(This is really long. It may have way more details than you are interested in, but I just drank a bunch of coffee so get ready! Think of it as a chapter in a book of autobiographical essays. I would really like to write a book of autobiographical essays. This entry follows a narrative so it is likely easier to read than if it were of equal length but just ideas. Before you dismiss it altogether because of its length, I ask you, just give the first few paragraphs a try. If it isn't interesting, go ahead and skip it, but maybe it will grab your attention and you will want to keep reading)
On Saturday, two (of course) Mormon Missionaries came to my door.
I have been looking forward to this moment ever since I left the Church.
One common complaint from people who leave the Church is that even if they move, the Church continues to contact them, despite their efforts to break all contact.
If anything, I have had the opposite problem. I really like talking about why I left the Church, especially to people who are still in the Church, unfortunately I don't have that many opportunities to. Also, I don't want to come across as aggressive or hostile by constantly telling people why I disagree with their religion, so unless they ask me, I likely won't mention it. (I don't mind writing about that stuff in my blog though, which I feel is totally different than bringing something up to a person's face.)
In all of the four years since I've left the Church, no one from the Church (aside from friends or family. But those are friends and family, not people 'from the Church') has ever made an effort to bring me back into the fold or discuss why I left. Needless to say, I was very excited for this chance. Not only would I get to talk about a topic I find so interesting, but it would be with people who were dedicating two years of their lives to the sake of talking about this topic. If anything, they would be more interested in and dedicated to the conversation than even I was.
A few weeks ago my 16 year old nephew, who at 15 years old declared himself an atheist, informed me that his parents had had some missionaries sent to me. Because of that, I have been expecting these missionaries for awhile now and earlier in the day I was even wondering if they would be coming soon.
The missionaries first knocked on my door shortly before 2:00 pm. Marissa gets off work at 2:00 pm and I knew she wouldn't enjoy coming home after a hard day of working to find missionaries in our living room, so I informed them they could come back later and we agreed on 6pm.
During this 4 hours I was so excited! My imagination ran wild, imagining different scenarios. I had images in my mind of a long, intense discussion on various aspects of Mormon theology and life generally. I set some books aside for references in case they wanted me to prove any point I was trying to make.
I even took a shower and cleaned up the house. (Marissa and I normally keep our house clean, but I had been making a present for my grandpa using metal, wood and power tools, so there had developed a bit of a mess.)
My thinking was that if the house were messy and I was un-showered they might think it was because I was so depressed from no longer having the Holy Ghost in my life that I was unable to take care of myself. I wanted to make as persuasive a case as I possibly could, so I didn't want something small like that getting in the way.
When it was nearly 6pm, Marissa left to run some errands because she had some errands to run as well as not having a desire to interact with Missionaries.(in this respect we are opposite)
I started making some tea, and was about to use the bathroom when I heard a knock on the door. I answered, invited them in and explained how I was about to use the bathroom just before they knocked and showed them where they could sit. I also asked them to keep an eye on the tea kettle and to take it off the heat if it began to whistle.
When I came back downstairs from the bathroom I finished making my tea. (I have a somewhat long and elaborate tea making process, involving loose leaf tea, small wicker baskets and various tea utensils. It is one of the highlights of my day and something I will soon write a full entry about, with pictures.)
While I made my tea, the Missionaries and I chit-chatted and got to know a bit about each other . Having served as a missionary myself, I knew this was routine. Before getting into anything deeper or gospel related, you first want to 'Build a Relationship of Trust' (or BRT.) This is an understandable and common sense approach to set the stage for telling someone you have important news about what happens after we die. If you are comfortable and familiar with a person you will be more likely to listen when they inform you that most of your core beliefs are mistaken.
Both Elders are from Utah county. Both have been on a mission for about 1 year. One of the missionaries is into art and design and seemed to really enjoy our house and all the art it contains. When he first came in he said something like "Whoa! This place is awesome!". The other missionary seemed a bit more bookish and reserved.
These two boys were pretty much opposite personalities. The artistically inclined fellow has a large build, brown hair and a loose, warm and informal manner.
The other missionary was very thin, almost frail, with red hair. His mannerisms were much more proper and somewhat shy. He has a lot of stereo-typically homosexual mannerisms, including a lisp. I would be the opposite of surprised if I one day found out he is gay. He seemed smarter than the brown haired missionary, but less likable. He had an up-tightness about him that was off-putting. (I'm not trying to put this kid down, just explain my impressions.)
(for the life of me I can't remember their names. I will call the artistically inclined, brown haired missionary Elder Brown, and the other one Elder Red)
Normally when I am around Missionaries, I tend to get good vibes. ( I am a big believer in vibes, though I don't necessarily think it is anything supernatural. Most likely it is based on Mirror Neurons and possibly even the different energy patterns which are emitted by different emotional states). However, I noticed from early on that these Elders didn't seem to emit the positive vibes I'm used to getting from Missionaries.
While talking to them about the art in my home I mentioned that while most was made by myself, some of it was made by my girlfriend, which led to us talking about Marissa and how I met her in Provo where she had attended Byu.
When I mentioned having met Marissa at Byu Elder Brown said something along the lines of "So I assume your girlfriend is Mormon as well?"
This question caught me off guard. What did they believe my relationship with the Church was? Did he mean, 'was she, like you, baptized in the Church but eventually left it?' or did he mean 'is she also an active believing Mormon, such as as yourself?' He seemed to mean the second. If so, where did this belief come from and what were they then doing here in the first place?
I explained to them that she had been baptized into the Church but was no longer a member, the same as myself.
They asked me about my current religious beliefs/practices which I told them about and they then asked what, if anything, had led me away from the Church, or if I had never been a devout member.
I explained how I had been very devout, had gone on a mission, but eventually left the Church in 2006 because of complications/contradictions within and surrounding church history and the Book of Mormon. I also told them about how for two years before I left the Church I still attended regularly because, while I no longer believed it was true, I wanted to believe it and was trying to reconcile my faith.
When I said the part about having spent a while being an active member with serious doubts Elder Red gave Elder Brown a glance that seemed to say "Sound familiar? I told you you will eventually leave the Church altogether if you keep it up with your doubts."
After explained my current relationship with the Church, Elder Brown said something like "So I guess you don't want any home teachers or anything?"
When Elder Brown said this, I noticed Elder Red shaking his head, in what seemed to be disapproval of Elder Brown.
I agreed that I didn't want home teachers.
At point it became came clear why they were here. Somehow my records had recently been transferred to this area but they hadn't seen me at church and so were under the impression I had just moved here but had not yet made contact with my local ward so they were stopping by to help me get situated with home teachers and the local ward. I asked if their visit had anything to do with my sister's referral and they assured me it did not.
Once this all came out and they realized I wasn't really interested in having home teachers or going to Church they made as if to get ready to go. They asked if I there was anything they could do to help me.
Somewhat as a joke I explained how I had earlier tried to have my name removed from the records of the Church, but it didn't work out, and maybe they could help me with that.
Much to my surprise Elder Brown said, "yeah, no problem, you will need to go through The Bishop, I can give you his name and number"
Elder Red was visibly shocked and upset at Elder Brown for agreeing to help with my request and even hit him lightly, a gesture that seemed to surprise even himself.
When I realized why they had come and that now they would be leaving I was pretty disappointed. I had been looking forward to the discussion which would ensue from them trying to convince me the Church was true, so I said:
"Aren't you going to try and convert me?"
Elder Brown said they could, but didn't totally seem into the idea, which caused me to fee a bit guilty that I might be wasting these guys time since we both probably knew there was no way they would convince me, so I told them so.
Elder Brown reassured me that it was a Saturday evening during spring break so they had nowhere else to be. (I'm not aware of any schools in the area which are on spring break, but I understood his point.)
Elder Brown bore his testimony about how the Church has made him happier. He made some mention about how his testimony has had its ups and downs and has never been as strong as others, but that being an active member of the Church made him happier. (This seemed to explain the look Elder Red had given Elder Brown, when I mentioned having spent 2 years as an active but disbelieving member.)
Elder Brown clearly wasn't great with words and Elder Red's disdain for Elder Brown's teaching style was visible, through eye rolls and head shakes. It was clear these missionaries likely had some deep running tensions, which probably explained their lack of positive vibes.
In response to Elder Brown's explanation of the Church making him happier, I showed the Elders something from a book I have, published by Byu, which is a sociological survey of Latter Day Saint life. In the book it shows that while Latter Day Saints are, on average, happier than the overall population, they are no more happier than people of any other faith, and are actually less happy than the members of a few faiths.
As we talked about the role of religion plays in terms of one's happiness, I realized that even if they had come to my house full of fire and passion seeking to convert me, it could probably never have been the sort of experience I had been dreaming of. 19-21 year old boys are so much younger and inexperienced than I had been thinking. Were I to try and debate with them to the level I had imagined, I would have felt like a bully, beating up on someone smaller than myself.
These young men just didn't have the knowledge or experience to engage with me in a serious discussion. It is no fault of their own. How many 19 year olds are?
I remember being a missionary, feeling so much confidence in my own abilities, but looking back now, I realize how little I actually knew and how silly I must have come across to some of the people I was trying to teach.
I remember tracting(going from door to door, trying to find people who are willing to listen to your message) into an older woman who had a Phd in Religious studies. She seemed appalled at the idea that we felt we had something to teach her. At the time I thought it was unfortunate that her pride and learning interfered with her ability to learn God's truth. Looking back now I almost feel embarrassed that I thought I could have taught her anything, and realize how goofy I must have seemed. That anyone over the age of 25 listened to us at all seems almost amazing to me. What do 19-21 year olds (many of whom haven't even gone to college yet) think they can teach grown men and women with experience, educations and families about the deepest subjects of life? It is no wonder the growth rates for the Church have become stagnant in the United States and have declined in western Europe.
My discussion with the missionaries went on a little longer, with more testimony bearing, and me trying my hardest to be respectful and attentive, yet respond to their points with as truthful an explanation of my thoughts as possible.
Eventually I got up to pour more hot water into my tea, while explaining that while I don't doubt that the sensation of feeling the holy ghost is a real phenomenon, I believe it is merely a chemical process that can happen for a variety of reasons, including drugs, and there is no reason to include God in the equation when it can be easily explained by other means.
After I said this, Elder Red, who hadn't really said or done much the entire time, except to show disapproving for Elder Brown, suddenly said, "We have somewhere else we need to be, so we should go".
I knew this wasn't true, because Elder Brown had already said they had nowhere else they needed to be.
I wonder what made him suddenly want to leave. Perhaps he believed he had encountered a real life Korihor and felt 'prompted by the spirit' to leave.
Perhaps he worried that since Elder Brown already had his doubts, the issues I was raising would have an influence on his testimony. Perhaps a combination of the two. Perhaps something else entirely.
As they were getting their things together to leave I said "I don't want to be rude or presumptuous, but it seems that you two don't get along very well"
They looked at each other with surprise and a look that seemed to say 'how did he know?'
I told them it came across pretty clearly in the way Elder Red would shake his head and roll his eyes when Elder Brown spoke. I also mentioned when Elder Red hit Elder Brown.
Elder Brown didn't really say anything, and Elder Red said "It's nothing. You don't need to worry about it.' He said his hitting Elder Brown was just an accident. (his hand accidentally flew from his lap and into Elder Brown's shoulder?)
I told them that even if they did, in fact, get along well, it came across as otherwise and that if I were a sincere investigator it would make accepting their message more difficult.
With that they left. Elder Red gave me a less than cheerful good-bye and Elder Brown gave me a warm and cheerful goodbye.
After the door was closed I ran upstairs to see if I could see them out of the bedroom window and get a sense of what they may be saying to each other, but I my vision of them was blocked by trees/roofs.
After they left I wished I had thought to tell them they were welcome to stop by any time for a drink or a meal.
Since I imagine only the most committed of readers made it this far, I would like to say, Congratulations! You made it! Two kudos for you! You read the entire thing! Way to go! For those of you who just scrolled down to read the last part, no kudos or pats on the back for you. However you do have my sympathies. Only very rarely do I read blog posts even half this long. Maybe I should make a condensed version of this for those who are interested in what happened, but don't have the focus or commitment to read this whole thing.
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