During high school I attended church in a concrete-block building located on the grounds of a former pony farm. Several stable buildings were still standing, littered with hay, and one Sunday morning the largest of these burst into flames. Fire trucks came, the deacons dashed about moving lumber and attaching hoses, and all of us church members stood and watched as orange flames climbed the sky and heat baked our faces.
Then we solemnly filed back into the sanctuary, suffused with the scent of burnt straw and charred timbers, and listened to our pastor deliver an impromptu sermon on the fires of hell, which were seven times hotter than what we had just witnessed.
That image lived long in my mind because this was a "hellfire and brimstone" church. We saw ourselves as a huddled minority in a dangerous world. Any slight misstep might lead us away from safety toward the raging fires of hell.
My church frowned on such activities as roller skating (too much like dancing), bowling (some alleys serve ...1