This month’s Friend

It’s easy for me to be catty about the Friend (and the New Era more so). Mostly it’s all those happy shiny Utah kids and stories about baseball mitts that stick in my craw. Next to my son’s bed is an Anglo-American cultural dictionary to aid with the translation. (Yes, I am grumpy. Please ignore me.)

Still, credit where credit’s due. This month’s Friend has some interesting stuff in it. First up is a story about a Mormon lad from Scotland. There are a few bugs (note that young John apparently pays his tithing in US dollars), but the story rises above the token non-American fare for a couple of reasons. It’s not made explicit, but it appears that John does not live with his father (or at the very least, his father is not a Mormon). Also, we learn that John’s mum suffers from depression. John’s is a happy family, but it’s not an airbrushed one.

F08J10-11.qxdI also thought that the magazine’s opening Joseph Smith cartoon went beyond what I’m used to from the Friend (disclosure: I don’t read it that often). We learn about Lucy Mack and Joseph Sr’s religiosity and Joseph Sr’s tree of life dream. Given that the father’s dream is believed by some to have been copied into the Book of Mormon,* this is a rather confident move. Naturally, the Friend uses the vision positively: “Joseph’s father was also religious. Several years before his son’s vision, he had visions preparing him to receive the truth. He saw a vision like Lehi and Nephi saw.”

Overall, an interesting issue. Good work, IRI.


*Brodie p. 58: “In his first chapters Joseph borrowed from his own family traditions…Lehi, father of the hero Nephi, was made to have a vision that paralleled the dream of Joseph’s father in minute detail.”

Counter argument: Griggs.

I personally wonder how far Lucy mixed her recollections of her husband’s dreams with later Mormon themes. She was, after all, writing many years later.


  1. Eric Russell says:

    I’ve heard about Joseph Smith Sr.’s vision my whole life; I don’t think it’s something the church has ever shied away from because of Brodie.

  2. What’s fascinating for me about that vision is that it’s not even clear really whether Lucy was misremembering Lehi and projecting him back on her dead husband. She had a lot of trouble keeping things straight, particularly keeping sacred history separate from her family history. Though such a dream would not be out of place in Joseph Sr’s life, and I don’t have a problem with it having happened as Lucy remembered, my gut instinct is that the more probable explanation is that she is incorrect in her reminiscence. She did, after all, have an ulterior motive in giving JSS this dream: she was attempting at that point to reinforce that the Restoration could have come through no other family on earth.

    and I promise not to read the magazine, but I’m glad it was better than usual.

  3. Ronan, should all articles in the Friend always reflect the minority PoV to get your approval? I come from a broken home–and depression/anxiety is a monkey that myself and most of siblings carry on our backs relentlessly. But to get annoyed at the fact that most articles convey a more stable home-like atmosphere is about as petty as a southern-californian getting bent out of shape because most christmas specials are set in the wintery north.

  4. …though I do enjoy a departure from the “norm” now and again. So I’m with you so far as that goes.

  5. ronan, c’mon over to the beginnings new blog and flame about the New Era too.

  6. I’m with Jack on this one.

  7. Cheryl and Jack,

    I told you to ignore me. You should have done so. But to answer your question — “should all articles in the Friend always reflect the minority PoV to get your approval” — of course not. No-one needs my lame approval. But consider this: the story of a non-American boy with a mum who suffers from depression probably does not represent a minority experience in the church. I suggest that it’s quite common, in fact. It’s a good Friend this month because it attempts to reflect the church as it is. I see nothing petty in being happy about that.


    I tend to agree with your analysis.


    I wonder if yours is a common experience. It’s a pretty common anti-Mormon shtick, though, so I’m glad church magazines didn’t let that worry them.

  8. jeans,
    I will blog on the New Era when my boy turns 12. That’ll be in four years. By then blogs will be dead and we will be communicating as VR Second Life-esque avatars.

  9. Actually, I don’t think there is anything unusual in the portrayal of the family you describe in the Friend. It’s a monthly feature, and children from all over the world in a variety of types of families are portrayed.

    What’s interesting to me is that my children have no interest at all in these features and only want to read the short fiction about the girl that got in a fight with her friend, or the boy that is grounded for not cleaning his room, or the girl that got lost coming home from school and prayed and then found her way, etc.

  10. Well perhaps I read too much into your post, but I don’t think I would characterize most mormon homes as broken and depressed–at least not the active ones, that is.

  11. E,
    Interesting. Perhaps we should get our kids to review it!

    As I said, I don’t read the Friend very often. What struck me was not the fact that the kid is Scottish but the thing about the depression and the virtual non-appearance of his dad (he’s mentioned, but not in a home or church setting; you would have to read the article to see what I mean). Maybe this is par for the course.

  12. I would [not] characterize most mormon homes as broken and depressed

    Good grief, mate. That’s one way to say it, but the fact that his mum struggles with depression does not mean his home is “depressed” or “broken.” It’s an uplifting story.

    Forms of depression are very common in the church. There are also many single parents in Zion. In my English ward, I’d say about half of the families are “unconventional” and I am frequently counselling people with emotional problems. Given that the Friend is also written for their children, are you claiming that the Friend should only tell their stories as token gestures towards a outlying (“depressed and broken”) minority? Sorry mate but you and I live on different planets. I’m happy that the January 2008 Friend lives on mine. Don’t worry, hopefully normal (shiny happy perfect) service will soon resume.

  13. Well, geeze. Don’t write it if you want it ignored. ;)

    Fwiw– I suffer from PPD (three times now –luckily not with the 2nd kid) and it lingers. But I still consider my home “shiny and happy”. What’s wrong with a shiny and happy home? Is it safe to assume that your answer would be ‘as long as the Church sees that not all homes are like this and create a wider demographic of truth to their writings’? As you can see, they are doing that. But I don’t think it’s a token thing, either.

    I just don’t think it’s fair to ridicule a great children’s magazine, which is trying to teach LDS doctrine to children of LDS faith for doing what it actually says it’s is doing.

    But I’ve been through this before, and so maybe I should stop while I’m ahead. Or behind. Something, anyway…So, my apologies. You may ignore me as well. ;)

  14. P.S. To clarify, I don’t think you’re necessarily “ridiculing” the Friend –I mean, that’s not fair of me. You’re actually complimenting it in your post (even if it is only one issue).

  15. Ronan, sorry, I’m getting nit-picky here, but your original post says something about the the boy not living with his father. In my estimation *that* infers a broken home not the mentioning of his mother’s depression.

    That said, I can see where I may have gone over-board by assuming that because the mother suffers from depression the home-like atmosphere must be depressed as well.

  16. …as cheryl has shone–that a depressed parent can keep his/her home alive and vibrant.

  17. …er, “shown”

  18. a depressed parent can keep his/her home alive and vibrant

    Well yeah, Jack. Obviously. Stop tripping over “shiny happy.” It’s called hyperbole (cf REM). The Friend highlights a happy family that has had to deal with a few difficulties. This is good. My irritation is directed towards your suggestion that somehow these people are somehow anomalies.

    You are right. I am certainly not ridiculing the Friend. I thought I was saying something positive about it. Normally it feels like a very foreign presence in our British home. I was happy to see that baseball mitts and other Americana aside, the Friend did well this month. I am sure it was good in December and will be wonderful in February too. Certainly, I’m going to take it more seriously in the future. That’s an admission of guilt by me and a compliment to church magazines, btw.

  19. Ronan, since it is easy for you to be catty about The Friend, I am wondering what ideal LDS magazines for children and teens would look like in your eyes? Minature Sunstones and Dialogues? I am really curious. I appreciate your praise for this issue but what would you like to see consistently? I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to put together a magazine for a population so diverse as the world-wide LDS youth and make it appealing to all while being faith-promoting and positive consistently.

    I too have heard about the JS senior vision in seminary and probably before. It was related to me as a positive thing. So I don’t believe that it is something to be hidden.

  20. :)

  21. This is a great example of how certain issues bring out certain reactions almost regardless of what actually is written or said. Cheryl and Jack, I don’t mean that as a “criticism” of you; truly, I don’t. It’s just a hazard of internet communication and our tendency to extrapolate – which, ironically, also is one of the strengths of internet communication.

    Ronan, I am very happy about the direction the Church magazines seem to be taking with regard to “non-ideal” stories and controversial issues – and I also am grateful for the increasing treatment of saints around the world. (I look forward to the day when there is no hint whatsoever that these stories are about “other” saints in “their” counties and cultures, and I think we are headed in that direction, at least.) I think the articles you highlight are a good example of this.

  22. btw Ronan, thank you for bringing my attention to this article. Oh, it brought back great memories of when I was a missionary in Glenrothes. LONG before this family joined the Church, though.

  23. Apparently every single member of the church learned about the Joseph Smith Sr. dream during the church history year throughout primary, seminary, institute and on into their gospel doctrine lessons. Perhaps the knowledge flows from mother’s milk to those born in the covenant. Apparently, I am the only person who discovered this information for the first time after fifteen years of faithful membership and had it throw them for a loop.

    God, I must be stupid. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention when it came up in the missionary lessons.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    I haven’t seen a Friend for many years, but I find interesting your note that they talked about one of the JS Sr. dreams. To me that’s showing pretty significant confidence, which is a good thing. I’m reasonably confident that no more than 10% of the adult members of my fairly upscale American ward has the first notion of Joseph’s father having had religious dreams.

  25. I guess so, Ann.

  26. I am wondering what ideal LDS magazines for children and teens would look like in your eyes? Minature Sunstones and Dialogues?

    See, Darrell, now you’re being catty. (No bad thing necessarily. I like being catty.) But it’s unfortunate that any slight criticism of a church programme or publication is taken to mean that I want something edgy for my boys to read during sacrament meeting. Come now.

    I thought I just praised an issue of the Friend and would be happy to see more like it. (Note: maybe they’re all like this: I confess I’m not an avid reader.)

    Mostly I wish you Americans could see how foreign the magazine looks to non-American children. I understand that economies of scale mean that there is only one English-language curriculum in the church. Still, the Millennial Star was published in England until 1970.

    Anyway, this conversation — based on a positive review of the Friend — has taken a bizarre turn. On to JSS’s dreams…

    (Ann, I agree that this is not well-known information and could be quite difficult for some. But look — it’s here in the Friend this month!!)

  27. I too was glad to see the cartoon that mentioned Joseph Smith Sr.’s dream. To me, the possibilities are: 1) JSJ took the tree of life story straight from the golden plates. 2) JSJ recalled the tree of life story from his father’s dream (or other source; it’s an archetypal story that appears in several cultures, right?) and wove it into the Book of Mormon. 3) Lucy knew the tree of life story from reading the Book of Mormon, and later wrote it into her husband’s early visions. Perhaps a combination of all three? I’m okay with any explanation; I just appreciate that the story made it into the Book of Mormon. (Otherwise, what name would we use for “iron rod saints”?!)

    However, I’m genuinely curious about one thing. Does Lucy’s history show a pattern of interpreting earlier events through subsequent events, mixing Mormon themes with family history, etc.? If so, fine. But if not, claiming that she must have done so with the tree of life seems an easy way to dismiss virtually any piece of history: you can always just say that the writer is mixing things up. Can someone help me understand?

  28. Ann, I learned about the dreams about a year into my own conversion to Mormon theism, as I was reading the Lucy memoir. I found it very disorienting and frustrating at the time. Incidentally, JSS’s seeker dreams would likely make milk taste a little funny. I’d recommend exactly what the Friend is doing, integrating an awareness of the religious world of the Smith family a bit at a time in youth.

  29. Peter LLC says:

    Tsk, Jack, I’m surprised at you. Here’s someone who found something wrong with the western world and you’re having nothing of it.

  30. Ronan, I didn’t really mean to be catty and, after thinking about it, was afraid that it may have appeared so.

    I do recognize a shift in the church magazines and welcome it. I hope it continues.

  31. Joanne, Lucy was a curious woman (both meanings intended). When she was dictating the memoir, she was a willing pawn in a power struggle between the Smith family and the main branch of the church. My reason for skepticism is that we actually have something of a corpus for JSS, and he never mentions that dream. Nor did JSJ, even though he expended considerable energy in confirming that he was meant to be a Joseph ben Joseph, that his genealogy was sacred. So for a story to appear suddenly in the midst of the memoir of a grief-stricken widow/mother struggling valiantly to confirm that her family was indeed central to any possible Mormonism makes me pause in accepting it.

    Now if Lucy or JSS or JSJ or someone else had recorded, discussed, or mentioned such a dream at an earlier point or in another context, I’d be more impressed.

    Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if JSS had such a dream, and it would be fairly straightforward to integrate into a revelatory account of the BoM. I just don’t find the sole account all that persuasive historically.

  32. Hey Ronan,

    I posted on this very topic on my blog last night! Great minds think alike!


    P.S. Why miss a perfectly good opportunity for a shameless plug? Here’s the link:

  33. hmmm… the way that got formatted is really annoying.

  34. Marjorie Conder says:

    Back to the original issue about the Friend magazine. As an almost lifetime reader–and longer than a lot of you have been alive, I would just like to say that this is mostly much ado about not very much. Do a ten year or so content analysis of these “day in a life of–” stories. They have been from most everywhere there are Latter-day Saints. I seem to recall quite a few examples where only one parent was a member. There have been single parents and even (reading between the lines) I think one kid from somewhere in So. America who was living with his mom and his parents had never been married. I think this effort at realism is hardly new, maybe some of you are just new to the Friend.

    I think the Friend is for the most part very aware of childhood developmental issues and how children learn and the vast variety of circumstances children live in. They are also very vested in the “truth”, there is almost never any total fiction anymore. Anyway, I mostly think the Friend is doing a good job with huge challenges–cross cultural and all.

  35. I really like these cartoons in the friend, I’ve been cutting them out each month and putting them in a binder for my kids as a good sunday story for them.

    I also was pretty interested in the Friend this month, with the Dream, as it was fairly new to me (I read about it in Brant Gardner’s Book of Mormon Commentary.) My take was much like Sam MB’s. I wonder if Lucy was misremembering and drawing on Lehi as a source for Joseph Smith Sr.

  36. Re: #18. Ronan,

    I don’t think they’re anomalies–but they are a minority. And you’re right, it’s a positive article. I just get tired of people trashing the status quo when they’re the freaking backbone of the church.

    Peter LLC,

    I love the west in spite of it’s fascination with promiscuity. (Sorry folks. Peter was referring to a comment I made on another thread) What I don’t like about it is when we lie to ourselves about our permissiveness. I mean, even here on a Mormon blog we don’t seem to feel the slightest compunction about a “cross-threading.” ;>)

  37. SC Taysom says:

    Ronan, given the strength of the dollar right now, the bloke would be foolish to pay his tithes in pounds.

  38. SC Taysom,
    That, sir, is a wonderful idea.

  39. Jack, all,

    If, as we’ve noted, a depressed parent can run a happy home, it is also true in spades that a single parent can do so. “Broken home” is an insulting and useless shorthand–there are plenty of broken homes, but knowing the marital status of the parents does not give enough information to know whether a given home fits that category.

  40. Kristine, as someone who hails from a home well-broken, I can certify it was much less broke when my mom was running it alone.

  41. Oh Boy, I keep digging myself in deeper and deeper, don’t I? Kristine, I agree that merely saying “broken home” doesn’t indicate the precise circumstances of the household relative to the occupants’ happiness or “un.” And I suppose I should have used a more “PC” shorthand, but lets not kid ourselves. The vast majority of children brought up in homes that have experienced separation or divorce are going to pay for it dearly at some point in their lives.

    Now, certainly, a single parent can do much to mitigate the difficulties that children of divorce are likely to experience–and I have the deepest sympathy and respect for those who are struggling to do so. I, for one, have many happy childhood memories because of my mother’s efforts despite the difficulties caused by divorce. But nevertheless, in my case, as in most, the those difficulties finally took complete hold and I–along with most of my siblings–have been paying for it one way or another.

    That said, I apologize if I’ve been insensitive to anyone caught in similar circumstances–that wasn’t my intent. But even so, I’d hope that the tolerance expected of me might be reciprocated just a little toward my loudness on the subject. The one thing I’ve done right in my life is my marriage. The biggest reason for that is because my wife is infinitely patient. But there’s another reason: it’s because the fires of anguish over the loss of a parent never cease to burn within me–and come whatever that inextinguishable flame will keep me in constant vigilance. So long as I have breath I will never walk away from my family.

    Ronan, sorry for overreacting to your post. As you can see, this subject is a bit of a hot button for me.

  42. “The vast majority of children brought up in homes that have experienced separation or divorce are going to pay for it dearly at some point in their lives.”

    Children pay dearly for their parents’ faults and mistakes, whether or not they lead to divorce. Divorce is certainly the most public of parental failures that affect children, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that it is necessarily the most serious.

  43. Sam,

    I think we have to be candid that the Smiths were a visionary lot. This dream does not seem out of place given what neighbors, other Church members, and other family members wrote about the Smiths and their proclivities. Whom else but a beloved spouse can be trusted to tell us about a dream, for goodness sakes? The principle of testimony would lead me to believe that Joseph Sr. recounted this at one point to Lucy. It doesn’t help the case for the Book of Mormon’s translated authenticity for her to be telling this, and shoring up her son’s story must be one of her central considerations, don’t you think?

  44. What does IRI have to do with the content of the Friend magazine? Isn’t it just a corporation set up to hold the church’s intellectual property?

  45. But consider this: the story of a non-American boy with a mum who suffers from depression probably does not represent a minority experience in the church. I suggest that it’s quite common, in fact.

    Something can be common yet be in the minority. My suspicion is that this example is something common yet a distinct minority. (Well, untreated depression anyway) Of course minority could make up 30 – 40%. (Although I’d be very surprised were it that high)

  46. Apparently every single member of the church learned about the Joseph Smith Sr. dream during the church history year throughout primary, seminary, institute and on into their gospel doctrine lessons. Perhaps the knowledge flows from mother’s milk to those born in the covenant. Apparently, I am the only person who discovered this information for the first time after fifteen years of faithful membership and had it throw them for a loop.

    It’s pretty prominent in the history of Joseph Smith by his mother which is (arguably) the most read of all the histories of Joseph Smith. Most people I know have a copy. (I don’t, for the record, although now I feel bad about not) I’ve heard it discussed in institute and so forth and have heard it in Church. I don’t think it commonly discussed and so am hardly shocked that there are a lot of people out there who haven’t heard it. But then it’s not the sort of thing one expects to be a focus of lessons either. (Is it mentioned in the new Joseph Smith manual?

    Truman G. Madsen discussed it as I recall in the tremendously popular Joseph Smith lectures (on tape and worth listening too) and presumably in the book made about the tapes.

    It’s an interesting story although as Sam notes the nature of Lucy Mack Smith’s telling may be problematic.

  47. Mark: My answer to your question would be that the content of the Friend and other Church magazines is copyrighted. That copyright is, of course, part of the Church’s intellectual property and is, for that reason, held by Intellectual Reserve.

  48. Clark: Just looking at the index, I don’t see that story in the new manual. I have heard it before though.

  49. Yeah, MCQ. But IRI doesn’t produce the magazines. It just holds the copyrights.

  50. FWIW, The Friend several years ago went to a no-fiction format. All stories you read in the Friend are those submitted by members (and yes, they check to see that writers are members) and must be at least “based” in a true event.

    So, if you want to have more multi-cultural stories…

    Write ’em.

    I’ve had one published and a second accepted. Both are true stories from our own family experiences. They would probably suffer from the same critique (not Utah, but Colorado; white two-parent family), but they still reflect “our” experience with the gospel.

  51. “Children pay dearly for their parents’ faults and mistakes, whether or not they lead to divorce. Divorce is certainly the most public of parental failures that affect children, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that it is necessarily the most serious.”

    Yes, there are other incredibly destructive abuses that many children suffer at the hand of their parents. I don’t think anyone will dispute that. However, I think what many folks fail understand is that divorce, from a child’s perspective, can feel like the death of a loved one. And what’s more, children, in many instances, feel responsible for the loss. Because what they process in their little heads is the idea that the parent didn’t love them enough to stay–and that, in turn, is interpreted by the child to mean the he/she isn’t lovable. It’s a double whammy! It’s an horrific burden for many children, twisting their little psyches into knots that will require more than a life time to undo.

  52. Regarding the shiny-happy Utah-centeredness of the Church Magazines, remember that these are magazines produced by professional Church employees (meaning, PAID) who live in Utah. They have probably lived in Utah most of their lives. This is what they know best.

    If the Church magazines had a higher percentage of their editorial staff based in places like Texas, California, North Carolina, and Germany (for instance), they would look like different.

  53. Both the cartoons and the “real live kids” features have been there for the whole time I’ve been teaching Primary, plus a bit longer — I use the Russian Friend stuff (in the Liahona) to practice my language skills, and I think all the online Liahonas have at least the true life stuff. I love printing out the cartoons in Russian and translating them back, especially when the story is about something like yoking oxen or fishing (things my Russian textbooks never really talk about.)

    Personally I wish they’d bring back some fiction, if only because the “true life” stuff is so simplified that the kids in my class are forever asking “did that REALLY happen??” Apparently it’s a thing with the 7-to-9-year-old set: they also have low tolerance for repeated stories, which is sad because the younger groups really love hearing the same story again and again (and again and again.) You wouldn’t believe the grief I got last year, when they realized that we were using the same lesson manual as they had had two years before. Anyway, these kids are happier when I use examples that are obviously fictional (Star Wars characters, for example) than stories that don’t have last names or big words that need definitions. Though nothing is worse than a story they’ve heard before that lacks both last names and big words. There are a handful of stories I just know not to use anymore — or I have to go hunt down the original, if it’s an adaptation from a General Conference address.

    (And I don’t remember being like that at 8. I liked fairy tales back then, and didn’t mind moral-improvement stories with sketchy details. I will arbitrarily blame TV for this shift, for it is loud, flashy, and omnipresent.)

    Oh, and yay for people being different in churchy magazines. So long as it doesn’t look like someone ordered up a “portrait of LDS youth, 57.8% of which were born outside of the United States” for the sake of being “representative.”

  54. Kris Larsen says:

    Ronan, I feel your pain. Here in Netherlands, the school my son attends uses a mixture of American and British and Dutch materials in the curriculum. My son is learning to read using “The Village with Three Corners”- quite British. In the course of this past year I’ve had to explain: what Christmas crackers are (I bought some last year), Bonfire night, “puddings”, translate “aubergines”, for telling time who uses “hands” and who uses “fingers”, what “bum” means to an American, why you don’t call somebody from Scotland, Wales, NI – “from England”, being mystified by jokes about Cardiff, explain that “deep south” means something altogether different to an Brit than it does to me – born & raised in the southern US. My kids are more familiar with CBeebies than PBS and with Postman Pat than with Elmo. The oldest one is also familiar with the difference between BBC1 and BBC2.

    But feel sorry for all of the non-US kids when it comes time to learn to count using money by using pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Half of the kids in the class have never seen one in real life let alone used one in any sort of financial transaction. When we go back to the states I will have to have a serious talk with our kids about “Zwarte Piet” (which they love) and why he is not ok. Ah, different cultures…

  55. Kris Larsen says:

    #54 “But I feel sorry…”

    typing faster than proofing

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