Review: Holland, Broken Things to Mend

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.


  1. Thanks for the review, Sam. This looks like a worthwhile read.

  2. Thanks for the nice write-up.

  3. heterodox parents raise disaffected children

    I reember when Holland said this, I think, but I thought it was more heteroprax parents at the time. Maybe I am thinking of the wrong talk.

    Anyway, I love Elder Holland. thanks for this.

  4. Heteropraxy is much, much clearer to define and label in Mormonism than heterodoxy. I’d be interested, if he indeed used the term “heterodox” what kinds of contextual guideposts there are in the talk indicating what exactly he has in mind.

  5. After spending five minutes figuring out what Brad just said, I’d have to agree wholeheartedly.

  6. He describes heterodoxy but doesn’t use such high-faluting language (though I’m sure he knows it quite well–Elder Holland is a really bright fellow). He describes the risks of not frequently bearing testimony to your children, the risk that they might not know that you are certain that the church is true.

  7. I’m nothing if not heterodox, so it worries me that I may be contributing to my son’s disaffection. I think I’d like to read this book because of that one sentence you quoted.

  8. I found the talk, and it is indeed worth a book to read.

  9. I read the talk. And, admittedly, as someone who differs from my family on the matter of Mormon theology, but truly and deeply wishes there were a place for me in the faith (I’m so jealous of my Jewish friends, who get to disagree on matters of theology and still be a part of the community) I find this talk rather more than somewhat problematic. At the actual Parent-Child interaction level isn’t he saying something pretty scary? Let your kids know you’ll, what? Abandon them? if they don’t live the life you expect?

    And, isn’t he also very loudly implying that parents whose children stray have a moral failing? I know this is what my father believes. It leads to nothing but walls built between people where they shouldn’t exist. Heartache. Guilt. Estrangement. I say, completely unnecessary. No.

  10. Briefly, isn’t he saying “We believe in family, for very small values of family.”?

  11. djinn, You know how much I respect you. However, I just read the talk slowly and carefully, and there is nothing whatsoever in it that would lead to the conclusions in your comments. Nothing. I mean that sincerely; there simply isn’t anything like that there.

    As to your question, “Isn’t he also very loudly implying that parents whose children stray have a moral failing?” – he actually said in the talk:

    “Moms and dads can do everything right and yet have children who stray. Moral agency still obtains.”

    Not only did he NOT imply there is a moral failing, he explicitly said there is not.

    What he was addressing, I think quite clearly, is the observation that those who live on the fringe of the Church and/or who criticize the leaders openly in front of their children often have kids who live farther off the fringe and criticize the leaders even more – and that these people shouldn’t be surprised when their children leave the Church.

    Seriously, what’s so controversial about that? It seems like a pretty self-evident truism to me.

  12. I read both President’s Holland’s talk and the post by smb. The first left me with angst; the second brought me peace. Maybe, the first was a call to repent but the second was a gentle answer that God still knows my heart.

  13. Hollands talk was scripture study tonight for us. Thanks!

  14. Terry Foraker says:

    Elder Holland is truly a gem among the General Authorities. Has there ever been a more comforting General Conference talk than “The Other Prodigal”? Every talk he gives is saturated with the Savior and His Atonement, with every statement wrung out of the depths of his soul.

    God bless you, Brother Holland.

  15. For my money (not much), there has never been a more encouraging general conference talk than “An High Priest of Good Things to Come.” In particular, the imagery of the adult and settled Elder Holland looking back on his youthful self–with weary shoulders and hands hanging down–and shouting out encouragement born of the knowledge of “good things to come” is one of the most powerful allegories in the history of LDS rhetoric.

  16. ps: not having read the book, I don’t know if that talk in included. Probably not.

  17. Being heterodox by nature, but loving the church and loving Joseph’s exegesis, I have been concerned that some of my children have been less than faithful even though I and my beloved departed wife were very faithful in our orthopraxy and she most earnestly orthodox.

    Long time passing, I had the occasion of visiting a friend, a couple who were extraordinarily strict in their orthodoxy. They, too, had strayed children, much more strayed than mine. But we both took great heart from that conversation. We each realized that had we done more of the other it probably would not have made much difference. I could feel the relief in my own soul and see the relief in his.

    God does not require orthodoxy. God requires argument and conclusion in love. How else can you explain all of this else? After Prop. 8, especially.

    My son, who was assistant to the president on his mission, came home and drifted off. He went from white heat to cold while living in a conservative state and going to a ultra conservative ward as a liberal thinking person while getting his master’s degree in public administration. I hold God responsible for that. Who can help it? Who has decreed that Mormons be “dittoheads” and blind to (or at least be unaware of the possibility of) the great complexity of the world?

    That God should have told his prophet to vote against gays and make my dear friend cry bitter tears to have to alienate her beloved nephew to honor the prophet. This makes my liberal children shudder, as it does me. God does this, not me, or should I have raised my children with blinders and shut down their questioning? Do we love blind faith?

    Or my sweet, unquestioning daughter who married a man whom she thought was white hot, the opposite of her dad (she thought), only to have him turn into a raving atheist anti-Mormon. She went along. Parents did not do that to her except to provide a bad example for her desire to do the right thing.

    Mercy. I will admit that what Elder Holland says about heterodox parents still pains me, but I know that I have done my best and still continue. I am doing God’s will (as I perceive it) to the best of my ability. And my children love me. They have been raised to see the marvels of this world and this life. I have been the best father I know how to be under the circumstances. I have married the best women. I trust God will take care of the unfinished business (or maybe not).