Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sharing this Year's LDS Christmas Messages

For those who might have missed it or wanting a repeat performance,  here is the 2011 First Presidency Christmas Devotional. You can watch or listen on the computer with family and friends this Holiday season. Along with the music, some highlights include President Monson:
I, with you, have witnessed during the past few days and weeks what has become over the years the annual commercialization of Christmas. I am saddened to see Christmas becoming less and less about Christ and more and more about marketing and sales, parties and presents.
And yet, Christmas is what we make of it. Despite all the distractions, we can see to it that Christ is at the center of our celebration. If we have not already done so, we can establish Christmas traditions for ourselves and for our families which will help us capture and keep the spirit of Christmas.
For almost as long as I can remember, I have had a particular tradition at Christmastime. My family knows that just before Christmas I will read again my Christmas treasury of books and ponder the wondrous words of the authors. First will be the Gospel of Luke—even the Christmas story. This will be followed by a reading of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens and, lastly, rereading The Mansion, by Henry Van Dyke. . .
Because He came, there is meaning to our mortal existence.
Because He came, we know how to reach out to those in trouble or distress, wherever they may be.
Because He came, death has lost its sting, the grave its victory. We will live again because He came.
Because He came and paid for our sins, we have the opportunity to gain eternal life.
Because He came, we are gathered tonight to worship Him, in bonds of brotherhood and love.
Second Counselor to the First Presidency, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, tells how an imperfect Christmas is nothing compared to the message behind its celebration. I couldn't help thinking of the fictional character in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation who ended up with a disaster trying to do everything just right:
Sometimes it seems that our efforts to have a perfect Christmas season are like a game of Jenga—you know, the one played with small wooden blocks that are precariously stacked up to a tower. As we try to increase the height of the tower, we pull out one wooden block before we can place it on top of the delicate structure.
Each of those little wooden blocks is a symbol of the perfect Christmas events we so desperately want to have. We have in our minds a picture of how everything should be—the perfect tree, the perfect lights, the perfect gifts, and the perfect family events. We might even want to re-create some magical moment we remember from Christmases past, and nothing short of perfection will do.
Sooner or later, something unpleasant occurs—the wooden blocks tumble, the drapes catch fire, the turkey burns, the sweater is the wrong size, the toys are missing batteries, the children quarrel, the pressure rises—and the picture-perfect Christmas we had imagined, the magic we had intended to create, shatters around us. As a result, the Christmas season is often a time of stress, anxiety, frustration, and perhaps even disappointment.
But then, if we are only willing to open our hearts and minds to the spirit of Christmas, we will recognize wonderful things happening around us that will direct or redirect our attention to the sublime. It is usually something small—we read a verse of scripture; we hear a sacred carol and really listen, perhaps for the first time, to its words; or we witness a sincere expression of love. In one way or another, the Spirit touches our hearts, and we see that Christmas, in its essence, is much more sturdy and enduring than the many minor things of life we too often use to adorn it . . .
In these precious moments we realize what we feel and know in our heart—that Christmas is really about the Christ.
We cannot offer Him the gift of perfection in all things because this is a gift beyond our capacity to give—at least for now. The Lord does not expect that we commit to move mountains. But He does require that we bring as gifts our best efforts to move ourselves, one foot in front of the other, walking in the ways He has prepared and taught.
And what are the Savior’s gifts to those who are willing to bring these gifts to Him?
This may be the most one-sided gift exchange in the history of the universe. The Savior’s gifts to us are breathtaking.
Let us begin with immortality. Because the Savior overcame death, all men and women—both the just and the unjust—will live forever. 2
Then, forgiveness—even though our sins and imperfections be as scarlet, they can become white as snow because of Him. 3
And finally, eternal life—the greatest gift of all. 4 Because of the Atonement of Christ, not only are we guaranteed an infinite quantity of life, but He offers the possibility of an unimaginable quality of life as well. 5
Some of His divine gifts are reserved for that glorious future day when we return to His presence.
But He extends many gifts and His grace to us every day. He promises to be with us, to come to us when we need comfort, 6 to lift us when we stumble, to carry us if needed, to mourn and rejoice with us. Every day He offers to take us by the hand and help transform ordinary life into extraordinary spiritual experiences.
The theme of the gifts of Christ to us continue with First Counselor to the First Presidency, Elder  Henry B. Eyring who also warns the wicked might miss the opportunity of eternal  blessings:

I am grateful for this opportunity to celebrate with you the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. His birth was a gift to all of us. John the Apostle, quoting the Savior, wrote of His birth in these stirring words:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” 1
And then the Savior made clear that true faith leads to keeping God’s commandments and that in turn qualifies us for the gift of eternal life, which is to live with God forever in heavenly light.
The Savior warned, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” 2
He then went on to teach, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” 3
He praised those who, rather than hide in shame, chose the right and to walk in the light: “But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” 4
One of the most beautiful symbols of the birth of Jesus Christ into this world is light. The appearance of the long-promised Messiah brought light to a darkened world . . . 

The lesson is not that we can have such marvelous experiences whenever we wish for them—nor that they will come even when we feel great need for them. The lesson is that God knows our every need, that He loves us, and that He watches over us.
He gave us the gift of a Savior, His perfect Son, the Lamb without blemish. By personal appearance of the Father Himself and of the Son, and through angels, He has restored the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days. He has called prophets and apostles to guide us to safety in this life and eternal life in the world to come. Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected that we may live again, that we may be purified and cleansed from sin, prepared for the glory of eternal life.
Those are gifts to us that we can offer to others for Him. We do that by remembering Him and trying with all our hearts to do what He would do and love as He loves.
I would also suggest reading the December 2011 Ensign, particularly Come, Let Us Adore Him and The Condescension of Jesus Christ together.  From the first one we read:

This discipleship doesn’t necessarily require us to leave our sheep in the fields or to cross deserts. Our journey to Him isn’t physical; it is spiritual and behavioral. It involves accepting and embracing the fact that His Atonement is infinite and covers every aspect of our lives—our sin, weakness, pain, sickness, and infirmity (see Alma 7:11–13). It means that we can let go of those things that hold us down in the gloomy fog of our own inversion and live instead in the warmth and love of the Light of the World. As President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, has taught: “The words ‘come unto Christ’ are an invitation. It is the most important invitation you could ever offer to another person. It is the most important invitation anyone could accept.”3
The second one is no less special with the message:

The wonder of the Lord’s condescension is most meaningful when we contemplate how far He descended. The irony of the Jews’ rejection of Him pierces more deeply when we contemplate who He had been for them before He came to earth.
For example, before the Lord Omnipotent came to earth, He was known as “the Creator of all things from the beginning” (Mosiah 3:8; Helaman 14:12). Contrast that with the Jews’ query, “Is not this the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3). The Creator of all things became a carpenter.
Similarly, consider the contrast between “Shepherd” and “Lamb.” In the Old Testament the Lord was called the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1). Isaiah described Him as the One who gathers His lambs with His arm (see Isaiah 40:11). In His earthly life, that lamb-gathering Shepherd became God’s Lamb, sacrificed for Israel and for the whole world (see John 1:36).
Consider this difference. Before Jesus came to earth He was called “the Father of heaven and earth” (Mosiah 3:8). On earth He was mistaken as “the son of Joseph” (John 6:42).
When the Israelites were finally ready to enter the promised land, it was Jehovah who stopped the River Jordan and made it stand in its place so His people could cross on dry ground (see Joshua 3). Contrast His power in performing that miracle with His humility when, as Jesus of Nazareth, He was immersed by John in the same River Jordan (see Matthew 3:13–17).
In ancient Israel, Jehovah spared thousands and thousands of firstborn sons on the night of the Passover (see Exodus 12). When He came to earth in the flesh, Jesus rasied from the dead the only son of a widow (see Luke 7:12–15).
The Lord saved thousands. The Lord saved one. . . 
 May we remember the Lord—who He is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do. Before and after He was a baby in Bethlehem and a carpenter in Nazareth, He was and is the God of Israel and the God of the whole earth. He was and is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Holy and Only Begotten Son of the Living God. He was with the Father from the beginning. He is in the Father and the Father in Him; and in Him has the Father glorified His name (see 3 Nephi 9:15). May we remember and believe that He has all wisdom and all power in heaven and in earth (see Mosiah 4:9). And may we have faith that He yet condescends to help and lift the least and the last, even you, even me.
Merry Christmas, and may we keep the Spirit of Christ in our hearts year around with faith and service to others as Jesus set an example to follow with love and devotion.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Samples of the Best Mormons are Christians Arguments

Those who proclaim that Mormons aren't Christians have been on the rise. At least one evangelical was criticized for his saying that and much more, just like it should have been. For those who are adamant that Mormons aren't Christians or worse, they hide behind "theology" as if it somehow acts as a shield. Many people less swayed by priests and religious contentions see past trying to contextualize the disenfranchising and name-calling.

It is no surprise that Mormons have just as ferociously claim that they are Christians. What is interesting is the few times that a non-Mormon has made the case.  Nothing they or Mormons will say can change the minds of those determined to demand theological purity as they see it. However, it is nice to see not everyone agrees with narrow terminology where a broader one makes more sense.

The best one is from an ex-Mormon who rare to form doesn't seem to have an axe to grind. The whole thing is from  the Fact Checker is worth a read. The best quote:

To learn more, Fact Checker contacted Wynona Majied-Martinez, who teaches religious studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Truckee Meadows Community College.
Does she think Mormons qualify as Christian? Yes.
But what about their conception of the Trinity?

"In the Mormon faith, it's a different take on the Trinity, a different conception, but it still qualifies as Christian," she said. "They believe in Jesus, they believe in God, they even believe in the Trinity itself, it's just three different (entities) with three different roles."

Using the analogy of biology and the characteristics used to define which animals are classified as which species, do academic scholars include Mormons under the heading of "Christian"?
Yes, Majied-Martinez said, adding that, no, there is not an asterisk by the name to signify doubt.

Another writer is far less concerned with the issue when talking about Jews and Mormons. The article has the usual criticism about temple work that has arisen over the last twenty years. One comment he made is important:

For most Jews, especially the Orthodox, Christians and Mormons are virtually identical, “six of one or half a dozen of the other”, at the very least, and very often members in the same brotherhood of shunned religious minorities. As one Jewish leader who served as a rabbi in the army in the Vietnam War told me: “In our unit there were 50 Protestants and Catholics in one corner, and me and the Mormon in the other.”
"Who says Mormons aren't Christians?" asks a Muslim contributor to CNN, and comes away impressed with the answers he found. In many ways its a very flattering picture; almost embarrassingly. However, the point is similar to the Jewish one above:
While it probably doesn't matter to a person like Jeffress, the LDS members we met proudly consider themselves Christians. After all, the full name of their religion is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." If your religion has the words "Jesus Christ" in its name, it's kind of a tip off that Christ's teachings are important to you.

Economist author says yes that Mormons are Christians. His reasons are more theologically based, but with simple points not enamored with lots of dogma:

It's always been my understanding the necessary and sufficient condition of being a Christian is that you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and saviour. (Romans 10:9: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.") Many people cite an additional criterion, that Christians must be baptised. (Mark 16:16 quotes Jesus saying the following, post-resurrection: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.") But that has been debated for centuries and most Christians will allow at least some exceptions. Beyond that, most Christians have additional beliefs and the denominations may set their own standards for membership, as indeed Mormons do. But under the standard given above, Mormons are clearly Christians.
It may be that the definitional standard given above isn't the appropriate one; that's another question we can debate over the next few centuries . . .

American News Post opinion  Mormons and the Mainstream might not come right out and say it, but the point is still clear that Mormons are Christians regardless of the unorthodox teachings:

. . . This differing on the belief of the structure of the Trinity is not without precedence, however. There has been a long and vigorous debate about the nature of the Trinity throughout much of history, and while it has been at a bit of standstill for the last few hundred years, I think it is hardly strange that some Christian groups would still be up for re-evaluating the concept.
Is the Mormon’s Social Trinitarianism it [sic] any stranger than the traditional belief in the Trinity, or other Christian concepts like Transubstantiation or Unconditional Election? In my opinion, not particularly; but it appears my thoughts on this subject do not echo those of many Christians.
 The fight over Mormons as Christians will probably never really end. Too many aren't familiar enough with their own history to know that Early Christianity was filled with differences of opinions that ended when theologians under direction of the Roman State decided who was "in" and who was "out." Mormons, and a few others, are bucking this trend and I think for the better.

A final quote from a comment at the Economist sums up the discussion similar to the way I feel about the argument:

This is what this all sounds like to an atheist like me:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian, Muslim or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

It might come from an Atheist, but I want to give this an amen!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Brandon Flowers "I Am Mormon"

Here is one of those "I am Mormon" video ads by the LDS Church by one of my favorite contemporary music artists. What is really cool is seeing his family featured as well.

My other favorite contemporary music artists is the band "Evanescence," who is very not Mormon. Just thought I would throw that in for fun.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Conservative Mormonism

This is the third in a series of posts answering questions by a non-member who is curious about Mormonism. The actual question has been restated to help with a more intelligible answer.
I'm trying to figure out how the political conservatism and the theological liberalism of Mormonism doesn't clash. It seems open to a wide source of religious information, but adhere to social and economic conservatism. How does a non-authoritarian religious culture mesh with an authoritarian political culture?

This has been the hardest question to answer based on my own conservative beliefs. It just seems natural that Mormonism and conservative ideals go together. Obviously there are liberal members of the LDS Church, with Sen. Reid as an example. Even the current Mormon U.S. Presidential hopefuls are considered by many conservatives as liberal, where others have noted they are pragmatic rather than ideological. I think the pragmatic assessment is closer to Mormon politics more than a conservative or liberal label, but it does lean conservative for definitional purposes.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Baptism, Sacrament, and the Atonement

This is the second in a series of posts answering questions by a non-member who has only recently started learning about Mormonism. The actual question has been changed and converted from others for a better explanation.

The word sacrament is used specifically and only to refer to Eucharist. The Eucharist (sacrament) is done in regular meeting houses. Is the implication that of the 7 traditional sacraments, the only one recognized by Mormons is the Eucharist?

Any time a person visits the Sunday worship meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they go away with a few observations. Preaching doesn't come from a Pastor or Priest, but the general membership. Men or women from the congregation (called a Ward) will get up to the pulpit near where the leadership sits and deliver a talk based on a religious topic. Music used for religious hymns is a mix of traditional Protestant and a few Mormon specific songs, with a single organ for accompaniment. Somewhere between the announcements and the talks will be the blessing of bread and (uniquely) water that Mormons call the Sacrament, but recognizable as a Eucharist.

Other Christian denominations, especially the Catholic Church, recognize a number of Sacraments. There are seven famous ones with the first set as Christian initiation called Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Mormons also perform these three rites and are of similar function, although the last one is called Sacrament. The other Christian sacraments of Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony can be found in Mormonism with various degrees of importance. The term Mormons would use for the performing of rites and rituals of religious importance would be "ordinances," performed predominantly by those having Priesthood authority. Because males from the age of 14 can be given the Priesthood, they participate in officiating ordinances early. There are some ordinances recognized as salvational and others non-essential.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Firebolt - BYU's Divine Comedy and Other Parodies

I really don't like Katy Perry or any of the pop-music in vogue, but this parody is fun:

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Mormons and KJV Bible

This is the first in the series of attempts to answer some interesting questions by a non-Mormon newly interested in the religion. With some excitement it will be good to engage in a discussion that goes beyond the typical side issues of no modern practical importance; like Kolob, Garden of Eden in Missouri, and polygamy. Although those subjects are interesting, they don't make much of an impact in practiced faith. However, the questions that CD-Host asks are unusually insightful and important. I don't hold the same politics, but he seems devoted to understanding.

The first question will be the easiest to discuss: Why only the KJV? I'm pretty familiar with KJV-only-ism from Protestantism and I have a hard time seeing how any of their reasons would apply to Mormons.

Its a question that has engaged Mormons for at least a few generations. Reasons can vary between Mormons from the "only" camp to the "retire it" group. There is arguably nothing definite in Mormonism that requires the use of the KJV as a final Bible authority. Indeed, one of the criticisms raised against Mormons from some Evangelicals is that Mormons don't respect the Bible enough. This is because Mormons don't believe that Bible is infallible or inerrant, but still of religious and spiritual value. It is the Word of God, but written by fallible humans in mortal language. Joseph Smith actually preferred a German translation while trying to understand the Hebrew underlying the Old Testament. Its rather amazing that the KJV has come into such singular use.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Hidden Grace of Mormonism

This is one of a series of posts that examines the topic of Mormon spirituality, or how we respond to the Divine in personal living. Readers can find the first here, the second here, the third here and the forth here. The purpose of the series is to explain why Mormons are the way they are and what that has to do with religion and doctrine. It was inspired by critics who seem to misunderstand or question the inner spirituality of Mormons as materialists or shallow.

When people think of Mormons, among the perceptions are a group of people who are mindlessly obedient to whatever they are told. Critics of a particular Evangelical Christian perspective believe that Mormonism teaches that we save ourselves. They often reject any idea that Jesus Christ is the center of all the Latter-day Saints do in their lives. Some of what they say is valid without understanding the contexts of those teachings. It can often seem that the Savior takes a limited role in the lives of Latter-day Saints where the emphasis is on obedience, Priesthood, tithing, Temple work, and families. Since the word "Grace" is not a word that has permeated the religious lexicon of Mormonism, it is assumed that it has little value. There becomes a war about "faith" or "works" saving the soul. Sadly, some Mormons are drawn into that argument needlessly. They don't realize that Grace makes possible the individual salvation in those teachings.

Over the years the concept of Grace has become more prominent in church lessons than in the past. However, it has always been there as a package that Mormons call The Gospel. It is only one part of the whole that is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. To concentrate on that one word is to lose greater blessings possible to those with Faith. The life of a Latte-day Saint is, if done in the right religious spirit, the activation of Grace for the believer. Obedience to the Commandments and teachings of Apostles and Prophets is not and should not be about faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but faith in the saving power of Christ.

Brigham Young had this belief in mind when he stated:

The moment the atonement of the Savior is done away, that moment, at one sweep, the hopes of salvation entertained by the Christian world are destroyed, the foundation of their faith is taken away, and there is nothing left for them to stand upon. When it is gone all the revelations God ever gave to the Jewish nation, to the Gentiles, and to us are rendered valueless, and all hope is taken from us at one sweep. (Young, Brigham. Discourses of Brigham Young. Selected by John A. Widtsoe. 1941. Pg. 27. Emphasis mine.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More on that "Mormon Musical" Fiasco

Here is a great review done after listening to the terrible soundtrack. You can also read it here in the cross post.

This is one case where I think that trying to ignore it and not boycotting (as in not going) or protesting has been a big mistake. Its offensive to a lot more than Mormons and yet its treated with kid’s gloves. The argument that it would only increase its audience by doing this is lame considering the large amount of words given to it already by the supporters. At the least those who might have thought to go might be persuaded to skip it as they should! More than one person who thought of going heard the awful things it has and decided NOT to go. Speak up because someone who doesn’t represent your views will.

By the way, I think that Mormons should stand outside the theater before and after the performance and hand out actual Book of Mormons. Not sure if that has been done yet, but it probably would have been news if enough Mormons did this. An insert could be place in them that quotes Scripture that warns against the filth the so-called musical represents.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter! He is Risen!

A short video celebration of the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mormons Entertained to (Spiritual) Death

A family or individual decides they want to watch a movie for the weekend. As a believing and practicing Mormon, they don't want a movie that will go against their morality at least more than can be reasonably tolerated. Life isn't perfect after all and we live in a world filled with sinners and differing views that can't be easily ignored. Short of becoming a recluse there isn't much that can be done in this life to keep away from all imperfections. Even those who want to be perfect need repentance. Regardless, looking at advertisements and reading Internet reviews makes the choice frustrating. All the movies seem to have gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity beyond the decided upon reasonable tolerance levels. This is even the case for those that look halfway decent to watch. There doesn't seem to be anything left to do other than go to the least offensive.

Hold on. There are other choices, although perhaps not the ones that are wished. It seems the defualt option has been to use a "offense filter" program that takes out unwanted parts of a movie. Related to this is a demand that film directors and producers release several versions of a film for larger consumption. On the surface this sounds great, but it doesn't resolve other problems like the overall message of a movie that might be equally offensive to the religious Mormon That can't be cleaned up. Besides, no matter how logical the argument might be that airlines and television have a cleaned up version, the denizens of Hollyweird are not going to listen. They live in a different world where artists come first no matter how hypocritical and false that label. If they put their work out for the public to see then they shouldn’t cry foul when the public has a voice to judge them and their works. You want to be a non-sell out artist? Stop selling it as a product. Consumers can always with a book cross out words with black marker, or even rip out whole pages, chapters, sections, whatever. Basically that is the point of Cleanflix. True, you shouldn’t really do that with a library book that is similar to renting a video. However, that choice doesn't exist when owning a movie or music copy.

The best choice, and the one that I think Mormons should grab hold of as a few already have, is not to attend or buy any entertainment product unless fully in conformity with an individual comfort level. This is an option that an increasing number of people are doing (and not just Mormons); opting out of movies, music, and television shows altogether. Most discussions are going under the assumption of people who are movie viewers, and there has been a trickle of fewer of those. Consumers might not be able to control what goes on the screen, big or small, but they can control the wallet and their eyes and ears. If producers and artists don’t change, then there is the opt-out choice that some have discovered.

Creative purists have a mocking tone and snobbish disregard for the feelings of others that writers and directors shouldn’t get the respect as artists some demand. If they want to turn their noses at those who feel the work is gratuitous, then vow to keep them from getting any of your money. The road to reform, personal and otherwise, starts there.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Must Read "Book of Mormon Musical" Reviews

Perhaps you have been unfortunate enough to have heard of the "Book of Mormon Musical" that recently came out on Broadway. It was done by the raunchy creators and writers of "South Park," the cartoon full of scat jokes and cuss words. This play, put on for Broadway lest we forget, is far worse. Oh how the mighty New York institution has fallen to irrelevance and nincompoop-ism. It is like the whole of culture has stooped to the level of 12 year old children that were never taught good manners. Despite all the fawning by the cultural media elites and West and East coast hipsters, a few people have given pause to the debauchery.

No doubt you have noticed my use of raunchy, scat jokes, cuss words, lack of manners, debauchery, and I would add blaspheme to a long list of descriptions for the show. You would think this would be an unwarranted slam against the show for any respectable musical or play. No it isn't, as those who support it find such descriptions a great enlightened thrill rather than disgrace against human dignity. The retort is that the message is sweet and pro-religious because it says religion is goofy and stupid, but necessary for its helping cultivate goodness. I am sure that bananas are sweet covered in fecal matter from a sewage plant, but I'm not going to eat them and get horribly sick.

Technically none of the posts I highlight will be actual reviews. Almost all will be reviews of the reviews, but that is enough. Most self-respecting people are smart enough to avoid diving into trash to explore garbage to have fun. Then again, modern society and popular culture is a wasteland disaster.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Non-Mormon Movies for Mormons

Secular Movies

Inspired by discussions of Randy Astle’s presentation on how film criticism can help improve Mormon film making, and reading the interesting Notes of a Mormon Filmmaker blog, I decided to write about movies that have touched me spiritually. These are not particularly religious films and some were never meant to be more than secular entertainment. Yet, they still touch the mind and soul in a way that transcends the medium, material, and creators. Watching the movies is an experience beyond a viewing. They remain with me and sometimes have been transformational. They are art and greater than art.

Lawrence of Arabia. I struggled to decide if this one should be included because it is the most secular of the movies with spiritual value to me. There are others with stronger spiritual themes, but it is my overall favorite movie and that can't be ignored. Other movies I have seen twice as many times, are more exciting, quote and mention in casual conversation, and would be expected to be a favorite if asked. Still, none of them are pure artistic genius in my mind with a character as rich and textured as any Hamlet production. When I think of near celluloid perfection, I think of this one. That impression has to count for something.

Miracle on 34th Street. Christmas is always a special time of year when gifts are exchanged and thoughts turn to a little baby in a swaddling clothes that will grow up to become the Savior. Despite the movie's hero as Santa Clause, its theme is about more than children's faith in the mythical character. It asks the eternal question of how faith can be maintained when life becomes harsh and we all grow up. The ending might be wrapped and tied in a bow like a forgettable present, but the message lingers. We must remain as innocent and caring as little children even as we mature in experience if we are to hold onto the best of human nature.

The Seventh Seal. Dark and brooding as the black and white film it was shot, the film seeks to examine the light in a shadowy world. Some moments are comical in a desperate bid to break from the madness of a reality where death is all too soon waiting. Overall it is a search for the meaning of life that mostly leaves the viewer to decide what the film concludes.

Groundhog Day. This movie is a deceivingly simple and light hearted comedy. Behind the antics of the actor and his character is the story of transformation and repentance. There is even the examination of death and suicide behind the farce and slapstick. A hidden classic.

Field of Dreams. Every time this comes on television I have to stop and watch at least the first part. It has more Mormon themes in it than many of the secular films I could have included. There is a study of revelation in action, a prophetic character grappling with his message, and the thin line that separates the dead from the living or the past from the present. Ignoring the few disagreeable political statements within the story, the rest is a wonderful spiritual treat that transcends the whole production.

The Green Mile. Brutal and crude mixes with the sublime and touching. That is the point of the movie and book it was based. It looks at the strange ways of miracles that can happen when least expected. Hidden behind the darkest of life and humanity can be the inexplicable hope of a miracle worker condemned by circumstances and others. For a brief moment those who pay attention to the miracles can be forever changed for the better.

2001 - A Space Odyssey. and 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Both films must be watched together. We are not alone in the Universe and our destiny is not always our own to decided.

Star Trek - The Motion Picture. Similar in theme as 2001 and 2010, it inverts the question of who controls our destiny and for what purpose to what destiny does human choices create?
We can bring our destruction or exaltation depending on how we decide life issues.

Star Wars Trilogy. Forget the overdone prequels, these three are the original great movies. It includes topics of love, war, forgiveness, growth, Priesthood, uses of power, family ties, sin, repentance, and more. Yet, it is fun and exciting as any summer blockbuster.

These are among my favorite movies that I have watched and continue to return to over the years. Others might list It's a Wonderful Life or Chariots of Fire, both fan favorites having spiritual messages. I am sure there are more that can be listed than what is here. Next I will discuss movies based on religion, including Mormonism, that are my favorites.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

More Proof Mormons Love to Dance

For a few years now it has been demonstrated by shows like "Dancing with the Stars" that Mormons can dance. Sure, it might not be of the hip hop variety. Choreographed dancing is where the real talent shines, such as with ballroom and country swing. The videos on this page will be more evidence of a love for dancing. Let them dance how, why, what, and where they may. There is no promise that any great talent will be displayed, but they are fun to watch.

Amazing really, getting so many people together. It is rather coordinated. Not a fan of the songs used, but appreciate the effort.

This one is not very complicated. They do look like they are having fun, and that counts.

This one at BYU Cougar Eat is more coordinated. It was obviously by a specific group, but not sure what True Blue Tuesdays is other than maybe a dance group.

This one is just strange. What more is there to say?

This one isn't about talent, but where it takes place. Like was said, Mormons love to dance.

Finally, a song I enjoy along with the dancing. What fun these people must have had making the video.

Now go out and dance you Mormons! You know you want to!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Myth of New Mormon Feminisms

Recently there has been a lot of talk about a new or resurgent Mormon Feminism developing. With so many words and discussions about it, one would think it was a reality rather an expectation. The truth is that a “war” between Mormons and Feminists happened, and Feminists lost. There was a time when Feminists were very active with staging protests, holding marches, signing petitions, writing letters, mobilizing grassroots forces, and making bold calls to action. In the end those Feminists either left the LDS Church or were ex-communicated. Despite minor changes, the goals they had didn't materialize.

The last time there was any “action” of note taken was after Sister Beck’s now famous talk about the importance of defined female roles. Feminists sent roses to LDS Church headquarters to protest her message and newspapers filed a report. The response from the intended target? A courteous thank you. Concerns behind the gift were promptly ignored. Other recent activities have gone unnoticed or are personal to individuals with no direct social impact.

Friday, January 07, 2011

New Years News

Another year has started and already some new developments have materialized. To start off with I have gotten another blog gig at the The Millennial Star to write blog posts hopefully on a regular basis. My first one Another Voice in the Choir is a simple introduction to me and my interest in Mormonism. How it will effect Straight and Narrow I don't know. Most likely I will post at least once a month some original content here, and then reprint with the appropriate links some of the material I do for them. I like writing and so we will see. Since I am not getting any money, it is readers' response that is payment to keep going. If you like what I do then share your thoughts sometimes to keep me motivated. If you really like me send money for my writing support a la Eric D. Snider like. Better yet, if you have a magazine or newspaper then lets skip the handouts and just offer me a job. I'm not begging. Really I'm not. Just feeling out my options ;) because we all need to pay the bills.

Moving on, Brigham Young University won the big Psych Campus Wars competition. From the Facebook (love it and hate it) announcement:

A HUGE fist bump goes out to Brigham Young University for winning PSYCH's first ever Campus Wars! They'll be getting their school mentioned in an upcoming episode of PSYCH!

I had talked about it on a previous post and am thrilled the school won. Now we will see if its just a simple mention or an extended inclusion. With Psych you really can't say. Sometimes they make a side joke and at other times a running gag. Excited no matter what because it is me and my wife's favorite show.

I also want to mention an article about pop culture and New Years Eve in the "Irish Examiner" that is of interest. The whole article is worth reading and I can agree completely with what the author says. For example:

Somewhere in the city [of New York], possibly the Waldorf or the Roosevelt Hotel, [New Years Eve] celebrants were enjoying ballroom dancing, champagne toasts and a big band orchestra playing Auld Lang Syne like Lombardo did but it's unlikely we'll ever catch this type of programming on the networks' holiday presentations. Why not? Because today's viewers are more likely to demand reality starlets wearing skanky clothing, foul-mouthed comediennes and hip hop, tone deaf musical acts

Back in the sixties, a new phrase came into vogue- generation gap. It meant that my generation was so far removed from the previous one of our parents that there remained only a large fissure in our cultural styles. What it has actually come to mean is that my generation has a deficit of elegance and class and we've spawned a generation with lowbrow tastes . . .

. . . One day I asked my daughter Danielle why she liked [old TCM movies] and she said, "They're clean. No bad language and no nudity."

It helps that the author said they watched Psych along with the older movies during the time others were watching "the ball" drop. Isn't that an apt description of today's culture? We seem to be dropping the ball more each year. My suggestion is to write Alicia Colon at as a show of support.