I'm very excited to start reading this biography of Joseph Smith written by active Mormon historian, Richard Bushman. I imagine the 561 pages of Smith's life will take me quite some time to get through- especially considering online classes in the near future, but I definitely intend to get through them. In fact in my eyes reading this book is the beginning of a journey for me.
Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which you may recognize by the name the LDS church or the Mormon church- they all refer to the same organization of which I have been a part since my birth. In my 21 years I have attended thousands of 3 hour Sunday services, I have not only participated in, but have lead child and youth programs, I graduated from seminary, and I currently attend BYUI a Mormon university.
What I'm getting at with that abridged list of my involvement in this church is how much it has influenced my life. Influenced is actually too weak of a word for the role it's played- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been the foundation of my existence since I was born. That may sound dramatic, but it's my reality. In the course of my life I estimate I've missed an average of less than 10 Sundays of church attendance a year. I have quite literally been raised in this church.
Which by extension means that just as the LDS church has deeply effected my life, so has Joseph Smith who is inextricably entwined with the church. And yet, until recently I never gave him much thought. I mean certainly I've thought about him often over the years. I've heard his name so many times in services it's like a mantra. I've watched movies about him, I've read about him, I've even testified of him. What I never did was think critically about Joseph Smith. I've never researched him. I never looked beyond his 'life' story which I was taught repeatedly in Sunday school.
It took me 21 years to realize I knew almost nothing about Joseph Smith. I knew the story of his childhood surgery. I knew one version of the first vision account. I knew he translated the Book of Mormon. I knew the stories of his persecution. I knew he married Emma. I knew how he died. And somehow for such a long time that seemed a complete picture to me. I always thought I knew him, but the truth is I was content with very little knowledge about Smith.
Recently I was quite surprised when my limited idea of Joseph Smith was challenged. It really was an eye opening experience and while I will go into the specifics of it later, it isn't relevant to this post. What is relevant, is the action it has elicited in me. It made me realize that there are so many things about Joseph that I never knew, I never knew and I think it's high time I found out.
Further, I really want to share what I learn. I know there are members of the church who are experts in church history and have researched the life of Joseph Smith beyond the lessons in church manuals. But I also know there are so many more like me who have simply been oblivious to the fact that there are chunks missing from their idea of Joseph Smith's life- or pieces so rarely touched on they're simply a blurry memory. For those people I want to draw attention to the gaps. I suspect that most of the gaps that I've discovered up to this point are missing or blurry for a reason, which is they're controversial. My intention is not to be negative about Joesph Smith or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My intention is to educate myself and those who are interested with the truth- corroborated through trustworthy sources, which will include but not be limited to the Rough Stone Rolling biography. My goal is to shine light upon facts which for whatever reason have been forgotten in the dark corners of our history.
My plan here is to make a series of posts about things you never knew you never knew about Joseph Smith, as I learn them. And also a post or two about why we should try to look at everything with a critical thinking mindset. I'll provide you with facts from trusty and clearly listed sources and then you can use them to form your own opinions.
I wanted to write this post before I started the book as kind of a preface. At this point no conclusions have been formed, I am simply beginning a journey of discovery and I wanted to invite any and all to join me. Or at least encourage others to take a journey of their own. I think we should all take the time to look more closely at the things, people, and organizations we believe in because our discoveries may take us by surprise.