Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Uncomfortably negative for some, insufficiently critical for others"

A friend of mine and fellow blogger recently shared with me an interesting book review of "Adventures of a Church Historian". One line of the review summarizes Leonard Arrington's memoir thusly: "Uncomfortably negative for some, insufficiently critical for others, the book remains a valuable yet single viewpoint."

I enjoyed the review and immediately felt a great desire to read the book. Thanks to the interlibrary loan, I've now been enjoying it the past few days. There's just something about me that simply appreciates candor. While some may view it as "negative" and others as "insufficiently critical", I simply call it refreshing.

Like Leonard Arrington, who tried in his memoir to be "both circumspect and honest", many of us Mormon bloggers try and do the same in our posts. Some take more risks than others, but all in all I find the bloggernacle (for the most part) refreshing. Of course we all know that not everyone has an appetite for frankness.

A close relative of mine recently related to me why he isn't quite a fan of the Mormon blogging scene. His view was that there is too much of negativity and bitterness prevalent within the bloggernacle. While his concern is legit, he did concede that not everything one might view as negative is negative to another. And he also agreed with my suggestion that it's possible sometimes critical thinking is mistaken for negativity.

It's difficult to find the right balance between "spiritualizing the intellectual" and "intellectualizing the spiritual". Because of this, it seems likely that the bloggernacle itself will likewise continue to be viewed as "uncomfortably negative for some, insufficiently critical for others".

Granted, we all come from different places, have different experiences, and thus different viewpoints. The way we each live and experience the gospel is not quite the same as any other. Yet across the broad tapestry of "Mormon" bloggers I see a common thread--each of us is committed to "truth" as we understand it--even as our understanding of "truth" is evolving.

Which brings me back to Arrington's "Adventures of a Church Historian". In his introduction he states:
"I believe 'the truth' can be both constructive and therapeutic. My fellow church members have a right to an understanding of the matters I discuss. I do not wish to do harm to anyone or any good cause. Above all, I believe that Latter-day Saint readers, as well as my children and close friends, have a right to this personal recital of their father's, friend's, and leader's experience in a key post in the kingdom of God. I hope that readers will be reassured by the words in 2 Nephi 9:40: 'The words of truth [may be] hard...; but the righteous fear them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken" (p. 6).
Arrington took unique inspiration for his approach from the writers of scripture, as he states in the introduction:
"Biblical writers had an insistent tendency to avoid hiding or concealing the sins and misdeeds of the persons they wrote about, whether they were the chosen people of Israel or individual prophets, patriarchs, and apostles. Moses, the greatest character in the Old Testament, and Peter, the apostle of Jesus, are three-dimensional persons, capable of both error and wondrous uprightness. Even Jesus once lost his temper with a fig tree (Matt. 21:19); but he also remembered that a little girl, when she recovered from a fever, would be extremely hungry (Mark 5:38-42)."

"...their approach [that of scriptural authors] suggests that salvation comes from the Lord, not from divinely appointed leaders..."

"Nor did Book of Mormon prophets hesitate to find fault with the church of their day. Nephi, for example, charged that those inclined to proclaim uncritically 'all is well in Zion' (2 Nephi 28:21-29) were following the precepts of men. As we write we must 'behold our weakness' (Ether 12:25) and write with integrity to ourselves and to God. Or, as Will Rogers said, 'It's great to be great, but it's greater to be human.' In any case, I have endeavored, as did the Apostle Paul, to 'speak the truth in love' (Eph. 4:15)."
THIS is the kind of perspective I crave. While it may be easier to gloss over weaknesses and mistakes of church leaders, I believe there is much to be learned from those too. As Arrington wrote, "We may not be edified by every move they made, but we are warmed by their humanity." I don't want a caricature, but neither do I want an idealistic-only view that ignores reality. I want the "nitty gritty". I appreciate objectivity and honesty. This is why I love biographies like Rough Stone Rolling, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, and Lengthen Your Stride: the Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball.

Finally, from the introduction to "Adventures of a Church Historian":
"General authorities of the church and general church officers, for reasons of policy or personal preference, have chosen not to leave autobiographical public records of their dealings and associations with each other, so that church members have no way of knowing what goes on inside church headquarters. Do general authorities ever disagree? What are they like as human beings when they shed their official status as prophets, seers, and revelators? Along with their significant strengths are there also weaknesses--or at least misunderstandings? This book seeks to give some glimpses of the spiritual and organizational aspects of Mormon history and historiography that may add another dimension to understanding LDS life and leadership"...

..."When he wrote the authorized biography of J. Reuben Clark Jr., Frank Fox was advised by Clark's literary executor, Marion G. Romney, as related in the book's forward: 'Any biographer of President Clark must write the truth about him; to tell more than or less than the truth would violate a governing principle of his life. When I first met with those who are writing his biography, I explained that I did not want them to produce a mere collection of uplifting experiences about President Clark (although I knew that numerous such stories could be told), nor did I want a detailed defense of his beliefs. I wanted a biography of the man himself, as he was, written with the same kind of courage, honesty, and frankness that J. Reuben Clark himself would have shown. An account of his life should tell of his decisions and indecisions, sorrows and joys, regrets and aspirations, reverses and accomplishments, and above all, his constant striving to overcome any and all obstacles.'"
Here's to more of this balanced approach to writing history. Surly some on the far right will continue to view it as "negative" and others on the far left might view it "insufficiently critical", but I cast my vote for (and voice my appreciation for) a moderate approach that strives for balance.