Sunday, December 26, 2010

Meeting some "Elders" from the Church of Latter Day Saints

About an hour ago, I was hanging up coats in our coat closet when Choo Choo toddled over and wagged her tail the way she does when she thinks she's going out for walkies. It had been a couple of hours, so I thought maybe she was telling me she needed to go again. I put on my parka because it was a balmy 37 degrees outside, put her leash on her, and took her out.

Choo Choo immediately took off at a dead run when we reached the bottom of the stairs. I figured she just really had to potty and was in a hurry to get to her spot. She likes to go in the same areas. Instead, she led me right to two men with backpacks wearing suits and promptly started barking at them. Choo Choo, I think, picks up my moods and since I am instinctively distrustful of all strange men she is as well. She didn't want to stop barking, so I tried to maneuver her in another direction. The two men, however, walked over and asked what kind of dog she was.

"She's a chihuahua," I said. I was immediately suspicious. These were well dressed men, they seemed intelligent enough, and Choo Choo is clearly a chihuahua, and everybody knows a chihuahua when they see one. They're kind of a distinctive, well known breed.

They said she was cute, and proceeded to introduce themselves as "Elder James" and "Elder Jacob" from the something something "Church of Latter Day Saints."

Great. My dog, who is cute and so smart in so many ways, had just led me straight to the path of two young (I don't know why there were "Elders" since they looked about my age) Mormon soul savers on a mission in 37 degree temperatures. And I learned from Daddy many years ago that you should never be rude to people who are trying to help you in their own way, even when you aren't interested in their help. Out of politeness, I stopped to listen.

The inevitable, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" followed talk of my dog and comments on my scarf with built in mittens and the weather.

I decided honesty would be good. "No, I really don't."

"Well, do you believe in God?" 

"Sometimes, but I don't give it a name. I sometimes believe in something." 

I suppose that seemed promising to them. Choo Choo was wandering around behind us, occasionally turning to bark at one or the other before returning to exploring her territory. They asked lots of questions.

Do you live here?


With your family?
"No, with my boyfriend and dog."

Does your boyfriend believe in God?

"He believes in absolutely nothing. We're more scientific than religious."

Had we ever been to church?
"We were both raised Southern Baptists."

Was there a reason you stopped believing?
"I told my preacher something had happened, and he didn't believe me. Southern Baptists tend to favor men." Of course, I know the Mormon Church also favors men above women, that men traditionally hold the power in all things familial. And I made it clear I didn't like that.

And they answered with something about how people are not perfect, but God is, and something about how men can become corrupt, and that I could surely find solace in their church. Out came a card (in Spanish, but I had no problem reading it) with a number to call so I could get a Book of Mormon and then they offered to come up and take out my trash (no, thank you) or do my dishes (no, thank you) or help me in any way possible, including cleaning up Choo Choo's poo poo (tempting, but no, thank you.)

I answered with a, "I think your time is better spent trying to save someone else's soul."

Before leaving, they asked me if I was going to call the number.

Well, they were nice young men. They weren't pushy in the way that the usual Christian and Jehovah's Witness and Catholic Missionaries are. (Sorry if I'm insulting you, but I've never had one show up at my door that wasn't really pushy about me being saved. And I was saved before I stopped believing. I just chickened out of being Baptized because I was afraid the priest would drop me in the water and I would drown.) I didn't want them to feel as if they'd wasted their time.

I threw them a bone. "I'd say your odds are about fifty fifty at this point." That seemed to make them happy. 

I came back upstairs, gave Matt the card, and he asked me why it was in Spanish.

"They ran out of English cards." 

And then we laughed and I tucked the card away in my desk because I think throwing it away would be even ruder than just not calling.

Still, they insisted it was Fate that led Choo Choo to wanting to go out for walkies right as they were coming by. I don't really think it was Fate so much as unfortunate timing. Maybe Choo Choo heard them outside talking to someone else and she wanted to investigate. Maybe she couldn't hold in the poo poo any longer. 


  1. I think you handled that the right way. I'm sure it was uncomfortable telling them you didn't believe. You don't want to be rude, or cast yourself in the role of the lost sinner that they're out wandering the night looking for. At the same time, you don't want to give them false encouragement that you're receptive to their ideas.

    I'm kind of in the "sometimes I believe in something" camp along with you. I guess it's kind of a wishy-washy camp to be in. Some days I see it. Some days I don't. And you want to keep an open mind. But I'm really not big on going to church. I had more than enough of that as a kid.

  2. I gave myself a pat on the back for not being rude. I've seen people slam doors in missionaries' faces and tell them to get lost. And you're right, it was a little awkward. I didn't want to lie, but I didn't want to be one of those people that was all, "I'm atheist! Leave me alone!" Pushing your non-belief in somebody's face is just as rude as pushing your Faith.

    I'm curious what kind of church you went to as a kid. Mine told me dancing was a sin. Is that just Southern Baptism, or is this a traditional Christian thing?

  3. Well, it was Baptist to begin with actually, but then it switched to non-denominational for some reason I was never quite clear about. I also went to a private school for a while until I was kind of...ummm, forced to leave for questioning too many of their beliefs. (I'm planning on discussing all this in an upcoming post one of these days.) I think the church the school was associated with was Presbyterian. I never saw any real difference between their doctrines though. And yes, both of them had some inexplicable problem with dancing, and Kevin Bacon never even showed up to straighten them out.

  4. Kicked out of Christian school? Wow. Admirable.

    What is it with dancing that irritates certain branches of Christianity? I'm pretty sure that, if there is a higher being of creation, he probably gets down with the angels while Hendrix, Lennon, and Harrison rock the place out. It seems rather silly to believe in a God who allows imagination to create music, but frowns on dancing to it when that is also an expression of creativity.

  5. I think you handled the situation very well, Chanel. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

    Just in case you were wondering, "Elder" is an office in the priesthood in the Mormon church. It doesn't really refer to the age of the person. Missionaries typically go on missions between the ages of 19 and 27. So they probably were pretty close to your age.

    I do my best to be polite when the Jehovah's Witnesses come knocking on my door. It can be difficult sometimes, especially when they get pushy, but common courtesy is usually the best way to go.

    PS: Having read the conversation between you and NuclearHeadache, I thought I would weigh in. I am a Mormon, and last time I checked there were no rules against dancing. I personally see no problem with the whole idea of "gettin' down wit' my bad self" when the music is good and the mood strikes. (Although most people would probably have BIG objections to having to watch ME dance, cuz I suck at it!) :)

  6. Priesthoods have ranks like the Military? That's interesting. So...what's higher than an Elder? (Is Elder supposed to be capitalized? I thought so because it seemed liked a title...)

    I had some Jehovah's Witnesses came to my first apartment when I was eighteen, and they talked at me for an hour no matter how many times I said I wasn't interested. Then they came back the next week and I saw them through the peep hole. I'm not proud of this, but I turned to J-Lynn, who was my roommate, and said, "I don't want to talk to them again! Get rid of them!" So she opened the door wearing her bra and a pair of jeans and said, "I'm sorry, my girlfriend and I are having sex right now. Can you come back later?" And they left in a hurry and never came back. That wasn't the best way to handle it, I know, but I couldn't take another hour of trying to make them leave. Granted, I didn't KNOW she was going to do it that way, and it's funny. But wrong. Very wrong.

    I honestly know very little of the Mormon church, except that they used to believe in having multiple wives but don't any more, except in that one state. I did want to ask the Elders if they were allowed to dance, but I thought it might be rude. It's a little comforting to know that there are branches of Christianity out that that don't think dancing is evil. :)

  7. CRAP!!! I had a nice, eloquent response to your comment, and then I hit the wrong button and deleted it! GRRRRR...Curse me and my clumsy, disobedient fingers!!!

    Anyway, here's an overview (which is still probably way more than you would ever want to know, but I'll tell you anyway): There are several different ordinations within the priesthood, which all men within the Church can be eligible to recieve. It's not so much a "rank" as it is a level of responsibility within the Church.

    At age 12, boys become Deacons and recieve what's called the Aaronic Priesthood. Age 14, they are ordained as Teachers. At age 16, they become Priests. Age 18 is when they are ordained as Elders, receiving what is called the Melchizedek priesthood. They are eligible to serve a mission at the age of 19. I'm not entirely sure what the age is, but at a certain point they are ordained as High Priests. For most men, that's about as far as it goes. For each ordination, there are a set of duties and responsibilities that come with it.

    Only actively serving missionaries and General Authorities of the Church are referred to as "Elder". For the most part, we just use each other's names.

    Polygamy is indeed no longer practiced within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, there are separate sects that have branched off of the original Church who still continue the practice. One of the most infamous has to be the FUNDAMENTAL Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They have their own prophet and living compounds and stay pretty separate from the rest of the world (from what I understand). I don't know much else about them, though.

    As a side note, I really don't think that those missionaries would have been offended by the dancing question. To be honest, they probably would have laughed a little. I'm sure they have been faced with far more difficult, pressing, and offensive questions than that and were probably just grateful to have come across someone who was as polite as you were.

    Okay, I'm done rambling now. Hopefully I didn't confuse you too much.

    PS: Your Jehovah's Witness story? LOL!!! :)

  8. I'm confused. You didn't say anything about college. Don't you have to go to college to become a priest?

    These young men were carrying backpacks and hoofing it. Does this mean they were traveling? If so, do they all travel far and wide as a part of a mission? Where do they sleep? Are there prearranged host homes or do they stay in hotels or hostels or something?

    Now you've got me all curious about the inner workings of the system.

  9. Curiosity isn't a bad thing. :)

    No, Mormon missionaries are not required to go to college to become missionaries, and the priesthood is something that any worthy male member of the Church can be given and use to serve in the Church. All of our church leaders, teachers and priesthood bearers are called to serve on a volunteer basis. They are not paid for their service, and no special education is required for them to serve in any capacity (except for their own personal study of the Gospel of the Church). They serve in the Church while carrying out their own lives and working in their own chosen careers. Any member of the Church can serve in a lot of different "callings" as needed. We believe that every member has something to teach, and that their different educations and life experiences are sufficient for them to fulfill their callings effectively. Our Church meetings are taught by different members every week, as they are asked to do so by our local leaders. (Even yours truly has spoken in meetings, and served as a teacher in a few different classes. And if I can do it, anyone can!)

    Our missionaries basically volunteer two years of their lives to go out and preach the gospel wherever they are called by the Church. We have missionaries all over the world, in many countries and speaking many languages. They are trained for their missions at "Missionary Training Centers" where they are taught whatever languages they may need for their mission, and how to teach the gospel effectively. They are also taught how to deal with with basic situations and questions that might come up (although I'm sure that there is no way to be completely prepared for everything that could happen).

    Different mission areas have different living situations. Usually they rent a room from a local member. It just depends on where they are.

    Missionaries carry backpacks so they can have supplies on hand for while they're out and about talking to people. The card they gave you is what's called a "pass along card" for those that might want to find out more about the Church. If they come across someone that is interested in what they are saying, they'll teach them the basics of the gospel and after a few meetings invite them to be baptized.

    So...the missionaries that you met the other day were called to your area of the world by the Church from other parts of the world/country. They are probably living somewhere close by, and more than likely were carrying teaching materials around with them in their backpacks. The pass-along card they gave you was in Spanish, possibly because they have been called to your area as Spanish-speaking missionaries and they carry cards in both languages with them as the situation may call for. (My own husband served his mission in Florida as a Spanish speaking missionary before we met).

    I hope this answered your questions, I am by no means an expert in everything, but this is a pretty good overview of the things you were asking about. :)

  10. Yup, it answered my questions. It's a weird system from what I was brought up on, but it sounds way less strict. Not that I'm interested in joining or anything.

  11. I'm glad I could clear things up. And no worries, I'm not trying to convert you. :)


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