By Study and Also By Faith

An LDS (Mormon) blog representing a search for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Gospel and the Arts

When we think of the arts in relation to the gospel or to the church, we often think of President Spencer W. Kimball's talk, printed in the July 1977 Ensign, which speaks of his longing for great artists of all kinds to come from the ranks of the church. The talk is titled "The Gospel Vision of the Arts" and is an inspiring read.

We might also think of a quote from Elder Orson F. Whitney, spoken in 1888, which said, “We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. God’s ammunition is not exhausted. His highest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God’s name and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven, though its foundation may now be low on the earth.”

Almost a year before printing President Kimball's talk, the Ensign, in August 1976, printed a talk by Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles which also touched on this theme of the arts and the gospel. It is called "
The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord". It is a wonderfully thought-provoking piece. I'll be quoting from it, but I recommend reading the entire talk to get a better grasp of Elder Packer's point.

After some brief introductory remarks, Elder Packer explains the purpose of his talk by saying:
I want to respond to a question that I face with some frequency. It has many variations, but the theme is this: Why do we not have more inspired and inspiring music in the Church? Or why do we have so few great paintings or sculptures depicting the Restoration? Why is it when we need a new painting for a bureau of information, or perhaps for a temple, frequently nonmember painters receive the commission? The same questions have an application to poetry, to drama, to dance, to creative writing, to all the fine arts.

Now, I’m sure there are those who will say, “Why does he presume to talk about that? He is uninformed. He is just out of his province.” It may comfort them to know that I know that. My credentials to speak do not come from being a musician, for I’m not. I am not a composer, nor a conductor, and certainly I am not a vocalist. I cannot, for example, play the piano. I would be very unwilling to do so. However, should I be pressed to it, I could, without much difficulty, prove my point. I am not adequate as an artist, nor as a sculptor, a poet, or a writer.

But then I do not intend to train you in any of those fields. My credentials, if I have any (some of them should be obvious), relate to spiritual things.

I hope for sufficient inspiration to comment on how the Spirit of the Lord influences or is influenced by the art forms that I have mentioned. Since I have been interested in these matters, I have, over the years, listened very carefully when they have been discussed by the Brethren. I have studied expressions of my Brethren and of those who have led us in times past, in order to determine how those questions should be answered.

The reason we have not yet produced a greater heritage in art and literature and music and drama is not, I am very certain, because we have not had talented people. For over the years we have had not only good ones but great ones. Some have reached great heights in their chosen fields. But few have captured the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the restoration of it in music, in art, in literature. They have not, therefore, even though they were gifted, made a lasting contribution to the onrolling of the Church and kingdom of God in the dispensation of the fulness of times. They have therefore missed doing what they might have done, and they have missed being what they might have become. I am reminded of the statement:

“There are many who struggle and climb and finally reach the top of the ladder, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall.”

If you are willing to listen, I would like to express some concerns I have had over these matters and describe to you some disappointments I have heard expressed among the leaders of the Church.
That's a bit long as quotes go, but it explains why he picked the subject and why he is talking about it. So what are his concerns?

Since that statement [Elder Whitney's statement that I quoted above] was made in 1888, those foundations have been raised up very slowly. The greatest poems are not yet written, nor the paintings finished. The greatest hymns and anthems of the Restoration are yet to be composed. The sublimest renditions of them are yet to be conducted. We move forward much slower than need be, and I would like to underline some things that stand in our way.

You will quickly notice that I refer frequently to music. There is a reason for that. We use it more often. But the point that I shall make about the musician applies to all the arts: painting, poetry, drama, dance, and others.

For some reason it takes a constant vigilance on the part of priesthood leaders—both general and local—to ensure that music presented in our worship and devotional services is music that is appropriate for worship and devotional services. I have heard presidents of the Church declare after a general conference, or after a temple dedication, words to this effect (and I am quoting verbatim from one such experience):

“I suppose we did not give enough attention to the music. It seems that our musicians must take such liberties. Something spiritual was lost from our meetings because the music was not what it should have been. Next time we must remember to give them more careful instructions.”

Why is it that the President of the Church, or the president of the stake, or the bishop of the ward must be so attentive in arranging music for worship services and conference meetings? Why should the anxiety persist that if the musicians are left to do what they want to do, the result will not invite the Spirit of the Lord?

I have in the past made not altogether successful attempts to set a mood of devotion on a very sacred subject, having been invited to the pulpit immediately after a choir or choral number which was well performed but did nothing to inspire the spirit of devotion; or after a brass ensemble has rendered music that has nothing to do with spiritual inspiration.

The selections, which for other purposes might have been admirable, even impressive, failed in their inspiration simply because they were not appropriate. For some other gathering, some other time, some other place, yes—but they did not do what the hymns of the Restoration could have done. How sad when a gifted person has no real sense of propriety!
A lack of appropriateness is one concern that Elder Packer has. He gives some examples to illustrate his point. Another concern is this:

Very frequently when our musicians, particularly the more highly trained among them, are left to do what they want to do, they perform in such a way as to call attention to themselves and their ability. They do this rather than give prayerful attention to what will inspire. I do not mean “inspire” as the music or art of the world can inspire. I mean inspire!

They are not content to use the hymns and anthems of the Restoration, for such a presentation, they feel, will not demonstrate their full capacities. When pressed to do so, they may grudgingly put a hymn on the program. But it is obvious that their heart isn’t in it, for the numbers they select themselves seem to say, “Now let us show you what we really can do.”

Elder Packer's concern is not without merit. When any of us has worked hard to develop a talent and to prepare a presentation, it's a normal human temptation to want to really show our abilities. Sometimes, too, as in the case of music, we might feel that we ought to take the opportunity to do something different, something other than the same old hymns. Elder Packer has this to say:
I know there are those who think that our Church music is limited. Some with professional abilities evidently soon get very tired of it. They want to stray from it and reach out into the world. They present the argument that many of the hymns in our hymnbook were not written for the Church or by members of the Church. I know that already. And some of them are not really as compelling as they might be. Their messages are not as specific as we could have if we produced our own. But by association they have taken on a meaning that reminds members of the Church, whenever they hear them, of the restoration of the gospel, of the Lord, and of His ministry.

Sometimes, to ensure that music will be appropriate, one of the hymns or anthems of the Restoration is specifically requested. “Oh, but they sang that last conference,” our conductors will say. Indeed we did, and we preached the same gospel last conference also. The preaching of it over and over again gives it a familiar and a warm feeling. We build it into our lives.

As speakers we are not trying to impress the world with how talented we are as preachers. We are simply trying to get across, by repetition, if that’s the only way, the sacred message that has been entrusted to us.

Those of us who lead the Church are not constantly seeking new doctrine to introduce. We simply teach over and over again that which was in the beginning. It is with great difficulty that we try to pass on to the next generation, in some form of purity, that which was given to us. We will lose it if we are not wise.
He clarifies his position by adding:
The musician may say, “Do you really want us to take those few familiar hymns and present them over and over again with no introduction of anything new?” No, that is not what I would want, but it is close.

What I would desire would be to have the hymns of the Restoration characteristic of our worship services, with others added if they are appropriate. There are a great many things from elsewhere that are very appropriate. Many numbers can be used in our worship services with complete propriety.

Our hymns speak the truth as far as they go. They could speak more of it if we had more of them, specifically teaching the principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

If I had my way there would be many new hymns with lyrics near scriptural in their power, bonded to music that would inspire people to worship. Think how much we could be helped by another inspired anthem or hymn of the Restoration. Think how we could be helped by an inspired painting on a scriptural theme or depicting our heritage. How much we could be aided by a graceful and modest dance, by a persuasive narrative, or poem, or drama. We could have the Spirit of the Lord more frequently and in almost unlimited intensity if we would.
He isn't against using something new and different, but it must be appropriate and on topic. Elder Packer also has these words of advice:

It is a mistake to assume that one can follow the ways of the world and then somehow, in a moment of intruded inspiration, compose a great anthem of the Restoration, or in a moment of singular inspiration paint the great painting. When it is done; it will be done by one who has yearned and tried and longed fervently to do it, not by one who has condescended to do it. It will take quite as much preparation and work as any masterpiece, and a different kind of inspiration.

There is a test you might apply if you are among the gifted. Ask yourself this question: When I am free to do what I really want to do, what will it be?

If you find that you are ashamed of our humble heritage in the arts, that ought to be something of a signal to you. Often artists are not free to create what they most desire because the market demands other things of them. But what about when you are free? Do you have a desire to produce what the Church needs? Or do you desire to convince the Church that it needs to change style so the world will feel comfortable with it? Although our artistic heritage as yet is relatively small, we are losing some of what we have—through neglect!
And then there is this:

It is sad but true that, almost as a rule, our most gifted members are drawn to the world. They who are most capable to preserve our cultural heritage and to extend it, because of the enticements of the world, seek rather to replace it. That is so easy to do because for the most part they do not have that intent. They think that what they do is to improve it. Unfortunately many of them will live to learn that indeed, “Many men struggle to climb to reach the top of the ladder, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall.”

I mentioned earlier that the greatest hymns and anthems have not been composed, nor have the greatest illustrations been set down, nor the poems written, nor the paintings finished. When they are produced, who will produce them? Will it be the most talented and the most highly trained among us? I rather think it will not. They will be produced by those who are the most inspired among us. Inspiration can come to those whose talents are barely adequate, and their contribution will be felt for generations; and the Church and kingdom of God will move forward just a little more easily because they have been here.

Some of our most gifted people struggle to produce a work of art, hoping that it will be described by the world as masterpiece! monumental! epic! when in truth the simple, compelling theme of “I Am a Child of God” has moved and will move more souls to salvation than would such a work were they to succeed....The ideal, of course, is for one with a gift to train and develop it to the highest possibility, including a sense of spiritual propriety. No artist in the Church who desires unselfishly to extend our heritage need sacrifice his career or an avocation, nor need he neglect his gift as only a hobby. He can meet the world and “best” it, and not be the loser. In the end, what appears to be such sacrifice will have been but a test.
Lest you think that Elder Packer is too strict and too restrictive, let me quote something else he said:

What do I think [Jesus] would think? I think He would rejoice at the playing of militant martial music as men marched to defend a righteous cause. I think that He would think there are times when illustrations should be vigorous, with bold and exciting colors. I think He would chuckle with approval when at times of recreation the music is comical or melodramatic or exciting. Or at times when a carnival air is in order that decorations be bright and flashy, even garish.

I think at times of entertainment He would think it quite in order for poetry that would make one laugh or cry—perhaps both at once. I think that He would think it would be in righteous order on many occasions to perform with great dignity symphonies and operas and ballets. I think that He would think that soloists should develop an extensive repertoire, each number to be performed at a time and in a place that is appropriate.

I would think that He would think there is a place for art work of every kinds—from the scribbled cartoon to the masterpiece in the hand-carved, gold-leaf frame.

But I am sure He would be offended at immodesty and irreverence in music, in art, in poetry, in writing, in sculpture, in dance, or in drama. I know what He would think about music or art or literature or poetry that is purely secular being introduced into our worship services. And how do I know that? Because He has told His servants that. In what ways has He told them? He has told them by either withholding, or on occasions withdrawing, His Spirit when it is done.
Near the end of his talk, Elder Packer says:
Go to, then, you who are gifted; cultivate your gift. Develop it in any of the arts and in every worthy example of them. If you have the ability and the desire, seek a career or employ your talent as an avocation or cultivate it as a hobby. But in all ways bless others with it. Set a standard of excellence. Employ it in the secular sense to every worthy advantage, but never use it profanely. Never express your gift unworthily. Increase our spiritual heritage in music, in art, in literature, in dance, in drama.

When we have done it our activities will be a standard to the world. And our worship and devotion will remain as unique from the world as the Church is different from the world. Let the use of your gift be an expression of your devotion to Him who has given it to you. We who do not share in it will set a high standard of expectation: “For of him unto whom much is given much is required.” (D&C 82:3.)

I know this is a long post and that I have quoted Elder Packer extensively, but I think his take on this topic is an important one to consider. I do recommend that you follow the link and read the entire talk (there is a lot that I didn't quote) to get the full benefit of his thoughts. I think it is also important to point out that Elder Packer and President Kimball both are speaking of developing a high level of art with gospel themes, not a high level of art that would be a resounding success in the world, although a piece of art might very well be both.


Labels: , , ,

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day - Updated

Now that we are in the midst of Memorial Day weekend, may we remember what Memorial Day is truly about--remembering those in the Armed Forces who have served and now serve our wonderful country. May we remember with gratitude those who have died that we might be free. May we also remember all the wonderful things about America and why she is worth defending. America is about liberty and prosperity. She is about giving and serving and setting a fine example. May we remember how blessed we are.

Update: (per T.F. Stern's comment) Principled Discovery and

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Religious Literacy

Here is a link to a transcript from a PBS program, Religion & Ethics. It's an interview Bob Abernethy had with Professor Stephan Prothero. The interview discusses the idea that Americans are becoming illiterate as far as the Bible and religion are concerned. Young people in particular do not recognize the place of religion in history and world events, nor do they even recognize Biblical or other religious references in literature and other writings.

Professor Prothero believes that American schools should teach required courses in the Bible and in world religions. His idea is not to proselytize, but rather to just get people familiar with the contents of religious books and beliefs. The interview also contains comments from others, some of whom disagree with Professor Prothero. It's an interesting interview and one that provokes thought.

What do you think? Are people (Americans, young people, any people) becoming less and less knowledgeable about religion and scripture and the influence those things have on culture around the world? Why do you think that is the case? Would required classes in any part of K-12 be a solution or would that create more or other problems? Is this something that should stay at home and in churches? What about those who don't go to any church and whose parents don't teach any religious material at home (and perhaps aren't familiar with it themselves)? Is this any different that teaching other subjects? I'd really like to hear some viewpoints and ideas about this--it's interesting.

At the end of the program, Bob Abernethy says this:
And a footnote to our story: One frequent question about requiring a course in religion is what course now required should be dropped to make way for it? The runaway favorite choice, we found, is math.

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fun with Cooking--Updated

For a change of pace, how about a post on food and cooking? I love to cook--I just am not all that crazy about the clean-up afterwards. That's part of it, though, so I muddle through.

Mostly what I am going to do is direct you to some websites that will give you all kinds of free resources to help you practice your culinary skills and learn a little history and science while you're at it.

First up, one of the most interesting websites I've ever seen is The Food Timeline. It starts at the beginning, far B.C., and lists foods, books, and recipes. You can click on any of the items and it will take you to a web page with details on that food--the history, the industry, or etc. It's fascinating and will keep you occupied forever!

Next up is Spice Advice, a site that has all kinds of resources for spicing up your meals. There is an
encyclopedia, recipes, and history links. There's also a spice usage page. This is a great site for experimenting with different flavors to add to your dining experiences.

There are many sites posting recipes and you may be familiar with at least some of them, but here is an assortment for those times when you want something different to fix, or you are looking for an old favorite that you can't find your recipe for:
Veggie Recipes, Recipe Hound, RecipeZaar, RecipeLand, RecipeSource Mix Recipes, RecipeSource's main page, and AllRecipes. At these types of sites, you can do searches, have your own recipe box, look for ethnic recipes or diet recipes--all kinds of things. There are many more sites, too, but these will get you started.

If you are a vegetarian or just interested in finding new ways to prepare fruits and vegetables, here are some sites to give you a hand:
Vegetarian Resource Group, Vegetarian Times, Vegetarians in Paradise (they've got a great chart page for cooking beans, legumes, and grains here), International Vegetarian Union recipes, and Think Vegetables. Also, there's the Veggie Recipes site I linked above, but I don't know that it is a vegetarian site, in case that's of concern to you.

Let's see--what else do I have? Oh, yes. Medieval cooking. Try A Boke of Gode Cookery. There's lots of history and interesting information there, plus updated recipes for preparing in today's kitchens.

How about
World Recipes for finding things to try from all over the world? Or you can try your hand at cheesemaking here. Oh, and here's a Gift & Mix Recipe Index. Here is Christy's Once a Month Cooking page and a powdered milk recipe page where you can try your hand at yogurt making. Robbie's Recipes has copycat recipes, mix recipes, making fancy napkin folds and lots more. Many food companies have websites with recipes or you can Google for something specific.

Your whole family can get involved in learning about food and nutrition and trying new recipes. I've seen recipes for kids to make at some of the megasites, too.

There! I've done my part to keep you all out of mischief and well-fed to boot!

Edited to add: Cook's Thesaurus (an encyclopedia of both food and equipment), Cheese Guide, Fine Cooking, The Worldwide Gourmet, Epicurious,, cooksrecipes, cookingvillage, Soyfoods, and Hillbilly Housewife.

Labels: ,

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Reverence for the Sacred

In a 7 November 2004 CES fireside, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Presidency of the Seventy, gave a talk called "A Sense of the Sacred". I have linked to it so you can read it in its entirety, but I will highlight a few of Elder Christofferson's comments.

We are becoming more and more casual in our modern life. People seldom dress up much, if any, for anything anymore. Jeans and t-shirts, sneakers or flip-flops, are the order of the day. Speech has also become very casual and full of catch phrases from movies or pop songs. Conversation is often about sports or celebrities or other casual events.

I grew up in a much different world, where people dressed up for church and for special events of various kinds, such as weddings and graduations. Now it is not uncommon to see people in t-shirts for such events. People like to be comfortable, I know. I do, too. But there is a time and a place for everything, and I believe that we should show our respect for important and/or sacred occasions. I believe we should speak quietly and intelligently on such occasions and also act accordingly. Our behavior shows what we think of these special occasions.

Elder Christofferson said, early in his talk, that:

The importance of having a sense of the sacred is simply this—if one does not appreciate holy things, he will lose them. Absent a feeling of reverence, he will grow increasingly casual in attitude and lax in conduct. He will drift from the moorings that his covenants with God could provide. His feeling of accountability to God will diminish and then be forgotten. Thereafter, he will care only about his own comfort and satisfying his uncontrolled appetites. Finally, he will come to despise sacred things, even God, and then he will despise himself.

On the other hand, with a sense of the sacred, one grows in understanding and truth. The Holy Spirit becomes his frequent and then constant companion. More and more he will stand in holy places and be entrusted with holy things. Just the opposite of cynicism and despair, his end is eternal life.

Paradoxically, much of what I want to convey cannot really be passed from one person to another. It must grow from within. But if I can help you think about some things in a contemplative way, then the Spirit may work in you so that you will not need me or anyone else to tell you what is sacred or how to respond—you will feel it for yourself. It will be part of your nature; indeed, much of it already is.
That is a good summary of the importance of holding sacred things sacred. He touches on many of the topics I touched on in my opening paragraphs above, but his emphasis is on that which is sacred. Regarding prophets and scripture, he says:

Consider first the matter of prophets and scripture. One thing we see around us, and sometimes even in ourselves, is a tendency to treat lightly the messengers of God and their messages. This is not new. Since Adam’s time many have ignored and even attacked those the Lord has sent in His name....It was the ultimate sacrilege that Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, was rejected and even put to death. And it continues. In many parts of the world today we see a growing rejection of the Son of God. His divinity is questioned. His gospel is deemed irrelevant. In day-to-day life, His teachings are ignored. Those who legitimately speak in His name find little respect in secular society.
Elder Christofferson has a suggestion:

You might ask yourself, “Do I see the calling of the prophets and apostles as sacred? Do I treat their counsel seriously, or is it a light thing with me?” President Gordon B. Hinckley, for instance, has counseled us to pursue education and vocational training; to avoid pornography as a plague; to respect women; to eliminate consumer debt; to be grateful, smart, clean, true, humble, and prayerful; and to do our best, our very best.

Do your actions show that you want to know and do what he teaches? Do you actively study his words and the statements of the Brethren? Is this something you hunger and thirst for? If so, you have a sense of the sacredness of the calling of prophets as the witnesses and messengers of the Son of God.
Regarding scripture, he has this though-provoking comment:

We hold in our hands a considerable volume of scripture. The records stretch back to the early patriarchs and forward to our own lifetimes. I suppose this is more scripture than has ever been had by a people in history, and certainly it is more widely available than ever scripture was in the past. I am sure that if you or I held in our hands the original scrolls that Moses wrote upon or the very metal plates that Mormon had inscribed, we would feel a deep sense of reverence and awe and would treat those objects with great care. And so we should, because they are sacred objects, made so in part by the labor and sacrifice of the holy prophets who so painstakingly prepared them.

But the greatest value of such scrolls or plates is not in the objects themselves but in the words they contain. They are sacred because they are the words of God, and while we may not hold the original documents, we do hold the words. Therefore, what we have is holy—holy writ.

Having been granted possession of the recorded words of God, we should ask ourselves if we are respecting the sacred nature of this record. Some have violated the sacredness of the scriptures by ridiculing or denying their validity. That, of course, is a very serious matter.

But for most of us, who readily acknowledge the truthfulness of the standard works, if we are ever guilty of disrespecting the sacred nature of scriptures, it is by neglect. The risk we must guard against day to day is the tendency to treat lightly, or even ignore, the sacred word.
I think we all take our prophets and our scriptures for granted at times. It would be good if we would stop and think about the great value these things have for us and the remarkable gifts from God that they are.

In his talk, Elder Christofferson covers other areas where our respect and reverence and appreciation can and should be improved. I hope that you will read it and give it some thought. It's not just for the young people, although it can help them also.

We are all about independent thought and action--surely we won't mind showing respect and reverence, even if those around us do not.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Random Thoughts from a Random Mind

I took last week off from posting to my blogs because I had been felled by respiratory flu/bronchitis/the plague or whatever it was I had. I am feeling much better now. I think I'm going to live!

I have added to my gospel library by ordering the Institute/Seminary manuals on CD from Church Distribution. I also got the scripture mastery cards and the bookmarks. Having joined the church at age 21, I missed out on a lot of the opportunities for study that others have enjoyed, so I am excited about having these resources.

We are getting more rain in Oklahoma and everything looks wonderfully green. Flowers are blooming and birds are singing. It lifts one's spirits immensely when spring arrives. It's been a bit warm and humid, though, and yesterday the air conditioner at the office wasn't doing it's job. We also had to evacuate for awhile because a sensor in the basement went off. Turned out to be nothing, but the fire department did come out and check on things.

I am studying for a test related to my work so that contributes to keeping me out of mischief. I find it interesting to study insurance, but I imagine that sounds boring to many. I've worked for insurance companies for 23 1/2 years, and I find that the more I know, the more interesting it becomes. I enjoy my job as a commercial lines underwriter and I love talking to my agents. I'm afraid they don't enjoy talking to me, though, when I have to say no to some policy they want me to write.

I still get all wound up over politics (see my blog, Scholar). I worry about people and how they are affected by the laws and policies that are put into place. Where do we draw the line between generous giving and "tough love"? What is best for people and do they understand that sometimes the best way is the hardest?

Writing continues to be a major passion, but I don't put enough time into it (see my blog, Writing Blog). Maybe someday I will learn how to manage my time better! And maybe I will learn to not be overwhelmed into inaction. I do love to write and am grateful for the outlet that my blogs give me.

The gospel is a central part of my life, of course. I try to understand that not everyone views the gospel the way that I do. The last thing I want to be is difficult. Still, I do take a view that the way is "strait and narrow." Let's face it--I am an old-fashioned conservative in most areas of my life. I wish everyone would try to be as accepting of that as I try to be of other viewpoints. Perhaps if I try harder....

Has anyone read any good books lately? Tell me about them!