One of my favorite people I follow on Twitter is Patrick Mason, and I was really excited when I saw his book Restoration: God’s Call to the 21st Century World. I just got around to reading it.
In some ways, many of the ideas didn’t feel new to me. These are a lot of themes that I have encountered in other Latter-Day Saint authors or have discovered for myself. For example, Mason makes a case for finding good out in the world by citing the Thirteenth Article of Faith: We believe all things… If there is anything that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. I too have found great power in this verse that felt subversive at first; is it OK to read books by C. S. Lewis, for instance? If the prophets can quote him in general conference, then I can certainly read Mere Christianity. On a more recent note, I was talking to my English professor cousin who had one student with similar qualms in her class; some if not all of the books you read in English class do not pass muster following a strict interpretation of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. My cousin was able to share with her a neat perspective from Brigham Young along a similar vein:
It is not our duty and calling to gather up every item of truth… whether the infidels have it, the universalists, the Church of Rome, the Methodists, or Quakers or Shakers or the Presbytarians or the Baptists… every one of them have more or less truth… yes the sciences of the day, yes to the philosophy in every nation kindred tongue and people… no matter how many errors they have they have a great many truths.
Mason quotes the same verse to a similar effect. There are also some novel metaphors and aspects that make Mason’s book shine. I really liked his analogy of “the fortress church” he introduces in chapter one. He describes a church his family found in a small Transylvanian village:
At the center of the village, like any good European village, is the church. But this is no ordinary church. Elevated on a hill is one of Transylvania’s famous fortified Saxon churches… Dating back to the twelfth century, the white-walled and red-roofed church was where villagers would gather not only for worship but also for safety when marauders came. Indeed, from the outside it looks more like a castle, with narrow window slits, tall towers, and a sturdy wooden gate.
With this image in mind, Mason compares it to how we as Latter-Day Saints approach the world:
In response to the very real persecution they had received in the nineteenth century, our people– the Latter-day Saints– metaphorically built a fortress church in order to protect ourselves and our precious holdings from invaders. When viewed from narrow arrow slits, the rest of humanity and their ideas– or simply “the world,” as we came to know it– seemed ominous and threatening, single-mindedly focused on our destruction. So we closed the gates, occasionally cracking them open to send out missionaries, conduct business, and watched nervously for the next assault.
This, together with McKay Coppins’s The Most American Religion provides a lot of material to think about how our religion interfaces with surrounding society. It helps make us a bit more self-aware.
I was also impressed with the tone that Mason set with this book. This isn’t an interpretation from the outside, not “Mormonism and.” Mason assembles several expansive quotes from Latter-Day Saint prophets and apostles to make a case for what he refers as “Mormonism’s third century.” Two such quotes:
To highlight the gathering of Israel: One of the hallmarks of President Russell M. Nelson’s ministry has been the reintroduction of the language of Israel’s restoration and gathering into the Latter-Day Saint vocabulary. A persistent theme of his presidency is that the gathering of Israel “is the most important thing taking place of the earth today.”
To make the case of an ongoing restoration, he quotes Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Sometimes we think the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us– Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.”
And Elder Patrick Kearon on shaping the world instead of fearing it: Do we fear the world more than we shape it? Do we let our anxieties prevent us from making a difference? Do we spend more time hiding from society’s flaws than fixing its problems?… Society is not something that just happens to us; it is something we help shape. The main thing is to engage, dialogue, bridge, and interact with people of all sorts. Unless we participate, we lose our ability to both influence the world and learn from it.
Mason’s book is a kind of taking stock of our religion (companionship inventory, anyone?). It isn’t apologetics, but it isn’t polemics either. It is an honest reflection on where we have been and where we are going.