Saturday, November 26, 2005

What I Did for my Thanksgiving Weekend

I want to tell you about what happened today, but before I do, I need to tell you another story. I need to set it up for you.

When Jodi and I first got married, it only took us a few weeks to decide that we wanted to go off birth control and have kids as soon as the Lord would give them to us. We figured that would be pretty quick.

But it wasn’t. After a year or two of trying, we went in and had some infertility treatments, that didn’t really do anything more than flip Jodi’s hormones crazy. Years went by, and along the way we did some foster parenting, mostly later teenagers, but occasionally younger. But with no children of our own, we became more and more frustrated along the way.

We looked at adopting, but a lot of things made that not right for us to pursue at the time.

Eventually, we decided that we were simply not meant to have kids. But there was a sentence in my Patriarchal Blessing that referred to it, and did so in a way that implied that we would have biological children. It said that I would “sire children”. So, even when our faith sagged, I still clung to the hope of one day being a father.

Years went by. It became an accepted, unspoken rule that Jodi would stay home from church on Mother’s Day. I still went of Father’s Day. Partly because I felt like, with all the grief we got from delinquent teenage foster kids, I’d earned my wings, but mostly because, frankly, Father’s Day isn’t really that big a deal anyway.

Then, after two rounds of a frightening medication named Clomid, we got pregnant. We were ecstatic! After eight years, we were finally going to be parents.

Not so. Halfway through the pregnancy, it miscarried. We were devastated. At the time, I was working for a foundation, teaching music to kids in an elementary school. My supervisor made it clear that she expected me back in for work the following Monday. It was seriously tough for me to go back to work teaching other people’s children when I’d been denied that privilege of my own.

About a year later, there was another pregnancy and another miscarriage, this one much earlier.

Finally, another round of Clomid, and a third pregnancy happened. We were very careful this time. The OB/Gyn literally sewed Jodi's cervix shut. She was on full bed rest THE ENTIRE NINE MONTHS, if you can imagine that. But it worked. Ten years after making that initial decision to try for a child, we had our first son, Brendon.

A few years later, without any extra medication, Jacob was conceived and brought into the world, and anyone that follows this blog knows more about that than they’ll ever need to…

But I tell you that whole story to tell you this: Many years after coming to believe that I’d never be a father, I had the amazing privilege today of leading my boy Brendon into a warm baptismal font, saying the requisite prayer, and dipping him into the water. When I pulled him out and hugged him, I felt so incredibly grateful that I have him. This son that I thought I’d never have is now eight years old, and accepting the covenant of baptism.

Then, we all gathered around him, placed our hands on his head, and confirmed him a member of the church, and gave him the Gift of the Holy Ghost. My parents were in town (they live in Indiana), so I thought it would be special to ask my dad to confirm. It was a wonderful glowing moment, and one I will remember and treasure for a very very long time to come.

And that’s what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Mark Hansen
Grace and Dolls

My wife and I went to see a couple of “Mormon Movies” (whatever that means) these last few weeks. I’ve wanted to comment on them here, but I’ve not been to sure what to say. I enjoyed them both very much, but they both hit me on such a personal level, I wasn’t sure how to “review them” for my blog.

I think I’ve decided to just talk about them personally.

The first one was “God’s Army II: States of Grace”. Man, what a show. It really engages you, makes you love the characters, and then takes you to hell and back. And I really mean that. It’s all about people who need God’s grace. Some, like the missionaries, and the itinerant preacher, are the characters that you feel should know what it is all along, but you see that even they are discovering it. You watch the world come out from under the lives of these people, to the point where only God’s grace, and their acceptance of it can make their lives better. That’s the hell. As you see them begin to welcome it into their lives, and back into their lives in some cases, that the “and back again” part.

This show really showed me how important the scripture “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18)

There’s been a lot of controversy over this show. It’s not for the faint of heart. It shows people making some very grave mistakes (though it never becomes graphically violent nor sexual). It shows some of the suffering that those mistakes cause. It shows people beginning to repent from those mistakes.

One of the strongest moments of the movie comes when, after one character attempts suicide under the weight of his guilt, another tells him, “You shouldn’t have to die for your sins. Someone else already did that.”

So, even though at the end, I felt very hopeful, this is definitely NOT a “feelgood” movie.

The other one, “New York Doll” definitely IS a “feelgood” movie.

My wife went to this one begrudgingly, and I don’t think she really enjoyed it, since documentaries aren’t really her type of show. But I loved it. For those that haven’t heard, it tells the story of Arthur “Killer” Kane, the bass player for the New York Dolls, one of the early glam-rock bands that defined a moment in the early 70’s. Virtually every punk or edgy band since then (many of whom were interviewed in the show) commented how the Dolls had influenced them.

After the Dolls broke up, Arthur tried to form other bands, but was never that successful, and finally almost died an alcoholic. He called for a Book of Mormon off of a TV ad, and ended up joining the church. He was working at the family history library in LA, when a festival promoter called to have him perform in a reunion show.

He does the show, and it’s one of the high points of his humble, quiet life. The cool part is that he maintains his “mormon-ness” as he re-unites with his band-mates. His bishop, speaking of when Arthur had visited him, asking about the show, said, “I told him to do the show, and just be a good Latter-Day Saint, and everything would go fine.” And it did.

The ending of the documentary surprised me. I wasn’t ready for that. I won’t spoil it though. I will say that the whole movie showed me a great man whose humility and testimony shone through the whole experience. Here was a man with his priorities in order.

This movie hit me on a personal level because I’ve been struggling with my own musical “career” over the last few months. I’ve been wondering what sort of impact I’ve been having, or what the value of the music is. I’ve been frustrated that it doesn’t seem to be moving forward. This show reminded me to “be a good Latter-Day Saint, and everything will go fine.”

Mark Hansen

Sunday, November 20, 2005

An Open Letter to Larry H Miller

Mr. Miller,

A week or two ago, I saw “American Zion”, and I just came home from watching “States of Grace”. Not only did I enjoy them both very much, but I left the theater walking taller, with a spirit about me that strengthened my testimony of the Restored Gospel. “Grace”, in particular, left me crying like a baby, much the same way that “Brigham City” did.

It occurs to me that we are in a very interesting time in the “Mormon Cinema” movement. The initial fascination and novelty is wearing off, and people are beginning to be more and more discriminating in their judgments of the shows they’re seeing. As I read the discussion and debate in forums on the ‘net, and read the reviews of the various movies, I find that there’s a lot of diversity of opinions. This or that movie is great, but, no, it’s not worth your time and money… Bla, bla, bla, yadda, yadda.

To a certain extent, the discussion is good. If the scene wasn’t getting buzz, it wouldn’t be a scene, right? The fact that people are talking about it means that, for good or ill, it’s having an impact.

There is also much discussion about the business aspects of the movement. Many movies are made, but how many of them actually earn back their production and promotion costs? How many of them make money for their investors, like you?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I don’t know how many of the LDS films you have bankrolled or contributed to. All I know is that you’ve helped on enough of them to have a big impact on the ongoing movement.

Often it’s the actors, or the directors that get the most attention. In a way that’s good and right, because it’s their artistic vision that’s being shared. But I also know that without people like you backing them up, that vision would never be shown.

So, I’d like to publicly thank you, Mr. Miller, for helping to present cinematic art that has touched my life and helped me to see how to become a better person. I also don’t know how many other people have felt like I do. Nor do I know how to quantify that in terms of dollars and return on investment.

All I know is that tonight, I sat with my wife and some good friends in a dark theater and discovered a deeper understanding about the power of the Atonement, and in a large part, I have you to thank for that.

Mark Hansen

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Songs of Zion

Lead Kindly Light
Sharon Hopkins

When I first got this CD, I was deceived!

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. The cover of the CD has the face of a pretty blonde girl, in pastel tones, with that misted-over sort of look to the photograph. The back has the same girl, in a white dress, with her hand clasped over her heart. The songs listed on the back were the titles of familiar hymns, and the text description contained words like, “uplift and inspire”, “ethereal tapestry”, “spiritual hymn arrangements”, and I found myself rolling my eyes.

I mean, how many covers like that have you seen in Deseret Book already? How many CD’s have you heard of “Spiritual Hymn Arrangements”? Do we really need yet another one?

Well, it turns out the answer to that last question is, “Yes, we do. And the one we need is this one.”

As I spun the CD and listened to the songs, I was amazed to be taken to places I’d never imagined in the context of hymns before. There were songs on this CD that were unique, surprising, and even a bit shocking. Not in content, mind you, but in sound and creation. Chord progressions that went off on turns that I’d never imagined, sudden changes in instrumentation, juxtapositions of elements and textures that made me relearn the messages of the hymns. This is fresh, new stuff.

The overall sound left me with the impression of a sort of Enya-esque ethereality mixed with the sound of an old Disney soundtrack. Lots of high, lilting soprano, with cathedral-like choirs. String and wind orchestral instruments blended with pianos and organs for the instrumental accompaniments.

“If You Could Hie to Kolob” was one of the more innovative tracks. Constant shifts and changes in the textures of the arrangement and the layers of vocals made this track a fascinating one to follow. In “Onward Christian Soldiers” she inserted a segment of a male voice singing verses derived from Joseph Smith’s tribulations in D&C 120 & 121. That juxtaposition next to the non-traditional rendering of the march feel of the chorus was very powerful. And the way she shifted the piano and melody of the latter verses of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” into a Chopin-esqe dirge was incredible, resolving up into the major key change when the free spirit cries!

And I have never before heard, nor probably ever will again hear “Carry On” done this way! No spoilers, you'll just have to hear it yourself.

Another thing that amazed me was that she did all her arrangements, even conducted the orchestra. This is not where a singer or a record label hires a producer to make all kinds of sweetness for the voice to rest on. She’s the creative heart and mind behind it all.

I have to admit, though, that in spite of the surprises and the innovation, the light, ethereal, airy, “Mormon girl” voices got a little old. That’s just me, though. The vocals were incredibly executed, and her high countermelodies were beautiful. I just like the voices to have a little more body some times. There were a few songs, like “Beautiful Savior”, and “Lead Kindly Light”, which didn’t have so much originality in the arrangement to distract me from the oh-so-traditional LDS "light spiritual" voice.

So, I’ll give it 4 stars, and I’ll actually listen to it on Sundays, because there is more musical substance to it that most of the “Sounds of the Sabbath” stuff I hear.

Mark Hansen

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Songs of Zion


Those of you who’ve been following me for a while know that I’ve been a bit driven to find good LDS rap. This is not so much because I’m a rapper myself, or even that big of a rap fan. It’s because I am very passionate about diversity in LDS popular culture, especially in music. I really want to find a wide variety of LDS artists, and I’d like to see the scene grow and expand.

I do, however, find myself really getting into the few good LDS rappers I’ve found. I think I dislike most rap for the same reason that I dislike the Beach Boys. The tunes aren’t about anything I can relate to.

But LDS rap, or at least raps by LDS artists, have the thread throughout the music that I can connect with, so I find myself listening even when I’m just spinning tunes for fun, or when I’m working out.

The most recent one I’ve found is a guy street-named Arhythmatik. A while back he sent me his EP, entitled “Pre-Algebra” (available at, and I’ve been spinning it ever since.

Unlike the previous rapper I reviewed, TJ Fredette, Arhythmatik doesn’t approach religion in his raps directly. There are a couple of brag and battle raps, and he deals with his own passions (like the lack of deep meaning in so much popular hip-hop). “Absolute Values” has a fun string quartet background looping with the beat, and is an exploration of personal creativity.

“Using wits as weapons
We drive devotion and direction
Determination and changed perceptions
Dedication and good old fashioned hustle
We learn to learn from these modern struggles
And survive in these asphalt jungles…”

The production is great. The process of creating rap is different than the process of making a rock tune, and it fascinates me. I’m not able to think in terms of loops and layers, rather than chord progressions. Some say it’s not as artistic, but I say it’s just a whole other paradigm of creation.

Anyways, check him out.

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Yu-Gi-Oh, Destiny, and Judgment Day



n. pl. des•ti•nies

1. The inevitable or necessary fate to which a particular person or thing is destined; one's lot.

2. A predetermined course of events considered as something beyond human power or control: “Marriage and hanging go by destiny” (Robert Burton).

3. The power or agency thought to predetermine events: Destiny brought them together.

I’ve been struggling a lot over the years with the argument over what determines who we are. What is it that determines our “Destinies”?

I’ve heard basically four arguments.

Nature “I’m born this way”

There are a lot of people that think that they do the things they do because they are genetically pre-determined to be. Alcoholism, homosexuality, even violent crime are all things that many have attempted to explain based on genetics. For good or ill, our DNA determines who we are, not just how we look.

Nurture, or the Environment “My parents/my neighborhood/my upbringing made me this way”

I think parents are great. Everyone should have a set! It sure makes it easy as I go through life to have people I can blame my shortcomings on! I mean, if my parents had been stricter/looser/meaner/nicer, I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in right now, right? Others grew up on the mean streets of (insert your home town here), and so it’s obvious why they act the way they do.

Our experiences, our environment shapes us. There are some who have some legitimate claims to the harshness of life. Victims of abuse. Those that survive the horrors of war. The truly mentally ill.

Divine Will
“God made me as I am”

Good or bad, we are children of our creator. And He, being omniscient, knows what our life’s path will be. Some take this to mean that He has already made that path for us, and that we’re merely walking down it, facing what is pre-destined to happen to us. He, the great puppetmaster, is in total control of everything, and therefore is responsible for me. Convenient, since that means I don’t have to be…

Freewill “I choose what I am”

This is the idea that we determine our own course in life. The effects and consequences of our choices shape us and we can become anything we determine to be. This is the only choice of the four that puts me in control of my life, which is a double-edged sword, to be sure.

Part of the challenge that faces us as we try and study this all out is that the proponents of each of these four options often tend to look at them in isolation. Each one seems, in their minds, to be the sole cause of all the good and ill in the world.

I don’t see it that way. I think all four elements play into our lives. And since our lives are the basis of our judgment and eternal reward, ultimately all four will play into that as well.

My son is starting to love playing Yu-Gi-Oh. For those that have been living without children for the last few years, this is one of the many “collectible card games”, where you buy these packs of cards and you collect them and you use them to play your games. As you collect them, you can do a certain amount of “stacking your deck”, meaning that before each game, according to certain rules, each player can choose which of their cards go in their decks. Then they shuffle them, and play, not knowing which cards will come out first. Each card has a unique impact on the way the game progresses, and some cards interact with other cards to create some very interesting strategies. Winning the game is very much a combination of what cards you have and how well you play them.

As I’ve been learning how to play this game with Brendon, I’ve noticed that in a lot of ways, it’s resolving these issues that I’ve had with these four elements on a metaphoric level.

See, it’s like in the pre-mortal life, God gave us each a big deck of cards. And each one of those cards is a facet of our life. That I have certain traits and habits and knacks to do things (like music) is each represented by a card. The challenges I face with having a special needs child, or my inability to manage my money well are also cards in my hand and in my deck.

See, here in this life, we are NOT all created equal. We want to believe that we are, but just take a look around. Some are born into amazing wealth. Others are born into abject poverty. Some are raised in fine schools. Others grow up where school is a daily risk of life.

We are given a deck of cards, like it says in Ether 12:27. God gives us weaknesses for us to be humble. He also gives us gifts.

In the parable of the talents in Matt 25:14-30, each servant was given a different amount to begin with. One received one coin (talent), one received three, and another received five. We are not all equal.

And yet, I find it to be really interesting to note that while one servant returned with ten talents, and another with only six, they both received the same reward! They started out inequal, but they ended up in the same glory! Why is that? Well, it’s because the one judging them knew what they started with, and knew what they ended with. The One with full omniscience knows pure justice.

What that means for me is that I’m going to be judged based on how well I play MY hand of cards. How well did I overcome MY challenges. How well I handled my strengths. And Ether also tells me that I’ll have help doing that. God, who gave me those weaknesses, will help me overcome them.

That also means that I have no right to judge someone else. I have no right to look at someone’s actions and say that they’re going to rot in the flames of the eternal abyss, because I don’t know what cards are in their hand. I don’t know what they’re dealing with. I think in the final hour, we’ll be surprised to see some people in the celestial kingdom because WE thought they’d never make it. Well, that’s what the atonement’s for. You play your hand of cards the best you can, and have faith in the One that gave them to you, and that’s how you’ll be judged.

So, why am I all on about this? Well, over the last few years that I’ve been mulling this over, I finally finished the song that is based on this whole concept. It’s called “Play the Cards” and it’s now live at my website!

Mark Hansen


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