I can’t read without a pencil in my hand, and my greatest vice is pencilling in the margins of library books. In my defense, I can argue that at least I’m not breaking the golden rule: I love reading other people’s marginalia, too. When I was in graduate school, I came to recognize the distinctive notations of my advisor in the margins of the books we both borrowed from the library, and I learned almost as much from his notes as from the texts themselves. Every once in a while I’d take home a book to find my own marginalia from months or even years before. In that spirit, then, I offer (for what little it’s worth) my “marginalia” on the first half of the April Ensign.
Front cover: A sweet image of the resurrected Christ among the Nephites, very appropriate for Easter. Wait, Easter was (will be) in March, not April. Maybe the editors knew the April issue would arrive in mailboxes closer to Easter than the March issue? Then why does the March issue have the two articles that seem (tangentially) relevant to Easter? And why doesn’t the word “Easter” appear in the tables of contents of either issue? It’s about time to come up with a Mormon liturgical calendar, I say, and with it to give Easter greater prominence. (I’m teaching in RS on Sunday, a “Teachings for Our Times” lesson–on priesthood keys! But I’ll find a way to work in Bach’s Easter Oratorio, never fear…)
Table of Contents: I always check out the authors’ gender balance; this time it appears to be 4:12, although women contribute heavily (almost exclusively) to the “Latter-day Saint Voices” and “Random Sampler” sections. A woman, Larene Porter Gaunt, has contributed a long journalistic piece on international dance celebrations, rather than the short personal narratives usually appearing by women, and I’m pleased with that.
The Symbol of Our Faith, President Gordon B. Hinckley: Okay, shame on me for being too critical too quickly; President Hinckley’s message relates substantially to the atonement and resurrection, just in time for Easter. I’m pretty sure I’ve read this discourse before; good choice to resurrect it this month, as it’s inspiring and relevant.
The Light of Christ, Elder Boyd K. Packer: Wow, this is a topic I covered in my recent talk at the SMPT conference! Too bad I didn’t see this first… It’s a very long piece, and seems to wander a bit in places (wait, I see now that it was delivered to prospective mission presidents, so now the structure makes a little more sense). I’m relieved that Elder Packer does with the Light of Christ precisely what I argued in my paper Mormons do with this doctrine: he assimilates it to conscience, and in so doing replicates a fundamental epistemological tension between conscience as an “inner light” and the Light of Christ as a “universally diffused essence” that emanates from the presence of God. Phew, looks like my argument was right!
Being Thankworthy, Geri Christensen: I like this personal narrative. It’s honest about the author’s difficulties in receiving answers to prayer, her self-deceptions and rationalizations. It also attempts to interpret scripture and distill doctrine, if only informally, which I always like to see in women’s pieces. And above all, it’s absolutely typological as a Mormon narrative in its redemptive ending; I’m convinced once again that the conversion narrative is the only fundamentally (though not uniquely) Mormon narrative form we have.
Multiply and Replenish the Earth: All the gloomy editorials about plummeting global fertility rates that my dad forwards to me must have been forwarded to the Church Office Building, too! What an interesting and tricky topic to address, and the collage of quotes they’ve come up with is, masterfully, both authoritative and vague. Nowhere is a minimum desirable family size specified, or large families particularly encouraged–and wait, let me see, nowhere in the entire magazine is a family with more than two children portrayed! I commend the editors in their sensitivity in dealing with this explosive issue, but I wonder whether there’s a message left to be communicated once we factor in all the sensitive qualifications: when we substitute “nonmarital childbearing” for “illegitimacy,” have we irreversibly compromised the intended social stigma that is the desired effect of language like this? I do like the quote by Elder Faust on marriage as less the fulfillment of “emotional needs” and more an institution for producing and socializing children… While not especially romantic, this vision of marriage seems more sustainable and historically grounded.
Three Principles of Marriage, Matthew O. Richardson: Oh dear, another flagrant misreading of the Genesis story, this time showing Adam and Eve as the original nuclear (read post-industrial, modern) family. Listen, I don’t mind you giving advice about marriage–your advice might even be quite sensible–just don’t tell me that you’re getting it from the scriptures ! But I know, I know: we’re to liken the scriptures to ourselves, and more and more I’m realizing that this is inevitably an act of (preferably inspired) misreading. Maybe I’ll eventually get used to it.
The Wedding Reception, Martha P. Taysom: Hey, a poem! Whatever its quality, I’m glad to see it here, and I’ll happily forgive lines like “feverish brow” and “her smile beams.”
A Balanced Life, Brent L. Top: In which reasonable advice is given (mostly to women, it seems) on not driving ourselves fairly batty by multiplying our callings and hyper-scheduling our offspring. Good advice. I have to say, though, that the times of greatest creativity, emotion, vividness, and growth in my life have occurred when my life was profoundly out of balance: creativity demands excess, I think.
The Effective Elders Quorum, Dale E. Miller: Okay, all you elders, help me understand how the following quote from President Kimball relates to home teaching:
“The spirit of the times is worldliness. … But the Lord has offered an old program in a new dress, and it gives promise to return the world to sane living, to true family life, to family interdependence. It is to return the father to his rightful place at the head of the family, to bring mother home from social life and employment, the children from near-total fun and frolic. The Home Teaching Program with its crowning activity, the Family Home Evening , will neutralize the ill effects if people will only apply the remedy.”
I like my home teachers and all, but I can safely say that their visits bear absolutely no resemblance to this quote. Am I missing something?