Sunday, September 08, 2013

Not the Message You Were Aiming for, Perhaps?

Bible by Zanthia, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Zanthia 
Shortly after I got up yesterday morning, I was sitting in my chair reading, and there was a knock at the door. It was Saturday, and I wasn't expecting anyone. I scrambled around looking for the key. (I have one of those doors that requires a key to open from the inside and outside. Convenient until you misplace the keys that are supposed to be in a certain drawer in the kitchen.)

Some people give up and walk away by the time I make it back to the door with the key, but not these.

I looked out and there were two people standing slightly off the porch and one standing on the porch at the door.

As I got the door open, I saw that it was a man on the porch and a woman and child on the sidewalk. I propped the door open and placed myself firmly inside the opening, blocking the entrance and sending the message, "You're not invited in."

The man — a Latino probably somewhere around 40 dressed in a snappy, navy blue suit complete with tie — introduced himself. I don't remember if he said he was a preacher or not, unfortunately. My housemate says he did not. She thought he was probably starting a new church. I don't know. But I did notice that he was carrying what looked like a magazine in one hand. He gestured to the other two. "And this is my wife Maria and my son, Matthew." [Not their real names.]

The woman, younger than him, was also dressed nicely in a matching navy blue dress, and smiled in a friendly manner, if a little shyly. The boy, maybe around 9 or 10, wore a matching suit as well. But he was not smiling. He was scowling. He was not happy to be here. He was probably wishing he could be anywhere else.

The man launched into some sort of lead-in I don't remember, and then asked me if I thought the situation in the world is going to get better. (It was smoother than I'm indicating; I wasn't taking notes at the time.)

Now, I'm no idiot. I recognized the open-ended, leading question immediately. If I were to say, "Yes," he has one script to follow. If I were to say, "No," he has another. Both of them would lead, inexorably, to whatever point he was here to make.

So I said, "I really have no idea," and smiled.

He once again launched into something that sounded rehearsed, and then I noticed that the "magazine" he was holding was something else entirely (it was a tract of some sort, but was very much not an issue of The Watchtower, which would have earned him a very fast exit from my yard). It was concealing a much thicker book.

A bible, in fact.

He whipped out said bible and began rifling the pages, clearly looking for something he had marked. He asked me if he could read me a piece of scripture that would answer my question (that I hadn't asked).

I said, "I'd really rather you didn't, actually."

That seemed to throw him a little. I glanced at the wife and son and saw the light go out in the wife's eyes. Similar to the last time this happened (see below), the bystanders seemed to get it before the main player did. The son's expression never changed.

The dad started to ask a question, and I said, "I'm really not interested, but thank you. And have a nice day." I smiled, and gently shut the door as they turned and began to walk away. I heard the man say, "Have a nice day," back to me. The wife and son never uttered a sound.

The last time this happened, it was two older men, both dressed in casual clothes, who knocked. The spokesman told me they were from some Baptist church up the road and wanted to know if I was interested in coming to their church.

"No, not really," I replied.

Spokesman asked, "Why not?"

"I'm an atheist." At this point, I saw the same look in the eyes of the second guy that I saw in the woman from yesterday: Let's just move on. 

These were probably three words he was not expecting to hear. I mean, there are hardly any pentagrams in my yard, and no chicken bones or backwards Latin written in blood. But he had read his How To Talk to Atheists About Christianity tract (a real thing that exists), and was ready with the standard reply, guaranteed to trip up atheists: "You don't believe in God? Well, aren't you afraid you're going to Hell?" He said this with a big grin on his face, as though he were telling a joke that he was just so darned amused by.

"Not really. See, atheists don't believe in that, either. Or in Satan. But you guys have a nice day." And I closed the door as they walked off. My friends, who had been inside listening to this entire exchange, were having a hard time keeping their laughter down.

The one yesterday reminded me of that earlier one a lot.

Except for one thing. Instead of another man, this one brought his wife and kid with him on his proselytizing mission. There are a couple of interpretations that I, as a card-carrying cynic, have on that topic.

First, he's much less threatening if he has a woman and child with him. As a Latino man in a mostly white suburb, this could have been a consideration, and that in and of itself makes me sad.

Second, they were all dressed for church. Again, people are generally more trusting of people who are nicely dressed.

Third, he was carrying a bible. Again, usually not something your average home intruder does. (Although the intersection of the set of 'people with bibles' and 'people who want to take advantage of you' is far from empty.)

Finally, as a cynic, I couldn't help but think he brought along his wife and kid because people are far less likely to be dicks to him if he has his wife and kid along. Call me a jerk, but . . . I think it's true.

But what struck me about the entire incident, and made me want to make this post, was what message this sent to his child.

He dressed his family in their Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes and took them door to door, peddling . . . whatever it was he intended to peddle. It's clear from the kid's facial expression and his body language that he didn't want to be here. He wanted to be . . . I don't know, watching TV, playing with his Nintendo, or playing soccer with his friends. The last thing he probably wanted was to see his father have door after door after door closed in his face. I really can't imagine anyone letting a strange family with a kid into their house on a Saturday morning, so I don't know what the father was hoping to gain.

I wonder if what the boy took away from all this was what the father intended. I'm sure the intention was to spread the word of Whatever and bring people into the fold, etc. To preach his gospel and all that.

But to a kid that age, what he probably got was, "This is stupid. I'd rather be playing Lego City Undercover."

And I couldn't help but think, "Keep that in mind, kid. Keep that in mind."

No comments: