Jack & Lucky Chapter 8, Part 3
Chapter 8, Part 3
This was a typical day, quite busy even with the long lunch break. The entry describing the book about archeology is noteworthy. “It’s very circumstantial.” There was no accepted proof, but a sequence of coincidences open to conjecture. These were enough to convince almost any practicing Mormon but Jack could smell the bias and his objectivity would only expand.
The acquisition of the book on Marxism was a reversion to Jack’s training and college major as an Economist. There was no danger that he could be converted to that idealistic nonsense since he had been well trained as a Capitalist. When he had the chance, he convincingly explained that the profit motive was a natural, constructive force in the world rather than an evil genie. He was a stronger missionary for Capitalism than for Mormonism.
Communism, and more particularly Marxism, was a strong force in Italy. This was the nation with the largest Communist Party in Western Europe. As it happened, he was confronting some of the active members of the Party. Although he began to meet some of these people on their own ground, neither saw the other as a threat. More than once he preached the doctrine of the marketplace and the efficiency of allocating resources to the most profitable enterprises. That was an interest well beyond his central purpose but his nature drew him into these further discussions.
It is an irony that Christians are attracted to Capitalism, which promotes individual initiative. Atheists are usually found in the Communist camp. Communism is ostensibly preoccupied with the good of society, which seems to be consistent with the concept of Christian Charity. There is a fundamental incongruity between Communism as materialism; and free enterprise and individual self-interest being associated with Christianity. It should be the other way around. Christianity should be coupled with Communism, and Materialism should be coupled with Capitalism. This fundamental inconsistency was not lost on the Italian Communists.
The Communist idea of eliminating class struggle was probably what put off most Christians leaders. By the very fact of creating a clergy, religions adopted a privileged class. This privileged class found much of its financial support from wealthy Princes, economic leaders. Both groups had a common interest and benefitted from keeping the masses well under control.
The New Testament can be construed as teaching a special form of Communism. That vague implication was a far cry from the actuality of Communism created by atheists such as Stalin. The theory is ambiguous enough so that in Italy many of the Christians found Communism logical. Jack was adamant against Communism and without even noticing he was losing faith in Christianity little by little.
Who can survive and find happiness without some ideology to lead the way? The answer is that most people can’t. They jump, disillusioned, from the frying pan of Christian idealism into the fire of Communist ideology without noticing the difference in quality or their own leap of faith.
The early Mormons experimented with a Utopian concept called the “United Order.” It was a dismal failure as were the other efforts during the early nineteenth century. The official Mormon teaching suggested that this special communism was the most enlightened form of community but that man in his imperfection just wasn’t ready to live like that. When Christ returns to rule the Earth during the Millennium, the Mormons expect to live under the United Order. This is another vague part of the Mormon doctrine and the Missionaries were advised not to delve into these mysteries which were little more than idle speculation.
Jack was well acquainted with this history. Being a firm Capitalist, he doubted whether even the United Order was the best form of government or economy. After all, economy and government were not one and the same. This was the largest source of confusion, as Jack saw it. Communism is where economics got thoroughly confused with government and religion. Society was better served when each could exist and let the power of one off-set the power of the other. Thus the separation of Church and State was violated by the Communist Party, by the active negation of religion, the same way it was violated in a Theocracy by the control and promotion of religion.
Italy was probably a good example of a nation where the extremes of these three elements found their most active confrontation. For those who wished to synthesize a political solution [Italian Communist Party] away from the classic abuse of power associated with Theocracy [The Vatican], and away from a schizoid economy mismanaged by a hapless government [Christian Democrats], Communism seemed a palatable solution. These Italian Communists weren’t violent revolutionaries generally, they were just confused idealists.
But you can’t win these political arguments by rational discussion. The basis for belief in Communism was largely emotional. It is no coincidence that this is also the strongest basis for belief in religion. It also explains why Jack and his friends found so little success in their effort, they were too rational. They had been taught that Mormonism was rational, hence the attempted “archaeological proofs” of The Book of Mormon. The most convincing part of Mormonism, or any religion, must be its emotional correspondence and integrity with the people it is to inspire. They had to create some emotional tension and capitalize on it, so to speak. Jack didn’t feel this was honest so his efforts were doomed before they even began. Elder Milton, in Vicenza, was probably right even though what he said sounded like emotional blackmail.
On Tuesday the zone leaders came to visit and work with the local missionaries. These experienced missionaries supervised district leaders who in turn supervised regular missionaries like Jack and Elder Lester.
We went out tracting after a prayer. After about three houses we discovered a young student. I taught him first a Screening Discussion, then just reasoned with him and explained The Book of Mormon for two hours. We’ll talk to him more later. After lunch I worked with the Senior ZL. We had a good time together. We had a Screening Discussion and continued through to a discussion about the Apostasy. We met with the police family and taught them the same.
Jack didn’t envy these elders who had to travel around and didn’t have a chance to develop any continuity with investigators. They had probably had their chance and succeeded, he reasoned. He was unaware that they were there to evaluate him as much as help him. But it wouldn’t have made any difference; what would he have done differently had he known?
Today we received a letter giving permission for street meetings, today and tomorrow. Too bad we didn’t receive it yesterday.
Receiving the permission for a street meeting on the day the permission was to be valid was another bureaucratic trick but at least they were making progress. He had won at least a symbolic victory. The presentation with the Universita’ Populare fell through, and the proposed religion classes were a bust, but one out of three ain’t completely bad in this business. Jack was anxious to take encouragement from any small success.
This is the day of the first street meeting in Padova:
Out early to plan the day. Elder Mangiovi, and I visited the Questura. Then went by the newspaper office to make arrangements for a picture. Then down to the station to start the street meeting. The place we asked for, or rather received, was out in the far parking lot, so we held it in the center of the Piazza as long as possible.
It is really fun to speak before a group of people like that. They react quite differently to the suggestion that the Catholic Church is false. We took turns going to lunch. Then on our way back down, our companions were coming back and said they had quit because the place we had to move to after the police told us to move was without people.
Putting the street meeting off in an isolated location was another bureaucratic evasion. Or, maybe the officials thought the missionaries were going to attract a crowd of thousands. It was too bad they had been discovered by a policeman who could read, otherwise they might have gotten more time at a good location. All total, the elders got about five appointments from the street meeting and some good publicity. The story didn’t make the front page but it did make a small report with a photo. Not bad for beginners.
Then went to the first District Meeting. We were late but they were later. Read and sang. Then the meeting. We talked, a little confusion. I presented the programs I was pushing but didn’t get any encouragement. We’ll have to work on them.
The other elders didn’t understand the difference between marketing and sales. They could go out and knock on doors but they didn’t understand the virtues of making long term contacts at the same time.
The next day Jack typed up a Domando for the next street meeting requesting a different location, one which could not be deliberately misinterpreted.
We talked to some big cheese. Looks like we will win what we want.
When Jack explained the previous permission the guy just smiled and suggested that possibly they had been put off. It was getting easier the more people they approached.
Saturday, Jack witnessed the first baptism during his short stay in Italy.
We had a good meeting for one of Elders Pond and Jason’s investigators. It was cold and we did it in a river. I feel sorry for them, but it’s worth it. My companion and I rode with the president and his family who had come also for the District Conference.
Baptisms were rare in Italy so the president could make it a priority to attend.
After trying to cook lunch at home and running out of gas in the stove, Jack and Elder Lester went back to the conference which started in the afternoon.
Then we went to the meetings for interviews. After talking with the elders we saw some slides. The guys running it (Elder Black) were unorganized at first, but finally whipped it. A reasonably poor presentation. It’s good to talk again with the other elders. Don’t get much chance to see them. I talked to the president, it was okay but nothing special, about one minute. Then ate, good stuff, round white things. (gnocchi- Italian dumplings). Then we had a missionary meeting and the President gave some good advice…then home.
Before sleeping that night Jack and Elder Lester reviewed their own situation.
“How do you feel about the progress of our work?”
“It seems like we chase around too much and don’t concentrate on tracting enough.”
“We have some serious investigators. It would be nice to have more but it takes patience and continuous work. Tracting can occupy all our time, we don’t seem to meet the most serious people that easy. I didn’t expect this street meeting business to take so much effort. But it was so successful in Brescia I just felt we had to try it here too.”
“It doesn’t really matter to me what we do,” Elder Lester commented. “I get so frustrated because I feel so helpless and inadequate. The words don’t come when I try to talk.” Elder Lester had been holding back a lot of disappointment with himself and nearly cried.
Jack paused to be sensitive to his emotions before pressing any particular argument. “I think you are holding some unreasonable expectations for yourself. I think you’ve made a lot of progress just in the time we’ve been together. You’re not on any time clock here. You just need to work with your own schedule. You’re a serious person and you obviously take this work seriously. That’s the formula for success, serious hard work.”
“My older brother was a mission leader and set a high standard my family expects me to meet. I just don’t seem to be able to do that.”
“Even though we all love our brothers, we shouldn’t try to compete with them, or compare ourselves to them. We should just compare our effort to our own capabilities. Did they tell you that’s what they think you should be able to do here?”
“No, not in so many words. But I know that’s what they think. They said so before I left. I’m not doing very good and the harder I try the worse I seem to do.”
“They were probably just wishing you success, and you took that as an expectation. That’s an easy mistake. Your parents should be proud of you because you make sincere efforts every day. The best way to win here is to keep it simple and use the parts of the First Lesson you know over and over. Just keep coming back to phrases and questions you’re comfortable with and every day add another. Before long you’ll have all the tools you need to teach people. The mistake I make is I use my fluency to explain extraneous ideas and get off track. My teaching would be better if I just stayed with the basics more too.”
Jack’s own early success was superficial and he was first to admit that. He was inclined to be too self critical too. From here on his success was about doing the same thing over and over and better. If he had taken his own advice he probably would have been more consistent.
He recorded their conversation in a few succinct words:
My companion and I talked over some of our problems. He doesn’t really like to talk. But he felt better and so did I.
The Mission President was still in town Sunday and organized a Branch in Padova with Elder Mangiovi as Branch President. Jack was a silent observer throughout this process.
Didn’t even get called on for a talk.
In the evening we had Sacrament meeting. I had to speak, but not many people were there. I talked on sincerity, figured that was a message we needed. Then tried to get a pizza but too crowded.
Jack was upset for no good reason.
Jack seemed to be projecting some unreasonable expectations onto the people around him. He needed to lighten up a little and take his own advice. His frustration was with his own lack of success as much as with the undisciplined habits of the other elders in the community. He was working hard with no constructive feedback and was getting depressed because of it.
Take for example the entry in his diary on Tuesday.
I have trouble getting up because there is nothing really for me to get up for. Nothing that I want to study, nothing much to do. But, I get up sometimes anyway. Talked again with the policeman. Finished the First Lesson. They don’t understand. I got cookies from Julie, really good, popcorn too.
Julie had apparently forgiven Jack’s ill conceived humor, but Jack’s energy level was declining from some internal turbulence, maybe from the envy of watching someone like the screwball Elder Jason get a baptism. He was entering the threshold of another low cycle.
The missionaries found some relief and rest during the next several days of festival. The Padova District got together for some good old-fashioned American football on Monday.
We had to walk and run across town through the Easter people. We were in grubbies and were carrying a football. This caused considerable attention. We finally found a field, an old cow pasture or something and played. Elder Pond and I alternated as quarterback and end on our team and won easily 50 to 30 or some such score. Lot of fun.
This was a reprieve from the mental stress Jack had been enduring, but the sunlight was probably more addicting than therapeutic. It just makes you want more diversion.
Jack stayed in town for an appointment to teach with the district leader while the others went to Venice. He was willing to stay because he was nearly out of money and had just been there two weeks before.
As part of Jack’s study of the scriptures he had decided to compare the different accounts of the life of Jesus contained in the first four books of the New Testament. Jack had purchased two small Bibles in Italian. He proceeded to cut these apart and arrange the verses according to the parallelism of the historical account. He glued the four accounts side by side in two spiral notebooks. He used a book which belonged to his companion that gave a list of all the corresponding verses in a chronological order. This project captured his imagination and energy for a few days. He intended to use it as a teaching tool for Sunday School lessons and such.
When he read these scriptures through initially they seemed confusing enough. With a serious comparison, the confusion increased by a factor of ten. The accounts in The Gospels are often different and occasionally contradictory. No way for a sacred scripture to be or so it seemed. But it made a good study project.
By Sunday Jack had completed this project using all his spare time. When he arrived at church he found a novel someone had left laying around so he picked it up and quickly became captivated by a simple story of a culture completely foreign to any he had experienced — Black kids growing up in Harlem.
I found a book “Harlem Underground” and decided to read it. Read during priesthood, then through Sunday School. Then took it home during lunch and read more. Hit comebacks, nothing going. Read until Sacrament Meeting and read through the meeting except when I gave my talk and finally finished it after church. I was really engrossed in the book you might say. It reminded me of my loneliness and separation from Julie.
Jack hadn’t seen his buddy Marcelle for a while but he was around on Monday. Jack had purchased a souvenir deck of cards which were different than the standard poker deck. Marcelle knew how to play some authentic Italian card games, so he taught the two Americans how to gamble, Italian style.
Talked a bit with Marcelle and played some cards. Learned how to play Briscola, an Italian card game. Fun.
Jack and Elder Lester continued to visit the policeman and his family each Tuesday evening.
Gave the Third Lesson. They are going to try to live it, but not sure.
This has to do with the “Word of Wisdom,” not smoking and not drinking coffee or alcohol. This is a difficult Mormon pill for many people to swallow.
The Mormons are very strict about this. They frequently show more concern about these practical details of their lives than about other spiritual aspects that are presumably more important. It is easier to measure this kind of physical conformism, like keeping track of who gets up each morning at 6:00 AM. For right or wrong, these trivial aspects of life are interpreted as the outward display of internal rectitude.
The next day Jack received the surprising notice of another transfer. It must be some kind of rotation concept that prevents the Mission Office from leaving elders in one place too long. Elder Lincoln was transferred to Bari before he had a chance to get any satisfaction from his work in Padova. It was, however, a relief to be leaving the cold weather and trading it for a warmer climate. Bari is in southern Italy on the Mediterranean.
Since Jack got a week’s notice before the transfer he used whatever time not taken up for appointments for diversion, which mostly meant reading. No point in tracting in a community where you can’t follow up on the prospective contacts.
Not quite two and one half months after coming to Padova he was being ripped up and transplanted to start all over. This had to be emotionally difficult and taxing. It took it’s toll on his internal motivation without his knowing it. Once again there was no feedback as to why, just the presumption that whatever the Mission decided was correct.
Jack didn’t oppose it. He would be companions with an Elder Will with whom he was already acquainted. They would be considered co-senior companions. Was this to be taken as a demotion? This transfer business was beginning to be old hat. However, the expectation of a short stay in a new city was beginning to be a strong factor in his losing motivation to contact people.
The Mission was still in a posture of rapid growth and trying to expand into many different cities to test the water so to speak. But even this logic didn’t explain another quick transfer to a city that already had missionaries. He was to be with someone who was already well established. Maybe Elder Will was having some problems; another situation like he had with Elder Baldwin? What was he to expect?
On the surface Jack was doing well. Underneath his old doubts and misgivings were gnawing at his thinking. Probing questions came from an area in his mind where they had been superficially repressed. Because of this he felt compelled to use special words when giving lessons. He would say things like “I believe” instead of “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt” and this projected another chink in his religious armor. Thus, he was less than dynamic. His teaching was un-inspiring and sometimes borderline argumentative. He never projected the compassion that came so easily for Elder Jason.
During Jack’s last visit with the president, Jack had confessed to having problems with his faith. President Downey had answered abruptly and angrily, warning him to stay away from those ideas because he would fall into apostasy. That was the extent of the “good advice” he had given along with the admonition to fast and pray and he would receive an answer. That was why Jack had gotten the cold shoulder during the baptism conference. Possibly his transfer had resulted from that candid interview. Possibly the president wanted to keep closer track of his progress. Maybe he had just failed totally. He didn’t think so, but no one said otherwise.
He could figure the angles and knew instinctively how to market the religion but when it came to making a strong, emotional sales message, his own sincerity was left wanting. Part of what Jack was saying to investigators he was saying to convince himself. That isn’t how it was supposed to be done.
One current entry in his diary gives a clue to this.
Then to an appointment. I felt lacking in enthusiasm, but talked for a while on knowing the truth. I’ve really been receiving letters from Julie lately. I appreciate her support.
The emphasis on this support is all the more poignant when contrasted to the weakness in his religious resolve. He’s like a tree weighted down under the heavy burden of it’s own fruit and needs a prop. Each day he reaches out for whatever material he can find to divert his attention from his own doubts and frustration. He read James Bond and several science fiction books, “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut, jr. and whatever he could find.
Jack seemed more inclined to attract people and introduce them to The Church, and less capable of bringing them all the way to the finish line. But in his defense, he hardly had time to start before being dislodged. Again, he had never been shown how to do it. He was expected to know. He knew the theory, the words were in the lesson manual but knowing how to use the words in a motivating presentation is quite another thing, something he never did, because he was never shown how.
The Sunday before he left he had the greatest success to date. The policeman and his son attended the Sacrament Meeting in the new church building the district leader had just rented.
It is raining badly but that is okay. We have to get our investigators and bring them to church. They were waiting, the policeman and son only. These are our first full-fledged investigators. The Sacrament Meeting was good except when I spoke it was funny. I mentioned about the investigators and the son thought I wanted him to come up, so he did. But that was okay. Then during the meeting it was getting so dark, no lights, that we could hardly read the song books.
The policeman seemed to enjoy the meeting. Jack felt he could have eventually baptized him, but we’ll never know.
Jack said his goodbyes to Pasqualato, Marcelle and the policeman and his family. His marketing efforts hadn’t failed, he had made many contacts. These were his most serious associations, except Marcelle, of course, who was only a friend of convenience. But, that’s not such a bad kind of friendship.
Jack could still muster enthusiasm for new beginnings but each time it drew deeper on his internal resolve and effectively weakened his ability to be consistently dedicated. He really needed to have some success to fortify his motivation, he wasn’t getting any, and very little positive feedback and there was none immediately in sight.
In the back of his mind he still had reservations and questions. That was probably the source of his tolerance for such rascals as Marcelle. He actually enjoyed meeting people who had such eccentric characters. Fried eggs were better with salt and pepper. It made life more interesting to be acquainted with people with interesting characters who made things happen, even stupid things like the alleged prostitution.
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