More Than the Tattooed Mormon, by Al Carraway

More Than the Tattooed Mormon Al CarrawayMore Than the Tattooed Mormon
by Al Fox Carraway
Pub Date: November 17, 2015

I have never met Al Fox Carraway, I have never heard her speak in public. But I’ve gotten to know her through social media the last few years (her Instagram posts of her baby daughter are highlights of my day), and I LOVE HER. Look at that smile. How could you not love this woman? Can’t you just feel the happiness she exudes? How could you resist reading this book knowing this smiling woman is going to talk to you? I was SO EXCITED to learn she was writing and publishing a book, and was lucky enough to snag a galley copy of it for review.

Al Carraway, sometimes known as “The Tattooed Mormon” (but she’s not particularly a fan of that moniker, as she details in the book), is an LDS public speaker and online personality. This is a woman who feels the gospel so fiercely she can’t help but talk about it with everyone. She has said she buys up any copy of the Book of Mormon she finds in thrift stores so she can have a fresh copy each time she reads. Goodness knows how many copies she actually has. (And they’re all annotated and highlighted and dog-eared. This woman is SERIOUS about her scripture study.) She’s a great example to anyone who might feel shame for their past, or think that Heavenly Father doesn’t know them — Al is a testament to the healing power of the Atonement.

In her book, she details her early life and conversion story, which is amazing. I love hearing conversion stories. I was born in the covenant, and as I like to say, both sides of my family go back to Nauvoo. I come from hearty LDS Pioneer Stock. Hearing conversion stories from someone raised outside the faith is exotic to me, and completely inspiring. I have so much respect for these folks, and definitely Al, for going against the grain to reach a greater happiness. Al had it rough. I don’t know if my faith could have withstood what she had to face on her journey to the gospel. It’s heartbreaking to read about all that she lost as she followed the spirit. But she has perspective and insight now to know why she had to go through those trials as she did, and it’s equally great to read about all she gained as she followed the spirit. And you will want to read about it. It’s one of those stories where it’s so clear now how certain things had to click for Al to be who and where she is today.

Each chapter is basically a talk and a testimony from Al, honed from years of speaking in front of LDS and other groups. And each detail a different part of her life to this point, from her small branch in New York, to leaving everything she knew to move to Utah, to facing prejudice for her appearance, to meeting her husband. Frankly, I can’t wait for a few more years down the road when Al will have to write another book to update us not only on her life, but what she’s learned in the gospel! There are so many beautiful stories in here, I can’t recount them all. But one stood out to me a lot – Al was speaking at the Utah State Prison on the men’s side. It wasn’t a religious meeting, she was asked to speak on change. And at the end of the meeting, a one-time choir of inmates performed “A Child’s Prayer.” She says looking at those men of varying ages and backgrounds singing, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?” made her cry. And I couldn’t help but shed a few tears myself. And that wasn’t the only time.

I’m impressed with her faith and her humility. What a pillar of a woman. I was only a few chapters in and started making up a list of people I will need to get this book for. It’s one of *those* books. It’s a book for investigators. It’s a book for life-long saints. It’s a book for those going through trials. It’s a book for YSAs. It’s a book for those returning to the faith. It’s a book that I can see being quoted in talks and lessons for years to come. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up.

Advertisements

Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans

511Xwfec5PL._SY344_BO1204203200_Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
by Rachel Held Evans
Pub Date: April 14, 2015

I love reading about people’s faith journeys. If they return to faith, if they turn away from faith, if they have answers by the end or more questions, if they’re of my faith or not. I love reading them. Expect to find more of them featured on this blog in future. What I appreciate about them is identifying with the author’s struggles, coming to terms with my own doubts and questions, and being able to better frame my own beliefs from wrestling with theirs.

I discovered Rachel Held Evans three years ago when her previous book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, came out. I devoured that book, and it was like a big light bulb appeared over my head when I read it. (I will definitely review this one in future.) She’s a Millennial Christian, a smart woman raised in an academic, theological home, who opens herself up to plenty of discussions about faith. So I was very excited to learn through her blog that she was working on a new book, and eagerly anticipated its arrival. I read two chapters, and then I had to put it down for a bit. I guess I needed to be in the right frame of mind to really get into it, and the past couple of weeks it’s been part of my Sunday reading. For me, I couldn’t read it in one sitting – I needed time for it to digest.

Evans details her struggles with the evangelical faith she was raised with. For many readers, this may be very familiar territory, and for others this may be more eye-opening. As a person of LDS background approaching this title, there are a number of doctrinal differences, but I still noticed quite a bit of overlap with some of the cultural practices. Some of these episodes I recall reading on her blog, or in her past books. Here she organizes her book, and her faith journey, following the seven sacraments as used in some Christian traditions of baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. For someone heartily raised LDS (I tend to say “both sides go back to Nauvoo”), this seems familiar and yet unfamiliar. But overall there’s a sense of familiar with her stories of culture, her questions of doctrine and practice, and in the people she meets along the way.

…we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. […] We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our heart and minds behind, without wearing a mask.

To be quite honest, I kept thinking of President Uchtdorf talks through reading a lot of this book, particularly a CES Devotional entitled “What Is Truth?,” and “The Gift of Grace” from our last General Conference. No doubt other talks and stories will come to your mind, but these are what kept returning to my mind as I read.

One of the big takeaways for me was how we, collectively as Christians, need to be more aware of how we tote the name “Christians.” Evans observes some very un-Christlike behavior in some, and exceptionally Christlike behavior in others, and what would you want to be remembered in someone’s memoir for? I recall a former roommate of mine saying when she first converted she attended some Sunday blocks where there was no mention of Christ. None. The speakers and teachers certainly touched on gospel topics, but Jesus was not among them. And she’s made it a point ever since to always bring up Christ in whatever talk or lesson she gives, and I think that’s a great rule of thumb. This was a thought that came to me a few times while reading. How am I bringing Christ into the conversation?

This is definitely a book to read with a pencil handy to mark passages. I found many that I found inspiring, “Faith is about feeding as well as being fed” and “I can’t be a Christian on my own. Like it or not, following Jesus is a group activity” being some of them. This is a book to engage with – to not only hopefully gain some spiritual solace and confirmation of struggles, but also to take this person’s definitions of Christianity and see how it holds up to ours. That’s what I like about books from those of another faith – gaining on new perspective on my own.

This book is a nice, lighter addition to your gospel studies, if to just give you another point of view. Checkout Rachel Held Evan’s blog or Twitter for plenty more food for thought. And though I did not read along with the study guide, Evans provides one on her blog that may make the reading more fulfilling.