It has been almost a year since my brothers and I started this small blog. So, we thought it would be fun to do a little reflecting on what we have done, what we have learned from our blogging experience so far, and what we hope to do in the future.
Over a year ago, my youngest brother, Jonathan, as well as some of the young men in my ward, approached me about starting a blog. I was very reticent to the idea. It seemed a bit ostentatious to think that people other than my brothers, Jonathan and Paul, would have even the smallest interest in reading my thoughts. One day Jonathan called me and said he started a blog and that I needed to write something. So, the three of us talked some more. We didn’t want to do an apologetic web-site; that was already covered by FAIR and Maxwell Institute. We didn’t want to be too cerebral; By Common Consent, and Times and Seasons had that covered. We didn’t want a blog that just regurgitated what you heard at church; we felt Mormonism is just bigger than that. We wanted a place where we could just talk about Mormonism – the beauty, the craziness, the quirkiness, the scholarship, the complexity, the messiness of our amazing faith tradition.
Our first post was on the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine lesson, which corresponded with the upcoming lesson. A few more Book of Mormon posts were written before I could coax my wife into writing a post. She finally found something worth writing about – The City Creek Mall.
Her first (and still only) post was to report that City Creek Mall was going to be renting space to Abercrombie and Fitch. She found this news to be very bothersome. In her post, she addressed her concerns, posted a copy of the letter she had written to the company managing City Creek, and encouraged others to e-mail their concerns; many did e-mail City Creek. It was our first post to break thirty views (click here to read her post). Her post was followed by an update of the correspondences we had with City Creek. Abercrombie and Fitch never rented a space. It is difficult to ascertain why Abercrombie and Fitch never came to City Creek. We believe that they never planned on coming, but our belief that they were going to rent space from City Creek was do to poor journalism by Deseret News. Of course, we then began to hound Deseret News.
I eventually wrote a three-part post that introduced the concept of natural theology. No one was reading the posts. My initial idea was that my friends from church would interact with me on the blog, but almost no one came. Paul then suggested that we post a link on some closed facebook groups where Mormons that are aware of some of the controversial LDS historical issues, those that are struggling with their LDS faith, and those that have left the LDS church tend to aggregate. I didn’t like the idea, but people just weren’t reading my posts on natural theology. I eventually acquiesced and boy did the fireworks go off! At one point it felt that every ex-Mormon atheist was responding to my post. Good times. The plan at the time was to do a monthly post on one of the arguments for the existence of God based on natural theology. However, my Book of Mormon lesson posts took a lot of time; so much time that I had to curb my natural theology posts.
Our first post to get over 100 views was Book of Mormon Lesson 20. We have no idea why that was.
What have we learned since then? Our most popular posts often deal with critiques (not criticisms – there’s a difference you hyper-sensitive Mormons!) of Mormon culture – especially modesty (modesty discussions make people go out of their minds). We have also learned that people want a safe place where they can faithfully work out their struggles with the church. We have learned that people want to discuss the Gospel Doctrine lessons beyond what is given at church. One of our most popular posts was Paul’s blog-series titled “Revelation Bias, Fair and Balanced”, in which he explores some of the more difficult historical issues within our LDS faith. We have also learned that essays that deal with faith struggles and give hope to those wrestling with their faith are much appreciated. I say that because of the following:
In August of this year, we had a total of 353 views on our blog. The next month, the viewership jumped up to over 2,00o views. Why was that? My bishop. My bishop allowed us to post a talk he had given at our Ward Conference. It gave hope to those within the church that often feel that they are on the periphery of belief. It was the first post to receive over one-thousand views; people simply loved it.
What else have we learned? People love our book reviews! Our first book review was done by my sister-in-law who left the church about twenty-years ago; she wrote a review of Joanna Brooks’ ” The Book of Mormon Girl”. Her voice was unique, because she was able to provide an insider/outsider’s view. Our next two reviews were done by my mother-in-law. She reviewed two of Carol Lynn Pearson’s books. My mom-in-law is in love with Sister Pearson. I hope she doesn’t mind me quoting her, but the other week she said, “I will read anything Carol Lynn Pearson has written.”
What is amazing is what has come out of these book reviews. First, we were contacted by Fiona and Teryl Given’s publicist when their new book, “The God Who Weeps” was getting ready to be released. We were asked if we wanted to participate in a private Q&A with the Givens’. Of course we said yes! Why were we invited? Because of my sister-in-law’s and mother-in-law’s book reviews. Later, Paul was interviewed by Mormon Times regarding his impression of the Givens’ book. Earlier this week, my good friend, Jerilyn Pool posted her book review of “The God Who Weeps” on our blog. The second awesome thing that happened due to our book reviews was being contacted by Carol Lynn Pearson. She has just published a new book and was offering to send a free copy so we could review it for her in time for Christmas; that review is pending (hurry up Jerilyn!). Earlier this month we were contacted by the publisher, Kofford Books. They have asked us to begin reviewing some of their books; so crazy, right? Because of the great reception our book reviews have received, we decided to start reviewing some of the BYU TV programs. So far, Camille Howe has reviewed the first episode of “The District”; it was pretty funny.
Along the way we have had some great guest bloggers, apart from our close friends and family members. They have included: Jared Anderson, Dr. Gregory Prince, Geoff Nelson, a blogger that used the pseuonym “Atticus”, KC Kern. Upcoming bloggers will include the Mayan scholar, Brant Gardner, and historian and feminist scholar, Dr. Andrea Radke-Moss. Gardner will be doing a post for us regarding the conflation of Quetzalcoatl with the mythical “Great White God.” Dr. Radke-Moss will be writing a multi part post about the three waves of feminism and how feminism has been approached within the LDS church.
So, what else have we learned over the past ten months? Some of our friends think we are apostates. Say what now? Yes, we have had a friend or two express deep, deep concerns over our posts. OK, I’ll be frank, one of our friends came out and did call us apostates. We have also had people accuse us of being apologists. So, I guess if we are getting beat up from both sides, we are doing something right. Perhaps because of our approach to Mormonism, Paul and I have also appeared on two podcasts with Jared Anderson. Jared does a weekly p0dcast that goes over the upcoming Gospel Doctrine lessons. His stuff is absolutely amazing. It puts my Book of Mormon posts to shame.
Our blog has reached great distances and interesting people; some readers are as far away as Europe. Some posts have been picked up by the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Company), and some have gained the interest of sociologist, Dr. Darron Smith, PhD, who has special interest in the black-American Mormon experience.
We have found that some of the posts have done a lot to help people feel less isolated in their faith journeys. We have really enjoyed the comments that follow the posts; they usually affirm that we are doing things right. Here are some of our favorite comments from our readers:
“For the Body is Not One, but Many” , by Bishop Joshua Wallace. Garrett posted the following comment: “This issue hits very very close to home for me. I think the take away for me from the talk that bishop gave is that everyone of us is on a faith journey in this life. None of us is on the same spot in the faith spectrum. He indicates that regardless of where our faith may be there is room for us in the church.”
Regarding Bishop Wallace’s post, Lawona wrote the following. It is longer than most of the comments and it is raw with emotion. It illustrates one of the things we hope to accomplish through our blog, and that is, give people hope and reason to stay LDS: “Mike, First I want to say your Bishop’s inspired talk gives me hope. Above that you give me hope. I can feel your passion for the “Pearl and the Box”. I have been so moved by your honesty and Love for the youth and the future of the Church. If one mans voice can turn things around I feel it in yours. A little about myself..I am 53 born in the church. I live in KY. I have a bi-racial family. White and Black American. On April the 27th at 11:30p.m. I stumbled on Mormonthink.com with-in the hour everything that I had known to be true and loved became a lie. At first I felt a burden and gloom that had lingered with me for the whole of my life as far back as I can remember about the age of 7 lifted. Then I cried, and I cried and I cried. Thankfully I have a home teacher that loves me as much as he loves the Gospel and he has not missed a month. Brother Sam. I do not share much of what I have learned for respect of our relationship. I believe it is the GA responsibility to become transparent with the issues….I said Brigham Young was the most racist man I have ever heard of. He [Lawona’s son] put his arm around me and said “Mom they were all racist back then.” It was those words from my Bi-racial son that melted my heart and lit a spark in my heart and mind that I owed it to myself and my family to look at this journey again. Allow the hope to be there my “seed” that maybe, just maybe, I can work through this have the facts and faith walk in harmony and be able to seal my testimony in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Like a “Red Wood Tree”. I hope that you will post your lesson on Blood Atonement, and the Race issues. I am afraid that my oldest Son will get his heart broken far greater than myself if he ever finds out. I want to be able to help him through it. I want to be able to be as forgiving as my youngest son. Thank You, Much Love a sister in Christ.”
“The Day Breaketh” , by Kylan Rice. Kathleen said the following: “This is absolutely incredible. I don’t even know what else to say about it. I hope you write more.”
“Mormon War” , by “Atticus”. Jared posted the following comment: “I really wish we could incorporate this perspective into the way we taught these stories in Church. It is so much more mature, respectful, humbling, and realistic than the idolization of the miracle soldier boys.”
“One Great Whole”, by Geoff Nelson. Josh Wallace said the following: “I keep coming back to read your talk so I figured it’s time to leave a comment. There are few things that inspire me more than to study, learn, read, or discuss than the atonement. It truly is infinitive and you have pointed that out in a way that I had not realized (which happens more often than I’d like to admit!). So thank you for the wonderful message about the atonement, love and friendship.”
“A Book Review – The God Who Weeps”, by Jerilyn Pool. Tana posted the following comment: “This book looks wonderful but I especially loved reading the review. It’s amazing the insight we can glimpse from each other’s expressions of faith and love. Thank you again for allowing us this opportunity.”
“Revelation, Fair, & Biased: Blacks and Priesthood” , by Paul Barker. Camille posted the following comment: “Nicely done. I’m saving this for the future conversation I will have to have with my wonderful brown child.”
“Celebrating Difference”, by Dr. Gregory Prince. Russ C. had the following comment: “Thanks to Dr. Prince for the share. We need to hear more of these types of discourses. And not just in blog form but over our chapel’s pulpits. While I appreciate the comfort of gospel uniformity, I cringe at the condemning judgements made by ‘member uniformists’ who say “there is no room for your way of thinking” or even “good riddance” to our struggling or apostate ‘siblings’. Plus, isn’t the gospel more enjoyable when it can be examined closely and discussed heartily?”
“Why I Am Mormon – A Personal Essay,” by Mike Barker. DK wrote the following: “After a depressing Sunday at church I came home and thought again about the most common theme in my prayers: please let me know if I should continue bringing my daughters to church. I don’t feel like I ever get an answer, just silence. To come and read this thoughtful post and be able to relate so much to what you have said has brought tears to my eyes. It is a reminder that answers to heartfelt prayers come in the most unusual ways sometimes. Thank you.”
“Joanna Brooks, The Book of Mormon Girl – a book review“, by Tamara LeBeau. Jenny said the following: “Great post Tammy. I have historically held the view that with the LDS church, one is either an active participating member, or out of the church. I am starting to see now that the Church needs to have room for those who are wrestling with their faith and testimony, and wrestling with the ‘status quo’ of the organization.”
Lest one thinks that all is flowers and candy, the following is a response posted on Paul Barker’s, “If Your Pants are Too Tight” blog post. R. Hegji said the following: “The only thing I can really say is that if you went to a Session at the Temple, you see that the young men’s and young women’s manuals are applicable to what is being taught there. It is not a double standard. Men and Women have different roles in the family and in the gospel. If you feel that there are double standards in the church, then you have to believe that God has double standards as he is the Head the of the Church.”
So what now? We want more women’s voices! I’ll say it again. We want more women’s voices!!! We want more guest bloggers! Please, if you have something you would like to share with the rest of the bloggernacle, contact us! Next year I am considering abandoning my posts that go over the Gospel Doctrine lessons, unless someone can convince me otherwise. They are just so time-demanding. Now, if one of you would like to pick up the mantle of doing a weekly post on the Gospel Doctrine lesson, let us know. Instead of my weekly Sunday School posts, I will re-approach philosophy and natural theology. Paul will continue to do his amazing posts critiqueing Mormon culture and thought. And, hopefully we can get some more amazing guest bloggers; we are still waiting for Kylan Rice to do a third post for us.
Paul and I thought it would be fun to re-introduce some of our earlier blog posts that were done before we hit the over-one-thousand viewership. So, beginning next week, we will begin re-posting some of the oldies-but-goodies. They will include:
- The amazing essay written by Kylan Rice
- My bishop’s essay
- Paul’s essay on modesty
- My posts on natural theology
In conclusion the three Barker brothers want to say thank you for reading our blog. We are grateful for the new friendships we have made with all of you. Thanks for the wonderful, thoughtful discussions. Thank you for the lively banter in which we get to enter at times. It’s been fun so far.