Sunday, July 13, 2008

Loser, Geek, and Odd Ball Missionaries

Most people don't like to admit they are a loser, geek or odd ball. But that is exactly what I was. I was all three of them. I know it is rare for a missionary to be all three but that is exactly what I was. As a kid growing up in an abusive home my father made it clear what a loser I was in life. In order to compensate I was the studious type of kid who immersed himself in to my studies. Even today with a doctorate I view missionary work as both a series of systemic processes mingled with the spiritual elements. I was an odd ball missionary because I was naive to believe that we were on a mission to baptize everyone and if we followed the mission rules we would be mystically blessed with thousands of converts.

When I was a missionary in the Toronto Canada Mission my mission president M. Russell Ballard would often warn me about kicking against the pricks. He would tell me that I needed sit back and relax and get along with other missionaries. One time I got carried away reading Alvin R. Dyer's The Challenge. I went on a rampage challenge and testifying to every one I met. I even had eight baptisms in one month. I thought my mission president would be thrilled that instead of being a problem elder I was now a productive missionary bringing people in to the fold.

My bubble was soon burst when my mission president questioned the quality of my baptisms. Instead of being praised he shattered my idealism. Being an odd ball missionary he questioned me about the people I had baptized. One sweet little old man I used as an example of how great it was he joined the church. He dismantled me by saying how do you know where he will be in twenty years. Some of the people you baptized are pretty weak in the faith.

I learned this lesson being a Mormon now for over thirty years that Mormon leaders once they have branded you as being different don't usually change their opinion of you for the rest of your life. In fact it is not uncommon for them to call your new leaders in a ward to warn them about you. They even have files on you some good and some bad. I have had a few leaders call me to positions then later when a more responsible one comes up call me in to apologize why they wanted to call me but could not.

I am writing this post to warn all loser, geek and odd balls missionaries to be careful on a mission. David O. McKay was a pretty straight prophet. He had a motto that should serve most missionaries well who are in the categories named above. He taught missionaries to hide their condition he told us and it was drummed in to my head as a missionary 'What E're Thou Art Act Well Thy Part."

Russell Ballard tried to tell me as a new convert that if I want to get ahead as a Mormon that I need to learn to shut my mouth when anyone in leadership whether a district leader, zone leader, mission president, bishop or stake president said or did anything that I didn't agree with.

The unfortunate thing with loser, geek, and odd ball missionaries is that they think the "truth will set them free." I have learned by sad experience that if you open your mouth you will be forced to eat your own foot. Mormon males have a pecking order and loser, geek and odd ball missionaries are easy targets for those climbing the mission ladder to success.

If you want to save yourself some frustration and not be branded on a mission learn to sacrifice your non-conformist dress, manners, beliefs and tendencies by being obedient. The best way to be obedient is to shut your mouth and do your job as quietly as possible.

I wish someone had given me this advice thirty years ago and I could have accepted it. I tried to be indivualistic which is not good in a conformist society. It is better to be one of the herd so that you aren't culled.

Elder Ballard told me if I just got a long everywhere I would be able to get good callings and do more in the kingdom. I wish people were more use to diversity not just in terms of race, color but belief. I think Mormons need a prophet that would call on others to allow losers, geeks and odd balls to exist peacefully. In the scriptures it talks about how there is a need for the different parts of the body. I think loser, geek and odd ball missionaries need to go underground.

One day some enlighted leader might realize we bring other odd balls in to the kingdom which keeps the boring sacrament meetings more interesting because odd balls think outside the box we add a little excitement in the wards we live in.

Unfortunately for now we need to wait until it becomes the season for loser, geek, and odd balls to rise up and take our places with the normal Mormons in the wards and on missions. Please for your own sakes don't believe that it won't have an effect on your life what happens for the two short years you serve a mission.

My mission president told me my mission was a mini-reflection of my life. The rest of my life would be like my mission. If you don't mind being on the outside looking in then be an odd ball on your mission. Remember that odd balls have a place in the church but enduring to the end might be a rough road fraught with minimal callings. If that is what you want then by all means continue in your loser, geek and odd ball ways.

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