Monday, September 30, 2013

"How Amazing to Picture These Things": Questions for Sarah Dunster, Author of Lightning Tree and Mile 21



by Scott Hales (bio)

Last year, Cedar Fort published Lightning Tree, a coming-of-age historical novel about a teenage girl who is haunted by chilling memories from her past. Set in Provo shortly after the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the novel treads boldly through a era of Mormon history many of us know little about--and does so in a way that help us, as a people, begin to contemplate and come to terms with the parts of our past that hurt the most.

Recently, the author of Lightning Tree, Sarah Dunster, agreed to answer a few questions about this novel; her latest novel, Mile 21; and the challenges of creative writing. Here is what she had to say ...

Scott Hales: Let's say you’re in a room full of strangers and you're in the mood to brag. How do you introduce yourself?

Sarah Dunster: Thank you very much J Bragging is my favorite thing in the world to do …

Hmm. I think I'd probably start with stuff like, I have seven children, two are adopted from a foreign country, I've published poetry and fiction and I know how to make sushi, Ethiopian Injera and Dura Wat, and a mean veggie enchilada casserole. Oh. And I'm Young Women's president. Because if we're bragging, callings are the thing we should brag most about, right?

SH: You've written two novels, including Lightning Tree, which is one of the best Mormon historical novels I've read recently. What do you like about the novel form? How would you characterize the experience of writing a novel?

SD: Wow. Thank you for the compliment. I always feel a bit uneasy when people tell me they love my books, like … guys. Did you not *notice* the missing page break and the several misplaced commas? We're so critical of our own work.

But anyway. I think I'm just a natural novelist. I've written since I was a kid, and I never thought of writing anything but poetry and novels. I have tried to write short stories and I'm just not that great at it. I don't find my pace or characters until about 75 pages into my story. And then I have to go back and rewrite those 75 pages several times to get it to match where things started to flow. I'd have to write 75 pages of a story, do all those rewrites, then condense it down to the 10,000 or 5,000 or even 1,000 (thank you James Goldberg!) words. I figure I might as well write a novel if I'm going to go that far anyway. I love novels because I feel there is appropriate room for the intermingling of plot and character development. You really get to know characters in a novel. You can in a short story as well, but you don't spend as much time with them, and I'd argue that you are less loyal/caught up in their lives as a result.

Mormon Doppelgängers 16: Oliver Cowdery & Bill Nye



by Scott Heffernan (bio)

See all Mormon Doppelgängers here.


Oliver Cowdery and Bill Nye were both educators who like to wear bow ties. Although Cowdery was a man of tremendous faith, Bill Nye is more of a Science Guy. (Hiyo!)

Bill Nye got his start in the entertainment industry after winning a Steve Martin look-alike contest. Therefore, according to the law of doppelgängership, it should follow that Oliver Cowdery and Steve Martin resemble one another as well.


I rest my case.

Friday, September 27, 2013

An Interview with Pretty Darn Funny's Lisa Valentine Clark



by brettmerritt (bio)

Author's disclosure: I have been friends with Lisa for more than 10 years. Our kids are friends. Her husband Chris (also a former MMM contributor) is my friend. We started The Thrillionaires improv group and continue to work on projects together. However, I am not involved with Pretty Darn Funny and approached this interview as professionally as I could. Enjoy!

Pretty Darn Funny (aka PDF), for the uninitiated, is a comedy web series about a married, stay-at-home-mom who starts an improv/comedy troupe to bring better entertainment to the people of her community. The series follows Gracie, played by Lisa Valentine Clark, and her troupe of vastly different characters through the often hilarious challenges of life. The show also features parody videos of pop culture such as mobile apps, Downton Abbey, Footloose, and The Hunger Games. Season one of the award winning series began in April 2012. Season two started airing in August of 2013 and can be viewed here, or on YouTube here.

Recently, I interviewed Lisa about her experiences with the series.

brettmerritt: When you were doing season one of Pretty Darn Funny, did you think there would be a season two?

Lisa Valentine Clark: I really did. When we were writing for it and planning for it we were always moving forward with, "You know in the second season we could do this and in the third season we could do this," so the whole time the producers, Jeff Parkin and Jared Cardon, and I were always talking about how it would be great if this could be something that goes on.

BM: How do you feel like season two is different from season one?

LVC: For season one, they asked me to play the role of Gracie and I was really excited. As I was preparing for it, I realized I had a lot in common with the character. So, they had me come to the writer meetings and contribute. And that was great because I had been wanting to write more sketch comedy. And, at that time, the writing of the series was set up as a class at BYU and the writing was done by a group of student writers and Jeff and Jared would edit. So when they brought me on and I started talking about my experiences with these young kids who weren't mothers, who weren't older than 22 or 23, I gave an entirely different perspective. It was fun. They were really funny and talented too and we had fun working together. So that's how the first season went.

In the second season, we hired writers. I was brought on as an executive producer with Jeff and Jared. That was really exciting for me. That changed my role because before I just had to worry about acting. Producing is an entirely different ball game. I was thrilled, because I love this project so much, to be more involved with the creating and managing of it. Then, we brought on a writing team this time because we had a different budget. So the writing team was made up of Jeff, Jared, and I as well as Adrian Cardon—Jared's wife—and Kacy Faulconer who used to teach writing at BYU, and Tom Quinn. We all are at different stages of parenting, we all have different perspectives, we all have a background in comedic writing, so it worked well. So, the producing and writing approach was different.

BM: What about the structure of the show? In season one, there's an arc of you coming together as a group. Do we continue the story in season two?

LVC: In the second season, the episodes are more stand-alone thematically and everyone is in a different phase of their life and we explore that. You know, how do women support each other coming from different perspectives? How can we still be there and cheer each other on? The big theme is that we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously and to try to find humor in things.

Family and Forgiveness



by Bradly Baird (bio)


Yesterday, a thoughtless mistake resulted in my being excluded from an unbelievably important event in the life of my nephew (one that I anticipated for eleven years). I receive a shocking phone call at work to let me know that I had been excluded and, not surprisingly, feel extremely hurt by the whole thing; far more than I thought possible.

I express my feelings to my sister-in-law who apologized profusely and soon thereafter receive a phone call from my nephew who apologizes and then informs me that the event might be changed to include me. No phone call disclosing new arrangements ever arrives and so I reach out again to know about the new arrangements. Come to find out, the event takes place without me, despite the previous evening's statements.

I am bewildered and feel deep pain, which contains such a strange mix of suspicion, betrayal, confusion, and mistrust that I cannot understand any of it. The emotional side of my mind urges me to respond with punishment, in an angry and aggressive manner. Fortunately, though, the rational pushes the emotion aside and emphatically reminds me that I will get over this, I will be able to forgive, and I already know how it will come to pass.

I know that at the end of this evening I will kneel in front of my Heavenly Father, beg for his forgiveness, and beg with all my heart that He applies the atoning blood of Jesus Christ to my life. I know I will beg that the anger, confusion, and pain be carried away by the Atonement of the Savior so I may be free. I also know that I will beg for the gift of pure love in my heart because I desire to know true forgiveness, to let all of this go, and to not harbor a single piece of anger or resentment.

I have experienced this many times before, which is how I know it works and how I know the real love of our Heavenly Father. I mentally reference hundreds of past instances - great and small - where I partook of that precious gift. And, with each, my faith in the gift grew stronger, the reality of the gift became clearer, and the meaning of the sacrifice manifested with great clarity.

I proceed . . . and so it happens just as He promises.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The New Testament Story That Scared the Cr@p Out of Me



by Ben Johnson (bio)

I'm surprised all evil spirits don't have a beard
Back in the early eighties (1981 I think) the LDS church came out with the Scripture Stories for Children tape series. I was about six when my parents bought me the New Testament version of these tapes. Every night I would go to sleep listening to the stories of Jesus and his miracles. There was one story, though, that scared me to death. It was the story of the man with the evil spirits (Mark 5:1-20). The pictures, the music, the narrator's voice--all these things terrified my little mind.

As the years went by my memory faded, and I wondered what I would think if I were somehow able to listen to these tapes again. Every now and then I would dig through my parents' junk or check Deseret Industries or search around online to see if I could find these things, all to no avail.

In June of this year our family moved to Phoenix. For some reason our records got sent to a ward we weren't planning on attending. Rather than have them moved again we decided to just stick it out. I'm glad we did. While wandering the halls of our chapel one Tuesday night (my son's pack meeting was too boring sit through) I noticed that the library door was open and no one was inside. I figured that since I used to be a librarian I had an obligation to go in and check things out.

Pretty Darn Funny: Season 2




Heard of Pretty Darn Funny? PDF is an award-winning comedy web series starring Lisa Clark as a woman, a mother and ... a comedian. The bite-sized webisodes are perfect for busy lifestyles.

Season 1 Followed Gracie Moore, a mom who gets more than she bargains for when she forms an all-female comedy troupe in efforts to clean up the local comedy scene. MMM emeritus contributor May Jones interviewed Lisa back in April 2012 about what was then a new series.

Season 2 launched in August 2013 and continues the craziness of Gracie's life. From battling crossfit and the pressures of Pinterest envy, to competing with the PTA president for superior fundraising cred, Gracie and the troop show that no matter what life throws at you it's always worth the laughs.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a new interview with Lisa by MMM contributor brettmerritt. In the meantime, here is the recent season finale of PDF Season 2.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Brother Jake Explains: The Book of Abraham



by Brother Jake (bio)

On "Know"ing



by Brother Jake (bio)

Personally, I think the word “know” is overused among Mormons when expressing spiritual conviction. In modern vocabulary, to say you know something carries certain connotations about the thing itself. In a scientific context specifically, knowledge of a fact means that the fact can be empirically proven and, to at least some degree, objectively observable. Spiritual knowledge fails on both criteria: faith building events, i.e. spiritual confirmations, take place in a subjective, unobservable realm—within the minds and hearts of the believer. That isn't to say the experience wasn't real or valid or based in something true. But when I say “I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God” and “I know the Pythagorean Theorem is true,” I’m really saying very different things, even though I used the same word to convey it.

Obviously, spiritual knowledge and scientific knowledge are completely different. I’m comparing apples and oranges here. But I think we in the Church may have a tendency to conflate the two when we talk about the acquisition of faith. Take, for example, Moroni 10:3-5, which Church members often look to as the jumping off point of a real-life testimony. As a missionary, I (and I wasn't the only one) treated the passage like it was a set of instructions for an experiment—2 parts sincerity, 3 parts faith, 1 part real intent, a few drops of the prayer enzyme, and ding! You can say “I know.”

What I’m getting at is that I think we often use the word “know” not necessarily because our experiences really classify as “knowledge” in the most common sense of the word, but because sounding really sure of ourselves is what all the cool people are doing. Consider these two statements:

1. “My name is Brother Jake, and I know the Church is true.”
2. “My name is Brother Jake, and I feel in my heart that the church is true.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Football, Faith and Healing



by Casey Peterson (bio)


Fall is here, football feeling is in the air, and the emotion that comes with it is an indescribable sensation that permeates individuals and communities. Simply put, I love it. Kenny Chesney sings of this phenomenon in his song "Boys of Fall."  He aptly describes the emotion with the lyrics;
"When I feel that chill, smell that fresh cut grass
I'm back in my helmet, cleats, and shoulder pads
Standin' in the huddle listenin' to the call
Fans goin' crazy for the boys of fall."
While at a recent game sitting in the stands on a warm, sunny day, letting the sights, sounds, and smells of fall football wash over my senses, I was basking in the euphoria of proudly watching my son Chad that I love dominate the game that I love (and hate). I watched him confidently jog onto the field and into the huddle. I watched play after play as he broke off long runs, threw pinpoint passes, interspersed by an occasional deep ball. By halftime he had thrown several touchdowns and run for another one en route to a sizable lead in the game. On one particular play, with his receivers covered, he scampered around the edge and down the sidelines for a long gain. With defensive players closing in, he ran out of bounds to end the play, only to be tackled and thrown onto the hard track. By his reaction, I thought I was going to witness his first altercation, but as the referees separated players, and he held his emotions in check, I saw him run to his coach across the field. I saw a coach grab his finger, give a quick yank, throw on some tape, and send him back out. I recognized the familiar sight of a dislocated finger, and felt the gnawing worry deep in my stomach. As the game progressed though, he appeared to be fine, and kept playing well.

That night as he got home from the game, I felt the worry return when I saw the swelling down the finger and into the hand. The next morning it was worse, so we went to the doctor. The deep worry turned to painful shock as we saw two breaks, one of them being a gruesome displacement. An immediate appointment was set with an orthopedic surgeon to set and pin the mangled finger. On Sunday, on the way back from home teaching, my son asked me for a priesthood blessing. Again the gnawing worry returned to my stomach. Would I be able to pronounce a blessing in accordance with God's will, and not my own? Would my conflicting emotions of wanting him better, but fearing yet another injury if he did return, allow me to block out myself and let God's words work through me? Would the words I would say affect my relationship with my son if they didn't happen? With these questions and others, I went to my room to pray and prepare.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Modern Mormon Men Reader Survey



This post. This right here is Modern Mormon Men's 1,000th post. To recognize the milestone we've created a survey for MMM readers. We want your feedback! Please fill out the brief, anonymous survey below.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Linger Longer 28




Linger Longer is a series where we highlight religious and non-religious articles, as well as mormon-related podcasts. Click here for previous lists.

Bloggernacle (religious sites)
10 Common Arguments Against Female Ordination in the LDS Church (Feminist Mormon Housewives)
Real People Sin (By Common Consent)
Five Things You Should Know About the BYU-Idaho Dress Code (Times and Seasons)
On Love (Zelophehad's Daughters)
The Parable of the Coors Can (A Motley Vision)
The First Salt Lake Comic Con (Dawning of a Brighter Day)
Is Shaming a Good Parenting Technique? (Wheat & Tares)
Letter to a Bishop: Can I Be a Witness at My Daughter's Baptism? (Doves and Serpents)
This Is Not True! Do Not Teach It! (Millenial Star)
On Free Agency (Ships of Hagoth)
Global Mom (Mormon Women Project)
I Am Cutting Myself ... (The Mormon Therapist)
Mormon-Related Podcasts
Episodes 60-61: Elijah Abel - Early Black Mormon Priesthood Holder (A Thoughtful Faith)
Episodes 190-191: The Institutional Church and the Individual (Mormon Matters)
Episodes 184-189: Hugh Nibley - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (Mormon Matters)
Episode 1: Feminist Mormon Talks: Tresa Edmunds (FMH Podcast)

Off-Bloggernacle (non-religious sites)
Orbital SpeedUpdating a Printed Wikipedia, Signs of Life and Speed Bump (What If?)
On Survival School (in the Utah desert) (Derek Scruggs)
The Stories Behind 22 Classic Album Covers (Mental_Floss)
Your Flight's Delayed! 11 Ways to Get Home Faster (Slate)
What To Do When You've Made Someone Angry (Harvard Business Review)
40 Maps that Explain the World (The Washington Post)
How the Internet Ecosystem Works (CollegeHumor)
An End of Books (Seth Godin)
Cabrera Continues to Make History (Grantland)
What 11 Experts Teach Us About Seeing Our Familiar City Block With New Eyes (Brain Pickings)
How Athletes Get Great (Outside)
What Happens When Four Guys Try to Cross the Atlantic ... In a Rowboat (SportsNet)
The Mystery of Cheap Lobster (The Atlantic)
5 Companies that Make Money by Keeping Americans Scared (Salon)
How the Coffee Cup Sleeve Was Invented (Smithsonian)
50 People on My "Best College Life Hack" (Thought Catalog)
Guillermo Del Toro's Sketchbook is the Stuff of Beautiful Nightmares (Huffington Post)
The God of SNL Will See You Now (The New York Times)
Have Sports Teams Brought Down America's Schools? (The New Yorker)
Trigger: The Life of a Guitar (Texas Monthly)
20 Things 20 Year-Olds Don't Get (Forbes)
The 20 Big Questions in Science (The Guardian)
The Lichen Loophole (Now I Know)
Why Are You Not Dead Yet? (Slate)
How to Make the Most of Your College Years (LifeHacker)

MMM Sermons: Repentance and Forgiveness in Marriage



by Saint Mark (bio)

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints call them "talks," but most (non)Christians call them sermons. This is a series of sermons that many Latter-day Saints love and believe. I hope these sermons promote and perfect your faith as they do mine. Read previous MMM Sermons or read this specific sermon here.

"When couples get married, their love is deep, and they joyfully anticipate the prospect of spending the eternities together. They enjoy having endless talks, going for long walks, and spending time together. It is a wonderful feeling being with someone you love so deeply.

Unfortunately, for many couples the bliss of deep love and immensely satisfying companionship that was present when they first got married doesn’t last. Long talks become replaced with frequent arguments, and when not spent fighting, their time together is characterized by angry silence."


I don't know about you but sometimes my relationship with my wife feels like the former paragraph, and at other times my marriage has the look of the latter paragraph. How do you and I help our marriage become more like the first paragraph and less like the second one?

I had a great friend who shared Repentance and Forgiveness in Marriage by Professor Rick Miller, who teaches in the School of Family Life at BYU, with me. The sermon was given at a BYU Devotional on January 19th, 2010. Professor Miller's words spoke to me about the roadblocks that were hindering my wife and my journey on the road to marital bliss. Don't get me wrong. My wife and I have a good marriage. But, we, as all couples, have impediments to becoming truly "one heart and one mind." Reading and applying this talk together, my wife and I removed some of those impediments.
 
Elder Dallin H. Oaks gives his "Amen" to Professor Miller's sentiments here.

What is your take on Prof. Miller's and Elder Oaks' words?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Guest Post: Sometimes, The Gospel Just Isn’t Enough



It doesn't matter if you're man or woman, gay or straight, dark- or light-skinned. All can equally submit guest posts to Modern Mormon Men. Write something now and submit via email.

Cougar Buckeye is a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a transplant to Utah from Ohio. He has been married for six years to his wife and has three small children. Joining the church was one of the hardest decisions CB ever made, but also one of the most rewarding. He's still trying to adjust to being a Liberal Midwesterner in the heart of Conservative Zion.


Image by h.koppdelaney

I did not grow up as a member of the Church. In fact, I joined it seven years to the day I'm writing this. When I joined the church I thought my life would look as great as the life of the family which introduced me to the Church and the Gospel. You see, I suffer from severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD. For two years, as a child, I was physically, mentally, and sexually abused by a sibling. This has affected me in profound ways—ways that I was not aware of until I was much older (and even married). I react to people as if they are insulting me, challenging me, or want to do harm to me. I feel like people never listen. I sometimes don't like myself very much. It can be a struggle to get out of bed, or be a good husband, or a good father. From time-to-time I just want to be left the hell alone. What makes this all worse is that I'm sure (from comments to my wife and other significant people in my life) that my parents don't believe me when I say I am a victim of abuse or that I'm depressed. That's what crazy people say, and our family is decidedly not crazy.

So, why do I say that the Gospel sometimes isn't enough? Because as much as I love the Gospel and have a testimony of it; as much as I love the church of which I'm now a member; as grateful I am for the numerous and tremendous blessings that have come to me because I'm LDS, the Gospel cannot, for me, take away the pain and anguish I feel or the way my life has been affected by being abused. Certainly it helps—but, it's just not enough. Perhaps I just don't have enough faith in Christ or in our Heavenly Father—points which I'm willing to concede. But, sometimes we rely on others and their help to improve our lives. This is why I'm sure programs like Addiction Recovery through LDS Family Services exist or why some programs at BYU train mental health professionals. Because, although the help we can get can be based in the Gospel, the Gospel can't do it by itself for a lot of people. Getting help from a trained professional can go a long way.

Why do I write this then? Not to disparage the Gospel or the Church or the people in it, that is for sure. I write this because I often feel that Mormons don't have particularly healthy attitudes about mental health and the "judgment" they render on others is entirely unhelpful. I don't think I lack faith and if I just had more faith I would be better. Does additional faith help fix your broken leg? Yeah, it doesn't fix my broken brain either. You know what takes some faith? Getting baptized, getting endowed, and getting married in the Temple in spite of friends who no longer want to hang out with you, parents who are angry with you, and a total change in lifestyle in your mid-20s. I know that Christ feels my pain, but ultimately, that just makes me feel bad about his sacrifice, because this whole ordeal sucks. Also, I didn't go to BYU, I didn't serve a mission, I wasn't converted to the church by my wife (I got married after I joined), and my ancestors aren't Youngs, Kimballs, Smiths, or any other pioneer family. Those kinds of comparisons don't help me and make me feel like I don't belong or I'm not good enough. What makes me feel like a good member? My bishop, my friends, my wife, my children, and my love for the Gospel. They sympathize and empathize with me, have concern for me and others, and out of concern suggest getting help.

Maybe we should all do a little more mourning for those that mourn and comforting for those that stand in need of comfort. Myself included.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Saintspeak 18: The Letter N



by Seattle Jon (bio)

Another installment from Saintspeakthe mormon humor dictionary from Orson Scott Card. Previous installments can be found here. Reproduced with permission from Signature Books.

Nephite A white and delightsome person who always gets rich whenever he is righteous, and always gets proud and wicked whenever he gets rich, and always has some disaster befall him whenever he gets proud and wicked, and always repents and gets righteous whenever a disaster befalls him. Fortunately, while Mormons today always get rich when they are righteous, they never get proud and wicked when they are rich. Therefore they are safe from disasters.

New Jerusalem A vast new city that will be built before the Second Coming. Prophecies have it that the Lamanites will actually build the city. They'll have to. The rest of the Saints will be too busy selling real estate, maternity insurance, and recorded talks by General Authorities.

The New Era The official Church magazine for Mormon teenagers, from which young Saints learn that if they are righteous they will always be happy and never have a bad case of acne.

Noah A man who found out that you should plan for everything in your year's supply.

No amount of success in the home ... can compensate for failure to win the MegaCorp account.

Non-Mormons People that you're supposed to convert to the gospel, but in the meantime don't let their children go out with yours.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

There's Gold In Them There Hills



by Kyle (bio)

I've recently been on this kick of watching these gold digging shows. Mainly Gold Rush from Discovery Channel. The show is about this father/son team that gets together with their down-on-their-luck friends and decide that digging for gold in Alaska will solve all their financial woes.

Side note: A lot of the guys in the show have epic beards that are very inspiring for MMM's Beardliness is Next to Godliness challenge. (going on now, you can still enter)

When talking about this show with others, I've come across a story about a gold mine right here in Utah: The Lost Rhoades Mine. Ever wonder where the gold for the Angel Moroni statue came from? Well me neither, but you're about to find out. It's a tale of drugs, money, secrets, visions and murder! Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuun.


The story goes (according to Kerry Ross Boren and Lisa Lee Boren, authors of The Gold of Carre-Shinob) that the Aztecs took a large stash of their gold north through Mexico to save it from being captured by Cortez, because it turns out Cortez wasn't so much a white-bearded god as he was a giant a-hole. They hid it in a place where they believed their ancestors came from: you guessed it, the Uintah mountains in good ol' Utah. The Ute Indians kept it safe and hidden--that is, until the Mormons showed up. After a smoke or two on the peace pipe (this is the drugs part) with Brigham Young, the Ute chief decided he wanted to show the gold to one Mormon, Isaac Morley. The chief later told Bro. Morley that he once saw Morley in a vision and his gods had told him that Morley would be the one to be shown the sacred gold mine.

Bro. Morley convinced the chief to let him take the gold to Brigham Young. BY promised the chief he would use it for sacred purposes including the decoration of the temple and a statue for the top, like a big golden cake-topper. BY wanted to keep the gold under wraps (for obvi reasons) and, with the chief, decided that only Bro. Morley would know where the mine was located. When Bro. Morley became too old, the calling of a lifetime fell to the eponymous Thomas Rhoades (why can't I get a calling like this?).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Letting the Future Teach the Past



by Casey Peterson (bio)

The content of this post started 36 years ago, connected one year ago, to a period of time over 100 years ago, that affects my life today. Let me explain.

Manti Temple, 1927, via Keepapitchinin
Last year four of our five children were participating in competitive sports, all five were involved in music lessons, I was finishing my coursework for my doctoral degree, and in spare time we have the work of running our family farm. Yet somehow, one Saturday opened up where no games were scheduled, no animals were out, and no ward activities were happening. My 15 year-old daughter Callie suggested we go do baptisms for some family names she had prepared with the help of my mother. We drove to Manti with our two oldest kids, and had a marvelous time at the temple. Returning home, we asked Callie about the ancestors we had been baptized for that day, starting the remarkable chain of events that connected so many years, generations, and needs.

At the age of 4, my father was killed in a farming accident. One of the results was that I knew very little of my paternal family history, even though I grew up in a town settled by my ancestors. Driving back from Manti that day opened up many questions, but also many lessons about my family that my 15 year-old daughter knew that I didn't. Upon our return, we sat as a family and researched and learned together about fascinating facts. About my great-great-grandpa who converted in Denmark, came to Utah, was called to settle Fillmore, and served as the town Mayor, orchestra conductor, barrel maker, bishop, farmer and molasses mill owner. I knew his name because my kids and I still have his brand that we use on our cattle and horses, but my daughter Callie taught me so much more. That common interest also brought Callie and I closer.

Then I read in Elder Bednar's book Act in Doctrine the following:

"It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation. But do not overly program this endeavor or provide too much detailed information or training. Invite young people to explore, to experiment, and to learn for themselves."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Guest Post: The Little Things



It doesn't matter if you're man or woman, gay or straight, dark- or light-skinned. All can equally submit guest posts to Modern Mormon Men. Write something now and submit via email.

Dan Oakes was born in Liberty, Missouri, and was the seventh of nine children. His family moved to Mesa, Arizona, when he was 11 years old, where he eventually attended Mesa High School where he was Student Body President. Dan went on a mission to South Carolina. Upon his return he obtained his bachelors degree at ASU, and completed a masters degree in education and counseling from NAU. Dan is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is in private practice. Additionally he has been the Clinical Director of Youth Services for A New Leaf. Dan is committed to his wonderful wife Shannon, and their five children and has served as a Bishop twice. Dan loves the Gospel of Jesus Christ and seeks to find balance in his service to his Father in Heaven and in his professional life.

Parenting for sure can be a thankless job at times. The real paydays come when we least expect them. The other day I agreed to go on a field trip with my daughter. I was excited to be with her but the bus ride was long and hot, then we had to walk a long way (not my favorite thing). I got to be in charge of about five kids including my daughter, so I didn't really get alone time with her, but the kids were well-behaved and they had fun. My daughter slept most the way home during the long hot bus ride back, but for the most part it was a good day.

After we got home she said to me, "Dad, this was the best day of my life."  Needless to say I was a little surprised at her comment. What I thought about saying was, "Honey, you just think that because you haven't had a lot of experiences in your life."  But, before that could come out of my mouth my eyes where watering as I looked into her face and realized that she was totally serious. I involuntarily fell to my knees to be at her level and hugged her from that deep hugging place in side of me ... (I had to pause as I typed this to wipe a tear that I got again as I recounted this event) and said, "Oh honey, I loved being with you too."  We hugged for a moment and then she ran off to play.

What had I done really. I was just there. That's all, I was just there. I am often not there, however, and most of the day-time stuff is up to Mom, so on this day when normally I wouldn't have been around ... I was, and it made all the difference to her. So remember, even if you plan and research all you parenting activities, it's the little things that matter.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mormon Jokes (?)



by Bradly Baird (bio)

Missionary Basketball by Arie Van De Graaff

I do not possess a sharp filter when it comes to most jokes that I tell and I often wind up apologizing for "humorous" remarks that come out of my mouth. I find that I am particularly deficient when attempting to make a joke about Mormon mores and Mormon culture, and whenever I attempt any observation in this genre, my audience always squirms and becomes distinctly uncomfortable. I do not say anything off-color, vulgar, insulting, blasphemous, or critical, and I feel that the jokes I tell only gently poke at Mormonism's idiosyncratic culture. But, I've been told on more than one occasion that I am going to hell for my sense of humor.

For example, I love to tell the following joke:

Q: Why do you always take two Mormons fishing with you?
A: If you only take one, he will drink all of your beer."

To me, this is a gentle wink at how many are more concerned with the appearance of righteousness than actually being righteous. It is a fairly typical human failing, one that most of us have tripped over before to one degree or another. Yet, why a joke about that failing should make many people uncomfortable completely eludes me.

Perhaps, though, this joke is somehow offensive and rude and my joke filter is keeping me from seeing it. Why should it make us uncomfortable to admit that not a single one of us is not perfect? I mean, the Kingdom of God is not a haven for the perfect. It is a school for sinners, made better by an extraordinarily infinite endowment known as the Atonement.

I asked a friend of mine who has lived in the heart of Mormon culture much longer than myself why this joke makes people uncomfortable, and he suggested that from his perspective he believes that they get uncomfortable when something "hits a little close to home." Perhaps that is case, perhaps not. So, I wanted to put it out there to our readers and ask the following:

1) Is this joke really offensive or inappropriate?
2) Is this joke somehow critical and I am not seeing it?
3) What is that about this joke that makes people uncomfortable?

I would give a prize to anyone that can give me an explanation, but we all know that humor is subjective, and, consequently, one man's inappropriate is another man's pedestrian saying. So, I would just ask for some advice on why I am complete failure in the art of Mormon humor (most especially when I was a student at Brigham Young University).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Not So Blind Ambition



by Eliana (bio)


This summer, my family and I traveled across the country and visited friends who moved away several years ago. It was comfortable in that way you hope for, when time and miles fall away and you remember why you became friends in the first place.

Among the four adults, three of us have master's degrees and one person is finishing her graduate degree. The conversation turned toward education one night. The thing is, I really want to get my Ph.D. I'm not doing it though. Money, of course, is a factor, but not the biggest one. When I'm honest with myself, I want to further my education for all the wrong reasons. I hate admitting it—I generally don't say it aloud because it makes me sound petty and vain.

See, I'm good at my job teaching English. I've wanted to be a teacher since I was about four years old. My entire patriarchal blessing talks about my career. I'm very lucky to be able to teach part-time while raising my young children. All of that is well and good. If I wanted to get a doctorate to advance my career, I think that would be a valid purpose (although the world of humanities professors is not as glamorous as one may imagine).

If I wanted to get more training to be a better person, to feel like I am fulfilling the measure of my creation to expand my mind, or to make the world a better place, I'd be all over it. Those are things that would come, especially as I'd love to be involved in education policy locally and nationally. But in my heart I know that such lofty ideals aren't my motivation either.

See, I'm a terrible person. I want to get a doctorate because I want to be Dr. Eliana. I want to be thought of us smart, with a paper to back it up. I can't believe I'm telling you all this. I'm cringing even as I type. It is entirely selfish, vain and ambitious for all the wrong reasons. Which is why I'm not doing it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Guest Post: Cuyahoga Tales 5 - Dedication, Toledo Style



Reed Soper was born and raised in southern California. He considered attending the Lord's University but opted for BYU instead where he met Kathryn Lynard doing his home teaching. They married in 1992 and have seven children. Friends and loved ones often describe Reed as "difficult" or "a slow learner." In his spare time, he likes (virgin) pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Don't miss Reed's previous guest posts.

There are two types of mission stories – inspirational and funny. I like to save the inspirational ones for church talks.
- Reed Soper

One of the monthly tasks that Elder W-R and I had was to offer a monthly inspirational message at Zone kick-off meeting, held on the first preparation day of each month. In February 1987, our inspirational message well was running dry. Our zone was filled with Elders, not a sister in the whole bunch, and they were a bit hardened and cynical. Cold Toledo, Ohio winters can do that to a person. We knew that if we were going to inspire this ragtag team of misfits, we would need to pull out all the stops. What follows is the true story of what we (well, almost exclusively Elder W-R) did to get those cynical Elders on their feet clapping and cheering.


After a long cold, winter of sleeping on the floor in Perrysburg, Ohio, it finally hit us. We were sick. Both Elder W-R and I had colds. Sick enough that we were given the direction to take a day off to recuperate. There are few things more boring than staying home sick when on a mission. Your apartment has no ways with which to entertain you. No tv, no radio, no nothing. The only "approved" mission music were hymns and stuff like "I'll Build You a Rainbow." Hardly ways to get you through a day without losing your mind.

Don't get me wrong, in my past, I spent many a day vegging out and doing next to nothing. After being on a mission for (at this time) almost 22 months, my body was used to a certain amount of activity. It needed the walking, the door knocking, the door slamming. It needed the icy cold winter winds blowing off of Lake Erie, so cold that it would freeze your nose hairs on the warmest of the cold days and cause you to walk backwards on the coldest of the cold days for fear that your eyelids might freeze shut. Just like it needed the 98 degree summers with 90+ % humidity. Heat and humidity when, combined with bike riding, that would leave clothes bone dry in the front and wringing wet in the back. So, we sat on our makeshift beds on the floor of that cold apartment in Perrysburg with our bodies equal parts sick and raring to go.

Humans are classified as mammals. One of the criteria is hair all over the body. I'm sure you are aware that there is a range within the human species of the "hair all over the body" component. I was on the light side of hair of the body hair spectrum. Elder W-R was somewhere on the other side of that same spectrum. This information is crucial to what happened next.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Underlined 3: The Best of Lowell L. Bennion, Eugene England



by Seattle Jon (bio)

Underlined is a series where contributors share what they underlined while reading books. Today's book is Eugene England's The Best of Lowell L. Bennion: Selected Writings 1928-1988.

The Place of a Liberal in Religion (1969)

"A liberal is not dogmatic but open-minded, eager to recheck his thinking, to change and enlarge his view of religion as he increases in experience ... He feels free to question interpretations of religion that run counter to his knowledge, experience, and inspiration. (I think it was John Taylor who said that he would not be a slave to God Almighty.) ... a liberal's religion has strong human interest ... A liberal does not reject theology or scripture; he simply believes that they must be interpreted and used in ways that will serve the divine purpose in human life."

For By Grace Are Ye Saved (1966)

"No longer do I believe that a person must earn forgiveness. If he had to, then only justice and reciprocity would prevail in relationships between man and man and man and God. But "give" is the main root of the word forgiveness. And there is grace operating whenever anyone is forgiven.

Man is asked to repent to receive forgiveness, I believe, not because the Lord is not forgiving whether we repent or not, but because he knows that man cannot accept forgiveness and renew his life without himself taking some steps to change it."

Good Teaching and Leadership (1962)

"As a lad of fourteen I went to work on a ranch. One day the boss sent me up into the mountains with a man twice my age to change the course of a mountain creek. We were losing the water as it came down the old channel in the valley, so we decided to bring it to the ranch in a newly constructed canal.

With the enthusiasm and folly of youth, I jumped into the creek and proceeded to dig a channel that would lead to the newly made canal. I began to shovel out gravel and dirt from the bottom of the creek with vigor. My older and wiser co-worker tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Son, just pick up the larger rocks and let the water do the rest of the work. It will wash the dirt and fine gravel with it.

This was my first lesson in working with nature. I learned that life is much easier this way. One's strength can be used to accomplish much more if one works with, rather than against, the laws of nature and life."

Faith: Values and Limitations (1959)

"Faith should not be considered a substitute for knowledge. Whenever knowledge is available, it should be used. For it is generally better to live by knowledge in particular things than by faith, if knowledge is available. A man would rather know that he has money in the bank when he writes a check than to write it in the faith the money is there. It is better for a man to know that his bride-to-be has a good character than to marry her without knowledge of this fact. It would be better to know the cause of cancer than merely to have faith that by refraining from eating certain foods one would not become a victim. An appreciation for the great role of faith in life should never deter us in our search for knowledge. It is knowing the truth that makes men free."

Friday, September 6, 2013

PostScript -- Counciling and Counselors



by Bradly Baird (bio)

The same day Casey Petersen published his post on counseling and counselors, I happened to be reading a book called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't by Jim Collins. The book is a well-researched and thoughtful book that sets forth the principles upon which many companies build their business and become very successful. One of the commonalities of these great companies is that their leadership makes use of a council (not to be mistaken for the board of directors whose only motive is profit), often with membership between six and twelve in number. I wanted to share a few of Jim's points regarding this principle:

1. The council exists as a device to gain understanding about important issues facing the organization.
2. The council is assembled and used by the leading executive and usually consists of five to twelve  
    members. 
3. Each council member has the ability to argue and debate in search of understanding, not from
    the egoistic need to win a point or protect a parochial interest.
4. Each council member retains the respect of every other council member, without exception.
5. Council members come from a range of perspectives, but each member has deep knowledge about
    some aspect of the organization and/or the environment in which it operates.
6. The council is a standing body, not an ad hoc committee assembled for a specific project.

I am not trying to draw any sort of correlation between these characteristics and the way we use councils inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I just thought it was very interesting that some of the best companies in America are successful because they make use of councils as a core organizing principle.

Obviously, the principle of a council is something that we - inside the faith - live as a fundamental way of life (which is why the Church is so successful). All of our quorums, auxiliaries, groups, etc. are driven by this principle; and, indeed, the great Plan of Happiness was selected at the great Councils in Heaven before the world was. Consequently, the principle has enormous eternal significance for every single human who is presently mapping his or her journey on earth.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Endure to the End Zone 3: Prophet Playing Cards



by Seattle Jon (bio)

Introducing Prophet Playing Cards to celebrate tonight's opening kick-off. Have a great NFL season cheering for your football teams, real or fantasy. Go Seahawks. (previous Endure to the End Zones)



Endure to End Zone graphic by Andrew Beck

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Guest Post: Turning Over In Your Grave



Richard Tait is the proud father of a married son enduring graduate school at ASU, and a beautiful YSA daughter at LDSBC. He has spent 27 of the best years of his life married to the same woman for almost 30 years. Richard writes for his own blog, Mormon Third Eye, where he talks about the Third Eye ... the notorious eye in the back of the head, or the extra view of life that God blesses parents striving to do the right thing with so they can see more of life than the children they chase after. Amazingly, Richard has missed only one weekend post in the past 320+ weeks, a streak that started soon after he was released as Seattle Jon's bishop in Maryland. You can read Richard's other guest posts here.

A House Divided

We all know what "turning over in your grave" means; the conjecture that someone who has passed away would strenuously object to an action carried out by someone else, often a loved one, who is still living. I'm certain we all know of situations where the son or daughter of a deceased parent has behaved so reprehensibly that knowledge of the incident and/or its evil impact penetrates the portals of death and disturbs the departed. It nominally refers to only the most heinous of crimes, such as murder, violations of established morality, or speaking ill of one's treasured alma mater.

But what does it really mean? Often we don't truly comprehend the reverberating waves of what is said until it impacts us personally and touches our very soul. I had a sincerely satisfying experience just a few weeks ago permitting me to fully appreciate what "turning over in your grave" means. However, quoting the merely mortal words of the completely fictional superhero Captain Underpants, before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this story.

This Story

The following post-teenage tragedy replays itself literally hundreds of times a year across the Wasatch Range, from the freshly-scrubbed streets of Provo to the smelly smokestacks of North Salt Lake - classic episodes of forbidden love. BYU boy meets UofU girl, or vice-versa, they fall madly in love with each other, and it is not until being blinded by the sparkle of romance that they arrive at the terrible realization that they are "sleeping with the enemy" and intend to marry a representative of their alma mater rival. However, filled with an abundance of love for each other, and a belief in President Kimball's mantra that any man and woman possessing enough selflessness and commitment to covenants can make a marriage work, they resolve to make each other happy despite their cavernous difference on this one aspect of life, and they do. The vicissitudes of life take over - children are born and raised, homes are bought and sold, and BYU-UofU sporting events are won and lost. All during this time the masses of bi-academic BYU-UofU marriages continue to function almost normally and bless the earth with a built-in healthy dose of conjugal conflict and rivalry that provide additional dimensions to the spice of life. Against all odds, these mixed couples usually successfully raise well-adjusted children in a loving, nurturing environment.

That Story

UofU Craig and BYU Janet met on neutral ground, fell in love, and got themselves married in the temple for eternity. Theirs was a love that would last the challenges of intense inter-school rivalry. They served in church callings, raised kids and neighborhoods, and maintained a marriage, all while not vacating their allegiance to their respective alma maters. The annual BYU-UofU football game parties at their house were legion - the world would stop turning for those four hours on that fall afternoon during intense discussion over the merits and weaknesses of each sides' capabilities to cross the goal line.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Is Mormonism an Affinity Scam?



by Shawn Tucker (bio)


An affinity scam is a fraud where the victims are taken in because they share something in common. This affinity or commonality makes them more trusting, less critical of claims, and then more willing to give fraudsters both the benefit of the doubt and a possible "in house" solution to the problem. Once fraudsters gain trust, then the scam spreads very quickly through the group. The recent Madoff fraud is a recent and spectacular example of an affinity scam. Oh, and according to a report in the Economist, Utah is the affinity fraud capital of the United States.

It is easy to see how Mormons might be taken in by fraudsters. We are welcoming to newcomers and inherently trusting of those in the flock. And we are slow, very slow apparently, to see wolves in sheep's clothing. This has raised a very troubling question for me: is Mormonism an affinity scam? Are Mormons, for the most part, lulled into believing the church's claims for the same reasons that so many Mormon are taken in by fraudsters?

There seem to be good reasons to conclude that yes, Mormonism is an affinity scam. Children are carefully trained to understand and then repeat key doctrinal principles. They are very powerfully rewarded for adherence, and just as powerfully de-incentivized to deviate. Young people are encouraged to socialize and marry within the community. There is also a strong cultural norm toward marrying earlier than non-Mormons. Those young married couples seem to have children sooner and find their place strongly cemented into Mormon church congregations. As an Institution, the church does not seem particularly forthright about the unpleasant or at least human elements of its history, including its racism, sexism, and mistreatment of gays. Polygamy also seems to be frequently glossed over. A reading of Rough Stone Rolling gives one the sense that South Park's version of how Joseph translated the Book of Mormon is much closer to historical fact than what one might believe from church illustrations of that process. All of this lends credence to the idea that not only are Mormons easy victims of financial scams, but they may also be easily hoodwinked by other forms of intellectual, emotional, or spiritual duplicity.

I think the worst thing that Mormons can do is to just pretend that the above three paragraphs do not exist. Remember, affinity scams are effective because people of a group are too trusting and less critical. The best way, it seems to me, to avoid an affinity scam is to act as if one is not part of the group and try to develop an outsider's critical eye. Two things might be helpful in develop an outsider's critical eye: always having the faith to ask the hardest questions and missionary work.

EQ T-Shirt Proposal



by Seattle Jon (bio)

T-shirt proposal for all the elders quorums out there who've had a busy summer moving people.

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