on the cover:
Ed Snow mixes nostalgia and humor equally in his musings about things Mormon. For instance, in singing “Tit-Willow” as a youth (remember the old Recreational Songs book?), the resulting giggles are vivid in his mind.
Or as another example, the unusual fulfillment of the “gift of tongues” in the Swiss mission. That happened when Ed and his companion received a local beef tongue delicacy from a grateful convert. Poker faces all around.
The author continues to find moments of guilty pleasure in his current Sunday school class—every time an Alexander Pope saying is attributed to President David O. McKay or when “Zeezrom” was defined as meaning “dirty, stinking lawyer” in Egyptian. (Actually, Ed contributed that nugget.)
Ah, it’s good being Mormon! Ed proclaims. There is great comfort in the rhythms of church life. And, as Ed believes, there MUST be a higher purpose to all of this!
Edgar C. Snow, Jr., is a practicing lawyer, father, husband, writer, editor, and gospel doctrine teacher (but not necessarily in that order) living in Atlanta, Georgia, who hopes practice will someday make perfect. His writings have been published in F.A.R.M.S. Review of Books, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Irreantum, Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Latter-day Digest, Wasatch Review International, Betrachtungen, Zarahemla: A Forum for Mormon Poetry, and AML-List/AML-Digest.
Of Curous Workmanship:
Musings on Things Mormon
by Edgar C. Snow, Jr.
Salt Lake City
dedication: For Dina,
who married me in spite of
my own curious workmanship
Cover design by Ron Stucki
© 1999 Signature Books. All rights reserved.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Of Curious Workmanship: Musings on Things Mormon
was printed on acid-free paper and was manufactured
in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in Publication Data
Snow, Edgar C.
Of curious workmanship : musings on things Mormon / by Edgar C. Snow, Jr.
Includes bibliographical references (p. ).
ISBN 1-56085-136-8 (pbk.)
1. Mormons Anecdotes. 2. Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints Anecdotes. 3. Mormons
Humor. 4.Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints Humor. I. Title.
Foreword by Eloise Bell [see below]
Preface [see below]
01 – “How Long Wilt Thou Sleep, O Sluggard?”
02 – “With Vigor and Vim”
03 – “Ha, Ha. Very Funny. It Is to Laugh”
04 – Joseph’s Teeth
05 – Pearls of Great Price Before Swine
06 – The Naked and the Darned
07 – Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-D0
08 – A Word on the Word of Widsom
09 – “There Are Two Problems with This Life:…”
10 – “As it Were Unto Us a Dream”
11 – Names
12 – [Insert Memorizable Quote Here]
13 – The Mormon Emrace of Pluralism (Wifes, That is)
14 – “Groanings Which Cannot Be Uttered”
15 – Quoted by an Angel
16 – The Gift of Tongues
17 – The Liberary Mark of Cain
18 – “An Example in Conversation”
19 – Ed’s Master’s Thesis Topic Hotline
20 – BYOB: Bring Your Own Brigham
21 – “Has Been Called as Ward Humorist. All in Favor, Laugh. Any Opposed, by the Same Sign
22 – Historically Funny Theories
23 – Who Put the Slap in the Schtick?
24 – Leaves from a Writer’s Journal I Just Threw Away
25 – My Year’s Supply of Food for Thought
[p.vii]Humor is about surprise. When we chuckle at a pratfall or chortle over the verbal twist in a punch line, it’s the unexpected that is tickling our funnybone. But in contemporary Mormon culture, the unexpected is unwelcome. Be it white shirts on the sacrament-passing deacons, correlated lessons in the Sunday school, prescribed topics for missionary farewells and funeral speeches—Mormons are conditioned to the comfort and security of the foreseen and the scripted.
As a result, what passes for “Mormon humor” is gentle and genial rather than pointed and penetrating. Saints permit themselves moderate chuckles over the doings of J. Golden Kimball, cute kids, and general authorities who share endearing personal anecdotes before getting down to brass plates. Any funny business has a familiar rhetoric and a reassuring predictability.
[viii]Then along comes Of Curious Workmanship: Musings on Things Mormon by Edgar C. Snow, Jr. It’s quite a surprise.
Two of its happiest surprises are subject matter and style. An essay title like “The Naked and the Darned” lets you know right away that you aren’t in Kansas any longer, Brother Toto. And when that essay enlightens you as to “the one example of nudity in church-sanctioned art,” can Oz be far behind? When was the last time you heard an argument in favor of the calling of Ward Humorist? (To some among us, that may be the best innovation since two-piece garments.) Another of Snow’s “musings” concerns “Mormon action figures” for children. His characters would include, among others, Porter Rockwell, Merlin Olsen, and Steve Young. In Snow’s set, the Brigham Young package carries a disclaimer: “Wives sold separately.”
If what Snow muses about is wondrously surprising, how he says it is even more refreshing. The cream of his crap is definitely not homogenized. Fresh language is, of course, requisite for effective humor. Stylistic bobbles may be overlooked in action narrative, in biography, in the “how-to” manuals that we accept as inspirational literature. But in the comic arena, style is all. Consider the difference had J. Golden Kimball, instead of his famous funeral retort—“Bishop, just who [ix] the hell is dead here anyway?”—had said, “Oh! I seem to be confused about who is deceased.”
Snow’s style is distinctive, very much his own. But there are echoes. At his best, Snow’s wry voice reminds us of Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor. Readers, Mormon and non-, can anticipate wholesome guffaws as they ponder the Jeopardy-like question, “What TV series would Spencer W. Kimball have produced?” or consider the original “nicotine-patch approach” to cutting down on “cussing” by limiting oneself to words used in the Bible. One sentence in particular exemplifies the style of this most welcome book. Recounting the lot of a BYU student who had mispronounced Elder Hartman Rector’s last name, Snow writes: “No one laughed, but there was plenty of feigned coughing, and everyone smiled so wide their faces hurt afterward. I don’t think she ever knew, and only a cruel person would have told her.”
Curious workmanship indeed!
[p.xi]The musings in this book first appeared in my column on AML-List, an Internet listserv co-sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters and Weber State University, and moderated by Ben Parkinson, who managed to succeed in the dual roles of friend and editor, a difficult task. (“Do-Re-Mi-Fa-SoLa-Ti-Do” originally appeared in the April 1999 issue of Sunstone magazine.)
When someone asked me what I was trying to do with my column, I misinterpreted his statement as a question rather than the accusation it likely was, and came up with the following answer: Imagine if Hugh Nibley were not so smart—no, make that a little dull and if he had written a series of whimsical meditations on odd Mormon topics in a stuffy room full of open cans of paint thinner. That would adequately describe what I think I’ve done here.
By way of background, I am a person blessed or [xii]cursed, depending on your point of view, with abundant curiosity. The word “curious” has several different meanings: (1) eager to learn; (2) nosy; (3) oddly interesting; and (4) something done carefully with great skill.
Please note the first two definitions refer to people like me who are eager to learn—and at times nosy about their Mormon heritage. The last two definitions usually refer to objects, and might apply to parts of the Mormon experience. We often use the term “curious” with its negative connotations, probably because of what we have learned by sad experience. But we can’t ignore the positive attributes, especially since the curiosity of Joseph Smith led him to pray about the ambiguities of multiple Christian doctrines and churches, opening the curtain for the on-going drama that is the Mormon Restoration.
I trust no one will view this book as my attempt to supplant The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Especially for Mormons, Golden Nuggets of Thought, the collected works of Hugh Nibley, or of Elder Bruce R. McConkie, and I disclaim any authority or expertise whatsoever. I sincerely hope that these essays will not be viewed as an attempt to detract from the serious goodness of the Mormon experience, but as an invitation to enjoy, as I do, the marvelous work and wonder that Mormonism is, and the curious workmanship of its people.