Friday, July 21, 2006

Disingenuous Fellowshipping?

I was taking out the garbage the other night when Maude brought me the cordless phone.

"It's the Mormons," she said. "They said something about game night." These last two words were pronounced with something I can only call bemused horror.

I turned on the phone and discovered that, sure enough, one of my previous visitors from the church was on the line. The guy was very nice and said he was inviting Maude and me over for desserts and games at his house along with the other man and his wife. I immediately felt bad. First, because I knew that this proposed event would never happen. And secondly, it's hard not to feel a little guilty that four people are willing to give up their Friday night, and possibly hire a baby-sitter, too.

I would be open to going to something like this, but I know Maude would not be. I have a lot in common with these people, but she does not. I can understand not wanting to be submerged in an alien social setting, with people who probably have half an eye on converting you into their strange religious sect. She doesn't know the extent of my deconversion, either, so she probably fears that I'm a couple of lemonade socials away from falling back on the wagon.

At any rate, I plead prior commitments to the nice guy on the phone. It was difficult because he tried to use the commitment pattern on me to schedule a new date. (I catch my parents doing this all the time, invariably about secular things, but it is still annoying.) Eventually we settled on the polite fiction that I would call him when I found a time that would work for us.

After I hung up the phone, Maude looked at me. "Game night?" she asked, one eyebrow raised.

"They're Mormons," I said, trying to explain. "They can't drink, so games are the only way they can socialize."

Reflecting on this episode later, I realized that the whole reactivation process can't help but sow seeds of mistrust. During their previous visit, I explicitly told my visitors (are they home teachers or reactivators? Who knows?) that I had zero interest in anything religious. Now, their invitation to Maude and me may be completely sincere and secular in nature. But how can it be? We were probably assigned to them in an effort to get some more priesthood holders active in the ward. They probably have to report on their progress with us during Elders Quorum. At first it's just Jello and Pictionary, and the next thing you know they'll be inviting the missionaries over.

Is it possible just to have a regular friendship between former Mormon and a current one? I think so, but probably not in these circumstances. The specter of reactivation will always loom over us.


Beijing said...

UUs have game nights, too. Board games aren't just for teetotalers anymore. Have you ever played Electronic Catch Phrase? That is a really fun game, whether one has been drinking or not.

Rusty said...

Is it possible that they truly just want to hang out with and get to know you guys? I mean, they could be just as easily sitting at home saying to each other, "I'll bet they're refusing to hang out with us because they think we want to reactivate/baptize them when all we want to do is hang out." Some Mormons do hang out with non-Mormons (even have gamenights) and the Church never comes between them.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems you're assuming quite a bit.

Stephen said...

We actually had some game nights for a while, the biggest problem being finding people who would join in. Some people love them, some don't.

Think of it as a different religion ...

Ann said...

Are you a sports fan at all? Do you live in a big place? Maybe it would be good if you could extend yourself to include them in something you WOULD enjoy.

Ask them if they want to go to a ballgame or something. It's neutral turf, and it's a guy thing (ack! sexist assumption!) so Maude wouldn't need to be a part of it.

Mike said...

game night has sort of fallen on the outs with the ysa crowd, which is a shame becasue I like a lot of games. (Beijing is right, electronic catch phrase is great)

I think it is very hard for mormons and former mormons to be friends. It is certainly possible for mormons and former mormons to remain friends. It is also possible for mormons and former mormons to become friends if they meet in a totally unrelated to church setting and had some reason for hanging out or being friends other than the mormon thing.

But if you only meet becasue one of you is comiming over in their role as a church member to check up on another church member. That seems to make it very unlikely that a real friendship can form. I think that for the active mormon they may legitimately want to be friends regardless of your activity or future activity- but there is no way for them to be convincing in that. AND even if that is the case: they surely hope, on some level, that you will decide to come back to church.

Bookslinger said...

Ned is pretty much right. Once you've been in the system, it's easy to see (or even to wrongfully assume in some cases) when others are operating off of page X of a given handbook.

Mormons tend to organize everything, so hardly anything is spontaneous.

But there are plenty more on the other end of the spectrum, those who are participating believers, or who are believers but can't participate due to being shut-ins, who eagerly want ANY contact, even if it is "assigned" by the bishipric, the EQ or the RS.

The assignments and organization are to make sure that no one who _does_ want contact, or is open to contact, falls through the cracks.

Mike's comments are good too. Once you've crossed off religion as the main thing you have in common, you need some other context to maintain relationships.

NFlanders said...

You're right, Beijing, there's nothing wrong with game night. It's just that we aren't really used to the idea of playing games with strangers. Maude especially, since she didn't grow up with board games every Monday night like me.

Rusty-- I certainly think there's a possibility that these guys just want to be friends. In fact, I doubt they are consciously plotting my reactivation. But it's inescapable that I am an assignment. They probably wouldn't be doing this if I weren't. That complicates things, I think.

Stephen-- I would definitely go to game nights at your house. Beijing and Mike can bring the Electronic Catch Phrase.

Ann-- That's a good type of suggestion. (Actually, Maude is a much bigger baseball fan than me!) I'll have to think of something like that.

Mike-- I think you're right, and you've explained it better than I could. Absent some other connection with these guys, there isn't much chance of a real friendship.

Bookslinger-- That's a good point. The organization can certainly be good at making sure those who want contact get it. It's hard to take the social contact out of the organizational context.

Ann said...

Ned wrote:
Absent some other connection with these guys, there isn't much chance of a real friendship.
But, if you think they're good guys, there's no reason not to assume the best: that yeah, it may be an assignment, but so what? They're good guys, and you're new in town, and it would be good to have buddies to do guy stuff with. You'll never find out if you DO have things in common unless you look for them.

I think it's all too common for non-participating Mormons to assume that Active Type Mormons are only interested in them so they can add another notch to the reactivation belt. You really don't KNOW that about these guys. Don't cut yourself out of some potentially interesting friendships just because the people happen to be Mormon.

Furthermore, you can use the "ulterior motives" thing yourself. Looking for a permanent job? The buzzword of the decade has been "networking."

hay s said...

I don't know the whole story, but it could be they just want to make some friends.

My wife and I are fairly new to our town, and still are trying to make friends. I don't realy get to socialize with the people I work with, so that prtty much leaves our neighbors (not our age group) and the ward. In my new ward I am not a firefighter or avid bikerider - so that leaves me out of 80% of the EQ. I am also a democrat, so that cuts out a few more. One of the people I like to hang out with the most is a part member family we met. I don't feel like I have to pretend with him, and i like to have him fill me in on his poker games ( he is doing theWSOP this month). My point is that active "faithful" members of the church feel excluded too, get lonely and just might be looking for afriend.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE "game night!"

It's so hard to find people to play with, so I jump at any excuse I can find. My current favorite is a boardgame: Puerto Rico. But my wife and I like Settlers of Cataan a lot too (and it has the bonus of being easier for newbies to get the hang of). The Lord of the Rings boardgame by Reiner Knizin is really good too. Actually, we like a lot of the "German games" as they are termed. I've got my eye on "Tigris and Euphrates" next...

I also like wargames (my wife absolutely does not) like Axis and Allies and Diplomacy. But I'm not deluded enough to entertain the thought that I'm going to find many takers for those (typical games of that sort often go all afternoon and into the evening).

I just like to play, and I'll snatch any excuse I can find to start a game. And when I'm gaming, I only talk gaming. It's just good manners.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was me above.

I don't typically have the social disposition to simply approach people I don't know well and invite them over however.

I prefer to socialize with the people I do know, and then gradually broaden the circle in ways that don't seem forced or unnatural.

Seth R.

Gunner said...

Why not call a spade a spade? The problem is not the card night or game night. The problem is that the church has pushed missionary work at ALL levels that it is hard to seperate a true act of friendship, and an act of missionary work. I have heard it so many times how the EQ should do this charity project and how so many chances to give discussions would occur.

The church has burned to many bridges for converts, and now they reap the rewards.

Mike said...

anonymous said:
"I also like wargames (my wife absolutely does not) like Axis and Allies and Diplomacy. But I'm not deluded enough to entertain the thought that I'm going to find many takers for those (typical games of that sort often go all afternoon and into the evening)."

Plus Diplomacy is out with people you don't know well, but want to like. Diplomacy forces you to hate those you play with. Hate with a deep abiding hate that can really only be overcome through a deeper friendship that already exists. (and even then, underlying distrust or hatred can linger for months.)

Oh, and I agree with Ann that maybe the guys do just want to be friends. I don't doubt it- I just think it is really hard not to assume that some other motive (reactivation)is the only thing driving the friendship if that other motive is the only reason you met in the first place.

a spectator said...

I am with hay s--I am in search of friends outside of my branch because my branch is fairly homogenous and not entirely appealing (mostly NRA types). It is true that I have come to know of some inactive members through chruch that I would not have otherwise known, and they seem like good potential friends.

I am not much for games, but I do host periodic movie nights and invite everyone by irreverent postcards. That way I figure people can take it or leave it and don't have to make up excuses. One sister in particular has decided to make herself a part of that and we sociallize otherwise, too. I am glad to have her as a friend. What she decides to do about Church is her own thing.

So Ned, if you want to do something to make someone else happy, go play games with them. Everyone needs a friend like you.

Anonymous said...


It would appear that the only way to play Diplomacy is to play it with people you don't know personally via email or postal games.

And Risk is absolutely out. It's very hard for any group to come away from that game without feeling like it's been a crappy afternoon. Same goes for Monopoly.

Settlers is a real winner for us though. Especially since my wife and I have played it enough that we no longer care too much whether we win or not, and we can focus on being good hosts. And it takes very little time to explain, which also helps.

Seth R.

NFlanders said...

Hay S and Spectator-- It's good to be reminded that a lot of people ARE just looking to make friends. Our neighbors are all a lot older than Maude and me, so we really don't have anyone to socialize with. Of course, we don't have any kids, so that makes us different from about 90% of the young Mormon couples too.

Seth-- Actually, I like Axis & Allies a lot, but I wish it didn't take quite so long to play. I usually get bored by the fourth hour and start launching suicide attacks. I've never played Settlers, but everyone always talks about it.

Gunner-- I can't say I disagree.

Mike-- I think you need to start a UoM Diplomacy game. I think we can handle the hate.

Spectator-- Movie night is something I could get behind. I'll bring the popcorn.

annegb said...

I sort of am with Rusty. But also, I'm with Maude. I hate game night parties and I only go because Bill begs me to if food is involved. I am his shill because he doesn't like to visit, just eat.
And I have to pretend to have fun and visit till he eats.

I have friends all over the place and religion isn't an issue. I don't try to convert anybody and nobody tries to convert me.

Eddie said...

I would see no problem being friends with an inactive/former church member. I have a few of these friends, and we get along great. They know I'm active, and it doesn't seem to bother them.

For example, if you lived in my neighborhood I'd probably invite you over, but mainly because you're a friend and not simply because you're a name on the ward list.

Sadly, I find I'm too busy at church to make friends with non-members and inactives... So when the missionaries come and ask for referals, I have to say, "Uh, pretty much everyone I know is a member." And this from a convert!

nee said...

I'm in the "If you weren't friends before, this is only about reactivation" camp. And I've been on both sides of that,with good intentions of course. To be honest, there's really no reason to invite basically strangers over to a game night. If you don't live next door, don't work together, don't have great mutual friends, the only connect is church. I happily volunteered to visit inactives in my old neighborhood. I never brought up church on the visits but always in the back of my mine was "what would it take to get them back?" I'm sure I'm not alone in that thought. I had nothing much in common with these people other than a membership record. There may be a tiny minority of people in this world who want to get to know people they have .0001 connection with better but I don't know any of them. And if I did, I'd think them are a bit off.

Gratefully, on my way out of church now, I don't have much of that going on. I do have some close friends in the church and they are fantastic. Our friendship existed outside of ward activities and as such, it has continued. The few calls I had early on in the process were from leaders and I made my lack of interest clear in a very nice way.

Someone mentioned in a comment not being able to have non-member friends because they're too busy w/ church. Church can sure take over one's life. As a convert and out in the proverbial mission field, I had/have mostly non-member friends. But imagine my horror the day we had a joint priesthood/r.s. meeting and the bishop reinterpreted the parable of the 1 and the 99 and told us we needed to find the elect among our friends immediately to be baptized and that any friend who wasn't ready for it now should be dropped so we could focus on finding the ones who were. We were literally told to "forget about them and move on" (insert eye rolling here) "Uh sorry, Bob, I don't have time to hang with you since you won't get dunked. See ya around."