In this useful collection of brief essays, an impressively wide array of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describe what Zion means to them. As the editors write in their introduction, “Forget about glossy Mormon-produced documentaries. Forget about funny Broadway musicals. … Here you will find a potent mixture of everyday and extraordinary Mormons speaking in their own voice about tough issues and hard-won testimonies.”
The range of approaches is wonderfully expansive. Some of the authors speak of how Zion means better inclusion of groups that have historically been under-empowered.
- Neylan McBain, whose book Women at Church I can’t say enough good things about, writes, “As we stretch toward a new identity of Mormon womanhood, our community craves a vision of how we can honor our priorities without being slaves to their former trappings.”
- Julie Smith explores the question “does Mormonism oppress women–or liberate them?”, providing a typology for how different women approach their relationship to the Church (the Sariahs, the Abishes, and the Morianton’s maids), useful in thinking of how women with different views can still “all pull together,” as the old hymn suggests.
- Kalani Tonga invites readers to bring members who feel marginalized (or — for whatever reason — are “not at the table”) into an active embrace, particularly highlighting the challenges of women of color.
- Ignacio García uses the history of the Church’s engagement with Latino members and Spanish-language units to propose that “Latino Mormonism, even with normal human weaknesses and flaws, offers a way forward.”
Other authors focus on our Zion responsibility to care for the poor. J. David Pulsipher’s powerful essay about how his family learned to find surplus even in times of relative poverty moved my wife and I deeply as we read it. W. Paul Reeve’s essay on how humanitarian work changed his life and his reflections on judging the poor were also thoughtful and instructive.
For those who principally know the Communities of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) through the lens of seminary teachers, John Hamer’s essay on how the Community of Christ seeks to establish peace on earth was eye-opening and inspiring.
Because Zion means different things to different people, not all the essays move every reader. Beyond the half that I strongly enjoyed, I moderately enjoyed most of the others. Only a couple really disagreed with me. Of course, if I’m ever talking to those authors, I can adhere to Molly McLellan Bennion’s wise counsel that “We not only cannot find a Zion in which to isolate ourselves within our comfort zones; we shouldn’t try,” and then I can use Michael Austin’s principles for disagreeing with others in Zion. As Linda Hoffman Kimball wrote, “I have to learn to make room for those whose approach is different from mine — for those whose brains and hearts crave the concrete and defined where mine feasts on paradox and koan.” Both of those approaches are represented in this book — albeit there is more of the latter than the former.
In terms of the pure quality of the writing, Ann Cannon — a columnist with the Salt Lake Tribune — stands out with her essay (which I would re-title “Why I stay”). And let me just add one crotchety note: This volume needed a serious copy edit. We found typos in many of the essays.
There is much to love in this collection. I am a believing member of the Church, and still I struggle internally with various Church stances as well as cultural practices. Within this book are people who think like me and others who don’t. This book fed both my thought and my faith.
- Exponent II (Spunky): http://www.the-exponent.com/book-review-a-book-of-mormons/
- Association for Mormon Letters (Julie J. Nichols): http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/reviews/current-reviews/jensen-and-mckay-lamb-a-book-of-mormons-latter-day-saint-on-a-modern-day-zion-reviewed-by-julie-j-nichols/