On the third day of his retreat at Promise Keeper Camp 316, someone had taken one of the Thad Vurman's Fruit Roll-ups.
This was yet another sign of the malaise Vurman's life had fallen in to since he married for the third time.
His previous two marriages ended -- according to Pastor Pat -- because Vurman had failed to establish suitable patriarchal dominance in his households. His kids had Facebook accounts, his first and second wives each had jobs and drove their own cars.
The first two Vurman homes were hives of iniquity and worldliness.
After Pastor Pat performed Vurman's most recent wedding -- to Neaveh Rourke -- he took Vurman aside. "I've got two words for you, Vurman: 'Promise Keepers.'"
"Promise Keepers?" Vurman said. "But those are big, strong Christian men. I'm ont in their league."
"Nonsense!" Pastor Pat said. "You, too, can be a Promise Keeper. In fact, I believe it's the only thing that will keep this marriage together."
He sent Vurman home with some Promise Keeper pamphlets.
Vurman tried putting the tenets of Promising Keeping to work in his life.
He stopped saying "Please" and "Thank you" when he spoke to Neaveh. He also stopped asking about her day or showing concern when she seemed upset.
Having been raised in a polite home, this felt alien to Vurman.
Pastor Pat explained a few weeks later that what most people called "manners" was just Satan's way of whittling down men's natural dominance in the home.
"Pardon me if I speak bluntly," Pastor Pat as he and Vurman hit golf balls before their round at the Mount Canaan Golf Course. "But manners are Satan's way of turning men into pussies."
"Yeah. There's nothing Satan wants more than for Christian men to be a bunch of 'please-and-thank-you' pussies, always worrying about other people's feelings."
Pastor Pat swung his club -- his ball sailed in a bullet-straight line past the 250 yard marker.
"Really?" Vurman said. "I thought Jesus wanted Christians to be kind to people."
Pastor Pat laughed. "No, that's just what we tell children so they'll behave. Children's Protective Services was getting too involved back when we relied on the fear of hell to keep everyone obedient. No, Jesus wants Christians to be in control. We're his troops on earth. And he's our general in heaven. What general wants his troops to be a bunch spineless turds worrying about others people's feelings? You don't win any wars that way."
"Yeah, we're in a spiritual war with Satan," Pastor Pat said, lining up another shot. "Do you think Satan's troops play nice?" He hit another perfect shot.
"No," Vurman said. "I guess not."
"Of course not! Satan plays for keeps and God's troops need to, as well!"
Pastor Pat put his driver into his golf bag and pulled out his five iron.
"Have you put the Promise Keeping philosophy to work in your home?"
"And have you noticed a big difference in how Neaveh and the kids respond to you?"
"Yeah," Vurman said. "My kids don't seem to like me anymore."
"That's great! All that's important is that God likes you. You see, this stuff really works!"
"Neaveh seems sad all the time," Vurman went on, "and doesn't talk to me as much as she used to."
"But she's not denying you conjugality in the matrimonial bed, I hope."
"No, but she's not into it like she used to be."
"Doesn't matter," Pastor Pat said. "Her pleasure is irrelevant. Christian brides are the comfort women for Jesus' troops."
He chipped a shot and turned to Vurman. "Look, it's not easy being the man God wants you to be. The pamphlets might not be enough. You should attend Promise Keeper Camp."
"Promise Keeper Camp?"
"Yeah, Camp 316 is right here in the county. They do great work! Their two-week retreat is guaranteed to turn the most spineless pussies into captains and sergeants in God's army. Real ass-kickers -- in a spiritual sense."
"I don't know."
"And that's just the reason why you need to go! You've got to be decisive if you're on God's team. He doesn't want a bunch of nervous-nellies. Satan's army eats nervous-nellies for breakfast."
So, Vurman signed up for the two-week Promise Keepers Retreat.
Attending would eat up his remaining vacation time for the year.
And, of course, it wasn't free to attend the retreat. When Neaveh expressed shock over the $5,000 Vurman paid to attend, he thought to explain to her how much it would help their marriage, that if they couldn't use their money to advance themselves spiritually, what good was it?
Then Vurman fell back on what he'd learned from the Promise Keeper pamphlets.
He told Neaveh to shut up.
Promise Keeper Camp 316 was like a country club. There was a large, luxurious, outdoor swimming pool and PGA calibre golf course.
Although the 25 men on retreat were all white, upper-middle-class, dressed in kaki pants and golf shirts, Vurman felt out of place.
But these are my peeps, he thought, using his son's phrase for "people." When Vurman first heard the word, he thought it was clever. Then he slapped his son for being worldly.
The retreat consisted of hours-long lectures -- with Promise Keeping "colonels" pacing back and forth like Patton at the front of the meeting rooms -- on how the men could better exploit their wives' and children's insecurities and vulnerabilities in order to establish dominance over them.
"One good way to gain leverage," Promise Keeper James said, "is to buy lots of processed foods for your family to eat, but healthy fruits and vegetables for you to eat. By eating better than your family, you establish dominance. Also, people eating processed foods can't help but get fat, so ridiculing their weight gain will put your family into a submissive state. It's a win-win!"
An acolyte raised his hand and said, "When I watch my wife's hand as she spoons ice cream into her mouth, it makes her self-conscious."
"Good one!" the lecturer said.
Lunch at the retreat buffet each day -- food was not included in the $5,000 retreat cost, so Vurman had to hand over an extra $200 per day for meals -- was a microcosm of contemporary Christianity in America: A legion of men in pastel golf shirts cutting each other in line, elbowing each other out of the way, hoarding their favorite foods, shouting at one another, hogging the napkins, ignoring the serving utensils and touching the food with their hands.
The Promise Keeper lecturers looked on with pride, seeing how quickly their acolytes were learning the true ways of God's army.
But then, on the third day of retreat, someone ate one of Vurman's Fruit Roll-ups.
It embarrassed him that he enjoyed his creature comforts so much, but Vurman still brought some of his favorte snacks in his luggage to Camp 316.
By the end of the week, all of Vurman's socks were missing -- clean and dirty alike.
He thought, What would Jesus do? and recalled the stories he'd learned as a kid of Jesus forgiving people and teaching his apostles to forgive others.
When he mentioned this during his daily one-on-one Promise Keeper Confrontation session, Promise Keeper Logan scoffed, "You're talking about pussy Jesus that we teach to kids. You're not a child any more. You're a man!"
"Jesus doesn't want men to forgive?"
"No way!" Logan shouted. "You're part of God's army, you're supposed to teach people. Letting them off the hook only teaches them to keep wronging you. You must avenge yourself."
"Didn't God say, 'Vengeance is mine'?"
Logan rolled his eyes. "You're hopeless! No! He said that for the benefit of women and children. God's a man and so are you. Vengeans is yours!"
"What should I do, then?" Vurman said. "I don't know who took my socks and ate my Fruit Roll-up."
"Doesn't matter," Logan said. "What does America do when somebody makes us angry?"
"I don't know. Investigate?"
"No! We attack whoever we think made us angry!"
"But what if I do that and I'm wrong?"
"Doesn't matter! It sends a message. That's the most important thing. Who cares if you get the wrong person or if America attacks the wrong country? They're all sinners. They've all offended God. They all need to pay."
"So, what should I do?"
"Pray and attend this afternoon's Fight Club."
During the afternoon Fight Club, each day, the Promise Keepers-in-training were assigned an opponent and placed in a boxing ring with gloves and head gear and instructions to assert their dominance.
The gloves and head gear were on hand for legal purposes only. The acolytes were encouraged to discard them and fight bare-fisted.
Vurman was paired up with Drumlever.
Drumlever was a hopeless pussy who Camp 316 staff thought to turn away. But then they decided to take his money and use him to bolster the confidence of someone not quite as hopeless as him.
Drumlever and Vurman had just been chosen to be the next pair in the ring, when an argument broke out among the other acolytes.
"You keep tearing the seal all the way off on the big yogurt container," acolyte Regan shouted at acolyte Wolfund. "You gotta leave that on or it spoils!"
"Nonsense!" acolyte Wolfund shouted. "You tear the seal off when you open a new container. It goes in the garbage! The lid keeps it fresh!"
"What kind of hippie-faggot-communist eats yogurt in the first place?" a voice said from the back.
"Yeah!" other voices agreed.
Regan and Wolfund looked up. "I do! You wanna have stopped-up bowels? Satan sure wants you to!"
"If you had faith, you wouldn't need yogurt!" said acolyte Watson. "The body obeys you, you don't have to obey your body. That's God's will!"
The acolytes then fell into a battle royale amid the seats by the boxing ring. Golf-shirted Promise Keepers-in-training fought Golf-shirted Promise Keepers-in-training, fist flying, teeth bared, shouting and screaming.
Promise Keeper Logan, standing off to the side, cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, "God hates losers!"
The Promise Keepers-in-training bit and scratched and punched and kicked and spat at one another with primordial ferocity.
Vurman stood in the boxing ring with Drumlever, watching.
Then inspiration hit.
Vurman approached Drumlever and said, "You ate my Fruit Roll-ups!" and smashed the little man in the face, knocking him bloodied and insensate to the canvas.
Nobody moved to break up the melee by the boxing ring. It ended when the men grew too tired to fight any longer.
Promise Keepers Logan and James stood before their bloodied, winded charges.
"What we just witnessed is a tiny snapshot of God's plan for America," Logan said. "You are the kind of soldiers Jesus wants in his army!"
The women from the kitchen were brought in to take the crumpled form of Drumlever away.
Logan clapped Vurman on the shoulder. "Congratulations, Vurman, you became a Promise Keeper today!"
Promise Keeper James addressed the men: "You've learned something valuable here this afternoon. Take this experience back to your families, to your communities, to your workplaces. This is how we're going to take America back!"
The men cheered and then began chanting, "USA! USA! USA!"