Review: Jensen and McKay-Lamb, “A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saint on a Modern-Day Zion”

Read my review of McKay-Lamb's new book below. To view on Dawning of a Brighter Day, click here.

Title: A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saint on a Modern-Day Zion (Part of the “I Speak For Myself” Series)
Editors: Emily W. Jensen and Tracy McKay-Lamb
Publisher: White Cloud Press (Ashland, Oregon)
Genre: Personal essay collection
Year of Publication: 2015
Number of Pages: 196
Binding: Paper
ISBN13: 978-1-935952-90-9
Price: $17.95

Reviewed by Julie J. Nichols for the Association for Mormon Letters

*A Book of Mormons* is the seventh volume in the “I Speak for Myself” series, which delivers “interfaith, intercultural [collections of narratives] that are narrow in scope but rich in diversity” (www.ispeakformyself.com). Other titles in the series include several on being Muslim, one on fatherhood, and two whose focus is women. There seems to be a deep righteousness, if I may be allowed to use that word, in the mission of this series. Deepak Chopra says of the volume by American Muslim women, for example, that it is “an honest effort to allow American-born Muslim women to change the narrative of American Islam–each in her own words.” The series cofounders seek to deliver volumes that are “mindset-altering, inspiring, relatable, and teachable.” What good fortune that there is one now on Mormons!

The theme for this volume isn’t gender-specific. Instead, it’s the notion of “Zion.” Jensen’s and McKay-Lamb’s appealing introduction doesn’t explain how they decided on this theme. Nor does it attempt to group the thirty-one essays by as many kinds of Mormon into any set of categories. Because the authors are of all ages and many different ethnicities, and representative of multiple gender identities, Jensen and McKay-Lamb define the thread that ties these brief but heartfelt personal essays as an exploration of what “our unique and sometimes downplayed theological doctrine of Zion might mean today” (2).

Kate Kelly, excommunicated founder of Ordain Women, is here. Patrick Q. Mason, editor of the recently-reviewed *Directions for Mormon Studies in The Twenty-first Century* and several other books, is here. So are Scott Hales, creator of the webcomic *The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl*; Neylan McBain, whose *Women at Church* has been so impactful in the lives of many wards; Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Auckland, New Zealand; William Morris, Michael Austin, and Stephen Carter, well-known names among readers of Mormon letters; Ignacio Garcia, Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr. Professor of Western and Latino history at BYU; and a host of other articulate, thoughtful people whose contributions to the conversation on Zion combine to enlighten and please. I will single out two of my favorite essays, but the other twenty-nine are equally engaging and deserve your perusal.

First, Garcia’s: “A Barrio Perspective on Building Zion in the Twenty-first Century.” My brother serves in a mission presidency in Arizona, where (as in much of the southwest and west of the United States) Spanish speakers are almost as numerous as those who speak English. My brother has had a profound love for Spanish speakers since we were in high school (hats off to a truly exceptional Spanish teacher, who taught me as well), and he writes to me often about the Latinos in his mission whose lives he empathizes with deeply. Garcia’s essay, clear-eyed about mistakes the Church has made and frank about challenges Latino Latter-day Saints must deal with, opened my eyes to ways of thinking about community that have not always played out in my own experience:

“Latino Saints are not any more enlightened than their white counterparts, but their political and social challenges [which he has spent three pages detailing] have always required collective action….Latino leaders are more likely to preach member solidarity as more foundational to building Zion than their white counterparts, who see it being built one brick (individual family) at a time” (74). “Latino Latter-day Saints have had to engage in a universal church in a way most white [American] Mormons have not,” he says; “…The barrio is Zion” (75).

As so often happens when I read the mindful analyses of those who experience, study, and know the problems of our culture, I felt stirrings toward sympathetic action, the desire to share what I had learned, with my brother, with others involved with the Latino community, and with my well-educated and diverse Sunday School class. Garcia’s essay widened my understanding of Zion.

Jacob Baker’s “Here We Will Sit Down and Weep, When We Remember Zion” likewise swelled my understanding. This is a sad essay, to be honest, as the title implies; more theoretical than practical, it reminds readers that Zion has always meant as much burden as ideal. After all, any ideal is partially loss, something out of reach, never quite achieved. But the essay ends in a kind of hope: “The work of mourning, which is ultimately the work of Zion that is most consistently present and available to us [see Mosiah 18: 8-10], is a knife that efficiently cuts away the outer protective shells we have carefully built to keep others away, obscuring our view of one another” (164).

The testimony that “Zion” consists of acknowledging each other’s vulnerability and reaching out to share or bless it, as much as it is an ideal of equals in community, pervades this volume. Nicely bound, pleasant to hold in the hand and easy on the eyes, this *Book of Mormons* should be on the shelf of every thoughtful Latter-day Saint. It will make a lovely gift for nonmember friends, too–they’ll see that they, too, have a place in Zion.