Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Discussion at Home

Matt here.

Picking up from last week, I'd just asked the elders to come over to my house so we could talk. They were in the city proper and I live out on the edge, so they said they'd be by in about an hour.


I'm a believing person. If you tell me you had a good time on our date, I'll believe you. If you say you're allergic to wheat, I'll believe you. If you say you care about me, I'll believe you.

One thing I've believed in is that the church has its members' best interests at heart. As a teenager, a few of my home teachees were inactive, and when we'd visit them every month I'd get a distinct sense that we were imposing and that they didn't really want us there. I couldn't figure out why. To me, it seemed like a nice thing, to have people who would check up on you and make sure you have help if there's a crisis. Yeah, we'd do a little spiritual thought thing that I guess could (in retrospect, did) get on people's nerves, but in my mind at least that was secondary. The primary purpose was to let them know we were willing to help with whatever they might need.

I haven't been hometaught since my first year at BYU, and that's hurt. I bring this up because in my handful of years as a less active or inactive member, I've also never been visited by the missionaries.The two are linked in my head because I had a different idea of what it meant to be inactive--I thought I would be pursued. I mean, isn't that one of the standard ex-Mormon rants, that they never leave you alone? Just because I didn't want to go to church doesn't mean I didn't want any contact.

But as I've mentioned, I'm trying to take Joan Didion's words to heart: "Character--the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life--is the source from which self-respect springs." I called the elders because I'm tired of waiting for the church to come to me. I guess part of my goal for the visit was to assert myself. I'm still here, I'm still a member. What are you gonna do about it?


In the end, I committed to read the scriptures every day until our next meeting, one week later. I expected something like that going in, and I'd've been disappointed if they hadn't asked. There discussion that led there was interesting, though.

First, Elder M (the redhead) was gone; they were doing exchanges. When I answered the door, I found Elder H (with the interesting voice) and Elder T, who was gorgeous.

Damn, I thought. One of the reasons I'd been so comfortable around Elders H&M was that I didn't feel a physical spark with either of them, so it was easy to focus on other things, like religion or whatever. Elder T was just shy of my height, green eyed, and had a beautiful smile. I would find out over the course of our discussion that he was also my age, having left on his mission a few years later than normal. Damn.

I led them onto the back porch, where I'd put out a couple of green plastic chairs in a triangle. They didn't know this, of course, but the back yard at my parents' house is my special place. I've spent more time out there than anyone else in my family, playing around or swimming or laying in the sun or whatever. It added something to my sense of security, being on my turf. I took the chair with my back to the pool, so I could see the house on the off chance that someone came home early. (I was supposed to have the house to myself for a few more hours.)

For a couple of seconds we just sat there. Then I told them a little about me: not sure about religion or God or anything like that, but raised in the church and wanting to take another look at it. Came out at BYU, inactive for a handful of years.

Elder T started with (what seemed to me to be) a curveball: "What's the most important thing to you?" And of course I knew they were expecting me to say family, and I wracked my brain to come up with a different answer, but after a couple of seconds I gave in because my family actually is the most important thing for me. But I followed it up with an similarly important second thing--"my independence." We talked about our families for a bit, Elder H complimenting my parents effusively, as he should, but they didn't press into Plan of Salvation territory, like I'd assumed they would. Elder T said he totally understood having difficulty submitting to authority, since he was an "alpha-male" type, and I privately agreed, fervently, with that.

Elder H asked me if there was some particular event that pushed me away from the church. Later he'd confess that since finding out he'd be coming to California he'd been afraid of Prop 8 coming up, and that explained why his face fell when I told him there were two things: first, Prop 8, and second, the utter lack of spiritual confirmation I've felt. I explained that while I believe it's entirely possible to be a good person and be against gay marriage at the polls (e.g. my parents), I can't excuse the church's role in the awful, dishonest Yes-On-8 campaign.

Both missionaries were touchingly sympathetic. Elder H, I'm pretty sure, is actually in favor of gay marriage and feels very conflicted about it. Elder T distracted me with that damn smile of his, so I don't remember exactly what he said other than affirming his belief that the church is led by inspiration. Neither missionary tried to treat it as inconsequential, which I appreciated.

After a time we moved on to the lack of spiritual confirmation, and I'm not going to tell you most of this part.  The three of us were open about the things we knew and believed and hoped, and we all shared some things that don't see daylight all that often, even for them as missionaries I would guess. Elder H talked about different ways that the spirit might manifest itself, though, and Elder T cautioned both to be sure I'm not expecting some grand miracle and that getting a testimony of God or the church could take years, as it had for him. (Remember that he's twenty-four.)

We wrapped up by setting a place (a nearby park) and time (same time, one week later) for our next meeting. I showed them out, and made a list of study questions for the coming week:

  1. Do I believe in God?
  2. Do I believe in Jesus?
  3. Do I believe in the Mormon church?
  4. What would spiritual confirmation be like?

And if you'd like to find out how that went, as well as hear about my second meeting with the Elders, that's what my next post will be about.


Unrelated: What My Daughter Wore
Unrelated: Do You Hold Hands?
Semi-related: Ben and Matthew

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post - yes, I plan to read your next post.