Friday, September 15, 2006


Until I was in my thirties I had never had a family member or a close friend die. Unfortunately, this abnormal statistic was followed by a wave of deaths both in the family and among friends. I felt like my boss was getting suspicious that I was making up all of these funerals just to get some paid time off. The result of this is that I have probably spent more time thinking about this the last five years than I ever have before, not just my own mortality but how to fill the voids left by others that were close to me.
A columnist that I read often gave the following advice about how a man that I admire is facing his own mortality. I have posted the article in it entirety sinces he share many of my beliefs.

Facing mortality can be life affirming
by Robert Kirby

When the LDS Church dedicated its latest temple in Sacramento, Calif., last week, Mormons were pleased to see our leader acting like his spry old self after his bout of recent health problems.
However, at a youth gathering in the Arco Arena, President Hinckley seemed to predict his own death by alluding to the increasing fragility that comes with old age.
"I don't know how long I'm good for and it may be the last time I'm in Northern California, but I'm here today," he said.
Mormons were suddenly abuzz with the possibility that the prophet might get "called home" in the next few days. How much longer could a man of his age last? Did he know something was up?
I'm not sure why anyone would marvel over such a revelation. President Hinckley is nearly 100 years old. He probably wants to be dead. I would if I was that old, my wife was gone, and millions of people pestered me all day long.
He didn't say he was going to die. He simply pointed out a truth that applies to all of us. Who knows from one minute to the next when death is going to crook a dry finger at them?
Granted, we expect death to come for the elderly because no one lives forever. And the older you are, the more likely it is that your time is up. Eventually you reach an age where people stop asking you what you want for dinner.
Ironically, some of the people among the thousands who heard President Hinckley ponder his own mortality last week - and maybe dozens who later read about it - had no idea that they could beat him to the other side.
Through traffic crashes, heart attacks or strokes, death may have come for a few who were wondering how much longer an old man could last. They didn't realize that their own lives were over.
None of us do. Maybe you're one of the people reading this column who won't see the end of next week or even the end of today. Heck, I might not live long enough to finish writ. . .THUNK!
Just kidding. It's not morbid to acknowledge that life is short, often far shorter than we think it is. This simple fact ought to cause us to worry more about living better than longer, but it doesn't.
Most of us act like we have an unlimited supply of tomorrows. We don't live like we were dying even though we are. We have to consciously remind ourselves that it may be the last time we're "in Northern California" or holding our kids, our telling someone that we love them.
Live like that and maybe dying won't matter as much.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I was deeply saddened by the recent and untimely death of a role model to me. Steve Irwin inspired me to reach out to my world and have a healthy respect for but, not be afraid of wild things. The conservation world has lost a giant. My kids have been watching Crocodile Hunter reruns as often as possible since we heard the news.
About once a year at church we get a lesson on stewardship. Typically the lesson turns into a lesson about missionary work and our stewardship to others. Sometimes it becomes a lesson on talents. All too often we miss the lesson on being wise stewards of the resources of our planet. Irwin showed by his example that it is vital that we protect the fragile wildlife of this world. I think that many people, particularly Christians, take the attitude that Jesus will be here soon so we don’t need to be as good a steward as we would if it were going to be a couple thousand years before he comes back. Personally, I think we should try to “get the house clean” before he comes home.
Irwin set this example for me. I will never forget the complete enthusiasm that he had over even the smallest of God’s creatures. He is one of the few people that gave nature that reverence that she deserves. As a tribute to Steve and his example I am making a conscious effort to add the work “Crikey!” into my vocabulary.


I deliberately waited a few days before posting a 9/11 comment because it took me quite a while to compose my feelings about that terrible day.
The last five years have been very hard for me. It has been very hard for me to deal with all of the hate that seems to have been growing in the world. Terrorists hate us so we hate them back. Politicians and pundits justify this hate with child-like responses that just sound to me like "well he hit me first". I think the world is much more divided than it ever has been, not only internationally but domestically, and this worries me a lot. It’s been really hard for me to see our world play a game of “My God can beat up your God” while most everyone seems to be ignoring the actual teaching of their God. I have a vague recollection of being taught that we should turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and bless them that curse us. Perhaps we are just supposed to put all that stuff aside when it comes to real life and that’s just Sunday school rhetoric. By no means am I claiming that it is easy to do all of these things that we’ve been asked to do. I just see so few people even trying that it’s really discouraging.

The only light I see in all of this is that this background of hate gives better focus to those who are truly unselfish and set this hate aside to show true love for their fellow beings. The images of firemen writing their names and social security numbers on their chests with a sharpie because they know they are going to die trying to save others will always bring tears to my eyes. Here we have a great example of some people who get it. Developing this type of love is why we are all here. I have a long way to go but it is nice to see a few real role models out there for me to model my behavior.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mormon Cinema

A few years ago a new genre of movies emerged. Thanks to a visionary producer named Richard Dutcher and his company, Zion Films, Mormon Cinema was created. In his mission statement for Zion Films Dutcher analyzed the religious themes in “Fiddler on the Roof”. He claimed, and I agree, that this movie was better because of the Jewish theme not in spite of it. Dutcher believed that similar movies that did not shy away from Mormon doctrine and experiences could produce equally moving tales. Since Dutcher opened the way with “God’s Army” many have followed. It saddens me to say that only a few of these movies have had any appeal at all outside the LDS community and only one has even approached Dutcher’s comparison to Fiddler on the Roof. What follows here is my review of the Mormon cinema films that I have seen in the last few years.

God’s Army
A good movie about a few relatively average missionaries and a reasonable example of missionary life. I think every returned missionary can put a real name to each of the fictional characters in this movie. I liked the theme of each missionary having to figure out why he was on a mission. A great movie for LDS members but non-members would need a translator to explain what many scenes meant and why they were important, or funny.

The Single’s Ward

A good movie that dealt with the struggles of a divorced male trying to fit back in to a community that he felt has labeled him as a reject. LDS members from
Utah will particularly enjoy the countless cameos in the film. Unfortunately the cameos, and the jokes behind them, are completely missed by many members without links to Utah. I enjoyed the film as a comic look at dating in a Utah singles Ward but I fail to see how it would appeal to non-members.

The RM
This movie was essentially Singles Ward II. Rather than exploring the challenges of a divorced member it explored the awkward steps that a returned missionary takes while attempting to adjust to post mission life. Another one that I didn’t think was a waste of time but would hardly recommend it to my non-member friends.

The Best Two Years

I thought this was a good movie. I liked it better than God’s Army. It illustrated some of the struggles that foreign missionaries go through as far a separation, relationships, companions and struggles with the language. How living the gospel can change lives was a main theme. This appears to have been filmed rather than video taped. The quality of the images and the care taken in setting up the shots really set this movie apart from all the rest. In spite of this being a pretty good film, here again the strong mission theme here would still probably only draw LDS viewers.

The Book of Mormon, The movie.
I must confess that at my wife’s behest I did not add my admission fee to this movie. I didn’t go see it. Her review was that she had seen better costumes and acting back in the 80s when they still did roadshows. I was very suspect of this when I read on the film’s website during the casting process that they were looking for a Nephi that looked like the Arnold Freeburg paintings. They didn’t care if he could act and they would consider dubbing his voice if he looked a lot like the Freeburg Nephi.

Brigham City
So far this is unquestionably the best of the genre. The themes of everybody having skeletons in their closets and the conflicted Bishop who is also the sheriff dealing with separation of church and state issues. A great movie about casting aside stereotypes and learning to forgive. I would recommend this to anybody. The sad part about this movie is that the strong murder mystery main story gave it a PG-13 rating. This rating scared away much of the core LDS audience. I think this movie would have done much better if it had been shown outside of Utah. Ironically the picture that came closest to Dutcher’s own “Fiddler on the Roof” standard was panned by his most loyal audience over the rating.

Saints and Soldiers

I don’t care for war movies. However this one was very different. It will challenge your concept of how you define someone as a friend or an enemy. I’d like to see more LDS films explore these types of serious themes.

Work and the Glory

My wife read the books by Gerald Lund that this movie series is based on. From her reports they seem to be faithful to the books. The first movie is well done but it never quite escapes the ABC miniseries soap opera feel. I like the historical fiction about a fictitious family with the Joseph Smith story as a background support. Done right as they did with Ben-Hur, this strategy can be a great way to tell both the fiction story and the real history behind it. I think they’re headed in the right direction with these films and I look forward to seeing them all.

Baptist at Our Barbeque
Done right this movie could have had a great out reach to non-members. The concept of two conflicting communities trying to get along in the same town lead to a lot of issues about who is truly our neighbor. Unfortunately, they resorted to slapstick and jokes and avoided the more serious issues that could have been dealt with in a film with this title. It was entertaining but hardly high-cinema.

The Home Teachers
Another skinny guy and fat guy slapstick road trip movie. Not much distinguished this movie from Tommy Boy. The fat guy even looked like Chris Farley. Knocking a corpse out of a coffin at a funeral, a toilet falling through the ceiling, hich-hiking after they destroyed the car, etc. etc, ad nauseam. The last 10 minutes of the movie they tried to pull it out of the gutter by finally understanding why they were home teaching in the first place. I’m sorry, but it was too little too late for me to give this a thumbs up.

Mobsters and Mormons
This was a cute movie. The acting was good and there were some good morality issues covered, also a few valuable lessons about judging others. As much as I enjoyed this it was still just like an LDS version of For Richer or Poorer. Again we have a movie that makes jokes about LDS culture without even approaching any doctrine. There are jokes about coke, scrapbooking, etc but nothing too deep. The saving grace for this movie was the last few minutes when the mobsters explain how they were taken in by some folks who truly treated them like neighbors. Watch it. It’s fun.

Suits on the Loose

This is a story about two young convicts who escape from a work camp and end up hiding within the Church as missionaries. Personally I though Nuns on the Run was much funnier and had almost exactly the same theme.

Sons of Provo
A tounge in cheek look at a Mormon "boy band". The soundtrack is hilarious but that's its only saving grace. Like many others this movie seems to targeted souly to LDS members.

I have yet to see States of Grace. The reviews have been very good and I have high hopes for it. I’ll post a review once I’ve seen it.

I also haven’t seen Church Ball or Take a Chance yet. They look reasonably entertaining but I’m not holding my breath that either with approach the “Fiddler on the Roof” standard.

I think the saddest thing here is that there is no impetus for these films to get better. The core market, LDS members, buys these mediocre movies as if they were canonized. If the members keep this up the quality of the movies has no reason to improve. Just because it isn’t a “bad movie” i.e. rated R, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good movie. Only a couple of them have the doctrine as a central theme. Most are mearly about the LDS culture outside of the doctrine. As these films’ core audience we should coax them in the right direction. I would encourage members to continue viewing these movies but to be more selective and objective. If we don’t hold the genre to higher standards than we have been they will never get any better. Although most have been entertaining nothing I have seen in any of these films has grabbed me with the intensity of Tevye singing the line, “Then I suppose I love you too.” Keep trying. I’ll keep watching.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Science v. Religion

This has been a common theme for me but recent events have made me think about it again. Last night I picked up a book and started reading A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion. I didn’t even make it through the introduction before I became convinced that this is just another one of the many books written by Christian conservatives that attempt to paint scientists as immoral and godless. If that is not the case then I apologize to the author. I would recommend that she not set that tone if she expects anyone other than someone who already believes her way to read it.
I get to work early so I can read the news on a couple of my favorite sites before the rest of the crew shows up. While reading I learned that The Catholic Church has fired its head astronomer for speaking out against Intelligent Design. Claiming that it wasn’t based on science, which I agree, Father Coyne was concerned that trying to link God with this theory was demeaning to God.
In my review of How We Believe I explained how Michael Shermer believes that people are in one of three different stages in their relationships with God and science. First, they believe that the two are in conflict. Second, they believe that the two are harmonious. And third, they believe that the two exist in completely different spheres. From what I have read it appears that Coyne was in stage two or three and he was fired by a Vatican firmly entrenched at stage one. In spite of some of the steps that the Vatican has taken in the last century to make amends with science, I see this as a huge step backward.
I just do not understand why religion is so afraid of science. Contrary to books like Godless and A Jealous God I do not believe that science has the same animosity towards god. Granted there are exceptions, however for the most part I think scientists just treat religion as being irrelevant to their work. Science is based on physical laws and testability. Basically they take a logical positivist philosophy. Basically that if it isn't physically real then it isn't testable and is not the domain of science. Since they refuse to place an ultimate value judgment on it religion takes offense. I believe this offense is needless and irrational. From personal experience I can say that there came a tremendous peace both to my spirit and my intellect when I stopped trying to make the two worlds harmonize. When, if ever, will religion as a whole learn this lesson?