The Neal A. Maxwell Institute has just released the first volume in their ‘Living Faith’ series. Letters to a Young Mormon, by Adam Miller, is a small, pocket-sized book with barely 70 full pages of text.
I’m finding it very hard to describe this book. Mainly because I’m trying to restrain my initial impressions to shout HALLELUJAH from the housetops at its very existence.
This book, if read and distributed, has the power to do extraordinary good. If you look at the table of contents, you might think these short chapters are simply a mirror of what you might see in For The Strength of Youth:
Agency, Work, Sin, Faith, Scripture, Prayer, History, Science, Hunger, Sex, Temples, Eternal Life.
I view this book, actually, as a perfect, beautiful and rich compliment, companion, and addendum to that institutional book of standards. The chapter on ‘History’, I think, contains within it a beautiful summary of what this book is – it is noted how the real life experiences of those who grappled with understanding and living Gospel principles can generally be realistically a bit more complicated than some of the simple illustrations and stories we tend to use to address them in Church meetings, and that the struggles and complexity of those in the past is actually a form of good news for us – because we are more like them than we often make clear. Miller writes:
“Our church manuals and histories are sometimes shy about this good news. With good intentions, they worry over your faith. Sometimes they seem too much like that friend of a friend who really just wants you to like them, so they pretend to only like the same vanilla things they think you do. But God is stronger stuff than this. And the scriptures certainly are as well.” (p 47-48).
From my own personal experience writing this, coupled with the other reviews I’ve seen around, such an acknowledgement is empowering, affirming, and incredibly faith-promoting. I know that there are many in the Church who feel this way, but without having contact with someone else saying it, they may sadly feel alone, or like their life experience is out of place what is thought to be the ideal Church experience.
What Miller does is not to criticize the Church, nor to criticize your experience. It is very strongly to affirm and illustrate the essential and vital compatibility of two. In his introduction, he notes,
“I mean only to address the real beauty and costs of trying to live a Mormon life. And I hope to show something of what it means to live in a way that refuses to abandon life or Mormonism.” (p. 7)
Sometimes, the inspired models that have been used earnestly and effectively in the past to illustrate and attempt to explain who God is and how he works to a particular audience are unintentionally turned into a conceptual constraining box, rather than a stepladder to being able to accept greater knowledge and understanding. God is bigger than the story boxes used to illuminate who he is – and Miller claims that looking around us, we can see a downpour of revealed knowledge about the world, and how God works. The problem comes when we try to shove new knowledge into old story constructs. That can lead us to feeling stuck, frustrated, and confused. New wine in old wineskins, so to say. His response is liberating:
“The question isn’t: ‘can evolution be made to fit with the biblical idea of the world?’ The question is: ‘Can evolution be made to fit with the God who showed himself in that biblical world?’ I don’t have any revelatory answers about how they fit, but given that both God and evolution are real, I assume the answer is yes. They do fit. Now it’s up to us to open our doors, zip up our slickers, and step out into the storm of revelations raining down upon us. It’s up to us to keep thinking and praying and testing from here.” (p. 55)
Amen, Amen, Amen!
I have far more I want to say about this book. But the more I write about it, the more it’s keeping you from reading this small wonder for itself.
Buy this book. Read this book. Share it with all of your Mormon friends, young and old. Read it with them. Discuss it with them.
At this moment, I can’t think of a more faith-affirming, testimony building, intellectually and emotionally stimulating LDS devotional publication that I have previously read. This book has the potential to help many see the love and works of God at work in their lives clearer than they may have been willing – or able – to acknowledge before. This book fills a need. I extend wholehearted gratitude to the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for the publication of this important volume. I truly believe their namesake would be pleased.
If you really need to read more to be convinced, there is a selection from his chapter on Sin online here. Or just go ahead and buy it on amazon for $8.96. You will not be disappointed.