Thursday, November 25, 2010

Margaret Fuller on Thanksgiving

Back in the 1840s, before Thanksgiving was a national holiday, Margaret Fuller--one of the first female journalists (for the New York Tribune), and the first to serve as a foreign correspondent (during Italy's battle for unification)--celebrated the spirit of Thanksgiving and called for its establishment. This is, in part, what she had to say:

"Thanksgiving is peculiarly the festival day of New-England. Elsewhere, other celebrations rival its attractions, but in that region where the Puritans first returned thanks that some among them had been sustained by a great hope and earnest resolve amid the perils of the ocean, wild beasts and famine, the old spirit which hallowed the day still lingers, and forbids that it should be entirely devoted to play and plum-pudding. [. . .] And, in other regions, where the occasion is observed, it is still more as one for a meeting of families and friends to the enjoyment of a good dinner, than for any other purpose. [. . .]The instinct of family love, intended by Heaven to make those of one blood the various and harmonious organs of one mind, is never wholly without good influence. Family love, I say, for family pride is never without bad influence, and it too often takes the place of its mild and health sister.

"Yet how much nobler, more exhilirating and purer would be the atmosphere of that circle if the design of its pious founders were remembered by those who partake [in] this festival! If they dared not attend the public jubilee till private retrospect of the past year had been taken in the spirit of the old rhyme, which we all bear in mind if not in heart--

What has thou done that's worth the doing,
And what pursued that's worth pursuing?
What sought thou knew'st that thou shouldst shun,
What done thou shouldst have left undone?

If parents followed up the indulgences heaped upon their children at Thanksgiving dinners with similar messages, there would not be danger that children should think enjoyment of sensual pleasures the only occasion that demands Thanksgiving."

December 12, 1844

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Great Are the Words of Isaiah: Chapter 50

In the first verse of this chapter the Lord answers the implied accusations of Israel. In response to their claim that the Lord has divorced them and sold them like slaves into bondage, God asks, "Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?" Of course, the Lord has NOT divorced or sold Israel; rather, Israel has sold itself into bondage: "Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away" (50:1). But Israel's voluntary slavery is "for nought" (52:3) as Isaiah makes clear some verses later. And why is their slavery "for nought"? Because the Lord has already given himself into slavery to pay our debts.

In Deuteronomy the Lord explains the process by which an Israelite may voluntarily give himself into slavery: "And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. [. . .] And if it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee; Then thou shalt take an aul, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever" (15:12, 16-17). In other words, those who voluntarily gave themselves into slavery had their ears pierced as a token of their love for and service to those whom they serve.

With these verses in mind, Isaiah 50:5-6 takes on new meaning: "The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." These verses describe the Christ and the way in which he will be (mis)treated as a slave; we know that he is a slave because of the first phrase: "The Lord God hath opened mine ear." The verb "open" here might better be translated "engrave" (as it has been translated in Exodus 28:36, I Kings 7:36, and Zechariah 3:9) or, in our modern idiom, "pierce." Christ has willingly given himself as a slave in our place so that our backs would not have to receive the lashes of the smiter, so that our cheeks would not have to receive the spittle of antagonists. But if we, like Israel, refuse to acknowledge his sacrifice, we will ourselves become the slaves of sin.

In the Doctrine and Covenants Christ warns that "behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken" (19:16-20).

He reminds us, in effect, that he has already sold himself into slavery and that we need not endure spiritual and physical bondage--but those who refuse to acknowledge his sacrifice on our behalf must, like ancient Israel drink "at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling" (Isaiah 51:17).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fornication Pants

I'm wearing them right now.

I'd be willing to bet that you're wearing them too.

"Fornication pants" is the phrase that Brigham Young purportedly used to describe . . . blue jeans.

I just finished reading the book Jeans by James Sullivan, and it was quite fascinating. I now know that denim was around for the American revolution, that it comes from the region of Nimes in France ("de Nimes), and that at least 25% of all US paper currency is denim. No--seriously, that picture of Andrew Jackson in your wallet? It's made out of the same stuff that's covering your butt.

This book is a must-read for jeans enthusiasts . . . but I would be a little wary of Sullivan's claims. For instance, that bit about Brigham Young? Sullivan claims that Young denounced blue jeans as instruments of sexual deviancy in the 1830s, when blue jeans first incorporated button flies. While I wouldn't put it past old Brigham to have used those words, I highly doubt that we would have a record of him speaking on the subject from the 1830s, when he was a relatively low-level official in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Quorum of the Twelve didn't really come into power until the 1840s; until then, the local high councils were generally more influential and outspoken).

Sullivan does give a source for his quotation, however--the coffee table book Let There Be Clothes, by Lynn Schnurnburger (say that ten times fast). On page 266 Schnurnburger alleges that "The 1830s bring on an innovation that spells relief--that's when men's trousers button down the front for the first time (The silk band that runs down the sides of tuxedo pants recalls the old tradition of side buttoning.) One of the few opposed to the new style is Mormon leader Brigham Young. Appalled, he dubs them 'fornication pants.'" Unfortunately, Schnurnberger does NOT provide a reference for her quote--and her book doesn't exactly scream "meticulous research."

But even if we can't be sure that Brigham Young used those exact words, anecdotal evidence from pioneer Utah suggests that blue jeans did, in fact, incite lascivious (and otherwise immoral) behavior. In Great Basin Kingdom, Leonard Arrington describes the community of Orderville, Utah--a Mormon community that voluntarily adopted the United Order, a coordinated effort to live the law of consecration--and the lone pair of blue jeans that brought down the whole shebang.

The Orderville United Order was organized in 1875 and quickly became self-sufficient; they produced their own cotton, poultry, dairies, lumber, molasses, silk thread, furniture, etc. In the difficult financial times of the 1870s, this community was  quite a success, and the settlement initially ballooned as settlers in surrounding communities accepted the Order and immigrated. "Church officials advised [Orderville leaders] not to 'overload the boat' by accepting too many new members," Arrington writes, "but the Order members were so charitable in this respect that population began to press upon their limited resources" (335). --Snarky side note: No such charitable problem with today's immigrants!-- But it wasn't the arrival of immigrants that brought down the Order; it was an overabundance of money and the "fine clothing" that Nephi prophesied would cause individuals to "rob the poor" in the last days (2 Nephi 28:13).

When Utah Southern Railroad brought the wealth of the silver mines at Silver Reef, Utah into proximity with Orderville, the formerly content citizens began to covet fashionable goods made outside the community, and one boy's vanity--his distaste for the Order's "floppy straw hats, gray jeans, valley tan shoes, and one-room shanties" (336)--brought the whole community to the brink of crisis:

"As he gained in stature, the pants he wore seemed to shrink, but as there were no holes in them, and no patches, his application for a new pair was denied. But where 'there is a will there is a way.' There was a big crop of lambs that spring. When the lambs' tails were docked, the young brother surreptitiously gathered them and sheared off the wool which he stored in sacks. When he was assigned to take a load of wool to Nephi, he secretly took the lambs' tail wool with his load and exchanged it for a pair of store pants. On his return he wore his new pants to the next dance. His entrance caused a sensation. The story is that one young lady rushed to him, embraced and kissed him."

Fornication pants indeed! (Although Brigham was undoubtedly dead by the time this occurred.)

The Order claimed the pants as their own--since the lambs belonged to the Order--but agreed to use the store-bought blue jeans as a pattern for their future homemade gray jeans. This, however, did not fix anything; the young man's vanity soon infected his peers:

"The tailoring department was soon swamped with orders. The elders of the Order protested. The boys went to work, as usual, but loafed on the job. It was noticed that the [normally] everlasting [gray] pants worn by the boys were getting thin in spots, and even some holes had developed. These boys were often on their knees when at prayers, or when weeding in the garden, but not much time was spend sitting down. Why was this unusual wear on the seat of the pants? When the elders saw the boys going in groups to the shed where the grindstone was housed, they became suspicious and investigated. Yes, the boys were wearing out their pants on the grindstone." (336)

The vanity of these young men forced the elders of the Order to buy denim instead of using their own homespun, and this "victory" spurred the youth to further rebellions against the Order. In 1885, the Order was dissolved. Who needs the law of consecration when you've got blue jeans? And what's covering your derriere?