I served my mission from 1977 to 1979 (in that most exotic of lands, Colorado), and I did not yet know Dialogue existed. But my mission was the beginning of my education in Mormonism. Each apartment had huge stacks of old, dusty copies of the Ensign, which most elders ignored, but I would systematically go through them and read the meaty stuff in the back issues. (There actually was some fairly meaty stuff back in those days, believe it or not.) Then I got turned on to Nibley, and from there I found scholarship (and the study of languages in general), and I was hooked. Most missionaries just stop studying when they come home, but I never stopped.
Winter semester of 1980 I was back at BYU, and it was then that I first encountered Dialogue. I had gained an interest in Book of Abraham studies, and one day I was walking through the BYU Bookstore when I noticed a magazine with an orange-colored cover featuring a representation of the Church Historian’s drawing of Facsimile 2. [This was the issue with Ed Ashment’s analysis of the facsimiles in it, and I purchased a copy: my very first purchase of one of the independent journals.] It was something called “Sunstone,” which I had never heard of before. And as I continued to peruse the display, I found something else, called “Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.” So I discovered Sunstone and Dialogue simultaneously. I browsed through these issues and was intrigued. It’s hard to believe now the prominence given those journals on the large wall display. Today if you want to find Dialogue in the BYU Bookstore, you have to know in advance just where to look or you’ll never see it. There will be a couple of issues located on the bottom right shelf of the General Religion aisle (as you face west).
Some time later I was in Grandpa’s Books on Seventh East and I found a used copy of the Summer 1968 issue largely devoted to translations of the Book of Breathings. I wanted to buy it, but when I checked the price it was $8.00! As a very poor college student I thought that was a scandal, and my effort to negotiate the price with “Grandpa” was in vain, so I went to the library and just copied the articles I wanted. I did it on legal size paper and put them in a spiral binder with construction paper covers; I still have this in the hutch in my pantry.
Although I started reading Dialogue as a BYU undergrad, my exposure to the journal really began in earnest when I started law school at the University of Illinois. Our student ward met in the institute building, and the institute library had a substantial collection of both Dialogue and Sunstone (this was before subscriptions to those journals became verboten for institutes to carry). So I was able to read a lot of back issues that way. Then I discovered the complete collection of Dialogue deep in the bowles of the graduate library. I was used to the bright, cheery atmosphere of the BYU library, with lots of seating, but this was a much more gothic experience, a surprisingly dark, cavernous collection, with nothing but concrete floor in the aisle to sit on. I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor on one of the lower levels of the library skimming and reading Dialogue from the very beginning (this habit of reading the entire run of a journal is something I picked up from Nibley, and it’s a great practice; I recommend it.)
It wouldn’t be until I graduated and got my first real job (in Chicago) in 1985 that I would actually purchase my own subscription. (I started at $35,000, which seemed like all the money in the world at the time.) And I’ve subscribed and read the journal ever since.
I think it is safe to say that I would have lost my faith a long time ago but for Dialogue and the other independent journals. I was bright enough to see contradictions and perplexing detail where most of my Church friends saw nothing but sunniness and fluffy kittens. And if I had had to face these travails alone, I’m sure I would have reached the conclusion that the Church was full of it a long time ago. But I wasn’t alone; a lot of people had thought of and wrestled with these issues long before they had occurred to me. And I didn’t need pat answers; just knowing that there were smart Mormons who cared and were engaged enought to think and talk about these things was all that I really needed.
And so I raise a glass to you, Dialogue, and toast your long history and wish you well for the future. Just knowing that there are so many people so passionate about the study of Mormonism makes it all incredibly fun and interesting to me.