It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I have struggled to complete a doctoral dissertation. For whatever reason, I have taken months and years, and have started over more than once as I have tried to find something that adds to the scholarly conversation of religion and politics.
Even when I have sound findings, I have struggled. I write, rewrite, edit, cut, add back in, sweat, burble, grow frustrated, avoid my project, stress, sleep poorly and then write some more. I next realize I missed something vital, so I start the process over again. This strange activity has consumed months and years of my life.
Truth be told, I enjoy writing. My friends tell me is it something I do reasonably well. I have access to the greatest books ever written on the media subjects I study. The Internet provides scores of examples of writing of this type and great papers that might be considered life changing. I have a laptop upon which I can write and edit even as I sit quietly in parks. My colleagues and friends are all well-trained and provide useful insight. I communicate with some thousands of miles away.
But I struggle.
This difficult personal struggle increases my faith in Joseph Smith and in our Book of Mormon.
I have years of training, great editing and access, and it has taken me years to write a dissertation that will make a minor, forgettable contribution to scholarly thought about media and politics, should I finally finish my paper.
My intense document is significantly shorter than what Joseph Smith produced with scratch paper and with three years of education. Consider the remarkable poverty in 1829 through which he operated, while living under persecution in someone else’s home. No laptops, experts or profound libraries to help him. And, depending on how you count, he produced it in only three months with little editing. It was an astounding event, regardless of the feelings any observer might have of its otherworldly origins. The millions who read the Book of Mormon testifies to its contribution.
This week, I couldn’t bring myself to write about the big media story of the week: Oprah’s last episode and of her contributions to religion in the country because I wanted to mark the quiet decision by the church to post a simple, beautiful video online from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland testifying of the Book of Mormon. I hope many see it.
This week, I needed to raise my voice about the miraculous Book of Mormon.
Pretend for a minute that the Book of Mormon was a work of fiction or the work of a gifted imagination — and I don’t imagine for a minute that it is such a work. One way to judge its staying power would be to look for new insights and for its power to influence lives.
As for insights, have you ever pondered in depth 2 Nephi 2 or Alma 42? The theological implications and solutions to grand dilemmas posited in those chapters seem nothing short of miraculous in their clarity of writing and thought. These can be considered profound contributions to any discussion of world theology worthy to note, and that’s merely assuming the Book of Mormon was a product of Joseph Smith’s imagination.
When I consider the implications of the book’s miraculous origins, I quail with awe at the power and breadth of those implications.
As for its ability to change lives, I can only say it has changed mine by providing comfort in dark hours, some of which occur as I labor over doctoral writing.
I sometimes compare my minor troubles with those of a handful of faithful believers huddled together around 375 A.D. listening to the speech that became Moroni 7 as genocide, apostasy, and torture and death raged around them as the possibility for a bright mortal future ebbed to shadow.
I think of Mormon’s almost plaintive question amid that trauma: How is it possible that to lay hold upon every good thing? His answer moves and comforts and implores. I pray to be filled with the love he describes.
Finally, I think sometimes about the history of the word “medium.” It is a strange word in some ways — a go-between or a connecter. Media "go-between" people as they exchange communication ideas. Beyond that, however, medium is an old spiritualist term. A medium is someone who allowed connection with ghosts. Media "go-between" the dead and us.
The Book of Mormon provides access to authentic, ghostly voices who truly cry from the dust and these voices among the millions of modern, mediated voices have something truly, rarely important to say.
I love the Book of Mormon. I am only one person, but I do know it to be true. It is the modern world's true medium.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.
As the Mormon Media Observer, Lane is interested in hearing your ideas for stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.