Faith and Inspiration

I have taught some unimaginably good writers—though I’ll probably have to revise that modifier (“unimaginably”) at the end of this essay. I have taught poets who had far greater gifts than I, essayists who invited me into new paradigms or experiences, and fiction writers who took me on unanticipated journeys.

This past semester, I taught a young man who I also knew as a missionary. He was in the MTC branch my husband and I served in two years ago. He went to Africa, and I wrote to him (and to several others) while he served.

Though my letters to the other missionaries were primarily faith-building, my letters to him were often pure fiction. He knew that every fictional claim I made required him to match or beat it—and it made p-day extra fun for him. (That was my intent, of course). We had an ongoing story about his chimpanzee companion, Mr. Stompsalot, and I reported on the missionary project which was abandoned in 1973. [Read more...]

Sufjan Stevens and a Few Thoughts on Mormon Art

(Cross posted on http://www.aml-online.org)

We should have known that anyone who could write a melodic, lyrical ballad about a serial killer (John Wayne Gacy) still had some secrets and mysteries to explore. In fact, he announced just that in the final lines of the John Wayne Gacy song:

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid.

In his Salt Lake City concert, Sufjan Stevens talked about a dream he had had the night before. He had attended a “by invitation only” Prince concert—featuring all of the original band members. Except it wasn’t quite a concert. It was in a trailer, not a theater. And it was somebody dressed up to look like Prince, but not actually Prince. And he was doing karaoke. Badly. Nonetheless, in the dream, Sufjan and his friends were enthralled, raving about how good the performance was, deceived by their own expectations and convincing themselves that they really had seen Prince. [Read more...]

Bishop Desmond Tutu and Moral Authority

Westminster Abbey: If you had only an hour to take in London, that’d probably be the place to go. Kings and queens, explorers and philosophers, artists and soldiers are buried there, their effigies made to resemble them as they were in life. Effigies of Mary Queen of Scotts, and Elizabeth I, who ordered Mary’s execution, lie in close proximity with this shared epitaph: “Consorts both in Throne and Grave, here we rest two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of our resurrection.”

In another section, along a wall far beneath Gothic arches, is the tomb of William Wilberforce. His epitaph says: “His name will ever be specifically identified with those exertions which removed from England the guilt of the African slave trade and prepared the way for the abolition of slavery.” [Read more...]

Music that Really Meant Something

My husband and I saw a Tom Stoppard play recently called The Real Thing. Compelling ideas, and a lot of clever banter—mostly about fidelity: whether we can truly be committed to another person or if we simply make daily bargains with them.

But enough of substance. I was fascinated by one of the play’s devices: the search for just the right music to signify or bring back important moments in one’s life. The final song of the play is the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”—perfect, because the protagonist is declaring himself a believer in true and permanent commitment. Throughout the play, he has been experimenting with music, trying to find not only the song but the arrangement which takes him back to an important moment or transition in his life—something he can hold on to. He wants to find eight. [Read more...]

Imagining Jesus

How many families will recreate the Nativity in their living rooms on Christmas Eve? Impossible to even guess. Some will use baby dolls or teddy bears for Jesus; others will use real babies. Many wannabe angels will be cloaked in sheets and crowned with tinsel halos. Shepherds will drape a towel over their heads, secured with one of Dad’s ties. The wisemen might wear aluminum crowns and bathrobes. The children will likely get impatient and giggly. The mother might get frustrated, though she’ll try to hide it. The father (it was always Dad in my family) will read the Christmas story regardless–all the way to “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” [Read more...]

Favorite Quotes from Conference

There were some marvelous quotes in conference.
Pres. Uchtdorf: “Divine love makes common words into scripture.”
Elder Perry: “There’s something about reviewing the lessons of the past to prepare us to face the challenges of the future.”
Pres. Monson: “Were we to step back, however, and take a good look at what we’re doing, we may find we’ve immersed ourselves in the thick of thin things. “
Elder Holland: “A difficult journey becomes more difficult when a mist of darkness arises, obsucring the view of the path. This mist descends on all the travelers, the determined & faithful as well as the weak.”
From Elder Holland’s grandfather about the BOM: “No wicked man could write it, no good man would write it unless commanded of God.”
What were some of your favorites?

Three Midwives

ELOUISE: I took beginning creative writing from Elouise Bell, who demanded quite a lot. I loved the experience, and decided I would indeed become a writer. I didn’t do particularly well in it (I think I got a B), but I loved the freedom of creating stories. I loved the give-and-take of her class–though I was frankly intimidated by her back then.

I still use some of Elouise’s exercises as I teach my own students. More than her teaching, however, I remember two specific incidents involving Elouise. [Read more...]

“They Fought as They were Taught”

On Thursday, Aug. 20, Darius Gray, his sister Sandra, his ninety-year-old cousin Russell, and I gathered with some filmmakers to record Russell’s memories of World War II.

Russell was in the segregated army, on the black side. On his ship, which headed to Guadalcanal and then to Iwo Jima on December 8th, 1941, Black soldiers occupied the under deck, which was perpetually flooded with vomit- and excrement-tainted water–up to six inches of it. The white soldiers occupied the upper decks; black soldiers were not allowed in that more privileged area. Once, the black troops were told that the ship carrying their food had been sunk, and so they went without for two weeks. The white soldiers, meanwhile, ate well. The officers, according to Russell, were all white Southerners. Why Southerners? Because, he said, somebody thought Southerners knew how to handle the “colored soldiers.”

Upon hitting the shore, the black soldiers were stripped of their ammunition–all but one clip. The bulk of amo was then given to the white soldiers. [Read more...]

Lots of Bloggers at Sunstone

Sunstone starts tomorrow (Thursday), and the bloggers are coming. I will be responding to a wonderful paper by BHodges on C.S. Lewis–and I have had my husband read and comment on it as well, so I’ll be proxy-responding for him. Believe it or not, I will not be talking about race issues (though Darius Gray will), but about fiction in a couple of my presentations. (Oh, I might sneak a comment about race into one of my other respondant papers…) I was just asked to substitute as a respondant for Tom Kimball’s session on “the best books.” (Btw, Tom is one of my favorite people, so even though I’m over-scheduled as it is, I was happy to agree.) He wants me to come up with short lists of my favorite books by LDS authors in any genre–science (right, like I’m going to know about that…), fiction, cultural phenomena, history, devotional, etc. So I thought I’d open this to BCC. What are your top five books written by or about Mormons?

[Read more...]

For My Son on his 18th Birthday

The letter I won’t send…

Dear Son–
I woke you up for Church this morning differently than I normally do. It wasn’t, “Time to get up. Church starts in an hour.” It was, “If you’re going to church, you should get up. I hope you choose to go.”

As of this morning, you are eighteen. I’ve always told you that when you reached this age, the choice to attend or not to attend would be yours. [Read more...]

That Chaplain is my Sister!

My sister, Jenette Blair Lambert, will become a chaplain tomorrow, July 30. She was featured in a news story on KSL (Salt Lake) tonight–because she is a first. [Read more...]

I Was Raised to be a Cannibal–but I Got Better

As my family and I drove home from our brief vacation in Arches National Park, we heard this strange ad on the radio: “I was raised to be a cannibal. That’s why I am an honest businessman…” It took a few seconds for us to realize that we had misheard. The word wasn’t cannibal but accountable. “I was raised to be accountable.”
Quite an important distinction. That word–accountable–has significant application for me right now. [Read more...]

On Abandoning My Friend

We were in elementary school, first grade. My friend, Travis (I’ve changed names), was the kid everyone picked on. He was a tall, glasses-wearing, brainy, shy kid. He was also my next door neighbor. There was a tennis court between our houses, and we often did silly things like jump around the court singing commercial jingles. (“They’re putting pink elephants in new Crispy Critters…”) During recess one day, several mischievous boys found a way to use multiple jumping ropes to tie Travis to a tree. He didn’t cry, but his helpless eyes met mine as the recess bell sounded. We were being summoned back to our classroom. I was torn. The rules said I was supposed to go to class–we got in trouble if we didn’t obey the bell. But there was Travis, bound to a tree. Could I leave him? I walked backwards towards the school, then shouted, “I’m sorry. The bell. Sorry.” I faced forward and ran back to class. [Read more...]

Walking Through Walls

Today, this is favorite poem, published in Dialogue 41:2 (Summer)
Here’s the first half:

Grace
By Annette Weed

I’m wedged between two lifetimes,
this one and that.
Like cement walls on either side,
they press close. [Read more...]

The Prodigal

I’m going to change names for this post. I’ll just call them Mormon Mother and RM Son.

RM Son met the most beautiful woman in the world at BYU–or so he told her in a note he tossed her direction in the library, and which made her blush and timidly accept a date. They had the sort of romance we expect full-hormoned BYU students to have. That romance went beyond the plan, however. They got pregnant. [Read more...]

If I’m Ugly, It’s My Husband’s Fault

Elder Callister’s recent talk has been the subject of several blogs lately. One line got a lot of attention:
”Every man has the right to be married to a woman who makes herself as beautiful as she can be.”

I’m not going to comment on that line, but am going to provide a line I heard on Friday which should certainly be included in the onus of beauty. This, as reported to me, was said by Arthur Henry King: “You can tell it’s a good marriage if the woman keeps getting more beautiful.” [Read more...]

Dad and the Taliban

My father is an linguist whose kidneys have failed. That doesn’t sum him up, but it gives the context.
I sat with him on Wednesday during the four-hour process in which he is tethered to a machine which cleans his blood. He was sleeping when I arrived at the dialysis center. On the table at his side was a book titled _Pashtoh_. Knowing Dad, I figured this was a new language he was studying. [Read more...]

The Hard History–is faith enough to get us through?

My daughter was exposed to a lot of anti-Mormon material in her childhood. In fact, somebody read her the entire temple ceremony from an anti-perspective before she even hit her teens. She stayed LDS, because she was living with me, but told her seminary teacher that she didn’t think she could bear her testimony because didn’t have one. The many things she had heard were deeply disturbing. He asked that she bear her testimony anyway. She did, and found herself overwhelmed with a sense of love and comfort. [Read more...]

MHA with Darius – Part 3

Saturday May 23: Darius is particularly interested in the session on ritual healing, in which Jonathan Stapley will talk about men and women giving healing blessings. Though he needs to rest first, he instructs me to phone him when it’s time for the session to start. Why the interest? Darius’s mother, Elsie, was threatening miscarriage when she was pregnant with him. She had already lost several pregnancies and was desperate to keep her baby. She called in the sisters of her Pentecostal religion, who then anointed her belly with consecrated oil and prayed over her, dedicating the fruit of her womb to God. Darius knew from an early age that he had been so dedicated. [Read more...]

MHA with Darius – Part 2

Friday May 22: The first session we attend is titled “‘Who is Man to Change that Segregation?': Race in Twentieth-Century Mormon Culture, Practice, and Doctrine.” The title comes from a talk given at BYU by Apostle Mark E. Peterson. In the talk Peterson states: “I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn’t just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn’t that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, ‘First we pity, then endure, then embrace’[Read more...]

MHA with Darius – Part 1

Wed. May 20: It’s been a bad week for Darius. Two phlebotomies (the only way to control his particular type of cancer, Polycythemia Vera). He is weak. I know he won’t show it during MHA–although I’ll notice his energy levels and he’ll be honest with me. When anyone asks how he’s doing, he’ll say either, “TERRIFIC!” or “Blessed and highly favored!” [Read more...]

Wedding Rehearsal

My husband and I will celebrate twenty-four years of marriage on May 17th, which is tomorrow.
Bruce, as most of my friends and co-bloggers know, was my professor before he was my husband. I got free tuition when I married him. He was thirty-four and insecure. I was twenty-nine and damaged. [Read more...]

Exceeding My Own Expectations

My first seminary teacher (the one who inadvertently persuaded me I shouldn’t be taking seminary) loved urban legends. He told about patriarchs placing their hands on a young person’s head and saying, “I’m sorry. Nothing’s coming. I have no blessing for you.” Of course, the next day, the kid dies in a car crash. So after that class, it was a little scary to get a patriarchal blessing. [Read more...]

Speaking on Mother’s Day

I have been asked to speak in Sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day. I figured I’d avoid that particular invitation for life. It’s on my list of nightmares. This is how the person conducting the meeting introduces me in my nightmare: “Well, brothers and sisters, we usually have our ideal mothers tell us about the joys of keeping their husbands’ shirts neatly pressed, or the wonders of scrapbooking, all about their missionary children, and every splendid thing an outstanding mother can share. [Read more...]

Teaching the Youth

We’ve talked about this before: How do we reach our youth? My bishop, who is also my husband, has just called me to teach the 16-17 year olds. I’ve done it before, and found that to do it well, I needed to put about 10 hours of preparation into the class every week.

I approach it with a bit more trepidation now, because I know all of the kids I’ll be teaching. About half of them are on the brink of leaving the Church. Some have announced that they plan to leave when they’re eighteen. My own son, who will be one of my students, declares every Sunday that he hates Church. [Read more...]

Memorializing the Moments

During my recent trip to San Jose, a friend and I visited the larger-than-life statues of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, the athletes who gave the Black power salute during the National Anthem at the Mexico City Olympics. I personally come to the statues with respect for what Smith and Carlos did. So after my visit, I read a few articles about the huge depictions. I was struck by the observations of Dave Zirin: “Trepidation should be our first impulse when we hear that radical heroes are to be immortalized in fixed poses of bloodless nostalgia. There is something very wrong with seeing the toothy, grinning face of Paul Robeson staring back at us from a stamped envelope. Or the wry expression the US Postal service affixed on Malcolm X – harmless, wry, inviting, and by extension slanderous. These fears erupted in earnest when I heard that San Jose State University would be unveiling a statue of two of its alums, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The 20 foot high structure would be a commemoration of their famed Black Gloved salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. I dreaded the thought that this would be the athletic equivalent to Lenin’s Tomb: when you can’t erase a radical history, you simply embalm it.” [Read more...]

Cell Phones at Funerals

I just returned from my father-in-law’s funeral. I’ve blogged a lot about death recently, so I wanted to do something more upbeat. Here goes:
[Read more...]

Companionship and Community

So, last Friday, I sat by one of my very out, gay, former Mormon friends and a bunch of other people–active and not active Mormons–and sang the entire score of _Saturday’s Warrior_. My friend was the best. I think I came in third. He knew EVERY WORD. It was a riot. Even though he has started a different spiritual journey from the one he first began, he is at peace with his Mormon tradition–which includes not only the First Vision but “The Circle of Our Love.” The best part, of course, was that all of us at the sing-along are academic types in our day-to-day. I think we hid it extremely well as we tried to hit the notes of “Jimmy, Oh Jimmy, don’t listen to them–how can they say they’re your friends?” [Read more...]

Is the Bishop home?

On Sunday, my husband became our ward’s bishop. We have known for two weeks, but didn’t tell our children until the night before. Bruce and I read about a bishop’s duties, and he summarized them thus:
1) Care for the poor
2) Help people repent
3) Work with the youth
There are other responsibilities, of course, but these comprise his summary. [Read more...]

“You, my Father, There on that Sad Height…”

The greatest gift I could give my husband right now would be to love his father. In the nearly 1/4 century of our marriage, I have never really bonded with my in-laws. Particularly not with Grandpa. I resented the way he treated my children–though I grant they could often try anyone’s patience. Grandpa was sharp, particularly with my oldest son. There were times I wanted to make a statement, remove my son from the harshness, and say that we wouldn’t be coming back. I never did, at least not verbally. But I quietly withdrew. And I understood why my son reached a point where he simply refused to visit Grandpa.
Today, Grandpa is dying. My son went to visit him in the hospital, and wrote this poem. It’s wonderful to receive good instruction from my own child. Here is what he wrote: [Read more...]

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