A Birthday Toast

A guest submission by B. Bowen, a good friend of BCC.

Dear Brother Joseph,

Like many of my fellow wanderers, I celebrate you this week. Yesterday was “Joseph” day at church, and I think you would have liked it: a youth talk with all the typical mythological worship-speak (You could do no wrong! Miracles and power! Boy genius!); a nice summary drawn from your mother’s memoir; and the coup de grace, a thorough, trembling tribute, not to the myth, but to the deconstruction of the myth, the kind of which we see far too little these days.

After church, our home teacher came over to talk about you. He asked if I had any experiences “sharing” you with others. I told him I have them all the time, but not in the way he was asking about. I told him that I “share” you with the Saints, because as poorly as I know you, others often know you far less well, and this failure to know is choking the life out of our people. You are not a man; you are an icon, who, we are told, cannot and must not be smeared, lest the curtain be drawn and their arms, turning wheels and pulling levers, be revealed for the flesh they are.

But that curtain is wearing thin. It splits at the seams. In spots it is threadbare enough to see through, and bright lights are gathering, gathering, gathering. In a coming day, only the most willfully ignorant will fail at least to see that something is not as it has seemed.

Draw the curtains! Let the levers sit idle! Replace awe with vision; fear with wisdom, theatrics with revelation!

nullFamiliarity only partially breeds contempt; more so, it breeds compassion. When I dream of Zion, I dream of the understanding that surpasses myth, surpasses kitsch, surpasses platitudes. I dream of the messiness that IS and will be forever. I dream, dear brother, of you. And I celebrate. I celebrate you and all of you. I raise my glass to witching rods, to money digging, to circles carved in stone, to faces in hats, to undisturbed linen. I toast Zelph, funerary vessels, mummies and Kinderhook. I toast hubris and failure, Missouri, Kirtland, the Flag of the Kingdom, secret councils, scattered type, dreams of Texas, white papers, and error born of desperation. To the night in Iowa, I raise my glass, to banners and uniforms I take a sip. For you, today, I will even nod to–though I will not toast–the Great Mistake. For you, tomorrow, I will walk the riverbed searching for my stone. I will look for my brethren among strangers, flashing signs. I will eschew all damnation and see the face of God.

I toast these–and more–not because you said or did them, but because you dared to. Oh, how you dared, and oh, how you showed us to do likewise. To this my cup will stay aloft, never to drop.

Godspeed, friend. Godspeed.

Comments

  1. Wow, Bowen. Contender for best post of 2005? Anyone want to second that?

    I toast Joseph too (“Smithmas” be damned), the man and the prophet. As Bloom is wont to say, Joseph restored Yahweh, that terrible, thunderous, human, weeping God, the friend of Man. Oh how we have forgotten!

  2. I agree, Ronan.

  3. For my tastes, I would add a few good things to the third to last paragraph. Sorry Bowen.

  4. John,

    I can see plenty of “good things” in that paragraph. No witching rods > no seer stones > no Book of Mormon > no second witness of Christ. It’s all part of the package and there ain’t nothing in that with which to be ashamed. Plenty more, too. Should we not mourn the “Flag of the Kingdom”?

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    “When I dream of Zion, I dream of the understanding that surpasses myth, surpasses kitsch, surpasses platitudes.”

    Blasphemy!!! Nothing surpasses platitudes, Bowen. NOTHING.

  6. Ronan,
    B. Bowen’s “toast” to “Zelph, funerary vessels, mummies and Kinderhook” among other things could easily be understood to hint at mockery rather than true admiration. B. Bowen claims that because he has read historical treatments of these things, he knows Joseph Smith better than Latter-day Saints who have not. I’m not so sure that this assumption should be accepted uncritically. Of course, I won’t begrudge B. Bowen his enthusiasm for the Prophet. And since many seem to be disturbed by the fact that Joseph Smith was both a prophet and a human being, this post is a very good contribution and goes a long way to arrive at the point where those who uncritically accept Joseph Smith as a Prophet already are: God uses people with human shortcomings as his mouthpiece and as prophets, seers, and revelators.

  7. (since there are no perfect human beings)

  8. Thank you B. — this was just wonderful.

  9. Well, I’ll toast to that too, JF. (BTW, with what are we toasting? Nauvoo wine?)

  10. Thanks B. Bowen. I was moved as I read this post.

    I can understand John Fowles’ points. Were this to have come from my pen (which it couldn’t have), I would toast to Plates of Gold and to Priestesses and Kings. I would toast to Elijah and to Emma.

  11. I really appreciated your toast. It captures much of my same (mourning) sentiment towards the Church’s current treatment of the Prophet.

    Your toast, while not placing any particular blame, seems to paint the Prophet as an unwitting victim of revisionist history. I wonder, though — how much responsibility for this lies in Brother Joseph himself? How much did he actively benefit by cultivating his own larger-than-life status while he was still alive?

  12. Ronan,

    Perhaps lime-green jello shots with little carrot strips floating about?

  13. John Phillip Pollard, former Elder says:

    B. Bowen, thundering applause to your rather enchanting toast to Brother Joseph, don’t think I could’ve worded it any better, even on my best day. -Cheers from Japan-, where, by the way, in spite of the LDS temple here in Fukuoka, Mormonism is still struggling everyday, thank goodness! Japanese just aren’t quite as gullible as most Americans may seem to think.

  14. Thank you B. Bowen. Wonderful post that expressed – no – clarified many things I’ve been thinking about lately, in a way I never would have been able to say them.

    This is the first bloggernacle post I’ve ever printed out to keep.

  15. Levi Peterson says:

    B. Bowen:

    Thanks for your post. It has a compelling eloquence. It is poetic. In fact, despite being cast in prose, it is poetry. Like much other poetry, it is open to a wider range of interpretation than exposition. You speak of the Great Mistake. I for one will interpret that to mean polygamy.

    Levi

  16. Re #14:

    I served in Fukuoka as well. What exactly do you mean by “not as gullible as most Americans seem to think?”

    I imagine you were trying to make a point. But it was kinda lost on me.

  17. “For you, tomorrow, I will walk the riverbed searching for my stone. …I will eschew all damnation and see the face of God.”
    Hear, hear!

  18. What exactly do you mean by “not as gullible as most Americans seem to think?” I imagine you were trying to make a point. But it was kinda lost on me.

    Yeah, I’m kinda scratching my head about that one as well. Do American’s think Japanese are gullible? Do they even think much about Japanese at all? I’ve never personally encountered any preconceptions about Japanese accepting the teachings of outsiders in flocks and droves. And my own experience isn’t that Japanese lack gullibility, per se. More like, they are largely agnostic and materialistic, with a strong sense of tradition, but a very weak sense of religiosity, and a general ignorance and resistence to Western religious concepts.

    I think maybe I’m overanalyzing, though. Maybe JPP’s comment was just intended to be in the spirit of the day (i.e., cheeky irreverance).

  19. I love it. Maybe you could submit it to the Ensign as a member/guest contribution? Wouldn’t the waves be beautiful if it were actually printed?

  20. Beautiful. Here’s mud in all of our eyes.

  21. Polygamy is the “great stumbling block,” but certainly no mistake. In fact, it is one of the most calculated and effective policies ever implemented by the Prophet. Your inability to reconcile polygamy informs your entire “toast” and, in the end, prevents you from any true friendship with Brother Joseph.

    Vain flattery only.

  22. I was going to ask the same thing…what does the great mistake refer too? Is it a term B. Bowen came up with or one I should be familiar with?
    Thanks (to anyone who knows the answer).

  23. JF: a different toast for a different day. To clarify: I intend to doubt, but not to mock.

    Ben: indeed: I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

    Levi: a fair interpretation. Would it be your choice, were you toasting?

    BTD: no cheeky irreverance intended.

    Stephen: is friendship only approbation and unmitigated acceptance? I feel no obligation to accept polygamy to be a friend of Joseph; indeed, I feel no obligation to accept a single doctrine. For my purposes today, doctrine is secondary. Ironically, you underscore much of my thinking on the subject.

    Doug: my term.

  24. I really don’t understand this post at all. Is the author trying to be clever or rebellious or candid or informative? It strikes me as none of these.

    Let’s suppose it’s my wife’s (or even just my friend’s) birthday and we hold a big party with everyone there. Then, in the midst of a bunch of toasts that are very flattering to her, I raise a toast to her and say, “Shannon, today is your day. I drink to you, but not your beauty [she's one hot babe] or your kindness or your capacity to make me wonderfully happy, but to your… [and here I insert a list of everything that she's ever done that has made me feel like marriage is no walk in the park].” Would it be clever or rebellious or candid or informative? I don’t think so. I think that it would be considered rude and disrespectful–perhaps even vindictive.

    I don’t like this post. I also don’t like many of the responses, because they celebrate this as a reflection of some superiority they hold over Mormons who aren’t quite as up-to-speed about our rich Mormon heritage. Regardless of what was intended, I find it to be disrespectful and dripping with scorn for both Joseph Smith and his admirers.

  25. Oh, DKL, please, enough with the righteous indignation. Youre just upset BBowen is allowed to post this kind of thing and get away with it, and you arent.

  26. David, your response (#25) is almost exactly that of my father-in-law when he read the first half of Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling.” He thought that because it disclosed or discussed negative events in Joseph’s life, it was “disrespectful” and improper.

    But, which is more respectful, to mythologize the man, ignoring his faults (and perhaps needlessly adopting or continuing his mistakes), or to accept him as a “rough stone rolling,” recognizing he had both the faults and positives of a man of his era and position of power (and some that arose, almost unexplicably, from other eras)?

    By recognizing the rough, unpolished (IOW, in need of repentance, as Joseph himself wrote) aspects of his character and actions, I think it helps us better appreciate that this thing called Mormonism and this grander thing called life on earth both require continual effort, evaluation, and repentance. So let’s get to work.

    For myself, I treasure many revelatory and theological events or ideas for which Joseph was either the actor, recipient, or voice. I didn’t experience B. Bowen’s toast as diminishing any of those positive aspects. But I can see how it might for you. I very much enjoy pondering over and ruminating about Joseph’s positive contributions. If write your own toast focusing on those, I’d be happy to be part of your consuming audience.

  27. DKL, A toast like that would be something along the lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 (My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun), which has always been a favorite of mine. I think this post is in something of the same spirit.

  28. Morgan A, I was wondering how long it would take someone to give me the “mythologizing” lecture. I’m the bloggernacle’s biggest defender of Fawn Brodie, for crying out loud. And for the record, I thought that Dan Vogel’s recent bio was outstanding.

    I apologize that my first comment was too harsh. If I had it to write over again, I’d certainly delete the first paragraph. I respect B. Bowen’s mode of worship and his view of Joseph Smith, and I did not mean to imply that I take exception to them. In fact, there are parts of his post that strongly resonate with me. But taken as a whole, I do not like it.

    The scornful references to “‘Joseph’ day” and “mythological worship-speak”; the liberal use of scare quotes; the assertion that the “failure to know [all the controversial details of Joseph's life] is choking the life out of our people”; and the absence of any scorn-free reference to anything uncontroversial–all of these ring with frustration at the uppity attitudes of all the Molly Mormons or Peter Priesthoods anxious to wax presumptuous about how tidy Mormon history must be. I certainly understand this frustration, because I’ve had such types try to shove their vision of Mormonism down my throat on more occasions than I can count.

    Though I pursue knowledge about Mormonism and Mormon history with passion and with vigor, I don’t believe for a second that knowing all about Joseph Smith contributes to my (or anyone else’s) salvation. And I don’t begrudge other Mormons their holy cows, even if I don’t share them. (Though, as you can probably tell, I’m sometimes ruder than I should be to people I disagree with.)

  29. I don’t know that you’re entirely right, Dorito. (Element of truth, perhaps?) But it is pretty funny to see David (with his long-term crush on Brodie) being made into a defender of orthodoxy. Alas, it’s too late to nominate “I’m sometimes ruder than I should be to people I disagree with” for comment of the year.

    Dave’s right that, as a toast, this post is pretty thin gruel. But that’s because the post clearly isn’t intended as a toast. The toast portion of it is all but irrelevant; the post’s target is not Joseph or the guests at a birthday party. Rather, the target is the too-naive Mormon mainstream. What does this mean?

    It introduces a big potential problem (which underlies Dave’s and my own discomfort with the post). That problem in turn goes back to the age-old question of how to challenge the existing orthodoxy without being crass or disrespectful to believers. It is not an easy line to walk: No one likes a party-pooper; and no one likes the kid who tells the other kids that Santa isn’t real. No one likes the kid who sneers at others.

    And too often, that kind of attitude seems to pervade debunking projects. We’ve all witnessed people who launch into debunking projects in order to demonstrate their own superiority to others. There is a strong current of triumphalist mean-spiritedness in the desire to make hamburgers out of somebody else’s sacred cow. Muckrakers and debunkers may be important, but they’re often wrongly motivated and therefore despicable. (I don’t wish to imply (yet) that this post is guided by such motivation — only that this is a known potential pitfall for the would-be debunker).

    That said, debunking is often necessary. It’s one thing to humor a kid’s dream of Santa; it’s another to allow an adult to spend thousands to fly to the North Pole to meet Santa. Delusions typically should be debunked if they are causing people to make bad decisions. But this is hard for a few reasons. First, it’s not always clear where the line between good decisions and bad decisions lies. Second, tactful debunking is fraught with difficulty. It requires knowledge of the facts, respect for believers, and a reason other than desire to look better than the masses. It can be a minefield. (It’s certainly one that I don’t always navigate well myself).

    My own sense is that this post falls into a gray area. For some, it may look like proper counter-history, or a proper debunking. But for others, it crosses the line into crassness. In particular, the author’s scorn for mainstream Mormonism is, on the one hand, the post’s entire reason for existence; on the other hand, it is exactly that scorn that makes the post into a somewhat problematic read.

  30. I had the same impression upon reading the post that DKL and Kaimi did. Thus, my remark about “cheeky irreverance.” Thinking it over, I suppose it’s not meant to be irreverant to Joseph Smith, but I still think it’s meant to be irreverant to those who honor him in conventional ways.

  31. “It’s meant to be irreverant to those who honor him in conventional ways.”

    Let the irreverence roll!

    As did Joseph himself. There are many examples, here’s one anecdote I picked up from the bloggernacle last week:
    Rachel Ivins Grant was the Prophet Heber J. Grant’s mother. She knew Joseph when she was a teenager (in fact, she rejected Joseph’s marriage proposal, but was sealed to Joseph after his death).
    Grant biographer Ron Walker records that Rachel wrote that “Joseph would play with the people, and he was always cheerful and happy. Once while visiting the Ivinses on the Sabbath, he [Joseph] requested the family girls sing the popular “In the Gloaming.” Rachel believed singing and newspaper reading breached the Sabbath and she responded with a mortified, “Why Bro. Joseph, it’s Sunday!” Smith swept her objections aside with a smile and the comment, “The better the day, the better the deed.”

  32. I neither read nor felt a “scorn for mainstream Mormonism.” (#30)
    I don’t think its “irreverant to those who honor him in conventional ways.”(#31)
    Sure, I sense a criticism of the lack of knowledge of or attention to the panoply of Joseph’s history, but that is neither “irreverence,” nor “scorn,” nor necessarily a defining element of “mainstream Mormonism.”
    (unless on the latter point you’re suggesting “no mainstream Mormon wants to know my history” is an apt aphorism).

    Lighten up, guys! If we come to view institutional criticism as scorn and irreverence, don’t we run the risk of merely running in a narrowing spiral, becoming more and more convinced that the truth is exactly what we think we already know, no further thinking needed, thank you.

  33. Apparently, BCC is “a liberal-minded, yet grossly intolerant Mormon blog: we tolerate dissent, but not stupidity.”

    B. Bowen’s toast dissents a little; I don’t think it’s stupid; therefore, I conclude that Mr. Bowen was just following his brief to the letter.

  34. Ronan,

    You guys got rid of that tagline a long time ago. Also, BCC has allowed stupidity in comments for some time now. (Should I provide links?)

    I don’t know if the two developments are related. Perhaps Frank can run a regression for us.

  35. Hi Kaimi,
    If you look at “info and contact” it’s still there (or at least has not been refuted). I just think you and David are playing the humbug, you old Scrooges, you! Raise your glass man!

  36. Wrong, Ronan. I’m not just being a humbug. In fact, I’ve been very specific about I object to, and Kaimi has done a good job of explaining why. Unless you have a convincing explanation for why the things that I point out in the second paragraph of my preceding post are not derisive, I’ll remain disappointed to see this blog sponsoring posts that scorn the religious beliefs of those who practice mainstream religions, be they true-believing-Mormons or members of other religions.

    At any rate, when you’ve gone to all the trouble to single out a person or group for ridicule, it simply is not your place to dismiss it as nothing more than a joke.

  37. DKL,

    We should perhaps let B. Bowen speak for himself. If that sounds like a cop-out, I’m sorry.

    I simply didn’t read any “scorn” in the post. As you say, “all of these ring with frustration at the uppity attitudes of all the Molly Mormons…”

    Frustration, then, but not scorn. Or shall we say “frustration with a pinch of snark”? Blimey, if that’s inappropriate at BCC then we’re all doomed.

    Anyway, B. Bowen: what say you? Are you singling people out for ridicule?

  38. Ronan, for the record, and if it somehow wasn’t clear from my comments above (e.g. #7), I agree with DKL and Kaimi on this. The main point of this post was not a “toast” to the Prophet Joseph Smith; it was a finger in the eye of “mainstream” LDS views of their beloved Prophet and the mockery of people who aren’t interested in talking about these matters surrounding the life of Joseph Smith. It can be summarized in one sentence: I and others who have read about and are interested in [x] about Joseph Smith are superior to the naive mainstream Mormons, and moreso because despite [list of stupid things about Joseph Smith] and what I judge to be The Great Mistake, I still am willing to give him some kind of vaguely inspired role as the founder of what can, in theory at least, be an uplifting institution.

    I cannot “raise my glass” to this toast. This is probably for different reasons than DKL, if he is really such a fan of No Man Knows My History. At the same time, as I wrote in # 7, I won’t begrudge B. Bowen his appreciation for Joseph Smith, but that also doesn’t mean I have to subscribe, and not subscribing is not equivalent to saying bah humbug.

  39. John’s #39 description of the post as a “mockery” and “a finger in the eye of mainstream LDS” probably does accurately represent his own reaction, but as for me and my mainstream household, we raise our glass in hearty celebration of much of Joseph Smith’s life, the fine prose of the toast, and of the Cougars’ coming bowl victory tonight!

  40. John, your concerns are entirely in character. DKL’s are, well, surprising (I know you have defended yourself, David, but still…). Anyway, I think it would be useful if B. Bowen could confirm or deny your suspicion John that the post really means that,

    I and others who have read about and are interested in [x] about Joseph Smith are superior to the naive mainstream Mormons, and moreso because despite [list of stupid things about Joseph Smith] and what I judge to be The Great Mistake, I still am willing to give him some kind of vaguely inspired role as the founder of what can, in theory at least, be an uplifting institution.

    But maybe ambiguity is better. I honestly felt that this was a toast to the warts-and-all Joseph, rather than a stick-in-the-eye of the average Saint. Horses for courses, I s’pose….

  41. Ronan, whether the post was born of frustration is irrelevant. Though I empathize with what I believe to be the source of B. Bowen’s remarks, no amount of frustration justifies them.

    I work with a guy who once told me that before he met me, he found Mormons to be irritating. This continues to strike me as quite humorous (especially since Mormons tend to have quite the opposite reaction; viz., most of them tend to give other Mormons the benefit of doubt until they meet me). We all have our moral blind spots, and apparently one of this guy’s is religious bigotry. I’m friends with the guy, and so I get to hear the vigor with which he carries on about this or that stupid or coarse or crass religious thing, be it Christ or the Pope or the Bible (all under the guise of being honest or candid). But he doesn’t really care much about Christ or the Pope or the Bible any more than he cares about Zeus. Religious bigotry leads people to tear down religious figures and religions because they are irritated by those who practice them.

    The portions of B. Bowen’s post that I identified (The scornful references to “‘Joseph’ day” and “mythological worship-speak”; the liberal use of scare quotes; the assertion that the “failure to know [all the controversial details of Joseph's life] is choking the life out of our people”; and the absence of any reference to scorn free aspects of Joseph’s biography) all ring of disdain for other Mormons who don’t share his level of sophistication. It’s telling that one of the first responses to my initial comment tried to educate me about how I might “better appreciate” Mormonism.

    I am often irreverent, and I’m fast to shoot off a one-liner that I think is funny or clever. But however rude I may sometimes be, the accusation (that I’ve often heard repeated) that I regularly scorn my argumentative opponents is no more true than the accusation that I don’t apologize. I’m curious why you’re surprised that I object to ridiculing people for basically mainstream religious beliefs.

  42. Here we are, trying to figure out what the artist means. No matter what, the toast was incredibly well-written.

    As a recovering perfectionist, I am going to take this toast _my_ way. We will all be discovered for our good and bad. I hope that people will see me for my good and my bad and that when it is weighed out, I will be considered more worthy of fellowship than not.

    No wonder Lucy Smith heard these words after Joseph’s death: “I have taken them to myself, that they might have rest.” That compassion B. Bowen is talking about God had as well…Joseph had been busy and he needed a break!

    I also take the audience to truly be Joseph and the rest of us who are apprised and accepting–not as a mockery of the mainstream LDS, unless you count the fact that being around the type of LDS people who need their Perfection and need their Perfect is exhausting. I take B. Bowen’s post as an acknowledgement of all the difficult and exhausting times ahead watching while people writhe in this information they do not want. OK, and possibly hilarious times. Hmmm…maybe I am evil. LOL Even my friends are confused.

    The truly great make their own way. They take many risks. They fail many times. It is to their credit, I feel. Like B. Bowen said, Joseph really “dared”. But I love him (Joseph Smith), what can I say?

  43. I write this respectfully.

    I really do not get it. If you have such concerns about the Church, why are you still involved? If I felt the way many of you do, I absolutely would not be a Mormon. I would find something else.

    Central to our faith is following and sustaining the brethren, and their gospel interpretation. What they say goes.

    There are other spiritual paths out there…why not find one that fits better?

  44. and of the Cougars’ coming bowl victory tonight!

    Well, now you’ve gone too far. To that, I’ll never raise my glass.

    Why does it always have to be sanctimony and counter-sanctimony? Aren’t we allowed to disagree with the dissent without being accused of trying to shout down or shush the dissenters?

    If there’s one thing I don’t have any trouble with, it’s lightening up. You’d be surprised.

  45. I agree that theatrics need to be replaced. Which means this post should be replaced as soon as possible.

  46. To answer your question, Ronan, the toast is meant to ridicule no one (though I will note that the well-intentioned youth talk was pretty remarkable—I included it primarily because I think Joseph would have found it amusing). It is not meant to be scornful, nor irreverant, nor self-aggrandizing, nor a finger in anyone’s eye. It is not about interpersonal hierarchy.

    In fact, it was born of compassion. Three times this week I spoke with someone who related to me significant damage done either to them or to someone they loved by the excessive mythologizing of Brother Joseph in the institutional Church. Each of these people is an active, faithful Latter-day Saint (to the extent that matters). If you (generic) feel that mythologizing is a necessary, valuable process, and you are not bothered by its dominance in the culture and practice of Mormonism, so be it. I disagree, and not because of my ego. My disagreement is not only a matter of principle, but it is also pragmatic: as I alluded to previously, the deconstruction of the myth on a global scale is fast approaching, and it will not be painless. All the more reason to do it sua sponte, and sooner, rather than later.

    Origins aside, who is the subject of the toast? Joseph. Because, as I said, he dared. Because he fervently sought revelation, eschewing creeds and other forms of damnation:

    I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’; which I cannot subscribe to.

    DKL, you are wrong about the absence of positive aspects of Joseph’s history in my post. Each element mentioned is positive, either because it represents Joseph’s daring, creative, God-seeking openness, or because it represents his well-intentioned humanity, made abundantly manifest in the myriad risks he took in the name of seeking the divine. Both, in my view, are consummately toast-worthy.

    “Mainstream Mormonism” is, of course, a secondary subject/audience. That I advocate reformation, though, does not make me or my poast spiteful. From my perspective, Kaimi got it half right: challenging orthodoxy is a minefield (all the more reason to toast Joseph’s courage). To the extent my actual motivations are relevant, I speak from a (subjective) position of hope and love; that this is not clear to some readers is a disappointment on many levels.

    I have avoided posting thus far in part out of fear that once I did, the conversation would end. I hope it does not.

    One final aside: I failed to introduce myself when I first posted. For those of you wondering where I came from, I’m a member of the crowd of Dialogue permabloggers. I live in Seattle, near a handful of bloggernacle luminaries, many of whom have blessed my life in meaningful ways of late (thanks). And thanks to BCC for having us.

  47. “poast” –> “post”

    Darnit.

  48. …significant damage done either to them or to someone they loved by the excessive mythologizing of Brother Joseph…

    Please elaborate. At first blush, a claim of “significant damage” seems melodramatic, but I’m open to trying to understand this concept better.

  49. David, uh, I’m pretty sure I got a goodbye message from you. Did you get my Christmas card? Glad you changed your mind.

    I have a new computer!!!!

    Sorry for the threadjack, Ronan. I think we make too big a deal of JS birthday. I don’t even know when the other prophets were born. Not even Moses or Noah or anybody. I don’t think God cares. I think we just remember because it’s so close to Christmas.

    To me, December 23 is my granddaughter’s birthday.

  50. One small correction, B. Bowen: I specifically avoided using the words positive and negative in relation to the aspects of Joseph’s life that you refer to. I opted, instead, for the term controversial (and its cognates), because I feel the same way that you do about the items that you mention.

    I’ve also seen the unwholesome fallout that can result from the deflation of a traditional view of Joseph Smith. And I’ve seen what can result from the deflation of a traditional view of the New Testament (and, by extension, Jesus), early Christian history, and Old Testament History. If you ask me, the problem isn’t so much Joseph Smith’s humanity. It’s that there’s good reason to suppose that Jesus never lived; that Paul lied about being a pharisee; that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have the ontological status of Hercules; that the Exodus never occurred.

    When it comes to dealing with the uppity attitudes of Molly Mormons and Peter Priesthoods who insist that history must be pristine, I try to use candor. And I’m very careful (perhaps too careful) about “time and place” issues. So that during Easter, I’d never post a harangue about Jesus’s moral flaws or the reasons that many argue he never lived.

    Thanks for clarifying, B. Bowen. Understanding that you wrote your post out of compassion for those who’ve had a hard landing after their fall from lofty myths helps to put it in a better light.

    (I should add that my wife likes your post quite a bit. I can’t speak for her, but I think that she plans to comment to the effect that I’m off my rocker with regard to my comments.)

  51. Yes, annegb. I was elated to get your Christmas card. Thank you. We sent ours a little later than you did (we’re on Mormon time, you know. Well actually, we’re not–I’m just a procrastinator), but you should be receiving one soon. Thank you.

    And I changed my mind after several people (who either like me or really have it in for the bloggernacle) encouraged me to stick around. Heck, even Miranda made a comment.

  52. #49. Sorry. I don’t think elaborating here would be appropriate.

  53. Well, in that case, I continue to believe that this statement is melodrama (or perhaps hyperbole is a better term). Honestly, I don’t see how failing to preach about seer stones and the Council of Fifty can be cause significant damage to loved ones. But maybe that’s just me.

  54. Responding to 54, here’s an example. My little sister first learned about Joseph’s polyandry from an anti-Mormon source. Years later (I was no longer living at home when it occurred) she spoke with me about the event, and her subsequent readings on the subject. She told me her initial reaction was, “if he lied about this, and if I’ve been lied to about this, what else is a lie?”

    Though that event wasn’t the only factor in her disengagement with Mormonism (despite my efforts to the contrary), it was probably the most significant one.
    I think it is very likely that if she had learned of the prickly Mormon historical issues from within the church community, they would not have presented an insurmountable obstacle (still an obstacle) and she would probably still be a faithful member.

  55. I repeat all the positive comments that have been said in regards to this post. To me, Joseph Smith is a lot like Nephi. He was a great prophet but imperfect and human. Nevertheless, he knows in whom he has placed his trust. I don’t know why some in the church have chosen to de-emphasize his humanity. I think that is a disservice to the legacy of the Prophet. He was a man, too.

  56. I got asked about the following post:

    Polygamy is the “great stumbling block,” but certainly no mistake. In fact, it is one of the most calculated and effective policies ever implemented by the Prophet. Your inability to reconcile polygamy informs your entire “toast” and, in the end, prevents you from any true friendship with Brother Joseph.

    Vain flattery only.

    Comment by Stephen

    To those concerned about my lack of patience and faith, I’ll only note that I post as “Stephen M (Ethesis)” and am not Steve EM, one of the other Stephens or Ned Flanders.

    I will also note that polygamy was very effective in turning the LDS community into an ethnic group until the 1960s, something that appears to have been a vital part of the Church’s growth and survival through the time from 1890 to 1940.

    I know that as a missionary, one of the core parts of the Hill Cumorah Pagent study book was a large section on how human and falible the prophet was.

    As for celebrations on his birthday, it got mentioned in the bulletin, but that was all.

    Anyway, I may enjoy the snarkernacle, and I may agree in many parts with some of the other Steve[s] and Stephen[s] that post, and while I’ve had the usual rough holiday season, there is a new Stephen as well ;)

    (re, notes, such as this:

    Is that you being testy on the blogs? Or is there a new Stephen?

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to be in a bad mood. … Just wondering.

    from good people who care and are blessed.)

  57. Let’s suppose it’s my wife’s (or even just my friend’s) birthday and we hold a big party with everyone there. Then, in the midst of a bunch of toasts that are very flattering to her, I raise a toast to her and say, “Shannon, today is your day. I drink to you, but not your beauty [she’s one hot babe] or your kindness or your capacity to make me wonderfully happy, but to your… [and here I insert a list of everything that she’s ever done that has made me feel like marriage is no walk in the park].” Would it be clever or rebellious or candid or informative? I don’t think so. I think that it would be considered rude and disrespectful–perhaps even vindictive.

    I don’t like this post. I also don’t like many of the responses, because they celebrate this as a reflection of some superiority they hold over Mormons who aren’t quite as up-to-speed about our rich Mormon heritage. Regardless of what was intended, I find it to be disrespectful and dripping with scorn for both Joseph Smith and his admirers.

    Comment by DKL

    Read a number of replies, think I’ll ask DKL to guestpost at my blog.

  58. My first visit to this site. I have read a couple of posts and they were interesting–and educational, though not so much with regard to the topic but the environment here. Many of the posters seem to be more than a little bit maudlin, if not overwrought. Must one be (euphemism) “poetic” to be in this “community?” Or, can we more objective, rational folks participate?

  59. Nate Oman says:

    “…this failure to know is choking the life out of our people…”

    Wow. Choking the life out us, eh? Thanks for coming to the rescue…

  60. Nate, Dave,
    regarding your focus on and criticism of the phrase “choking the life out of,” consider that a toast (in my experience) is to be listened to the way one might listen to poetry. That is, with an understanding that the literary device of hyperbole is intentionally employed.

    As with the imagery of poetry, the metaphor of this phrase will find different meanings for different people. For me, it resonates with my sense that the strong tendency to sanitize or explain away Joseph’s actual history has the result of causing us to forget his actual theology.

    I fear as we do that we become less “Mormon” and more humdrum late 20th century vanilla American Christian–to our loss.

Trackbacks

  1. Confusing Church and Culture: Joseph Smith and Christmas

    Joseph Smith was a prophet with a great message. In religious settings, his message should be celebrated. But he wasn’t the message, and to the extent that we think he was a prophet he wasn’t even the primary author of the message. That…

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