On the Mormon Vision of Language: Tutoring the Tongue

This week, I meditate on a pattern that appears in various places throughout the scriptures: a person is called upon by God to do something the person doesn’t think he can do; God says, “Whatever,” and proceeds to prepare the person for the task.

I explore three different examples of the pattern at play, although there are surely more. Feel free to give them a shout out in the comments.


(The audio-only version. Here’s a direct link to the audio file.)

(All posts in this series. // All audio files from this series.)

On the Mormon Vision of Language: God’s Works and God’s Words

In this week’s video, I turn to the Pearl of Great Price and explore the interaction between God and Moses as narrated in the first chapter of Moses. I focus specifically on what the narrative suggests about God’s use of language.


(The audio only version. A direct link to the audio file.)

(All posts in this series. // All audio files from this series.)

On the Mormon Vision of Language: Remembering the Word of God through the Words of God

In this week,s installment of my series ‘On the Mormon Vision of Language,’ I ruminate over how vital words are to our relationship with the Word (i.e., Christ). I frame my thoughts, on one hand, in terms of the value the Lehites placed on the plates of brass—enough to halt their exodus and risk their sons lives to collect the records (see 1 Nephi 3:4, especially)—and, on the other, in terms of the people of Zarahemla, who Amaleki tells us left Jerusalem without any records.

As always, your thoughts are welcome in the comments.


(The audio only version. A direct link to the audio file.)

(All posts in this series. // All audio files from this series.)

On the Mormon Vision of Language: Bro. Chadwick and the Power of Words

I teach first year writing online for BYU-Idaho (where, by institutional requirement, I go by “Bro. Chadwick”). One of my main goals for the course is to instill in my students a sense of responsibility for the ways they use language. To that end, several semesters ago I started an ongoing screencasting project in which I record my musings over what Mormonism can teach us about responsible, sustainable language use. I’ve titled the project “On the Mormon Vision of Language.” Each week I share a new video with my students; so far, most of the vids have me exploring ideas from Restoration scriptures—the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, particularly, though I’ve also drawn from the Doctrine & Covenants and the Bible. Continue reading “On the Mormon Vision of Language: Bro. Chadwick and the Power of Words”

Words, Eternal Words

“word is a word” from procsilas moscas on Flickr
At the beginning of May, my wife and I moved our family from Idaho to Utah. The bishop of our new ward wasted no time asking us to speak in sacrament meeting. At our monthly ward social—ice cream at the park down the street—he stood next to me, made some small talk about running (an interest we both share), joked around a minute with another brother in the ward who had just that morning completed the Ogden Half-marathon (our bishop had run in it, too), then said, “Hey, I’ve got an opening in two weeks for sacrament speakers. Would you and your wife be interested in addressing us?” (Or something like that.)

Now, I enjoy public speaking. In fact, despite the nerves that churn my guts the hours before I speak, I love it. (Consummate performer Alex Caldiero once told me to embrace the nerves; they’ll make you a better performer. My dad—a skilled public speaker—used to say something similar.) My wife appreciates public speaking, too. So we gladly accepted the invitation and set to work preparing our sermons. Knowing that Mormon Arts Sunday (see also here) was on the horizon, I wanted to integrate some Mormon art into my remarks. I waffled around with several ideas the ten days after the bishop asked us to speak, but my thoughts didn’t congeal until a couple mornings before we would stand to speak. I woke up that morning with the idea that I should tap into the oratorical tradition of our forebears and, relying on the promise of preparation, weave a narrative as I stood before the congregation.

This, I thought, is the oral poet’s art.

Elsewhere, I’ve described this art in terms of what I call “poetry’s communal moments.” Here’s a rundown of what I mean: Epic poems, which narrate the heroic journeys and deeds of a protagonist whose life and character exemplify the values of the poem’s originating society, were traditionally composed orally before a live audience who had gathered to experience or to re-experience the hero’s adventures. (I say re-experience because many listeners would have been familiar with the legends and story cycles around which the poet wove his* particular narrative). Giving the event varying degrees of attention and receptivity and moving with the crowd vicariously through the hero’s adventures, listeners could participate with the poet in the story’s creation and elaboration. In the process, depending on how much attention listeners gave and how receptive they were, they could also likely feel the poet’s language deeply, viscerally, as his voice washed over the crowd and resounded with their flesh, exciting the passions and evoking the senses’ response. In these cultural circumstances, poetry and the process by which it was made were shared by the community and rooted in the connection among poets’ and listeners’ bodies. During poetry’s communal moments, which enacted the essential kinship between poets and listeners, both parties in the transaction may have had their individual and communal values and desires both validated and kept in check as, through the performance event, they mutually recognized and committed to emulate the hero’s strengths and learned how not to be via the hero’s shortcomings. In this way poetry traditionally functioned as a physically offered and physically received means by which community members might gain shared experience and might confirm and maintain individual and communal values and desires.

Relying on this art of oral composition—as practiced in early societies, as in early Mormonism—and on the communal promise it carries, I celebrated the process of language-making with our new ward and at the same time sought to raise awareness of responsible language use. I considered it a good way to recognize Mormon Arts Sunday. It may not have been an explicit recognition that, yes, we have awesome Mormon art and I may not have explicitly referenced Mormon artists (literary or otherwise); but my efforts were a recognition that latter-day scriptural narratives provide us with a unique vision of language and that the art of sermon-making among Mormons should be embraced as a means of weekly communion. At least that was my hope.

Since Mormon Arts Sunday is this weekend, I wanted to honor it with the celebration’s founding forum by sharing the audio file of my sermon, which I’ve titled “Words, Eternal Words.” Here it is (all 26:10 of it):

(Direct link to the mp3.)

I welcome your response in the comments.

—————–
*I’m not being gender-insensitive with my pronoun use. Rather, the role of “epic poet” would have been filled by males.

Part 2: You Say You Want a Creavolution? Well, You Know…

William_Blake,_The_Temptation_and_Fall_of_Eve
William Blake’s The Temptation and Fall of Eve

 

Part 1, wherein I muse upon the similarities between Darwinism and creationism, may be found here. In Part 2, I muse some more.

And yet . . . and yet. The longer I lived, the more I recognized that I had a tendency to settle into patterns of thought and behavior and into known, comfortable surroundings and not budge unless some act of God demonstrated to me that I could not survive–psychologically, at least–dramatic changes in conditions unless something gave. What had to give? Me. I needed to take another step outside my comfort zone and adapt to the new stresses on the old habitat. Based on my own desires for peace and quiet, I came to suspect that, barring a radical change in that Everlasting God whose power made and sustained Eden, the first breeding pair of hominids would likely have stayed in their garden stasis forever, all innocence and naked ignorance. Our own continued, expressed wishes for a return to the Peaceable Kingdom confirm how deeply that environment still interests us. So I suspect that had not some serpent of change appeared in paradise and coiled itself around Eve, triggering a sudden shift in direction for mankind and precipitating all that “sweat of the brow” stuff,  leading to the production of copious offspring capable of adapting to environments down through the generations, we might still be who we were–whatever that may have been.

Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist, linguist and the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature, sees the Old Testament as a “celebration” of the kind of commonplace yet horrifying (to modern sensibilities) violence that characterized mankind’s behavior during early stages of its social evolution. Continue reading “Part 2: You Say You Want a Creavolution? Well, You Know…”

Part 1: You Say You Want a Creavolution? Well, You Know …

This two-part post is from a chapter titled “Gardens” in my book Crossfire Canyon, under construction. I haven’t posted on AMV for a while and thought I’d run this out there.

As a reliable account of the origin of life on Earth, the Old Testament story of the Garden of Eden may itself stand only a hair’s breadth from being cast out of the paradise of credence. “It didn’t happen, couldn’t have happened that way,” scientists say as they pronounce the Eden story indefensible. Over the last century and a half, they have promoted science-based and evidence-supported stories to supplant the Creation Story: narrative strains of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism, the yet-developing evolutionary tale.

The degree of interchangeability between the two storylines could be framed as a boxing match between contraries–Creationism v. Darwinism–with each side claiming to have landed multiple knock-out punches. Or perhaps, given both sides’ claims to Higher Truth, the contention is more like a jousting tournament. Despite the pageant’s being over a hundred-and-fifty years old, sterling knights on either side continue to try to unhorse each other, resulting, at times, in such heated language as to lay the nobility of both sides open to doubt. Rampant name-calling and disrespecting of persons abound, along with the dusting-off-of-feet on each other’s narrative grounds. Continue reading “Part 1: You Say You Want a Creavolution? Well, You Know …”

Margaret Young’s Pater Noster

Or, Some Reflections Made upon Having Translated a Blog Post into a Persona Poem

For various reasons I haven’t written much poetry lately. I’ve written a lot about poetry, but not much poetry. Because of this, I was excited the other day when I felt a poem welling up as I read Margaret Young’s meditation, “My Prayer upon Opening the Internet,” which she posted on The Welcome Table, her blog at Patheos. Margaret’s been catching flak since she posted some thoughts on the Ordain Women movement and I can only imagine what effect the sometimes vitriolic response has had on her soul. From what I know of her, she’s a very empathetic person, something that I’m sure has been magnified and made raw by her father’s failing health, especially as she walks with him his path through the valley of the shadow of death. I sense this desire to understand and to connect with others in “Prayer.” Continue reading “Margaret Young’s Pater Noster”

Finding language to describe Mormonism at work

Those who follow @motleyvision on Twitter know that, in addition, to posting links and bon mots, I occasionally go on mini-rants that attempt to carve out a way of speaking about Mormonism, especially in relation to the larger culture and other socio-cultural paradigms. These are often gnomic and sometimes silly and often stretch language as I try to express ideas and experiences that I haven’t fully processed. They often come out in the form of tortured metaphor.

I wanted to record here a particular instance of this that took place on July 17 (original line breaks):

We must operate within neoliberalism/capitalism effectively, but also
let the metaphysics of Mormonism deposit a core inside of us.

Christ is the irritant; the pearl builds its titanium layers through
exercising acts of faith, charity, hope, patience.

We emanate when we magnify, but in so doing we also accrete to
our secret core. That thing which man, which the man-made, cannot
touch

Yes, we get tangled up in the multitudinous notions of gender,
materialism, authority, class (in short: power). That’s all part of the
risk.

So many stories; so many explanations; so many special pleadings;
so much back and forth. It’s easy to get distracted.

It’s also easy to want to create a gestalt out of it all. c.f. the
Republican Mormon, the Progressive Mormon, the Not-of-the World
Mormon.

Or to focus on what one can control: the Hobbyhorse Mormon; the
Local Mormon.

All those impulses are understandable, albeit doomed in the end.

And none of the layers we build are wholly pure and refined. Our
pearls are gray–not white. Our titanium plates unevenly.

The important thing is to build and preserve the core.

Or as I wrote in Gentle Persuasions III: “And yes, beneath the
swirling clouds of doctrine, doubts, duties, history, troubling things,…

…things put on a shelf, things amalgamated with the theories of the
world, the core gently hummed, quiet with power.”

/end maudlin philosophizing.

It’s gauche to quote yourself. But seeing this laid out in it’s entirety, I realize that found in that rant are many of the major concerns of my fiction and criticism as well as the types of metaphors that I tend to fall back on (layering and secret cores come up a lot). Metaphor is tortured. But when part of your worldview includes things that operate outside the observable world as well as beyond all the various discourses, sometimes you have to resort to it.

A Rhetorical Review of The God Who Weeps

Givens, Terryl and Fiona. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak (an imprint of Deseret Book), 2012. 160 pages. $19.99 in hardback, $11.49 Kindle. Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

There’s been a lot of fuss about this little book, co-written by Terryl Givens, a professor of English at the University of Richmond, who is one of Mormonism’s most prominent current scholars and apologists, and his wife Fiona, whom I believe he has referred to as an unacknowledged collaborator on his earlier work, which has included such items as the seminal study The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy, published by Oxford University Press in 1997 (now available in an updated 2013 version); By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, also published by Oxford University Press in 2003; and People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, again from Oxford University Press in 2007.

I haven’t read those other books (though some are high on my list to read at some point), so I can’t compare the style of this book to Terryl’s earlier books. My assumption would be that this book is written in a less academic style, intended to appeal to a broader audience composed both of believing Mormons and non-Mormons with a potential interest in knowing what the basis is of Mormonism’s appeal to some of its thoughtful adherents.

Continue reading “A Rhetorical Review of The God Who Weeps”