Thomas Rogers is a Mormon treasure. Indeed, we may never see another quite like him. In his long and productive life, he has been a missionary in Germany; professor of Russian; director of the BYU Honors Program; renowned playwright; gifted painter; aspiring poet; perceptive essayist; mission president in Russia; traveling patriarch to Eastern Europe and Russia; temple missionary in Sweden; branch president at both BYU and the MTC; teacher of English in China; and “self-styled polyglot” who has studied language and culture in many lands, including Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Poland, Armenia, India, Syria, Austria, France, and Italy.
It is only fitting, then, that this collection of writings is so diverse: essays, speeches, symposium presentations, letters, poems, journal entries, reminiscences, a BYU forum address, a travelogue, dating advice to students, commentary on scripture, a note to the first cast of his play Huebener, and even a discourse he prepared for some forgotten purpose and can’t remember ever giving. In addition to his own thoughts, he also includes many perceptive observations from student papers and quotations from famous writers, most of which I had never seen before. These sundry pieces are assembled somewhat unevenly under the four topics listed in the book’s subtitle. The section on beauty, for instance, seemed something of a catch-all category for pieces that didn’t quite fit under the other three topics. But overall the book is well worth reading, and reading carefully.
I have known Tom Rogers for many years, but only after reviewing this assemblage of his varied writings do I feel I have some understanding of his depth, his breadth, and his brilliance. Tom is one of the kindest men I know, and this shines through in all of his thinking. Whether he is writing to a son who left the Church as a youth, speaking to students in the BYU Honors Program, or reminiscing about strangers he has encountered in his extensive travels, one thing is obvious: he cares deeply about people.
He also cares deeply about ideas, and he does not shy away from difficult questions and paradoxes. Indeed, perplexing moral dilemmas lie at the heart of his best plays. And I was surprised to find him addressing questions forty years ago that are troubling many Latter-day Saints in today’s information-saturated society. Despite recognizing the flaws in the Church, Tom offers his seven personal reasons for staying, which he outlines in the book’s opening essay, “It Satisfies My Restless Mind.” I would recommend this essay to anyone who is thinking of leaving.
Another fine installment in the Maxwell Institute’s Living Faith series, Let Your Hearts and Minds Expand is not just a window into the soul of an extraordinary human being; it is also mirror in which we can examine our own souls. My only regret, after reading this book, is that when Tom’s best-known play, Huebener, was first performed at BYU, I missed the performance because I was still a missionary in Hamburg, Germany, the hometown of Helmuth Huebener and the city where Tom Rogers, also as a young missionary, first learned about the boy who gave his life opposing Hitler.