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OK, I admit it. I have a Google Alert on the title Flunking Sainthood, so that the search engine lets me know when there are new reviews or discussions about the book. In the last few weeks it has been exciting — and humbling — to see the many different kinds of people who are reading and talking about the memoir and about spiritual practice. What’s astonishing to me is that the book is finding its ways into churches and book groups I’ve never even heard of:
* In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a Baptist church is spending an entire year on the book, undertaking different spiritual practices each month according to the book’s schedule.
* In Princeton, Indiana, a Methodist congregation is using the book for a short-term study group on spiritual practice.
* The bishop of an Anglican diocese in England recommended the book to his flock a few weeks ago, and last weekend an Episcopal priest in Oregon preached a sermon that talked about it.
* And then there are liberal Mormon women–my peeps!–who are thinking about what the book says about prayer.
Yeah, I’m aware that there’s an element of massive hubris to these Google alerts. In fact, I am giving them up for Lent, as well as reading book reviews, checking sales figures, etc. But until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21, I am going to enjoy all these updates! And I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to the readers who are recommending FS to others and getting copies for their friends.
From the feedback I receive I can tell that it’s not the book itself that is winning people over — not the writing per se, or even the humor. It’s the honesty. And that’s something I never could have predicted when I was writing the darn thing.
“First Mitt won Iowa, then he lost Iowa? That’s a classic Romney flip-flop.”
Working with the theory that there hasn’t been nearly enough attention to Mormonism and politics this year, what with it being in the news every single day and all, Randy Balmer and I are co-organizing a scholarly conference on the topic next weekend at Columbia University. Here is a brief description:
With two Mormon candidates for the presidency and the recent unprecedented media attention given to Mormons recently, this conference will take a broad view of the history of Mormon participation in American political life, from Joseph Smith’s 1844 run for the presidency to the Reed Smoot trials of the early 20th century and to the rise of Ezra Taft Benson during the Eisenhower administration, which ushered in a new era of Mormon identification with the Republican Party.
Speakers include Randall Balmer, Philip Barlow, Richard Bushman, Claudia Bushman, Joanna Brooks, Matthew Bowman, Sarah Barringer Gordon, Jan Shipps, Trevor Hill, Meredith LeSueur, David Campbell, Russell Arben Fox, Max Perry Mueller, and Peggy Fletcher Stack. The Religious Test, a documentary about American voters’ perceptions of Mormons, will also be screened.
The conference will take place February 3 and 4 in the university’s International Affairs Building, Room 1501 (420 W 118th St.). It is free and open to the public, but we have limited seating on a first-come, first-served basis, so get there early if you’re planning to come for all or part of it. Below is the schedule of speakers. Every session is in plenary format with two 20- to 25-minute papers.
I. 9:00-10:15 Richard Lyman Bushman and Sarah Barringer Gordon
II. 10:45 -12:00 Jan Shipps and Max Mueller
III. 1:00-2:15 Phil Barlow and David Campbell
IV. 2:45-4:00 Claudia Bushman and Joanna Brooks
V. 9:00-10:00 Film screening, “The Religious Test”
VI. 10:30 to noon Russell Arben Fox, Peggy Fletcher Stack, and Matthew Bowman
P.S. Any media inquiries or interview requests should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friends, I will be offline until January 23 for a writing retreat. I’m bringing my computer, but the place where I am going doesn’t have email access, which is one of the reasons I love it. So if you are of a praying mind, please pray that this week is both productive and restful. I am hoping to tear through two writing assignments, make a dent in the stack of books by my desk (which now actually reaches the desk), and get some sleep in the bargain.
It’s a strange feeling, stepping back from constant communication. It’s both thrilling and scary to be unreachable for a week. My inner social media guru whispers that I might miss something important.
My better self answers back that making a retreat is doing something important. And that I am not so important that the world can’t get along just fine without me for a while.