Saturday, November 22, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: A New Skin (Part 2)

This is a continuation of a piece I have been posting. For the first part of this scene, click here. To start at the beginning, read Scene 1. Also, this portion includes a video from rehearsal to show some choreography for the piece. Soon, I will add a similar video for the second half of Scene 2.

AllanFor all her service, talents, and leadership, because she was a woman, my grandmother would never be ordained to the priesthood. Not in the regular operations of the LDS Church, anyway. But in the temple and in the covenants my grandmother wore to her death, she wore the power of the priesthood and acted in its authority.

[Enter B and F]

Allan: But I think I would like you to learn about that from two women who have often been close to my family. This is Sister Kelley and Sister Jensen.

B and F: Hi there.

Allan: I was hoping you wouldn’t mind telling them how you know me and my family, maybe a little about the temple, particularly the garments, and maybe how you helped dress my grandmother before her funeral.

B (laughing): Oh wow. Well, that’s a lot.

F: Allan, I don’t know that we should talk about some of these things outside of the temple.

Allan: Oh no, they’re good. And just share whatever you feel most comfortable talking about.

B: Well, hi. My name’s Susan. I guess Allan grew up knowing me as Sister Kelley.

F: And I’m Minty Jensen.

B: We both grew up with Allan’s mom when they lived in our ward. And then after Kathy moved back…

F: That’d be Allan’s mom.

B: Right, when Kathy and her family moved back into the area, well we all had children about the same age. My youngest Amos was about Allan’s age.

F: And my daughter Hillary was a year younger.

B: I remember being their primary or Sunday school teacher. I guess you see how that just makes things full circle since we knew Kathy’s mom when she was our Young Women’s Leader. I feel like Betty, well, she was just like a second mother to us. So when she died, Kathy and her sisters asked us if we would help them dress her before the funeral.

Allan: When Mormons who have been endowed die and have decided to be buried, after embalming, family members or close friends dress the dead in their temple garments, white clothes, and other sacred clothing worn during temple ceremonies.

F: When you go to the temple, you enter into certain covenants. The temple is a very sacred and holy place; it is the House of the Lord. But we can’t live there every day. We have to live in the world and it can be a hard and tempting place. We wear the garment to remind us of the promises we have made to God and the protection and blessings He has promised us if we remain worthy.

Allan: Garments—the vestments referred to as sacred underwear—they are representations of the cloaks of skin that God gives Adam and Eve when He drives them out of the Garden of Eden. In some Christian interpretations, the skins of these sacrificed animals are emblematic of the sacrificed body of Christ. So to wear a garment in similitude of those Adam and Eve received is to put on, if at least symbolically, Christ every day.

Material culture is just so fascinating. And that’s the thing, unlike the special robes that one puts on during the ceremony of the endowment or at a sealing, garments are ever present, part of the quotidian dress. They are a perfect articulation of Mormonism’s impulse to make all things sacred in this world, even our material surroundings. Where there is no distinction between the sacred and the profane, even underwear can and should be holy. All things reflected upon. All things made common among us.

F: And they will protect you from danger. I’ve heard stories of people whose houses have caught on fire. And they were burned everywhere on their body except where they were wearing their garments.

[D, wearing nude/skin tone colored underwear, brought in on gurney by A and E. A and E exit.]

B: Well, I don’t know Minty. I think the protection God offers us through them is more spiritual.

F: I think the promises in the temple are pretty clear; it’s a physical as well as a spiritual protection.

B: But it’s not like they stop bad things happening to everyone. There’s been plenty of good and faithful temple goers who have been hurt while wearing their garments.

F: Maybe we should just talk about what it was like to dress Allan's grandmother. When you go to the temple, you are promised that if you live your life righteously, you will be raised in the first resurrection.

B: Every person that has ever lived will be resurrected, just at different points in the millennium.

F: We dress our loved ones who have been to the temple in the garments and temple clothes so that when they are resurrected, they will be dressed in glory.

B: When I think about how Betty taught me as a young woman, preparing me to go to the temple before I went on a mission, and then how she was present the day I was sealed to my husband, I think of her in her temple clothes. I hope that’s how my boys see me.

F: Depending on who a funeral is for, men dress the men and women dress the women. You have to wear gloves as you touch the body because of the chemicals. And sometimes it can be difficult because moving a loved one’s body can be a physical challenge. But it means a lot to be asked to provide that service, especially when it’s not your own mother or sister. But I guess in every way that counts, she was.

B: She did so much for us in our lives. This is the least we can do.

[B and F move to D and dress her. A, C, and E appear and hum “Come, Come Ye Saints”]

Allan: My father dressed his father when he died. My mother dressed her mother. I don’t know how it will be to dress my family. I am in awe of the intimacy required of this practice. In America, we do so much to create a distance between ourselves and death. We have viewings, but hygienic concerns have divorced many of us from handling death. Let all the humor and derision regarding garments fly; this is what I think of when I consider what it means to wear garments.

All except D (singing): And should we die before our journey’s through / Happy Day, all is well / We then are free from toil and sorrow too / With the just, we shall dwell / But if our lives are spared again to see the Saint their rest obtain / Oh how we’ll make this chorus swell / All is well / All is well

[Allan will place the pillow on the gurney. Cast, except for B, move D and the gurney offstage.]

Allan: For Mormons, death is only the beginning.

[B lies on floor. Music plays, Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel.” With the music B begins a dance of resurrection. Cast joins one by one into male/female pairs. After a full sequence, rearrange to male/female, male/male, and female/female pairs.]

Allan: This is my favorite song. It’s by the composer Arvo Part. This piece is called “Spiegel im Spiegel.” Which from what I understand translates to “Mirror in Mirror.” It refers to the effect of placing two mirrors across from each other so that whatever is placed between the mirrors is caught in a neverending reflection, reaching into eternities in either direction. Musically, that’s how the song is written: the piano begins, then a string instrument—cello or violin—mirrors the piano. But like a mirror the reflection is more a refraction. It is similar to but slightly off. The piano responds to what the violin plays, refracting that. And so on and so forth. Each instrument forever dancing with the other.

It is soothing. It is peaceful. It is contemplative. But I fully recognize that part of the reason I love it is because of my faith tradition. Every sealing room in the temples is decorated with two mirrors. When a couple goes to get married, they kneel at an altar, but when they stand and look into the eyes of the person they love, each one sees not only the face and the eyes of their spouse immediately before them but also peripherally in the mirror images that repeat for eternity. It is a deliberate attempt to make manifest the belief that death is not the end of this family unit. It has a history that long predates this mortal coil and will endure long after we have shuffled it off.

In Mormon theology, resurrection is an ordinance, just like baptism. And while the power and authority to raise the dead comes from God through Christ, in execution, resurrection is far more personal and hands on. Family members resurrect each other. Fathers resurrects their children; husbands resurrect their wives. There is undoubtedly patriarchal overtones which Mormon feminists have detailed. I know it’s complicated; I know it’s messy; I know it’s problematic. But damn me if I can’t help but find elements of the principles and images beautiful, moving, inspiring..

[C and D move into the font]

Allan: Where the distance of eternity is collapsed. And that through the touch, the care, the service of a loved one, we might all put on a new and everlasting body of skin and bone.

[Projection reads baptismal prayer]

C: Sister Parisa Bayenat, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of Betty Lou Bryson, who is dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[C baptizes D. Lights fade. All exit, except E.]

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Weirder Side of Evangelizing: A Journey Through a Jack Chick Comic Book

Late last week, while making my commute to class, I stopped at a gas station and found a Jack Chick comic stuck in a crack in the gas pump. If you haven't heard of Chick before, you very well may have seen his work, as he and his company create comic book tracts for Evangelical Christians that are:

a.) commonly handed out or left in public areas by, I'm sure, well-meaning people; and
b.) crazier than a sloth with syphilis.

Some of my personal favorites in his oeuvre include a scathing denunciation of that great abomination of the 20th century, Dungeons and Dragons; the classic "This Was Your Life," in which all of a man's sins are shown on a theater screen in heaven, including that time he checked his watch during church; and the ominously titled "The Visitors," in which a brave Christian girl tells her maiden aunt/strict librarian/Sarah Palin? that Mormonism is...well, take a look for yourself:
I am so looking forward to's upcoming Gospel Topics essay on Baal worship.
Seeing this comic book gave me two immediate thoughts. One, leaving a tracting pamphlet in a gas pump is only one passive-aggressive step removed from leaving an anonymous note on your neighbor's windshield saying, "Hey friend, heard you weren't baptized! That's cool, nothing wrong with that, but you're totally going to hell. I love what you did with your yard!" Two, that I must take this pamphlet, read it, and share it with all of you, for the good of all the Internet.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: A New Skin (Part 1)

This is a continuation of the performance piece I have written. I invite you to read Scene 1: In the Beginning... and Scene 2: The Fall if you have not yet done so.

III. A New Skin

[With lights out, projection reads: “III. A New Skin”. Lights rise on female figure]

D: I don’t care what anyone says: Clothes make the man. Naked people often have little to no influence in society.

[Projection reads: “I don’t care what anyone says: Clothes make the man. Naked people often have little to no influence in society.”  – Mark Twain, 1905]

D: Mark Twain, 1905

[Light fades on D. D exits and Allan re-enters. Lights up on Allan]

Thursday, November 13, 2014

10 Historical Issues The Church Still Isn't Discussing Openly (with gifs for some reason)

With the recent release and subsequent media coverage of essays on addressing controversial issues in Mormon history like polygamy and the black priesthood ban, I thought it useful to remind everyone that while the church's steps toward greater candor and transparency are laudable, there are a number of troubling issues it is still reluctant to confront. In the interest of promoting dialogue and encouraging further progress, I've compiled ten of the most egregious examples along with reaction gifs to boost my pageviews as a visual aid.

1. Joseph Smith shot a man in Kirtland just to watch him die.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Being A Geek Girl

Our smart, funny, geeky friend Kate M. posted this fantastic post on her personal blog, and we now reproduce it here with her permission.

In addition to being a student at the University of Utah, Kate M. is a bibliophile, backpacker, international volunteer, and full-time adventurer. She firmly believes in the innate goodness of human beings, the power to change the world through art, and the dementor-alleviating properties of chocolate.

I am a geek.

It’s not always apparent in my day-to-day life, but here in my apartment, it’s obvious. I’m writing this while sitting under a Return of the Jedi poster and a Lord of the Rings wall calendar, wearing an Amazing Spider-Man t-shirt and Adventure Time pajama bottoms. My nightstand holds a reading lamp, an anthology edited by George R. R. Martin, and an illustrated Neil Gaiman short story. My many bookshelves are overflowing with classics and fantasy novels and comic books. Mounted on the wall across from me is a quote by the Tenth Doctor.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: The Fall (Part 2)

This is the second part of scene 2 from the performance piece I have written. To start at the beginning, click here. To start at the top of scene 2, click here.

[F exits]

Allan: From all accounts, my grandfather was a great man: kind, giving, a devoted husband and father, a loyal friend. However, I also know that my grandfather was very much a man of his time, a man that grew up in Georgia and northern Florida in the mid-twentieth century. That is basically to say that he was pretty racist. I don’t really know the extent, but I certainly remember growing up hearing the terms “nigger-rigged” and the rhyme “Eeny-Meanie-Miney-Mo” including the hauntingly violent image of “catch[ing] a nigger by the toe.” And for the most part, there’s a simple narrative you come to learn in the South—even the arguably pseudo-South of Northern Florida—that lets you reconcile yourself to this messy racial family history: “they’re from an earlier generation, they didn’t know better.” But something about that is not enough; I still struggle with what exactly I am supposed to do with this strain of mortal imperfection that disrupts the vision of familial sainthood. To be honest, I much prefer whitewashing the memory of my grandfather’s racist convictions—it’s just more pleasant to remember the nicer, more uplifting qualities of the man, of which there were plenty. I mean really, don’t most of us want in some way to redeem our ancestors or loved ones as we try to make narratives of their past? How many eulogies tend to erase flaws, errors in the past, ironically in honor of memory? And I know I am not alone in this. How do you deal with your progenitors own falls from grace? What’s your story of Garden when you are a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve? You don’t have to actually answer; that was pretty rhetorical. We’re not getting that participatory in the performance today. At least, not yet.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: The Fall (Part 1)

The following is a continuation of the script I wrote for a performance piece that explores the practice of proxy baptisms for the dead. This is the beginning of the second scene. For Scene 1, click here

II. The Fall

[With lights out, projection reads: “The Fall”. Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA” begins to play. Lights rise on female figure]

F: As my sister and I drive along the Trail of Tears, the most happiness I find is when we're in the car and I can blare the Chuck Berry tape I brought. We drive the trail where thousands died, and I listen to the music and think what are we supposed to do with the grisly past? I feel a righteous anger and bitterness about every historical fact of what the American nation did to the Cherokee. But, at the same time, I'm an entirely American creature. I'm in love with this song and the country that gave birth to it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

God's Middle Managers: Why General Conference Is Boring And Why That's (Maybe) Okay

As I write this post LDS General Conference is underway. Those of you who are Mormon or who have Mormon friends are probably seeing social media flooded with uplifting memes, quotes, and invitations to listen to a prophet's voice. There's no denying that General Conference is an important Mormon ritual, in which millions of the faithful willingly sacrifice the better part of a perfectly good weekend to watch a succession of fairly dry, predominantly male speakers teach what we take to be revelation from God's prophets.

Lots and lots of this

I count myself as one of those Mormons (although I've missed a session or two for other activities in the past), but I have to confess: while I occasionally find General Conference inspirational, uplifting, and useful, sometimes it can be a little underwhelming. I remember talking up General Conference as a missionary. “Just watch ONE SESSION!” I would tell people. “You’ll be so hooked you’ll stay for the entire time! How long is that? Only 8-10 hours!” Once or twice people actually did watch. I remember asking one person how she liked a particular session. “It was nice,” she said. “A lot like what my pastor teaches.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: In the Beginning... (Part 2)

This is the second part of the first scene of the script for a performance piece I've written called For and In Behalf Of. If you haven't read it yet, you should probably start with the first part of scene one. Enjoy

Allan: When I was a small child, I had asthma. Respiratory conditions were not new in my family; I inherited them from my father and his mother. I remember receiving breathing treatments on a consistent basis, whether or not anything was wrong with me—just a necessary prescribed procedure. Every night, my mom would take this plastic box out of my closet, the Nebulizer, plug it into the wall, turn it on, and give me this nozzle to breathe in and out of. I grew out of asthma, but when I go home for Christmas breaks, I see this old dance play out with my nephew; though his Nebulizer is much smaller and is shaped like a penguin—it lacks the flashy 1980s aesthetics of my greyish, “portable” Pulmo-Aide, a model the Internet tells me was discontinued in 1993. I can still hear the old motor in that clunky square box, humming as it transforms my medication into wet air. And an old smile presses my cheeks as I see the slight puffs of white smoke billowing out the nozzle. It was an entertaining way to breathe as a kid.

But there were nights when my treatment was not enough. There were nights when I had attacks. Nights and attacks that warranted my parents purchasing my Nebulizer in the first place. I can remember a few times when my parents rushed me into the bathroom, turning on the shower and hoping the steam might help me breathe easier. But what I remember more is my dad taking me outside into the night air. He’d hold me in his arms and walk around our little boxed-in yard that was part of our townhouse apartment when we lived in Texas.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: In the Beginning... (Part 1)

Hello friends. So I have recently written a script for a performance piece that I am currently organizing to be staged twice by the end of this year. First, in a scaled down version, at an academic theatre conference in Baltimore. And then again at the University of Maryland towards the end of December. I figured since there are some people who would see this piece if they could but will not be able to, so this is a chance for some to read it. Also, last year I posted part of a paper I wrote on race in The Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti. That paper not only helped me get accepted into a summer fellowship program but also resulted in me receiving a graduate student paper award. So feel free to leave comments. It's a script in progress so is subject to change. I would appreciate feedback as I work on it. I will divide it according to scenes, and quite honestly this runs long so scenes will be divided too. But yes, here is the first part for my new script For and In Behalf Of.

Oh and here's the dramatis personae

A: Male
B: Female
C: Male
D: Female
E: Male
F: Female

For costume design, while Allan should appear in business casual academic conference attire (preferably with a cardigan and tie), all other characters should wear all white. The type of slacks, shirts, skirts, blouses, and dresses Mormons change into at the temple. As they take on various roles, a small add-on like a scarf, tie, or shawl should be sufficient.

For set design, the stage should be bare for the exception of some form of baptismal font at either center/center stage or center and upstage. Either a back wall or large screen should be used for projections.