On the other side of the doorbell

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They finally caught up with me. It was bound to happen eventually.

It was Sunday evening. Laura and I had only been back home for a couple of hours after a long weekend in New York City. The doorbell rang. We had placed an order for Indian food only about twenty minutes earlier, so I grabbed a fistful of the cash I'd left on the sideboard and went down to answer the door.

It wasn't our food delivery. It was a pair of well-scrubbed young men wearing dark suits and black name tags. Yep, it was the Mormon missionaries.

"Hi, I'm Elder McAlister, and this is my companion Elder Nielsen," said the first. "We're looking for Donald Shunn?"

I had a choice to make. I wasn't going to be lame and deny who I was, but I did need to decide how nice I was going to be and to what extent I would engage with them. On the one hand, I was annoyed that someone (probably but not necessarily a member of my family) had given the Church my latest address, so my name now appeared on the rolls of the local LDS ward. On the other hand, these two kids were only doing what the Church had programmed them to do, and twenty-five years ago you would have found me doing exactly the same thing. On the other other hand, I had long pictured this moment and seen myself having an open, honest discussion with missionaries about my beliefs. Thanks to my excellent agent Joe Monti, my mission memoir is currently out on submission with some major book editors, so it was high time I started getting some practice talking frankly and without rancor with people of opposing beliefs.

"That's me," I said, shaking hands with both of them. "But I go by Bill."

"Well," said Elder McAlister, "we're just going around visiting with ward members who haven't been out to church for a while, wanting to see how you're doing. We wondered if there was a time when we could come visit with you."

"I'd be happy to talk with you some time," I said. "I have to be honest with you though, I haven't been active in the Church for well over fifteen years, and in fact I actively disbelieve in it. But I don't mind talking."

I gave them my phone number and told them I remembered what it was like to be where they were standing. They seemed surprised that I'd been a missionary. I asked them where they were from, and they asked me where else I'd lived and what had brought me to Chicago. I told them I was a writer, and that in fact I'd just finished work on a book about being a missionary. It was a quick leap from there to a brief telling of my bomb threat story, which seemed to blow their minds. Elder Nielsen was surprised to learn that, after being kicked out of Canada, I had served for a couple of months in the town he was from, Yakima, Washington. All in all, I managed to keep the kneejerk hostility the Church still brings out in me under control and (I hope) out of my voice. They were nice kids, though they clearly didn't know quite what to make of me.

I didn't ever invite them inside, because Laura was getting some work done and we had dinner on the way. But I probably stood out on the porch talking with them for ten minutes or so. I wonder if they'll call to make a return appointment. If they do, I hope I don't make them too uncomfortable when they come back. I think a frank discussion would be a good learning experience for all of us.

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/536345.html ]

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on October 20, 2011 12:38 PM.

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