Bad Prose of the Day … /?id=14357

It’s been a while since I did one of these, but I do take perverse pleasure in seeing absolute garbage being produced by professional writers (and getting past their editors). Anyway, this is Jerry Johnston’s second appearance. I note that I saw this article through a link on John Dehlin’s Facebook wall (he said he thought the article seemed a bit paranoid). I’m not going to comment on the thoughts behind the article (such as they are) but rather on the writing.

So, without further ado:

LDS Church battening down hatches

by By Jerry Earl Johnston

So we start off with a nautical metaphor.

Think of the Salt Lake Temple as a designer bottle holding a one-of-a-kind fragrance.

Now we’re switching to perfume in a temple-shaped bottle, a very strange metaphor indeed. In what way is what’s in the temple like a fragrance? Is it ephemeral and easily dissipated? Is it meant to cover one’s bodily odors or attract the opposite sex? I don’t get it. But I guess we’re meant to see something rare and fragile inside a fragile bottle.

Think of the gardens and buildings of Temple Square as bubble wrap around that container.

Who puts bubble wrap around a perfume bottle? And equating fastidiously groomed gardens with cheap plastic material is odd.

Think of the City Creek Center to the south, the Church Plaza to the east, the Conference Center to the north, and the Family History Library and Church History Museum to the west as a firm, sturdy box around all of it.

Buildings as a box doesn’t exactly equate to a ringing endorsement of church architecture. But clumsy as the metaphor is, it’s pretty straightforward: everything around the temple is meant to protect it. Big stretch, if you ask me, but let’s see what he does with it.

When something merits that much protection, you have to figure rough bumps and bounces are coming down the road.

Now we’ve gone from nautical to a well-packed perfume bottle to, apparently, a ride on a bumpy road (well, it stands to reason that dragging a ship along a road would be a bumpy affair).

I get a feeling the LDS Church sees turbulence ahead — nasty weather –and it is making preparations.

Forget the road, now we’re talking weather. The use of “turbulence” suggests a trip by plane. So now we’ve put a perfume bottle in a box on a ship that has been dragged along a road into the cargo bay of an airplane that is now experiencing turbulence. That’s one hell of a metaphorical ride.

It’s not about being defensive and keeping things out.

That much is obvious, given that the perfume bottle is now flying along safely at 30,000 feet.

It’s about being protective and keeping precious things safe.

Such as? He gives us no clue as of yet, except for the vague reference to fragrance. But here we get the first set of paired sentences: “It’s about being” is contrasted with “It’s not about being” in an impressive display of rhetorical skill.

When the chilly winds blow, forest creatures gather all that’s life-sustaining about them.

So, now the plane is being flown by forest creatures? But even following another abrupt metaphor shift, this is a pretty awkward sentence. I think by “about” he means “around”; using “about” suggests that there is something inherently “life-sustaining” about them, which I don’t think he means.

Horses in the fields cluster together to stand against the hail.

OK, why not throw in a few horses?

I feel the LDS Church battening down the hatches for bad weather.

And back to the ship again. And how does one “feel the church” battening hatches? Seems like a “that” and an “is” are missing.

The Tabernacle Choir, which was performing musical versions of Robert Frost poetry and other secular works, now releases CDs filled with songs of faith, assurance and the need to rely on the Divine.

Yes, the choir’s performing of religious music is a monumental shift away from its roots.

I feel protection is the point behind the long row of sentries — those Mormon temples — that stand along the Wasatch — the new Brigham City temple, new Payson temple, the new remade Ogden temple and all the others.

Let’s review: we have a perfume bottle in bubble wrap in a box on a ship going down a road in a plane with horses and woodland creatures and now a long row of sentries. It makes me dizzy. And why the use of three em-dashes? The first two work, as the phrase “those Mormon temples” interrupts the flow of the sentence for explanation. But the third one throws the whole thing off. Are we meant to see “that stand as along the Wasatch” as another interruption or a continuation from “sentries”? That’s what happens when you try to write a paragraph-long sentence spliced together with em-dashes.

I feel protect precious things is the point of the new mission statements of LDS businesses, the point for books that are picked for publication and the lessons selected for manuals.

Another mess of a sentence. I guess Jerry doesn’t like the word “that,” which is sorely needed after “I feel” to make the sentence at all comprehensible. But I think the omission was intentional to maintain that paired rhetorical device: here “I feel protection” is paired with “I feel protect” (can one feel protect?). It would be nice for him to examples to support this point, but alas, none are forthcoming.

Part of the world would divide and conquer.

And yet another metaphor: which is it, a battle or a bottle?

The church would gather and protect.

OK, we needed that sentence to pull together the jumbled mess.

Something uneasy this way comes. Not a vilent clash as in Jerusalem — where cultures fight openly. We won’t be seeing stone throwers in the streets of Salt Lake City.

The subtle change from “wicked” to “uneasy” is actually kind of a nice touch, as if to reassure readers that he’s not crazy. The next two sentences add to the reassurance by suggesting that we’re not about to have an American Intifada. (Note to the Deseret News: “vilent” should never get past a copyeditor.)

The battle here won’t be about territory.

Nor will it be about culture, as he’s already told us.

It will be about choices — about the advent of a bolder, more self-indulgent popular culture.

And this bolder, more self-indulgent popular culture wants our perfume! The implication is that we have to choose between whatever is in that perfume bottle and “popular culture” outside of it. But I thought it was about protecting, not choices. Or maybe the protection comes from the choices, or maybe it’s the buildings or the sentries or the bubblewrap. I’m completely confused now.

The church can see the writing on the wall — often literally.

OK, he’s leading up to something here.

And graffiti on the temple will never do.


It’s time — as the old hymn has it — to “safely gather in, ere the winter storms begin.”

As long as we have woodland creatures around, we’re good.

The plan is not to force people away.

Hence the massive walls around Temple Square

The plan is to keep what’s on the inside safe from harm.

The fragrance must be kept safe at all costs, no matter how many horses cluster outside the ship’s hatches.

And if that means putting up ramparts and watchtowers, so be it.

Of course, ramparts and watchtowers are normally used to keep people out. Just saying.

Even heaven, if you believe the stories, is a gated community — not to keep people away, but to safeguard the gentle hearts of those who dwell there.

Oh, dear. After all that traveling in ships and planes along bumpy roads through turbulence, we end up in one of those upper-middle-class gated communities. That’s as good a place as any to deliver perfume, I suppose.

4 Responses to Bad Prose of the Day

  1. I agree, it was a horrible article in so many ways, and I’m even a believing Mormon who is subject to last days paranoia. I’ve read some Johnston that I’ve liked, but he definitely strikes out sometimes, and on this one he clapped himself in the head with the bat.

    Mormon Times does some good stuff but also some real shite. The columns from the Osmond boy are absolutely inane, lower quality than a lot of high-school level writing.

  2. runtu says:

    As I said, I didn’t want to comment on the subject directly, as I was less interested in what he said than in how he said it. The piece has a general “last days paranoia” vibe, as you said, but it’s too nebulous and awkward to get a sense of what he really means.

  3. Odell Campbell says:

    That would be bad writing for a junior high school student – really.

  4. froggey says:

    Oh, Runtu. Your running commentary during this bumpy metaphorical ride just made my day. 🙂

    Big green hugs!

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