I brought a lot home with me from my mission. Three examples:
(1) A pair of shoes that I knew I would never wear again. I put hundreds maybe even thousands of miles on them—the same pair every day for two years—in the cities and jungles of Brazil.
(3) A small collection of Brazilian literature and music, including three of Djavan’s recordings. One of my favorite Djavan songs is called Limão. My English translation:
The luminous veil of the sun in the fog
covers the wet ridge
The sword of the sun strikes
a hole in the mist
liberating the land with its touch
The rain stops
The day is reborn
To wander, to love, to work
The smell is the first thing you remember
The earth drying, baking
The people, the animals, the come-and-go
Today is a day to harvest, to fish
To prepare the fish
The smell of lemon enchants me
And how does it taste?
The green virginity opens itself in drops
To set the savor in the theatre of the mouth
Where teeth grind and roughness wounds itself
And the blood is water, so much water,
Limão, especially in Portuguese and set to Djavan’s driving, lilting jazz, evokes other things that I brought home with me—things I did not stuff into my suitcase—a people, a terrain, a language, a cuisine, an attitude about life—I could go on.
In one sense, Limão (and the other music and literature I brought home) counts as quasi-Mormon in my mind. I read and misread my small collection through the eyes of my missionary experience: I walked through the scene in Djavan’s Limão most mornings of my mission: the sun baking away the clouds and rain (some mornings were sauna-like), the bustling cities and towns I haunted (Olinda, Caico, Natal), the abundant seafood and fruit I consumed, and me harvesting and fishing (obvious proselytizing metaphors).
In another sense, Djavan’s Limão stands for things that I do not mentally convert into familiar terms. Things that I doubt I fully understand. Still, my encounter and conversion to these things (I am a Brazilophile) was both a by-product of my missionary labors and the direct result of an observance of Mormon theology (i.e., seeking after the virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report).
* * *
The Mormon take on the world is limiting in a sense. It draws sharp lines between good and bad, true and false, us and them, and so forth. These lines need not always limit Mormon arts, which may legitimately explore all sides. Yet, engaging in such exploration may often go unappreciated (critically, financially and otherwise). I think the Mormon audience (at least a large part of it) has definite ideas about how the aforementioned lines should affect—and be reflected in—works of art. I am concerned that these ideas can lead to some pretty tepid stuff.
Yet the Mormon experience is also often broadening and Mormon doctrine demands active pursuit and appreciation of good beyond our borders. Witness my mission and the things I brought home.
In light of this tension, some questions arise: is the audience for Mormon art too risk-averse when it comes to seeking out good things? Is the Mormon audience more quick to judge Mormon works than it is to judge say, the latest popular novel or movie? Is the Mormon audience far too concerned about Mormons (authors and characters) maintaining an appearance of otherworldly purity (a burden not imposed on non-Mormon authors and characters)? How should our broadening experiences and doctrinal mandates impact Mormon art? What have you brought home from actual journeys for the church or attempts to enact the admonition of the Thirteenth Article of Faith? Have those things taken on distinctively Mormon meanings to you? Have they enriched efforts to make or appreciate Mormon art?