Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent I

Out of the dark primeval night,
as from the womb of time,
and all alone,
came Man.
When did he first look up
and find the stars his friends?
For a thousand times three thousand years
they did not fail,
in their circling paths of light,
to stand above the dark
keeping their promise safe,
until from beyond their unimaginable end
the Word went forth.
And Eastern Kings
saw how their magic paled.
And Glory stood above the cave-born child.

––An unpublished poem by Dom Philip Jebb, quoted in The Coming of God, by Maria Boulding

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

"This Is My Doctrine"

It’s official, “This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology is required reading.

Written by BYU professor Charles Harrell, this sorely needed book examines the origins of LDS doctrine as we know it today. It is not, of course, an exhaustive treatment of the subject, which would require a whole series of books (and this one clocks in at just about 500 pages). However, it is a tremendous resource that is worth devouring straight through, but will also prove an excellent juming-off point for future reference and study (it’s got good indexes and a vast works cited section).

After an introductory essay––worth reading all on it’s own––the volume proceeds, chapter by chapter, to tackle major doctrines (say, God the Father, or Priesthood) historically. That is, it addresses what beliefs were held in the Old Testament period, New Testament Christianity, 19th-Century Protestantism, then early and modern Mormonism, about each given subject. There are occasional subsections that examine, for instance, thought in the Nauvoo period, if doctrinal developments were particularly significant during those years.

His scriptural exegesis may not have been quite as sophisticated as I would have liked, but, again, for a book of this length, it likely wouldn’t have been feasible to go much deeper. Also, Harrell is not a theologian (though he has published some articles in that arena) so he relies heavily on secondary sources in Biblical criticism. He uses them well, however, staying mainly in areas of broad consensus, and, where there is controversy, presenting a variety of views.

The target audience seems to be Joe Mormon, so those familiar with scholarly work in this area may find a little too much “hand-holding,” but you can’t fault him––I really hope this book finds its way into the hands of many, many Saints, so anything he can do to make it accessible is a plus.

Most importantly, this book helps readers to take the really vital step of shattering one’s idea of theology as God dictating perfect, simple, clear Truth, reducing prophets to secretaries. It reveals that it is a complicated, messy, sometimes contradictory process of serious minds wrestling with the big questions in terms of the texts they’ve inherited and the culture they’re swimming in.

Burn The Stick of Bruce, folks.* This book is the real deal, and it belongs on every LDS bookshelf.

*Actually, don’t. It’s no longer being printed and so may have some value as a collector’s item.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Tree of Life

Life of my life, I search for you. My hope, my child.

Where were you? You let a boy die. Why should I be good, if you aren’t?

Why does he hurt us––our Father?

Help each other. Love everyone––every leaf––every ray of light. Forgive.

How do I get back––where they are?

Please, God, kill him. Let him die. Get him out of here.

What was it you showed me? I didn’t know how to name you then. But I see it was you. Always you were calling me.

I dishonored it all and didn’t notice the glory.

Father, Mother, always you wrestled inside me. Always you will.

The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by. Do good to them. Wonder. Hope.

I give him to you. I give you my son.
Terrence Malick has done something wonderful with The Tree of Life. Visually gorgeous and conceptually stretching, it is a feast of beauty that I will think about (and re-watch) for years to come. It’s a movie in which not much happens––including the creation of the universe and the development of life on earth. It shows that there are no such things as simpler times (usually thought of as behind us), just a different set of complications. A film about guilt and youth and love and pain and loss and joy and just... just everything. Just life.

I used to mock William Carlos Williams’ imagist poem:

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
But I was wrong. Oh, how wrong.

So much, so much depends. The meaning of everything, maybe. It all hangs on the subtlest of hinges.

Told on two levels, it includes the story of a family dealing with pain and failure, and the story of life and existence itself. (If you’re looking for a typical narrative arc, keep walking.) It elucidated a lesson taught to me by a wise younger brother of mine: he explained that meaning requires people, minds. An event (or a book, or a sculpture) don’t mean a thing unless they mean it to someone. Further, while the search for meaning seems to be inescapable––we’re hardwired for it––it is doomed to be frustrating until we realize an essential fact...

We don’t find meaning, we make it. It’s a business of craftsmanship, and we build it out of the mundane material of everyday life. We turn to religion, to art, to family, and sometimes to drink. (Incidentally, religious music is used brilliantly in several sequences dealing with the cosmos––appropriate since we can often only make sense of such vastness in terms of faith). Ultimately, the key to fitting it all together can only be found elsewhere:

For, behold, the kingdom of god is within you.

Friday, September 02, 2011

True Values

The following lines are from the chorus of Katy Perry's Last Friday Night:

Last Friday night
Yeah we danced on tabletops
And we took too many shots
Think we kissed but I forgot

Last Friday night
Yeah we maxed our credit cards
And got kicked out of the bar
So we hit the boulevard

Last Friday night
We went streaking in the park
Skinny dipping in the dark
Then had a ménage à trois

My reaction to those lyrics taught me something important about myself. You see, far more than its describing (and advocating) a life of drunken promiscuity, I am really bothered by the fact that it tries to rhyme "park" and "dark" with "trois."

Take-home message: Want to write songs about eating your young and dismembering hookers? Fine by me. Put it to a catchy tune and I'll probably listen to it. But your lyrics had damn well better scan, or you and I will be enemies forever!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Trouble with Jack(ie):
A Thought Experiment

Note: When dealing with transgender issues and the Church, pronouns are a tricky business. Does one allow the self identification of the person in question to carry more weight than the Church's insistence on the eternal nature of gender regardless of an individual's psychology? Luckily, the BYU Writing Center provides an alternative! "Werf," a genderless pronoun the BYUWC coined in order to avoid the awkward "he or she" construction and it's cousins, seems to be tailor-made for such a situation, and thus will be in use below.

Jackie was presented to werf's proud parents wrapped in a pink blanket. Werf had two X chromosomes, and the usual complement of reproductive organs. As werf grew though, things got more complicated. Werf felt like werf was in the wrong body. Finally, in college, werf bit the bullet and identified as a male, named Jack. Werf underwent breast reduction surgery and took hormone treatments, trading in a brassiere for a husky baritone voice and patchy facial hair.

But the complications were not over for Jack. Werf fell in love with a gay man, and since it was legal in their state, married him. (Note: Jack had no surgical interventions "south of the border," so to speak. Werf still had a uterus, etc.)

Then Jack and werf's husband met the missionaries. They were converted. They wanted to join the Church. As per the most recent iteration of the CHI:
Baptism and confirmation of a person who has already undergone an elective transsexual operation require the approval of the First Presidency. ... However, such persons may not receive the priesthood or a temple recommend.
So if the call were yours to make, what would you do regarding Jack, werf's husband, and their future involvement in the church?

Consider the following:

•According to LDS teachings, Jack is a woman, married to a man. This is not a gay marriage.

•Does breast reduction really count as an "elective transsexual operation"? After all, plenty of LDS women have plastic surgery. If it does count, what is the minimum cup size you can choose and still be considered an Relief Society member?

•What concessions do Jack and werf's husband have to make to enjoy the full benefits of Church participation (barring the issue of Jack's being ordained)? Does Jack need to get implants? Is it enough if Jack dresses in drag (ie: women's clothing) for Church activities? What if werf wears a kilt? Do the hormone treatments have to stop, or is it sufficient to shave regularly (after all, everyone knows at least one RS member that sports a mustache!)? Does Jack need to consider werf's-self female? Since that would be entirely a matter of personal identity, and therefore internal, how could Church officers police that––regardless of the clothing werf wears, how can you tell the difference between Jack(ie)'s regarding werf's-self as a gay man or a straight female?

•For that matter, what about Jack's husband? Does he have to stop considering himself a gay male?

Rules: You don't get to say, "Just follow the Spirit." That's cheating, and for our purposes, like, totally lame. Besides, even LDS teachings suggest that's a cop out (D&C 9:8).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


A stupendously talented organist. His registrations are particularly amazing.

* * * * *

After returning from a trip to the homestead, my eldest sister related a story the other day that reminded me once again just how awesome my Dad is. I'm not going to be any more specific––for personal reasons––but I'm just very grateful he's in my life.

* * * * *

I was discussing proxy sealings with the same sister, when suddenly my four-year-old niece piped up with: "MARRYING DEAD PEOPLE IS FROM CORPSE BRIDE!"

Sunday, August 21, 2011


The more I learn about the universe/crazy physics stuff, the more I am reminded of these lines from the brilliant webcomic A Softer World (caveat lector – occasional strong language/secular humanism):
It freaks me out when I think about how big the universe is.

Just so big and growing bigger, exploding outward constantly in all directions,

so no, I don't care how fast I was going, officer.

If the creator is anything like the creation, given the weirdness of reality, I suspect god may be less like the dignified, beardy, elderly gentleman of popular imagination, and something more like, say, Tim Burton.