Monday, December 20, 2010

Remembering the ancients’ travails

But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles? (2 Nephi 29:4)
Nephi isn’t afraid to point out the rank ingratitude he’s seen in vision concerning Gentile treatment of the Jews. He saw the anti-Semitism of centuries, labels of “Christ-killer” and other dehumanizing propaganda, the accusations of plotting for world domination, the ghettos, the concentration camps, the suicide bombings, and more. (“…have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but you have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them.” (2 Nephi 29:5)) He points out that the Gentiles forget that Jews were also the ones who took the gospel to the Gentiles and who worked so hard to write the word of the Lord.

I think another application of this verse is our tendency to take for granted the efforts of the Saints in the early days of the Restoration. We fault them for failing to live the law of consecration and are we any better? It is a good thing that we tell and retell the stories of their sacrifices and persecutions and victories so that we can remember their travails and labors and pains and diligence to bring the church out of obscurity.

Yet another application of this verse is our tendency to take for granted the efforts of our faithful church teachers. Too often we speak slightingly of the teachers who read the lesson for the first time during sacrament meeting the hour before they have to teach it, and then we fail to recognize teachers who have really put a lot of work into preparation that we don’t see. The verse speaks of the teachers’ “travails,” “labors,” “pains,” and “diligence” in language evoking the difficulty and agony of women giving birth. For diligent teachers everywhere, this metaphorical language strikes a chord, and learners would do well to be aware of it.

Too often I’ve taken my teachers for granted, and it was only when I got a church calling to teach primary when I was 18 that I began to appreciate all the great teachers I had. I remember Brother Kuntzelman, who taught me in primary. (When he was released, I seriously considered indicating I was “not in favor as manifested” of the person who was called to take his place.) And Sister Imam and Sister Gallagher who were dynamite primary choristers. And Sister Ellefson, a stalwart adviser in Young Women. And Sister Kearney, with whom I had one-on-one conversations about the scriptures in our 16-18 year old Sunday school class when no one else came. And my mom, who was incredibly influential as my seminary teacher all through high school. And Brother Mortensen, one of my institute teachers, who would blithely fling his tie over his shoulder as a signal to batten down the hatches in preparation for a breeze of speculation forthcoming so that we would know not to take those things as seriously as the other things he was teaching us. And Brother Victor Ludlow who opened my eyes to the meaning of Isaiah. And David R. Seely who taught the Old Testament. And Richard Draper, who opened my eyes to the Book of Revelation and helped me parse Paul better. And Brother Merrill who assigned me to read the first half of the Book of Mormon in two weeks. It would take a long time to name all the good teachers I’ve had in the church. And behind each lesson is so much labor.

How about you? Will you tell me about some of the great teachers you’ve known? What stories of the early Saints have impacted you the most? And what stories of the ancient Jews help you remember and appreciate their travails?


Curls said...

I love the stories of the early saints-the things they went through to bring this church to us! I am so grateful for their incredible sacrifices, and I feel privileged to know that MY ancestors were among them from the very beginning.

And I love how you reminded us of what the Jews gave us-the Old Testament. I don't know how that never occurred to me before. :) I have never understood antisemitism, what have Jews ever done to anyone PERSONALLY who hated them? These people often think they are perfectly reasonable but it is a great example of how Satan utterly deceives and manipulates those who give in to him.

I have a terrible memory so I can only think of a few teachers that were incredible. Sister Young when I was a youth, Brother Merrill at BYU and Mrs. Biardo my second grade teacher.

I had a calling in primary at one point in time and I am ashamed to say I did a terrible job-I was unprepared for how hard it was and I had zero testimony at the time-that was the catalyst for me nearly leaving church, I just felt so bad that my efforts were unnoticed and I felt I did a terrible job even when I tried. I hope if I ever get a calling to teach in the church again that I do a MUCH better job than the last time.

Michaela Stephens said...

Ooo. Primary classes can be tricky to teach--it requires kid-wrangling and gospel-teaching at the same time. I'm sorry you had such a hard time.

The most important thing when teaching is to teach by the Spirit. Careful preparation helps in that it causes you to treasure up the words of life so that the Spirit can direct you to say the right thing at the right time. And after all this, knowing how to structure lessons for a specific age group can help too. The church's manual "Teaching No Greater Call" has a very useful section in it that describes different age groups and what teaching techniques are most fruitful for them. It really helped me improve my teaching when I taught 7-8 year olds. I learned that they loved to look at pictures (among other things) so I started using a lot more pictures and they responded much better.

I always feel a bit insecure and off-balance whenever I teach. Recently my mom told me that after a lesson it helps to ask Heavenly Father how the lesson went because His opinion is what matters and He knows best.

Clifford said...

It's not what was taught that I remember so much as the kind of people who taught me.

What a church this is, that the man who taught my Blazer class was no Harvard Divinity School grad but a humble, stocky carpenter with hands calloused from years of labor.

I have never forgotten that lesson, that God looks upon the heart.