Category: Mormon Arts

Arts – Music – Poetry – Cinema – Television

Missions and memory

People keep asking me for proof that the irritating tics in Mormon writing I’ve mentioned actually exist. In that respect, Taylor Kerby’s post over at BCC is useful in a couple of ways.

“Tened en Dios Confianza”

I have not been able to find out much about “Tened en dios confianza,” nor about its author, José V. Estrada G. On a more personal note, however, this was the first hymn that I worked with when I started contemplating the Mexican Mission Hymns Project around six years ago. The original music for the hymn that I wrote was even one of the five I submitted for consideration with the new hymnbook.

“Placentero nos es trabajar”

“Placentero nos es trabajar” or “Despedida” is one of the more popular hymns that is included in Latter-day Saint hymn books, written by a Latter-day Saint, but not in the English hymnal at this time. Hence, I’ve been consistent in pointing it out as a likely candidate for inclusion in the forthcoming hymnal. While I’ve talked about this hymn in the past, this post will serve two purposes—first, it is going to be where I pick up the Mexican Mission Hymns series. Second, it’s also a co-post for a recent interview with John A Gonzalez—the grandson of Andrés Carlos González, the author of the hymn—at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk.

Hymnal Watch: February 2024

A YouTube channel called “For All the Saints” recently interviewed Ray Robinson—a member of the team that is creating the new hymnbook. There were several notable observations made by Robinson that I want to highlight:

Sabbath Day Media and Touched by An Angel

I have fond memories of Sunday evenings spent watching Voyager and Deep Space Nine with the family growing up. My wife’s home was more restrictive in regards to Sabbath day media, but that paradigm has been adopted by our own home as I’m gradually realizing the benefits of being more intentional and explicitly devotional for Sunday night movie night in terms of helping set the mood of the sabbath as the day dedicated to God.  Lately we’ve been going through Touched by an Angel which is now free on Amazon Prime. TBAA can err on the side of being a little saccharine at times, but I’m willing to put up with a little syrup for media that at least takes a chance at trying to create something profound and moving even if they slightly miss, as opposed to just giving into the nihilistic cynicism that has become ubiquitous in any film that tries to be more artistic than a Marvel superhero reboot. Additionally, TBAA threaded the partisan needle in a way that is hard to pull off nowadays. It had obvious appeal to conservative Christian types, while being ecumenical enough to incorporate non-Christian religious perspectives, and having highly diverse casting and narratives back before diversity was just another parameter to adjust in pursuit of an Emmy.   I churned through the different episodes while cleaning (there are lot), and was able to select the particularly moving and profound ones for…

Advent Songs in the Latter-day Saint Tradition

When I played handbells as part of the music ministry of a local Presbyterian church, I was surprised to learn that in the traditional liturgical calendar, most of December isn’t Christmas time. Instead, it is a season called Advent that looks forward to Christmas time. Christmas itself begins on Christmas Eve and lasts through January 7. And by the same token, I learned that Advent has its own music tradition while playing in the bell choir. What has surprised me, however, is that some of those pieces of Advent music have found their way into Latter-day Saint hymnals over the years. 

The Gospel Plan of Happiness Explained in Movie Quotes

If we listen carefully, and squint hard enough, we can find the gospel plan hidden throughout Hollywood. There, on the big screen, we can find nuggets of truth, or at least, poetic lines to illustrate the plan of happiness. Consider:

A Book worth tracking down: “Drat! Mythed Again”

Drat! Mythed Again: Second Thoughts on Utah by: Steve Warren Most people, I find, have never heard of this book, but it’s one I referenced often growing up, as we had a copy in my house. My parents weren’t sure exactly when they picked it up, but it’s 1986 copyright date indicates it had to be after they moved to Alaska.

“Angels and Seerstones” and Latter-day Saint Folklore

Midjourney: Mormon missionaries and a dark spirit, in the style of Greg Olsen. (Because why not.) My memories of childhood “I swear my uncle heard that…” fantastic stories are still fresh enough in my memory for me to associate folklore and urban legends with a sort of enchanting nostalgia of a more magical time before devices where we’d gather around the campfire to share stories. Where my friend said it happened to his uncle, and my friend wouldn’t lie, so ipso facto of course Bloody Mary is going to crawl out of the mirror to try to rip out my eyes. While I’m uncomfortable with people conflating Mormon cultural tidbits with the gospel of Jesus Christ, at the end of the day it is my culture, and missions in particular seem like a perfect little laboratory for folklore development. Like Darwin’s finches, each variation of an urban legend becomes quasi-isolated within the mission boundaries and adds local flavor and variation. Mormon folklorist is one of (many) things I would absolutely love to do full-time in a parallel life if I didn’t have a large family and had to buy an awful lot of cheddar, and the chances of obtaining an R1 TT anthropology position wasn’t akin to being drafted into the NFL (if you think through the numbers involved you’ll find I’m not exaggerating). Still, BYU faculty couple Christine and Christopher Blythe have pulled it off, and have started a…

Book Recommendation: Satan is Real

The Country Music history podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones called this book “everything a Country Artist’s autobiography should be.”  Even if you aren’t into this particular genre (I was not and have no plans to read any anytime soon), this is a worthwhile read.  And despite the (content warning) constant cussing (including many “f-bombs”), I even felt the Spirit at one point.  Let me explain:

Top Gospel-Related Songs and Some Top Renditions

Orchestra of Angels I’m not a musical person. I was started on the classical guitar quite early and became decently proficient at it by the time I was in Jr. High, but I just didn’t have the fire to practice for hours like many in the music world have. I enjoy a good tune, but I can’t tell the difference between, say, Mozart and something a graduate student would write (I actually wonder if musicologists couldn’t without pre-existing knowledge of Mozart’s musical corpus and it’s emperors with no clothes all the way down, but I digress).  However, there is some music whose greatness is self-evident, and you don’t need musical training to recognize and appreciate how spiritually moving it is. Below is my own list, along with examples of moving renditions Come Thou Font The classic rendition of this we always listened to growing up, which is still my favorite, is the version in the BYU Choir’s Thanksgiving of American Folk Hymns way back when. This was in the hymn book, but was taken out, and I hope the new one will have it in again.  Ode to Joy Piano Guys did a fun version of this, but it’s also worth listening to the full orchestral version. Hallelujah Chorus The Church put together the largest virtual Hallelujah Chorus of all time. Traditionally one stands for the Hallelujah Chorus. I heard it was because a king stood out of respect when it…

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 15: War

The Mexican Revolution impacted every Mexican, and that included the Mexican Latter-day Saints, some of whom did their best to stay out of the conflict, some of whom became casualties of war, and some of whom joined in the revolution.

Translation theory won’t decide your polemic argument

One of the recurring irritations of reading apologetic, polemic, or scholarly work in Mormon Studies addressing Joseph Smith’s translations of ancient scripture is that the authors nearly always ignore the perspective of practicing translators and the field of translation studies, instead basing their analyses in simple notions of linguistic equivalence that may still prevail in graduate language exams, but that the field of translation studies abandoned as unworkable several decades ago.

The Princess Bride (As You Wish)

The Princess Bride’s relationship to the scriptures. Bear with me here.  This is not one of those “William Goldman [the author of the book and screenwriter for the movie] was LDS” things (like “Yoda is President Kimball” or whatever from other franchises). When I first read the book (which came before the movie), it shocked me.  I did not expect what I found. Almost everything from the movie was in there (although often in different ways – the famous “life is pain” quote comes from Fezzik’s parents in passing during a flashback, for example), but there was so much more.  There was a lot on “his” [scare quotes on purpose] dysfunctional family life, his career, his childhood, and a lot more plot in the actual tale of Buttercup.

(Almost) Everyone Gets Battlestar Galactica Wrong….

The most cited article I’ve ever written was also my first professional publication: “Why Your Mormon Neighbor Knows More About This Shows Than You Do” in Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy from Open Court Press (not to be confused with the Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy from Blackwell Press). One reason I wrote that article was that while there were a few scattered articles, websites, and other venues that acknowledged LDS/Mormon influence on the original show (and the faint traces of it in the more recent version), nearly all of them got something wrong – often egregiously so.

The 1927 Latter-day Saint Hymns

At the start of each year, there is a whole collection of publications that enter the public domain. This year is a relatively big year for people interested in Latter-day Saint song books, since the 1927 Latter-day Saint Hymns, along with a few other song books (the 1927 edition of the Primary Song Book and some anthem collections) are now public domain.

Sacrament Meeting Hymns

Latter-day Saint sacrament hymns

Choosing music for sacrament meetings is an interesting responsibility sometimes. One of a few different challenges is that there are only 27 hymns specifically selected as sacrament meeting hymns, so there is a lot of potential for repetition.

VII. The GAEL and Linguistic Typology

The GAEL provides for a mode of interpretation that finds expansive (but not unlimited) meaning in seemingly simple characters. Zakioan-hiash, as we have seen, is both a name, a word with a specific phonetic realization, and the equivalent of at least one sentence.

IV. The GAEL and the structure of Abraham 1:1-2a

In his 2009 article, Chris Smith argued for the textual dependence of the Book of Abraham on the GAEL. While Dan Vogel’s recent book about the Book of Abraham and related apologetics strenuously objects to any suggestion that the GAEL was reverse engineered from the translation of Abraham, Vogel nevertheless entirely rejects the basis of Chris Smith’s argument.

Robert Alter’s Translation of the Hebrew Bible

I’ve always wondered how well the talks of different general authorities translate to other languages.  For example, I can imagine that a lot of the alliteration that a few apostles adopt in their addresses doesn’t carry over.  And I know from my work on translating Spanish hymns that translating between languages is an inexact science and involves compromises to keep certain aspects of the original language – rhyme, meter, literal meaning of words, nuances conveyed in idioms, etc.  It’s almost impossible to carry all of those together across from one language to another.  Largely because of this, translations of the Bible have proliferated, with each trying to convey the meaning of the texts from the original languages in different ways.  For example, Robert Alter’s English translation of the Hebrew Bible focuses on carrying the literary forms of the Hebrew texts.  In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Robert Alter discussed his translation. Robert Alter is a noted scholar who received his doctorate from Harvard University and is a Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature.  His doctorate was in modern comparative literature, but he noted in the interview that: “as an undergraduate I spent three years studying biblical texts rigorously with H. L. Ginsburg, one of the leading philological scholars of the Bible of his generation.”  His familiarity with literary forms and biblical texts came together to lead to his translation: In the late 1970s I published…