Early this year I was asked to be the teacher for the Gospel Doctrine class in my ward. We have an eclectic bunch of members here – wide spectrum of age groups, many new converts, lots of old stalwarts, and a wonderfully diverse array of backgrounds, interests, and experience. I wanted to approach the class in a way that was empowering, enlightening, and gave the students a desire to attend a class that would not be the same old ‘read it straight from the manual’ stuff we’ve all sat through. And as a new move-in myself, I struggled with how to best introduce myself, my background, and my angle for the class in an appropriate way.I spent a lot of time pondering how best to do this, and the following was born.Shared it with the class on Day 1.~ Ben
1. I want to challenge your intellect.
I want to ask the hard questions. I want to analyze deeply, to think critically, and to explore rationally. I believe rather than merely swallowing wholesale every word given to us, we should to challenge the scriptures, and be challenged by them. The gospel is too beautiful and wondrous to be merely glanced at from afar instead of examined scrupulously, and it’s too fascinating and enlivening to only skim in ankle-deep instead of taking a deep breath and plunging down. We are all adults here. We’ve probably moved beyond ‘milk’
2. I want to engage your creativity.
I love classes that are thought-provoking, mentally satisfying, and personally motivating. Something that changes the way I look at the world, that challenges stereotypes and upends the status-quo in the search for something better. So here we’ll do that. We all learn differently and there is no one ‘right way’ to study the gospel for everyone, except, I believe, to be continually pondering not only what we learn, but how we learn it and seeking to refine it. I would love to encourage a culture of creativity, exploration, honest question-asking, and deep engagement.
3. I want to give you a voice and a safe place to share your story.
Everyone is unique, and we will embrace that. Every voice is important. Every story is important. Every personal experience or thought you are willing to share, or those you may wish you could share but just can’t…they all have meaning and value. We come from different family and religious backgrounds, political views, and educational experiences; each person’s journey is completely different, and I want to celebrate that diversity. The one thing that binds us together is we are here because we believe in Jesus Christ and we want to become more like Him in an effort to find peace in this life and eternal happiness in the life to come. Sometimes the world tries to ‘circle its wagons’ and creates an ‘us vs. them’ culture, and as Mormons we are no exception.But here I hope you feel that we’re all ‘us’…no matter how different you are. Every voice is valued, and every story is worth listening to. So please share.
4. I want to give you responsibility for deepening your knowledge of the Savior and His plan for us.
Of the 10,080 minutes you live each week, Sunday School lasts barely 45 minutes, if we’re lucky…that’s 0.4% of your time. We can’t teach everything in this one class, and we won’t have answers to everything. So I hope you go home with more questions than answers. I hope you look at the D&C and our church history with freshly curious eyes. I hope you seek out additional talks, quotes, blogs, podcasts, videos, and online or offline communities that will help your learning to continue even after the final bell rings and the Sunday clothes are put away. I hope you approach studying the Gospel with wonder and excitement, that you will have the courage to tear out old fruitless spiritual study habits, plant new ones, and work with the Master of the Vineyard to draw deep from His wells of living water. Sunday School may give pruning and direction, but the real growth should happen Monday through Saturday. I hope you have moments where you say “I never thought of it that way…I learned something new.”
5. I want to empower you to keep your covenants.
Covenants are a big deal. As in, a spiritual ‘life or death’ kind of deal. And sometimes, perhaps, we fail to understand how important they are. I know I do. So all our studying and discussing and exploring and questioning and learning won’t do us much good unless our resolve to guard our covenants is strengthened, our perspective on promises is extended, and our ability to fine-tune our behavior is deepened. God is depending on us to keep up our end of the bargain. Christ’s Grace will then not only make up the difference…but it will make all the difference. I hope we become better people because of this.
6. I want to work with you to come closer to Christ.
He is the center of every lesson, the message behind each story, the author and finisher of our faith. Everything we do in this religion should point towards Him, remind us of Him, show us how to emulate Him, and draw us closer to Him. Nobody, including all the prophets and teachers, living and dead, is more important than Christ, for He is the light of our salvation. I haven’t seen Him, chances are neither have you. We have no empirical evidence, but rely on the word of others. And that’s okay. That’s faith – it’s *not* knowing for sure. And therein lies the rub – to see whether our faith in someone else’s account of Jesus Christ will be enough to generate a personal witness by the gift of the Holy Ghost. For that is how I come to believe that He lives and answers prayers – I have had personal witnesses given to me that I can’t explain any other way besides a living God who hears and answers my prayers. To quote CS Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
(from C.S. Lewis, Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry?”)
I hope we come closer to that source of all light.