In this Dialogue podcast Patrick Mason discusses "Religion, Violence, and Peace: A Latter Day Saint View." From the Miller Eccles website: For more than a decade, the bestselling book on Mormonism has been Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. Krakauer suggests that Mormonism offers an excellent case study for telling “a story of violent faith.” It is true that Mormonism — like virtually every other religious tradition — has a history of violence, both perpetrated and received. How do we understand the propensity of religious believers to commit violence, and how do we harness the power of religion in the service of peace and justice? Looking at a number of case studies, but focusing especially on Mormonism, this presentation will consider the complicated relationship of religion, violence, and peace, and offer suggestions as to how Mormonism might trade its violent past for a more peaceful future.
Resisting Interpretation Lisa Bickmore. Ephemerist. Sante Fe, N.Mex: Red Mountain Press, 2017. 74 pp. Paper: $18.95. Reviewed by Bert Fuller. Appeared in Dialogue, Spring 2018. Ephemerist, n.: (1) after the Greek word for day, a journal keeper; (2) a collector of ephemera (see archivist); (3) an inventor of ephemera (see capitalist); (4) a devotee of ephemera (see nudist); (5) one who privileges ephemera (see nepotist); (6) a scientist whose subject is ephemera (see mycologist). What follows is a lecture on three samples from a known ephemerist.
“Let’s Get Lost”Bickmore resists interpretation. She draws you in, leaves you tingling or still, and sets your mind wandering. No conclusions, no closures to the verse, except her Emersonian epigraph that “Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion.” “Let’s Get Lost” opens with the crack of billiards on a November night in rural Vermont. Bickmore is by herself, “so I could have the loneliness I craved.” Late in the poem she reveals that she had been there twenty years before with her children and “the man who was my husband.” Presumably the husband is no more, yet the spot remains where they had shared dinner over a fire. “I am lost,” she writes, “at the mouth of the canyon / closed with a gate.” The closed gate says: “Enough. . . with emphasis.” The poem centers on the fact (call it “fiction” if you like) that for Bickmore to “get lost” means going to a place you’ve already been, not somewhere entirely strange. This space between familiar and unknown is where losing oneself is possible, and, if I may make a suggestion without elaborating at length, it is the space that the whole of literature traverses. It is the twilight of consciousness between waking and sleep, and in pieces like “Let’s Get Lost” Bickmore excels at its articulation.
Opening Invisible Doors: Considering Heavenly Mother Rachel Hunt Steenblik. Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother. Illustrated by Ashley Mae Hoiland. Salt Lake City: By Common Consent Press, 2017. Paper: $9.95. Reviewed by Kristen Eliason. Appeared in Dialogue, Spring 2018. Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother is a collection of poems written by Rachel Hunt Steenblik and illustrated by Ashley Mae Hoiland. Divided into four sections and armed with nearly thirty pages of notes, the work of this book appears to be two-fold: first, to enter into a discoveratory conversation about the nature of Heavenly Mother, and second, an outcropping of the research Steenblik conducted for the scholarly article “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven.”1 Indeed, the epigraph from Kierkegaard sets the stage for what the reader expects to be a deep poetic dive into the nature of a Heavenly Mother and the relationship between the deity and the writer. However, the following 200+ short poems (often three to a page) accomplish little more than cursory observations of a feminine divine. The poem, “Sometimes” muses:
Sometimes I just need my Mama.
(Sometimes it is hard for Her to be so needed.) (18)
As the Savor: The Poetry of R. A. Christmas R. A. Christmas. Saviors on Mt. Disneyland: New and Collected Poems. Self-published, Lulu, 2017. 180 pp. Paper: $20.00. Reviewed by Dennis Clark. Appeared in Dialogue, Spring 2018. If you have never read a poem by Bob Christmas, this book is your chance to catch up. Take it. If you have read poems by Bob Christmas, this book is your chance to enjoy yourself all over again. Plunge in. If you have no interest in reading poems by Bob Christmas, it’s only because you haven’t yet read any. This review is your introduction. I like reading poems by Bob Christmas. This is not because they are pretty, fluffy, light-filled evocations of young love, true faith, or the beauty of nature. You do not inhale fresh mountain air through these poems. Reading a Christmas poem is more akin to changing a flat tire on your Ford Fairlane in the grit of the shoulder of I-15 as eighteen-wheelers and giant RVs whizz by just past your butt, and you have to breathe their exhaust. But the experience is exhilarating, and you are glad to escape alive with your aesthetic sensibilities intact. And when you continue down the road, it’s with a greater appreciation of the journey.
A Philosophical Portrait in Pieces Steven L. Peck. Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats. Winchester, UK: Roundfire Books, 2017. 272 pp. Paper: $21.95. Reviewed by Rachel Kirkwood. Appeared in Dialogue, Spring 2018. It has now been months since I rst made the acquaintance of Gilda Trillim, but even now I must admit that I do not completely understand her. However, I do not view this as a failure of the novel that bears her name, nor of my comprehension of it. For Steven L. Peck’s Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats—a generic chimera that is part character study, part academic satire, and part philosophical treatise—is not your average book club fare. In it we are presented not with a storyline or even literary characters in their conventional form, but with an “Academic Work Disguised as a Novel Disguised as an Academic Work”—an amateur source biography on Trillim compiled by fictional graduate student Kattrim Mender. As we sift through the letters, journal entries, gossip columns, magazine articles, novel excerpts, and interviews collected here, a rough image of Trillim emerges but never solidifies. Each vignette reveals a different side of this enigmatic gure: one moment she is a Western girl from a potato farm in Idaho, the next she is an avant-garde poet, the next a professional badminton player, the next a supplicant studying at a Soviet monastery, and still later a POW in Vietnam. Just when you think you may have finally pinned down her character, she takes an unexpected turn. Her life is less easily described than listed, a constellation of competing experiences and character traits that inhere within one body-shaped ecosystem.
Our Artistic Potential The Mormon Arts Center. The Kimball Challenge at Fifty: Mormon Arts Center Essays. New York: The Mormon Arts Center, 2017. 156 pp. Paper: $16.95. Reviewed by Jacob Bender. Appeared in Dialogue, Spring 2018. The occasion for this slim new volume of essays is the fiftieth anniversary of Spencer W. Kimball’s “Education for Eternity” talk, delivered to Brigham Young University faculty at the commencement of fall semester 1967. Although the majority of the talk centered on bringing “the Spirit of the Master” into the classroom, it was Kimball’s concluding remarks—which, according to Richard Bushman, were spoken almost as an afterthought—that proved to have the most influential afterlife: “Could there be among us embryo poets and novelists like Goethe?” Kimball asked. “Can there never be another Michelangelo?” He went on to ask if we could produce Wagners, Bachs, and Shakespeares of our own, or an oratorio even better than Handel’s Messiah. Kimball’s questions were interpreted by many as a sort of artistic call to arms for Zion to rise up and not only match but exceed the world in the realms of aesthetic achievement. It was not the first time a General Authority had waxed rhapsodic on our artistic potential. We had been hearing since the nineteenth century that, with our greater light and knowledge, “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own”—though we always felt a slight twinge of disappointment whenever we learned that this prophecy hadn’t been uttered by Brigham Young or John Taylor, but Orson F. Whitney, one of the lesser-known apostles; there was always this quiet, nagging fear that the prophecy was false and our faith was vain. But lo, Kimball did become a full-fledged prophet, seer, and revelator, and so his words carried all the more heft and authority. Hence, when this portion of the talk was later reprinted in a 1977 Ensign article (the afterthought was now the centerpiece), Kimball’s challenge became imbued with the power of a prophetic pronouncement. The Church’s artists felt not only challenged, not only encouraged, but called to their work.
Book Review: Sandra Clark Jergensen and Shelah Mastny Miner, eds. Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition
Gender Structures within Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition Sandra Clark Jergensen and Shelah Mastny Miner, eds. Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition. El Cerrito, Calif.: Peculiar Press, 2017. 264 pp. Paper: $19.99. Reviewed by Mei Li Inouye. Appeared in Dialogue, Spring 2018. Aptly titled, Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition is a well-curated collection of prose and poetry featuring a specific demographic of Mormon women who read and contribute to the literary journal and blog Segullah. Eleven thoughtfully arranged categories containing fifty-eight voices capture a diversity of experiences that occasionally touch on issues of class, sexual orientation, ability, race, and ethnicity,(1) but primarily plumb the life and death observations and gendered experiences of a middle-class swath of well-educated, able-bodied, heteronormative, married women from different age groups and North American geographies (their rare references to race or ethnicity also suggest racial homogeneity among them). A unique ethnographic case study for analyzing the boundaries, values, and negotiations of this specific demographic of Mormon women, this collection makes a valuable contribution in its exploration of what it means to be such a Mormon woman and how such women negotiate the gendered structures and roles containing them.
In this Dialogue podcast Thomas Simpson discusses "American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism." From the Miller Eccles website: In the closing decades of the nineteenth century, college-age Latter-day Saints began undertaking a remarkable intellectual pilgrimage from Utah to the nation’s elite universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, Chicago, and Stanford. Thomas W. Simpson chronicles the academic migration of hundreds of LDS students from the 1860s through the late 1930s, when church authority J. Reuben Clark Jr., himself a product of the Columbia University Law School, gave a reactionary speech about young Mormons’ search for intellectual cultivation. Clark’s leadership helped to set conservative parameters that in large part came to characterize Mormon intellectual life.
Review: Tracy McKay. The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope
Raw Hope and Kindness: The Burning Point Tracy McKay. The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope. Salt Lake City, UT: By Common Consent Press, 2017. 274 pp. Paper: $12.95. Review by Mel Henderson. Appeared in Dialogue, Winter 2017. When reading a good book I’ll often hop online to supplement or enrich my sensory experience. This time I sought a detailed close-up for mala beads, a tactile sense of the silk handkerchief around a deck of tarot cards, an image of a gilded ketubah, and a sense of the gleaming stained glass medallion in the Nauvoo temple—but Tracy McKay’s memoir also gave me opportunities to look up some classic songs and spend some time enjoying them through a new auditory “lens.” One of the pleasures of reading The Burning Point is how it suggests its own soundtrack. It’s unlikely that I will hear certain Bob Dylan (or Grateful Dead, or Paul Simon) songs ever again without thinking of McKay’s story and re-experiencing the tenderness and courage with which she told it. Perhaps the first challenge of writing a memoir is believing that your story is worth telling. McKay’s story fosters genuine hope. She owns her story and commands it with a confidence that asserts that telling the story matters. It’s powerful because there are countless women (and men and children) who never signed up for the train wreck that someone else’s choices—someone they love—would make of their lives, and so many of us dearly need true, honest, accessible stories of both survival and forgiveness. We need to know it’s possible to heal from the perceived shame of not being able to fix a problem for someone we love.
Thin Volume, Thick Questions Luisa Perkins. Prayers in Bath. New York: Mormon Artists Group, 2017. 128 pp. Paper: $14.95. Reviewed by Sandra Clark Jorgensen. Appeared in Dialogue, Winter 2017. The half-inch thickness of the thin paperback belies its contents. Some context on the limited edition, published by Mormon Artists Group, explains the dense publication: fifty hand-bound copies in Asahi silk, hand numbered, and signed with color reproductions of the four original art pieces created by Jacqui Larsen for the book. There are fifty, they are stunning, and they are selling for $150 each. This small book was not a small project, speedily or thriftily produced, but three years in the making. Perkins explains, “It’s a short book, but it took a long time to write, to feel like I’d gotten it right;” 1 Prayers in Bath is right in so many ways. Luisa Perkins does not waste time or pages to display her tight research and writing skills. Using the real life discovery of curse tablets from the ancient Bath ruins, Perkins muses,“What else might be waiting to be dug up in that ancient holy place?”2 The story is framed around a young Mormon couple: academics, expats, nancially and emotionally exhausted by their repeated and failed attempts at in-vitro fertilization. Ted is absorbed by the distraction of research and teaching, but Julia, finished with her Ph.D. in linguistics and biding time in England for Ted’s work, is mired in depression. Ted arranges for her to intern at an archeological dig in Bath; Julia is put off, but a resounding divine personal confirmation pushes her forward. Julia sifts through the muck of the dig, hoping to recover herself in the ruins, but stumbles over something else. A small cylinder is crammed into the clay. Instead of alerting her supervisor, Julia pauses at an immediate prompting to risk her position, career future, morality, and faith to pocket the artifact instead. Trusting the weight of the feeling, she stuffs the heavy object into her jacket. Back at her apartment, Julia opens it, finding copper-colored metal scrolls of writing, in an extinct language she is startled to be able to read. The furious translation brings Julia back to life.
On Apple Seeds, Rats, and the State of Mormon Literature Steven L. Peck. Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats. Alresford, Hants: Roundfire Books, 2017. 272 pp. Paperback: $16.00. Reviewed by Shane R. Peterson. Appeared in Dialogue, Winter 2017. Steven L. Peck has long been seen as a pioneer in the field of Mormon letters, because of his ability to move beyond the usual clichés and expectations that often come with foction about the faith. In two of his previous novels, The Scholar of Moab and A Short Stay in Hell, he suc- cessfully moved the genre into the twenty-first century because of his willingness to push boundaries, embrace the unorthodox, and explore dif cult themes. His latest contribution, Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats, follows this same vein by branching out into even newer territory, but unfortunately, it often gets lost along the way. The book itself is not a simple, straight-forward narrative; Gilda is presented not as a point-of-view character, but rather the subject of MA student Kattrim Mender’s thesis, which she describes as “an academic work disguised as a novel disguised as an academic work.” With limited commentary in the preface, at the beginning of each chapter, and at the end of her dissertation, she compiles her research with a series of vignettes describing Gilda’s exploits across the world, from competing in badminton tournaments to spending years in a Russian abbey painting a single apple seed the whole time to becoming a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam and befriending the rats that infest her cell (hence the title of Peck’s book). As a whole, Kat creates a character study that attempts to reconsider Gilda’s fame and legacy as a once world-renown author, who reached heights that no other Mormon writer has before.
That We May Be One: A Personal Journey Tom Christofferson. That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 2017. 154 pp. Paper. $15.99 Reviewed by Gerald S. Argetsinger. Appeared in Dialogue, Winter 2017. Tom Christofferson’s That We May Be One exploded onto the LDS book market with a series of news releases, interviews, and appearances.1 It represents a gigantic leap in the Deseret Book LDS conversation on LGBTQ+ (hereafter: gay) members since the publication of Ty Mansfield’s In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-gender Attraction.2 Even the use of the descriptor “gay” in place of “same-gender attraction” still raises the hackles of many in the faith.3 In contrast to Mansfield’s desperate struggle, Tom Christofferson declares “There is nothing intrinsically about who I am that is offensive to God.”4 Behind that statement is the strength of Deseret Book Company, its president, Sherri Dew (ostensibly the most powerful woman in the LDS Church), and the author’s brother, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve. That We May Be One can be divided into “Tom’s Coming Out Story,” “Tom’s Advice to the Parents of Gay Youth,” “Tom’s Rediscovery of the Church,” and “Tom’s Divine Mandate for Gay Mormons.” Tom’s “coming out” story is similar to most gay young men in the LDS Church. He believed that spiritual development, church service, serving a mission, and getting married in the temple would change his sexual orientation. Like other gay Mormons, he learned that he was wrong. Shortly after his temple wedding, Tom discovered that trying to be married to a woman was impossible for him. He realized that to be honest with his life, he must travel a different path. In the early 1980s a person could be excommunicated from the LDS Church merely for “coming out,” so Tom first called his brother Greg, then his parents and other brothers explaining that he was going to be divorced and ask to be excommunicated because he was homosexual. While this represents the typical tragedy of the young gay Mormon, this is where Tom’s experience begins to be atypical.
The Making of a Hard, Then Softened Heart in The Book of Laman Mette Harrison. The Book of Laman. Salt Lake City, Utah: By Common Consent Press, 2017. 238 pp. Paper: $9.95. Reviewed by Laura Hilton Craner A fallen prophet. An abandoned wife and mother. A starving little brother. A big brother whose street smarts and steel are the linchpin to his family’s survival. The cast of Mette Harrison’s alternative telling of the beginning of the Book of Mormon is a motley and earthly one, striking a deep contrast to the lofty start of Nephi’s scriptural telling. Gritty and as unforgiving of himself as he is of his earthly and Heavenly fathers, the central character of Laman, as painted by Harrison, is an everyman for the modern Saint with a struggle and his story is, in many ways, just as truthful as Nephi’s. The novel starts well before Nephi’s birth and introduces us to a family that is as far from his “goodly parents” (I Nephi 1:1) as a family can get. Lehi and Sariah still live in Jerusalem but Lehi is not yet the visionary man of scripture. He is a drunk who runs out on his wife and two small sons because, when it comes right down to it, he prefers the attention of upbraiding crowds on the street. When Sariah tries to explain away his behavior as “telling stories,” Laman responds with a scathing, “He was good at telling stories, but the problem was, they were never true” (1). And with that, the true conflict of every scriptural story is set up: how do you choose faith when the truth telling can’t be parsed from the storytelling?
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