What is the deepest question of existence? Could it be something like what is the purpose of life? If not, then that important question still must rank right up there. Nearly every day of your life you are determining the purpose of your life whether you intend to or not. There is purpose in everything we do, from the most mundane decisions to the gargantuan ones. Sterling Bridge may not have all the answers for our human condition, but at its core it gets right down to the heart of the matter: How can people with very different beliefs unite in commonalities without fearing influences that would threaten their most cherished ideals and maybe even destroy a good way of life?
Sterling Bridge considers this difficult scenario that has likely been a central concern for any society anywhere at any time. The question of civil rights and its relation to religious freedom has become a hot topic of society again today. In the state of Utah the majority of the citizens are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has strong beliefs and attracts equally strong opposition. This presents unique challenges. Within the pages of my book is a universal message of how people of an earlier time, when America, and especially Utah, was young. You will see how one town successfully dealt with this universal issue. The compromise was not without conflict, however.
People of differing beliefs have learned again and again that if they all work at it everyone can figure out how to tolerate others, find common ground, get along, and maybe even become best friends. It is a central message in today’s world of political correctness and acceptance of others. The difference with Sterling Bridge is that it specifically concentrates on the challenge religions, in particular, face to uphold beliefs that certain ways of living leads to certain blessings, while accepting others who believe in very different choices, without making each other feel like second class citizens. But the message applies to everyone. Even if you do not have a religious belief system, your words and your actions show some form of belief structure, regardless.
When considering another persons position you must truly be willing to understand where they are coming from. You must put yourself in their shoes, as much as possible, even though no two people have experienced the exact same life. When writing about the past and trying to understand the people in a time period you must be able to apply a similar skill. We often judge others out of context. Plus, hindsight truly is 20/20. Even if we look back on our own past we would choose to do things a little differently. It isn’t long before we realize that everyone is a complex person. We all have good and bad sides to our character. At the center of every story is the nature of good and evil playing its tug of war to make the dramatic conflict more intense or the resolution more complete. But hopefully we choose to cultivate the good. A soft-hearted approach to life and to writing is to see the good in people even when they behave badly. Good things can come from tough lessons in instances where things go wrong and reactions aren’t the best.
When you read Sterling Bridge you will see how the point of view character, Joe Lacey, a young boy whose mother is Mormon and father is Catholic is caught in the middle of a conflict of beliefs. His parents get along just fine, but he must find his way in an environment that is not as prepared to accept one another’s way of thinking. Imagine trying to figure out which culture to embrace and if it is even possible to accept both when neither side of the equation is very inviting of the other. Joe navigates a situation I believe Utahns, and Americans in general, still face today. Here is my great reveal:
When I lived in Indiana my family was the only Mormon family in a small Christian town for a while. My Christian friends did not see much difference in my beliefs in the Savior from their beliefs. It really just came down to whose interpretation of Jesus was correct and therefore who was saved. But we could still be friends even though we each thought our church had the authority to represent Jesus in the saving ordinances. Some of the most Christlike people I know lived in that town. They were down to Earth. They were neighborly. They were willing to get to know everyone else and it still feels like family when I go there. Incidentally, I think they will be saved, even though their religion tells them I will not be saved. We learned from each other and grew up caring about each other’s lives. I wish for their success and fulfillment in life as much as my own. But when it came to marriage I could not see myself marrying outside of my faith. That’s what it ultimately came down to. When we went our separate ways it was simply because I needed to move somewhere where I could marry within the religious covenant I had dedicated my life to. This begs the question from other Christians. Why isn’t their Christian faith good enough for Mormons?
For Mormons they want the world to have the good news of the gospel that they believe are the very words of Jesus Christ for our time in these last days, a critical time to prepare for the second coming of the Lord. They are a covenant keeping people and they believe that temples are the house of the Lord and the only place where marriage can be entered into for time and for all eternity. In fact most weddings don’t even say it is meant to be beyond “death do you part.”
On the one hand Mormons don’t want to stand out on the corner holding a sign of the inevitable end of times, telling everyone to repent. They hope people will take the words of the Bible more seriously, on their own, feeling the spirit of the word of God and seeing for themselves the signs that are being fulfilled more rapidly, without having to blatantly point these things out and risk offending someone. On the other hand the more subtle approach to share their lives with others as friends and examples, as Jesus also did, does not come without its own risk. Mormons want to be in the world but not of the world. This means they love all the good things of the world, and love sharing in those talents and experiences, but are wary of the bad things the world does not seem to think is so bad (and draw them, or more likely their children, away from their covenants). Still this should not stop any of us from being civil with one another. There are a lot more things in common among people growing through this life than there are differences.
You would think two religions who both believe in the Bible would have a lot of similar beliefs. But Mormons claim two very different religions with very different practices at times such as found in the rituals of Catholicism and the puritanical ways of Mormonism cannot possibly both have the authority of God. Even He says “if ye are not one ye are not mine” (Doctrine & Covenants 38:27). And so it is with the institution of marriage, at least for those who are devout in their faith. People who believe deeply in their faith simply want to marry someone who believes just as deeply in that faith.
It is interesting to see the social ramifications that come from this reality. It is a fun situation to write about. That dynamic is ultimately what you get to experience when reading Sterling Bridge. I won’t ruin it for you but I expect you will enjoy the ride. Happy reading!