Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lesson 3-33 "Each Person is Divine and Eternal"

There's a lot packed into this lesson: the "divine nature" and "individual worth" values and all that goes with those; valuing human life by recognizing that birth is not its beginning (with pro-life moral implications, if you choose to go there - beware of controversial waters bringing this up in YW, though); and eliminating or coming to terms with one's own sins of prejudice and racism (a big one).

For me, watching the Olympics this year really reaffirmed my joy and wonder at the incredibly different and beautiful forms that the human family can take. I am continually amazed and delighted at the colors people come in.

At the same time, I am preparing to teach a course that covers the late 19th century in the US, and the rise of Jim Crow legislation, justifications for the vilest of racism, lynchings, and construction of race in my country's past (and present). I've cried while writing lectures at what we've inflicted on one another in this nation. And this week, I have been inspired by Obama's nomination becoming official - we are at a historic crossroads - representing at least some level of progress towards...

... towards what? What, really, would my Father in Heaven (whose skin color I do not know) have me think about race? Apparently, He would have me not be prejudiced in advance towards someone because of skin color, so maybe this is the lesson in which to bring up past teachings in our church by way of inoculating young people against the kind of racism many Mormons (unfortunately) perpetuated during and after the priesthood ban for black members. Maybe it's the time and place to say: look, we didn't always do this so well, and maybe we've still got a ways to go, but doctrinally we do not preach racism, and if we're practicing it, it's a sin. Such a lesson might draw on some of the ideas covered recently on other LDS blogs reflecting on the recent 30th anniversary of the end of the ban, could profitably use some of the material on the Genesis Group website, and might end with President Hinckley's denunciation of racism in General Conference (April 2006). By the way, great post here on how white Mormons weren't considered white by outsiders in our early history, and on race in Utah.

Every lesson should have one core point. This one's is, "each person is divine and eternal," but there's a second part implied, which is that "each person comes in different packaging, and the reality is that we use or have used those physical markers in ways that sometimes harm, denigrate, or disrespect others." What am I, a Christian, a Mormon who carries both Christian and Mormon histories with me, supposed to do with that? Am I supposed to be color-blind? Color-aware, so I can rectify past wrongs? Post-racial, whatever that means? Celebrate my own race, and encourage others to celebrate theirs (i.e. be "multicultural")?

Which leads to me to all sorts of unanswerable questions, like -
why do we teach that, unlike gender, race is not an eternal characteristic of the soul? Why are there races, anyway? Does God really change them at will, as suggested in the Book of Mormon, or was that a one-time case for a specific people at a specific time, or should I bend backwards to read those passages (e.g. 2 Ne 5:21) as metaphorical and not literal? What am I supposed to think about, and teach others about, race?

Lesson 3-32 "Service in the Community"

In this lesson, we share stories of how community service blesses both community and server. There are lots of examples in the New Era, and in an election year it's probably blatantly obvious how to get involved in political action, as well as the need for community outreach/uplift.

This is an arena in which women have excelled, for many reasons, not least because they were legally prohibited from voting for so long and thus had to get creative about ways to demonstrate political sensibility and mobilize action without recourse to political party participation. I love Carrie A. Nation, the ax-wielding temperance activist at the turn of the last century. I love Jane Addams, founder of Hull House, center of moral uplift and Progressive learning for immigrants in Chicago's worst neighborhood. I love learning about 20th century women in the civil rights movement, urban housing activists, volunteer health care advocates. There are great places on the web to be inspired on this topic - the Hero Project, the Br!ck Awards, DoSomething dot org, Servenet dot org, Volunteering in America dot gov, and many more - and don't forget reese's idea in the sidebar, too.

There is an ongoing debate about whether volunteerism is declining or rising in the US. Many high schools now require their students to log community service hours, so this may be something your young women are already doing either through their schools or as a part of their homeschooling. It's certainly something that your young women's/young men's organizations are trying to do on an ongoing basis - provide community service opportunities for your unit's youth. In our ward, these always seem to involve gloves and wheelbarrows, mobilizing landscaping labor for community clean-up projects, or making one-time visits to senior centers. (This is an observation, not a criticism - I think most wards do these kind of projects well, and often). Share your thoughts here - are you finding youth you know take on individual causes that expand the boundaries of the possible, are edgier than what a ward could do, perhaps riskier or less "traditional"?

Here's an idea:

Nominate a young woman you know (using a pseudonym for her, if you like), for the "beginnings new volunteer of the year" award, and we'll bestow it on her, either as a virtual button for her Facebook or blog, or as something real (suggestions? maybe a BN readers' donation to charity of her choice?) which we'll mail to her in real life.

Lesson 3-31 "Service in the Church"

This lesson and the next one complete the unit on spirituality by turning all this internal work outwards, outside the self, towards the spiritual and social communities of which we are all a part. I have been reading Louis Menand's terrific book, The Metaphysical Club - it won the Pulitzer prize last year for history - it's a little heavy for beach reading but I've found it so absorbing that I actually have brought it to the beach and on a camping trip and my copy is getting sand, dirt and pine needles in its pages. It's about the intellectual thought and work of four connected academics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Pierce, and John Dewey) and how, circuitously, their 'modern' ideas filled in the gaping hole that the Civil War had left in 'Victorian' ways of looking at the world. One ongoing theme, not surprisingly, is the nature of the individual. Is there a self? What is the relation of that self to others? What is the nature of connection or obligation to a broader community? Are we brought into being only when we recognize the self-in-society, or does the self exist independently?

As a product (or partial product, if you like) of the rich stew of American antebellum religious life - what historian Jon Butler called the "antebellum spiritual hothouse," Mormonism is an intensely communal religion. We have no hermits, no tradition of ascetic monasticism (unless you count missionary work, and that's only temporary). In modern wards, it's unthinkable for someone to imagine "being Mormon" in isolation from others.

In addition to being communal and richly social to the point where we scarcely need "the outside world" and to where we erect elaborate social and cultural boundaries around our religious communities, Mormonism is also democratic - also, depending on how you prefer to see it, another possible legacy of the Jacksonian period in American history during which the church was founded/restored. Except at the very highest levels (or at EFY), there is no paid clergy, no professional staff, and we hand around the responsibilities for each congregational unit in ways that would bemuse corporate organizational behavior specialists - not according to prior ability, training, or even proclivity; not with competency or efficiency foremost in mind; in ways that invite serendipity, inspiration and unexpected combination. We "vote," but there's no contentious discussion about who gets what calling - it's not entirely democratic, in that sense - it's not like a political convention. Our method of extending and receiving callings to staff and enrich the congregation is really rather unique, certainly unusual among world religions and especially among other Christian faiths. If you're raised in the Church you probably (like me) take all this for granted until you have the opportunity to compare the way we do things with other ways that congregations run, churches are governed, or secular organizations divide tasks.

We may begin this lesson by "mapping" our ward & stake on the board, as a way to see all the variety of callings that exist and to invite the girls to see how many of them they might have opportunity to serve in during their lifetimes. It would be worth pointing out the range of callings that might exist on a mission (again, that lovely article on the all-female Temple Square mission might be put to use here, where women are zone leaders) or in a college singles ward, that might not exist in your ward now.
I also thought the article in July's New Era about youth in Ukraine who are put into substantial callings like Primary president, branch mission leader and clerk would be a terrific article to share in class.

From there, I plan to mainly follow the lesson as planned, by talking about preparing to serve by being open to wherever your path with God will take you. In my life I have found callings to be a delightful surprise. Each one has its own learning curve which I could not anticipate ahead of time, and each one has humbled me & brought me to my knees recognizing I couldn't perform it without divine assistance.

There are some marvelous scriptural examples. Of course there's Nephi, who's unhesitating in accepting callings (1 Ne 3:7) but who seeks divine help in completing them (1 Ne 17:9). But I find in some cases I have been more like Enoch, who protested the calling (Moses 6:31) and got reassurance (Moses 6:34) to move forward with it despite his own misgivings.

I have only been in 4 wards in my entire life (well, 5, if you count that boundaries were reorganized and a ward I was in dissolved into another one but I didn't move). In those wards I have served as:

FHE district leader, district leader supervisor, RS teacher, RS president (twice), family history center director, gospel doctrine teacher, Primary counselor, Primary music leader (twice), Homemaking leader, stake speakers bureau member,
nursery teacher, Sunbeam teacher, Valiant 8 teacher, Valiant 9 teacher, Cubmaster, and now YW advisor, and along the way, in addition, visiting teacher and choir member most of the time. Not surprisingly, I've learned the most from the callings I felt least adapted to at the time of my call. I really enjoy church service. One of my wisest bishops always said, "The secret to any calling is to love those you serve and love those you serve with."

When I was Relief Society president at a young age with a new baby, I had fantastic counselors. Fantastic. They took the bulk of the burden and allowed me to lean on them a lot. When one of them moved - which felt like a piece of me was being ripped out - I wrote her a tribute, "All I Really Needed to Know About Relief Society I Learned from Sister N." It's true; I watched her closely and I learned a lot, especially that reaching out to others through church service is the best way to keep from worrying about your own problems (although - I know, don't jump on me in comments, there is a time and a place for not overextending yourself, and a time and a place for battening down the hatches and weathering your storm of life if your own problems need your full attention), and that if you want to love someone, serve him or her. (Sister N, wherever you are, thank you. I love you). Isn't that one main reason why we have callings, to learn to love the people in our ward, and by the least-of-these analogy, to love and serve Christ?

Finally, to update the resources in this lesson which are great but are all from 1977, I'd really recommend Elder Ballard's General Conference talk from Nov 2006, "O Be Wise," which gives you permission not to be frenetic or complicated in the way you perform your calling. I'm even bringing a magnifying glass to help focus the conversation on just what it means to magnify a calling.

As he put it, and upon hearing which I immediately felt a giant lead weight was being lifted off me: "The instruction to magnify our callings is not a command to embellish and complicate them. To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify." Love that man; he's so wise and compassionate.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Spiritual Directory Assistance

I made this handout for the last time I taught a lesson on Scripture Study. I'm a big believer in getting the girls into the scriptures, so I went through and came up with places to send them for the big problems they'd be most likely to face.

If you right click and save to your hard drive somewhere, you can insert it as a picture into a word document and then size it to fit two on a landscape oriented page. This will save you paper, and it's a good size for staying inside scriptures.

I hope this helps you all. Use it in good health.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lesson 3-30 "Scripture Study" (updated)

The story at the end of this lesson is the type I have trouble bringing off telling unless it's a story that actually happened to me... it involves a dream, and a copy of the Book of Mormon, and missionaries... it's mystical, a little confusing, and doesn't tie into the lesson neatly, but probably makes a great impact when told with the right tremor in your voice or by the right person. Which I don't think will be me. Anyway, there's plenty else to say about studying scriptures.

This is one habit, I'll confess, that I have had trouble making and keeping. I'm eager to hear others' suggestions about how to make this work and how to teach it by example. I always read the scriptures when I was taking seminary or institute, but haven't made it a lifelong practice. I admire those who have.

I am fired up from last week's lesson about being more fully converted, and I'm determined to try again on personal scripture study (or at least reading. Baby steps). I figure I can't look the girls in the eye and tell them they should be doing this if I haven't been doing it myself all week long. Luckily a friend recently gave a talk about how 2 people she knew motivated each other in scripture study by checking in briefly by email daily. She and I set a goal to read the Book of Mormon again and finish by a certain date, confirming each other's reading by email or phone each day. It's good to have a partner to train with, so to speak. And I've been reading this week. Yay!

But I don't have any secret to this. It's just finding a time that works, being determined to work it in, and then doing it. Consistently. I know the blessings are waiting. So why do I fail over and over? Certainly I celebrate scriptural knowledge and I like to think that I know my way around the 4 standard works. I don't like how women sometimes defer to men in classes, as if being male gives men some special insight into the scriptures. Women should be scriptorians. But knowing them & knowing about them is different from being in the habit of regularly making time to read and think about them. Certainly there are no lack of motivational tales - e.g. this 1991 Ensign article about women replenishing their spiritual reserves. And since Elder Bednar seems to be becoming my go-to apostle for practical wisdom, here are his 5 suggestions for making scripture study better from a 2006 Liahona article:
  • Pray for understanding and invite the help of the Holy Ghost
  • Work. (that's the piece I'm missing)
  • Be consistent. (Or maybe it's this one)
  • Ponder
  • Write down impressions, thoughts and feelings
I especially like #5. I keep a separate blog just as a personal diary, and I also take a notebook to church and I'm surprised (though I shouldn't be) how often I get new ideas about something I read in the scriptures when I have paper handy to put it on.

I also really like the suggested activity where you send the girls to the scriptures for specific answers to specific problems. With younger girls you could probably do a quick refresher on how to use the topical guide. I notice when I sub in my husband's 12-13 year old Sunday School class that they don't all have those locating-and-finding skills down yet.

What are you reading in the scriptures this week? What are your ideas for making scripture study work for you, or for the girls you teach?

Sunday afternoon update:

This week, my own scripture study led me to some interesting research tangents... I spent a pleasant morning following a trail of virtual & scriptural bread crumbs from one place to another learning all kinds of new things about ancient Egypt... watch for a future post on Asenath...

Writing blog posts about the lesson gives me a chance to think about it ahead of time, but I usually (like most of you, I think) pull together the actual lesson on Sunday morning. So this morning when I woke up, I decided to bring back a visual aid I developed for last week's lesson about the "mighty change." We compared the simple commandments asked of us to the serpent Moses raised up in the wilderness. People were asked to simply look upon it and be healed, but as Nephi explained, "the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished" (1 Ne 17:41). Likewise, the litany of "Sunday School Answers" to any gospel question [pray, read scriptures, attend church, have Family Home Evening, follow Strength of Youth standards, repent, rinse, repeat] are not in themselves difficult. It's the consistent doing of small things which sanctifies, but because individually those things/ tasks are small and seem insignificant, I often dismiss them as unimportant or fail to see the incremental changes they can bring. For me those kinds of things are "snakes on a stick" - things that I refuse to do because they seem too easy.

So, meet my new class visual aid:

Bungee Snake on a Stick

You'd think that from raising boys I would have some rubber snakes lying around but the bungee is the best I could do. Anyway, this character showed up last week and we talked about its connection to healing & medicine, through the Greek symbols of the Staff of Hermes (the Caduceus, 2 snakes + wings) and the Rod of Asclepius (the symbol on ambulances, often confused with the Caduceus)...

And the story of Moses and the "brazen" fiery serpent (found in Numbers 21)...

I think the bungee snake on a stick is a handy symbol because it stands for those things that one might be unwilling to do because they appear trivial, but which actually are fundamentally transforming, healing, and which are integrally related to one's holiness. Daily personal scripture study, for example, which for me is definitely a snake on a stick and so it came back to class with me to help us focus our conversation about why something so easy is actually so hard to do in real daily life and what are the challenges and obstacles to personal scripture study. Our discussion brought out lots - too tired, hard to find time, forgetting to do it or procrastinating, some scripture is boring to read or hard to understand, etc.

From there we talked about strategies for making scripture study work - including the ideas in the lesson, but also some of their own, such as reading the same thing as a friend and being accountable to that person for having completed the reading; bringing a specific concern or question to the scriptures believing that the answer is in there somewhere, highlighting or making margin notes to help comprehend what's on the page, reading it online or listening to it rather than reading a paper version.

When we did the exercise sending them to the scriptures for answers to specific case studies, their strategies broke into two categories. Some had bits of scripture spring immediately to mind, and they looked those up to start. Others went straight to the topical guide. I gave them
reese's handout to show that you can find answers in the scriptures for whatever needs you have. (I printed it on yellow paper, so it could be their "yellow page" to the scriptures).

Lastly I shared with them my own experiences this week in reading. Each of the chapters I read was short, and I wasn't in a hurry when I read, so I found myself pausing at certain verses and puzzling over a phrase, or asking questions of the text, getting curious, chasing footnotes, pulling in outside sources to make sense of what I was reading. I suppose I could have introduced the concept of the Jewish midrash here, but I didn't use that word, even though that's what I'm doing with the text -- interrogating, making suppositions, trying to recognize the cultural & linguistic assumptions I bring to my encounter with the text, retelling it in a relevant way. As Deborah Bodin Cohen puts it in
Lilith's Ark: Teenage Tales of Biblical Women:

"From the time of the first rabbis over 2,000 years ago, Jews have written midrashim. These rabbis of the talmudic era taught that each verse, each phrase, each word of the Torah hints at new stories waiting to be discovered. Every reader of the Torah can create midrash by reading the Bible sensitively, looking for hints of stories beyond the story and relying on her own imagination and experiences."

I offered them a handout excerpting Chapter 2 of Jerrie Hurd's lovely book,
Leaven: 150 Women in the Scriptures Whose Lives Lift Ours - an LDS book so good it's not even published by an LDS press. My handout is here on Scribd - I do give credit to Hurd, so I hope it's okay that I've web-published snippets of it. Her suggestions are so helpful. The chapter's titled "How to Read the Scriptures and Not Miss the Women" and her ideas begin with seeing the women in the text - not only the named ones, but the implicit ones - the ones buried in generic plural nouns like "the people" and "the Zoramites" and "the disciples" - which is a way of beginning to see oneself in the text.

I don't make lots of handouts. (That's reese's department)! But I do give one every now and then, and I thought the week we talked about scripture study might be a good week to nudge the girls to start keeping a file of lesson handouts, or to start a file about scripture study. I have often gone back to my paper files looking for a handout, an article, something I've saved and it's useful I think for the girls to begin their own library of resources to take with them when they leave home.
And I'm a sucker for the pretty file folders that are out there now, so I brought a pile of new ones from my stash and let them choose one for themselves, and I printed file folder stickers they could take for it, that said either "Laurels Lessons" or "Scripture Study." They were delighted with this. I was declared to be one girl's "new best friend." I think that was their favorite part of the lesson.

I encouraged them to start this week, either by taking their spiritual pulse by going through the questions in Alma 5 and then seeing where that leads in the scriptures, or by reading Hurd's suggestions and leaping in somewhere from there, and not to be discouraged but to begin again.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

How are we driving?

My ward is so far behind Jeans' lessons that I have to go digging around way back in the archives whenever it's time for me to plan. In my ward, the YW presidency takes turns teaching on the first Sunday of every month on a topic specific to the needs of our girls. Plus we have the usual conferences, and lately we've had a bunch of joint 3rd hours as we here in California deal with all the gay marriage fall out.

Are you guys in the same boat as me? Or are you all on the same schedule Jeans is on? Do we need to adjust anything for all the flexible Sundays summertime creates? Or are you ahead of us and always find yourself reading Jean's commentary wishing you had it earlier?

What about you international sisters? Is there anything that we're missing that you guys need?

Let us know if you need us to hurry things up or not. We'd also love to hear what else would be helpful. Please think of the comments as a suggestion box and stuff it full.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Lesson 3-29 "A Change of Heart", or getting it and sticking to it

In this lesson, we look at Alma's conversion and discuss how true conversion doesn't have a timetable - it doesn't have to be immediate, but it also doesn't have to take a lifetime. In the discussion, you're encouraged to acknowledge that not everyone who joins the church is converted to Christ (and probably, vice versa), and to try to understand what makes the difference between a half-hearted Saint and a fully converted one.

I think all of those are valuable avenues for discussion. There's nothing "wrong" with someone who's baptized, active, regularly attending, but who doesn't "get it" yet. A true conversion, earnestly sought and prayed for, will eventually come. It's important to realize that not everyone in a ward is at the same level of belief and commitment, so we can be gentle with each other instead of judgmental. People come into the church for all kinds of reasons, and leave it for all kinds of reasons - including "failing to be valiant" - but that's not the only reason someone might become inactive in their attendance, church service, or testimony.

I have always been intrigued by the different spin Latter-day Saints put on the concept of being "born again." Jesus spoke of this as essential. It shows up in all four standard works. For a lot of Christians (especially of the "EPF" varieties - evangelical, Pentecostal, or fundamentalist), a single defining event marks spiritual birth. You acknowledge your sins and that Jesus is your Savior, and sha-zam! Done. Born again. Saved. The rest of one's life as a Christian is looking for, celebrating, remembering, and demonstrating the evidence of having been born again (past tense). Some speak of it as the day you were made "spiritually alive in Christ." Many believers keep track of that day, as a second birthday.

Many other Christians acknowledge that praying the prayer is not enough. Being born again is something in the heart. It's also, according to some, something over which you have no control - just like your first birth. You can't *do* anything to be saved, only God can save. All you can do is wait, petition, be humble, follow Jesus's example, and hope to receive assurance from God that He has saved you. (See here, for example).

C. S. Lewis (whom Mormons claim as their own personal Protestant theologian), put it this way in Beyond Personality:

Christ says, "Give me all. I don't want so much of your money and so much of your work - I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth or crown it or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked...the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact I will give you myself. My own will shall become yours." Being born again is being made a new creature. ALL new.

The Mormon spin is a bit different. See, for example, D. Todd Christopherson's talk in the April 08 Conference: born again means 1) physical baptism and confirmation and 2) a (usually) slow change through grace, a lifelong process in which our will and agency is involved, but not sufficient. Likewise, for Elder Faust (April 01 conference), being born again is being baptized, along with inner changes. In Elder Bednar's memorable pickle talk in the April 07 conference, we choose Christ - the act of which opens up a mighty ("not minor") change. That change precedes baptism, for adult converts -

“Because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).

The spiritual rebirth described in this verse typically does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process—not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience.

A cucumber only becomes a pickle through steady, sustained, and complete immersion in salt brine. Significantly, salt is the key ingredient in the recipe. Salt frequently is used in the scriptures as a symbol both of a covenant and of a covenant people. And just as salt is essential in transforming a cucumber into a pickle, so covenants are central to our spiritual rebirth."

Bruce R. McConkie, writing in the New Era in 1971, explained,

"For most members of the Church this spiritual rebirth takes place gradually; it is a process. They become alive to one spiritual reality after another as they keep the commandments and seek to sanctify their souls. No one is perfect, and there are all degrees of personal righteousness and spiritual enlightenment among the Saints. Members of the Church are thus born again degree by degree, and the tests for measuring one’s spiritual status are in the fifth chapter of Alma. To his 'brethren of the Church' Alma asks such questions as:

Have ye spiritually been born of God?

Have ye received his image in your countenances?

Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

Can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?" (See Alma 5:14, 16.)

Dallin Oaks put it this way in Oct 2000 (very similar to C. S. Lewis) - "Are you converted yet? You may have a testimony—or at least the beginnings of one. But is your basic nature changing? That’s the goal... It is not enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something... It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become."

What will I do with all of this in class? I don't know yet. I'd love to hear your thoughts. And should I bring pickles? A stethoscope, so we can check in on a heart? I'm going to go to the temple today so I can think about the lesson & how to present it, but also so I can think about how I can be more fully coverted, mightily changed, and a new creature. Is my basic nature changing? (Changed?) - that is the kind of question I want to take to the temple.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Lesson 3-28 "Consecration and Sacrifice"

The online scripture guide describes consecration thusly: "to dedicate, to make holy, or to become righteous. The law of consecration is a divine principle whereby men and women voluntarily dedicate their time, talents, and material wealth to the establishment and building up of God’s kingdom."

This lesson's topic is related to the United Order, which was practiced in some Mormon communities in the 19th century (starting in Kirtland) and is discussed several times in the Doctrine and Covenants (especially Section 42). If you have time, it might be interesting to remind the girls of these efforts. The Wikipedia article on the United Order seems better than usual and gives the basics. Ch 8 of the CES Church History Manual goes into greater detail about the Kirtland experiment (found here - but the pdf loads slow, so be warned). President Eyring gave a fascinating talk on Orderville in 1989 which argues that forgetting about their roots in poverty was the beginning of the order's downfall. William Nelson argued in the Ensign in 1979 that the law still applies. As Nelson put it,

"The law of consecration is a law of the celestial kingdom, requiring that all members of the Church shall consecrate their property (including time, talents, and material wealth) to the Church for the building of the kingdom of God and the establishment of Zion. The legal administrative agency for carrying out the law is the united order. This organization receives consecrated properties, gives stewardships to donors, and regulates the use of surplus commodities. The law of consecration is the commandment; the united order is the revealed economic system."

Two summers ago Jim Lucas on By Common Consent posted some interesting connections between the microcredit movement and the United Order and late in his first post is some key information about the UO and how it worked. Nate Oman's Times & Seasons post on the failure of the various Mormon economic arrangements in the 19th century sparked some historical back-and-forthing from which you may glean additional information about the organizations.

Although I think most people who are involved in a church perform volunteer work on behalf of their religious communities, our idea of "callings" takes this a few steps further, but not as far as the United Order. Having extremely few paid professional church people means that people invariably donate their time and talents (and develop new talents) to benefit the church and their fellow believers. This is a lifelong process, and one which I would argue sanctifies, consecrates, and hallows one's very life.

In his Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith said, "A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life."

And yet we don't require the sacrifice of all earthly things (or do we?), only the willingness to sacrifice them, which may or may not actually be easier.

Things I am pondering this week as I prepare for the lesson -
  • What have I actually sacrificed to build up Zion?
  • What would I be willing to sacrifice?
  • How do I know when I've "given enough" to a particular calling, an event, a person, or a cause, in the service of Heavenly Father?
  • What if you put your "Isaac" on the altar and an angel doesn't come? Or does, but you can't know until you've believed otherwise? (Thanks, Heidi and your commenters, for a wonderfully thought-provoking post).