Posted by: nflanders | May 8, 2008

Lying for the Lord: Weekly Journal Excerpt

This week I’m going to try to get back on chronological track, and stick with what was happening ten years ago. To refresh, I am living close to downtown Buenos Aires (a neighborhood called Flores), I have 100 days left of my mission, and the odious Elder Harris(on) has just been replaced by Elder Day. Elder Day has just a month left in the mission but he is way too spiritual to be ready to go home.

April 26, 1998

One hundred days. I never thought I’d be able to say that. Just 100 days until I board United Flight 984 bound for Miami and a new life. Maybe. Maybe that’s what scares me most. Everything has been a complete failure. I thought I was supposed to be a better person, I thought that was part of the bargain… it all seems so empty and pointless and a charade. I stared at the sacrament cup in my hand, expecting to see a cup brimming with damnation and scarlet, and all I could see was a little plastic cup of water. And it seemed so silly to assign it mystical abilities of damnation or salvation when it was just water. It’s as if I’ve passed through the surreal period of my life (the most fun, no?) into a sad realism. “God loves his children?” asks Radiohead. I guess. I don’t know anymore… 

I mentioned in the last entry that Day was a million times better than Harris/on. That’s what I thought at the beginning. Elder Day and I just turned out to have the least compatible personalities ever. You know that person who you just can’t get along with, even though they haven’t done anything necessarily wrong? Elder Day liked to discuss which apostle was his favorite and he had a framed picture of the commitment pattern next to his bed. (This is the commitment pattern chart, for those of you lucky enough not to know what it is. It’s simply a sales tool that helps you move people from meeting them, all the way to baptism.) 

One of the families we visited was a mother and her young daughter who were Mormon and worked as home healthcare workers for an elderly woman, Arminda, who was not a member. It was actually Arminda’s house, but she was very old and confined to a hospital bed, so the mother and daughter stayed there all day to take care of her there. Arminda had a constant IV drip and had recently had surgery on her shoulder.

April 27, 1998

…the thing that bugged me most and offended me and turned my stomach was when we were with Arminda and talking about her shoulder recovering. Elder Day said, “Remember that blessing I gave you? I blessed you that your shoulder would get better quickly.” She remembered. “If you have faith, it’ll get better soon; but if you doubt…” here casting a reproaching glance at her, raising his voice, “if you doubt, it won’t get better as soon.” He’s a spiritual terrorist, was all I could think of as I saw him cruelly exploit her weakest point, trying to force her to have faith. Not real faith, but a kind of fearful submission to all-wise Elder Day. The depth of my hate for him scares me. This tiny geek isn’t worthy of this rage and vile disgust I feel towards him. I just need to go to bed and try to forget I exist. There are so many ugly things in this world. And I am one of them. I hate this place.

Every once in a while, an apostle from Salt Lake will come visit and talk to the missionaries. This is very rare (it only happened once on my mission) so they make a big deal out of it. In this instance, they gathered all the missionaries from Buenos Aires North, West, and South together so Neal A. Maxwell could address us all at once.

April 28, 1998

Maxwell concert. I wasn’t too impressed. I hung at the back with Long and Wright, cracking jokes and Wright pointing the red laser pointer at people’s heads. I don’t think Neal prepared a talk so just he took questions. I was oh-so-tempted to stand up and ask about the masons or the failed prophecies of Joseph Smith, something to stir it up. It didn’t happen.

More ruminations on the fundamental incompatibility of Elder Day and me:

April 29, 1998

Today I realized I don’t have to like him, I only have to get along with him. For two weeks. How hard can that be? Better not to ask and tempt fate. There are two types of people in this world: people who tuck in their garments and those who don’t. Case rested.

In this final excerpt, I discuss a conversation we had with our recent convert, Mabel. She had just gotten baptized two weeks earlier, but she had previously taken the discussions with other missionaries when she lived in another city. I have bolded the part I am especially ashamed of. The Brigham Young book I talk about is the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young Sunday School manual that was released that year, and which the ward had given to Mabel after her baptism. 

April 30, 1998

…Mabel had read some anti-Mormon article in the newspaper and had gotten mad, but she said that she had her faith and wasn’t going to let it bother her. She said she met some journalist at the club with her husband, a specialist in theology, and she asked him what he thought about the Mormons. He told her it was a sect that came from North America, but a good sect; the only bad thing was that they didn’t believe in God. Mabel shook her head in disgust and told the guy to sit down with her as she explained to him that we didn’t worship Joseph Smith but rather God. She said he thanked her because it might come up and he had to give reliable information.

Then she started off into dangerous territory. “It’s just like this polygamy thing: a lot of people think we practice polygamy just because a long time ago a couple of Mormons sinned like that (and were kicked out of course!) and the people began to talk and say the Mormons are all like that.” If only she had known that Brigham Young had 26 or something wives, the very same man from whose book she quoted, not realizing that every mention of polygamy had been rooted out of that document completely. I wanted to tell her the truth but I also didn’t want to give her a reason to go inactive; she didn’t ask us about it so I shamefully kept my mouth shut. That hadn’t even occurred to me to be a doubt, but now it has suddenly reintroduced itself. How we completely stonewall on that part of our history…

That’s not exactly true, however. Almost a year and a half previously, I lied about polygamy to an investigator too. Unfortunately, there is no denying this: I was a coward. I was content to let them believe in things that were false and let these ladies to find out the ugly truth when I would be thousands of miles away. Yes, I am ashamed of things I did on my mission, but only of the things the Church wanted me to do.

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Responses

  1. “I just need to go to bed and try to forget I exist. ”

    I want that on my headstone.

  2. The worst part is that Elder Idiot might have cost those two women their jobs. If you were ill, would you put up with some idiot hassling you like that?

    As far as polygamy goes, you were no coward. You were a young man sent to sell a product that nobody had fully informed you about. The guilt lies/lays with the pinheads in Salt Lake who neglected to mention polygamy in the then new BY manual and who erased any serious discussion of the subject from all other church teaching materials.

    As I commented back in 2005, I was in Argentina in August ’98 and the TNT network in Spanish showed “Avenging Angel”. Member friends, some of whom had been members for nearly 20 years, told me what vile anti-Mormon propaganda it was. I was forced to tell them that while sensationalized, it had more truth than fiction in it.

  3. Hi, Ned! Love the journal entries. Love to see that you’re blogging again. Hope you’re doing well!

  4. This is a good one. I went to that link about the “committment pattern”. In just the three years since my mission, I’ve forgotten how incredibly haughty and superior missionaries are. The part I found the most outrageous was the “Power Invite”, specifically step 6, where the missionary is to say,
    “Mr. Smith, the Lord is very pleased with your willingness to…” (Confirm the commitment – confirm to them that they have made the right choice) For more important commitments… “Now that you have decided to…how do you feel?” (identify the spirit)

    As if we actually know what THE LORD TM is pleased with! It sounds so silly now, but back then… well I thought it was silly then too, to say what God thought about anything, but I never really told that to anyone. Like you, I’m kind of ashamed I was so unassertive about my differing beliefs/when I thought something was a load of shit.

    I was (finally) unpacking some boxes – I moved to a new apartment 3 weeks ago, and I found my sparsely written-in missonary journal and my mission photo album. I was looking through the pictures, and just started laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. I was looking at one picture in particular I took with a companion. We had our arms around each other, and I remember very distinctly at that moment wanting to make out with him like crazy. I just thought it was funny that 5 years later, I still remember what I was thinking when a picture was taken. Bloody hell was he ever hot.

    Now that I’ve found my missionary journal, I’m going to (copy you) and try to find some interesting entries to post on my blog.

    As for the polygamy thing, I just never knew what to say when that came up. Once the DL and I got interviewed by a couple of university students (rather hot girls) who were writing a paper for their religion seminar, and for some reason picked Mormonism. That they had even heard of it is rather amazing. They came to the church, and interviewed us. When the asked us about the role of women in the church, I was rather embarrassed to have to tell them. This was towards the end of my mission, and I definitely had major doubts about some things – the role of women being one of them. I think we told them some bullshit about women being equal, but not getting the priesthood (they get motherhood instead), or something. I actually have the interview somewhere (in German of course).

    Well, that’s a long enough comment for now.

  5. Costanza- I think it may be better as an advertising slogan for hangover cures.

    Capt. Jack– Poor Arminda was pretty out of it, so I think (hope!) they were safe, but you’re right that it wasn’t a good business move to invite missionaries over. I still can’t believe they produced an entire Teachings of Brigham Young without a mention of polygamy. It boggles the mind. I still think I could have acted more ethically within an unethical operation, but that would have been exceptional. Which I most certainly wasn’t. I am still glad you knew what movie that was. My comp at the time told me, “I think she watched ‘The Godmakers.'” Yeah, I’m sure they show that on cable all the time.

    Thanks, ECS. I am always interested in hearing more about Japanese garbage eating and sushi avoidance. In case you’re contemplating a new blog post.

    Craig– The commitment chart I linked to seems a bit longer and more detailed than I remember, but I didn’t study it all that much the first time. I think I told a lot of people that “God is really happy you’re quitting smoking!” and “God wants you to get baptized!” Well, their body was happy about the smoking and WE were happy about the baptism (more numbers!) so close enough. I am excited to read some of your journal entries. My girlfriend (non-Mormon) at the time had written me saying she was concerned about the role of women in the church and being discouraged from working outside the home. I told her that I believed in women keeping their last names and that I was hoping to be supported by my future wife’s career. I’m two for two.

  6. I’ve never seen “The Godmakers”, but I do want to now.

    It’s really sad how much the mission makes you focus on totally selfish things like having better numbers than the other missionaries, instead of really listening to and helping people. It’s more about helping yourself look and feel good. As missionaries we don’t really care what other people think and believe – we just want them to come to copy our beliefs. To think about it now makes me sick.

  7. From that link: “Speak clearly by varying the tone and speed of your voice.”

    I guess the GAs don’t have to study that stuff, eh?

    I think I don’t want to learn much more about what I don’t know about missions…though I very much enjoy reading your stories and thoughts. I’ll just steer clear of any more official documents.

  8. It’s way creepy, I know.


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