(creator: Paul M Edwards)
|Dr Toom Taggart is dean in charge of the educational programme at the RLDS ( Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) headquarters in Independence, Missouri, where he is both department director and dean of the graduate program. There he happily wears hounds-tooth tweed with leather patches on the elbows, violating "the all-but-sacred dress coat of red, white, and navy blue". When we first meet him, he is in his 53rd year with some greying hair. "On a good day he stood six feet and hovered around 250 pounds.... He wore a well trimmed salt and pepper beard that he tended to rub when he was pondering - or when he pretended to be pondering."
It was his PhD from Edinburgh that had got him his job. He was a "word spinner" and was expected "to provide justifications for what ever irrational expectations were passed off as church policy. He was, by his own identification, a cranial prostitute. He was pretty good at it .... His primary problem - and sometimes it became a serious problem - was that he did not share the same level of commitment to the movement that was a natural life pattern for so many." He could not be described as "an orthodox believer" for he had decided that "the divine existed without defined purpose, without engaging humans in any kind of intimate relationship."
Toom had inherited a a high degree of skepticism from his parents and for years had hovered on the windy side of agnosticism." He explains, "I have faith in the idea, not in how the church actually works. Faith - maybe hope would be a better word - is what keeps me here." But he cannot help asking, "Why are we sitting here in a sixty-million-office building posing as a church that is interested in people when there are folks within a few blocks of us who can't get enough to eat?" One wonders how closely Toom resembled the author. Edwards himself says, "Much of what is written about emerges from my own background. So in that sense it is autobiographical. But, I repeat, it is only a story."
Although Toom does not hesitate to attack the bureaucracy and ineffective management of the church, he had accepted the priesthood (exactly what this means is not explained). He still has an invalid institutionalized wife whom he apparently visits regularly (although none of these visits is described). She seems to be seriously mentally ill (but once again we are not told exactly what is wrong with her). He drinks coffee even if "The Word of Wisdom tells us not to". (What the Word of Wisdom is, is not explained either.) But he is a lively curmudgeon of a character.
Dr Paul M(adison) Edwards (1933 - ) is the author or co-author of numerous books, nearly all non-fiction, ranging from philosophy to six books about the Korean War of which he was a veteran. With a PhD from St. Andrews University in Scotland, he was a Professor of Philosophy at Park University in Kansas City, and went on to found and direct Graceland's Center for the Study of the Korean War at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, which is a liberal arts college run by The Community of Christ (previously known as RLDS, The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) whose members prefer not to call themselves Mormons. He has been a past director of the RLDS Temple School in Independence, Missouri, as well as president of the John Whitmer Historical Association and the Mormon History Association, so is well qualified to write on Mormon matters.
The Angel Acronym (2002)
Despite instructions from his bishop to write a new book on angels (difficult, as he doesn't believe in them), he prefers to spend his time working out an intricate matrix showing the improbable coincidences that had to converge to produce the Church archivist's death. This eventually enables him to identify the murderer. It all springs from a supposed 19th century attempt to forge a section of the First Book of Mormon (indeed this is how the book starts, but it is all pretty incomprehensible to anyone who does not already know about Mormon beliefs), but it does not make a very exciting story, and the author seems strangely reluctant to provide enough background information. Who, for example, are "a group of camera-bedecked Bountifulites from Utah"? and a joke about "The habits of Seven Highly Effective Dwarfs" doesn't work until the author explains, many pages later, what it is a reference to. And there are jokes about polygamy too that do not mean much to outsiders.
There is a lack of suspense about the storytelling, and it is difficult to take the denouement too seriously as it depends on Toom telling the police that there was something they did not know about the poison gas used for the murder - an area in which it seems quite incredible that they did not find out more for themselves.
The strength of the story lies in the humor with which the author attacks the petty bureaucracies of his church, including criticisms which could surely be made of many other ecclesiastical organisations. I enjoyed the references to "the studiously sweet Utah missionaries" and the church historian who blocked out two afternoons a week for research, and about twice a month "actually made it to the archives where he sometimes spent as much as 45 minutes". And Toom describes the great temple where he works as standing "against the dark with a blinking light of its spire warning Gentiles off the jagged coastline off Mormondom". And a meeting, we are told, "went on longer than an evangelist's prayer".
Toom's criticism of his church seems deeply felt. As he tells his friend Marie, "We don't know what we believe in as a church .... We go to church to watch someone act as if they had been moved by love when in fact, they're following the program .... We perform according to the ritual now. We testify, but our testimonies are mostly memories of someone else's experiences." And even amongst the Latter Day Saints. "The churches could not agree about theological issues, but it took an expert to determine exactly why not".
The author takes his usual sardonic look at how the church is run, as when he explains, "The guiding force behind all the public decision-making was the Mission Integration, Service, Function, and Interpretation team, or MISFIT, a strange acronym that had long lost its sense of irony to the ears of the bureaucrats."
In this case there appears to be no connection between "hush puppies" and "fried green tomatoes" and the text! It works better when the connection is obvious, but even then it too soon grows tedious, particularly when messages like "Go to page 161" lead you on a wild goose chase.
|The cover is nothing if not mysterious. The book is fun to read, but Mormon beliefs are never really explained.|