Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Song for the House of Jared

My latest poem is up on Real Intent. Off the top of my head, I can't remember having heard another poem involving the Jaredites before. Which is too bad, because their story is one of my favorite parts of the Book of Mormon--it's been interesting this time through the Book of Mormon with my family to notice how much the Jaredites are referred to one way or another long before the Book of Ether.

If you're in the mood for something more Biblical, there are also still two days left in the giveaway for two copies of The Five Books of Jesus.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Christmas Offer and Book Giveaway

Christmas Offer

A few people have expressed interest in purchasing multiple copies of The Five Books of Jesus to give as Christmas gifts. The book is $12.95 plus shipping on Amazon, but if you'd like five or more copies for $10 each (and free shipping to most countries), feel free to send me an email (to james dot goldberg at gmail dot com). I'd be happy to send you a holiday package of copies I order at my lower author rate.

The book makes a good Christmas present for a wide range of people because it:
-pays off both intellectually and emotionally
-respects faith without expecting it from every reader
-finds beauty in human moments that are both simple and surprising

Book Giveaway

Another reason the book makes a good Christmas present is that it's about Jesus--and about the culture of giving and service he taught, and which his disciples preserved and passed on.

Many people are mentioned in the gospels as followers of Jesus during his lifetime. If you could have any two of them come to visit you, who would you choose and why?

Answer in the comments to be entered into a drawing for two copies of The Five Books of Jesus. Share your answer and a link to this post on Facebook, through Twitter, or in an email to friends and comment to say you've done so to have your name entered a second time.

On December 1st, I'll randomly select and announce a winner and write a little bit about the disciples people seem most interested in meeting. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Doctrinal Speculation

I don't know where I first heard the theory that resurrection is an ordinance, and that when the day comes, Jesus will send us out to resurrect each other.

I don't know if that's how resurrection will actually happen, or if it's doctrinally sound--but it's a beautiful story. I love the image of people being raised from the dead and then immediately going out to bless and wake others, to place hands on heads and ask God to clothe naked spirits in fresh perfection. 

Here's the thing: even the story isn't accurate, I think it's true. In the sense that it can wake a profound truth within the listener about our connections to each other and about the kind of hope the promise of this earth's end can bring.

On Real Intent, I wrote a poem that builds off this idea to imagine a moment in which Elijah Abel gives the blessing to raise Brigham Young. Only after writing the poem did I realize that many LDS readers have probably not heard the idea of resurrection as ordinance that the poem invokes, especially seeing as it's speculation rather than standard Mormon belief. And only when I thought about the speculation element did it occur to me that I'd need to give some kind of disclaimer to share the resurrection-as-ordinance story.

And that made me think about how we tend to have mixed feelings in the Church today about speculative religious stories or ideas which aren't confirmed doctrines. Part of that suspicion is good. There are plenty of chain email type stories which may be inspiring, but are also deeply problematic. And there have been many doctrinal speculations that were actively harmful, from the heresy of one true soul mate in Saturday's Warrior to racist stories that built up around the 1846-1978 priesthood restrictions. So I can see why we care about patrolling the line between doctrine and speculation.

And yet...

Mormon religious imagination is so rich and varied I'd hate to stifle it too much. Does a grain of sand contain an intelligence that demands justice? Was Melchizedek a title for the ancient patriarch Shem? Did our spirits act as angels until it was our turn to be embodied on earth? Are the Three Nephites still serving across the earth today, heedless of modern nations' insistence that all wanderers be documented?

We don't know. And because we have no good reason for needing to know in this life, we are unlikely to find out. At least not until take the advanced trivia class in the Spirit World MTC, or our mortal blood is swapped out for divine light, or until Elijah Abel puts his hands on our heads just after breakfast on the morning of the first resurrection...

We don't know. But we can imagine. And maybe by opening our imaginations, we'll have eyes for deeper truths.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gesturing toward the Kingdom

I was just looking through my book for quotes of the day to post on Facebook and ran across this passage:
"What if  soldiers give us trouble?" says the southern Simon.

"The laws of their kingdom say an armed soldier can make an unarmed man carry his pack for a mile," says Jesus. "But if one does, go two miles to show him that in God's kingdom, it's the strong who will help carry the burdens of the weak.

"The laws of their kingdom say a soldier can slap us with the back of his hand, like he would strike a slave," says Jesus. "But if one does, turn your face so he has to slap you with an open hand, the way he would challenge an equal!"
 The concepts of going the extra mile and turning the other cheek are so deeply ingrained in our culture it's possible to think of them as common sense rather than radical teachings. But I find myself moved by these ideas again and again when I think about them in their possible context as counterpoints to the accepted order of the world in Jesus' day.

What do I find so beautiful about these sayings? In two simple pieces of advice, Jesus gives his disciples concrete actions they can perform which hint at their belief in a whole different way people could relate to one another. Two simple ways of reacting that highlight the contrast between the dominant mindset and the culture of the Kingdom of God.

Reading today, I find myself just a little envious of those early saints and their gestures.

I don't believe in the dominant assumptions of our age about how power and happiness and progress work. And I do believe that there are better ways we can relate to each other, ways more in line with the Godliness in each of us.

But what gesture do I have today which can compare with the power of going the extra mile or turning the other cheek? What simple actions can I take to show and share my belief in a real alternative to the ways of this world?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Final Campaign Pitches

...for each of the "Four Centuries of Mormon Stories" contest finalists.

Because you really do need to take twenty minutes to vote in this election if you want to think of yourself as a decent person after tomorrow. Remember: you need to read at least six of these twelve very short stories and rank your top four in an email to

19th Century

"Little Karl" by Melissa Leilani Larson
Pitch: It's a ghost story with no ghost, a tale that tells us why we're still haunted by our history.

"Ruby's Gift" by Emily Debenham
Pitch: A father's sacrifice is a burden for his whole family: how will they choose to carry it? A subtle, thoughtful story about the costs and blessings of service.

"Numbers" by Melody Burris
Pitch: We are how we see. Melody's story creates engaging characters through their distinct ways of seeing.

20th Century 

"Maurine Whipple, age sixteen, takes a train north" by Theric Jepson
Pitch: The story is made up, but the names are real. Voting for this story about two past Mormon writers gives you Mormon Lit street cred. Which everyone needs...

"When the Bishop Started Killing Dogs" by Steven Peck
Pitch: Mormons are known for valuing practicality. This story presses that value just past its limit (which is just where a good story should go).

"Something Practical" by Melody Burris
Pitch: There's a gap sometimes between what we think we want and what we actually need. This story helps close that gap, but only if we're willing to find out what lies beneath the casserole...

21st Century

"The ReActivator" by Wm Morris
Pitch: The lone but capable standard-bearer of serious contemporary realistic fiction. The other stories explore real Mormon dynamics, but this one feels like it might actually happen to real Mormons today.

"Oaxaca" by Anneke Garcia
Pitch: When crises come, we often have an opportunity to see the accumulated effects of our mundane, forgettable, everyday decisions. This story helps give me such a vision in advance.

"The Defection of Baby Mixo" by Mark Penny
Pitch: A smart, surprising piece which feels just a little dangerous to read. Deliciously dangerous? You be the judge.

22nd Century

"Release" by Wm Morris
Pitch: The situation is influenced by Mosiah 24. A key phrase is borrowed from Moses 7:69. The central dynamic brings Matthew 25:37 to new life for me. This story is a symphony of silent scriptures--never referenced, but woven deep into the work's soul.  

"Avek, Who is Distributed" by Steven Peck
Pitch: A professor of mine once referred to long-term optimism as a "Star Trek view of the future." This story has an android apostle in it.

"Waiting" by Katherine Cowley
Pitch: Two of the key recurring motifs of the (allegedly male-centered) Bible pregnancy and birth. This story extends that tradition into Mormon sci-fi, and gives us a compelling human story in the process.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A gentle reminder...

Have you emailed in your vote yet? Mormon Literature needs you!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Digital Waiting Room Sampler

There are lots of blog posts in my brain, but very few are making it out into the world lately.

Since I haven't written much lately, though, I think I'll just refer you to a few articles I'e been meaning to write about:

"The Idea of Abrahamic Religions: A Qualified Dissent" by Jon D. Levenson is pretty interesting. I like his emphasis on Abraham as the founder of a family/people rather than just as an advocate of an ideology. As someone who still believes that God wants to call a people and not just teach good principles, I particularly appreciated the way he treated Paul's thought.

 "The Most Progressive Organization on Earth" by Steve Piersanti is great in bringing out the components of church organizations that are egalitarian, socially leveling, communal, and otherwise delightfully socialist-sounding. ;) I also really identified with his observation that one thing keeping more Latter-day Saints from self-identifying as liberal is the number of self-identifying liberals inside and outside of the Church who complain about how conservative the Church. I know that personally I grow less and less confident in my (now very lukewarm) self-identification as a Democrat when I hear Democrats rag on my religion (especially when those Democrats are also Mormon). I mean: conservative members don't call the church backward for disrupting the free market by assigning people to wards rather than letting them choose. Can't liberal members let certain ideas

While we're on the subject of political self-identification, I'd also like to recommend "Politics Is Not My Religion" by Merrijane Rice. It's become quite common to judge people by their political beliefs--and that's silly. You can vote "wrong" and still be a pretty great person. You can vote "right" and still be a jerk. So...I know it's quick and easy to judge someone by party affiliation. But if you're going to be sinful and judge someone, at least try to do it over things they do in their real lives, and not things they think about policy decisions they have extremely little influence over.

Also on the subject of elections: I highly recommend voting. In the "Four Centuries of Mormon Stories" contest. Because wouldn't the next week of November be so much better if fewer people got worked up about Obama or Romney and more people got worked up over Mormon Lit?

 Those are pretty much my suggestions. To round out this sampler, though I'll add quick plugs for my recent poem on Real Intent and an interview with Scott Hales about my book on Modern Modern Men.


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