Casselberry, “The Labor of Faith”

Casselberry, Judith.  2017.  The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism.  Durham: Duke University Press.

Publisher’s Description: In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., which is based in Harlem and one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal denominations in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church’s women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Casselberry shows how the women negotiate this contradiction by using their work to produce and claim a spiritual authority that provides them with a particular form of power. She also emphasizes how their work in the church is as significant, labor intensive, and critical to their personhood, family, and community as their careers, home and family work, and community service are. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women’s spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.

Goff, Farnsley, and Theusen, eds. “Bible in American Life”

Goff, Phillip, Arthur Farnsley II, and Peter J. Theusen, eds. 2017. The Bible in American Life. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: There is a paradox in American Christianity. According to Gallup, nearly eight in ten Americans regard the Bible as either the literal word of God or the inspired by God. At the same time, surveys have revealed gaps in these same Americans’ biblical literacy. These discrepancies reveal the complex relationship between American Christians and Holy Writ, a subject that is widely acknowledged but rarely investigated.

The Bible in American Life is a sustained, collaborative reflection on the ways Americans use the Bible in their personal lives. It also considers how other influences, including religious communities and the internet, shape individuals’ comprehension of scripture. Employing both quantitative methods (the General Social Survey and the National Congregations Study) and qualitative research (historical studies for context), The Bible in American Life provides an unprecedented perspective on the Bible’s role outside of worship, in the lived religion of a broad cross-section of Americans both now and in the past.

The Bible has been central to Christian practice, and has functioned as a cultural touchstone, throughout American history, but too little is known about how people engage it every day. How do people read the Bible for themselves outside of worship? How have denominational and parachurch publications influenced the interpretation and application of scripture? How have clergy and congregations influenced individual understandings of scripture? These questions are especially pressing in a time when denominations are losing much of their traditional cultural authority, technology is changing reading and cognitive habits, and subjective experience is continuing to eclipse textual authority as the mark of true religion.

From the broadest scale imaginable, national survey data about all Americans, down to the smallest details, such as the portrayal of Noah and his ark in children’s Bibles, this book offers insight and illumination from scholars across the intellectual spectrum. It will be useful and informative for scholars seeking to understand changes in American Christianity as well as clergy seeking more effective ways to preach and teach about scripture in a changing environment.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part One: Overview
1. “The Bible in American Life Today” by Philip Goff, Arthur Farnsley, and Peter Thuesen

Part Two: Past
2. “America’s First Bible: Native Uses, Abuses, and Re-uses of the Indian Bible of 1663” by Linford D. Fisher
3. “The Debate over Prophetic Evidence for the Authority of the Bible in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana” by Jan Stievermann
4. “Navigating the Loss of Interpretive Innocence: Reading the ‘Enlightenment’ Bible in Early Modern America” by Robert E. Brown
5. “Reading the Bible in a Romantic Era” by Beth Schweiger
6. “The Origins of Whiteness and the Black (Biblical) Imagination: The Bible in the ‘Slave Narrative’ Tradition” by Emerson B. Powery
7. “Biblical Women in the Woman’s Exponent: The Bible in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism” by Amy Easton-Flake
8. “Scriptualizing Religion and Ethnicity: The Circle Seven Koran” by Sylvester Johnson
9. “Reading the Bible in War and Crisis to Know the Future” by Matthew Avery Sutton
10. “Reference Bibles and Interpretive Authority” by B.M. Pietsch
11. “The Soul’s Train: The Bible and Southern Folk and Popular Music” by Paul Harvey
12. “Where Two or Three are Gathered: The Adult Bible Class Movement and the Social Life of Scripture” by Christopher D. Cantwell
13. “The Word is True: King James Onlyism and the Quest for Certainty in American Evangelical Life” by Jason A. Hentschel
14. “Selling Trust: The Living Bible and the Business of Biblicism” by Daniel Vaca
15. “The Bible and the Legacy of First Wave Feminism” by Claudia Setzer
16. “Let Us Be Attentive: The Orthodox Study Bible, Converts, and the Debate on Orthodox Lay Uses of Scripture” by Garrett Spivey

Part Three: Present
17. “The Continuing Distinctive Role of the Bible in American Lives: A Comparative Analysis” by Corwin Smidt
18. “Emerging Trends in American Children’s Bibles, 1990-2015” by Russell W. Dalton
19. “The Curious Case of the Christian Bible and the U.S. Constitution: Challenges for Educators Teaching the Bible in a Multi-Religious Context” by John F. Kutsko
20. “Transforming Practice: American Bible Reading in Digital Culture” by John B. Weaver
21. “Readers and their E-Bibles: The Shape and Authority of the Hypertext Canon” by Bryan Bibb
22. “How American Women and Men Read the Bible” by Amanda Friesen
23. “Feels Right Exegesis: Qualitative Research on How Millennials Read the Bible” by J. Derrick Lemons
24. “Crowning the King: The Use of Production and Reception Studies to Determine the Most Popular English-Language Bible Translation in Contemporary America” by Paul Gutjahr
25. “Literalism as Creativity: Making a Creationist Theme Park, Reassessing a Scriptural Ideology” by James S. Bielo
26. “The Bible in the Evangelical Imagination” by Daniel Silliman
27. “Feeling the Word: Sensing Scripture at Salvation Mountain” by Sara M. Patterson

Part Four: Retrospective
28. “The Bible: Then and Now” by Mark Noll

Bialecki, “A Diagram for Fire”

Bialecki, Jon.  2017.  A Diagram for Fire: Miracles and Variation in an American Charismatic Movement.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

Publisher’s Description: What is the work that miracles do in American Charismatic Evangelicalism? How can miracles be unanticipated and yet worked for? And finally, what do miracles tell us about other kinds of Christianity and even the category of religion? A Diagram for Fire engages with these questions in a detailed sociocultural ethnographic study of the Vineyard, an American Evangelical movement that originated in Southern California. The Vineyard is known worldwide for its intense musical forms of worship and for advocating the belief that all Christians can perform biblical-style miracles. Examining the miracle as both a strength and a challenge to institutional cohesion and human planning, this book situates the miracle as a fundamentally social means of producing change—surprise and the unexpected used to reimagine and reconfigure the will. Jon Bialecki shows how this configuration of the miraculous shapes typical Pentecostal and Charismatic religious practices as well as music, reading, economic choices, and conservative and progressive political imaginaries.

Montemaggi, “The making of the relational Christian self”

Montemaggi, Francesca. 2017. “The making of the relational Christian self of New Monastics in the UK, US, and Canada.” In Monasticism in Modern Times, Isabelle Jonveaux and Stefania Palmisano, eds. 209-227.  London: Routledge.

Abstract: The chapter presents an overview of Anglo-American new monasticism based on ethnographic research in the UK, US, and Canada. New monastics are lay members of grass-roots communities, who do not belong to an established Monastic order; rather each community is autonomous and agrees a ‘rule’, a set of moral values and aspirations on how to live one’s life. The cross-national sample of communities points to the inclusivity as the overarching value for new monastics. This refers to inclusivity inside the group of fellow monastics and people attending monastic activities, but also to inclusivity of people at the margin of society, in particular in urban areas. This is expressed through the notion of hospitality. Taking as inspiration old monastic practices of the monastery as a safe haven, New monastic communities seek to ‘welcome the stranger’ in their midst. However, in contrast with old monastic communities, they choose to be located in inner-city areas to have a transformative impact on neighbourhoods facing socio-economic inequality. The chapter argues that inclusivity directs the formation of a Christian self that is relational and in dialectical opposition to – what they feel to be – the individualism of mainstream society.

Klatis, “Insult and Insecurity”

Klaits, Frederick.  2016.  Insult and Insecurity: Discernment, Trust, and the Uncanny in Two US Pentecostal Communities.  Anthropology Quarterly 89(4): 1143-1173.

Abstract: Within many North American evangelical Christian communities, discernment denotes attentiveness to an interior voice that believers learn to identify as God’s. This article adopts a comparative perspective on everyday domains of perception and feeling that practices of discernment implicitly distinguish as unmarked by God’s activity, and as characterized by specific forms of anxiety from which believers desire to be redeemed. In a majority White Pentecostal congregation in suburban Buffalo, New York, believers cast emotional insecurity as a condition demanding redemption, while members of African American churches in the inner city hope to be redeemed from sensitivity to insults. While practices of discernment counter such anxieties by fostering forms of intimacy and trust, they also reinforce anxiety by focusing believers’ attention on how familiar relations may be distorted in uncanny ways.

Choosing the Jesus Way: Book Review with Author Response

Tarango, Angela.  2015.  Choosing the Jesus Way: American Indian Pentecostals and the Fight for the Indigenous Principle.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

By: Aminta Arrington (John Brown University)

In the 1880s, two missions administrators, one on each side of the Atlantic Ocean, simultaneously, yet independently, developed the indigenous principle (also called the three-self principle): that the goal of missions should be to create self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating churches, thus allowing the phasing out of the mission (Neill, 1990). The indigenous principle was designed to cure some common missionary maladies of the time: overzealous control, dependency, lack of local leadership, and overreliance on western funds.

Angela Tarango has chosen this missiological concept—the indigenous principle—and used it as the narrative thread for Choosing the Jesus Way: American Indian Pentecostals and the Fight for the Indigenous Principle, examining how the indigenous principle was put into practice in Assembly of God (AG) missions among American Indians. She follows the indigenous principle through the archives, teasing out its (uneven, and at times halfhearted) implementation and the resulting effects. Ultimately, she argues that despite its official status, AG mission leaders dragged their feet in applying the indigenous principle. In contrast, American Indian leaders within the AG claimed the indigenous principle and used it to develop their own identity, push for greater power, and negotiate their own autonomy. Thus in practice, the indigenous principle meant not that rights to local leadership, rights to national recognition, or rights to Native Bible colleges, were given to new Native American believers, but that the new believers took hold of these rights and claimed them as their own. The indigenous principle became less a strategy of bestowing rights on the part of the missionaries, and more a theology of resistance on the part of the Native American Christians.

The indigenous principle has long held sway as a theoretical handle in the history of missions. John Nevius, a missionary to China, expounded upon these ideas, and the Nevius plan was used in the evangelization of the Korean peninsula in the late 19th and early 20th century. Later, Roland Allen (1927), in The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, (a follow up to his earlier work Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?) showed that failure to adhere to the indigenous principle in China missions had produced a handicapped church incapable of influencing its own society.

But the crucial missiologist for Tarango was Melvin Hodges, AG missionary to Nicaragua. Hodges read both of Allen’s books and adapted them for Pentecostalism. As expected of a Pentecostal missionary, Hodges emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in the implementation of the indigenous principle. Not only did Hodges attempted to practice the indigenous principle in Nicaragua, he wrote several influential books about the indigenous principle (including The Indigenous Church (1953) and The Indigenous Church and the Missionary (1978)). Important for Tarango’s narrative is that Hodges taught the indigenous principle in the missionary training center in Springfield, Missouri in the 1950s, where one of his students was Charlie Lee, American Indian convert and evangelist.

It is in her narrative of Charlie Lee that Tarango’s book achieves its greatest brilliance. After graduating from the Central Bible Institute in Springfield, Lee returned to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, where he worked as an evangelist for the next several decades. With Hodges’ ideas in mind, during these years Lee encouraged tithing by the mission church, trained Indians as Sunday School teachers and church administrators, and as pastors and evangelists, until every available leadership position was filled with an Indian. In 1973, the members of the Mesa View Assembly of God formed a board of directors, and drafted a constitution and bylaws. Charlie Lee resigned his missionary appointment with the AG, and accepted the new title of church pastor, with his salary paid not by AG Home Missions, but by his church. Within a few years, Mesa View Assembly of God was supporting Pentecostal evangelism in other Indian areas. Tarango emphasizes that Lee embraced the indigenous principle not primarily because it was the best missionary method; he embraced the indigenous principle because it was best for Indians.

In the same chapter, Tarango presents another fascinating personal narrative, this one, about white missionary Alta Washburn’s successful effort to start an All Tribes Bible School. Alta Washburn, though the recipient of scant education herself, intuitively grasped the principle that if the Indians were to lead their own churches, evangelize their own people, and realize the indigenous principle, they were going to need education. Tarango effectively uses Washburn’s story to demonstrate the AG’s reluctance in fully realizing the indigenous principle. When Washburn brought her vision to her missionary district’s leaders, they narrowed the scope from training Indian church leaders to training Indians merely as helpers to the white missionaries, such as Sunday school teachers and deacons.

This narrative underlines that indigenous principles cannot be fully emplaced without indigenous schools. As Tarango states, “without educated indigenous leadership, there would be no indigenous church” (p. 137). The Bible school Alta Washburn started in 1957 has been renamed the American Indian College, now located in Phoenix, Arizona. Its homepage states its purpose as “Equipping students for Christian Service within a Native American collegiate community.”

This book is not an ethnographic study, but rather a historical study based on archival research. Teasing out theory and theology from archival sources is a difficult task, made more complex by Tarango’s stance toward her primary sources. According to Tarango, the primary sources upon which she relied, mostly issues of the Pentecostal Evangel periodical as well as archival materials, are “scanty and biased” (p. 9), requiring her to read “between the lines” (p. 16) to tease out the truth. Though one recognizes the difficulty of writing a Native American story that relies primarily on white sources, as well as Tarango’s own priority of privileging the voices of the American Indian Pentecostals themselves, such acknowledged distrust of her own sources leads to an uneasy dance between writer and reader. This unmooring from primary sources means Tarango leaves herself great latitude in interpretation: she is free to read for material that supports her thesis, and toss out what she feels is biased reporting.

This methodological uneasiness might not be so noticeable, except that at times, Tarango’s account begins to feel one-dimensional with the Native Christians always heroically upholding the indigenous principle in the face of white opposition, the white women unfailing in their support of Native agency, and the white men continuously prey to paternalism and ethnocentrism. Tarango seems at times to have little faith in her readers, repeatedly telling them that this practice reflected ethnocentrism, and that one, paternalism. These two abstract terms—paternalism and ethnocentrism—are so overused, particularly in chapter three, that Tarango’s argument is weakened by their ubiquity. Even when whites took actions that seemed to support indigenous principles, such as suggest Indian evangelists wear their native garb, organize all-Indian camp meetings, or propose a national position to be filled by an Indian, Tarango discounts their efforts as tainted with ethnocentrism and halfway at best. In this account, Native Americans are always the saints; white men are invariably the sinners. One begins to ask if it really is all that simple, if there is not nuance and complexity and messiness. This tension raises again the question of how to privilege subaltern, minority, or diverse voices, without readers feeling as though new bias has been introduced.

Regardless of this ribbon of tension which runs through the book, Tarango still demonstrates that in regards to indigenous principle, theory and practice were two very different things. Moreover, in her focus on the indigenous principle, she present the Native American converts as active mediators of their own conversion.

Response from Angela Tarango (Trinity University)

Only as I made my way though researching my book on Native American Pentecostals, Choosing the Jesus Way: American Indians and the Fight for the Indigenous Principle (UNC Press 2014), did I fully realize the enormity of the lack of sources. As Pentecostalism is a more oral and spontaneous form of Christianity the “paper trail” that historians usually rely on is thin. Early Pentecostals didn’t tend to write down and save their sermons; those were extemporaneous. They did not agonize over whether they were saved or not like 18th century Puritans did in their diaries; instead they knew exactly when they were born-again and baptized in the Holy Ghost. Finally, the most common Pentecostal document, the conversion narrative, is “relentlessly stylized” (Wacker, 58) as the great historian of Pentecostalism Grant Wacker reminds his readers. In other words the texts that they left behind are filtered and understood through the Pentecostal framework, and must be acknowledged as such.

Since Native Pentecostals and white Pentecostals who served as missionaries to Native peoples did not leave behind extensive written records, I reconstructed their history by first using the Pentecostal Evangel (PE) to figure out important dates and names, as well as locations of mission stations. Yet it is crucially important to note that the PE is inherently biased. This is true of any denominational newspaper—the bias is to present their particular religion in a positive light. You don’t find “de-conversion” narratives in the PE even though inevitably, some people lost faith or left the religion. The pages of the PE are also deeply racist, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. Native people are often portrayed as “savage,” and problematic depictions of other racial minorities abound, especially of African-Americans.

Arrington states in her review that the source issues create vexing questions but that “such acknowledged distrust of her own sources leads to an uneasy dance between reader and writer. This unmooring from primary sources means Tarango leaves herself great latitude in interpretation: she is free to read for material that supports her thesis, and toss out what she feels is biased reporting (Arrington.)” Acknowledging that there is a source problem does not give a historian license to simply “toss out” what one feels is biased—instead a historian’s job is to read the biased material carefully and acknowledge the bias, which I did. To this point, Wacker is careful to point out that those who created early Pentecostal literature, especially periodicals and conversion narratives, did not “fabricate” or “deliberately distort” their writing, but “that autobiography involves an artful arrangement of the narrative to make things right. The present task is to accept that reality and try to correct for it (Wacker 59.)” As a scholar who was trained by Wacker himself, I understood my goal to be the same as his.

The fact is that the Assemblies of God (AG) was deeply racist in the early period of missions to Native peoples. White missionaries and white institutions were a product of their times, and any good historian has to acknowledge that. My acknowledging of this, or showing white missionaries to be problematic in the field does not mean that “Native Americans are always the saints; white men are invariably the sinners (Arrington).” In fact if anything, the thinness and bias of the sources means I was unable to find much where Native Pentecostals may have shown themselves to be “sinners”—which in and of itself is problematic and again points to the difficulty of trying to find the voices of Native Pentecostals through sources that are controlled by whites. Clearly white Pentecostals wanted “success” stories to be disseminated about their converts. This, of course, precluded any stories of Native backsliding or even of Native infighting within the AG.

As a scholar of Native American religious history I am well aware that the missionary histories of the past are weighted towards the hagiographic, and excluded the voices of Native converts. White Pentecostals also acknowledge this truth—many who I met during my research privately expressed dismay at how Native American Pentecostals have been treated by the AG. Allan Anderson was one Pentecostal scholar who was blunt with me about it. During a session at the Society of Pentecostal Studies his voice boomed out: “I read the book on my overnight flight. I liked it. But I think you were far too gentle with the Assemblies regarding how they treated Native peoples.” His comment has weighed on me since he said it. Should I have been more forceful in explaining the deep racist structures within Pentecostalism? I wanted the focus to be on the Native Pentecostals themselves—not the incessant racism that they faced, which would have made the book more about the structures of the AG than about indigenous forms of Pentecostalism. In the end the history of indigenous Christianities remains incomplete and scholars are often forced to work with what little they can find. Understanding those sources to be problematic isn’t a bias and it does not mean that we have “little faith in [our] readers.” It is simply being a good historian.

References Cited (Both Authors):

Allen, Roland. 1912. Missionary methods: St. Paul’s or ours? London, United Kingdom: R. Scott.

Allen, Roland. 1997 [1927]. The spontaneous expansion of the church. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.

Neill, Stephen. 1990. A history of Christian missions. New York, NY: Penguin.

Tarango, Angela. 2015. Choosing the Jesus way: American Indian Pentecostals and the fight for the indigenous principle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Hodges, Melvin. 1953. The Indigenous Church. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House.

Hodges, Melvin. 1978. The Indigenous Church and the Missionary. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

Wacker, Grant.  2001.  Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.

Bialecki, “Apocalyptic Diversity”

Bialecki, Jon. 2016. Apocalyptic Diversity, Demonic Anthropology, and the Evangelical Ethnos: Modes of Imagining Difference among Charismatic Evangelicals. North American Dialogue 19(2): 85-101.

Abstract: How do American Charismatic Evangelicals imagine human difference? Ethnographic fieldwork with the Vineyard, a Southern California originated but now nation-wide Charismatic Evangelical movement, suggests that for many lay American Charismatic Evangelicals, difference is conceptualized in three different modes, involving potentialities, relations, and boundedness. Much like a grammar shapes communication without imposing a single meaning, these forms of conceiving human difference mandate no single intrinsic political position, but do affect the way that American Charismatic evangelicals express and contest notions of human difference.

Bielo, “Creationist History-Making”

Bielo, James S. 2016. Creationist History-Making: Producing a Heterodox Past. In Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices, 81-101. Edited by Jeb J. Card and David S. Anderson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Excerpt: The past, though quite real, is forever and densely mediated by this production of histories. As a cultural process, history-making is a social and ideological accomplishment that is achieved through material means and infrastructure. In turn, the anthropology and ethnography of history-making confronts important questions: how are different relationships to the past cultivated? What strategies and resources are marshaled to perform history-making? And, what is up for grabs in competing acts of history-making? A key contribution of this volume is to develop better ways of thinking about how non-professional historians and scientists perform the work of history-making (cf. Beisaw this volume). The Answers in Genesis creative team reminds us with little subtlety that the past is ideologically contested and that even the most scientifically established historical claims can be actively challenged. As the historian Raphael Samuel writes: “History is not the prerogative of the historian, nor even, as postmodernism contends, a historian’s ‘invention.’ It is, rather, a social form of knowledge; the work, in any given instance, of a thousand different hands” (1994: 8). Moreover, those thousand hands are not working in concert, which means the present hosts multiple historical narratives vying for cultural authority. Anthropologically, our remit is to understand whose hands are doing what and to seek a full ethnographic account of all history-making projects, including those of creationists. To aim for any less is to shrug off our most profound scholarly responsibility.

Kaell, “Under the Law of God: mimesis and mimetic discipleshipamong Jewish-affinity Christians”

Kaell, Hillary. 2016. Under the Law of God: mimesis and mimetic discipleship among Jewish-affinity Christians. JRAI DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12443.

Abstract: Messianic Judaism, a network of congregations that incorporate Jewish ritual into evangelical worship, is one branch of a fast-growing trend among Christians globally towards ‘Jewish affinity’. Drawing on a multi-site comparison in North America, this article examines one of Messianic Judaism’s most significant internal debates: should non-ethnically Jewish ‘gentile believers’ (GBs) obey biblical laws? It argues that GBs do not simply imitate Jews badly, as outsiders and their own leaders often believe. Rather, their actions are best characterized as mimesis in two complementary forms: mimesis of Jews and ‘mimetic discipleship’ of Jesus-the-Jew. Taken together, these forms offer a heuristic tool sufficiently capacious to explain both individuals’ propensity for Jewish practice and the socially specific ways it is constructed. I conclude that Jewish affinity reflects a key problem in contemporary Christianity, namely what happens when people in one religion (Christianity) come to believe that their God incarnated in the body of a man they now associate with another religion (Judaism)?

Liahona: Film review

Sanders, Talena. 2013. Liahona. Watertown, Massachusetts: Documentary Educational Resources.

By: Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)

Liahona is not an ethnographic film. It is not even a documentary, or, at least, a documentary of the standard type. Consisting of images shot on scratchy 16 millimeter film using a hand camera, mixed with a wealth of found footage (much of it originally filmed by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, for either missionary or apologetic purposes), and shot through with decontextualized voice-overs, it is not concerned with clear explication, or at least with granting immediate clarity. Rather, it has more of the sense of a piece of symphonic music, with images or scenes briefly introduced, which are returned to again and again in different ways as the film proceeds. Again and again, we are shown shots of the stark landscape and expansive skies of Northern Utah, both of which are presented as sublime (in the Kantian sense of the word). This landscape is repeatedly juxtaposed with vintage shots of quotidian Mormon life, as well as with views of prominent Mormon temples in the region, scenes from the Days of ’47 Parade down Salt Lake City or the Manti Mormon Miracle Pageant. Some of these scenes are eventually given the necessary context to become readable as the film progresses. Other elements, such as the repeated and unexplained use of characters from the desert alphabet, a column of smoke from a scrub wildfire, or the haunting image of a feathered headdress, worn at either dawn or sunset, shrouded in shadow as it is juxtaposed against the Manti Temple, remain unexplained even at the film’s close. (Similarly, the source of the movie’s title goes unexplained for those not familiar with it). The soundtrack is equally jarring; we shunt between thundering church organs, atonal droning, and acapella renditions of iconic Mormon hymns such as “If You Could Hie to Kolob” and “Called to Serve.” Continue reading