Friday, June 19, 2009

The Book of Jer3miah: Straight Down the Radical Middle, or There's Still a God of Miracles?

Two posts, you say? In one day? What's the deal, man?

Well, it must be the day for confessing new love because I can't hold this in anymore and I'm going to scream it from the rooftops! Er, at least from my diminutive corner of Planet Blog.

Anyway. Here it is.

I'm hooked on the new series The Book of Jer3miah, a self-consciously and unequivocally Mormon conspiracy-thriller produced by some BYU students and their professor, Jeff Parkin, and distributed via the Web (on the show's website and, of course, on YouTube; see the trailer below and then check out the show for yourself).

The thing that interests me most about the show (and I'm considering doing a longer write-up for AMV sometime in the near future---maybe) is how it positions itself firmly between ultra-orthodox Mormon art (as in the kitsch offered by Deseret Book and Friends) and non-orthodox Mormon art, between "right-wing and left-wing piety and cultural[/political] correctness and mutual exclusion." It is part of the "radical middle," as Eugene England phrased things in terms of "parties" in the Mormon arts and letters camp. It attempts to negotiate the way towards a more honest, a more spiritually real depiction of Mormonism in art. And I define "spiritual realism" thus (as I first mention here): "The province of such spiritually real [art and] literature, as Lavina Fielding Anderson has it, isn’t so much to capture and embrace the ephemeral nature of spiritual knowledge---though that does seem to be part of the exercise of 'spiritual realism'---but to be an act of literary faith, an 'intelligent affirmation' of and engagement with the moral universe."

And that's making some Mormons quite uncomfortable with Jer3miah (see the range of comments offered in response to this excellent post from "'Twas Brillig"). As one commenter puts it,
The whole supernatural/conspiracy theory thing juxtaposed with religious stuff just doesn’t do it for me. I’m all about supernatural sci-fi-esque shows. But the reason I can watch them is because of the whole “suspension of disbelief” thing. When people cram a bunch of references to a religion that I believe it, and to things that I believe are true above all else, I can’t suspend disbelief enough to watch the show and enjoy it. So I get all nitpicky about the details.

My wife, who watched the last two episodes with me last night (they're all very short---between 3 and 9 minutes each, most about 5 minutes long or so---and I watched all 20 of them yesterday), responded with a similar sentiment. She said something like, "Too bad God doesn't do those things today." Meaning tell young men to kill people when the situation (arguably) requires it (a la the Nephi/Laban experience). Meaning transport people out of danger (a la Alma and Amulek, the Three Nephites, etc.). Meaning call people to take care of mysterious boxes/materials that contain great redemptive power (a la Lehi and Nephi and Joseph Smith, etc.). And I find myself asking the question, Why is it so hard for us, meaning Mormons in general, to suspend disbelief enough to think that God could do those things today, if circumstances warranted?

Do we take ourselves and our culture too seriously?

And I think that's one point of the show (which I'm calling a dialed-down, Mormon suspense akin to Lost): to explore the notion that God could do just those things, even today. If we believe, as Mormon taught, that God is a God of miracles and that, even today, he has not ceased to be God, why not explore the possibility that the miracles repeated anciently (and even, in the case of Joseph Smith, just a relatively short time ago) could happen in our own lives, even in Happy Valley, Utah (a la Singles Ward and Pride and Prejudice and friends)?

I believe they could happen. And that, for all intents and purposes, The Book of Jer3miah is one of them.

I, for one, hope it succeeds. And that it opens doors to more projects of the same radical middle moral caliber.