Two Short Reads That Are Packed With Information

Need a good summer read? I picked up a couple at the Sunstone Conference that are both timely and on topic for the broader LDS Community. Here’s what I wrote about them on Amazon:

Could I Vote For A Mormon For President?An Election-Year Guide to Mitt Romney’s Religion

Ryan T. Cragunand Rick Phillips

Wallace Stegner wrote, “It is almost impossible to write fiction about the Mormons, for the reasons that Mormon institutions and Mormon society are so peculiar that they call for constant explanation”

As a writer and former member of the LDS Church, I understand Stegner’s dilemma. In spite of their existence for over 150 years, the Mormons remain a mystery to many. Nevertheless, America is poised to elect one as its president. That is why “Could I Vote For A Mormon For President?” by Ryan T. Cragun and Rick Phillips is such an invaluable work.

Written with wit and clarity, this short and timely book covers all of the basics. The authors who are both professors of sociology and former Mormons tackle topics such as polygamy, the Mormon temple ceremony, whether or not the Mormons are Christians, the Mormon view of the afterlife, and the church’s stand on feminism, homosexuality, and race relations.

Cragun and Phillips’ observations are direct, at times humorous, and fair to both Mormons and their critics.

For example, on the topic of polygamy: “There’s really no other way to say it: Joseph Smith was a horny guy.”

On whether or not the Mormon underwear is weird: “We don’t think so. From an anthropological perspective, many religions prescribe ritual or symbolic clothing for their members.”

On the church’s view of women: “…men are the ultimate authority in Mormon families, and that’s the way God wants it. Men might be enjoined to be benevolent rulers of the household, but they rule nonetheless.”

On LDS approved sexuality: “No premarital hanky-panky and no masturbation of any kind is ever allowed. The church does not recognize the validity of gay marriage…hence gay people cannot have orgasms…(unless a sham-marriage spouse somehow manages to get them off).”

In the end, the authors portray the Mormon Church as an unusual, authoritarian, and staunchly conservative institution that is ideologically aligned with the right wing of the Republican Party. Could you vote for a Mormon for president? Read this book and draw your own conclusion.

The Collapse of Belief:What To Do When Your World Comes Crashing Down

Kurt Hanks and Barbara Hanks

This slim and efficient volume is a must read for anybody who has let go of a cherished relationship. Using interesting analogies and clever illustrations, the authors effectively explain the thought processes involved in going from believer to non-believer. With a slight emphasis on the loss of religious belief, the book also addresses other types of loss, such as death and divorce, as well as the trauma that comes from giving up unhealthy work environments, toxic relationships, and faulty assumptions or “world views.” It is hard to imagine that there is anyone who would not benefit from this readable and engaging work. It is especially relevant today in our polarized, religiously-infused political climate. I highly recommend this book.

–Don’t let the brevity of my review ofThe Collapse of Beliefdissuade you. It’s a great read, and the illustrations alone are worth the cover price.

They’re both great reads. Enjoy!

My Utah Show and Tell

Every writer must remind herself to show not tell. Dont waste 500 words telling your reader that your character is a nincompoop. Instead show it. Have him mistake the London Underground for a political movement, or fill an entire evening with praises to his patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, or sketch his favorite animal, the liger. And so on.

In a Mormon context that might mean that instead of standing in testimony meeting and telling the ward about your Christian tolerance for your friends and relations who left the LDS Church, you instead show your tolerance by actually mixing with the above friends and relations. I had the opportunity to mix with many such believing Mormons at the recent Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City. The Mormons at Sunstone didnt need to boast that they tolerated their ex-Mormon friends; by including us they showed it.

Then theres my former BYU roommate and best friend of over 30 years. She is an active, believing Mormon who knows that Ive left the church and am sometimes critical of it. Nevertheless, Ive been invited to every graduation, missionary farewell and wedding reception. (No actual weddings, of course. But I cant fault her there. Its not her call.) Last week she and her husband loaned us their condo in the church owned high-rise next to City Creek Center.

Her actions show her tolerance. But they also show something about the strength and confidence of her faith.

When we were in Salt Lake City we also visited Marks family. As usual, my mother-in-law arranged a family dinner on Sunday. Everyone was there except Marks one believing sister, her husband, and their youngest child. This was no surprise. For some years now my sister-in-law and her husband have gone out of their way to shield their daughter from evil influences. Among these evil influences are her Uncle Mark and I, some of her cousins, and one of her siblings.

Then on Monday our daughter and her boyfriend, who live in Berlin, flew into Salt Lake for a couple of days. We spent our time visiting almost all of the family. Marks believing sister, brother-in-law and niece were again indisposed. Since our daughter moved to Europe in 2007, she has visited Salt Lake 3 times. On none of those occasions was she permitted to see her cousin.

–I should mention that while we were staying at her condo, my best friends son was staying at our place in San Francisco, a household complete with a coffee pot, well stocked wine refrigerator, and a library of non-church-approved books. (Including my own.) If this bothered my girlfriend, she didnt show it.

Thursday morning our daughter and boyfriend flew to Minnesota to attend a wedding. Once again, she missed seeing her cousin. That afternoon Marks uncle and aunt drove into town from their home near Denver. We were anxious to see them, as our last meeting was in December 2001. Marks uncle is a retired physicist who quit the LDS Church in his 20s while attending graduate school. His wife has never been Mormon.

We arrived at Marks folks home at 6PM, greeted his uncle and aunt, and sat around the family room making small talk. Then the most amazing thing happened. My believing sister-in-law and beautiful niece walked in the front door. Ive no idea what inspired this appearance. The cynical voice in my head told me that my mother-in-law had guilted her into coming. There I went again, relying on telling not showing. What showed was that they were there.

Unfortunately, any change of heart my sister-in-law may have had was quickly reversed. Almost immediately after the blessing on the food, Marks uncle asked me what I was doing with my time.

Ive written a book, I replied. Also I volunteer at a garden.

He nodded his head vigorously. Really? Tell me about that.

The garden?

NO! Your book!

Um, well, its just a little book. . .

Mark, my biggest fan, reached for the copy of The Girls From Fourth Ward he had given his mother and handed it to his uncle.

Mormon girls committing murder to get into BYU? Thats marvelous! Uncle boomed.

From there things quickly unwound. But not in the bombastically loud and hilarious way they did in the Archie Bunker household. It was more in the manner of a painfully awkward scene in a Zoe Heller novel, or an exchange in the drawing room at Rosings Park.

My sister-in-law weighed in on my accomplishment by noting the brevity of my author bio, reminding me that I wasnt exactly Stephen King, sarcastically speculating on the millions in royalties I would earn, and gently conveying how sad she was that I didnt have more of a life.

And so the evening went on, shifting from pleasantries to meanness then back to pleasantries.

As believing Mormons I am sure that Marks sister and brother-in-law tell people that they know the LDS Church is true. But thats just telling. When they shun and belittle family in order to keep their daughter active in the faith, they show a far less confident attitude toward their church and its claims.

At Sunstone believers and non-believers eagerly browsed the Mormon Alumni Association book table. Nobody seemed threatened, and there were no snide remarks. Likewise, when I told my best friend that Id finally published my book, she hugged and congratulated me. I dont know if shell read it or not. But if she does, I doubt it will shatter her faith. If she doesnt, it wont be for fear that it might.

As for our niece, she showed no signs of damage from her exposure to us. She spoke proudly about her recent internship at The New Era, and well she should. Her original poem is to be published in an upcoming edition of that magazine.

Will my husbands sister and brother-in-law see this and loosen their grip on her? Hard to say. Cognitive dissonance can be a mighty thick blindfold. Or as Groucho Marx put it, Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?

Sunday in Outerblogness: Uncorrelated Edition!

When chanson asked me to fill in for her this week, I was glad to give the hardest working Ex-Mormon blogger a well-deserved weekend off. Especially since she just got through naming Joanna Brooks the X-Mormon of the Year! What I didnt anticipate was how much I would enjoy spending a week on Outerblogness, where members from all sides of the broader Mormon community have one thing in common: they can take on the tough issues without worrying about checking with the LDS Church Correlation Committee, consulting with their bishops, or offending someone in Testimony Meeting.

 

Take the topic of Mormonism and race, for example. To some it inspired rage, to some a defense of the faith, to others an examination of their sheltered environment, and, to President Paternoster, the scolding of an entire continent. Then we moved on to politics, where Mormon candidates, Romney in particular, invited confusion, satire, and uncomfortable encounters. Gender and same-sex attraction came up as well, in the form of a plea for tolerance, a heartbreaking story, andan examination of Mormon theology.

 

Speaking of theology, LDS history and doctrine took center stage this week in discussions over whatJesus would really do, the true definition of a Christ-centeredfaith,interpretations of the Book of Mormon, Alma 32,and the teachings of Abraham, and when to tell the kids the whole story. Also, what exactly is a Mormon anyway? Or an Ex-Mormon, for that matter? And heaven help an intelligent Mormon!

 

Of course we sisters weighed in as well. Sulli reflected on decision-making, Heather on turning twelve, and Starfoxy on the role of women. Molly mused over healthy messages to women and girls, and Jennifer recalled some less than healthy messages. And we remembered the forgotten wives of Joseph Smith, as well as a couple of birth days.

 

Last but not least, there were some good reads, an art contest, blogging opportunities, pictures worthmanythousands of words, suspicious scooters,fantasies, theories about LDS retention rates, General Conference predictions, interesting quotes, thoughts onorgan donation, gorgeous poetry, a filmdebutand a long anticipatedmall opening.

 

And in closing, I would be remiss if I did not stand and express my gratitude for the wonderful writers that make up Outerblogness!