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October 1, 2014
Latter-day Books
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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