Stephen Carter Answers Some Questions

Stephen has agreed to comment on his essay “Weight of the Priesthood.” By way of a beginning, he responds here to questions Levi posed.  Stephen will be reading the comments and will respond to readers as much as he can.

LEVI: Your essay strikes me as a beautiful mix of gentle irreverence and an ultimate respect for the priesthood. Were you aware of these qualities as you wrote the essay?

STEPHEN: I’m going to take the long way around to answer your question. I started writing this essay just after reading two Mormon-themed personal essays by Eric Goold, a friend of mine here in Fairbanks. His writing was so vibrant, honest and funny that it pretty much knocked me out of my chair.


I have a problem with most Mormon writing out there. It’s all too easy. Either it’s, “Gee, look how great the Church is,” or “Flee, innocents, from the horror that is Mormonism!” Too many writers have an agenda. Their overriding concern is to let you know what the correct answer is. Few people on either side of the argument are willing to encounter Mormonism in all its glory and ignominy.

I finally started realizing why this is so. It’s mainly because it’s so hard to write a second act. You know how second acts go: the hero took on the difficult task in the first act, and now every that can go wrong is going wrong. The second act is always the longest act, because that’s what a story is about, the struggle. Once the struggle is over, the story is over.

What I’ve seen in my reading of official Church publications and the writings of those who have a bone to pick with the Church is that they rarely have a second act in their stories. In The Ensign or The New Era the basic story structure is: something went wrong, but lo, [insert gospel principle here] solved the problem. The end. It’s a one-act plot. Bone-picking stories have a similar one-act structure: I used to believe, but then I found these lies and left the Church. The end. Almost no attention is ever paid to the struggle itself.

To me, the struggle is the most important part of a story. I’ve realized that I enjoy a story or a movie most when it is in the middle of the second act, because that is when there are the most problems, but also the most opportunities. The whole story is wide open; anything could go anywhere. It’s beautiful.

So I suppose you could say that I was aware of a respect for the priesthood while I was writing “The Weight of Priesthood” because I thought it could withstand a second act. And I was right.

LEVI: Women don’t take part in the administrative functions of the priesthood, but often experience its prophetic and power-transferring aspects as a part of faith and prayer. Do you think women will respond to your essay differently than men?

STEPHEN: You know, I would love to know the answer to that question. Women and the priesthood is one of those questions that constantly sticks in my craw. I have no idea what to think about it. I only address that aspect of priesthood briefly in my essay because — embarrassingly — the essay is primarily about me. And I’m male.

One of the reasons I’m excited about this blog is because I want to hear what my thoughts elicit in female readers. I know there is quite a spectrum of stories, and I want to hear them all. That’s what writing is all about to me: I share my story, and in return, you share yours.

LEVI: You say that Mormons have two main story settings: the pioneer trek and the mission field. They are both repositories of the miraculous stories we have all grown up with. Do you think Mormons need a new "story setting" for the priesthood in this century? Would it help you feel less ambivalent about the priesthood?

STEPHEN: That’s a question I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It seems that there are always stories vying for your attention. They want to interpret your experience for you, and they often want to be the last word on the subject. I spent a good deal of my life thinking that I needed to choose the “right” story to interpret my life by, but recently I’ve been thinking that what really needs to happen is that I need to learn to tell my own story in my own way. Which has proved to be monumentally difficult for the above-mentioned reasons.

It’s kind of like when Richard Dutcher released God’s Army. I attended a lecture he gave where one of the audience members asked, “Did you get approval from the Church for the story in God’s Army?” He told her he didn’t need the Church’s approval. It was his story. Similarly, in a book I read recently called Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett, the main character, a witch in training, doesn’t achieve the status of true witch until she learns to not be controlled by stories anymore, but to create them herself.

I think it takes a certain kind of genius to create a story setting that can act as an archetype for millions of people to interpret their lives through. Joseph Smith had that genius. I don’t. The only possibility I can offer is what I do at the end of “The Weight of Priesthood,” and that is, to clear everything out and find out: what grows wild in you? What stories actually resonate in you? What truly enthralls you? Those were the questions I was finally asking myself when I wrote this essay.

LEVI: In your final paragraphs you speak of laying your two hands upon the heads of your sleeping sons and feeling “completely connected with them–as if I am in the midst of the most intimate gesture that can occur between two people. And it seems, during those moments, that the weight is levied, or shared, or completely buoyed.” I’m not sure what this touching scene implies. Were you being intentionally ambiguous when you wrote it?

STEPHEN: The most difficult thing about writing for me is crafting an ending. I usually spend more time on endings than the whole rest of the piece. I think that’s because I’ve been brought up in a culture that values the propagation of definite principles. Every talk ends with a testimony, every story with a moral. There seems to be this idea that a story has to end up at a single point, and that that single point should present a definite value. So when I wrote, I would often unconsciously try to fulfill this parameter, resulting in one awful ending after another.

I’ve realized that the kind of ending that resonates in me is not when the question is answered, but when the question is satisfyingly reformulated in order to point me in a new direction. So instead of saying, “And thus we see that such and such is the answer to such and such a question,” we are led to see that the question we had been asking is only a shadow of a much more enthralling question. Answers are dead end streets in my opinion. Questions are highways.

Unless, of course, the answer leads to another question.

What I hope that ending does is launch the reader into his or her own thoughts and experiences. I hope it gives them an opening to consider their own story from a fresh perspective. I want to be a companion in storytelling, rather than an authority.

So to answer your first question last, to me that particular scene with my sons is pointing to the idea that, at its core, perhaps priesthood is not about authority, or God’s power, or administration, but about connection. Maybe the priesthood is a metaphor we use to express our desire to connect deeply with other people.  In which case, perhaps the priesthood belongs to everyone.

Comments

  1. Hi Stephen,

    I’ve never heard of you, but I think your thoughts are interesting. I’ve never thought about the story in those terms before, but you’re right, it’s basically the gospel solves the problem. I am so bored by all those Mormon fiction writers and I’ve often wished somebody could tell our story the way it is. So far, nobody really has, in fiction.

    A writer I know once said the problem is some books will ask good questions, but don’t give the answer and some just give the answer. None ask the question or give the answer. I’m still thinking about that one.

    I’m sorry you left the church, I think you would do us more good in than out. I don’t see that type of writing you describe as lies, I see it as doing the best they can. Although there have to be some pretty smart people on those magazines. They could do better.

    Oh, I am a woman who doesn’t the priesthood, I don’t need any more work.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Stephen,

    The part I found most accurate, and difficult, in your essay was the description of how converts and friends fall away. It’s a painful experience. Do you think that this pain is a natural part of living in the church and serving on a mission?

  3. annegb, I didn’t get the sense from his work that he had left. It seems that it could have been the story of any number of faithful saints.

    The last paragraph of this interview was particularly moving to me. It is especially important when one considers Joseph Smith’s deep desire not to be alone and related doctrine of Sealings. The Priesthood, while not democratic, seems, in the eternities, to be communal.

    I want to thank Stephen for the interview. While I am a sucker for a good traditional story, they are all fantastical compared to my story. My story is ambiguous, and it is wonderful to here voice that resonates beyond the ideal.

  4. AnneGB,

    I have a few books I’d recommend, that I think are wonderful examples of good Mormon writing. The first is Levi Peterson’s ‘The Backslider.” It has sort of been a touchstone book in my life. I think it might fulfill your criteria of asking questions and answering them. It’s also beautifully written. I mean, it’s like Levi was channeling Mark Twain or something. (Can I have my five bucks now, Levi?)

    Also good reads are John Bennion’s “Falling Toward Heaven,” Margaret Blair Young’s: “Salvador,” “Love Chains,” and “Heresies of Nature,” Douglas Thayer’s “Under the Cottonwoods,” and “Summerfire,” and Eugene England’s collection of essays “Making Peace,”

    I’m interested to know what about my writing made you think I left the Church. It’s true that I didn’t go yesterday, but I was sick. Right now the Church to me is like the wind in Shishmaref, Alaska. If it stopped blowing, all the houses would fall down. So though I certainly can’t go to church in order to rest or be spiritually filled, it always provides me with something to think (or rant) about.

    You remember in my intereview I said that one of my biggest tasks right now is to create my own story, rather than be bandied about by outside stories. Well, one of the stories that I’m try to extract myself from is the “revolving door” story. Which is, if you find out the Church is not all it says it is, you have no choice but to leave. I personally think that story is too easy. It has no second act.

    See, I think the place where our best soul work is done is in the midst of contradictions or paradoxes. If we’re always moving to a place of rest, we’re not excercising our full capacities. At least, this is true for me. So I’m trying to make my own story. Right now it seems to me that the Mormon Church still has a lot to teach me – even if it isn’t in the normal way.

  5. Stephen,
    Your ‘second act’ imagery is right on but I just want to clarify: are you saying most “Mormon”/”ex-Mormon” stories are missing this act or are you saying that most stories of the lives of Mormons/ex-Mormons are missing this act? In other words, are you talking about the Mormon stories or the life stories of Mormons/ex-Mormons? For instance, if I were an ex-Mormon I’d probably think being Mormon was only a part of my story, therefore the Mormonness itself is a part of that second act, not the whole story.

    And thank you, your essay is beautiful.

  6. Stephen,
    When I was confirmed/got the priesthood/went to the Temple I didn’t feel a “weight” but sense that I had “joined the club.” Any sense of that?

  7. Rusty,

    In the context of this blog, a story is what a lot people would call a paradigm: a larger narrative or mindset that interprets our lives. It’s kind of like when a person loses his job. One story/paradigm will say: all is lost, the world has come to an end. Another will say: great, now I can take that vacation. Another might say: God is punishing me for not paying my tithing – until this guy gets an even better, more satisfying, higher paying job than the one he lost, one that he never would have gotten had he not had the time to look for it. So then how does he interpret it? Does he say; well, looks like God had mercy on me? Or does he say: see tithing isn’t so important after all? It all depends on what larger story, or paradigm he has in place.

    So I think people are constantly living in second acts, whether they see it that way, or tell it that way is a completely different story. You’re right, our life stories continue. And as we look back (at least, as I look back) we tend to change our judgments about parts of our lives. But what happens when we TELL our stories? This is what interests me, because in many ways, the way we tell our stories is the way we perceive our lives.

    So the actual written or spoken or filmed stories that don’t resonate with me are the kinds without second acts. And I tend to find that our “faith promoting” or “faith destroying” stories are exactly that. And if these are the stories we believe, then our larger life story is constrained by this restricted view of life.

    I’ve paid attention in my ward for the past several years and have found that there is really only one way tell an appropriate story – it always has to have the faith promoting ending. So even when people are in the midst of a second act in their life, and they start telling us about it, they inevitably say, “but I know it will end well.” And they spend a lot of time relishing how nice things will be when the end of the story finally comes.

    It seems to me that those people are missing the richness of living IN the struggle. And our one-act stories seem to encourage that kind of behavior. It’s kind of like those Sunday school lessons on eternal marriage where people talk about how wonderful it will be when their marriage is finally an eternal one (meaning, I assume, that things will be better after they die and find themselves in the CK). It’s the same thing: you’re missing out on the adventure. You’re trying to get to the Hollywood ending. Or I guess we could say Holywood ending. Ha, I kill me!

    Stephen Carter
    Fairbanks, Alaska

  8. Steve,

    I certainly do think that seeing people you helped into the Church wander away is painful. It certainly was for me. But interestingly, the person I remember best from my mission, the person who has continued to affect my life, lo these many years later, never joined the Church.

    I have a theory why. Mainly it’s because my main objective as a missionary was to get people to interpret their lives through the Mormon story (and remember, for me, a story isn’t an “untrue” thing, in fact, it’s a very powerful thing). It’s possible that many of these people who joined the Church under my tutelage didn’t have much of a metaphysical outlook. So the Mormon story filled a void. In other words, a story came from outside the person, and the person decided to take it in, to one degree or another.

    However, Bob, the fellow who never joined the Church, I think he already had a strong story of his own. And I think it was one that he had put together from many years of serious reflection. And I’ve become very impressed by how rich his story was, and how nourishing it was for me to be around him. (shameless self-promotion alert) You can read more about Bob sometime later this year in Sunstone, where I’m publishing a personal essay that features him.

    Sometimes I wonder what I’d do if I could meet all those people from my mission again. Especially considering that, as far as I know, none of them have stuck with the Church. I think that now I would be much more interested in finding out who they are as people and prizing them that way, rather than in what kind of story I would want to offer them. Sometimes I wonder if that would be the more Christlike thing to do.

  9. Ronan,

    Yeah. I definitely felt like I was joining the club as well. However, when I’m writing an essay, I tend to be very selective about what I let in for the purposes of narrative unity. So I stuck with the weight metaphor. Tell me, what’s it like to be a member of “the club?”

  10. Steve Evans says:

    Stephen, I think that you maybe could clarify what you mean by “weight”, and whether for you that has a negative connotation — it’s not far off from “burden.” Was that the intent?

  11. I did not find “weight of the priesthood”, but I did find “the weight of priesthood” at Dialogue.

    Is this another essay or a mislabel in the post here?

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Gunner, it’s a typo in the post. Same article.

  13. Hi, Stephen –

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. I’m not sure if you saw the comment from Kayla on the post with your article, but she commented that she feels “envious” of the weight and responsibility of having the priesthood. And a few other women commenters said that they wished that they could feel the same connection with their children as men do when they bless their children.

    I wonder if women would be less envious to hold the priesthood if we could hear more stories like yours about the burden it is to exercise this power. However, it seems to me that the priesthood is so wrapped up in authority and in being in charge that sometimes it’s easy to forget that the priesthood can be so deeply spirtually rewarding.

    And I think this is what women want most of all. I could handle not being in charge and “presiding”, if I could hold my children in my arms and bless them with all the power and authority of God.

    I wish there were a better way of separating the authority of the priesthood from the spirituality of the priesthood. Does this make sense?

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your story with us.

  14. Tess, I think if you studied our history (which you may have and come to this conclusion already), you may find an outlet for your desires.

  15. J. – Thanks. I have studied the history a bit, but, in our current culture, it makes me uncomfortable to think of, say, women blessing their babies in Sacrament Meeting. Even though I believe the mother should stand there with the father and other men and women to bless their child together. It’s just too complicated right now. Maybe things will change, but right now women’s blessings take place in private, if at all, and feel almost illegal, in a way.

  16. I read the last sentence of your fourth paragraph wrong. “I left the church. The end.” Sorry.

    I’ve read Under the Cottonwoods, yeah, I liked those stories. I think I’ve read some of Margaret Blair Young’s work, as well, just recently, but I can’t quite remember.

    #7, beautiful. Second acts, what a great way to put it. You could write a book called Second Acts.

    I wasn’t able to access that essay about the priesthood for some reason. My computer got gummed up when I tried.

    LOL, one of the great things about blogging for me has been the expanded horizons. I’ve never heard of Stephen Carter! And I’d never heard of Richard Dutcher. And just today I watched The Royal Tennenbaums!

  17. Steve,

    I was hoping that “weight” in this essay had many values in it. For example, the confirmation scene made the weight into a manifestation of authority, and the promise of someday having that authority. Then when ordained an elder the weight seemed to come into my bones, making me heavier and more substantial. Then I was the bearer of that weight when I blessed other people.

    Then, toward the end of the piece, when I feel cut off from the priesthood, that is another weight. A difficult one, because I didn’t know what was going on.

    The only place where weight finally leaves the picture is when I make that connection with my boys.

    Let me make a little jump here. I wonder if the weight was a manifestation of taking something outside myself into myself: the expectations of family and church, my perception of what the power might be, my ideas of what God may have expected. All of that was outside myself. It wasn’t until I was able to go inside myself, finding a place where I could connect with my boys without any intercessor that the weight finally relented.

    I wonder about that a lot. I wonder if the priesthood is more of a pointer than a power in and of itself. I wonder if it’s trying to point us into ourselves, and toward other people, so that we can finally shed all the insulation we put around ourselves (callings, positions, authorities, titles) and finally draw authority from our own depths, and bring that to our relationships.

    Here’s a metaphor for you. I love the cartoon Samurai Jack. There’s one episode where he meets up with a monkey tribe that can jump great distances. He asks to be taught how to jump like that (because he’s white, and as we all know…). They teach him by ladening him with boulders, then making chase them all over the jungle until he finally builds up the muscle to deal with his burden without being slowed down. Then he didn’t need them anymore.

    Perhaps we could see the priesthood as training wheels for greater powers of empathy and charity. In which case, the weight is both a burden and help.

  18. Tess,

    I’ve felt that same kind of envy. Recently I read a really provocative book called “Aphrodite’s Daughters.” It’s a collection of sexual histories of a wide range of women and how their journeys finally led them to a deepening spirituality. Maybe I’m too gullible, but I was amazed by what they were talking about. Females seem to have practically unlimited access to spirit through the body, if the book is to be believed.

    Which makes me wonder. Is the book to be believed?

    This is what I’m thinking. The thing that gives both the idea of the priesthood, and (for the women in Aphrodite’s Daughters) the idea of accessing spirituality through the body is the time and passion someone is willing to put into it. Feeling their way along, finding the best path for them. In other words, they’re both metaphors. Particular metaphors work for particular people. Our culture (Mormon, American, capitalist) wants to push some metaphors onto us, telling us that they are “true” metaphors. Meaning that they have greater claim to our dedication than other metaphors. If we find meaning and fulfillment in other ways, we’re made to feel out of step and guilty.

    I think that attitude is one of the main malaises of contemporary culture. We’re told what we want so often that we have a hard time listening to what actually fulfills us. I’ve been working on listening for a few years now. And I’ve only made paltry progress. But it’s something I really want. I don’t want outside institutions, or other people, to tell me what I should value. That may have been one of the subtle realizations I made at the end of The Weight of Priesthood, the idea that fulfilling meaning can spring from within oneself, and in connection with others, rather than only through a particular theology.

  19. Stephen,

    I don’t believe the book “Aphrodites Daughters” is to be completely beleived. To think that women have a greater access to spirituality through their bodies is to belittle men’s ability to be spiritual. But you bring up an interesting phenomena… that is, as you read about experiences you perceived to be gender-related, as the opposite gender you wondered about your ability to experience the same.

    That is indeed how I felt reading your wonderfully written essay. Reading your comments on this thread in response to questions, I really admire your thought-process. Your last comment, I couldn’t agree with more. The most important fulfillment we can get is through ourselves and our relationship to diety. Not through church structure and organization. For me, I attend the LDS church in spite of such structure which I feel is incredibly inequitable and distrustful(fundamentally) which flies in the face of reason (my reasoning, at least).

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  20. Stephen,

    First, I just want to say how much I enjoyed your essay and your comments. It is interesting that as a woman the idea that first comes to mind for me, when using the term “weight of the priesthood” is that intimate sensation of having the weight of someone’s hands on my head. However, I do recognize that this idea confuses the idea of priesthood with the person who bears it. It has just been in the past year that I have been reading and thinking more deeply about women and priesthood and the relationship between the two, particularly earlier in this dispensation. Just recently, I was able to go to the temple and do some initiatories – the only place where it is officially sanctioned for women to perform a priesthood ordinance. As I went through this experience, I realized that I couldn’t feel the weight. Her touch was elusive, like a butterfly. I sat up straighter, trying to feel the heaviness of her hands, but no matter how I tried to discreetly change my posture, I could not feel much other than the very light touch on my hair. It happened so many times I wondered if it was deliberate. I wanted to stop and cry out, “I just want to feel the weight of your hands on my head!” I don’t know if it was just coincidental or one individual’s style, but it seemed to represent the whole issue of women and priesthood to me; so close but just beyond our grasp.

    I have administered to one of my children one time. My husband was away and while it was not a traditional healing blessing (no oil, somewhat different wording), the weight felt huge, although this could have been also the weight of my own uncertainty.

    Incidentally, I live in Southern Ontario – did you serve in the Toronto East or West mission?

  21. Kris,

    How fascinating! I love the story about the butterfly temple worker. It’s a completely different interpretation of the ethos of the priesthood. I’d love to read something about the bouyancy of priesthood. It’s always freeing to remember that there is always a completely different way to look at the world. A world in every metaphor. It’s hard for me to remember that with my Mormon background, as the people around me spent so much time telling me that the Mormon story was the only worthwhile story. It kind of set me up to think there was only one story for everything. I realize that this mindset was probably mostly the fault of my inherent gullibility, as I’ve met other people who have used the Mormon gospel to widen their horizons rather than restrict them.

    I served in the East mission. Spent a lot of time downtown, in Whitby, Belleville, Mississauga and North York. Never got north of Steeles though, as that was the mission boundary, except to go to the temple. Where are you at?

  22. I find the comment that leaving the church to be the “easy way” quite facile and immature, particularly when for many “leaving” means giving up a tribe, a familiarity, a bond, a social structure, even a family or two–not to mention a religion that both prescribed and proscribed life’s patterns.

    Staying, to me, seems to be the chickens– way, especially when the only reason seems to be that tying one’s stomach in knots and wrestling with “difficult” issues (does Adam have a bellybutton?) is somehow noble and empowering.

    Yikes.

  23. I agree with your ideas about freeing ourselves from the trap of one story (or two stories, the right and wrong way). I think our culture really struggles with this idea — for instance, there is only faith or doubt and nothing in between. The idea that you are either on God or Satan’s side seems to permeate our worldview and compels us to live in a world that consists only of binaries.

    I’m in the West mission — Kitchener Stake. Too bad, I liked the idea that maybe I had fed you dinner. :)

  24. Stephen, Kris and Kayla, I love the idea of telling your own story. But what if your story is counter to the Church’s “story”? I guess I just don’t feel liberated enough to branch out and explore my priesthood power, given that women are explicitly told they are not allowed to exercise this power. I should think about this more. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  25. Velma,

    I think I know a little bit of what you’re talking about. It may seem silly, but writing “The Weight of Priesthood” was much like leaving home and losing my family. It was the hardest thing in the world to openly say, “You know, I have no idea what I believe anymore. And in orthodox circles, that makes me damned.” But I had to pay attention to what was going on inside me. It’s difficult when your inner and outer world are so dissonant.

    And you’re right, a lot of people only look for the easiest way out. And that way differs for everyone. The story I was trying to uproot is that, as Kris said, we live in a world of binaries, and that we have to make the choice to be “in or out.”

    I prefer Hegel’s dialectic to this binary approach. You remember that Hegel thought history was made up opposing forces, but that instead of one force winning over the other, the two eventually combine to make something new. I prefer to think that instead of doubt being a force that pulls you completely out of one story and into another, that it helps you to integrate seemingly contradictory stories together. I think that’s what the word Post-Mormon is supposed to denote: though Mormonism was once the dominant force in my life, it is no longer, however, I acknowledge the good and the bad it has done me and see no need to cast it off as being completely useless.

    I think Terry Tempest Williams is a good example of a Hegelian (or Post) Mormon. She certainly ackowledges her Mormon background, and makes good use of it in her writings, but she also does a lot with Native American spirituality and animism. The mix makes for what I consider to be a rich worldview.

  26. I have an audio recording of a talk by Hugh Nibley where he says that Joseph Smith once described the priesthood as “an onerous burden”.

    Kris, it is interesting to me that you describe the butterfly effect. The giving of a blessing is, as Stephen’s essay makes clear, an intimate act. I’ve always felt a kind of restraint, not wanting to be intrusive or offensive, so I have always used a very light touch on purpose when I give blessings. After reading your comments, I can see that probably the main reason we have blessings, any kind of blessing, is to convey the immediacy and power of God’s love. Maybe a more direct approach is appropriate.

    Stephen, thank you for your essay and responses. Have you evern been to Yakutat?

  27. Hmm, just dropped over and saw the new graphics, read this post, hoped for a link to the essay he was interviewed on, missed it, off to sleep.

    Interesting though, I spent four years in Anchorage.

  28. Stephen, I ran off your talk from the Dialogue site, your essay, I mean. It was thought provoking. There is a book called Reaching for the Invisible God, by Philip Yancey. He’s not LDS, but he explores the searchings of a Christian, a believer, who truly wants to love and serve God. It’s wonderful, and I believe, will validate your questioning. He asserts that only the truly faithful question, that others just blindly believe, but don’t truly understand what they believe. Anyway…I recommend it. Good job.

  29. Mark,

    Actually, I use a very light touch as well. I think I have the same idea, not wanting to be intrusive or overbearing. And to me, the heavy hand thing is kind of annoying, especially if the blesser is long-winded. Huh, maybe along with the “what’s your full name” question, you could ask, “would you like heavy, medium, or light hands?”

    Ketchup with your order?

    As for Yakutat, nope. I’m a Shishmaref specialist. Been to White Mountain as well. Interestingly, there are three Mormons in Shishmaref. I increase the population by 25 percent whenever I visit.

  30. Thanks Annegb. I’ll check it out. I’m currently reading an interesting little book called “Belief or Nonbelief: A Confrontation.” It’s a series of letters between Umbero Eco and Cardinal Martini. The title is misleading: there’s little confrontation – very good questions asked by intelligent, well-read men, yes – but their conversation is refreshingly open and tolerant.

    Another good “spiritual” book I’ve read lately is Karen Armstrong’s “The Spiral Staircase.” It’s about her life post-convent, and how she went through extreme repugnance to anything religious to being one of the top writers in religious studies. Very recommended.

  31. There are two Mormon writers who have helped me: Robert Millett and Cheiko Okazaki, a few others who don’t write as much, but mostly my spiritual life has been blessed by writers of other faiths, like Leslie Weatherhead, Thomas Merton…etc. I have a monk friend who recommends these to me.

    One of my major gurus when my son committed suicide was a 25 year old devout Catholic boy, who saw my son’s name on the list of deaths and wrote me. He was a Marine. Life is funny, huh?

    But I think you will love that Yancey book.

  32. Robert Millett is the best… He’s done a world of good for me. (Random response to Anne.)

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