Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advice for My Daughter

Sometimes things are not your fault, but they are your responsibility.

I know this seemed like a hard truth to you tonight, in the moment when you looked around your room at the chaos two much-younger brothers created. It will also seem like a hard truth to you years from now, as you come of age and inherit problems past generations created and couldn't solve.

Believe me: I understand how overwhelming messes can feel. I know what it's like not to know where to begin, and I know how strong the temptation can be to release the pressure you feel into blame.

But I also know how sweet it is to resist that temptation.

Let me tell you something real: the moment when you willingly accept responsibility for a problem you did not create, you transcend your own self-interest and become like God. Even if it's only a matter of gathering toys you did not scatter, you will feel the anchoring divinity in the center of your soul grow firmer.

Do not hide from this.

Every time life offers you an opportunity to draw borders around the edges of your heart, and you choose instead to walk straight past them and lay claim to a new burden of love, eternity nods in recognition.

It belongs to those who make room to receive it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Three Meditations on a Child's Prayer


I have a 10-year-old daughter, a 4-year-old son, and a 2-year-old son.

It's an interesting time to listen to their prayers.

Leif, my youngest, still doesn't talk much--probably because he spent so much of his first 18 months of his life sick and in hospitals. Even before he started repeating words, though, the nightly rhythm of prayer helped him relax and accept sleep (we found that out the hard way when we tried to tuck him in without scriptures and prayers one night when his siblings were gone). Now, prayers are his most verbal  time of day. Often we can get him to repeat a word or two when he's asking for food, but more often than not at night, he'll take his best shot at repeating the words and short phrases of the prayer Nicole or I or one of the other kids helps him with.

Elijah often wanders and sometimes picks fights during prayers. Some nights, he kind of shouts his prayers or says them in his monster voice. Other nights, he's very thoughtful and helpful. He has one stock phrase that comes up almost every night--he likes to thank Heavenly Father "that we could have good fun." After a while, Nicole figured out that "good fun" meant the fun that comes with good choices: it was his way of asking for help behaving in a way that allowed him to have more fun than conflict with others.

Kira's prayers have recently turned from a narrower focus on our family's home life to our local community. She listens at church and then remembers to pray for specific struggling neighbors and their families. She's more and more likely to think of extended family members and friends. It's gratifying as a parent to watch her awareness mature.

My children's prayers give a pretty decent overview of some key roles religion plays in many lives today. It provides comfort and order. It helps focus us on our personal moral development and master ourselves. And it helps us reach out in compassion toward others, farther than we would likely manage on our own.


Last night, Kira prayed again for the Henley family, whose basement apartment we lived in for four years. Last Sunday, Alice Henley--who'd been like an extra grandmother to the kids--passed away. We've had a few talks about it since, and it was nice to know Kira was thinking of Alice's husband, children, and grandchildren.

Next it was Lijah's turn to pray. I can't remember exactly how his prayer started, but I definitely remember the part where he said, "Thank thee that Daddy will die. Thank thee that Leif won't die."

As soon as his prayer was over, Kira asked him what on earth he was thinking. Why would he even mention Daddy dying? And Lijah repeated some variation on a theme we've discussed several times, especially since Sister Henley's death--death is part of life. It's OK.

And so I find it strangely noble of my young son to thank God for my future death. If he takes the time to bless the name of God again on the day I die, I will be content and proud.

I understand, though, if that turns out to be hard. He's seen Leif stop breathing, seen ambulances rush him to the hospital. And so I'm not surprised that at the same time he prepares himself for my eventual death, he pleads in the guise of thanks for his brother to have a long, perhaps in his mind an endless, earthly life.

And oh my son, when you and I have loved and fought for years, when you've watched me grow frail and spend my own time in hospitals, you may want me to live forever on earth, too. It may be hard to remember on the day I go that death is part of life.


My great-grandmother, Basant Kaur, died when I was in elementary school. Afterward, I used to wonder sometimes if she was spending her time, invisible, somewhere close to me. That thought used to help me when I was tempted to do something I knew I wouldn't be caught for. No living person might know, but I hated the idea of disappointing Beiji.

I'd been home from my mission for about a year when my Grandpa Art died. My dad was able to fly right out when Art went in to the hospital, was able to hold his hand a last time. I was in Utah at the time, and drove out toward California to help move Art to a care center, or else to help clean out his apartment. He died while I was on the road.

It's been a while since that happened, but I still think about Art all the time. Every little while something will come up that reminds me how much I wish my wife and kids could have met him.

I feel like he's somewhere not so far away, but since I knew him so much longer than I did my great-grandma, it's also easier to see him in myself. I like to think that when my kids do finally meet their great-grandfather, they'll recognize him, in part, through the way I was--they'll know that even though he died too early for them, he was still in the way I talked and laughed and looked at the world. They'll recognize the ways they knew him.

I do believe, on an emotional and spiritual level as well as on an intellectual one, that what I tell my children about death is true. It's part of life, though the fear of bereavement and death are certainly part of life, too. We will always wrestle, I think, to find the proper balance between accepting death and working to delay it.

But I hope we remember it doesn't need to be something that severs our closest relationships, in time or eternity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Meeting of the Myths" Contest Discussion

For our past literary contests, Nicole and I have tried different approaches to holding online discussions of the pieces. Sometimes we've gone on blog tours, holding discussions for different pieces in different places. Other times, we've had discussions posts for each piece here. Sometimes there's been more discussion on social media; other times we've actively encouraged people to take the extra steps you need to comment outside the gated portions of the internet so that the discussions can be more widely accessible and easier to find in the future.

For the current "Meeting of the Myths" contest, we'd like to try something a little different. In addition to the many conversations we've seen on Facebook and Twitter about individual stories, we'd like to have a single conversation thread to discuss all the stories on this blog. That way, it will be easier to talk about how the stories speak to each other and what we get out of the contest as a whole in addition to discussing our reactions to pieces on their own.

The seven finalists are:

"Spring Hill" by Luisa Perkins
"A Voice Not Crying in the Wilderness" by Jonathon Penny
"The Trail" by Stephen Carter
"Where Nothing Lives But Crosses" by Lee Allred
"Harmony's Victory" by Hillary Stirling
"Eyelight" by Mark Penny
"Daughter of a Boto" by Katherine Cowley (coming Sunday)

Feel free to comment on any aspect of a story, on the relationship between stories, on how the contest fits into larger conversations about Mormon Lit, on what they can teach us as Mormon writers, or whatever else you'd like to talk about.

Possible discussion question include:
What did that story mean? What are the implications?
Which story do you find most interesting/puzzling/troubling/engaging/timely/timeless/shareable/etc and why?
Do you see any sets of stories that come from the same aesthetic or social impulses? Do you see any pair or set of stories that provide us with a useful contrast in approaches?
What do you see in the contest that you weren't expecting?
What haven't you seen in the contest that you wish you had seen?
How are you going to decide which three pieces to vote for?
If you could share one story with the youth in your ward, which one would you pick?
Why are you spending your precious internet time on this contest instead of on, saying, teaching yourself another language or watching cute cat videos?
What stuff you're encountered elsewhere on the internet relates to stuff you've read or that the stories have made you think about?


Saturday, July 26, 2014

In Which A Ten-Year-Old's Views on Eden Blow My Mind

Kira asked me to tuck her in last night--as the parent of choice on nights when her room is a mess, I get to do that a lot--and we got talking. Somehow dinosaurs came up, and I pointed out there was more time between when the Stegosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus Rex (about 90 million years) than there was between the Tyrannosaurus and us (about 70 million years).

"I thought all the dinosaurs lived at the same time," Kira said.

"That's the way we usually think about it," I said, "but there were actually different dinosaurs who lived at different times. Some died out a long time before the last dinosaurs became extinct."

I watched her face light up with discovery. "Oh, right. Because all the stegosauruses got eaten," she said.

"Maybe," I said. "Or their environment changed. Or there were new diseases. Or something. And then a long long long time later, Tyrannosaurs evolved."

"Wait," said Kira, and I could see she was thinking hard about something. "If dinosaurs were dying for millions of years before humans, what about Adam and Eve? How does that work?"

And I have to tell you, I was so excited to see her really discovering a question people have been playing with for the past century and a half: a question she's heard before, but never quite noticed like last night. These are the kind of moments the ritual of regular parent-child conversations earn in my view: by talking to her about all kind of things, I get the chance sometimes to see and be a part of how she shapes her view of reality.

"I don't know exactly how those two stories fit together," I said. "What do you think?"

Kira started off with something she'd almost certainly heard before. But it still seemed to carry a new weight of possibility with her. "A day of creation doesn't have to be just one day," she said. "Those 'days' might have lasted for millions of years."

"That's a good idea," I said. But I didn't want her to get the idea that one decent idea is where your searching should stop. "Or what about this: what if Eden was sort of like in a different dimension. And Adam and Eve left that version of reality and came into this one. Sort of like there are portals between realms in Once Upon a Time."

Kira got excited. "Or like in The Wizard of Oz. Or maybe Eden was just part of earth, but after they left, it got taken somewhere. Like maybe Heavenly Father took it up to heaven."

"Here's an idea," I said. "We think of things changing in the future. But what if for Heavenly Father, they can also change in the past? Maybe when Adam and Eve left Eden, it didn't only change the way the world would look later, it also changed the way the world looked before."

"Or what if," said Kira, looking out into the air, almost like she could make herself see it, "What if Eden was before the rest of the world, and when Adam and Eve walked out of the garden--what seemed like a few seconds to them was millions of years for the world all around them. And it evolved in the time between when they left there and when they got here."

And I felt like I could almost see it, too. A sudden rush of the world unfolding itself, eons of violent creation released as the dam on time and death is broken. With each footstep, the landscape is changed. Whole species of flora and fauna appear and vanish in each blink of the eye while somewhere beyond continents groan and shift.

A child showed me this. My daughter: whose years sometimes seem to pass as if in moments before my own eyes.

I realize, of course, that numerous authorities in religion and science alike would not find my daughter's versions of Eden and Earth terribly compelling. Some rationalists would be bemused by my desire to keep alive a story which they no longer view as useful as an explanatory model for anything. Some religious figures would be disappointed by my disinterest in offering my daughter a single fixed point of doctrinal truth on a contentious theological question.

But those people don't get to tuck her in at night. And so I'm going to stick them on a shelf in the back of my brain and take time to savor some mysteries with a girl who has a bit of God in her.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Discussion of Jonathon Penny's Prologue to the Temple Poem

We discuss the final finalist in this year's Mormon Lit Blitz. Join the discussion, catch up on any of the twelve you may have missed, and go back to the Mormon Artist blog on Monday to vote for this year's Grand Prize Winner

When I was growing up, there were certain stories my father would tell us only in the winter. In the summer or fall we could beg and beg, but he would always tell us we had to wait for the first snow to fall on the ground. 

I loved those stories. And I learned to love my father, in part, by waiting for them and then by trying to guard his voice and the images it evoked in my mind for the rest of the year. 

In a number of different religions, there are stories and poems and names that are only spoken in certain times or places. Words you wait for, long for, guard in your heart and your mind through all the other seasons of your life. 

In our faith, we build temples around those words. And we love those temples with an almost passionate intensity. 

At the same time, though, we live in a culture where most people believe in discussing everything openly. When you can turn on the TV in the middle of the night and hear two people talking at once while written words scroll endlessly under their faces. So it's hard for many people to understand why we don't talk directly about the things we love, why we approach our temples only carefully, sideways, allusively. 

Jonathon takes careful, sideways, allusive words and builds a poem around the temple with them. 

And I feel like Jacob at Beth-el when I enter them. 

I don't know what to ask you about this poem. 

What lines stand out to you, perhaps? 

What does it mean to be a poet in a religious world where some words and ideas carry so much weight? 

What might a Mormon poet contribute to the range of human expression in the internet age? 

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Living Scriptures" Discussion

The Mormon Lit Blitz reaches its penultimate peril...

Today's Piece: "Living Scriptures" by Scott Hales

The Three Nephites don't get a whole lot of attention in scripture. Just a handful of verses, really, in two different places. And yet they've made their way into Mormon memory and folklore in a different way than any other story. The Three Nephites keep us wondering what sort of world we really live in, what presences might be hidden just beyond our reach.

We had three or four submissions for this year's Lit Blitz alone involving the Three Nephites. And somehow, this story moved us most of all.

What is it about the Three Nephites that keeps us coming back to them?

What works about the way this story uses the genre?

Are you concerned about the violence on television today?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Sugar Free" Discussion

The Lit blitzes on...

Today's Piece: "Sugar Free" by Emily Debenham

One thing I've loved about the Mormon Lit Blitz is the way it's built relationships between Mormon writers. I've enjoyed the insights many of these people share outside their formal creative work.

A recent thought that struck me came from Sarah Dunster, winner of the 2013 Whitney Award for General Fiction. She said she's appreciated information she's learned through the popular genre of "10 things you should never say to [person in x situation]" posts, but wishes there were more posts that started with "10 things you SHOULD say" instead. As we learn about others' diverse burdens, after all, there's always a risk that we'll be too worried about the chance of helping wrong to help at all.

"Sugar Free" seems to do exactly the kind of positive modelling Sarah has asked for. But can reading a story like this really change behavior in the real world?

Have you ever used an insight gleaned from fiction to understand someone's needs in real life?

What should you never say to Hunter? What should you say to him?

What did you think of this story in general?

Responses to Recent Events

On the AML blog yesterday, Theric Jepson asks if we "have art that responds to Recent Events." He is, not, I suspect, talking about the unfortunate elimination of Ecuador from the world cup--devastating though that may be to many. He is talking instead about the recent excommunication of Kate Kelly and the extended discussion swirling around it.

For many, the moment is uncomfortable, uncertain, and painful. As Eric Samuelsen and others have pointed out, that's true whether you were most uncomfortable with Kelly's rhetorical strategies or with the actions taken in response. This is the sort of discussion in which virtually all participants have been put on the defensive by someone. And unfortunately, the things most of us say while feeling defensive work to make someone else somewhere feel threatened as well.

Theric sees direct, emotional online discussion as a normal response to shared discomfort and pain, but also as sort of a psychic rut. He doesn't want people to just forget what they're feeling or walk away from problems, but he does hope we can rise above the cycle of mutual venting/defending/offending to engage the underlying questions about why it's so hard to be a human living among other humans.

And Theric thinks literature could be a part of that. Literature, which is almost never just about what it claims to be about, might help us escape our own defensiveness. It might give us a bridge from a moment's pain to a broader insight.

And maybe that's a pipe dream. Maybe it's just what Theric and I, as writers, get paid to say.

Or maybe literature really can get us thinking in broader ways. Maybe good works of Mormon Literature, selected more or less at random, can speak in some sideways and rut-evading way to the tensions many people are feeling right now.

In that spirit, I've made a list the Mormon Lit Blitz finalists published so far, indexed by sentiments I've seen people express. See which quote you identify with, and--in the spirit of experiment--see if the corresponding piece speaks to that feeling somehow.*

"I feel rejected and hurt."


"It shouldn't be this hard to go to Church."


"We make a serious mistake when we think of service and power in the same terms."


"Don't try to explain to me yet how this all makes sense if you look at the big picture. Right now I just need a safe place to cry."


"I can't put my finger on it, but I feel like something important is slipping away."


"I see my faith and community in a different way now than I once did."


"I don't know who to talk to about what I'm feeling. I don't expect everyone to understand, but it would be nice to find someone who can get where I am and who I can trust enough to get fresh perspective from."


"I can't afford for the feeling of sisterhood to fall victim to political differences."


"These kind of debates make me feel like a tiny little person being crushed between big forces I can't control. I want to get back to the basics."


"I don't have strong feelings about this issue, but all the bad feelings around it bother me. I wish I could just hop on a curelom and get away from it all."


*Disclaimers: No refunds of time or mental energy will be given to those who don't appreciate the story they choose. The index quotes have been generated without consultation with the authors and may not represent their personal reactions to said events in any way. Some stories may related to the index quotes in perverse or tongue-in-cheek ways. No animals were harmed in the writing of this post, but evidence suggests that animals may be harmed by excessive levels of online reading. Media outlets should not that these publications do not represent the Mormon Church, which doesn't like being called the Mormon Church, in any official capacity. Some stories contain violence, may remind the reader of specific swear words (though without actually saying them), and can involve immodestly dressed characters if the reader happens to use his/her imagination to mentally create them dressed immodestly. Some of these stories may take readers down the proverbial rabbit hole, and management is not responsible for any proverbial rabbit droppings reading may encounter along their way. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Platinum Tears" Discussion

Closing out the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz's third quarter....

Today's Piece: "Platinum Tears" by Marianne Hales Harding

This poetic essay, or essayistic poem, jumps right in to a major recurring dilemma in Mormonism.

On the one hand, we believe that meaning comes through commitment. On the other, we know that in this world, serious commitment can cause serious pain.

What do you do with that?

What is the role of grief in the healing process? What are its limits?

Is Walmart acting in some way as a sacred space here? What is it doing and how is it like or unlike other places?

"Thick and Thin" Discussion

The Mormon Lit Blitz Continues....

Today's Piece: "Thick and Thin" by Vilo Westwood

In an era when people are extremely mobile, often moving vast distances multiple times in the course of their lives, Mormon wards--especially in major educational and economic centers--face certain challenges and make certain contributions as communities where many members have little long-term tie to the area. This piece looks at the way one character and one ward are managing these challenges.

What do you think of the piece?

What have you seen wards do to help new members connect to the ward? To the area?

What else could wards reasonably do to strengthen a sense of community in an era of migration?

Monday, June 23, 2014

"And Through the Woods" Discussion

Starting off at a hard run in the second week of the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz... 

I would ordinarily call a piece like this post-apocalyptic fiction, though in Mormon Lit we probably need another term for social crashes that don't involve the Second Coming. 

What do you think of the main character? 

What are your thoughts on the setting? 

What other stories do you know that involve a post-civilization-collapse attempt to build Zion? Which would you recommend to someone who liked this story? 

If civilization is we know it collapsed tomorrow, what would you do? 

What do you see as the most likely causes of the next collapse of civilization as we know it? How might Mormons respond? 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

On Attention and Art -- 2 Nephi 2: 13

"O that ye would awake, awake from a deep sleep..." (2 Nephi 2: 13)

Reflections on the Mormon Lit Blitz, Week One 

Viktor Shklovsky's 1917 essay "Art as Technique"  begins with a simple observation: that as things become habitual, our minds tend to make them automatic and unconscious. Maybe you've noticed this while driving a car along a route you take all the time or while listening to a child bless the food during a bedtime prayer. There are certain tasks, we joke, that we could do in our sleep--and that we tend to perform with as much attention as if we were sleeping.

In many ways, this automation of the habitual is necessary and helpful. By not thinking about things we constantly repeat, our minds are able to apply more attention and energy to dealing with unfamiliar and new problems.

At times, though, our minds' insistence on automation comes at a steep cost. We can take familiar things for granted to the point that they disappear almost completely from our awareness. I can still remember my professor, Kim Abunuwara, reading out Shklovsky's counting of the costs: "And so life is reckoned as nothing. Habituation devours work, clothes, furniture, one's wife..."

On my mission in Germany, I once found myself translating a stake conference talk for an English-speaking visitor. By the middle of the talk, I found the ideas expressed to be so familiar I could finish translating a sentence before the speaker finishing saying it. By the end of the talk, the man I was translating for recognized the patterns of speech so well he'd only need a few words of each sentence to follow.

There have been moments in my life, I suppose, when I was glad my faith had reached the level of automatic, unconscious reaction. But I am frightened by the danger of habit devouring my faith instead. There have been times in my life when it eats up even the words of God, when I look up at the end of a page to realize I've glossed over everything. Do we reach a point when all the once-startling truths that should transform us become little more than vain repetitions? Can we come to take for granted even the idea that we are intended to become Gods?

We all fall, again and again, into the sleepwalk of habit. But perhaps, Viktor Shklovsky suggests, we can be awoken by art. Art that interrupts our habits, jars us out of our rote perceptions, and makes the familiar unfamiliar enough for us to see it once again.

I've felt blessed this week by art like that.

Art that invites me to look at exaltation as something that can happen when a shell breaks.

Art that takes an ancient warning and gives it fresh force.

Art that lets me see a familiar setting from the sky for the first time.

That gives pain new names.

That finds holiness through simple juxtapositions.

That straight-up offers me different eyes with which to see.

I've felt blessed this week by art that allows me to re-engage with parts of the rich heritage I've been given. And I've felt privileged to be able to share it.

"In a Nutshell" Discussion

We close out the first week of the Mormon Lit Blitz with an explosion...

Today's Piece: "In a Nutshell" by Doug Staker

This is not the way we usually talk about exaltation.

Shortly after my mission, I was called to teach Sunday School for a large class of 14-16 year-olds. One week, the lesson was on the plan of salvation, and after going through the standard diagram with circles for pre-existence, earth life, the spirit world, and the kingdoms beyond, I handed out paper and a big bucket of crayons and colored pencils and asked them each to think of a different way to draw that same journey.

I would love to see Doug Staker's plan of salvation diagram.

What do you think of this poetic piece of it?

How might you describe the relationship between mortality and eternity?

What role can literature play in studying the gospel?

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Slippery" Discussion

The Mormon Lit Blitz presses on, though with somewhat more trepidation than yesterday...

Today's Piece: "Slippery" by Stephen Carter

What did you think of this piece? 

On one level, I'm interested in the warning it seems to contain for us. On another, I'm just haunted by the closing images and the overall feeling of a weirdness that seems just barely beyond the realm of everyday experience. 

I'm also fascinated by the use of Helaman 13: 30-31 in this piece. The passage is never directly mentioned, but it shapes the plot and explains the main character's pivotal realization and decision. Is the not-telling part of what gives the piece its eerie, haunting feeling? Or does it work just as well for readers who don't know that scripture, making the allusion more of a wink at those in the audience who know it? 

What were your reactions?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Curelom Riders" Discussion

On Day Four, the Lit Blitz takes a majestic dive into the unknown...

Today's piece: "Curelom Riders" by Annaliese Lemmon

No piece of writing starts from scratch: writing necessarily builds off things readers already know. One advantage writers of Mormon Lit have is that their audience has a lot of specialized pre-existing knowledge that can be drawn on.

In her short piece, Annaliese Lemmon draws not only on this specialized Mormon knowledge in her use of the book of Ether, but also on a broad cultural awareness of the tropes of epic fantasy. The success of the alternative history/ epic fantasy Temeraire books, which Lemmon has cited as an inspiration for this piece, shows that many readers today are happy to let writers draw on traditionally distinct genres simultaneously. Does anything change, though, when one of those genres is scripture?

What do you think of the cross-genre work this piece does with the Book of Mormon?

What other interesting experiments with cross-genre work involving scripture have you seen? What might be the next cool experiment for a Mormon writer?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"In Remembrance" Discussion

Day Three of discussion about the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz

Today's Piece: "In Remembrance" by Merrijane Rice

Intellectually, it seems reasonable to me to suppose that most people feel their failures like a bayonet wound at times. And yet there are moments when that stab of regret is so overpowering that I'm pretty sure it must be abnormal, that I must have some undiagnosed ailment to be feeling such pain.

Our religion, like most, acknowledges the diverse presence of pain in the world and invites us to move toward healing and meaning. And we often do--though our memories do typically remain, sometimes accompanied by startling flare-ups of old wounds.

Why does God allow that?

Is it somehow good for us, or is it something we'd be better off finding a way around?

What did you think of the poem as a way of speaking to your experience?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"The Primary Temple Trip" Discussion

Day two of discussion from the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz. 

Today's Piece: "The Primary Temple Trip" by Laura Hilton Craner

Service is a central part of Mormon culture. In order to highlight the value of service, the stories we tell often tend to emphasize how good service feels.

In many cases, though, important service does not neatly fit into our standard narrative models for how service ought to go.

What do you think about the depiction of service in this piece?

Have you had any experiences with service this piece reminds you of?

What words does your mother say all the time?

What other reactions did you have to this piece?

Monday, June 16, 2014

20/20 Discussion

We just kicked off the third annual Mormon Lit Blitz and hope you'll hop aboard your curelom and join us for the journey through twelve short pieces of Mormon Lit ("short" meaning less than 1000 words, which is about three minutes of reading time). From June 30th - July 5th, you, dear readers, will have the chance to vote for your favorite pieces and choose a winner for the $100 Lit Blitz prize. In the meantime, we hope you'll join us for daily discussions of the finalists on this blog.  

On a literal level, this is a piece about a girl who gets glasses, grows up, and then occasionally takes those glasses off. 

But literature does not tend to be purely literal. Much of the power of literature, in fact, is in its ability to serve as open metaphor: to provide images that don't mean any one exact thing, but that we can apply to a wide range of different concerns or experiences. 

It's sort of amazing, actually, that a story about the biological problem with one girl's eyesight and the technological solution our society offers her can be turned so easily into a spiritual question for its readers. 

How often do you distinguish between the way the world is and the way you see it? 

What does it mean to become as little children? 

Is the very real, objectively extant God partly to be found in the blurred edges of our perceptions? 

What other sorts of things did this piece get you thinking about? 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Church History poem, attempt #2

Joseph Sr., ca. 1812

In the spring he sows hope,
but come fall he reaps only the empty wind—
so all through the long Vermont winter,
there’s a bottle in his hand.

He drinks like Noah—to drown
a flood’s worth of sorrows,
drinks until he staggers to and fro
as earth itself will in the end.

This is how I understand that story where his son,
infection arching through the bone,
turns down the surgeon’s offer of anesthetizing liquor.
“I don’t need that,” the boy says to his father,
“I just need you.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

I wanted to write a poem about Mormon history, and this is what I got...

Baptism by Fire

The temple is burning to ash
Because a boy saw a pillar of fire

So let the worshipers wander in the desert
Casting shadows in the light of a bush God burns

Someday we’ll make a bushel of this city
Will you still see, beneath it, a glimmer of candlelight?

One moment I’m a zealot on the roadside
The next, I’m speaking with a tongue of flame

Was there ever a beginning? I’ll ask you
Or a time without your spark?

Open your books in the darkest night
And read God’s word by lightning!


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