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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Politics, Priestcraft & Purple Pansies

As a general rule I don't discuss politics except with my husband and a few select people that don't make me pine for the squishy cucumber at the bottom of my crisper. Over the last day or two there has been a flurry of discussion in regards to what to me sounds like politics of LDS film. One guy telling another guy he's horrible, the other guy saying the first guy wasn't just horrible but his mama was horrible too. If you want to read up on the current LDS film debate, Jeff Savage did a great job of pointing it out on the frog blog. Read up and get your fill.

In 2 Nephi 26:29 it reads:
"...for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world: but they seek not the welfare of zion."

I mean this as no insult to anyone. I am also not passing any judgement, only pointing out that anyone who creates Art based on matters of religion needs to tread carefully. I think there is a real threat to us when our creativity--career--and testimony all end up on the same plate. It's very difficult for one thing to not influence the other, hard for us not to think "I'm using the gifts God gave me, and anyone that doesn't see that is a sinner".

I'm not immune to this. I write what I consider an edgier type of LDS fiction than many writers in this market. I confront matters of LDS culture that I personally find squishy-cucumber and it's too much for some people. I know, because they e-mail me and tell me so :-). When I get these e-mails I immediately wonder what is wrong with THEM. Why don't they appreciate ME? What kind of mote is in there eye that they don't recognize truth when they see it? On the same vein I get frustrated when I can't find the time I need to write such brilliance. Shouldn't my children be less demanding? Isn't hot dogs four nights in a row okay since I need to change the world with my next book? Go make yourself a freaking kay-sa-dila! (spelled wrong on purpose. Gosh!) Thoughts like this have created a tug of war within myself over why I do this and what I expect to come of it.

Do I want to be rich and famous? I can't answer that with a no and be considered truly honest, and yet I'm embarrassed to admit it because I know where my treasure ought to be. Do I want to change people's lives? I can't answer that with a yes and not feel pompous. And without those two things, why else do I do this? Truly I'm not sure. I love to write and feel my Father in Heaven gave me gifts that I've developed into talents that allow me to do so--so why aren't my novels just lined up on my own bookshelves bound in a trapper keeper? If all I wanted to do was write, why bother with publishing which then puts me in the wanting-to-be-rich-and-famous-and-change-people's-lives club.

Again, I have no difinative (I know I'm spelling this wrong but spell check won't help me and wants me to say innovative) answer. But I read Chris Heimerdinger's article today and there was a line that stood out to me. In his article he said "...if LDS filmmakers are going to succeed, they cannot forget that their first priority is entertainment. First and foremost, a movie must thrill, surprise, enchant and keep people on the edge of their seats."

THIS resonated with me and brought me back into a more comfortable chair. Yes, I want my books to be a good influence, and yes I'd like to pay for my kids braces with royalties instead of shoe money, but the very first job of an LDS writer, filmmaker, playwright is to entertain--in my opinion. If an LDS artist pursues their own gift and leaves out the entertainment quality of their work, then they are just preaching. And preaching for temporal gain is defined as priestcraft. Don't do it! As you write, as you delve into issues of religion and culture put a sign above your computer that says "I am an entertainer". Not only do I believe this will keep us on the right track, it will also hopefully keep us from getting our testimony tangled up with our financial goals. I started reading LDS fiction because I wanted characters I could better relate to, and being part of that for other readers is a good thing, right? I hope so because it's about the purest motive I can find within myself.

I wish Dutcher the best, I will miss his films. I hope he finds the happiness and peace we all deserve in this life. Though I don't know him personally, I have followed his career with interest and people that do know him personally speak very highly of him and his family.

I wish Merrill the best as well. I have boiled up my own vents and then in hindsight wished for a strong roll of duct tape. He has taken a great deal of flack for his films from Dutcher and others, movies I also enjoyed very much. I wish him the best as he picks his way through the aftermath of this. I don't know him personally either, but have heard only good things about him from people that do. We watched The Testaments on Easter Sunday and it will be a tradition from here on out.

And I am stoked for Passageway to Zarahemla to come out. I love Heimerdinger's books and I'm excited to see the movie come to fruition. He made another comment I liked: "
I've been a storyteller my whole career, but I would be the first to confess that what I do is totally expendable. The LDS Church would progress just fine without LDS films or novels. No movie experience should ever compare with that of taking the sacrament. And no story will ever be more influential in changing someone's life than the efforts of a good-hearted bishop, a loving parent, a caring seminary teacher or a dedicated Scoutmaster."

So, for all us storytellers out there. Tell a story first. Chances are your own testimony will come through, but tell the story first. If we take this challenge, we will tell better stories, our readers will be entertained, and therefore they will come back of their own accord--not because they feel shamed into it, or feel the need to support US--and we will not have invested more than we can afford to lose in the outcome of our efforts (i.e. testimony). Honestly, what a relief it is to know it's not my job to convert anyone. That the weight of this gospel is not on the shoulders of my paperback novel. I leave that to you seminary teachers and scoutmasters :-)

As for purple pansies--my goats are currently free ranging because I haven't fixed the coop door and they have eaten all my flowers EXCEPT purple pansies. I have no idea why, but the idea intrigues me. What's wrong with purple pansies? They eat roses and lilies, and columbines, and tulips, even yellow and white and orange pansies but not purple pansies. Wierd huh? Weirder still, why didn't I fix the coop in time to save my spring flowers? I leave it all up to you to relate this to politics and Preist Craft. Good Luck (I couldn't do it)


Anonymous said...

Very well said, Josi.

Heather Moore said...

Great comments all the way around, Josi. I wholeheartedly agree. I just don't know why your goats don't like purple pansies.

Unknown said...

Fantastic blog, Josi. Loved it.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I love little purple pansies, especially the ones that are touched with yellow gold and grow in the corner of my garden. Old.

As far as the remainder of your blog, very well put. And I, for one, get very tired of people plastering that whole "priestcraft" label on us. I think that's one of the things that bothers me the most about this industry. God wants us to be able to feed our families and send our children on missions, but if we earn any money doing anything that has the church even remotely connected with it, we're told we're practicing priestcraft. Let's #1. Understand the definition of the word. #2. Not take it upon ourselves to decide who is and who isn't practicing it -- that's God's job.

Julie Wright said...

Well stated and I agree wholeheartedly.