Catch and release

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My office assistant stuck her head in my door last Thursday to let me know that someone from a nearby by TV newsroom wanted to interview us on site for a story. Earlier in the week, we had invited a couple of deputies from our county sheriff’s department to stop by and just give us a few tips about how to keep our congregation safe when we gather for worship. We’re not a high risk target, but if we can reassure our folks that we’re safe, they can focus on worship rather than wondering about what might happen.

The next day, the sheriff’s department issued a press release, offering to come and talk to any congregation about security and safety. They mentioned our church by name, a reporter picked up on it, and called to come by and talk to me.

I knew the reporter, since she had both anchored and reported in our area for many years. We had a great conversation, a good interview, and her one-minute piece the evening news gave me my ten seconds of fame and had some nice shots of our campus.

The next day, another news channel contacted us and wanted to come by on Sunday to get a few pictures as we are honoring and thanking our veterans and also local heroes, the first responders of our sheriff and fire departments. I thought it was a great idea. We are very proud of our vets and local heroes, and am glad to give them recognition.

But then another phone call came from a reporter who wanted to come out the next day, having heard that we were having extra security at our church on Sunday morning. I was amazed at how quickly the story had morphed into a media event. I had to assure her that we weren’t doing anything extra or out of the ordinary. She replied, “But won’t the sheriff will be there?”

“Yes,” I replied, “he is going say a few words, along with the deputy fire marshal. But they are only there to thank and honor those who serve, not to provide any kind of extra security.”

She went on, “Are you having any kind of drills, any active shooter drills?”

“No, just a Sunday morning worship service.”

“Thank you, pastor.” And she hung up.

It’s fascinating how quickly we got drawn into a media frenzy, and how quickly we were tossed back, not big enough to keep. I know they’re jut doing their jobs. They need a story. They need ratings. They need a story people will watch. Yes, the mass killing in the church in Sutherland Springs, TX, is upsetting and a reality check. It could happen anywhere. But the story is already losing momentum replaced by other stories and scandals.

One of the deputies asked me, “What would you do? What would you do if someone walked in firing a weapon? Where would you go?” I only really have two choices: duck behind the altar or head out a side door. But as I thought about that, I don’t know that my first response would be to get me out of there. I would want to make sure everyone else was OK. My immediate concern would be them, not me. What else would a shepherd do?


Listening in on an interview

Photo by Seemi Samuel on UnsplashAfter making a couple of hospital visits at Mayo Hospital in Jacksonville, I stopped at a Starbucks on my way home. Got my latte, found an empty table, and checked out the room. Being right off I-95, it was busy, mostly people passing through I would imagine.

A slender, twenty-something young man sat next to me at another table. Polo, khakis, decent shoes, but no beverage. A few minutes later another gentleman walked into the store, carrying a zippered briefcase, polo, khakis, athletic shoes, carrying a bit more weight. He shook hands with the young man, excused himself to the restroom for a moment, and then returned, also no beverage.

I thought to myself, “I’ll bet this is an interview.” Cool. I’m going to eavesdrop on their conversation and take notes. Latte, clerical shirt, phone out, writing in my journal — perfect cover.

First observation: both were fast-talkers. Really fast-talkers. Nerves? Maybe. But they never relaxed. They kept up the frantic paced conversation for the next twenty minutes. Good thing they didn’t order any caffeine.

I was right. Job interview. First question, “So are you looking for full-time, part-time…” First answer, “I just need a job.”

“So tell me about you.”

21 years old, between jobs, girl friend, did a little life-insurance sales, didn’t work out. Took care of grandfather. Took a few college classes. Played a little football in college. Wide receiver and defensive end.

That was their common ground. The interviewer had played football, too, till he broke his hand. He revealed a little more about himself. A few years in the military. Three college degrees, but didn’t use any of them. Thirty-eight years old. Didn’t know anything about finance until he got into this business. “I was a police officer when I started. But I told them I would work harder than anyone else.”

That’s a lot of education and experience packed into just a few years.

He continued. “I’m not a salesman. My goal is to help people be better than they were when I met them. I let them make the decision. If they don’t want to do this for their family, I don’t care.”

He went on, “I’m looking for someone to manage people. Most life insurance companies…” So that’s the job: selling life insurance. “Most life insurance companies lie, rip you off, take your money. Ours is different. We have 700 agents in our office. On the average the people in our office make $175,000 a year.”

Impressive. But now I think I know where this is going.

He went on, hardly taking a breath, as if his plane were boarding in five minutes. “After thirty days you’ll have 10-15 people on your team. Another thirty days, you’ll have 30-40. Hardest thing you’ll ever do. I’ve been at this for eleven years. You come up to our office twice a week for training. Hey, I’m OK teaching you, even if I don’t make any money. I’d rather make less and do the right thing. What’s your name, again?”

After an exchange of names for the first time in the conversation, the interviewer continued. “You just make sure you’re helping people and training them. Two years from now I can see you making $100,000.”

All along, the interviewee has been affirming that he can do this. He already has some of the licenses. He’s willing to learn. At this point he breaks in, “What’s the name of the company?”

First mention of the company. “Primerica. Biggest insurance company in America. Biggest investment firm, too.” Note to self: fact check later. “We do car insurance, home insurance, long term care insurance. Whatever people need.”

My coffee was gone, I had filled two pages with notes, and I was exhausted just sitting there listening to the pitch. Time to head home. I hope things work out for the young man.

When I returned home, I checked out Primerica. It is a big multilevel marketing insurance company, that appears to be a descendant or reincarnation of the 1980’s buy-term-invest-the-difference A. L. Williams firm. Online reviews of Primerica include the typical range of “best company ever” to “high-pressure, lying, cheating, rip-off artists.”

No judgment from me. Just listening and learning, reflecting and writing. I wonder who’s eavesdropped on any of my coffee-shop conversations?



Into the real world

My daughter is moving to Atlanta in a few weeks, to being her post-college life. Having landed a job, she is off into the world. I am trying hard to remember my transition from college to the real world thirty years ago.

To the best of my recollection, it was a long six weeks that I spent living back at home after finishing college. Finally, my letters and applications were noticed, and phone calls came. I was off to full-day and multi-day interviews at places like New Jersey Bell and Bell Labs (yes, I am old enough to have worked for Bell Labs).

There are few experiences as rewarding as someone calling you wanting to schedule an interview. One would be actually getting a job offer! The days following the job offer were spent trying to find an apartment, moving, and setting up a place to live. My first apartment had a table, a chair, a dresser and a bed. I’m pretty sure that’s all I had. I don’t remember if I had a bed frame or not. I may have begun with a mattress on the floor. In time, I added a piece of carpet and some shelves. But you know what? I really didn’t care. It was so cool to be on my own and have a job.

After I visited a local church, I remember the day the pastor came to visit me. I had nowhere to sit, so we sat on my new piece of carpet in the living room. Eventually I got a TV, a stereo, a sofa, and a dog. Life was good. And life was cheap, too. One person to feed. No cell phones. No laptops. And an amazing feeling of freedom, identity, and purpose.