Let’s be honest: from time to time you want to dig out that old baseball bat in the back of your closet and just take a few whacks at your printer. It won’t talk to your network. It won’t print on the right size paper. Ink costs about half a car payment. So you by cheapo ink in a refilled cartridge, but your printer … won’t recognize it. I’m surprised printers don’t come with a currency input scanner. “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t print that page … but if you put in a twenty, I’ll try again.” So I finally ditched my ink-sucking printer on Saturday night and bought a laser printer at my local Staples. I priced toner cartridges: about the same price as a pack of ink. I walked out the store a happy man.
This Is A Manual? So then I had to install the thing. No such thing as plug and play for a printer. Once upon a time you got an actual instruction manual with a device or appliance, that would say something like “With a Phillips screwdriver, screw in the four one-inch screws, one at each corner of the main cover.” Now you get a poster-sized fold-out chart full of pictures that bear some slight resemblance to the device or appliance you just purchased, but with no words. Yes, someone in Spain or Pakistan could use this wordless chart as well as I could, but the problem is it doesn’t really make much sense to any of us.
As an experienced Mormon blogger, I knew exactly what was going on: Correlation. This wordless and largely useless chart was a correlated instruction manual for installing my printer. It was supposed to be a universal document that would be useful to anyone in the world, regardless of language or education. Instead … well, with a match, it would be helpful to start a fire, but it couldn’t even get me past step one with my printer. Toner cartridge in hand, I opened the little door on the front of the printer and stared at a piece of plastic blocking the opening, not the large slot ready to accept my bulky toner cartridge. Thanks, correlated instructions.
The Internet Knows. So, like any fellow consigned to live in the 21st century, I fired up the laptop and entered my make and model number into Google. What pops up on the first page? A link titled “How to install your Brother MFC-L2710DW.” I know, a fifty-million-dollar fighter jet probably has a shorter model number than my printer, but I wasn’t complaining. That ten-minute video, which probably took all of thirty minutes for Young Tech Guy to produce, showed me exactly how to install my printer. (There was a secret button that opened an even bigger door on the front of the printer, revealing a small cavern into which my toner cartridge slid oh so nicely.) That video was about a hundred times more helpful and informative than that wordless fold-out chart that a team of technical writers probably spent a thousand hours designing.
As an experienced Mormon blogger, I knew exactly what was going on: The Internet. If you have a question about this or that (and who doesn’t?), you could spend a hundred hours in the Church History Library and come away as perplexed as when you first entered. But one hour on the Internet can give you a boatload of insight. Honestly, how did people live before the Internet? How did they find phone numbers? How did they find the closest Chinese takeout place and see whether it had two stars, three stars, or four stars? How did they get answers to gospel questions? The Internet has really been the biggest change (to leadership, a very unwelcome change) that has hit the Church in the last fifty years. It helped me install my printer. It helped you buy your last car. It answers questions about Mormon doctrine and history.
Danger, Will Robinson! You can’t believe everything you read about the Church or LDS history, or everything you see on TV, or everything you read on the Reddit, or every post on your Facebook feed, or every stupid video that comes up on YouTube. You need to develop a sense of what sites or sources are credible versus those that aren’t. You have to do some good old-fashioned book reading to develop your own knowledge base against which you can test claims made about Mormon doctrine or history. It helps to have a community you can bounce claims or questions off of to get additional feedback and other sources, whether that be a blog, a Facebook group, or even a real-life book club or study group. But it just seems beyond dispute that there is a great deal of reliable and insightful material out there on the Internet, the kind you don’t get in the manual. The truth is out there, but so is a lot of garbage. You just have to do some sifting to get the good stuff.
Mormonism: The Missing Manual. So here’s your prompt: If Mormonism had a “missing manual,” what would it be? What would it cover? Where would you buy it? I’m thinking converts have the most to offer here. It’s a common lament that the LDS “temple preparation” class does almost nothing to prepare an LDS adult for what happens in the temple. What prepares potential converts for life in the Church … missionary discussions? Not really. Life as a Mormon is sort of like on-the-job training, but it can be a slow and even painful process. What you say or don’t say at the pulpit on testimony day. What you ask or don’t ask in Sunday School. What a bishop’s interview is all about. The whole bit with the grey envelopes that you sort of slyly hand off to a counselor or the bishop, like you’re quietly slipping a payoff to the local beat cop. Heck, most newbies don’t even know which door to use (because almost no one uses the front door).
Let me throw out a few titles I read as a young convert. Essentials in Church History by Joseph Fielding Smith. That was good for learning the orthodox LDS narrative, but it’s more like a hardcover manual than a work of history. The First Two Thousand Years by Cleon Skousen. Almost as entertaining as books I was reading about the same time by Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke. Of the three, Asimov and Clarke are still readable. An Approach to the Book of Mormon by Hugh Nibley. Terribly impressive to a young convert. Mormon Doctrine by Elder McConkie, which no one actually read because it was in encyclopedia format, you just looked up a topic or two, which was probably just as well. Eternal Man by Truman G. Madsen. Full of speculation about the Preexistence (now called “the premortal life”), but still a good book. Madsen did a lot for Mormon Studies (before it had that name) and built bridges with a lot of non-LDS scholars.
Bottom line: There really was no “missing manual” when I was a young convert. There was no Mormonism for Dummies. There was no Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Mormonism. But there are a lot more books and journals and sites and groups and pages out there than a few decades ago. What books have converts read that filled in their Mormon gaps? What Goldilocks sites have converts visited that were just right (not too hot and not too cold). Were any official LDS materials actually helpful? Please share. (Not limited to actual converts. All are welcome to contribute.)