Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beagley's Memoir Less Tell All, More Testimony

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ah, polygamy. Every Mormon's favorite subject. I can still remember the first time someone asked me if my dad had more than one wife - I responded with open-mouthed incredulity. Did people seriously believe my father had a couple extra wives stashed in the basement? Sadly, lots of (normally) sensible folks know little of Mormonism except that once upon a time some of its followers practiced polygamy. Forget the pioneers who trudged through inclement weather and life-threatening illness just to reach a place where they could practice their religion in peace; forget the countless hours of service modern church members render every day; forget the army of worthy missionaries that dedicate two years of their lives to serving the Lord; forget church doctrines that urge members to honor their parents, nurture their children and live clean, moral lives - forget all that. When it comes right down to it, all many people remember about the Mormons is polygamy.

I have to reiterate that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have not practiced polygamy since 1890. Fringe groups have kept the practice alive, but not the mainstream church. You'd think after more than 100 years, people would get the idea through their heads. Apparently not. Thanks to kooks like Warren Jeffs, the issue stays in the news, spawning books, t.v. shows and, of course, lawsuits. All of this means that we Mormons get to answer all kinds of crazy, ignorant questions. So, how do today'sMormons respond to the whole polygamy thing? Variously, of course. Some view it as irrelevant (Yeah, it happened. So what?), others treat it with characteristic stoicism (Early member of the church practiced polygamy because they believed the Lord asked it of them. That many found it repulsive only shows how great was their faith.), still others find the whole issue amusing (What's wrong with plural marriage? I could sure use some "sister wives" to help me out around the house.). However we look at the polygamy question, I think we are just as curious as everyone else - I mean, really, how does plural marriage work exactly?

Well, if it's morbid curiosity that brings you to David Beagley's book, you're going to be sorely disappointed. One Lost Boy is no juicy tell-all. In fact, the slim memoir is less about polygamy and more about how one troubled boy gained a testimony of Jesus Christ. Beagley, now a college professor in his 60s, was born into what was once a traditional LDS home. His parents, Jesse and Althea, began their marriage as a typical church-going couple. Their oldest children (they had 12, of which David is the 10th) attended church, participated in Family Home Evening, and did all of the "normal" things Mormon kids do. By the time David appeared on the scene, however, the family's religious life had begun to unravel. Growing increasingly frustrated with the mainstream church, Jesse quit attending, an action that caused great tension with his wife and children. Even more distressing was his decision to lead a polygamist lifestyle. He found a friend's description of plural marriage alluring, so attractive that he wanted to follow suit. Although appalled by the idea, Althea acquiesced, wanting desperately to salvage her crumbling marriage.

Because polygamy went against the laws of both church and state, Jesse Beagley lived a secretive, fugitive life. He divided his time between his 5 wives, but never evenly. David rarely saw his father - when he did, Jesse couldn't even remember his name. Abandoned by his father, and shunned by neighbors who knew about Jesse's marriages and subsequent excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, David had only one person to turn to - his loving mother. Except that she insisted on keeping the family intact, which meant remaining loyal to her philandering husband and the teachings of the Mormon fundamentalist group with whom he had aligned himself. This meant spending summers in Colorado City (a notorious polygamist community on the Utah/Arizona border), avoiding the homes of non-believers, and keeping mum about all the skeletons in his family's closet. Having grown weary of it all, David fled to Arizona when he was 16. Once free, he began a quest to find God - to understand Him for himself. That journey led to experiences and miracles that would change his life forever.

One Lost Boy is an affecting story, simply told. Beagley's words lack poetry or perfection, but come through with the kind of faith and honesty that permeate the heart. While his life experiences are unbelievable in so many ways, the author demonstrates how each - no matter how distressing - became an important piece in the overall puzzle of his life. He gives thanks for his struggles, testifies that his pain made him stronger, and above all, acknowledges God's hand in his life. While this may not be the best book for non-LDS readers - simply because Beagley assumes his readers are familiar with the ins and outs of Mormon life - it will speak to anyone who's asked the big questions: Why does the Lord allow good people to suffer? Does God really know me? Does He even exist? If I'm striving to be the best Christian I can be, why does life keep beating me down? If He really cares about me, why does He allow bad things to happen to me? As David Beagley answers these questions for himself, he develops a powerful testimony of Jesus Christ. One that he shares with confidence and strength. It may not be the most eloquent avowal ever, but it's certainly effective.

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mature themes

To the FTC, with love: This one came from Cedar Fort, with a plea to evaluate it honestly. That's exactly what I did.

2 comments:

  1. What a beautiful review. I agree that whenever I think about mormons, I think about polygamy because being from India and a Hindu I as it is don't know much about Chirstianity and even less about mormons. I did like another perspective into it.

    That said, I don't think this book is for me, as you said you should atleast ahve some knowledge on mormons.

    Just wanted to say, it was a great review :)

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  2. Really loved your polygamy explanation! I'm not big on the polygamy books, but this does sound like an interesting (if terribly sad) story. When I lived out east, I got tired of explaining how my dad only has one wife too :)

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