Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

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Gerald
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Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by Gerald » 12 Aug 2013, 11:58

I've had an interesting experience that I thought I'd share. Part 1: A while back, I was giving a talk in sacrament meeting regarding an incident that had happened to me on my mission. It was the usual kind of faith-promoting experience that many of us have. After my talk, I started reflecting on that story and realized that I had "embellished" it a bit in the telling. Cut out some details that slowed things down, reduced the ambiguity, perhaps unconsciously increased my own (positive) contributions in the incident. I started to wonder how many other inspiring stories we hear are embellished in this manner. I think we all know that some of the history of the LDS Church has been "whitewashed." Some of this whitewashing may be purposeful (as many have pointed out here and other places) but it occurs to me that some of it is the natural alterations associated with the passing along of the story. (Ever play "Gossip?") The stories we tell change with the telling.

Part 2: The other day a talk was given in my ward based on President Monson's talk "In Search of Treasure." You can find it here: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/ ... e?lang=eng Personally, I like the talk and feel that Pres Monson makes some excellent points. During the course of the talk, President Monson relates the story of Benjamin Landart. The man giving the talk in my ward (based on Pres Monson's talk remember) retold the story of Benjamin Landart (which is quite inspiring) and as he told the story you felt that the story he was telling was true. At least, he spoke as if it were true. I had heard the story before but started reflecting on it and was a bit incredulous. A young man in Northern Utah in the 1880s who not only HAS a violin but has learned to play so well that he has a chance to play with an orchestra in Denver? All this while living on a farm with a single mother and several siblings? I suppose it's possible but given the experience in Part 1 I was skeptical. So I went to the internet. The reference for the story was “Benjamin: Son of the Right Hand,” New Era, May 1974, 34–37. I looked up that New Era issue on my IPAD but the story isn't there (not sure why). So I continued to lds.org and found this web page: https://www.lds.org/new-era/1974/05/contents?lang=eng# If you go down to the bottom you'll find "Benjamin: Son of the Right Hand". It's under "Fiction".
There's no link to the story (Again I'm not sure why this story isn't available) But if you want the original text of the story you can find it here: https://www.lds.org/manual/young-women- ... s?lang=eng Interestingly the manual makes it clear that it is a FICTIONAL story. However, I'm not sure that President Monson knows it (or knew it). But below is the paragraph that precedes the story of Benjamin Landart. If he knows that it is fictional, he doesn't make it clear.
First, learn from the past. Each of us has a heritage—whether from pioneer forebears, later converts, or others who helped to shape our lives. This heritage provides a foundation built of sacrifice and faith. Ours is the privilege and responsibility to build on such firm and stable footings.
Now, this is not an attempt to criticize Pres Monson or that good brother in my ward who related the story. It's not an attempt to make anyone who has sacrificed a little truth in the telling of a good story feel guilty or dishonest. The fact that the story is fictional or embellished doesn't necessarily take away from someone's message or call into question the teller's sincerity. I think it means that in the Church we sometimes have difficulty distinguishing truth and fiction in the stories we tell. It's certainly the case in the stories we listen to. We all embellish, change, adapt, alter for our own purposes. Perhaps this has always been the case. Maybe there is a difference between "truth" (in the eternal sense) and "accuracy." Then of course, there's Paul Dunn. https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/083-35-57.pdf

By the way, none of this bothers me. I just find it all very interesting.
Last edited by Gerald on 12 Aug 2013, 15:24, edited 1 time in total.
So through the dusk of dead, blank-legended And unremunerative years we search to get where life begins, and still we groan because we do not find the living spark where no spark ever was; and thus we die, still searching, like poor old astronomers who totter off to bed and go to sleep, to dream of untriangulated stars.
---Edwin Arlington Robinson---

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Orson
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Re: Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by Orson » 12 Aug 2013, 14:56

I remember as a youth hearing stories retold in church that I witnessed first hand, and I realized they assumed or observed things that I didn't, and told it in a way that I wouldn't have. On my mission I learned from the way companions told stories, and began to share common experiences in the same way - looking for things that could be described as the hand of the Lord.

I'm not sure how this all has shaped the way I view "faith promoting" stories, but I don't ever remember being incredibly impressed by a story - though I have found several intensely interesting.
My avatar - both physical and spiritual.

I first found faith, and thought I had all truth. I then discovered doubt, and claimed a more accurate truth. Now I’ve greeted paradox and a deeper truth than I have ever known.

Roy
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Re: Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by Roy » 12 Aug 2013, 15:31

Your question reminded me of the “Titanic story” told in GC. Here is what I wrote about that -
viewtopic.php?f=11&t=3788&hilit=+titanic
Not long ago there was a story from the Titanic that Elder Cook shared in GC. An LDS woman is a midwife/nurse and she goes down with the ship. The story that is passed down with her family is that most women and children were saved in lifeboats but that this LDS woman instead selflessly choose to tend to those that were wounded in the collision and missed her spot.

From my understanding there are two problems with this story: 1) Most women and children did not get off the Titanic and 2) there were no reports of individuals injured in the collision (though many were probably injured in the actual sinking). Where did this story come from? If she died and she was alone on the ship, how could her relatives in Utah hope to know what actually happened?

Can I understand the family fleshing out the details in a way that honors her memory? Yes. Do I value the Elder Cooks message even despite some erroneous details? Yes.

I really enjoyed Elder Cook's juxtaposition of the missionaries that missed the trip and the woman who chose the Titanic because the missionaries had booked the same voyage. Nice recognition that righteousness is not a protection against adversity, kind of in the style of Pres. Kimball's "tragedy or destiny". The addition that she may have been so dedicated to her saintly medical service to get off the ship herslef, even furthers this message. Is it possible that the good fortune of the missionaries was just a coincidence? Yes, but it is still good and proper to give thanks...

So in summary I appreciate these mythologies for 2 main reasons:

1) What they tell us about life and the human condition (the message can be true even if the story is not.)

2) What shared mythologies tell us about our communal identity and shared heritage. Even if the message doesn't really appeal to me, [at least not for the same reasons as everybody else] I still find value in being connected to others. Some Mormon when asked whether they would be more comfortable in a room full of black persons of the same gender or a room full of the opposite gender responded that they would feel most comfortable in a room full of Mormons despite the gender, race, or socio-economic status. Isn't there some value in being a member of a tribe?

One cool thing for me is that these myths are not set in stone. Myths are being tweaked, modified, and even born - today. Even those stories that are considered sacred are getting new readings and new interpretations. That’s the great thing about communal myths – we get to leave our mark on them. What stories might you wish to pass on to the next generation?
In a related subject....Hawkgrrrl did a great post titled, “Memory and Confabulation” some time ago.
Here’s the link: http://www.wheatandtares.org/867/memory ... abulation/

The stories of the crickets and seagulls and fine china in the Kirtland temple walls are two more examples of stories/memories growing over time.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

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mackay11
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Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by mackay11 » 12 Aug 2013, 15:42

Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

I treat everything these days "as if" it is fiction. That way I can concentrate on what the allegorical message is rather than twisting my head around history.

conflicted testimony
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Re: Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by conflicted testimony » 12 Aug 2013, 15:47

I was embarrassed recently when I told a story that is very dear to me, from my own past - so you would think I would get it right.

I said that the missionaries had turned up on my doorstep. My husband said that it was not the missionaries, it was some church members - possibly the bishop, possibly the visiting teachers.

In my memory, it was definitely the missionaries, I had written a journal entry that was unfortunately lost when my computer crashed so I have no way to confirm this.

Regardless - it was still a good story :) BUT highlights that embellishments are natural - not necessarily created or dishonest.

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Ilovechrist77
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Re: Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by Ilovechrist77 » 12 Aug 2013, 17:16

But what was the name of the General Authority who got in trouble with the church because he embellished or lied about so many of the personal experiences he said he had?

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Heber13
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Re: Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by Heber13 » 12 Aug 2013, 17:21

Ilovechrist77 wrote:But what was the name of the General Authority who got in trouble with the church because he embellished or lied about so many of the personal experiences he said he had?
Are you referring to Paul H Dunn? He had many war stories that were embellished. I think kind of harmless, but people didn't appreciate it, and he was getting so old they made him Emeritus status.
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

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mackay11
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Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by mackay11 » 12 Aug 2013, 20:15

It's fictional... I think.

The story is also referenced I the YW manual:

"Read or tell the following fictional story:"
https://www.lds.org/manual/print/young- ... s?lang=eng

Pres Monson said:
Each of us has a heritage—whether from pioneer forebears, later converts, or others who helped shape our lives. This heritage provides a foundation built of sacrifice and faith. Ours is the privilege and responsibility to build on such firm and stable footings.
A story written by Karen Nolen, which appeared in the New Era in 1974, tells of a...
https://www.lds.org/general-conference/ ... e?lang=eng

Dictionary Definition of "story": a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse.

I agree that he leaves it overly ambiguous and the story is told as if it is true.

Ann
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Re: Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by Ann » 13 Aug 2013, 00:25

Gerald wrote:I've had an interesting experience that I thought I'd share. Part 1: A while back, I was giving a talk in sacrament meeting regarding an incident that had happened to me on my mission. It was the usual kind of faith-promoting experience that many of us have. After my talk, I started reflecting on that story and realized that I had "embellished" it a bit in the telling. Cut out some details that slowed things down, reduced the ambiguity, perhaps unconsciously increased my own (positive) contributions in the incident. I started to wonder how many other inspiring stories we hear are embellished in this manner. I think we all know that some of the history of the LDS Church has been "whitewashed." Some of this whitewashing may be purposeful (as many have pointed out here and other places) but it occurs to me that some of it is the natural alterations associated with the passing along of the story. (Ever play "Gossip?") The stories we tell change with the telling.

Part 2: The other day a talk was given in my ward based on President Monson's talk "In Search of Treasure." You can find it here: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/ ... e?lang=eng Personally, I like the talk and feel that Pres Monson makes some excellent points. During the course of the talk, President Monson relates the story of Benjamin Landart. The man giving the talk in my ward (based on Pres Monson's talk remember) retold the story of Benjamin Landart (which is quite inspiring) and as he told the story you felt that the story he was telling was true. At least, he spoke as if it were true. I had heard the story before but started reflecting on it and was a bit incredulous. A young man in Northern Utah in the 1880s who not only HAS a violin but has learned to play so well that he has a chance to play with an orchestra in Denver? All this while living on a farm with a single mother and several siblings? I suppose it's possible but given the experience in Part 1 I was skeptical. So I went to the internet. The reference for the story was “Benjamin: Son of the Right Hand,” New Era, May 1974, 34–37. I looked up that New Era issue on my IPAD but the story isn't there (not sure why). So I continued to lds.org and found this web page: https://www.lds.org/new-era/1974/05/contents?lang=eng# If you go down to the bottom you'll find "Benjamin: Son of the Right Hand". It's under "Fiction".
There's no link to the story (Again I'm not sure why this story isn't available) But if you want the original text of the story you can find it here: https://www.lds.org/manual/young-women- ... s?lang=eng Interestingly the manual makes it clear that it is a FICTIONAL story. However, I'm not sure that President Monson knows it (or knew it). But below is the paragraph that precedes the story of Benjamin Landart. If he knows that it is fictional, he doesn't make it clear.
First, learn from the past. Each of us has a heritage—whether from pioneer forebears, later converts, or others who helped to shape our lives. This heritage provides a foundation built of sacrifice and faith. Ours is the privilege and responsibility to build on such firm and stable footings.
Now, this is not an attempt to criticize Pres Monson or that good brother in my ward who related the story. It's not an attempt to make anyone who has sacrificed a little truth in the telling of a good story feel guilty or dishonest. The fact that the story is fictional or embellished doesn't necessarily take away from someone's message or call into question the teller's sincerity. I think it means that in the Church we sometimes have difficulty distinguishing truth and fiction in the stories we tell. It's certainly the case in the stories we listen to. We all embellish, change, adapt, alter for our own purposes. Perhaps this has always been the case. Maybe there is a difference between "truth" (in the eternal sense) and "accuracy." Then of course, there's Paul Dunn. https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/083-35-57.pdf

By the way, none of this bothers me. I just find it all very interesting.
It is interesting. What is your thinking about the First Vision?
"Preachers err by trying to talk people into belief; better they reveal the radiance of their own discovery." - Joseph Campbell

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

"Therefore they said unto him, How were thine eyes opened? He answered and said unto them, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes...." - John 9:10-11

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Gerald
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Re: Fiction or history? The lesson of Benjamin Landart

Post by Gerald » 13 Aug 2013, 07:09

It is interesting. What is your thinking about the First Vision?
I would never claim expertise (religious or historical) regarding this issue. But I could see the same processes at work. Joseph Smith had a spiritual experience that evolved in the recalling and telling. Perhaps as Joseph Smith developed his theology it changed the very nature of that memory. I believe the first time he wrote about his experience was more than a decade after it happened (1832?). You would think that such a profound experience would remain nearly unvarnished in the memory but as Roy quite rightly pointed out (and as the links in his post support) our memories just don't work that way. The combination of human nature's natural tendency to embellish, our extremely malleable memories, and the passage of time MAY have been responsible for the process that finally resulted in the First Vision account that most members are familiar with.
So through the dusk of dead, blank-legended And unremunerative years we search to get where life begins, and still we groan because we do not find the living spark where no spark ever was; and thus we die, still searching, like poor old astronomers who totter off to bed and go to sleep, to dream of untriangulated stars.
---Edwin Arlington Robinson---

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