Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Importance of Dying Well

About three weeks ago I received a book for review on the subject of dying. The book, "Peaceful Passages: A Hospice Nurse's Stories of Dying Well" written by Janet Wehr, was a fascinating one. Not necessarily a religious book or even a Christian book, but an inspired and moving account of the journey from life into death. I could not put the book down, finishing it in a few scant days.

But whenever I sat down to write a review I blanked, experiencing writers block, complete unable to come up with a fitting review for a book I believe everyone needs to read, if for no other reason than to preparing yourself for losing your loved ones and how to handle the end. I kept staring at the blank word document on my computer screen, willing the words to come but finding I had nothing to say.

At least I had nothing to say until a story broke in the news this week, the story of a dying child and her parent's decision to allow her to determine when enough was enough. Five year old Julianna Snow has suffered from one of the most severe forms of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease from birth. Her story will not have a happy ending. Her life has been an endless round of medical tests and treatments that would be tough even on a grown up. Her future is one that could end with the next cold or virus.

What brings her story into the eyes of the media and the attention of others is that Julianna's family is Christian and they've recently asked her if she wants to stop fighting her illness and go to heaven or continue with the painful, invasive and ultimately useless medical treatments in the hospital. The child has chosen to die at home, and no longer go to the hospital. She is choosing, a five year old child, how her end will come. Even a child wants to die well.

The problem is that most of the world doesn't think that a child, the one actually suffering, should have any say over their treatment or final plans. Many argue that a child cannot possibly be mature enough to know what she's giving up by deciding to stop heroic medical measures. They say that the parents are abdicating their responsibility to provide ongoing medical care for Julianna's CMT disease. Julianna's mother is a doctor, someone that too clearly understands what more her child faces from this illness. She and her husband decided that their child, being the one who is suffering, should also be the one who calls the game, when it's too much and her quality of life is abysmal.

Before reading "Peaceful Passages" I would have likely joined in on that internet crowd blaming and shaming the parents for allowing a child to decide her own fate. Not now, now I have to consider that each of us is ultimately the captains of our own futures. Why should the family not honor the wishes of a dying child to have some say over her own death. Even if you remove the religious element, heaven and hell, and look at the situation logically it seems as though even a child should be the decider over her own ending. She has known nothing but a life filled with pain, knowing her illness with bring less and less of a life to her.

Which is what a large part of this book is about, people choosing to die on their own terms. So many of the touching stories in "Peaceful Passages" are about just that, deciding what that end will be.  Janet Wehr's experiences in the book tell me that we all need to have those conversations with loved ones, young and old, healthy or facing a lifelong illness. We need to make sure that those that love us know what we need in order to die well, to have our wishes known and honored.  To be surrounded by those that support and love us as we transition into the great unknown.

I cried more than once when reading through the stories of dying collected in this book.

I wish there was some way to get a copy of this book to Julianna Snow's family because I believe that it would be a great comfort to them in this time and when Julianna leaves this planet. There is nothing more difficult that watching your child suffer like this, as I discovered when my youngest child was four years old and she was in and out of the hospital for ITP (idiopathic thrombocytic purpura) for quite some time. I remember the fear, the bargaining with God to strike me but leave my child alone and the months of slogging back and forth to the hospital for treatment.

One of the big benefits of this book is that it completely demystified the role of Hospice in the end of life. Hospice is shown as it is, a help to both the patient the family as the end nears. When the family understands how Hospice helps make the patient make the most of their remaining time it takes away some of the worries and struggles involved. This is a great read for anyone preparing to help a loved one dealing with a life threatening illness. Janet Wher has done a great service by sharing her years working in Hospice with anyone interested in how to die well.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Finding the Strength to Give Yourself Permission to Leave

I remember the last two years before I walked away from my old church. Every Saturday night or early Sunday morning I would have a nightmare involving church. They always involved church. It might be something like the pastor calling me out for some imagined sin from the pulpit and he and I fighting in the sanctuary. One time I dreamed that my home was filled with an abundance, a crazy wild abundance of things, like opening the bread box to have three fresh loaves leaping out instead of one, or opening the silverware drawer and finding set after set of silver in the drawer. That dream was terrifying because I was attempting to get my pastor to see the heaping helpings of abundance every where I turned in my home and he was scoffing, saying hateful things.

It wasn't only the pastor I dreamed about. Church members that I knew to have issues or to be a bit on the hateful side featured prominently. I woke up one Sunday morning horrified that I'd dreamed of beheading a fellow parishioner in the chapel out back..

But occasionally the dreams would not feature anyone I knew. Dreamed one morning that I was walking down a dark country road late at night and I spied God coming down from the heavens like a white robed wraith. I ran to him, calling out, screaming that He was all I wanted. As God drew near to me I could see him instantly change from the Almighty to a dark demon, who grabbed my hands and would not let go.

The nightmares stopped as soon as my husband convinced me to go with him to a local mainstream United Methodist church. I've not had another nightmare involving any church or pastor or church goes again.

After almost nine years away I've come to conclude now that it wasn't 'the devil' making me have all these horrible dreams. I was told when I timidly asked about nightmares at the old church that I was under direct attack from Satan to stop going to church. But that's not it.

I think now that it was my sub conscience screaming at me to wake up and run! What I could not perceive as unhealthy, twisted and cult-like while I was awake because I was in denial, brainwashed even, my inner mind knew was bad. All stimuli had to be switched off for the message to make its way into my active mind. The inner parts screaming at me to run away as quickly as possible, to protect myself and go.

Starting to know that I had to leave wasn't hard. But what was hard was the actual going, the giving myself permission to leave a toxic environment for a healthier future. After what I went through leaving my old church I think I now have some small inkling on a very primitive level why abused women stay with their abusers. Giving yourself permission to leave is hard. It requires that you recognize and admit to yourself, that regardless of how hard you tried to make things work that it was never going to work. It's admitting a failure, even if that failure isn't caused by you. It is hard to give up a dream, a vision of how things really should be and finally being able to take a long hard look at the reality of your situation.

It goes well beyond the practicalities of detangling yourself financially and physically from a religious organization. It involves almost amputating yourself from the body, sometimes in a radical and bloody way. But it's worth it, after you finish licking your wounds that is. Because no one else at the place you're leaving is going to give you permission to go. They're going to insist you don't have that right, or that you are deceived, to please stay because it is 'God's will'.

Let's get one thing straight, if you are being spiritually abused none of the abusers has the right to stop you from leaving. But they will try to stop you and insist that they are doing it out of love.

Even after nine years there are still people I run into from the old church that insist I'm sinning by having left, or that I'm going to hell for adminning No Longer Quivering, or they think I'm running around doing 'UnGodly' things. They don't understand that I hold all my own power and their attempts to control me are like mosquitoes tried to bring down a Harrier jet.

You don't owe them explanations.
You don't need them to give you permission to leave.
You don't have to keep allowing them to try and make you feel guilty.

You are strong.
You are enough.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tears and Mud

Sorta been one of those weeks. I had a big oral exam in my Spanish class and I froze up, mind blanked, even if I'd rehearsed what I was to say again and again and again and had a cheat sheet with a few words and graphics on it to remind me what to say. I froze like a guilty deer in the headlights of an eighteen wheeler. I didn't run out of the room crying, but it was close.

My daughter keeps telling me that as long as I'm participating in class and doing all the homework that my grade will be passing. Apparently she did just this, bomb tests but passed with an okay grade in her statistics (I think?) class because she participated in class and did all homework. I hope so because I am going mind blank in the tests. Brain farts.

Still struggling to conjugate irregular verbs properly.

One of the things that really rocked my week pretty horribly is that I had a disagreement with a close friend, a close friend I've watched struggle with moods in the wake of a serious health crisis. She's gone from someone with a joyous and wonderful disposition to one of the most fearful folks with a very unpleasant mood most of the time now. Add in that she keeps telling me that she thinks my moderation of No Longer Quivering falls under the category of 'sin' and I'm just about done now.

The change in her so great and so off putting. There's much she still does from our old church that rubs me the wrong way. But I smile and ignore most of it because she is one of my good friends. I rarely point out the things she does that aren't so kosher. She's moved into the constantly criticizing me thing, which I get enough of from various family members without adding in friends that do this. I cannot decide if I just need to give her space for awhile or give her a big dose of her own very critical medicine.

Whatever step I take I'm going to have to have a serious discussion with her, which I'm dreading because the last time I tried to talk to her about her complete change in personality and behavior it didn't go well. She denied anything was different, denied she'd been snapping at her husband in a mean fashion. In fact she followed that up with a pretty 'out there' statement. She said, and I quote, "I do not sin!"

That sort of blew me away because even if you don't believe in the construct of sin or heaven and hell the fact is that everyone screws up, everyone doesn't behave 100% perfectly 100% of the time. People are human and humans tend to flub things up. I know I do, I find myself some days, like the day of the oral exam, making mistakes left and right. I'm very imperfect, I know it and I freely admit it. Knowing this is half the battle sometimes. 

What happened this week is that she posted one of those pro-gun memes on Facebook, I mistook it as something from a friend of hers that she'd commented on, totally missing that it was on her wall. I pulled up government website statistics over what she was alleging and started posting a legitimate rebuttal. She erased everything I'd posted and sent me a message on Facebook about how I kept posting all this 'Ungodly' stuff on Facebook that was distressing her. I didn't reply because I've learned it's best to give someone that's super angry, like she is, some space and talk to them later once everyone has had some time to calm down.

This has been one of the most useful things I picked up in therapy, that I don't have to fight with people just because they want to fight. Step back, take a deep breath and talk to them later when everyone is calm.

Usually when it's a friend on Facebook that says things I think are pretty horrible, like the friend that keeps putting up posts supporting brainless brain surgeon Ben Carson, or another friend that is an anti-vaxxer, I just skim past those posts and do not comment. But if it's a friend of a friend spewing this stuff I will sometimes do what I did then, pull up legitimate info disputing whatever it is and post it in the comments.

I think this friend of mine thinks that my moderation/administration of NLQ is somehow a criticism of her and her religious views, when frankly it has nothing to do with her at all and I'm not trying to put her or her beliefs down.

But I am so so over her attempts to tell me what I'm doing is 'sin'. Exposing dangerous theology has to happen and only those who've lived it truly understand the danger of it. Just this evening Jim gave a speech on the cult church we left as in how to spot a cult from a church. We're going to keep doing it.

One good thing that has come out of all of this is that I now make every effort to speak to Jim in a kinder tone after a week listening to and witnessing the way she was talking to her husband recently. I was convicted to never snap at him again around other folks, not because it hurts his feelings, Jim has stated he can't really tell when I'm angry with him. But I'm stopping it because of the atmosphere of tension it creates in those forced to listen to and watch it. I was reminded too much of my parents and the horrible tension between the two of them that ruined much of my childhood. I never want to inflict that type of tension on others just because I cannot control my mouth.

The other thing that happened this week is I was hit by a car in the same darn twenty square foot area I've been hit by drivers backing up twice in the last years. I'm okay, a little sore, a little bruised. Got cussed out for my troubles. I think I'm going to have to stay away from Target or start parking behind the store.

I am hoping this week is better and that I have the courage, kindness and compassion to have the type of conversation with my friend that needs to happen. I pray she is able to receive it without exploding.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dugger Redemption - Rebranding

Screen cap of Roger Sterling from the AMC television show 'Mad Men'
Screen cap of Roger Sterling from the AMC television show 'Mad Men'
I know, I know, you're probably cringing right now because I'm writing about TLC's Duggar family yet again. In some sense they are to me what Moby Dick is to Captain Ahab. They were part of my leaving my old fundagelical Quiverful church. Actually, they were the very beginning of the healing process of my leaving.

When I was on the fringes of leaving, when it was starting to dawn on me that much of what was taught at my old church verged on bullshit I started watching The Learning Channel's specials on the Duggar family, half gagging, half giggling over how they always put a positive spin on so much of the fear-based theology that ruled their every moment. It was healing and validating to be able to look in on the crazy  hot mess that this type of faith is and see it for what it was.

Even before I started doing the day to day things at No Longer Quivering I kept my eyes on the doings in the Duggar family, seeing that they were changing, evolving and becoming ever more worldly appearance-wise as time passed in over to gloss over the freakish bits. Lulling the general public that has no experience with that type of religion to believe that they were just a good old fashioned Christian all-American family. Then the fallout happened, with the exposure of Josh Duggar as first a child molester and later as a serial cheater many things hidden or glossed over by the Duggars, that those of us who'd lived that life knew were there behind the facade were exposed. Now most people know that their lifestyle isn't healthy for anyone. They've lost all but the most hardcore supporters.

Like a man who's arms and legs were held onto his body only by his metallic knightly armor who loses his armor and cannot get up again yet futility tries, so does the Duggar family keep trying different ways to paper over what happened and get up again. We've seen them hiring a presidential candidate's PR firm, try to say and do various things to make is seem that nothing has changed, make many different attempts to get publicity and money off their supporters and to regain their television show.  We've witnessed countless press articles about what a wonderful mother Michelle is or how they are banding together in prayer to get through this difficult time without one shred that they give a rat's patoot over the pain of the victims.

I'm reminded of something that once happened in my life and of a episode of AMC's television show "Mad Men" In "Mad Men" head of customer relations Roger Sterling has one of his former girlfriends approach him to have the ad agency of Sterling-Cooper help her dog food company Caldecott Farms overcome negative publicity. Turns out a news expose published information that Caldecott Farm's was using horsemeat at the main ingredient in their doggy chow. After all analysis, marketing testing and surveys Roger had to tell his former friend that the only way to ever overcome the publicity was to change the name of the company, to rebrand, rename and redo. She rejects that advice. We never hear what the final outcome is, but in real life it's likely the sales would have continued to slide.

Last year I ran into this very same thing with my lawyer. He owns a number of businesses and one day when I was in his office on a completely unrelated business matter when he asked me to help him out. It was simple, he was opening a new hotel and wanted to know if I might be interested in setting up the website for that business and taking over online marketing for a couple other of his businesses, one of which was a broadband company. He was struggling to figure out how to make the broadband company successful instead of the money-losing enterprise it was at that moment. I had to point out to him that his company had the worst customer service of all time. I knew many folks who'd once been customers of that service that cancelled, paying more to a cable giant and ranting about the crappy service all over online. I told him the only way for him to rebuild his company was to rename and completely rebrand. He was offended by my opinion and is still running his broadband company under the original name. It still has very few customers.

I see that the Duggar family is doing exactly the same thing. Yes, I know they aren't likely to change their names and that's not what I'm talking about. What they are doing is doubling down on their poisonous theology and harmful ideas in the face of exposure. They are the naked emperor that everyone sees is naked except for a few blind people. There is no greater indication of this than Michelle Duggar reposting one of her older blog postings insisting that a wife is completely responsible for the sexual n eeds of her husband. Really, it feels like a slap at her own daughter in law, Anna, who's husband Josh was cheating with porn stars and people through the cheater site Ashley Madison.

It's this type of tone-deafness that's dooming their 'brand'. Unless they are able to move forward, admit they have made mistakes and take real legitimate actions to address those mistakes, like licensed counseling for the entire family, reflection on what went wrong, taking responsiblity and public repentance there will be no longevity for their future media earnings. To me it seems like a reality show focused on the Duggar's struggling to change all the horrible things about their lives would be a million times more compelling than anything that's been filmed already. I can see it now, 'Breaking Duggar'

A reality show about a fake missionary and his fake midwife wife with a guy with no job or point and his kind of mean-spirited uber Christian wife? Nope. Not going to help.

Friday, October 09, 2015

That Elusive Visitor - Sleep

One of the things Jim and I have had to learn in our almost thirty years of marriage is how to give the other person what they need for sleep.

As you can see by the time I'm posting this that I am having a bad bout of insomnia. I had another bad asthma attack today after class when Jim and I were preparing to leave Costco with our assorted booty. I was in the restroom when a Costco employee that smelled as if she had been rolled in cigarette ashes and cheap perfume entered the restroom to wash her hands and stood next to me. I moved immediately because her smell was triggering my asthma. Moving didn't help because the moment she started using the air hand dryer it merely blew the odor of her all around the restroom. I was in rescue breathing mode before I left the restroom, rushing for my car and my portable nebulizer.

Which is why I cannot sleep. It took three treatments of double doses of Xopenex to shut this shit down so it's like I'm doing horrible speed right now. No sleep. So I'm online until the Xanax I just took kicks in.

Part of me is so annoyed this happened again, and part of me is super grateful that Jim handled the rest of the day, unpacking our Costco stuff, making sure I got a super large drink in me quickly by running through the nearest drive thru (Sonic) and seeing that I rested most of the day when I got home. Pushing fluids and medications right now, and trying to keep out of the way tonight so Jim can get some real sleep.

I was thinking about the sleep thing earlier in regards to how people have their little quirks and how when I was in my old church I used to emotionally beat myself up for having my own needs and strange little ways of dealing. I also was pressured to dump my meds for my lung problems and by doing so made everything just so much worse.

This is three scary bad intense episodes in a few weeks. I'm not thrilled about that at all.

But I have learned that regardless of what any preacher, pontificator or so-called religious person says that needs aren't sinful and we don't have to follow a script to do things that suit us. I used to worry about that a lot in the old days, if I was doing every single thing right, in a Biblical way, as a righteous woman of God. I've tossed that.

Now I have no qualms about being in the bed first at night, no worrying or nagging Jim to go to bed at eleven with me. Jim is a grown man, he can decide what time he needs to go to sleep. I know I can settle in, put my pile of pillows in the right place, aim the fan on me and snooze. As long as I have the blackout curtains drawn and the ambient light off and the room's not too hot. I could sleep through a dump truck filled with ball bearings driving through my yard all night as I'm unbothered by noise once I'm asleep.

But sometimes, like tonight, it's hard to get to sleep because of the meds, and I try my Jedi mind tricks of doing boring mental things like conjugating irregular Spanish verbs or writing a grocery list for the next day. Sometimes nothing helps but something chemical. Particularly when we're had some stressors, like yesterday the school system shutting down here because of a child on campus with a gun. Thinking about that laying in the bed isn't conducive to sleep either.

Those nights I tiptoe around trying not to awaken Jim. Jim isn't bothered by lights, or the varieties in room temperatures because of menopausal night sweats. He doesn't need extra pillows. But he needs silence and no tossing and turning in the bed. Last night I had to get up around 3 am because I felt parched. I tiptoed around in the dark, silently gliding into the bathroom and starting to shut the door. Unfortunately I shut it on one of our cats, whom I didn't see, and he made a scream that sounded almost human. It would Jim up. He sat bolt upright in bed and asked me why I screamed and then said a bunch of demented sleep-addled things. I had to keep reassuring him that all was well, Kiki made that noise and to go back to sleep. He couldn't.

Monday, October 05, 2015

How Do You Best Respond to Racists On Both Sides?

I never know what to say when folks act a fool about something as meaningless as race and skin color. One big positive I will say about my mother is that she never once denigrated people over their skin color when I was a kid. She some times says borderline racist statements now, but during my formative years she was largely silent on the issue. But I'm finding that silence is very unhelpful now.

Earlier today I was out and about at the laundry mat washing and drying my oversized comforter for my California King sized bed. It will not fit in either my washer or dryer so when I laundry it there is an obligatory visit to the same laundry mat I visit when the stupid expensive European dryer does it's every 18 month let's die.

While I was there I noticed a woman who had brought a pile of those Rubbermaid storage tubs with lids, the heavy duty ones in different colors. I sat watching her sort each person in the household's clothing, sheets and towels into their own labeled tub. I thought what a great idea that was, however on my way out of the laundry place I smiled and told her what a clever organizing idea that was and her response floored me. She told me not to patronize her just because I was white and she was black. I didn't know what to say because my saying something to her about her laundry skills had nothing to do with my looking down upon her or trying to somehow treat her differently than anyone else. I was just expressing admiration for a great organizing tip.

A few months ago I had a long internet conversation with a Louisiana lady I know, Heather, who has had internet bully troubles. We ended up talking about how daily kindness was about the only way to fight back and make a difference in this world.

My smiling remark to the lady in the laundry mat fell into the category, every day I try to speak kindly and encouragingly to a stranger, at least once a day, sometimes to everyone that crosses my path. Has nothing to do with race, class or anything else, just those folks that life throws in my path.

I hate that we've become so racially divided in this country that a simple remark meant kindly can be misconstrued as something else entirely. If you had asked me before the election of President Obama if racism was still alive and well I would have denied it. But as time as marched on I'm seeing so much more racist words and behavior. It's sickening.

During my trip down to Florida and back up I witnessed two very racist incidents that I'm ashamed to say I did not confront the offender. The first happened when Jim and I stopped for gas and lunch in South Carolina at one of the big truck stop gas stations on the interstate. As I stood in line to get a drink I overheard some big white rural-looking dude make a nasty remark about the black family checking out at the register, a mother, a father, a teenaged son and son of perhaps ten or so. When the man uttered the n-word and made his remark the entire line froze, you could have heard a pin drop. The rude man disappeared quickly, no one said anything to him. But when I got outside I saw that the nice looking black family was parked next to us and the momma was upset, wanting to go confront the man for saying something horrible in front of her kids like that. I wanted so badly to tell them how sorry I was by how they'd been treated, but I chickened out. I merely told them how cute their two dogs were, both dressed up in costumes and standing on the back seat, both sets of tails wagging.

On the way back to Virginia we stopped at a hotel in rural Georgia. I got on the elevator to trek out to the car to get my delicious chocolate coated coconut candy. Two young black ladies got on the elevator and were joking about chocolate and I joined in the chocolate conversation. We were all laughing. But when we got to the floor below the one we'd gotten on the doors opened and a family of four stood there. They were white. The woman said, "I'm not riding in no elevator with no n-word!" and stomped off with the young daughter towards the staircase. Again shocked silence, but the father and son got into the elevator and the father, who I admit I was judging silently due to his shaved head and copious tattoos. He apologized for his wife and told the two ladies not to pay any mind to his durn fool wife. It put a damper on my evening, leaving me yet again to wonder how and why people are still behaving this way, seeing first hand how hurtful it is to perfectly normal people just trying to live their lives.

What Churches and Time Shares Have in Common

Last week my husband Jim and I spent a week with friends at a resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It's a pretty nice place, perfect if you want to stay in a perfectly groomed white bread version of a tropical resort, minus the ocean but plus a pile of fancy swimming pools. It's wonderful for what it is. But it's not 'paradise'.

It's not a time share, nor do you actually own a week or a certain suite there. It's a vacation ownership organization that works on the points system called Wyndham Resorts. The Palm Aire Wyndham Resort.

We were down there with friends of ours from our old church. They were given their membership by a widow from our old mutual church who could no longer afford to keep paying the monthly maintenance fees. They took over her eighty dollar a month payment and paid to have the entire thing transferred into their names.

Through the years we've been down to this particular resort with this other couple a few times. This time was different. It was different in the fact that the resort offered Jim and I a certificate good for a free week's stay at one of the Wyndham Resorts if we'd sit down with them for a 90 minute sales presentation.

Sounds good, right? We would be out nothing but our time, but get out of the meeting in plenty of time to swim and hit the hot tub before dinner. This would allow us to score a free week to use when traveling down to Texas see my in laws in December. We'd be able to get a suite big enough to bring adult children and their significant others with us. Being that my husband is an economist and I am impervious to sales presentations after working in high end sales a few years it wasn't likely we'd ever be tempted to buy. We'd both seen many Wyndham Vacation accounts for sale for almost nothing on Ebay, no way we'd pay retail for this. We went into it agreeing there would be no buying of any vacation plan, no matter how they diced the payments.

Five hours later we emerged from the extremely high pressure sales meeting, both of us mentally exhausted. I turned to my husband and said, “Why do I feel like we just came from a 'Come to Jesus' meeting? What was that all about?”

As we walked back to our suite we talked, both realizing there was much that the sales process had in common with how cultesque Evangelical or Fundamentalist churches go about recruiting new members.

How is that, you ask? In a very few simple ways.

1 – They try to woo you by showing you a perfect facade, a fantasy-like perfect world that you too can join.

From the moment we entered the sales center on the grounds of Palm Aire everything, and I mean everything, was perfect, perfectly manicured, perfectly decorated, perfectly maintained. Everyone connected to the sales facility was smiling, well-groomed and obsequious. They couldn't be helpful enough, pressing us to partake in sodas and snacks as we settled in. Even the showcase suite they showed us was like something out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, much nicer than any suite we'd already stayed in at that same place.

This was also how it went when we first joined our old church. The pastor and others were falling all over themselves to compliment us, show us around, fawning over us while pointing out all the perfect families and perfect people, saying if we joined we could have that same level of perfection. What the church was selling wasn't a vacation in a resort, but more the promise of a Christian elitism with claims of perfection.

Why are appearances so revered and guarded in Christian Fundamentalist culture? To quote NLQ's Aletha “ In Fundamentalist culture, appearances are more important than facts. Even in Mormonism, how you really are doing means less than pasting on a smile and pretending everything is perfect.” Part of the polished facade is the way it is used to recruit new members. Doesn't everyone want perfection?

2 – They check your credit or your credentials. Sometimes very subtlety, sometimes not bothering to hide that they are summing up your net worth.

One of the things that the sales support team at Wyndham did when we first arrived was have us fill out a form and insist we allow them to photocopy our drivers licenses. When I questioned the need to copy my drivers license I was told that it was to make sure we were who we said we were so that we could receive our gifts for attending. Turned out to be a disingenuous attempt to information gather.

What they didn't state was that while we were talking to a sales agent was that someone in the back of the building was contacting the credit bureau and running a hard inquiry on our credit score. We found out that they'd run our credit report only when someone came from the back with a printed out offer of what we qualified for. The finance agent was crowing about our A-1 credit rating while letting us know we qualified without writing a large down payment check on the vacation. Keep in mind we'd not said yes to anything and had already told several folks working there that we were only interested in information on how their points system worked, we weren't ready to buy anything. No prices of anything had been stated until they had our credit history in their hands. That alone made me suspicious we were about to receive the full court press.

I was rather angry when I discovered they're run a hard inquiry as you are only allowed so many per quarter before it negatively impacts your credit score. We are in the middle of planning a home remodel and we knew we were going to open a line of credit, possibly a store credit or small loan to do this. Wanted to keep the hard inquiries down because of the upcoming expenses.

But, Suzanne, I hear you asking, I never had any church run my credit score before I joined or even as a member. But of course they do, not through the credit bureau, but in a thousand small ways beginning when you join.

When we first joined our old church one of the things the elders seemed the most interested in were things such as what subdivision our home was in, were we buying or renting, and what we did for a living. I chalked it up to natural curiosity until a couple of things happened that indicated that the church leadership was well aware of who had what money. When my father died and I inherited lands and money our pastor mentioned more than once to both my husband and myself that I was supposed to immediately tithe 10% of the inheritance to the church. I heard later through someone that worked at the church office that someone had looked up the court papers online to figure out if I had received anything after the death.

Later when church giving was way down the pastor held a meeting and sent out a letter indicating that he knew what everyone in the church was worth, what their homes were worth and what their salaries were before angrily demanding everyone pull their weight and tithe a minimum of that 10% again. He was also outraged about lavish vacations and trips to conferences, saying that anyone that could afford to conference-hop or go on a fancy trip should be tithing well past the 10% mark.

3 – They don't take 'No' for an answer.

Once the finance guy and our sales agent heard the first, second and third 'nos' from us they just doubled down, coming back with different price points and programs. The two of them were claiming again and again that if we didn't buy one of their packages we weren't committed to vacationing and would not vacation every year. Of course that's with them conveniently ignoring that I'd already told them that in the last six months we'd gone on a two week luxury vacation of Costa Rica and Florida and gone for a week to Michigan to visit friends plus this little jaunt to their resort. Our vacation time for 2015 was at that point a total of four weeks. I'd say that is a significant commitment to vacationing.

Eventually it dawned on them that we were not going to buy. I was asked why and I told the salesman that a) we do not make major purchases in the course of a few hours without researching our options and discussing it away from the salesman. b) memberships to their resorts come up all the time on Ebay for a tiny fraction of what they were trying to retail it to us and lastly, c) If one simply put their monthly payment and monthly maintenance fees into a vacation account at a local bank that by the end of the year you'd have enough money put aside to buy a vacation much like our Costa Rican one without being tied to a lifetime financial obligation that buying their package would entail.

We were handed off to a different fellow at that moment, supposedly a guy that was going to give us our week's free stay certificate. But the only thing that happened was that this third man came in with a different program to pitch with completely different figures. His approach was strong arm and we were completely over the idea of ever buying a vacation from this company. Mr. Number Three only reinforced the desire to never buy a vacation from this company. Eventually we were given what was promised and allowed to go.

Once we got home we received a letter from the company, having hard pinged our credit report again with another offer with completely different figures.

While I never experienced the whole never taking no for an answer from my old church since we did go and join quickly, I have had this treatment when I've visited similar churches after leaving and looking for a new church home. I've had church staff blow up my phone with messages, had long letters, tons of emails and had members showing up on my doorstep to visit out of the blue insisting we give Church X a chance. Some have become rather hatefully rude when I've said a polite no and stated that their place is not right for me.

4 – Both types of organizations are actually selling fear. They aren't afraid to lie to you to get you to buy into that particular fear.

Within the first five minutes of our sales presentation I caught out one of the presenters telling a whopper of a fib. It was a lie designed to make people fearful that if they didn't lock into this vacation plan that very day that they'd never be able to afford to keep taking vacations. The presenter stood at the white board and stated that it's a proven fact that hotel prices go up every year between 7 and 8 percent so buy your vacations now and the rooms would never go up at their locations.

Unfortunately for him I was armed with my Iphone and an insane desire to research random things told me by strangers. Looking at the US Dept. of Labor's consumer price index I was able to see that the official numbers for the last ten years were closer to 2 to 3.5 percent, not what he was stating. Once someone lies to me in a sales presentation there's no way I would ever trust them enough to purchase anything.

The cult churches do this too, in fact, they have it down to an art form, much better than any slick Harold Hill type salesman. They are selling insurance, divine insurance for the afterlife and aren't shy about promoting the idea of an eternity of torment if you don't sign up for their own brand of faith. They'll even go as far as tell you that everyone else's version of faith will sent you to hell. They use fears of all sorts to get you to join. The sad thing is that there is no logical way to research all of what they are pushing and debunk it.

So what can churches and vacation salesmen do to make what they do a little less toxic and damaging?

It's simple.

Don't lie to people.
Don't fear monger.
Don't try to take away anyone's free will.
Don't try to make it all about money.
Don't try to speculate on someone elses money because it doesn't belong to you.
Be real, be genuine and be truthful.
Finally, to quote Joan Harris of the AMC television show “Mad Men' - always be a supplicant.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

By the Sea

The last few weeks we've been on vacation, down in South Florida with friends from our former church. It was fun and it was hairy all at the same time. I got to see some things up close and personal that I find fairly disturbing.It was a bunch of firsts.

The Good: Had Cuban food. Got to hang out with Cindy Kunsman at Hollywood Beach, an atonal karaoke and a drag queen show. Did tequila shots for the first time ever. Jim and I spent the afternoon of our drive back at our beloved Ormond Beach. Watched the sun rise over Pompano Beach. Got to swim daily in one of the many resort swimming pools.

The Bad: We had two pretty horrific hotel stays, one place had blood splatters on the comforter, the other someone had jumped all over the bed with dirty little feet and the floor was littered with potato chip crumbs. We sat through a five hour time share pitch just to score a week at a resort. Our friends didn't show much inclination for leaving the resort. I got told off for continuing to admin No Longer Quivering more than once, which was just rude considering there is a lot I could criticize about the person giving me grief. I bit my tongue.

The Ugly: I got to watch my beloved friend struggle with fear, fear over her diet to keep her sugar down, fear of sharks in the ocean and a variety of other fears. I fear for her because it's not emotionally healthy to have that much fear in your life. Also I had two back to back asthma attacks that were about a nine on he one to ten scale without knowing why. I blacked out several times but eventually the meds kicked in and I was better. This time had a twist - Jim said I got weird, antsy and very not myself at all in the hour leading up to the attack. Apparently my oxygen levels were tanking during the sales pitch and I didn't know it.

The Weird: I had a pedicure right before we left and have my toes done up in a pink pearly shade with iridescent pink glitter at the very tips. One morning in the ocean a six inch long yellow snapper fish decided that my glittery toes looked way too much like enticing worms. He followed me no matter what I did or how I kicked, darting in to take nibbles from my toes.