all of us, always
a hair’s width from calamity
and but a breath
all of us, always
a hair’s width from calamity
and but a breath
The Sunday squirrels were the most aggressive, tumbling over each other to get the holy leftovers, biting and scratching as if their souls depended upon it. He took the sacrament at different times to try to avoid the scuffle, but they always knew. The air grew thick with the Spirit and they perked up even before the scent of bread came wafting down from the canopy.
If he left out the biting, this would make a lovely Sunday School story—the purity of the woodland creatures resonating with the purity of the ordinance. But he had seen squirrels lose an eye over this. It was not an element of the Sabbath that he relished.
Sundays used to be a time when squirrels stayed away. For the first three years that he had lived on the platform a sympathetic Bishop sent intrepid deacons each Sunday to bless the sacrament at the base of his tree and hoist it up with some Sabbath rations. The Relief Society sisters took turns baking individual serving casseroles and a variety of cookies (the cakes and pies were a mess and abandoned early in the project). A filmmaker documented it all one year and got an award at Sundance.
But when church shut down, the deacons couldn’t carpool, and the sisters worried about sending covid with the cookies. A few hearty wilderness types kept coming but it became intermittent, and the Bishop authorized him to bless the sacrament himself. Sundays stopped being so noisy for a little while.
He had always felt that the trees were a temple and had carved suns and all-seeing eyes into the wood of his temporary refuge. He had meant to spend a single summer in solitude but at every self-imposed deadline he couldn’t find a reason to leave. It felt like walking away from the face of God. Now, even more, he felt the peace of prayer, even in the prewritten piety of an official, unchanging one. With no distractions, he felt his words slowly spread upwards as if through water, the echo-less silence a full-throated amen.
Out of habit, he broke the bread in the same small pieces he had learned as a deacon. He remembered after the first few that he only needed one and then he had a slice of bread that seemed entirely out of place in his pantry lockbox. It felt sacrilegious to spread peanut butter on the holy remains, even for Sunday dinner, but he was too frugal to throw it out, so it sat apart for a week and grew stale.
Eventually he noticed the squirrels that would reverently gather to worship with him. Slowly, tentatively, they took the bits of blessing-adjacent bread he offered. He thought they even bowed their heads briefly. It had been months since he had shared food with anyone; he took their silent gratitude as camaraderie and wondered if he could minister even in the treetops.
Now he woke to them turning out his pockets. He had lost track of the original group and grew resentful of the friends of friends of friends who were more interested in the loaves and fishes than they were in the miracle.
In the end it was the squirrels that sent him seeking salvation at ground level. It wasn’t so much their relentless begging as it was their relentless hunger. It reminded him that this moment of pause, however it met his soul’s immediate thirst, didn’t quench it. He couldn’t live forever on borrowed peace. His God didn’t live exclusively in retreat. His God made peace in the multitudes and at the tables of sinners. His God went into the wilderness, but He also came out.
He knew he had to return to the noisy sacrament meetings and busy days. He had to find peace in a forest of fellow flawed followers. He had to trust that he could hear his own prayers through the cacophony because now he knew exactly what they sounded like all by themselves.
So much, lately,
feels like the churning
of water in storm,
sixty pounds per square inch
of pressure dragging this way
and even when I’m walking
on the surface,
the gentle ripple
washing over my toes
reminds me of currents below
reminds me that
as fluid as faith
bear the weight
1 September 2031
In the heart of Salt Lake City, an estimated 600 people stormed the iconic Salt Lake Temple over the weekend. Operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often called the “Mormon” church, the Salt Lake Temple has been a landmark of the west since its forty-year construction was completed in 1893. The temple has been in the national spotlight over recent months as it is believed to house the so-called “golden plates,” which have been at the heart of the latest controversy surrounding the church.
Church leaders teach that the golden plates are a religious record kept by inhabitants of the ancient Americas. The founder of the church, Joseph Smith is said to have translated a portion of this record, now known as The Book of Mormon. Smith and The Book of Mormon have been the subjects of many attacks against the church since its founding as Smith’s translation–or even the existence of the golden plates–have never been verified by an independent party. Smith claimed that an angel forbade him from showing the plates to more than a handful of supporters and that after completing his translation he delivered the plates to the angel.
Controversy flared up in April last year at a conference marking the church’s 200th anniversary when the current president of the church, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, announced that the angel had returned the plates to him with instructions to translate and publish another section. The alleged translation is expected to be released next month, coinciding with the church’s annual October conference. The church has not issued an official statement detailing what the new release will contain, but leaks suggest it will bear a strong resemblance to the book of Revelation in the Bible.
Critics both within and outside of the church have called for the plates to be examined by third party experts and the translation verified by independent agencies. The church has firmly refused these calls, fueling speculation that the plates do not exist. Some detractors have also pointed out that Uchtdorf is the first president of the church born outside the U.S. since John Taylor, who died in 1887. They see recent events as Uchtdorf’s play to leave a legacy, particularly after the numerous sweeping changes made by his predecessor Russel M. Nelson
who led the church from 2018 until his death at age 104 in 2028.
Reacting to the church’s repeated refusal to release the plates or even photographs of them, and amid doubts about their actual existence, rioters organized on social media and stormed the temple on Saturday, August 30th, interrupting ceremonies that were in progress. Guided by rumors of a high security vault that was installed in the temple’s basement during a 2019-2023
remodel, rioters focused on searching the lower levels of the temple, although some ventured as high as the third floor. Police arrived on the scene within minutes, expelling the rioters and making over 50 arrests.
Initial estimates place the cost of repairing damage to the temple at $3.4 million, with another $1.2 million for damage incurred to some gardens and an adjoining office building that are part of the same church-owned complex. The temple is expected to be closed for up to 6 months as repairs are completed and security measures increased.
The riot, which has been dubbed ‘Mormon Storm,’ follows on the heels of the Vatican invasion in May by a mob looking for the ark of the covenant. Government and church officials were quick to condemn the riot, with President Uchtdorf stating that, “the purpose of this life is to develop and exercise our faith. Oftentimes this requires us to accept, believe, and support things that we
do not have direct evidence for…Illegal acts such as looting, defacing, or destroying public or private property cannot be tolerated.”
While another church official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the event as “reminiscent of the mob violence our ancestors faced in Missouri,” law enforcement believes that the majority of the rioters were members of the church.
The riot is expected to be a focus at the church’s conference on October 4th and 5th. There is no word yet on whether the golden plate translation will be released as planned.
Have you ever seen a roadshow?
Most people these days haven’t. It’s a shame, because the roadshow is a uniquely Mormon art form. A 1984 Ensign article attributes the inception of the roadshow to Brigham Young, who instructed the Saints to “sing, dance, and entertain each other” after long days of walking across the plains. The modern roadshow has evolved into a wacky 10-15 minute musical skit. A good roadshow incorporates vibrant characters, an absurd storyline, and lots of music. In days gone by, ward members would compose original pieces for their roadshows. More recently, all you need is a catchy tune and the ability to “Weird Al” some song lyrics. But while the format may have changed, the spirit of the activity hearkens back to our pioneer heritage. A roadshow is an invitation for a ward to come together. It’s about nurturing a spirit of unity and creativity, and helping the youth develop their talents. But mostly, it’s about winning.
I come from a long line of roadshow winners. My maternal grandmother was her ward’s unofficial seamstress. Once, my Grandma Betty spent days sewing a twenty-foot tall American flag with fifty silver, metallic stars. It was displayed for thirty seconds while the youth sang “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” an elaborate showstopper designed to both impress the judges and appeal to their patriotism. Another time, she made fifteen suffragette dresses out of donated bedsheets. Her work was so good that, during the performance, an audience member whispered, “There’s no way they stayed in budget.” Grandma Betty whipped her head around to assure him that the dresses had cost nothing. She was no cheater. She was just the best roadshow costumer in the stake.
She could dress a posse of cowboys, a flock of birds, or an army of frogs. No matter how outlandish the costume, she made those kids look fantastic. Once, while she was gluing plastic fruit onto a hat for a Chiquita banana costume, my mom (who, much to her chagrin, was supposed to wear said hat) asked, “Why do we have to do this?” Grandma Betty frowned and said, “This hat may be the reason we win! Now hand me that banana.”
My paternal grandmother, Joan, began writing and directing roadshows when her young family moved into the Pocatello 6th ward. Their building had a glass-fronted display case near the foyer with space for three things: a golden groundbreaking shovel, a basketball championship plaque, and the coveted roadshow trophy. For as long as anyone could remember, that trophy had belonged to Hazel Cox and the 21st ward. When Joan was called to be the 6th ward’s roadshow writer/director, she had no experience. Still, she managed to produce a spunky little skit about Romeo trying to find his Juliet with music from the Broadway show, Oliver. Afterwards, awards were announced. Third place received some good-natured applause. But then: second place—Hazel Cox and the 21st ward. There was an audible murmuring. One brave soul even booed. Finally, the moment came: first place went to the 6th ward! Joan held up the trophy. The winning teenagers howled and whirled their shirts over their heads like they were taking home the world cup, not a twenty-dollar trophy for the ward’s display case. That was the moment that Hazel Cox and Joan became nemeses. They rehearsed in separate buildings, keeping a look-out for possible spies. Joan even squeezed in extra practices by inviting the youth over for Sunday night sing-a-longs. Every year, the two women pushed each other to go higher, harder, and faster, and, thanks to that rivalry, they pulled out miles ahead of their other competitors.
We were living in Southern California when my own mother started writing and directing roadshows. Living so close to Hollywood, many of the members had connections to “the industry,” and were not shy about using their pull to get closer to a win. One ward had an illustrator from Disney studios make their scenery. Another ward borrowed costumes from a professional warehouse. That was the year my mom took songs from the musical Grease and set them in ancient Greece. So, of course, our ward asked the props department at Universal Studios to create a souped-up chariot for the song “Greased Lightning.” It was overkill. But the youth saw these adults putting their hearts and souls into this competition, so it became important to them, too. It was so important that shy little Johnathan Lovell surprised everyone on the night of the big performance by putting on a toga and an Elvis wig, standing up on that professionally made chariot, and shaking his hips all the way to a win.
At some point, someone decided that these roadshow competitions were unhealthy. They stopped awarding first place, instead opting for awards like “Best Music,” “Best Costumes,” and “Best Script,” always making sure that each ward walked away with their own feel-good, foil-trimmed certificate of achievement. When it happened in my Grandma Betty’s area, she called the stake president and gave him a piece of her mind. “Why even have a roadshow if you can’t win?”
I’m sure the reply was some long-winded reasoning about how we should be building a unified Zion. But once the competition was gone, people stopped caring, and the roadshow faded away. Why should anyone dedicate weeks of their time and talent just so thirty teenagers can dress as breakdancing aliens and sing a song from Hamilton? It’s unnecessary.
And yet, I think that Zion won’t be possible without the kind of people who do unnecessary things. People who spend hours sewing a flag that’s only displayed for thirty seconds, or who care so much that they howl and cry happy tears when they feel that their effort was seen. Zion will be built on the shoulders of people who are so teeming with dedication that they leap at the opportunity to stand on a plastic chariot in a toga and gyrate like the Hound Dog himself.
Read an English translation here.
El Padrenuestro es la más poética de las plegarias, un ruego que, habiendo sido trasladado de idioma en idioma, de época en época, habiendo atravesado el tiempo y el espacio, ha gozado de innumerables permutaciones. Me atrevo a agregar un sinnúmero más; o mejor dicho: me atrevo a agregar 54 123 776 422 857 453 312 000 versiones adicionales, todas en castellano. Para producir esta cantidad, me he valido de un método antiguo: dividí el Padrenuestro en doce versos, cada uno de los cuales he presentado en siete versiones diferentes.
Opté por doce columnas y siete hileras porque algo de cabalístico tienen esos números. Me atrevo a reproducir abajo tres, también por motivos atávicos, de los 54 mil trillones de versiones posibles.
Abba, nuestro, celestial,
santo es tu nombre.
Que llegue tu reino a la tierra.
Que sea según tu voluntad,
en el cielo y en la tierra.
Danos hoy algo de comer.
Te pedimos perdón por nuestros pecados,
porque hasta nosotros perdonamos a los demás.
Y no dejes de protegernos contra las tentaciones,
sino que sálvanos del enemigo;
porque Tú eres dominio, poder y gloria,
siempre, siempre, siempre. Amén.
15 728 194 822 184
Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos,
glorificado sea tu nombre.
Revélese tu reino.
Sea forjada tu voluntad,
como se cumple en los cielos cúmplase también en la tierra.
Danos hoy alimento antes del final de este día.
Te pedimos perdón por nuestros pecados,
en la medida en que incluso nosotros perdonemos a los pecadores.
Y no nos dejes sin tu escudo a la hora de las tentaciones,
sino que líbranos del enemigo;
porque tuyos son el dominio, el poder y la gloria,
por todos los siglos de los siglos. Amén.
113 6726 928 836 333 312 070
Padre nuestro que haces de los cielos tu morada,
reverenciado sea tu nombre.
Manifiéstese tu reino.
Sea realizada tu voluntad,
como en el cielo también en la tierra.
El pan nuestro de cada día, dánoslo hoy.
Perdónanos nuestros incumplimientos,
como incluso nosotros perdonamos a quienes no cumplen.
Y no nos dejes sin tu escudo a la hora de la tentación,
sino que líbranos al enfrentar al enemigo;
porque tienes el dominio, la potestad y el esplendor,
por siempre jamás. Amén.
Quedará en el lector pronunciar las demás lecturas.
Translated by the author. Click here to read in the original Spanish.
The Lord’s Prayer is the most poetic of prayers. This prayer has been transferred from one language to another, from one age to another, has crossed time and space, and thus has enjoyed countless permutations. I now dare to add countless more, or rather, I dare to add exactly 54 123 776 422 857 453 312 000 more permutations, all of them in English. To produce that many versions, I relied on an old method: I divided the Lord’s Prayer into twelve lines, and I then turned each line into seven different versions.
I opted for twelve columns and seven rows because those numbers are somewhat kabbalistic. Allow me below to produce three (due to the significance of the number) specific versions out of the 54 sextillion possible ones.
Our Abba in heaven,
thy name is holy.
May thy kingdom come to earth.
May thy will take place
both in heaven and on earth.
Give us something to eat today.
We ask thee to forgive us our sins,
because even we can forgive others.
And never stop protecting us from temptation,
but save us from the evil one:
for Thou art dominion, authority, and splendour
always, always, always. Amen.
15 728 194 822 184
Our Father which art in heaven,
glorified be thy name.
Thy kingdom be revealed.
Thy will be forged
on earth as it is in the heavens.
Give us bread today, before the day is over.
We ask thee to forgive us our sins,
inasmuch as even we forgive those who sin.
And do not withhold from us thy shield at the time of temptation,
but grant us freedom from the evil one:
for thine are the dominion, and the power, and the glory
for evermore. Amen.
113 6726 928 836 333 312 070
Our Father which makest thy abode in the heavens,
holiness to thy name.
Thy kingdom be made manifest.
Thy will be carried out
on earth as in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our faults,
as even we forgive those who fail us.
And do not withhold from us thy shield in the tempting hour,
but grant us victory when facing the evil one:
for Thou hast dominion, authority, and splendour
for all eternities. Amen.
It is up to the reader to utter the remaining versions.
Translated by Jiro Numano and Vince Lawlor.
Read in the original Japanese here.
In the sky above the Peace Statue, fall has come,
Fall which descended upon the mountain of offered flowers.
When the wind blew,
We felt the smell of that day.
Every time we smell the air,
The wound opened up its red sore.
Two minutes past eleven in the morning of August 9th
Comes around every year anew,
And makes us grow old.
Oh, a dove
Perched on the finger of the statue extended toward heaven.
The baby a couple had longed for,
Whom they’d named ‘Kazuyo’ with great expectation,
Had no eyes.
Two orbits came in our sights as blue shadows.
She was a child with clear pale skin,
A deep, silent color.
The glossy skin as if wax drawn over
Brought out the silence still more.
For a short while in the world,
She cried gently.
Soon, while unseen and barely lasting,
Her crying faded away.
She could only cry.
They could only listen to
Her lonely voice.
Between crying and listening
There was no gap as wide as a hair.
Both crying and listening
Were indescribably hard to do.
Yet the mother and child
Were one, tangled up and embracing each other. The scene of this oneness, so close that breathing could be felt, Forces people to intensely awake and face history every year.
At the fingertip of the meditating Peace Statue, The dove was motionless like a sculpture,
With its deep blue eyes
Spread open like bright pupils.
Read the English translation here.
平和像の上空に 秋は来ていた 献花の山に降りてきた秋が 風を起こすと
8 月 9 日午前 11 時 2 分は 毎年新しくやってきて
名付け 待っていた赤子には 両眼がなかった
眼窩は蒼い影をつくっていた 透きとおる白い肌の子だった 深い沈黙の色であった
蠟をひいたような艶やかな肌は 一層 沈黙を引き立てた 彼女はこの世で暫くの間 やさしく 泣いた
やがて 糸を引くように 細く泣き止んだ
毛すじ一本も隙間はなかった 泣くことと 聴くことは 組んず念ずして
絡まり 抱き ひとつであった 息さえかかるひとつというのは 毎年激しく人を生き返らせる
A certain evening in July, 1835
Bunting drapes the walls of the rented Masonic Lodge. Lamplight glitters across brass spittoons. Oblivious to sweltering heat, wide-eyed locals stream inside. They come at twenty-five cents a head for Michael Chandler’s farewell exhibition of four threadbare Egyptian mummies.
Propped up on makeshift stage, four mummies lie in cheap pine boxes. Chandler, a beefy man in frock coat and mustard waistcoat, points with proprietary pride at center mummy. “This little runt of a fellow,” he oozes, “was a great man in his day — Necho, Pharoah of all Egypt!”
Chandler’s glib patter is as practiced as it is fictious.
That mummy is female. Mayati she’d been, wife of a minor scribe. Her and husband executed. Mummified. A Pharoah’s whims are absolute and terrible in their totality.
Chandler, thumb hooked in waistcoat pocket, points at me. “And this sleeping brute was Pharoah’s Vizier!”
No Vizier I, but mere scribe Ptahshepses.
A fool who’d listened to Hebrew slave stories of Abraham and his God. A fool who’d believed them true. A fool who’d written down those Truths on papyrus, that there is but one God in Heaven and Earth and His name is not Pharaoh…a Truth no Pharaohs can abide.
Chandler — preening and pontificating on stage — sees himself a latter-day pharaoh.
Some pharaohs crave power, some riches, and others fame. Chandler might love money — he’d wrapped and unwrapped us a dozen times in his unshakable delusion that all mummies were encrusted in diamonds — but fame drives Chandler.
The moment Chandler had finagled and connived his way into possession of Lebolo’s mummies, he’d ceased being just one more immigrant farmer and became A Man Who Owned Mummies. Reporters and politicians hung on his every word; learned and unlettered alike clamored at his feet.
Mere money cannot buy that.
Sweat-glistened audiences follow Chandler’s every move. They come for him as surely as they come for mummies. His theatrics, his boasts, his entertaining lies. No matter last night he claimed the tattered papyrus scroll he brandishes — an inventory of granaries — told of building pyramids and tonight he brays it speaks of serpents walking on four legs. Pharaohs tower above consistency and mere Truth. Those who prostrate themselves before Pharoah share Pharoah’s reflected glory.
Chandler unrolls another scroll — my scroll — and its familiar bland and red hieroglyphics. The scroll vengeful Pharoah affixed to my mummified chest as delicious jape. To ensure I enjoyed that jape throughout eternity, Pharoah had me embalmed with menfe’tan’a leaf oils, pinioning me between life and death.
For millennia I lay thus, watching through sewn-shut eyes the ages pass away, knowing I could move but moving would burn away the menfe’tan’a and kill me proper. Men fear true death too much to leap into its abyss.
A Pharoah’s whims are indeed terrible in their totality.
Only once have I ever thought to move: this morning.
Chandler lives like a Pharoah and spends like one. At the end of his debt-ridden tether, he had to sell us to a man named Smith.
I thought Smith just another would-be Pharoah wanting to own mummies. Smith barely glanced at us, but ran his fingers along my scroll. “The words of the Fathers,” he breathed. “Abraham.”
In my surprise, I nearly turned my head and spoke.
Oh, Chandler fleeced Smith for all he could. Forcing him to settle on a price ten times the collection’s worth. But Smith instantly agreed, as if he decerned that only a sum that high would pin Chandler into selling.
And now, tonight, as Chandler winds down this final exhibition, it sinks in: when Smith comes for us tomorrow, no longer will Chandler be a Pharaoh strutting on stage.
Chandler’s patter falters, his swindle wormwood in his mouth.
The lights of the hall dowse. Chandler locks us up for the night. Another night staring upward through my wraps at the darkness.
Then, in those dark hours of morning-night when men sleep heaviest, Chandler staggers in, bottle in hand. “No!” he slurs. “I won’t go back to being nothing. If I pack now, I can be across the state line before they catch me.”
He picks up a tack hammer to fasten the travelling lid of my box.
“No!” I croak, mouth-stitches popping open.
I lurch upward, heedless of the cost. The sticky sap of the menfe’tan’a burns as my leathery fingers clamp around Chandler’s throat with superhuman strength.
I squeeze enough to choke off speech, but not enough to kill. The fear-maddened Chandler struggles.
As well strike onyx stone as strike my arm, fool!
My other hand slips in the pocket of his coat and extracts his pepperbox derringer. I jam it into his ribs.
I cock the hammer back. “Keep deal,” I command. “Or die.”
Chandler slumps quiescent. Batting aside my arm is one thing. A chambered bullet is inescapable death.
And so we wait, an unmoving tableau: I, conserving the last dregs of the menfe’tan’a in my system; Chandler, conserving air in his lungs.
Dawn rises. Breakfast-time passes. The agreed time arrives. Smith’s party enters the hall.
Chandler’s back conceals me from their view. I release his throat and sink back into my box. The derringer remains cocked in my hand, pointed at Chandler’s heart.
“Remember,” I whisper. “Deal. Or die.”
Chandler deals. Money rustles. Chandler slinks off history’s stage.
Smith’s men begin loading Chandler’s collection on their waiting wagon.
Burning the last of the menfe’tan’a, I let go the pistol, let it fall to floor unnoticed.
As they lift me up to set me in the wagon, I am lifted up at last into the waiting arms of my beloved Mayati, lifted up into the bosom of Abraham’s God, a God who twice blessed me:
To write the Words and to ensure they make it into the hands of the man foreordained to proclaim them to the world.