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Man on A Mission

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2013-02-28


I'm not sure what the official start date for "Proselytization Season" in Indiana is, but on my block the young, earnest, and converting have been hard at it for a couple of months now. In the past, I've seen these guys most predominantly in the summer — always in pairs, always on bicycles, always in white shirts and black ties — but this year I've seen the True Believers out there since January, in the very teeth of the 2013 Winter. Maybe their numbers are down in my region, or maybe the higher-ups in the Church have finally figured out that Winter is prime conversion time, with the bleak, depressing weather softening up all the prospective lost souls out there who might be too beaten down to offer much resistance to the fervent. Either way, this unusually early assault on the front doors of the city has disoriented many, including me, which perhaps explains my reticence to slam the door in their faces. Like baseball players who are asked to perform without the benefit of Spring training, I'm rusty: I wasn't expecting to start slamming door on the religious until at least mid-May.

But in a moment of weakness, I did let a couple in, and guess what — now I have a "missionary" problem on my hands. For once those guys establish a beach head in your living room, they become hard as the dickens to root out.

Of course, I didn't realize this at the time, when I let them in; I just wanted to let the guys warm up a bit, and I thought we were having a relatively benign, friendly, general, ecumenical conversation about religion and the nature of God, etc. I didn't think I was leading them on and I was fairly convinced that nothing in my words could be interpreted as accepting of any of their beliefs. I thought we were just having civilized conversation, so I was a bit surprised when, upon leaving, one of the brothers or elders or whatever requested that I simply keep "an open mind" about things. Well of course, I said, not quite getting him: I always make a point to keep an open mind. This seemed to please him immensely, and he thanked me for my time and the two of them left.

What I didn't know was that "having an open mind" meant that the two missionaries now felt free to come back twice the next week, and then the following week, and then the week after that to check on my "progress." I tried to convince them that there wasn't any "progress" to be made here, that I was simply engaging in a theoretical debate with them, but they weren't seeing it that way. "It's obvious that you're a 'seeker'," the leader told me, while the other guy nodded. "You're seeking something, which is why you let us in."

At this point I wanted to start swearing at them: God damn it, the only reason I let you in was because it was cold outside, and I didn't want a couple of dead Missionary Popsicles on my conscience. I only let you in because I felt bad that everybody else was telling you off. But I couldn't say that: I had already treated them with civility and it seemed wrong for me to revert back to my usual, prick-like self. The moment for a clean, mean break had passed, I couldn't just slam the door in their faces now, so I had to figure out a "gentlemanly" way to keep them out of the house. But today's missionaries are like raccoons, once they figure out a way into your home they can be diabolically clever at finding secondary entrances if the main one is blocked. We've fenced and parried for virtually weeks now.

It's embarrassing that I've let this annoying little escapade get so out of hand and I'm certain that there isn't one person that I know who couldn't have handled it better. But I'm letting it play out simply because I want to delay, for as long as possible, being mean to these guys. I know I'll have to be, eventually; it'll be the only way to get zealots to stop showing up at your door. I'll have to be ice cold to them, indifferent, inflexible. And I hate the thought of that. It's ridiculous, to be so concerned about their feelings, when I know that they are so convinced of the purity of their "truth" that nothing will jar them, but still: you hate to be mean.

It's like that terrible, stony indifference you cultivate when you encounter a homeless person, when you deliberately pretend they don't exist. It's a survival skill, you mentally delete that living creature into oblivion, that flesh and blood being who is standing right before you — you pretend they're not there. Because it's easier to think of them that way. And I know, I know… you gotta be smart, you can't let anyone walk over you, you gotta look out for number 1, right, you can't be a sap. And so you justify behaving so coldly, so. . . non-humanly. And you tell yourself you did the right thing. But it never feels right. And you never get used to it.

Fortunately, though, at the pinnacle of my cowardice, I was able to get the missionaries' cell phone numbers, in hopes of further putting them off ("I'll call you, okay?", which, of course, never worked) so I might be able to get out of a face-to-face breakup. My final, dropping-of-the-hammer excommunication might merely consist of a tersely worded text message. It's probably the best possible scenario for a coward like me, this impersonal end, but still, I can't help wondering how they'll react. I hope that they take it well. I hope they realize it's best for all involved. I just want them to know that Guys, it isn't you. It's me.

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