Book Review: We’re With You: Counsel and Encouragement from Your Brethren
One of my favourite books recently is Letters to a Young Mormon by Adam Miller. Not even “favourite church books”, or “favourite non-fiction”, it’s so wonderful. So, when I heard there was a new publication from Deseret Book called We’re With You: Counsel and Encouragement from Your Brethren, I was excited to review it.
Rather than the letters to youth that I expected, though, this book is comprised of excerpts from addresses given at various venues by members of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles and the First Presidency. Sometimes, the way that passages have been excerpted gives them a disjointed feel, for example when passages that don’t fit the topic at hand have been removed, and sometimes it’s obvious that the address was originally given in a different era. Sometimes, the depth of the original address has been only hinted at, because the excerpts are limited to around four paragraphs.
It’s also a shame that, given this was a compilation of addresses from general authorities about specific topics that may affect young people in the church, there were no women included in the list of speakers. The section on marriage was mostly aimed at young men, for example, and “uncovering your life’s work” mostly assumed that women’s role would be offering advice to their husband (but also remembering, of course, that there are situations in life we can’t predict, so women may have to work out of necessity).
Most of the Challenges of Your Day chapter revolved around the same-sex marriage conversation (plus two snippets on pornography), and I wish they’d gone deeper than one brief mention into online bullying, and the masks we often wear online. Adam Miller’s letter about Sin, though it covers fewer scenarios, speaks to a deeper problem – that from the time we’re teenagers, we begin to craft stories about ourselves, and use clothes and test scores and comments from friends (and even the commandments) to convince ourselves that we know our story, and that we’re living up to our version of who we want to be. He reminds us that Christ wants us to give up our story, and our self-obsession and lose our lives for his sake. That’s a truly difficult lifetime of work, and well worth thinking about from the time we begin to notice – and place more importance on – the opinions of our peers.
The chapter on Applying the Atonement stood out, including Elder Bednar’s words on the enabling power of the atonement, and President Nelson sharing words from a coptic text he found while exploring the British Museum. The example of continuing to seek, and appreciating religious texts apart from the four standard works, is perhaps even more important in a chapter about the atonement than the content of the words themselves – reminding us that Jesus is the Saviour of us all, regardless of our Mormonism, and his love and grace cover us, and will redeem us, no matter what. I would have dearly loved to have had my favourite Chieko Okazaki quote about the atonement included, that makes that message explicit, rather than implied. Perhaps they will produce a companion edition with words from women leaders, and didn’t want to use all their best material in the first publication.
Because all the passages in this book are taken from publicly available addresses (there is a URL given at the back of the book, where the sources are referenced by speaker in order of seniority), everything is freely available online to someone who’s researching a particular topic.
I’d very much like to read a series of letters from (male and female) General Authorities to youth that they’ve prayed and pondered over, on a specific topic or even a small series of topics. I was hoping for more specificity and depth, and a greater connection to those who are in Young Women and Young Men today. A lot of the tone was aimed at youth, but many of the concerns were aimed at young adults. I think some of that is a byproduct of the way college-aged adults are treated as an extension of youth, but also that the world has changed so much since these men were teenagers, or even parents of teenagers, and it takes special attention to notice the differences, especially in a worldwide church.
I’d recommend this book to any zealous young man about to finish high school, planning a mission, and eager to hear the words of Church Leadership to assuage his fears about the things life is about to throw at him. Otherwise, it might be good to have this book on a shelf in the home of Mormon teens, alongside other worthy books with advice from a broader range of people. For families where someone might like to flip through a reference book while they think over decisions or ideas, this book could be useful – or perhaps kept at the chapel for a last minute devotional in opening exercises, when choosing a topic to research will take too much time.
For anybody looking for a call to repentance that also extends reminders of Christ’s ever-present grace, I recommend reading Letters to a Young Mormon .