In January, when my co-blogger Ronan wondered why, in a worldwide church, we have so many stories about baseball and the lessons learned from hoeing sugar beets in the church magazines, some of us essentially told him shut up and quit kvetching. Now the March Ensign contains a small but fascinating anomaly. On pages 78-79, in the Latter-day Voices section, we read a well-written story called The Savior’s Saving Hand. It is an account of a man who nearly drowned but who was rescued at the last minute, and who, later in life, finds himself drowning in sin and is rescued by the Redeemer. Many of us have similar experiences. The story is accompanied by an illustration depicting a swimmer in distress, a hand reaching towards him from a boat, and in the background, some beautiful purple and gold desert cliffs, stark and barren of vegetation. It looks like either Lake Powell in Utah, or Lake Mead in Nevada. But the story takes place in Sardis, Mississippi. Which one of these is not like the others?
I’m not sure this detail matters all that much. He was drowning, he was rescued, who cares what the scenery looks like? True enough. But then, why illustrate the story at all? And if you are going to illustrate it, isn’t it just as easy to paint loblolly pines and deciduous trees on a gentle slope to the water’s edge as it is to paint cliffs in a Southwestern desert? We can speculate on how this came about, although it would probably be pointless to do so. I’m sure there is an innocuous reason why the editors of the Ensign decided to make the area around Tupelo, MS look like Bullfrog, UT. It is certainly no skin off my nose.
However, if I were the president of the chamber of commerce in Sardis, it would bother me. If I were the owner of a marina on that lake who spent money advertising, it would bother me. We all get to decide if something bothers us or not, and our answer depends on our perspective. If I told the owner of Sardis marina to quit complaining over such a trivial detail, he might be tempted to ask me to step outside.
Last year when The Mormons was on PBS, many of us disliked it. We took strong exception, for instance, to the the way Whitney depicted the configuration of chairs in the stake disciplinary council. It didn’t fit into our lived experience, so we took that as conclusive proof of her malevolent intentions and willingness to stretch the truth, even lie, in order to take a shot at our religion. Do we realize that somebody in Mississippi right now might be thinking: THE ENSIGN LIES!!!, with at least a little justification?
Although it is impossible to get away from our cultural milieu, we can at least try to be aware of it. We interpret our experiences through that filter, and we can be charitable when others do the same. We can also assert our interpretations with a measure of humility. When we get a detail like this wrong in the current month, don’t we need to be careful about the way we think about Joseph and Emma Smith, not to mention Lamanites and Nephites?