As I contemplate writing this next story I realize that if any part of my book is going to draw a stone-throwing crowd, this is it. My husband says, “you can drink the hemlock with Socrates, or you can run for the hills and live long enough to give ‘em hell again.”
I've been in the hills for a while now, so with due respect to Socrates, here goes:
At eighteen I went to Bible college, thinking it would be the quickest route to getting to Papua New Guinea, a jungle island in the South Pacific. I wanted to translate the Bible and literacy books for remote language groups such as the Kumboi in the mountains of PNG.
I expected Bible school to be a guided observation of the Bible itself but was less than impressed to find it was a series of classes on accepted church dogmas. One of the first assignments was to read five different theology references on the book of Romans and write a paper about which one was probably right and why.
The assignment confused me as to its purpose but I did the work and wrote the paper. Then for my own curiosity I read the book of Romans and wrote a second paper. My own conclusions were somewhat different from those of the five learned theologians, but I felt I had to trust what I'd read more than what I was told, until I was shown otherwise. So I attached the second paper to the first and wrote a note explaining that it was based on my own observations, and therefore, my opinion.
Another student, a senior, read and graded the papers. Mine returned with the highest score and an attached note from the other student reading “This is fantastic! I feel like I finally understand the book of Romans.”
I wondered if the instructor had read the papers at all.
I continued until my junior year, responding to many of my assignments the same way. It was not my intention to be disagreeable, but to be honest. It offended my conscience to answer untruthfully.
The school did have us read and memorize Scripture and this was my favorite aspect of the Bible college. I studied constantly, trying to get the most out of my time there. My GPA was a 4.0 in spite of being very ill with malaria for part of my first semester.
Eventually I began to turn in some of my assignments with a note at the bottom: “As taught in class; I don't believe this.” When the situation called for it I would sometimes attach my own study and notes.
I continued to get positive reviews and high scores from the seniors that graded our papers until finally I attracted the attention of my instructors.
In class I asked for a Bible reference for the term “sinful nature.” It turned out there was no reference. The Greek word is sarx, translated consistently as “flesh” in all the older translations. Some modern Bible translations had changed a handful of instances into the religious, intangible “sinful nature” in spite of the hundreds of times it is translated literally as “flesh” or “body.” If you need a new doctrine, apparently you just make one up.
My question gained attention among the students and the teachers. My papers and exams were noticed. I gave some copies of a Bible study my dad had done to a couple of friends and it was left in the library where it was found and noticed as well.
There was no trial, no work-it-out conversation, just “You have 24 hours.” I was not offered my transcripts or a letter of explanation; just “Leave now.”
My own roommates had no idea I was “different.” They had used my cram sheets to study for the exams and had hung out with me in the Student Union building. Honestly, I did not even know I was that different.
There was a student in a room across the hall from me who was lesbian. She received counseling when her “problem” came out but was not expelled. There were Mennonites, Baptists, and Non-Denominationalists who went to that school; but evidently no Observationalists were allowed.
One instructor covertly apologized to me and explained that “The money behind this institution objects to your position,” meaning their financial supporters had them by the bought-and-paid-for short hairs.
Another instructor who was less apologetic said, “You will influence the other students.” He must have understood, as I was beginning to see, that dogmas have to be protected but truth does not.
My father persuaded the faculty to send my transcripts to another school so I could finish my degree.
A few other students left of their own accord after I was gone and it was announced in chapel that anyone who corresponded with me in any way would also be expelled.
The lesson I learned has been valuable to me thus far: The Emperor knows he is naked. But if you point out the fact that his wealth and power are not sufficient to clothe him, then you implicate every fool in the crowd.
I am the least among travelers of this road who has met with criticism. Many have met with loss of livelihood, friends, and respect. Some have even met with death.
Until this point in the book, you were getting excited about taking the path of observation to its happy ending of enlightenment. It is not my intention to dampen that enthusiasm, but to temper it.
I have no bitterness toward the people involved in my educational past. The rejection I experienced launched me forward at a greater speed than I could have personally managed. I reached my goal of getting to Papua New Guinea long before the other students in my college classes.
As I was leaving PNG some years later, I met up with two of my old college peers just as they were arriving. The jaded look of frustrated dreams characterized their admiring glances as we shook hands and “caught up.” I wiped the sweat off of my sunburned brow, bid them good luck, and walked away into a new adventure. At that moment I realized there are some advantages to being ousted instead of embraced.