Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, May 04, 2007

Can We Talk?

by Kerry Blair

Call me an addict, but I watched five hours of television this week. Four hours were about The Mormons, and one was about people in Herculaneum in AD 79. Both programs were produced by PBS. I liked the second one better, but nobody’s talking about the Herculaneumians. Everybody’s talking about Mormons instead.

Everybody but me. I stopped by several web sites before beginning this blog so I wouldn’t disseminate false information. As of this morning, PBS had logged more than 2,000 responses to Helen Whitney’s (insert your own adjective here) documentary. The Washington Post had received almost double that number after carrying a live chat with Ms. Whitney. The Church’s web site says its hits have increased ten fold. (This proves again that good comes from everything.) Church leaders have not only responded quickly, publicly, and mostly positively – albeit carefully – to the show’s airing, they’ve set up their own open forum for discussion. (Wow.) Other LDS blogs have been abuzz. Times and Seasons received almost 150 comments on one of their posts about it.

Apparently I’m the only one who doesn’t want to talk about “The Mormons.” With apologies to PBS, The Washington Post, the LDS public affairs office, and fellow bloggers, after thirty years as the only “Mormon” in my extended family, well, I’m just all talked out.

One month from today marks the anniversary of my baptism. I was nineteen, a feminist history major with a pre-law 4.0 average (in other words, a faux intellectual), and close kin to people who stood on street corners declaring to all who would listen that Mormons are the spawn of Satan. (“Stood” is past-tense in that sentence only because my aunt has passed away. If she was still alive, she’d still be standing on street corners handing out anti-Mormon tracts, I assure you.) For years when a bishop or stake president asked if I had any association with people actively trying to destroy the Church I’d respond, “Does Thanksgiving count?”

Surrounded by loved ones like Aunt Polly, one Mormon can do a lot of talking. (Especially when one is talking to the biological equivalent of a fence post.) About twenty years into my conversion I grew tired of telling my family why I was still a Latter-day Saint and decided to write about it instead. My first book, The Heart Has Its Reasons, is a conversion story – in some ways my conversion story – thinly disguised as romantic fiction. It’s not, therefore, erroneous to conclude that I would not be an author if only I were a better missionary.

It worked . . . and it didn't. One family member read my book and then accepted a Book of Mormon. (That she later rejected it is another story, and a sad one.) Others who were most important to me – like my father – seemed to finally accept that I would never abandon my covenants even if they would never understand (in this life) why I had made them.

If I learned anything from television this week (besides some rather frightening facts about Mt. Vesuvius), it’s that one witness of the Spirit is worth a thousand words from scholars, naysayers, and cultural historians. In “The Mormons” polygamy, priesthood, and Mountain Meadows were sensationalized (as usual), but Elder Jensen and the smattering of members interviewed were simply sensational. Did you see them? Those people glowed brighter than Moroni in an old Church video. Admittedly, one often sees what one is looking for, but I looked at the members who represented us to America and saw intelligent, humble, happy people who had put Christ at the center of their lives – people with enough faith, hope and love to melt hearts and move mountains.

I’m firmly convinced that the positive responses to the documentary are due largley to nonmembers responding to our members. Of course they do. Who would you want to worship with or live next door to? The intellectual? The scholar? The person who wouldn’t recognize truth and compassion if (s)he tripped over it in an empty room? I’ll take the drug addict who let Christ heal her soul; the father who doesn’t understand the Lord’s will, but accepts it anyway; and the talented young woman who faces early death with a smile on her face and her eyes fixed on eternal life. If these are Latter-day Saints – and they are – thank heaven I associated myself with them when I did!

And I do thank heaven I found the gospel. I thank God every single day of my life. (Okay, okay . . . There was this early morning at Girls Camp once when I fervently wished I were still a Methodist!) My conversion was fast, admittedly, but it wasn’t easy. There is likely nobody in the kingdom today who had a harder time believing that story about the farm kid in upstate New York than me, and yet I did believe it. Do believe it. In Primary we’re learning an incredibly beautiful song, This Is My Beloved Son, about the Father bearing witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ. The third verse begins:

Joseph saw two glorious beings, Shining brighter than the sun. God again presented Jesus: “This is My Beloved Son . . . ”

I’m so sure that statement is true that each time I try to sing it my throat constricts. Still, it is the final verse that truly resonates within me:

As I read the scriptures daily, Words of Christ, the Holy One, In my heart I’ll hear God tell me: “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him.”

I can’t explain it better than that – although I’ve been trying for three decades now. I read the Book of Mormon, listened to the missionaries, and in my heart I heard God tell me: This is the church of His Beloved Son. All the documentaries – and commentaries on the documentaries, and commentaries on the commentaries on the documentaries – can’t possibly impact that witness.

I’m still writing novels as you know, but now I’m doing it in the hopes of putting a little money aside in case I get a chance to be a fulltime missionary someday. And if I don’t, well, there’s always Aunt Polly to work on. I’m sure she’s waiting for me on the other side. But I’m not worried. I’m not only better prepared to talk to her now, I’ve done enough temple work for our shared ancestors that I think I can count on a few reinforcements!

And isn’t loving our family, our Father's family — all of them, at all times, and in all times — what being a Mormon is all about? I just wish I knew how to go about doing the temple work for all those people in Herculaneum. They’re the ones I’ve been worrying about all week . . .


15 Comments:

At 5/04/2007 12:05 PM, Blogger The Casual Geek said...

Thank you for sharing your testimony with us. It helps to hear people say that, no matter what all these critics say, the Gospel is true.

As for the people in Herculaneum (and all the others from the world that we don't even know ever existed), I figure that's why we'll have a thousand years of peace to get that all completed. Don't worry: Heavenly Father, who notices when a sparrow falls, know His children even better and has a plan for all of them.

 
At 5/04/2007 1:16 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Thank you, Kerry -- I needed this to start off my day.

Well, okay, to restart my day. My day got off to a terrible start and that's why I needed this so much!!

 
At 5/04/2007 1:21 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Kerry, you always touch the heart of any matter you discuss. I think I'm one of the few people who didn't watch the documentry, but I read your blog and I read Maurine Proctor's article on Meridian http://www.ldsmag.com/arts/070504pbs2.html
and have drawn a couple of conclusions. It won't hurt the Church or Mitt Romney's chances of becoming president to have people talking about the Church, and all of the hate-filled anti-Mormons and those excommunicated because they lacked the strength to live the Gospel will continue to seek forums to spew their lies and malcontent. But in the end, a testimony of Jesus Christ and the truthfulness of the Gospel are what matter and will prevail. Read the Meridian article; it says it almost as elequoently as Kerry and goes into greater detail.

 
At 5/04/2007 3:08 PM, Blogger Josi said...

I missed the first half, but quite liked the second half. Sure there were some bitter people, but seeing sister Betty alive with the spirit, and seeing the Tillman-Dick family's faith was inspiring. There will always be those that are 'contrary' and many of the stories of our history are pretty 'fishy' without the spirit to assure us that one day we'll understand. But overall I thought they did a good job of presenting both sides from the perspective of an average non-member of the church. I thought it would be much worse.

However, my hubby saw the first part and felt it was more one sides. but it's history, and the views will be limited.

What a beautiful testimony Kerri, Aunt Polly is lucky to have you :-)

 
At 5/04/2007 3:42 PM, Anonymous robisonwells said...

It's kinda weird. I watched it and generally thought it wasn't as bad as I was expecting. But my wife thought it was horrible. I think the difference there is that she's never really heard a lot of anti-mormon stuff--she's heard debates about doctrine, but she'd never encountered people calling Joseph Smith a sexual deviant, etc.

 
At 5/04/2007 4:13 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I'd heard most of it before, and often in my living room. (In fact, I kept waiting for somebody to spout a Brigham Young quote Aunt Polly absolutely loved, but they overlooked it somehow.) Still, familiarity didn't make Monday night any less painful for me, especially the "history" of Joseph Smith.

I loved parts of Tuesday (as I said in the post), but I didn't think it was balanced and I didn't think it was fair. One woman's opinion, for sure.

But that's not even what bothers me. My main objection to PBS at this point is some of the "enrichment" materials they've offered. I appreciate the bios on their "authorities" on Mormonism. (It's about time. They might have mentioned the qualifications, or lack thereof, in passing on the show.) I even like the idea of having extended interviews so that Elder Oaks's remarks (for instance) can be put in context. But what's with the links to some of those sites? There's one . . . you know, never mind. It's not something I should share publicly. But where does PBS get off? IMHO, at least one of those links crosses the line from presenting an "objective" view of the Church to scrutinizing (denigrating) those things held most sacred by its people. Enough already.

I can't remember a year I haven't contributed to ASU's Channel 8. But 2007? Ask me again when I don't have such a bitter taste in my mouth. Or maybe after I've seen at least a dozen more shows like the one on Herculaneum.

I'll be quiet now. At least I'll try.

 
At 5/04/2007 4:32 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Okay, I just have to make one more observation and then I'll be quiet. (Maybe.) Whoever put together the soundtrack was brilliant. Not only was it beautiful, it was apparently also ironic.

(I don't know music well enough to have recognized this for myself, BTW. A classical music maniac clued me in.)

The music behind the ramblings of Margaret Toscano (discussing her excommunication) was "Death & the Maiden." A little dramatic, maybe, but funny.

The highlight, however, was learning that when temple ordinances were introduced the background music was from Beethoven's "Ghost."

Okay, even I have to admit that's clever.

 
At 5/04/2007 9:19 PM, Anonymous Lisa Clawson said...

Kerry, thank you for your touching words and insight. The documentary frustrated me and left me angry and vexed that so many things were misrepresentated. It was like watching something I loved dragged through the mud. Well, I guess it was. My husband sat there shaking his head, not making a comment, which always means trouble. My dad watched ten minutes and the turned the TV off. If only I could have been as good. No, I had to watch more in hopes they would have good things to say. They did, a little. Your testimony and conviction for the gospel is really what I needed to hear, or read, as the case may be. I admire you and think you are amazing, not to mention you always make me feel like my opinion really matters. Keep it up!

 
At 5/05/2007 1:27 AM, Blogger Brian Giles said...

Kerry,

Thank you for sharing your insights into something I've been avoiding all week...and was hoping everyone I worked was too busy watching American Idol to tune in. I remember when I was serving my mission back in '93 some excommunicated member wrote a book that was very controversial and made a lot of people ask lots of uncomfortable questions. I was so upset at the time, but I realized that it brought about people asking quesitons and looking for answers...which was an answer to prayers for two humble missionaries knocking on doors on the winding streets of upstate New York. I learned to just share my testimony and teach doctrine and it opened many more doors than it closed.

 
At 5/05/2007 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry,

You have such a gift. I love to read whatever you write.

I wasn't surprised by the documentary--it reminded me how Satan's best attempts are always by including a lot of truth and then slipping in the lies so the lies will go unnoticed.

Ms. Toscano obviously had an axe to grind. She was bitter about her excommunication. How can anyone take her comments as anything but sour grapes?

Other claims about sexual desires were purely to sensationalize and if you take the time to think about them, they simply don't make sense. But, it does fulfill the prophecy that Joseph Smith's name would be had for good and evil.

The faith of that young girl who faces death at such a young age was inspiring.

Documentatires will come and go, critics will rise up and fade away, and Satan will continue to search for ways to stop the gospel. But, it all comes down to building our testimonies on the "rock." All the criticisms in the world will not change the fact that Jesus Christ atoned for our sins, He truly is the redeemer. Once we have a testimony that the gospel has truly been restored through Joseph Smith, it doesn't matter what others say.

I grew up in a home where the gospel was constantly bashed, I was forbidden to pay tithing (did it in secret), and had to find a ride to early morning seminary, among other things. In all the attempts to discredit the Church or try to convince me that it was wrong, the one thing that was accompished was that my testimony grew and it made me strong.

Thank you again, Kerry, for your thoughtful post. I also saw that documentary on Herculaneum and it especially touched me because my son is currently on his mission in Italy.

Rebecca Talley

 
At 5/05/2007 1:45 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Once again, Kerry, I am convinced that you should collect all of these stories of yours and publish them. Covenant would be crazy not to accept it.

Having served my mission in SLC, I quickly learned that whenever an anti-Mormon group or movie arrived, our number of discussions would go up. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing.

Kerry, I would love to see you on a mission. You would rock!

 
At 5/05/2007 8:22 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Kerry, I have to agree with Jeff, you've written some incredible essays as blogs and they should be compiled into a book. I've borrowed a couple of them from you when I've had to give a spiritual thought and some of my daughters have too. It would be wonderful to have them (maybe not the dead frog one)in a handy book.

P.S. I'm convinced your blog hates me. It puts up a fight every time I make a comment. It simply doesn't want to add my comments without putting me through a minimum of three of those word verifications.

 
At 5/06/2007 7:12 PM, Blogger Cheri said...

Kerry, once again you have written an eloquent, touching blog. Those of us who have had similar discussions with well-meaning non-member relatives, understand where you're coming from. I was quizzed one afternoon by a Baptist cousin who just knew I didn't know anything about the Bible. When he asked for the names of Noah's 3 sons, I supplied 2 of them and before I could give him the 3rd name, my husband stepped up to the plate with: "Ishmael." This made for an entertaining conversation. =)
Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about our church floating around. But with wonderful examples like Kerry, and numerous other latter-day Saints, the world can't help but be impressed with what most of us stand for.
And now, I'm going to reread Kerry's first book. I loved it the first time I read it. It will mean more now knowing it's loosely based on her own conversion story.

P.S. YAY I finally got this blog thing to work!!!

 
At 5/07/2007 8:59 AM, Blogger G. Parker said...

I didn't want to talk about it either...I ended up not watching it, although I fully intended to. I'm just glad that there has been some positive reaction to it. Who knows...and thanks for sharing your story. We appreciate you and your spirit - even if your family doesn't understand ;)

 
At 5/07/2007 11:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry, I didn't watch the show, but I loved reading about it here. You ARE an awesome missionary, and it would be fun to see your reunion with Aunt Polly and the rest of your family in the eternities.

Rachel

 

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