Thursday, May 21, 2015

Interview with Julie Smith

What has blogging been like?

I've blogged at Times and Seasons for over a decade. It has changed a lot--most of the energy and comments of blogging has moved to Facebook. I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but this is a bad thing. People who aren't already friends with those in the blogging world are locked out, nothing is searchable, and people are even more curt than when blogging. 

What do you believe is the core of the gospel?

 I think the core of the gospel is trying to follow Jesus. I'm not good at it. I resent, sometimes, the way that certain aspects of the church feel like a distraction from it. 

Tell me about your academic endeavors.

I finished my MA in the mid-90s. I took a break to raise and homeschool my three boys and then slowly ramped up my participation in writing, researching, and speaking over the last decade or so. My thesis concerned Mark 14:3-9, which is the story of the woman who anoints Jesus. A version of it was published in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity; you can read it here:

What are you doing now?

Now, my main project is writing the Mark volume for the BYU New Testament Commentary Series. (And I'm still homeschooling my three boys.) I'm also editing a book that will consist of imagined dialogues between scriptural figures who might not necessarily agree with each other. I also have about a half dozen papers in various stages of the publication process; most relate to the Gospel of Mark somehow.

 What rule or commandment do you think is important for everyone to consider?

 Commandment: how about 'love one another.'

What advice do you have for scripture readers

Try to read for each author or person's individual voice and appreciate his or her unique witness.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


I decided to start a new feature at Wheat & Tares -- interviews of people I either really like or find interesting.

Well, I've got a great one line up -- for December of this year (it is May now if you are reading this sometime in the past).  Another who said "sure, just follow-up with me in a month when I'm not so busy." More of the same.  Lots of friendly, but very busy people.

The essence of the interviews is to ask the people the questions they would like to be asked and to let them give the answers they would like to give.  I know, it is a softball's softball type of interview, but it is also a type of interview that often gets surprising answers (at least that is my experience in real life talking to people).

However, that leaves me without anyone for the week I put as my deadline to get an interview up.

So, I'm interviewing myself.  I'm available this week.

What do you believe the gospel is?

  1. Faith in Jesus Christ and the atonement.
  2. Repentance  and making the atonement real in our lives.
  3. Baptism.
  4. The gift of the Holy Ghost.
What commandments do you think are important?
34Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. 35And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” 
(And yes, I like the NET Bible, even own print copies of it.

What sermons (talks) or doctrines or church leaders made an impression on you?

When I was first at BYU working on my bachelor's degree (which I finished at CSULA) I heard Spencer W. Kimball speak.  He talked about how following leaders blindly would lead you straight to hell, buttressed with Brigham Young quotes. That talk had a very strong impact on me, even now, I believe that:
"Those who talk of blind obedience may appear to know many things, but they do not understand the doctrines of the gospel." 
The second was hearing my father talk about when Spencer W. Kimball came through Newfoundland.  He stopped and met with our branch.  

When I was just a kid (like first or second grade), Spencer W. Kimball came through Newfoundland where my dad was stationed.

We had a sister who was trying to get her husband to shape up.  She tried to enlist Elder Kimball’s help at that time as to how she could force him to do the right thing.  As an apostle he told her to focus instead on patiently loving him.  To put her family first and the love between the two of them first, even if it meant not attending meetings and not pushing him to improve.  The advice made a big impression on my dad who was in the branch presidency and who had expected something different.  
I had a similar experience on my mission.  A sister who had long been a member with a bitterly opposed husband asked my advice.  The spirit pushed me strongly to tell her that the Church existed to support her family, her family did not exist to support the Church, and that she should put her husband and family's harmony and love first.  Nothing else was important.
She followed my advice.  Amazingly (to me) he was reconciled to her and to her membership, before he died rather suddenly of a cancer that he had been unaware of.
As for the couple that Elder Kimball had advised, years later my dad encountered the couple in the temple.  They had been completely transformed.

Obviously I do not expect that sort of thing to happen for everyone, or for even most people.  But if families are forever, I think that what we should do is focus on loving and supporting each other, in patience and kindness.

The other part of the visit was a very strong outpouring of the Spirit and a small miracle.  Something that struck my father was that when he met people later, those who had treasured the moment and remembered it were all active.  Those who were not had also lost the memory.
I understand you used to ...
I used to do a lot of things.  For example, I started blogging on September 16, 1997.  One thing that I was involved in was FARMS before it was FARMS and was just a desk in John Welch's office.  Back then it was pretty much some reading lists and some photocopies of essays that were going out of print or about to be lost.  When I hear people who say "everything FARMS has said is .[redacted harsh statements]..." I think back to reading Eliade and Campbell and Nibley and others and the broader scope of thinking that introduced me to.

I was also involved with FAIR as a founding board member.  But apologetics tend to make me cranky, so I've stepped away from them.  Too often there is the following pattern:
  • [Other person] They've discovered "xyz."  It is irrefutable, new and ... etc.
  • [Me] Try to get enough details about xyz to figure out which of the several mutually exclusive xyzs they are talking about. 
  • [Other person] And it is all hard evidence.  [still without enough details for me to figure out which version they are talking about].
  • [Me] Probing (and trying to be gentle about it)
  • [Other person] you aren't listening.
  • [Me] Finally figure out which one they are talking about.  Look up the details.
    • often the details reflect huge jumps.
    • often the "facts" behind the details have huge gaps or are inconsistent. 
    • Etc.
  • [Other person] I don't care about that any more, what I really was trying to get to was "qrs."
  • Rinse and repeat.
I found it too annoying.  Though I did enjoy Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?

 Anything else?

Too much.

If you could give one piece of advice?

I'm not smart enough to do that.  Maybe in a few more years when I have more wisdom.

Probably not the best example, but it will fill in the gap until I actually get an interview completed.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lesson 6

    On April 4, 1986, in connection with his first general conference as President of the Church, President Benson presided over a special meeting for priesthood leaders. The brethren in attendance saw his ability to “cut through detail and get to the heart of the issue.” When he addressed the congregation, he mentioned many of the challenges that Latter-day Saints faced—such as temptation, family struggles, and difficulties with keeping the commandments and fulfilling Church duties—and he shared what he saw as the solution to these challenges.

    President Benson gave only a portion of his talk in that priesthood leadership meeting, so he requested that the entire sermon be included in the conference issue of the Church magazines. This chapter contains that talk in its entirety. Although President Benson directed his remarks to priesthood leaders, he taught principles that apply to all members of the Church.
Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson.

    •    What is the greatest difficulty you face?
    •    How have the challenges in your life changed with time?

    As we face the great challenges of our time, we need to hold fast to the word of God.

    My dear brethren, what a thrilling sight it is to look out over this body of priesthood leadership and to know how many thousands of Saints you serve and how much dedication and faithfulness you collectively represent! There is no other body anywhere in the world today that meets for the same righteous purpose as does this group, nor is there any other group—political, religious or military—that holds the power that you do here tonight.

    We live in a day of great challenge. We live in that time of which the Lord spoke when he said, “Peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.” (D&C 1:35.) We live in that day which John the Revelator foresaw when “the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Rev. 12:17.)

Consider what President Benson said was “an answer to the great challenge of our time”

    •    What did he say was the answer?
    •    In what ways can this answer help us meet the challenges we face?

    The prophet Lehi also saw our day in his great visionary dream of the tree of life. He saw that many people would wander blindly in the mists of darkness, which symbolized the temptations of the devil. (See 1 Ne. 12:17.) He saw some fall away “in forbidden paths,” others drown in rivers of filthiness, and still others wander in “strange roads.” (1 Ne. 8:28, 32.) When we read of the spreading curse of drugs, or read of the pernicious flood of pornography and immorality, do any of us doubt that these are the forbidden paths and rivers of filthiness Lehi described?

    Not all of those Lehi saw perishing were of the world. Some had come to the tree and partaken of the fruit. In other words, some members of the Church today are among those souls Lehi saw which were lost.

    The Apostle Paul also saw our day. He described it as a time when such things as blasphemy, dishonesty, cruelty, unnatural affection, pride, and pleasure seeking would abound. (See 2 Tim. 3:1–7.) He also warned that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” (2 Tim. 3:13.)

    •    Share a favorite scripture.
    •    Why is it a favorite of yours?

    In his dream, Lehi saw an iron rod which led through the mists of darkness. He saw that if people would hold fast to that rod, they could avoid the rivers of filthiness, stay away from the forbidden paths, stop from wandering in the strange roads that lead to destruction. Later his son Nephi clearly explained the symbolism of the iron rod. When Laman and Lemuel asked, “What meaneth the rod of iron?” Nephi answered, “It was the word of God; and [note this promise] whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.” (1 Ne. 15:23–24; italics added.) Not only will the word of God lead us to the fruit which is desirable above all others, but in the word of God and through it we can find the power to resist temptation, the power to thwart the work of Satan and his emissaries.

    •    What does “neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness” mean to you?
    •    What power is in the word of God?

    When individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures, other aspects of Church activity automatically come.

    Now to you priesthood leaders we say, look to the prophetic counsel of Lehi and Paul and others like them. In that counsel you will find the solution to the challenges you face in keeping your flocks safe from the “ravening wolves” that surround them. (See Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29.) We know that you too have great anxiety for the members of your wards and stakes and expend great time and effort in their behalf. There is much that we ask of you who have been chosen for leadership. We place many loads upon your shoulders. You are asked to run the programs of the Church, interview and counsel with the members, see that the financial affairs of the stakes and wards are properly handled, manage welfare projects, build buildings, and engage in a host of other time-consuming activities.

    While none of those activities can be ignored and laid aside, they are not the most important thing you can do for those you serve. In recent years, time and again we have counseled you that certain activities bring greater spiritual returns than others. As early as 1970, President Harold B. Lee told the regional representatives:

    “We are convinced that our members are hungry for the gospel, undiluted, with its abundant truths and insights. … There are those who have seemed to forget that the most powerful weapons the Lord has given us against all that is evil are His own declarations, the plain simple doctrines of salvation as found in the scriptures.”

    “We are so wound up in programs and statistics and trends, in properties, lands and mammon, and in achieving goals that will highlight the excellence of our work, that we have ‘omitted the weightier matters of the law.’ … However talented men may be in administrative matters; however eloquent they may be in expressing their views; however learned they may be in the worldly things—they will be denied the sweet whisperings of the Spirit that might have been theirs unless they pay the price of studying, pondering, and praying about the scriptures.” (In Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 2 Apr. 1982, pp. 1–2.)

    That same day, Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke to the stake presidents and regional representatives. He said: “Buildings and budgets, and reports and programs and procedures are very important. But, by themselves, they do not carry that essential spiritual nourishment and will not accomplish what the Lord has given us to do. … The right things, those with true spiritual nourishment, are centered in the scriptures.” (In Meeting with Stake Presidents and Regional Representatives, 2 Apr. 1982, pp. 1–2.)

    I add my voice to these wise and inspired brethren and say to you that one of the most important things you can do as priesthood leaders is to immerse yourselves in the scriptures. Search them diligently. Feast upon the words of Christ. Learn the doctrine. Master the principles that are found therein. There are few other efforts that will bring greater dividends to your calling. There are few other ways to gain greater inspiration as you serve.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith said that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (Book of Mormon, Introduction, italics added.) Isn’t that what we want for the members of our wards and stakes? Aren’t we desirous that they get nearer to God? Then encourage them in every way possible to immerse themselves in this marvelous latter-day witness of Christ.

    You must help the Saints see that studying and searching the scriptures is not a burden laid upon them by the Lord, but a marvelous blessing and opportunity. Note what the Lord Himself has said about the benefits of studying His word. To the great prophet-leader Joshua, He said:

    “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (Josh. 1:8; italics added.)

    The Lord was not promising Joshua material wealth and fame, but that his life would prosper in righteousness and that he would have success in that which matters most in life, namely the quest to find true joy. (See 2 Ne. 2:25.) In a First Presidency message in 1976, President [Spencer W.] Kimball said:

    “I am convinced that each of us, at least some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves—and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again. …

    “The Lord is not trifling with us when he gives us these things, for ‘unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.’ (Luke 12:48.) Access to these things means responsibility for them. We must study the scriptures according to the Lord’s commandment (see 3 Ne. 23:1–5); and we must let them govern our lives.” (Ensign, Sept. 1976, pp. 4–5.).

    The scriptures are replete with similar promises about the value of the word. Do you have members who long for direction and guidance in their lives? The Psalms tell us, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105), and Nephi promises that feasting upon the words of Christ “will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Ne. 32:3.)

    •    What are the results of immersing yourself in the scriptures regularly and consistently?
    •    Why do we get those results?

    Like Alma, I say unto you, “It [is] expedient that [you] should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5).5

    •    Can you think of a time you tried using scripture study to overcome a problem?

    “Many find that the best time to study is in the morning after a night’s rest. … Others prefer to study in the quiet hours after the work and worries of the day are over. … Perhaps what is more important than the hour of the day is that a regular time be set aside for study” (Howard W. Hunter, “Reading the Scriptures,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).

    •    Are there other things you do in order to study the scriptures?
    •    How do you make studying the scriptures not a burden?