Book Review: Crossings by Melissa Inouye
Crossings: A Bald Asian-American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures Through Life, Death, Cancer & Motherhood (Not Necessarily In That Order). Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye. BYU Maxwell Institute/Deseret Book (2019).
Last weekend, at the annual Exponent retreat, I spoke with a woman just slightly younger than me who was attending the retreat for the first time. She was earnest and thoughtful and we fell into an easy conversation that quickly began exploring some of our personal struggles. Much of what she said sounded exactly like the battles I have in my own head and, while we shared a little advice, mostly we just listened to one another and nodded our heads in empathy.
At one point she asked me if I feel like I belong in my ward. I laughed. Truthfully, much of what I struggle with as Mormon feminist is the question of whether my fellow ward members want me to be there. Mormons often don’t feel like a natural fit to be my people. But I also realize that I do best with the Church when I am up close and personal, putting my energy into listening to and serving the person right in front of me. In a society that is increasingly splintered into homogenous demographic groups, it’s good for me to work closely with people I disagree with politically, theologically, socially, and sometimes even morally. It forces me to be uncomfortable enough to learn how to really love people.
Reading Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye’s new book Crossings captures this difficult but beautiful aspect of community in the Church. The subtitle, A Bald Asian American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures Through Life, Death, Cancer, and Motherhood (Not Necessarily in That Order, points to the particularism of her writing: she’s not standing at a great distance, writing about ideas that are separate from lived reality. She is sharing her individual journey, how her faith and religion have guided her down a certain life path that is both hard and joyful.
Melissa seems less concerned with theory and more with the truth that emerges from experiential religion. We see God in her life because she allows us to be up close and personal in moments of her mission, her pregnancies, her conversations with friends, and her treatment for cancer. I was surprised and intrigued by the inclusion of her annual family Christmas letters, a little insight into her young family’s growth. While the family moves around East Asia and New Zealand, the letters and essays actually emphasize the mundane—and that it is in the mundane that the most sacred experiences occur.
More than any other message, my takeaway from the book is that Melissa believes that if anything will save us during this particularly challenging time in Church and world history, it will be relationships. She writes in the introduction, “It is through relationships with others, particularly those we behold on the other side of a large divide, that Jesus Christ calls on us to demonstrate faith the first and second great commandments” (p. 11). Crossings gives one wise woman’s particular example—with all her humor, wisdom, songs, parables, advice, and experiences folded in—of how, in very real and daily ways, to make those relationships happen. As someone trying to build Zion through those one-on-one interactions, I couldn’t be more grateful to have someone like Melissa engaged in the work, teaching us all how to do it with grace.