Wednesday, December 22, 2010
BOOK REVIEW - Who's At the Door?
I was recently asked by my writer/publisher pal, Tristi Pinkston, to do a review of the book “Who’s at the Door" by Dan Harrington. I've always been happy to join in the blog tours of books, so of course I said yes.
Who's at the Door? is a quick and easy read in which author Dan Harrington describes his meetings with a succession of different LDS missionaries in the town of Augusta, Maine between 2007 and 2009. As an aspiring writer with one publication credit in a local newspaper, Harrington initially became interested in learning more about the “Elders” as subjects for a human interest article he planned to write. Over time he developed friendships with several of the missionaries who served in that area. He allowed them to continue to come to his home to teach lessons about LDS doctrine, known as “taking the discussions”, and through that process begins to more closely examine his own beliefs.
When I first picked up the book I thought this was going to be a snapshot into the life of LDS missionaries. This is not that kind of story. Instead, Harrington turns the tables by capturing what it was like to be an “investigator”, a person learning about the teachings of the church. He describes his feelings about the different principles he is introduced to and reflects on how those teachings fit or did not fit with his established beliefs. He tells bits and pieces of what it was like to visit an LDS congregation and explores the things that he admires about or struggles with regarding the church and its members.
Clearly this book is intended for an LDS audience. While Harrington holds onto the “outsider’s view” in describing the teachings and traditions of the church, he portrays Latter-day Saints in very positive terms. Even when he reaches the points that hold him back from embracing the religion, he gives “the Mormons” the benefit of the doubt at every turn.
Harrington seems quite sincere in his affection and admiration for the missionaries. At several points throughout the book it seemed to me that he was less motivated in his ongoing meetings with the Elders by any serious spiritual searching than he was simply a guy who needed friends. He appeared to enjoy spiritual discussions to a point, but most of his focus was on the personal sincerity of the various elders he encountered and the fun times they had when he would take the guys to various restaurants to share a meal.
One thing that was very much missing from the story was how any of Harrington’s established friends may have reacted to him spending so much time with the Elders. He briefly mentions talking to his parents and sister about his interest in the church. Yet never once did he mention anything about other friends of his over a time span of three years. To me, that seemed to reinforce the notion that perhaps he was a guy that didn’t have many people he felt close to in his life, which may have been why he was so open to spending as much time with the missionaries as he did.
In the epilogue to the book Harrington writes: “I don’t think too many conversions hinge on how accurate the Book of Mormon may or may not be. People want a place to be accepted, a place to hear about God, a place where they feel God hears them. Simply put, most people aren’t theologians. Neither am I. That’s what we have in common.” That, for me, was the most telling passage of the entire book.
Both the strength and the weakness of this story is that the experience of investigating a religion is a deeply personal thing. Each individual’s journey is unique. So ultimately this book tells us a lot about Dan Harrington’s view and experiences in exploring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but offers very little that can be generalized to investigators as a group.
Some seek out a new church hoping to find a community where they can feel the reassurance of nice people who they enjoy being around. Others focus more on pursuing a spiritual confirmation about the truth of the principles taught. Some may be drawn to the church for its reputation of providing support in times of need. Perhaps the greatest value this book held for me was the ways in which it prompted me to take a closer look at my own motives for my involvement with my church family. Reading this book served as a catalyst for me to re-examine what the source of my own commitment to my faith is. Beyond that, it was a reminder to me about the importance of being open and supportive toward those who may come to investigate our faith. Because, as the prophet Gordon B. Hinkley taught us, one of the first things all new members need to feel welcome in church is to have a friend.
If you are looking for a fast read for the holidays, you can purchase this book HERE