Posts Tagged depictions

Casting my own version of the Temple Endowment

For those who do not know, “The Endowment” is one of the rituals LDS have in the Temple where we make covenants with God. It involves ritual clothing (which the Church has make a handy video about) and a depiction of the creation of the world (which I’ve written about before). In some Temples, this depiction is done by live performers who are rarely trained actors and not “cast” in their parts as actors would be. These are simply volunteer workers in the Temple who have been assigned to this particular task, with no regard to age or physical appearance.

In most temples a film is used. There have been five versions of this film made thus far, each using the actors and film technologies of their time, the creators of it bringing their best to the Temple. In every version, the actors (and single actress) have been Americans of distinctly Northern European descent. I think that we, being a worldwide Church, should have films distributed that show the wide variety of people in the world. This would help us imagine themselves in those positions (as we are instructed to), but would also help us to see that these varieties aren’t an aberration but part of the wondrous palette used by God in His creation.

We do not have a standard belief of how everyone will look in the afterlife. We do, however, have a lot of folk doctrine floating around that everyone will automatically be Anglo, insinuating that other forms are lesser or undesirable. This would be a way to help abolish that folk doctrine. There are, of course, many iterations that can be used, but this is one I’d like to see:

God, the Father: Mexico
Jesus, the Christ: India
Adam: Japan
Eve: The Democratic Republic of the Congo
Peter: Peru
James: Samoa
John: United States

There is so much variety to choose from, and so few parts. Even in these particular Countries, there is so much variety. Why not take advantage of that variety and look beyond what we’ve limited ourselves to in the expediency of using films rather than live actors? Technologies and talents have come such a long way from the days of the first films, where talent and locations were limited to what was local to Salt Lake City.

Why not go even further than this and let some actors use their own language, which would have to be dubbed into English?

The possibilities are just amazing.

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Bringing our best to the Temple

There have been two new versions of the presentation they show in the temple recently, taking advantage of new technologies. When I saw the first one, I had a real hard time. I’d been feeling especially resentful of the inequality of some parts of the ceremony (which I’d blogged about before), and felt that some of the interpretations just made things worse. Afterward, I was just in bad spirits, nearly getting into a heated argument with my wife over the interpretation.

The next time I went, I decided to go in with a different spirit, trying to concentrate on the good things I saw in the presentation and the experience of doing work for one of my kin. I went with specific questions of my own in mind, and actively worked to leave behind feelings of resentment of how things weren’t how I would have done it. At some point during the presentation, it hit me.

The people who had created these presentations, all of them, actors, directors, visual effects people, musicians, were simply bringing their best to the Temple.

It’s not how I would have done it, but I wasn’t asked and that’s okay.

Some people complain about the costs and work that goes into building and maintaining a Temple. I’ve talked to people who have worked building Temples and some who help provide materials (like stone), and I’ve come to one solid conclusion. It’s not about the cost, which can be expensive. Providing the best is going to be expensive, but the best is also not the most expensive. It’s about bringing the best to the Temple. From the time we have recorded of the first Temple, the Temple of Solomon, we have been asked to build the Temple with only the finest materials. Could the money to do this be put to a better use? I don’t think it can, actually. Yes, we should be working hard to help those in need, but it’s also important that we both honor God (as He has commanded) and honor our ancestors by helping them share the joy we’ve found in being connected eternally.

So, since I’m not likely to be asked to do construction work or help create a new presentation for the Temple, what can I do to bring my own best to the Temple? This is what I’ve come up with, some obvious and some not:

– Do my best to be spiritually clean. No one is required to be perfect to go into the Temple, but we do need to be trying. We all go before God as imperfect children, but we can go knowing that we are covered by the Atonement, and are still His daughters and sons, who will be welcomed in no matter how meager our best may seem.
– Find work for someone that needs to be done. This does not mean you need to have something of your own, as you may not have the resources, time, or inspiration to do so, but I can assure you that there are hundreds of names being held by the members of your Ward that need work done. Find your Ward Family History Consultants and use this as another way to serve not only someone’s ancestors, but someone in your own Ward as well.
– Bring the best in our own Temples, our physical bodies. This is not only being washed and clean, it is adorning yourself with clothing that is simple, clean, and well cared for. This especially includes the robes that are used in the Endowment and Sealing ceremonies. Learn how to wear them properly with the help of someone who can see how it looks and provide suggestions and adjustments that need to be made. I’ve seen too many men with the robe barely hanging on them, askew and in constant need of shifting to remain on. You are not restricted to wearing your robe only in the ceremonies that use them. You should try it in the privacy of your own bedroom, keeping in mind the sacred things they represent.

For men especially (since I’ve only experience with the men’s clothing), two things. First, it’s a sash, not a belt. It’s not supposed to bunch up around your waist like a piece of rope. Second, learn how to sit, stand, move, and kneel in a robe. You likely don’t have experience wearing a dress, but the mechanics are much the same. If you can, get tips from someone who has worn skirts on how to sit properly, so you don’t end up with a wrinkled mess every time you sit down.

I look forward to when I can go to the Temple again, to do work for and honor the dead as well as my God. I will do my best to not only bring my best to the Temple, but to better appreciate the best that others have brought. Are there still issues? Sure, but I can take heart in knowing that God will compensate for and heal all hurts, will make us and our offerings perfect, and will be waiting with open arms for when we return to His physical presence.

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An unexpected feminist in an unexpected time

I’ve been reading to my children the OZ books, since I’ve always enjoyed them so much, and have come to one of the parts that have always made me cringe. In the second book, The Marvelous Land of OZ, we come across an army of pretty girls armed with knitting needles intent on taking over the Emerald City to take the jewels (which would be better used as jewelry) and raid the treasury (which woud buy each of the girls a dozen dresses each). To me, this seems to have been a rather scathing rendition of the suffragettes of the authors day (1907).

So, being fortunate enough to live in a time where we could look up such things, I decided to look up what relationship L Frank Baum (the author) had with the womens suffrage movement of the early 20th century. What I found surprised me.

Baum was the secretary of his town suffragette society. Susan B Anthony stayed at his house when she was in town. He’d evidently also written several other books, not in the OZ series, of girl detectives and of women in traditionally male activities. I was also reminded of the many strong female characters in the OZ series. From the start, Dorothy moves forward to find her way home, helped not ony by a small cadre of male characters, but also the strongest magic users in the land, all women. Even in this second book, after defeating the silly army of girls, the land of OZ becomes led by Ozma, who advocates for gender equality. The remaining books have just as many female as male main characters, all strong in their own way. It’s funny that this one characature throws me every time I read it.

Sometimes that’s the way we can be; despite all the good things we see in someone, we take one thing we think is bad, expand it, magnify it, and let it remove all the good impressions we had before. I think that’s part of why we’re told to not judge. Not only can we never really know all the details or circumstances involved, we can have our own biases that get in the way.

And it’s cool to learn that L Frank Baum wass a feminist.

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Women sharing in the birth of Christ

Because of the language and traditional imagery, we’ve lost the women other than Mary who were involved in the birth story:

  • Any women tho helped Mary with the birth.  There are apocryphal books that talk about them, but it can also be assumed she had some local midwife to help, even if she was staying in a cave or stable.  First time mother giving birth to the most important child in the world after a few days donkey ride, by herself?  Perish the thought!
  • Shepherdesses.  Shepherds are not necessarily all male.  I could just see some angel watching for a group to be sure there aren’t any women near before the announcement can be made.  Ready . . . Oh, wait, there’s a woman there . . . hold those trumpets!
  • Wise Women.  From what we know of the cultures and nations East of Israel, we can safely assume that not all of them were Wise “Men”.  The idea that women can’t be wise enough to foresee and travel to praise the newborn King of Kings is a Dark Ages Christian idea.
  • Mary’s mother.  How much did it take to support publicly, or even to your circle of friends, your pregnant yet virginal (and yes, she may have checked) daughter?  To let her daughter go off when so pregnant with the chance she might not be able to be there to help with the birth of the prophecied child?

No matter what our life situation, we can all be included in feeling some part of the story of the birth of the Christ, even if our role isnt specifically mentioned in scripture.  To everyone it was a time of great joy, a joy we can all share.

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Nephites are always fit and muscular

I get emails from LDS casting from time to time (in the vain hopes that anglo me could be useful in some depiction or other) and a recent request was sent out for men to portray characters in the Book of Mormon for some film or other they are producing. The description for almost everyone? “Fit and muscular”

Alma the Younger: Middle Aged to 65ish; Fit and muscular; Grizzled yet compassionate
Korihor: about 20-40 years old; very charismatic; fit and muscular; handsome
Nephihah: about 30-50 years old; Chief Judge; fit and muscular
Giddonah: High Priest; fit and muscular
Captain Moroni: about 20-40 years old; like Superman-very heroic; fit and muscular
Pahoran: about late 40’s; Large, fit and muscular; Bearded
Nephi (from 3rd Nephi): about 20-40 years old; faithful; fit and muscular; young with a dignified handsomeness

Now, this isn’t a complaint that I don’t fit into the mold of “fit and muscular”, but this did get me thinking. How is it, in all the depictions we have of the people in Book of Mormon times, that every one of them is a bodybuilder? Yes, I understand that Nephi describes himself as being large in stature, and everyone spent more time working outdoors, but is it really accurate to have everyone look like they never let their gym membership expire? I know of a number of people who do a lot of physical labor for their jobs that wouldn’t qualify as fit and muscular. Maybe it’s a bit like comic books. All superheroes have bulging muscles (or if female, ample bosoms) as a sort of “pinnacle of human-ness”. Maybe it makes it a good thing there aren’t more women depicted in the Book of Mormon.

I think it comes down to part of why I’m uncomfortable with re-creations of scriptural stories. You’re getting caught up in how something looked or what mannerisms someone might have had that you ignore the messages that are trying to be expressed in scripture. Not to mention the alternative lessons that can be learned from the same scriptural accounts. Do we lose something by making it all so extremely literal? Do we make Nephi, Ammon, and all the people in the Book of Mormon more than human by making them all “fit and muscular”?

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Casual Racism

I was talking on the phone with someone yesterday, and I was surprised and dismayed to hear them making racial comments about others. What was said was something like “I’m not like those Mexicans, keeping several families in the same apartment and sharing the rent.” It really put me off. Its kind of like when I heard someone use the phrase “I Jewed him down” after haggling for a lower price. I have heard the second is more innocent, as it was a socially acceptable comment some time ago, but I’m not so sure. This isn’t like watching an old movie and someone says, “That’s awfully White of you” – this is a real person, right now, using that kind of phrase.

I know some think I don’t deserve to be or shouldn’t be offended by someone using this language, my being essentially a WASP, and all. (WASP=White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, though I wouldn’t say LDS is Protestant) To me, this equates to someone using foul language in front of me, or more especially, when talking to me. It makes me wince, hopefully obviously.

Anyway, back to the start. So long as they’re doing it within the law (honoring their lease agreements, etc), I don’t see anything wrong with many families living in a less than “American” optimal living space. There are many cultures where whole families sleep in the same room still. My family may need to think about living together to help offset the costs of housing, doing like I heard of an Asian family doing; four families living in the same house, buying four houses in the same time it would have cost to buy one, without paying much interest at all. This is just working together for a common goal.

When you start talking about people as “them”, as if they were something other than people with lives and troubles just like yours – watch out – you may be being put into a classification yourself – as a racist.

(reprinted from my old MySpace blog, 15 Apr 2006)

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