Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chapter 5: Cognitive Dissonance

I kept playing the piano for the itty-bitty Baptist church until the pastor (another ATI dad, who was abusive to his family though I didn't realize it then) kicked us out. Our doctrine allowed us some flexibility regarding denominations, but we weren't Mennonite and already knew no other local churches would meet our exacting musical standards.

We visited farther afield for months, finally settling on a small fellowship of families that met in a school library in a neighboring county. The pastor was also an ATI dad, but he was gentle and kind and helped heal our wounds of rejection. So many years before, I had roller skated to Michael W. Smith tracks with his daughter, and I had taken my birthday Walkman to their house.
Indianapolis Training Center

I often played the piano for Sunday morning services. I taught myself to sing harmony. Now in my twenties but still living under my father's authority, I traveled to IBLP's Indianapolis campus to take several courses in music. I even composed a few sacred songs of my own.

One Sunday a nice older man in our church group led the "worship". During "communion", he started quietly singing in the back of of the room with an accompaniment track he'd brought along. It was mellow by contemporary standards and should have created a peaceful mood, but I was highly sensitized. I started shaking and weeping. I went up to him and asked him to please turn off the tape. Seeing the state I was in, he was quick to oblige. A click of the tape player and the room went silent. Poor man wasn't even a Gothard follower; he just got broadsided. He must have been so confused.

* * * * * * * *

I went away to work for Gothard's organization: first in Oklahoma City, then in Indianapolis, and finally at the IBLP headquarters offices in Oak Brook, Illinois. Spunky, casual, curious, and tenacious, I wasn't Gothard's type. The aging stature-challenged bachelor with a penchant for bluegrass, who dyed what was left of his pompadour, had a decided preference for quiet willowy brunettes or blondes who looked good in blazers. Being neither, I only saw him at staff meals and staff meetings I couldn't avoid. (Oh, and I rode with his entourage on one road trip, during which I assured him I would never grow a beard.)

I thrived on the camaraderie at IBLP, especially at the more relaxed Oklahoma campus. I sang all the time, added to my personal hymnal collection, and joined the staff handbell choir. My new friends introduced me to all kinds of fun music--Broadway show tunes, Celtic folk melodies, Hollywood soundtracks, and even gentle jazz--but we dutifully skipped the tracks that were at all questionable, particularly when certain people might overhear.

I played the piano for fun, for staff meetings, and sometimes for a retirement home. Gothard's brother-in-law even took a group of us to Pacific Garden Mission, where I sang 19th-century Gospel hymns to the "lonely, empty, sin-twisted, neurotic" men on Chicago's Skid Row, just like the Unshackled broadcasts, or a scene lifted from In His Steps.

And then, on a warm night in June, Gothard called my parents to collect me and my things and take me home. I was gone by noon, with little explanation and few goodbyes.

After a few months of aimlessness, I finally applied for part-time office job in town. At the interview, I explained to the owner that the radio kept on low volume in the office area would be a problem. If they wanted to hire me, the radio would have to be kept off on the days I worked. A pious Catholic himself, he agreed.

* * * * * * * *

I drove my parents' truck to work. It was a 20-minute drive through familiar territory. With ten siblings at home, I wasn't used to being alone, especially in a vehicle. To keep myself company, or to drown out my thoughts, I sometimes listened to cassettes. Stopping at the Christian book store on an errand one day, I picked up an instrumental praise album that offered to connect the dots between the church songs I sang as child and the musical style I embraced as a teen. The sound was as shimmeringly beautiful as an Impressionist painting, but my antennae stood up when I detected, even through the background noise of the V-8 engine, the slightest backbeat. Oh, no!

That tape caused me so much consternation over the following weeks. I loved it, I was ashamed of it. It soothed me, I needed to be rid of it. I thought about throwing it away, but I didn't want my parents to know about it (thanks to my little brothers, there were no secrets in our garbage!). By now I was a 24-year-old woman and this was a decision I would make for myself.

I stuffed the tape in my purse and took it with me to work. Then I would stand indecisively in front of the trash can in the ladies' room, holding the cassette over the opening. To drop, or not to drop? The tape always made its way back into my purse, as if protected by otherworldly forces, its fate postponed until my next scheduled work day when I would repeat this bizarre bathroom behavior.

One morning I turned the radio on instead. I hadn't turned on a radio in ages, not since Mom coerced me into signing a paper that said I wouldn't. I was only familiar with two or three stations. Would it be secular public radio, or Christian WLJN? I was already breaking a promise, or disobeying an authority, or stepping out from under my umbrella of protection, no matter how you looked at it. I flipped on WLJN.

And caught my breath.

The song was familiar. It was the beautiful new one we'd recently learned at church. But it sounded so different with the rich orchestration, the drums keeping time, the soloist belting the lyrics out effortlessly. I shut it off. I would have to think about this. It was the horrible music that Gothard and David Noebel and Inge Cannon and Peter Peters all said was "music from hell", a weapon of Satan. He wanted nothing but to steal, kill, and destroy. If I allowed myself to "vibrate in sympathy" with this sound, I would be vulnerable to his attacks, no longer protected by my spiritual "umbrella". I might even have a car accident this morning!

I switched the song back on, to be sure, and then back off to ponder some more. Yes, it was the same song I had sung many times with a simple piano accompaniment, and yes, the original version had an unmistakable rock beat. Listening to it would violate all kinds of rules and commitments. On the other hand, the lyrics were praise to God. The artist could be described as a modern-day David. Could a fountain yield both salt water and fresh?

Determined to tease out the truth, I commenced an experiment. I would listen to WLJN, or even the adulterated praise album on my way to work. Only for a few minutes at first, as my anxieties would get the better of me. Then for longer periods, and nothing bad happened. I arrived just as safe and sound as when I conscientiously stayed under the umbrella of protection. I began to suspect that things were not quite as I had believed.

Read Chapter 6: Finding Harmony

1 comment:

  1. So twisted to add such unnecessary psychological and emotional tension into the heart and mind of a child or teen over what amounts to a matter of preference.