When I graduated from high school in the early ‘80s I knew a string of Mennonite kids who went on to a bible school in the middle of the prairie grasslands. “Bible Schools” were a sort of finishing school theologically aligned to particular denominations — often dubbed “Bridal Schools,” since marriage accomplished the same “settling down” effect, protecting grown children from heretical thoughts and activities and potential damnation.
I’d been to the place. It felt like the middle of nowhere to me, but there was no denying its students had a certain raucous ebullience that could be infectious.
I was friends with some of these kids, and this was the place where the scene-crasher from my previous post worked, as a sort of Dean of Students — from here on he’ll be M___. Anyway, none of my friends were letter writers, so it wasn’t until some years after the fact that I discovered this place was something of a locus for The Freaky Shit.
Some of it was fairly standard: you assemble a group of people an hour or two after supper, or maybe just prior to the conclusion of a day-long fast, get everyone to hold hands and sing choruses, then move on to prayers and recitations and surrender, and . . . stuff happens.
Other stuff was harder to pin down.
In mid-winter, on a late Friday night, a group of guys decided they were keen to watch some television. The school’s sole television was located in the student lounge, which, thanks to curfew, was now locked. Easy enough to break into, however, which the group did without damaging anything. They turned on the box, and settled into the couches and cushions.
A few minutes later they heard someone reaching for the doorknob. The door swung open, and there was M___. He looked the group over, asked, “Where’s J___?” J___ emerged from behind the couch, where he’d ducked for cover. “Alright, you guys. Back to your rooms. You know you’re not supposed to be here.”
At some point M___ told these guys he’d been in prayer while they were breaking in. He had seen what they’d done, which he described with a clarity of detail that unnerved every last one of them.
|"They're watching television, M___!"|
I knew three of the guys who'd been there. The first (#1) was a friend. At the time he was in hot pursuit of the more charismatic gifts of the Spirit, so this was all sauce for the gander. The second (#2) was a co-worker and fellow ink-stained wretch at the Mennonite weekly. I knew him as a good-humoured, sincere guy — he held the entire episode in contempt, and M___ guilty of occult activity. The third guy (#3, naturally) was only an acquaintance, a sweet-natured introvert, a terrific musician, and a dear friend to #1. A year or two ago, #1 tracked me down and we had a pleasant catch-up. As we ran over the “where are they now?” list, he informed me that #3 had gone all-in Materialist Atheist, and couldn't be happier. #1's nature and temperament have mellowed a bit over the years, but I still recognized him as my friend from 30 years ago.
Back when #2 and I were filing reports, I spent a weekend next to M___ at some event I had to cover. The event was a slog, but M___ was a friendly and engaging fellow, happy to speak at length over just about any topic I threw at him. I relished his conversation, and eventually the event in question came up.
He remembered it very clearly, and while he didn't want to get into particulars, since this was really between the boys and God, he didn't mind confirming it was pretty much as described. M___ had been in prayer, seen the event, “sensed that something in the spirit of it was not quite right,” so he put on his coat and hat, and shut it down.
It did not occur to me until long after we'd parted ways to wonder how he was able to discern the appropriateness of the spirit that moved him to act as he did. All three of my acquaintances insisted it had been an innocent gathering, and I believed them. Did M___ have to barge in and put The Zap on those boys, or was there possibly not a subtler and kinder way to address the perceived shadiness of this particular group “spirit”? Given how radically two of the three finally reacted, the question seems pertinent.
The reflexive sideways retreat to hardcore Orthodoxy, in the face of TFS, is what is notable to me.