Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Red Chair

Part II in the story of how I stopped adhering to the traditional Pentecostal lifestyle of long skirts and long hair, etc. You can read Part I here.

I continued to live the traditional Pentecostal lifestyle after I graduated from high school, but discontent had begun to sneak in. Mainly, I didn't like looking so different from my fellow college students. I was already different in that I didn't live on campus, didn't belong to a sorority, and didn't drink, so having hair down to my butt and skirts down to my ankles made me feel like a total oddball. Still, I had no plans to rebel. That would have made me feel like an outcast in the only place I felt I belonged, and I didn't want to take that risk.

A pastor friend of my dad's recently wrote about his journey towards accepting a more "liberal" lifestyle, and this analogy made sense to me. He said that if you were taught from your earliest childhood that you would die if you sat in a red chair, you would almost certainly believe it. All through your school years, you would avoid red chairs. Sure, other people sit in red chairs and nothing happens to them, but how could you be sure you wouldn't be struck down? Better to be safe than sorry.

Then one day at work, your staff (who know nothing of your belief) decide to surprise you with a new desk chair. They make you close your eyes and lead you into the office, and have you sit down in the chair. You open your eyes and realize you're sitting in a forbidden red chair. Your heart pounds wildly--Oh no! I'm going to die, you think--and then you realize: It's just a chair, and a comfortable one at that. The information you had been taught your whole life was false. You timidly begin to accept the idea of living in a world where you can choose any chair you want, without fear.

My first experience of "sitting in the red chair" was in a movie theater. The first movie I saw in the theater was Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. (I KNOW. My boyfriend chose it.) I wasn't afraid God would smite me with actual lightning, but I was a little uneasy. However, I was smart enough to see the flaw in the logic that permitted renting a movie and condemned watching it in the theater--as if the size of the screen determined the size of the sin. (No one ever gave me a good reason for banning theaters. I suspect it had something to do with the make-out sessions teenagers were supposed to have during movies. But if we were forced to avoid places teenagers make out, no one would ever drive a car. To be consistent , the church leaders should have banned ALL movies along with TV, but they were out of touch, and by the time they noticed that their constituents were loading up on videos from Blockbuster, it was too late--even most preachers had VCR's, and I'm sure they weren't only watching the latest G-rated Disney cartoon.)

Even though the rules didn't make complete sense to me, I had still followed them all of my life. I didn't want to disappoint or embarrass my parents. And I didn't want to do anything to damage my relationship with God, either. That's why I prayed (silently, of course), "Lord, if this is wrong, make me feel guilty about it. I mean, REALLY guilty. And if it's wrong, then I won't do it again."

I still think I had the right attitude about it. If I was in fact guilty of violating any law except that of sophisticated taste in movies, I really did want to know so I could refrain from doing it. A movie was not as important to me as God. I still believe that. If I believed that God wanted me to give something up or start doing something, even if it meant being an oddball again, I would do it.

But on that day, God apparently had no problem with Jim Carrey. As I walked out of the theater, I searched my heart for guilt and found none. I felt...normal. I had sat down in a red chair and no harm had come to me.



  1. My DIL was reared in a rigidly Pentecostal church, not even tv, no make up, no hair cuts etc...and then she met my bad Catholic boy. Well, he convinced her that watching tv was not going to send her to hell, and she was a convert to the 21st century immediately. I think it was an upteenth rerun of the A-Team (I pity the fool) that she watched. Next thing I knew, she was wearing shorts and tees and had her hair cut...then her mother gave me a call...we had a nice conversation and never once did I tell her the kids had secretly married (and not in her church) a month before...I felt guilty for that. Really guilty. I would have felt worse if I had helped with any planning, but it was a surprise to me, too lol!!! Glad that you are enjoying your life sitting in the red chair, Al~

  2. I did NOT know your first movie was Ace Ventura. I would judge you more harshly if I hadn't sat through many a stupid movies with my boyfriends, including Ace Ventura (on the small screen, though) and Dumb and Dumber with JP.

    Just as an informational tidbit, my first movie theater movie was Jurassic Park, and I didn't stop feeling guilty for going to the movies for several years.

  3. What a good ananolgy! Accept the red chair with the love with which it was given, and re-evaluate chruch traditions every new generation. They're usually sincere in basis, but get dated!

    Love these posts.

  4. I am really enjoying these posts about your past. Truly fascinating what guilt can do to your image of the world. I love the red chair analogy too... Can't wait to read more!

  5. You should see all of the dumb movies I have watched with guys. I WANT THAT TIME BACK.

    But nothing untoward ever happened in a movie theater - how funny that the church leaders didn't see VCRs as a threat. Ha!

    I am loving these posts.

  6. Keep up the posting on this subject-- maybe it will get me moving to write my own story (though my mom reads my blog, which us ually fine, but such posts would have to be... carefully worded).

    Anyway. You might like this blog too: