I remember, as a missionary in Bolivia, picking up a newspaper one morning and reading the word “Mormon” on the front page.
I was stunned.
Up until that moment, I’d never read the word “Mormon” in print that hadn’t been written by a Mormon. This, however, was a column about American Imperialism by the editor of a major La Paz daily.
In sarcastic tones, the editor wrote, “Even God is American now. He’s Mormon.”
We didn’t care that it was penned as a put-down. We clipped the column out, bought extra papers and mailed them home.
It seemed impossible, but somebody in a position of influence had actually acknowledged our presence in the country.
Now, spring ahead 40 years to the year 2013.
Today, the word “Mormon” pops up left and right in the most unexpected places.
Not long ago, I was reading an interview with Bob Dylan published in Rolling Stone magazine.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Dylan says:
“I’ve lived through a lot. Have you ever heard of a book called 'No Man Knows My History'? It’s about Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. The title could refer to me.”
Bob Dylan, lifting lines from Joseph Smith.
Who’d a thought?
Again, not long ago, I was walking in Pasadena, Calif., when a guy strolled past wearing a T-shirt with a big blue circle on the front along with the words “Planet Orlando.”
It was a reference to “The Book of Mormon” musical where Elder Kevin Price hopes to be called to the Florida Orlando Mission — his favorite place on earth. In fact, he says when he gets his own planet, he’ll name it Planet Orlando.
The New Yorker magazine surprised me with a little think piece about Mormons. The author said that many people feel compelled to believe Joseph Smith was either a visionary or a fast-talking huckster. But, the writer warns, in 19th century America, the distinction between the two things was very blurred. He suggests people read “The Confidence Man” by Herman Melville to get the full picture.
In the end, I have to say it was refreshing to be completely anonymous in Bolivia years ago. When people heard about Mormonism, they heard it from us first. And we could share our own impressions and feelings about the faith before anyone else could pile on.
On the other hand, seeing the word “Mormon” sprinkled all over the media today like popcorn salt means members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need to have a good sense of who they are and must learn to factor in all types of assumptions and opinions.
As my dad would say, it keeps us loose.
It means we have to stay aware and alert.
We have to roll with all kinds of punches.
And, in a world that grows more battered, bruised and off-balance by the day, staying loose, alert and resilient are not bad traits to develop.