Yearning for God, Trying to Love My Neighbor, Making Theatre and Beauty, Building a Life...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Guest Post: Anne Stewart’s Reflections on _The Book of Mormon Girl_

Book of Mormon Girl ImageNote: Both my wife Anne Stewart and I read Joanna Brooks' The Book of Mormon Girl over the holidays and were deeply affected by it. I asked her to write a guest post on her response to it here, and I will write my own thoughts on the book at a later date. Here's Anne:

A number of years ago, while I was working at a book store in Springville, Utah, called the Red Leaf, I read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent.  I can’t remember the moment I picked it up or why I decided to read it (other than the obvious: women & the Old Testament).  In the fictionalized world Diamant creates, Dinah (daughter of Israel) is surrounded, not by twelve brothers, but by women.  While I was ever aware that these were fabricated tales, I was struck by the way she fully structured the story around the Biblical woman. While I’d read many fictionalized accounts from the point of view of Biblical women, this was the first that felt so singularly focused on the woman’s journey.  Here were women, strong women.  These were not women whose rituals and practices were a shadow to the men in their lives; these were women with rich, powerful stories who led lives of their own.  A Red Tent filled in the absence that is present in so many religious narratives: the women’s story.

Like other religious narratives, the Mormon story is starved for female narrative.  In the Book of Mormon there are six named women, the Doctrine and Covenants only two, and even our female deity remains mostly veiled to us.  In The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith, Joanna Brook’s narrative connects to generations of Mormon women and makes a place for women who are less orthodox.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Retreat of Cynicism

Colm Wilkinson and Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables
Perhaps it's a fluke. Perhaps it's a perfect storm. But I was very interested to see so many of the most popular films this year (and many of them Oscar contenders!)  to be so earnest, so lacking in snark, so... here comes that controversial word... uplifting. Les Miserables. Lincoln. The Hobbit. Even Argo. I adored all of these films, partially because they were inspiring films, hopeful films, even (dare I drop another controversial word?) moral films. Now I'm not talking some sort of Disney aesthetic or CleanFlix standard where film can't delve into controversy or conflict or complexity or subtlety. But, not unlike Jessie Christensen's recent post at the Association for Mormon Letters' blog, "A Mormon Goes to the Movies," I, too, have observed this pattern of moral stories lately and her post and my own observations have made me dwell on it more and more.

After all, Les Miserables deals with prostitution, class wars, and rebellion (and that's not even including the crass Thenadiers!). Lincoln shows Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward engage in some rather shady political deals to pass the 13th amendment. The Hobbit is quite violent. And Argo certainly has some "mature" language. But after watching each of these films, there was definitely a sense of uplift... a sense of a moral core. Whether or not the "content" was "clean" or not, there was no denying that these films championed the better part of our natures and were refreshingly spare on cynicism. And it hasn't been just this year. Other recent Academy Award winners, such as The King's Speech, have that same sensibility.

That moral sense, more than anything, is the common denominator in my favorite films and plays. Whether the show is ultimately tragic or has a happy ending, whether the film is rated G or rated R, whether the film is historical or fantastical, political or universal...I want to feel like the film wants me to be a better person for having watched it. I don't particularly care for nihilism or cynicism, and I don't want it to be shallow, even if it's a comedy or a relaxing piece of escapism.

When asked at a theatre conference what our favorite plays were by the presenter, I mentioned A Man For All Seasons, Shadowlands, and The Glass Menagerie. The speaker looked pleasantly stunned. "Those are all very moral plays," he said. Yes. Yes, they are. That is my taste, that is my style, that is my what I dig. Unapologetically so.

And after decades of post-modernism, cynicism, and snark, I'm glad to see a rise again in the kind of story I'm naturally attracted to. I'm glad to see that the mood might be changing.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Poetry From Oz: A Few Poems Written From My Mission in Australia

Note: I've been doing some organizing of my personal history and have found some long neglected documents from my past. I will be adding a good deal of that sort of thing on my personal history blog, but I wanted to include some of my poetry written on my mission to Australia here. Remember, all of this was written over a decade ago, so keep that in mind when assessing it's quality, or lack thereof. ;) But it a piece of my life, which I'm sentimental about: 

(Dated Feb. 2000 in my father's handwriting, which indicates that's at least when my parents received it enclosed with one of my letters)

Pandora's Paradox (Part One)
 by Elder Stewart

I have found myself in a paradox
to be thankful for weakness.
These ailments which have haunted me 
have now refined this silver heart of mine 
into something more pure. 

Who expected the stumbling, fumbling jester,
that foppish clown of faults,
to be the one to penetrate the hidden chamber
of my dark dragon's life?

To see that downtrodden fool,
still clad in bells and cap,
go against that wyrm which felled my best warriors,
my most sharpened archers and swordsmen of diligence, will, and logic.
To see that colorful figure of patchwork smite my most fearful enemy within me.
                             Is it not laughable?
It is a joyful jest,
to see the once thought nuisance,
enter the field I never allowed him to tread,
and return with a victor's cheer of truth,
and raise that now harmless dragon's tooth.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

From This Day Forth: The Conversion Memoir of Beatrice Ann Oz, Part Two

Sister Ligon, Beatrice Oz, and Sister Makihele

 This is the second part of the conversion story of a dear friend I met and taught the Gospel to on my mission to Australia. I have changed her name to Beatrice Oz in respect of some pressing circumstances in her life that require some anonymity. The first part of the account can be found here on this site on the previous post here. So, without further ado, part two: 

8th December 2000

I am a bundle of nerves. This new humbleness I feel is so alien to me. Never have I felt like I needed some one to rely on. But I do and I am humbled by the power of the love of God. I know that without him in my life I am nothing. 


8th December 2000

O.K. By the 3rd visit by you and Elder Webster I was seriously wavering. I had prayed asking if the Book of Mormon were true and if Jesus Christ was my Savior. I wanted to know. But I was afraid of the answer. I was a little afraid of having to change my life habits. I wondered if I would have the strength to live by that answer.

Mostly I was afraid because I felt so unworthy. I have always felt I loved "God" with all my heart, often I have said that I believed in God with every breath I took. But which God?

Monday, January 7, 2013

From This Day Forth: The Conversion Memoir of Beatrice Oz, Part One

Elder Stewart, Beatrice Oz, and Elder Webster
This is the first part of the conversion story of a dear friend I met and taught the Gospel to on my mission to Australia. I have changed her name to Beatrice Oz in respect of some pressing circumstances in her life that require some anonymity. This is taken directly from her account, written by her own hand to me in a blue notebook prepared for me as a gift. The account is beautifully written and deeply spiritual, so with her permission I am publishing it in its entirety in a series of several posts. The experiences described were of great meaning and significance to me and altered how I approached and saw life afterwards. So, please, enjoy Beatrice's account and keep an open mind towards the many supernatural miracles she describes. Thus, with all of that in mind, here is part one of Beatrice's Account: 

To Elder Stewart

from this day forth

Beatrice Ann Oz

6th December

I would like to begin with a prayer.

Dear Heavenly Father

I give thanks for the day Elder Freemantle, Elder Cross and Elder Webster came to my door and I did not turn them away. Through them you brought Elder Stewart, Sister Ligon, Sister Makihele and Sister Steed into my life. Today I am thankful I am thankful for your blessings to Darcy through Elders Stewart and Webster. He is so much improved, I am humbled by your love.

Thank you for all the blessings in my life and loving me all the while.

I know you to be the one truth and I will try to keep your word though out the rest of my days.

I am your servant, gladly without question and without murmurings.

I say this in the name of Jesus Christ.


 6th December

When you asked me if I would write my story I was unsure how I felt about it. Being kind of shy and all. But then I thought about it some more and realized that if ever you had days of doubt or just a day that really bites then you could flick through this and know that I am a better person through your ministrations and I am honored to have met you and count you as a dear friend.

So I thought I would type it on that glorified typewriter. But to me it lacks personality and that personal feel. So, I am going to write it for you all(5 copies) [referring to the copies she wrote the other missionaries, as well --MS] by hand. I guess I should apologize now for the state of my handwriting as it is bound to get exceedingly untidy.

I would like to begin by giving you a quick cook's tour of my life so that you might understand some of my attitudes and somewhat questionable use of the English language.



I have always had a strong sense of self. Sometimes I felt I had an inner knowledge that I knew things that no one else knew. I could sometimes  know what would happen before it occurred. My parents told me that it was not true. That I imagined all these things. So I stopped telling them. I knew in my heart it was O.K. but over the years other people's reactions made me feel I was somehow wrong. 

I have always questioned. Always. Ignorance just didn't cut it as an excuse for me.

Seers and Stumbling Blocks: John Turner's _Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet_

 For those Latter-day Saints uninitiated in the intricate details of Mormon History, John Turner's Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet would be a complete shock to the system. Most Mormons are aware that Brigham Young was a man who many took offense to because of his frank talk, combative tongue, and indomitable will. However, many are less aware of how truly radical and assaulting he could be in his most extreme moments. Condoning and covering up (if not authorizing) moments of extreme violence. Deeply disturbing racial and gender prejudice. And his language! I'm not just talking "damns" and "hells" here... sensitive Mormons will be shocked to find a prophet of God using profanity, vulgarity, and racial slurs that they would wash their children's mouths ten times over for using (and these were often speeches he gave in public! Or in letters that were meant for the President and Congress!).

Fortunately, I do know my Mormon History well enough not to have an honest and forthright biography like this shake the foundations of my belief system. I was familiar with the vast majority of the events and context of the history (and also knew enough to recognize moments when Turner was abridging information and knew which"side" he was taking in certain thorny historical debates). Having been the research assistant and co-writer on a play about the Utah War and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, not to mention the writer of a number of other Mormon History plays that included Brigham Young as a character, I had to get to know Brigham Young pretty intimately. My persistent interest in and study of Mormon History really does make it hard for people to surprise me (I love it when antagonistic anti-Mormons try to shock and rattle me with Mormon history facts and I can tell them, "I know. And did you also know that...").

So that background helped me in the more disturbing episodes of the very informed journey that Turner brings his readers on. However, Turner, capitalizing on the new opportunities that the Church's more freeing attitude about its history and archives have afforded, did bring me to depths even my amateur Mormon historian experiences hadn't made me aware of.  There were times that I had to stop, digest what I had read, and do an internal check on how it fit into my belief system (and if there was anything in that belief system I had to modify as a consequence). There were times that I was disturbed by what I had read and had to backtrack through my mind and heart and fortify my faith by connecting it to other just as real facts and context that were part of the fabric and tapestry of Mormon History. But those kind of facts can rub the soul raw after a while and leave you feeling sensitive.