Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Kasarova Updates

Hello! Hello!

Vesselina Kasarova, the White Shirt Republic's favorite operatic muse, was awarded the Bavarian State Medal for Social Services (Bayerischen Staatsmedaille für soziale Dienste) on Monday.  Herzlichen Glückwunsch! :x lovestruck

Vesselina Kasarova receives the Bavarian State Medal for Social Services from Social Minister Christine Haderthauer. (Foto: StMAS)
The engaging Bulgarian - Swiss mezzo-soprano will also appear on KlickKlack Musikmagazin on Bavarian TV on December 1st (rerun on Dec 3rd & 4th).

Unfortunately Frau Kasarova got sick and didn't finish her run in L'Italiana in Vienna. It seems opera singers are dropping like flies to this year's early flu/cold season, so here's wishing everyone who's been knocked out of work due to illness a happy and speedy recovery!

Updated on December 1st: Frau Kasarova is still ill and has canceled her appearances in Maria Stuarda at the Philharmonie am Gasteig in Munich, Germany. She will be replaced by Alexandrina Pendatchanska, another very dramatically and vocally delicious Bulgarian singer.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kasarova in Moscow broadcast footages

Denis strikes again, much to the Kasarovian Republic's delight, by uploading clips of the broadcast of Vesselina Kasarova's 2011 Moscow concert to his youtube channel for those of us who had no access to the original showing.

Now this is a good way of starting the holiday season in my book. Thanks very much, Denis! 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Where in the world is Vesselina Kasarova?

It's been a while since I last posted about my favorite operatic muse. Vesselina Kasarova is keeping busy as a bee. She is currently in Vienna, rocking the Staatsoper as Isabella in the Ponnelle staging of Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algeria). The lass is indeed shifting the center of her repertoire toward the more dramatic, but she apparently hasn't lost any of her magical bel canto touch and vocal suppleness. Next up from this current run of L'Italiana is two performances of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda at the Philharmonie am Gasteig in Munich, Germany. 

Vesselina Kasarova as Isabella in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri at Wiener Staatsoper. November 2011. (Photo: Michael Pöhn)
Her amazing Russian fan, Denis, also informed me that Russia's TV Kultura is set on broadcasting Kasarova's recent concert at Moscow's Tchaikovsky Concert Hall on their channel on November 23rd. I'm green with envy and hope my Russian friends get to enjoy the treat! 

For those of us who don't live close enough to her frequent performance venues, there is consolation in that Baerenreiter is about to publish her first book (co-written with music critic Dr. Marianne Zelger-Vogt), Ich singe mit Leib und Seele (I Sing with Heart and Soul). It'll hit book shops in March 2012 in Germany and in German language, of course, though perhaps with English version coming out a few years after... Or you could just try to learn the language. It's quite worth it! 

Happy belated Birthday to Yves-Lucien, too, while I'm at this! :x lovestruck 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Missing Richard Feynman

I never had the pleasure of meeting Richard Phillip Feynman, but that doesn't stop me from missing the man every now and then. Why?

"Question: When you are looking at something, do you see only light or do you see the object?
Prof Feynman: The question of whether or not when you see something you see only the light or you see the thing you're looking at is one of those dopey philosophical things that an ordinary person has no difficulty with.

Even the most profound philosopher, when sitting and eating his dinner, hasn't any difficulty in making out that what he's looking at perhaps might only be the light from the steak, but it still implies the existence of the steak which he is able to lift by the fork to his mouth. The philosophers that weren't able to make that analysis and that idea have fallen by the wayside from hunger."

Really, how can anyone not miss this man?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mormon Encounters: Part 6 - A Talk Among Friends

Entire Mormon Encounters series
Part 1: First meeting       Aside 1, Aside 2 
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon
Part 3: Going to Mormon Church
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam & Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries

I had a bunch of visitors yesterday. My Mormon missionary friends Sisters Begeistert & Sanftmütig came over for a late lunch visit. Since all of us were a bit sick with something or the other we had fried rice with a hot and spicy bowl of tom yum chicken soup which cleared our sinuses out like a super-concentrated tub of Drano.

The Sisters have really became good friends in such a short time. Last week when I was sick with the flu (well, if felt very much like a flu then, but has since moved down to settle somewhere down my throat, so I guess it should now be called a bronchitis) they turned up in the rain -- and one of them didn't even have a rainproof coat or umbrella on -- on Friday evening just to bring me a big and very yummy bowl of chicken soup! 

In case any senior Mormon missionary supervisor come across this, as much fun as we three have during these visits, the sisters aren't neglecting their proselytizing duty any. Any lack of progress should be attributed solely to devious me. I keep distracting them with jokes left, right and center, and once all the laughing is done there just isn't much time for them to concentrate on what they were planning to say.

To illustrate to you what a poor communicator I've been, the last time they were here Sister Begeistert asked me again to explain exactly why I fell out of Christianity and why I am finding it so difficult to accept the Mormon truth. I told them about resolving to read the Bible without the mindset to will everything to fit to the church dogma, and finding that the only fitting explanation of all my troubles with dogma was that it (the dogma) was wrong. The sisters had a hard time understanding that, though, so I told them of one of the problems I ran into once I've had that paradigm shift: the problem of Abraham obeying god's command to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. 

Christians are taught to admire Abraham's faith in that episode; it is supposed to be an inspirational thing, something we all should aspire to emulate, that when god commands one to do something, even something as hard to do as killing our own innocent son, Abraham resolved to carry out the commandment without brooding any question. In this Biblical episode god intervenes just as Abraham's knife is about to come down on Isaac; the latter is allowed to live and Abraham is rewarded for his 'faith'. There is a similar story in the Book of Mormon, however, and it is an often cited one that is supposed to be taken in the same spirit that the Christians take the Abraham-Isaac version, it is the story of how Nephi (the first one as there are three different Nephis in the BoM) was commanded by god to kill the abusive Laban, as the latter laid unarmed and unconscious on the floor. Unlike Isaac, Laban is not spared and the killing is justified as sacrificing one to save many.

The sisters were well familiar with those stories, though they were rather shocked to hear what I told them next: "I read the story of Abraham and Isaac again, and paused to ask myself; if god turns up in my living room right now, indisputably god, and commands me to kill someone, would I do it?"
Rembrandt's The Sacrifice of Isaac
After a few uncomfortable minutes I broke the impromptu bout of silence with the only moral answer that I could think of; "I'd just tell god to go to hell." 

Sister Begeistert was too stunned by such a thought to say anything, though Sister Sanftmütig had a go; "You wouldn't, even if circumstances arise where the choice is either for one man to die or for whole nation to perish? (that is the justification that the supposed holy ghost presents to Nephi #1 as he tries to evade having to carry out such a godly commandment)." 

But what was the justification for killing Isaac? Considering that Abraham wasn't given any reason, and had no foreknowledge that god would stop him at the last minute. What if 'god' commands the sister to kill her own innocent brother? The Christians -- me included when I was one -- applauded and admired Abraham precisely for having the 'faith' necessary to follow god's command regardless of its atrocity and mercilessly irrational nature. And the Mormons do the same whenever the story of Nephi #1 and Laban turns up in ward meetings and lessons (Sunday church services). And even if the 'justification' of 'better one man than a whole lot more' be valid, I'm sure a god that had created everything in the universe from the smallest pebbles to the thinking human beings is competent enough to do the deed itself if it so chooses. I have more respect for murderers than I do the people who order others to murder for them. 

Many of the religious folks like to claim that atheists like me are immoral precisely because we don't believe in god (as the religions define it), and yet here is The God commanding an immoral commandment. (By the way, does god ever tempt people or not? In the Abraham-Isaac episode it sure did; god did, and not the devil... or so says the Bible).
Just imagining myself praising a sadistic god while suffering for my morality.
For me it comes down to three possibilities: there is no god; or there may be a god, but it doesn't have anything at all to do with what is said about it in religious texts like the Bible or the BoM; or there indeed is an immoral god who do order such things as this, in which case I say it can just make me drink the Kool Aid or throw me into its bubbling cauldron for the rest of eternity but there is no way I'll subordinate myself to a sh*tty murderous lump of cosmic bully like that. If I have to believe in a god, I wish for the former, though various Christians and Mormon missionaries keep trying to wish the latter on me.

Naturally the sisters were rather distraught. If I didn't seem a lost cause for them before I sure was looking, sounding, and smelling like one. Sister Begeistert was especially down (and probably more than a bit confused). She really wants to give this happiness she feels -and attributes to her faith- to me, and I was rather nonplussed at myself for somehow not managing to be obviously happy enough to not need such a thing. I know my atheist friends will give me hell for this, but I told her that she could just keep trying with her proselytizing attempts. The lass is such fun and pleasant to hang around with that that extra baggage of always having to talk about religion doesn't bother me that much... yet.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What? Adriana Lecouvreur with Gheorghiu and Kaufmann isn't sold out???

I just got this email from the Opera Orchestra of New York (OONY). They're promoting $10 student rush ticket for tomorrow's concert performance of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur at Carnegie Hall. Hey New Yorkers, DUDES!!!!, how can there still be tickets laying around available for $10 rush in a show starring Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann??? You've gotta be kidding me!

To purchase, please present you ID at the Carnegie Hall Box Office at
West 57th Street at 7th Avenue on the day of the performance.

All remaining tickets can be purchased at the Carnegie Hall Box Office or by calling CarnegieCharge: (212) 247-7800 or at www.carnegiehall.org

Move your butt to the Box Office right now and fix that. Like IMMEDIATELY!!!

Off The Main Road: La fleur qu’il m’avait jetée

I made a quick trip to the grocery store a mile or so away this morning. On the way back as I cut through the park I spotted this cute black phoebe perched on a tree watching my approach.

A black phoebe (Moucherolle noir) I saw months ago in the park. Alas I didn't get a picture of the one I met today.
Black phoebes are this area's sparrows. There are always a bunch of them around rustling in the bushes and on tree limbs. So, though I'm always saying hello and waving to them (I know they probably think me wacky, but I like watching how they react to that) I hadn't taken a photo of one in a long time... and certainly not this one this morning. He got a bit nervous and hopped to a higher limb as I got close. Then when he saw that I was not one of those nasty cats with the bad habit of looking at him as if he is a piece of Tartar steak, he started pecking at a bunch of leaves nearby. I was almost under him when he pecked loose a little flower -- it drifted a little in the gentle breeze and landed on my open fingers just as its dislodger hopped away into someone's backyard bush.

You do bring me flower, you do sing me love song...
Being a rational dude that I am, I'd have no trouble thinking that it is just a particularly nice sort of accident. Sentimentally, though, I'd like to think it a little present from a bird that appreciates weirdos who try to talk to him in a strangely unmelodic language as if he would abandon his infinitely more pleasant songs just for the sake of associating with a featherlessly slow-moving lump of ground-bounded biped. 

Maybe it was a female black phoebe, in which case I shall now call her 'Carmen,' and hope that doing so wouldn't condemn me to the fate of Don José (though exceptions can be made if I then get to look and sing like Jonas Kaufmann with my new featherly friend transforming into one Vesselina Kasarova... almost anything is worth that!!!).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Confession to the Tooth Fairy

Even when I was a skinny little kid who refused to eat anything fishy, smelly, liquidy, flaky, or spicy, my mouth was easily plied with anything that was composed mostly of glucose...

Assorted sweet at a shop in Old Town San Diego
Hard candies, soft candies, chewy candies, and even airy ones (love those cotton candies!). Spongy cake with hard icing, chocolaty German cakes with cherry on top, blueberries cheesecakes with candy crust, hot fudge over corn cake and all sorts of sorbets and ice-cream. If only any of these counted as a wholesome healthy meal... 

A sort of luggage that's sure to disappear before you claim it.
While I'm thinking sweet, I ran into this strikingly unappetizing cake at a farmers' market a while back. No, I didn't upload a wrong photo, dudes. The luggage IS the cake!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mormon Encounters: Part 5 - The Missionary Sisters

Entire Mormon Encounters series
Part 1: First meeting       Aside 1, Aside 2 
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon
Part 3: Going to Mormon Church
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam & Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries
Last week was especially hectic for me since I had an extra work that needed to be done by a fast-approaching deadline. I stayed up late into the night with it and spent a lot of time in a zombic state with nothing in my head but a whole lot of math work. That was such a case on Thursday evening. I was bent over a notebook, so intent on working out the equations on the computer screen that I barely registered the strange giggling sound waffling in through the window from the terrace below.
Lord Voldemort kept his soul in a locket, a book, a cup and other things. I keep my brain in a hippo...
Quick! What is the sum of the interior angles of an octagon? Scattered scratches on the window. More giggles. Impish neighborhood kids! Got the angles sum, now have to subtract from it the known angles to find the unknown one. More pebbles skipping off window followed by more giggling. Is somebody shushing out my name from outside? What the heck??? I'm supposed to be a curious cat after all. Got up and peeked out through the blind. Lo and behold! The Mormon missionary ladies were downstairs, all bent over waving and giggling in the dark!

Sisters Sanftmütig and Begeistert are the names I had bestowed upon the merry twosome without their consent (though I suspect that they would be much less thrilled if their real names were used instead). Neither were the original missionaries who approached me as I walked the roommate's dog nearly 2 months ago. The nimble Sister Wendig was shipped off elsewhere after just one meeting and replaced by the quietly mild-mannered Sisters Sanftmütig. I'm afraid Wendig is not quite a right name for her. I ran into her at the Mormon Battalion on the 1st of October and now think that Nächstenliebe would be a more fitting moniker for the good lass.

After a few weeks steady Sister Stetig also got moved to another part of town. In her place now is the exceedingly enthusiastic Sister Begeistert. As much as I liked Sister Stetig, I must say that Sister Begeistert is quite more fascinating and easier a person to hang out with -- especially for her rather strange habit talking to me in dreams. And so, for the past month or so it has been the pairing of Sisters Sanftmütig and Begeistert who drop in to see me once a week, twice if we have church date. (Mormon missionaries always travel in pair. Their rules dictate that they never let their Siamese twin companion out of sight except when either is using the restroom, in which case the other is expected to stand guard at the restroom door).

The LDS Mission seems to break up the missionary pairs every 2 months or so, so I guess I'm expecting Sister Sanftmütig to be replaced soon. That would be quite sad... I really like the lass. For a theatrical artist that she is in real life, she has been so restrained and respectable as a missionary. Not that artists aren't respectable, of course, but they don't usually voluntarily confine themselves into set rules and convention either. From what I've seen and inferred so far, the Mormon church is nothing if not rules-fanatic. The detailed rules may vary a bit in various LDS (Latter-Day Saints) missions, but the general ones seem the same.

('Mission call' is another of the many curious Mormon mislabeling of things. They talk about being 'called to serve a mission', but the fact is that they themselves had to send in a mission application asking to serve. So in reality it is they that called themselves and not the church. This is the same sort of thing as the notion that Brigham Young's god connection protected the Mormon Battalion from having to fight the Mexican-American War when in fact it was the battalion's lateness that made them miss all the fighting).

Even though I'm not a Mormon, having hung out with them for a few months has made it clear to me that obeying rules and commandments is a big part of the Mormon lifestyle in general. With the missionaries, though, they go the extra marathon with it.

An excerpt from Elder Don R Clarke's recent speech about missionaries at the LDS Church News.
Many of the missionary rules seem sensible enough (including safety-oriented ones like obeying the laws or tactful ones like respecting other religions), but many more are confoundingly tedious to the point where they betray explicit mistrust of the missionaries' judgment. So the LDS church trusts these young men and women to know the 'gospel' and be able to accurately communicate it to others, but it doesn't trust them to be able to maintain their devotion and church commitment without being nearly completely cut off from all non-church-based communication (no tv, radio, newspaper or any non church reading material, no call home except for Christmas and Mother's Day, can only write to immediate family once a week and nobody else, etc), or to know what to eat and when to go to bed? That is a strange message to send to investigators...

Anyhow! I had forgotten that the sisters said they would come back to see me after their evening appointments to give me the answer to a question I had asked earlier. It was well after 8PM, though, so I sprinted right downstairs to see them because I knew that they were supposed to be back at their living quarters by 9PM at night. It could be considered almost rebellious that these gals stopped by to see a gentile (what the Mormons call all non-Mormons, even if they are Christians) so late in the day with their curfew looming in less than 25 minutes. I told them they had better scoot and not get in trouble on my account, but they replied that they would only be in trouble with themselves if they break the curfew... So it seems many of the rules are self-enforced. Discipline is a good quality to me, as long as it is voluntarily self-imposed and not a cultural imposition upon individuality. I was very glad to hear that the sisters still retain enough spiritual independence to not follow rules just for the sake of following them.

Taken from Mormon.org... what is written on and between the line? Why must intelligence be guided by 'faith'? (It makes as much sense to me as to say that the hen coop must be watched over by a fox).
When meetings started back in September the sisters would show up with a preplanned 'lesson'. I don't know if those first few lessons were anomalies or if they were the standard operational model for them, but if they were they were quite thrown off track by my many unorthodox questions. I suppose they would have been quite well prepared to defend their dogma against the usual problems that Christians have against their religion (all the while maintaining that their religions were the same, but with improvement, so to speak). But I was asking them to define what they meant when they referred to a 'god', and why such a god would have need of using certain humans as 'prophets' instead of communicating directly to everyone. Invariably their answers would be 'God is our Heavenly Father, and he loves all of us including you,' and that 'the prophets are tools for God to communicate church-wide messages that aren't meant for individuals.'

It doesn't matter if it is Sister Stetig or Wendig or Sanftmütig or Begeistert or even Sister Garten (the Elina Garanca-look-alike sister trainer who accompanies the usual pair of sisters once a month or so) I asked the questions to, they always answer the same way, in near verbatim, every time.  :-? thinking

I should say, though, that I really like my current pair of missionary sisters. Both being artistic in real life, they are quite more tolerant of my rules-lessness than some others. After a couple of meetings with these two our 'discussions' have become decidedly informal. Not only do they insist on helping me wash the dishes after our lunch, a few weeks ago they actually cooked the lunch for me when they turned up on time for our appointment for the first time ever (I had taken it for granted by then that the Mormon missionary clock perpetually runs 20-30 minutes late except for church services). Sister Sanftmütig took command of the stove and churned out her first ever oriental lunch, a beautiful wok of fried rice, while Sister Begeistert helped with the garnish and most of the after lunch clean up.

If you are expecting a pair of Mormon missionaries for lunch or dinner, there are a few dietary requirements they feel they have to comply to. They won't drink coffee, tea, alcohol, or any other beverage that has caffeine in it. Surprisingly hot cocoa is allowed -- I suspect because they don't realize that the theobromine in cocoa beans is a close relative of caffeine and has similar though milder stimulative effects (narcotics and tobacco are also banned by the LDS church). When the sisters visit with me they drink mostly water or lemonade or clear caffeine-free lemony soda.

At any rate, both sisters are in their early to mid 20's and very idealistic. Sister Begeistert told me she was born into Mormonism, though 'didn't really have a testimony' (she had doubts about the Mormon faith) until she decided to serve a mission after spending some time doing volunteer works in a remote part of Africa. I really love it when she talks about her experience there. I've had fascinations about British East Africa ever since I read Beryl Markham's West With the Night (it is one of my all time favorite books), and would love to visit the place one day myself. Like the other sisters when they are about to talk their way out of their dogma, though, her sense of theological rationalization would kick in and she would try to tie whatever she is saying into something testimony/faith-strengthening. In this particular case, she blurted out that helping teaching English to the African kids made her realize that she should serve a mission because 'teaching them the gospel is the best thing I can do to help them, better than teaching them how to read or write, even.'

Naturally I was alarmed by the sentiment. I greatly admire her selfless goodwill toward others, but teaching the kids how to read and write would enable them to read for themselves the Book of Mormon, along with other mind-stimulating books which would free them from having to always take other people's words for things.

I should also mention, though, that even though both sisters are in the midst of a very unnaturally church-oriented period of their lives, I find it remarkable that they remain receptive of the concept of following their conscience above all else. They have not tried to pressure me into making more commitment or to say any prayer with them ever since I made my protest on ground of personal integrity. They respect my sense of spiritual integrity even though I'm reasonably sure that their trainer/mission senior wouldn't be thrilled with that sort of courtesy.

In the constant atmosphere of passive-aggressive social pressure to toe-the-prophet/church-leaders'-line that definitely exists in their church (certain things are more easily perceived when viewed from the outside), I hope that they would be able to keep exercising their 'free agency' (Mormonese for 'free will') even when pushed to do or say things that don't sit well with their conscience.

If you would like to know how the Mormon missionaries think, don't take my words for it. Many active missionaries actually keep blogs! Proselytizing missionaries (the young pairs that go out trying to teach people their gospel rather than the older ones who man the Mormon churches and historical sites) work six days a week. The one free day (they call it 'prep-day' or 'p-day' for preparation) they have each week is reserved for cleaning, shopping, and writing to their immediate family (they aren't allowed to write any other aside from their mission seniors. And they are only allowed to use their church email and can only access church sites). A few of these guys and gals email their family, who then post the missive on their blog for them.

My missionary sisters wouldn't approve, but I've had much fun reading through many missionary blogs -- the ones serving in the area and others serving elsewhere. Like it or not, the thoughts they dispatch home help me to better understand where they are coming from (along with the strategies they are apt to use, of course)... along with driving home for me what Karl Marx must have thought of when he wrote that 'religion is opium for the people' (Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes).

I am liking the Mormons a lot, but the more I look into it, the more Mormonism repulses me. Even these nice and obviously well-meaning missionaries are showing signs of a serious case of mis-prioritization when the well-being and/or spiritual integrity of the people they are trying to convert runs up against church practice. Have a look at Sister Christensen's description of a baptism she recently witnessed. (Sister missionaries aren't holder of the Mormon priesthood, and though they were the ones who successfully converted you, they have to step aside to let the boys do the actual rituals like baptism as they watch).
"she was baptized. to say the least, it was one of the most uncomfortable baptisms i've ever had to watch, and i was reeeeeeeally nervous she was going to back out because she just COULDN'T GET ALL THE WAY UNDER.. but she didn't. she finally got all the way down. ................... huge sigh of relief from EVERYONE present. but seriously. (she's way afraid of water... and to add to that she can't lean back because of a surgery she had... so she was literally ON HER KNEES and president was literally trying to push her under the water and she was blowing bubbles and almost crying...oh my gosh. BUT!!!! SHE DID IT!!!! hahha. and afterwards she shared her testimony (i did'nt think she'd do that either!) and it was more like a prayer, but it was so sweet! and she said that she just felt sooo different and so happy and she couldn't stop crying." (christensen missionaries blog
The end justifies the means? The lady has hydrophobia and a seriously bad back, and yet these people were so bent on baptizing her with water that they nearly ended up waterboarding the gal... I'm sure the good sister and her colleagues present justified the act to themselves with the thought that water baptism is absolutely necessary in 'saving' someone's soul. But what would that really say about a religion that values literal application of rituals over someone's inner spirituality? I can get baptized 10 times tomorrow, but if I still don't believe, then what of it all??? It's the same deal as when I was pushed to say prayers in order for the praying habit to somehow grow into faith. If a doctrine is not worth believing in, then there is no virtue in trying to force a square idea into a round reality!
"Martha and Jacob dropped us. =( We were both kind of crying. She did it over phone so we made one final appointment and went in with our guns blazing. We told her exactly what we're offering, and she knows it. She said she would go to church one more time, and that she likes the Book of Mormon. The reason she dropped us was her husband and his anti-Mormon family. It’s not over yet, we're not going to give up on her, just give her some time to see her life without the Gospel." 
And yet another's:
"Sister Panga came out of her house holding the Book of Mormon and the restoration pamphlet. She explained that she and her husband had been fighting and that she wanted to work it out with him. She explained that he did not approve of her listening anymore. Our hearts just dropped. Our last visit she had been asking questions and told us she had talked to her husband. He had met us on a pjeepney before and said it was okay for us to visit. I just thought what had changed in those few short days. She wanted to give back the Book of Mormon. We testified. No change she insisted that we take the book back, because her husband told her to. She was kind about it and asked us to respect her decision. Sister Canoneo told her she could hide the Book of Mormon. Sister Panga was afraid if she kept the book that her husband would find it and be angry. We testified that one day her husband's heart would change and if ever that happened not to be shy to give us a call. Sister Panga did this in a very dignified manner and we were not annoyed or mad that she gave us back the Book of Mormon, but rather saddened and our hearts hurt. Walking away we just sang at the same time "magpadayon ta!" (we will continue) and laughed. The storms of the mission can either get you down or lift you up. I'ts a choice and we decided to count our blessings rather look at the disappointments."
(Apologies for the length of the quotes, but I wanted to make sure you can read them in their original context).

These aren't isolated incidents but illustrate a recurring theme which I hope sufficiently explains my perception of a relatively subtle strain of snobbiness amongst many Mormons (and Christians and other religious zealots, for that matter). They regard themselves as people who know 'the truth', and gentiles as those who remain ignorant of it. Therefore they know better, and a gentile's decision to reject their dogma will not be received as credible. The church must be prioritized over everything, family included (note how one of the missionaries even tried to get the investigator (Sister Panga) to sneak the religious book into the house to read on the sly behind her husband's back. Suggestions like this makes it hard for me to dismiss the many stories I've heard from reading posts and articles by ex-Mormons who complain of the church's interferences in their family life.

When the missionaries say that they gave a 'testimony' or 'testified', that means that they made more assertions about them knowing the BoM and Joseph Smith and the LDS Church to be true. It is one of the most annoying things that they all do when they are trying to convert you and have ran out of any logically coherent thing to say. They will repeat the testimonies to you over and over as if their ability to be exceedingly repetitive constitutes positive and unquestionable empirical evidence of their religion's truthfulness.

The missionaries may lay off on you for a bit, but quitting on you altogether isn't quite likely... because they know 'the truth' and really want to save you regardless of what you think. This is one of the things that irritates me the most about religions -- it gives its zealots a free pass to disrespect other people's decision and space, and sometimes to do some really unholy stuff in the name of a god, a cause 'greater' than themselves. Granted the intention is good, but as a wise saying goes; 'the road to hell is often paved with good intention.'

And that brings another of my favorite quotes to mind;
"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it."
(H.L. Mencken)
(As a side note, there really ought to be a study done on how many of the people who 'drop' their missionaries say that they are only dropping out because their spouse wouldn't allow further contact. What a convenient excuse! And the spouse is almost never there to confirm or deny it!).

Frankly I would really love it if Sisters Begeistert and Sanftmütig (and also Sister Garten, for that matter) will remain friends with me even after they are done with their mission and even though they fail to convert me to their religion. I know that there is a constant social pressure on them and other Mormons to not socialize much with non-Mormons who aren't likely to convert and with ex-Mormons (whom they call 'apostates'). To be sure, this sort of 'only associate with others who share your own belief' mentality also exists in other religions. I had my fair share of such thing preached to me in Baptist and Evangelical Christian churches, though I never managed to follow it very well even when I was a strong believer. With the Mormons, though, it is quite much more heavily emphasized. As for me, my investigation (so to speak, since the Mormons refer to me as an 'investigator') into Mormonism ends when I relocate next month or when both of the current sisters get transferred elsewhere, whichever comes first.