Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why I Avoid "Christian" Businesses or What is Screwed up About a Home-Based Economy

As I have stated at NLQ and here, years ago I had a business making worship flags, the large banners that hang in churches, silk altar cloths, you name it. If it was something a sacristan would handle in the church, it was something I made.

When I first started making these things it seemed a perfect culmination of my years of sewing mixed with my college art commingled with my continuing artistic journey. It seemed like the natural outgrowth of my years doing art as a sideline, starting with the many fancy, fantastical and elaborate Mardi Gras costumes I churned out for customers starting back in my college days for extra money, right to the early days at my old church, when I made rather complex traditional style quilts to sell through the quilt shop in Williamsburg.

During those first months at our old church I was recovering from a spectacular bout of depression in the wake of the flood of July 1995. Jim and I owned and operated for over five years a small country store in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, a mere mile or so from the hiking trails of the Shenandoah National Park. We'd done pretty well financially with the store and Jim had recently taken on a full time job with the federal government, leaving me to pull the 90 hours that the store was open between myself and a few part time employees.

In late July it rained and wouldn't stop, rain coming down at something like an inch an hour for a long stretch till the mountains could contain no more and water, mud, houses and beasts rolled off the mountains and ripped through the valley our store stood in. I'd just gotten a delivery of horse feed and mulch from the local farmers coop and managed to sand bag the doors with the feed and mulch, meaning that tho the water rushed around the building at 18 inches deep we only had six inches inside the store.

We were never able to recover from the flood at the store and we sold the place a few months later after both Laura and I suffered through bouts of illness. First her with ITP and meningitis and later I suffered from PSTD and the onset of fibromyalgia. We joined our old church in the middle of these crisis's.

One of the things that the ladies kept trying to pound in my head during those early days, besides telling me that I should use "To Train Up A Child" to discipline my very ill child, was that if I was going to be a good Christian submissive wife I was going to have to not work outside of the home. Which was foreign to me, I'd always had some sort of job outside of the home, even if it was part time, and mostly tried to work at a time when Jim could take care of the kids so that they didn't have to go to daycare.

This was the first time I'd heard of the family economy. I did this for a year or two, did the quilting, to make some money while I was incapacitated by the fibro. But eventually I did go back to working outside of the home, to the disappointment and derision of the ladies of the church. I just kept telling myself that they didn't know any better, none of them had college educations and it seemed like a waste of my own education to not work.

But like any good cult, eventually the messages being replayed over and over again went into my head and I started seeking a way to do the home-based economy thing, find something I could do. When I started making flags it seemed like the perfect answer, most of what I made was either an air-brushed design, or something like a 9 foot long half round lame flag with an inset of glittery chiffon or a special shaped, painted, stoned, flag that was one of the kind. One of the most popular ones I sold was a half round flag with a flaming sword appliqued into place and bejeweled and stoned with a hand-worked sword hilt on the flag handle.

What I'm trying to say is that the flags were one of a kind, hand made, designs I'd come up with, more like art work than anything mass produced. I charged accordingly, because, none of those things I'm talking about are quick and easy. Sometimes I'd have close to sixty dollars in materials alone in the flags.

At first I sold quite a few, and I'd get contacted frequently to make something special, or perhaps an entire set of flags just for a church. Did so well and had enough orders that I quit my job as a systems admin at an insurance company. Home-based economy, honoring God, etc.

And I wasn't the only one. One family at church the hubby farmed and tuned pianos on the side while the wife did his books. The pastor's wife sold Pampered Chef products, others did Mary Kay, Tupperware, or other sales from their home. One lady made cheese, another one bought and sold vintage things online, another did bookkeeping out of her home. Many of the men farmed or mowed grass, landscaped, were roofers or were carpenters. Lots of businesses run out of the home.

This was odd for me because I'd mostly worked either in corporate America or for government agencies in social work, all frowned upon by our church. With the flags and large banners I ran into a snag after a few months, a snag I've seen played out again and again and again in the Christian home economies in many different divisions.

It would go something like this. I'd be at a teaching conference, or someone would see my now-defunct website and start asking questions about one of the items. Most of the time this was about the half round 9 foot long flags with a half round center of glitter bedecked chiffon, not an easy item to make, but one that I'd managed to come up with a nearly fool proof method to make. I had my own pattern I'd made, and my own special technique for appliqueing in the center, while cutting away the solid lame in the center. It wasn't easy, but it was my way to do it that worked every time.

The problem with this particular highly-coveted flag is that you needed a minimum of 5 yards of very expensive materials. It was usually about sixty dollars for fabric in that particular one. The ones that contacted me proclaiming what Good Christians (tm) they were also were the very ones that demanded either a) a big discount or b) to know exactly how I made that flag so they could make their own. Why? Because the $90 I was charging was thought to be too much for this item that took lots of expensive fabric and the expertise to make.

Many times I'd give in with a sigh, sketch out how to make one if I was at a conference, or explain via email. Usually what happened is that the person would get so far into the project, screw it up and then demand I fix their mess. For free. Most of the time when I looked at what they'd done I'd have to point out that they'd mangled the delicate fabric so badly that they'd have to start from scratch again. Would have been way cheaper just to buy from me in the first place

Eventually I'd sell the pattern, but people would still balk at spending ten bucks for a pattern and demand I explain for free.

And the people who were whining and demanding were also screaming out what Good Christians (tm) they were so I owed it to them because I was a Christian.

I got to see that Good Christian (tm) dynamic at work in just about every place, public secular business or Christian business, people saying that since they were doing the work of the God they deserved a discount or freebie, who would not let up until they got their way. Vyckie Garrison and I have had discussions about the Good Christian discount whine.

To add insult to grievous injury every single freakin' time I'd come up with a new design, something I'd sketched out, made the pattern for and then made the sample and posted it on my website within a week I'd see a badly executed copy made from discount fabric of my original design up on Ebay for a cheaper price. To me that is what separates true artists from the artisans. Artists do it because it's inside of them, artisans are just looking to make a buck.

Not one of my flags, but one of the quilts I've made just to give you an idea of my mad sewing skillz and the way I put together colors and textures. Not my original pattern.

Even as sales were decent after awhile I got most burned out by the attitudes of entitlement, the begging, whining, demanding a discount and the general intellectual thievery. I stopped making flags for anyone but myself, or when someone who's seen one of mine and is willing to pay without whining. Just readied a big box of flags going on a missions trip to Cuba next month.

I am proud to say that there are some of my worship flags on every continent of the world, with the exception of Antarctica. Japan, Romania, Germany, Australia, Russia, Poland, the Bahamas and all over the USA. That is something I am proud of.

This is a air brushed flag I did make, it's five feet by 2 /1/2 feet gold lame. Not my original design. This was a custom order with the design from a photograph of a painting someone else did that the customer was requesting. Still one of my favorite simple rectangular flags.

One thing I started to notice during my years at good old Creek Church, the tendency of the Creekers and other Good Christians (tm) to take advantage of people, press every advantage and try to drum up business by means fair and foul. Example, just about everyone that sucked up to the Pastor's wife bought Pampered Chef merchandise and many ladies at the church signed up to sell beneath her every single time she started putting the pressure to people over being Good Christians (tm) helping out each other.

It was as if none of them thought hard work and conviction was enough, they had to press every advantage and try to game the system each and every time. Some of them still are, hence Mrs. 5 by 5 fleecing two different sets of the elderly she did the books for out of over 20K. Today I saw her with another new senior citizen that has a small business and I'm going to see if I can talk to her newest employer's relatives before she steals from this women.

I had originally intended to go on and on with stories of the complete fubared nature of most of the home-based economies that I got the chance to observe, but I'm running out of steam here. What got me started was that this morning I got a series of comments from another flag-maker that was upset that I'd used one of her photos in an old post I made discussing why I no longer made worship flags for the general public. A couple of months ago she requested I take down the photo I used, citing that I'd violated her copyright, even though her photos weren't marked as copyrighted or watermarked, and I meant no disrespect to her. The reason I used the photo is it was the only one even remotely close to some of the hand dyed and painted silk flags I'd made. I have almost no photos of my flags left as they were all on my old computer.

Long story short. I took down the photo from this blog and considered the issue closed. Too bad, because the photo was very pretty. Today she showed up again, still upset and still claiming I was linked to her photo or had the photo or something that I just didn't get. 

She behaved with typical Fundigelical whining and I exploded on her in a furious volley of obscene words. I've removed the flag post all together and purged that silly photo out of Blogspot photo archive I didn't even know existed til this morning. She's still sending me comments/demands, none of which I'm going to allow through to the blog here. I honored her request when she first made it.

Here's what I learned in the last twenty years plus years dealing with Fundigelicals and their businesses/home based economies.

1) If they can take some small advantage of you, then they will. If you call them on it they will claim it's their right as Christians to be entitled to more or they outright deny they've done it.
2) They believe if they can whine, beat you down, demand, threaten or haggle long enough you will give in to their sense of entitlement and give out something for free or deep discount. Why? Because Christian! Because Bible!
3) If you happen to not totally agree with their flavor of True Believer then they might refuse to serve you and/or jack up the charges.
4) They act like they have some sort of moral superiority over you all the while behaving badly.

1 comment:

Bugeyedmonster2 said...

Have you been by customers_suck?
http://customers-suck.livejournal.com/

You can blast all about it there, and folks will listen, and better yet, understand what you are talking about. I've heard from servers there that the 'Sunday after church' crowd is the worst. Plus they don't believe in tipping.