Tuesday, October 25, 2011

HE'S A (Book of Mormon) LEGO MANIAC!

The Tree of Life
When I stumbled upon the blog of our next guest in The Forum, I just about fell out of my chair...This guy has illustrated 20 scenes from the Book of Mormon...using Legos!  I immediately asked him for an interview.  Read on to see what he says about the experience and about gaining and sharing a testimony of The Book of Mormon:

NOTE:  If any of these depictions pique your interest in The Book of Mormon, 
you can read it here.

Nathan...what's with the Lego infatuation?

Haha, You'd be surprised how often I actually hear this.  Like many other kids, I grew up with Lego--but while other children seem to grow out of it eventually, I never quite did.  

I think perhaps one of the greatest reasons for this is simply that I can express myself in unique ways through Lego, and there aren't many other mediums that seem to work just right for me.  I want to create art, and Lego is much easier for me to work with than, say, paint or clay.  And, of course, it's just fun!    

Mormon Abridges the Plates
What gave you the idea to recreate Book of Mormon scenes using Legos?  And how do you decide which scenes to do?  

Another factor that has kept me interested in Lego is the worldwide community of thousands of other adult Lego fans.  It's a blast to talk and compare ideas with them, and to have an audience for the things I build.  It was through this community that I discovered other people recreating scenes from the Bible in Lego, and I thought it was really cool to see the scriptures portrayed that way.  But to my knowledge, no one had done anything with the Book of Mormon.  Well, I thought,why not me?  With the ability for it to be seen all around the world, I considered this a choice opportunity to share my testimony and reach a lot of people.  But even without such an audience, I was just excited by the thought of using art to express my feelings about the Book of Mormon.

Suffer the Children
Back then--I was sixteen at the time--I was only familiar enough with a few stories to illustrate them very well in Lego.  So I actually just went through the Book of Mormon, page by page, scanning chapter headings and building what sounded interesting.  I got about twenty scenes out of this, which is all that have been done so far.  

"Oh Ye Fair Ones"
But as you and I both know very well, there are many more than just twenty worthy scenes in the Book of Mormon... and I intended to go back more thoroughly and build what I had missed.  Yet by the time I had published "Oh Ye Fair Ones," from Mormon, preparation was in full gear for my mission, and I was happy to put my various projects on the back burner for a while to go where the Lord needed me most.  

I had done my Lego missionary work--now I got to finally put on the badge!  Of the many things I gained from that experience, there came a more abiding testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon, and a more extensive knowledge of its contents.  Though I still have to admit... I can't count how many times on my mission (and since!) that, while reading the scriptures, I thought, Gee, this would look awesome in Lego!  So, I suppose to answer your question in just a few words, scripture study is what leads me to the decision of which scenes to build. 

With that said, I'm happy to announce that there are still many more scenes in the works.  I can't put an estimate on how soon the world will see them, or how often, but I am at least planning Samuel the Lamanite for the coming Holiday season.  It's gonna be awesome!

Which scenes were the most fun to do?

Oh, man.  Good memories coming back!

The Book of Alma was a blast to go through; it provided two of my favorite scenes.  Anything with Captain Moroni is going to be awesome.  I can't say whether he's my favorite character in the scriptures (we all need different heroes for different times, right?), but he's definitely in my top five.  My first depiction of him was in "The Title of Liberty," a simple scene with Moroni posed atop a rock, waving his newly created banner.  That one stayed put together for a while, because I really loved how it turned out.  My first foray into Alma, "Ammon at Sebus," was the perfect scene to do in Lego, as it fit the toy so well (what would you expect with a figure whose arms snap off?).  Before it was retired, that scene made its way into a Relief Society centerpiece.

"The Mists of Darkness," from 3rd Nephi, was also a fun build.  That, along with "The Tree of Life" and "Murder at the Judgment Seat" were for me perhaps the most visually pleasing of the series.  "The Great and Spacious Building" offered me the greatest challenge of all: figuring out how to pack something so massive into such a small space, yet still keeping some sense of its grand scale.  I enjoyed working with its architectural details, too.   

The Scalping of Zerahemna
How do people react to them? Have you received any interesting feedback? 

I've had generally positive feedback, both from members of the Church and those of other faiths.  On occasion, I have had people actually comment on the scriptural background of my creations, and I've had some really nice conversations with them.  Normally, it's someone that has read the Book of Mormon at some point, and even though they didn't go and get baptized, or anything, they had favorable things to say about the book.  I always appreciate that. 

Murder at the Judgment Seat

Another neat thing happened while I was publishing these little scenes: all of a sudden, I wasn't alone anymore in the Lego community.  There always had been members of the Church here and there, and I had even gotten to talk to them previous to this.  But I never knew they were LDS.  They hadn't known I was LDS, either.  Yet now, whenever I'd post a new scene, there was always someone else who would express their excitement over seeing something so meaningful to them appear in our community discussions.  A few even offered to help with the project in various ways, like giving story and building suggestions or selling me relevant pieces from their own Lego collections.  That really meant a lot to me.  From my perspective, it seemed like members of the Church were just coming out of the woodwork, and that was a great feeling.  I gained some wonderful friendships because of that.

Indeed, the feedback I receive from members of the Church tends to be very excited.  We as Latter-day Saints are a people who love to see our faith anywhere it appears in the world, and I can't count how many emails and blog comments I've received asking for permission to use my pictures in Sunday School lessons, Family Home Evenings, and seminary classes.  I love seeing my fellow Saints get excited about this stuff, because my little creations are, in essence, my testimony to the world. 

What do you do with them when you're finished?

Well, Lego ain't cheap, but the beautiful thing about it is I can reuse it.  Everything I build gets taken apart again after I've published the photos, so I have the pieces I need for the next scene.

What is your testimony of the Book of Mormon?  How did you get it? 

My testimony has been a lifelong effort, but perhaps the most pivotal moment happened in high school.  I grew up in the Church, and throughout my childhood I was blessed to learn the scriptures at home.  I gained a lot of important knowledge as a kid, which would lay a strong foundation for the rest of my life.  But for me, that was just what we did, and that's as far as my understanding really stretched at that point.  We went to church on Sunday.  I went to Scouts, Young Men's, seminary.  I served in my Aaronic Priesthood quorums.  I knew these were all good things to do, but the way I looked at the world, my testimony was based more on facts than on the Spirit.  I knew things, but hadn't asked God to confirm them for me.  God hadn't told me the Gospel was true; I reasoned that it was true.  It made sense to me logically.  And that was a decent enough place to start; but it would never be enough.

Things got pretty hard during my sophomore year of high school.  It wasn't so much that bad things were happening; I was just in a new environment at school, which came with new friends and new activities.  I discovered that the world was a much bigger place than I was used to, and in all my efforts to fit in, I got a bit overwhelmed.  I didn't know who I was, exactly, or where I belonged.  In so many words, there was a hole in my life that I didn't know how to fill, and I wasn't happy.  As well as I knew the "facts" of the Gospel, there was no comfort in them for me.

Every year, my seminary would challenge all the students to read the Book of Mormon in the month of March.  That year in high school was my first accepting the challenge, but mostly because everyone else was doing it--after all, my whole purpose in life was to fit in.  

Going to high school in Utah, most of my classmates were also members of the Church, and it was the coolest thing to be sitting in class during March and see so many of them reading the Book of Mormon at their desks.  School felt different that month; the Spirit was there, though at that time I didn't recognize that good feeling as the Spirit.  For me, it was more of a "strength in numbers" type of thing.

And yet, I did notice some other changes.  For one thing, there was that good feeling at school.  Over the course of the month, I found myself trying less and less to fit in, and more and more to just be a good, kind person.  Little things that had once so troubled me lost their effect.  I was doing better in school.  I wasn't so stressed out all the time.  The world just seemed like a more beautiful place.  And yet, the only thing I was doing differently than before was reading my scriptures every day.  My situation didn't change--I did.

The Prayer of Enos

On a Saturday evening near the end of that month, after spending my whole day trying to catch up with the reading, I reached the end of Mormon and felt a powerful urge to pray.  I had never felt (or at least recognized) such a prompting before, and I wasn't really sure what I should pray about.  But I felt a powerful sense of gratitude for my life, and for the world around me, and for the story I had just read about Mormon and the decline and fall of the Nephite nation.  So I figured I'd pray about those things, and just thank God for them.  Yet as I was praying, I continued to feel things... and I finally found myself asking whether the Book of Mormon was true. 

I had read the Book of Mormon before, but never prayed about it, and didn't know what to expect when I did pray.  To be honest, I think I was hoping for a concourse of angels, or the voice of God Himself whispering in my ear, or something like that.  Remember, the Gospel made sense to me logically, and for me, those were the logical ways for prayers to be answered.  Feeling didn't make sense to me, even though it was that very thing that had driven me to pray in the first place.  I just didn't understand how I was supposed to get a clear answer in silence.

But that's the wonderful thing about the Spirit: it's not logical.  It's not bound by mortal reason.  I didn't hear a voice, or see angels, but I would not know the truth more surely even if I had experienced those things.  There came into my heart and mind a strong sense of peace--peace where there had once only been restlessness--and a sustaining hope.  I couldn't remember a time I had felt so much love and happiness.  I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so sure of anything as I was at this moment.  Relying on facts--a "scientific method" of the Gospel, if you will--none of this would have made any sense to me at all.  But now I understood!

God is mindful of each and every one of us.  He heard the prayer of a struggling fifteen-year-old and filled the hole I had been trying so very desperately to fill.  Because of the Book of Mormon, I not only know who my Savior is--I know why He came to Earth and atoned for me.  I know what He wants me to do, and who He wants me to be.  And no matter how crazy the world gets, or how busy my life seems to be, I am living a life of peace every single day, and I carry that peace and that hope with me everywhere I go.  It's what we're promised in Ether 12:4:

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

This is the life.  And I am grateful to a loving Heavenly Father who has blessed me with it.

What advice do you have for others on sharing their faith in the Book of Mormon?

It sounds so simple, but prayer is such an effective tool in sharing one's faith in the Book of Mormon.  If you want opportunities, ask God for them!  And then you do your part, because He'll certainly do His.  Go about doing good.  Look for ways you can serve others, and miracles will happen.  Just jump in, and don't worry about what you'll say; God knows what everyone needs to hear and when.  Trust the Spirit.

I have also learned that getting creative works, too; it's not always a Gospel conversation that opens hearts and minds.  Our Heavenly Father has blessed each of us with unique talents, and He wants us to use them!  We can bear testimony through our hobbies and interests--in my case, with Lego.  

Yet it's not hard to start a Gospel conversation, either.  If someone asks me how my weekend went, I like to mention that I went to church, and if it feels right, maybe even share what the Sunday School lesson was about, or how much I enjoyed someone's talk.  We owe everything we have to God.  So, when you think about it, everything we have testifies of Him.  Any conversation, any situation, can become an opportunity to bear witness of God's blessings.  

And, if you want to share the Book of Mormon, use it!  When my friends experience trials, I like to share Book of Mormon verses with them that have brought me comfort, and it has never hurt.  Actually, while my friends haven't necessarily rushed to get baptized, or anything, more than once they have let me know how much those passages meant to them, and that strengthens my faith.  

For further study on this topic, Chapter Five of Preach My Gospel is full of great ideas for using the Book of Mormon; I would definitely recommend it.  

When do you think the first stop-motion-animation Lego B of M film will be coming out??

Haha, Now there's an idea!  I have attempted stop-motion animation in the past, but I must confess I do not have the patience or skill for it.  I do know some people, though; I'll pitch the idea to them.  :)

Anything else you'd like to share?

I'd just like to thank you for taking interest in my work and giving this interview.  When we share our testimonies, our testimonies grow, and I have felt that as I have taken the time to answer your questions.  If anyone else has any questions, I'd be happy to answer as best I can.  And, while I'm here, I might as well let any YSA readers know I'm single, a returned-missionary, a musician, and I work out.  ;-)    

Nathan Cunningham

You can see more of the work of Nathan Cunningham at Galleria di Cunningham and Glass Half Full.  Thank you, Nathan, for sharing your time, talent, and testimony with us!

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  1. I absolutely love these! I'm going to show my husband because I actually think this could be a neat way for him to get back into scripture reading. He's very into artistic things and people who use legos to create art.

    Love, love, love!

  2. I saw the title and just had to read the post! It brought back great memories of my son (who is also a single, returned missionary who works out regularly). When he was a deacon his quorum used Legos instead of people to create their video for some Mutual activity. They had a blast. But even more important, thank you for sharing your testimony. It's quite powerful, and you're a great missionary.

  3. My brother in law actually published a book about 6-7 years ago that is the Book of Mormon summarized for children illustrated with pictures of lego creations he and his sons made out of legos. It is amazing. You should check it out at http://www.brickofmormon.com/

  4. THAT is cool! :) I am bookmarking his site to show my kids later. Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. This absolutely wonderful! Thank you for this cheery and uplifting post! Even through legos a testimony can be strengthened!

  6. wow I'm going to share this with my son Daniel-great ideas for getting boys into seeing the scriptures come to life...thanks for finding this individual and for his sharing his testimony...I love it!

  7. LOVE it! My 10 year old is going to love it too! Thank-you SO much Nathan for doing this. My kids will be able to relate!

  8. This is just the coolest thing EVER. Legos are big at my house right now - I have a husband that also never quite outgrew them, and now he has two little minions to help him with his creations. ;) They are going to love these scenes! Thanks for sharing your creativity, and even more thanks for sharing your testimony. It was wonderful to read.

  9. I Can't wait to show these to my boys. I LOVE IT. What a great post!

  10. How cool is that? And a great testimony, too!


  11. I'm glad you all have enjoyed these! It certainly motivates me to get more scenes built sooner rather than later; thank you for your encouragement. :)

    I can vouch for dougandcheryl; their brother-in-law's book is awesome. I received a copy of it for Christmas one year while I was on my mission, and I still treasure it.

    Thanks again, Jocelyn!

  12. These are awesome! I can also vouch for the Brick of Mormon book. My son has HF autism. He lives and breaths legos, and loves his book! I cant wait to show him these!

  13. Where and when can I buy these Legos?

  14. I don't think they are available as sets...just the book is available for sale.  See link above.