Guest Post: Sunday School Gives Me Impure Thoughts

by Rebecca

Rebecca is a former school psychologist turned super mom of three, who makes prodigious use of her library card. She’s a fan of men in skirts.

Friberg's Captain Moroni

The room where I attend Sunday school doubles as a seminary classroom on weekday mornings. There’s a bookcase full of marked-up scriptures toward the back, and rows of chairs with fold-down
desktops, their cold metal seats designed to keep seminary kids awake at 6:30 a.m. At the front of the room, photographs of the apostles are displayed in a row above the chalkboard. I sometimes imagine that they look down on me with mild disapproval as I come in a few minutes late, then fumble through my scriptures in an attempt to follow the lesson. Obviously, I’m no scripture chase star.

Along the sides of the room hang a series of Arnold Friberg prints, circa 1950, primarily featuring famous scenes from the Book of Mormon. These are the same pictures you can check-out from your local meetinghouse library, or buy from the church distribution center for your private use. From my seat, the prints are conveniently arranged at eye level and I can’t help noticing the picture of Captain Moroni standing there so boldly, not two feet from my appreciative face. How I could have overlooked him before?

I wonder how he stays so fit. Could it be all the hand-to-hand combat, or do you think he has a chin-up bar at home? I want to lean over and whisper, “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up because you’re lovely, absolutely lovely.” As I try to compute the ratio of broad shoulders to narrow hips, it occurs to me that he might feel less lonely in a frame on my nightstand. I consider the merits of a kilt, and wonder if it’s time to bring it back. This is a man who obviously feels secure in a skirt and I can respect that. Then I blush a little as I notice his sword, and hastily redirect my gaze to the scriptures in my lap. For the rest of the lesson, I can’t look up because I know that the men in dark suits, in their places there above the chalkboard, can see right through me.

I wonder if anyone else has taken note of this picture, or those similar to it? Is this sort of hyper-masculine image distracting or just delightful? What would the female counterpart look like, and would she be acceptable to display in church? I’m curious about what the men think about these images of manliness.

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18 Responses

  1. “I’m curious about what the men think about these images of manliness.”

    They are pretty disappointing, in that its hard to understand how these images of Warriors have anything at all to do with the healing power of the priesthood, or the Christlike characteristics we are encouraged to emulate, or a spiritual / intellectual engagement with scripture, or being involved in on going efforts to take our faith into the world for the sake of doing good in the community.

    I see many of these pictures as flat out stupid. A Mormon kitsch celebration of a form of masculinity that is openly hostile to what an actual life of religious commitment is made of.

    That being said, your reception of them seems spot on. The representations of the men are all about their perfect bodies, Take the breast place off of Captain Moroni there and he would be right at home on the cover of Men’s Health and Fitness magazine. So enjoy! Lets just not make the mistake of calling it religious art.

  2. Lacy says:

    Ha ha. I love me some muscular Moroni as well.

    Friburg has this baptismal scene where a woman is just out of the water. Her arm is totally buff. Always been a fan of that.

  3. G says:

    heheh… thanks for your insightful observations rebecca.
    this is bringing to mind the Men on a Mission calendar that got it’s creator excommunicated… and also those Mamma’s Boys stripling warrior posters (I think you can buy those at Desert Book?)

  4. Caroline says:

    Hah! Love your take on this, Rebecca.

    I think it’s interesting to compare Friberg’s figures to those of Minerva Teichert, Mormonism’s premier female painter. Check out how lithe and gentle looking her males are.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/3/39/MinervaTeichertChristInARedRobe.jpg/180px-MinervaTeichertChristInARedRobe.jpg

    And as for that Friberg painting that depicts a woman’s arms, here it is. http://www.lds.org/images/Manuals/tchg-pix.nfo:o:196.jpg

    She’s the most exposed of any of the Friberg females that I could find. The rest seemed to be pretty well robed up – when they appear, which is very seldom.

    Douglas, great points about how these images of physically fantastic (and often warlike) male specimens go against the Christlike gentle attributes Mormon men are supposed to acquire.

  5. Deborah says:

    Yow, Caroline. The biceps of the man in the foreground of the picture you link to put Rebecca’s crush to shame! He’s got popping veins! Never really noticed before . . . but then, I keep my mind pure. . .

  6. Anon for This says:

    Given his stance and high perch, imagine the sight from the point of view of the stripling soldiers.

  7. Starfoxy says:

    This reminds me of the time when my seminary teacher showed the Old Testament video with the story of Naaman. In which what is arguably the best looking man to appear in a church video takes off most of his clothes and goes in and out of a river seven (seven!) times. Since he was being cured of leprosy the camera lingered on the now smooth skin of his wet bare chest as he got in and out and in and out of the river.
    As I recall a sizable group of girls returned to the seminary building during lunch hour to ask if they could watch the video again.

  8. Two of Three says:

    I always thought this means that the more righteous we are, the better looking we will be. Probably why I have acne! The pictures that bother me are the ones of Christ that look like he was born in Scandinavia. He was Hebrew. Wouldn’t that have made him a little darker than most pictures portray?

  9. Jim Donaldson says:

    There is a great cartoon in one of the old Grohdahl books that shows a print of a Fribergian very muscular Nephim with the one young boy looking at another asking, “What does it take to be a prophet?” The other answers, “Revelation and steriods.”

    My favorite is the one of Abinadi, the old white-haired guy is impossibly buff.

  10. Now I wish I’d saved my old Book of Mormon with Friberg pictures. Was that the edition I gave away with my testimony written inside? Probably not. So far as I know, none of my female recipients were baptised.

  11. Th. says:

    .

    I will say that the Friberg of the Waters of Mormon has a hot chick in wet see-through clothes. I may have noticed at some time in my past.

  12. Rebecca says:

    Some funny and insightful responses. Douglas aptly labeled it Mormon kitsch, and I’d agree although I must admit a certain affinity for these old paintings, beyond their obvious sex appeal! Maybe its nostalgia. Seeing the Minerva Teichert painting juxtaposed is interesting. Her Christ In A Red Robe does feel like a spiritual artwork and I’ve always like it. Starfoxy’s comment about the leprosy filmstrip really cracked me up, and made me wish I’d been a regular seminary attender. I missed all those awesome filmstrips which sometimes makes me feel like a cultural outsider. I had to get Johnny Lingo from the distribution center as an adult so I would get all the jokes. Thanks for the comments all!

  13. madhousewife says:

    I love impossibly buff Abinadi. I think of it as metaphorical, like the wings on angels.

  14. D'Arcy says:

    I always got distracted by their big necks. They are HUGE.

  15. Lessie says:

    OMG! Starfoxy! I totally remember that video 😀 He was hot, huh?

    I also liked the one where Captain Moroni stands across the river to make his final pitch to some evil dissenting tribe or other. Dude that played Moroni was beautiful. “Such a fine young man,” we used to say 😉

  16. Starfoxy says:

    Lessie- I do believe the actor that played Moroni was the same actor as played Naaman. Not that I was playing attention to that, or anything. 🙂
    You can watch the captain Moroni video from here. It’s the one titled “firm in the faith.”

  17. Bro. Jones says:

    @ Caroline – I was gonna say, I always thought the lady stepping out of the waters of baptism in the pic you referenced was pretty foxy. 🙂

  18. Kelly Ann says:

    This is a fun discussion, thank you. I’ve mostly not paid attention to Mormon art …

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