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Book Review: Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question

I grew up in a little Italian neighbourhood in New York. When I was in primary school, every Friday was “pizza day” at school. In addition to standard cafeteria fare and milk for purchase, there was pizza. Italian neighbourhood pizza. Square slices of thick bread slathered with the most decadent tomato-based sauce, and topped with just a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. These were served at room at room temperature (it would be a sin to warm them!) and they were delicious!

Even now, whenever I visit New York, I seek out those very basic slices. They remind me of childhood simplicity. I also grew up with more traditional style pizza—hot from the oven, loads of meats and cheeses, always cut into a triangle wedge from a circle crust. My teen years met with Pizza hut’s green peppers and onions, and when I went to school in Utah, I was introduced to Canadian bacon as a topping… and pineapple (what?). In Australia, I had pizza barbeque sauce, topped with egg and shredded ham, and in France, camembert made a lovely addition to my hand-held pie.

No matter where I went, this was all pizza. No one called it by any other name, though when I described my childhood pie, I was often met with strange looks, sometimes mocking, and… on one very memorable occasion, a dear friend tried to recreate my verbal description. Because my childhood pie was not even a little bit similar to most pizzas I found in my travels, I often said I didn’t like pizza, but I could tolerate it, even the ones with jalapenos (seriously?). But on one visit to my hometown, I found myself eagerly visiting numerous pizza shops… Tony’s Pizza,  Cavallos, Carmella’s and even the corner store that sold newspapers– and pizza. This caused me to realize that my proclaimed dislike of pizza wasn’t true: I like pizza. But the pizza pie that worked for me, didn’t always make sense to others. It wasn’t their comprehension of pizza because it was square, served cold, and might even not have anything but tomato sauce on top. But it was still my favourite, even though others doubted this pizza could be even called pizza.

That is a lay description of what Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question, taught me: It’s okay to have different ideas, and questions, and still be called members on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. From the intro to the final word, I felt the love of the author. In fact, I felt the spirit as soon as I began reading.

To be completely honest, I have not attended church regularly in a while. So I thought that this book might be something used on me, rather than something for me. But I was wrong. I was oddly relieved to learn that faith crises “are being discussed only rarely.” (page 129) It meant that I was not alone, nor was my ward alone in ignoring the elephant in the room.

And just like the pizza police might see my pie choice as bizarre and wrong, the author David B. Ostler addresses the hurtful practice of “policing” atypical comments and scriptural interpretations at church. This “policing” is manifested when someone declares that one who offers a different idea is absolutely wrong. This forces the different thinker to become personally muted, and feel as though they can’t “authentically participate” in church discussion. (134) Ostler shares ways in which discussions can be open for all to feel safe, and to share, even when they are atypical, or even when individuals share things such as struggling with the temple, struggling with church policy or even doubting doctrine.

Ostler further reminds us that even those who have left the church are loved by their Heavenly Parents; that perfection is not for this life, but that love, and the love we offer to others is for the here and now.  In other words, Ostler has made a delicious batch of pizza dough, created a huge table for us to all sit at, and invited us to make a space where all will feel safe to share, and be well fed.

This is truly a beautiful book, one that resonated with me deeply. I plan to purchase a copy for my ward’s library (yay, $20.95 Amazon!), and have already recommended it to the members of my ward who dared to try and minister to little ‘ol less active me. So grab the book and a slice of pizza, and dig in!

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