My family stopped going to the local Methodist church when I was twelve because there was a change of preachers. My mother liked the preacher we’d had for most of my childhood. He drank a little, liked to go hunting on Sundays before service, and generally spoke his mind, sometimes cussing right from the pulpit. This style of ministering eventually got him into trouble with the more upstanding members of the congregation and he was replaced with a prim and proper, Bible-quoting sermonizer – a total bore, as we quickly learned from his first couple sermons. My mom said: “To hell with that! We’re not going to church if I have to listen to that pious S.O.B.”
I could never quite understand what I was doing there. I was used to excelling in public school during the week, but the rules of achievement and reward were peculiarly different at Sunday School. For instance, I once earned a pasteboard wall plaque featuring the Bible verse John 3:16 glued on in gilt lettering, simply because I had memorized and spoken that same verse aloud before the entire class. If you memorized bigger chunks of the Bible, you could win even greater rewards. But somehow I suspected that such tasks and rewards were not really supposed to be the point of religion. On top of that, there were some rules of school that did not apply at church whatsoever.