Category: Mormon Arts

Arts – Music – Poetry – Cinema – Television

Being subject to Voldemort

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Donald Trump is likely to destroy American democracy while leaving the nation in ruins and the world in flames, and let’s further assume that all of these are bad things. (I don’ t think the situation is quite as hopeful as that, but I’m not particularly interested in arguing about any of these assumptions in this post.) What should the Church do about it? What should you do about it?

Review: Fresh Courage Take, or What It’s Like to Be a Mormon Woman

I recently read the new book Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women (Signature Books, 2015; publisher’s page), edited by Jamie Zvirdin with a foreward by Joanna Brooks. Twelve enlightening essays reflecting the plight, fight, and delight of being a Mormon woman circa 2015. You might ask: Not being a Mormon woman myself, who am I to write a review of this book? I know at least a few Mormon women rather well (mother, wife, daughter). Also, I have read lots of blog and Facebook posts by articulate Mormon women sounding some of the same themes and experiences, albeit shorter and less polished than these published essays. There’s a certain “I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take it for much longer, only a few more years, but I really enjoy teaching the Sunbeams” quality to a lot of Mormon feminist writing. These essays show even less mad and more enjoyment.

Day 2 of Gratitude

Prayers of Gratitude—Sunday, November 9 . . . was the annual Primary Program, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. Though many find this day difficult, I simply have to smile at the unpredictable entertainment, as well as the sincere belief and sincere silliness of little children. Moreover, there is the pleasure of watching someone else discipline my rowdy children while I sit and enjoy whatever message I can glean from the too-close-to-the-microphone yelling of three-year-olds. This year I did get a message.

Learning to Yell

You probably think the title is a joke or some nice irony or a typo. It is not. It is not even a feminist manifesto about reclaiming my “voice.” This really is a story about me re-learning to yell. I used to yell. No problem. All I needed was a slight provocation

4 o’clock

A few years ago, my sister handed me a lumpy white envelope for Christmas. I opened it carefully, able to feel the jumble of small parts beneath my fingertips. Inside were perhaps 30 or 40 small, dark seeds. “Um. Cool,” I said, mystified.

Expectations and Meet the Mormons

Early in my book publishing career, I worked for an innovative publisher of high-quality childrens picture books. One day, in conversation with my boss, the publisher, I criticized the Little Golden Books, a long-running line of cheaply produced picture books with very simple (and, I thought then, not very notable) stories. To my surprise, my boss leapt to their defense. Without the Little Golden Books, he explained, millions of kids wouldn’t have been read to as children, and my not have learned to read. In my focus on issues of quality, I had not realized that purpose is more important than quality, and, in a sense, actually defines what is quality. That lesson has stayed with me for about 20 years now.

Literary Worship – Sacred Stones

As our one really unique Mormon holiday, Pioneer Day gives us a chance to look back and reflect on our ancestors and others who went before and made our way easier through their good lives and sacrifices. I think of it as a sort of celebration of our collective quest to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers. And because I love traveling and getting to know new places, thinking about my ancestors always involves a lot of thought about where they originally came from, and if I’m lucky, not just thought, but plane tickets and itineraries. Almost four years ago, I was living with my family in Italy. We’d gone there chasing a sort of genealogical dream, and now we were sitting in a chapel in Turin, Italy, watching live coverage of the Prophet speaking from Rome. President Monson was in Italy breaking ground for the long-awaited and prayed-for Rome Temple. With him were Church leaders from all over Italy as well as Giuseppe Ciardi, the vice-mayor of Rome, and Lucio Malan, a senator from our own northern region of Piemonte. Senator Malan had made the journey from the far north of Italy to Rome because he belongs to a minority religious group called the Valdese–a group with which we had recently become intimately familiar. The Valdese (Waldensians in English) are a small Protestant group in the Alps of Northern Italy who have a particular history with the Mormon Church. They…

Literary Worship – Miracle

I find the story of the woman with the issue of blood, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, both odd and beautiful. Like most of the recipients of Christ’s miracles, she excites sympathy within me. Twelve years is a long time to be sick, especially with an illness that renders you and anyone who touches you perpetually unclean. She must have been lonely. It makes me wonder how many times she did get touched during those years–how many people braved the social and religious taboo to offer her a bit of human care or comfort. Did she have a family? Was she abandoned because of her affliction? Did her ritual uncleanness make her feel personally and spiritually unworthy? The Scriptures tell us that she had spent “all her living” on whatever passed for medical treatment in her day. Not only did the treatment fail to heal her, but she actually grew worse. The resultant poverty must have added to her sense of social isolation. Her condition, serious enough as it was to warrant her spending everything she had in an attempt to cure it, probably also kept her from many of the normal tasks of everyday life. How did she live? Was she able to care for herself and her needs? Did someone else allow her a place to stay, despite her chronic ritual impurity? Did some spiritual progenitor of Mother Teresa see beyond her untouchable state and reach out…

Literary Worship: Eve

Two of the most inspiring parts of life to me are seeing new places and learning new things. So it’s no surprise that I’ve long been fascinated with the story of Eve, the woman who lived in Paradise and gave it up to see and experience things she could never have imagined, and learn things that would change her forever. The traditional religious line has been to condemn Eve for her fateful choice and blame her for the evils of our fallen world. But as Mormons, we think differently. As Orson F. Whitney described it, the Fall was a fall forward as well as a fall downward. It was a difficult choice, but a good one, and to Eve we owe the gift of our own ability to discern and choose between good and evil. Imagine her in Paradise, surrounded by every beautiful and needful thing, happy and contented in her perfect life. And yet wanting more. I think I’ve felt a similar sensation walking into the streets of a new city in a foreign land, or when the wind changes in autumn, or standing on the rim of the endless ocean–the feeling that there is something more, and the urge to know it, to experience it, to become it. In this poem, I tried to capture that moment of decision, and the sudden thrill of stepping into the unknown with only her inner voice to tell her it was…

Literary Worship: The Lost Sheep

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East, where in many places shepherds still live with their sheep, sleeping with them at night and following them around all day to keep them out of trouble. It’s a common enough sight to see a weather-beaten man walking among a dozen or more sheep and goats as they range through wadis and small valleys, nibbling at the sparse vegetation and scampering from hilltop to hilltop. The whole scenario always strikes me as timeless and exotic; it’s something I never imagined in my American world of fences and orderly pastures. Often, the sheep block the road completely as they cross it, and one learns to simply wait until they are finished crossing, participating for a moment in the eternal patience of the shepherd. It is hard for me to picture what it would be like to spend all day every day following sheep around. Exhausting, I think. And mind-numbing. How could you dedicate your whole life to that? Watching those shepherds has given me a new appreciation for the Biblical Good Shepherd. From the way I’ve seen those sheep behave, I figure that the real-life lost lamb story must be repeated on a fairly regular basis. It’s a story that I never really related to well. I never went through a teenage rebellious stage. I didn’t stay out late, I didn’t try any illicit substances, and I certainly didn’t ever…

Literary Worship: Sacrament Prayers

Sometimes I have a hard time concentrating during the Sacrament. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be difficult. My squirmy, distracting babies and toddlers have grown up; in fact, I play the organ, so my husband sits with the children on Sundays. I sit on the stand by myself, and try to keep my thoughts where they belong–focused on the sacred ordinance in which I am participating. Sometimes it’s difficult. Especially lately. I’ve been going though something of a spiritual desert. The feeling of comfort and safety and familiarity that I’ve long associated with church has been partially converted into doubts and questions and discomfort. I keep coming, because the Church is my spiritual home, and I still believe, and I have hope that somewhere in the desert there is an elusive oasis of peace. But the static of problematic gender roles, historical discrepancies, and damaging cultural practices sometimes hums so loudly in my ears that I have to strain to hear the gentle, soothing message of grace, redemption and spiritual community. I don’t always want to listen to my own thoughts as the bread and water come my way, and I’m tired of hearing myself pray in my head. I long for something to quiet the chatter of my mind–something that transcends the desperately attempted reverence of my thoughts. As I was listening to the Sacrament prayers one week–prayers that are blissfully, restfully identical every time–I remembered that I’d written my own…

Gay : Marriage :: Mormon : Christian

A Play in One Act Heber: . . . and that’s why we should all recognize that Mormons are Christians. Aquinas: Whoa, whoa. I understand your enthusiasm. The label of Christian is really valuable. But it also has a set definition. And I don’t think Mormons are in that definition. Heber: Why not? We believe in Jesus, don’t we? Christianity is defined by one thing: Belief in Jesus. Aquinas: That’s where you’re wrong. In fact, there’s a lot more to Christianity than belief in Jesus. Throughout human history, the word “Christian” has included a complicated package of additional, interrelated ideas. There is the Nicene creed, the Trinity, and a variety of other beliefs. And no entity satisfies that particular combination except for mainline Christians. Heber: But those are peripheral, cultural, possibly wrong. And when you look at it, even those have changed repeatedly over the years. Aquinas: Yes, there has been some shifting over time. But the label has always included some basic attributes, beyond simply a belief in Jesus. The Trinity, for instance. Heber: And, who exactly defines it that way? Aquinas: The Christian community! Heber: You mean, people who are satisfied with the existing system? Isn’t that a little self-interested? Aquinas: It’s no more self-interested than your group seeking social validation by trying to glom on to an existing, respected label. This illustrates my point. Part of the value of these terms is that they don’t just include…

Brandon Flowers and the Song of Redeeming Love

This is going to meander a bit at first but bear with me. Each semester I have to grade something like 1,340,567 pages of student exams. It is horrible. To dull the pain, I pick a new music group each semester as my “grading discovery.” Last semester I picked Brandon Flowers and the Killers. I’d never paid much attention to them, but I got interested after I saw Brandon Flowers’s “I am a Mormon” video spot. It was a happy discovery. I like them. Much to my surprise a long-time friend of mine, an accomplished lawyer and former stake president, also recently discovered Flowers’s music through his daughter. After hearing that I was enjoying the Killers, he sent me a long and fascinating email with his theological interpretations of Brandon Flowers’s lyrics, which he finds filled with Mormon ideas. For example, in “Crossfire,” a song about a man rescued by his love he finds a reference to the Mormon interpretation of Eve and the fortunate fall. (That would make Chelize Theron in the video into the mother of the human race.) In “Only the Young” he finds embedded ideas from the plan of salvation and even coded references to the Hebrew terminology of redemption and atonement. My friend then turned his attention to Brandon Flowers’s song “Magdelena,” which he notes is Flowers’s most overtly religious song but also his least distinctly Mormon one. The song is sung by a man…

A Mother Here – New Art and Poetry Contest

A Mother Here

There have been LDS art contests in the past, either sponsored by LDS church institutions or by private organizations, but none have yet focused on Heavenly Mother as their theme. That changed this month with the newly announced A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest. Aiming to stimulate the visual and poetic expression of Heavenly Mother, as well as highlight the nascent divinity that resides in women as well as men, monetary prizes in excess of $2200 will be awarded to the best entries. The contest accepts two-dimensional art submissions to be considered in its visual arts awards, and all forms of poetry for the poetry awards. The contest will accept submissions until March 4, 2014, after which award-winning entries will be chosen by prestigious judges Susan Elizabeth Howe (esteemed poet, playwright, and professor) and Herman Du Toit (former head of the Durban Art School and former head of museum research at BYU’s Museum of Art). Winning entries will be announced on May 11, 2014 (Mother’s Day) and they, with other merit-worthy entries, will be collected in an online gallery and a printed booklet for all to enjoy. With the kick off of the contest’s website, amotherhere.com, an impressive collection of historical Mormon literature and music addressing Heavenly Mother has been hosted online. It contains works from early Mormon history, beginning with the work of William W. Phelps, up until the present. In addition, the site provides some historical analysis of the portrayals of Heavenly Mother…

Guest Post: The Parable of the Two Sons

My friend and neighbor has written a beautiful parable that I am pleased to share with you today. David Harding works actively in his ward and neighborhood. His daughter is my daughter’s best friend. As those of you with children know, it is a great blessing to have your offspring fall in with good people who help support them as they grow into themselves. Periodically, maybe once or twice a year, David writes something that he thinks could be shared beyond his close circle. The topics range, but as often as not they are gospel related. And so I’m introducing David, and one of his writings, to you.   The Parable of the Two Sons by David Harding The master of the vineyard was setting out to travel foreign lands for a number of years. He had two sons whom he loved more than anything else. They had recently come-of-age and now had their own budding households. The first son was nervous about the impending absence of his father, and approached his father asking for some extra money in case things went poorly while he was gone. The father had compassion on his son and gave him ten talents to ensure he would have sufficient funds to cover any unforeseen difficulty. During the first year of the master’s travels there was a bountiful harvest at home. The second son worked hard and made a fair profit. The first son, on the…

King Noah’s Blues

I could see them before I crossed Michigan Avenue into Grant Park. There were probably five of them, holding big yellow signs with blocky letters, Bible verses. It seemed out of place, fifty feet in front of the entrance to the Chicago Blues Festival, but maybe I just didn’t understand the logic behind it. I don’t remember the verses the signs promoted, and the picketers seemed nice enough, holding signs but not harassing the passersby, passersby who, like me, basically ignored them. Maybe they’d picked out verses of scripture with special applicability to fans of the blues; then again, maybe these were just generic holy protest signs.

Zion Theatre Company’s Kickstarter Campaign

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Mahonri Stewart’s two plays The Fading Flower and Swallow the Sun. I liked them both. I’m also reading the anthology of plays that he compiled and edited Saints on Stage. So far it’s been fantastic just for the historical overview of Mormon drama from the Restoration until today, and I’m just getting into Robert Elliot’s Fires of the Mind. So, when I learned that his theater company (Zion Theatre Company) was putting on a Kickstarter campaign, I jumped at the chance to back it. Zion Theatre Company is currently in its third year, and you can check out reviews of past productions on their website. They do plays by Mahonri Stewart as well as other talented Mormon playwrights, and even though I haven’t been able to see a production in person yet (they are in Provo, after all, and I’m in Virginia) I was happy to see that the $25 backer level comes with digital downloads of two of their past productions. The Kickstarter campaign is for their fourth year (2014) and they already have 4 plays slated for production: Huebener by Thomas F. Rogers Manifest by Mahonri Stewart Identity Crisis by James Arrington Servers by Mahonri Stewart and Nathaniel Drew Since ZTC has been successful so far, the purpose of the campaign is to support faster growth. If you would like to see one of their plays in 2014, or just want to support a growing…

Crowdfunded Mormon Art

What Mormon art projects are drawing attention? Does the Mormon community donate to worthy projects? What Mormon projects attract Mormons? Off and on I’ve been looking at Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website for artists of all kinds who are looking for seed money to get their projects completed. I’ve even funded a project and I’m looking forward to the results of my small contribution. When Kickstarter launched a few years ago it drew a lot of press because it promised to make raising money for small projects easier. A number of similar sites that have launched, and it looks like some good projects are getting funded.

How a concussion made me think of Stephenie Meyer and Francis Hutcheson

Last semester, my first semester studying Greek, I sustained a mild concussion. I have mostly recovered now. I still have problems with bright lights that makes nighttime driving intolerable, but for the most part, I’m functioning normally. But for a few weeks there, I couldn’t think straight. It hurt to concentrate. Reading even a light novel was difficult, and translating Greek was nigh impossible. Just looking at Greek letters caused me pain. But my handwriting was spectacular. Any notes I took about lectures I attended during that time are the most clearly written, beautifully precise notes I have ever taken. Sketching was fine too, so the concentration required to look and draw was painlessly available to me. It was strange to experience this involuntary shift in my capacities. I tend to think that what I think, how I think, is what I am. But if my cognitive functions are subject to physical manipulations, some of which are outside of my control, can I think of my thinking self as my self? Stephenie Meyer’s adult sci-fi book The Host is a science fiction romance exploration of the connection between emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development with the particulars of physical embodied experience. In that way, it is a very Mormon reflection on purpose of mortality and morality. For Meyer, the particulars of human embodiment includes deliberate agency and unintentional feelings of passion, vulnerability, and need. This naturally results in social structures, the…

MR: Samurai Jesus: A Review of Takashi Miike’s “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai”

The Mormon Review vol. 5 no. 1 is presented here, with Jonathon Penny’s review of Takashi Miike’s 2011 film Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. By Jonathon Penny Open on a gaunt, intelligent looking man—Tsukumo Hanshiro—seeking the indulgence of a retinue of samurai at the palace of a feudal lord. He claims to be a ronin, a lordless samurai, left to wander in poverty after the dishonor and dissolution of his clan. His request: to commit ritual hara-kiri so that, it is explained to us, he might regain some of the honor he has lost.  There is skepticism. Not two months before, Chief Retainer Saito informs him, another ronin from the same clan made the same request. This one, Chijiiwa Motome—younger, more gaunt, and with less bearing—sought an audience with Lord Li, delayed the ritual, fidgeted and fretted.  There was skepticism. Takashi Miike’s resume reads like the inside cover of a pulp novel. He has directed film after film whose English titles, at any rate, smack of that Hong Kong irony we all thought Kurt Russell was lampooning, if we grew up in the 80s, or that Tarantino was satirizing, if we grew up later: “Bodyguard Kiba: Combat Apocolypse [sic] 2,” anyone? How about “Rainy Dog”? “Full Metal gokudô”? “Blues Harp”? “Andromedia”? “Ichi the Killer”? “Ninja Kids!!!”? I’ve never bothered with any of them, though I did see “13 Assassins” (2010) and I indulged in “Sukiyaki Western Django” (2007). (Hey, it was…

Literary DCGD #2: Praise ye the Lord

The second Doctrine and Covenants lesson makes the point that this modern scripture talks and teaches of Christ. That focus was easy to find in many Mormon poems and hymns, but the following poem has the advantage of talking about the Lord for what He has done for the Latter-day Church. Eliza R. Snow probably needs no introduction for most members, as her poetry still appears frequently in our hymnals. And in this poem her combination of praise for the Lord with references to the latter-day work makes this a good match for the lesson.

Literary Lorenzo Snow #1: Provo Sunday School

I love the first lesson in the Lorenzo Snow manual. It seems like Snow’s love of learning is second to none among latter-day Prophets. And his statements about learning are wonderful: “Though we may now neglect to improve our time, to brighten up our intellectual faculties, we shall be obliged to improve them sometime. We have got so much ground to walk over, and if we fail to travel to-day, we shall have so much more to travel to-morrow.”

Authenticity and The Book of Mormon

I know, I said a year and a half ago that I wasn’t going to see The Book of Mormon. But then it came to Chicago and, in spite of the fact that it is sold out through at least March, a friend set me up with a ticket. So I’ve now seen the show. I’m not going to review it, though. It’s already been widely reviewed, and frankly, I don’t have the musical theater chops to provide a credible review.

Literary DCGD #1: On the Latter-day Dispensation

The initial lesson in the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History course of study points out that the revelations found in the text are meant for our time and cover our dispensation, while the history presented is the history of our people, as opposed to those who lived aeons ago. This course should, therefore, be relevant to us today in a way that the other Gospel Doctrine courses can’t hope to accomplish. The poem below discusses not only a few of the major events that opened our dispensation, but also follows the prediction often made; that our dispensation has a great destiny leading to the coming of our Lord.

Glory to God; Peace on Earth

Some time ago while singing Christmas carols at a non-Mormon event, I suggested that the group sing “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.” I was greeted with blank stares and questions. “What song?” “Never heard of it.” It turns out I was so immersed in Mormon culture (I still am to a large degree) that I didn’t know that “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains” is an LDS hymn by a 19th century Utah author, and is therefore unknown to most non-Mormon audiences, even though its doctrine is universal enough for most of them.

Facebook Memes and the Property Tax

There is, I’ve been told, a Facebook meme going around, juxtaposing a decaying house and the San Diego temple to support the argument that churches should not be exempt from taxation.

And, like Facebook memes everywhere, this one is dumb. Dumb primarily because it is a tautology that doesn’t say anything. Because of course a tax-exempt organization does not pay taxes that a non-exempt individual pays. That’s pretty much the definition of tax exemption.

Of course, saying that a Facebook meme is dumb and tautological makes for a pretty short and boring post. Far more interesting, imho, is to take seriously the point that the people spreading the picture are trying to make, and complicating that rhetorical picture a little bit.

Book of Mormon Comics

I love stories. A narrative strikes me as the most fundamental way of ideas with other people. And by ideas, I mean not only the bare events of the narrative, but also abstract concepts, morals, and emotional truths. It makes sense to me that our basic scriptural texts have strong narratives. The Old Testament is a collection of stories, with the consequences of one generation’s choices setting the stage for the actions of the next. The Book of Mormon also has very strong narratives. Other classic stories that we are familiar with, we feel free to reimagine. We update fairy tales, retell myths in modern settings. Even the stories of Genesis are recognized as archetypes that we re-present and reinterpret. But too often Mormons tend to shy away from this type of creative engagement with the text and narratives of the Book of Mormon, perhaps from a kind of self-censorship that fears corrupting in some way the most true book on the face of the earth. Unfortunately, that means that while we regard the book as wholly inspired (or just holy), it often remains dry and emotionally opaque to us. Although we are counseled to apply the scriptures to ourselves, we often don’t actually take the obvious first step of sympathizing with the people of the Book of Mormon as though they were real, feeling men (or women, for the few that are explicitly mentioned in the text). The unfamiliar…