THIS I BELIEVE: Letting Go

In this Aug 16, 2008 talk I was asked to participate in a THIS I BELIEVE session at the Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium. I was one of, I believe, six speakers who were tasked with illuminating . . . well, what we believe. 

I was pretty pleased with how this turned out, even though my delivery includes a lot of pursing of lips. What was that all about? Nervousness?

“What if the wheel [of religion] itself is unnecessary? I believe in daily giving myself and others permission to abandon religion.”

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religionsunstone

DESPERATELY SEEKING SPIRIT: Review of Martha Beck’s “Leaving the Saints”

Beck
Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints is valuable . . .  .Why? Because in my view the book is so very Mormon. There are rich and telling descriptions of the Church and of Mormon culture, particularly as it configures in Utah Valley,more precisely at church-owned Brigham Young University. Many of us are apt to resonate with Beck’s account of the young Latter-day Saint leaving Zion, then returning home with not only religious questions but an invigorating sense of the expanding context in which Mormonism and the LDS Church nest. Her account of the disturbinconfluence of family, faith, and culture triggered by exposure to the world opens up the question of why many Latter-day Saints—surely one of the great globetrotting groups of the world—can remain so cloistered, so inoculated from the world outside themselves. Read the entire review here, beginning on pg. 82.
The response to this book was outrageous. Even the godfather of self-help books, the late Stephen R. Covey (of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People fame), went insane when he heard about the publication of the book which includes sexual abuse claims by Beck about her Mormon celebrity father, Hugh Nibley. (Covey, a friend of Oprah Winfrey’s, actually tried to derail the publication of the book and to discredit it wholesale since Beck was, by then, a columnist at Winfrey’s O Magazine.) The lunacy of it all was palpable.
This review was originally my comments on the book’s publication as a panelist at the Sunstone Symposium, the year the book was published by Random House’s Crown imprint. I worked those comments into a book review which later appeared in Irreantum, a Mormon literary journal (now defunct), published by the Association for Mormon Letters where I was the sections editor for 5 years. I took some heat for this review, but in the passive-aggressive way that I often experience as “the Mormon way.” Even so, I stand by my review which doesn’t let Beck off the hook for her savagery. This is one of the best nonfiction descriptions of life in the Mormon hothouse that has yet to see the light of day on a national level.
Hugh Nibley, 1983 Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU

Hugh Nibley, 1983
Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU

Author Martha Beck

Author Martha Beck

 

OUR BIG FAT TEMPLE WEDDINGS: Who’s In Who’s Out and How Do We Get Together?

Greek Wedding

This paper was first read at the annual Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City. It was later published as an essay in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 36 No. 3 (Fall 2003)

“THE POPULAR FILM MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING suggests that enthic families will flood pell mell into any space provided by a family member who announces she or he is getting married. In the case of writer / actor Nia Vardalo’s paean to Greek-American culture, the results are funny, raucous, even slightly grotesque. Her groom who falls in love with a spinster waitress is a sort of white-bread Protestant himself. Along with his stiff Anglo-parents, he becomes completely absorbed by the overwhelming insistence of well-meaning Greeks living in a sort of parallel universe . . . .This, of course, brings me to Mormons, a self-identifying peculiar people and arguably their own ethnic group.”

Listen to the Complete Podcast

temple weddings

McConkie and Dad: Memories, Dreams, and a Rejection

George W. Pace on his way with three of his 10 daughters to visit Machu Pichu in Peru

George W. Pace on his way with three of his 10 daughters to visit Machu Pichu in Peru

In this 1995 essay, which was later published in the Case Reports (Vol 2) published by The Mormon Alliance, I talk about a tempest in a tea pot which nevertheless had wide ramifications in Mormonland during the early to mid-80s. My father was at the center of it. I don’t think he ever fully recovered. I remember that he liked this essay and that he kept a copy of it close by for a while.

MY FATHER CLIMBS MOUNTAINS.
Every year he takes several members of the family to the top of Mount Timpanogos. Sometimes we stay overnight at Emerald Lake; but most often we start out early, climb to the top, eat lunch, and then slide down the glacier on our way back down. Our feet become terribly sore, and our butts get bruised on rocks that have settled below the surface of the snow, but we go back every year anyway. Or so it seems. MORE

Summary and analysis of incident by Lavina Fielding Anderson

Audio excerpt from talk by G.W. Pace

Elder Bruce R. McConkie

Elder Bruce R. McConkie

After the (Second) Fall: A Personal Journey Toward Ethnic Mormonism

agonizing writer

This essay was originally a talk given at The Sunday Gathering, August 21, 1994 at
the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. It was later printed in Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring, 1998.

WHEN MY FIRST MARRIAGE ENDED IN DIVORCE in 1991, what I describe as my current spiritual life seemed to begin. It is the first of three seminal moments in the past three years that I have chosen to detail here. Before that, however, I need to give some autobiographical information. MORE

“Dream House on Golan Drive,” New from Signature Books

Announcing my first book: Dream House on Golan Drive, forthcoming from Signature Books (Salt Lake City) August 2015.

It is the year 1972, and Riley Hartley finds that he, his family, community, and his faith are entirely indistinguishable from each other. He is eleven. A young woman named Lucy claims God has revealed to her that she is to live with Riley’s family. Her quirks are strangely disarming, her relentless questioning of their life incendiary and sometimes comical. Her way of taking religious practice to its logical conclusion leaves a strong impact on her hosts and propels Riley outside his observable universe and toward a trajectory of self discovery.

Set in Provo and New York City during the seventies and eighties, the story encapsulates the normal expectations of a Mormon experience and turns them on their head. The style, too, is innovative in how it employs “Zed,” one of the apocryphal Three Nephites who with another immortal figure, the Wandering Jew of post-biblical legend, engage regularly in light-hearted banter and running commentary, animating the story and leavening the heartache with humor and tenderness.

Paperback | Fiction
300 pp. |  $24.95
978-1-56085-241-4
Signature Books

Please support your local bookstores where you can pre-order the book.

Kings English

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Ken Sanders

“True North Everywhere”: Review of “House Under the Moon”

This review originally appeared in 15 Bytes Magazine. “House Under the Moon” was a finalist for the 2013 15 Bytes Book Awards in poetry. I liked this book partly because I’ve met Michael personally in Logan where he and his family live, and partly because he’s a practitioner of Buddhist meditation, something I’ve been dabbling in for a couple of years. “Dabbling” is perhaps the wrong word for it. It’s become a discipline for me, this Zen thing, and one that I would recommend. My introduction to meditation was through the writings of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh whose mindfulness work seems to have penetrated the West to reach many. like me, who have never had an entree into Eastern thought and spirituality. Not sure when I can call myself a “Buddhist,” if ever, but I have to say that of late mindfulness/meditation has been transformative for me. And this book of poems sort of helped me understand that, calling yourself this or that, Buddhist or not, is the least important thing to worry about.

“IN HIS 2012 COLLECTION House Under the Moon, it’s clear that
poet Michael Sowder has suffered for his art, as spiritual seekers do.
The first section (“Homecoming”) starts with a kind of post mortem
of the life previous—another marriage, a father whose marginalia in a
book sends the mind reeling in memory and loss, perhaps old systems of
thinking, feeling and believing. The direction is linear, forward in
direction, away from something and home to a new hearth that in the
second half (titled “Housekeeping”) becomes eastern, circular and
curiously joyful.” read the full review

House Under the Moon
by Michael Sowder
Truman State University Press
(2012) 85 pages

Photo by Niki Baldwin

Michael Sowder is a poet, writer, and professor at Utah State
University in Logan where he lives at the foot of the Bear River
Mountains with his wife, writer Jennifer Sinor, and their boys, Aidan
and Kellen. His first book of poetry, The Empty Boat, won the 2004 T.S. Eliot Award and his chapbook, A Calendar of Crows,
won the New Michigan Press Award. His nonfiction, which explores themes
of wilderness, poetrics , and spirituality, appears in Shambhala Sun, The Wasatch Journal, and several essay collections.

Raised in an Irish Catholic family, Michael Sowder was trained as a
meditation teacher in a tantric yoga tradition in the 1970s and
subsequently practiced meditation in Buddhist and Christian mystical
traditions. He is the founder of the Amrita Sangha for Integral
Spirituality, an organization that explores and teaches the practices of
the world’s contemplative traditions.

Barbara K. Richardson’s Tributary, Winner of the 15 Bytes Book Award, 2013

In the fall of 2013 the winners of the first annual 15 Bytes Book Awards were announced. As the literary editor of this online arts magazine, I had the privilege of working with other magazine staff and the editor, Shawn Rossiter, to determine all the particulars of launching a new statewide program of this type. In part, the 15 Bytes Book Awards was in response to the fact that the Utah Book Award went on hiatus. (Whether it returns is still in question.) But, being an art magazine for adults, we decided to limit the categories to literary fiction, poetry and art books. This seemed enough for the first year. At the moment we are engaged in the second iteration of what we hope we become an annual affair perhaps someday expanding its categories to include narrative nonfiction.

The winner of last year’s fiction award was Barbara Richardson’s Tributary, a novel set in the 19th Century. I had the privilege of writing the review/citation for this extraordinary book which, coincidentally, falls within my own long-term interest in Mormon letters. I found this book not only worthy of a 15 Bytes book award, but also worthy of note for those within the admittedly small but rather obsessed cadre of “Mo-lit” enthusiasts–a group to which I often feel ambivalent toward, even though my own forays into writing suffer (or benefit) from my seeing Mormonly. (With apologies to Emily Dickinson’s phrase to describe her own poetry as “seeing New Englandly.”)I fear still, and perhaps always will, as I express below in the review, that Mormon literature, such as it was, is and might in the near future become, will fail to find an audience. One thing is certain: no one is in charge of this train–not the institutional church, not its dissidents, apostates and true believers either within our without the academy, and not its rank-and-file. There are broader, indiscriminate and enigmatic forces blowing through the attempts of not only Mormon writers but every writer right now…not only technological but social forces (both of which continue to profoundly inform each other).

In the end, serious writers of every stripe can only do what serious writers have always done and what they’ve always been called to do: write and write well. Perhaps writing well is like loving well. It is its own reward. 

“Remarkable as Barbara K. Richardson’s novel Tributary is, it is most remarkable, perhaps, because it seems to be one of the first literary works in memory that positions the history of the Great Basin in the broader context of its time. Set in the years following the arrival of the Mormons to Utah, this sprawling tale told in the first person dignifies the region, if rarely the “saints” who people it, with the weight of its narrative. Here the territory is not just a placeholder in the story of the west—or in modern parlance, a ‘flyover state.’ Its heroine, plucky Clair Martin—the woman with the red stain of a birthmark on her left check—is its product, and its curse, its orphan and its lay prophetess. Clair is a proto-feminist—not entirely likable—and, lucky for the reader, stained with much more than just the splotch on her face.

“Of the many questions this Western epic raises in the course of its scene-shifting from Brigham City to the Mississippi Delta and back to the Utah/Idaho border is, what happened to those 19th Century Mormons who left their tribe?”
Read the full review

Tributary by Barbara K. Richardson
Torrey House Press (September 2012)
352 pages
$15.95

About the Author
Barbara Richardson’s debut novel, Guest House, launched the first literary Truck Stop Tour in the nation and was a fiction finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award in 2010. In Tributary,
she claims the land of her Mormon ancestors who settled the northern
Salt Lake Valley. Richardson earned an MFA in poetry from Eastern
Washington University. Barbara is also an avid environmentalist. She now
writes and designs landscapes in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.
Visit the author’s website: www.barbarakrichardson.com

Poetry Book Review: Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s “But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise”

Storm 

 

“It’s rare to read poetry that is this experiential, visceral and
somehow transcendent at the same time. In three sections Bertram runs
her electric fingers as if over the braille of American life  as varied
as wildlife (coyotes, elk), the natural sciences (inter-galactic
formulas, weather patterns—in both a glass globe as well as “the model
solar system, [in which] planets suspend & twirl/as if from a
spider’s whirl.”), as varied as “blankets sewn/with thinning economic
plans and called them/shawls…” as well as the body, including in one of
the more memorable poems, the laboratory heart sans blood . . .” Read the full review

But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise
Lillian-Yvonne Bertram
Red Hen Press
$17.95

Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise (selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award) is a finalist for the 2013 15 Bytes Book Award in Poetry. An Assistant Editor at Quarterly West, and a Vice-Presidential Fellow at the University of Utah, Bertram has had work appear in Black Warrior Review, Callaloo, Gulf Coast, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Narrative magazine, Subtropics, and other journals. This is her first book.

 

Dawn & Mary by Brian Doyle

In Nov. 2013 at the Orem [Utah] Public Library, author Brian Doyle gave a reading as part of the Utah Humanities Book Festival. Below is a short essay he handed out to everyone in the audience and asked that we post on this day commemorating the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut. This reflection by a memorable and gifted author is how he thinks we should remember, one year later, what happened. I think he might be right. 

 

DAWN and  MARY
Early one morning several teachers and staffers at a grade school are in a meeting. The meeting goes for about five minutes when the teachers and the staffers hear a chilling sound in the hallway. We heard pop pop pop, said one of the staffers later.
Most of the teachers and the staffers dove under the table. That is the reasonable thing to do and that is what they were trained to do and that is what they did.
But two of the staffers jumped, or leapt, or lunged out of their chairs, and ran toward the bullets. Jumped or leapt or lunged–which word you use depends on which news account of that morning you read. But the words all point in the same direction–toward the bullets.
One of the staffers was the principal. Her name was Dawn. She had two daughters. her husband had proposed to her five times before she said yes and finally she said yes and they had been married for ten years. They had a cabin on a lake. She liked to get down on her knees to work with the littlest kids in her school.
The other staff was named Mary. She had two daughters. She was a crazy football fan. She had been married for thirty years. They had a cabin on a lake. She loved to go to the theater. She was going to retire in one year. She liked to get down on her knees to work in her garden.
The principal told the teachers and the staffers to lock the door behind her and the other staffer and the teachers and the staffers did that. Then Dawn and Mary ran out into the hall.
You and I have been in that hallway. You and I spent years in that hallway. It’s friendly and echoing and when someone opens the doors at the end of the hallway a wind comes and flutters through all the kids’ paintings and posters on the tile walls.
Some of the tiles are clay self-portraits by kindergarten kids. Their sculptures were baked in a kiln and glued to the walls and every year there are more portraits, and pretty soon every tile on these walls will have a kid’s face, and won’t that be cool?
The two women jumped, or leapt, or lunged, toward the bullets. Every fiber in their bodies, bodies descended from millions of years of bodies leaping away from danger, must have wanted to dive under the table. That’s what you are supposd to do. That’s what you are trained to do. that’s how you live another day. That’s how you stay alive to paint with the littlest kids and work in the garden and hug your daughters and drive off laughing to your cabin on the lake.
But they leapt for the door, and the principal said lock the door after us, and they lunged right at the boy with the rifle.
The next time someone says the word hero to you, you say this: There once were two women. One was named Dawn and the other was named Mary. They both had two daughters. They both loved to kneel down to care for small holy beings. They leapt out of their chairs and they ran right at the boy with the rifle, and if we ever forget their names, if we ever forget the wind in that hallway, if we ever forget what they did, if we ever forget how there is something in us beyond sense and reason that snarls at death and runs roaring at it to defend children, if we ever forget that all children are our children, then we are fools who allowed memory to be murdered too, and what good are we then? What good are we then?
#
Thank you, Brian Doyle.