Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Beginning of Better Days {Book Review}

The first thing I thought of when I slid this book out of its envelope was “But it’s so small!” I was a little disappointed – the book that was supposed to contain Joseph Smith’s divine instruction to women was barely over 100 pages. Imagine my further surprise when I flipped through and saw that the first 80 pages or so were actually essays about his sermons by Virginia H. Pearce and Sheri Dew. I guess I just didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into.

However, my excitement at being able to read the minutes from the first Relief Society meetings overpowered my surprise at their brevity, and so I started reading. I was enjoying Sister Pearce’s essay when I thought to myself “I should go read the minutes first.” So I skipped to the back and read the minutes from Joseph Smith’s talks. In my haste to finish the book for this review, I didn’t take the chance to study the minutes in depth, but I plan on keeping this book close by over the next several months to study those minutes. Chances are it will find a permanent home next to my copy of Daughters in My Kingdom.

Our Stake Relief Society presidency has challenged the sisters in our stake to read the entire Daughters in My Kingdom book by the General Relief Society Broadcast in September. I think adding these minutes to my course of study in preparation for that meeting will yield some great spiritual results.

After I finished the minutes themselves I turned back to Sister Pearce’s essay to read what she had to say. I found myself really enjoying her essay. Sister Pearce had done a lot of study of the history of the Church to give some context to the instruction from the prophet Joseph Smith, and I appreciated the background. I always like to know the historical context in which divine instruction is given – I feel like it helps me understand how to apply it to my life. My favorite companions to my scripture study are often the Seminary and Institute manuals for that reason – they give a lot of historical context, but social history and Church history. Sister Pearce’s essay was pretty personal – she mostly talked about the things she learned from the minutes, and what effect they had on her personally. In fact, her essay reminded me a lot of this blog – just an LDS woman trying to figure out her place in this world, her place in the gospel, and her place in God’s eyes, and recording that journey for all the world to see.

Sister Pearce also included several great quotes from modern General Authorities – and a particularly good one from President Eyring.

Sister Sheri Dew’s essay was about twice as long as Sister Pearce’s essay, and a little preachy. I would read one sentence from Sister Dew’s essay that I was a little uncomfortable with, or disagreed with, and then the next sentence I would want to shout “Amen!” or underline. It was a little strange, finding so much I loved among so much that I didn’t quite agree with.

I did appreciate that Sister Dew addressed nearly every concern women in the Church could have – and she addressed them all head on. In response to possible criticism that it took 12 years for Joseph Smith to organize the women “after the pattern of the priesthood” she pointed out that “it took nearly fifty years from the organization of the Church for all the saving ordinances for the dead to be implemented”, referring specifically to the fact that the temple endowment was not performed vicariously until 1877 in the St. George Temple.

It was Sister Dew’s comments about the priesthood that made me a little uncomfortable. While I don’t think she was preaching any false doctrine I was a little taken aback with the finality of a lot of her statements about women not holding the priesthood of God. I liked Virginia Pearce’s observations on the priesthood better than Sister Dew’s, but like I said, she didn’t say anything wrong. She just seemed to be narrow in her interpretation. But I guess it is a fair juxtaposition to Sister Pearce’s essay. More perspectives are better than fewer.

My favorite part about Sister Dew’s essay was how she referenced several scripture passages that she had studied, without really telling us everything she learned from those passages – which I took as an invitation to study those passages myself, something I plan on doing in the near future. She lists several sections in the Doctrine and Covenants that she studied to learn more about the priesthood, and included other lists of sections which she studied to understand the temple. Both of these are areas where I have room to understand more (don’t we all?) and so I plan on following her example and studying the sections she listed in her essay.

After I finished reading The Beginning of Better Days, I went online to the Joseph Smith Papers project and looked up the Relief Society minute book. The book in its entirety online is 153 pages. Obviously not all of that is instruction from the Prophet Joseph Smith, but I imagine there is a lot of gold in the minute book, and I plan to find all of it.

I am glad to have the words of Joseph Smith extracted from the minutes in this book, The Beginning of Better Days and I plan on studying his words in depth, along with the essays from Sister Pearce and Sister Dew. I can’t believe that these instructions have been here all along (I’m pretty sure the minutes have been available since the 1980s) and I am just barely learning about them. And I always enjoy reading other people’s insights about the gospel – it’s why I read blogs, after all!

This book is something I have been looking for – people talking specifically about women in the Church, doctrines in the Church about women, and teachings of the prophets specifically about women. I have been devouring any book, talk, article, or other resource I can find that addresses women and the gospel – specifically women’s roles, and the priesthood as it relates to women. This book does a lot of what I was hoping for – including address (albeit it briefly) a lot of those “hard” topics. I thought Sheri Dew did a pretty good job of taking those topics head on, even if I didn’t always like how she said things. But more perspectives are always better than a few (or none). Reading this book felt like I was lapping up drops of water falling off a leaf in the rain forest.

In a recent trip to Deseret Book I scoured the shelves, looking for something, anything that could help me better understand what it means to be a woman. The closest thing I found was a small pamphlet about Eve by Camille Fronk. The pamphlet was nice, but what I was looking for was this book, The Beginning of Better Days.

I was just a few months early, but I am glad I found those drops of fresh water.

What I am really looking for is a fresh spring, but parched as I am, I’ll take the drops of water from the rain forest leaves any day.

The Beginning of Better Days was released on August 2, 2012 and is available for purchase through Deseret Book.

{Disclaimer: I was provided an advanced reader’s edition of the book The Beginning of Better Days by Deseret Book for review purposes. This review is my own honest opinions about the book and my opinions are in no way affected by the company providing the book.}

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