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All right, I don't really want to talk about politics here and I hope not to make any more posts about politics (and I'll probably f-lock this one eventually), but I'll just make this post because I thought a couple of you might find it interesting.

K/B asked me two weeks ago about the LDS Church and whether it would ever come out against Trump. I said (and still say) no. The Church did not even endorse Mitt Romney in 2012, who was one of our own.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that the LDS religion believes very, very strongly in freedom of religion and the related freedom to vote our own consciences. Our theology in fact explicitly postulates that the founders of this country were motivated by the Spirit of the Lord to develop a country in which these freedoms are possible. The second, more cynical reason, is that the LDS Church will never, ever do anything to call into question its nonprofit tax-exempt status as a religion, and making statements about any political candidate or party would put itself squarely in that bullseye.

(I believe both. If it weren't for the second reason, I absolutely believe that the Church would be tempted to speak out more. I could also imagine that if it weren't for the first reason, the Church might be tempted to do at least wink-wink-nudge-nudge kinds of statements, which I've heard from the pulpit in my sister-in-law's evangelical church and which I found horrifying.)

The Church has put out a single official statement on, not Trump, but in response to Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the United States. It did not name Trump. It basically went, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in regard to party politics and election campaigns. However, it is not neutral in relation to religious freedom," and a couple of relevant quotes from Joseph Smith. The Deseret News (of which more later) was happy to unpack what they actually meant, though.

Utah is still red, I told K/B, but usually the LDS church votes Republican as an extremely reliable bloc [not wholly, especially those in California and Massachusetts, haha, but… pretty strongly so], and in this election that bloc no longer holds.

Then that tape came out.

The Church has not said anything officially about it, I think rightly so (see above).

Last Saturday, the Deseret News wrote a very strongly-worded editorial against Trump. (It declined to go so far as to endorse Clinton.)

And now Mormons have pretty much broken against Trump.

I've seen a couple of articles about the Mormon revolt against Trump in the last several days, but I don't think I've seen anywhere talk about exactly how important the Deseret News editorial was in the confluence of the LDS Church and politics. The Deseret News is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It is not an official Church publication. It says it is not a mouthpiece for the Church. However, in the past it used to be exactly that. It still has a great deal of power and does in fact in the minds of many Mormons speak for the Church. Last week when I was at church, in fact, people (including me) were confused as to whether the Deseret News was an official Church publication or not. (This was in a completely unrelated, religion-based context, and I had not yet seen the Trump editorial because I am not the sort of LDS person who reads the Deseret News. But there are people in my ward (in California) who read it every day.)

Anyway, probably partially because of this background and the possibility of confusion, The Deseret News has not taken a stand for/against a political candidate in 80 years. But they have done so now. And it is a huge deal in LDS circles. It doesn't carry the weight of an official pronouncement, and certainly should not; but there are a lot of people in the LDS Church who will give it a lot of weight. There were already a lot of LDS who disliked Trump (that's a whole other story; Trump's brand of demagoguery is basically antithetical to Mormons -- ETA 10-14: for example see this Buzzfeed article written by a Mormon reporter) but might have pushed the lever for him out of not knowing that much about him combined with conservative solidarity; but this, I think, will have given them another path, and what's more, a path that at least appears to come with tacit approval of the leaders of the Church. (The editor of the Deseret News claims he did not run the editorial by any Church leaders, and I have no reason not to believe him. But people will assume that he did anyway, or at the very least — and I also believe this — that his beliefs are shared by church leadership.) I've already seen the editorial be passed around and convince a couple of previous Trump supporters on an LDS message board I occasionally look at.

(There's also a whole other post I could make about LDS theology and women and how Trump hit that in a way that was pretty much guaranteed backlash, but this is already enough, so never mind.)

(And I should also add that I don't think the Deseret Times affected the Mormon politician exodus from Trump which has also been happening; that seems to have happened independently (though for the same reasons that the editorial came out, see also LDS theology and women), and of course Mitt Romney has been the lone voice crying in the wilderness that is Republican politics for some time. What I'm talking about here has been more important for those people who haven't been following the political scene super closely.)

And today (er, yesterday now) a poll came out showing Trump and Clinton tied (with Evan McMullins' numbers shooting up stratospherically — he's an independent LDS candidate) in Utah. Utah. Maybe the poll is skewed, maybe it isn't quite right, maybe it's biased. But… I don't think it's that far wrong. I think, I really think, we're going to see Utah in play. It might not go for Clinton (I will laugh if McMullins wins Utah; I think he actually has a decent shot), but I think it is going to be close. This is something I never thought we'd see in my lifetime. And of course Mormons make up a small but decisive couple of percent in Arizona, which was balanced on the razor-edge before last weekend but now is turning…

ETA 10-14: Yesterday another, better poll came out which still shows Trump ahead in the state, but only by +6, which is still catastrophic for him compared to last week.
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And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married… And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them… behold, Miriam became leprous… And the Lord said… let [Miriam] be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.

Numbers 12:1-14 (excerpts)


Scriptural exegesis and doctrinal discussion. Er, through fic. )
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I was surprised by how many people wanted to know about our new bishop! I'll probably f-lock this after a week or so, for what I think should be obvious reasons. Also, I tried to give some background on LDS structure/theology/terminology, but I've also elided in a bunch of places to make this a more-or-less manageable length; please ask questions if there's anything that you'd like more information about.

First, let me give some background: an LDS ward (congregation) is headed by a bishop, aided by two counselors. The bishop is in the same role as a pastor or minister in a more conventional Christian church, in terms of being the head of pastoral care of the ward, although he does not generally give sermons. (LDS chapel services feature talks given by members of the congregation.) All these positions are lay positions; they are unpaid, and performed by these men (they're always men) in addition to whatever jobs they may have. The bishop is "called" (appointed) by the next level up in the hierarchy, the stake presidency (again, a leader with two counselors; a stake is a collection of wards). It is a rotating position, as all ward-level positions are; the same man who is a bishop today might be a nursery leader next week, or a chorister. (In practice this does not happen all that often, but it does happen.) The bishop position, in particular, lasts approximately five years, give or take a year or two.

There have been plenty of cases of bad bishops, but I've been lucky enough never to have personally experienced one. All the ones I've known have been legitimately invested in helping their people. None of my bishops have given me grief about my, let's say, complicated relationship with faith (which is something I understand has happened to other people); in fact, they've all been really understanding about it.

Our previous and current bishops. )

I now find that I want to talk about something I have kind of avoided mentioning, which is the recent LDS Handbook changes. Cut for length and discussion of a policy I find offensive. )
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I subbed in and taught the Sunbeams (3-and-4-year-olds) last Sunday (including E). This is the first Sunday School class, the one they go into right after nursery. At this age they're expected to learn to sit in chairs, listen to a lesson, answer questions posed to them by a teacher (I'm not talking calculus here, questions on the order of "Do you have brothers and sisters?") and be involved in group participation in general.

...I think my church is wildly overoptimistic. Or, okay, not wildly: four of the five kids in my class were okay with most of this. It... only takes one kid who doesn't buy into any of it to wreck the entire thing. (There's always the sigh of relief of This Time Not My Kid.) Fortunately, there was another adult in the class (she was not supposed to be there, but she got home early from vacation) to help deal, and to take the kids when others of them had to go to the bathroom, and help with supervising the washing of hands before snack. I mean, preschool teachers must deal with this all the time! The teacher who just got released dealt with them every week! (After this week, I have revised my opinion of her, by the way, from Excellent Sunbeam Teacher We Will All Sorely Miss to Possibly a Goddess in Disguise.) I myself have not acquired the essential multi-kid classroom coping skills.

Two of the kids answered the questions of "How many brothers do you have? How many sisters?" claiming way more siblings than they in fact possessed. A third kid answered almost every question with "ORCS!" sometimes adding "Azog!"

They did all (even orc-child) really enjoy, if not the actual story of Moses and Miriam, the accompanying picture (a tip I'd gotten from Previous Sunbeam Teacher), looking for the baby in the bulrushes (actual quote from my lesson: "No, it is not generally okay to put your baby brother in a basket and put the basket in the river.") and looking for Miriam hiding off to the side. The concentration-style game I tried to play with them started well but turned out as a failure when the fifth child decided he wanted to turn over alllll the cards to find his match.

If they come out of this recognizing the name "Moses" (which none of them did at the beginning), I'll count the lesson a success.
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[personal profile] seekingferret asked what we were doing/planning for E's religious education. (Warning: I expect this will be a somewhat unsatisfying answer, not least because I feel like every step brings up more questions, and I can't write forever.)

This is really (at least) a two-part question. The first part is the question: what are we doing with her religious education given my tortured relationship with faith? The second is the question: what are we doing given that I am LDS and D is Lutheran?

To partially answer the second question: E goes to two churches on Sundays. She goes to D's church with both of us at 8am for a one-hour service. Then she sometimes directly goes with me to my church (for 3 hours, often 4 when there is choir practice) and sometimes goes to Sunday School at D's church (where she is the only member of her class) and then goes to my church (where she is one of about seven children in nursery, and one of four in her year starting "Primary" (kid Sunday School) this year). (This year, my ward is starting at 1pm, and then she will go to both every week.) The vast majority of our social circle is LDS with a couple of Lutheran couples sprinkled in. All of her church agemates, as you may have been able to figure out from the above, are LDS. (There are several reasons for this. Demographics of the Lutheran church we attend are, um, heavily skewed towards older folks. Demographics of LDS always include loooots of kids. But also, I'm the one who does much of the social planning, and I'm quite frankly more comfortable with LDS folks than with Lutheran folks, simply because I grew up with them and understand them, and I understand much better how to navigate socially in the LDS world than in the Lutheran world.)

We'll keep doing this as long as we can. My expectation is that conflicts will be resolved on the LDS side, since a) I tend to be the one who is more committed to regular attendance/participation, and b) all her friends are there. But if she decides she will be committed to being a faithful Lutheran, I will honor that. (The big thing that I foresee at this point that could turn her towards Lutheranism is that she thinks her dad hung the moon. Also that theologically I have many fewer problems with Lutheranism than D has with Mormonism. And that he has fewer theological problems with Lutheranism than I do with Mormonism, for that matter.)

The first question: At this point, I tend not to talk that much explicitly about God, Jesus, and so on, except as it naturally comes up (which it does because of the 5 hrs of church/week, things church friends say, the fact that her nanny is LDS, etc.), and then of course I punted hard with the introducing her to death (though that of course was a relatively small part of her life). This is also how I was raised, for different though related reasons. We do have nightly prayer but not nightly scripture reading (which I did when she was very small, stopped for no good reason, and need to get back to).

I have made the conscious choice not to introduce any concept as "because God said we need to do it this way," because I really don't like it. (I consider as distinct the concept of "God has asked us to do this because this helps us become closer to God," which I think is perfectly fine.) I talk to her about caring about other people, and how we do acts of service because we care about other people, and how it is good to be nice to and care about other people even if we don't know them personally, and when she gets a little older we'll connect that to helping us become closer to God, but not explicitly because God says to do so.

Random recent occurrence to illustrate the heretical beliefs she's growing up with: I very much do not believe that God is angry with us when we sin, and informed both E and D of this fact in perhaps a very emphatic tone of voice when her (Lutheran) Sunday School class did David and Bathsheba (which, by the way, was hilarious, the way they tried to explain it on a kid level). (This is straight from some parenting book or other. Frustrated that the kid isn't doing what's best, sad, fearful for the kid's safety, even annoyed -- this I buy. That it may even appear to us as anger, okay. But anger is a secondary emotion arising from these, and I say that if I as an extremely imperfect parent am trying to disentangle all this, God should be past that.)

(...did I answer the intended question at all?)
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Okay, I have something to confess, which is that I enjoy talking about music drama. Because it is dramatic! (And because my life doesn't have that much of interpersonal drama otherwise, so I have to import it. Which I am perfectly fine with! I am not into interpersonal drama!)

But I am afraid that I'm leaving you guys with a terribly inaccurate portrayal of my ward, which basically had maybe three people generating all the drama, and honestly all three of those people are also really super nice as well, just with slightly different ideas. So let me tell you about all the nice things/people that happened to me this week alone, in planning this fireside:

1. The friend that I complained to about not having enough musical numbers for the fireside, who despite being super busy with family and work (he's a caterer, so this is his busy season) and family visiting, organized a quartet with another family by ONE HOUR LATER and all four of them have learned a completely new song for it

2. The woman who was at the root of much of the drama last year came to me and said that she wanted things to be good between us and that she was trying to work on not wanting to be in control of everything, and my gosh, this kind of thing never happens except in movies, you really have to be a big person to back out of a situation like that, I hope that I can be that gracious when I'm the one who needs to back out

3. The pianist with three kids, one of whom has ASD, who has cheerfully accepted everything I have piled on her (and I have piled a LOT on her)

4. The corporate chief administrative officer who has also cheerfully accepted all the piano assignments I have thrown at him, and I am pretty sure took off work for at least one rehearsal

5. The mom who is visiting our ward for only six months but nevertheless has cheerfully volunteered for everything, including running the Christmas party (a separate event in which I was not involved that happened last week, but let me assure you it was a LOT of work) and learning a random new song for the fireside, all this while having two kids under the age of 5 and being hugely pregnant with a third

6. The corporate CEO who when I asked him to perform at the fireside last week immediately was jazzed about singing a song with his kids

7. The mom who has four kids, the youngest being 1, and has a sister visiting, and who immediately accepted planning a trio and who also took dinner to the family that just had twins last night

8. The grandmother with the gorgeous voice whom I saw at rehearsal at 8:45pm one evening for one fireside number and whom I saw again the next morning at another rehearsal, for a different song, at 9am

9. The other people -- I have not talked about everyone in this post by a long shot -- who have been nothing but helpful and enthusiastic and interested and willing to pour their time and energy into making this thing happen

10. And, I mean, this is just one event I'm involved in, you know? There was also the Christmas party I referred to earlier, and the women's party, and the church service tomorrow, and all the other things that happen during the year, and all the music things, for that matter, and all the other families that need dinner taken to them or help with moving or emotional support or what have you. And there are always people willing to help, indeed, enthusiastic about helping. They humble me every time I think about them.

MY WARD, you guys. THEY ARE THE BEST.
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This Sunday I have to give a talk on Agency in the Plan of Salvation. Agency, here, means the capacity to act, to make choices. It's kind of a cornerstone of LDS theology, and even an essential part of our creation mythology (I'll explain that in a sec), that we are able to act for ourselves, that we act with responsibility and accountability, that we choose between good and evil.

So I've been having some scattered thoughts. Lois McMaster Bujold / Memory, LDS mythology, giving small children choices, the ubiquity (or not) of choices )
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3+/5. Um. Yeah. My parents brought me a bunch of books from my bookshelf at their house last year, and this was one of them. It’s my favorite of Card’s early work, for what are probably obvious reasons. (Songs! Singing! A boarding school where they teach singing!)

This book made me really sad, but not (just) because of the elegiac nature of the book itself; it reminded me that Card used to be able to write, and write really well. It’s clearly work where he’s still struggling to find his feet as a novelist — this was first a novella that got expanded to novel form, and the seams are pretty clear. For example, there’s a whole huge plot thread that is introduced for shock value (it was the twist ending of the novella) and that then dangles helplessly in the wind, never actually going anywhere or (as far as I can tell) being referred to again. But much of the writing is really excellent, and it made me sad for the writer he used to be but isn’t anymore, a writer who could do subtlety and subtext and characters who weren’t just authorial voices and characters whom you loved even when they did terrible things. Oh Card, I miss you.

Now for the elephant in the room.

This is Card’s only book where the protagonist is queer (it’s not entirely clear whether he’s gay or bisexual, probably the latter), and also the only one where we see a mutually loving and respectful same-sex relationship on-screen. Interestingly, this was one of three authors I read as a kid (the others being L’Engle’s House Like a Lotus — and [personal profile] ollipop, I haven’t forgotten I owe you a post on L’Engle, and I am working on that — and Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows trilogy) that taught me that queer sexualities were perfectly normal and homophobia is wrong, which let me tell you, was not a message I was getting from real life (hello, small city in the South, conservative Korean parents, and church!)

Because of this book in particular, I’ve always given Card a lot of leeway when it comes to people ragging on him because of his stance on gay marriage. (The other reason I give him a lot of leeway is that, well, it’s really hard to explain to people who aren’t inside it what it’s like to be inside of Mormonism. I’m not really inside it in the way that Card is, either; it’s easy for me to be in favor of gay marriage, or whatever, because of that.) Because Card clearly has a lot of empathy and sympathy for Ansset, the protagonist.

However. One thing that doesn’t disturb me about Card’s portrayal of alternate sexuality in this book, one thing that very much does, and one thing that makes me think I could be wrong about the thing that disturbs me. Warnings for severe torture and death. Also warnings for both spoilers for Songmaster and vague spoilers for other Card oeuvre. )

tl;dr : I like this book very much, and Also Music Yay, and Big Severe Issues, and Confusing Issues, and I don’t even know what to think about it.

Alleluia!

Mar. 31st, 2013 09:07 pm
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I spent 11.5 hours at the Catholic Church this week, despite not being Catholic. That's right. And yeah, I blew off both of the churches I actually belong to for Easter Sunday. I'm not in choir at the Lutheran one, and the Mormon choir did one song (this ward doesn't seem to really get into Easter, although my last one did much more), whereas Catholic choir was doing one Bach bit, a Pergolesi, a de Victoria, the Hallelujah Chorus, plus the entire Gabrielli Missa Brevis minus the Credo. So I felt like they needed me more.

Various thoughts, mostly extremely shallow )

-Singing the Hallelujah Chorus just... never gets old. It's just the most awesome thing ever, especially with timpani and brass like we had it. MOST AWESOME THING EVER.

-No, not the most awesome thing. The very VERY best part was right after we sang it, when people clapped -- well, they generally do a polite one-second clap after we sing at services -- but then they kept on clapping. And kept clapping. It's been kind of hard for the choir lately -- due to the pastor's decisions lately, we've been a bit depressed and feeling like the church doesn't really appreciate us or the music we do -- and to have this validation otherwise was sort of staggering. I think all of us might have teared up a little. I sure did.

-I should mention here that at the end of the Holy Saturday service, the pastor singled out the choir and Choir Director for kudos from the congregation and specifically mentioned patience for putting up with him during the first part of his tenure. So I'm hoping that things are looking up in that direction? If only for Choir Director's sake. He's been having a really rough couple of months of it.
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So to make up for the evening-Christmas-program DRAMA, the ward (congregation) choir has been spontaneously organizing sectionals. Spontaneously! I didn't even know about it until I sort of fell into one of the sectionals (through yet another music thing I was doing). There were ten people at the tenor sectional, y'all, which is basically everyone in the Christmas tenor section (by which I mean, Christmas gets people in choir who might not ordinarily come).

At least three other people, and counting, have told me they are coming to the much-more-hastily-organized alto sectional (I, uh, was shamed into emailing all the altos) on Saturday morning. Whcih is pretty much the entire alto section that doesn't have problems like, for example, being so physically unwell that they shouldn't be singing but do anyway, or looking after multiple sick kids.

I have neeeeever ever ever been in a choir (of more than five people) that spontaneously organized EXTRA REHEARSALS. This totally makes up for everything else. (Well, so far. Talk to me on the 24th and we will see whether I have survived that long. I can already tell my CAPS LOCK levels are getting dangerously high these days.)
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So I've been released (LDS technical term) from teaching the 4-year-old boys. I loved doing it, but my Sundays have abruptly become a lot less physically taxing. Also I seem to have a problem with disciplining kids older than my kid (younger than E? I am AWESOME), and the guy they got to replace me, who has nineteen grandchildren, is brilliant at teaching them; I think they are a lot better off now.

But now I have a new calling (another technical term), and December's gonna be more emotionally tasking. Whyyyyyy is there so much DRAMA surrounding Christmas music?? Whyyyyy am I in the middle of it all? (I know the answer to that one, if you believe in divine guidance for these callings which I'm starting to because I suspect they made exactly the right choice without being in possession of much of the data: because I am unaffiliated with any of the DRAMA FACTIONS, and quite possibly because of my previous rich familial experience in dealing with very nice and generous but also control freak strongly-opinionated organizational types) Am I going to be able to get through to Christmas without having half my church hate me?
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Um, okay. On rereading this post, I am not actually sure this will be interesting to anyone but me, but this ate my brain until I wrote it down, so I am inflicting it upon you.

Le Guin's recent work, I feel, sometimes has the feel that she's sacrificing a clear eye to Make a Point. Not so in The Dispossessed. The thing that struck me most heavily on reread is the merciless truth of her view of her "ambiguous utopia" of Anarres. It seems clear to me that we are meant to think of the anarchist (-ish) Anarres as superior and capitalist Urras as inferior; and Shevek, the protagonist, certainly thinks so. And Anarres has a number of wonderful things about it. But it is flawed too, and Le Guin does not shrink from enumerating those flaws.

I was very, very impressed by how incredibly spot on Le Guin gets the advantages and disadvantages of Anarres -- because a significant portion of my life is spent in a very Anarres-like setting, and I can attest that she gets it exactly right (so right that either she is extremely good at extrapolating or she lived her own version of Anarres, though clearly not my version). I refer to the LDS (Mormon) church here. )
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I've been rereading the Memory of Earth (Card) series lately. I think these books are utterly amazing-- I feel that they were written at the height of Card's powers, before he lost his trademark utter compassion for all characters, even the stupid and/or evil ones, but after he figured out mad writing skillz. And these books are written for grownups. Ender's Game was an adolescent book; its themes resonanted sharply with me as a geeky teenager, though now that I'm a bit older they seem a little less important. The Memory books talk about civilization, and gender roles, and how those interact, and how people cope when gender roles are overturned, and what it takes to build a society, and... yeah. I read these first in high school, and all of that went over my head, and now I get it.

And yet... although I adore them, and think the series is the best and most interesting stuff Card ever wrote, and am planning to give them to at least three people for Christmas presents, I am not sure they are not for everyone. In particular, I would describe these books as "Card's response to Narnia, on SF steroids and with actual women characters"-- that is, possibly not as interesting to those who are not into Christian theology/ethics. They've got plot and sociology and biologically-altered organisms and cool technology, yes, and all that is very well done and worth reading for, but underneath that Card is interested in talking about Christianity, and how that interfaces with theology and ethics. (And if you're Mormon, of course, they have yet another extra added layer of resonance, but as I don't think anyone Mormon reads this LJ, I'll defer that discussion.) What if God told you to kill someone? Why would you want to do what God wants, in general? What's the point of religion if religion gets half the stuff wrong? What is the role of government in religion? What (as [livejournal.com profile] nolly pointed out to me when we read this first) could have been going through Saul of Tarsus's heart as he changed? Plus analogues of prayer, baptism, scriptures, etc. etc. Also, the third book in the series should be read by anyone who thinks Card hates gays (you may, instead, come away with the idea that he doesn't think about marriage in at all the same way many do, which would be far nearer the truth, but I will also defer that discussion unless someone wants to hear it). Anyway, highly, highly recommended for anyone who really liked Curse of Chalion, which has got some of that same "let's have plot and sociology and think about theology at the same time!" vibe, though used in a less Christian-centric way.
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Kate Nepveu has a post talking about a panel on taboos in fantasy, which made me think about my own personal taboos and how they've been violated recently.

I recently read this book Burned by Ellen Hopkins, a YA book about an adolescent girl who is part of an abusive family and is looking for love, and the ways that sex plays into both of those. The problem is not that it's a bad book. In fact, despite the part where it's in "poetry," it's actually a good book. More than that, it's a powerful book. First of all, it deals with powerful themes (abuse, teenage sex), and furthermore it is good at what it does-- it seared its message into my brain the way that the best YA-targeted novels do, like Chris Crutcher's (more on him in a sec!) did when I was a teenager, and I'm not even an adolescent now.

So why am I about to tell you NOT to read this book, that I would prefer you to avoid this book at all costs? Because it's riddled with inaccuracies of portrayal of something I feel rather strongly about, mostly implicitly but sometimes explicitly, and because I think the message is both incorrect and damaging (both to an external group and to its target audience).

Cut for severe incoherent rantings about the confluence of religion-abuse-sex, and thoughts on what YA authors owe their audiences. Also, if you need to read gritty YA about troubled adolescents, go read Chris Crutcher. )

I don't know. That's where I draw the line, at what emotionally sets me off, but I'm not entirely comfortable with it, since I know it's not entirely consistent.
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As part of the great rereading orgy I had over Christmas (including all of the John M. Ford books I've been missing since his death, and some old Star Trek cuddly favorites) I reread Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card. Wow. I had forgotten how much I love this book. It's one of my favorites.

Let me digress here to say a couple of things about Card. I've talked to several people recently who don't read him because they don't agree with his viewpoints, especially on homosexuality. To that I say:
1) If I only read authors whose opinions I always agreed with... I wouldn't read anybody, including any of my favorite authors and *definitely* including anything written before, oh, 1980. In fact, if I only read authors whose treatment of women I agreed with... that's basically nothing before 1960, at least.
2) He doesn't write about gay politics in his novels, and his gay characters are actually really cool, nuanced characters. (So actually he gets slammed by both the right and the left, which I take to mean he's doing *something* right.) He does write about it occasionally in his essays... but... it's actually possible to boycott, you know, his essays without boycotting the books.
3) He's Mormon. This means he utterly believes, perhaps even knows, that there is a latter-day prophet who speaks the commandments of God. And, you know, you can't really argue with God. Well, you can, but you won't get anywhere, fast. You can argue that he's stupid for believing the prophet thing, but not that he ought to break away from Mormon teachings... because then he wouldn't be Mormon. It's kinda like Dante and the unbaptized babies going to hell (which honestly I think is a LOT more offensive than someone thinking homosexual sex, or even sex in general, is a sin, especially if you have the Mormon take on the afterlife)-- he was a great man and a great poet, but he believed absolutely in Catholic theology, and that meant he had to make sense of a great many things I personally believe to be senseless.

Anyway. That particular rant aside, I must say that although I used to adore his books (and still adore the earlier ones), I have not been excited about one of his books in some time-- because he's started to talk about his particular beliefs in his novels, instead of showing us through the characters, and that. Just. Drives. Me. Nuts. Heck, I even agree with most of his points-- but I just hate it when a character is all, "Listen up, youngsters! Families are good!!" Which basically happened in one of his Shadow books.

Pastwatch, however, was written before he started this trend and when I believe he was at his peak as a writer. (Lost Boys is the other ultimate Card, but one which I rarely reread as I find it painful in its intensity.) It does have the Card trademark (I used to like this, but it's semi-annoying now) where all the dialogue is between two snarky wise-guy Card-clones-- but it's got loads of ideas, being a story of history, alternate history, parallel universes (sort of), time travel (sort of), and the end of the world-- it's the sort of book where abolishing the institution of slavery and finding the historical basis of Noah's flood are corollaries of the bigger ideas; this book is on a very grand scale-- but without losing sight of the essential humanity of some great characters, most notably Columbus himself who just awesomely rocks and makes me want to research his life. And it made me cry in, like, five different places (though to be fair I hadn't had much sleep so was more emotional than usual).

Because it has the Card trademark I adore-- his vast compassion for his characters, something that I feel hasn't been as prominent in his recent books. In this book it's especially strong, because there are no villains-- oh, perhaps the occasional small-minded or petty person, especially in Columbus's time, but usually just people trying to do the best they can in the face of impossible odds, sometimes having to change themselves into something new and strange in the process-- and sometimes they fail, and sometimes they are wrong, but sometimes they succeed beyond hope.
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I've been reading the Old Testament in great gobs this week. My church (as opposed to D's, that is) is doing the OT in Sunday School this year. Between being completely bored by their take on Genesis (although it's kind of fun to see the sorts of contortions you have to go through to make the text support the belief that Eve was *right* to take the fruit, when it so clearly doesn't) and other events kicking in, they somehow got to 1 Samuel without me noticing. I'm doing something different and reading the Living Bible translation, which is frustratingly non-poetic (I've never seriously read through any translation but good old King James) but does bring out the amazingly rich story.

The story is good, but reading Genesis and Exodus in big gulps has really emphasized that those books are filled with obnoxious whiny and/or sneaky sorts, including God. The best part, I've always thought, is the "duel" between Rachel and Leah where they start naming their kids stuff like, "I have prevailed over my sister by claiming my maid and my husband's kid as my own!" Makes me crack up every time. They are seriously messed up.

I was reminded on Sunday, though, that by 1 Samuel, if I ever make it that far, there are some pretty cool sorts. Samuel, and later Nathan, are the kings of the snappy comeback. ("What then is this bleating of goats that I hear?") And I absolutely adore Jonathan. So I've got some incentive to keep going even though the beginning is slow. Also, I've made it to the shinies in Exodus, which unsurprisingly is my favorite part of the Pentateuch.
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Rooting around on amazon I found that CHARLES WILLIAMS IS BACK IN PRINT! I can't tell you how much I love this guy. He is weird, weird, weird as heck, and has some somewhat strange theological ideas, and tends to write stuff assuming you know a whole lot about dante and theology in general, and if you aren't fairly familiar with the Bible you are just going to have to resign yourself to only understanding about half of what he says. And (maybe partially because I adore esoteric writers-- this is the same thing with john m. ford, who by the way is Directly Responsible for this love affair-- and partially because williams writes *luminously*) I love love love him and have read just about every word he;s ever written that i can lay my hands on.

I was sufficiently excited to post a review on amazon of the collected plays:

I can't say how pleased I am to discover this back in print (I have a rather expensive used copy). I am a huge fan of Charles Williams, and this book is one of my favorites of his, along with the Taliessin poems and All Hallows' Eve-- with the added benefit that it isn't as impenetrable as the Taliessin poems often are. Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury alone is worth (to me) getting the book for, with its sympathetic yet unsparing (even harsh at times-- Cranmer's last scene, ooh) picture of Cranmer mixed with haunting cascading language. Seed of Adam is kind of cool with its young captain Joseph and Adam-as-emperor; The House by the Stable and its sequel are just fun. Terror of Light is perhaps my favorite after Cranmer; the portrayal is just so... right, for example Thomas's rejoicing in rationality and Saul's misplaced (but understood and forgiven) judgmentalism, and Judas's (possibly heretical?) authority even in damnation. The only play I don't love is Judgement at Chelmsford, which is a bit too formal for my taste, with not enough plot, although I'm sure that actually seeing it probably works better than reading it.

If you like plays, and you like Williams' other work, then I recommend this. Of course, there are lots of people out there who don't like his erudite and casually-theological/supernatural style, which I do quite understand, and those probably wouldn't like this either. I would also have to say don't read them all at once, as he has some language tricks he *really likes*, and reading them three times in a row is a bit tiresome.

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