The Best Friends

In the LDS Church, there is a program called home teaching, wherein two gentlemen are assigned to be your friends for an hour or so each month. During that hour, you may ask these fellows, who are indeed your bosom chums, for assistance or guidance in any matter. The hour is concluded with hearty well-wishes and slaps on the back and assurances that you may call upon these men at any time for help or counsel, after which they leave and you neither see nor hear from them again until a month has passed, at which point the exercise is repeated.

Or at least that’s how it sometimes turns out. In theory — and often in practice — it’s a wonderful program that helps a lot of people. But sometimes we religious folk aren’t so hot at making things work the way they should. And more often than not, I suspect it’s the home teachees, rather than the home teachers, who screw it up.

My roommate Raymond (names have been changed) and I had a visit from the occasional best friends in June, and we had a fine discussion about things like my being a movie critic, and what movies do I like, and could I get them some free tickets to some movies? They also presented a diverting sermon whose subject matter escapes me now. At the end, one of them offered a prayer, during which he forgot my roommate’s name. He said, “Bless Eric and … … … his roommate.” He struggled for many seconds, during which I thought it would be funny if I adopted a God-sounding voice and said, “His name is Raymond.” But two things I remember from my upbringing are that doing funny things during prayers is generally frowned upon, and impersonating God never ends well.

So I let him struggle, and he finally gave up and said “his roommate.” In a discussion some of us had later on, we determined this was better than guessing at the name and getting it wrong. I occasionally encountered this problem as an LDS missionary, meeting with and praying for a lot of people on a daily basis. You hate to get the name wrong, because then the wrong parties receive the blessings. You say “Johnson family” when you meant “Thompson family” and suddenly the Thompsons get nothing, while the Johnson family — whom you don’t even know, and who may be a family of pornographers — gets a load of blessings.

So that was June’s visit. By the time the end of July rolled around, circumstances had changed a bit. Raymond, my roommate, was dating a young lady seriously enough to have started attending a congregation for married people, so my home teachers had no jurisdiction over him anymore. And on this particular Sunday, my actual best friends Luscious Malone and Tanny Tantan were at my house, too busy reading Entertainment Weekly and watching the Food Network to be interested in hanging around for a visit from the ecclesiastical best friends.

And so the imminent arrival of the ecclesiastical best friends caused a flurry of activity, and my house became the site of a French farce. Doors opened and slammed as Luscious and Tanny scurried into another room to watch TV and read, while Raymond ducked into his quarters. Immediately, the first door opened because Luscious and Tanny had decided a larger room would be more comfortable for hiding — Luscious was making Anne Frank references by now — so they scampered down the hall. Tanny then darted back to the living room to retrieve his shoes and car keys, fearful any evidence that human beings other than me were present would result in the best friends demanding I produce them so they could be their best friends, too. I suppose he imagined the home teachers had robot spiders that would search the premises, like in “Minority Report.”

The visit went fine. I like my home teachers, as they are ordinary folks with a genuine interest in me (and, possibly, free movie tickets) — you know, the way it’s supposed to be. And if I’m not getting anything out of the visits, it’s probably because of all those doors slamming in the back of the house distracting me.

The second paragraph of this column was added, and the last paragraph reworked, at the request of my editor. He felt the column seemed to slam the home teaching program too much, when what I probably really felt was that it's a fine program, just not always used properly. He was right, but then I had to make sure not to make it sound like my particular home teachers are among the ones who do it badly because in fact they're pretty good. So we went to the default: Put all the blame on me; I'm the dumb one; everything is my fault. Which is true, and I guess I have no problem saying so in the column now and then. Next time, though, I'm making fun of people besides myself.

The word "pornographers" was originally "crack whores," and "load" was "shload." I jokingly suggested "pornographers" as a replacement for "crack whores," and my editor took it. I didn't get anywhere in my defense of the term "shload." (It is worth noting that I had used the word before, but that was under a different editor. The new editor was apparently staunchly anti-shload.)

The fact that I even had these conversations with my superiors at work is further proof that I had a very strange job.

I received the following e-mail from an e-mail subscriber. It is a strange little e-mail, and I don't understand what she's talking about for some of it, but stay with it:

Are there legitimate targets for Snide Remarks?

How I learned to be Snide.

Apparently many of the older generation who have raised children--these children passing through the ages from 0-21, felt it was alright to take out their frustration by making snide remarks about teenagers from the pulpit to congregation --tsk tsk. I learned it is perfectly all right to make snide remarks downline.

Hey, Fairs, fair. So I did Snide upline. When I only did what my elders had taught, the elders scream: There is a difference in the older, sniding the younger, we have 'been there, done that' .

Well, beyond snide, there is wit.

I love the wit, the play on words of your, Snide Remarks from a Snider I only wish your name had been Whittier.

(pause for knowing nods and gentle laughter)

More if you wish:

My goal(target) is to become like my Father in Heaven--

I have had some very witty exchanges during prayer. I know and understand my dear Father's humour--always kind, always loving and always laced with wisdom and clarification. It causes me to smile and nod in agreement. I feel loved and included in the tender joke on myself and my mortal condition. I prefer wit--a healthy combination of wisdom and paradox; truth about the mortal condition; love and the tender, often brilliant use of words.

Therefore I have repented of snide remarks and unsubscribed.

Irene Holms

I believe the next-to-last paragraph is the crux of the matter: She prefers another kind of humor over the kind she thinks I tend to employ. Which is fine. I don't believe my column is for everyone, as humor is very subjective.

But her final comment completely loses any agreement I might have had with her. To suggest a different style of humor would be more enjoyable to read is one thing; to suggest the right thing to do is not only to stop reading my column but to REPENT of having read it, is quite another!

Now, I realize she says she has "repented of snide remarks," not "repented of 'Snide Remarks'" -- that is, all she is saying directly is that she has repented of making snide remarks in her everyday life. But surely by indicating in the same sentence that she has unsubscribed to "Snide Remarks," she is extending the implication to the column, too. The previous paragraph, about the relative merits of God's sense of humor versus mine, supports that. I just hope God will forgive her for reading "Snide Remarks," and also for being self-righteous about quitting.