Monday, April 27, 2009

The worth of NUMBERS, I mean souls, is great.

As a missionary it always bothered me that we had to call in our weekly stats. It seemed to me that all that the leaders cared about was the numbers, the goals were based on numbers, etc. I felt like there should be emphasis on people and quality of contacts, not sheer quantity.

I've come to realize that while the focus appeared to be on numbers, that was probably just my poor attitude shining through. If you have no numbers-based goals, how do you measure progress? How do you keep hormone ridden young men on task? Etc. People are what counts, but numbers are necessary for records keeping and tracking.

Anyway, a lot of rambling about nothing.

These days I am a primary teacher, as I have mentioned. Because we live in a somewhat struggling ward many of us have more than one calling. I am also a Home Teaching District Leader...which is a fancy name for the guy that calls all the companionships to gather their NUMBERS...or in other words to see which families they made the time to see in the given month.

This is not a calling that is going well for me. It is easy, low time commitment, and should not be a challenge. However, this is not a calling that depends only on my commitment to getting it done, but also on other people's commitment to call me back when I call for their reports.

Take the month of March, for instance. I began calling for reports the first week of April. Left messages for each and every companionship. Return calls received = 0. Called all again. Return calls = 0. Finally able to track down 2 of the 5 companionships at church. Tried calling a third time to the remaining companionships. Return calls = 0. By this time I had received 3 phone calls and 2 voicemail messages from the secretary wanting MY report for the district. Finally yesterday I caught one more companionship at church. One companionship still MIA. District percentage for home teaching for March 2009 = roughly 22%. Nice effort everyone. For April numbers I will begin calling the first day of May. I will also make house visits this month to obtain numbers.

How can people think and project the attitude that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing when they don't do the most rudimentary of tasks? I'm not even talking about actually doing the hometeaching, although I guess the same comment would apply, I am talking about returning my phone call. Is that really too much to ask?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Guns and God

I served in the Elders Quorum (EQ) presidency for a few years, through 3 different EQ presidencies, always as the 1st counselor. The first president was very organized, got all our assignments delegated and completed in a timely manner, and then proceeded to move and leave us in an unorganized heap because he didn't share his organization plan or any of the administrative tools with us prior to his departure.

The next EQ president was a very laid back kind of guy, willing to help people out almost to a fault. We did many service projects, which basically consisted of he and I showing up and taking care of the project, sometimes with the help of the 2nd counselor, but almost never with anyone else from the EQ helping out. The two of us handled snow removal at the church for two winters, as well as moving people in and out, transplanting trees from one place to another, and basically helping lazy people do projects that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves (but why do that when you can get free labor under the guise of having a special need?). EQ president #2 was a good guy to work with, fun, and reasonable in his expectations. We weren't always as organized as we would have liked to be, but we had fun and tried to do the right thing.

Enter EQ president #3, who we'll call Rambo. Rambo is a US Marine, military policeman, postman, and generally somewhat odd fellow. He came in to the EQ with a mission to totally revamp all aspects of the EQ. Being a military man he had very specific ideas of how things should be done and the 'training and background' to 'make it happen', or 'whip us in to shape', if you will. He immediately mandated weekly presidency meetings.....which lasted for about two weeks until he realized that those of us with children could not/would not sacrifice that much time away from our families for no good reason. We rarely discussed anything meaningful or purposeful that could not have been better handled during the 3 hours we already spent at church each week. The new plan was to meet for 10 minutes or so every week after EQ meeting on Sunday. Fine. Still nothing meaningful or purposeful was discussed. Other presidency members and I frequently expressed concerns or ideas we had for improvement of the EQ, but they were usually not discussed and usually ignored completely.

I recall one time shortly after the calling of the new presidency, Rambo paid a visit to my house because I missed church (I had strep throat). I was downstairs watching a Jazz game and he proceeded directly downstairs to confront me. He explained that he 'felt inspired' to visit me. I explained in turn that I had strep throat and he would likely contract it if he stayed. He wanted to kneel and have prayer with me before he left, which was okay with me because I was already sitting on the floor. Interesting visit. Purpose? Not sure.

Rambo's next idea occurred sometime around the birth of my 2nd child. I didn't attend meetings for a couple weeks as I was staying home with the family and we were keeping the baby out of public places to keep her from getting sick. Well, when we went back to church, I was sitting in EQ meeting holding my baby in my arms. I had been fighting to get her to sleep for the entire meeting block and had finally succeeded with about 10 minutes remaining in EQ meeting. Upon completion of the meeting, Rambo stood and knelt on the floor for closing prayer. The rest of the EQ followed suit as I watched with a bit of bewilderment. I had apparently missed the announcement that we would now be kneeling as we petitioned the Lord with prayer at the benediction of our EQ meeting. Since I had just gotten my baby to sleep I elected to remain in my seat so as to not wake her unnecessarily. This did not sit well with Rambo and he invited me to join the EQ on my knees. I politely declined, citing the above reasoning. He waited silently for me to join them. I declined his second invitation, then stood and excused myself from the EQ meeting without hearing the humble prayer of the holy posturing EQ president.

This story illustrates just one of many such situations that took place with Rambo at the helm. I feel it a pretty good representation of his mindset and my reactions to such insanity and outward displays of self-righteousness.

Rambo's next revelation was that each week the EQ presidency should visit members of the EQ. The time designated for these visits was 5:30 PM on Tuesdays. I explained that I normally don't get home from work until about 6:15 and would not be able to make it at 5:30. He reluctantly changed the time to 6:30, which I still didn't want to do, but which I agreed to. This meant that on that night I would miss dinner with my family and consequently not get to eat until after the kids were bathed and in bed. Still, I agreed.

The first week we showed up ready to make these visits....none of us (except possibly Rambo), sure of the purpose of our visits. We proceeded to drop by the homes of 3 EQ members of varying degrees of church activity. One let us in, one told us to never call on him again, and the third was not home. Within the home of the one successful visit we sat awkwardly on the couch as Rambo tried to visit with the EQ member. The chaos of family life raged on around us as the EQ member tried to be polite, but was obviously distracted by his family who was trying to eat dinner, children running around screaming, wife giving dirty looks, and the rest of us sitting embarrassed as Rambo pontificated over important, but untimely things. When we left he wanted to have a kneeling (would you expect anything less at this point) prayer. Then the EQ member hurriedly escorted us out the door. Rambo was on a spiritual high, totally oblivious to the imposition we had just made into that family's evening and to the social awkwardness of the entire situation. The other EQ presidency members and I expressed our concerns and inquired as to the intended purpose of our 'visits'. Rambo calmly, and with obvious sense of purpose, explained that we were just visiting people to 'check on them' and 'see how they're doing'. I said, "Well, didn't we just see him in church two days ago?" He didn't really have an answer for that.

The 'visits' continued on for a few weeks until the rest of the EQ presidency grew disillusioned with our supposed purpose and questioned again what we were trying to accomplish. I explained that I didn't have a problem with visiting people who needed help or had some special concern that we needed to resolve, but that I didnt' see the point in dropping by unannounced with no clear reason. Rambo's response was that we were just fellow shipping. I countered that that is what church meetings and home teaching are for and that unless we could agree on some additional purpose in our visits then I thought we should let the established programs of the church handle the fellow shipping aspect rather than trying to invent our own programs that not only are not sanctioned by the church, but also take us away from our families and inconvenience the families of those whom are visited. Rambo changed the visits back to 5:30 and I didn't attend any more 'visits'.

Shortly thereafter I decided I couldn't take it any more and asked to be released. I had been wanting to do so for a couple years, but figured I would endure to the end and all that. But, my feelings of frustration and enmity were getting to the point that I felt like I was doing more harm than good in trying to fulfill my calling. I teach primary now again, which is really where I belong, with the only non-judgemental members of the church. I have a hard enough time doing the things I'm supposed to do without obstacles and my attitudes toward those people getting in the way. Maybe I'm an evil person for asking to be released. Oh well.

Finally, one last story about Rambo, which I think illustrates why I was incompatible with him. In December Rambo asked for and received a few minutes during priesthood opening exercises to talk about the upcoming EQ New Year's activity. He explained that 'we' would be taking out some old tv's and fridges, and stuff like that to blow up with guns. He went on to explain that he has an AK47, as well as various other assault rifles and shotguns, and blah blah blah. I don't know anything about guns, so I didn't recognize the names of the guns. What I did recognize was that this was a totally inappropriate activity to hang under the banner of a church sanctioned activity. Not only that, but Rambo told everyone to invite all their nonmember friends as this could be a great fellowshipping opportunity. Really? Really? Wow.

What makes you think he had an accident?

I used to teach the 11-12 year old primary class, right before the kids went off to YM and YW. My class was filled with girls, 5-7 of them depending on the week, and one boy, a little downs-syndrome kid who we'll call Timmy. Timmy was a full-time job as a teacher. Because of the fear of molestation and any other kind of evil that men are capable of (but women are not), when a man teaches primary he must be accompanied by another man. In our class one of us would teach the lesson and the other would try to keep Timmy from pestering the girls, wiping boogers on them/us, taking his clothes off, etc.

I had several discussions with the primary presidency about the situation. It seemed to me that Timmy's mother basically dropped him off at the beginning of primary and then had no further thoughts of him until a brother or sister was sent to collect him after church, sort of like a baby sitter service where no one gets paid. This is normal to some degree and typically primary does serve this roll for many people. There are a couple factors that make this situation different:
1) Timmy is a special needs child. Neither my co-teacher, nor I, nor any of the primary presidency has received training or instruction on how to care for a special needs child.
2) Timmy's constant disruptions in class make it impossible to keep the rest of the kids on track and focused.
3) Timmy is 12 years old and should be in Sunday School and Priesthood classes.

Timmy is very low functioning DS and comprehends almost nothing going on around him, cannot speak intelligibly, and is a major disruption to the others' learning. That said, he is a sweet kid and means no harm. But the fact that he is not cognizant of the goings on in his primary class or sharing time means that it would make no difference to him if he was sitting in his own world in primary or in Sunday school/priesthood. This would also keep him with the kids his age, whom he already knows, and who already know him and are comfortable with him.

Fast forward...I no longer teach that primary class. I now teach 9-10 year olds, so Timmy is no longer in my class. His peers have moved on to their older classes and he remains in the 11-12 year old class, in his own world 100% of the time. This past week I was trolling the halls looking for errant class-skippers. I popped into the restroom to blow my nose and the check for the missing children and was greeted by quite a shocking scene.

As I turned the corner into the restroom, before me stood Timmy, pants and underwear around his ankles, post puberty bits and pieces waving in the wind, and urine covering his hands, legs, and ankle-level clothing. Thinking fast, I immediately cranked out several feet of paper towels from the dispenser and handed them to him. Being a male member of the church I knew that I could not stay in the restroom with him alone to help him clean up, lest I be labeled forever upon the earth and in the records of the church as a molester, etc. So, I told Timmy to stay in the restroom as I bolted in search of Timmy's mother. I located her in the chapel, listening to a beautiful and inspiring message in a combined priesthood/relief society meeting with the stake presidency. I subtly tapped her on the shoulder and whispered that Timmy was in need of her assistance in the restroom and appeared to have had an accident. Despite my being discreet, before she even moved from her seat, she said at full volume, "Well, what's he doing in the bathroom unsupervised!?" I calmly (and again in a discreet whisper) explained that I didn't know, but that he needed her immediate assistance. She was visibly annoyed at having to leave the beautiful and inspiring meeting, interrupting her free baby-sitting service time to come and help her special needs child. She kept asking me, "Well, what is he doing in the bathroom by himself?", "Why isn't someone in there with him?", "He's not supposed to be left alone", etc. I responded that I didn't know, I was not his teacher, nor responsible for his care, but had stumbled upon him by coincidence and felt it was best to come fetch her rather than burden his primary teacher with cleaning up his bodily fluids. As we walked back through the cultural hall (gym), she asked me, "What makes you think he had an accident?" Now, I should note here, that all questions from Timmy's mother were delivered not with the loving concern of a mother with a precious special-needs child, but with the bitchy, annoyed, put-out tone of an angry bear woken unexpectedly from hibernation. She had decided to focus her negative attitude at me and blame me for what had clearly been an accident for her child. When I didn't answer immediately she repeated, more agitated this time, "What makes you think he had an accident and what is he doing in there alone!?" At this point my good nature had been spent and I decided to return a little of the attitude back at her, responding, "Hey, listen, I'm not his teacher, I'm not responsible for his supervision, and I went into the bathroom to blow my nose. When I got in there I saw him with his pants down standing in the middle of the bathroom with piss all over his hands and legs and thought that perhaps you, as his mother, would like to be notified so you could help him out. I'm trying to be helpful and I don't appreciate your attitude with me."

Right about this time the rear door of the cultural hall opened and in waddled Timmy, pants still around his ankles, still covered with urine, and bits and pieces still swaying to and fro for all to see. His mother, having decided she'd heard enough to complain about, hurriedly pulled his pants up, without wiping him off, and ushered him back to the restroom. I assume she washed his hands at least before escorting him back to sharing time, but I don't know for sure.

As she pushed him through the door of the primary room into sharing time she motioned angrily for the primary president to come out in the hall and talk to her. I was sitting near the door and overheard some of the conversation. I noted she had not toned down her sass level and was still being a total bitchy grump. Basically she chastised the primary president for letting this happen on her watch. She expressed the opinion that it was the primary's responsibility to watch over him when he is there and that we should have known better than to let him go to the restroom by himself. The primary president, to her credit, kept her cool and responded something along the lines of the fact that he was nearly 13 years old, large, strong, and unable to be restrained by the female adults in the primary. If he wants to go to the restroom they cannot stop him. She explained that though he no longer belongs in primary we all try to accommodate him and make him feel a part of the primary. That said, we cannot be held responsible for him 100%.

Timmy's mother then stormed off with a grunt of indignation, Timmy safely back in the free babysitter program.

There's nothing quite as touching as a mother's love.

Good Morning Brothers and Sisters

I've decided, and actually, more been prompted by the whisperings of a dear friend, to create this blog as a collection of observations and reactive opinions about the predominant culture in our lovely state.

It should be said here that I am cynical, sarcastic, off-color, and irreverent. I will try to limit loud laughter, but no promises. If you don't care for these qualities in coexistence with discussion of what would normally be a serious topic, please save your self-righteousness for someone else. I have no interest in the stones you would hurl at me from your glass house. Read or don't read, it makes no difference to me. I am simply recording random thoughts here and nothing more.