Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My conversation with my converts...

First of all, I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. It really helps to have an outside perspective on these things. Anyway, I promised to report how it went, so here goes.

I called without having a chance to brush up on my Spanish, so it was quite a shock when they started talking to me. This family speaks fast, very fast. The connection wasn't great, either, so I had some difficulty understanding them at first. I spoke with the mother first. We had been talking for about 30 seconds before she got to the question I had been dreading.

The Mom: So, are you still strong in the Church? What calling do you have?
NF: Um, well actually, I moved recently.
TM: Oh, so what calling did you have previously? What callings have you had since the mission?
NF: Er, I actually haven't had any callings since the mission.
TM: [speaking to someone in the room] He must not understand me, he says he hasn't had a calling since the mission. [resumes talking to me] Are you sure you haven't had a calling?
NF: Nope, no calling. I'm not always there, so...
TM: It seems to me you have been lazy with regards to the Church.
NF: Uh, well, yeah, I guess.

At this point someone else grabbed the phone. I had great conversations with everyone, including one son who recently returned from his mission. We talked a little bit about my church activity but not too much. He said he was mostly around Americans in his mission. He didn't say anything outright, but I am guessing that this was a tough experience for him. I imagine that the culture shock of the mission is just as great (if not greater) coming from living in a single apartment with nine family members.

I got to talk to the mom again at the end of the call, and we had a more positive conversation. I tried to communicate to her that it was really her family that was great, not the influence of the church on her family. I also tried to say that her family probably would have converted even without us (her sister was a member before she met us), but she definitely didn't buy that.

I could tell she was disappointed with my inactivity but I am still glad I told the truth. Maybe this will help her be more open-minded if her kids fall away from the Church. Maybe not. But life is too short to go around pretending you are something you're not. Thanks for the advice.


Capt Jack said...

Glad it went well Ned.

Gunner said...

I'm glad you were honest. Character above everything will carry you through the days ahead.

RoastedTomatoes said...

Ned, nice post, and I'm glad it went well overall.

Can I just point out (as someone named RoastedTomatoes!) that there's irony in hearing Ned Flanders tell me that life's too short to pretend to be someone you're not?

NFlanders said...

Ha! But I AM Ned Flanders. I have the green sweater to prove it.

Also, I hope it was clear that the "my converts" part of the title was tongue-in-cheek.

J. Stapley said...

Very interesting. I'm not sure what would be the first question to someone who converted me would be...but I don't think it would be, "what is your calling."

It is not uncommon, I guess, to ask people that you are getting to know what their calling is...

NFlanders said...

To be fair, J., her first and second questions were: Are you married and do you have kids?

The callings question was third or fourth.

Anonymous said...

well done, ned.


Kim Siever said...

The first question I was asked yesterday when I was talking via email with an old investigator was whether I had heard of JP Morgan Chase, the place where he works.

NFlanders said...

I forgot to mention this in the post, but she was quite concerned when I told her I had been married in a different church.

She thought I had become a member of that church in order to get married there. I had to reassure her that I was still Mormon.

Rusty said...

Nice post Ned. I too am glad the truth was told. It's always great to catch up with people from the mission whether or not either party is still active in the Church.

annegb said...

I often ask people what's their calling. It's just something interesting to me. Like who's there dad or where are they from.

Perhaps they have been worried about you, maybe the spirit told them.

But I have a suggestion that I would do now that you've told them. I would write to them and tell that although you are dealing with some things regarding the church, THEY still mean the world to you and express your appreciation for them as people. I would let them know of my affection were I in your place.

annegb said...

ps, thanks for updating us, I was really curious. :)

Ann said...

I have heard that the New Orleans version of the very Mormon "What's your calling?" is "How's your mom an' 'em?"

Well done, Ned.

Stephen said...

I'm glad you told the truth, hope that your testimony continues to work its way back to life.

lchan said...

Good to hear.

I talked to a good friend of mine from high school for the first time in about 10 years and one of her first questions was what my calling is. I think it's just a roundabout way of checking if you're active while assuming that you are.

annegb said...

Ichan, I'm not checking, I'm just interested. I ask people all kinds of questions like that. It's just making conversation. To me.

Anonymous said...

I think asking about callings is just a verbal way of checking out garment lines. As Mormons, we're all nosy, judgmental and anxious that every smart person we know is on the way to apostacy.

It really shouldn't be anyone's business if the religion we so cared about ten years ago is now a blip in the distant path. Most other religions/religious people don't give a darn. So why is it that we LDS have to be so inquisitive about other people's private lives? It's no-one else's business if/when they go inactive or leave the Church. Sheesh...

annegb said...

I have never once checked for garment lines on anyone. But here in southern Utah, where we take for granted a lot, one of the things we take for granted are callings. It's just like asking someone you used to work with in the PTA what they are doing in the PTA now. It's not judging. It's just asking.

Now, a convert asking a missionary what they are doing is the same thing, curiousity and assumption that the missionary is still active, so perhaps no clue the question could be uncomfortable.

I think it's wrong to assume ulterior motives all the time. These people loved Ned, they converted and assumed he was still active. I would be curious to know what he was doing.

If my friend says "I'm not active anymore" or "I don't have a calling" I just go on to the next subject, catching up. Just catching up.

It's not always keeping score.

Anonymous said...

Callings are nothing like being on the PTA. You can't be bishop if you're shtupping the babysitter, or if you simply don't believe that an angel with a shiny, sharp sword commanded Joseph Smith to sleep with women other than his wife.

Callings show that one is loyal to the church in the same way that looking at garment lines is a way some Mormons assess whether fellow members are active.

Anonymous said...

And it's no-one's business, and rude to ask.

D-Train said...


I certainly disagree with your assessment here. I understand that you might not think that the Church is true, but remember that most active members of it do believe that and do believe it to be important. When you join the Church through the appropriate ordinances, you're communicating the idea that you think so too.

Think of it this way: if you just do not want to be bothered about church and think it's a stupid lie, then you can leave. Otherwise, you can expect that people will maybe try to "help" you back toward the Church. You certainly have the right to tell them not to come back and not to bother you, and if you do, then they shouldn't nag you any more. But understand that the reason that they're there is because through your entry and membership in the Church, you're professing a belief.

If the people in question are your friends, they have every right to be concerned with your life. If it is the case that you feel that their discussion of Mormonism is enough to drive you away, then ask them to stop or get new friends.

I don't like busybodies any more than you do. But I think it's ridiculous to expect an organization such as the Church to be a don't ask, don't tell kind of place. If what's going on irritates you, then you should certainly do something about it within your sphere of influence. But the Church is fundamentally a social organization and always will be, so it's probably best to expect that this will be a dominant principle in the lives of its members.

lchan said...

Actually, I didn't mean to say that it's nosy, but my comment came off that way. I thought J. Stapley sounded a little suspicious about the conversation, and I thought it was a very normal thing for someone to say.

I have asked friends (who I know go to church) what their callings are and I've never done it to check. If I was curious, I'd just ask.

K.D. Clement said...

Way to go Ned! I was your first comment on the post btw. I think you did the right thing.

The way this comments conversation has gone reminds me of a funny experience I had when I was a fresh R.M.

At our mission reunion I saw a companion of mine. The first thing she asked was: "So what is your calling? I'm our new Relief Society president! I guess they knew that I was spiritual enough to be Relief Society President." (I kid you not, she did in fact say this) Of course, it made it harder for me to tell her I was only spiritual enough to be Gospel Essentials teacher (you know, not even good enough to teach Doctrine). LOL

But I made a similar faux pas. at the same reunion with a sister who I had known but never served with and who had already been home several months. I asked her how she was doing and if she was married. She said she was married. Of course I asked the obligatory follow-up: Which temple were you married in?

"Uh, I didn't get married in the temple." Strained silence. She looked very uncomfortable. A bit of small talk and we parted ways. She with a very pained look on her face.


I thought I had been making harmless small talk but I had been basing my chit chat on common assumptions about what an R.M is or does. It was a lesson for me, let me tell ya. Another mission companion of mine used to say: "You see, Sister C, assumptions make an ass out of u and me (ass/u/me)!"

Geez, maybe I should have written the mission president and complained about her cussing! ;-)

NFlanders said...

Great point, K.D. I think the context is very important.

Sometimes, people are just making conversation (like annegb and Laura) and other times (hopefully more rare!) they are keeping tabs on you.

In this case, at any rate, I don't think they were "checking up" on me; I doubt it had ever crossed her mind that I might not be active.

D-Train-- Perhaps this should be an area where we can try to be a bit more sensitive to each other. As an inactive, I certainly would be put off an old Mormon friend who was more interested in my activity than me. I think a "what are you up to, nowadays?" is much more effective. If the person is very involved in their calling, then they'll tell you all about it. If they don't mention it, perhaps they have bigger things going on in their lives.

D-Train said...


I definitely agree that people need to be more sensitive. My point was really more that this sort of thing is to be expected given the social nature of the Church. I was quite put off by anonymous's suggestion that the Church should be some sort of institution where people go into a confessional, participate (or not), and scurry away without any expectation that anyone will ask about it.

I think we need to be more sensitive to the needs of others and less judgmental for sure. But given that, people are still going to be interested in the activity of others. So yes, let's be polite and respectful in our inquiries, but let's also expect that those questions are going to come and try and deal with them in a reasonable way.

I had this happen to me a couple weeks ago. I was tired and skipped church. Later that afternoon, I had the EQP at my door (waking me up from a nap, no less). I was furious, but discovered that the best way to deal with it was to talk to him personally about it. I didn't like it one bit, but there are probably people that need that kind of thing. Those of us that don't like or want that just need to make our desires clear without being bitter that anyone is concerned.

annegb said...

But anonymous, here in southern Utah, callings are like being in the PTA, everyone does it. Mostly. It's like asking where you work now or live, some other catching up question for friends who meet each other.

When I was disfellowshipped for a year, I was only once quizzed by someone who I thought had heard about it. My ward gathered around me and I never skipped a beat in activity and not very many people even knew. But this one particular person asked me several times in one conversation what my calling was. I knew she wasn't just making conversation. And I never answered her question.

Ichan, I didn't think you thought I was nosy. It is a nosy question, but I try to assume, most of the time, that people mean well, like k.d., it's just assumptions.

The older you get, the harder it is to be careful. When Princess Buttgold got married in September, most of our good friends knew she wasn't getting married in the temple. A few people asked, and it was a little awkward. Not for me, but I was uncomfortable for them because it was obvious that they didn't mean to offend me. Which they didn't.

The response I liked best to my answer of "they're not getting married in the temple" was "oh, did they do an oops?" from my new visiting teaching companion, who just moved to the ward. I just laughed and said, "yeah, that's it."

If I went up to an old friend and said, "guess what, I'm the Relief Society president!" that person would crack up. Honest to uh, you know, when they said my name some years back as a counselor, several people laughed out loud. I was one of them.

For me, humor lurks behind every corner of every transaction.

Ned, I still think you should send those people a card and tell them how much they mean to you. The loving thing is usually the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Recently, I needed to go to my missionary journals to establish a fact. It was the first time I thumbed through them since 1985 when I came home. I wrote every day of my mission because I had been told to do it, so I obeyed. The fact I was looking for was in my second area, the hardest area of the mission and the hardest area on me. There we went to church on a street that had a visitor’s center not far from the church itself, called the “Ex-Mormons for Jesus Visitor’s Center.” I noticed that everyday of my mission, born-again Christians were trying to tell me that I was in a cult and going to hell. For you runners, even a jogger, in a middle of her run, stopped to chastise us. We were invited into a “bible study” one night and since my companion and I were green, we thought, awesome, we’re going to “convert” the whole room. It just “so happened” they were studying Mormonism and my companion and I went at it for 2 hours with a room full of people armed to the teeth with anti-Mormon literature. Our ward mission leader in that ward loved searching out anti-Mormon stuff and were we ever surprised to see him at the meeting. (He ended up falling away from the church –that was not a type-o that was our WML). I was reminded that I exchanged a copy of the Book of Mormon for a copy of the Godmakers and read it cover to cover. I remembered having my testimony rocked to the core and wandering what I was doing out there. And then at the very bottom of my despair, a prayer and an answer as clear as day: I am still active today. Amidst all this identity and faith crisis, I also read that we knocked on a door of a woman who opened it with tears in her eyes saying that she had just gotten up from her knees because she asked God to send her somebody that could start her car. She had been trying and trying and couldn’t get it started. I took the keys went down starts and vrrooom, her car started. We never saw her again, but before leaving, she assured us that we were the angels she asked God to send her. Likewise, I remember knocking on a door of a very nice man who specifically asked God to send him messengers of the true church. We taught him for a few months, but his wife’s mom was a member of the city council and did not want any religious affiliation within the family to interfere with her political career. So, he never joined the church to the best of my knowledge. I also saw a missionary that was a big baby, very spoiled, but who had great potential. By the end of his mission he’d given into temptation and was sent home allowing his darker angels to prevail. His countenance was truly dark the last I saw of him. Conversely, my first greenie was a 6’ 4” Colorado rancher with, maybe, 3% body fat. His dad sent him a box of full of venison because he missed eating game so much. That was funny. During that “bible study” with the born agains,” mentioned above, a guy kept tying him up in knots so he finally said, in all the sophistication of a Colorado Cowboy, “I may not know as much about religion as you do, but if any of you want to step outside, I am sure I can show you a thing or two.” No lie! My second companion had a serious speech impediment and a distorted body secondary to cerebral palsy. However, he rode a bike and did the work to the best of his ability. No darkness in him, I tell you. I also saw that I tracked out Cecil Lee Mullineaux, the first professional football player to come out of Northern Arizona University who played in the NFL for the Giants. He was in a wheel chair and my journal says he seemed lonely. When I saw this entry in wanted to see if such player truly existed, so I googled it and sure enough there was an entry for the “brute.” He died about 18 months after we saw him. I have entries of teaching Linda a prostitute and former gang member. One night she called me to say how “lonely” she was and how she wanted company. So, I wrote in my journal how excited I was to get her a fellowshipping family so she wouldn’t be so lonely. Today, a little less innocent, I think Linda hoped I would get excited in a different way. God bless her, she gave us 10 dollars to give to the Bishop as tithing but as far as I know never joined the church. She was out on parole. Finally, my mom now in her 70’s has just received a proposal of marriage from a man who lost his wife about 2 years ago. Oddly enough he lived in this area of my mission and sure enough I had dinner at his house back in 1984. What are the odds of that huh? So, as confused, depressed and overwhelmed as I was in this area, I now see all of what Elder Bednar calls “the tender mercies of the Lord. “ I think it pathetic when missionaries go on missions and fall away from the church after coming home. An RM worth his salt has no such option. If the gospel was good enough for you to teach it ought to be good enough for you to live it. Truth be told, every missionary probably experienced a daily miracle in his mission and didn’t even notice it. The other day I was wandering how it was that Laman and Lemuel could have seen an angel and still behaved as they did. RMs like you Ned, explain it all. The worst part of it all is for people like my brother, who is not a member, lives and Utah and sees this hypocrisy. Everytime I talk about the church to him he points this out to me. All of us RMs must guard against this. I know I haven't always been a good example of the believer and will have to account for my behavior. So Ned, my advice to you is grow up, stop talking and start listening.

Anonymous said...

"The other day I was wandering how it was that Laman and Lemuel could have seen an angel and still behaved as they did. RMs like you Ned, explain it all."

No, RMs like YOU explain it all, at least for me. If Nephi was half as annoying as your seemingly endless diatribe, I can see why running away to live in the forest made perfect sense. Laman and Lemuel were right. As a matter of fact, if the celestial kingdom is to be filled with judgemental believers like you, I'll take the lower ones any day.

Get of Ned's back--he's a good guy, with a good heart. If God is more interested in where he spends 3 hours every Sunday, that is a God I don't want anything to do with.

NFlanders said...

Aww shucks, don't worry about me, 1:08PM Anonymous. I have a pretty thick skin about these kinds of things.

I love how people who take up the most of your time often have the least to say.

D-Train said...

Good night, that guy was mean!

Don't you just love folks that think insulting people is more effective than loving them? I think I'm going to start visiting inactive members and telling them that they smell bad.

NFlanders said...

D-Train-- Hilarious.