The Calling Ritual and How I Screwed It UpBy: Stephen Carter
My littlest sister is on a mission in Spain. When she first arrived, she wrote to me saying that she didn’t remember anything about my own mission. This surprised me because I was an inveterate–even diarrheal–writer of letters, and my mom distributed them as far and wide as one could during those pre-email years. But then I remembered that my sister was four at the time and therefore more interested in watching The Swan Princess for the thousandth time than in reading her brother’s scintillating missionary letters.
So for the past few months, I’ve been sending her remembrances of my time in Toronto. The fine folks at Wheat and Tares thought their readers could use some time off from using their brains and accepted my offer to post my letters to my sister here. They scheduled me for Sundays, doubtless because they wanted something to inspire their readers–or because it’s the day fewest people go to the blogs.
So without further ado…
Dear Sister Carter,
I guess if you don’t remember my mission, you certainly don’t remember when I got my mission call. Mom probably does, though, as you’ll see.
For some reason, I’ve always had an aversion to social rituals. I understand why other people like them: social rituals allow them to step into archetypal shoes–to occupy a role that is well scripted and culturally important.
And, of course, opening one’s mission call had become a huge social ritual by the time mine arrived. It was modeled on the beginning of the Called to Serve video–the family gathered in an eager circle, the callee’s hands shaking as he/she pulls the flap open, and that climactic moment when the mission’s name is revealed. If that mission doesn’t turn out to be the Bismark, North Dakota Rural North mission, tears are shed, cheers roused, and hugs passed around.
No, that was not my cup of Lemon Zinger tea.
It was only by luck that that I found my mission call in the mail box before anyone else did–though I was definitely keeping an eye out for it. I grabbed it on my way to work and threw it on the passenger seat where it stayed all day.
Sitting in the car after work, my shirt and pants soggy from the thousands of dishes I had washed, I considered my choices. My mom no doubt wanted the traditional opening–I was her first missionary, after all. It would be the sweet culmination of the hundreds of family home evenings she had organized, the thousands of testimonies she had borne, and the millions of church meetings she had dragged me to. And since I was the oldest, I was the example. Eight younger siblings supposedly watched me with wide eyes to see how they should live their lives. And what better way to launch them down the path of righteousness than to have a nice, traditional––I tore the envelope open.
I wasn’t quite sure what to think of my calling. I was relieved that it was at least in a different country–but only barely. I wasn’t even speaking French.
The evidence of my impulsive act lay scattered around me. The ritual would never happen now. I’d lost my only chance.
It didn’t bug me.
I told my girlfried about the call first. And the next morning, on my way out the door, I said to the breakfasting family, “Oh, by the way, my mission call is to Toronto.”
Mom chased me out the door, her cries divided between celebration and remonstrance.
Possibly the reason I tend to avoid social rituals, or at least enjoy adding a little twist to them, is because I have an easier time remembering events that might otherwise sink into a collective story with few personal marks–it would be kind of sad if my memory of my call opening merged more and more with the Called to Serve archetype until I could no longer disentangle the two.
Or maybe I’m just a brat.