The Provo River has been entangled in my life from the beginning. I was born a few hundred yards from its shady cottonwood-lined flow. I met my wife during a student ward party at the Canyon Glen Park on the banks of the Provo. I know it better than any river. [Read more…]
Douglas J. Davies, Joseph Smith, Jesus and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010). 292pp., inc. index, bibliography, textual references. Paperback: £16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4094-0670-9.
Davies argues that Mormonism’s force as a religion is intelligible through a relational trinity (Jesus, Satan and Joseph Smith) evoked in three paradigmatic scenes: the Grand Council, Gethsemane and the Sacred Grove. This intelligibility makes Mormonism Plan of Salvation both accessible and appealing. Davies’ attempts to speak to and through a form of Mormonism which is now fading, or at least shifting, gives this text a liminal quality. He attributes some of the major shifts in LDS ecclesiology and theology to the reconfiguration of this trinity. And yet, despite being focussed upon Mormonism’s past, his book sensitises members of the Church, and interested observers, to those changes currently occurring. [Read more…]
“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.”
So it is with the Mormon Wasp, known only in the commenting rolls of the bloggernacle as the unassuming “Justin” these days. BCC is happy to present the following interview with Justin, the author and host of some of the best Mormon History blogging the ‘nacle has ever seen. As J. Stapley once told me, “When Justin speaks, the thinking is done.” [Read more…]
My wife and I recently agreed to write an essay on “embodiment and sexuality” in Mormonism and as I have often confessed to many of you I know very little about the Utah period of Mormonism. I suspect that, other than being a little tired of the constant fights about the status of Joseph Smith’s dual wives in Nauvoo, many others are curious about how participants in polygamy might have talked about or understood sexuality, how the Mormon family system might have resisted or intersected with trends in the broader American society. Any of you out there have any primary or secondary sources that you strongly recommend for someone interested in understanding more about sexuality in 19th-century Mormon polygamy? I think it’s fair to say that the Victorian polygamy romance novels are not at the top of my interest list, though if there was one you thought was absolutely exemplary it might be interesting.
The recent and perennially anticipated announcement that Deseret Book would finally let Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine go out of print was warmly received by many. After being stripped from the references in Church curricula, it was perhaps no surprise that the day had finally come (to the likely consternation of many in Seminary and Institutes). As much as I find sections of MoDoc deeply problematic and unhealthy for the Church, I also think it is important to remember that it is and always will be important.
Summer, 2003: I was a wreck. My sixth child was six months old, and I wasn’t even close to recovering from his birth and the trauma that followed: For him, lung failure and three weeks in the NICU. For me, a profound emotional and spiritual crisis. The combination of outward and inward events shook me hard. My testimony was intact, but I felt disconnected from it. Unmoored. All my usual connection points failed me: church meetings, scripture reading, even prayer. [Read more…]
A confession: before 2008, I didn’t care much about LDS fiction. To me, that genre meant overtly inspirational stories of mediocre literary quality that barely skim the surface of what it means to be Mormon, not to mention what it means to be human. Friends recommended a few better-than-average titles, but saying a book is “very good for Mormon lit” is a half-baked compliment at best (like the time someone told me I was “in great shape for someone with seven kids”). Angela Hallstrom’s novel-in-stories, Bound on Earth, was my first encounter with unconditionally excellent fiction written by and for Latter-day Saints. So when I picked up Dispensation, the short story anthology she edited for Zarahemla Books, my hopes were high. And I’m pleased to report that when I finished the volume, I was thoroughly satisfied. The quality of writing in this collection exceeded my already-high expectations. Its stories engaged me so completely that I felt fully gratified as a reader—even blessed. And taken as a whole, its artistic and spiritual potency leaves me deeply impressed by the talent of our very own fiction writers, not to mention excited for the future of this genre. Today, BCC welcomes Angela Hallstrom for a conversation about Dispensation and its significance in the realm of LDS fiction. (I was gonna post a photo of the cool book cover, but Steve already did. Besides, Angela is even better looking.)
Angela Hallstrom’s recent compilation of LDS fiction is an impressive undertaking, bringing together 28 stories from the greatest contemporary authors our faith has to offer. And while some might quibble with a few of the authorial choices, and others might find some of the themes or language too much for their taste, there’s no question that Dispensation represents an immensely valuable compilation. While it cannot help but live in the shadow of Eugene England’s landmark anthology, Bright Angels and Familiars, Hallstrom’s work deserves its own recognition and belongs in the library of anyone with an interest in our culture. [Read more…]
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
This post is, in a sense, a sequel to two older posts: “Can a Good Mormon be a Meritocrat?” and “Can a Good Mormon be a Socialist?” In case you can’t be bothered to read until the end, the answers to the three questions are: “Probably not,” “Yes,” and “Sometimes, maybe, but seriously, why would you want to take that risk anyway?” [Read more…]
My rating: 2/5
Here’s the story: Mary has twins — Jesus, a religious weirdo, and Christ, the politician. Encouraged by a mysterious stranger, Christ makes plans to turn Jesus’ provincial message in to a world religion.
I sort of wanted to like this book, if only so I could resist the holy religious outrage which often accompanies anything written by the pop atheists nowadays. Religions would most of the time be better off confronting the abuses of faith that are pilloried by people such as Pullman, rather than pretending they don’t exist. [Read more…]
My title is borrowed from Ronan, I hope he does not mind me plagiarising. Following a brilliant post at JI on Nibley, I was talking to some Missionaries the other day about their Mission reading habits and rules (they apparently have quite strict guidelines in this Mission) and it reminded me of the time and money (photocopies are not cheap) I spent trying to gather everything I could find about the Church. Yet, apart from Ensigns and the odd mimeographed essay from yester-year, pretty much everything I read was from either Truman Madsen and/or FARMS. [Read more…]
Before the back-issues of the Journal of Mormon History had been digitized and made available online and on DVD, I needed to track down a couple of articles. Unfortunately, none of the institutional libraries nearby carry the journal and while discussing the matter with the JMH staff, they suggested that I visit Polly Aird, who happens to live across the Lake from me and has an extensive back catalogue. I did not know, when I later walked into her home, that the first member of my family to join the Mormon church was also the individual who presided in the Ward that ran her ancestors from the faith (and State of Utah). Polly has been actively engaged in Mormon history circles as she has diligently researched the story of her ancestors, and published on various topics relating to their context. Happily our families have had something of a rapprochement; we are currently serving together on the JMH editorial board. And it is with great pleasure that I review the culmination of her work. [Read more…]
I first encountered Joanna Brooks during freshman orientation week at BYU in 1989–she was sitting on a table in the checkerboard quad recruiting for the Student Review, swinging her feet and looking like a pixie with her freckles and short, dark hair. She quickly gained a reputation on campus for being articulately outspoken on various social issues, and I admired her from afar. But I didn’t get to know her until my junior year, when both of us took a certain contemporary literary criticism course from a certain feminist professor. On the first day, I spotted her a few seats down (her hair was longer then–super thick and shiny), and knew this would be a class to remember. And I was right.
I’ll spare you the details of the wild, semester-long romp through Kristeva and Cixous and Jaggar (drop me an email if you want to hear about the bra burning). Instead, let me tell you about the groundbreaking multi-state event that Joanna is spearheading this month: Our Voices, Our Visions: A Mormon Women’s Literary Tour. Better yet, let Joanna tell you about it in this mini-interview we had recently: [Read more…]
I met Ron Watt as a novice researcher when I first entered the old LDS Church Archives. He joined the archives with Leonard Arrington and having toiled diligently for many decades has subsequently retired (though you will still find him in laboring in the new building). He is perhaps the best expert we have on the Brigham Young Office Files, truly irreplaceable. At the end of 2009 Utah State University Press publish his magnum opus, a biography of George D. Watt. It will surely win awards (it is remarkable in many ways), but perhaps more than most recent books, it captures the humanity of its subject and exacts empathy from its readers. [Read more…]
The Old Testament is a fairly intimidating source of scripture as it was produced thousands of years ago by a culture that is greatly foreign to our own. The strangeness of the Old Testament text and cultural milieu is likely particularly potent for women who approach the text. Among the few things that we can say with confidence regarding the culture of Ancient Israel is that it was misogynistic. Therefore, Camille Fronk Olsen’s recent book Women of the Old Testament is best considered as a good introductory text to help teachers, particularly those interested in applying scripture to women’s lives, tackle this very difficult work.
As I reported on my recent post, I received Elna Baker’s book, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, Christmas morning. My interest in this book was piqued by a bcc interview with Elna, and a bcc review of the book. I will report here that I loved the book and highly recommend it. I especially appreciated Elna’s honesty in telling her story. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s funny as hell. [Read more…]
It is before Thanksgiving, I know. Nevertheless, the time has once again come to consider our relations and judge among them who will receive something cool and who will receive n’importe quoi. [Read more…]
When the book Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament came out, Julie at T&S posted a very positive review, and I followed that up with my own (see “Finally!” FARMS Review 19/2 ). A couple of months ago Julie and I had the chance to meet one of the coauthors of that book, Eric Huntsman, and found him to be as delightful a person as he is fine a scholar. [Read more…]
Eleven months ago, the Joseph Smith Papers Project inaugurated their publication efforts with the Journals series (review here). While the documents of that series had been previously available, the volume was nonetheless an extraordinary contribution to the study of Mormonism and its history. In September of this year, the Church Historian’s Press released their second volume, the first in the Revelations and Translations series: a facsimile edition, comprising two manuscript revelation books. [Read more…]
Elna Baker‘s new memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, is billed as a coming of age story of a Mormon girl in New York, a virginal Mormon girl in the face of Carrie Bradshaw’s (surprisingly STD-free) City. But her feelings of deep faith mixed with nagging doubts and her commitment to chastity while simultaneously wanting to have sex, are feelings any LDS girl or boy will know immediately as their own, even at (any one of) the BYU(s). And that’s why I think you’ll like this book, because it’s so frank and familiar. Also, it’s laugh-out-loud funny.
There are, of course, the uniquely New York stories. Fortune cookie subway moments, an out-and-proud freshman roommate that regularly leaves a sex toy on the counter, a whole story about a celebrity “Warren Beatty” that, even if you ran into Peter Breinholt in a Cafe Rio, would never happen in Provo. But she tells her stories, the ones known to any single Mormon and the ones particular to New York, with an honesty that is disarming.
A Short Stay in Hell is, alas, mis-titled.
Our author finds himself in a deliciously cruel/comfortable Zoroastrian hell in which he must find the book of his life in order to escape. Trouble is, hell contains every book that could ever be written. It’s not an infinite number of books, but the size boggles his (and your) mind. Hell could last three days or three trillion years. Count on the latter.
Peck’s Mormon biography is evident here, from the relief that he is not in Baptist hell, to the guilt he feels after drinking coffee from hell’s Star Trekkian vending machines. Even hell is strangely (Utah Valley) Mormon — a place for beautiful white people with perfect teeth.
The central conceit is brilliant and there’s a real sense of pathos for our author’s desperate attempts to find and maintain human connections in an ageless place. I read it in one setting, desperate to find out if hell has an End. Peck has a real flair for capturing the yearnings of the human spirit, hell-bound or no.
Full marks too for the creation of the book’s villain — the beautifully evil Dire-Dan and his most excellent method of torture: kill — wait for resurrection — kill again. Repeat for a century.
It has recently come to my attention that we, as mormons, have done something shameful, I thought it may be too hot to post, but I can’t be silent. [Read more…]
I’m house-sitting for my friend Steve Shields while I’m visiting Jackson County, Missouri, doing research. Steve is the author of Divergent Paths of the Restoration and is the top expert on the subject of all the smaller expressions of Mormonism, which are quite numerous. Whenever I visit friends in the Mormon history community, I’m always eager to see their libraries. Steve has quite an interesting collection, especially relating to the subject of little known Restoration churches. I’ve been marveling at all of the works of Restoration scripture he has on a single bookshelf. These are very interesting, and I thought I’d share some of the titles with you along with some quick excerpts, picked nearly at random.
Signature Books recently announced that it has stopped publishing for an undetermined period of time. As one who is critical of Mormon Studies publishing generally, I see Signature’s move as unfortunate, though perhaps not unforeseeable. As I peruse my shelves I count not a few seminal works distributed by the press that George Smith built and I hope that most people join me in the hope that the press will soon be back in action. [Read more…]
After literally years of anticipation and abortive publication dates, the The Joseph Smith Papers released their first volume a few weeks ago. In a year of important historiographical developments in Mormon Studies, one event was paramount: on December 1, 2008, Journals, Volume 1: 1832-1839 arrived at my door. [Read more…]
So it is that another year is come and gone. And as with other years we are happy to offer the guide to simplify Christmas giving with books that are actually worth reading. Take a pass on Yard-o-Beef and shelf-stable Cheese; give the gift of knowledge, wisdom…and POWER. [Read more…]
Soon 2008 will pass away as all things must, and 2009 will bring with it the standard changes in Sunday meeting time slots, primary classes, and, most delightfully, Gospel Doctrine curriculum. You see, on January 4, we will meet together and study the old testament of our own fashioning. Concomitant with such shifts is an offering by Deseret Book to enrich the lives of the Saints. Two years ago, the offerings were excellent; last year, not so much. This year we have an intriguing volume…let’s see how it stacks up. [Read more…]
William Morris is a gentleman scholar and principal voice at A Motley Vision, the leading blogosphere destination for Mormon arts and culture commentary, discussion and news. This guest post is the product of years of begging and cajoling to get him to participate here at BCC.
American Metropolitics: The New Suburban Reality by Myron Orfield* deals with issues that are familiar to (and in many cases directly experienced by) most Americans — urban sprawl and central city decay, obsession with school district boundaries, long commutes, worry over crime stats, etc. In fact, that’s part of the point of the book: this stuff affects everyone. [Read more…]