Friday, April 18, 2014

037. Good Friday

Matthew 27

 11 And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.  

12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.

 13 Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
 14 And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
 15 Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
 16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
 17 Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
 18 For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.

 19 ¶When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
 20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
 21 The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
 22 Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
 23 And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.

 24 ¶When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
 25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

 26 ¶Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
 28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.

29 ¶And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
 30 And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
 31 And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.
 32 And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.
 33 And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,

 34 ¶They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
 35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
 36 And sitting down they watched him there;
 37 And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

 38 Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.

 39 ¶And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
 40 And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
 41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
 42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
 43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
 44 The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
 45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
 47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
 48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
 49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

 50 ¶Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
 51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

 54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
See also Mark 15 and Luke 23

036. Twisted Trees

Yesterday I hiked up the ridge of some nearby mountains. The trail started near a pond with a few trees around. These trees weren't overly lush or tall, but they were healthy, straight, and showed no evidence of struggle. The trail was steep all the way climbing a staircase the entire ascent and the descent was all baby steps so as to not slip on the loose and rocky gravel.

As I climbed I noticed the trees along the sloping mountainside were not like the trees at the base, even though they were the same species. These were twisted, leaning over, and sprawled out, with both dead and living branches on them. There were fewer trees here than below...more scattered and isolated. Some of their roots were exposed in many places, piercing up through the arid and rocky soil. They were generally not a pretty sight...wind-whipped and more coarse. It caused me to wonder how they subsisted here. Their roots must reach very deep to find water and sustenance.

The hike was strenuous, yet almost from the start there were butterflies flying nearby all along the trail. They'd land on the ground just before my feet, kissing the earth, but causing me to almost trip for fear of stepping on them. They'd circle dance around me in the air as I walked. It seemed like dozens of butterflies throughout the hike, appearing one or two at a time, but maybe it was the same one or two all the angels who accompany us in our journey in this life.

As I climbed higher, I could see further and further in all directions...into the canyon, into the towns across the valley, across the valleys to other mountains. It was a beautiful view as I stood among those twisted trees. I thought of the contrast and was grateful for these trees.

We each have a choice to make as to what kind of a tree we will be. Whether it will be among the healthy and good looking trees at the bottom of the canyon that rely on the cool waters delivered to them by the pond, or a worn out twisted tree at the top of the summit among the butterflies, that relies on the heavens to pour out rain, and can see afar off from a vantage point enjoyed by few. I don't know which one I am, but I'm grateful we live in a time and place where we can make these kinds of choices and learn from our experience.

Monday, April 14, 2014

035. Following Him

1 Nephi 1:10 "And he also saw twelve others following Him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament."

034. Return of the Doves & Birds of Prey

Over the last several 7-10 years, I've noticed a tremendous increase in the populations of vultures, ravens, magpies, and starlings in my small Northern Utah town. These are scavenger birds, carrying disease and driving other birds away. They make unpleasant noises when they fly and communicate with one another. They are highly intelligent and work in groups or flocks, calling to one another about food and danger. They tear up our garden and harass our farm animals. Not only are these birds unattractive and a general nuisance, but they are also dangerous to the delicate balance of life in our ecosystem because of the diseases they carry that can spread to other birds and mammals.

We don't have many eagles where we live, but there are hawks, owls, and doves. An occasional eagle will be spotted high in the sky above the mountain range or very rarely along the freeway. It is a beautiful and awe-provoking sight. Hawks and owls are also rare, but I've seen more of them this year than in previous years. A magnificent red tailed hawk spent several days in some of the trees along our property a few weeks ago. For a time, groups of ravens would try to taunt him while he perched, and harass him when he'd fly. He seemed totally unfazed and behaved as if they did not exist. Eventually, all the other troublesome birds seemed to disappear while he was in residence. Last Fall, the owls returned and I could find them perched at night and calling quietly to each other in the darkness of night. More doves this year than ever before as well, particularly in the morning. A sign of peace. I observe these types of birds as mostly being alone, not part of a group, and are silent and graceful...although they sometimes come in pairs, especially the doves. They make pleasant sounds or none at all. The fly almost effortlessly, and quietly. They do not eat waste or carrion.

From afar, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish a hawk from a raven or a dove from something like a pigeon. Silhouetted against the sky, their head and body shapes are similar. You could say one species might have an opposite in the other species...counterfeits. You can distinguish them in several their sounds, what they consume, how they hold their heads, whether they are alone or not. Especially as you get closer you can tell.

I grew up in a home where birds were studied and appreciated. We learned how to identify various species. Birds have deep meaning to me. They represent something beyond this world, something unseen. I hope that the return of these birds of prey and the doves is a trend beyond my own little yard and hometown. If so, I wonder what it means? I welcome their increased presence as it gives me hope. I've learned much about myself and my spiritual path in life by watching the birds.

UPDATE 4/23/2014: This morning a small hawk took down a starling in our backyard, in the orchard. The photo is grainy, but it shows who the victor was. Things are happening indeed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

033. New LDS Adult Sunday School Curriculum

At the last General Conference of the church (April 2014), a new General Sunday School Presidency was sustained. Immediately after conference, a major announcement was made by Elder Tad Callister, the new Sunday School General President. The announcement was that adult sunday school classes would soon no longer be studying the four major standard scriptural works on a rotating basis as we have done for many years. Instead, the adult classes will adopt the curriculum that has been used in the youth Sunday School classes for the last year or so. The youth curriculum consists of topics, with loose outlines, scriptural references, and links to conference talks and video clips (mostly within last 10 years). Each topic is covered for a month, so there are 12 major topics covered in a year. Here are the current topics for 2014 from the youth curriculum:

January: The Godhead
February: The Plan of Salvation
March: The Atonement of Jesus Christ
April: The Apostasy and the Restoration
May: Prophets and Revelation
June: Priesthood and Priesthood Keys
July: Ordinances and Covenants
August: Marriage and Family
September: Commandments
October: Becoming More Christlike
November: Spiritual and Temporal Self-Reliance
December: Building the Kingdom of God in the Latter Days

Church leaders refer to this new curriculum as "Christ's Pattern for Teaching". It's unclear what is  different in the new curriculum in terms of teaching style from the emphasis provided in previous lesson manuals...which also encouraged instructors to ask questions, facilitate discussions, interact with class participants, and bear testimony. Elder Callister said "We’re trying to follow in the Savior’s footsteps of teaching, which involves inspired questions. It involves participation; it involves teaching to convert people, not just to teach them — to help them to understand and feel the Spirit of the gospel in their lives." Going further, he said "Last week, I attended a Sunday School class, and I think there’s a definite shift from the lecture method to a participation method. I think there’s a definite shift from just teaching a lesson to trying to customize it to the needs of the students in the class." So, have we not been following the Savior's example in our teaching until just this last year? What have we been doing all these years? I sure hope we've been trying to ask inspired questions.

What I've noticed in the new curriculum is that there are no learning objectives. Anyone who has been a teacher knows how important it is to develop learning objectives to organize their teaching materials around. Without objectives, how do we know or evaluate what is being learned? Otherwise, instructors are coming with scriptures and video clips and stories around a topic and are just asking for people's reactions and their feelings about what they are experiencing in class. It's like a focus group evaluating a new product, getting feedback, and moving on to the next one. Rarely anything new is really learned, but people share their opinions, experiences, and feelings. Everyone gets a chance to chime in, and we feel good about ourselves..."that was a good lesson". Certainly bearing testimony of what we know brings forth the spirit, and can sometimes effect learning in a synergistic sort of way.

However, think about what is lost as we move away from a concentration on the scriptures. Even if class members do not study the same scriptures at home from week to week, there is an inherent emphasis on studying the scriptures made manifest in the structure of the current Sunday School lessons. Will members in the future be less inclined to read from the scriptures on their own, choosing instead to study basic gospel topics? We already only focus on just the scriptural highlights in our gospel doctrine classes, glossing over or ignoring entirely the hidden gems within the scriptural record. I fear that within a few years, members will value the scriptures less, will no longer know the scriptures, nor be as intimately acquainted with the teachings of the prophets canonized in the scriptures. With a reliance on electronic scriptures, you can already see a growing lack of familiarity with where certain books of scripture are located ("is that in the Bible?"). I know several people who have decided they will never own a paper copy of the scriptures sad. The new format probably has the advantage of helping us focus on less controversial topics and thus avoid sometimes heated discussions about difficult doctrines or challenging events in our church history. I worry that such an avoidance carries a cost. As we discard or ignore the subtle, yet crucial doctrines interwoven throughout scripture, we set ourselves up to individually or collectively repeat the mistakes of the past. Also, the range of topics is so narrow. Even less than contained in the Gospel Principles manual for new members. The gospel is so rich and vast. There are so many topics important to our salvation, how will those get covered? And finally, the new Sunday School structure leaves less and less room for personal revelation in teaching...having to stick with a topic for the whole month, not allowing the spirit to guide topic selection. I realize there is wiggle room within a lesson or topic, but the focus just seems really narrow.

Certainly Christ taught lessons, even lectured. He lead His followers. He did not lead discussion groups where listeners chimed in with their insights on the doctrine He imparted. He quoted from the prophets and set forth truth, which carried the spirit into the hearts of His listeners. He had mastery of all the scriptures. He had learning objectives, which He distilled from what the hearts of those listening to Him needed to know. He was the master teacher. He used allegories, parables, symbolism, scripture, and testimony to bring light to the hearts of those open to His words. He bore testimony through word and action.

As we deemphasize scripture, what will be the cost?