The ReActivator

“The ReActivator” by Wm Morris was a finalist in the 2012 Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest. It was originally published online at Everyday Mormon Writer on October 22, 2012.

Art by Nick Stephens, "Oranges in Oil"
Art by Nick Stephens, “Oranges in Oil”

So here’s the deal: For the first time in my life, I was in a presidency. After several years of post-marriage, yeoman work in the nursery, I had been called as first counselor to a very gung-ho Elders’ Quorum president who worked as an assistant DA in Elk Grove. It was kind of fun. I liked teaching (every so often) and planning activities and even created this killer spreadsheet to organize home teaching. But there was this one other thing: Ben, the EQ president, was a big believer in reactivation through personal, unannounced visits.

So it was that we found ourselves knocking on doors in the hot Sacramento sun. I was having flashbacks to my mission. It turns out that a few more years of maturity had not cured me of the waves of awkwardness and dread that came as we approached every address.

I was totally cool with every silent door we hit. Although, of course, Ben wasn’t content to simply ring the door bell. If no one answered, and so far no one had, Ben moved on to loud knocking, and then, finally, to peeking in a window. The dude wasn’t willing to cross names off the list either if it seemed like there was any possibility that the address wasn’t a dud. These were lost souls to be reclaimed. He wanted sure knowledge.

I was smart enough to not let myself get irritated. I deployed my mission defense mechanism: stay cool and don’t escalate the tension and the other guy ends up doing most of the work. No harm, no foul, and maybe you’ll have some fun along the way.

In between doors, we cruised the streets of West Sacramento in Ben’s beat-up, old-school Jetta (complete with intermittent air conditioning), and I regaled him with stories from my past. He seemed to enjoy the conversation, but as the evening wore on, I could tell he wasn’t content to let our efforts be a wash. With every unanswered door, his energy spiraled up another level. He was winding himself pretty freakin’ tight and not reacting much as I launched into yet another humorous mission-related story–this one involving a dog, a Frisbee, and a drunk guy. So I dialed things down a bit. Offered some words of encouragement.

Then, without warning, a vague wisp of faith broke through the heat and sweat and frustration, and I caught a bit of his vision. Started to actually care about reaching somebody. Started praying silently for some contact. And not just so Ben would relax, either. There was some hope involved. And the aforementioned faith.

Look. I know how this sounds. I’m at heart and in practice actually rather orthodox. It’s just this one thing: I have a hard time going after the lost sheep. In my experience, there’s a reason they’ve left the fold. And they usually don’t want to be chased.

Finally someone answered. The door had been mine, but the sound of an actual human voice startled me into silence. Ben, of course, was quick to come to the rescue. Before long, we found ourselves talking to a young, hip Latino named Jorge in his air-conditioned town house.

In the beginning, the conversation was easy. Like Ben, Jorge worked for the government (as a graphic designer for some obscure state agency) and like me, he had graduated from UC Davis. In fact, Jorge shared that he had been baptized as a teenager down in SoCal, but had gone inactive shortly after starting college. We let that fact rest for a bit as we discovered that all three of us were passionate about technology, design, gaming, and indie rock. I dominated the conversation, a torrent of words flowing from my mouth. Once I get in the door and past the awkwardness, I’m golden. And I figured it this way: What this kid needed is to understand that there are active, believing Mormons who are just as cool, just as up on stuff as he is.

But then Ben began to steer the conversation back around to the gospel. “Well, Jorge, it’s great talking to you,” he said. “It seems like life is going pretty well for you right now. But do you ever feel like something is missing?”

Jorge thought for awhile. “Sometimes I do,” he said. “I do still pray sometimes, and I’ve thought about reading the Bible again.”

Something inside me rebelled at the directness of the approach. I figured Jorge knew why were there, and I was reluctant to push into dangerous territory. The dude had answered the door. We had had a good conversation. Let’s leave it at the getting to know each other stage. There was plenty of time to coax things further. Start out with some basic social networking invites: Facebook or MySpace; maybe LinkedIn; Last.fm, for sure. Then an invite to an EQ activity. Get him to chill with a few more of the quorum members. Then maybe pass him off to the Singles Ward and get him to a dance or Young Adult activity.

But Ben–The ReActivator–was going straight for the direct approach.

“I’m happy to hear that,” he said. “I think your instincts are right on. And we’re here to invite you to take things a step further. I know that it can be difficult to come back to church after you’ve been gone for a while, but I think you should come this Sunday. Just see how it feels to be there again. In fact, I could even pick you up. I live pretty close to here.”

Well, crap. I had to admire Ben’s audacity. I could only nod and smile and try to look solemn. But I knew that there was no way my face could look as bright and holy as Ben’s. My faith had scarcely been glimmering going into this; his had been burning brightly all evening.

I anticipated Jorge’s retreat, watched for him to close off parts of himself. But I read him totally wrong.

“You know,” he said. “I’m not sure why I stopped going. I just got so busy, you know? I’m still pretty busy, but you guys seem cool, and I have thought about going back to church. Get back on track, you know? I may get married and have kids some day. It’d be good to already be solid in the faith. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, you know? My dad was always pretending to be holy, and then he’d turn around and cheat on my mom or go out and get high and come back angry and break stuff. I don’t want to be like that.”

“You won’t be,” said Ben. “Even if you don’t come back to church, you won’t be. But I promise you that if you return to church, if you get back on track, you will be blessed with all your righteous desires. Of course, we will help you. We will help you prepare to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and then go to the temple. That’s what we’re here for.”

Jorge’s eyes lit up at the word “temple.” Something seemed to click there, but part of me felt a little sick. So many times on my mission I had seen the inactive who answers the door and has one moment of fire, acts like he’s going to get it all together, makes it to church once, and is never heard from again. It had happened to me twice with people I had baptized earlier in my mission.

“Yeah, I saw that they are building one up in Rancho Cordova,” he said. “It would be neat to be able go there and go inside. Have you been to the one in L.A.?” We both shook our heads. “It’s really cool. I did baptisms there once.”

I could feel the presence of the Spirit and knew that the other two were feeling it also. The warmth enveloped me–a gentle wash of warmth, a strange and welcome contrast to the blast furnace we had been out in earlier. But my initial reluctance was still wriggling around inside me. What was wrong with me? I admired Ben’s boldness. I really did. But perhaps I had bought too much into California laissez faire. The libertarian lite that was such a strong part of my school and work milieu. Thing is, it was a comfortable zone to be in. We all let our individual beliefs and practices stay inside the family and find common ground in pop culture and politics. It’s what you do when you have co-workers who are hardcore into Jewish mysticism or juice cleanses or tats. Or Mormonism.

So I sat on Jorge’s Ikea couch, and we were edified and rejoiced together. And I felt the Spirit about as strong as I ever do and yet held part of myself back. I just couldn’t quite let it be what it was. The echoes of all the loud knocks on all those silent doors. That squirmy sense of not wanting to bother people, of wanting to let people be, remained.

Ben and Jorge continued to talk for a couple of minutes, but I think we all realized that the visit was about over. The exact arrangements for next Sunday were made. Like all good third wheels, I offered the closing prayer.

The night air was still warm as we walked to the car. Ben was exultant, radiant. I shared his joy. And mourned my inability to share it fully.

About the Author: William Morris is a writer, editor and critic. He is the founder of the Mormon arts and culture blog A Motley Vision and co-editor of the anthology Monsters & Mormons . His short fiction has appeared in Irreantum and Dialogue. For liner notes to “The ReActivator” and “Release”, visit williamhenrymorris.com.*

*Author information as of the publication of this story.

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