The Mormon faith, according to Joanna Brooks, a cradle Mormon herself, is a reforming faith. After all, she says, Joseph Smith, et al, looked around at the forms of faith available to him and them in the early years of the 19th century and at the end of the Second Great Awakening, and found them all too much like empty forms, in fact.
So they started their own faith, a peculiarly American religion that has been around now for 150 years.
I'd never thought of Mormonism that way exactly--as "reconstructive," a people trying to be their own kinds of Puritans, disgusted with what was available, desirous of more and better and something we all might call "authentic" Christian faith. Such is the spirit of the Reformation and the spirit of the Puritans and the spirit of that bunch across town who simply can't be satisfied with the music we sing at our church or yours. We all want, somehow, a more authentic spiritual experience. It's in us, and it was in the Mormons too, or so says Joanna Brooks in a wonderful interview on this week's On Being.
The problem is that once your or my reforming movement gets its feet on the ground it digs in and becomes an institution itself. An institution without walls, sooner or later, is likely going to blow away, after all; so this new church takes on its own structure, writes its own by-laws, chooses its elite and begins, itself, to discriminate.
When it does, some in its number--maybe a subsequent generation--begin to question whether or not they can live comfortably within those walls. It's really quite simple: we create a church where everyone sings only certain kinds of tunes, and our kids start to wonder why they were sheltered from a broader Christian experience. You know.
We're all Puritans. In my world, people love to say that, as a Reformed church, we're always reforming. Sure. But then, I suppose one might say, "we're human."
Joanna Brooks proves that point with her own testimony. Her own roots go back to those earliest of LDS trekkers, the ones who lugged wood-wheeled carts all the way across the Great Plains on their way to the promised land. Ms. Brooks has a membership card she'll never lose, even if she burns it. She's so much a part of the Mormon experience and faith, that in a certain way she won't ever leave, even if the elders want her gone and throw her out.
What makes that interview so incredibly good is her passion. She cries, actually cries, several times in fact, real tears that arise from her knowing that, right now at least, she can not and does not feel at home in her home.
I've been listening to On Being for years, when it was still Speaking of Faith, and I've never heard an interview that was quite as moving. Joanna Brooks's love for her people, her dedication to the faith she's come from, and her commitment to its precepts and its own faithfulness to family and God is very, very high. And yet--in great part because of politics-- she knows she's an alien. She can't live with those Mormons who are sure that what Joanna Brooks feels in her heart about the world in which we lives is dangerously more or dangerously less than the church itself, a church she loves, can tolerate within its very walls.
Joanna Brooks's tears are unique: they fall from a soul that finds little space to sit in her own living room. But then, her tears really are not so unique either; they fall from the souls of lots of folks who feel torn or rejected by institutions who once gave them life, institutions they once loved and often still do.
In a way, the whole wonderful interview is about something we Reformed don't much think about, even though we suffer it--the sad horrors of reformation.
Listen to Kristy Tippett's On Being interview with Joanna Brooks or download it here.