Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The worst job I ever had

In the great big scheme of things, I haven't had all that many jobs. Delivery boy, pool cleaner, dish washer, paperboy, youth pastor, choir director, copy editor, pastor. I can't exactly claim to have experience across a vast spectrum of employment practices. But there's one that counts as The Worst Job I Ever Had.

It wasn't the month I spent crouched in an empty hotel swimming pool, grinding the paint off with heavy machinery that left my arms aching. That was pretty bad, especially having to be covered head-to-toe and breathing through a thick mask, all during hot summer days. I went home feeling dead every night, but I didn't necessarily mind the heavy labor (as a side note, this was during the Oliver North trial - I remember taking lunch breaks at the hotel and catching bits and pieces of good ol' Ollie up there on the stand).

But that still couldn't compare to The Worst Job I Ever Had.

Which would have been the year I spent as a clerk in a Christian bookstore. I had taken the position to supplement my meager part-time youth pastor salary, and really, what could be better for a young man in ministry than working in a Christian bookstore?

It turned out, a lot of things would have been better.

I was listening to Susan Ashton on spotify last week, and for a moment it all came back. It reminded me of one night in particular; Brian and I were working, but no customers had stopped in all evening. Finally one teenage girl walked in, one who stopped by pretty regularly. She was a big fan of The Choir. Brian and I were a little tired of the sappy muzak we'd been playing all night, so, for her sake, we put in a Choir tape. She lit up with excitement that we'd play her favorite music. She even bought something that night.

A couple days later Brian and I were almost fired. Our customer had been back to the store the next day, and shared with the manager how pleased she had been with hearing The Choir in the store. She praised us highly. But The Choir wasn't on the approved play list. That list mostly included Southern Gospel, easy listening, and Sandy Patti. So, in spite of the fact that nobody was in the store that night, in spite of the fact that this customer was giving us a huge compliment, the manager almost fired us. But, to show his 'gentle' side, he let us off with a warning, that if we ever pulled 'a stunt' like that again, we'd be out the door.

There was so much wrong with that job. From the management treating employees poorly (one friend reached his 5-year anniversary working there. To thank him, they gave him a 10-cent an hour raise. His first raise, his only raise, in all the time he worked there), to the crap we had to sell in the name of Jesus (and when I say crap, I refer both to the shlocky and the heretical crap on our shelves), to the customers who would come in only to argue about stupid issues like the Inspired King James Version vs. all those satanic fake translations like the NIV, or whether or not Santa Claus was a demonic conspiracy to destroy the faith of children. Maybe the lowest point for me was witnessing a young mother using her 5-year-old son to shoplift tacky Christian jewelry. The kid was pocketing the jewelry even as she watched. Genius, really. If he got it out of there, good for them. If he was caught, she could reprimand him and apologize, explaining it away as youthful ignorance. Way to 'train up your child in the way they should go,' lady.

The store was part of a chain that was ultimately owned by the same people who owned Radio Shack, so I don't think they cared about ministry, so long as they made a profit. But even there, they were idiots. Based out of Nashville, they perpetually sent us products that were hot-sellers in Nashville. But we were in Southern California, a long way physically and socially from Nashville. Customers would ask for Crystal Lewis, but they sent us Verne Tripp sings the Gospel Greats! We'd tell corporate that we had 20 requests for the Prayer Chain, only to be told "nope - people want Verne Tripp sings the Gospel Greats!" So we'd have 40 copies of Verne Tripp singing the Gospel Greats, all sitting unsold on the shelves, while turning away the customers who wanted Dakota Motor Company.

And then there was all the heretical stuff we had to sell - the health and wealth, the Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn and Charles Capps and the Rhema Word-of-Faith stuff. It killed me to ring that stuff up and send it off with customers, even while knowing it was preaching a false gospel that God despises. But it was a hot seller, and I was there to sell stuff for the company, so who was I to say anything?

But sometimes we'd put in a Susan Ashton tape, and for a moment, grace would fall. Something about her gentle voice, couple with her talent for meaningful lyrics, would speak to me, reminding me that there was more to Christianity than the commercial aspects I was witnessing. That there was hope beyond all this mess.

And eventually, the church where I worked decided to pay me enough that I could quit that job. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. Looking back, leaving that place might have saved my faith. I'm sure it's a coincidence, but they closed down, went out of business within the next year or two. And I can't say I was sad.

So there you go. No point to this story, really, other than to share the Worst Job I Ever Had. And to say that I know first-hand what it's like to get dumped on by supposed brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God. On the other hand, it was in a Christian bookstore/coffeehouse a few years later that I met my wife, so I can't say they're all bad places. Just that one where I worked in the early 1990s in Upland, California.


Joe Hendricks said...

I suspect you've seen lesser manifestations of the same unreceptive leadership and 'spiritual' shoplifting in congregations you've met since then?
You've really had a variety of jobs!

Lambservant said...

I've always wanted to work in a Christian bookstore. You've shed some light on why I think I will forgo applying. It used to make me cringe when I went to a certain Bible store in So Cal and Benny Hinn's Good Morning Holy Spirit was the featured book in the displays around the store. Thanks for a good share.