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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Don’t forget to write! September 22, 2017

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Continuing my occasional series on the 1968 guidebook for Mormon Missionaries.

Chapter 17, Letter Care

So as I’ve mentioned before, these missionaries are thrown into a strange place, cut off from family and friends, and expected to sell religion door-to-door for many hours a week, and also expected to study, practice their presentations, go to church, and maintain perfect clothes and grooming, clean quarters, impeccable table manners, do all their own shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry, as well as possibly needing to learn a foreign language on top of that.  And the added stress of being assigned to spend 24 hours a day with a stranger.

You’d think that would be enough to expect from these kids.  Oh no, we have to dump another expectation on top of the already impossible standards they are expected to meet.  They have to write home.  Every single week, on their one day off, the day when they are supposed to do all their shopping and laundry and any other errands, they need to add this too.

Our author says:

…it is up to you whether letter writing becomes a joy or a chore.  It becomes a chore when you don’t realize what your folks want to hear…” (pg 151)

Because you should be telling them what they want to hear instead of what you want to say.  and that makes it not a chore.  Right.

She first provides an example of a reasonable short, moderately newsy letter, which looks like it might be about one page longhand, but she says that is only “..fine as far as it goes…”  Then she gives an example of what she considers a really good letter home.  I won’t copy it here, because it’s in excruciating detail and takes up a full page of the book, single spaced.  Given that very few of these missionaries would have been able to type these letters in 1968, this would have been many many pages of longhand.

She does have some good pieces of practical advice.  Since they already are expected to write their parents every week, trying to write to all their friends too is really too much.  She suggests setting up a round robin to circulate letters among a group of friends, and that seems like a good solution in pre-e-mail days, since the missionaries aren’t allowed personal phone calls.  She discusses business letters, which she wisely recommends as being typed, and brief but clear.  Some other good resources she provides are some model notes for times when they have to write, like thank you notes, congratulatory notes, or sympathy cards.  Those are always difficult, so having a model to work from can help.  Well except for this one:

Dear Brother and Sister Brown,

I am so sad about Steve.  All the years we were growing up together I loved him as though her were my own brothers so I think I can guess what you are going through.  How very wonderful, though, that he left you such happy memories.

My mission is all that I expected it to be and more. The work is hard, but the rewards are unbelievable.  I shall be released soon, and once I get home I’ll be right over to see you.

Until then, may your faith sustain you in your sorrow and give you courage and strength to meet each new tomorrow,

Affectionately, (pg 158)

Well then.  Somehow this sympathy note turned into “Enough about your loss, lets talk about ME!”.  And then finished with a rhyming platitude.  Gee, I feel comforted.  This is what she gives as a model for a sympathy card?  Really?

Of course, she has to discuss love letters.  In the previous chapter about girls, her main advice was not to get involved at all.  So, if a missionary leaves a girl at home without breaking off the relationship for the duration of the mission, and since no phone calls are allowed, our author realizes that a missionary is going to want to write to his girl.  What to do about this?

“…you should have a frank discussion about the letters you will write to each other before you leave.  If your relationship is really serious, it sill be extremely difficult to turn love letters into friendly ones, for no one can say, “I love you” for two years in casual friendly letters.” (pg 154)

Because heaven forfend the letters are anything but casual and friendly!  Here’s as far as she’s willing to go on the non-casual love letter:

One elder and his fiancee solved this problem by agreeing that they’d keep their weekly letters newsy and friendly, using the word “love” only as a complimentary close but permitting themselves a little more freedom on holidays.  In this way, these occasions became even more special.  For instance, on Thanksgiving he sent her a card with a picture of a turkey on the front cover which said ‘Whenever I think of a turkey I want a drumstick.’  Inside the card it read, ‘And whenever I think of you I wanta neck!’ and then the elder had penciled in, ‘But not till next June’ (which was his release date).” (pg 154)

GASP!  Is this a slightly off-color joke?  I must clutch my pearls before I faint from the shock. She also addresses “Dear John” letters, and here the creepy cult brainwashing is showing again:

“It has been said that an elder is not a full-fledged missionary until he has had fleas, the missionary itch (a skin allergy which comes with a change in food and climate), and a Dear John.

Of the three the Dear John, surprisingly enough, is the most welcome to the majority of missionaries.  This is not to imply that all missionaries are eagerly and obviously waiting for such a letter with open arms and broad smiles, nor does it mean that a missionary ever receives one without being visibly shaken.  What it does signify is that most elders lose interest in writing to a girl as they become more intensely involved in their missionary work.  They forget what a girl looks like after being out for a year, after eighteen months, they don’t care that they’ve forgotten.” (pg 155)

Wow.  Are these young men really so engulfed by this “mission” that they lose interest in sex?  Or is that just the ultimate goal of the organization, that they are pretending is actually the case?  Now I want to talk with some ex-missionaries to see which is true.

But the most difficult requirements that she lays down on correspondence are not on the missionary, but on the people writing to the missionary.  She has instructions for girlfriends, and for parents.  For girlfriends, they mustn’t write too often, or be too “gooey” or talk about how much they miss  their boyfriend, because that might increase his homesickness and make him less effective.  Likewise with parents, they need to talk about what is going on, but not talk about all the good stuff their son is missing:

“A parent creates a homesick missionary if he writes to say, ‘we had all your cousins to dinner today and I fixed stuffed pork chops – the way you like them – with mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed green beans, hot rolls, fruit, homemade ice cream and chocolate cake.” (pg 162)

(Just a few questions about this quote – our author says “if he writes” and then talks about this huge meal.  Is she implying that Dad cooked all this?  Or was that a typo?  And that was certainly a huge amount of work to go into one meal, I hope that was only for a special occasion and not the normal amount of effort Mom was expected to put into cooking every day.)

And parents, no fretting over your kid’s health in your letters, no saying you miss him, no talking about how glad you will be to see him again, nothing to make him the least bit homesick.  But be sure you write every week, but absolutely don’t tell your kid how you actually feel. (As the musical The Book of Mormon says “Turn it off!)  About the only personal topic she seems to allow is how proud the parents are of the work the missionary is doing.  It’s got to be really hard to produce an interesting letter every week when you are restricted to local news that would not make the missionary homesick, and “we’re so proud of you.”

And lastly she has this to offer parents:

“HINT: If your missionary has an investigating family he’s particularly interested in, offer to write them a letter….” (pg 162)

Oh yes, if I’m someone listening to a missionary, and considering changing religions, somehow I can’t imagine that a letter from his parents would be very likely to sway me.  I’m not sure if what this kid says is true, but if this kid’s MOM says so, well then it must be right!  I don’t think so.

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Communicating August 9, 2017

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Continuing with my chapter-by-chapter review of the 1968 guidebook for prospective Mormon missionaries.  I’ve been away from this series for a long time, let’s get back to it.  Chapter 16: Conversation Care.

So far, there has been a lot of bad advice in this book, a lot of condescension, and quite a few amusingly outdated attitudes.  But finally we’ve come to a chapter where our author actually has mostly good advice for these kids!  Apparently she has enough experience with talking to people that she knows her stuff here.  Mostly.

Her advice includes:

  • Paying attention to first impressions.
  • Avoiding bad grammar,  slang, and pretentious vocabulary.
  • Maintaining a tone of voice that is not harsh, loud, or monotonous.
  • Avoiding profanity.
  • Listening more than you talk, and not monopolizing a conversation.
  • Avoiding off-color stories, and long boring personal stories.
  • Avoiding gossiping or bragging.
  • Avoiding responding to insults to your home country in kind.
  • Not fidgeting or chewing gum.
  • Looking to the people around you for cues as to appropriate formality in speech.
  • Not embarrassing someone for not remembering your name.

This is all good stuff, and should be observed by anyone who is trying to persuade people through conversation.

However, sometimes her good advice comes crashing back down into preachiness:

“Keep an open mind and never be afraid to listen to another version of truth.  Learn to say, “I think” or “It seems to me” except, of course, when it comes to talking about the gospel and bearing your testimony; then you always say “I know.” (pg 147)

And she concludes with a complicated discussion about making introductions, and whose name you should mention first.  I remember seeing similar sets of rules for this when I was a child, and I don’t remember ever having occasion to use them.    Here’s her rules:

“Rule I: Introduce the younger person to the older.  This means you say the older person’s name first…

Rule II: Introduce the male to the female. This means you say the female’s name first…

Rule III: Introduce the less important person to the more important. This means you say the more important person’s name first.” (pg 149)

And then this:

“Unfortunately there will be a few times when these rules will have to be broken.  Perhaps you’ll need to introduce an elderly man to an important man, or an important man to a woman.  In such cases, rule breaking is based on respect.  The very old person’s name is said first to show respect for old age, and the person holding an important church or civic position is mentioned first to show respect for a man of his stature and office.” (pg 150)

I’m still confused.  What if you need to introduce a fairly important person to a rather old person?  Or an important woman to an elderly man?  (Oh, silly me!  This is Mormonism, there is no such thing as an important woman!)

But my real problem with these rules is that it forces the person making the introductions to make value judgments about people, and letting them know how you judged them.  You have to evaluate whether a person is more important than the other person is old, or whether someone’s importance or age places them ahead of women in introductions.  I hate this whole thing!  By the simple act of helping people get to know each other, you might inadvertently offend somebody!  And you sometimes have to make these snap judgement on the spot, too.  And there are things that you might have wanted to consider, such as which person you know better, or which person you arrived with, or who you are currently talking to, and none of these are allowed to be considered in this artificial system.  Let’s just have nametags and be done with it.

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Not So Smart Cookies July 4, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Brain Glitches, Humor.
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I may have mentioned that one of my favorite podcasts is called “You Are Not So Smart”.  It’s a wonderful “celebration” of the human capacity for self-delusion.  It started out as a blog, and then shifted over to a podcast.  Each episode focuses on some particular way our brains don’t work, usually with one or more guests that are experts in the field.  It’s pretty much the podcast I would make if I were going to do a podcast, except I don’t have to because it already exists.

At the end of most episodes, the host, David McRaney, samples and comments on cookies baked from a cookie recipe sent in by a listener. A few months back I had sent in a recipe for one of our favorites,  Caramel Apple Cider Cookies, but then hadn’t given it any further thought.  I had gotten a little behind on listening, so I was very surprised when my spouse called me to say that this book had shown up on our doorstep…

 which is the thank you gift if he uses your recipe on the show!  Yay!  His review is at the end of this episode.

Thank you David, and I promise to get caught up on the latest episodes as soon as I finish getting caught up on Oh No Ross and Carrie.  (They are doing a summer devoted to UFO craziness.  Can’t miss that.)

Inner Demons January 19, 2017

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Still reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature.  I’ve just finished the chapter on what it is about human brains that leads us into violence that ought to be avoidable.  Again, this chapter really could be a whole book on its own.

He sums up at the end of this chapter by re-listing five “inner demons” and I think his list is a good summary.  He didn’t number the list, but I’m going to here:

  1. People, especially men, are overconfident in their prospects for success; when they fight each other, the outcome is likely to be bloodier than any of them thought.
  2. People, especially men, strive for dominance for themselves and their groups; when contests of dominance are joined, they are unlikely to sort the parties by merit and are likely to be a net loss for everyone.
  3. People seek revenge by an accounting that exaggerates their innocence and their adversaries’ malice; when two sides seek perfect justice, they condemn themselves and their heirs to strife.
  4. People can not only overcome their revulsion to hands-on violence but acquire a taste for it; if they indulge it in private, or in cahoots with their peers, they can become sadists.
  5. And people can avow a belief they don’t hold because they think everyone else avows it; such beliefs can sweep through a closed society and bring it under the spell of a collective delusion. (pg 570)

The chapter has a really detailed examination of each of these points.  This is a really interesting book, and I wish it was required reading for every politician before they were allowed to take office.

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Missionaries Behaving Badly October 20, 2016

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Continuing with my chapter-by-chapter review of the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries:

Chapter 15.  Skeletons in Missionary Closets

(Content advisory: animal cruelty)

A whole chapter on misbehavior!  Let’s see where this goes.

“While fulfilling a mission is a great privilege, it is also a great responsibility.  Everything you say or do is being recorded in somebody’s mind for good or ill.” (pg 136)

So we start right out with setting an impossible standard that 19-year-old boys really can’t be expected to live up to. And then?

“A tactful missionary will not step over his bounds; he will respect other people’s beliefs rather than argue with them; he will not laugh at quaint or unusual mannerisms or customs but will view them so sympathetically as to adopt them as his own, at least during his mission; he will not criticize the people, the bus system, the food, the toilet tissue which might bear a strong resemblance to either wax paper or sandpaper, nor the beds which he suspects were invented for medieval torture chambers.  Rather, he will admire what these people do have, realizing that all persons are entitled to hold good opinions of themselves and their country, and that they are happy the way they live and are proud of their backgrounds and country just as we are of ours.” (pp 136-137)

Right.  Respect their beliefs, then tell them that they are completely wrong about everything they think about religion and have to change to what you think.  Good plan.

So, as this author usually does, she harps on manners.  She gives us a couple of examples on the necessity of thanking people.  The first story I think really shows how outdated this book has become: A missionary had to be hospitalized, and of course didn’t have the money to pay for it.  A local Mormon paid for his treatment, and the missionary never bothered to thank him.  The author says about the Mormon: “She told herself to forget it since it wasn’t a matter of great consequence…”  Nowadays, there’s no way that a hospital bill could be considered a matter of no consequence, it would be a huge financial outlay and a really big deal.

The second story also includes somebody being extremely rude, but I don’t think I agree with the author as to who the rude people were.

“One mission president and his wife decided to surprise their missionaries with a big Christmas dinner.  Turkey was scarce in this distant land…. His wife worked in the kitchen for days making all the trimmings to go with the turkey, but they both felt rewarded just anticipating the eyes that would sparkle and the mouths that would water as the door of the dining room was opened at the climactic moment to show the festive table.  On Christmas morning the missionaries all arrived for a brief meeting following which the mission president happily announced that they were all to stay for dinner.  Just as he was opening the door into the beautifully decorated dining room, two elders blurted out “Do we have to stay? We were going to hit a flick.” (Go to a show.) With spirits somewhat dampened the mission president said “I think maybe you’ll want to stay when you see what we have planned for you.” Without so much as a single word of thanks, these same two elders complained to their mission president the following day that they got cheated out of their day off…and they had to go over to his house and eat that Christmas dinner!” (pp 137-8)

Somebody was rude here, but it wasn’t the missionaries.  This mission president didn’t think that any of the 180 missionaries in attendance would have already made plans for christmas Day.  Perhaps they were already invited to eat with local friends, perhaps that was the one day in the whole year that they allowed themselves the luxury of a movie and already had tickets, perhaps they had spent the previous week being invited to christmas dinners at other houses, and stuffing themselves each night.  This mission president just assumed that his idea of what a perfect christmas dinner should be would take precedence over the plans of all these other people, and that they should just drop everything they had on their schedule to stay for his dinner.  It’s pretty clear that while these youngsters are expected to take on the responsibilities of an adult, in no other way is the hierarchy treating them like adults.

Now we come to a long section on “don’ts”, and bad examples.

“For instance, two elders in a playful manner placed a rubber band around a dog’s mouth, but they inadvertently forgot to take the elastic off when they went into the house for supper.  For five days the poodle wouldn’t eat and the landlady couldn’t imagine what was wrong (the rubber band had worked down into the fur and couldn’t be seen). Finally she took the dog to a veterinarian who had to perform a minor operation in order to cut the elastic which had become embedded in the animal’s flesh.” (pg 138)

Playful manner? Really?

“In one of the foreign missions, a group of elders found some old American Remington and Winchester rifles.  So great was their excitement at this unexpected discovery that it blurred their judgment and consideration for others: they climbed on top of the church and began shooting at stray cats.  People throughout the neighborhood began saying “What’s the matter with those Mormons?”  Then they began referring to the elders as ‘Latter-day Cat Haters.’ “(pg 138)

So remember, missionaries, don’t be cruel to animals because it makes Mormons look bad.

One lovely member lady actually said to a mission president’s wife “Please don’t send us any more missionaries – wait a few years until the town can forget the last two!’ ” (pg 138-9)

“An elder or sister who is living up to the ideals of missionary work will never do any of the following…”

15. Feel that just because a method works it is right.  For instance, one elder resorted to many different tactics to gain entrance to people’s homes.  When a lady opened her door, he would throw his hat in and then have to go in to get it.  Or, he’d walk in without making any comment and then say, “I’ll get the table ready while you get your Bible.” …

18.  Be impatient with those not ready to accept baptism.  One elder actually pounded the table and said to an investigator, “You are ungrateful.  You should be thankful that you have been called.   You must join now when the call is upon you.”  The woman was offended and has not joined to this day.” (pp 139-40)

So at least there are limits on sneakiness in getting your foot in the door to preach at people.  Bait and switch is OK (as seen in a prior chapter), and cornering your seatmate on a plane, but not overt rudeness.

Next section is back to basics on manners, this time regarding relations with the landlord.  Don’t be noisy, don’t leave a mess when you move out, pay your bills, etc.  All really good advice.

And finally a long section on relations with Mormons who live in the area the missionary is working in.  Mostly it boils down to “yes visit them, but remember to behave like a guest, and don’t take advantage of their hospitality.”  I also think this section is more of a cautionary tale for Mormons living in areas where there are missionaries active.

“On her arrival, one mission president’s wife who sincerely wanted to be like a mother to all the missionaries living in the mission home made the statement ‘I want you to know that this is now your home,’ but it wasn’t long before she had to put little signs all over the house such as the one on the refrigerator which said “Keep out.  For family use only.” (pp 142-3)

That was her mistake.  If you tell a bunch of 19-year-olds to “make themselves at home”, then you should not be surprised if they put their feet on the furniture, eat all the food in in the fridge, leave dirty dishes in the sink, and borrow your stuff without asking.

messy-kitchen

I found this chapter somewhat refreshing.  All through this book there’s been this impossibly high standard set for the missionaries, that they have to be perfect every moment, always smiling, always polite, and must never slack off or relax too much, or stop thinking about pushing their religion on everybody.  Do the missionaries actually live up to this expectation?  From reading all of the “don’t let this happen” examples in this chapter, it’s pretty clear that a lot of them don’t.

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Stuff September 30, 2016

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Continuing the series on the 1968 guidebook for prospective Mormon missionaries:

Chapter 14, Extra Equipment – Help or Hindrance?

OK, enough of the motivational rah-rah talk from last chapter, now she’s getting back to useful discussions about preparing for the trip.   This chapter is a discussions about reasons to bring (or not bring) particular items of optional equipment.

Camera

“It has been said that everyone will be able to tell when the end of the world comes because the Mormon missionaries will be there with their cameras!”(pg 124)

She actually has some practical advice about not bringing expensive camera equipment that might be damaged, lost or stolen.  But she makes an assumption that the result of their photography will be slides, not snapshots.  Because everybody will enjoy sitting down for a couple hour slideshow when the missionary gets back, right?  (Uggghhh.)

Flip Charts

“The flip charts replace the use of flannel boards in proselyting…”(pg 127)

flannel-board

Flannel boards?  Are you kidding me?  Are we in preschool?  It’s insulting enough that they send 19-year-olds out to tell everybody else that they need to change religions, but flannel boards?

Radio

“Taking a radio into the mission field is basically discouraged. … Admit that uncontrolled radio listening can make you homesick, and it can be a waste of time as well as distracting.  How does one keep spiritually elevated while listening to very earthy rock and roll?” (pp 127-8)

“Some missionaries also feel that being able to comment on the news, either local or worldwide, is a good “in” when making initial contact. (Of course, this works in reverse too: often a good approach with contacts is to ask them what’s going on.)” (pg 128)

Great, so remaining deliberately uninformed is a strategy for persuading people that you know what you’re talking about.

Tape Recorder

There are several reasons why mission presidents discourage the use of tape recorders among their missionaries, and they all center around the word “temptation”. (pg 129)

Yes, this was 1968.  What was happening in 1968 that a missionary could listen to, that might be considered “temptation”?

stonejoplin

hendrixTheSlowDrag-PeteTownshend-TheWho

sgt-pepper-beatles

Oh right. That.

So what does our author have to say about this?

“…the biggest temptation is wanting to record jazz music for one’s own enjoyment.  One elder even had his mother send him a tape of the Smothers Brothers and he listened to it every time he stepped inside his apartment.” (pg 129)

Wait, this book was published in 1968, and “temptation” was listening to these guys?

smothersbrot

OK, I admit I’m a fan of the Smothers Brothers.  Their TV show was pretty politically subversive.  But their albums were mostly just them mangling folk songs, getting history wrong and arguing with each other.  No screaming, no wailing guitars, just two impossibly cleancut young men telling us about one-humped camel races and the ballad of Big Ben Covington.  Given the music that was happening at the time, the Mormons should have been thrilled for their missionaries to be listening to the Smothers Brothers!

Musical Instruments

“Two missionaries advertised in the local paper that they would give free music lessons to children and baptized ten people in three months.  The one elder gave the musical instruction while his companion talked Mormonism to the rest of the family” (p 134)

That’s not “free”.  That’s “bait and switch”.

“Guitars, accordions, harmonicas and jews harps are useful when working, or rather relaxing, with young people and they are good for your own personal enjoyment on your day off, but they are bad for “goofing off.” (pg 135)

Jews harps are useful?  For what?  Are they going to talk about nose flutes while they are at it?  (For those of you who don’t know what a jews harp/jaw harp is, watch this video.)

Next up, a chapter on missionaries behaving badly.  OOOOH, can’t wait!

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Sell the product September 14, 2016

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Continuing the series on the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries:

Chapter 13, Proselyting Care

(I still continue to find it very weird that this book says “proselyting” instead of “proselytizing” as most people do.)

So, we’ve been through chapters of advice on manners and laundry and packing and cooking, and all kinds of things that missionaries need to do, but we have finally come to the loooong chapter about the primary activity that the missionaries are supposed to do: sell the product.

mormon_missionaries_door

Now, if you remember, right at the start the guidebook said it was not going address details of theology. So this chapter is about motivation and salesmanship.  And as usual, there’s a mix of actual practical advice (like learn from people that have already been doing this, or be patient, or tolerant of a less motivated companion,) but also some really over-the-top instructions.

So what helpful advice does our guidebook have?  It starts out this way:

“If you want to have a successful mission you must start out successfully.  The magic formula is successful W O R K.  Just as it is true that no one has yet devised a method for getting wheat out of straw except by threshing it, so it is true that no one has yet devised a method for baptizing people into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without meeting with them and converting them.  Such a supreme accomplishment is impossible for a missionary who is easygoing or lazy, sitting in his room all or part of the day, or indulging in too much social activity.  The Lord has never said his work would be easy; he has promised that if you work, you’ll be happy doing what you came to do, while if you don’t, you’ll be nothing but miserable.” (pg 113)

So, right off the focus is work ethic, work makes you happy, don’t goof off.  Relaxing too much will make you unhappy.  What else does our author have to say about this work?

“Are you a cheerful happy friendly person who can smile and keep a song in your heart even though slapped down periodically by discouragement? …  Remember a cheerful person is not one who has no problem; rather he is one who has made a habit not to wear his problems on his face nor reveal them in his tone of voice.” (pg 114)

“Can you jump in with both feet and forget yourself, your clothes, dates, friends at home, and personal pleasures, devoting yourself to your one purpose of fulfilling and honorable forceful mission?” (pg 114)

“HINT: If you don’t get going and do your job well, the whole district suffers.” (pg 115)

“Can you work as though the success of the whole mission depended on you but pray and have faith as though it all depended on the Lord?” (pg 115)

“Missionary work is a team effort from the mission president down to the greenest missionary.  Success within the team rests solidly on respect for authority. … Obey their rules.  Keep them whether you think they are important or not — even little ones.” (pg 115)

This is sounding more and more like a creepy cult.  Don’t show how you feel, smile all the time, forget your own life, obey authority, and everybody else is depending on your doing this. Yeesh.

And you know how impossibly upbeat and smiley Mormon missionaries always are?

“Hallmarks of success as listed in the handbook of the Central Atlantic States Mission are:

  1. Be affirmative in your thinking and speech.  Avoid negative words and phrases: “if,” “I hope,” “I’ll try,” and “I’ll do my best.”  Say instead “I’ll do it.”
  2. Smile.
  3. Look people in the eye.
  4. Be enthusiastic.”

What about relaxation?

“…in order to be happy and productive in one’s work he must not do it all the time.  Because this is true, missionaries are given time off each week to enjoy a change of pace.  … This does not mean, however, that you should ever pass up an opportunity to present the gospel message.   …. Every time you need toothpaste, purchase it at a different store and then, even though it is your diversion day, ask the Golden Questions.” (pg 116)

So a missionary needs to relax, but at the same time he’s never supposed to totally relax.

Some other great bits:

Humility:

“Just because you have been ordained to teach the gospel doesn’t qualify you to tell people how to solve all their daily problems.  In the mission field as at home humility is always the supreme Christian virtue” (pg 114)

So knock on people’s doors, tell them their religion is completely wrong, tell them that they have to stop believing what they believe and start believing what you believe, but be humble!

elder-cunningham-2

Success:

“As Henry Ford preached all his life, ‘Whether a man says he can or he can’t, that man is right.’ “(pg 117)

Right.  Which is why you meet so many people who can fly.

Time management:

“If you take your clothes to a laundromat, memorize and review scriptures while your clothes are washing.” (pg 118)

“You can waste time reading cheap books, going to shows, getting together too often with other elders to eat or visit, going sightseeing every few days, socializing regularly at certain members’ homes, staying in your apartment for hours at a time performing accumulated trivial tasks, or shopping around every spare moment looking at cameras, tape recorders, radios, etc.  But again, what have you gained?” (pg 120)

Living your real life, that’s what you’ve gained, instead of wasting it trying to sell dogma.

Discouragement:

“It has been said that even the most miserable-looking crow has a hunch he’ll look like a peacock and sing like a nightingale some day.” (pg 121)

“Discouragement is Satan’s most useful tool.  He uses it to pry inside your consciousness.  Once inside and in control, he can use you in whatever way pleases him.” (pg 120)

Satan?  This is the first mention I’ve heard of Satan in this book; I wasn’t aware that Mormons made a big deal out of the Satan thing.

“Have you ever stopped to think that even Christ didn’t convert everyone?” (pg 121)

Because apparently there are some things that are just too difficult for an omnipotent god.

“The Lord knows which people are ready to accept the gospel, because it is up to you to find them.” (pg 122)

Because even though you pray to god and ask him to tell you things, he’s not going to tell you anything that’s actually useful.

 

But, to be fair, there was one part in this chapter that I really did like, an example about quarry workers:

“When someone asked the first worker what he was doing he answered, “I’m cutting stone.”  The second worker when asked the same question said, “I’m carving a lintel.”  The third quarry worker replied, “I’m building a cathedral.” (pg 117)

That’s a good example about perspective, which I might apply to help with motivation in tasks that are a small part of a worthwhile endeavor.  Unlike preaching.

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Roommates August 27, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing with the chapter-by-chapter dissection of the 1968 guide for prospective Mormon Missionaries.

Chapter 12, Companion Care

you_and_me

The chapter begins:

Sooner or later every missionary will find that his mission life is a mixture of good days and bad, success and disappointment, give and take. (page 101)

Let’s fix that:

Sooner or later every missionary person will find that his mission life is a mixture of good days and bad, success and disappointment, give and take.

This chapter is about getting along with assigned companions, and in general has a lot of good advice about getting along with people.

I’ve been looking at the stress level for these youngsters, who are thrown into a strange place, cut off from family and friends, and expected to sell religion door-to-door, not to mention the expectation of perfect clothes and grooming, clean quarters, and impeccable table manners.  Now add the additional stress of being assigned to spend 24 hours a day with a stranger.  This is worse than college roommates, because you can spend most of your time away from your college roommate if you need to.  These companions are expected to spend every minute of every day together, except for using the bathroom.  Like this:

“If, without warning, he jumps off his bike and runs into a store, you have no choice but to follow him.” (pg 102)

Not just wait outside the store for him, follow him.  At this rate, they might as well be handcuffed together.  Is there any mention that the people in charge are making any effort to team up people who might be compatible?  Nope.  How about a provision for requesting a change of companion if two completely incompatible people have been assigned together?  Nope, not mentioned either.  But she does talk for several paragraphs about ways that companions might clash.  An example:

“You may be a “gourmet” while your companion takes constant delight in smothering his meat with jam.”(pg 102)

But the author does make some good points about the value of learning to get along with people.  The skills they learn in getting along with their randomly assigned companion will probably serve them well in getting along with future spouses, employers, and coworkers.  So among all the pointless things these kids are expected to do during this two-year hazing, this actually has a use in their later lives.

Felix and Oscar

She helpfully points out is that it’s a good idea to avoid being annoying, and to be aware of things that others find annoying.  And she provides a helpful and lengthy list, which is so wonderful that I’m going to include the whole thing here.

“Fifty personal habits which have proved to be annoying are:

  1. Leaving hair in the washbasin.
  2. Squeezing a tube of toothpaste the wrong way or leaving the cap off.
  3. Not cleaning out the bathtub.
  4. Not putting away personal toilet articles.
  5. Using companion’s towel, washcloth and even toothbrush.
  6. Staying in the bathroom for long periods of time; using all the hot water.
  7. Leaving washcloth in the tub.
  8. Not knowing when it is time to take a bath.
  9. Kicking off shoes and leaving them in the middle of the floor.
  10. Acting undignified; slouching on couch, crossing legs so that hairy legs show.
  11. Yawning without covering your mouth.
  12. Not making your bed.
  13. Dropping clothes on the floor.
  14. Snoring.
  15. Picking teeth with fingers.
  16. Being bossy and telling the other how to cook.
  17. Eating like a horse.
  18. Placing elbows on table while eating.
  19. Slurping soup.
  20. Not accepting responsibility for cooking meals according to schedule.
  21. Not washing the dishes right after a meal but waiting until everything is dirty and then doing them; failing to wash dishes really clean.
  22. Dressing in poor taste.
  23. Indulging in such bothering mannerisms as sniffing or clearing throat.
  24. Using poor English such as “ain’t,” “he done,” “we wuz,” etc.
  25. Being slouchy and lazy.
  26. Borrowing clothes or money; “what’s yours is mine” attitude.
  27. Not obeying mission rules (i.e. leaving city without permission).
  28. Wasting time by making unnecessary trips to shopping centers, banks, etc.
  29. Being stingy with money.
  30. Being wasteful with money. (Leaving lights, heat and water on, leaving iron on and refrigerator door open; using too much toilet paper, etc.)
  31. Tapping foot on floor or pencil on a book.
  32. Being selfish; having a “what’s in it for me” attitude.
  33. Saying one’s home town is better than companion’s.
  34. Being bullheaded and set in ways.
  35. Kidding when companion doesn’t know how to take it.
  36. Being opinionated – “a know it all” who can’t listen.
  37. Having a habit of being late for everything.
  38. Being selfish and ungrateful; not doing anything for anyone, or if companion does something for you, doing it over.
  39. Humming in a subdued tone.
  40. Being noisy if you get up earlier or stay up later than your companion.
  41. Interrupting others; monopolizing conversations.
  42. Belittling member’s superstitions even if done jokingly; imitating member’s mannerisms or voice peculiarities.
  43. Being overly sensitive.
  44. Acting spoiled.
  45. Complaining about everything.
  46. Correcting a companion in front of others.
  47. Criticizing, insulting, or finding fault with a companion.
  48. Taking an hour to polish shoes while companion sits and waits.
  49. Carrying a chip on your shoulder.
  50. Having the “I” disease: “I” made this baptism, “I” got this contact, instead of “we.” (pp 103-4)

I find it interesting that all these are thrown in together in no particular order, and that major rule breaking is not given any more emphasis than subdued humming.  And things you can’t help, like snoring, are lumped in with easily corrected irritants like soup slurping and leaving hair in the sink.

But mostly me

A lot of this chapter sounds like it could have been written by a professional counselor, and has some really good advice.  (Surprise!)  Like this section:

“…you must first learn to accept the fact that conflict is normal.  Then you must learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.  You must be able to recognize the difference between frankness and rudeness.  You must be able to explain something without sounding superior.  You must give more than you take.  You must try to forget little differences of opinion quickly once they are resolved.” (pg 107)

But not all of the chapter comes up to this standard.  Remember in the chapter on table manners, where there was advice to lie to your hostess?  And to avoid telling them directly when you aren’t allowed to eat something, or don’t like their food?  Well this chapter has a heavy dose of advice about how to use passive-aggressive manipulation on your companion.

“If you can’t teach through example, perhaps you can through suggestion: “Shall we cook a big dinner tonight?”  “Shall we make our beds  before we eat breakfast?”  “Shall we adjust the schedule so that we can get our hair cut today?”  Or perhaps you can teach through exaggeration.  If your companion leaves one light on, accentuate the problem by turning all the lights on.  Or sometimes you can embarrass a companion into doing what’s right. Make his bed for him when he doesn’t do it himself.  Pick up after him and hang his clothes up when he forgets to do so.” (pg 110)

I know if I had a roommate who was obsessed with always having the beds made, and they started making my bed for me, you know what I’d do?  I’d let them!  It’s obvious that they care more about it than I do, and if that’s the way they want to spend their time, them good for them.

And of course there’s a hefty emphasis on the overwhelming niceness that seems to pervade Mormonism.

“But remember, there are not likely to be so many problems if you reduce friction by consistently oiling the machinery with a mixture of the five C’s: Cheerfulness, Compliments, Courtesy, Consideration and Compromise.” (pg 111)

And, of course, the religious answer to any problem is to focus on the religion harder, because they aren’t allowed to consider that religion is the root cause of any of their problems.

“Every morning before you leave your living quarters to begin the day’s work take hold of your companion’s hand and tell him that you love him and that you are both doing the work which is right, and that the gospel is true.  Pray together every morning and every evening for a mutual understanding; then shake hands afterwards.  Remember, the more diligently you proselyte the less time you’ll have for pettiness, because little things have a way of adding up when you are not doing the job and when you don’t have the missionary spirit.” (pg 112)

(You know, when things are actually true, it’s not necessary to constantly remind each other of this.  I spent plenty of time around scientists in college, and I never had any of them feel the need to reassure me that gravity was true, or that electrons exist.  I never had a music class where we worried about proving the existence of music.  I didn’t have to get together every morning with my classmates to reassure each other about the fact that computers were real.)

So, to sum up, if missionaries are not getting along with their completely aggravating roommates that they must live with 24 hours a day, the solution includes being passive-aggressive about chores, working themselves to exhaustion, and obsessing about religion.  Yeah, that’ll work.

 

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“So You’re Going on a Mission” Squeaky Clean! August 23, 2016

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Continuing on with the chapter-by chapter review of the 1968 handbook for prospective Mormon Missionaries:

Chapter 10, Grooming Care

shiny teethThis chapter is really short compared to the chapter on table manners.  Most of it is just the usual nagging-mother litany of take a bath, comb your hair, brush your teeth, use deodorant, put on a clean shirt, shine your shoes, get that dirt out from under your nails, smile, and for goodness sake don’t slouch.  Nothing that these kids’ moms haven’t been telling them for years.

But there are a couple of gems here:

 “Once upon a time a lady opened her door, looked a Mormon missionary up and down, and then commented: “My but your shoes are shiny. Why don’t you come in?” (pg 90)

And then there’s this puzzling metaphor:

“Carry a clean handkerchief, but don’t use it for nose-blowing.  An elder who pulls out a dirty handkerchief to wipe the perspiration off his head and neck slides down his totem pole with a bang.”(pg 91)

I don’t know what that means either.

andrew-rannells-book-of-mormon

But the other part to having that squeaky-clean Mormon image is making sure those blindingly white shirts stay that way.  So let’s go on to:

Chapter 11, Clothes Care

Most of this chapter is a laundry list of laundry tips.  Also included is other advice on clothing care, like three paragraphs about deciding whether or not to darn your socks.

There’s lots of tips for stain removal, including a suggestion to use Goddards Dry Clean on food stains.  I hadn’t heard of that!  So it looked it up.  It was removed from the market a few years ago because the ingredients were hazardous.  Or how about this tip:

“Shoe Polish  Take off with rubbing alcohol or carbon tetrachloride. (pg 97)”

poisonWait what?  I’ve never seen carbon tetrachloride for sale as a stain remover.  I’ve never seen it for sale at all!  So I looked it up.  Turns out that it’s a nasty chemical indeed; exposure can cause many physical problems including nerve damage and acute liver failure.  It’s use as a drycleaning solvent was discontinued in the 1950’s and it was banned in consumer products completely in 1970.  So her information was already way out of date when this book was published, and she was recommending a hazardous chemical as a household laundry product.

“Many missionaries save themselves a considerable amount of money by taking advantage of self-service dry cleaning.” (pg 97)

mr-yukIs that still even a thing?  Again, I’ve never heard of this.  Back to some research.  Apparently coin-operated drycleaning machines were introduced in 1960, and still exist. Perchloroethylene is the main solvent used in drycleaning, and has been since 1948.  But it’s use is beginning to be phased out now – turns out it’s a central nervous system depressant and probably a carcinogen!  It’s better to leave the drycleaning to the professionals.

Most of the rest is pretty ordinary stuff, like how to wash and block a sweater, or how to iron if you don’t have an ironing board.  Pretty boring, so that’s enough of this chapter.  Next time – how to get along with your assigned companions!

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Which fork? August 21, 2016

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Continuing on with the chapter-by-chapter dissection of the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries.

Chapter 9, Table Manners Care

So let’s review what we’ve learned about the lives of missionaries so far:  They are sent to a random location somewhere in the world, they aren’t allowed to contact their family and friends for emotional support, and they are expected to sell a product that no-one needs door-to-door for ten hours a day, six days a week.  Then they are expected to cook for themselves, keep their quarters sparkling clean, spend all day every day with the stranger that they have been assigned as a companion,  and during their free time they are expected to study, fast and pray.  If they are stressed and frustrated, that means that they aren’t believing hard enough, and they need to study, fast and pray more. (more…)