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A Mormon Visitation

 

It was a quiet Sunday. I'd just returned from a hike and had stepped out of the shower, barely dressed, hair dripping, Jim watching the French Open, when there was a loud bang on the door. We have no doorbells here which, in itself, is anomalous. There is a small peephole, however, but I usually have to wait until my heart stops pounding to use it. That takes a breath or two.


Jim, under the headset, tennis balls cracking away, hadn't heard much. "Who's there?" was all he managed. I looked through the peephole at the distorted image of two individuals, probably male, I decided, dressed in white shirts and dark pants. For some reason—maybe remnants of my still functioning urban self—I intuited these individuals had no intent to harm. I opened the door.


"Oh, Mormons," I said.


"That's what some people call us," the young man on the left said. He did not seem pleased and his partner was not pleased with him. I assumed he was in training; this was a training session. He slunk back as the bigger, older guy took the lead.


I think he called me "Ma'am." He clutched a Bible, rich with uncorroborated stories from my journalistic point of view. "Written by man or God?" I asked.


No answer.


Mormon #2 was also carrying an iPad. I think they'd found their way to our somewhat isolated apartment complex using Google Maps. They hadn't come far—there's a Mormon church less than half a mile away, but they'd already been in the mid-Hudson valley for nine months and surely knew their way around, knew that holding out a Bible, metaphorically speaking, half a mile from the university wasn't going to play too well.


"How's the proselytizing going?" I asked.


I really wanted to know. Was it going well, or not well?


"Could you recommend a place for us to go in town where folks might be more receptive," the younger one asked.


"I think you'll find the citizens of this town hard work," I told him. "There are some religious folks, of course, but mostly I think you'll find it hard work."


I wanted to spare him disappointment. He was so young, so eager. After nine months in the vicinity he was still struggling, it seemed.


"I worked in Newark before I came up here," the older one said. "I loved the city. Brazilian community. Portuguese. That's why my tag says Jesus Cristo." And he pointed to the tag that sat right over his heart, white lettering on a black background to match his Sunday church and proselytize—after—church outfit.


I enjoy gentility and evangelical gentility is no exception. These young men were polite—misguided, sheltered, hopelessly naive, barely educated, but polite. Those are the judgmental thoughts that ran through my head. I wondered where they stood on abortion rights, on polygamy, police brutality. I wondered how they voted, or if they voted, or if they noticed or cared that the Wallkill River is polluted. Answers to my questions would have taken hours; they had to move on. Strangely, I thought, they hadn't asked any questions about me. I guess they knew from my slightly disheveled appearance and teasing sarcasm that I was past redemption.


"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," I said, determined to correct myself before their departure. "Apologies for calling you Mormons. What we call ourselves as opposed to what others choose to call us is important." Then I remembered that their presence on my doorstep was, truly, a blessing. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Our much beleaguered Constitution is still alive.

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When I was in graduate school studying media—before the days of social media—one of my professors always reminded us that whatever technology we chose to use and master, it was important to remember that technologies are tools, nothing more or less. And some of them are powerful, as we have experienced since the advent of the internet and smart phone. And so I am puzzled when someone says, “I don’t want to get into FB, it will consume me.” Unless one develops an addiction, this is patently not true. And most people are responsible. Those that aren’t can easily be un-followed or un-friended. I don't believe in robots taking over the world; the use or the abuse of any technology is in our control

That all said, I do remember my first skeptical reactions to FB, which I wrote about here. The skepticism didn’t last long. Like everyone else I know, I have enhanced my personal and business connections, kept in touch with friends and family very far away, found people I had not been in touch with in a very long time (a college friend, a friend who had moved to Asia) and enjoy posting photographs with captions (one technology inside another). I’m a writer and I write long captions, notes and stories. Why not? I even use the edit option to change them occasionally and/or correct a mistake. Thank you, FB, for this feature.

As for privacy issues, surveillance and all the rest. I try to ignore them. We all know that surveillance is pervasive and will be for the forseeable future. But this is my thinking: we live in a free society, albeit constricted in some ways. And in this democratic free society, it is our mandate to speak with loud, bold voices without fear. Whomsoever wants to drop in on my blog posts and FB posts, please do so. If you have an issue with what I have said, answer it in words. I am listening.

I am thinking about all this today because an ex of my daughter’s, who I have always thought of as a son, is in the hospital. He’s able to use his phone and is on FB all the time. Friends and family are at his bedside, others are on FB sharing stories, joking with him and encouraging his recovery. What a wonderful healing technology, one to celebrate as we enter a new year.  Read More 
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