Mormon Studies “auf Mish”!

My title is borrowed from Ronan, I hope he does not mind me plagiarising.  Following a brilliant post at JI on Nibley, I was talking to some Missionaries the other day about their Mission reading habits and rules (they apparently have quite strict guidelines in this Mission) and it reminded me of the time and money (photocopies are not cheap) I spent trying to gather everything I could find about the Church.  Yet, apart from Ensigns and the odd mimeographed essay from yester-year, pretty much everything I read was from either Truman Madsen and/or FARMS.

In fact, it was narrower than that, it was pretty much all Nibley and Madsen.  I wonder how this happened.  Limited by internet access and ignorance we read only what was sent and circulated.  My question now is: did no one send Sunstone or Dialogue to Missionaries?  Does no one send England or Bennion?  I am curious regarding how FARMS (i.e. Nibley) and Madsen have cornered the market on Missionary extra-curricular reading.  I say extra-curricular because I think Talmage, Fielding Smith and McConkie are the mainstays of the authorised curriculum for most Mormon missionaries.

I would guess that for many the missionary years are the only time that people really read and delve into the doctrine and history of the Church.  I can imagine the positive impact that reading these things “auf mish” would have had on me and I suspect that the same could be said of many others.  I even think it might benefit the Missionary programme and even the Church if a wider variety of articles and/or writers were circulated through the Black Market of the Missionary office.  Is my experience warped?  Perhaps everyone else read England and Sunstone and Dialogue and just did not tell me! 

I remember sitting on a couch in Waterford, two months into my mission and reading ‘Zeal without Knowledge’ for companionship study.  It was a fairly important moment in my Church life.  I was changed by that experience and will forever love Nibley’s critique of Mormonism (I even read it with the girl I would later marry while we were dating – yes it was that important to me!!).

I am convinced that some of the things written in Dialogue and Sunstone could benefit the Elders and Sisters currently serving the Church.  Therefore, send your friends, loved ones and associates articles which have inspired or change you.  Send them an MP3 Sunstone session or even the Richard Bushman interviews from Mormon Stories.  Send them a blog post or two, but try and do it hard-copy.  There was something fantastic about sacrificing clothes for want of space because of the extra books and ‘talk’ folders that now filled your suitcase.  It was that moment when certain gospel ideas became real, that moment when Nibley was more important to you than that beautiful QPR football shirt.

Was your experience different?  What did you read on your Mission?


  1. Peter LLC says:

    Perhaps everyone else read England and Sunstone and Dialogue and just not tell me!

    Or more likely the schwarz missionaries just listened to music and watched TV without telling you.

  2. McConkie was definitely not on our list of approved readings (thank goodness). Talmage was (along with Articles of Faith, etc.)
    We had a very short “approved reading” list.

  3. Aaron R. says:

    Peter, your bringing back painful childhood memories of not being included in the ‘cool’ crowd.

    Tim, I think most approved lists are short, though I suspect that there is a wider list that is considered tolerable. GA’s (i.e. McConkie) are usually on that ‘unwritten’ list.

  4. Like you, I really became fascinating with studying church doctrine while on my mission; I remember being totally psyched when I finally got ‘Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.’ My reading never extended beyond books with the Deseret Book stamp on the spine, though. (Until near the end of my mission when I read–by sheer chance, actually–Tom Alexander’s bio of Woodruff, which was my first exposure to academic writings on Mormonism and I have been hooked ever since.) When Preach my Gospel came out, our Mission President really cracked down on the rules and said we couldn’t read anything outside of the newly condensed mission library: Jesus the Christ, Our Search for Happiness, True to the Faith, and Our Heritage.

    Besides Nibley and Madsen (who were present, but not a major force in my mission), I’m ashamed to say that Skousen’s doctrinal stuff was the rage of the mission. Everyone had a tape recording of his miracles talk, and everyone passed around photocopies of his writings. Really sad to reflect back on, actually.

  5. Last memory: I still have (stashed away somewhere) my big binder from my mission that contained all the ‘deep doctrine’ papers passed around and collected. You know, the essentials: Joseph Smith saying the lost tribes were on a star, the Adam-God doctrine, etc…

  6. Chris Henrichsen says:

    I like the idea of missionaries reading Lowell Bennion. His argument that love and service are central to the gospel would be of great benefit.

    How about some some Teryl Givens?

  7. Reading Since Cumorah piqued my interest in ancient studies which directly influenced my later education and career.

    We should compile a reading list for missionaries, starting with Zeal without Knowledge.

  8. Aaron R. says:

    Thanks Ben for sharing. Aside from Skousen’s ‘Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement’ he was not that popular.

    I think Terryl Givens would be great. I love his article on Dialogic Revelation in JBMS.

    To add to that compilation, I would be keen to send some stuff on Baseball Baptism’s. Recently I have seen a lot of emphasis on baptising people v. quickly, which concerns me.

  9. I was in Mexico, and without family who were members of the Church (as well as no idea where to start), my exposure to more academic or critical work was extremely limited. The things that we could acquire and read with approval in my mission were limited to what was available to the members in Spanish from the mail-order LDS bookstore in Mexico City. In addition to the standard Missionary Library, about halfway through my mission I acquired a three-volume copy of JFS’s Doctrine of Salvation in Spanish. I ate it up at the time (like that first new meal of a starving man), but realized with embarrassment in retrospect how tendentious a summary of doctrine it was. There were of course some of the standard mimeographs that got passed around among missionaries. I do not think I ever got one of these for myself, but I read some other missionaries’ copies. I vaguely remember one being a script of a mock court case defending the Gospel or the Book of Mormon, but not much else.

  10. My dad sent me a few Sunstone and Dialogue articles he felt might pertain to me. It never occurred to me to pass these on–I don’t know of any sisters who collected articles or had binders of talks. Elders are weird.

    My approved reading list was so small (scriptures, missionary guide, letters from home) that I read the Bible Dictionary through several times. That was my McConkie, I guess.

    FWIW–I have printed out and sent on blog posts to younger siblings on missions regularly.

  11. Aaron R. says:

    AHLDuke, I think your comment reflects an ethno-centrism in my post that is telling. Thank you for your comment. It reminded me of a post I read recently at T&S which observes that the Church has not and does not really provide for other cultures in the same way it does for the English-speaking world.

  12. recent RM says:

    #1 Probably true! Obedient missionaries read only Preach my Gospel, and those not as obedient don’t read anything.

    The newest White Bible (Missionary Handbook) states that one is allowed to study only Scriptures, PMG, Ensign/Liahona and four ohter books, namely Our Heritage, Jesus the Christ, Our search for happiness and True to the faith.
    Then there is another rule about “reading.” It says one is not allowed to read books or magazines that are not published by Church. There are not too many books that ARE published by Church. Those you can read, but not on your study time (that’s how I interpreted it).
    I surved in Sweden, we did read some other stuff too:
    Skousen’s Atonement-talk, McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, we listened Madsen tapes and S. Michael Wilcox’ talks. But that was pretty much it. And according to rules we shouldn’t…

  13. Aaron R. says:

    ‘Elders are Weird!’ Agreed.

    I wonder whether this is just a male thing… What sunstone or dialogue articles did he send you?

  14. The only (slightly) unusual stuff I read on my mission:
    Madsen’s JS bio was the gift my mp gave us for Christmas.
    Steven Covey’s Spiritual Roots of Human Relations
    Dale Carnegie How to win friends
    Hyrum Smith (of Franklin Planners) He and my mp were comps on their mission so we all used Franklins and had several live seminars from HS himself.
    And a biography of Seb Coe I found in the flat.

    I don’t send too many talks out to missionaries in the field and only a few letters. I do however send a box of misc. supplies (candy, pens, etc.) to some of my old mission flats about once a year. It makes me feel good and I have received some very nice thank you cards.

  15. BTW – given this the eighties so we had a lot of “Talk Tapes” floating around. I remember one about Intensity on the mission where-in the guy and his comp carried clickers around with them to try and get 1000 contacts a week. Plus a lot of George Durrant stuff. I found a Durrant talk a few months ago and my oldest and I really enjoyed listening to it as we drove up for a Twinkies game.

  16. Latter-day Guy says:

    Strictly speaking, the approved book list includes:

    1. The Scriptures,
    2. PMG,
    3. Our Search for Happiness,
    4. Jesus the Christ,
    5. True to the Faith, and
    6. Our Heritage.

    That’s all, folks!

    Now, in practice, every MP has different guidelines based upon their those books God divinely sanctions by revelation (i.e., those books the MP happens to prefer). [Sorry… that was overly snarky.] I really didn’t have much to complain about since my MP was a perfectly reasonable fellow, and approved whatever books I asked about (within reason). I read RSR in the field, and loved it. Other standbys were: All things Nibley, The 7 Habits™ Cult Materials, the JS lectures by Madsen (not usually in book form, but whatever), Miracle of Forgiveness, The Peacegiver, etc. There was also a pretty hefty dose of Mormon Doctrine (or, as I like to call it, “Bruce’s Believe It Or Else!”) and Answers to Gospel Questions, but they burns us, preciousss!, so I wasn’t a huge fan.

    I suspect that Dialogue and Sunstone don’t get circulated among missionaries because they are chock full of damnable heresies (at least they’re perceived to be that way by many). Br. England, while wonderful, doesn’t really fit the preferred missionary tone: slightly confrontational, hard hitting, doctrinal smackdown stuff. Now, I’m not saying that is the Church’s preference, but––at least in my mission––it seemed to be the preference of 19 to 21-year-old young men with nametags. I suspect it has something to do with the military metaphors we employ when it comes to missionary work, as well as the fact that nuance and ambiguity are usually eschewed by missionaries in favor of a far more black and white Weltanschauung.

  17. On my mission, several missionaries, both elders and sisters, had binders of talks and circulated essays. I didn’t personally collect them, but I read a lot that my companions had. I recall an essay positing that the three wise men were Nephi, Lehi, and Samuel the Lamanite. There was also the requisite collection of what the missionaries referred to as “deep doctrine”. I came to realize from looking at the stuff that “deep doctrine” was code for “something some old general authority may have said that is either taken out of context, of questionable validity, or has been overruled”.

    A lot of the missionaries drank the stuff up because it was their first exposure to the kind of stuff you don’t hear in Sunday school. I didn’t really get into it mostly because I had an institute teacher who was really into the “deep doctrine” stuff and I learned rather quickly to always ask for verification of sources whenever something felt off to me. Also, I took religion classes in college (it was a requirement at the Catholic university I attended), so I had already been exposed to the idea of academic study of religion.

  18. Coffinberry says:

    Hm. I’ve got a missionary out now, and this is an interesting conversation to me. I remember his list of “approved reading” was very short(#12 has it right), so before he left I stacked some books beside his computer for him to read. He read all of Leadership for Saints, and portions of Prince’s DOM biography, portions of RSR, and portions of Lengthen Your Stride. Back in high school he read the Lundbergs I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better; and before he left he also read all of the Q’uran (and of course the BOM again). He also read something about Catholicism, and watched an anti-Mormon video (with his dad) that he got from the Baptist pastor down the street when he met with the pastor for his BSA Venturing Trust award. It just seemed to him (to us) to be more important that his reading focus on relating to people, rather than digging at deeper doctrine.

    When I do send him articles, they tend to be Spanish language materials out of old Liahona, especially tending toward how to teach effectively, and even more important, teaching the members how to teach. I did send him some stuff about baseball baptisms and the history of the Church in Chile, where he’s serving. He read it, it was useful tangentally, but what was more important to him was how to strengthen the members where he was, rather than fretting over how things got that way (other than to not repeat the problem).

    My observation, having seen letters from other missionaries currently in Chile, is that our young men need a bit broader cultural understanding and more patience… to be less quick to judge cultural things like drinking and pre-marital cohabitation.

  19. Aaron R. says:

    Coffinberry, I agree that having this focus is good for missionaries which is why I actually think that Sunstone/Dialogue are excellent sources in this regard. I think Nibley has his place (esp. Approaching ZIon) but I think certain essays by England (like ‘Means unto Repentance’, ‘Why the Church is True…’) would be really very valuable for Missionaries. These are things that aren’t expressed with clarity in the stuff I read but I wish I had read them when I was 19-21.

    TStevens, we mostly had talk tapes as well (I still ahve some) and I went 02-04. iPods/MP3 players had not really become commonplace. Interesting list btw…

    Keri, thanks for debunking the gendered weirdness of Missionaries. I think those experiences would have provided an interesting context to serve from. I never had that type of formal education in religious studies and so I was definitely one of those people who would have found ‘deep doctrine’ interesting though I remember learning early to ask for sources.

  20. Last Lemming says:

    I took the initial issue of Sunstone with me, which consisted almost entirely of the play “Fires of the Mind.” I shared it with my companions, some of whom loaned it to friends. I have no idea how many missionaries eventually read it. Probably not that many, however, because I actually got it back and still have it.

    This was all deep underground. Our “Standard Works” consisted of the Book of Mormon, the discussions, the handbook, and an outline of a talk delivered by McConkie to a mission conference a few months before I arrived. We were not even allowed to read the New Testament until we had been out a year. Seriously. My other big rebellion was reading “Spiritual Roots” while stuck in the Wohnung with a sick companion.

  21. I had already read RSR, some Margaret Barker and Nibley before my mission. While there, I saw plenty of Skousen talks passed around. I read them, but they annoyed me more than anything.

    I did read the Infinite Atonement by Callister while on my mission, and re-read The Miracle of Forgiveness. I also obtained and read all of the Teachings of Presidents of the Church priesthood manuals. I also had a NAB on me, and read through the Deuterocanon as part of my Bible reading. I think apart from some JW books (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived!”), that was pretty much the extent of my extra-curricular reading.

  22. My mp (Robert Garff of Garff motors for you Utah types) was very open to Gospel Study and reading outside the general list. He also had a program wherein missionaries would write papers about a variety of church subjects and then he would share them with the rest of the mission. I also read through the limited church libraries at the various wards I served in. I went through all the Kimball works/bios among other stuff.

    Not that I was, but if you happened to be a budding gospel scholar you couldn’t have had a better mp than Robert Garff. He was very encouraging towards all study.

    Other tapes included 17 points, conversion of a nun, Daniel Rona, and other selected talks. Our MP also gave out a tape of several talks as a mission gift one year. He favored Neal A. Maxwell as a speaker.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    My mission was the grammar school of my Mormon studies education. One advantage to serving stateside is that lots of material was readily available.

    I don’t think we had a rule limiting what we could read, or if we did, I ignored it. But I didn’t even know Dialogue and Sunstone existed; I wouldn’t find them until returning to BYU post-mish.

    We had a missionary reference library, which was a Deseret Book boxed set of paperbacks. IIRC, it had Gospel Doctrine, Discourses of Brigham Young, Jesus the Christ, Aritcles of Faith, Teachings, Doctrines of Salvation, Miracle of Forgiveness, and maybe Marvelous Work and a Wonder. I personally found that last title the most useful as a green missionary, although Teachings was fascinating. And I didn’t understand why people found Jesus the Christ difficult to read; it seemed straightforward to me.

    Every apartment had old, dusty stacks of Ensigns, and I made it a practice to read through them systematically. This was back in the days when there was more substance in the Ensign than there is today, and that was a bit of an education in itself.

    Hardly anyone read anything outside the scriptures on my mish. The custom at that time and place (Colorado, late 70s) was to listen to tapes. (This may have been fueled by the practice of giving each of us a tape of Hugh B. Brown’s A Profile of a Prophet as we were leaving the mission home in SLC.) It was common for missionaries ot have collections of tapes reaching into the hundreds; some even exceeded a thousand, which they would trade like baseball cards. Most of these were GA addresses. I never got into that at all.

    But there was another thing that was popular in my mission that I did get into: Einar Erickson taped lectures on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi Codices, distributed by the Simi Valley Stake Seventies Project. My instructor had a bunch of these, and the notion of “proving” the Gospel with this stuff was like catnip to a new and overmatched greenie. The one thing that I really absorbed from those tapes was his enthusiasm for learning, his passion for the subject. This is how I first gained an internal motivation to study and learn about the Gospel, and it is an enthusiasm that I retain to this day.

    But I soon graduated from those tapes in two respects. First, I found Nibley. (Ronan no. 7, Since Cumorah had the same effect on me as it did on you!) Second, contra most missionaries I began to read actual books. Nibley led me to non-LDS scholarship (stuff like Bezalel Porten’s The Archives from Elephantine). Pretty soon I had an entire trunk of books that I would schlep around on transfers; a whole mini-library.

    From Nibley I gained an interest in scriptural languages, and started to teach myself even as a missionary. I learned the alphabets and some theological vocabulary, using the Strong’s Concordance dictionaries, a JW interlinear and a Berlitz reader. I had an NIV, an Oxford annotated RSV, and a NEB.

    For history, I had the HC in a Deseret Book boxed paperback edition. I didn’t own it, but I borrowed and read The Story of the Latter-day Saints.

    And then the key was, when I came home I remained self-motivated to learn, read and study, so I just kept going and going and going, and never stopped reading and learning. And I find it all fascinating and interesting to this very day.

  24. I served from 96-98 in Europe, and read a bunch of stuff. My final collection included-
    Photocopies from the Ensign and Church magazines back to the 1950’s with good stuff, like this on splinter groups, James B. Allen on changing doctrine, or the Kinderhook plates.

    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith; Mormon Doctrine; the 4 Institute manuals; Gospel Doctrine-Teachings of Joseph F. Smith; 5-6 Nibley volumes; Believing Christ and Following Christ by Robinson; the 2 book of Mormon Authorship volumes from FARMS; Offenders for a Word; Reexploring the Book of Mormon and Rediscovering the Book of Mormon; An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon; Using the Book of Mormon to Combat Falsehoods of Organic Evolution (got that one from a French member, book’s a piece of garbage); a book on learning (modern) Greek.

    Can’t remember them all, but I came home with about 50 books, mostly having to do with LDS doctrine, scripture, and history. I heard about FARMS from a member who’d attended BYU and had a paper catalog.

    First mission president, if there was a rule, was lax about it. Second mission president wanted us to stick to the standard library. I talked to him about it, and he asked what I was doing with my time. Since I wasn’t taking any “pros time” to study, and I had my discussions passed off and read my BoM and NT every day in French, he allowed it. I’m glad he did, considering that one of his first companions on HIS mission in France had been the ringleader of a group of missionaries that went off the deep end and got excommunicated, which began by studying too much (10 hrs/day) with obscure material (JoD, RLDS tracts). Mission president #2 was Ray Hart, and you can read his minor part in that story here in Dialogue. At least one of those missionaries went home and became a polygamist.

    I’ve sent my younger brothers out with bound notebooks of some of the best or most useful articles about various things they’ll encounter, about 2-300 double-sided pages.

  25. Steve G. says:

    Early in my mission I saw a Skousen photocopy I thought was interesting. Had something to do with intelligences. I read a few other things from my trainer, but was more concerned about learning German. Later a companion let me read his Stephen Robinson book Believing Christ. That book was a life changing experience for me. When I worked in the Office, My mission President even lent me a book that wasn’t on the list. It was a book about the history of the church in Germany. I’m glad I read it then since it really positively impacted the way I viewed my fellow saints in Germany, which I will admit was often more cynical than not.

    This is a bit off topic, but I also did a bit of writing of my own which got photocopied and passed around the mission. One was a guide for dealing with Jehova Witnesses using their own bible, the other was a rant about the German people I’m embarrassed to have written. I don’t know if my Mission President ever saw it, but both were pretty negative, and I hope all copies have since been destroyed.

  26. More on the French Mission apostasy here.

  27. (And comment in moderation, with lots of links.)

  28. Ah the French mission apostasy. It is sort of a perennial feature (grin). I didn’t see a lot of this stuff. We had a copy of Miracle of Forgiveness that we would open to a random page and read for the thrill of being crushed by the hammer of the Lord. I remember one missionary with the Skousen atonement photocopy. That seemed like it though. Ben S and I were in the same mission and overlapped for a while, which shows that there is some heterogeneity within missions.

  29. My mission presidents (in LA) allowed us to read the writings of the brethren after we finished passing off the discussions, so like others above I had Discourses of BY, Gospel Doctrine by JFS, Doctrines of Salvation by JFS II. I also had the Madsen JS tapes, his Lives of the Prophets series, and I had a copy of Nibley’s Old Testament book. Skousen was passed around as well, especially the talk on the atonement.

    But the one thing that was passed around, and discussed in hushed tones, was Alvin R. Dyer’s Norway talk on blacks, the priesthood, and the preexistence. It had even been translated into Spanish. The racial stuff was pretty non-controversial; what got people talking was a vague reference to something we thought was multiple probations. From what I understand this talk has fairly wide circulation. A recent RM in my ward who served in Poland said he read it and thought it was awesome.

    I wish I knew as a missionary what I know now: that’s false doctrine and needs to be condemned at every opportunity.

  30. Oh, there was a member in one of my wards who had a complete set of the JDs and the PJS, vols. 1&2. Another member had a set of the HC paperbacks. Those were the members we’d visit when we had down time. :)

  31. Since we’re remembering off reservation mission literature, I got a copy of a Dyer talk, might by the one David G. mentions, but I don’t recall, that had something in it about challenging people to be baptized, as soon as they invited you in. This was unheard of in my mission. I tried it once, the family was baptized the next week, but the local branch sort of blew them off. Dyer said something like teach them the gospel afterwards. But we didn’t and they only came to church once as far as I know.

    Was this the same talk that had the priesthood/preexistence thing in it?

    I still remember Elder Dyer and his photo in the GA lineup pics. FP, Q12, patriarch, and a single apostle photo. He looked lonely.

  32. Aaron R. says:

    I am pretty sure I have that Dyer talk. Even when I read it, it just seeed junk. Two things bothered me: the underlying prejudice in the discourse and second the strong bureaucratic model of the heavens. It was like the Kingdoms where really organisational levels in the hierarchy.

    Celestial Kingdom = CEO’s

    Terrestial Kingdom = Middle Managers

    Telestial Kingdom = Grunts

    Sons of Perdition = Wasters that are still under contract because of family connections.

  33. WVS, I don’t think they’re the same talk. But we had similar materials in my mission that encouraged us to do the baptismal challenge after the first discussion (although investigators were supposed to attend church twice before being baptized), which led to too many people getting baptized before they were really committed.

  34. Aaron R., that’s the talk.

  35. Minidisc players were prominent in the Korean Daejeon Mission circa 2003-2005, mainly because it gave us the option to record from any medium (CD players, tape players, etc).

    The first mission president didn’t say anything about extra-cirricular reading. My reading list:

    – Someone had a copy of the 5th Harry Potter book (JK Rowling’s 896 pg tome) in english. I borrowed, and blazed through it in 3 nights (staying up until 2AM sometimes literally holding my eyelids open with my fingers).
    – I had lots of McConkie (he was somewhat of a legend in Daejeon). Doctrinal NT Commentary, Mormon Doctrine, etc. Lots of other “Deseret Book” titles (not so much scholarly, but inspirational/semi doctrine types)
    – I had a copy of the 1st half of Nibley’s honors course on the Book of Mormon transcripts.
    – The JS Tapes were popular, both lecture series (JS the Prophet and The Prophet JS), as well as Madsen’s “Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights” (which was absolutely wonderful)
    – Speaking of talks (and said minidisc player), S. Michael Wilcox and Bytheway were very popular to pass around for some cheap humor. Same with the wonderful EFY cds.
    – Lots of Korean grammar books.

    By the time I came home, I was in the same boat as Kevin. I had 2 suitcases (one filled with clothes, one filled with books), a backpack (filled with books), and a carry-on (again, filled with books).

    I’ve got a brother-in-law whose on a mission to Brazil right now, and I’m going to pass the tradition on and see what books he’s wanting.

  36. David, this Dyer talk said you basically walked in the door and told them the Lord wanted them to be baptized. No “discussion”! Maybe I brought it home with me. Now I’ll have to check the files.

    “SoP = wasters that are still under contract…….. ”

    That nearly made me choke.

  37. My mission president (later a seventy) banned FARMS publications because “in one of their papers they say that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by putting a stone into a hat and looking into it, and we KNOW that this wasn’t how the book was translated. The scriptures clearly teach us that it was translated by the power of God.”

    Before the ban, I read most everything FARMS could offer up, including nearly all of the CWHN that had been published up to that point (early 2000). The members in Hawaii loved giving us cash whenever they saw us on the road, and that usually turned into books for me. I was also a big McConkie fan on my mission, reading his Messiah Series and New Witness to the Articles of Faith. I also remember reading Bushman’s Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, as well biography of JS by Cannon, Lucy Smith, and a few others, GBH’s biography, and whatever else I could order from Des Book, the BYU-H bookstore, or from Borders.

    Oh yeah, and we also went and saw Phantom Menace on a P-day.

    Needless to say, my reading preferences have largely changed since my mission.

  38. French Apostasy indeed! The tale (according to the link Ben S provided) starts thusly:

    I served in the French Mission from December 1955 to June 1858

    Time traveler AND apostate. Big time.

  39. WVS–Re Elder Dyer’s missionary approach. In March, 1960, the French Mission (all one, not divided at that time) had 6 baptisms. The following month, April, 1960, the Mission had some 120 baptisms. The change was attributed to a visit by Elder Dyer in March, when he gave a major address to the missionaries and told them to become “Challenging, baptizing missionaries.” If asked to enter a home, they were to bear testimony then and there and challenge the people, asking, “When you know that the Book of Mormon is true, will you be baptized?”

    The missionaries responded to this approach and for the next couple of years, baptized about one hundred per month, give or take. I entered the mission field in 1961, and later becoming editor of publications, I was very much aware of the weekly and monthly baptisms. I think my dates and numbers are roughly accurate, but this was almost half a century ago. I didn’t hear Elder Dyer’s original talk, but heard him a number of times thereafter, reinforcing the approach, since he came to the Mission conferences frequently with his wife. Ah, May Dyer! Now, I could tell you stories about May Dyer, but that would constitute a threadjack, n’est-ce pas?

  40. Kevin Barney says:

    In my mission we were required to purchase and read Dyer’s book The Challenge (the office was out when I came through so I never did either). My mission was big on baptizing right away, the sooner, the better. It was a very cowboy, macho ethic; if you could get someone to commit after a single lesson, and baptize them at midnight in the motel pool, you were a hero and that was a story that would be recounted in hushed tones of awe throughout the mission.

    Of course, these people generally fell into inactivity almost immediately, and for some reason the locals weren’t nearly so impressed by our baptizing prowess as we ourselves were.

  41. “GBH’s biography” Had that too. It was a good one, useful to read about his mission in England.

    Stapley, I don’t think it was mission-wide (though it was borrowing Elder Winn’s copy of Mormon Doctrine early on that convinced me I needed to broaden my study materials.) I rarely got any good photocopies from other missionaries, wasn’t about to waste precious space on rhyming poems and such ;) Many of the Church libraries inexplicably had English magazines going back decades. The apartment in Herstal had an attic with old books and magazines too, though most of it worthless.

  42. Elouise, that sounds something like the talk that was being passed around where I was. In any case, I only tried it once. I don’t think those Canadians were prepared for the huge influx of members that would have resulted had I continued.(grin)

  43. We had a massive collection of Sunstone issues at one of my apartments. I read a lot of Orson Scott Card’s stuff at that time. Loved it. I can’t remember if my friend (a zone leader) had them sent or whether they were just “there.”

    He had struggled with his activity prior to his mission and had studied out each difficult issue until he felt secure enough in his proclamations that he then accepted a call. A good example of thorough thought mixed with faith.

  44. Ben #5,

    In our list, Joseph Smith stated that the Lost Tribes were in the center of the earth (Diary of Ben F Johnson).

    I think today’s missions are pretty much limited to the approved library. Back in the day (30 years ago), we had several books and papers floating around. I still have a series of lectures given by Elder Cook from when he was a mission president in Uruguay/Paraguay. We actually had some writings from Elder Alvin R. Dyer on the mission, too. Fascinating back then, total garbage now.

  45. When I was on my mission, someone handed me a stapled stack of docs that had rain stains, folds, and bent corners. “Read it,” he said, “it will blow your mind.” It was Ezra T. Benson’s rebuke of the UN that he published while he was Sec. of the Ag. Department. Typical missionary-to-missionary moment.

  46. Before many rules:

    Frankfurter Allgemeine (very difficult vocabulary)
    Wiener Zeitung (Easier to read)
    Der Stern (not the Church!)
    Der Stern (Church)
    Elmer Gantry auf Deutsch (gifted to me while tracting)
    News Week, Time international editions
    Movies (maybe every 6 months. the first 007 for sure!)
    Maria Spricht zur Welt (another gift)

    Attended a University of Vienna class on the history of religion, 8 am MWF, purchased the book authored by the lecturer. (Tracted out some of the other students!)


    Privately purchased mopeds/motorcycles

    We did read the scriptures and study the lessons.
    This was tame compared to the previous 15 years just after the war.

    I think the Church has undergone a sea-change. In previous years agency was more highly prized and honored. Did we abuse it? Some might think but the mission was much more varied and more integrated with a complete life (more interesting?) as a result. Would I have been able to have existed in the sparse intellectual diet of a modern mission? I am glad I did not have to find out.

    What sinners we were.

  47. Ah yes, Dyer’s “The Challenging and Testifying Missionary” – that was also part of the Canon in our mission.

  48. When I was serving my mission 03-05 my Mission President invited Robert L. Millet come speak at a special Zone Conference since he was in town doing and interfaith conference.

    In the course of his discussion a missionary raised their hand and asked about Cleon Skousen atonement talk and the exact words were: “He’s a very loving, sweet man, but he’s wrong.” My mission President then asked everyone who had the recording or copy to please just put it away and read it when they returned home.

    I have no idea why, but in my mission everyone LOVED ol’ Skousen. Which was nice for me since I loved debating particularly flawed conclusuions.

    As for what we were allowed to read, my Mission President was selectively liberal with which missionaries he’d allow to read from additional materials. That way people who tended to be lazy in their studying would be more encouraged to read from the missionary lessons (eventually Preach My Gospel), the standard works (particularly the Book of Mormon). But with me though, he let me read whatever I wanted as long as I spoke to him first. And seeing as he was the former CEO of Deseret Book, and an avid reader, it was nice to discuss what he thought about certain positions or ideas – even if we disagreed.

  49. Riley,

    That’s a wonderful anecdote! The Skousen Atonement talk circle the Canada Calgary Mission around that time as well.

  50. In the 70’s BYU Studies had a discounted subscription rate for missionaires. An uncle gave me a subscription, and each quarterly issue would be mailed to Korea.

    We would often pick up our mail on P-days from the mission home in Seoul, and the bus or subway rides home on the days that BYU Studies arrived were, as they say, days never to be forgotten.

  51. Nobody is admitting to lots of anti-lit? We read it all the time.

  52. As far as Skousen is concerned. We had it in the mission library until a GA came and threw it all in the garbage. True story. I tend to agree with the GA

  53. I sent my son a lovely article about Yoga and Christ from Sunstone. His Sr. companion thru a fit and I was told save it for after.

  54. Kevin Barney says:

    bbell, I had a Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? that I got from a Christian bookstore. Other than that, most of the anti stuff I had was random pamphlets that I collected as I encountered them. I came home with a folder of those things, which I have saved. But really, it was nothing next to what is so easily available these days on the internet.

  55. Latter-day Guy says:

    47, We had that one too. I LOATHE that talk. Brother Dyer will spend a very long time in purgatory for that one.

  56. A big one we would get was the section in “Kingdom of the Cults” There may also have been some pamphlets based on this as well.

    #56: Not unless his kids pay an indulgence for him:)

  57. My mission had a very liberal reading list–the previous mission president had been too strict, and it led to a secret-combination-ish cabal, so my MP tried the trust approach. By the time he (and I, coincidentally) left, it worked. In the meantime, I bought the CWHN series as they came out (I returned in ’89), and at some point my library was large enough that on one transfer I mailed it to myself via “Surface Rate.” It arrived exactly one week before I was transferred again. I also ended up in a companionship with an elder who had bad knees, and couldn’t do much tracting. We did “phone surveys” instead, kind of a tracting-by-phone, and in the time I wasn’t on the phone, read _Crime and Punishment_ AND _War and Peace._ C&R is an interesting book to read if you’re a Mormon missionary preaching the gospel of Christ.

    We were also *required* to read Og Mandino’s _The Greatest Salesman in the World_ as part of our daily study. That didn’t take with me, though I’m sure some elders based the rest of their careers on it.

  58. Talk tapes (Dunn, Rector, Dead Sea Scrolls, among others) were the rule in my mission (Frankfurt, late 70’s), and the pre-PMG “canon” of Talmage, Kimball, Richards. (Mormon Doctrine was too big to schlep around.)

    While in the LTM I bought myself a copy of Lectures on Faith at the BYU Bookstore and my companion nearly disowned me.

    I read Jesus the Christ and Miracle of Forgiveness in German. And I devoured every Ensign and the standard works (pre-1981 LDS editions, though my sister sent me the topical guide when it became available).

    I was aware of Sunstone pre-mission, and had read Zeal Without Knowledge in my freshman year at BYU, but it didn’t even occur to me to try and read those things in the mission field.

    I worked in the MTC Bookstore in the early 80’s and at the time we were only allowed to stock GA-authored books. I suppose now they don’t even do that.

  59. One of my favorite missionary memories was living in the chapel in Jacobstad Finland. The branch library had an extensive collection of Improvement Eras going back to the late 40’s. That is where I read most of my Nibley stuff.

    That and a subscription to Dialogue for the last 18 months of the mission.

    To my memory there were no rules on what we could read.

  60. I was in Brazil ten years ago. Many elders in my experience had pastas [~accordion files] full of favorite talks and such. Skousen’s Orson Pratt-derived atonement stuff was going around. In various apartments I picked up the Day of Defense (in Portuguese, I think), and several old versions of Portuguese standard works and hymnals. I ordered German and Italian Books of Mormon and started reading them. I read my copy of Parley P. Pratt’s autobiography and gave it away to another elder. I read through the official Missionary Library books pretty fast, and I loved the Portuguese standard works. At the end of my mission I was in the office, and in the mission president’s office I found a tiny library that dated back to (IIRC) the Brazil South Mission. I read TPJS, I skimmed things like Answers to Gospel Questions, and I absolutely devoured Sterling W. Sill’s The Upward Reach. Man, that was a great one.

    I also found old Liahona annuals, and I made copies of an outstanding multi-part article by Helio da Rocha Camargo (my first mission president’s father) called “Porque os Mormons Guardam o Sábado?” [“Why do Mormons Keep the Sabbath Day Holy?,” though “sábado” also means Saturday]. I was also given a copy of the life history of one of the first LDS in Brazil. I really should translate both of those.

  61. some long gone sister missionary had left a journal in an apartment. That is where we learned the expression “the night of the barking spiders.” We had a lot of fun with that imagery

  62. Grant Von Harrison Drawing on the Powers of Heaven was also popular

  63. “Grant Von Harrison Drawing on the Powers of Heaven was also popular”

    Ugh…that one was popular in my mission, too. My MP told us all to read it. I did, and when I brought up my concerns with it in my next interview (mainly that it ignores the agency of potential converts and promotes the vending machine view of God), he tried bad syllogisms to try to convince me I was wrong. (It didn’t fly. I studied philosophy in college.) At the next zone conference, it was removed from the library. I don’t know if that had to do with what I said in my interview, or if it was because that was when Preach My Gospel came out and the library got smaller as a result.

  64. (By library, I mean the list of approved books, not a physical repository of books.)

  65. Left Field says:

    My mission library (’78-’80) best I can remember was:
    Four standard works
    Jesus the Christ
    Articles of Faith
    Marvelous Work…
    Story of the LDS
    The Challenge (Dyer)
    Miracle of Forgiveness
    Mission manual

    We were not only allowed, but expected to read all these. The Story of the Latter-day Saints was out of print at the time, so almost nobody had one, but I was able to borrow one of the few copies and read it. We weren’t supposed to do other reading except for church magazines, pamphlets, etc., but I also had Ludlow’s Companion to your Study of the BofM and the Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (the latter given me by a member).

    We all got Brown’s “Profile of a Prophet” on tape from the Salt Lake Missionary home. A companion gave me an Einar Erikson Dead Sea Scrolls tape. I also had a companion (maybe it was the same one) give me a photocopy of that story about the Swiss priest who prophesied the restoration (or however that went). The companion thought it was bunk, but gave it to me as an interesting bit of folklore.

  66. My observation, having seen letters from other missionaries currently in Chile, is that our young men need a bit broader cultural understanding and more patience… to be less quick to judge cultural things like drinking and pre-marital cohabitation.

    Coffinberry, you should consider the judgmental attitudes to be quite an improvement over Chile in 1989-1991, when the missionaries were dealing with Pinochet leaving office and the beginning of the presidency of Aylwin. And constantly have to with the CIA/1973 fallout. And dealing with the prospects of the Iraq war and how people looked at the US simultaneously as heroes and as invaders (and discussing the parallels between 1973 and Kuwait).

    (Our outside reading was mostly geopolitical stuff. Those of us in the south were too busy worrying about trying to keep isolated campesino branches running to worry about Adam-God or baptisms…)

    Which Chilean mission is he in, and how is he doing with the earthquakes?

  67. I read Og Mandino “the Greatest salesman in the world 2”, and a law book on how to file for divorces in the philippines. As far as LDS books, Grant Von Harrison’s “Drawing on the Powers of Heaven” and “Anyone can baptize” were immensely popular. Gene R. Cook’s “teaching by the spirit” was well read also, as was Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the institute manuals, and the CHI. Lastly, Alvin R. Dyer’s “Challenging and Testifying Missionary was much read and much discussed throughout the whole mission”. Of course so were the missionary library, and the local newspaper (language study). I also carried around a copy of Douglas Adams’ “The meaning of Liff” that my sister sent my in the MTC. It was my cheap thrill whenever I needed a good laugh.

  68. oops, I put a quote mark in the wrong place.

    And no Nibley on my mission, and only a little Madsen.

  69. Oh, and our MP gave us all a little green book called “tracting” by a convert who spoke to missionaries in Tenessee with the advice “not all of this applies to our mission, but use what you can” loved that guy.

  70. I read FARMS when I could get my hands on one but mostly I enjoyed laughing at the really old talk-tapes. There was one where the speaker was discussing sound vibrations of stars and one that sounded just like the Tabernacle organ. Obviously this very noisy star was Kolob….I loved the pseudo-science of it and the Elders it held in rapture.

  71. Mine about matches Ben’s in #24. I was in Europe in 95-97. Loved it.

    We as a people should perhaps step back a little and not have such a restrictive outlook on this. Perhaps instead of saying what they are solely “allowed” to read, we should be telling them that they should place top priority on spending a certain amount of time studying straight from one of the Standard Works (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) each day and that any other reading they choose to do, if any, should not be allowed to take away from that study time. Outside of that time, they should use their best judgment to read things that are uplifting and educational to them.

    To be helpful, some recommendations of outside reading in a general sense could be made, such as the following:

    – The BYU Freshman Academy/Honors Program “Great Works” reading list;
    – As an alternative, the Harvard Classics library;

    In terms of materials relating specifically to Mormon Studies, the recommendations could include the following:

    – The books already on the list (see # 16);
    – Most of the stuff in Ben’s # 24;
    – BYU Studies and any FARMS/FAIR materials the missionary might have access to;
    – Any Mormon Studies related materials that the missionary’s family believes would be educational or useful for the missionary;
    – Other Mormon Studies articles or materials that the missionary thinks will contribute to the missionary’s understanding of the Restored Gospel and the Church.

    In retrospect, here’s what I think should also be on a German missionary’s reading list as recommendations:

    – The Daily (reputable) Newspaper, in German.
    – Works from the Reclam library, in German.

    We can no longer tolerate missionaries who loathe the place they are serving or its people and who express this sentiment by neglecting the language and taking every opportunity to make disparaging remarks about the country’s culture and characteristics. Most of the missionaries in the mission love being there and serving the people so those that do not drag them and the rest of the mission down, even reputationally speaking. I think “raising the bar” might well have helped address this issue. But the country-specific reading list could also go a long way. At least if a missionary is reading the local daily newspaper in the language, he or she is (1) exponentially improving their real-world language skills outside of Gospel vocabulary; (2) learning about what life is really like in the place they are serving and the local concerns that animate the people; (3) acquiring a mass of knowledge that can be used in casual conversations that can then lead to Gospel discussions. (Note, points 2 and 3 still work for missionaries not serving in a foreign language mission.)

    In a German mission, if a missionary is also asked to please read one book from the Reclam collection each week (the mission president could suggest periods or genres according to personal taste, e.g. anything in the eighteenth century but nothing in the twentieth century if there are concerns about appropriateness of more contemporary literature), then the missionary will learn about the cultural life, emotions, psyche and values of the people he or she is serving. Such an intimate knowledge will lay a foundation for a deeper relationship between the missionary and the people he or she is serving. It could lead to more successful missionary work but that would not even be the main focus of the exercise. The main focus would be to enrich the missionary’s soul and draw him or her closer to the people he or she is serving.

  72. Aaron R. says:

    John, I totally agree that none of this extra-curricular reading should take away from reading the scriptures as prescribed. In my experience people would either get up earlier or they would read through their lunch in order to read these other types of materials. Further I heartily support the notion that reading involved should be given to assist the Missionaries understand the Church and the Gospel.

    I really like your suggestions regarding local area reading. Having served in Ireland language was not an issue, but I think that a great familiarity with Irish history, culture and local events would have been very helpful.

    Your final paragraph reminded me of when I read extracts from Lowell Bennion’s missionary journal which described his visits to the Opera and other local cultural events and reading some of the great works of literature from the area he served. I believe that it was during this time that he came to love Faust, Kant and Schopenhauer.

  73. Kristine says:

    “In a German mission, if a missionary is also asked to please read one book from the Reclam collection each week (the mission president could suggest periods or genres according to personal taste, e.g. anything in the eighteenth century but nothing in the twentieth century if there are concerns about appropriateness of more contemporary literature),”

    Ah, Reclam Hefte!! Towards the end of my senior year of college one of my roommates said “Kris, I don’t want to be mean, but are you _still_ reading that same little yellow book?”

    And the 18th century might (might!) be safe, but you surely don’t want to go back as far as the medieval period–there’s some pretty scandalous stuff floating around :)

  74. I still have my dozens of Reclam Hefte and am in the process of working through them again. Re-reading Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship for 25 minutes a day on the Tube has been a very enriching experience.

  75. “We can no longer tolerate missionaries who loathe the place they are serving or its people and who express this sentiment by neglecting the language and taking every opportunity to make disparaging remarks about the country’s culture and characteristics.”

    Amen John. It’s too bad that in limiting the readings, we cut missionaries off from fully partaking of the local culture, which I believe ultimately undermines missionary work. It makes them more like clueless tourists and further drives a wedge between them and local members. Now surely there are less-favorable aspects of any culture that missionaries should avoid, but I think we go too far.

  76. Mark Brown says:

    My current project is Goetz von Berlichingen. I did a senior paper on it and cannot believe how much I missed the first time.

  77. Ach ja.

  78. “Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites”, and a sequel “Gadiantons and the Silver Sword” both by Chris Hammerdinger (?)

  79. Ben Pratt (#61), were you in Porto Alegre Sul?

  80. My mission president actually had Drawing on the Powers of Heaven and As a Man Thinketh translated by the office elders and published (not too cheaply, either) for distribution to the entire mission.

    He also gave out all kinds of unauthorized tape mixes. He was a very successful lawyer / businessman, so I guess I always assumed that he knew what he was doing with the international copyright issues.

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