“Every member a missionary.”
I always cringed at that slogan. It clanked off my soul. I just wanted to be a decent fellow human.
But that’s what used to be and still is said in the halls and from the pulpits of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a sort of loud-and-proud cheer that blends divine directive with a rallying cry.
We’ve got spirit; yes, we do. We’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?
You didn’t/don’t have to be called as full-time missionaries — complete with a name badge — to feel pressured by church leaders to share the Latter-day Saint gospel with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, anyone, everyone, everywhere. You, as a regular church member, were/are supposed to do your duty, to look for opportunities to bring up the topic out of love for all to hear. At times, that purported love felt/feels more like obligation.
How’s that going these days? I wonder.
I did the full-time, two-year mission thing some five decades ago in Germany. Guten Tag, Herr Braun. Wie geht’s?
It was all good, or mostly good. Got doors slammed in my face over and over; flipped over the handlebars on my bike a couple of times when a tire got caught between cobblestones and streetcar rails; poured cold rainwater out of my dress shoes after arriving at our apartment late one night when we got swamped by a downpour; was served up a disgusting blood sausage by an overly generous Oma, a coagulated mess of a wurst that I discreetly stuffed in my suit pocket. In addition, my companion hit a pedestrian while piloting our car down a winding village street; and we once taught a 20-something woman basic gospel principles of baptism and repentance as she sat directly in front of us in her living room in what amounted to nothing more than lingerie. You know, standard missionary stuff.
I had no problem approaching people on the streets of Gelsenkirchen, Munster, Oberhausen, Essen, Wuppertal and other cities in and around the mission center of Dusseldorf from 1976 to ‘78. Selfless and rewarding and thought-provoking and spiritual service it was … well, except for the time we had to break up a bloody knife fight on a crowded street in a three-way lovers’ quarrel, and thereafter were required by the police and officers of the German judicial system to appear in a courtroom to give testimony about what happened. I met a whole lot of wonderful people and enjoyed joining in acts of service and deep discussions about important matters of faith.
Upon my return to civilian life, and slowly over the years since, I became hesitant to “share the Latter-day Saint gospel message” — not because I was shy or callous or unprepared or embarrassed or frightened of opening my big bazoo to talk about religion with others. Not at all. What caused me to slow the flow or slam on the brake was a growing respect for what people around me already believed.
The push among fervent Latter-day Saints is that they have a better way, a way worth handing out to the world. And for a number of folks, although that figure is paltry compared to the planet’s overall population, their Latter-day Saint faith is foundational to their lives, meaningful in darn near every way. As they say in Latter-day Saint chapels around the globe, if you have a tremendous, beautiful possession, you should extend that gift of happiness and hope here, there, everywhere.
You want to shout.
Gifts of great value
A complication in that aggressive gift giving is that many “nonmembers” — a designation that sounds arrogant, elitist and exclusive and was even denounced by a former apostle as “demeaning” and “belittling” — already have gifts of their own. Gifts of great value to them. Many already seek and follow and feel close to God, according to their own religious connections. Some cherish their particular faith. Some are spiritual individuals who find communion with the Almighty without organized religion. And people who are agnostic or atheist typically have come to that conclusion by way of their individual experiences.
I’m grateful that I have — and have had — my faith throughout my life, the faith my inquisitive and questioning parents passed along to me, allowing me to study it out, pray about it, and discover experiences and beliefs of my own. It has brought me and my bride much insight and happiness through many, many years. As curious and often downright skeptical as I am regarding a lot of what I hear and see, what I read and ponder, I am a believer, a follower of the basic faith of my father and my mother. I often feel tethered to God, although I’m a flawed Christian. I don’t know much. And I don’t believe that a whole lot of other folks know much either, even when they say they do, not when it comes to matters of faith. That word alone implies something outside the realm and reach of knowledge.
And that’s the way it is.
Every member a missionary? Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight?
Not sure about you, but I’m more than pleased to share in my personal space what I believe about deeply personal matters of faith and heaven and eternity with those who want to hear it, with those who seek something else, those who straight inquire about it. I feel those things profoundly and am happy to give what I have. Conversely, I offer quite a few points of view in this column space, typically without the most personal of faith matters, always minus any and all mission motives, even though a high-ranking church leader once encouraged me to dive into that mess of spiritual urgency, to preach it in print and on the air.
There’s a substantial line between those two spaces. One thing remains the same in both: All should value and relish their own gifts, find comfort in them, be they faithful, however faithful, or cynical, and allow others the same privilege. To each, his or her own.
Respect for what people already believe, for what they hold close, is a gift to give, too.
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