The God of All My Tomorrows, Part 2

Part One is here.

The following is a true story.

“You have been scheduled for Remedial Credit Card Training. You will need to report to room 501 at the downtown tower at 1PM on…”

That was in a stomach plunging and chest tightening email. I should have been used to these emails. My numbers were consistently low and if I remember correctly, I was on probation because I had not met the required minimum of sales dollars in a given quarter.

I admit, I was not very good at being a banker.

Once, I was struggling to help a young lady, who was having an issue with her account. In the midst of the struggle, she stopped and asked me a question…

“What did you do before banking?” 

“I was a pastor.”

“You need to go back to that.”

The context for receiving the email was a huge push for credit card sales. Obviously, credit cards are a huge moneymaker for banks. So that was part of the reason for the emphasis. But what I remember the most was all the talk about The Golden Boy.

The Golden Boy (not his real name) was a fairly new employee, who within a few months had achieved unheard of sales numbers and they were almost all credit cards. Those sales numbers were determined by the credit limit of the credit card. He was in the hundreds of thousands. Keep in mind the average credit card is about $10,000. We would have a branch meeting or a meeting with the regional manager and in each meeting there was a shaming. The Golden Boy’s numbers would be given and we would be made to feel awful because none of us had numbers anywhere near his. We listened and then left the meeting with the assumption he was doing something not quite above aboard.

You only got a “Remedial Credit Card Training” scheduled for you if they thought you were not selling enough credit cards. And by their standard, I most certainly was not. Part of the problem was I did not want to sell credit cards. That sounded awful in and of itself. Going to additional training because they want you to do more of the thing you have no desire to do was depressing. Trying to sell credit cards sounds painful for one reason. It is painful.

When I took the job at the bank, I had no idea how much active sales there would be. I assumed I would sit at a desk and wait for people to come in and open accounts. But I began to see very quickly, not only was I expected to get as many sales whenever someone came in the bank, but I was expected to drum up business by making sales calls over the phone. We had “call lists” we had to work through. We had to call “clients” who were already banking with us and the goal was to make a sale depending on the offer for a given list. The goal was to get more accounts open. You have a checking account? How about another? You have a home? How about a mortgage?

You get the idea. If I had known this, I would have never took the job.

Once I was in another meeting that was also remedial. This meeting was attended by those of us who were struggling in all the sales areas. This meeting was led by my regional manager and his boss. This meeting is easy to remember for two reasons. I was sick with a fever but did
 not realize how bad I was till that meeting. Second, and related, my boss’ boss said, “Your job is basically retail with better hours.”

Banking is not what it once was and was certainly nothing like what I had in mind when I took the job. When anyone walks into a bank, they are walking into a retail shop that sells debt and other lesser products.

When I got to the Remedial Credit Card Training, I was glad to see familiar faces. Some had been around longer than myself and a few were even in management. Let me set the stage.

The training was downtown at “the tower.” The room we were in was long and narrow with a table at the front and about 12 tables for for the trainees. There were six on each side of the room with an aisle down the middle of the room, and two people were to sit at each table facing the front. There was a phone on each of the tables, which could only mean one thing… we would be calling customers while being observed by either the person beside or by a trainer. So I looked for someone I knew to sit with. Seeing all this took only a moment and I thought this would be the worst thing about remedial credit card training. But then I saw the Golden Boy sitting at the front of the room with our regional manager and one other man I did not know.

The man I did not know was from the credit card department and he started the meeting by going over all the benefits of our bank’s credit card to use as sales pitches. After he was done, our regional manger began to tell the amazing story of The Golden Boy. After extolling his sales numbers, he was very explicit about how he’d done this with integrity. In other words, he was aware of our suspicions. Then he explained we could all learn from him and his sales skills. He did not imply we should be as successful as the The Golden Boy.

He said it.

The Golden Boy was then asked to demonstrate why he was so successful by doing a role play of a phone call with a client. The client would be chosen because they were on a list of clients to be called with a credit card offer. That may sound obvious but you need to understand this simple fact to make sense of what you’re about to read.

The following is an example of a role play with my regional manager:

“Hello Mr. Smith, this is The Golden Boy with ____________ bank. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine, is anything wrong?”

“No, we just like to periodically check in with our clients to see how things are going and to see if there is anything we can do for you.”

“Thank you for calling but everything is fine.”

“Okay good! OH WOW! There is something I need to make sure you know about!”

“What is that?”

“Wow! You have a credit card offer of 0% for 12 months and if you spend $500 in the first 60 days, we will deposit $100 in your checking account!”

The Golden Boy then explained to us the how important the “OH WOW!” was.

That’s what we were to learn that day in Remedial Credit Card Training. We had to practice it over and over right then and there with a partner while being observed and then call customers and use that technique in hopes we would get enough information to then go back to the branch and enter the credit card application.

Do you see it? All of us saw it. 

Usually a bait and switch comes in the form of advertising what looks like a good deal and then substituting it with an inferior product or something more expensive. The problem with the bait and switch is a dishonest means is used for a sale. You use one thing to sell something else entirely.

We were being asked to pretend we were not calling about a credit card offer when that is exactly why we were calling and then we were to pretend we were surprised about the offer in order to get them pleasantly surprised.

That was the first time I considered walking out for good.

The God of All My Tomorrows: Part 1


What surprised me was the timing, not the location.

At the bottom of the little mountain we live on is a large used bookstore. Big and slightly unorganized, it also sells vinyl records and I love them for it. The poetry section is small but usually has something I’m willing to spend a couple of dollars on. You can almost always find some Buechner in the fiction section.

On Sunday Nights, we meet with our small group from church. Because of my son’s baseball game, I would have to go by myself. However, I did not want to go by myself and this may be critical information.

Really, without much effort I could have talked myself out of going. After all, there was a good chance he would pitch in a game for the first time ever. But there were a few thoughts swirling around in my head throughout the day that pushed me to go. First, I was looking forward to discussing the sermon we heard in the morning service. Also, I was frustrated with the ballpark forcing us to choose between a church activity and them. But really, the driving force behind it all is I get paid to lead this small group. It’s part of my job description.

I work part time at my church and full time at the school, which is a ministry of the church. At the church, I minister to young parents and I teach Bible and theology classes full-time at the school. Once a week I teach an elective on “The Gospel According to U2” to high school students.

And that’s why I was at the used bookstore. I left for small group a few minutes early so I could stop and see if there were any books about U2 to use for my class. I’ve been listening to them for 30 or more years but I love U2 and I love books. Plus, the school gives me some funds to spend on such things.

Feel free to think about how wonderful that is.

They did not have the book I wanted but they did have a DVD of the show at The Rose Bowl on the 360 tour. That was the show we all watched live on Youtube. I can remember lying on the couch in our living room in Wichita, KS and Bethany telling me she could not stay up any longer. They also had a book I’d read before. Fascinating but not what I was looking for. I thought long and hard about whether to get these or not and then decided to sleep on it. They could be helpful, but again, they were not what I was looking for.

Pun unintended.

I walked over to the poetry section to see if there was any Collins or Heaney. They only had volumes I already owned. Time was running out and I needed to go if I wanted to take the scenic route and avoid the interstate with the windows down and sunroof open. So I walked out with the same amount of money I had when walking in.

Turning left out of the parking lot, I headed south with Achtung Baby, my favorite U2 album, playing fairly loud. I can remember thinking about how listening to that album was actually class prep and I had quite possibly the best job ever. Dusk settled and the more I drove south, the thinner the traffic. Grace upon grace.

I cannot remember if I realized I was passing the turn to my previous job before or after my chest tightened, the world started to spin and my limbs felt weak. That all too familiar electric feeling surged through my nerves. Misery and terror flew at me from the inside.

When you’ve had panic attacks off and on for three years, you know the signs. Like a known enemy, whose scent is smelt on the wind, you just know. It’s coming. And you cannot stop it. You can only hope to minimize the damage. So I turned on the a.c. in the car, put up the windows, closed the sunroof, changed the music, and took deep breaths in through the mouth and out through the nose.

Or is it the other way around?

“What is real?”

You don’t work there anymore

You don’t work there anymore

You don’t work there anymore. 

You have a job you love and you have no complaints about that job and you look forward to going to work everyday and you get to talk about theology with students and poetry with colleagues and you love it more than you could ever imagine and you never thought you would ever have a job like that.

It worked. Kinda. The weight on my chest lessened. The air cleared and the terror lifted, only leaving behind a thin shadow. All that remained was the usual jittery feeling that sticks around for at least an hour.

Oh, and the nauseous tightness in my stomach. That stuck around too.

Small group was lost in a fog. There had been no panic attacks since I was offered and took my new positions. I tried to eat something. The group noticed how little I was eating and made a joke about it because anyone who knows me knows my love of all that is edible. So I told them what happened and they were just as surprised as I was.

As I drove home under the canopy of a young autumn evening, I resolved to write it all down.

How could just driving by the turn to my previous workplace cause the beginnings of a panic attack? This made no sense to me. For more than two months I have been a teacher. I am a pastor again. I love all of it. I love the schedule. I love the kids. I love the teachers I work with and my bosses too. I love it when it’s hard and busy.

That’s why the timing surprised me.

But not the location. The location made complete sense to me. I was driving the same route to work just like when I worked there.

Graham Greene wrote,“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”

Writing is also cheaper than therapy.

I have never written down what made me so miserable about working at the bank.  In my next post I will begin telling that story.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. I don’t have a whole lot of thoughts about the NFL and the anthem. But one person summed up what I could not put into words. He said, “We are watching two false religions have a worship war.”

2. If Marilynne Robinson wrote a review of a phone book, I would recommend it.

3. I’ve been listening to Serial and I’m not sure a jury of peers is always a good idea.

4. Followers of Jesus should hurt whenever and wherever we see others hurt.

5. “Do not resist an evil person” is in the sermon on the mount.

6. I never dislike baseball more than when the Cubs win. Working on this.

7. Maybe part of the admonition to “count the cost” is if you teach people about the sovereignty of God over all things – including the bad things – you just may have to replace your AC unit within 24 hours.

8. Just as we want to model our theological convictions to our children, we need to understand we are modeling our preferences for the things we consume. What am I consuming entertainment-wise and what does that model to my kids? I’m not just thinking about the moral aspect of entertainment. We live in a culture in which no one bats an eye about a “poo emoji.” To question that may be seen as snobbery. But we got to this point somehow. We now communicate with “poo emojis” and our entertainment bears this out. A piece of poetry is no longer seen as a viable piece of entertainment. Funny and cool are the standards. Is it entertaining? Does it keep my attention is what we are really after. If I do not choose the good, true and beautiful, there is a good chance my kids won’t either. They will only choose what keeps their attention and the rest will be described with a poo emoji.

9. It seems a skill of teaching is to be aware when a student learns something even if they do not yet see the value of it. But not just that, you have to be okay with that in a culture of immediate satisfaction.

10. Dylan: How come we don’t eat out lots?

Me: Because your mom can cook better than most restaurants. And she’s better looking.