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I was duped into buying rental car insurance, so I quit church.

July 28, 2018

You may have noticed that I finally wrote a new post after months of inactivity on being a Squib in a magical world. This is not mere coincidence — rather, this is the time of year that I get most engaged with religion and Mormonism in an offline sense through involvement with the Sunstone Symposium. Through hearing so many presentations and having so many conversations with people across the map of belief in a variety of religious traditions (not only Mormon ones, even!), I have a lot of things churning through my mind. The bad news that I fail to write most of these things down in blog posts. The good news is that I succeed at writing a few of these down in blog posts.

So, Sunstone is the closest thing to a liturgical calendar for me. (I went to a session by Maxine Hanks and Gina Colvin about discovering sacred spaces in mundane places, and they challenged us to think about divine calendars in our lives, and at the time, I felt totally alien — I don’t really conceive of any sort of special time apart from the ordinary, much less sacred or divine times. Even personally, I forget my own birthday, so not even that day is marked apart from ordinary “chronos” time.)

This year, Sunstone moved to a new venue. After being at the University of Utah for so long, it is now at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy Utah. This brings a lot of opportunities for the Symposium — most of all the opportunity to consecrate this otherwise secular place as a sacred space — but also a lot of (first world) challenges: I used to rely upon getting a hotel at the University Guest House within walking distance from the University Student Center. The University was close enough to the airport that getting an Uber or Lyft to the campus and then walking through the duration of the conference was affordable and convenient.

This year, I waited a bit too long to get a hotel close to the venue, but fortunately and graciously, I was able to stay with friends in nearby Park City.

This next sentence will sound like ingratitude, and I want to say I am not complaining, but…”nearby” Park City means a 1 hour drive each way to Sandy.

No big deal. But it meant that for the first time, I was advised to consider renting a car.

If you know me, you will know that I hate driving. I don’t feel at ease with it, but I’ve come to tolerate it in areas that I’m familiar with. I live in a city which my geography classes tell me would not be possible but for two technological inventions: the car, and air conditioning, so I’ve gotten some familiarity with certain pockets of Houston.

But, as a Texan, Utah is not an area I’m familiar with, and the highways and roads up and down the Wasatch Mountains didn’t provide comfort. Driving down (and up) these roads reminded me of those car commercials that show cars making hairpin turns along twisty roads because i guess that is supposed to be sexy but really why would anyone even make roads like that?

At this risk of inviting further excoriation for my first world problems, there is something important I have to set up — I am very fortunate, as a board member of Sunstone, that my rental car would be reserved for me. I would need to use my credit card when I got to the airport, but they would write a reimbursement check.

I didn’t know what the process was for rental cars, so I also didn’t know what the expected price point was for these — and I didn’t think to ask. But even before getting to the airport, I worried about what would happen if I had any accidents. (Morbidly, I suspected that if I had an accident on the Wasatch mountaintop, I’d have totally bigger issues than the issue of a big totaled car.) I had no context or clue of what I needed to be covered.

So, when I got to the Salt Lake City airport and went to the kiosk to pick up the keys and sign whatever paperwork, and the clerk at the desk asked me about if I wanted to get the insurance policy, I felt relieved. Ah, yes, of course I would like to be covered. If perchance I took an unfortunate shortcut from the mountain’s summit to its base, I’d like my husband to be well taken care for in his grief. Add all the recommended packages, please!

I received a bill for how much would be placed on hold on my credit, and although it disturbed me a little bit, I had fewer bits of context for the price of a rental car. I just thought to myself: Well, I guess this is the price of having the convenience of a car in an unfamiliar place. (And, I calculated the comparative cost of taking Ubers back and forth between Park City and Sandy for the duration of the symposium, and although the Uber was a little cheaper, I also noted it was also not quite as convenient as being able to pick up and go anywhere without planning or notice.)

The check for the reimbursement was already cut, and so, when I received it, I immediately noticed the discrepancy. The basic, non-upsold price (which is what the reimbursement was based on) was around significantly lower than the price booked on my card. The director (ahhh, she’s probably going to see this post and feel guilty) asked me if the amount looked correct, but in my shame, I avoided revealing anything on my face as I graciously accepted the reimbursement. Here is a photo taken on scene.

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OK, we are 900 words into this post and if you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably wondering: “ok, what does this have to do with religion? Why would you stop going to church over this?” (Or, in the absence of words, you too may probably be internally screaming.)

Well, just today, I was linked an article entitled “Americans still believe in God. So, why do so many of us see the church as just optional rental car insurance?

Brothers and sisters, I have Many Thoughts on this metaphor.

The first thing I want to say is that if this article HADN’T used this metaphor, I would probably agree with much of it in a very straightforward manner. After all, my annual foray to Utah for Sunstone happens because I begrudgingly agree, even as an introverted shut-in, as the article notes, that…

We are truly better together. It’s in community that we grow, are challenged, stretched, and inspired to truly live for Jesus. It’s messy, difficult, and at times frustrating…but it’s so worth it.

(Except without the “live for Jesus” thing? “Americans still believe in God”? — whoops, even that part doesn’t apply to me!)

But, I just want to say that this is one of the big things I’ve heard articulated over and over as a reason to venture out to attend Sunstone — many people who have undergone faith transition and faith crisis may no longer feel alone because there are a plethora of online groups on Facebook or Reddit to talk about the issues, but there’s Something To Be Said about meeting in person. And even though I am Not There (Yet?), I’d be willing to concede that there’s probably Something more To Be Said about meeting in person more frequently than once each year.

But.

Let’s talk about this metaphor because I need to rant here.

After seeing the discrepancy between the bill and the reimbursement, I did some searching (of the Google variety, not the soul variety…but maybe you can entertain me and pretend that the former is a metaphor for the latter). I wanted to know if there was value to all the stuff I had been upsold on. I mean, rental car insurance should be a good thing, right? Maybe it’s worth paying more for.

But as I read, I learned that no, rental car insurance is generally optional not because people are irresponsible, but because even responsible people are most likely already covered elsewhere.

So, let me paint you a picture.

You don’t need rental car insurance because almost assuredly you already have insurance that covers it through your own financial products. E.g., if you have your own credit card, it most likely covers rental cars too. If you already have your own  comprehensive car insurance, it may cover rental cars too. Forgoing rental car insurance therefore isn’t irresponsible, because you most likely are already covered without going to the rental car company for their own product.

The issue is that if you buy the rental car insurance from the rental car company, it voids your ability to rely upon your own insurance, or your own credit card. So, the rental car is co-opting your own insurance, and forcing you to pay more for a privilege that you already had without them.

such a curious metaphor to use indeed.

If you have access to spirituality and God through your own devices, but getting it through a church co-opts your own sense and sensibilities while charging you extra (whether financially or otherwise), I can understand why people who still experience spirituality and God may want to remove church as the middle man.

So, perhaps people treat churches like optional rental car insurance because, for all relevant aspects of the metaphor, they kinda are?

And perhaps if any church (or advocate for a church) doesn’t want people to treat churches as similar to optional rental car insurance, then they need to show why the metaphor breaks down. Is there something about spirituality and God that is hindered  and hampered when developed individually rather than in group? For whatever it’s worth, I think people CAN make an argument for this, but this article doesn’t really get there.

The article encourages people to give up unrealistic expectations, but sometimes, people can decide that the cost of sacrificing is too high for products (and experiences) they can still access through other means. I think that some people can be called into communities where they are profoundly inconvenienced, marginalized, or even oppressed, yet buoyed up by their calling. But, in the absence of that calling, I don’t begrudge people for choosing otherwise.

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3 Comments
  1. Happy Hubby permalink

    You may not blog often, but when you do, it is worth the wait.

    • haha, i need to get back to writing at W&T. I’ll try to make variants/sister posts for these over there.

  2. Agellius permalink

    Great analogy, once you finally got there. : )

    For me, I don’t think I ever separated Christian belief from the Christian Church. As soon as I found myself leaning Christian, I wanted to find the right church so I could join it. There’s so much there that I could never have found on my own.

    The only thing I like about rental car insurance, specifically the damage waiver, that sometimes tempts me to buy it, though I never do, is the promise that if anything happens you won’t have to submit a claim to your insurance. The damage will simply be waived. Supposedly. I wonder if it lives up to its promise.

    By the way when I lived in Utah, 30-odd years ago, Sandy was where I lived.

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