Joseph Smith: Lost and Found

By Barnes, Jane | Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Joseph Smith: Lost and Found


Barnes, Jane, Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought


I met Joseph out of all Mormon context. I met him between Emerson and the Beatles, between the American Revolution and the sixties, between the conservative New England tilt ofmy education and the ecstatic, destabilizing, boundary-busting, prolonged years of anti-authoritarian protest against the U.S. government. I met Joseph roaming the corridors of American history in Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History, portrayed as a genius who would be comfortable at the same table with P. T. Barnum, Walt Disney, and Norman Mailer-to name a few of the wildly imaginative national characters I had been pitching for documentaries.

Somehow I had reachedmy forties without ever having met a single Mormon and knowing almost nothing about our homegrown prophet. I encountered Joseph amid the smoking ruins of Vietnam, Watergate, Nixon's impeachment, and the country's return to our primal dream of avarice. By that time, "my" priests were Martin Luther King and the Berrigan brothers, men who broke the law for a higher good. Fawn Brodie's Joseph was this kind of man. But the social activist priests always seemed more moral than faithful. Amid their good works, their contradictions and ironies somehow suggested that politics was what we had in a world from which God had withdrawn. In Brodie's biography, when Joseph broke the law for a higher good, I felt he did so as a modern man of faith.

Brodie meant to debunk, and some questioning Mormons are rumored to have left the Church because of No Man Knows My History. But for me, her Joseph reawakened religious feelings I thought I'd lost forever. As a child in Providence, Rhode Island, I was a believer.My older brother and sister grumbled when my parents sent us off to church and Sunday School. But I loved coloring pictures of the burning bush and thinking hard about the nun's claim that God was always with each and every one of us. I believed it was true-but how!? I was intrigued by the mystery. When we moved to Washington, D.C., and my parents no longer enforced church going, I was still ardent. I was eight.

On Sundays, while the rest of my family read newspapers around the breakfast table, I traveled from Georgetown to St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House by taxi. I soon felt like the odd man out. Daddy had come home from WorldWar II and joined the State Department. I didn't want to miss one of his anti-Communist riffs while I was off at church. How could I save America if I didn't know what challenges the free world faced? I won a Bible for memorizing verses in Sunday School, but I felt it was success for success's sake. God wasn't in my words.

The taxi said it all. I had become an uprooted pilgrim, paying strangers to drive me around in search of a place I might really belong. I'd stepped into the particle accelerator in which new energies are constantly released by our atoms colliding at the speed of light. I've come to realize that this is the perpetual shattering modern people call home. I've often felt it's like living in a huge lost-and-found, of doubling and tripling our lives and even our bodies, of trying incarnations that end up in a heap in "unclaimed baggage" centers. There is no rest, only perpetual disintegration and renewal. As a member of the holy order of disappearing sacred cows, I didn't exactly lose interest in God. I just never heard about a God who didn't take himself very, very seriously. . . . Enter Joseph Smith.

He was born in 1805, on a boundary line between rooted traditions and the age of the particle accelerator. The post-revolutionary world was coming unstuck all around him; and strange, new electrical impulses were flying off in every direction. Smith's family on both sides had already been broken into many kinds of energetic nonconformity. They were religious seekers, adventurers, writers, utopians, large-minded, large-hearted men and women trying to get their hands on the meaning of life. They were just the sort of New Worlders that Emerson believed would inherit the earth. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Joseph Smith: Lost and Found
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.