Letters to a Young Mormon is a deceptively simple book. The small book isn’t much larger than an overgrown pamphlet, the thin paperback volume easily slides in to bag or perhaps an ample-sized pocket, yet this informally styled book of letters is big. I’ve been chewing on the deep and satisfying ideas in this book for months now, wishing I had could have begun years and years prior back when I was younger than I am now. But I am not old yet, and believe that with eons to go in my unfinished faith I can rightfully consider myself a young Mormon; the book spoke to me.
Each themed letter (twelve in total) was addressed ” Dear S.;” it was easy to slip my own name in the salutation. But it was discussion of our own stories, that made me feel the very personal nature of the book. In the letter themed on sin, Miller writes:
“Like everyone, you have a story you want your life to tell. You have your own way of doing things. . . As the heavens are higher than they earth, God’s work in your life is bigger than the story you’d like that life to tell. His life is bigger than your plans, goals, or fears. To save your life, you’ll have to lay down your stories and, minute by minute, day by day, give your life back to him. Preferring your stories to his life is sin.”
He then outlines that “stories are deceptive,” that they cast a seeming, seductive shadow of who we are, but in truth “hides as much as it reveals.” We are not shadows, our bodies “can never fit that profile.” I hadn’t thought about how very flat shadows are. “Sin is what happens when we choose our shadows over the lives that cast them. Life is full of stories, but life is not a story. God doesn’t love your story, he loves you.”
Yet, we all are captivated by our own stories, allowing them to become “a blueprint for how things ought to be.” Miller points out that this is where we err, substituting our story boards for sacrifice for something better (and often something we don’t yet know or fully comprehend): real and viable living, life.
What happens next in the text is what I loved best about the book, it doesn’t turn on its’ heel at this profound idea and offer simple, yet trite conclusions about how to move on this idea. No, it gets more nuanced and complex.
The antidote to sin is not obedience. “Obedience is important, but this isn’t about obedience.” In obedience the law becomes central and we are either exhaulted or exhonerated by our success or failure in regard to it. “Keeping the law is the work of relying on Christ’s merit, not on the work of generating your own. This is still hard work, but it is work of an entirely different kind.
Letters to a Young Mormon “do little to benchmark a Mormon orthodoxy,” but instead are as personal as I found them to be. They succeed in their goal “to address the real beauty and real cost of trying to live a Mormon life,” to “show something of what it means to life in a way that refuses to abandon either life or Mormonism.” Reading it, I felt less tired and more awakened to the climbs and depths of my life and faith, which am beginning to recognize are not separate, but one. I whole-hardheartedly love this very small and not so simple book; I’ve passed it on to so many others and now I recommend it on to you.
Letters to a Young Mormon is a thought-provoking, beautifully written collection of ideas, insight and inspiration by Adam S. Miller.
- Anyone interested in a fresh, thoughtful approach to faith
- Those who are devout but wonder how the pieces fit together
- Those new in the faith or at a new point in their faith or those seeking to make their faith new again
Have you read it too? What were your thoughts?