Monday, December 7, 2009

Bible Study

One summer when Esther and I were at the trail park and mom was up in Iowa, Gig left us with our Aunt Sharon for two weeks while she went on a speaking tour in Australia. I had so wanted to go with her, to be the one who sold her books and teaching tapes and carry the suitcases. But I was nine and I had no passport (or ticket) so I stayed.

Our cousin Jason would spent the night with us often for sleepers or just so his mom wouldn't be driving him back and forth. School was out and the trailer park held diversions: the woods, the creek, the pool, the basketball hoop, and even a pool table. Esther and I were close enough in age that we frequently had mutual friends. This was a source of great antipathy between us, and we fought often over which of us had "stolen" the friend of the other.

Sharon had just come back from a year in France, teaching English in a prestigious secondary school. At the moment she didn't have an apartment of her own, so she was staying in the front bedroom of the trailer. Gig was in the back bedroom, so Jason, Esther, and I shared the living room floor. On one of her first days in the country, a week or so earlier, she gave each of the three of us a chocolate liquor. They were disgusting! We liked chocolate but that middle stuff just tasted bad. No one asked for seconds, and none were offered.

Sharon was the epitome of "not a morning person". I believe her exact salutation was, "I haven't had my coffee yet. Don't talk to me." We were young and hyper and allowed to eat whatever we wanted, so we had diets mainly consisting of flavored sugar. Strawberry was my favorite flavor, and I would drink strawberry Juicy-Juice and bagels with strawberry cream cheese, or else strawberry toaster strudels. Esther ate a lot of microwave baked potatoes loaded with cheese and ice cream. Jason went for the ice cream, the popcorn, and the potato chips. We all drank as much soda as we wanted from the stash of 2-liters in the kitchen island.

One afternoon about a week into Gig's trip, Sharon strode out to the living room, angrily yielding her box of French chocolates. "One of you stole candy. Who did it?" Bewildered, my cousin, sister, and I each professed we did not know what had happened to her foul-tasting boozy chocolate. For whatever reason, Sharon believed Jason when he said he didn't do it. But she was convinced my sister or I had. So she punished us for not coming forward and admitting who had done it.

"Esther, I want you to look up verses on gluttony and write them down for me. Angie, I want you to look up verses on being a liar and a thief, and write those down, too." Then she locked us up - me in my grandmother's bathroom with a KJV, notebook, and a pen, and my sister in my grandmother's adjoining bedroom, with the same equipment. After a while, she took Jason down to the clubhouse to shoot pool, and left us locked in. It was but the work of a moment for me to at least open the bathroom door, and come into the bedroom where Esther sat. We questioned each other seriously, but also believed each other readily. To this day, we still both deny it.

We were both horribly offended by the punishment, both that it was done without evidence of either of us having done anything wrong, and that it was tailored to insult each of us in specific ways. I did not yet have trouble with kleptomania or shoplifting, but I have wondered since if her actions that day didn't contribute to my perception of myself as a thief. My mom was already telling me on a near daily basis that I was a liar and couldn't be trusted. My sister was an emotional eater, and had just begun to fill out that year. Sharon could scarcely have picked greater weaknesses to exploit, but she held is in contempt, and we had no motivation to please her.

So we carefully went through the Bible and found times where banquets or feasts were praised, and wrote those down for Esther. Then we found times when "thief" was used poetically or metaphorically, and wrote those down for me. We found verses where "lie" referred to sex, not dishonesty. It was legalism at its finest. We followed the absolute letter of the law, and wrote out our 75 assigned verses each, while intentionally not learning any sort of moral lesson from the experience. We won.