Seattle is in bloom, making it the most beautiful city I’ve ever called home (and in the top five most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen). I’m no botanist, but in St. Louis I didn’t get amazed by plant life until sometime in the summer, when I realized that some of the gigantic, hairy, seeping things growing in alleys were probably subtropical in nature. Seattle in the spring is more like a public arboretum on every corner. There are rose trees here. There are succulents clustered around humongous gardenia bushes. Everything is gorgeous and it’s everywhere. Every time I walk around my neighborhood, I have to resist the compulsion to ring someone’s doorbell and ask them the names of their plants.
As our days slowly start to tilt in favor of more sunny than not, I make myself take advantage of all of the nice weather I can. Yes, some days I get home from work and consider going to bed immediately. But most of the time, even if the only excuse I have is that I need to get bobby pins from the drugstore, I get myself out of the house and walk at least a mile and a half (which is paltry in a place where walking is safe, normal, and encouraged) just because I can.
Yesterday evening, I was walking through one of my dream neighborhoods when I passed a group of young men in suits. They didn’t look like regular young men in suits; it’s not that they looked bad in their suits, they just didn’t look like the kind of men who are used to wearing suits. If anything, they looked like inexperienced and slightly ill-fitted Men In Black. Which I knew they weren’t because I am not totally crazy. Also, I’ve seen their kind before. In warmer weather they’d be wearing short sleeved Oxford shirts and ties. Mormons.
As I passed them, one smiled and said “Hello there.”
“Hey,” I nodded and kept walking.
The one who’s said hello stuck out his hand. “I’m Elder Somebody-I-Can’t-Remember,” he said, which I thought was odd because he looked maybe nineteen.
“Nice to meet you,” I said and shook his hand, purposefully not telling him my name.
(It’s not like I withheld my name to be rude. It’s just that, in my experience, when a religious solicitor knows your name, they tend to use it constantly in the course of a very short conversation. Sales people do this too. I find it unnatural and unnerving and I would just rather nobody say my name ever.)
“We’re missionairies,” he began, “and I was wondering if you wanted to talk for a bit.”
“Not really,” I said. “I’m sorry, it’s just that I’m an atheist and I was raised Catholic with twelve years in the parochial school system, so trust me, I know the theology and it’s just not my thing.”
And to his EXTREME credit, he said “Okay.”
Then he asked me if I knew of anyone in the area who was having a hard time, or who might want to talk, which I found simultaneously creepy and also sort of endearing. Because to their credit, modern Mormons (and to some extent, Jehovah’s Witnesses) aren’t cruel missionaries. They don’t make God Hates Fags signs and parade them along funeral routes. They truly do believe their hearts are in the right place and despite what some people claim, none has ever forced their way into my home.
I apologized and told him I’d only moved to the area a few months ago, so I didn’t know anybody. I did not tell him that he should look around and consider the median income of most of the people in a neighborhood full of professional landscaping.
“Have a nice day,” we both said, and I walked on my way while they just sort of stood on the sidewalk wondering what to do next.
So like I said, I don’t have any real beef with missionaries of this type. I do wish, however, that they’d stop calling themselves missionaries. Or, if they’re going to continue calling themselves missionaries, perhaps they can go to places that are in actual need of missionaries. Not so much because those places need the King James Bible read to them by dorky white kids, but because they need to benefit from what’s supposed to be God’s work: charity, compassion, and service. That’s what a missionary is supposed to do.
If you’re calling yourself a missionary, strolling around an upper middle class neighborhood in Seattle in cheating. The people here can afford therapy. Instead, you should be going to the Third World to build schools, repair bridges, and purify wells. You should be handing out food at shelters. It’s called missionary work for a reason, and I’m going to respect you a million times more if you’re up to your elbows in shit but still beaming because you understand the message you’re trying to convey.
Spreading the Word isn’t limited to quoting from a book to people who drive Subarus with ski racks. It’s about following the example of Christ and living your life in the service of others.
Cripes. I don’t even believe in God and I know that much.