A week or two ago, with Grandma’s memorial service fast approaching, an awkward set of questions arose: would the family aliens be attending, and how would the rest of us deal with them? My dad asked me to follow Alien Aunt’s Facebook page for signs that she would or would not be attending the service, which I did, but only sporadically, mainly because I was much more interested in FB stalking hot friends than Alien Aunt.

That’s why I was nearly a week late discovering a fundraising “event” that Alien Aunt had created. (The other explanation is that she hid the event from me for several days; I hide stuff from her all the time, mainly links to this blog, but I don’t think she’s so crafty. Let us give thanks for our superior intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities.) I put “event” in quotations because “fundraising to get to California for my Mom’s memorial service” wasn’t an event in the sense of a number people gathering in a particular place at a particular time for a particular purpose.

To Alien Aunt’s credit, this means that it was less stupid and pointless than Thon. The rest of the event was pretty much to her discredit: “Sent this out as an ‘Event.’ Please let me know if you are interested. CD’s for sale. Donations accepted. Apologies in advance for any offense this might cause. Just have a need and encouraged by a friend to let it be known.”

As snarky as I can be about Alien Aunt, I was not among the offended. Calls for alms for the traveling poor are too entrenched a habit of Alien Aunt’s for me to really be taken aback. Instead, I usually react mirthfully, thinking, “well, there she goes again!” It’s a bit like hearing of Michael Jackson’s weird drug and sex habits: enrapturing entertainment for the unserious but in point of fact likely inconsequential for most of the audience. Stories of Alien Aunt’s improvidence and mooching bring an arguably Cantorian shit-eating grin to my face, which is alas harder to wipe off than mayonnaise from a Spicy Bite, but the loud expressions of disgust and offense are mainly theater for my parents, especially Mom, who has come to deeply despise Alien Aunt.

Accuse me of moral relativism if you wish, but I like to keep petty religious sleaze in perspective. Alien Aunt’s calls for alms are, with the rare exception of entreaties to unsympathetic old-line Protestant or atheist relatives, a brazen sales pitch to credulous Pentecostal goobers. If you think she’s unique in this regard, you haven’t been watching enough Joel Osteen. (Grandma and I, on the other hand, watched too much Joel Osteen.) Alien Aunt differs from Joel Osteen by openly declaring that all funds collected will go to her travel and by not telling prospective donors that God will give them a pay raise if they donate. All in all, it’s a much less blasphemous enterprise than Lakewood, and it doesn’t involve anything resembling wire fraud.

Also, Pentecostals really eat that shit up: people who hope to someday benefit from praise, worship and hedonistic travel grants don’t interrogate others soliciting such grants for themselves. Questioning the validity of the enterprise is bad juju. Credence before bullshit is a first principle for the starving bullshit artist who hopes to one day be a successful bullshit artist. It’s that “aspirational society” that Republican intellectual bullies so love, the one that keeps the little people buying lottery tickets, sending money to Joel Osteen, and voting for asinine tax policies at the behest of plutocrats.

And like oral sex in the nineties, everybody’s doing it. Qualis rex, talis grex: if renowned swamp critters of the cloth make sleazy financial pitches to the laity, the laity will be emboldened to make sleazy pitches to one another, or perhaps to the clergy; if the President and his intern have oral sex, the public will be emboldened to have lots of oral sex; if Billy Joel sings about masturbation and seducing Catholic schoolgirls, the public will masturbate and seduce Catholic schoolgirls, and quite possibly waste their fortunes buying Long Island diners or commercial fishing boats as well; if the President masturbates his intern with a fine Cuban cigar, the public will—actually, most of the public will have the sense to buy a proper vibrator or dildo, because some things are too stupid to diffuse downmarket. Like the Roman Catholic Church, I overplayed my hand a wee bit on the Billy Joel example, but I couldn’t resist. Another thing I can’t resist is asking my readers to ask themselves this question: which sounds more enjoyable, a slimy prosperity gospel sermon or oral sex with a Washington hottie? Don’t reflexively give the answer you’d give at the end of confession or at an altar call; be honest.

And which of these concessions to earthly desire does the church, broadly defined, find more objectionable? Hint: not the one that results in a happy ending for both parties—although, come to think of it, there’s no telling how strong a dopamine release is possible for the viewer of a righteous hour of Ephesians 3:20 porn. Give a whore a tenth of your gross earnings, and in all likelihood you’ll have a standing date for a hella good “sensual massage” (as opposed to the nonsensual variety, which presumably includes the massages that I haven’t been getting lately because I haven’t been hanging out with girls who like doing bad touch with their guy friends, and because I’ve needed the money for train fare). Give Joel Osteen a tenth of your gross earnings, and he’ll promise tenfold repayment on behalf of a third party who isn’t answerable to Interpol or small claims court, namely the Lord God Almighty. The difference between this scam and entreaties from Mr. Johnson Obasanjo to please kindly forward only $8 million Us dollars (USD8$M) to his account at the Federal Bank of Lagobuja is that Mr. Obasanjo sometimes offers to put his own money on the line (“there is currantly an administrated Hold on these moneys and you will get one quarter (1/5) of the balance of these Moneys when the hold is release….”); Joel Osteen never even offers to put his own skin in the game. It’s all on God. And as I mentioned above, there are degrees of blasphemy; if Alien Aunt does it linearly, Osteen does it exponentially.

The call for alms for the traveling poor is far from the crassest or most inappropriate thing Alien Aunt has done in recent months. Much worse is her habit of selling stuff on eBay for cash flow. This would be just another entertaining diversion for the rest of us if she were content to sell merely her own stuff. Her goal, however, is to sell relatives’ stuff, too. A year or two ago, I had to deny her permission to sell my dad’s Boy Scout uniform, which included a patch from the 1957 Jamboree in Valley Forge; why she thought I had standing to grant her permission is beyond any of us, and the fact that she possesses that uniform is a testament to her proficiency at cleaning out Grandma’s house when she moved from the Bay Area to Eureka in the early nineties. In the past three months, we’ve had to take action to keep her from selling Hummel figurines (which she erroneously told visiting hospice nurses, in front of her dying mother, were the only things of any value in the room), a stupefying variety of jewelry (my mom did this by spiriting away Grandma’s jewelry collection wholesale), and the shoes that my dad wore as a baby. Dad, who isn’t usually as shocked as Mom is by Alien Aunt’s crassness, was blown away by her interest in his baby shoes. This is almost certainly a partial list; I highly doubt that I’ve mentally mapped out all the nooks and crannies of this sordid tale.

To understand how pervasive and normalized this sort of behavior is for Alien Aunt, try to wrap your head around the following exerpts from Alien Aunt’s blog. Bear in mind that Alien Aunt published this crap under her own name on a public-access website. I wouldn’t publish such without cover of anonymity, which I will give her in this forum, although I’m exerpting it verbatim, so those who wish to find the original should be easily able to do so. My main goal is plausible deniability for purposes of not ruffling the feathers of the family’s stranger birds, just as it would be if I were publishing shameful materialistic rubbish, such as this:

“Basically, I’m wondering what thing in me resists letting go of things that I haven’t used in years. What thing in me feels abandoned when I do let go of those things. What loss am I experiencing and can I trust that my Daddy will restore?”

For those of you who aren’t up on these things, “Daddy” in this case is the person of the triune God whom most people call the Father. As one of my Russian professors told us, “You always call God ты, even if you’ve never talked to him before.” Alien Aunt has clearly taken that easy familiarity to heart.

The bike, as far as I can tell, is one of the last items that I think I can “turn a buck” on. I’ve been scraping the barrel to figure out, ‘What else can I sell?’ While I continue my efforts to cobble together a living, I’m doing all I know to do to get money into the bank so that I can get some of my bills paid.”

–Rather crass and shortsighted, but firmly rooted in the soils of this planet.

After listing the bike, I changed my mind about selling and told interested parties that I wasn’t sure the bike was still available. Then…staring reality in the face…’No, I need the money.’ Provided I get a buyer willing to pay a fair price. And I’m not sure what a “fair” price is. Not the greatest sometimes at determining that. Realized in retrospect that I’ve let a couple of things go for far below their value. Bummer, eh?”

–Apollo, this is Houston, do you copy?

Several thoughts come in. 1) Why is it so difficult to let go of some things? 2) If I really do want or need a bike in the future, or a piece of gold, or a Fossil messenger bag, can I trust that God will provide? I suppose there is something of a ‘poverty’ mentality at operation here. Something of an ‘orphan’ spirit. Yes, I am a work in progress. In this season of my life I see a stripping that is, I think, good. I’m in a coaching group where we have been discussing the issue of ‘tolerance.’ E.g., what do we tolerate in our lives?…What clutter do we allow to accumulate and remain?”

Nice. God isn’t just any sort of Daddy, but a Sugar Daddy. He buys them gold and handbags, and a bicycle for the more tomboyish. The Lord God Almighty is what all those golddiggers are advertising for on Craigslist personal boards, cluttering things up for the rest of us who aren’t Hugh Hefner.

Next came a rather banal description of things that Alien Aunt had sold or considered selling and an equally banal philosophical discourse about living without piles of junk around the house, or not. Then, this doozy:

I’ve let go of jewelry, a Best Buy store credit, a really nice Fossil bag — but that bag really did not make my heart sing. Numerous other things. Felt a sting when I put the Best Buy store credit into the mail. Had some financial loss with that transaction. But it was the ‘currency’ I had at my disposal. And I need to believe, I need to hope…that God will restore. He has good gifts for me. He is not out to squash me. So…He is probably sozo-ing me throughout this process.”

I don’t know what a sozo is, and I haven’t taken Alien Aunt up on her offer for an explanation, because I have no doubt that it’s flakier than the puff pastry in a spanikopita, but not as nourising or tasty. On the other hand, we’re talking about food for the soul. Rad-ass, bong-quality spiritual schwag for the poor, weary pilgrim: dude, pass me some of that 320, man; that’s hella good shit, like, straight outta Ephesus, man.

According to Alien Aunt, the bike in question wasn’t really in use, so it was mostly taking up space. Evidently, a lot of the space that it was taking up was emotional space, a problem that I clearly don’t have since I hardly notice the Le Tour that I’ve been storing in my the living room in my apartment for over a year because its frame is broken. There’s a difference between being too profoundly disorganized to get a bike fixed or sold, and regarding a bike as a metaphor for the emotional clutter in one’s life. If I’m in orbit, it’s a lower orbit than Alien Aunt’s.

While we’re on the subject of things that make one’s heart sing, one of Alien Aunt’s friends told her a few on Facebook a few years ago, “You are the heartsong of God.” As Dad told me at the time, “she certainly isn’t the heartsong of humanity.” Alien Aunt has a single favorite quotation listed on Facebook, from one Bam Crawford (probably on par intellectually with managerial doofus Bo Bice): “It is an act of holiness to agree with God about who He says I am.” Interpreted at face value without the biblical context, there’s no way to say a thing more arrogant than that.

It’s a fittingly ambiguous Freudian slip for Alien Aunt, and for a huge swath of the charismatic movement. Godliness is doing what I want to do and selling what I want to sell. The “Me Generation” has gone to church. God will provide. The Lord works in mysterious ways, ways that are especially mysterious to those whose property is being eyed by their improvident relatives for prospective sale on eBay.

Name it and claim it. All right, maybe your relatives won’t let you claim it because no way in hell you’re going to sell the family heirlooms on eBay to pay your next round of airfare to Grand Rapids or Dublin, but at least name it. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

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