Airing the Rhetorical Laundry: Some Thoughts On Mormon Oration and Audience

I took this out for a test run on my blog a couple of weeks ago, but thought it could bear repeating here because I’m interested in your thoughts. And I’ve got some more musings on Mormon rhetoric I’m planning to post tomorrow (due to their time sensitive nature—you’ll see), so stay tuned.

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I just finished a delightful (yes, I said “delightful”) little essay in the Spring 2006 issue of Dialogue: “Mormon Laundry List“ by Julianna Gardner Berry.* Berry speaks about what I’ve come to call the Mormon Rhetorical Problem**: Despite our expansive theological witness that “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth“ and that humans are beings of eternal intelligence, co-existent with God and heirs to eternal glory, much of our language seems to betray a lack of faith in that ideal. Continue reading “Airing the Rhetorical Laundry: Some Thoughts On Mormon Oration and Audience”

The Rise of the New Play Project, Part One: Humble Beginnings and a Bright Future

This is the first part of a series I’m writing on New Play Project, the most interesting and promising Mormon theater group to arrive on the scene for many years. Following installments will include:

Part Two: Little Happy Secrets: A Milestone in Mormon Drama

This piece will discuss on the significance of Melissa Leilani Larson’s groundbreaking play, which artistically put New Play Project on the map unlike anything else they had done previously.

Part Three: Prodigal Son: The Association of Mormon Letters Honors New Play Project

This piece will discuss James Goldberg’s short play “Prodigal Son” and the significance of it winning the AML’s 2008 Award for best play.

Part Four: Swallow the Sun and The Fading Flower: A personal perspective

In this piece I will discuss my own collaboration with New Play Project in producing my full length works.

Part Five: New Play Project: Here To Stay?

In the conclusion of the series, I’ll take a look at what I think it will take for New Play Project to survive.

Now onto Part One:

I’ll be honest, the first time I saw a show put on by New Play Project, I wasn’t particularly impressed. They were performing a set of short plays in a back room of the Provo library. Some of the writing was true quality, while other pieces were lackluster. The acting  and directing were uneven as well. And they were performing on wooden planks placed upon cinder blocks with little or no budget. There were real nuggets of promise in the set of plays I saw, but it was all still very unrefined.

However, even back then they had two things that have shaped them into the robust organization they are today: passion and organization. Those involved in the Project were a group of volunteers who were doing it for no other apparent reason than that they loved both theater and the Gospel and were intent on building “values driven theater.” This passion was evident from their earnestness, their valiant effort and their intent to improve.  As I became more acquainted with the group, I started to realize that these were people with a mission, ready to overcome the obstacles, discouragement and reckless criticism that comes against the birthing of any such group. Many of its leaders, such as the eloquent James Goldberg, the energetic Arisael Rivera and the sophisticated Bianca Dillard were ensuring the survival of the group through sheer belief, will power and work ethic. Continue reading “The Rise of the New Play Project, Part One: Humble Beginnings and a Bright Future”

I Took It To Mean: An Ethics of Textual Intimacy

Some time ago, I mentioned to Theric during his series on the erotic in LDS literature and to MoJo shortly thereafter that I was on the verge of tackling something similar. I finally teetered over that edge and this essay—this rhetorical attempt—in which I grapple with the moral/spiritual uses of eroticism (of reading erotic texts, of reading with an erotic bend, etc.), is the result. I read it at the Intermountain Graduate Conference held last Saturday (April 11) at Idaho State and it was well received by the seven others who were in the room.

In view of the fact that part of this textual performance centers on a reading of Javen Tanner’s poem, “Eden” (scroll down) and that my Mormonness serves as a backdrop to my words, I’m posting it here as part of the Mormon Poetry Project I’ve been chasing all month.

Anyway. Continue reading “I Took It To Mean: An Ethics of Textual Intimacy”

“To Know the Names of All the Vital Things”


As I mentioned a little while ago
, my wife and I were asked to speak in Sacrament Meeting yesterday. At Theric’s request (and because I decided to approach the topic of Latter-day Saints and language and discuss Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth), I’m posting a slightly revised version of my talk here.

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“To Know the Names of All the Vital Things”: On the Virtue of Words and the Word of God

And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just–yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them–therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5)

On June 16, 1844 at a meeting assembled in the grove just east of the Nauvoo Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith stood to deliver one of his final sermons. Wet with rain, surrounded by apostates, many of whom wanted him dead, and sustained by the saints, he spoke plainly and courageously of the Christian Godhead and “the plurality of Gods,” truths that would in part lead to his martyrdom almost two weeks later.

Yet, his message was no different than anything he’d previously taught: “I wish to declare,” he said, that “in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods.”1 Using ancient and modern scripture to support his reasoning, he took the assembly back to the beginning, showing them the unbroken chain of exalted Beings that extends, Parent to child, across the thresholds of eternity. Pointing to the relationship between Christ and Elohim as his example, he asked, “Where was there ever a son without a father? and where was there ever a father without first being a son? [“¦] [I]f Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He [Christ’s Father] had a Father also?”2 Continue reading ““To Know the Names of All the Vital Things””

Samuel the Metaphor

The American religious experience has a long tradition of using scriptural metaphors and few were as adept at using these metaphors as Martin Luther King Jr. His speeches are awash in applications of scriptural language and events to the needs of his day. His people were chosen Israel being brought to the promised land. Stripped of the misconceptions that overwhelmed the hearing of my parents and grandparents and of Mormon culture in his time, to me, who has only heard his words in years following his death, King’s metaphors, message and his delivery of that message are communicated in an awesome grandeur that make it almost impossible to not be caught in his message, in his movement and in his justice.

Unfortunately, they may be a tad dramatic for General Conference, at least in our current Mormon culture.

Continue reading “Samuel the Metaphor”

Pillars of Fire

for Stephen Carter in partial fulfillment of a promise
but especially for greenfrog, who showed me a bit of backbone

When a subject and object look at one another, there is no subject and no object, there’s only relation, the scope of which extends beyond either creature’s ability to fully grasp it.  You can’t grasp it, but you can step out to meet it.  If you do, prepare to catch on fire “¦

When I was in my early twenties, two events ignited my life.  The first involved a disagreement with a close friend whose feelings of friendship toward me had cooled.  I was changing, growing up a little, I guess.  I think my friend no longer felt needed, and feeling needed was important to her.  My feelings of deep friendship hadn’t changed, yet somehow that didn’t matter, not to her.  Why not? I wondered.  Why shouldn’t my feelings matter to her? Continue reading “Pillars of Fire”

Failed metaphors of failure

After looking back at some of the embarrassing language I use in my review of Irreantum 9.2/10.1 — words like “trinket” and “cul-de-sacs of meaning” — it occurs to me that I should just get all these failed metaphors of the failure of Mormon letters out of my system now so I won’t plaque you with them in the future.

So here it goes:

1. Mormon literature is like that Kafka quote about the axe and the frozen sea, except with a tub of Jello and a rubber mallet instead.

2. Mormon poetry is like the cute but slightly overweight girl (or guy) you meet at youth conference and end up hanging with the whole weekend and then make sure to dance with several times at every stake and multi-stake dance that year, but never contact or really even think about in between dances. Continue reading “Failed metaphors of failure”

The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part IV

This is the fourth post in a five or six part series that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. In part three, “The (In)Convenience of Mormon Letters”, I briefly examine a New Testament narrative–Satan’s temptations of Christ–first of all, to underscore the dangers a consumer-based outlook on Mormon theology poses to Mormon culture and on the essential relationship between self and other, individual and community, and, second, to suggest a way to transcend this paradox, namely by inconveniently pushing at the boundaries of established or misinterpreted cultural conventions (of action, knowledge, language, etc.) and thus expanding the limits of personal and communal understanding and potential.

As I conclude, “This vision of doctrinal expansion and spiritual cooperation as acts of theological creativity ties very closely to Mormonism’s cultural and artistic development because the depth and breadth of our theological and experiential perspective and the vigor with which we explore, express, and develop it in our lives, our writing, and our reading (often an unconscious act) determines the vitality and the efficacy of our community’s literary testimony. Because of my belief in this vision, I sense that Mormon literature and criticism haven’t yet grown past the awkwardness of adolescence into a full and necessary articulation of their essential greatness, a mature literary and critical character founded in Mormonism’s theological complexity and prophesied, promised, and hoped for by LDS prophets, seers, writers, and critics alike.”

IV. Maintaining Rhetorical Balance

Karl Keller insists that Mormon culture’s literary immaturity arises from three distinct delusions, conventions we cling to that keep us from fully experiencing words and with which we have historically “denied ourselves a literature.”1 Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part IV”

New Words of Mormon

In priesthood meeting this past Sunday the photographers collecting photos for the ward photo directory stood up and talked about their project, and suggested, several times, that the photos might end up on the “Blogosphere.” After the third mention of “Blogosphere,” I replied (so everyone could hear):

“In the Church we call it the “Bloggernacle.”

To my surprise, “Bloggernacle” drew gaffaws from the entire room, as if I had invented the term there and then as a joke of some kind.

Continue reading “New Words of Mormon”