Tag Archives: conversion stories

Swarthy Bostonian Converts, Makes Disfellowshipped Orem RM’s Life Even More Complex

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Bigelow, Christopher Kimball. Kindred Spirits.  Provo, Utah:  Zarahemla, 2007.

Returned missionary and ex-patriate Utahan, Eliza Spainhower unwittingly meets a potential mate when she leaves “pass-along cards” for proselytizing  cards on a Boston subway car. As fervent a Mormon as she is, Eliza’s been disfellowshipped from full membership due to a recent sexual indiscretion that she’s still trying to repent from. This new man (“a dark Easterner” ) Eric–a non-Mormon who she thinks could be converted–is making the path back difficult, however, and Eliza will test the limits of her own repentance process as she tries to simultaneously convert Eric and become intimately involved in his complex life.

What makes it Marginal: A general irreverence or realistic/humanistic view of sacred rituals:  for example, Eliza laughs at the way her father looks in his baptismal clothes.  Realistic and sympathetic view of Wicca.  Descriptions of pre-marital sexual activity.  Respectful allusions to alternative/scholarly Mormon-themed journals like Sunstone and Dialogue. Eliza has a tarot reading.  Descriptions of non-doctrinal Mormon beliefs.

What makes it Mormonal: Mormon characters readily allude to spiritual experiences:  Eliza’s mother mentions seeing the spirit of dead son in a priesthood blessing circle. Eric admires Eliza’s parents lavish food storage: there is a missionary guided tour of Temple Square, a priesthood blessing, frank discussions of deep Mormon doctrine, and detailed scenes of Eric’s baptism, and a family sealing ceremony in the novel’s epilogue.  Eliza’s father and uncles are  named after Nephite military officers from the Book of Mormon

Key Quotes: “She told herself that she drank instant decaf simply for the good flavor, but she knew deep down that she was being a little passive-aggressive toward the church” (12).

“After that she never binged and purged again, but she sometimes wondered about Hanniah, trying to remember more about her.  Why had Hanniah chosen to take the devil’s side? Had Eliza almost followed on that path?  As a tempting spirit, had Hanniah been whispering evil ideas into Eliza’s head since she’d reached the age of accountability?” (106).

My two cents: The fact that Zarahemla publisher Bigelow self-published this title  might make it easy to dismiss, but Bigelow confidently channels Levi S. Peterson‘s earthy realism, making a relatively conventional redemption/conversion narrative feel original, in a large part due to Bigelow’s obvious fascination with non-doctrinal Mormon beliefs which he  at times bumps up against Wiccan beliefs and practices.

Mormon Surfer Goes to Provo, Gets a Testimony

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Thayer, Douglas. The Conversion of Jeff Williams. Salt Lake City: Signature, 2003.

Sixteen-year-old Mormon Jeff Williams has religious but not over-bearing parents, two devout older brothers, and considers himself, in comparison, a good enough Church member, in spite of the fact he’s a bit of a beach bum and likes to imbibe the occasional beer. But then he spends the summer in Provo–the “Mormon Mecca” as he sardonically refers to it–with his rich cousin, Christopher, whose serious kidney disease has compelled him to prepare for a full-time proselytizing mission, and Jeff finds he’s influenced by Christopher more than he necessarily wants to be.

What Makes It Marginal: relatively realistic discussions of a teenager’s emotional life, allusions to sex and drugs, etc.

What Makes It Mormonal: It’s a conversion narrative, pure and simple; many scenes depict prayer, church meetings, and include accurate allusions to Mormon theology, especially about the afterlife.

Key Quote: “I was no straight arrow like Christopher, but it wasn’t as if I had done anything serious like dealing drugs, stealing cars, assault with a deadly weapon, pornography, or even sex. I’d decided that I would probably have a testimony in time for my mission and be spiritual enough when I was nineteen” (11).

My Two Cents: Septuagenarian Douglas Thayer, approaching JD Salinger, does an admirable job of constructing the emotional life and channeling the uncensored voice of an often conflicted yet good-hearted teenaged boy.

Hippies Can Be Mormons, Too

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Newell, Coke. On the Road to Heaven. Provo, UT: Zarahemla, 1987.

This novel title’s reference to Kerouac’s most famous work is no accident. Kit West, the protagonist in this (seemingly autobiographical) conversion/redemption story is a ’70s era long-haired, pot smoking, Colorado mountain cabin-squatting, unabashed Kerouac devotee (as well as a lover of Emerson, Thoreau and Edward Abbey) who finds the Mormon Church through a lapsed Mormon hippie girlfriend, who decides to become devout again. Once baptized, the ever-spiritual Kit becomes not just religious, but doctrinaire, serving a full-time proselytizing mission, and more than half of the novel is dedicated to this. Big dense paragraphs are chock full of details about the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, and the two-year mission spent in the often arduous environs of Columbia. Engrossing and interesting for the ways in which Americanized Zen Buddhist spiritualism collides with mainstream western states Mormonism.

What Makes It Marginal: References to pot smoking, shoplifting, pre-conversion pre-marital sexual relations (implied) and male/female cohabitation, mild missionary flirtations with young female Columbian investigators

What Makes it “Mormonal: An unlikely convert becomes an exemplary member, serves a full-time mission, and marries his old hippie era girlfriend in the temple.

Key quote: “Then I scattered the remains of the bag into the dormant skeletons of the golden lupine and green gentian and candytuft and spring beauty and went back inside to read the Book of Mormon and listen to the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. / I never smoked pot again.” (124).