Broken Things to Mend

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I love Jeffrey R. Holland. He’s one of my favorite speakers of all time, whether the subject is religious or not. So I picked up a copy of Broken Things to Mend, which is a collection of some of his talks.

Overall, the collection is good. And by that, I mean that it seriously fell beneath my expectations—but I can’t really fault that. My expectations were unreasonably high. See, when Elder Holland gets it right, he really gets it right. He kind of pulls your heart out of your chest, squeezes it a few times, and then puts it back in there a little better than he found it. But I suppose I can’t expect him to do that every time he opens his mouth.

If you feel broken, there are a few talks in this collection that will make you weep. (Like the title sermon.) And then you’ll put yourself back together again, and be so glad to know you’re still good enough, even as broken as you feel. But then there are a lot of other talks in here that are just good, inspirational talks. Not mind-blowing. Just good.

Long story short, I recommend the book. But if you’ve got a very specific need, I would sooner recommend you just go to lds.org and search for one of Holland’s individual talks. ♥

Made for Heaven: and Why on Earth It Matters

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I’ll keep this brief, because the book is brief.

Made for Heaven is a C.S. Lewis book for dummies. Kind of like What Christians Believe, this book collects a few essays or chapters from his other writings, puts it in an easy-to-read font and format, and allows you a glimpse into Lewis’s arguments without making you wade through a few hundred pages of high-falutin’ philosophy. This one discusses why Lewis considers human being to be inherently divine, and why we seem to yearn for something greater than this life.

It’s very good. But if you want something complex, skip it and read Lewis’s other stuff. (You’ll get everything from this book in his other stuff, anyway, since this one is just collected from those ones.) ♦

What Christians Believe (C.S. Lewis)

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So, I didn’t realize this when I picked up the book, but all of What Christians Believe is already encompassed in C.S. Lewis’s larger book, Mere Christianity. And, to be honest, if you’re interested in the subject or the author, you should just pick up Mere Christianity.

What Christians Believe is the smaller, easier-to-read, condensed highlights reel. Is it still good? Yes. But all of my favorite parts, including a wonderful analogy of Christ “belonging” to humanity the same way a colony tree belongs to its sister trees, are left out.

(Short) story short: if you’re looking for an abstract of Mere Christianity, pick up What Christians Believe. But if you actually want the meat of the matter, read Mere Christianity. ♦

The God Who Weeps

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I started reading The God Who Weeps for a book club. I didn’t finish it on time, due to a combination of bad time management and the authors’ dense language. But I did enjoy the book and the book club, and I did manage to finish it.

The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens, is a philosophical explanation of Mormon doctrine concerning God and His relationship to us down here on Earth. It is very thorough, and the language is very academic (which is one reason I had such a hard time finishing it on time for book club). I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s confident with denser material and wants to know more about what Mormons believe. I would also highly recommend it to any Mormon who’s confident with denser material, because it highlights and stresses our ability to have a strong connection with God, even though we’re not perfect.

I feel like there’s something lacking here, however. Everybody in book club said they would recommend it to all their Mormon friends and most of their other friends. I just kind of sat there for a while, and then finally asked, “Am I the only person who has friends who wouldn’t understand a word of this?”

I’m not saying I have stupid friends. I’m just saying that most of my friends – and I – use the words “Taco Bell” more often than we use the word “cosmos.” This book is so academic that I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t consider themselves an intellectual. The writing is about as dense as C.S. Lewis.

On the flip side, I’m not sure how much I appreciated it as an academic work, because the sources were cited poorly. I know I’m being super picky – but I’m a huge stickler on citations, and the authors don’t even specify which quotes come from where – they just have a huge amalgamation of “where we got our stuff” at the back of the book, and you have to go digging through it if you want to find anything specific.

I would still recommend this book – but only to those who are looking for a good, introspective, philosophical look at the nature of God. If you want something just as dense (or denser), but with better notes, history, and citations, read James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ. If you’re looking for something a lot less dense, pick up a copy of Preach My Gospel (the missionary manual), or a Gospel Principles manual. ♥

Surprised by Joy

I love C.S. Lewis. I loved The Chronicles of Narnia, I loved The Abolition of Man, I loved Mere Christianity, and I picked up his autobiographical conversion story because I love the way he views Christianity – surely, I would love hearing about his conversion.

The book is called Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, and the version I picked up has some of the weirdest cover art illustrations I think I’ve ever seen (and I work for a bookstore!) But hey – never judge a book by its cover, right?

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Seriously – who designed this?

It started off a little dry, talking a lot about his early childhood, how much he loved solitude and reading, and how hard it was to get along well with his father, who was a well-meaning man but a bad listener. I muscled through.

Then he talked about his boyhood days at a boarding school, which was miserable, and then his teenage days at another boarding school, where apparently they were required to play sports (which he hated) and some of the boys pimped themselves out to those who were most sexually frustrated (which he sees in retrospect as sinful, but apparently isn’t concerned about abuse at all).  I muscled through.

Then things got Classical. Lewis spent a lot of time obsessed with Norse mythology, (about which I know little more than the Avengers has taught me), learning Greek and Latin (I once took a Latin class and nearly failed out of college), and a whole lot of classics I’ve never even touched. Some of them I haven’t even heard of. At this point, Lewis felt “joy” – a kind of beautiful longing for something spiritual – but didn’t really understand it.

Then things got Philosophical. At this point, I completely had no idea what the man was talking about anymore. I feel like I got plunged into a think tank full of classical literature professors – the kind who keep lapsing into medieval Latin phrases and making punny jokes in Greek – and I never got a chance to come up to the surface and breathe.

Here’s the problem: the book is about Lewis’s conversion to Christianity. But his conversion, as far as I understand it, came through a series of classroom experiences where he kept comparing philosophies and realizing they all came short. And I simply haven’t taken the prerequisites to understand this process. And he seems to assume that everyone else has taken the prerequisites.

To be fair, he was educated in Britain in a very Classics-heavy time period, and I was educated in modern American public school. I can type 100 wpm, but don’t ask me about the Aeneid.

Still – the thing was so obscure that I can’t tell you why C.S. Lewis became a Christian. He apparently had some philosophical journey that resulted in a belief in God, then a belief in Christ. Most or all of it was logical. Little to none of it was emotional. My religious experience is completely different from his, because my personality is completely different from his.

The biggest takeaway message I took from this book was this: I love Lewis’s essays. He explains Christianity to others so well it’s ridiculous. But we would not have gotten along on a personal level. In fact, I don’t even know if we would have had a clue what the other was saying.

I highly recommend any other book by C.S. Lewis. But not this one. ♦

The House of the Lord: A Study of Holy Sanctuaries Ancient and Modern

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So, the thing about Talmage is this. The man is an incredible scholar. He’s a well-versed theologian. He expresses himself extremely well – probably the closest thing to C.S. Lewis the Mormon church has to offer (at least that I’ve found.) If you want to understand a doctrine, read Talmage’s commentary on it.

The trouble is, sometime when James E. Talmage was a young man, he must have had a terrible accident involving a thesaurus. The man has no capability of using small words. If “the” wasn’t a necessary glue in the English language, he would probably shun it. For example, I might write, “There were problems in the building of the temple.” Talmage writes, “Let it not be imagined that the work was carried through without hindrance or set-back.” Some of his style can be attributed to the time-period – he was writing in the early 1900’s – but he’s pretty academic.

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Here’s Talmage. He looks like a pretty intelligent fellow.

Having said that, The House of the Lord is good. It’s short (which is refreshing for Talmage), and it does an excellent job of explaining why temples are important to Mormons. I learned things I never knew, and I grew up in the church, attending the temple. I would recommend it to anyone familiar with Mormonism who wants to learn more about temple work.

I would not recommend it, however, to someone who’s just starting to learn about Mormons and their temples. For one thing, there’s the vocabulary issue. But the book was also written a hundred years ago. Talmage talks about each of the temples in existence at the time (there were less than ten), but since then, there have been well over a hundred new temples built.

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My version was published in 1968. It has an appendix explaining a few of the changes since Talmage’s day, but most of the new temples were built in or since the 90’s.

I’d say if you want to get more of an overview on temples, visit mormon.org or take BYU’s free online temple course.

It’s worth the read if you’re looking for an interesting, historical look at temple work, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a first in the genre. ♦

Want more Talmage quotes?

The New Testament

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How exactly do you review a religious work? I mean, the New Testament is quite possibly the most influential text ever written. As far as literature goes, I would argue that it’s the best of any scripture I’ve read, because it’s in fairly chronological order and tells a full story – sort of. Except that the story gets told four times, then commented on, and then there’s a slightly related prophecy at the back.

The New Testament is one of my favorite books to read, because I’m a Christian. Reading an account of Christ brings a spirit of humility and general goodness into my daily routine, as well as providing an example of the kind of person I want to be. My faith in Christ has made me who I am, and continues to shape me into a better person. I also find it poignant that in the spiritual economy of things, God felt that my salvation was worth the life of a God. So this book influences me deeply. Still, I’m not sure I would recommend it for a book club unless your group of friends is really interested in religion.

I would, however, recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it at least once, regardless of religious beliefs. (So maybe if your book club hasn’t read it yet, you ought to give it a shot.) People talk about Jesus all the time – trust me, you’ll find opportunity to discuss it. Also, I would recommend the epistles of Paul to most of my LDS friends, because I think sometimes we get so caught up in modern scripture that we forget about them. And they’re some of the best doctrinal commentary I think I’ve ever read.

Jesus Christ is the example we’ve set most of our society on (or claimed to), and I feel like this is a must-read. It builds faith for those seeking faith, and builds understanding for those seeking to understand faith. And if you’re trying to be a good person, I think it does a good job of providing a hero to follow. The King James Version (which I read) is a little dry and Shakespearean, but if you can follow the language, it’s worth it for the poetic effect. If not, pick up a more modern translation. ♥