Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Footnotes and General Conference

I have been perusing the text of the talks from the latest General Conference and made what I consider to be a nifty discovery. The footnotes of many of the talks don't just contain citations; many of them actually contain valuable substantive comments from the speakers. This means that following the counsel to read and study the talks will do more than simply help us remember what we've already heard; it will also provide us with access to additional insights and ideas from the speakers themselves.

I noticed also, by comparing the footnotes of the most recent General Conference with last October's General Conference, that there are a great deal more footnote comments in the newest Conference. I would deign to say that speakers are increasingly utilizing footnotes to express ideas that didn't quite fit into the verbal form of their speeches.

Here are some of the gems I discovered (and one puzzle I encountered) as I perused the footnotes of this April 2009's General Conference:

  • Elder D. Todd Christofferson provided the most substantive footnotes of all in his talk The Power of Covenants. Take, for example, this profound, citation-free insight in Footnote 2: "Some see only sacrifice and limitations in obedience to the commandments of the new and everlasting covenant, but those who live the experience—who give themselves freely and unreservedly to the covenant life—find greater liberty and fulfillment. When we truly understand, we seek more commandments, not fewer. Each new law or commandment we learn and live is like one more rung or step on a ladder that enables us to climb higher and higher. Truly, the gospel life is the good life."
  • In his talk on temple attendance, Elder Scott encouraged listeners to "Understand the doctrine related to temple ordinances, especially the significance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ." But only if you look at the footnote will you see what he thinks you should read to begin to gain such understanding.
  • Elder Nelson, in his talk on prayer, offers a particular source of articles in his first footnote and asserts: "The sincere student of prayer will gain much from a study of those articles." I checked them out and they do teach some powerful lessons on prayer.
  • My wife and I debated whether Elder Stevenson was being literal or figurative when he talked about young children being encouraged to touch the temple in his talk Sacred Homes, Sacred Temples. A footnote contains a story about a man encouraging his granddaughter to actually place her hand on the temple wall and door, remarking, "Remember that this day you touched the temple. One day you will enter this door."
  • Some talks have only scripture references for footnotes and others have scripture citations inserted directly into the body of the text and so require no footnotes at all. I don't know if this is the choice of the speakers or the editors; if it's the editors, why is it not consistent throughout all talks?
On a related note, take a look at this Times and Seasons blog post that speculates on what it means when a book is mentioned in General Conference. It refers in particular to Elder Eyring's mention of the story popularized in the movie "Black Hawk Down."

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