Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reflections: Go Forward with Faith

Sheri Dew has a special talent in taking fascinating, extraordinary personalities and making them boring.  Go Forward with Faith is the second biography I have read which was written by the popular LDS author and former Deseret Book CEO.  Although I recognize the difficulty of her task, I am once again disappointed by the result of her work. 

Gordon B. Hinckley was the prophet of my youth, a phrase and feeling other Latter-day Saints will understand.  I have long felt a strong affinity for Hinckley and my admiration and respect for him has only grown over the years.  When I have an itch to listen to older General Conference talks, I often listen to his talks because of their wit, candor, and sincerity.  Reading a biography about Gordon B. Hinckley was a natural and expected way to become more acquainted with a man I hold in high esteem.

The biography begins with some promise but quickly backslides into an interminable travelogue, especially during the middle of the book.  The end shows the same promise as the beginning but never fully lets the reader appreciate Gordon B. Hinckley for the visionary leader he was.  The book often insists on simply telling you his qualities rather than portraying them in a meaningful and compelling way.  One of the most aggravating weaknesses of the book is that Dew hardly ever provides any context for circumstances and events Hinckley was a part of.  When she does provide context, such as during the missionary/draft controversy related to the Korean War, the book is its most interesting.  Hinckley was a part of a real world with real people; however, more often than not, Dew writes in such a way that Hinckley appears to exist in a vacuum whose efforts are admirable but somewhat disconnected from the rest of human history and experience. 

In addition, as with Ezra Taft Benson's biography, Dew deals with some of the most difficult moments of Hinckley's tenure as a General Authority with a certain unwillingness and a "there's nothing to see here" mentality.  I am by no means a critic of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; in fact, I probably couldn't be farther from it.  Yet, I recognize the value of truly understanding an event within its proper context.  It often can illuminate the brilliance and honor of an individual by understanding why their critics disliked them so much.  What about Hinckley angered his critics so deeply?  And how did Hinckley manfully handle their reproaches?  Again and again the book skirts a sensitive issue but doesn't necessarily replace it with anything of interest.  Whenever Dew suffered from writer's block while writing this biography her working and writing philosophy must have been: [Insert travel itinerary here].

As badly structured and written Go Forward with Faith is, it's rather remarkable that Gordon B. Hinckley comes alive as much as he does.  Indeed, the book is at its best when Dew steps back and lets Hinckley speak for himself.  He was an incredible man with a very, very special set of skills.  I learned quite a bit from the descriptions of how he handled certain administrative problems, his work philosophy and ethic, and, of course, his testimony and vision of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He was a special soul designated for a special time, and I will forever remember him with tender feelings.

Other Topics of Interest:
Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture

1 comment:

  1. She errs on the side of caution, I'm sure. Too bad. Human is best.