Mormon Art and Cultural Change

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…]

Mormon Deepities

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…]

The Adam and Eve Series: An Interview about Creativity and Spirituality

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 9.47.14 PM

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…]

The Book of Mormon and the Bechdel Test

Speak up, but don’t talk too much.

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! [1]

The Bechdel test [2] is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story.   [Read more…]

Happy Intergalactic Bowie Day!

bowie2_blogToday 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…]

Are Mormons Anti-Modernists?

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.

[Read more…]

Book of Mormon Central, #BOM2016

Example of material available at www.bookofmormoncentral.org (click on the image for a full page view)

Example of material available at http://www.bookofmormoncentral.org (click on the image for a full page view)

Just in time for the Church’s curricular focus on The Book of Mormon in Sunday School during 2016, a new non-profit called Book of Mormon Central with an office and research library in Springville, Utah is launching a new, interactive repository of information and materials about The Book of Mormon, which Book of Mormon Central believes will allow The Book of Mormon to “advance goodness, justice, and faith on personal, family, social, and international levels.” The founder of Book of Mormon Central is Lynne Wilson, John W. Welch is the Chairman, and Kirk Magleby is the Executive Director. [Read more…]

Christmas Music Discoveries

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]

TreeODeerFranKaufmanRS
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…]

Once I Was a Beehive in Chicago

beehiveGod’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…]

Book Review: How the Other Half Banks

How the other half banks coverBy 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…]

It’s a Good Story

I know that the story told in this Youtube video is true. My talented brother-in-law, Gregory Welch, prepared this video and released it today. [Read more…]

Book Review: Women At Church

Theric Jepson is a long-time friend of BCC, although it’s been some time since his last guest post. You can find out more about him here.

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…]

“Once I Was a Beehive”: Must-See Mormon Film of 2015

“Once I Was a Beehive” (2015)

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…]

Coleman, Cafeterias, and Choirs

orig_Ornette_Coleman_01Ornette 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.

In 1959, Coleman released The Shape of Jazz to Come.[fn1]  [Read more…]

The God Eaters

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…]

The Intriguing Impossibility of Mormon-themed Near Future Science Fiction

DarkWatch-cover-forwebWilliam 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…]

Writing and Revelation

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…]

Preview/Review: The Cokeville Miracle. A New Film From T. C. Christensen.

Angels.
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.
[Read more…]

Book Review: Sarah Coakley, “God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity'”

Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay “On the Trinity” (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Amazon Indiebound

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…]

Review: Volume 23 of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

JBMScoverFINAL_FullThere’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…]

Book Review: Adam S. Miller, “Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan”

MillerAdam 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…]

Does Open Stories Foundation Qualify As Tax-Exempt?

Last week, Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote an article about John Delhin’s finances. A couple things leaped out at me, particularly salient, perhaps, because of research I’ve been doing recently, and because they raise difficult-to-see red flags, both for the Open Stories Foundation (“OSF”) and for other Mormons (or, more generally, Americans) who want to start a tax-exempt organization.[fn1]

Tl;dr: OSF looks like it is violating the prohibition against private inurement, which would compromise its tax-exempt status; it should at the very least get a tax practitioner with experience in the tax-exempt area to look closely. Also, anybody who wants to operate a tax-exempt entity needs to get competent legal advice upfront: the tax-exempt area is a minefield of compliance traps. [Read more…]

Role Models

Charlie_Parker,_Tommy_Potter,_Miles_Davis,_Max_Roach_(Gottlieb_06941)In my mission farewell talk,[fn1] I spent a little time talking about one of my teenage heroes. Charlie “Bird” Parker was an alto saxophone player who revolutionized jazz. With Dizzy Gillespie, he broke with swing and invented bebop, a faster, more cerebral, more harmonically complex style of music.

I admired the Bird’s virtuosity on the saxophone. I admired his improvisational genius. And I admired his work ethic: he may have had a natural genius, but, as a teenager, he also practiced 11-15 hours a day. And it was this work ethic, as much as anything, that appealed to me, and it was this work ethic that made me think of him as a prepared to leave on my mission.[fn2] [Read more…]

Print Culture and Orality in Early Mormonism

Working through the Funeral Sermon book, trying to put together a real draft, I’m attempting once again to write an introduction (presently designated as Preface). I’ve written large chunks that have been (and no doubt others that will eventually be) discarded. This post is stuff on the chopping block, but it has some important features that deserve some discussion I think. So I am dumping it on you all. No doubt it is terribly boring stuff, but that’s the nature of the beast. What follows was just an initial draft, so I don’t claim a serious stake in it. I put the pictures in to entertain Steve Evans.

[Cross posted at Boap.org’s blog.]
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Out of the Mouths of Babes or The Remarkable Influence of Media on the Rising Generation

Yesterday we took our seats in the chapel just as the sacrament hymn was coming to a close. As if our late arrival wasn’t disruptive enough (you’ve got to arrive in good time in order to occupy the more discrete but even more coveted last row), our toddler broke the silence between the hymn and prayer by standing up on the bench and exclaiming, finger pointed to the center section of pews: “Da sind ganz viele Michael Häupls!” (There are a whole bunch of Michael Häupls!). Unlike most of you, I knew that Michael Häupl is the long-serving mayor of Vienna where we live, but I was still quite bewildered why sacrament meeting would prompt such a response. After church my wife told me that our daughter was referring to this poster: [Read more…]

Transcending Mere Toleration in November’s Friend Magazine?

York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe (source: http://tinyurl.com/o3je4gm)

York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe (source: http://tinyurl.com/o3je4gm)

November’s Friend Magazine has a remarkable entry that cultivates an attitude transcending mere Toleration in favor of genuinely accepting the religious pluralism that is essential for true religious freedom to exist in democratic societies. That is, the article takes the step from Toleration, or merely tolerating the differences around us (in the case of the Friend essay, religious difference), as the lowest common denominator necessary for a free society to accepting and even appreciating people’s differences on their own terms. Such a perspective strengthens the robust and beneficial pluralism that the Church has argued before the European Court of Human Rights “has been dearly won over the centuries” and is “indissociable from a democratic society.”[1] [Read more…]

Book Review: Helen Andelin and the Fascinating Womanhood Movement

CaptureUp until ten days ago, I’d never even heard of Fascinating Womanhood, a how-to-save-your-marriage manual-cum-lifestyle popularized by a Mormon housewife in the early 60s. Thanks to historian and author Julie Debra Neuffer, that situation has now been rectified. Neuffer’s new book, Helen Andelin and the Fascinating Womanhood Movement, gives an unprecedented look into the personal experiences and social/political climate that spurred Andelin’s pursuit of an antidote for divorce, the growth of her idea into an international enterprise, and the supposed enemies she made along the way (“…the feminists, the abortionists, the liberals, the BYU Family Relations Department, and the General Presidency of the Relief Society.”) [Read more…]

Beaches and Footprints

Sam Brown is an historian, scholar, author and medical doctor. His latest work, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith In Light of the Temple is now available, and is a publication of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. We published an excerpt from the book a couple of weeks ago and are happy to offer another now.

We often remind our adolescents and young adults that they will need to stand on their own, that they will need a testimony that can withstand separation from their parents. And it’s true that our attachment to Church and gospel must be stronger than the vagaries of young adulthood. There must be within us something more than just conformity to whatever people around us say. But we must not believe that our walk of faith is solitary. We must be able to experience commitment to true principles and to the people of Zion that can resist mocking voices or temptations of the flesh. But we should not thereby forget that God and the Holy Ghost generally speak to us in the context of our relationships with the Saints. Our lives are deeply blessed by the people who carry the Spirit to us at times of great sadness or anxiety. [Read more…]

Event: “Beholding the Tree of Life” book signings, 12-13 Nov.

Bradley J. Kramer has a new book—Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormoncoming out this week from Greg Kofford Books. Zion’s Books at 274 W. Center St. in Provo will be hosting a book launch and roundtable discussion this Wednesday, 12 November, at 7pm. The roundtable will include responses to the book from Jack Welch, Richard D. Rust, and Delys Snyder. Kramer will also be signing copies of the book at noon on Thursday 13 November at Benchmark Books, 3269 South Main St–Suite 250 in Salt Lake. I’ve read the book and find that it offers an enriching way of approaching the Book of Mormon as a literary and religious text, so I encourage readers of BCC to take advantage of these opportunities to meet its author.

Disambiguation: Bradley J. Kramer is not the same as the Brad Kramer familiar to readers of this blog.

Choices, Choices

I’ve been reflecting a lot on E. Quentin Cook’s talk called “Choose Wisely.”  This was the opening talk of the Priesthood session, so I suppose that makes me not the target audience, and yet it’s clearly a talk with universal application. [1]  I won’t let that stop me.

E. Cook begins by talking about the problems when we rationalize our failures to act heroically.  He uses the example of Lucy not catching the ball in the Peanuts comic strips.

While always humorous, Lucy’s excuses were rationalizations; they were untrue reasons for her failure to catch the ball.

He then goes on to talk about the eternal ramifications when we rationalize our failure to prepare for our eternal goals. [Read more…]