Writing & Culture through Literature & Film

In college, I studied—with great interest—the different stages of literature and film that a culture must go through in order to evolve. If you believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true church ministering God’s one sure way to the children of men, then its culture already taps into the longest standing culture available. However, no matter what you believe, the sub-culture truly is only a couple hundred year’s old. In other words, what we will call the Mormon culture is very young as cultures go and it’s only just starting out when it comes to the arts.

Written as a film novel Sterling Bridge looks to take a step forward in our literary and quite possibly our film culture. Make no mistake, it is not so much that the culture has not fully matured as it is that the stories have not yet been told that would equate to a greater cultural whole. Put another way, the more Mormons share their message with the world the more Mormons are realizing how applicable our story really is to the greater story of the world and the more the world is realizing it as well.

While Mormons admittedly intend to be a unique and peculiar people set apart from the ways of a dying world, we are actually not so different, as it relates to being children of the Creator who are seeking to know who He is and therefore who we are and who we can become. In fact, the central point of humanity is the great question that Mormonism claims to answer. Mormons believe they know the purpose of life. The only problem is telling that story, it turns out, is a very touchy subject. The very reason Mormonism sets itself apart as a better way, in fact the way spoken of by the Savior, comes off as very presumptuous and elitist, and it is the reason that Mormons who really just want to share the glad news—and yes even convert everyone in the process—thereby uniting us all to the good that has made their lives so wonderful, actually oftentimes end up doing the opposite: effectively alienating their neighbors, who naturally feel excluded unless they go as far as deeming themselves Mormon and fully becoming part of the group. Sterling Bridge explores this interesting dynamic of a small town with Mormon settlers unsure about the government’s intent when housing international workers, primarily Catholic, in a mining community within its borders. The town does not know how long its neighbors will be staying and if their multiplicity of nationalities and ethnicities can even jive with them.

America itself is still young at this time leading up to the Great Depression (quite frankly, America as a culture, along with its ideals of freedom and liberty for all, is young to this day as far as world cultures go). Sterling Bridge is a microcosm of the “Great Experiment” that was the melting pot of America played out in a small town trying to decide if Utah would become another Missouri for the pioneers to flee or if Utah was truly a sanctuary (and somehow a safe haven inviting to all at the same time) to set up religious rights in the tops of the mountains. As we know Utah and the story of the trek west is an integral part of United States history and statehood: a story of success for the endurance of religious freedom for the young country. But, while most stories focus on the legacy of pioneers or fast forward to the current structure of Mormonism’s interaction with the world, such as Mormon missionaries going out to the world, little is shared about the many lives lived in between. Here is where I found a wealth of stories yet to be told. You likely have access to many of these stories as well. Mormons could easily make claim to being the best at doing family history. The stories are there. Sterling Bridge started with a story from a man’s personal history research, where he learned of his ancestor Sterling Harris, an incredible individual credited with bridging large gaps of religion, race, and cultures between two communities. One of the wonderful things about researching and writing a story based on a true story is how it helps us to learn a little about ourselves. For me, when a story does that is also when a culture advances itself in the greater literary culture.

I wrote this article from the perspective of a Mormon because I am a Mormon and my work will be judged as a Mormon writing about Mormons, but it is much larger than that. In fact, a greater portion of the story comes from the perspective of several more Catholic characters that were interviewed and better represented in their views beyond just the research for this work. At any rate, hopefully Sterling Bridge is a step in the right direction. It purposely delves deeper into historical contexts to bring out a richer relatable story from Mormon culture interacting with other cultures. It attempts to be honest and fair and straightforward about what it has to tell the world, but it does so in an artistic way telling it through the memorable form of story (albeit in a filmic way). As a Christian I believe the greatest storyteller is the Savior, Jesus Christ. His stories are vivid but intentional. After listening to His stories you come away a little better person and the experience is repeatable because it relates to different situations we all face in one way or another throughout our lives, again and again. I am just starting out as a writer. All I could hope for at first was to write a good story. There was no formula to it: just sound writing to tell it like it is, emphasizing the key aspects. Now I hope to bring it to as wide an audience as possible because the story has become larger than itself; it has something important to say and holds a universal message beyond Mormonism, Americans, Slavics, Farmers, Miners, Catholicism or any other denomination. It is about humanity finding itself, living together in harmony, and learning to work as a community.

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