Jeffrey R. Holland, Broken Things to Mend (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2008, viii, 221, index).
This attractive volume is a compilation of public addresses, largely from LDS General Conference with an occasional Regional Conference or similar speech. In these slightly modified talks, both Elder Holland’s voice and the original audience are clear. His voice reflects in part a Ph.D. in American Studies and a dissertation on Mark Twain as well as decades of careful, compassionate thinking about apostolic concerns. His audience is clear in his emphasis on familiar scriptures in their accustomed interpretations, a straightforward message communicated concisely. Though I miss the more involved treatments—particularly his “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments” sermon that inspired me in college—of his prior work, I suspect that this format reflects his devotion to active pastoral and administrative duties within the church and am glad to recognize that service.
Because I believe one of the important benefits these types of sermons—learned theologians would call them homilies but would miss something thereby—bring to us is a sense of connection, the ability to invest individual narratives with meaning and inspiration. To that end, I wonder whether Deseret Book could issue the sermons on MP3/CD to accompany the book to assist with the reconnection to other moments.
For some reason as I read this book, I remembered General Conference as a first-year student in college, perhaps fifty of us walking out of the chapel together to picnic on Longfellow Park, a sense that we were something, someones beautiful. The pleasure we had as almost-adults discussing what we had heard in the meeting, how alive everything seemed despite the leaves separating from the trees in the crisp autumn air. I cherish those memories of a less complicated time. When Elder Holland invokes the Saints in all the nations of the earth, I remember with fondness my own quixotic attempts to tell those stories well over a decade ago, wandering about central America and the former Soviet Union hearing and recording the paths that brought people to the Latter-day Saint community. I remember marveling at the worlds of meaning they were creating together with this faith that came from far beyond their shores. I am grateful to Deseret Book and Elder Holland for this opportunity to remember these phases and experiences in my own life.
Highlights of the sermons in this book include his call to remember people over programs (7), to resist the temptation to wear expensive clothing (43), the need to avoid self-righteousness (132). His description of converts—they “are not lifeless objects disguised as a baptismal statistic[, t]hey are children of God, our brothers and sisters” (76) is potent and true. He grows a bit feisty as he celebrates the open canon of Mormonism (184-190), a reminder that despite our accommodations to evangelical culture we remain outside the scriptural and theological pale of creedal Christianity.
Minor items that drew my attention include his advised refusal to perpetuate the frog in boiling water myth (20), his citation of Allen’s and Leonard’s once anathematized LDS history (96), his use of material from Richard Bushman, whom he characterizes as “a good friend and faithful LDS scholar” (169), and his approving citation of Anglican divine N.T. Wright (190).
Some readers of BCC will feel conflicted over his advice that heterodox parents raise disaffected children whether they intend it or not (17) or his encouragement that church lessons be simply and emphatically scriptural (63). Some may kibitz him for his quotations of Jonathan Edwards and Ralph Waldo Emerson in ways they would likely not have endorsed (166). These are not fatal flaws—an LDS apostle will not advise or preach only what we wish to hear, and he will not generally write formal theological scholarship.
This book is a gentle and simple reminder of the gifts Elder Holland has brought to his apostolic calling. For those who would like an attractively packaged collection of his talks, the opportunity to spend some time in memory and imagination with this servant of the Lord, this book will be a welcome addition to their collection.
Note that this is a review of an Advanced Review Copy. Pagination may not be the same in the final version, which was released in mid-September.