This marked the end of my childhood proper; from this point on, I felt, and was expected to be, more like a small adult than a child. It was also the end of thinking the world was a friendly and safe place; my sense of security and my unconscious trust in adults as havens of reliability was replaced by uncertainty and an ever-increasing tendency to withdraw into the safety of my own thought life.
Outwardly, a period of relative peace settled in, with weekly meetings at what was to become not merely a resource for child-training, but our new “homechurch” family. Sometime around this point we stopped attending the Baptist church that we had been attending since I was a baby. It used to be pastored by Pastor Chase, a fine old preacher, who I adored and respected enormously, as much as you can adore and respect anyone when you are 4 years old. The times I got to skip Sunday School and sit in the adult service to hear him preach were my favorite! Then Pastor Chase either retired or died, I forget which, and was replaced by Pastor Boymook.
I despised Pastor Boymook with all the fierceness my 4-year-old self could muster, not just because he wasn’t Pastor Chase, but because I instinctively felt with the intuition of a child that he wasn’t completely genuine. He was a smooth talker, and I didn’t trust him. Pastor Chase always talked to me like a person; Pastor B talked to me in the condescending way some adults use with children because they think they aren’t smart enough to know the difference. I hated that. My opinion of him was just reinforced when I went through a class he taught as a prerequisite to being baptized, when I was 6. The other members of the class were two adults, and when we finished the class, we were all given books as presents. I was thrilled! Being precocious, and a child of parents who valued books as a self-education, I regularly read all sorts of books that were “too old” for me, and understood most of them. I read all of my dad’s books that I could get my hands on, and I was excited to have a new “grown-up” book of my very own! Pastor B handed the adults thick, leatherette copies of some classic christian theology book. Then…he handed me a children’s board book, with colorful pictures and simplified stories about Jesus. I hated it. I was insulted. Even my copy of the NIV Bible, which I used to look up Bible verses and follow along during the sermons, was more advanced than this. Pastor B had sealed his fate: he was officially persona non grata to me from that day on.
I wasn’t sorry to leave Pastor Boymook behind for our new Wednesday night “church” – at least Mr. LaQuiere talked to children like they were adults too, and I found that very gratifying. Little by little, Mr. LaQuiere became the final word in all matters of our daily lives, whether the issues were theological, familial, financial, or even regarding the kinds of food we were allowed to eat. Traditional church was bad. Public school (even private school) was bad. Letting your children play with other children was bad. Eating pork and seafood was bad. Christmas trees were pagan, and therefore, bad. So we started a new way of life. We cut out all pork products from our diet, and replaced them with things like turkey bacon. There was no substitute for marshmallows, which I was sad about. Who knew they were made from pork by-products? We shunned the neighbor kids for their “corrupting influence”. We banned Christmas trees from our home. I hated this one the most. I missed the Christmases of old, with the twinkling lights of our tree glowing through our frosty front window when we came home on dark winter nights. I missed falling asleep to the lights of the Christmas tree, shining in the dark and promising the wonder of Christmas mornings and presents as-yet unwrapped! But we all had to sacrifice for the sake of godliness, so that was that.
Joe LaQuiere had an obsession with the Jews, and Jewish traditions (hence the “no pork” rule). He explained to us that the Jews were God’s “favorite people”, and we should be following their example. If your father had a favorite son, and gave him special rules, wouldn’t you try to follow the same special rules so you could gain the approval of your father as well? If we wanted God to be pleased with us, maybe it wasn’t absolutely written in stone that we must act like the Jews, but certainly it was going the extra mile, and aren’t we told to go the extra mile? If we loved God with our whole hearts, we would do everything we could to please Him. So we replaced traditional Sunday church-time with Saturday Sabbath. The Sabbath was the day God instructed all of us (not just the Jews) to rest, and not to do any work. It was treated very seriously. This meant not only no physical work, but also no playing games, no reading books except for the Bible (or maybe very spiritual books, if approved by a parent…cue ‘Elsie Dinsmore’), no buying anything at a store (causing others to work) from sundown Friday night until sundown Saturday night, and in general being quite solemn, as befitting a day in which we are to honor God. It was also the day we took “the Lord’s Supper” (not “communion” – that sounded too much like what those people in regular church did). All the women wore head coverings during the Lord’s supper and worship time, and sometimes the whole day long. My sister and I and the other girls were exempt until we were about 12, then we were considered adult enough and required to wear them as well. The men would pour out red grape juice (wine was alcoholic, and being definitely warned against in the bible, was not an acceptable substitute) in crystal glasses, one per adult, and after reading the new testament portions about “this cup is the new covenant in my blood; drink it in remembrance of me”, we would solemnly drink it, after first being warned that not taking it seriously, or worse, “partaking with unconfessed sin on your conscience” could result in getting seriously sick, or even dying, because it says so right there in the bible.
Once I was old enough to take part, I always worried that there would be some sin I had forgotten about, and secretly wondered if this would be the time that it caught up with me. I didn’t know if dying in this manner would invalidate my salvation or not, so it was especially nerve-wracking not knowing if my final destination hung in the balance! It seems like a silly worry when I look back on it today, but it was taken very seriously, and was just one of the things that contributed to my believing that being constantly guilt-ridden was a normal state of being! Sin of any sort was a serious matter, and we were constantly reminded that not only was our sin the reason that Jesus had to die, but also that God specifically demanded that sinful, rebellious children be stoned to death (the process was described quite graphically to us), and though we somehow were able to escape this fate by the skin of our teeth, it is what a holy God said we deserved. With this new solemn knowledge of sin came the reassurance that we could be accepted by God if we lived “godly” enough lives. It was hard to give up Christmas trees, and bacon, and our friends, but we had been given the Rulebook for Eternal Life, and we were going to live by the rules!
It was a brave new world.