Sunday, March 9, 2008

Yes! This is what Gospel Doctrine is Supposed to Be Like!"

What a wonderful Sunday School experience I had today! The recently called teacher (who just happens to be married to my cousin) was exactly what a gospel instructor is supposed to be. He's wonderful at facilitating an edifying gospel discussion and humbly inviting the Spirit to teach each of us through the use of inspired questions; questions that really make you think about your testimony, how Christ ministers to each of us, and to liken the scriptures to yourself in ways that you haven't already done. He was so respectful and sensitive to the Spirit, and as a result, people who I have never heard comment spoke up and we all learned from each other.

This is a class/ward that has been used to mostly sitting and having the gospel preached to them in a one-way direction during various teaching settings. I've lamented this many times to my wife; how the culture of teaching still needs work in these parts. (Was I just spoiled while in a BYU married student ward?) Then again, there have been a few wards I've visited when I had to wonder if they ever received "Teaching, No Greater Call" along with the rest of the Church. Granted, not all Gospel Doctrine teachers have seminary teaching or MTC teaching experiences, so I can't be too tough on some of those teachers, but I expect a lot out of Church.

As Jeffrey R. Holland put it in "A Teacher Come from God": "When our prophet is calling for more faith through hearing the word of God, we must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom. Inspired teaching must never become a lost art in the Church, and we must make certain our quest for it does not become a lost tradition."

"President Spencer W. Kimball once pled: "Stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents, please take a particular interest in improving the quality of teaching in the Church. ... I fear," he said, "that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or a meeting, and ... then return home having been largely [uninspired]. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time ... of stress, temptation, or crisis [in their life]. We all need to be touched and nurtured by the Spirit," he said, "and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen. We often do vigorous work," President Kimball concluded, "to get members to come to Church but then do not adequately watch over what they receive when they do come."

"On this subject President Hinckley himself has said, "Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church." May I repeat that. "Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church. Eternal life," President Hinckley continued, "will come only as men and women are taught with such effectiveness that they change and discipline their lives. They cannot be coerced into righteousness or into heaven. They must be led, and that means teaching." (Jeffrey R. Holland, "A Teacher Come from God," Ensign, May 1998).

I rejoice in my experience today. I found myself getting so excited as inspiration just kept coming to me because of the Spirit and the direction the teacher steered the class. I wanted to jump up and down and exclaim "Yes! This is what Gospel Doctrine is supposed to be like!". Instead of coming away underwhelmed and uninspired, today I came away rejoicing. This is what Church is supposed to feel like!

"[Real spiritual food] is what our members really want when they gather in a meeting or come into a classroom anyway. Most people don't come to church looking merely for a few new gospel facts or to see old friends, though all of that is important. They come seeking a spiritual experience. They want peace. They want their faith fortified and their hope renewed. They want, in short, to be nourished by the good word of God, to be strengthened by the powers of heaven. Those of us who are called upon to speak or teach or lead have an obligation to help provide that, as best we possibly can." (Elder Holland).

So thank you Brad! Yes. This is what Sunday School is supposed to be like.

D&C 50:22
“Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.”

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Craig Jessop--Why this way?

I maybe shouldn't care as much as I do, but it's really, really killing me that nobody has been able to get Craig Jessop to tell more of the story. I really am such a huge MOTAB fan, and I have been in awe at all Craig and Mac Wilberg have done. I can understand spending more time with family. But what I can't understand is why someone so high caliber like him would part ways with the choir so abruptly--the shocking way that he did. What's the rest of the story? Speak Craig, speak! Hopefully answers will come out in time. But that's the problem, I'm not that patient!

As I step back and think about it, I can't imagine not having him there. Is this a bad dream? Some sort of practical joke? I keep thinking that it can't be true mostly because it is so, well, not what you'd have expected, especially from Craig Jessop. On a side note, he came to speak at a Tuesday devotional while I was at BYU. I remember being so impressed with him--his energy and the spirit with which he spoke. That same spirit and energy has been evident week in and week out, year in and year out; whether in person at a broadcast or concert while we lived in Utah, or enjoying them via satellite or frequently on CD/DVD. Maybe that's why I'm so bugged--because I really know how great he was. And I can't help but wonder what brought this on right now and in this way.

Mac Wilberg is amazing in and of himself. I sang under his direction during his last year at BYU, when he announced that he was accepting the position with the Tabernacle Choir. I sang in the Men's Chorus my freshman year. He was already a legend then. But he doesn't have the people skills of a Craig Jessop. His choral arrangements are known worldwide. They're wonderful. I have no doubt that he'll be able to carry on without Craig, but the two of them together made such a team. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. Please share!

***Update (6/20/09):

Due to the continuous Google searches for "Craig Jessop" coming to this blog post, I thought I'd share an update with some recent thoughts from a close friend of mine who has personally and professionally interacted with Craig Jessop several times in the last year:

"Craig Jessop's work with singers is magical. When he came to [our area] for [a music convention] to conduct the All-State choir, the work he did with those kids was so detailed and so exacting. It showed in the exquisite performance of [a challenging piece] and other very difficult and breathtaking repertoire. You could tell after wards that in just those 3 days he had won the hearts of those 500 kids who had never met him before but were all over him to talk with him and thank him. He has this spirituality, this kindness and graciousness, while at the same time showing you way after way to quickly make very detailed changes that make the difference between excellent and unbelievably beautiful.

"The work he did with our children's choir at their clinic at Utah State University was the same way. As he listened to and worked with excerpts from the Brahms Requiem, Handel, Rutter, and Bach, he not only stopped them by recognizing details and changes that would make such a big difference, but he immediately crafted games and exercises that caused them to be able to understand and make the changes almost in real time. He was as demanding as anyone could possibly be, but his work with them was so exciting that they were eating out of his hand and anxious for more.

"I have never seen anyone who could combine the most exacting demand for change and details, and at the same time do it in such a way that singers felt immediate accomplishment and confidence. After this one session in the morning, the children of the choir sang a concert that evening that was unparalleled in quality their entire preceding 8 years.

"He works to bring concepts from the "intuitive" to the "conscious". He makes it possible for the singers for the first time to feel as if they have control in a conscious way to insure the high quality of pitch is there, breathing, diction, and phrasing.

"I am so glad he made the switch to teaching when he did. He had been anxious to do so. It was hard for everyone to lose him so suddenly, but had they waited to consider a replacement with search committees, etc, he would have continued another 2 years - something he just could not do. Through the understanding of leadership and those who were close to him, I know he must have felt he could make the transition sooner than later.

"The music program at Utah State has already kicked off with a meteoric mushrooming of quality, programs, and performances in every instrumental and choral area. We are all fortunate to have benefited from his longstanding work with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and his profound ongoing work at Utah State. The young children in my children's choir who have a specific interest in pursuing music have already asked about whether they could go to school there. They will certainly benefit from his legacy there - present and future."

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Righteously Hang On and Outlast the Devil"

Lately I have had some serious reflection on my own. And that was the problem. I've been trying to worry about things on my own, instead of letting the Savior help carry the burden, that I have almost been overwhelmed to the point that I can't even feel happiness.

Today was a true Sabbath, and the Spirit spoke to me to remind me of things that I need to remember at "the present time":

"Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter. . . .For after much tribulation come the blessings. (D&C 58:3–4)

"All things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good” (D&C 98:2–3)

I turned on a program this morning that I had recorded on BYU-TV. I caught the tail end of a talk by Randy Bott. It was exactly what I needed to hear today, after a difficult week:

"Sometimes life seems so difficult that we loose our zest for living. If we dwell too much or too long on what at the moment seems to be the negatives it is easy to miss the joy and the blessings which come our way daily." ("My Mind Was Called Upon Serious Reflection".)

I started today at church. Instead of finding negative things to criticize, I tried to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and to "Be of good cheer". I tried hard to focus on good things, and goodness, and to realize that we all have struggles and imperfections and are in need of the grace of Christ. I have especially felt this need lately.

We focus so much on being like the Samaritan in the parable and treating others like he treated the "certain man" on the way to Jericho. But sometimes we are the ones that are lying half dead on the side of the road, and we're in need of Christ's ministering to us. We may go unnoticed by others because we struggle internally. These are the times when we need to recognize that Christ is the only one to whom we can turn everything over and allow him to minister to us.

Sometimes the solution to that discouragement really is to stop focussing so much on yourself and to start thinking of others. But in the mean time, it's nice to hear some great counsel in our times of discouragement:

"When George A. Smith was very ill, he was visited by his cousin, the Prophet Joseph Smith. The afflicted man reported: “He [the Prophet] told me I should never get discouraged, whatever difficulties might surround me. If I were sunk into the lowest pit of Nova Scotia and all the Rocky Mountains piled on top of me, I ought not to be discouraged, but hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage, and I should come out on the top of the heap.” (George A. Smith Family, comp. Zora Smith Jarvis, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1962, p. 54.)

"There are times when you simply have to righteously hang on and outlast the devil until his depressive spirit leaves you". As the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.” (D&C 121:7–8) (Ezra Taft Benson, "Do Not Despair".)

Lately I have allowed myself to get too overwhelmed when I think of all the things I have to do, pay for, achieve, etc--thinking I have to do them on my own. Today I realized that I need to turn my life over to the Lord and literally let his atonement take over. Let Him carry the burden. It brings peace to think of Him and know that His mission is "to bless in time of need"--and that He can bless us so personally according to our needs.

One of my favorite and reassuring scriptures is simply:
"Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not" (D&C 6:36)

Now there's food for thought.