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

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Live Coal

This is a speech I delivered for a Mormon Literature Class at BYU on October 17, 2016. 

            The house was filled with smoke. The Lord was upon a throne, high, lifted up. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah beheld seraphim, heavenly beings with six wings. Two of the wings were being used to block the glory of the seraphim’s faces (perhaps to protect Isaiah from their fiery countenance), two were being used to cover the seraphim’s feet (perhaps to protect the earth from splitting into two at their touch), and two with which to fly.
            One of the seraphim spoke…what does a seraph sound like? Does the process of sanctification change beings, their very sound, their very voice, their very vocal nature? What does an immortal, glorified being like a seraph sound like? Isaiah reported that its voice moved the very door posts and its reverberating, sanctified utterance was reported saying thus: “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
In the presence of the Lord and these Seraphim, Isaiah could easily see the immense difference between his fallen state and these higher natures and he despaired at the difference: “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
Then a seraphim flew to the smoking altar with tongs, and lifted out of it something hot, red, and burning—a live coal. The seraph flew to Isaiah and placed its singeing surface on Isaiah’s mouth and declared: “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” Isaiah then volunteered to use his new, cleansed voice to declare impending dooms; humankind’s deaf, blind, and forsaking nature; and the sanctifying salvation that had so transformed his own words, and would transform others into the holy seeds that would grow and replace such a discarding desolation. [1]
            That image of a burning coal touching Isaiah’s tongue has often transfixed me. The horrific nature of the morbid visualization of such a scorching, scarring, and searing experience passes when you realize that the coal is not meant to torture, but rather to purify. Are the fires of hell not a punishment after all, but rather an opportunity to be redeemed and cleansed—to walk away from the experience as a transformed being?
            As a Mormon playwright, I have often felt like I live a world of competing contraries: Zion vs. Babylon, the Church vs. the World, Humanity vs. Depravity, the Individual vs. the Community, Conscience vs. Dogma, Conformity vs. Eccentricity, Art vs. Assembly Line… through such banal and broad categorizations, often we are led to believe that we live in a polarized world of oil and water that cannot mix. I have encountered attitudes on both sides that seem to have placed the world of literature, performance, and art solidly on one side, and religious devotion on another, especially of the orthodox variety. Some secular humanists often see churches in a long line of manipulative, coercive, and oppressive institutions that are intent on sinister purposes to collect power; while some religionists believe that those involved in art and literature generally are licentious, godless bohemians who are part of a vast left-wing conspiracy eroding the fabric of society.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pioneer Day

This is a Pioneer Day talk/speech I delivered today in my LDS ward (congregation) on July 24, 2016 in Orem, Utah.

            With wagons yearning West, they had been driven from a country that feared and mistrusted them. They were exiles and refugees who saw an extermination order placed upon them from the Governor of one state, urged by mobs and the populace; and had the Governor of another state betray them and orchestrate the circumstances that murdered their Prophet and once again forced them out, again with the support of the citizenry. The leader of these unfortunates, a man named Brigham Young, had seen his predecessor shot down in cold blood, and had lived in that same fear ever since, hiding and disguising himself from assassins before yet another Exodus; striving to protect his people, but also being protected by them.
The Exodus this time was not from one state to another, but into the wilderness, away from American civilization, abandoning their unsold houses; far away from General Stores, or streets, or theaters, or any convenience offered by mid-19th century society. It was a prospect daunting enough that not everyone in their religion came with them. Emma Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lucy Mack Smith, William Marks, William Smith—once luminary names in their faith but, for one reason or another, did not follow their brothers and sisters into the West. So some were left behind to walk their own difficult, tragic, and often beautiful paths, while this “nation of heroes,” as the New York Times called them,[1] heard a voice calling them West, further West into the desert, into the wilderness, into the mountains. A Voice, the Voice of God, the Voice of their Redeemer beckoned. How could they deny it when they had heard it so clearly in their hearts?
These were a people who had already endured hardship; had seen their friends, neighbors, and families massacred, raped, pillaged, and maimed for their faith. Their skin was more sun burnt, their hands rougher, their hearts heavier than when they had begun this journey of faith. Some of them bore scars they did not have before; some of them suffered from post-traumatic stress; some of them were divided from their families, whether through alienation caused by joining such a new and foreign faith, or through death; some of them were now wary of their former countrymen and government that had forced them out; some of them suffered from disillusionment, even doubt. But that Voice continued to call nonetheless, call them by name, and those who know that Voice, know their Shepherd, and are known by Him.
We call these people Pioneers. Here among the Mormons in Utah, we celebrate them on this day, the 24th of July, the day Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company rolled into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and beheld their new home. From their temporary stopping place in Omaha, Nebraska (what we now call Winter Quarters and where they suffered great privations after being exiled from Nauvoo, Illinois), to their final stopping place in the Salt Lake Valley, the Mormon Trail is 1,300 miles long. It had taken the Vanguard Company from April 5 to July 24 to make the distance. That’s over three and a half months. That’s more than a mere camping trip, that’s more than a long walk—that’s a whole season. That’s a quarter of a year in the elements, in the wilderness, among danger, heat, wildlife, storms, wind, dust, and death.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Year of Shakespeare Over at _I'll Drown My Book_

On my other blog about literature, art, humanities, etc., I've published an Introduction to a series of posts I'm writing about my past "Year of Shakespeare." For those Bardophiles out there, enjoy!

Here's the link: