I was considering a post on the Book of Mormon & the Bechdel test when it occurred to me that Gospel Doctrine class is kind of like a book club. Which got me thinking how much better, and perhaps with more vocal women in it (as well as a few more humorously identified human foibles), the Book of Mormon would be if Jane Austen had written it. [Read more…]
Adam Miller’s new book Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology is laid out in a series of digestible-length short essays. Reading his essays is like talking to a smarter, more esoteric friend or maybe sitting next to a chatty and interesting professor on a flight. His essays generally follow a pattern for me:
- Adam says something moderately profound but provocative that makes sense and that I totally agree with. I think to myself, “This is going to be good. Go, Adam!”
- Adam follows that up by saying something that sounds really smart but is completely incomprehensible to me. I re-read it several times, and then give up, shaking my head at how stupid I must be not to comprehend what he’s saying.
- Adam patiently walks back from Adam-land to where he left me in confusion and patiently, even respectfully, takes me through the steps to get me to the newfound understanding that is the true thesis of his essay.
- Along the way, like a dad walking on a beach with a small child, he points out interesting things, thoughts I can mull over at a later time, ideas I haven’t ever fully formed before, observations, and insights that have been hiding in plain sight and feel immediately familiar but newly articulated.
- When each essay concludes, my inner world of ideas has become a bigger place. My curiosity is awake. I’d like nothing more than to sit and think my new thoughts, but there are more essays to discover, so I keep reading.
Two of the General Editors of The Joseph Smith Papers Project team were kind enough to invite us to the official release of the fourth entry in the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers. Matthew J. Grow and Matthew C. Godfrey were there to talk about the production of the volume (Godfrey was also lead editor for Documents 4) future plans for the papers series and of course, volume 4.
Documents 4 covers the period from April 1834 to September 1835. Major events in Joseph Smith’s life and for the Church included Zion’s Camp, the successful printing of Joseph Smith’s revelations as the Doctrine and Covenants, and the establishment of new church administration bodies, the Twelve Apostles, and the Seventy, the financial preparation for, and construction of, the Kirtland House of the Lord, and the Book of Abraham. Documents 4 contains critical foundational documents relating to all these events.
Angry? You bet. Tyler Glenn’s latest song and video boil with rage. Glenn, a gay man and former missionary, was embraced by the church for his advocacy in building the inclusivity bridge. That is, until the LDS church’s November 5th policy change regarding homosexuals—a change that codified those in same-gender marriages as apostates, required their excommunication, and forbade the baptism of their children under certain conditions. The policy change hit him hard, like a gut punch, he says. Feeling himself betrayed, denigrated, and literally dismissed over his sexual orientation, Glenn took a hard look at less-visited areas of Mormonism and decided he could no longer believe. The release of “Trash” depicts a stunning reversal of attitude toward his faith heritage. [Read more…]
John G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard UP 2016).
Just this month, Turner followed up his excellent biography of Brigham Young with something almost entirely different: an intellectual history of Mormonism’s approach to Jesus. And, just so that I don’t bury the lede here: you need to read this book.
Turner approaches the Mormon Jesus thematically and relatively comprehensively (or, at least, as comprehensively as he can in a 350-page book). He spends the bulk of his words on 19th-century Mormonism, but he touches on events as recent as Denver Snuffer’s claim to have seen and spoken with Jesus (83-84) and as ancient as Clement of Alexandria’s view in the late second century that “the gospel had abrogated polygamy, not monogamous marriage) (220). [Read more…]
Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Kimball.
Although nobody accuses me, every time the (now out-of-print) The Miracle of Forgiveness comes up, I cringe and feel guilty. It’s really not my work and I know that. But the author is my grandfather Spencer Kimball and somehow I feel responsible in a vague but troubling way.
Rape is a difficult and touchy subject, yet I want to contribute to the discussion. I offer this as my personal opinion (I certainly cannot and would never claim to channel Spencer Kimball.) [Read more…]
Way back in the deeps of time, I was sitting on the bank of an irrigation canal. It was the end of summer, and the weedy bank was playing hide and seek with some bright afternoon sunlight trying its best to filter through the leaves of an old elm tree.
When I say “end of summer,” I mean school was about to start—five more days of freedom. The thing is, I was stuck in a crevice of time. My friends, the kids I had found a place with, were all a bit younger. Those kids were still in elementary (primary) school, whereas I was starting middle school (in fact, junior high school). A trick of birthdays and school deadlines put me in the way of a buzzsaw that would inevitably cut my friendships asunder. Not only that, the grade school had a different start date than my new fief of educational thralldom. They were already suited up in the new jeans and stiff-keep-your-shirt-tucked-in button up the center first day of school clothing prisons.
Last week, as I waited in the car to pick my daughter up from school, I heard an All Things Considered review of the recently-released album from Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. And, as these things do, it got me thinking about my mission.
When I got my call to the Brazil São Paulo East mission, I knew three things about Brazil: first, it was in South America. Second, they spoke Portuguese there. And third, it was the home of Bossa Nova. [Read more…]
Guest post by Christian Frandsen, BYU student and Assistant Curator at Writ & Vision.
Exciting—even radical—things are happening in the world of Mormon art and aesthetics. Certainly this reflects the recent widening of cultural horizons in the way mainstream Mormonism considers social topics like feminism and race, but the work of Mormon artists even in Mormon-est of all Mormon havens—Utah valley—is digging out a foundation of progressive aesthetics that extends well beyond the plot of cultural square footage that we Mormons have staked out. This is important, especially considering that one of these artists is J Kirk Richards—perhaps the most respected creator of Mormon religious art. [Read more…]
What is a deepity?
Something that sounds profound but intellectually hollow.
Usually has the following characteristics. 1. True but trivial 2. False but logically ill informed. 3. Usually a use-mention error or (UME) To the extent that it’s true, it doesn’t matter. To the extent that it matters, it isn’t true.
What is a UME? Confusing the word used to describe a thing, with the thing itself.
Daniel Dennett, the prominent atheist author who coined the term “deepity” in 2009, argues that theology is full of deepities. To which I say, I know you are, but what am I? [Read more…]
I’ve spent a lot of my recent spiritual wandering thinking about the idea of creativity and what role it can play in a spiritual life, and how I can better implicate it into my everyday practices. It’s a not a quandary with a quick answer, but one that is answered in endless and varied ways. After watching a recently released series of short films, The Adam and Eve Series, I was inspired by the quality of the production, moved by the humor and realness of the characters, and reaffirmed in my notion that creativity within spirituality is most definitely worth pursuing. I could say a lot about what I love about the Adam and Eve Series, but I would rather you spend your time reading through the well-articulated and thoughtful responses of its creators, Davey and Bianca Morrison Dillard. This is the first in a series of spotlights and interviews with people who are pursuing creativity within their mormonhood. The interview questions are in italics and I’ve bolded some of my favorite lines from Davey and Bianca, but the entire interview is most definitely worth your time. [Read more…]
When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol. When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines. I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene. I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts. She agreed with me, and I got the part! 
The Bechdel test  is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story. [Read more…]
Today is David Bowie’s 69th birthday. Today David Bowie released ★ (“Blackstar”), his 26th studio album in his five decade-ish career. And Seattle’s KEXP has declared today Intergalactic Bowie Day.[fn]
I’m not part of the Bowie cognoscenti. I mean, I’m familiar with him in the way that anybody who’s part of American culture is familiar with him—I know about Ziggy Stardust, I’ve seen Labyrinth, I’m familiar with his classic rock radio staples, I laughed at Vanilla Ice’s claim that “Ice Ice Baby”‘s baseline differed in some substantial way from Queen and Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” but I never really dug in deeply to Bowie’s oeuvre. [Read more…]
As the Ammon Bundy headlines continue to dominate the news cycle, many have been wondering whether these views are inherently Mormon as the Bundy clan claims or if Mormonism encourages these types of attitudes. While this episode has a libertarian theme, which may or may not relate to the question of anti-modernism, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2013 about the anti-modernist streak that seems to be emerging in various faith traditions, including Mormonism.
Let’s take as a given that the essentials of any Christmas music collection are Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, maybe Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Vince Guaraldi. You add in some Mariah Carey and you’ve basically got an FM radio station’s all-Christmas-all-December playlist. And, in all honesty, all the Christmas music you need. I mean, if a musician releases a Christmas album that’s not at least as good as these albums, the album isn’t really all that necessary.[fn1]
And yet. Every now and then, I hear a Christmas album that does something new. Yesterday, for example, I heard Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O. And then I listened to it again. And a third time.[fn2] [Read more…]
God’s Army came out my senior year at BYU. And it was a revelation. Fifteen years later, I can still remember the impact of seeing a movie, an actual real live movie, about my people, about my experiences. One that took those experiences seriously.
At the time, I was studying English, with a focus on creative writing. And I was thinking seriously—or, at least, as seriously as I could—about Mormon art. I mean, there was plenty of kitsch, plenty of inspiring-but-not-artistic stuff out there. But Richard Dutcher created a Mormon movie without the kitsch, something quality.[fn1]
After I graduated, though, and moved away from Utah, Mormon filmmaking had almost zero impact on me. Some Mormon cinema was great—I have New York Doll sitting in my DVD collection. Some of it wasn’t. Most of it I never saw, because it never came to New York or Chicago, where I lived. So I was excited to hear that Once I Was a Beehive was going to make its Chicago debut on Friday, October 30. [Read more…]
By Common Consent may seem like an odd place to review Mehrsa Baradaran‘s excellent How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2015) [Amazon]. Although Professor Baradaran is Mormon, the book has little explicitly Mormon content (I mean, it does mention a couple of Sen. Wallace Bennett’s interactions with the regulation of banks, but that’s as close as I remember it getting).
That said, as Mormons, we’ve been encouraged to become informed and involved in our communities. And understanding banking, especially as it relates to the poor, is, if not absolutely essential to that charge, at least tremendously important. [Read more…]
Neylan McBaine‘s name seems to be a bit like Joseph Smith’s—known for good and evil (though without the same kind of among-all-people reach). It’s fascinating how to some she is Moses come off the mountain and to others she’s Uncle Tom. I think she’s sensible enough to reject both those labels, but if those were the only two options, I would choose the former. But if she is Moses, she’s more of a Greek Moses, not with anything written in stone, but with a wandering series of questions and reasonable answers and followup questions that lead to a seemingly inevitable conclusion. [Read more…]
Go see this film! It’s one of those rare Mormon films that you’ll love, whether you’re Mormon or not. If you live in Utah, it’s playing in theaters until Thursday, August 27, 2015.
I do not pretend to be a connoisseur of Mormon film by any stretch of the imagination, or a movie critic in general, for that matter. In truth, I can add very little to film and theater critic Eric Samuelsen’s excellent review of Once I Was a Beehive, in which he highly recommends the film. I fully endorse his review in the sense that he says exactly what I would have wanted to say but much better than I could have. (Samuelsen’s glowing recommendation means a lot because he is known as somewhat of a cynic or at least a critic — he calls himself the Mormon Iconoclast — about Mormon culture.) But I had a few brief thoughts about it based on my own tastes in literature, film, and culture, and perhaps most importantly, from my perspective as a Mormon father of four Mormon daughters. [Read more…]
Ornette Coleman died today.
I don’t have any idea how resonant his death is in American culture. I don’t know what pictures the words “Ornette Coleman” conjures up in your mind, if any. But I hope to add a little to that picture.
Ronan’s post on transubstantiation (which fittingly identified a “bridge” that Mormonism, as the Restoration, can build between the Catholic and reformed perspectives on the meaning of John 6:51-58) got me thinking about one of Heinrich Heine‘s “historical” poems in his Romanzero, a collection of poems divided into three books, published in 1851. [Read more…]
William Morris is a longtime friend of the blog and champion of Mormon Lit. He has a new book out, Dark Watch and other Mormon-American Stories. We encourage you to read it!
One of the truisms that genre fiction writers often trot out is that science fiction is never about the future–that no matter how much of the language of futurism a work of science fiction employs and no matter how much SF writers get right or wrong about future technologies, science fiction is actually about the present. It has to be: the people who create it are always stuck in the present.
That doesn’t pose much of a problem if you’re writing the kind of science fiction that takes place in a distant future, where the extrapolations from current technologies and scientific discoveries can be stretched and metaphorized to the point that they are essentially fantasy in the garb of SF. I’m more interested, however, in near future science fiction because it requires more direct, rigorous engagement with the technologies and Mormonism of now. It intrigues me. I also find it almost impossible to write (even though I’ve written it). [Read more…]
My wife and I recently watched “The Words,” a movie with nested stories about writers. It featured a trope that occurs fairly regularly in movies about writing: the all-night burst of inspiration that produces Deeply Moving Prose, usually after the person doing the writing has gone through a prolonged period of emotional difficulty. The desired effect of this trope is to imbue the writing with a kind of mystical power—an effect that these movies usually augment by keeping said Deeply Moving Prose more or less sealed off from the viewers, Hitchcock-style, because it’s easier to imagine Deeply Moving Prose than it is to produce it (which may explain the irony that most movies about writing, including this one, are badly written). [Read more…]
Angels have played a significant role in Christian thought through the centuries, and in recent years an important scholarly literature has developed around the subject. Books and articles treat many different genres and periods, from the apostolic, to the medieval, to the early modern era and beyond (our own Ben Park and Sam Brown have work in the area, among others). Such work is important for many reasons, among them the study of the function and nature of angels (as people considered them) as well how these beings link to epistemological, ontological, cosmological, and other areas of religious thought. Current work shows that ideas regarding angels have and do play fundamental roles in cultural, religious, social, and literary worlds with surprising cross-pollination. Mormons are certainly familiar with the role angels play in their religion, both in its founding and more subtly in its past and current lay devotional thought.
The idea of supernatural beings who carry messages from, and do the bidding of the gods is a very old one, and biblical stories of angels acting as divine agents often mark important theological turning points. The angelic experiences told by Joseph Smith seem to portray angels as dignified, somewhat impersonal extentions of divinity but angel stories are not restricted to this narrow vision. Just as the “cult” of angels replaced the cult of Saints in Reformation Europe, angelic ministers replaced in some sense the Protestant individualism of “personal savior” for Mormons. And Mormons found a somewhat unique angelology that allowed them to reinvent Saints and Angels, in effect as one and the same.
Why should Mormons read (or even care about) a work of Anglican systematic theology about the Trinity, a doctrine in which we are prone to saying we do not believe? (But which we enjoy probing around here: see J. Stapley’s recent post, which links to several earlier Trinitarian BCC musings—get this—by three men, including me.)
Here’s why: some of the most urgent theological questions currently occupying Mormonism have to do with gender and the divine. Not only has the Ordain Women movement raised (once again) the issue of women’s ordination, but people are asking questions about Heavenly Mother (see the “Connecting to Heavenly Mother” series at FMH, or the Heavenly Mother category at the Exponent II blog), with some wondering whether she can be separated from earlier teachings about Adam-God and polygamy. A recent review of Terryl Givens’s Wrestling with the Angel drew attention to the ways that our theology (along with Givens’s account of it) struggles to make sense of gender or even to find a place for women. In sum, although many members of the Church (female and male) do seem satisfied with present teachings and practices around gender, a growing minority can’t help butting up uncomfortably against questions about how women fit into the economy of heaven. [Read more…]
There’s a huge, but underexplored, problem with the Book of Mormon: it don’t get no respect.
Richard Bushman bemoans the fact that the Book of Mormon can’t get a toehold in cultural history classes or the Harvard Divinity School, because the world outside of Mormonism gets stuck on its origins. The angelic delivery, the miraculous translation, heck, the gold plates mean must be a hoax. And, as a hoax, they don’t even get to the point where they confront the text.[fn1] [Read more…]
Adam S. Miller, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Self-published, 2015). Amazon: $8.99 paperback; $3.99 Kindle.
John Locke, in the preface to his posthumously published paraphrases of Paul’s letters, inveighs against the division of the text into chapters and verses because it hinders comprehension of the text as a unified whole. To understand Paul, Locke says, one ought to read the epistles in a single sitting, again and again, until the big picture begins to coalesce. This advice is the most difficult to implement with Romans, Paul’s longest and most complicated epistle, so a well-done paraphrase offers a way in.
Adam Miller’s new paraphrase sets out to address another obstacle: the difficulty that emerges in the culturally specific details and rhetorical tangles of Paul’s complex argument, which becomes only slightly less difficult when read in the NIV or NRSV than it was in the 400-year-old KJV. Miller, then, aims to “translate” Paul not just into a modern idiom, but into a modern context. Since he considers the message of Romans “urgent,” as his title proclaims, he strives to show the relevance of its argument for 21st century readers. [Read more…]