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Me and my shadow

04 July 2014

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MAKE four new converts this year. It is a simple evangelistic target, easily assessed, which you may well want to add to your Mission Action Plan. On the evidence before us, it is one that I'd reckon Elder Field has only the slimmest chance of achieving.

Meet The Mormons (Channel 4, Thursday of last week) was a curious programme. The Churchof Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints granted the film-maker Lynn Alleway unprecedented access so that she could follow the progress of one of its young missionaries, Elder Field; but the permission was hedged around with limitations so severe as to make them almost as strong a theme as the apparent subject-matter.

At all times, an official minder had to be present - by his account, merely to facilitate the process; but what seemed far more likely was that he had, first, to ensure that the wrong questions were not asked, and, second, to check that Elder Field did not stray from the party line. It created ludicrous situations: the minder was supposed to be out of sight, but within earshot; and so many frames had a glimpse of his feet or elbows as he tried to hide in corners.

Once they are "set apart" for their two years' stint as missionaries, Mormons work in pairs to an unimaginable degree: they must share a bedroom, and rise, and go to bed at exactly the same time, separating only to go to the bathroom. There is not the smallest moment of privacy. This is pre-sented as positive support, but it is impossible to see it as anything other than a mechanism of control.

Alleway was unable to contain her discomfort at the situation. Elder Field seemed a tender soul. A cradle Mormon, he found the enforced separation from family and friends almost unbearable. Brought up to believe that God requires personal sacrifice as a prerequisite for bestowing blessings, Elder Field is convinced that the salvation he is preaching will bring eternal joy to his hoped-for converts; but his tears were stronger witness of a harsh and sadistic deity.

How are we to house the people? BBC2's Culture Show (Monday of last week) had the answer, using examples from refugee crises, Greenham Common, and the Occupy movement: Tents - the Beginning of Architecture. Tents are universal. They leave hardly any mark, and can be fitted in anywhere. Unfortunately, they are also cold, damp, and flimsy, but the narrator, Tom Dyckhoff, failed to mention that.

It was the kind of presentation that gives architects a bad name: all practical drawbacks were suppressed in favour of theoretical flights of fancy. There is a great deal to be said in favour of tents from the theological perspective, of course: they speak of a pilgrim people, prepared to move on, glorying in the God who tabernacles in our midst. Somehow, that got missed out, too.

Friday Night Dinner (Channel 4, Fridays) is back. This dysfunctional north London Jewish family gathers for its weekly meal, but, in reality,it is a feast of misunderstanding, cross-purposes, and squabbling. Last week's episode was a classic farce, each attempt to correct a foolish cover-up building up into a baroque structure of towering lunacy. Far more fun than a tent.

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