4.12.2010

The one time when Lds Missionaries Came to My House.(two days ago)

(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.

18 comments:

Heather said...

This seems fairly consistent with my experience with missionaries that have come to visit. There was almost always one missionary who had an attitude like, "Well, this girl believes what she believes. No use trying to convince her otherwise. I'll just tell her that I'm happy and it works for me," while the other missionary was hell-bent on convincing me that my experiences were less valuable than his, and that I simply wasn't willing to open myself to truth.

I think because I'm a woman, the missionaries seem quite uncomfortable being alone with me, and once they establish that I don't believe and won't be converted, there is no discussion, no chit chat. Your experience was briefer than you wanted, but none of mine were ever longer than two or three minutes. Luke was telling me about establishing a relationship of trust. No one has attempted that with me.

Sometimes, though, I just don't answer the door when I've seen the missionaries walking around the neighborhood. It can be too frustrating to talk to young guys who think they know everything.

whit said...

I read the whole thing! But I am not that committed of a reader- I don't usually finish your more lengthy posts, but this one was a good read.. probably because I have served a mission and enjoyed hearing your perspective of a missionary visit.

meg said...

I READ THE ENTIRE THING, WORD FOR WORD. Surprised at this old migger?

mrs. everything said...

I read the whole thing. I feel sorry for both of those boys. Also, we should talk more. About anything, everything and if you want, church stuff.

max everything said...

I wish I could have been there, or at least be able to see an HD video recording of it all.

Jack W. said...

I read the whole thing as well, and understand and could visualize the entire thing. I had an "Elder Red" companion (maybe a few actually) and in some ways was an "Elder Brown" missionary. I would love to have this experience, but feel it couldn't happen with Utah missionaries. I think you did a good job in summarizing the relationship of the missionaries. It seems to be on target with at least the way they portray themselves.

I guess what I am really trying to say is that I empathize with you in many ways that you describe in this blog post: the willingness to speak; the preparation of books and thoughts prior along with imagining of different scenarios; the in-the-head-self-correcting tactfulness required to carry on a discussion with missionaries et cetera. I could go on. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

Always funny how those who leave the church never can leave it alone. Your pursuit of self justification will yield no fruit, of course. This isn't a final judgment, of course, a word of advice: keep this nonsense to yourself.

Chris Almond said...

@ Anonymous.
Point not taken.
Clearly you are a believer in the Church. Can you imagine how you would feel If I told you to 'keep your nonsense beliefs to yourself'?
I imagine you would find it frustrating. You find it further justification of the truthfulness of what you were saying and if anything it would give you encouragement to speak of your beliefs more often.

This is close to how I feel after reading your comment.

I will try and explain more of why your comment is so deeply frustrating to me:

Your comment represents to me part of the reason I left the Church and part of the reason I stay away. Ie. People who are uncomfortable with the truth and want to silence voices which disagree with their own. I am not saying this represents all Church members, but it clearly represents yourself and others within the Church generally and some of it's leadership.(thankfully not all.)

Any organization which seeks to silence those who disagree with them strikes me as the opposite of 'good'. Any group which claims to seek after truth should be open to all forms of inquiry and commentary.
When a person seeks to silence his/her critics, it comes across as evidence that they have something to hide. This makes their beliefs automatically suspicious, and less likely to be believed. When someone is open to all forms of truth and inquiry, it makes their claims much more believable.
That anyone would wish to silence those who disagree with them is, to me, strange and and unkind, that someone would want to do it in the name of God(ie, Truth) Is even weirder.
If you had tried to refute any points I made, that would 100% okay with me. But to try and silence me? Do you honestly, in your heart of hearts, see this as good?

Chris Almond said...

@anonymous pt 2
It is incorrect when you say: "Always funny how those who leave the church never can leave it alone."

Were you to have said "always funny how those who spend the first 24 years of their lives in a particular organization can never leave it alone", perhaps it would be come clear why this is true, and not funny at all.
Anyone who grows up in an institution which they were intimately a part of, will, of course, find it deeply affects much of their life even after they leave, and therefore will find it difficult to 'leave it alone'.
This does not mean they are attacking that organization or seeking to justify themselves. It is also not evidence that that organization is any more or less true true.
I have found many people who grew up in very tightly knit religious communities and subsequently leave leave them, who find it difficult to leave that organization alone. This includes Jews, Muslims, other forms of Christianity Flds Church members and others.
This phenomenon is, by no means, exclusive to the Lds Church. It is common to all tight knit religious organizations.
Do you feel that those people who are lapsed Jews, Muslims, Flds etc, and who speak out about the organization they were raised in, are also trying to justify themselves? I imagine not. Because you are not so emotionally tied to those organizations, you are able to see more objectively that it is only natural that anyone who is raised in a particular organization and leaves it later in life, will find it difficult to 'Leave alone'.

Now, imagine that same sort of persons, lets imagine they were once a Muslim. Imagine this former Muslim writes a blog post about their once being Muslim and then a current Muslim responds by asking them to 'keep that nonsense to themselves'. Wouldn't you find that level of censorship off putting? Wouldn't it make you feel that the active Muslim had something to hide? Was uncomfortable with the truth?

I know nothing about you, but I imagine you often talk about your belief in the Church. Do you see this as 'self-justification' and something that should be silenced? Of course not and neither do I. I wish you could afford me the same respect as to view my beliefs, and my right to talk about them, as you do yours. This is what it means to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Chris Almond said...

Everyone else who left comments, thank you very much. I am amazed you read my post! way to go. Thank you very much for your responses.
Heather, thank you for your comment. Although, the type of missionaries you describe doesn't seem the same as the type of missionaries I described. Neither one seemed hell bent on trying to convert me. Elder Red hardly said anything, and then wanted to leave, while elder brown made a somewhat half-hearted effort towards converting me only after I said 'aren't you going to try and convert me'
About the woman thing, you are probably right. i remember we generally weren't supposed to be alone inside a house with a woman. It happens a lot anyway, because it is hard to say no to someone who wants to listen, but I remember it always being a weird situation.
And whit, I am particularly happy to hear you found this a good read, as you are a devout Church member. I tried to write as fairly and as balanced as possible so that even a devout believer may enjoy it, that you did enjoy makes me feel perhaps I was successful at that.
(thought of course I realize that some church members will feel offended by anything I say about the church that isn't glowingly positive.)

Chris Almond said...

@ Anonymous,
One more thing.
While your comments may be relevant to some other things I have written in regards to the Church, it is strange to me you would have left this comment on this particular post because it wasn't like I, just out of the blue, decided to write this super long blog entry about mormonism. I wrote it because missionaries came TO MY HOUSE.
In this instance, I wrote about it, not because I can't leave the Church alone, but because it is something which just barely happened to me.
What is also weird to me, is that this entry wasn't even necessarily negative towards the Church. I explained some of my views of the Church insofar as it was relevant to the story, but otherwise this wasn't a critique on Mormonism. It just seems that anything about Mormonism which isn't absolutely positive you find offensive. Which is unfair. People are allowed to not feel positively towards things you feel positively towards. (you may want to take elder bednar's advice on being offended http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-646-32,00.html )

Chris Almond said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather said...

What I meant by a similarity is not that Elder Red was hell-bent on converting you, but that in my experience one of the missionaries has always seemed more laid back and willing to let me believe what I believe, but the other became frustrated and made it very clear that he thought I was wrong, wrong, wrong. While Elder Red was quiet, it seemed obvious from the beginning that you made him kind of uncomfortable and he thought you were wrong.

I have never had any experience with sister missionaries. I would be interested to see if there are major differences in their approach. I've heard about some areas where sister missionaries are more successful than bro missionaries, and vice versa. I wonder what accounts for this difference- the different approaches, the attitude of the people toward the different sexes, or something else.

Chris Almond said...

Heather, I see what you are saying now. Sorry for misunderstand you before.
When I was a missionary I definitely noticed there were pros and cons to sister missionaries vs. elders.
For the most part sisters seemed more effective than Elders,(i'm sure part of this is their being a couple years older). The biggest con I noticed with sister missionaries is sometimes if a male was being taught to he would be so flirty and stuff as to make the discussion ineffective.

It would be interesting to see how it would be if you were taught by sisters. Maybe I will send in a referral card.

whit said...

woah, that anonymous comment is blowing my mind. the two "of courses" make it hard to read. plus I didn't feel like your post was negative at all, and shouldn't merit such a response.

ricky said...

Anonymous, if you are still out there I would love to hear your response. We can bring this into a civilized and respectful back and forth dialogue about the issue.

Marissa N. Paolacci said...

anonymous, wasssssup?

also, don't people realize we are trying to have them over for dinner!?

Anonymous said...

Nice question