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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Deprogramming (Part 2) February 4, 2018

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So this will be the last post in this series, I think.  It’s been interesting to peer into this world, where devoting two years of young adulthood to being an overworked salesman for a religion (at your own expense) is considered an important Thing To Do.

For anybody just joining us, a while back I found this book at a used booksale:

This is not the official LDS book of rules, this is supposed to be a helpful guide, based on the author’s experiences, and those of many returned missionaries she knew over the years. It was published in 1968, but it’s obvious that some of the advice and tips in it are from many years before that.  I’ve been looking at it chapter by chapter, and it’s been interesting to see what’s changed, and what hasn’t. (more…)

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Deprogramming (part 1) January 14, 2018

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At last we are at the end of this book.  (The 1968 guide for Mormon Missionaries, if you remember)

We’ve learned how to be a perfect Mormon robot, selling the product, living with no privacy, working incredibly hard every waking hour, not even thinking about subjects that aren’t approved to think about, and don’t forget to smile!

Now she’s finally going to talk about coming back home.

Chapter 23.  The After-Mission Adjustment (more…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Fun with Beans December 30, 2017

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We’re nearing the end of this book.  (The 1968 guide for Mormon Missionaries, if you missed it.)  I’m going to be quoting at length from some sections of this chapter, because it’s just priceless.

Chapter 22, Recreation

Chapter after chapter in this book, there’s been instructions about the correct way to work your butt off.  Preach, cook, preach, clean, preach, wash, preach, write letters, preach, keep a journal, preach, and most especially DON’T EVER THINK ABOUT SEX.

Just reading about what these guys are expected to do is exhausting.  So finally we get to a chapter about how to rest and unwind.  Oh – not so fast now! (more…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Driving and Goodies from Home December 21, 2017

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Another chapter from my continuing series on the 1968 guide for Mormon Missionaries.

Chapter 20, Driving Care

OK, we’ve all seen the missionaries out on bicycles.  If you see two guys in white shirts and neckties on bikes, you can be really sure that’s who they are.  So why is there even a chapter on driving in this book?  Well, apparently there are situations where missionaries might have a car, but that’s not addressed until after she gives her safe driving lecture. (more…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Money Money Money October 9, 2017

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My continuing series about the 1968 guidebook for Mormon Missionaries.

Chapter 19, Money Care.

So after dealing with the all-important consideration of scrapbooks, she finally gets around to lesser considerations, like budgets and spending.

“The money a missionary receives from home each month has usually already been tithed so that the missionary will not need to budget for tithing.” (pg 173)

If that were talking about taxes, I’d understand.  But here she is addressing tithing as if it’s a mandatory taxation, and not a voluntary gift made to the church.  That’s a lot of control this church has over their members’ finances, do they send bill collectors if you don’t pay up? (more…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Journals October 8, 2017

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(Another installment of the continuing series on the 1968 guidebook for Missionaries I found at a used book sale.)

Chapter 18, Journal Care

“First let’s jump several years into your future.  Your mission, “the greatest experience of my life,” is now buried deep beneath diploma, job, bills, and babies.  Was it all a dream?” (pg  163)

If going on this mission was a greater life experience than having children, you’re doing it wrong, and probably should not be having children.  But on to her topic this chapter, which is about documenting every moment of this two-year recruiting project. (more…)

“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. (more…)

“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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“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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