We just wanted to get $200 worth of “free” stuff to use for 2 weeks in Hawaii. The deal? Snorkel gear, beach chairs, beach umbrella and boogie boards. Free, if we were willing to subject ourselves to 90 minutes of a sales-pitch at a Timeshare Resort. So we decided to take the bait. And now here we were, sitting inside a plush office on Kauai’s south shore. I wasn’t looking forward to this, but what we put ourselves through for a deal is sometimes amusing. We meet up with Craig who informs us that he’s new on the job, and is hoping everything goes well for us today. We follow Craig, our new friend, to a table surrounded with wicker chairs and Hawaiian music playing in the background. There are a myriad of refreshments, and we even both get real Hawaiian leis! Not bad, not bad. And so the sales pitch begins.
“It allows the rest of us to live as if we’re rich…” Those were the words that escaped from his lips. He seemed like a nice enough guy. He asked us where we like to travel, what we do for a living, etc. Fellow human soul, dancing behind the mask of sales-pitches. “We’re in the midst of a 60 million dollar upgrade and renovation…” For what, I wanted to ask? This place seemed nice enough. But what desperate souls will do to find minute solace from their crazed-driven lives – lives hungry for peace, self-acceptance, and, well, vacation.
After about an hour of small talk and hearing about the importance of investing in vacations, we stretched our legs and took a tour of the place. “This piece of land had apparently been a fishing town from years past,” Craig explained. Now it was a renovation project for the few to make billions from the desperate souls who sign their names, “investing” in a future solace from lifestyles they could change now. A land parcel of shrubs in the middle of the property “honors” the bones of ancestors gone and buried – resting in graves surrounded by commercialism and facades of self-worth. It was ironic – the “dead” surrounding the dead, when living still is a choice for the former. Craig explained that while they were building the resort, they unearthed a burial ground. According to Hawaiian tradition, if you find bones, you have to stop digging and building. So instead was this parcel of shrubs in the middle of this resort, with signs commemorating their remains. It felt sacrilegious for all this to be there, and for us to be a part of it, even if just on tour.
After walking around the grounds and seeing one of the best, most up-to-date rooms, sales pitches began to be more obvious, yet still geared to look like trying to make friends with us. We felt the psychological ties to our new friend Craig growing, who, by the way, just happened to have the same last name as ours. We danced the polite dance of “make me a deal”, both parties playing a role of friend – for we were just putting up with it for our allotted time and free snorkel gear, and I’m sure Craig was just hoping to get a monetary cut to help make ends meet. Does he own a deed to this place? How much of what he’s telling us is real, how much of it is from a memorized script? A part of me wanted to ask, but fear of breaking the boundaries of client/seller and business roles kept my lips sealed.
It finally came time for the offer. We both know what’s coming. A part of me feels drawn to our new friend Craig and not wanting to let him down, and another part warns me it’s all just a game. We taste the bait – it’s pretty good: all with a picture-book of pretty locations all over the world. A deal of even more select hotels you can get a huge price cut on. Numbers fly like vultures around our empty, debt-ridden pocketbook.
Craig goes and summons his boss, a guy with a scar on his hand, and he jumps into the conversation. Appearing flustered and making his way to us, his excuse not being here sooner is blamed on the fact that he just made a deal with another couple and it’s crazy how busy they are with selling right now…blah, blah, blah. After more dizzying numbers from him, he makes this comment: “You know, we’re not all millionaires. But this deal allows us to live as if we’re rich…” Which seemed like interesting logic to me – almost obviously insecure. Like we all want to be like the “popular kids” who seem to have it all – and if we can just look like we do, we’ll maybe find happiness.
That’s when I begin to wonder, who is this scar-hand guy? What’s his story? Does he even like his job? His fingernails are crooked, and his thumbnail has some dirt under it. And that scar on his hand, maybe some story from his youth … His humanity begins to be apparent and vulnerable. He seems like a high school student taking a final exam, flustered, memorized speech flowing in and out of salesman cadence. He seems to notice that I am looking past his business-act and appears caught off-guard that I’ve seen his soul beneath all his facades, and he goes in for the kill. He offers us the “deal of a lifetime.”
We explain that we can’t do it , too much money, etc. So he tries to renegotiate. More number crunching and more fast-paced talking and reasoning. I ask if we can think about it – that’s when his true colors show, his anger and annoyance trying to stay hidden, but popping from the surface like someone trying to keep down a buoy. He retorts we can’t think about it, it’s either now or never, and thanks us for our time. He shakes our hands and tells us he will find someone to lead us out, and to do a survey on how the experience went.
So we’re left sitting with Craig, awkwardly at first. Craig looks somewhat embarrassed, somewhat disappointed, somewhat relieved. After some small-talk, Craig even turns on us, stating “you guys got what, about a $100 worth of stuff? Yeah, it’s amazing what people will do for a few hundred dollars, but they won’t sign up for a vacation that could bring them a life of bliss.” It’s as if he can’t help but put a jab in there, as if there’s someone pulling his puppet strings. Or maybe he’s just planting a seed that will be used momentarily through our survey experience.
The game continues as we’re led downstairs to where the other “bad kids” are being held and “surveyed” – all of us who said no. These chairs are not as soft and there is no Hawaiian music playing in the background. I’m waiting for them to take the leis back. The place looks more like the waiting room in a clinic. After some friendly small talk, our new friend, a woman, asks us about Craig, how he was, if he was polite, etc. Then the questions on the survey take a sneaky turn: “do you own a timeshare?” Upon hearing no, she gets all quizzical and asks us why… I’m a bit surprised at the questions as they seem a bit personal. “I knew this was coming,” I say out loud, and she laughs, but still continues.
With more nauseating number-crunching, she whisks up another great deal, involving monthly payments, one time to try-it-out…blah, blah, blah. We’re now well-past our allotted time frame we agreed upon to get our free snorkel gear and beach chairs. But we still somehow feel we have to be polite and stay, I guess to make sure we don’t have to pay for those darned fins. We ask for time to discuss – she leaves us for a minute and my husband and I look at each other. We both don’t want to do it. We want to get out of debt, not to mention, get out of there! We want to be free to pick our vacation spots yearly, etc. Ok. Let’s do this and be done with it! My husband and I are glad we’re both on the same page.
She comes back, and we tell her “no”. “Really??!! Wow, that surprises me!!” Her loud, obvious rudeness surprises me. She then proceeds to loudly humiliate us, as she asks us why. Not like we need to explain anything to her, but still we sheepishly tell her how we don’t want to get into debt, etc. She kind of laughs and smirks at us, and then proceeds to tell us how we need to invest in a future of vacations. She acts as if our desire to get out of debt is the most stupid thing in the world, and acts as if she knows what’s best for us. All this is with a raised voice. I look at a man who is waiting for the same fate. He and I share a look that’s hard to put into words: embarrassment, kindness, and a sort of knowing kid-like look as if we’re both in the principal’s office at school.
I’m starting to get really pissed-off. I inform her that we’d like to enjoy our vacation that we’re on now. She keeps going, so I pull the same move that scar-hand pulled on us – “Thank you for your time,” I tell her as we shake hands. She looks surprised that I put the lid on it, yet she lets us finally leave. We stand and walk out, feeling giddy and free! They didn’t get us! We got away, with the Hawaiian leis, and got back to our real vacation experience, an experience that couldn’t be bought or sold. Because vacation at its truest form is a frame of heart and mind, no matter where you are.
Then the thought hit me: Does anyone ever feel this way when it comes to evangelism, religion or even church? What are the similarities to timeshare presentations and church? Are there people out there who become someone’s friend, just to “close the sale” and hopefully get a baptism? Do church people ever belittle others for saying “no”, and maybe even use their eternal salvation as a means to strategize, negotiate, and manipulate?
I recently heard someone use the term “kingdom contacts” when relating to people they met that they may be able to get into a church. Really?! How is that loving spirituality? Perhaps that’s when spirituality becomes man-made religion: when it turns into a business deal, where people are seen as numbers, and the intangible is turned into a product that can be “invested” in or sold. Maybe true religion is not something you can measure and make a graph out of. True religion is not something you can package and sell in a nice, little 90-minute sales pitch. In fact, perhaps true religion, also known as spirituality, is really a frame of heart and mind, led by Something so much greater than human hands can mechanic or manipulate. In fact, living an authentic life connected to the Divine is something that cannot be manufactured or boxed into an agenda-driven sales pitch.
After more thinking, here are a few more possible similarities between Evangelism, a bad Church experience, and Timeshare presentations:
-Uses “survey’s” as a way to lead to a personal conversation, and hopefully a “sale”
-Both take about an hour and a half of your time -Sometimes you’re openly or psychologically humiliated if you don’t “buy in”
-You’re a part of a world-wide club – anywhere you travel, you can find other club-members. This will keep you from exploring and spending money elsewhere
-You have fees to pay to be a part of the club – some clubs even discipline members who don’t keep up with fees
-Once it becomes a product, it depreciates over time. Ritual form and ceremony is more important than the spiritual
-Many times people will act like they are your friend, but only time will tell if they are just doing that to get you in the door
-Both offer refreshments and free gifts (with strings attached)
-You feel like you can’t leave, or you’ll be humiliated publicly or forced to “pay” in other ways
-What you’re shown initially is not the true product
-Compares itself with other organizations (demonizing them) to convince you it’s the best option out there
-Often needs “higher-ups” to approve of the membership
-Has lingo that only those within the company/business understand
That’s the list I have so far 🙂 What might you add?
May we all be authentic people who experience the Sacred in the way it was meant to be experienced – outside of a political agenda and human control. May we never take the spiritual and whittle it down to a formula. May we remember the power and sacredness of relationship both with the Divine and our fellowman, treating all humanity, and all creation, with the utmost respect, remembering that we are not God. And may we continue to experience and reveal the love of the Sacred that is bigger than any creed or man-made form of religion.