“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chapter Seven, Part One

February 6

            I’m in Sandra’s car again with Sandra, Delia, and Morgan.  We’re going to some Rose youth group bible study thing…no idea what it is.  Sandra won’t tell me.  Both of them—Delia and Sandra, I mean—are being particularly secretive about whatever’s going on.  I wonder

            Elizabeth, put the journal away,” Delia ordered.

            Liz looked up to find Delia glaring at her—not in a particularly harsh way, but stern enough that Liz knew she meant business.  Quickly, Liz shut her leather-bound journal and put it and her pen back into her bag.

            Delia didn’t see any of this.  She seemed to know that Liz would do as told, because immediately after telling off Liz, she returned to staring out the front windshield of Sandra’s car.  Delia was right, of course.  Liz would always do as told.  She liked both Delia and Sandra—they were her friends, after all—but she had absolutely no desire to cross them.  She had the feeling that they wouldn’t be quite as friendly if she and Morgan didn’t obey.

            The car pulled into the church colony parking lot and the four girls got out.  Sandra took Liz’s arm and led her into the building.

            “You’re not wearing a watch, are you?” she asked, glancing down at Liz’s wrist.  Even if Liz was wearing a watch, Sandra wouldn’t be able to see it because of the long sleeves of Liz’s dark sweater.

            Liz shook her head.  “Pastor Simon says watches are unimportant; an invention of the outsiders.  He tells us to listen to First Peter, chapter one, verse fourteen: ‘As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts of your ignorance.’”

            Sandra gave Liz an approving smile.  “You’ve been doing you’re studies, Elizabeth.  Pastor Simon will be pleased.”

            This made Liz smile as well.  Whenever Pastor Simon was pleased with her, she felt right, like she was getting the approval of a parent.  She clutched her Rose notebook and her Rose Bible to her chest, having left her bag and journal in the car.  Her Rose Bible, over the last month, had accumulated a multitude of ribbons.  These ribbons were marking the pages and passages that Pastor Simon and Sandra had assigned Liz and the rest of the new members to memorize and understand.

            The meeting was being held in the same room as all their other seminars, the same room that they’d been baptized in.  Pastor Jeffrey stood at the front of the room as the group entered.  Liz, Sandra, Morgan, and Delia found some space in the middle of the room and settled down on the floor.  Liz looked behind her and saw Derek.  She waved, but before he could respond, Sandra had gripped her arm and turned Liz back around to the front.

            “Welcome, Children,” Pastor Jeffrey said as the last people settled down.  “Tonight is our first youth meeting.  This is the first time the newly baptized are having a lesson with some of the members who have been with us longer.  This is an important time, the integrating of new and old.  You are the future of our church.  For, as is said in First Timothy, chapter four, verse twelve: ‘Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.’  This is why it is important for the youth of our family to meet together.”

            The older members nodded.  The newly baptized looked about awkwardly, unsure of what to do.

            “In order for us to better demonstrate and be prepared to share with others the one true way to God, we must be open to each other with our faults.  One by one, each member will stand and admit his or her sins from the last week.  ‘Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,’ James, chapter five, verse sixteen.”  Pastor Jeffrey pointed at the member closest to him.  “Abigail, please stand up and confess your sins to the group.”

            Shyly, Abigail stood.  Liz noted that the girl was also a new member who looked slightly younger than herself.  Looking down at her shoes and her face turning redder by the second, Abigail said, quite softly, “Um…I yelled at my brother, I didn’t pray a couple nights ago…I accidentally drank regular milk…I cursed.”  She paused, looked awkwardly up at Pastor Jeffrey, and then mumbled, “That’s all I can think of.”

            “Thank you, Abigail.  Because you forgot to pray and you disrespected God’s animals by drinking animal products, you must pray for an extra two hours tonight after this meeting,” Pastor Jeffrey said.  He then gave the girl a comforting smile, a nod, and she sat down.

            This pattern continued as each person in the room stood in turn, confessed sins—everything from eating animal products to taking the Lord’s name in vain—and was assigned by Pastor Jeffrey some sort of repentance.  Most were assigned more hours of prayer, some were instructed to read a certain number of chapters from their Bibles, and others were told to perform acts of charity around the colony before and after worship services.  As more people stood and listed their sins, Liz became more nervous.  She watched as the number of people in front of her in the room dwindled—the less people in front of her, the closer she was to having to stand and confess sins that she couldn’t even think of at this point.  She tried frantically to think of something, anything, to confess.  Liz didn’t want to be the only one who didn’t have anything to say.  No one would believe her.  No one was perfect and every single person in this room knew that.  Everyone had something to confess.

            Before long, Morgan was standing, shaking, and saying, “I fell asleep while praying, I disobeyed my parents, I forgot to read my verse assignments from last week, and…I considered not coming to worship on Wednesday because I had a test to study for.”

            Pastor Jeffrey shook his head in disappointment.  “On one hand, it’s good that your conscience told you to come to worship after all.  On the other, however, it is shameful that you thought homework was more important than your eternal soul.”  Morgan looked down at the floor.  “Which is more important, Morgan—grades that will be significant for a couple years or where you will spend eternity?”

            “Where I will spend eternity,” Morgan whispered.

            “Correct.  For this transgression in particular, you will meet with your Rose Angel for extra Bible studies and confessionals at least three times next week.  Delia will report to both myself and Pastor Simon on your progress.  For falling asleep while praying and not reading your verse assignments, however, you are to do an extra five hours of prayer over the next two days.  Understand?”

            Morgan nodded, her ears turning red.  She sat down again and deliberately avoided Delia’s disappointed gaze.

            Liz was so distracted by how harshly Morgan was being punished that she didn’t realize that she was next in line until Sandra nudged her harshly in the side.  Elizabeth,” she whispered, “It’s your turn.  Stand up.”

            Quickly, Liz stood up and immediately felt her face start turning red.  “Well…uh…I fell asleep while praying…I yelled at my siblings…I seriously considered applying somewhere other than Drighton.  I cursed.  I…I think that’s all.”

            Pastor Jeffrey shook his head.  “As many of you have seen, falling asleep during prayer has been a common sin of our new members.  This shows lack of focus and commitment.  Elizabeth, because of both falling asleep and not trusting your brother and sister Children in their belief of your growth at the Drighton colony, you are assigned ten extra hours of prayer over the next two days.  You will report these times directly to your Rose Angel, so she knows you have fulfilled this assignment.  If you have not, she will know, and she will assign you more hours.”

            Liz nodded and sat back down.  For the next several confessions, she was only partly paying attention, desperately trying to get over her own embarrassment and shame.  It wasn’t until it was Derek’s turn that she paid full attention.

            He stood up and announced, while staring at some point on the wall above Pastor Jeffrey’s head, “I didn’t pray a couple nights, I yelled at my mom, and…”  He looked directly at Liz.  “I’ve had doubts…about the Children.”

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