Recommended: The Babadook

the-babadook_612x901I enjoy a good horror movie, but I hardly ever see any. I avoid excess in gore, profanity, and nudity: all things in which horror loves to overindulge. Besides that, though, most horror movies just aren’t very good. Is there another genre in which the worthwhile-to-garbage ratio is so high?

So imagine my joy to hear about The Babadook, last year’s Australian indie hit. I recommend it here not only because it passes the tests of my above criteria, but because it’s simply a wonderful film, period.

Start with the lead. On the strength of this performance, she should get a slew of Hollywood offers now. If this film had been made in Hollywood, she’d’ve been up for an Oscar.

Movies are full of struggling single moms, but I’ve never seen one look so legitimately haggard. Plenty of reviews have noted that this is a film about the persistence of grief, and they’re right.

But in our heroine’s beleaguered existence lies more than grief. She’s a nearly all-encompassing conduit of suburban social ills: regret, shame, ostracism, inadequacy…who can’t relate to some aspect of her plight? I’ve never seen the harsher strains of parenthood portrayed so bracingly.

Warning: the rest of this review is sort of spoiler-y…

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“In the loveliest town of all”

Last week I finished reading Stuart Little to two of my youngest children. There was much that I enjoyed about it, but particularly near the end I was surprised by joy with this passage: the first paragraph of chapter 13:


How wonderful! A lovely little line about a lovely little town in Stuart Little. This whole charming paragraph is really just one big sentence. There are four big clauses in the middle here, stacked like an inverted pyramid, and that last long clause does go gorgeously on and on (itself in four stacked chunks, the last of which goes gorgeously on and on).

I also like how all of that meandering meat in the middle of the sentence is tied together: we start off with “In the loveliest town of all” and after our quick guided tour of paradise we’re pulled back in for the main idea by a neat reordering of that initial introduction: “in this loveliest of all towns.” Delightful!

It’s a nearly-pastoral appreciation of bygone Americana that all leads up to a great and irrepressibly cute detail: Stuart got a sarsaparilla.

Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted a more perfect picture than E.B. White did here.

Towards a Book of Mormon Study Edition

I love a good study Bible. Earlier this year I found a nearly new NIV Archaeological Study Bible on sale at a library for a dollar—a 98% savings off the cover price!—and I’m getting a lot of mileage out of it.
I’ve been thinking about study Bibles a lot after reading Bill Hamblin’s much-needed rant about the demise of Book of Mormon studies at BYU, such as it ever was. At one point, he summarizes what’s missing in the curriculum:

Most simply, BYU could offer in depth courses on each of the major books of the Book of Mormon, combining some of the smaller books into one. Note that Religious Education offers a class on Isaiah, but no class on the book of Alma or Helaman or Nephi? Why? Beyond in depth classes on major books of the Book of Mormon, BYU should offer classes on Book of Mormon geography, history, archaeology, linguistics, literature, theology, culture, language (ancient Near East and Maya), textual criticism, religion, law, warfare, apocalyptic, reception history, the Bible in the Book of Mormon, etc.

He’s clearly right, of course, but I want to suggest another avenue besides BYU classes for improving Book of Mormon studies among Latter-day Saints.
It’s time we have a decent study edition of the Book of Mormon.
A Book of Mormon study edition would serve the same purpose as a classic study Bible: an encyclopedic resource for a variety of academic knowledge about the text, which will guide any general reader in understanding the nature and meaning of that text more accurately.

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Explaining “Nearer, My God, To Thee”

Last week in church we sang my favorite hymn, “Nearer, My God, To Thee.” The words to that song are exquisitely crafted, and with genuinely profound meaning. The apparent simplicity of it and the beauty of the tune we sing it to might mask the spiritual artistry of the writing, though.

Here is my attempt to translate the lyrics and reveal the power of the hymn. Here we can see it for what it is: a universal spiritual template, based on the Jacob Cycle in Genesis, that takes us from life’s lows to eternal highs, and emphasizes that at any and every stage of existence, our focus should always be on drawing nearer to God.


The Book of Enoch: Reader’s Edition

Perhaps the most under-appreciated part of the LDS canon of scripture is the Pearl of Great Price, and perhaps the most under-appreciated part of the Pearl of Great Price is the Book of Enoch.

By “Book of Enoch” I mean chapters 6-7 of the Book of Moses, where Joseph Smith took only seven verses of Genesis 5 and, by inspired prophetic translation, expanded them into a small but supremely powerful epic.

That small epic has a ton of features that have been confirmed in ancient documents that have since been discovered by non-Mormons, but that’s not the point of today’s post. Today’s post is about how awesome the book’s text is.

After reading it again recently, I wanted to prepare a reader-friendly version of the text, with paragraphs and dialogue marked, akin to Grant Hardy’s excellent “Reader’s Edition” of the Book of Mormon.

So I adapted some punctuation and capitalization a bit–but not the text itself, of course–and put the words of Christ in red, because I think it highlights the most important parts of that text. Christ’s teaching there are some of the most sublime God ever delivered to mankind.

My “Reader’s Edition” of Enoch is here.

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Likening the Sacrament Prayers to Ourselves

I read this last month and love it–this is how I hear these prayers in my head at church now. Thanks to the excellent One Climbs site for this idea:

O God, my Eternal Father, I ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to my soul as I partake of it; for I eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that I am willing to take upon myself the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given me, that I may always have his Spirit to be with me. Amen.

Check out the original post for the water prayer.

Sherlock Holmes Meets Cthulhu

Sherlock_holmes_vs_cthulhuSo Neil Gaiman, the great author of dark fantasy, apparently wrote a short story about Sherlock Holmes meeting Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft’s giant ancient alien monster.

Last week I had a few minutes between classes on different campuses, so I swung by the library. The start of a school year always puts me in the mood for easy genre fiction, and right now I’m hankering for Lovecraft. Browsing the shelves I saw a recent anthology, an homage to the master.

Picked it up, flipped through it, found this one.

It was just as excellent as any Gaiman fan might hope.

I was extra delighted to find my own name in it, in a reference to “Huston, the acid-bath man,” some sort of thoroughly homicidal type, it seems.

It’s available in a few places online, most attractively here.  Highly recommended.

Jamie and Theresa’s Bogus Journey

It was a Tuesday, the same day of the week that brought us 9/11 and Tuesdays with Morrie.

My car registration was due that day, but I hadn’t smogged it yet, because the check engine light was on. This happens every year—nothing’s really wrong, it’s just a glitch. I unhooked the battery and drove it around for two weeks to reset the computer.

First thing that morning, I took my car to the nearest shop for the smog check.

The guys there said that the light came on during the test and it failed. They wanted $80 to test it and see what was wrong. Not to fix it, just to see what it might be, and see if it even could be fixed.

I took my car home, because they were clearly ripping me off, and because my wife had to get the baby to the mall for her 1-year-old pictures.

Five minutes after she leaves home, she calls me. Her van got a flat tire.

I pile the kids into my car—which has broken air conditioning—and go out to the parking lot where she’s with the van.

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What I’ve Learned From 15 Years of Teaching

I’ve just started year 16 of my career, and there’s one surprising point that revealed itself time and again during the first 15.

15 years is long enough that I’ve seen students grow up and start their own careers and families–indeed, the oldest ones from my first few years are now in their 30s!  I’ve bumped into random former students dozens of times on the street, and just as often online.

And you know what seems obvious to me now?

People turn out OK.

That’s it. That’s the big revelation. All those lazy, squirrelly kids who got on my nerves? It’s clear that most of them–that most of us, that most people in general–grow up and turn out just fine.

I’ve seen not only the many students I liked and enjoyed working with prove this, but even many who my pessimistic self thought wouldn’t be able to productively and independently function in the real world. I’ve seen enough of those, in fact, that I’ve long since had to abandon that pessimism.

It’s like A Clockwork Orange. The original novel has a last chapter where the youthful hedonism and violence of the narrator dissipates as he grows up. The US edition of the book–and the famous movie–deleted that last chapter, choosing darkness over optimism.

But for me at least, the evidence is in. The kids are alright. The adults are even better. We can trust that young people will turn out OK.

Notes and Quotes: September 2015


Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlett Johansson Have an Older-Man Problem

Alien 3: The Lost Tale Of The Wooden Planet

The Noir-est of All the Film Noir Flicks

Why ‘Inside Out‘ Looks a Little Different in Japan [and] What’s on Captain America‘s To-Do List Across the Globe?


Prior problem behavior accounts for the racial gap in school suspensions

If Reading Shakespeare is Hard for You, You Shouldn’t Be Teaching English

Still, I don’t mind her parading of her own ignorance or her rubbish about “the way it has ‘always been done’” nearly as much as I do her patronizing insistence that “students of color” are unlikely to get anything out of the plays. This was less an opinion piece than a plea for career counseling—clearly the author is not suited for her job.

Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature

It is really quite remarkable what happens when reading a great novel: By identifying with a character, you learn from within what it feels like to be someone else. The great realist novelists, from Jane Austen on, developed a technique for letting readers eavesdrop on the very process of a character’s thoughts and feelings as they are experienced. Readers watch heroes and heroines in the never-ending process of justifying themselves, deceiving themselves, arguing with themselves. That is something you cannot watch in real life, where we see others only from the outside and have to infer inner states from their behavior. But we live with Anna Karenina from within for hundreds of pages, and so we get the feel of what it is to be her. And we also learn what it is like to be each of the people with whom she interacts. In a quarrel, we experience from within what each person is perceiving and thinking. How misunderstandings or unintentional insults happen becomes clear. This is a form of novelistic wisdom taught by nothing else quite so well.

Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values, and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender, or personality type. Those broad categories turn out to be insufficient, precisely because they are general and experienced by each person differently; and we learn not only the general but also what it is to be a different specific person. By practice, we learn what it is like to perceive, experience, and evaluate the world in various ways. This is the very opposite of measuring people in terms of our values.

4 Things Transformational Teachers Do

Allowing productive struggle to occur, using artistic and scientific instruction, modeling symphonic thinking, and encouraging students to lean into constructivist problem solving can lead to the holy grail of transformational teaching: epiphany.


Parents Dedicate New College Safe Space In Honor Of Daughter Who Felt Weird In Class Once

Addressing students at the dedication ceremony, parents Arnold and Cassie Stigmore noted that while the college had adequate facilities to assist victims of discrimination, abuse, and post-traumatic stress, it had until now offered no comparable safe space for students, like their beloved daughter, who encounter an academic viewpoint that gives them an uncomfortable feeling.

New Magnet School Opens For Students With Interest In Receiving Competent Education

Several students told reporters they appreciate the new school’s highly original methodology, but conceded it may take a while to grow accustomed to the process of learning information and developing skills in a classroom setting.


The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape

Eight years ago, in the coastal township of Shawbost on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis, I was given an extraordinary document. It was entitled “Some Lewis Moorland Terms: A Peat Glossary”, and it listed Gaelic words and phrases for aspects of the tawny moorland that fills Lewis’s interior. Reading the glossary, I was amazed by the compressive elegance of its lexis, and its capacity for fine discrimination: a caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”, while a feadan is “a small stream running from a moorland loch”, and a fèith is “a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer”.

L’Engle’s Conservatism

The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips

‘The Wake’ Poses Readers a Novel Challenge

Would it be possible to write a book that contained only words that had existed in Old English? The answer was almost.

Mr. Kingsnorth invented what he calls a “shadow tongue”—a kind of middle ground between Old English and the language we use today. He ended up using mostly, though not exclusively, words that originated in Old English. He spelled them using the alphabet of 1066. That is, no “k,” “v,” “j” or “q.” And he used no capitalization or punctuation, save for a period every few sentences.

Then he wrote his whole novel in it.

Stephen King on novelists who arguably write too much


25 Life-Changing Style Charts Every Guy Needs Right Now

They do: The scholarly about-face on marriage

The Exquisite Role of Dark Matter


The Browning of America

In days when people spoke more freely about such matters, dramatic change in the dominant population of the world’s dominant power would have been occasion for speculation and worry. About whether, for instance, as more of its citizens come from non-European backgrounds, the United States will change its idea of its cultural heritage. Or whether, considering the occasional tawdriness of whites’ behavior toward minorities in centuries past—displacing Indians, enslaving Africans, deporting Chinese—there is cause to worry about race relations once the shoe is on the other foot. Or whether European civilization, which from the time of Columbus to the time of Goodbye, Columbus, seemed to roll ever westward as if by a law of nature, is now beginning to ebb.

Milton Friedman puts a young Michael Moore (type) in his place:

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme

In fact, gender dysphoria—the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex—belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it. With youngsters, this is best done in family therapy.

The larger issue is the meme itself. The idea that one’s sex is fluid and a matter open to choice runs unquestioned through our culture and is reflected everywhere in the media, the theater, the classroom, and in many medical clinics. It has taken on cult-like features: its own special lingo, internet chat rooms providing slick answers to new recruits, and clubs for easy access to dresses and styles supporting the sex change. It is doing much damage to families, adolescents, and children and should be confronted as an opinion without biological foundation wherever it emerges.

The Irresponsibility of Celebrating Transgender Children

This is the future that our new culture is proclaiming for troubled kids — a future of genitals that are like “wounds” and suicide rates that skyrocket beyond all reason, more than nineteen times that of the general population. After being put forward to the world as a transgender child celebrity, how free will Jazz Jennings be to pull back from the brink? In a world of red carpets, fame, and acclaim, who will tell Jazz the truth?

Symbolic Incoherence: Millennials and YOLO

Of Bicycles, Sex, & Natural Law

Natural law has not failed because it is an inadequate understanding of the realities of human life. Insofar as it has “failed,” this is the result of rebellion against the limited creaturely status of human beings on the part of the contemporary cultural elite, provoked by many factors, including, no doubt, a large dose of technological hubris. But there is no alternative to something like natural law, because, whether formulated well or poorly, it is simply a recognition of the reality of what men and women are and of their actual situation in this world. To the extent that the mechanistic, Darwinian understanding of the world is incompatible with natural law, it is both wrong and intrinsically immoral. There is no substitute for natural-law morality: in its basic form, it’s the only game in town.

Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics

1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

12 Times Mass Shootings Were Stopped by Good Guys With Guns

Liberal mag Vox cancels article they asked a philosopher to write because it didn’t toe the party line closely enough.


The Limits of Gifts

The Church is renewing its emphasis on the Sabbath and on teaching children on that day. Children can’t make choices for the Kingdom unless they have experienced the Kingdom. Otherwise they would be like Hydarnes, knowing only half. There is a saying abroad that public schooling is child abuse. That saying exaggerates. But there is probably a religious equivalent. Leaving the holying of your children to the Church alone is parental neglect.

Great summary of a Book of Mormon wordprint study.

How to Read the Book of Mormon . . . S-L-O-W-L-Y

You might think that mining the same territory so closely so many times would result in eight people saying the same thing every day in our papers, but it doesn’t at all. Every day, when the other seminar participants present their findings, I think, “Wow. How could I have missed that connection?”

That’s how rich the text is.


The irony of this to me is that every time I have engaged in the hard work of burrowing deeply in the Book of Mormon, the center has always held: The book stands up to close scrutiny.

The Conservative Critics’ Contradiction

Conservatives are “stuck in the past,” we’re told, but we’re also told that we are constantly getting more “radical.” Somehow, we’re “frozen in time…too old fashioned and…boring” while we’re also getting “crazier and meaner.”

You do realize that those claims are mutually exclusive, right? You can’t be some tired old fuddy duddy impotently pining for the good old days and at the same time be a dangerously psychotic revolutionary.

So which one is it?

Another Open Letter to Trent Horn About Mormonism

Trent Horn graciously replied to my previous post to him. Here are my thoughts in return:

Hello again, Trent! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and detailed response. I love exchanges of thoughts that are both kind and productive, so thanks also for that. I’d like to continue our conversation.

On sources

I’m still curious about your education in my faith; you say that you’ve “read extensively the work of contemporary Mormon apologists,” for example, but what constitutes “extensive” here? It’s one thing to note that you “cite primarily” from LDS sources, but quite another to have studied those works holistically and fairly, rather than using them as research for quotes alone. (Also, why leave out the Bible when you define our “standard works?”)

I certainly didn’t mean to accuse you of having any attitude at all, much less one that finds this subject “irrational or easy to refute,” and I’m sorry if it sounded that way. You quite rightly say that I can’t fault you for the conclusions you’ve drawn about my faith as they’re grounded in your own faith’s perspective–fair enough, yes–but surely it’s reasonable for someone to hear your teachings and want to ask about what has gone into forming and supporting them.

Speaking of which, you say that you are “well aware of the arguments made for Mormonism, as well as Mormon rebuttals to arguments made against the faith, all of which I have found unconvincing.” Really, *all* of them? There’s not a one that carries any weight at all? That’s odd.

If you used some space in your book, though, to accurately correct misconceptions about the LDS church, then you have my sincere thanks. We agree then that there is much erroneous information out there in need of correction.

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