"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
October 1, 2014
Bridge-building through a Thoughtful Book
by Laurie Williams Sowby

I’ve been immersed in work (with my husband) in the Church’s New York Office of Public and International Affairs. Not your ordinary fulltime mission, for sure, and certainly unlike any of our previous ones. It’s busy, and the schedule is more demanding. Add to that the fact the we live in New York City, across the street from Lincoln Center and a block away from Central Park, and you begin to understand why my reading time has diminished in favor of other after-hours pursuits.

But my mind has been hungry for some really good reading by some really good writers, and I’ve found a couple that I could really sink my teeth into and feel satiated. Here’s one.

Boyd Jay Petersen’s Dead Wood and Rushing Water is a breath of fresh air among LDS-authored books. From Greg Kofford Books, it is a collection of essays in the tradition of Petersen’s mentor, the late Eugene England, a much-admired writer, professor, and thinker.

Himself a writing professor at Utah Valley University, Petersen serves up thoughtful reflections and ruminations that resonate, particularly with those members who are questioning their own beliefs or find some of the Church’s practices troubling at times.

What questioner wouldn’t find comfort in this: “Faith can deepen in spite of, perhaps even because of, encounters with doubt.”

The 22 meaty essays revolve around three themes: Mormon faith, culture, and family. Readers will likely recognize themselves his stories, feelings, testimony, and struggles with chronic depression. Many will appreciate his funeral tributes to his parents, “less-active” folks who nevertheless provided him with a firm foundation and earned his respect as well as his love.

There are insights into “LDS Youth in an Age of Transition” and his essay exploring women’s roles in the LDS Church, along with his perceptions on the same topic 15 years later. He’s honest about “Disassembling and Reassembling a Testimony” and finding value in the Book of Mormon, regardless: “The message of the Book of Mormon is too important to ignore and too important to be lost in debates over its origins.”

He speaks of Hugh Nibley (his father-in-law), quotes scriptures and poetry, and shares his sacrament meeting talks, blog posts, and previously published Dialogue articles.

It may sound like a mash-up, but it’s actually a delectable smorgasbord. With candor and heart, Petersen has succeeded in Dead Wood and Rushing Waters to do what he set out to do: “to nourish an ecosystem in a modest and unassuming manner” and use his words to “build a bridge, bringing two shores together.” (Greg Kofford Books 2014, 234 pages in soft cover, $19.95.)

This book is a rare treasure among modern Mormon thought.

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About Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles published in newspapers, magazines, and online.

A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she proudly claims all five children and their spouses as college grads.

She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 in Chile, followed by Washington D.C. South, then Washington D.C. North, both times as young adult Institute teachers. They are currently serving in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs

During her years of missionary service, Laurie has continued to write about significant Church events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.

Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). While home is American Fork, Utah, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have provided a comfortable second home.

Laurie is currently serving a fourth full-time mission with her husband in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs. The two previously served with a branch presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The oldest of 18 grandchildren have been called to serve missions in New Hampshire and Brisbane, Australia.

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