On the second day of this year's Mormon Lit Blitz, we move from the spirit world back to earth for Lehua Parker's essay "Scrubbing Jesus's Toilets." After you've read it, come back for the Q&A and to share your thoughts:
Both "Scrubbing Jesus' Toilets" and your previous Mormon Lit Blitz finalist piece, "Decorating Someone Else's Service" are meditations on how we organize service in the Church. What's drawn you to that subject?
Volunteer service is a cornerstone of the Church. It’s through acts of service that we learn how to become more Christlike. I find both humor and grace in situations where what we think is the goal—being extra efficient, for example—is not really the point at all. Service is often more about refining our own imperfections than it is about helping others.
Both pieces also involve your children as prominent characters. How has parenting helped you as a writer--and writing helped you as a parent?
My kids are much better humans than I am. When confronted with something that doesn’t make sense at Church, they do the kind thing, the gracious thing, and simply do what’s asked of them without complaint. My first instinct is to whine or dig in my heels. But sometimes after a service project or lesson, they’ll come to me to talk about the whys. We break down what happened from multiple perspectives until they understand why a service project was organized a certain way or what a leader was trying to teach in a lesson that didn’t resonate with them. Through this process, they also figure out how they’ll do it when they’re in charge. It amazes me that there’s no question in their minds that they will be able to do things differently. I find that very powerful. I think about these conversations a lot, and what I think about, I write. And what I write about tends to circle back into the next why conversation.
What would you like to see more of in Mormon Literature?
I’d like to see more fiction stories where characters just happen to be Mormon, rather than stereotypes of either perfection or perdition. A lot of Mormon fiction for kids tends to be thinly veiled morality plays. I’d like to see fictional LDS kids who struggle and succeed and who come from a wide variety of families, nationalities, and experiences. There’s a need for good LDS kids’ literature that tackles tough questions squarely, but with an underlying message of compassion and hope.
Where can we read more of your work?
I have a blog and website: www.LehuaParker.com. Most of my published works are available through Amazon and other retailers. My most popular books are in a series for middle grade and young adult readers called The Niuhi Shark Saga. These magical realism stories are set in contemporary Hawaii and are full of Hawaiian culture, myths, and legends. Book 1, One Boy, No Water, was a 2017 Nene Award Nominee, a Hawaii Children’s Choice Award. For LDS audiences, I’m currently working on a collection of faith-based essays under the working title, Wayfinding Mortality.