It’s a Small World, or I want to go back to Germany!

As I have mentioned before, I work tech support for a large global organization.  What I actually mean is, I work tech support for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It is a unique and amazing opportunity to work ‘behind the scenes’, so to speak, to help the Church function.  This job definitely has its intangible benefits.  It’s nice knowing that you were able to help people with their computer problems so that they can do their jobs and help the work of the Church move forward.  I have helped Family History Centers get the equipment they need, I have helped a secretary prepare and print a report on Senior Missionary candidates for the Missionary Department, and I have helped seminary teachers have what they need, and know how to use it, to teach their classes.  It’s really fun.

But, every once in a while I have an opportunity or an experience that really makes my day, if not my whole week.  I had such an experience yesterday.  I have worked here for almost 3 years, and I am now a trainer, helping new employees learn what they need to and training other employees on new programs and products that we support.  I have enjoyed my opportunities to teach and to improve my training skills.  Yesterday, though, I was giving a training on a program used in Mission Offices worldwide to manage all of the information about Missionaries, Proselyting areas, financial information for housing and other expenses in a mission, etc.  This program is a really neat tool which makes managing the details of a mission so much easier.

The way this training usually goes, I log in to the program and bring up a random mission’s database and show the new employees just what it looks like and how each screen works.  Being the nerd that I am, I usually pull up my old mission, Germany Hamburg.  But, that mission, sadly, no longer exists.  It was split and combined into the Germany Berlin Mission and the Germany Frankfurt Mission on July 1st.  So, in this training, I pulled up the German Frankfurt Mission.  Part of the training covers the Missionary section, with all of the information about each missionary, so to demonstrate this I clicked on the first missionary in the list, which is alphabetical.  I didn’t recognize the name, but when I opened it up and saw his picture and then looked back at his name — I knew him!  This was a kid that we had baptized just before I left Germany!  I interviewed him for baptism!  This kid, a couple of weeks before he was even baptized, brought 6 non-members to Church with him, friends and family.  His parents later got baptized.  I absolutely loved this kid when I was a missionary, and here he was serving a mission himself.  It was such an amazing experience to see his name.  What made it even funnier, I was able to see the first area he served in, which was a city literally 20 minutes from his home.  And, now that the Hamburg mission has split, his home ward is now in his mission! Kinda funny, really.

But, it just goes to show that the world is a pretty small place, and the Church is even smaller. For being a large, global organization with millions of members, it’s great to run into people you know in the strangest places.

LDS Plan of Salvation as Archetype of the Monomyth

[Update:  I just found out that my abstract was accepted and that I’ll be presenting this paper at BYU in October at the Literature and the Sacred Conference! Should be quite an experience! More details will be coming hopefully this week.]

This is the brief summary version of a paper I’m working on.  This clocks in at 3 pages,  the final, full-length will probably be at least ten times that.  Iv’e got a lot of work ahead of me.

    In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell describes seventeen points or archetypes of myths, legends, and religions that almost every culture share.  Campbell posits that there is one story, one monomyth, as he calls it, that is the archetype of all stories that humans tell.  These archetypes are not invented, but “they are spontaneous productions of the psyche,  and each bears within it , undamaged, the germ power of its source” (Campbell  4).  All human tales have repeated symbols which can be traced  back to a single source innately present in all human culture.  Latter-day Saint doctrine, especially that of the Plan of Salvation, provides this source of all mythological archetypes: the truth of the Gospel which has been taught in all ages of this world and is innately recognized as truth by the spirit inside every child of God.  The Plan of Salvation is the archetype of Joseph’s Campbell’s monomyth, with all of his seventeen points described in different aspects of humanity’s eternal journey.

    The monomyth, or archetypal hero journey, as described by Joseph Campbell has seventeen specific aspects divided among three phases of the hero journey: Departure, Initiation, and Return.  The Plan of Salvation is also often divided into three phases, those of Premortal existence, Mortal existence, and Postmortal existence, which correlate well with Campbell’s three phases. In each of these phases are different steps of the hero journey, which correspond to different aspects and principles of the Plan of Salvation.

    In Campbell’s Departure phase  of the hero journey, there is a Call to Adventure, sometimes a Refusal of the Call, a Crossing of the First Threshold and a state of being in the Belly of the Whale, while having Supernatural Aid.   In the Premortal existence a Plan was introduced, and was accepted by some and rejected by others.  Those that accepted came to Earth and received mortal bodies and innate spiritual gifts, having a veil of forgetfulness placed on them removing memory of their call and acceptance. This is the First Threshold, the point after which the hero accepts the call when he cannot return without achieving the goal. The Belly of the Whale is “a form of self annihilation”, where the hero “goes inward to be born again”(Campbell 91), which is exactly how the ordinance of baptism is described: as a death and burial of the old, natural man, and a rebirth as a spiritual being.  Supernatural Aid is given in the form of Spiritual gifts which are given to every child of God, or even as Priesthood leaders with stewardship over individuals.  In myth, there is often an old, wise man with counsel and advice, in the Church there are Bishops and Stake Presidents who are usually older  men, who provide counsel and advice through the Priesthood.

    The next phase of the hero journey is Initiation, the actual journey of mortal life, which Campbell describes as the Road of Trials.  During his journey, the hero also has a  Meeting with the Goddess and meets the Woman as Temptress, the two roles of the female.  The first, also described as a “mystical marriage … in the tabernacle of the temple” (Campbell 109), where the hero meets the paragon of women and beauty and love, which can only be a reference to the principle of celestial marriage, performed in the temple, where a hero is sealed to his wife for eternity.  The latter, though using the phrase “woman as temptress” does not necessarily refer to any specific woman, or women at all, but is used as symbolic of temptation in general. All temptation that seeks to sway the hero from his journey is seen as a female figure, since lust is the temptation that is most used to lure a hero away from his goal.  After this the hero has an Atonement with the Father and an Apotheosis, where he meets the Father-God and is reconciled with him and becomes like him.  In the LDS Temple there is a point where one is symbolically brought into the presence of the Father and there are promises and covenants made which allow one to one day become as God.  Then there is the achieving of the Ultimate Boon, the object of the quest, the goal of the journey.  From an LDS perspective, the purpose of the journey of mortal life is to gain experience and make and keep necessary covenants, such as baptism and celestial marriage, and then enduring faithfully to the end.

    Once a hero has achieved his Ultimate Boon, he must return with it.  Sometimes there is a Refusal of the Return, where the hero would rather stay than return to his previous world.  Then there is the Magic Flight and the Rescue from Without.  After crossing the Return Threshold, the hero becomes the Master of Two Worlds and has earned the Freedom to Live, successfully integrating what he has learned and experienced on his journey with his former life.  This Return can have multiple meanings when seen from an LDS perspective; it can either be a Return to the terrestial world after experiencing the spirituality of gospel covenants, or it can be a Return to the Celestial Kingdom and the presence of God, from whence we came into this mortal journey.  A successful hero is able to incorporate what he has experienced in his physical, mortal life, with what he has learned from his spiritual, eternal life.  He learns how to live ‘in the world, yet not of the world’.

    The hero journey is called the monomyth, the one story that is told and retold universally.  The reason why these elements keep reoccurring in legends and myths is because these elements are based on the eternal truths of the Plan of Salvation.  These truths were taught to Adam, who taught them to his children and so they became part of every culture’s myths and legends.  And when these stories are told, the spirit inside every person recognizes truth.  The Plan of Salvation is not merely another example of the monomyth, it is the archetype of the monomyth, the original telling upon which all others are based.

My Complaints about LDS Sunday School, or Teaching in Church.

Coming on the heels of an amazing video I found, where Taylor Mali talks about teaching, using the line, sarcastically,  “The problem with teachers is, what’s a kid gonna learn from someone who decided that his best option in life was to become a teacher?”, I have been thinking about teaching, especially teaching in Church, and Sunday School classes.

I honestly try not to complain too much about Sunday School, I try not to be arrogant or elitist about it, but it’s hard sometimes.  Especially since I am studying to be a teacher.  I have had classes and trainings to make me a good teacher, it’s going to be my job; I’m going to do it professionally.

But at Church, they hand you a teacher’s manual and say, “You can teach this.”  Or, “If you’ve got the Spirit, you can teach just fine.”  Which is a terrible way of thinking for several reasons.

1. Teaching is a profession.  People go to school to learn how to teach, and they take classes and trainings and in-services for the rest of their careers to maintain a professional level of teaching.  Yet, in the Church, we expect anyone to teach, and the only thing they need is the Spirit. Would you ask someone who is not a doctor to perform open-heart surgery, with only the Spirit?  Ridiculous! Not that we don’t believe that God couldn’t guide someone through open-heart surgery through the Spirit, if necessary, but we wouldn’t ask someone to do it just because.

2. It diminishes the profession of teaching.  By believing that anybody can teach, if they only have the Spirit, then we lose respect for those who choose to be teachers and go to school for years in order to teach. This just adds to the lack of respect or understanding that teachers get.  People seem think that if they can’t hack it as whatever they want to be, they’ll become a teacher. Teaching is seen as a fall-back plan. No one would want to be a teacher on purpose. And so people become teachers without putting in the effort required to be a GOOD teacher.

So we get a lot of bad teaching in Sunday School classes because the teachers aren’t trained well enough to teach, or think they don’t need to be.  We get long boring lessons where the teacher reads out of the book the entire time, or we get teachers who are enthusiastic and fun, but have no substance behind their gimmicky teaching.

I feel bad sometimes, thinking this way.  I want to pay attention in class, I want to feel a part of the class, but it’s hard when the teaching method is an impediment to the actual lesson.

And the same thing applies to talks in Sacrament meeting.  Too many people are not trained any more in rhetoric, in organization of ideas, in setting up an argument and proving it.  We get too many talks that are just rambling along hinting at a point but never actually reaching it.  Again, I feel terrible sitting in church mentally criticizing the teachers and speakers and secretly wishing they had called me to teach instead.   And I try not to be arrogant about it, but I really wish I could give some quick lesson to everybody on how to give a speech.  Occupational hazard, I guess.

Where does that leave us?  How do we improve the teaching in our Sunday School? How do we raise the respect for teaching in our Mormon culture, which believes that all one needs to teach is a quick prayer?  I don’t know, but something needs to happen.  No wonder kids don’t want to go to early morning Seminary classes, or any of their other classes.  We need to help develop a culture of learning, of enjoying the learning process simply for the sake of learning.  And we all need to be trained teachers, know how best to keep an audience’s attention, how to engage them in the lesson so that “all may be edified of all” (D&C 88:122).