Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reverence for LIFE

We're heading into the war chapters.  Hallelujah!  Before we do, I discovered a contrasting thought in the chapters written by Alma to his son Corianton.  So that's what we covered today.  I'm dragging my feet through Alma, I know.  I'm supposed to be in Helaman by now, but we'll be there in a week or so.  Patience.

Okay, I have a story.  Brace yourself.  A little kid asked me once, "Sister Wright, if I bought a goldfish from the pet store, then swallowed the fish alive, would there be anything wrong with that?"  YES!  There is something wrong with that!  He continued, "But why?  I bought the fish with my own money.  It belongs to me.  I can do whatever I want with it, right?"   Agghhh!!!  After I recovered from my shock, I talked to this little guy about the sanctity of LIFE, and reverence for all living things.  Even a goldfish deserves some respect!  I tucked that bizarre episode in the back of my mind and was reminded of it when I prepared my lesson for today. 

Maybe no one else noticed this contrast but me, but here it goes....  In Alma 39-42, Alma speaks to Corianton about a serious sin he has commited; that of sexual immorality.  He tells him in Alma 39:5: "Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?" Our class defined the word "abomination" in the scriptures as being anything that is greatly disliked or abhorred by the Lord. So basically,the opposite of anything that is an abomination to the Lord would be considered sacred.  The three sins mentioned by Alma are:
*Denying the Holy Ghost
*Shedding Innocent Blood
*Sexual Immorality
All three of these sins have to do with the disregard for the sacredness of LIFE.  Although Corianton was the son of the prophet and was probably taught right from wrong, he had somewhat of a "disconnect" between his actions and what he knew to be right.

Alma teaches us that denying the Holy Ghost is unpardonable (vs. 6).  This is the destroying of the spiritual LIFE of an individual. Those in this state lose the power to regenerate as they live in darkness.   No light.  The shedding of innocent blood is the taking of LIFE from an individual, which we cannot temporally make restitution for.  Sexual immorality is the tampering with the LIFE-GIVING process outside the bounds set by the Lord.  It is the misdirecting of the power of creation, which is in complete disruption with the Plan of Happiness/Salvation.

The contrast I noticed was that these chapters are the preface to the war chapters in Alma, where individuals in the scriptures will be defending their LIVES for what they believe.  We're going to see Captain Moroni defend all that is sacred to God.  He'll defend the Nephites' religion and freedom, their peace, their families, and the sanctity of LIFE.  He will fight a defensive war, as opposed to an offensive war.  He will offer the Lamanites LIFE in exchange for peace and harmony.  We're going to see the disregard for LIFE exhibited by the Lamanites led by apostate Nephites.  This is another juxtaposition orchestrated by Mormon in the placement of these chapters.

I'm soooooo looking forward to teaching about this giant of a hero in the next several seminary lessons.  Captain Moroni: Defender of all that is right and good.  I'm sure he would have defended the right to LIFE of that poor little pet store goldfish as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The "Shiblon" Syndrome

I showed a Pixar short film called "Partly Cloudy" to my class today.  This film appears as a bonus feature to the Disney/Pixar movie "UP". I would have embedded it in this blog but didn't want Disney to come after me. This scrawny little stork has a job to perform day after day, and he does so with diligence. He reports to a gloomy cloud who creates non-cuddly creatures for him to deliver to their parents. Other storks have the job of delivering sweet, gentle, easily-lovable creatures, but that's not this stork's mission.  As this faithful stork delivers each difficult creature, he suffers some sort of injury from the creature he carries. He reports back to his gloomy cloud a little more damaged and worn down from each trip, but still ready for another mission.  Faithful, quiet, patient, long-suffering, steady.

This stork reminded me of Shiblon, son of Alma.  Alma has 2 chapters (77 verses) directed to his son Helaman, 4 chapters (91 verses) directed to his son Corianton, and only 1 chapter (15 verses) directed to Shiblon.  Why wasn't there more Alma needed to tell Shiblon?  It appears that Shiblon got less attention than his brothers. In Alma 38, we gather more understanding of what Shiblon was like.  Faithful, quiet, patient, long-suffering, steady.   In verse 4, we discover that he suffered much during his mission to the Zoramites; he was put in bonds and stoned.   Alma expressed to Shiblon that he had found great joy in his son; he was very proud of him.   It seems as though Shiblon was simply a plain, faithful, non-flashy, low drama, teachable, average, humble, dilligent, hard-working member.  Good for kinda guy.

There are many other examples in the scriptures of faithful people who receive little mention.  In our studies of the Book of Mormon, there's Sam, the brother of Nephi. And what about Omner & Himni, 2 of the sons of Mosiah whose missions we didn't hear about? There are people around us everywhere who serve the Lord diligently, without much recognition. They go through challenges like everyone else and serve just as hard as anyone, but go unnoticed or unrecognized.  Not anymore. 

We went around the room and talked about people they felt were like Shiblon, and the examples they set for us.  They made notice of members of the Church who serve diligently no matter where they are called.  Maybe this was their first chance to reflect on their examples, but it's valuable to know that the Lord needs us everywhere, anywhere we're called to serve in the Kingdom.  Every calling we serve in somehow molds, shapes, and qualifies us to become like Him. Every calling has a purpose and every person needs a calling!

 Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated: "You don't have to live a life that's truer than true.  You don't have to have an excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing.  What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church---keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path.  If you're on the path when death'll never fall off from it, and for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure". 

Faithful, quiet, patient, long-suffering, steady. all the Shiblons of the world, thumbs up on a "quiet" job well done.  Just know that the students in Sister Wright's class have noticed you, are watching you, and are thankful for you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dr. Seuss Stuck In My Head

I must have read this Dr. Seuss rhyme to my daughters dozens of times...........per daughter, and I have four of those.  All of my daughters remember this rhyme.  There is really no point to it.  Just a furry guy with a droopy hat, gold teeth, a bird, and one shoe off.  But the way this rhyme is presented and organized has made it memorable to me (and my girls).  I have this memorized for the rest of my life.  I can't forget it if I wanted to!!!  What's funny is that once you learn the first part of it, it's easy to remember the second part of it. You just work backwards.

The way it starts is the way it ends.  It's a chiasmus (pronounced ki-Az-mus)! A chiasmus is a literary writing form sometimes used by ancient Hebrew writers.  It's effective because it follows a predictable pattern.  What's cool about a chiasmus is that important ideas and words are emphasized through repetition and often located at the center. In Alma 36, Helaman is being taught by his father, Alma.  This chapter has a very unique organization to it.   There is a "build up" in the middle of the chapter, verses 17 & 18, and then it goes back the way it came. 

Alma is bearing his testimony to Helaman of his conversion; he uses very descriptive words. You can feel the depth of his emotion and urgent tone as he recounts this experience. In verses 17 & 18, the center of this chiasmus, he states what his "turning point" was:  "And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.  Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death."  Just when his message seems hopeless, you feel light and the relief of pain as he recalls his father's words of a Savior who would lift his burden.  You "feel" the turn. 

Now the chiasmus heads back in the other direction. Repentance was the "turning point" for Alma.  Once he reached the point where he could no longer bear his pain of guilt, he was able to ask the Lord to apply the Atonement to his life, promising never to go back to his former lifestyle.   As Alma 36 continues, Alma's words retrace the same steps, but in a more hopeful way.  He is forever changed, but rather than torment and pain, he describes joy, joy, and more joy.
I believe Alma taught repentance to Helaman this way so he would not forget it. As the upcoming religious leader of the Nephites, Helaman would need to teach this to the Nephites over and over again in order for them to remember their covenants to the Lord.    I have very fond memories of sitting with my girls at bedtime reading these books. They'll always be in my home.  I just never realized that Dr. Seuss would help me teach seminary.  Go figure.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Appreciating Juxtaposition in Mormon's Words

Mormon is an amazing editor.   He puts the gospel of Jesus Christ before our eyes in such a way that we can't miss the meaning.  One of the best ways he points out the ways of Christ is by contrasting them with the ways of Satan.  By doing this, there is little or no misunderstanding.

For example, here are two buildings next to each other.  They are very different in design, structure, size, and material.  Capturing them next to each other brings out the differences in them so that you notice both of them more.  The exaggeration of their differences shows the contrast.  Mormon does the same with Alma 31.

This is one of the most bizarre findings in the Book of Mormon, in my opinion.  The chosen, elite Zoramites, a group of apostate Nephites, take turns standing on this high platform in their synagogs and recite a set hypocritical prayer.  (Alma 31:15-18.)   They do this to "look good" to one another.  It shows forth their pride as they stand, one by one, in front of each other in their expensive, beautifully adorned attire.  Isn't this a little peculiar?  (You couldn't get me to go up there, that's for sure.  I'd be afraid my sandals didn't match my robe and someone would notice and think I wasn't HOLY!)  These are people who once had the gospel of Jesus Christ. How did they evolve into thinking that this form of worship was acceptable to God?  This was their form of prayer.

We, Us, & Our
Our class counted.  We found the Zoramites mentioned the words, WE, US, & OUR in their prayer 21 times.  (Thank you, Chase.)  Their selfishness shows through their prayer.  Our class discussed that their prayer excludes others, it teaches false doctrine that there is no Christ,  it shows insincere gratitude and their self-proclaimed worldly pride.  This is about as far off the mark as we could get from offering meaningful prayers to our Heavenly Father.  

Contrast this with Alma's prayer in Alma 31: 26-35.  He notices their pride and is grieved by how he sees the Zoramites mocking God in their worship. He unselfishly asks for the Lord's help for himself and his fellow missionary brethren (Amulek, Zeezrom, Omner, Ammon, Aaron, Corianton and Shiblon) for strength to be able to withstand their afflictions as they attempt to bring the Zoramites to Christ.  "O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ.  Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee."

I have learned much from Elder David A. Bednar's two General Conference talks on prayer.  He gave one talk in April 2008 titled "Ask In Faith", and one in October 2008 titled "Pray Always".  I found that Elder Bednar directs us to pray in ways that Alma did.   We are to pray with an expectation to act, and not just to expressWe have a dual obligation to both plead and perform, the requirement to communicate and act. Now that Alma expressed this prayer, his work to bring the Zoramites to Christ is supported by the power of the Lord through Alma's faith.  Elder Bednar also teaches us to counsel with the Lord in prayer, express heartfelt gratitude, and pray for others.  Alma shows this as his prayer resembles an intimate conversation with his Father.  You can feel his gratitude within the reverence of his prayer for the sincere purpose of saving Zoramite souls.

Sometimes we overlook the subtle. The Book of Mormon explains the gospel so clearly so we cannot overlook or misunderstand.  The good next to the bad helps us identify how to get on, and stay on, the Lord's side.  Thanks, Mormon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Support of a Covenant

This is my beautiful San Diego LDS Temple.  Our stake has a tradition twice a year.  We call it our "Offering in Righteousness".  Our adults commit to spending as much time in the temple as possible during that week.  The personal sacrifice that you make is your own.  There isn't a minimum requirement of time you must spend there in order for it to "count".  Whatever you are able to offer is sufficient.  Of course, it is hoped that our stake members would take this opportunity to give up as much of their leisure time, and perhaps valued time, in the temple.  It's a tremendous week of service.  There are many of us who spend close to 12 hours at a time during this week, and some attend multiple days.  Some have taken time off of work to make this offering.  The greater the sacrifice, the greater the blessings for ourselves and those we are serving.

There is much going on in the background during this week.  Many of us are making sacrifices for each other in order for us to be able to attend the temple.  Some of us can't make it there without help. Some of us need babysitters.  Some need a ride.  Some need families to be cared for and carpools to be driven.  In order for this week to work for everyone, our stake members must support each other and pitch in.  That "pitching in" is part of the offering.  This is how we show respect for and support to covenants others have made in the temple.  We, as a whole, make it possible for as many of us to get there that week. We need each other.

I was very touched by the Nephites who were willing to open their land to the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's (Alma 27).  The Nephites accepted them into their land knowing of their covenant to the Lord to never shed the blood of men ever again.  The Nephites gave them the land of Jershon to inhabit, and they set up their Nephite armies between Jershon and the land of Nephi, so they could defend them from being killed by the wicked Lamanites.  The Nephites were in full support of protecting their brethren militarily.  They stated, "...This we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin." (Alma 27:23)  The Anti-Nephi-Lehi's, now called the People of Ammon, in turn, supported their Nephite brethren by giving them a portion of their substance to assist them in maintaining their army.   By the Nephites participating in defending the people of Ammon, they become a part of this covenant.  It is a "pitching-in offering". 

In seminary today, we talked about how we can support others who are trying to live righteously.  How can we help our fellow "brethren and sisters" stay converted to the Lord?  Maybe it is ourselves who need the help to stay afloat. Would we be willing to accept help from a friend without being embarassed or without taking it as someone being judgmental?  Maybe by us "pitching in" and helping others keep their covenants, that keeps us on track as well.  We concluded that we're in this together.  You help me; I help you.  This is how it works.  This is how the Lord meant for it to work.  This how we bear testimony to each other of the importance of covenants to the Lord. 

Isn't this how we become like these people? 

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Down" with the old, "Up" with the new

I'm sure I'm in deep trouble, but it was all for my class.  I promise never to do anything like that ever again. If someone tells on me I'll deny it.  (I suppose that would be lying.)  It wasn't that big.  I made sure it was small and shallow.  But it was sure worth it. Sorry.

 In the rear of our church building there is a large grassy field. Joe, my partner in crime, helped me dig a hole off to the side, close to the bushes in this field late lastnight. It was small and shallow!  This morning, as I taught Alma 23-24 about the amazing Anti-Nephi-Lehi's, I had my class write down a behavior of theirs, if they had one, which might be considered an act of "rebellion to God" on a paper sword.   Examples of this could be: foul language, disobedience to parents, choosing not to listen to General Conference, immodest clothing, wearing the "messy" look, listening to inappropriate music, willingly breaking the Word of Wisdom, a bad attitude, watching an inappropriate t.v. show, etc.  Their challenge was to pick one thing they were serious about stopping.  I asked them to pick something they felt they could put aside.......forever.  This would be a conscious adjustment for them. In the scriptures, as these converted Lamanites made a permanent change, they desired to unify themselves by taking on the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi's and covenanting, as a group, to never take up their spiritual or physical weapons of war.  My class made a promise together to work on letting go of the behavior they had chosen, and offer support to one another. 

As we walked outside with our "weapons of rebellion" in hand, I brought them to the hole in the ground we dug lastnight.  It was quiet as we laid our swords in the ground and covered them up with dirt.  When I looked down, it struck me that this was really like burying something; like a person. It was a grave of some sort.  We now had a fresh start.  Isn't that what Jesus Christ does for us?  He makes it possible for us to become renewed, alive again, forgiven, to restart!  We put down our earthly, mortal weaknesses, and raise up a Christ-like countenance.

According to Aaron (Alma 22:16), our change would be permanent if we:
* Had a desire to change
*Humbled ourselves
*Truly repented
*Asked for the Lord's help (Atonement) in prayer

The Anti-Nephi Lehi's fresh start included:
* Never falling away from the gospel of Christ
* Industrious and hard-working
* No longer cut off from God
*Softened hearts
*No longer had a desire to do evil
* Assurance of eternal life
  I was really touched by the experience of burying our bad habits and behaviors in the physical earth.  The Anti-Nephi-Lehi's had tremendous courage to put away the one thing that would preserve their lives temporally. They would be susceptible to being killed and consciously desired that rather than sin against God. They were spiritually saved through the Atonement of Jesus Christ brought through their sincere repentance and acceptance of Him. Truly inspiring.

If I get in trouble for the hole, so be it. It was well worth the experience with my class.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gently Peeling Back the Layers

I have a large class.  I discovered that I also have a good number of shy students. It seems to me that many of the shy ones just don't feel comfortable blurting out comments or answers.  I respect that.  I was shy when I was a youth too. 

I have found an outlet for my shy students to communicate to me that the lessons are reaching them.  In a past post titled "Tender Hearts Discovered Through Tardy Make-ups", I outlined how I provide my students with opportunities to make up their tardies.  I e-mail them questions from the lesson on the day I taught it. (I send them a "blind carbon copy" so they all receive it but it keeps their e-mail addresses confidential.)   They simply reply "correctly" to the questions for credit.  I have some students who stock pile the questions in a folder and answer them months later.  That's fine, but usually they get the answers wrong because the lesson isn't fresh on their minds.   (Hmmmmm.  That could be useful for a possible lesson on procrastination!  I'll have to remember that one.)

Reading these e-mail responses has revealed a sensitivity and spirituality that is not shown in a classroom setting.  At least not with shy people.  I've discovered that I have some shy spiritual giants. By allowing me to share in their insights, they are trusting me enough to allow me to see what they think and feel about the gospel. I see the shyness layers peeling back.  There is some real substance there.  What a gift!  It's a gift to me because I'm grateful/blessed to witness it.  You can't always tell from looking at them who has a strong testimony.  But this is a way they can let me know that they are okay, and fine, and strong, and good.

There are always those days that you think lessons you've presented could have been much better than they actually turned out.  I have more days like that than I don't.  But in the few years I've taught seminary, I have learned to LEAN HEAVILY on the Spirit to teach my students what they need to hear.  I still come prepared to teach as best I can, but there is a whole lot less pressure to do all or be all for each one of them. 
 The big question is, "When they leave the classroom, did the Spirit teach them something through your words or were they unaffected?"  The students who aren't shy tell you when they "got" the lesson.  The shy ones don't.....................................except through e-mail.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We Need It

This was Joe's Christmas present this past year.

This was Joe's reaction to his present.  If you couldn't tell, he was surprised and pleased all in the same moment.  Joe loves to hike and we shower him with hiking gear and gadgets any occasion we can find. He appreciates all of it.  He usually hikes all over Southern California by himself, which has worried me.  He takes his phone, but many places he hikes has no cell reception. He always carries a compass so he knows in what general direction to hike.  He has shared with me that on some of these hikes, he'll explore trails and doesn't always know what's ahead. He has to worry about his location in relation to where he started.  He has to keep track of the sunlight so he can make it back to his car before dusk.   I've asked him many times if he could use a GPS unit on his hikes, but he has always thought they were too expensive and since he was very capable with a compass and maps, he'd be just fine with that to navigate himself.   Tough guy.

We bought him one anyway.  Then we were asking ourselves the question, "Where's dad?"
We couldn't find him anywhere because he was gone with his little GPS unit exploring the neighborhood!  He absolutely loves it and doesn't know what he did without it.  He didn't realize how much he needed it until he had it in his hands.  He uses it all the time, and wants to share with us what he knows about it so we'll understand how cool it is!  He can't understand how anyone wouldn't want or need a GPS unit!

Similarly, the 4 sons of Mosiah desired for the Lamanites to understand how much they needed Christ and the Atonement. "Therefore, this was the cause for which the sons of Mosiah had undertaken the work, that perhaps they might bring them unto repentance; that perhaps they might bring them to know of the plan of redemption." (Alma 17:16)  These 4 brothers understood the Atonement and the need for repentance in order to be saved, but how would they teach that to the Lamanites?  How could they get the Lamanites to realize that they needed this?

The Conversion of a King: Ammon understands that King Lamoni has great influence among his people and has an understanding of some divine being. If he can get the king to understand the need for repentance unto his salvation, then his influence will spread to his people.  So Ammon begins teaching the king about the nature of God, which leads to a discussion on the creation.  As the king is learning and grasping each concept, Ammon teaches about man (Adam), which leads to The Fall.  Once the king understands the fall of Adam, he's then able to understand man's need for an Atonement and that repentance is required in order to access the power of the Atonement.  

This knowledge changes his life and his outlook on life.  He has been truly converted to Christ. He now knows who to look to for salvation, and his softened and changed heart will set the stage for a permanent change in his people.

Like Joe and his GPS unit, King Lamoni now realizes the importance of the Atonement, and the joy that it brings him. He didn't realize how much he needed it until he had found it. Now that he knows about Christ (and has seen him), he can't wait to share this news with others.   It has changed his life to the point where he will never go back to not having it or using it.

Oh, and to bring us back to where we started, if you're ever hiking in So. Cal. and see this handsome man with a cool GPS unit on the trail, just know that he knows EXACTLY where he's been, where he's at, and where he's going.  Exactly.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Live In Such A Way....."

When Joe and I moved to Bakersfield, CA, 6 months after we were married, we moved into an elderly and established ward in a nice part of town.  Sister Virginia Kyle was assigned to be my visiting teacher.  She didn't have a companion; it was just her.  She was in her 70's and I was in my 20's.  My first thought was, "I wonder why I would be assigned a visiting teacher whom I had nothing in common with?  What could I possibly learn from her?"  I knew it was somewhat inconvenient for her to visit me.  She struggled to climb the stairs to my apartment.  She stayed home during the day.  I worked until 5-6:00 p.m. so she had to visit me at night. In my naive eyes, this was a relationship that was not going to be mutually beneficial.  How selfish of me. Over the 3 years she was my visiting teacher, she showed up consistently at my door every month.  She never forgot me.  My heart began to soften to who this woman really was and what her intentions were.  She wasn't just filling her quota of visits for the month.  She was serving me, and learning to love me.  She was being Christ-like.  She pryed my heart open through her sincerity.  As she began to teach me, I began to be receptive to her monthly messages as taught through her eyes.  I began to think back on Sister Kyle's example as I read Alma 17-18, and I found this quote:

"Live in such a way that people who know you but don't know Christ will want to know Christ because they know you."

I've always loved reading about Ammon.  He's well known for cutting off the arms of the wicked Lamanites to defend King Lamoni's sheep.   His strength is a humble one.  He never claims his strength to be his own, but God's strength through his faith in God. He wants nothing but to serve the Lamanite king, but realizes all along that by being his servant, the king will be receptive to hearing more about God.   King Lamoni's reaction to hearing of Ammon's great strength was as follows: "...and he learned of the faithfulness of Ammon in preserving his flocks, and also of his great power in contending against those who sought to slay him, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Surely, this is more than a man." (Alma 18:2)  King Lamoni seeks Ammon to know more about where his strength comes from and eventually is taught that his strength comes from God.  Ammon's faithfulness ignites God's power in him. 

Ammon shows us in the scriptures how to sincerely serve.  It was always his intention to teach the Lamanite people how their salvation was attained in, and through, Christ.  He loved them first, and taught them by example.  He was willing to stay with them as long as it took, even for the rest of his life, for them to know Christ and the plan of redemption. (Alma 17:9)   The physical strength of Ammon through God's power definitely catches our attention.  But the real power that changes lives is the quiet, whisperings of the Spirit brought through sincere love.  It is always the Spirit who teaches.

Sister Kyle kept in touch with me even after we moved from Bakersfield. She lost her husband a few years after we moved.  I was saddened by that news and ached for her.   But I was tickled to hear that she had remarried soon after that and she was continuing her active life by being an angel to some other naive, young  sister who needed to be loved. 

I love you, Sister Kyle!