. What happens to Jesus between these two texts to change his status, and what does that suggest about how the Book of Mormon is using “perfect”? Does that have implications for how we should understand the (apparent) command for us to be perfect in the KJV?

Secondarily, note that the Book of Mormon seems to soften the KJV. Instead of a straightforward command, it’s phrased as an expression of will, “I would that ye should…” or “I want you to be…” As I said, this could be a softening of the command. Or, the KJV may not be representing the Greek very well. (NB:I’m not suggesting the Book of Mormon better captures the Greek.) The Greek verbal form can either be a command or a future tense. Coming at the end of the beatitudes, and taking note of the “therefore,” we could understand it to mean something like “Therefore (if you do all these previous things) you will be perfect” future tense.

Regardless, reading the Book of Mormon without comparing it precludes all these productive questions.

Fortunately, John Welch has a book looking at many of them in depth. First published in 1990, it got an update several years later, and is now known as Illuminating The Sermon at the Temple, and the Sermon on the Mount, available online from the Maxwell Institute, or Amazon. There’s even a 3-column comparison of the KJV, JST, and Book of Mormon text.


3Ne 15:21-22. – “ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles;….and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me.”

This refers back to John 10:34, but the metaphor is not invented there. As he often did, Jesus is likely drawing on the Old Testament. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who are contemporary with Lehi, talk about Exile to Babylon in terms of scattering of sheep.

 Jer 23:1 NRSV Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.

Eze 34 NRSV -The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them — to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

7 ¶ Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 Thus says the Lord GOD, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

11 ¶ For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Now, I don’t think either Jeremiah or Ezekiel knew about Lehi per se, but they are certainly part of the sheep scattered in the 6th century by the Babylonians. Is it plausible, then, for Jesus in John 10:34 to be speaking inclusively of the Nephites and others? Absolutely.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

BoM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 36: 3 Nephi1-7

My picture, from the Kidron Valley.

My picture, from the Kidron Valley.

First, it’s that time of year wherein I start thinking about January, which means D&C/Church History… but mostly D&C. I always get excited when we hit D&C, because it means we’re almost to the Old Testament again. In the meantime, I have to figure out how to handle D&C here. This is the book I have read and taught the least, and I have virtually no notes to build from. It doesn’t help that the manual is organized not by section or chronologically, but thematically. I also anticipate January beginning my heaviest semester, taking four classes (one more than normal) and perhaps TA’ing a fifth.

Right now, I’m just kicking around ideas. I can write less often, and/or with a looser connection to the lesson manual. I’ve considered returning to podcast format, but casually, unscripted, unlike my Old Testament podcasts. I could simply talk my way through for that week. I might be able to recruit a few other people to rotate through and have conversations with about the lesson.
However, my stats show a spike on Sundays, which I gather means that most people end up reading what I write while in Church, not the day before, prepping a lesson or something. In the comments or Facebook or email (benjaminthescribeblog AT gmail), let me know if a podcast might work for you. I doubt I could provide transcripts.

I want to focus almost entirely on 3Ne 6:12 today.

12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches. 13 Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God. 14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up;

How do we ensure that educational differences don’t become a stumbling block to the church or its individual members?

I have spent most of my life living in wards with stark educational splits. I grew up in a town where many active members had advanced degrees, but some hadn’t finished high school. A ward I attended for several years was similarly split, but this time I was much more aware of the differences. I heard stories of embarrassing gaffes, faux-pas, or insensitive comments leading to inactivity. I witnessed several uncomfortably educational situations. One man included in his Sunday testimony that he knew he didn’t need a PhD to get into heaven. My first response was a puzzled internal laugh, but then I realized, what does he see? He is a long-time African-American member with minimal education who has only lived in this ward, which is largely populated by a veritable Land’s End catalogue of (generally) young, white, multi-generational RMs getting MBAs, MDs, JDs , PhDs, and the occasional JD/PhD. He had internalized what “being a good Mormon” looked like from that ward, and he didn’t fit. How could he measure up? His testimony was important to him, and to me. Others, however, have simply slipped away quietly. On the other hand, I know of a family in a small town. Because of her advanced education, the wife has not been very welcome in the Church there, and years of this have not failed to have an effect on the family.

I suspect there are several things at play:

  1. Different needs- Different people can need very different things out of their local Church experience. Every ward will have a different balance, but is everyone being spiritually fed? The focus is presumably on the majority, so are the outliers being ministered to, the different needs recognized?  I have struggled with this on numerous occasions. Teaching a temple prep class where the students can’t read beyond an elementary-school level. Teaching a youth class that includes several races, languages, ages (12-18!), first-time visitors but also the Stake President’s kids.
  2. Insensitivity or lack of awareness– We each need to be aware that others may have different needs than us, and may not share our backgrounds. Making that too obvious in a public way, even if innocent, can result in embarrassment and drive a wedge.

For me, the absolute biggest issue is this. How can I relate to people who are very different than me? I think more than gender, race, ethnicity, or nationality, education can be the biggest divider. And like the Book of Mormon passage above, education often falls along class lines. I have a strong belief in the power of community. As an introvert, though, I try to minimize my social discomfort at Church and feel some tension between that and the calling to communal ward sociality. Jesus has some words to that effect.

 46 What reward do you get if you love only those who love you? Why, even tax-collectors do that! 47 And if you are friendly only to your friends, are you doing anything out of the ordinary? Even the Goyim do that!- Matthew 5:46-7, Complete Jewish Bible

So look around you. Be aware. Smile, say hello, apologize when you need to. Try to get outside your own comfort zone a little. Remember that people are different. Try to put yourself in their shoes.

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