I went to a meeting tonight and the guy who spoke really struck a chord with me. He talked about the fourth step, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” which entails listing the people we resent, our bad behavior towards them, and our fears that lurk under our resentments. Usually our fears have something to do with not getting what we want or losing something we have. The speaker said he resented his parents for not recognizing and nurturing his brilliant potential. He said he resented his repressive parochial school and church. He said doing the fourth step had allowed him to take ownership of his behavior and forgive the people he resented, however, he hadn’t found a soft spot for his school or church.
Sybil, the infamous split personality, was raised by a Seventh-day Adventist mother. David Koresh, the Waco Whacko, built his cult off of whacked out Adventist beliefs. I, too, was raised an Adventist, a faith that focuses on a judgmental doomsday.
My mother, teachers, and preachers drilled into my head that the end of time, “The Time of Trouble,” was right around the corner, and I, as an Adventist, was going to be persecuted, jailed, tortured, and perhaps killed for going to church on Saturday. Sunday laws would require businesses to close and people to attend church on Sunday. Anyone worshipping on Saturday was going to experience a new holocaust. And staying true to the Sabbath was God’s lynchpin in figuring out who was going to Heaven and who was going to Hell. The preachers in my church would sweep their arms and shout, “Who among you will be saved? The road is narrow. Most of you will fall by the wayside. Who among you will stand firm and be saved?” Congregants’ heads would swivel, like mine, scanning the pews. Mental lists of who was going to Hell were made.
A pastor would come to my school once a week and tell us, “You’re different from the children of the world. You must be a shining example to the rest of the world and show them what it’s like to be a child of God.”
I didn’t want to be a shining example. When anyone asked what religion I was, I got embarrassed and said, “Christian.” This question occasionally came up because I couldn’t play softball, go swimming, or roller skate with the neighborhood kids from Friday night sundown to Saturday night sundown, the Sabbath, and the neighbors wanted to know why. Basically, I sat in the house during that twenty-four-hour period and waited for the Sabbath to end.
During the other six days of the week I couldn’t dance, go to movie theaters, or read novels because Adventists didn’t do those things. I also didn’t eat meat, which a lot of Adventists don’t do, and the Adventists who do eat meat don’t eat pork or shellfish because the Old Testament says they’re unclean.
“Say it’s The Time of Trouble,” my dad, who ate and did whatever he damn well pleased, would say to my mother as we ate breakfast. “Say they arrested me and were going to kill me unless you ate a piece of bacon.” He’d hold up his bacon between his fingers. “Would you eat the bacon?”
Stone-faced and rigid, my mother would say, “No.”
“You wouldn’t eat a piece of bacon to save my life?”
“What about the girls? Would you eat a piece of bacon to save them?”
Paula and I would look at each other, anxiously hoping our mother would eat bacon to save us.
“That’s a stupid question,” my mother would say.
“Answer it. Would you eat the bacon to save them?”
“No,” my mother would say.
“You would let us all die?” my father would yell. “Unbelievable! You’re sick. Sick!” He’d wave his hands disgustedly at my mother and stomp out of the room swearing.
Periodically, my father would pose this question in various forms. Would you eat a lobster? Would you tell a lie? The answer was always no. I wanted my mother to lie. I wanted her to eat clams. But she said she never would.
Weirdly enough, my parents met in church. My dad was raised an Adventist and, like me, turned his back on his religion. When my parents met, my father was paying his mother back for bailing him out of jail. He’d been hunting deer without a license and tried to outrun the cops with a dead deer tied to the roof of his car.