Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Hallowed Halls Emmanuel

I love reading yearbooks. They're curious anthropological documents that capture certain elements of a subculture, allowing some degree of "backstage" information to seep through, while simultaneously being constrained by the idea of what a "yearbook" should be: that is, a collection of memories that everybody can supposedly relate to, giving tribute to the institution and its people, and also usually some really terrible poetry.

Imagine my joy when I discovered a heap of yearbooks that a nearby church was throwing out! But these weren't just run-of-the-mill highschool yearbooks...these were for the Emmanuel Bible College.

Oh bliss.

I had no idea that our twin cities contain a thriving, long-standing bible college, and I'm anxious to take a bus out there just to look at it. Other than looking at the slick website and fantasizing about what the dorms must be like, how could us secular folk ever know what a bible college is really like?

By reading the yearbooks, spanning the years 1966 to 1991, and finding all the little gems of culture: the things that you'd find in ANY yearbook, and the things you'd ONLY find in the yearbook from a bible college.

First off, the similarities. The usual tributes to the institution's president, the pictures of the students with special attention given to the graduates, the pages given over to clubs and teams (and the egotistical editorial by the yearbook editor), the myopic cafeteria ladies, followed by a dry list of advertisers. And don't forget the candid pictures of goofy campus life! Yes, even in the Emmanuel Bible College yearbooks you will find men in drag with balloon breasts.

But what's different? First, lots of pictures like this.

That's not a bomb drill, it's a time to make personal contact with your multi-denominational saviour. Myself, already breaking the commandments, I covet that girl's leopard jacket.

Next, many of the students are quite old. Ex-farmers from a myriad of itty-bitty Ontario towns seem to come to Emmanuel when they get the calling. Here's Harry Habel from the graduating class of '66, and one of the little poems that the yearbook staff banged out for the graduates that year.

As somebody who was once a member of my highschool's yearbook staff, I vividly remember the torture of having to write upbeat and personal blurbs about people I disliked and barely knew. I'm pretty sure that Mr. Habel -- in between doing a spot-on Jimmy Durante impersonation -- got on everybody's nerves in the cafeteria. Inka dinka doo!

What's disappointing about the books is the constant focus on God's authority. It's to be expected, obviously, but simply EVERY piece of text must lead into a parable or a scriptual quote of some kind, which reduces all of the activities -- even badminton -- into a Thin Tasteless Gruel of God. I can't help wondering if these students -- who so happily write "God is GREAT!" on their dorm murals -- secretly wish the message was toned down a little bit. It's not like everybody who goes to bible college is exactly the same as everybody else.

But besides the emphasis on two aspects of evangelicalism that I find particularly horrible -- missionary work and the Crisis pregnancy center -- there's very little in these books to offend or to cast the college in a bad light. These folks seem intelligent, diverse, passionate, and fun. Granted I'm getting that impression through the rosy-coloured yearbook lens, but even so I find myself wishing I could spend a day or two there, just to experience the comfort and solidarity of a bunch of people who believe very strongly in what each other are doing.

Hey, is there any chance I can get a scholarship? And if so do I REALLY have to learn Greek, and why?


Brian Busby said...

A bomb drill?

My first thought was that it was that the switch was about to be administered.

My second: "Hey, that's not the missionary position."

Adam Thornton said...

You're totally right, DOES look like corporal punishment. Or maybe a lesson in How to Bathe Dogs and Cats.

I should post a complete collection of these pictures online. I'm sure at least somebody out there is into it.

Kimber said...

I used to know a girl who went to Emmanuel. She was fun and interesting to talk to. Her family what was it? Not mink, not me out here - some kind of small, defenseless animal that I never quite figured out the use for. Huh. Anyway. This girl spoke highly of the college and they always seemed to be having good times there, despite the over exposure of the God is Good vibe. I also knew folks who went to bible college out west; they seemed to be having a lot more fun than I did in university! Go figure.

Adam Thornton said...

Chinchilla, maybe?

I've read through a few more of the yearbooks this evening, and I keep wondering what the graduates are up to now. There are many from New Hamburg and Baden. I'm googling some of the more persistent names: the Priddles, the Helwigs, the Darts, the Widemen. There seemed to be a trend of several siblings going together (or sometimes husbands and wives).

I haven't seen a course for Chinchilla Husbandry yet, but I HAVE seen the subtle rise of "The Warpies," a mysterious group of students in the late '70s who had big beards and whose "gradspeak" quotes were all nonsense phrases whose initial letters spelled "Warpies" (whereas EVERY OTHER gradspeak was scriptual).

I think they must have been Star Trek fanatics. There's a picture of them all wearing space helmets and knighting each other with a plastic sword. Jeez, even in bible college!

Brian Busby said...

Yes, more please. It's fascinating stuff. Moving away from Harry Habel, these kids look like they're having at least as much fun as I did during my hedonistic college days.

Dave Sailer said...

I had no chance to go to Bible College. At five I tortured my parents into admitting that Santa Claus didn't exist, and by 15 I had managed to reason away the Big Guy hisself. My parents didn't help on that one but you can do a bunch on your own if you, like, think in a straight line for just a little.

The last church I went to, during Bible School (the early summer thing they do for two or three weeks), one day we all got herded into the pews. And someone had gone in and ripped a bunch of pages from the ginormous Bible up front where the guy looked down his nose at us and frowned on Sundays.

And that same guy was up there, looking down his nose real hard and intense and all and saying the perp ought to do some fessin, right smart. But no one even squeaked.

So way later, a year or so, I heard it was one of his own two sons.

And then a bit later Mr. Minister Man suddenly ran off with someone else's wife. Leaving his own wife and two sons kind of blinking in the morning light, and possibly relieved.

So that's how I got to be like this: I never had no fun there at all, not enough to notice.

Adam Thornton said...

I agree, Dave...even as a kid I couldn't reconcile human nature with religion. It always seemed to me that, for the devout, ritual and words meant far more than actions, and I don't think that's changed.

The nails in the coffin for me were religion's internal inconsistencies and (huge) diversions from observable phenomenon.

All the same, I find it interesting when people believe so strongly in something that they appear set to devote their entire lives to it. I think they're setting themselves up for disappointment and/or repression, but I still find it interesting.