Letters to a Young Mormon: A Normons Review


By: Brad Masters //

It seems like a cop out to say that my favorite book on Mormonism took me two hours to read. These things should take weeks of hard labor, burning midnight oil, right?

Not this one. And everyone should read it, young or old, Mormon or not.

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At 78 pages, this paperback book feels almost like a pamphlet. Normons writer Jason Woodward enjoyed it so much he wants a wallet-size version for quick reference!

Adam Miller’s most recent book, published with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, is a series of short letters addressed to “S,” whom he tells us is “a young Mormon who is familiar with Mormon life but green in their faith.” These letters cover topics including Agency, Work, Sin, Faith, Scripture, Prayer, History, Science, Hunger, Sex, Temples, and Eternal Life.

While the book is addressed to Young Mormons, I am convinced that it is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in how Mormons approach life and living. For example, to those who believe faith is about wishful thinking or willful blindness to reality, Miller responds: “Faith doesn’t wish difficult things away. It invites them in, breaks bread with them, and washes their feet. . . . Faith isn’t a way of going to sleep. It’s the work of waking up.” Or to critics who ardently (and myopically) claim that science and religion are incompatible, Miller outlines a helpful paradigm for viewing science as just another form of God’s revelation:

“As we watch from our sofas, the world’s secrets are getting shouted from the rooftops, its fossils are being turned out of their graves, its cored icebergs are testifying to God’s long-suffering care . . . God is prying open our eyes and ears. Who has ears to hear? God speaks both scripture and science. Listen for his voice.”

These treasures and more fill the pages of this book.

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Author Adam S. Miller, Philosophy Professor at Collin College in Texas

But it would be a grave mistake to assume that this book is just a Jon-Bytheway-only-for-teens type of read. The prose is highly readable, if deceptively deep. And to be frank, some of the profoundest insights seem almost beyond the reach of a teenage audience. Consider, for example, Miller’s discussion of history. Anyone who engages Mormonism knows that sometimes digging through Church history can be difficult: if nothing else, most know that Mormons used to practice polygamy. Miller offers brilliant, sage advice for all questioners, Mormon and not, as they approach historical difficulties:

“While it is scary to think that God works through weak, partial, and limited mortals like us, the only thing scarier would be thinking that he doesn’t. . . . Our prophets and leaders will not turn out to be who you want them to be. They are not, in fact, even what God might want them to be. But they are real and God really can, nonetheless, work through their imperfections to extend his perfect love.”

This passage will surely resonate with anyone who has had enough life experience to know how imperfect humans can be. After all, Thomas Jefferson, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. all had serious flaws, despite their huge accomplishments. My only concern is that some teenage readers may not see the value in this right away. I just hope they re-read it in a couple years.

I can’t remember the last time I was this spiritually enriched after reading a book. Perhaps it was the Givens’ The God Who Weeps. Perhaps it was the Book of Mormon in the last few months of my mission. All I know is that, Mormon or not, everyone with some interest in Mormonism should read this book.

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Here are a few quotes that I underlined:

“Work, chained to its outcome, is misery. Do what you can, do it better than you’re able, and let things happen as they may. The action, not its fruit, is your business. The outcome is not your concern. If God is going to show himself to you in the work that you shoulder, he will only do so if you’ve stopped craving an approving audience and, instead, work out your own salvation.”

“Faith is more like being faithful to your husband or wife than it is like believing in magic. Fidelity is key. You may fall in love with someone because of how well they complement your story, but you’ll prove yourself faithful to them only when you care more for the flawed, difficult, and unplotted life you end up sharing with them. Faith isn’t the opposite of knowledge. Rather, like love, faith perfects knowledge by practicing fidelity to it.”

“When God knocks, don’t creep up to the door and look through the peephole to see if he looks like you thought he would. Rush to the door and throw it open.”

“We can’t afford to play games whitewashing Brigham Young or Homo erectus.”

“Let God grow in you. Hear his voice in your need. Let Jesus resurrect you right now, in this life, even before you’re done dying. Let him put your spirit back in your hungry body.”

“Chastity is not something you are born with and then break or lose, it is something that is made. It is something that must, with years of patient and compassionate effort, be cultivated and grown and gathered and sealed.”

“Even when you feel you’ve done wrong, your job is still the same: practice caring for your life as it’s actually given rather than fretting guiltily over how you imagine it should be. Shame and fear will not help you here. Satan, not Jesus, is the accuser.”

“The temple is strange. It does not belong to this world. The temple is a door and, if you pass through it, you will arrive someplace you’ve never been. The aim of the temple is to initiate you into the mysteries of the kingdom and before you can solve those mysteries you must encounter them as just that: unsolved mysteries.”

5 Comments

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  1. 2
    pangwitch

    “We can’t afford to whitewash Brigham Young or Homo Erectus” is an actual quote from this book? what can that possibly mean?

    • 3
      Brad

      In this book, Miller advocates dealing with life as it is, shedding our stories about what we would like to think life is and just dealing with what is real and true. So anytime we try to tell ourselves a white-washed truth about Brigham Young or about human origins, we are missing an opportunity to find out what is really going on, to discover what lessons God is really trying to teach us.

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