“Faith. Faith is an island in the setting sun.” Paul Simon
“There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save. Send the light! Send the light!” Traditional Gospel Hymn
The other day I was accosted by a couple of Mormons. This was rather exciting for me, because I don’t think that has ever happened before, at least not since we’ve been in our house (going on nine years now).
It was a Saturday afternoon and we were just chillin’ with some friends when one of them noticed a pair coming up the walk.
“I think it’s Mormons! Or maybe Jehovah Witnesses!” she reported.
I waited for the knock.
“Maybe they’re just putting something in the mailbox?” someone said hopefully.
But no, the inevitable knock came, and I went to get it. What’s the protocol here? How is this about to go down? I wasn’t sure what to do so I played it cool. On our front stoop stood two impossibly young-looking guys. One had dark hair and round glasses. He looked like Harry Potter without the scar. The other guy was blonde haired. Both couldn’t have been older than 18….19 tops.
“How can I help you guys?” I said with a smile. Did it look too forced? Impossible to tell.
They introduced themselves as elders from The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.
Okay, so we’re dealing with Mormons.
“Boy that supper sure smells good!” Elder Potter remarked.
That threw me off guard a bit.
“Um, yes. Well my wife is roasting some red peppers for a soup. It won’t be ready for a few hours though.”
Jesus, am I supposed to feed these guys?
“Do you guys want a glass of water or something? A cup of coffee?”
“Oh no. We’re fine. Thanks for the offer, though.”
Shit. Don’t Mormons avoid caffeine? Or is that Jehovah’s Witnesses? Is it both? Did I offend them? I didn’t seem to. They actually seemed like they wanted to come inside.
I played the daughter card.
“Um, actually. Our daughter’s just having a nap, so maybe we can chat out here on the front step. Is that cool with you guys?”
They seemed a little disappointed, but I thought if they had their way with me out on the front steps, they would leave us alone and yet I wouldn’t feel too guilty about turning them away. I actually took the opportunity to ask them some questions about what they were doing.
Harry Potter was from Calgary and his buddy was from somewhere in B.C. I asked them how long were they “out in the mission fields, as it very much were”, and they told me two years. They are mandated by their church to travel around and share their faith with strangers for two years! I told them I was a Christian and that I regularly attended a church just down the road. I threw in that I also sang in the choir. I’m not sure why I said that. Maybe to show that I wasn’t fucking around with this church thing: I was in the motherfucking choir, bitches! Elder Potter said he missed singing in his home church choir.
Then we had an awkward pause that would have made Craig Ferguson proud.
I braced myself for the inevitable Mormon pitch, and here it came. But it wasn’t really what I expected. I guess I sort of expected a well rehearsed religious version of “good cop, bad cop”, and I may well have received that if I had invited them into my living room. But here we were on the front step and I think they were a little off their game. In any case, I didn’t expect to be the one doing most of the talking.
They started off by asking me what I knew about the Mormons. “Well, you know. Joseph Smith….Utah…..am I right? Actually, I’ve driven through Cardston, Alberta. You guys have a big temple there, right? It’s really nice.”
“What do you know about Joseph Smith?” they asked.
“Well, isn’t he considered by you to be an American Prophet?”
I think they thought that was kind of funny. “Well, yes. He was American, and we see him as a prophet, so I guess you could call him an American prophet?”
Then they asked me if I ever wondered why there were so many different churches. I wasn’t sure where they were going with this, but I ended up telling them about how the United Church of Canada came to be formed. I was really putting on a clinic here. Who was evangelicalizing whom? I almost cheekily invited them to our church, but I stopped short.
Instead, something else came to me:
“Let me ask you something. Do you guys consider yourselves to be Christian?”
They both nodded their heads. “Oh totally. We also believe that Jesus continued to reveal himself to the world after his death and resurrection, including to people like Joseph Smith”.
I felt wholly under-equipped to engage these fellows in a doctrinal discussion, so I just said. “I also believe God still works through us and others with the Holy Spirit, and she moves in mysterious ways”, inadvertently quoting a U2 lyric as I went.
The next thing I knew they wanted to come back and have another visit and give me a copy of “The Book of Mormon” but I headed them off at the pass.
“Actually, I work at a library and we have a copy of The Book of Mormon in our collection!” They seemed really pleased by that.
“Well, why don’t you take a look at it the next time you’re at work. Especially the beginning part!” the blonde one said.
“Sure, sure, sure. I won’t keep you any longer. You probably have a few more houses to hit before supper time, am I right?”
They bid me a pleasant afternoon, and asked before leaving if there was anything they could help me with. “Yardwork, perhaps? Although you’re yard looks really nice!” Damn, how those boys knew my secret weakness (i.e. I hate yardwork but I LOVE when someone notices when I’ve cut the lawn and says something nice about it), I’ll never know. But I couldn’t imagine them “trimming the hedge” in their nice white shirts and mormon-style pants. As they departed, they left me with their parting salvo:
“I have found much joy and peace in my life as a Mormon and I want to share that with you,” Potter smiled at me. I dumbly smiled back at him like a boob and gave them a little wave as they toddled to the street.
After they left, I thought of all kinds of things I could have asked them: How do you feel about one of your countrymen, Mitt Romney, making a run for the White House? Have you guys seen that musical, “The Book of Mormon”? I hear it’s really good. What do you think of Bill Paxton? Do you guys still do the plural marriage thing? That seems like alot of work to me. Did you know Sherlock Holmes battled Mormons in his first adventure, A Study in Scarlet? Is it true that there is special “Mormon” underwear out there?…and so on.
My wife and friends wisely stayed inside during the visit. But afterwards my wife opened up. “You know what bugs me? How they call themselves elders and they’re like 18 or 19? What does any 18-year-old know about anything? And why are there no women elders? Why are they called sisters?”
I’m not even sure this is correct, but I wasn’t going to argue with her.
“Also, did you ask them about equality and inclusiveness?”
All good things to ask, but I admitted that I didn’t think to ask about those things.
“Where were you when I needed you?” I joked. I imagined her stage-whispering out the front window at me:
“Ask them about GAYS! Ask them about their view of WOMEN!”
So here I am at work a couple of days later, and I’ve got the Book of Mormon open in front of me. It’s written in some kind of weird pseudo-King James’ style language, and I know for a fact I’m not going to read it. It’s laid out like the Bible, with but with unfamiliar names: “The Book of Omni”, “The Book of Alma”, several books of “Nephi”.
I know nothing about Mormonism, and I have nothing against whatever anyone wants to personally believe. To me though, if we were to use a DVD as an analogy. Christianity feels like the feature, and Mormonism is like some of the various extra features you get on some deluxe editions. Stuff that sometimes is cool, but for the most part is superfluous. There are all kinds of stories about Joseph Smith that just don’t add up. But then again, if you were to take the Christian story as historical fact, you’d be left with more questions than answers too, wouldn’t you? In fact, if you were to take the interrogation of Jesus by Pilate as a police record, Jesus would come off as a hostile witness at best, and a deluded nut at worst. So let’s not judge too harshly.
If anything, I kind of admire these guys. Imagine devoting two years of your life to go out into the world and share your faith with strangers in a strange city or country? Imagine getting doors slammed in your face all day long, or getting laughed at, or maybe even worse: meeting apathy and indifference over something that means so much to you? This is a serious committment, and one I could NOT imagine taking on myself.
I know faith is a personal thing, and I don’t really talk about it with anyone. I could probably stand to be a little more like these Mormon chaps. I mean, I don’t even talk about my faith amongst people with whom I attend church. And if you can’t talk about faith with them, who CAN you talk to about this? Is it easier approaching strangers? Do you eventually make it part of your daily habit, like brushing your teeth?
We used to belong to a couples’ group at church where we’d get together on a monthly basis throughout the winter. Even though I enjoyed the company of the people in the group, I kind of dreaded going, because I felt like I needed to reveal something personal about my faith at these things, or at least discuss the issues raised in the passages and devotionals we would study. The group no longer meets, and I do miss it, but I also don’t really miss the times when it felt like the spotlight was on me. I guess I get introverted when I’m forced to dig deep and open up. I think that’s the thing. I don’t like to be forced to do anything. I feel like if I wanted to be a Mormon, I would check it out on my own. Back to the DVD analogy, I’m glad the extra features are there, but sometimes you want to just watch the theatrical cut and leave it at that.
That same night, my wife and I went to see the Avengers, and even though I knew all about the TWO after credits scenes, I didn’t feel much like staying for them. For one, I really had to pee. But I also didn’t want to be told what to do. I whispered to my wife as the credits began that I was going to split for the washroom but that there was a couple of little scenes to watch at the end if she wanted to stay. She didn’t. The theatrical cut was all we needed.
I don’t know what to think, and I don’t know how you talk about something like faith which is so deeply personal and weird. I guess have a long way to go before I’m wise enough to be an elder.
I think I’ll just go and listen to some Paul Simon.