Sunday, December 30, 2012

My God, My God

For those of you who have never heard of Sophie Milman, now you have.  This Russian-born Jazz vocalist who grew up in Israel sings a beautiful version of a song that is based on a poem by the Hungarian and Jewish poet Hannah Szenes, who is a national heroine in Israel.  The song is called "A Walk to Caesarea" or "Eli, Eli" ("My God, My God"):             Enjoy!
Hannah Szenes
My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of the waters,
Lightning of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man.
אלי, אלי, שלא יגמר לעולם
החול והים
רשרוש של המים
ברק השמים
 תפילת האדם

Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Misérables: Not a Useless Film

The Good Report endorses the new movie Les Misérables (as well as the older version with Liam Neeson), with an invitation to consider a statement by Victory Hugo himself in the preface to his masterpiece: 

"So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless." - Victor Hugo, Hauteville-House, 1862.

« Tant qu’il existera, par le fait des lois et des mœurs, une damnation sociale créant artificiellement, en pleine civilisation, des enfers, et compliquant d’une fatalité humaine la destinée qui est divine ; tant que les trois problèmes du siècle, la dégradation de l’homme par le prolétariat, la déchéance de la femme par la faim, l’atrophie de l'enfant par la nuit, ne seront pas résolus ; tant que, dans de certaines régions, l’asphyxie sociale sera possible ; en d’autres termes, et à un point de vue plus étendu encore, tant qu’il y aura sur la terre ignorance et misère, des livres de la nature de celui-ci pourront ne pas être inutiles. » — Victor Hugo, Hauteville-House, 1862.


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Nutcracker... Sweet!

A couple of days ago a friend and I attended a performance of The Nutcracker at the Covey Arts Center by the Utah Regional Ballet.  It is difficult to believe that the original production in 1892 was not a success, considering the subsequent popularity of this two act ballet.  Interestingly, Tchaikovsky composed part of the music for the ballet from Rouen, France, even though it was first performed in St. Petersburg Russia.

The original libretto was based on E.T.A. Hoffman's story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and the dancing was choreographed by Marius Pepita.  I thoroughly enjoyed the performance at the Covey Arts Center.  The entire production, music, dancing, choreography, set, design, customs and all, was inspired and inspiring. 

Act I of the Nutcracker opens with a Christmas party hosted by Dr. Stahlbaum, his wife and his two children at their home in Nuremberg Germany in 1850.  The mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer bestows gifts upon the children, including a toy nutcracker for Dr. Stahlbaum's daughter Clara (who, by the way, was a very talented little dancer).  After the children have gone to bed, and the clock strikes midnight, the magic begins.  In a battle between the mice and the soldiers, Clara saves the Nutcracker who in turn heroically defeats the Mouse King, which victory transforms him from an ugly toy into a handsome prince.  The Nutcracker Prince then takes Clara on a journey through the Land of Snow, and a magical snowflake carries her off to the Land of the Sugarplum fairy, where, in Act II, she is entertained and honored by the Fairy and the Prince.

When Clara awakes, she believes that it had all just been a dream.  The Nutcracker doll is under the tree, but she also finds her crown beside her, causing her to wonder, was it really just a dream? 

This performance of the Nutcracker was as edifying as it was inspiring.  The dancing was superb, and the music sublime.  It caused me to reflect on a speech that was given by Elder Boyd K. Packer shortly before I was born entitled The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord, in which he stated that "The greatest poems are not yet written, nor the paintings finished. The greatest hymns and anthems of the Restoration are yet to be composed. The sublimest renditions of them are yet to be conducted."

Elder Packer went on to say that "the greatest hymns and anthems have not been composed, nor have the greatest illustrations been set down, nor the poems written, nor the paintings finished. When they are produced, who will produce them? Will it be the most talented and the most highly trained among us? I rather think it will not. They will be produced by those who are the most inspired among us. Inspiration can come to those whose talents are barely adequate, and their contribution will be felt for generations; and the Church and kingdom of God will move forward just a little more easily because they have been here."

Ideally talent and preparation combined with inspiration will produce works that will glorify God and thrill and delight audiences as much as, or even more than, the Utah Regional Ballet's production of The Nutcracker.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Digitized Dead Sea Scrolls

Many moons ago I visited an interesting place called Qumran.  Shortly thereafter, I visited the museum where the scrolls that were discovered in Qumran have been preserved and put on display.  Just yesterday I discovered that, in partnership with Google, experts in Israel have now made the Dead Sea Scrolls available for viewing on the internet.  Who could have imagined that in 1946 a Bedouin shepherd in search of a lost goat would have stumbled upon such an archeological treasure, and that such a treasure would then be available for anyone to view online (see also here)?

Having only sampled some of the scrolls, I cannot serve as a guide to what is contained therein, but what could be more exciting than studying ancient scrolls that were penned by Essenes, Jerusalem priests or Zadokites?  I am probably most curious about the Enoch scroll and Isaiah, but Genesis, the Ten Commandments, Psalms, Paleoleviticus, Tefillin, Minor Prophets, Community Rule, Apocryphon of Daniel, The Book of War, and the Legal Papyrus also sound tantalizing.

Since my Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Nabataean are quite rusty, I am glad that there are English translations available.  Enjoy the scrolls, and by all means, if you come across any other ancient documents, be they scrolls, plates or papyrus, please let me know.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Chapman Stick

Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in F minor (K.386) on a Chapman Stick, an instrument created by Emmett Chapman.  Unreal.  Precisely the kind of thing that The Good Report seeks after. Thank you. (For other Chapman Stick performances, see here and here.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Tallow Candle

If this story turns out to be true, it could kindle a greater appreciation for the work of Hans Christian Andersen, the gifted Danish author and weaver of inspirational fairy tales such as The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and The Emperor's New Clothes.  Some experts claim that The Tallow Candle may have been the very first fairy tale that Andersen recorded.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Andersen was born in the same year as Joseph Smith, and may have produced this illuminating tale around the same time that the young prophet was experiencing his earliest revelatory experiences. Enjoy.      

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Why was Joseph Smith such an effective leader?

Here are just a few quotations from the Prophet Joseph Smith that may help to answer this question:
  • "Sectarian priests cry out concerning me, and ask, ‘Why is it this babbler gains so many followers, and retains them?’ I answer, It is because I possess the principle of love. All I can offer the world is a good heart and a good hand."
  • "Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand and to watch over them in tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what pow'r it has over my mind."
  • "As I grow older, my heart grows tenderer for you. I am at all times willing to give up everything that is wrong, for I wish this people to have a virtuous leader. I have set your minds at liberty by letting you know the things of Christ Jesus. … I have nothing in my heart but good feelings."
  • A few days before he went to Carthage Jail, the Prophet expressed his love for the Saints: "God has tried you. You are a good people; therefore I love you with all my heart. Greater love hath no man than that he should lay down his life for his friends [see John 15:13]. You have stood by me in the hour of trouble, and I am willing to sacrifice my life for your preservation."

Happy Hanukkah!

Learn about Hanukkah.  It is a great holiday.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Let's Fall in Love

Let's Fall in Love.  What an unforgettable voice of pure gold...Nat King Cole (and this version with Nat and Natalie together is even more golden).  But it gets better: remember Nature Boy?  (That's some great guitar accompaniment).  Should you feel sad, listen to this and smile.  This is as good a description of the most famous Da Vinci painting as I have ever heard, and these love songs are timeless.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Trouble and Joy

History Professor Paul A. Rahe of Hillsdale College has recently written an article to reveal the deepest source of our troubles as a nation.  He asserts that the sexual revolution and the disintegration of the family, the fundamental unit of society, have resulted in disastrous consequences for our society.

Professor Rahe appeals to history, particularly the works of Montesquieu and Tocqueville, to explain our nation's current troubles.  According to Professor Rahe, the anchors that were once firmly planted by religion and moral discipline have been dislodged, societal drift has left a generation stranded, and young people have been discouraged from thinking about the long-term consequences of their choices.

While Professor Rahe is correct in his diagnosis, the purpose of The Good Report is to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative.  Therefore, while acknowledging this deep source of our troubles, I wish rather to emphasize the positive.  If moral drift and the disintegration of the family are at the heart of society's greatest sorrows, then certainly virtue and family unity are at the heart of our greatest joy (2 Ne 2:25), which joy is the object and design of our existence.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A New Birth of Freedom

Spielberg's Lincoln is a good reminder of the price that was paid for a new birth of freedom, and carries the full endorsement of The Good Report as a praiseworthy film that is well worth watching.  Enjoy.

Pro pro-life

This is a powerful and praiseworthy defense of the family given by Richard Wilkins, an unsung international pro-life hero.  Read it, be edified and rejoice.

Slaying the Monster of the Status Quo: A Hero Theory

I have concocted a theory to explain a phenomenon that I have observed in recent years. The phenomenon of which I write is the rapid and exponential growth in the worship of superheroes, a worship that finds expression in cinemas, on game consoles, and on the pages comic books. As part of this worship, the rituals of movie going, video gaming and comic book reading bring the devotee closer to his or her hero of choice, enduing him or her with virtual power (or cyber power) and a feeling of catharsis. My theory is that increasing hero worship is subconscious attempt to fulfill the natural human yearning for something that is higher than ourselves. According to my theory, this form of worship seeps into the void that is left behind by the gradual decay of more traditional forms of worship, such as the kind of worship that is commanded by the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible.

Please understand. This is only a theory. I have also participated in the rituals of Spiderman, Batman and other heroes. I enjoy a good superhero story as much as the next person. The Incredible Hulk is still incredible. The Incredibles are still... incredible. Captain America is still a good captain. Wonder woman is still wonderful. Superman is still super. (Is Ironman in any way ironic? Perhaps.)

But I am beginning to wonder if one of the reasons that heroes with supernatural powers (think of Harry Potter) or heroes with special abilities (think of Katniss Everdeen) are increasing in popularity is not because there is a surging and common longing for something that transcends our present predicaments. That is to say, do malnourished imaginations crave more and more the junk food of popular culture because there is a dearth of what the world really needs, namely real heroes and heroines? One after another, digital superheroes tantalize and temporarily assuage the appetites of our ravenous collective consciousness only to be evacuated through the irritable bowels of our short-term memory, leaving us even hungrier for heroes than we were before our chimerical stomachs started growling.

This may be too much to digest. But once again, this is only a theory, and I would be happy to have it proved wrong. It may be true that real heroes are on the rise, most of whom are of the unsung variety. There is, of course, a sense in which the aforementioned post-modern heroes are all shadows of true heroes, shades that fit somewhere into the schemes that Joseph Campbell once posited in his writings.

Whatever the case, Campbell and others have demonstrated through their research that there is a universal human inclination toward hero myths. These myths, like allegories and parables, often contain symbols that communicate transcendent truths that are accessible to all who desire to understand and who are prepared to receive them. This universal human longing has the power to eclipse the desires that cause us to remain in the dreary realm of mere information or so-called facts.

In assessing the current state of hero worship, perhaps it would be helpful to review a few examples of the archetypes that Campbell outlined in his famous book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Consider for example the following ideas:

-the call to adventure

"The call to adventure signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of this society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds and impossible delights."

-the hero journey

"And so it happens that if anyone - in whatever society - undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the darkness by descending, either intentionally or unintentionally, into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth, he soon finds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures (any one of which may swallow him) which is no less marvelous than the wild Siberian world of the pudak and sacred mountains."

-the road of trials

"Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: "When (will come) the help of Allah?" Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near!" (Qu'ran, Yusufali 002:214)

-the meeting with the goddess

"The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart. The meeting with the goddess (who is incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the talent of the hero to win the boon of love (charity: amor fati), which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity. And when the adventurer, in this context, is not a youth but a maid, she is the one who, by her qualities, her beauty, or her yearning, is fit to become the consort of an immortal. then the heavenly husband descends to her and conducts her to his bed- whether she will or not. And if she has shunned him, the scales fall from her eyes; if she has sought him, her desire finds its peace."

-the potential king

"Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know. As he progresses in the slow initiation which is life, the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigurations: she can never be greater than himself, though she can always promise more than he is yet capable of comprehending. She lures, she guides, she bids him burst his fetters. And if he can match her import, the two, the knower and the known, will be released from every limitation. Woman is the guide to the sublime acme of sensuous adventure. By deficient eyes she is reduced to inferior states; by the evil eye of ignorance she is spellbound to banality and ugliness. But she is redeemed by the eyes of understanding. The hero who can take her as she is, without undue commotion but with the kindness and assurance she requires, is potentially the king, the incarnate god, of her created world."

-the gentle heart

"Such is royal rule? Such is life itself. The goddess guardian of the inexhaustible well- whether as Fergus, or as Actaeon, or as the Prince of the Lonesome Isle discovered her- requires that the hero should be endowed with what the troubadours and mine singers termed the "gentle heart". Not by the animal desire of an Actaeon, not by the fastidious revulsion of such as Fergus, can she be comprehended and rightly served, but only by gentleness: aware ("gentle sympathy") it was named in the romantic courtly poetry of tenth-to twelfth-century Japan."


"The meaning is very clear; it is the meaning of all religious practice. The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity. The Law lives in him with his unreserved consent."


"One must have faith that the father is merciful, and then a reliance on that mercy. Therewith, the center of belief is transferred outside of the bedeviling god's tight scaly ring, and the dreadful ogres dissolve."

-spiritual principles

"And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself."

-child of destiny

"The child of destiny has to face a long period of obscurity. This is a time of extreme danger, impediment, or disgrace. He is thrown inward to his own depths or outward to the unknown; either way, what he touches is a darkness unexplored. And this is a zone of unsuspected presences, benign as well as malignant: an angel appears, a helpful animal, a fisherman, a hunter, crone, or peasant."

-the supreme hero

"The supreme hero, however, is not the one who merely continues the dynamics of the cosmogonic round, but he who reopens the eye - so that through all the comings and goings, delights and agonies of the world panorama, the One Presence will be seen again. This requires a deeper wisdom than the other, and results in a pattern not of action but of significant representation. The symbol of the first is the virtuous sword, of the second, the scepter of dominion, or the book of the law. The characteristic adventure of the first is the winning of the bride - the bride is life. The adventure of the second is the going to the father - the father is the invisible unknown."

-God and man

"The way to become human is to learn to recognize the lineaments of God in all the wonderful modulations of the face of man."

-the modern hero

"The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. "Live," Nietzsche says, "as though the day were here." It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal-carries the cross of the redeemer - not in the bright moments of his tribe's great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair."

-slaying of the dragon

"For the mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past."

With these concepts in mind, what do you think? Is hero worship on the rise? Why or why not? Are new heroes needed? If so, what form will they take and which archetypes will they arise from?