Tuesday, November 10, 2015


The recent LDS handbook change has been troubling to many, including myself.  I think it’s part of a much longer narrative that I will try to articulate.  The Mormon people experienced fairly extreme persecution for a century, including exile, at least two instances of threatened genocide, occupation, disenfranchisement, and many other collective punishments.  Some of this was for marriage practices that were out of the mainstream (an irony I will address later), and some for other, more theological reasons.  Abuse and bullying always causes lasting damage.  When the U.S. government finally forced the Mormon people to abandon polygamy, the Church began a campaign of assimilation, a century-long attempt to establish itself somewhat in the mainstream of Christendom, and its adherents as “normal”, even patriotic citizens.  This quest for acceptance took many forms, including the embrace (often in excess) of militarism, capitalism, conservative politics (especially the republican party), bourgeois suburban lifestyles, etc.  In it’s most baleful form, this impulse led to the adoption of Mormonism’s century-long racial policy, which Paul Reeve, in Religion of a Different Color demonstrates to be part of an attempt to demonstrate the “whiteness” of Mormons, in a country obsessed with race, that accused Mormons as being racially impure. 

More recently, the “evangelical” movement has selected Mormonism as its prime target.  Evangelicalism has been a potent force in American culture and politics for quite awhile now, but it really picked up steam in the ‘70s, when being “born again” became somewhat of a fad.  Populist movements of this kind often feed off of fears, and usually dig up old fears, fears that have worked well in the past.  Mormons were a reliable punching bag for the evangelical movement.  Their main line of attack (among many) was to say that Mormons weren’t “Christians.”  This attack was deeply troubling to the leadership and many of the laity of the LDS Church.  After all, the name of this deity is included in the church’s official title.  A lot of effort was put forth to try to quell this attack, to convince America and the world that Mormons are, indeed, Christians.  I feel that this effort was misdirected and perhaps counterproductive and, in a strange way, played into the hands of the haters.  I served a mission in California in the early ‘80s, in somewhat of the epicenter of the born again movement.  After being told over and over again that, as a Mormon, I was not only not a Christian, but that I was going to hell, I finally asked several people, including evangelical clergymen, just what a Christian was in their lexicon.  I was told that a Christian was no more nor less than a person who was born again, in the evangelical definition.  It was then that I realized how slippery words are.  That any Tom Dick or Harry can fabricate a definition for any group of phonemes, and if he or she repeats it often enough, people will start to accept it. 

The Church’s embrace and leadership of the anti same sex marriage movement cannot be understood without understanding our legacy of persecution and the entirely understandable, if unfortunate, quest for acceptance.  Once we were forced to abandon polygamy, we were desperate to establish ourselves as the most shining example of monogamy and the nuclear family.  After being forced to abandon communitarianism, we went out of our way to establish our credentials as free marketeers.  And when evangelicals questioned our Christianity, we contorted ourselves to court their favor, including the advocacy of doomed and dubious political causes.

I am a devoted and devout Mormon.  True blue, through and through, as they say.  I think the vicissitudes we are going through are, to some extent, the natural and understandable result of protracted bullying and persecution.  I know a bit about bullying myself.  I had a lot of opportunities to experience it growing up.  I learned that appeasing bullies only makes them bolder.  I learned that I was too weird to ever measure up to the kind of normalcy that kids and teens demand.  I discovered that by being an even more authentic, even extreme version of myself, I could reject whatever crazy paradigm the dominant culture prescribed, and the bullies and haters had no basis on which to persecute me.  In fact, they began to respect me because I had something, a secret paradigm that they were not party to.  I’ve always felt that Mormons (and, pretty much everybody) should pursue this route.  We are and have always been weird.  Our religion is bold.  It makes bold claims.  It makes bold demands of its adherents, including highly restrictive health and sexual codes.  We need to recognize that these are things that are unusual about us, but there is nothing wrong with being unusual.  We just shouldn’t worry about non-Mormons buying into our unusual theology and rules.  If they are interested in buying in, we have been very good at making information and resources available. 

I have no more objection to a person not of my faith being married to another person of the same sex than I have of them drinking green tea.  And I believe that we should think very seriously before denying access to saving and edifying ordinances to anyone, especially children.

The Mormon moment I have been seeking, is one in which we have a more accurate and positive view of ourselves in the world, one that embraces diversity.  I was very heartened and moved by the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, because we were acknowledging and celebrating diversity within our people.  The other Mormon moment I am anticipating is the one where we talk less of “they” and “them” and more of “we” and “us”.  One of the most unique aspects of this church is its governance by the laity.  Indeed, we have long denied a distinction between clergy and laity.  It is my belief that the Church is divine, in every sense that Mormonism has claimed, but it is administered by humans of extremely limited abilities and foresight on every level.  But, being a divine institution, I think it has an abundance of blessings and inspiration (more than it deserves often) on every level.  I think that’s kind of awesome.  It has the potential to foster the kind of humility and dependence on grace that all religions treasure. 

And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.

In the early history of Mormonism, two names were used, The Church of Jesus Christ, and, The Church of the Latter-day Saints.  These two were merged in the present name.  This means that it is the church of two entities, the Savior, and the people that belong to the church, all of them.  Joseph Smith stated that church governance was a hybrid of theocracy and democracy.  It is my hope that the power and wisdom of the Latter-day Saints as a whole will shine forth and help us to work through our difficulties; that we will truly be a light on a hill; that we will be good to ourselves and others; that will focus on rolling forth the tremendous and glorious mission we have been tasked with and not get sidetracked; that Zion will put on its beautiful garments, etc.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Medicaid Expansion Rejection Shame

I just sent the following letter to my state representative and senator, as well as the state legislative leadership, all of which are republican.  This was to mark the very sad, and convolutedly crafty way they prevented Medicaid expansion:

"Shame on our state for what I can only imagine as senseless animus toward a black democratic president, an act that literally sacrifices lives, health, and the financial well-being of thousands of individuals and families in our state for some unknowably dubious political gain.  Especially as a Latter-day Saint who has spent two years full time trying to convince skeptical Americans that I am part of a Christian religion, this is very disheartening.  Moreover, two of my five children would not be here if it weren't for Medicaid, and it's highly doubtful that we would have qualified for it had we lived here."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Daily Manifestations

One of my favorite quotes from my daughter, Ingrid's missionary missives (14 September 2015):

"I’m just going to tell you an important fact about missions that every email I write suggests, but that I want to make explicit: on a mission, God’s power is made manifest, and it is made obvious. You really can’t miss it. Well, you can, and people do, but the veil between our lives and God’s life becomes translucent. The kinds of spiritual experiences that in my civilian life would be the highlight of a month are a daily matter."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Gun Bible

The reason people make crazy and dangerous arguments in favor of guns is because guns are satanic.  They are literally imbued with diabolical energy.  When I was 12 I was browsing in a bookstore and saw a book called “Gun Bible”.  The title was deeply disturbing to me.  I couldn’t understand how the two words could be put next to each other.  Idolatry of the purest kind.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

LDS.ORG Essay on Seerstones

What a fascinating and uplifting essay. It illustrates so much of what I absolutely love and have always loved about mormonism. I gave a talk a couple of years ago about my dad (a very cerebral law professor) 's very matter-of-fact description of using a divining rod to find water on the ranch he grew up on. It evinced to me a much more nuanced understanding of our relationship to the physical world, that there is spirit and divinity in, not just the living things, but the supposedly dead objects around us, something the enlightenment stripped us of. Earlier today in my score analysis class, we explored Cage's incredible Cartridge Music, which uses an ingenious chance procedure to generate its score. I suggested to my students that Cage was interested in opening people up to the divinity or magic in everyday experience. That by seeking the most random arrangements of objects, and rejecting deliberateness, we might experience the divinity the surrounds us at all times. Musicians understand the way that objects we call instruments have a certain sentience, that they can call forth something from the beyond, indeed that they sometimes play us, when things are really cooking.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Christendom has been vexed by the grace vs. works debate for thousands of years.  Certainly it is the main issue evangelical Christianity has with Mormonism, and the issue that the reformers had with catholicism.  More recently, "liberal" mormons have articulated issues with the traditional mormon attitude toward it.

I think, in this talk, President Uchtdorf articulated the relationship between grace and works in profound ways and with a clarity I have not encountered before.  It is comforting, vivid, compassionate, and feels right:


Friday, May 22, 2015

Machaut, Shredded Beef Tacos, Peanut Butter and the like

I was loading up something to listen to on Spotify on my phone.  It brought to mind my nephew who has never to my knowledge eaten meat.  When he was 4 or 5 my wife he would stop by our house which was steps away from his in our student housing fourplexes in Seattle, my wife would offer him several enticing options of food.  He would act like he was considering his options, not saying no to any offered, and say “How ‘booouuuut pea’butter samich?” invariably.  He lived on these tidy, protein packed vegetarian marvels.  I was a peanut butter freak at that age (and continue to be). This also brought to mind a more recent ritual.  My wife calls me some time in the late morning and asks if I would be interested in getting a taco.  She picks me up and we go through the drive-thru at Rancheritos in Provo, which we call Beto’s, it’s name for many years before the change a few years ago.  She introduced me to the shredded beef taco, which I never would have tried on my own.  I realized that I never order tacos at places that don’t make corn tortillas on demand, which is rare.  However, this is the one taco that Beto’s fries, which renders the otherwise non-tasty pre-made corn tortilla a thing of wonder.  Inside are ample portions of three ingredients: beef, cheese, lettuce.  Perfect.  She orders a large diet pepsi, I order a medium.  It’s become a running joke when we get to the drive through menu/intercom, we mock ruminate over our decision, much like my nephew.

Back to Spotify.  I ended up essentially saying “how ‘booouuut” my “everything by Machaut on Spotify” playlist (which includes a few dogs—inexplicable roland synth versions and the like).  I have basically been binge-listening to Machaut now for a little over a year.  In fact, I mainly have Spotify so I can listen to a lot of Machaut.  Binge listening has become much easier with Spotify.  A little over ten years ago I got my first iPod for the single reason that I wanted to have instant access to uncompressed versions of every available recording of Morton Feldman.  I could trace my ongoing musical education to these multi-year binge-listening periods.  Why Feldman?  Why Machaut?  I’ll come back to that.

I recently spoke with a treasured friend and mentor, a fascinating and mysterious artist in his own right.  I had not seen or communicated with him for several years.  He was and is a highly trained and gifted musician and musical theorist, scholar and thinker of great insight, intellect and creativity.  He told me that when he first encountered my music, he was troubled because he found it compelling, but he couldn’t figure out why.  He was used to being able to identify what made the music that he and others loved have the impact they do.  My music, on the other hand, often had none of these features and resisted the kind of analysis/assessment that is often used to assign value to a composer in an academic employment or composition community situation.  I took this as a treasured compliment.  I have little to complain about in my career as a whole, but it has taken many years to convince people that, oh, I don’t know, I’m not a hack—that my music is music, etc.  For years I would submit scores for this and that, and I think nobody knew what to do with them.  Handwritten.  Half notes and quarter notes when multi-tupleted 32nd notes were preferred.  Written instructions mixed with notation, figured bass, chord symbols, etc.  Freely mixed triads, open fifths, chromatic scales, etc.  There were always a few people, enough people, including some incredible performers, that supported what I was doing enough to keep me going.  But as far as being an accepted member of any scene – academic new music (uptown), classical establishment composition (midtown), international free improv, minimalism, postmodern, prog, out jazz, etc., it never really happened.  I find it difficult to ally myself with any one style community.  I suppose “downtown” has been the most comfortable concept for me because it is the least prescriptive.  It can kind of take in just about anything.

Anyway, back to peanut butter, shredded beef, Machaut, etc., another composer who has been a perennial influence is Robert Ashley.  He’s been perhaps the most pervasive influence on my music.  It is beyond the scope of this post to explore the reasons in full, but I will mention the main one, and this should hopefully tie my ramblings together to some extent.  I was introduced to Ashley first around 1991 by David Bernstein at Mills College, where Ashley had been head of the music department for about 10 years in the ‘70s.  I went to the library and watched much of Perfect Lives.  I was simultaneously repelled by the casiotone-esque percussion sounds and the low-res video of this piece, as well as its slow meandering pace, while I was fascinated, compelled, infatuated by this work for reasons I didn’t (and still barely) understand.  A year or so later, Bob brought his newest opera, Improvement to Mills for a live performance.  This piece shared elements of Perfect Lives, but had gorgeous electronic accompaniments and beautifully mature Ashley-esque vocal delivery and reinforcement.  To this day I don’t know what it is about Ashley that is so appealing to me.  There are specific aspects that have profoundly influenced me: his text setting, his texts themselves which exist in a liminal space between narrative and stream-of-conscious, and his invoking of the genre opera in its most vestigial form.  I could say the same for Feldman.  I don’t know why I love his music.  The tranquility, the transcendent harmony, the muted timbres are all beautiful, as is the perception-altering shape/form/structure of his pieces, all of which have profoundly influenced me.  But there is something else that I can’t place my finger on, that makes me come back again and again to Feldman’s music.  Same for Machaut.  In the case of Machaut, as with Beethoven and a few others, there is enough data to analyze and talk about to satisfy the academic mind as to their merit.  Not so much for Ashley and Feldman.  Believe me, I’ve read attempts to break their music down, uncover what makes it tick.  Not very convincing/successful.  More than anything, these composers have given me the courage, the permission to privilege inspiration over craft, conception over construction, etc.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Where is thy glory?

I just listened to a lecture from Hugh Nibley in which he quoted from the first chapter of the book of Moses where Moses says to Satan, “Where is thy glory.”  Nibley then talked about how special effects can never represent the real thing (glory).  It made me think about my difficulties with media, with the digital realms, with screens, etc.  I think this is the main problem with them.  They lack what is most essential, yet least immediately apparent about humanity, nature, and things from the spiritual realm.  Screens are a luminous medium.  That is part of why they are so mesmerizing.  But they provide only a fake version of what we are innately drawn to.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

From Doctrine and Covenants 93 (I think my favorite section):
33 For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;