On fast Sunday, my business plan was preached over the pulpit.
OK, it wasn’t technically preached. More just shared. And it’s not so much a business plan as a running joke. But it was still a surprise to hear the second counselor in the bishopric tell the ward about how I dream of opening a gas station in Las Vegas where, after inserting a credit card and pumping your gas, you pull a giant lever on the side which makes the numbers spin and spin, so that you never know in advance whether you’ll get gas free, at a discount, a bit higher than usual, or at double the ordinary rate.
What was more surprising was that the counselor was making an important spiritual point. And no, it didn’t have to do with the evils of gambling. He was talking instead about how after a recent, very spiritual and Christ-centered activity, our families had gotten to talk on the car ride back home. He was grateful, he told the ward, not only for the opportunity we’d had on that day to study and worship together, but also for the opportunity we’d had to get to know each other. He went on to talk about the natural awkwardness of getting to know new people and how in the church, we are sometimes blessed with ways to break through that awkwardness to receive moments of unexpected fellowship. For our second counselor, the genuine connection of being able to talk to each other more deeply matters deeply, even if the form is a joke.
If we are all God’s children, we should learn to love to be together. And perhaps in these last days, when so many cultural and economic shifts make stable community-building particularly rare, our need for ways to break through awkwardness and enjoy the blessings of socialization is more acute than ever.
All of which has me wondering: how are we writers doing at serving in this area of need? I often think about my works telling the right story or sending the right message: how do they hold up if I want them to get people talking instead? I know my play Prodigal Son was very moving to lots of people–but I’ve heard more people talk about my strange little piece “Book of Mormon Story” about an investigator who insists that the Book of Mormon is true “as far as translated correctly” but that if you read carefully, it’s clear that King Noah was a cokehead, not an alcoholic. There’s something about that piece that has been able to get people sharing their own thoughts and perspectives in ways some of my “better” plays maybe haven’t.
I doubt anything I ever write will hold a candle to Twilight on this scale, though. Several times this semester the subject has come up among my students: many of them don’t like the book(/s–but several had only read the first). What fascinates me, though, is the way that both criticisms and defenses of the book get people talking quite seriously about what they believe about relationships, about the influence of media on our thinking, etc. Part of that is, of course, because the book was successful. But part of it is the delightful complication of the narrative. People don’t know quite what to make of where it stands on values of sensuality and chastity. They can’t decide whether Edward is an ideal guy or patronizing and controlling, whether the books put desire over relationship health when she chooses Edward over Jacob.
My question is this: to what extent is any book’s value in what it says, and to what extent is the value of a book in the conversations it elicits and the way those conversations draw people out of their ruts and toward each other? From Twilight to the Bible, how much weight do we give to the part of literature that just gets people engaged and talking?