Saturday, March 24, 2018

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone RollingJoseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was educational. I learned some new things about Joseph Smith, a man I have known about and revered most of my conscious life. I leave the book respecting him more, while seeing him as a man as much as a prophet, which was his religious calling. Was he perfect? No, he was a man who made mistakes, misjudged, and sinned at times. Yet, he was the right man to restore the church to the earth. Who else would have moved forward with confidence on the revelations he received? How else would the church have survived his martyrdom?

A few impressions I left with:
-History has compressed his story. He spent years of his life working at what he felt was his calling in life, and it is now presented as a clear path from A to B to C and so on, but the reality of his life was not like that. He wandered a bit, trying to figure things out. Sometimes he seems to have inserted more of himself in the work, while other times he seems to have worked more from external inspiration. The zoomed-out result can be presented as one path, but that isn't realistic.
-Contemporary Mormonism has evolved, and continues to evolve, as it should. As a church member it sometimes seems like the church is slow moving or unchanging because we understand that our doctrines are anchored and immovable in certain places. But when you look over the long run, it is a work that progresses as needs change. It is a challenge for church leaders to both guide and accept progress while seeing to and protecting our doctrinal anchors that are unchangeable.
-I feel like I understand both why Mormonism is hard to accept, and hard to reject. The story of the restoration is very divisive. It is hard to believe that this boy, and then this man, saw what he says he saw, and did what he said he did. Yet, it is also hard to believe that the Book of Mormon, and the church, came from an uninspired farm boy, and the fallible man we meet in this book. Defending either side can be tough, which I why I think it comes down to each person asking for them self, and then developing faith around their position. Interestingly, that is also the advice in the Book of Mormon itself.

This book does address some of the controversies surrounding Joseph Smith, such as polygamy. Those controversies are hard to understand, but that is not without precedent and probably shouldn't be surprising. Many historical figures also have controversy surrounding them, but those quirks don't diminish their contribution to history, and the same is true for Joseph Smith from my perspective. Men such as Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson seem to get more attention for their faults than their contributions these days, and some of their faults are disturbing. But their contributions were real, and the institutions that resulted from their efforts have largely survived in spite of the weaknesses of their founders.