FOR EASTER, CHIEKO OKAZAKI, former counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, has brought out a new book "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." It's an LDS book with a title from an old Protestant hymn. And if you think that signals what's inside, you're right.
I've always enjoyed Sister Okazaki's books. But then, among living LDS authors, I find myself turning more and more to the women: Ardeth Kapp, Emma Lou Thayne, Sheri Dew, Anne Osborn Poelman. Many of them write for other women. I wish more would write for a general audience. I tell people the lessons I need most in life I never get to hear they're taught in Relief Society.
Mormon male authors as a whole have a wonderful talent for "framing" the gospel message. Like carpenters, they create a firm foundation, strong beams and a worthy roof. But it's the female authors who fill the house with breath.
In the case of Sister Okazaki, she not only warms the place up, she throws open the doors and windows and welcomes everyone in, including some folks accustomed to taking their meals on the porch. In short, her new book is a Thanksgiving dinner for the family.
The "good news?"
We're all in the family.
"I want to be sure you understand exactly how I feel about diversity," she writes. "I love differences. They make us interesting and challenging and delightful. What they don't make us is good or bad, and I think we forget that sometimes."
I don't know Sister Okazaki's favorite scriptures, but I'd bet Ephesians 2:14 is among them:
"For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us."
In the minds of many, religion exists to teach us those bedeviling opposites good and bad, justice and mercy, worthy and unworthy. Sister Okazaki's books, however, give us a new pair of words to ponder: "generosity" and "narrowness."
"Don't you think, as I do, that there are times when each of us is a member of the minority and times when we belong to the majority?" She writes here, "I think we need to be comfortable in both roles and very comfortable in crossing barriers just as fast as we can identify them, so that no one feels permanently excluded."
That word "barriers" again. As the late Henri Nouwen would say, we waste too much time forming opinions of each other.
"Perhaps because of my background as a Japanese-American woman," she writes, "I am very sensitive to thoughtless or careless or completely unintentional messages that set up barriers between people."
Years ago, a sexist joke chortled: There are three ways to send a message: telegraph, telephone and tell-a-woman.
Sister Okazaki, along with many other women authors, have now flipped that notion on its head.They show us if you want to send a message a message about generosity, perspective, right-thinking and heart don't tell a woman ask her.
Jerry Johnston is a Deseret Morning News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.