This is worth a look.
This is worth a look.
The Obama Department of Justice has finally gone and done it: DoJ, it seems, secretly obtained two months of telephone records from reporters at the Associated Press. This could really rile mainstream journalists. For once, it hits them close to home.
In the meantime, there’s the increasingly ugly Benghazi scandal. There is simply too much good coverage and breaking news to mention, but this is worth a read.
And the Internal Revenue Service was targeting conservative groups — rather a textbook instance of the kind of government tyranny that Mr. Obama was dismissing as a mere paranoid fantasy only a week ago. Here’s a podcast that summarizes some of the issues. (“The IRS scandal has legs,” says this particular experienced observer, who also mentions “wiretaps” at the Associated Press.) But was this merely an overzealous renegade bureaucrat, acting on his or her own, at a regional office? Apparently not. Almost certainly No.
The IRS demanded that Marion Gowers supply details of what her group was reading. She responded by mailing them a copy of the United States Constitution. (See here.) Well done!
Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, got off a good quip yesterday when he observed that, under Nixon, using the word patriot didn’t get you onto the White House enemies list.
If you want a non-political scandal, though, here’s a nice one. It evidently involves the wish of a university to circumvent or ignore the expressed intent of a donor, after having accepted funds from that donor.
Just a reminder of the conference on the New Testament that will be held tomorrow in the auditorium of the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, beginning at 9 AM:
If you can attend all or even just part of it, it promises to be worthwhile.
My wife and I went up to Salt Lake City last night for dinner (at the Market Street Grill, a very good seafood restaurant even if we set aside the fact that it’s in landlocked Utah) followed by Utah Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.
It was an excellent performance, exceptionally well acted — though there were, unfortunately, too many empty seats. Rossini’s opera is intended to be funny, but sometimes I’ve seen it presented with a bit too much of the solemnity that some imagine necessary to High Art. This was not one of those performances. I thought that Celena Shafer was especially good as Rosina, the young ward who is the object of both Count Almaviva’s and Doctor Bartolo’s attentions. She managed to channel a cunning, rebellious, and willful teenager perfectly, with lots of broad physical comedy. And there were also moments with Almaviva and Figaro that had the audience guffawing — not just politely chuckling as self-consciously urbane opera audiences sometimes do.
Which brings up an issue that occurs to me from time to time: Why do Americans overwhelmingly tend to think of opera as austerely classical art, designed only for high-brows, intellectuals, aristocrats, pretentious snobs, and/or social climbers? Is it because operas are usually in foreign languages? (All Utah Opera productions are accompanied by supertitle translations, by the way, as happens in most modern opera houses.) I don’t know. But The Barber of Seville is no more austere, no more intellectually demanding, no more art-for-art’s-sake, no more intimidating, than is a good Broadway musical. It’s no more aimed at merely a small elite than is Newsies, which my wife and I saw in New York City last week.
Anyway, I recommend this current production from Utah Opera.
I’m not sure, though, that I can recommend the other play that my wife and I recently saw in New York City. We attended a performance of Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, a one-woman show starring Fiona Shaw in the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th Street.
We went knowing that it would be difficult, that it would assault some of our most sacred core beliefs. And it was and it did. It’s certainly not for every taste, and “austere” fits it perfectly. As a review in the New York Times put it, the play has a vulture, but no angels. Literally. It does have a vulture.
For a considerable period before the play actually begins, Mary sits within an apparently plexiglass box, iconically clothed in pink and blue and holding a lily, with votive candles at her feet. The play, though, literally takes her outside that devotional box. The lily and the votive candles vanish within the first minute, and, for a brief but rather shocking time toward the end, she’s actually entirely naked on stage. The playwright’s intention, obviously, is to present Mary in a manner that’s very foreign to the dogma and piety of the Catholic Church. (Both he and Ms. Shaw were raised as Irish Catholics.)
And indeed he does. Mary is depicted, apparently in her old age, living in exile in Ephesus, as angry, lonely, cynical, exasperated, and a thorough unbeliever. She smokes and drinks on stage. She denounces the apostles and the first Christian disciples generally as “misfits,” fools, and “malcontents.” She seems, frankly, more than a little deranged.
She changes the story of Christ as it’s told in the New Testament gospels in many ways, large and small — perhaps to make the point that the whole thing is arbitrary, whimsical fiction from start to finish. The raising of Lazarus and the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, for instance, are both placed before the miracle of turning water into wine in Cana, which the gospel of John expressly says was the first of Jesus’s miracles. Characters are confused and invented. Mary has a fictional cousin, for example, with the Latin name of Marcus, who is apparently a Roman military officer and who shows up as a malignant presence at the crucifixion — from which Mary herself and all of the other Christians flee in cowardly terror. (There are no touching scenes at the foot of the cross.) Other characters called “Mary” and “Miriam” — the same name in Hebrew and Aramaic (and, for that matter, in Arabic) — play distinct but fictional roles. Mary and Martha and Lazarus live in Cana, up near Nazareth in the Galilee, rather than, as the New Testament says, just over the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem in Bethany. Lazarus is raised from the dead — a curious acknowledgement of a New Testament miracle –but he’s raised to a life of incapacity, pain, inability to speak, embarrassing mental confusion, and despair.
Mary derides the story of the Virgin Birth, and, most important of all, she mocks the tale of the resurrection as a farce based upon irresponsible exaggeration by the disciples of a terrifying dream that she and Miriam had experienced. (She admits that it’s odd for two people to have the same dream at the same time. Another curious nod in the direction of something not quite ordinary.) Nobody was actually there in Jerusalem to have witnessed any “empty tomb”; the apostles were too cowardly to stick around in the city.
The Testament of Mary is a horrifying depiction of maternal grief. Perhaps it’s good for us to be reminded of how much her Son’s crucifixion must have hurt her. (“Yea,” said the aged Simeon to the young mother of Jesus, according to Luke 2, “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.”) Those who objected to Mel Gibson’s powerful film The Passion of the Christ because of its violence seemed to me to be demanding what cannot be and never was — a clean and gentle crucifixion. We cannot even begin to grasp it if we demand that it be G-rated.
But believing Christians cannot accept Mary’s last cry, the final words of the play: ”Was it worth it? No!”
Those who accept the message of Christianity believe that God judged us, and it, “worth it.” ”For God so loved the world,” explains John 3:16, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And, in Romans 5:6-8, the apostle Paul expands upon this theme: ”For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
For that, we are, or should be, grateful beyond words.
In any event, if you think that Broadway means light theatrical comfort food while opera is challenging, deep, and austere, I offer The Testament of Mary and The Barber of Seville as unmistakable counterexamples.
All too frequently, I wonder whether I’ve somehow taken up residence in the Twilight Zone, or in one of Salvador Dalí’s paintings.
Today, for example, I came under attack elsewhere for my supposed criticism of Elizabeth Smart on Friday. I was, it seems, very harsh toward an innocent victim, and, in my post, as I typically do, I behaved like a “jerk.” (I’m not reproducing the more unsavory descriptors that were actually applied to me.) It’s my cruel, vicious writing, I was told, as exemplified in that blog post, that has led discerning people around the world to hate me.
(I had thought that I was — gently, obliquely, and without even naming them — criticizing people who, seemingly for their own agendas, had distorted what Ms. Smart, now actually Ms. Gilmour, had said. That seems to me a form of abuse. But no, I was attacking the victim. And, then, by replying that I had been grotesquely misrepresented, I was compounding my crime by illegitimately trying to claim her genuine status as a victim for myself.)
Moreover, also today, elsewhere on this blog, I’ve come under criticism for my silly supposition that Cuba is an oppressive, totalitarian regime whereas the United States isn’t.
I have a Cuban daughter-in-law, born in Havana, and I was deeply involved in the Elizabeth Smart case (for both Brian David Mitchell’s competency hearing and his kidnapping trial) and I think very highly of my daughter-in-law, her extended family, Elizabeth Smart, and her family. But no matter, I’m a bad guy, and, even when I don’t actually say bad things, they can still be recognized between the lines in the penumbra of the implication of things that I haven’t really said. And no denial on my part can erase those invisible, inaudible thought crimes.
I was struck, in priesthood meeting this afternoon, by at least two passages from the current Lorenzo Snow manual that seem worth repeating on a Mother’s Day:
[The Lord] has shown us that if we are faithful we will associate with each other in an immortal and glorious state; that those connections formed here, that are of the most enduring character, shall exist in eternity.
The associations that are formed here, will be possessed by [us] in the eternal worlds. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers—yes, mothers who see their lovely ones expiring by their side, know that they will be theirs in the spirit world, and that they will have them as they lay them down. The wife when she sees her husband dying, when his life is ebbing away from him, she knows she will have him again, and she sees comfort, consolation and joy, that is given by the revelations of the Almighty, in that she will possess her husband in the eternal worlds. The same forms of relationship here will still exist beyond the veil; the ties here formed will grow stronger in the other life which is to come. And the Latter-day Saints feel an assurance, because God has given it unto them.
See that the little, trifling misunderstandings in domestic concerns do not poison your happiness.
Wives, be faithful to your husbands. I know you have to put up with many unpleasant things, and your husbands have to put up with some things as well. Doubtless you are sometimes tried by your husbands, on account perhaps of the ignorance of your husbands, or perchance at times because of your own ignorance. …
… I do not say but that your husbands are bad—just as bad as you are, and probably some of them are worse; but, never mind: try to endure the unpleasantnesses which arise at times, and when you meet each other in the next life you will feel glad that you put up with those things.
To the husbands, I say: Many of you do not value your wives as you should. … Be kind to them. When they go out to meeting, you carry the baby at least half the time. When it needs rocking, and you have not much to do, rock it. Be kind when sometimes you have to make a little sacrifice to do so; feel kind anyway, no matter what the sacrifice.
I don’t sentimentalize motherhood, and I don’t like it when others do. Virtually any biological female, human or non-human, can be a mother. There’s no particular moral achievement involved, as such, in becoming a mother, and, sometimes, there’s a distinct moral indifference to it.
The important thing about motherhood transcends the merely biological functions of conception, gestation, and birth. And it’s a very important thing.
Fortunately, a remarkable proportion of mothers do indeed become what Mother’s Day celebrates — loving, nurturing, self-sacrificing, patient, and virtually impossible to permanently disillusion (however much we, their children, seem to try). They become, in a remarkable degree, what Christianity (and, to a greater or lesser extent, all other religions) want believers to be, generally. They become, to that same degree, what Latter-day Saints believe God himself to be in these respects.
A popular hadith or tradition ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad declares that
” الجنة تحت اقدام الامهات ”
“Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.”
I saw a little e-card the other day bearing this caption: ”Dearest Child, I’ve worried for you since before you were born. I’ll continue to worry ’til my last breath. Deal with it. Love, Mom.”
For better or worse, this really does capture the attitude of the vast majority of mothers. And I think it’s very much to the good. And so does every independent child, no matter of what age, who finds himself or herself suddenly alone, fearful, or seriously hurt. It’s good to have a mother who still cares. Who will always care.
Men — fathers — also care, of course. (Not all, obviously. There are far more delinquent and absentee fathers than there are neglectful mothers. Most fathers, though, care very much about their children.) But there tends to be something very different, far less judgmental and far more constant, about a mother’s love. I’m trying not to stereotype, but that has been very much my experience and my observation over the course of my now rather long life. Men are connected to their children, when they are, in a different way.
My mother died just slightly more than eight years ago. I acutely remember how, in the immediate aftermath of her passing, the old Negro spiritual “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” kept recurring to my mind. Over and over and over again. It might seem ridiculous for me, at my age, having lived hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away from my mother for many decades, to feel that way. But I don’t think so. And, anyway, I did.
Though my mother was old and in very poor health when she died, the loss of her was still deeply painful. She had been a wonderful mother to me and my (half-)brother, whom she raised for many years alone, as a struggling widow; I had long thought that, on our birthdays, we should be celebrating her rather than permitting ourselves to be celebrated. Here is the tribute that I delivered — through abundant, very embarrassing, horrifically unmanly, and strictly un-Scandinavian tears — at my mother’s graveside service in 2005. I intend to post it at least once a year:
It’s nothing, really. But there’s not much I can do for her, or to honor her, at this point, and so I’m determined to do what little I can. Her grave marker bears the inscription “Family first.” That wasn’t, but could and should have been, her motto.
My mother-in-law passed away just slightly more than a month ago, on 6 April. She, too, was delivered from a lengthy illness — in her case, the horrifying slow death of Alzheimer’s. In her case too, though, the loss was still painful, even as it was mitigated by our belief that her death was her liberation. (Here’s the blog entry in which I noted her death; here is the newspaper column that I dedicated to her the following week.) My wife has struggled bravely over the past few weeks; she and her mother were very close. I wish I could absorb some of the grief and pain on her behalf. Today, I know, will be particularly hard for her.
Which brings me, as a matter of fact, to my wife:
Men often joke that they’ve “married up.” I think it’s often true; in my case, it most definitely is. My wife’s capacity for selfless service continually stuns me. (If anything, I’m more than usually deficient in that category.) She is immediately aware of the needs of others; I scarcely notice them. She cares deeply, passionately, for our children, for her parents, for brothers and sister, for neighbors, for anybody in her surroundings who needs help. When there’s service to be given, she’s often the first one on the scene. When there’s clean-up to be done, she’ll be the last one to leave. If it requires losing sleep, skipping a meal, or forgoing something she had been eagerly anticipating, so be it.
I love her, and I admire her beyond words. I’m pretty recalcitrant material, and I haven’t made much progress, but, to the depressingly limited extent that I’ve become a caring, less self-absorbed person over the past years, I owe that to her and to our children. (To my amazement, I even sometimes cry at sad scenes in movies now. What on earth is happening to me?)
We came back from Israel and New York late on Tuesday night. Thursday morning, she was off again, representing us at a family wedding out of state. When she’s gone, I don’t shave; I sleep odd hours; my life begins, ever more rapidly, to go off the rails. I would be lost without her. Almost a motherless child.
And she has been a devoted mother. My children may sometimes not appreciate it, as she worries even now about how they’re dressing, eating, and faring in general, but they know that they have someone behind them who is always rooting for them, to whom they can turn in difficulties and with problems, someone who will always love them and always accept them.
This is what I celebrate on Mother’s Day. I celebrate attributes to which I aspire, but that I’m blessed to have seen virtually every day as I’ve been passed from the care of one good woman to that of another. And my children are blessed to have had the grandmothers and the mother that they have had.
I’m pleased to announce the twenty-sixth (26th) “scripture roundtable” convened and posted by The Interpreter Foundation. This one, which features Michael Parker, Stephen Smoot, and Martin Tanner, focuses on Lesson 22 in the 2013 (Doctrine and Covenants and Church history) Gospel Doctrine manual, a lesson that treats the Word of Wisdom:
Various Hollywood celebrities (e.g. Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover, Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, and the like) have made pilgrimages to Cuba over the years, often paying gushing tribute to Fidel Castro while there and upon their return.
Castro’s Cuba is, and has long been, an oppressive police state. Indeed, the Castro brothers and the mysteriously-still-glamorous murderer Che Guevara were busy killing people even before they came to power in 1959. The total death toll under Castro’s rule probably exceeds 100,000 — which would be the equivalent, given the relative population sizes of Cuba and of the United States, of killing nearly three million Americans. And yet, Castro’s Cuba has, by the standards of the past century’s totalitarian dictatorships, been relatively gentle; economic backwardness and a widespread deprivation of basic human rights also need to be factored into the cost paid by Cubans for the privilege of being ruled by El Líder Máximo and his henchmen. There are, at the present time, something on the order of 65,000 political prisoners in Cuba, kept under generally terrible conditions — the equivalent of nearly two million people in the United States. (See here for an account.) Miami wouldn’t be the essentially Cuban city it is today — and I would not have the adorable daughter-in-law that I have — had it not been for the Castro regime.
Curiously, though, nobody, or virtually nobody, has been calling for Penn, Nicholson, Glover, Spielberg, and others of their fellow travelers to be banished from Hollywood, deprived of their livelihoods, or excluded from the society of decent human beings.
But are there limits to tolerance in the entertainment industry? Absolutely yes, and, in the case of the horrible Orson Scott Card, we’re getting a much clearer idea of where they’re located. Tolerance is all well and good, of course. Indeed, it’s the supreme virtue. But some things, and some people, are just plain beyond the pale. Tolerance doesn’t apply to them. They don’t deserve it.
Orson Scott Card’s views are, of course, thoroughly unfashionable in influential, elite circles. Which is precisely the time when notions like tolerance and respect for different opinions need to go out the window, since they’re intended to protect popular opinions and/or the viewpoints of powerful segments of society, not absurd, marginal, and contemptible minorities.
To illustrate a satirical quip in a blog entry that I posted yesterday, I hastily chose an image of mob violence from the web without recognizing its racial implications. (The blog entry has absolutely no connection with race.) Indeed, I had originally, mistakenly, thought that the victims were white.
1) I should have examined the photo more closely, since, in many minds, the history of lynching in the United States is inextricably and understandably tied to the murder and oppression of, specifically, African Americans. (Given my own region of origin and age, the word lynching instantly brings to my mind, not the Klan, but the typically white cattle rustlers and horse thieves of the American West.)
2) Given the fact that I belong to a church with a perceived legacy of racial discrimination and work for a university that is sponsored by that same church, I should have been more than ordinarily careful and sensitive in dealing with anything regarding race. But I was in something of a hurry and, in any case (as a reading of the relevant blog entry will plainly demonstrate), I wasn’t thinking about race at all.
3) It is never appropriate, and will never be appropriate, to use a graphic image of a racial murder to make a satirical or humorous point. I showed a lapse of judgment in this instance, and I am deeply sorry for any offense that it has caused. I took the image down rather quickly, but I ask forgiveness, nonetheless, of those who have been offended. No offense was intended, nor was any race-related point on my mind. Those who have ever made a remark that they’ve instantly or soon regretted, or who have ever told a joke that went gravely wrong, or who have ever felt that their basic moral character has been misconstrued (perhaps because of something they themselves have done or said) will, I pray, be willing to pardon my relatively brief posting of that appalling image. I hope they will show the charity that they themselves would hope for and that all of us routinely need.