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…]
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.]
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…]
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.” [Read more…]
Up 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…]
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…]
Bradley J. Kramer has a new book—Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon—coming 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.
When our co-blogger John F. suggested that our last ranking had jumped the shark, he not only lost our respect and friendship, but he also unwittingly inspired our hearts and minds by directing Steve and me toward the many great acting performances in Mormon cinema. This week, we give much-overdue praise to some of the lesser-recognized latter-day thespians.
As always, these rankings are authoritative.
A Book Review by Michael Austin*.
The Miracles of Jesus
Eric D. Huntsman**
Deseret Books, 2014
(Click on each spread to enlarge.)
OK, I’m just going to admit it: I was a little bit skeptical when I first got Eric D. Huntsman’s newest book, The Miracles of Jesus, and saw that it was a glossy, gorgeously illustrated book fit as much for framing as for reading. High production values in books make me nervous, as I always wonder what they are hiding. And then there is the fact that it is published by Deseret Book — the official publishing arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Official publishing arms make me even more nervous, as I usually have a pretty good idea what they are hiding. All I needed was a third strike to set it aside and move on to the next book in my pile. [Read more…]
Academic approaches to scripture sometimes arouse suspicion in LDS circles, especially when they include the Higher Criticism (“Moses didn’t write the five books of Moses?”) or reading the Bible as literature (“So you think this is a work of fiction?”). People using or advocating these approaches often draw charges of privileging the intellectual ways of the world over the pure spiritual truth of God, of trusting in the arm of flesh, or of kowtowing to secular disbelief in the interest of seeming more acceptable.
Guest post by Michael Hicks.
I’m not always consistent. But I’ve been consistent about two things for many years.
First, in discussions of Mormon music I always say that the masterworks of indigenous Mormon hymnody are mostly in the Primary Song Book. Second, whenever I hear Janice Kapp Perry spoken of in a disparaging or even mocking way–not uncommon among BYU music majors–I always speak up in her behalf. [Read more…]