Earlier, I said that in lieu of great Mormon writers I’d be happy with adequate ones who capture the sweetness of Mormon life. A commenter who’s named Matt Evans but isn’t the coblogger said some pretty percipient things about the actual Catholic literature vis-a-vis the potential Mormon literature. Check it out. In passing he added this comment
I say ‘so-called sweetness’ because I donâ€™t believe the essence of the gratifying experience you sketched above is in any meaningful way different from the Lake Wobegon religious life Garrision Keillor has chronicled so well.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that.
My assumption earlier was that Mormon life was uniquely sweet (not just sweet in its own way, but sweet-er, or sweet in a better way.) I think that assumption is probably right, so let me defend it, but then I’ll move on to some thoughts on why capturing the sweetness of Mormon life would be valuable even if other groups live lives as sweet.
First, I would argue that Mormon life is sweeter even if the things that make our life sweet–family, community, shared service, lived tradition and customs–are common to Lutherans in Lake Wobegon and many others, because our doctrine makes sense of those things in a way that other doctrines do not fully. I believe that doctrines like the eternity of families, the sealing links backwards and forwards, eternal life as induction into a divine sociality, or even the divine acceptance of certain human customs and particularities inherent in (1) continuing revelation (2) in man’s language—all of these link our beliefs to our sweetness. I think that in writing these kinds of links would naturally emerge.
I believe that Mormon life is generally uniquely sweet because I believe that the presence of the Holy Ghost enhances one’s enjoyments and because I believe that Mormon life in some greater degree resembles the life lived in Heaven, which I have spiritual and revelatory reasons to believe is the sweetest of all. I think this would be hard to comunicate in writing. And I could be wrong, of course–it could be that the kind of life necessary to prepare people to live in heaven isn’t much like the life in heaven and not necesarily sweet. Or it could be that Mormons have not lived up to their revelations to much of any degree. Or both.
Writing the sweetness of Mormon life for a larger audience would be valuable even if Mormon life doesn’t have a superior sweetness. If it did, of course, that would be a valuable missionary tool. But its a valuable missionary tool even if not. To the degree that Mormon life becomes intimate and familiar, Mormon beliefs become more of an offense and a stumbling block that must be dealt with in some way. If Joseph Smith is just a rought stone rolling–someone you might even know–then “I had seen a vision” becomes that much harder to ignore.
Assuming Mormon life has no superior sweetness to others, writing it would be valuable in other ways. Part of the sweetness of life is its variety. Our life will be sweet for many of the same reasons that the Lutheran life is sweet, or Amish life, or life on a military post (something I’m familiar with) but because we have our own history, customs, and belief, our sweetness will have its own flavor.
If some of our sweetness is fungible, readers from other traditions might be able to enhance their own sweetness by participating vicariously in ours.
Recognizing the sweetness of our own life would also be useful to us. It reinforces and enhances the practices that make for the sweetness, of course. Also, in some sense, it would enhance the sweetness by drawing our attention to it. It’s the extra flavor the first bite of steak has when you’ve been thinking about it for a while.* A couple of weeks ago I visited my relatives in New Jersey and, because I was thinking about the sweetness of Mormon life, I was acutely aware of their branch on Sunday. A newly-baptized brother went up to be confirmed. The branch president helped an old, blind man with a flattop walk to the front. The convert had asked him to participate in the confirmation. Later the four primary children got up to sing. I started to cry. Two girls of generally Anglo-American extraction, an italianate girl, or maybe Portuguese, and an Afro-American boy. But no /Anglo/American or Italian (maybe Portuguese) or African among them, if you take my meaning. They had the stamp of common parentage. One girl saw me crying and smiled for me.
So, all in all, I’m still calling for Mormon authors to chronicle the sweetness of Mormon life. No need to strive for greatness or for grand spiritual themes. Just write about a week of Sundays in an ordinary ward.
*assuming, of course, that said steak is consumed during the winter or in times of famine. Elsewise it would naturally taste like ashes in your mouth.