Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation.
Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.
In a month, the award-winning movie about Church pioneer Green Flake will premiere for general audiences. Given the change in how films may be consumed in our new COVID-informed world, this premiere will occur via virtual watch parties, with each showing accompanied by live Q&A sessions with those involved in this film.
I obviously haven’t seen the film yet, but I am heartened by the reviews I am seeing from the Los Angeles International Film Festival and top honors from the Venice Film Awards and the London Independent Film Awards.
This past week we vacationed in Virginia, taking in Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Why mention this on a blog dedicated to celebration of the Church of Jesus Christ? It is because the Church’s history is inextricably related to the larger national setting in which the Church emerged.
I remember going to these sites as a kid, when it was not yet popular to talk about any but the heroic white men who had settled a new land and birthed a nation. As a person of mixed race, born when it was still illegal for my parents to marry in the state of their residence, I accepted this white-centric, male-centric narrative. But I did feel marginalized by this world where I was not the “right” gender or race.
Going to Jamestown and Williamsburg now, however, is very different. The tour guides and docents are open about the many different peoples involved in the founding of first a settlement, a colony, and then a nation. They explain how Virginia’s red clay soil wasn’t filled with the gold and silver the Virginia Company expected. Attempts to profit from the expedition failed time and time again.
For years now, we’ve had a tradition of going to the theater to watch the Oscar-nominated animated short films.
Last night was the first time in over a year that we’d gone to movie theaters. As we drove to the theater, I was concerned that there were only a few minutes to spare. I knew there would be provisions for social distancing, and worried that the theater might be “full.”
It turned out, we were the only ones in the theater. But we had our popcorn, and leaned back in the dark to immerse ourselves in the show, in a way our home theater (cough) cannot match.
I predict the likely winner in this category will be If Anything Happens, I Love You. If you happen to have access to Netflix, you can watch this short without shelling out for a movie ticket. This jewel is also, in its way, about getting back to normal.
Far too many of us have been caught in a time of painful abnormality (which I suppose is one of the reasons this year’s nominees include the surreal Genius Loci). We’ve often been compartmentalized in our own separate realms, whether frivolous or terrifying (Opera).. And then there was normal life, whatever normal is for each of us, where each day confronts us with our fellows and a need to dig back out from the snows of life (Yes-People). Finally there is Pixar’s version of Satre’s quote, “Hell is other people,” with the promise that Heaven can be other people as well (Burrow, available on Disney+).
The honorable mentions addressed Polynesian legend of the Mahu (traditionally born male but who mature to transcend gender stereotypes,[ref]The film clearly celebrates the idea that these four Mahu were neither male nor female. But, given my beliefs, I see individuals such as John and the three Nephites as plausible sources of the myth. At any rate, several models of maturation see the ultimate potential of a person to be when an individual becomes what is needed, transcending gender stereotypes.[/ref] Kapaemahu), fantastical friendships (The Snail and the Whale), and the power of magic (To Girard). Out[ref]A Pixar short about a man coming out to his parents.[/ref] and Traces[ref]Apparently inspired by the cave paintings of Lascaux[/ref] were apparently among the ten finalists to be nominated, but were not included in the theatrical release.
It is mind-blowing to imagine the time and energy that goes into creating any of these animated shorts. It will be thrilling for us to watch for the short minutes this category will get during the Oscars ceremony.
And it was delightful to return to an annual tradition we would not have chosen to enjoy a mere month ago.
This past month my family endured something of an emergency. My autistic daughter had decided to send inappropriate video links to various family members. In response, my husband decided that my daughter would have to give up her phone for 4 days.
Now, my daughter already suffers from a lack of understanding of the universe, due to her autism. Plus she has Graves Disease, which at times makes her highly emotional, irrational, and paranoid. For example, my daughter will start screaming at us that we are not her real parents, that we kidnapped her a birth. When I remind her (often calmly) that I know she is my child because I was there when she entered mortality, she will wail, “Are you sure?!?!?!?! How do you know!?!?!?!”
For the first two days of phone restrictions, my daughter was rabidly angry and paranoid. Which prompted numerous efforts to correct the errors in her thinking. By the weekend, the oppositional paranoia increased to fever pitch, then gave way to waves of non-specific anxiety. By the last day of the phone restrictions, my daughter was in a constant state of panic: weeping, hyperventilating, afraid my husband was going to die.
Then she got the phone back, and it was like she’d received a calming drug. Now she’s back to only frequent paranoid behavior.
It was in light of this recent experience that I watched /the social dilemma, a documentary mixed with drama that rings a warning bell (if rather faint) regarding how social media companies benefit from algorithms that maximize our screen time, no matter what the consequence.
In recent months, I have increasingly savored the resonance I have with people and places familiar to me.
Not all the resonance is pleasant. Walking into work, I sometimes remember the mass shooting that killed 12 of my co-workers. When I take the Van Dorn exit off the Beltway, I see the hotel where a Soviet GRU agent was apprehended in the 1980s as a result of a friend’s willingness to be a counter-intelligence asset. When I drive past a certain park, I remember the suicide of a Woodson student whose disappearance I followed for the many days before their body was discovered.
But other times the resonance grounds me, reminding me that I am among people I know and cherish.
This past conference, I was reminded time and again that I know these people. Because of the use of recorded music, I was able to see Clay Christiansen at the organ, bringing to mind memories of singing at the National Basilica to a concert he gave, then sitting around the table at lunch with him in the Basilica cafeteria as he talked about the organ he’s installed at his house. Several friends were in the Tabernacle Choir for the performances broadcast this past weekend, including one man I remember dancing with at Youth Conference dances, whose sister was a cherished friend.
Several of those who spoke in the conference or during specials airing that weekend are individuals I have met in real life, including a former member of my ward and another who I have met at family gatherings.
No life is the same, so the experiences that have shaped my soul are different from the experiences that have shaped your soul. But I wish for you that the difficulties of this life can become for you pearls of wisdom and that the friendships of this life can become for you gossamer threads tying you to the best hopes God holds for your future.