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

Saturday, February 23, 2013

More of "A Different Set of Rules"

As a huge fan of C.S. Lewis, I couldn't resist this one.

My wife tells me I tend to interrogate people about my plays...

My sister Sarah and I share a love for Doctor Who...

I believe most of you can relate...


Monday, February 18, 2013

Big Table Mormonism: A Response to Joanna Brooks' _The Book of Mormon Girl_

Note: My talented wife, Anne Marie Ogden Stewart, previously wrote an insightful review  about The Book of Mormon Girl. This piece is meant to be a companion piece to that one, so I recommend you read Anne's post as well.
Joanna Brooks
Whether it was the "Pantspocalypse ," the bloggers at Feminist Mormon Housewives/ Exponent ,or faithful Mormon feminist Judy Dushku's pointed critique of Mitt Romney, Mormon Feminists have been very prominent as of late. Call it a revival, call it a resurgence, call it what you will, but the advent of the internet and the increasing dialogue about the roles of women in American and world society has brought Mormon feminists out of their hiding places and rhetorical bomb shelters. Mormon Feminists have searched for each other and banded together. They have clamored for an equal voice in a society that has often tried to silence them and they have implored to their fellow Latter-day Saints to see them as fellow-pilgrims and not as antagonists of the faith. At the forefront of this effort has been the courageous Joanna Brooks,  a professor of Comparative Literature at San Diego State University; a prominent blogger at Ask Mormon Girl and Religion Dispatches; a high profile resource about Mormonism for CNN, Jon Stewart's Daily Show, and NBC Rock Center; as well as the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of American Faith.

Having loved Brooks’ blog posts, watched/read many of the interviews she was involved in, and learned to appreciate her compassionate and thoughtful approach to Mormonism, I bought a copy of The Book of Mormon Girl for my wife Anne for Christmas. Anne and I consider ourselves devout Mormons. We connect deeply with and believe in Mormon scripture and theology; we love the heritage of having Mormon pioneer ancestors; I love to study the intimate details of Mormon history (which I often write plays and screenplays about), while Anne has a deep passion for Old Testament studies; as lovers of the New Testament, especially the Gospels, we’re passionate believers in Jesus Christ, and gratefully claim him as our Redeemer and Savior; we believe in the core tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to find a place in our faith community. Despite that heartfelt and abiding faith, however, there have been times when we have felt like we were foreigners in our own religion.

This occasional alienation we have felt may have been a cultural quality that we thought had been overemphasized, a Pharisee-like pattern we find in certain elements and sub-groups of the membership, or a coldness we have received (or we have seen others receive) because of this or that circumstance. These, of course, are exceptions rather than the rule. I personally have found that Mormonism makes people better, if it is lived in the way it has been outlined by the scriptures and the tenets of the faith. And, of course, it is so much better to concern oneself with the beam in one’s own eye, than the mote that is in our neighbor’s eye.

Yet there are still those moments of alienation, of loneliness, of feeling like we don’t quite fit in, despite our best efforts (which are often still insufficient) to keep peace and show love. Discipleship will always have its strains, and standing up for what you believe in, whether it is to the secular world, or even to those who share many points of common faith, is designed to be a lonesome ordeal. If there is a “mold” for the “typical” Mormons, there have been times where we felt like we didn’t fit it.            

It is here that works like Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl have given me and my wife hope.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Terryl Givens: The Mormon C.S. Lewis

Having just finished Teryl and Fiona Givens' masterful The God Who Weeps last night, I'm still digesting the impact the slim but powerfully wrought volume is having on my thought, inner life, and worldview. In conjunction with other work I have read from Teryl Givens, including By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, If Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought, and Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (co-written with Matthew J. Grow), Givens has carved his way near the top of my miniature pantheon of literary/scholarly heroes. It may be some time before the full effect of his work in my life is made manifest, but already I know that no theological writing (outside the works of Joseph Smith himself and the scriptures) has more deeply and movingly stirred and intrigued me since I started reading the magnificent theological works of  C.S. Lewis in my early high school days.

C.S. Lewis credited George MacDonald for "baptizing" his  imagination when he was younger, after he read MacDonald's stirring (and it is stirring!) Metamorphoses. C.S. Lewis did a similar thing to me after I stumbled across a book of his poetry when I was about 15, which launched me into an unquenchable interest into his other work such as Till We Have Faces, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and his soaring essay "The Weight of Glory," among many other volumes of his work (of course, I had already discovered the magic of The Chronicles of Narnia as a child).  My corollary of Givens' with C.S. Lewis is no accident, of course, because Givens obviously has his own debt, admiration, and appreciation towards Lewis (he and Fiona Givens quote him four times in The God Who Weeps). But the similarities ran deeper than citations. The same breadth of informed reading and scholarship that was evident in Lewis; the same mastery over language; the same reasoned and seasoned approach; the same familiarity with doubt and struggle, which made his eventual position of faith so powerful; the same yearning and understanding of that almost mystical longing for something that is difficult to pinpoint or voice, and seems to come from another realm; the same romantic spirit; and the same strength of argument and depth of thought that Lewis had, can also be found in all the works of Teryl Givens that I have so far encountered.

Nearly the same enlightening and moving feelings and thoughts that Lewis had caused to come upon me when I started reading his work as a teenager have been nearly replicated as I have read Givens' books and have listened/read to the various interviews he and his wife have given (and I will say more about Fiona Givens later... she is a force in her own right. I have been very impressed by her own contributions, and look forward to hear more from her, whether independently or in conjunction with her husband again). Especially as I dove into the humane theology the Givens' expounded on in The God Who Weeps, it was thrilling to see talented minds equal to Lewis take Mormonism away from the culture wars, political specifics, and pharisee-like cultural quirks, and really bring it back to the core of its religious thought. The Givens' show how Mormonism leaps over the hedges and unnecessary complications that have grown up around traditional Christianity with its later creeds and non-essential additions and, with an elegance that is nothing short of uncanny, address the elemental conflicts between doubt and faith.