Thinking Out Loud

February 9, 2018

Growing Up in a Strict, Ultra-Conservative Christian Home

This is a review of a book. Its inclusion here does not imply endorsement.

On Wednesday, I read a 390 page book in a single day. That’s somewhat unusual for me, but the weather, some really great writing, and a fascination with the story combined to make this possible.

Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket To Salvation by Aaron Hartzler is his true story. It is published by Little, Brown & Co., not Hachette’s Evangelical imprint, FaithWords, though in my opinion it comes oh so close to fitting in there, especially the first two-thirds. That’s probably why it took me five years to be aware of this 2013 title; that and the fact it was marketed as a Young Adult memoir. I’ve missed being in the target audience by many decades.

We first meet Aaron as a four year old, being groomed for the role of church play actor; though as he grows up, it’s a different type of acting which captures his attention. There are are short scenes from his early school and summer camp experiences, with most of the book taking place in his high school years. It is in high school he really starts acting only the role he is playing daily is one of a church kid who is at odds with the ultra high standards and beliefs of his community and especially his parents.

He’s placed in a Christian school, but his interest in popular music proves too much for his ultra-straight parents and as punishment he is placed in an even more conservative Christian institution. But the punishment in many ways backfires, as these kids seem to have more after-school freedom than anything at his prior school, some of them without having to employ the cover-up tactics that Aaron finds necessary…

…The book is a wonderful time capsule of Christian culture in the 1980s including some things I had forgotten such as Sandi Patty’s divorce and Amy Grant’s admitting that she visited a topless beach. It’s also a reminder of backyard Bible clubs, dressing up for Sunday services, guest missionary slide shows, Pioneer Girls & Boys Brigade, purity rings, and denominational talent contests.

While Aaron is raised with corporal punishment, when he gets too old to spank, his parents disciplinary method of choice is basically shaming. Honestly, this is hard to read, and enduring this with him means I’m often rooting for Aaron instead of his parents. I keep feeling that any choices Aaron made in life — and the book stops many years shy of its own publication date, but I did some further research* — happened because his parents forced him there…

…More remarkable is that I got this book in a load of bargain titles from CBD. Yes, Christian Book Distributors. I can say with confidence that this item totally escaped their usual vetting process, and as it turns out is currently not listed at the site. Nonetheless, I’m glad I got to read it. It may be marketed as Young Adult non-fiction but I think parents should read it as a cautionary tale.

No kid should have had to grow up in that culture of shame.


*There are some reviews online for this book which contain what I consider a giant spoiler, including some editions of the book with a different subtitle also containing that spoiler. I think for me it was more important to let the book take me there rather than begin with some aspects of the story a foregone conclusion. If possible, look for the book with the cover above. The other subtitle was a publishing blunder.

 

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June 27, 2014

Your Sunday School Kids Shall Prophesy

The backyard of the house I grew up in had a small rock garden that had been built into a hill to prevent erosion and for aesthetic reasons. They called it “the rockery.”  As a just-turned 11-year old, I never paid it much attention except for the times I was conscripted to help with pulling weeds, a chore I found difficult due to the variety of things planted. “Is this a weed?” I would ask, followed seconds later by, “Is this a weed?”

Great plague of antsBeing too young to have a summer job, one July day I found myself wandering aimlessly in the yard and a section the rockery caught my eye. There were ants, many of them, coming and going and doing what ants do. It’s not that I’d never seen ants before, but this was quite an army.

Not content to merely observe, I focused on the small anthill that was their access point to the outside world, and using a stick opened it up the access point, just a little bit, all in the interests of science.

The colony was huge. I was mortified. I dug further. The earth gave up her ants. The visible ants were just a fraction of what lay beneath in their subterranean quarters.

I decided the authorities should be notified. Something must be done. I ran into the house where my mother was working in the kitchen and informed her that — wait for it — “The earth is being readied for a great plague.”

It’s interesting looking back that I chose apocalyptic language for my pronouncement. I guess that’s what it’s like growing up in church. I blame Moses. But it’s not nearly as interesting as something my sister-in-law once told us our nephew did one Sunday morning, as relayed by his S.S. teacher.

We’re not sure if a question had been asked or if was simply an interjection for that moment, but apparently Zach suddenly blurted out, “Casting brazen serpents into the fire.”

For years now, I’ve tried to figure out how to work “Casting brazen serpents into the fire” into song lyrics, but it never quite fits. I also thought it would be interesting to be speaking somewhere and warn people ahead of time that there is a secret word — a la Groucho Marx — and they should watch for the phrase and then add it randomly into the sermon and award a prize to the first person who jumps up.

It’s truly too good a line to waste.

But as a mature adult, looking back, and looking forward, I do believe the earth is being readied for a great plague.

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