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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Work and The Glory

I wrote a while back about creation myths and the impact that they have on a culture, specifically LDS culture. If I remember right the context was that of missionary work and the impact of both the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith story on modern day identity. What is interesting about The Work and the Glory is the modern interpretation of this story. The story centers on the Steed family, a fictitious family who move next door to Martin Harris around the time that the LDS church is founded. They interact with real people: Martin Harris, Joseph Smith, the Whitmer family, and other prominent people of the era. Gerald Lund, the author of the original works, in many ways parallels the lives of the Steed family after the lives of any family that is learning about the church today. There are children that don't agree, father is apathetic, some readily accept. The family gets a little bit torn up by the experience. However, it all turns out for the best in the end. This parallelism is important in the analysis of the piece because it shed light on the relationship with the creation story of the LDS church and its people.

To highlight "the significance of sacred narratives, often called creation myths," one must look "for the expression and maintenance of cultural identity" (Olsen 90) within these texts and the interpretation of these texts. By learning how the Joseph Smith story helps modern Latter-Day Saints express and maintain their identity we can peel back another layer of identity. It seems necessary to share some highlights from the story in order to best share how the both the various accounts of the story and how The Work and The Glory express and maintain LDS identity.

The Joseph Smith story begins with him as a young boy, about 14 or 15 years old. The religious world around him in in upheaval and he is confused. His goal was, in his own words, to discover "Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it" (Joseph Smith-History 1:10)? Upon praying in a grove near his house some two years after he first began asking himself this question he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ appear to him. They taught him that none of the current sects were true and that he was going to be instrumental in organizing Christ's church once again on the earth (See JS-History in The Pearl of Great Price for more detailed information).

This text is vitally important to the plot of The Work and the Glory and also the lives of Latter Day Saints around the world. "The symbolic structure of the Joseph Smith story exhibits the quality of wholeness" (Olsen 91). This wholeness creates wholeness in LDS identity. This wholeness creates wholeness in LDS spirituality. Every function of the LDS people as a whole is connected to this one event. The Work and the Glory strives to connect to this text on a historically accurate way while still helping its audience both connect spiritually with the film and relate the experiences of the Steed family with their own lives.

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