A Voice From the Dust
Okay, it's been way, way too long since my last update. When last we left off, I was in a state of severe financial hardship and searching for a job. Which explains why it's been so long since my last update--not only because I've had to spend all my time job-hunting and scrambling for money, but also because my internet connection was disconnected due to lack of payment. But let's continue the story from where we left off.
So, as I was going longer and longer without a job, things were getting more and more desperate. I wasn't completely without any income--I had a few tutoring jobs. One of them I'd gotten through another job I'd applied in October, as a science teacher at a private school. I didn't get the job, but the science department chair liked me enough to arrange for me to tutor a student he was helping out independently. Another tutoring job I'd gotten through a tutoring company. Still, while the income from the tutoring jobs was certainly better than nothing, it wasn't enough to pay all my bills.
In particular, it wasn't even enough to pay my rent, and by the beginning of December my landlord had lost what patience he may have had. I'd already been very late with my November rent (and had managed to come up with it only by borrowing money), and he wasn't happy about having to wait for late payment in December too. He reluctantly agreed to give me until December 10 to pay--but if I didn't give him the money by then, I'd be evicted.
Now, it probably goes without saying that eviction would be an utter disaster for me. With no car, and no money to rent a truck or hire movers, I'd have no way of getting my stuff moved, and nowhere to move it to in any case. It might not be entirely true that I have nowhere to go--my mother has long been trying to convince me to move back in with my parents, and she'd no doubt be happy to have me. But--while that would beat homelessness--it would be a catastrophe as far as I was concerned. Aside from the fact that I don't want to live in Orange County, and that I have lots of things going on in Los Angeles I wouldn't be able to get to; and aside from, well, the opprobrium of a thirty-something living with his parents; there's the prospect of it being a dead end I couldn't escape from, or at least couldn't escape from without great difficulty. My mother kept talking about the money I'd save by not having to pay rent, and how with what I'm paying on rent at my current place I'd be able to afford a car--but this overlooks the difficulty I'd have making any money there at all. In Los Angeles, I can still work without a car (or could if I had a job); the public transportation system, while not top-of-the-line (the MTA has advertised that it won an award as the best municipal transportation system in the nation; I find this hard to credit), is at least serviceable; Orange County's vastly inferior and thoroughly inadequate bus system would make getting to a regular job impossible. Not to mention the fact that I would lose the tutoring jobs I already had, plus the job leads I was still pursuing, and would have to start a job hunt over from scratch. And there are many other ways that moving into my parents' house in Orange County would severely interfere with my plans for my future... Suffice to say that moving in with my parents was an extremely unpalatable contigency. But if I was evicted, I would have nowhere else to go--if I didn't have the money to pay my rent where I lived now, I certainly didn't have the money to put down for rent somewhere new (even if I could find another apartment I could afford). So eviction was something I wanted to avoid at virtually all costs.
Which is why I was so tempted by a possible way out that presented itself...
One friend I knew from church (who had loaned me some money)--for the purposes of this post, I'll call him "Tom", which isn't his real name but is close enough--had been urging me for some time to go to the bishop about my financial difficulties and get some money from the church. There was nothing to be ashamed of, he said; that's the reason we pay tithing and fast offerings; he knew of many people in the ward who had gotten money from the church to get through hard times who deserved it a lot less than I did. "Tom" pressed me to just give the bishop a call and explain the situation, and there shouldn't be any problem with just getting enough to get by--in fact, he recommended I ask for a little more than I needed just for rent, enough to get a bit of a cushion and avoid undue stress.
Obviously, I'd resisted doing this. Neither "Tom" nor the bishop, of course, knows about my atheism; as far as either of them knows, I'm still a faithful member of the church. ("Tom" had even mentioned at one point--I think half in jest, but not entirely--that his testimony depended to some degree on mine, that my own faithfulness was helping him through. I...really wasn't sure what to say about that.) I feel bad enough about that, about going through the motions of Mormonism for social reasons and hiding my deconversion from the ward members. But actually getting money from the church under false pretenses...well, it struck me that that would be a whole different and much bigger level of wrong. (And it would be under false pretenses; I'm pretty sure the bishop wouldn't consider giving me any money to get me through my financial straits if he knew how I really felt about the church.)
But by December 8, two days before my eviction deadline, when "Tom" pressed me again to see the bishop and ask for money...I gave in. I was desperate. I'd tried anything else. I'd tried getting loans, with no luck. Payday advances? No dice without a regular payday, and the tutoring jobs didn't count. I had gotten a job at Universal Studios--a sort of embarrassing, barely-over-minimum-wage job that I'd gotten because it was at least better than nothing, but that still didn't seem likely to be enough to cover all my bills--but the five-day training period for that had just started, and I wouldn't be an official employee until after the training was over (and wouldn't get paid until the following Thursday--and even then, of course, it wouldn't be nearly enough to cover my rent). I'd tried pretty much everything I could think of, and hadn't found a way to come up with the money. I was out of options.
So I told "Tom" that yeah, maybe he was right. I'd go to the bishop.
He called back later and said he'd talked to one of the bishop's counselors and explained my situation, and that all I needed to do was talk to the bishop and work out the details. I called him and explained the situation, and arranged to call him the next day after I got out of job training--because of the training, I wasn't going to be able to be at church that Sunday--and set up a meeting.
So. It looked like I was going to be able to avoid eviction after all. But...I didn't feel at all comfortable about what I'd had to do to do it.
I tried to rationalize it. After all, the amount I'd be getting was much less than I'd paid the church over the years in tithing and fast offerings, so I'd be just sort of getting back some of what the church had already taken from me. Okay, I hadn't been planning to pay tithing or fast offerings anymore, but after this, maybe I owed it to them to pay for one more year. In fact, once I was in a better financial spot, I could pay back what I'd gotten, with interest. There'd be no harm done. I wasn't hurting anyone.
I wasn't buying it. No matter how I tried to justify it, it just didn't sit well with me. The ends didn't justify the means. It was still wrong.
Desperate as I was to avoid eviction, I still couldn't go through with this; my conscience wouldn't allow it. It was too late that night to call the bishop back, but I called him the next morning and left a message, and called "Tom" too, to let him know that, while I appreciated his help and his friendship, I didn't feel comfortable taking money from the church.
I still didn't have any idea how I could come up with the money for rent, and eviction still looked possibly inescapable. But I did manage to talk the landlord into giving me till Thursday, though it wasn't easy and he made it very clear that he wouldn't give me any further extensions.
Then, on Monday, December 10, a math teacher at the private school where I'd applied for the science teacher job back in October quit very suddenly, without giving notice. The school needed a replacement teacher immediately. And the science department chair, whom I'd kept in touch with through the tutoring job, asked me if I wanted the job.
This didn't immediately solve the problem, of course--I had a job now, but I didn't get paid immediately. Still, knowing that I had a decent job now and a definite prospect of income made it easier to get some loans from friends, and I managed to get the money to the landlord by Thursday and avoid eviction...and from here on out, my financial prospects are looking much rosier. Oh, it'll be a while before I'm really caught up and financially comfortable, but at least I'm in no danger of eviction now and, while things will be tight for a while, I'll have enough to get by.
We've all heard the "inspirational" stories of people in dire situations resisting the temptation to get out of their trouble by immoral means and being rewarded by an unexpected boon that gets them better off than they would have been had they given into the temptation in the first place. The idea behind the stories is that the people were being tested by God, and that He rewarded their faithfulness. The story of my recent experiences has a similar flavor--I turned down the option of getting money from the church, even though I didn't see any other way to avoid disaster, and then a better option unexpectedly arose. But if the God of those inspirational stories did exist, it would seem out of character for him to reward what was essentially my staying true to my atheism, so I think He can be ruled out as the architect of my financial deliverance. Still, even if I can't thank some divine benefactor for my fortune, I'm certainly grateful for it, if one can be grateful to impersonal circumstance--and I'm glad I don't have to live with the guilt of having taken money from the church to get through my straits. I'm still ashamed that in my desperation I went so far as to call the bishop and start the process, but I can take some consolation in the fact that at least I didn't go through with it.
And anyway, now that I've got a job and am in a much better situation than I had been for the last few months, I'll try to update this blog much more regularly again...