Friday, January 25, 2008

an enigma on plates of gold

[an updated version of this is now posted at the exponent]

[This is a photo of what my Book of Mormon looks like inside.]

Something I have struggled with, as I re-negotiate my faith in the church, is to find the exact location of the Book of Mormon in the grand scheme of my personal beliefs. Being that this year in Sunday School we are studying the Book of Mormon, I have now sat through at least a couple of lessons about how it is the keystone, how 'if it is not what we say it is, than everything else is a lie too'. Well, I do not believe the Book of Mormon is what 'they' say it is. Then again, I don't believe the all-or-none rhetoric surrounding it either.

What an enigma it is, the Book of Mormon, claiming to be a history of an ancient people on the american continent and also a religious book, containing the teachings of Jesus and his prophets. The account it weaves is extensive giving details of monetary exchange rates, record keeping practices, war strategy, political maneuvering, and the discovery of earlier civilizations; along with prophesies about the birth of Jesus (most 600 years before his actual birth), accounts of the formation of christian churches, and theological treatises on subjects like faith, baptism, receiving answers to prayers, and the atonement of Christ. It is a tale of epic proportions, produced in a very short amount of time by an 'uneducated' man in his early twenties. That, of course is a big arguing point of true believers; Joseph Smith could NEVER had made this all up, never in a million years! On the other hand, the historical and scientific evidence against the Book of Mormon is hard to ignore, like the doubtful DNA link between native americans and Israelites, and the lack of archeological evidence for the kind of civilization described in the Book of Mormon.

George Cannon (father of Elder George Q Cannon) said about the Book of Mormon "an evil man could not have written it, and a good man would not have written it unless it were true and he was commanded by God to do so." [Paraphrased.]

An anti-mormon Baptist missionary I once ran into said the Book of Mormon was the most trivial piece of trash he had ever read.

Mark Twain called the Book of Mormon 'Chloroform in print' because of it's ability to cause him to fall asleep.

And personally, the Book of Mormon has put me to sleep quite a few times.

Then again, at other times, it has captivated me, caused my soul to burn.

I've read the Book of Mormon about eight times. Once or twice before my mission, several times during, and a few more times afterwards. I had passage upon passage memorized (including the whole book of Enos.) I had never doubted it's authenticity. Ever.

Then a few years ago, when President Hinkley issued the challenge for everyone to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, I found something had changed. Every time I sat down with the book to work on that goal, I found myself increasingly disturbed and angry when I read. Sometimes down right hostile. Eventually I realized it would just be better if I gave it a rest, and put the book away indefinitely. Others would talk about how much their testimony had been increased by fulfilling that challenge, and I would just nod and not say anything because for me, it seemed, reading the book was destroying my testimony.

That testimony still got shattered. And I find myself even more conflicted as I try to find a context for this collection of words and stories. What is the answer to the question of the Book of Mormon?

I just read this post over the the Cultural Hall, portions of an interview with Greg Prince in which he puts forth an alternate reading of the Book of Mormon. He posits: "Perhaps the most prevalent viewpoint in the church is either the Book of Mormon is a literal history of the Americas before Columbus or it’s wrong. There is an alternative somewhere between those two."

Prince goes on to suggests that perhaps the Book of Mormon is more of a revelation instead of a translation, perhaps a 'fiction' inspired by God for the purposes of teaching and helping mankind ("...a metaphorical Book of Mormon, if you will...") Prince recommends the reader "Get inside of it and grab the truth that’s in there, regardless of the form that it’s in, regardless of how it got to be in [there]."

It's a thought.
Perhaps someday I'll take up the book again with this new lens and give it another try.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

coming from behind-sight.

Ah, the wonder of it all… first day of classes! Of course, I always feel this way on the first day of class, reality sets in a week or so down the road when I suddenly realize how much time and effort they really will take. But for now just let me enjoy this moment, this thrill of anticipation.
I have been attending school, off and on for quite a long while. My first attempt at the University right out of high school was rather a disaster that left me reeling a bit and only lasted a few semesters before I quit altogether and took a job wandering around in the wilderness for weeks at a time. Eventually I started taking classes at a local community college, here and there, working on and off, always with the idea that I would eventually get back and get a degree (in "art", that never wavered... it was always going to be "art"). finally, after my mission I was ready- I was going to get that degree, Dang it! And i was going to do it at the Lord's University too!!!
I still ended up changing my major a couple of times ("art" is such a vague term), and ironically, it wasn't until the last half of my last semester that I finally 'found my voice', so to speak, a real sense of direction and inspiration in my work. And then I was out, booted into the cold cruel world with a piece of paper for all my effort. and I soon found out that paper wasn't worth the ink it had been printed with. It wasn't the Universities fault, it was mine. Somehow I had gone through that entire process without really gaining one marketable skill. And I was a newly wed with a husband still in school. Some lessons are learned late and hard. After weeks and weeks of being turned down for hundreds of secretarial and receptionist positions, I finally landed a minimum wage job at an art supply store.
I really wanted to go back to school, do graduate work, follow that flicker of inspiration that had finally shown itself, but we mutually decided to put the 'bread winner' through school first. A few years later, when the bread winner was finally brining home the bacon, I did apply. To one University, the one in the town in which we lived. I wasn't accepted. I took a few fine art classes to brush up on some skills, get some new portfolio pieces, get some more recent letter-of-recommendation writers, etc... I applied again, and was rejected again.
I had to to some hard thinking. why was i doing this, anyways? I was making art on my own... why this push for another degree? well, there is a lot of answers to that, but one of them was that I really wanted to not be so utterly unmarketable. If something happened to my moneybags my lover, what would I do to support myself. In all honesty, an advanced degree in fine art can very likely still leave a person with relatively few marketable skills.
It was while visiting the website of an old art friend that I had the thought; get some computer graphics skills. I have always wanted a website just for showing my work... why not learn to do it myself? those are highly marketable skills. I started last semester at the local community college, taking an intense Photoshop class, and a beginning class that covered Illustrator, Indesign, and Quark. This semester it is learning HTML, Dreamweaver, Flash, and web designing skills. This has been totally new for me- I'd take those fine art classes and was automatically the star student, it didn't take much effort... this computer stuff, however, is really tough, this is REALLY stretching me. And I LOVE it. I am so excited about what I am learning, the things I know how to do now, and the things i will know how to do in just a few short weeks.
Part of me worries, that this will displace my other art. I really hope it doesn't. I don't know for certain that it won't. But i do feel I am doing the right thing. That has got to count for something.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

our family blog

This is just a little aside, we have a family blog now. See, none of my family knows about this blog, I say things here that they don't know about and there would be conflict if they did... but I was feeling guilty whenever I posted a little family anecdote and/or pictures of us because I would think 'if only I could share that with my folks.' So I finally got around to setting up a blog (completely unassociated with this one's username) just for family stuff. and emailed it to all those loved ones in my life who love me and my family but don't know about my deep dark secrets. There will be less family anecdotes here on this blog... but if you are itching to know more about our family and our psycho dog you can go to the bell smith blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Female Chauvinist Pigs

Last year about this time I heard an interview with the author Ariel Levy on NPR about her new book Female Chauvinist Pigs. I went right home and reserved it from the library. What she was saying fascinated me, and put words to vague concerns I had, but couldn't define, like how so many women were measuring their 'liberation' by how many clothes they took off in public.

She interviews teens in high school, she follows the crew of Girls Gone Wild, she attends sex education seminars and speeches by the leading women in magazine publishing. This article she wrote for the New York Magazine later became the basis of the chapter entitled "From Womyn to Bois" that detailed current ironically misogynistic trends in the lesbian community. And she connects the dots to draw a sobering picture.

Since she is much better words than me, I'll just give you a sampling of some of the ones she wrote that really struck a cord with me:

"Only thirty years (my lifetime) ago, our mothers were "burning their bras" and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we were getting implants and wearing the bunny logo as supposed symbols of our liberation. How had the culture shifted so drastically in such a short period of time? ... This new raunch culture didn't mark the death of feminism, they told me; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We'd earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture, where men had been enjoying themselves all along." (that was a segment from the introduction, you can read more of it here.)

Some qotes that made into my journal:

"Raunch culture is not essentially progressive, it is essentially commercial... it is not as though we are embracing free love. Raunch culture is not about opening our minds to the possibilities and mysteries of sexuality. It's about endlessly reiterating one particular- and particularly commercial- shorthand for sexiness."

"If we were to acknowledge that sexuality is personal and unique, it would become unwieldily. Making sexiness into something quantifiable makes it easier to market... big boobs, bleached blond hair, long nails, poles, thongs... you can sell it. Suddenly sex requires shopping; you need plastic surgery, peroxide, a manicure, a mall."

Female Chauvinist Pigs is epic as it traces trends from second-wave american feminism to today's post-feminism... and also very intimate, and personal as it shares real life stories from real life girls and women navigating through this culture we live in.

Brava, Ariel. Brava!

Friday, January 11, 2008

wombs, breasts, and decapitated heads...

[January 17 update: this is also now posted over at Feminist Mormon Housewives. Check it out for additional discussion on the topic.]

Artists block. I hate it. What it means is I try to go into my studio and make something but the well is dry. So I try anyways, and end up making crap. The blockage is probably caused by a lot of things, the fact that I don't hardly have a whole consecutive 60 minuets to spend working is surely one reason (It usually takes a good couple of hours for me to 'get my grove on').
But I think it also has to do with being suddenly conflicted about the imagery I was on a roll with. See, I was all gung-ho for quite a while over what I called 'female imagery' and it consisted of wombs, breasts, ovaries, vulva's, menstruation, etc...
My sketch book was full of stylized interpretations of these female sexual/reproductive parts, and many of my sculptures and paintings continued those themes. I think this served me very well in coming to terms with my own female body and as a way of seeking a divine feminine. I love these pieces I have made. But I came to a point where I realized that all I was doing was reducing woman to her reproductive capabilities, her biology... And that has been one of the main problems (as I see it) with how society at large treats woman. So now I am stuck. I was really excited about doing a whole series of little hand-sewn breasts like the one I displayed in this post... but now I hesitate to, until I have reconciled this rift I now feel. It's easy to say that I am re-appropriating woman's sexuality from the patriarchy, all our female parts that have been used and displayed for the convenience and pleasure of a male dominated society... but to what end? Of course, there is always this little sketch I did a while back of a warrior woman with an infant strapped to her back, who has just vanquished her (male) opponent without disturbing the sleeping baby (a little nod to Artemisia Gentileschi?)...

So, anyways, I am trying to gather my thoughts, doing some reading, playing with other alternate images... It very well may be that I have moved beyond the wombs and breasts, that they served me well at the time, but now I need to find my next phase... or maybe this is just a clarifying process that will help me take the imagry even further. Possibly, the artist block is permanent and I may never do another piece of art worth mention at all (NO! NO! NO! NO! NOOOOOOO!)
But in the meantime, what is your take on using female sexuality, sexual parts, and reproductive themes in art?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

holy wars

We went to the park today, Little Buddy, Little Friend, and I. (They absolutely adore each other, claim they are going to get married when they grow up). A jet passed overhead, leaving a long white line in the sky. Little Friend looked up and exclaimed "Look! Ice crystals!" (which is, I guess, what her mother had told her they were.) To which Little Buddy responded "NO! It's a Jet plane!" (I guess I have a less poetic imagination than Little Friend's mom.) They almost immediately began to exchange blows, each yelling respectively "Ice Crystals!" "Jet Plane!" "Ice Crystals!" "Jet Plane!" Each intent on convincing the other of the error of their ways.

Well, I just found out that they were both right. the visible contrails that jet planes put off are caused by ice crystals.

Aren't humans funny.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Food and Drink

(I will probably be writing quite a bit about this topic, it is on my mind a lot at the moment. 'Word of Wisdom' will just have to be it's own label).

I saw it first hand last year during a camping trip with my lover's family, this issue of health, principles, and forbidden substances. There together, sharing meals and evenings were my lover's parents, fully active true believing members of The Church, and then his siblings who have left the church, most of whom are vegan/vegetarian. Those apostate siblings with their whole grains, fruits, veggies, meatless bacon strips... and their fair-trade organic coffees and beers. My true believing parent-in-laws with their bacon, eggs, white bread and (caffein-free) soda pops.

Many people I know who have become vegan/vegetarian did so for reasons beyond mere health. There are principles involved, such as environmental and animal cruelty issues. Likewise, most Mormon's I know, while recognizing that following the Word of Wisdom is healthy, follow it for reasons beyond just health. There are principles involved, primarily the principle of obedience to the prophet's counsel.

I had my first alcoholic drink in my life last year. Not too long after that I was reading a book by Dr Andrew Weil and came across this passage: "Alcohol is the strongest and most toxic of all the common psychoactive substances. It is a 'hard' drug, harder than heroin, cocaine, LSD, and all the other illegal drugs. Our culture promotes and encourages the use of alcohol and gives the false impression that it is not as dangerous as the disapproved drugs." The good doctor then goes on to say that he is not a non-drinker, that very occasionally he has a beer, or a Japanese Sake, or "a sip of something stronger..." And he didn't specify why. Perhaps the taste? The camaraderie of a drink with a friend? Tradition? Ceremony?

I think about these sort of things a lot as I am making changes in my life for my health, and as I move from being less concerned with obedience for obedience's sake toward being more concerned and involved in environmental and social issues. It feels ironic, switching out one set of prohibitions for another.

So, I am vastly curious about your thoughts and experiences with this. Please. Share.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

people and gods

The author is writing about a pagan ritual where the partitioners stand in a circle and do a series of chants and hand motions. As I read I think, 'that would be weird' when suddenly my brain regurgitates a memory for me; yep, I'm standing in a circle, doing a series of hand motions and speaking (chanting?) in unison with the others in the circle. I can almost smell the polyester from the veil that is covering my face, and feel the odd way it pushes my breath back to me when I speak the words.

In my head I can hear that evangelical guy from my mission screaming about how Mormon's are really a cult that worships satan, so of course our ceremonies have similarities to pagan rituals. Likewise I also hear my dad's voice from my youth reiterating how Satan has created lots of imitations of God's true religion in order to
deceive people and lead them away, so of course there are many lines of similarities between mormonism and other faiths.

Me, I just like circles. And I am fascinated by all the underlying similarities between different religions and faiths. Forget the screaming, and justifying and apologetics... To me, all the large and tiny ways in which belief systems intersect is proof there is a God. And that people all hear differently.

LDS blogging

Everyone is blogging now. Yep, even me (blame mfranti. she made me do it). And now members of the LDS church have been specifically encouraged to blog (and use other 'new media') to get pro-LDS voices out there into the national conversation. Every member a commentator. Obviously, a lot of members didn't need the specific invitation to do that... but now, because of this invitation there will probably be even more.
This little blog of mine where I work out my issues and concerns and disaffections with the church was probaly not what Elder Ballard had in mind. (Though perhaps it is what Silverrain had in mind when she encouraged self-censorship when discussing The Church.)
Additionally, I can't help but wonder if the repetitive smackdown Chandelle has felt that has caused her to bid farewell to fMh is not due to well-meaning members, in the spirit of Elder Ballard's words, taking on all those 'critics.' Missionary moments on the world wide web.

The inevitable evolution of technology... I'm not saying it should be another way, I am really not saying anything at all here, just making random connections with what other people have said.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2008, cleaning house

This was me, today. The first day of 2008. Happy New Years! I celebrated (in part) by cleaning house. particularly, the kitchen with a special emphasis on the stove. so much dried up, boiled over, and over-cooked food. so much sticky, cruddy stuff. felt so good to soak it in lemony water and wipe it away into oblivion. I never got around to writing out specific New Years resolutions, I haven't been able to organize my thoughts yet in this way. Maybe sometime this week, or next month... But in general... cleaning house sounds like a good one. Not my actual house (though that should probably be on of my goals, I suck at housekeeping), but my life. Clean it out, air out the dark little places that gather junk and never see the light of day, scrap off all the accumulated residue that is no longer of any value and is hindering good health. Yeah, that sounds about right. So maybe I'll write more later about some of the specific things I will do to execute said housecleaning... for now I'll leave it at that. Happy housecleaning!