In the last few weeks, Chris Bigelow and I have been putting the finishing touches on MORMONISM FOR DUMMIES, which is part of the ubiquitous yellow-and-black Dummies series. It’s been a serious challenge to write a book like this, which aims to present the faith in an accessible, entertaining format whille remaining reverent about sacred topics and also discussing some of the most common criticisms of the faith.
In preparing the book, I’ve read all of the other introductions out there, as well as books on various aspects of LDS history and doctrine. This has been a voyage of self-discovery in many ways, as I learned a few details about my religion that I never knew and was challenged to reflect on some elements in greater depth. For example, I thought it would be relatively easy to write the section on the Holy Ghost, only to find fascinating gaps in LDS doctrine about the topic: we know a great deal about how the Spirit functions, and the role it can play in our lives, but comparatively little about its origins and nature. There are numerous statements from church leaders that seem to contradict one another on this point, as well as folk beliefs that some people regard as doctrine. So the challenge of writing about that in a Dummies book is to present complex issues that don’t necessarily have hard-and-fast answers in a quick, accessible digest version. Oy vey, but it can give you a headache.
What do you say, for example, about race and African Americans in the Church when you have two pages to do so? (We went over the page limit on that one.) How do you present the reader’s digest version of polygamy? Do you discuss the fact that there are several different versions of the First Vision, or go with the one we use now for the sake of simplicity? And most of all, how do you present your tremendous love for an institution and its teachings while also trying to see them from the perspective of an outsider?
Co-writing started out as an accident and has turned out to be an amazing blessing. Chris and I both share the same literary agent, who suggested that we do this book together. We’ve found that our skills and backgrounds complement each other very well. Chris is a sixth-generation Saint who served a mission, used to work at the Ensign, and lives in Provo. I’m a religion scholar, trained historian, and a convert to the Church who lives in the “mission field.” (It has been surprising, actually, how much we’ve learned about the cultural differences between Mormons in Utah and elsewhere.) Chris is also way funny, which is important for the Dummies style, and I’m really not, despite many hours spent watching The Daily Show.
Doing this book has been a great journey and a valuable one. I love teaching others about what we believe. A couple of weeks ago, for example, my Starbucks-jacked assistant came into my office and asked, “Why don’t Mormons drink coffee?” I loved nothing more than teaching him about the Word of Wisdom and explaining why I no longer engage in my former morning cuppa joe. Ultimately, I hope that the book will be able to build those kinds of bridges. When it comes out in February, I hope you’ll let us know if it succeeds, and also tell us what you’d like us to do differently, as it’s likely that there will eventually be a second edition. (I guess I’m getting hooked on the outstanding and thoughtful feedback I’m seeing on this site.)
I’ll be back on Monday — have a lovely weekend.