I have been to the movies twice this weekend. I must be making up for months and months of passing on who knows how many films. I broke down and even paid full price for one of them.

The movies in question were The Work and the Glory: A house Divided, which, according to the Deseret News will be the last of the movies that will be last film adapted from Gerald Lund’s works of historical fiction. The other was Blades of Glory that incidentally features John Heder, a member of the church and star of Napoleon Dynamite.

A house Divided is obviously a Mormon film. Unless a nonmember is really familiar with the history of the early days of the Church, they will find this movie almost incomprehensible. But, for someone who has been in the Church for their whole lives, and is familiar with the stories that are told in Sunday school, they will have no problems understanding what is going on and why certain events are portrayed as being significant. What I find interesting also is that after coming to our local theatre about a month ago, it is still there.

Blades of glory is a slapstick comedy along the lines of Tommy Boy, Billy Madison, Dodgeball and a host of others that began in the early 90’s and have been made over and over until as recently as Blades. It bears a P-13 rating, and rightfully so. Many Church members would find some of the content in this film objectionable, and as I write this, I am thinking that my money would have been better spent on something else. Well, anything else honestly.

But both of these movies raise questions about Mormons and filmmaking. For instance, will Mormon movies ever attract good actors? I know that sounds harsh, but in the films targeted specifically at a Mormon audience, often the acting leaves much to be desired. While the A house Divided was interesting because of the subject matter it dealt with, the performances of the actors detracted from what could had the potential of being a powerful film.

In Blades of Glory, John Heder turned out a good performance, and has found his place as a comedic actor. Unfortunately Heder, while it would not have mattered with any other actor to me, was required him to do some things that, while funny, did things many mainstream members of the Church would find questionable.

Blades of Glory forces one to ask, what is acceptable for someone who holds a temple recommend to do in film. Perhaps while Heder’s role can serve as the limit as to what one can do in an LDS film.

Anyways, I would like to see better LDS films and LDS actors behaving better in films that receive wide theatrical release.

On the other hand I have found that Mormon artists have tended to have a very liberal interpretation of the Church’s standards so perhaps Heder was fine with what his role opposite Will Ferrell asked of him.

Oh well, they say that, “there’s what’s right and what’s right and never shall the twain meet” (Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona). Hopefully that will not be true of good acting in movies targeted at the LDS audience in the future.

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Summit

11Apr07

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For some reason I subscribe to BYU-Idaho’s Summit Magazine. I don’t know why. The only magazine I recall subscribing to is Food and Wine, and that was to help raise money for a local middle school.

But I don’t mind Summit because it is free, and it is always nice to see something in my otherwise empty mailbox at work.

I have a sneaking suspicion that sending this publication to Alumni, for free, and sometimes without their being aware that they subscribed to it, is for the purpose of raising money. All colleges seem to do it. My father who graduated from the University of Washington decades ago receives a magazine monthly, and my Mother also receives stuff from BYU Central Command (BYU Provo Campus).

But what I find interesting is what these three emphasize in their publications is what they think will put perspective donors in a charitable mood.

For instance my father’s al ma mater seems to focus on the academic and professional accomplishments that are happening at the UW. Articles will highlight important research that faculty members are doing, conferences that they have participated in, or will feature prominent figures that gave addresses recently at the university. On the whole you get the idea that the University of Washington believes that people will be most likely to donate when they see that the school is committed to preparing students to enter and contribute to the professional world, or that the university is making a serious contribution to society.

BYU’s magazine is similar although it will highlight General Authorities that have recently addressed the student body, but will still include what is going on academically at the University.

The thing is that though I have not been to either school, from looking at their official publications to alumni, you get an idea for what these schools value. The University of Washington, much like other big name public universities, wants to let everyone know that their highest priority are the contributions that they are making to the business world and academia. BYU is focused on the development of the whole person, and reassures readers that LDS values are still central to that end, and the school is still committed to providing the best secular education for the tithe money spent.

Then there is BYU Idaho. In past issues of Summit, including the one I got this morning, articles generally do not discuss anything professional or academic. There is hardly a word said about new programs that are added, or the professional contributions that faculty and graduates are making. The focus is on the Ricks/BYU-I experience.

Whoever is in charge of this magazine must in part believe that those who donate look back with warm feelings of nostalgia on whatever amount of time they spent at Ricks/BYU-I.

Articles highlight devotional addresses and submissions by faculty and alumni focus on how BYU-I strengthened their family or how Ricks occupies a special place in their hearts even decades after attending.

There is rarely mention made of research, or even how professors are innovating as the school is always rethinking education.

The focus is, those who attended had a unique experience and because of that experience, Ricks/BYU-I occupies a special place in their heart, and that if we can show that the same thing is happening today as in the past, alumni will generously contribute to the university.

Okay, at this point you might think that I am being overly critical and that I might harbor feelings of bitterness towards one of the “Lord’s” schools, but I feel that a university education should be more then just focusing on spiritual well being. I believe that the University should provide a person with a set of skills that will enable them to either be gainfully employed in what ever profession they choose, or that their education will prepare them for graduate studies which will then lead to work with in the field of higher education or in the world of business.

All that I am saying is that if I am going to donate to a university, I want to be sure that money will go towards preparing people to enter the workforce as ethical, hard working, capable people as opposed to religious zealots who are really good at showing you they brought their scriptures with them. If I don’t see a professional focus in the publications, what am I supposed to think?

Oh well, I guess that I will continue to enjoy others’ walk down memory lane and a recap of the latest devotional in Summit magazine, but will always be an ardent supporter of my al ma mater, BYU-Hawaii a.k.a. the Lord’s University.



In this last conference, Elder Richard G. Scott gave one of the best talks on prayer that I have heard in a long time. It was not complicated, nor did it shed any new insight on the subject, but was a powerful reminder that part of true discipleship means praying often.

Unfortunately, prayer has not been one of my strong areas. I can recall exactly when the problem with praying began.

While serving as a missionary in Auburn California, the work had come to a complete stop. It was easy to fill our days with tracting, checking up on media referrals, and other things, but the evenings presented a problem. We could not find anything to do. The members of the ward were not particularly receptive to us, and dropping in on people much after 8pm uninvited I felt was just rude. So there we were, left with nothing to do and feeling guilty about it (Unfortunately guilt was used as a motivator on my mission).

I was talking to the missionary I was serving with at the time about how important I felt it was to fill our evenings with appointments and to be productive. He responded that we should pray about it. I don’t know what came over me. I snapped, “Elder, if anything is going to happen, it is because we make it happen”. And from that point on, I became very much a self-determinist. Good things happen, because people make them happen.

My mistake was that I gone over to the extreme. Instead of combining prayer with concerted effort, I decided to go it alone. I felt that if people were going to get baptized, it was because we found, taught, and committed them, success or failure depended completely on us.

This stayed with me for a long time; Too long.

Now one should come away thinking that I did not pray at all. That would be inaccurate. I did not pray as often or as fervently as I should. But yet there was always a quiet whispering saying, “Chris, you need to pray”.

My attempts at becoming someone who engaged in what the scriptures called mighty prayer were always short lived. When something is not part of your life, partly because you doubt its’ efficacy, it is very hard not only to make it a habit, but something that you do because you think it will help. In other words, if you don’t see a real need for doing something, you will most likely expend little to no effort to do it. That was me.

But now I realize how much I have been missing because I did not pray as I should. I wonder how many blessings have been held back because I was unwilling to do as the scriptures command to pray always? I wonder how many decisions would I have made differently and experienced better results, if instead of going forward with engines on full, if I would have consulted the Lord if what I was doing was right? I wonder how much more of the Saviors love and how much more the Spirit would have been with me I had made the effort to pray with faith?

So now I am in process of repenting, changing my thoughts and behaviors to conform standard that God has set for prayer. And so far, from what I have experienced, my desire to pray has greatly increased. It is like I have found something that was missing and feel more complete then ever before.


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I think that all active members of the Church need to get over the fact that no matter what we do or say, there will still be critics who will Mormons as people who have been brainwashed into worshipping Satan and sacrificing babies in their temples. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but hopefully it makes the point.

The problem is not with us and our professed believes in Jesus as savior of the world, but it is with the critics and their definition of who is, and who is not, Christian.

Here is how it works. Christianity, as a religion, covers a very broad and diverse spectrum. In that spectrum there liberal Christians at one end, people like Revolution Church founder Jay Bakker, who happens to be the son of the infamous televangelist James Bakker. Jay represents the most liberal of Churches considering anyone who comes through the door a member and a Christian.

On the other end of the spectrum there are conservatives and fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, those who produce anti-Mormon publications, and the fallen Ted Haggard. In their eyes your beliefs must conform to theirs in order to be considered a Christian in their eyes. If one is to deviate in the slightest from their rather narrow interpretation of scripture, their claims to being Christian are rejected and they are then labeled secular humanists or cultists, depending on who they are talking about, and whom you talk to.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members find themselves in an interesting position. While we do not embrace the liberal stance of Bakker and adherents to the extreme liberal view of Christianity, we also shun the close minded, and often hate filled stances that are often taken by the likes of Robertson and Falwell. Because of this middle ground, we find ourselves criticized by those on either extreme ends of the spectrum, and often misunderstood by everyone else in between.

From now on, I am not even going to try and convince critics that I am Christian, because it probably won’t work. I will testify of my conviction that Jesus is not only the Savior of the world but also my Savior and leave it at that. In the end I think that is all that any member of the Church can do.

Nor do I think it very productive to point why I am like other Christians. Instead I am going to celebrate what sets my faith apart from others and am going to be firm in my conviction that whether or not you are Christian, depends more on the heart of the individual and if they follow Jesus teachings as found in the scriptures, then it does the definitions of talking heads who often have hidden agendas.


Aqualungs

03Apr07


For some reason the stories of those who leave the Church are interesting to me. Maybe it is because I minored in psychology and am interested in thinking, especially in religious communities. That said, I have read a few of these, and even frequented the blog of someone who was struggling to resolve his differences with the Church but ultimately left.

There are several key elements to writing a successful exit story. They all seem so formulaic that I have been able to break it down into a sequence of steps that you will find in just about all of them, and you might find useful if you want to write an exit story yourself.

Step 1: Establish credibility

It is important that you gain the sympathy of your audience from the get go and the most effective way of doing this is by presenting yourself as a believing, testimony bearing, home and visiting teaching, tithe and fast offering paying, mission served, enduring to the end Latter-day saint. Just really put yourself in the best possible light. Really play up the callings that you have held as important and if necessary be creative. If you were a Deacons quorum president you can and should say that you held a really important calling in the Church. If you have not, hey, just make it up; it worked for Ed Decker and Dick Baer (Both of them have claimed to have held callings that they never in fact held).

You don’t have to mention things like adultery, or an addiction pornography, or anything else that would cause you to lose face in the eyes of your readers. Just use the same methods you think that Church uses in writing its’ manuals of emphasizing the goodness of past members and leaders and just build yourself up. And why not? It just might improve your self-esteem

Step 2: Introduce a tough issue you never heard at Church

Once you have established your credibility as a “true blue, dyed in the wool Mormon”, say that you were minding your own business when all of a sudden you came across something that you never heard in all of the Priesthood, Sunday school, Sacrament, Relief Society, or Seminary and Institute classes. Talk about how at first you denied the existence of such a claim as merely the ploy of anti-Mormons to cause active believing members of the Church to question their faith. Take your pick of historical issues you never heard in Church, there are supposedly plenty to choose from. You might choose the “truth” about polygamy, or the so called Brigham Young, Danite, Mountain Meadows Massacre connection, or the Mike Wallace interview with President Hinkley, and a litany of others that make the Church look really bad and lead into our next step.

Step 3: Make yourself out to be the victim

Talk about how for so long you struggled with these things and instead of doing things to promote your faith, you delved further into history by D. Michael Quinn, Dan Vogel, and other “scholarly” publications by “experts” in Mormon history who bring up tough issues but do not give people in history the benefit of the doubt, or purposefully choose, considering all historical documents are equal, to take the humanistic approach where everyone is in it for themselves.

Fail to mention that for every historian on the fringe, there are plenty of believing historians such as Arrington, Bitton, Bushman, Givens, and many, many, others who are just as aware of these things and yet have maintained their testimonies and have even gone on to hold “important” callings in the Church.

Talk about how no matter where you went, no one could resolve your issues. Talk about the suffering and pain of this period and that despite your best efforts, you still could not come find rest to your soul.

Step 4: Villainize the leaders

Be sure to say that there were and are many, if not thousands of wonderful members of the Church. Be sure to emphasize that while there are many Leaders with different styles of leadership, personality, and interpretations of doctrine and counsel both past and present, that they are all stern, and be sure to say that they are close minded and not even willing to consider your discoveries. Be sure to convince your audience that leaders of the Church want to have nothing to do with “serious” academic inquiry and that they blew off your concerns.

If at all possible, make them out to be as unchristian and close-minded as possible so that even the most believing Mormon will sympathize with you.

If your leaders are in fact complex humans who are doing their best to lead an organization with no financial remuneration or formal training in such areas as business management, organizational behavior, but do what they do, if for no other reason then they were asked to.

Step 5: The realization

This point will either make or break or your story. It is important that up to this point you have convinced your audience that you have wrestled with both the Church and the “issues” for a sufficient amount of time to get an answer. You should make your realization appear to be an epiphany not unlike what a convert experiences when they have read and prayed in faith about the Book of Mormon. If you want, take the ex-Mormons for Jesus route, talking about how you discovered the real Jesus, the Biblical Jesus, as opposed to the inventions of Joseph Smith you believed before.

Now what you will have to do is categorically deny every spiritual experience that you, or anyone else has had in Mormonism as delusion. You can get technical call these sacred experiences self-fulfilling prophecies, or that people wanted to believe and find meaning in Mormonism, and therefore convinced themselves that they were experiencing something divine when in fact, they were really meeting their own emotional deficiencies.

But anyways be sure to mention that because there seemed to be no solution, that you came to the conclusion that the Church must not be true and that everything, be sure to include everything, is a lie.

Step 6: Martyrdom (Optional)

Now if you want to improve your status in the ex-Mormon community and therefore your credibility, it pays to stick around and wait until the Church excommunicates you for apostasy. Start a blog, and then find a way for your stake president to get a hold of it. This might take months, and may require you to take a more direct approach. But the key is you want them to throw you out only to make the point that the Mormon hierarchy is only interested in thought control and orthodoxy and therefore has no love for dissidents.

It is important that exclude that Armaund Mauss, Leonard Arrington, and others in the Mormon studies community have had their differences over so called difficult issues but were not cast out. If you hint at this, it will severely weaken your case.

Step 7: Move on?

After you have left the Church at this point, talk about how happy you are since extricating yourself from the nonsense you once believed. Talk about the peace you have found in associating with others who now actively seek to tear down the faith of those who don’t have a problem. Be sure to revel in your ex-Mormoness on message boards and blogs. And if you really get ambitious, attend an ExMo conference. These kinds of things will be sure sign that you have left the Church and have moved on with your life because you are still thinking about these things only from a very negative perspective.

If you follow these simple steps and include some flair in your writing style, you too can write a successful and persuasive exit story bound to earn you the compassion of other dissidents and the scorn of those, especially those, who are aware of tough issues but are smart enough to make sense of them and keep their testimonies.



A post over at Faith Promoting Rumor asked why does it seem that most members of the Church are deficient when it comes to the New Testament, or the Bible as a whole. I have thought about my own experiences with the New Testament and why I often prefer the Book of Mormon, or say, the Pearl of Great Price in my study of the scripture.

Redding California, back in 1998, was the first place that I ever attempted to read the NT, mostly in effort to be able to missionary work in a community that had a high concentration of Evangelical Christians. I made it through the four gospels and the Acts, but when I reached the first Pauline Epistle, I felt like I had slammed up against a brick wall. I had no idea what Paul was talking about. To me, his words were not plain, and I would only come to appreciate his words after years of scripture study.

As I mentioned, the language was my big hang up. Part of the problem is with who translated the New Testament for the King James Version. They were the most learned men of their time, doing a translation that would largely be read by other educated people. From what I know, the KJV represents the best scholarship of the times, and from what I know about scholars, their words are not often accessible to the common man.

For me, that was the only obstacle. I knew that the NT was valuable, and therefore I invested the time and effort to understand the Epistles, and have since come to love them.

Language obstacle aside, many members, especially those only familiar with Latter-day Scripture, see the Bible as inferior because of the “plain and precious parts” that have been removed by the Great and Abominable Church. Unfortunately they fail to realize that though Nephi pointed out that sacred truth had been removed, he never discounted the value of that record and saw that it would be the means of keeping the coals of faith burning throughout centuries of apostasy and darkness.

Those with this perspective, forget that it was that the General Epistle of James that inspired Joseph Smith to ask god in prayer which church was right, something that he had never thought of.

But that said, I have made the Bible part of my personal study. I will still say that while I prefer the Book of Mormon and am most familiar with that sacred record, I know that all the testaments of Christ, which contain sacred truth, will make anyone a better person if they will but embrace and live by the truth contained in those records.


“Mormoness”

26Feb07

Yesterday a friend and coworker said something that left me taken back; it caught me off guard. We were talking about faith and religion and my friend said that I was not like other Mormons she has known. This seemed odd. I began wonder if somehow, because of my personal intellectual and spiritual interests, I was somehow less “Mormon” then others.

It gave me a chance to ponder my “Mormoness” and do some soul searching. After some careful thought I came up with what follows.

First of all I am proud of the classification Mormon. For a long time I wanted to be thought of by others as a Christian because my faith was not in Mormon, Joseph Smith, or any other person from the Book of Mormon or in the church’s hierarchy, but in Jesus Christ, the Savior and redeemer of the world. Now I feel good with considering myself, and even calling myself Mormon because it distinguishes me from other Christians, and helps me maintain my individuality and uniqueness in a sea of conformity, but still consider myself a Christian (I guess you can be a Mormon and Christian after all).

For some people that I do know and have known, they know that the Church is true and there is nothing else they worry about. Most other things become irrelevant outside, and they comfortably settle into whatever Mormon community is available to them interacting with nonmembers only in work and on a very limited basis as neighbors and members of whatever communities they live in.

Others could be considered ultra orthodox. Everything they do is in their minds the result of “official” pronouncements, either past or present, or opinion that has come from general authorities. They tend have a very closed, literal, interpretation of the scriptures, not taking the time to consider the wonder and beauty that is found in the symbolic, and esoteric ideas that present themselves on almost every page, and perhaps every verse.

Much depression, despondency, and even apostasy has resulted from Latter-day Saints taking commandments and standards that are good, and then adding a pharisaic, restrictive, and confining oral tradition, or hedge, that prevents a person from violating a covenant or commandment. Their zeal can transform homes into prisons, leaving more independent children believing that there is no other option then to escape at the first chance.

Then are those who in the words of Richard Bushman are interested in the heights and depths of the faith, its’ possibilities and ends. This group oddly enough feels liberated through keeping the commandments and making covenants with God. When you are around them their words and actions towards you and others causes your soul to expand during the time you are with them.

I think that my Mormoness is relatively fluid and that at different times of life I have been in each camp. Right now I am in some ways in the last category of the existential optimists and those who are content with simple, childlike, faith, with specklings of the ultra orthodox in such things as the word of wisdom and law of chastity, but not much else as far as that category goes.

What do you consider yourself? How would you describe your Mormoness, or non-Mormoness?