New from BCC Press: Living on the Inside of the Edge from Christian Kimball

If you are one of the people for whom this book was written, you will know it immediately, probably from the title: Living on the Inside of the Edge. This is a book—and we are pretty sure the only book—for Latter-day Saints who can’t be all the way in but don’t want to be all the way out. The back-row-sitting, striped-shirt-or-pantsuit-wearing, read-a-book in Sacrament Meeting crowd that feels Mormon to the core but sometimes wishes they didn’t. Christian doesn’t want to try to convince you to stay, and he doesn’t want to encourage you to leave. He wants to give you some practical advice about how to be reasonably happy as an edge-dweller.

Living on the Inside of the Edge is full the kind of advice that you won’t find anywhere else: how to talk through difficult issues with your bishop (spoiler alert: the answer is don’t), what to do if you get a calling you don’t want to do, how to handle temple recommend interviews, and how to survive, and even thrive, as un unregenerate edge-dweller.

That’s all the introducing we’re going to do. Christian Kimball’s book, as it happens, has one of the clearest and most useful introductions we have ever seen. So we are going to turn the time over to Brother Kimball for the introduction, or the first part of it at least. At the end, we will give you the full introduction AND the first chapter for free. We are quite sure that, for some of you, reading these excerpts will provide you, perhaps for the first time in your life, with the amazing experience of being understood.


Introduction

Steal This Book! Oops, I can’t use that title. That’s Abbie Hoffman’s counter-culture survival guide from 1971 that almost didn’t get published because likely publishers hated the title. If you know the reference, congratulations on your first Easter Egg. If not, you now have an insight into how old I am.

Hoffman’s book comes to mind every time I want to describe this book by genre. Like any writer, I want everybody to read Living on the Inside of the Edge: A Survival Guide. I think everybody would find something interesting. But I know that’s self-aggrandizement on a large scale. This book fits a narrow genre with a limited audience and the better part of me wants to not disappoint or over-promise. So here’s some shelving advice. Unlike the majority of books with a Mormon flavor, this book is not theology, not history, not a memoir or biography, not apologetic, not devotional. For a broad category, this is a self-help book. More specifically, I’m thinking about a shelf of books in my parent’s house. It was a high shelf, not readily accessible to children. It was the shelf with books like Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, and Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex. Somewhat transgressive counter-culture instruction manuals, usually with catchy titles and covers that made you want a plain paper wrapper. In my most ambitious dreams for this book, that’s the shelf it belongs on.

The setting for this whole book is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the twenty-first century. “Mormon” is useful as a cultural designation and the most common adjective form and I use it freely and without apology. If “Mormon” troubles or annoys you, there is a lot about this book that will trouble or annoy you. Where necessary to distinguish the institution, I sometimes use the full name but most often simply the Church. Whenever there is no explicit distinction or label, the Church means The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Through friends and a small amount of study and larger amounts of public media I am aware that the issues and concerns of different- ly thinking Mormons have parallels in other traditions, including among Catholics, Evangelicals, and conservative Jews (not an exclusive or comprehensive list, but just the accident of my circumstances). Although I draw on thinking and writing that comes out of those traditions, I have made no attempt to speak to a broader audience. I leave to the better informed any parallels and value that might be found.

Thinking of themes or approaches within the context of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that might be expected or feared, this is not an extended argument to stay in the Church. This is an inward-looking book and staying might be an indirect effect, in the sense that if you want to stay and you pick up some tools to make it possible and learn that you are not alone, you might be able to hang on a little bit longer. But this is not an argument that you should stay. In my experience there are valid reasons to leave the Church, and valid reasons to stay, but this book is not about either one. This book is for people like me who have concerns about the Church that make leaving a genuine consideration, but have decided or chosen or felt called to stay and now want to figure out how to make it work. This book is about how to make it work.

Nor is this an extended argument to leave the Church. People leave the Church all the time. Some are called or attracted to a better fit or more appealing narrative. Some are pushed out, explicitly or by offensive actions of others. We find the foundational reasons for our original membership are not true or no longer satisfying. Or we see a divergence between the Church’s actions and what our own moral compass dictates. For the purposes of this book, it is axiomatic that there are valid reasons to leave and that a purposeful decision to stay must be open to the possibility of not staying. From beginning to end, leaving is an open possibility. But this book is inward looking. However open to the possibility of leaving, this book is ultimately about not leaving, for people who feel called to stay.

Third in the “not this” category, this is not a what’s wrong with the Church book nor a how-to-fix-the-Church manual. In some circles it’s kind of a sport to criticize the Church. Criticize and draw up lists of what’s wrong and how the Church needs to change. If you picked up this book in hopes of being entertained by 250 pages of Church trashing or even organized religion trashing, perhaps you should ask for your money back. This book is survival strategies for the individual. There are very few direct attacks on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You might glean some ideas for change in an indirect way. When the thought “it shouldn’t be this hard” intrudes, that’s a hint at something that could change. However, this book is all about the individual coping in the Church as it is.

There’s relatively little about what they should do. Most of this book is about what you can do.

Comments

  1. Would it be possible for Christian Kimball to create a bio page under Current Authors on this website? Would love to see one.

  2. Roy, I’m a BCC Press author, by way of this post and my Living on the Inside of the Edge. But not a BCC blog author (except occasionally as a guest), who gets a bio on this site. There’s some amount of biographical information in the last part of the full Introduction to the book, provided in the OP.

  3. lastlemming says:

    OK, I bought it. Having done so, I am going to indulge in some nostalgia.

    In the summer of 1971, I was at scout camp on Bear Lake and wasn’t sleeping particularly well, so I tried tuning in to some radio stations to listen to music. Bear Lake didn’t have any radio stations and I couldn’t pick up the Logan stations or even any Salt Lake stations. So I was very curious to learn where the radio stations I could pick up were located. Albuquerque. Denver. And some station in Red Deer, Alberta that was interviewing Abbie Hoffman about Steal This Book, which was apparently banned in Canada. I was more excited to pick up a Canadian station than I was to learn about the book, but it is what I remember most about that week at camp.

    As for my shelf kept out of reach of the children, it is now down to Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tsedung, Man: his Origin and Destiny, and Mormon Doctrine.

  4. launeslow says:

    Is there some way to order Christian Kimball’s new book OTHER than through Amazon? Can I order it directly from you? Thanks, Laura Lowe

  5. Stephen Hardy says:

    Just reading the introduction here is so wonderful. Thank you, Christian Kimball, for writing this. I will buy it, and more importantly, I will read it.

    Perhaps you could have called it: “What the Church Means to People Like Me….!

  6. A further, and briefer thought. For me the most common difficulty I have is with cultural Mormonism. The propensity of too many to ignore those of other faiths, and to think it’s fine to judge other members and even insult them. Or to follow the ultra-conservative political line and compartmentalize their professed spiritual belief in order to justify their political divergence from the actual teaching of the savior. Members have driven a significant number of other members away when those who left had not matured enough to survive the onslaught. Before we criticize the doctrines, perhaps we should re-evluate our commitment to them and clean up our own back yard before telling others, including leaders, how to clean up theirs.

  7. fbear0143, not knowing what “further” refers to, this might turn out to be an awkward comment. Focusing on the culture issue, I agree. It’s a problem. My “Living on the Inside of the Edge” devotes one section (out of four) to the issues related to living in and coping with the culture as it is today. That is the orientation of the whole book–how the individual lives within the system as we find it. There could be another book on how we all can move the culture in a better direction for our collective benefit. Perhaps you just wrote part of the introduction?

  8. So we have moved from “neo-orthodox” to “NOM” (New Order Mormon) to “middle way Mormon” and now on to “edge-dwellers.”

    What ever labels one may want to apply, the spiritual dynamics remain the same for salt that has lost its savor:

    “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

  9. Loran Blood, here to lump vast varieties of individuals together in order to make a blanket quote that doesn’t directly relate to any of those groups, but yet hopes to disparage each of them. Not leaving much of that judging to God now are we? Being judged is on the most common replies as to why people leave the church (and probably why (re the other post about worms) why people also have poor views of us). Thanks for that, Loran. Way to spread the good word, charity, etc.

  10. I’ll buy and read this book because what I read above seems to describe my situation quite well. I have no desire or intention to leave the Church, or even to stop participating (callings, Temple attendance, etc) but I am not one who feels the fervor of testimony all the time. Most of my callings have provided a welcome opportunity to serve, but I have derived more satisfaction from the administrative and service aspects of the callings than from anything spiritual. Best wishes on your book, Christian –

  11. Angel Motter says:

    I have had issues with the Church since day one. It took them 6 months to “find” my baptism certificate, a lady was supposed to inform me of a group temple visit and didn’t call me until I was in bed (they were meeting the next morning at 6am), I get strange and offensive looks when I don’t wear what they call “church“ clothes, the Relief Society no longer sends me updates. It’s been over a year. I have noticed that life-long members don’t really like converts like me. I feel the Church only cares about how much $$$ they can bring in by converting people like me. I also feel that the members have more faith in their prophets than they do in God. I also don’t appreciate being told not to drink tea when I have drank it my entire life. I also don’t like how if we don’t pay tithing (which I do every week) that we are not allowed to go in to the temples. I feel sometimes that the Church acts as if they are above God, and obviously I have issues with the Church.

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