Reviews of My Book

October 24, 2011

So far, three people have reviewed my book.

Riveting story and extraordinarily written
What a great book. I could not stop reading it. Such a fascinating real view into the life of a mormon missionary. This is no propaganda machine. It takes the uplifting, the brutal and the very real aspects of the missionary lifestyle.
If you are at all interested in the mechanism of the LDS missionary program, this is a must read. — Froggey

Unexpected Gem
John gave a copy of his manuscript a few years ago to get my feedback. I never served a mission, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book about that experience. I probably expected stories of spiritual witnesses or of young kids doing stupid things to relieve stress. And those are both in there. But there is also the uncomfortable story of a boy trying to serve his church in spite of severe personal hardship, and soldiering on, day after day, to reach his goals. Some of the stories are surprising, some of them are shocking, and every story makes you turn the page to see the next.

If you buy this book, do yourselves a favor, and set aside a whole weekend to read it. You’ll need some uninterrupted time. — Thayne R. Forbes

Yes, it is Heaven
Having served an LDS mission myself, the stories in this book rang very true. My mission (in the United States, not Bolivia) was very different than John’s, but I know many former missionaries that served in Latin America and John’s stories match theirs.

But, the key to this book is the story of growing from boy to man. From not understanding the language to being fluent. To being lost in a strange land to being at home with people he didn’t even know existed two years earlier.

Additionally, it was a fun, light read. I never felt bogged down and every time I said, “I’ll take a break at the end of this chapter,” I was pulled into the next chapter by the narrative.

Thank you, John for sharing your personal experiences with us all. Well worth the time to read. — M. Carpenter

It’s really great to hear that people are enjoying my book and finding it meaningful. That is what I was hoping for.


On Being Broken

October 24, 2011

This is just something I have to remind myself every so often. Those of us who are disaffected from the LDS church or have left are made to feel like there is something wrong with us, as if something in us is broken.

But it’s not us that’s broken; it’s the church. I had lunch with an exmo friend last week, and she said that she has to tell herself once in a while, “It’s not my fault Joseph Smith made it all up.” Exactly.

It is not our fault that the church isn’t true.

It is not our fault that the church has taught our families and loved ones to treat as pariahs.

It is not our fault that we can’t pretend that we believe.

What we own is our decision to acknowledge the truth and live by our conscience and our intellect. I’m totally fine with accepting the blame for that.

Testimony Gloves

October 24, 2011

I read the other day about some children who were given as gifts “testimony gloves.” Maybe I’ve been out of the loop too long, but I’ve never heard of such things. So, I looked over on the LDS church’s web site and found the source, a 2008 article in the Friend, which is the church magazine for children ages 3-11.

Testimony Glove

Gloves, the article tells us, are worn on the hands to protect them and keep them warm, and specialized gloves are used for sports. A testimony glove, however, is there to “help you remember five parts of your testimony”:

1. I know that God is our Heavenly Father and He loves us.

2. I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer.

3. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth and translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God.

4. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church on the earth today.

5. I know that this Church is led by a living prophet who receives revelation.

This strikes me as very strange. A testimony is defined among Latter-day Saints as a sure knowledge of the truth. Specifically, according to the article, “a testimony is a spiritual witness of the gospel’s truthfulness given to us by the Holy Ghost.” That’s how I understood it, and I testified many times that I knew the gospel was true and that the five statements listed above were true.

Every first Sunday of the month, we had fast and testimony meeting, essentially an “open mic” meeting where church members were encouraged to share their personal testimonies. Maybe it’s just me, but it always bothered me when some well-meaning parents brought their very small children (some barely talking) to the pulpit to share their testimonies. Of course, they didn’t really have a testimony as we understood it, but the parents would stand next to them and whisper in their ears what to say. I never understood why a parent would do that.

In a way, this “testimony glove” activity seems like pretty much the same thing. Small children are being told that there are five things they need to remember, so the glove is kind of a visual aid for helping them to remember them. The article doesn’t explain to these children how they should “develop” their testimonies, only that their testimonies will “grow stronger” as they tell their friends “I testify that …” or “I know that …” In short, children are being taught that a testimony consists of remembering five items and then repeating to others that they “know” these things are true. That hardly seems like a testimony of anything.

Nook Version Is Out

October 21, 2011

Heaven Up Here

Several people have asked, and the Nook version of the book has been released:

Heaven Up Here (Nook Version)

The Saga of My Book

October 19, 2011

I understand that some people find it irritating that I’ve plugged my book here. But it’s my blog, so I get to do with it what I want. And there’s nothing wrong with plugging something I’m proud of.

The book has its origins in a conversation I had with a friend in which I told him a story from my mission when my companion and I had found what we thought was a dead body on a bridge on a bitterly cold winter night in La Paz, Bolivia. My friend said I should write it down, so I wrote about it here on my blog. For whatever reason, I couldn’t stop writing. For five weeks I wrote 2-3 hours a night chronicling everything I could remember about my mission.

There’s a lot of self-censorship involved in sharing missionary stories with other Mormons. It’s acceptable to tell faith-promoting stories and funny stories, but it’s not OK to talk about the difficult times, the soul-crushing experiences. So, for the first time in my life, I started writing about everything, good and bad. It all just came pouring out. Naturally it wasn’t very polished, but my purpose wasn’t to do something literary, but just to get it out of my system.

I have a few friends who are writers and editors, and one of my friends, Mina, urged me to edit the posts into a coherent narrative and publish it. Maybe I was just flattered that someone I consider an amazing and gifted writer liked what I had done, but I spent the next several months editing the book. Another friend, Tyler, a professional editor, volunteered to edit the book. He did a fantastic job, and I am very happy with what we ended up with.

I shopped it around to publishers, but there wasn’t a lot of interest; let’s face it, a missionary memoir has a limited audience. But I wanted to get it out there, just to say I’d done it. But the bigger problem was that some of my family members were very upset about the book, I think partly because it’s so intensely personal but also because it isn’t relentlessly positive in its description of Mormonism and missions. To reduce the conflict in my family, I held off publishing, and the book sat for three years.

I’m not sure what’s changed, but I’ve felt recently that I needed to publish it. Probably the catalyst was that my son read the book and loved it. He said he thought it was a shame that I hadn’t published it. Yes, I would have preferred to publish it through a “real” publisher, but this is good enough.

So, no apologies. I am happy with my book, and I’m glad other people have enjoyed reading it. And in case you missed it, it’s available for everything from Kindle to iPod to PC:

Heaven Up Here

It should be available for the Nook in the next day or so, and when that happens, I’ll post the details.

Thanks again, everyone, for supporting me. It means a lot.

Heaven Up Here

October 18, 2011

Heaven Up Here

My book is officially available:

Heaven Up Here (Kindle Version)

Heaven Up Here (Nook Version)

It feels really good.


October 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on Mormonism. Brutal.

Romney’s Mormon Problem