Saturday 3 February 2007
Tales of the Good Old Days - Part 3
It's interesting to compare Peter Leschak's impressions with Greg Doudna's Showdown at Big Sandy. In many ways they seem to have seen things alike. In fact Greg refers to and quotes Leschak in a couple of places. When it comes to the role of Howard Clark (pictured in 1964) they also agree. In Bumming With the Furies Peter Leschak writes:
But early in 1972, a minister named Howard Clark was transferred to Texas from the headquarters campus in Pasadena, California. He was something of a legend in the WCG. While serving with the Marine Corps in Korea, he was severely wounded and subsequently paralyzed. He received one hundred percent disability from the Veteran’s Administration and was confined to a wheelchair. But then “God called him into the Work,” as we liked to say, and after being anointed with oil and prayed over by a WCG minister, he was healed – he was able to walk. He attended AC and rose through the ranks, demonstrating a remarkable talent for preaching and public speaking.
He was loud and irreverent, articulate and keenly intelligent. One had to wonder why he was allowed to stay; he did little obeisance to sacred cows.
The presence of such a renegade was a revelation, but Clark offered us more than his own puzzling existence. That summer when life on campus slowed and many students and faculty were gone, he initiated what he called “waffle shops.” These were informal evening gatherings advertised by word of mouth. There might be poetry readings (of all things!), a film, Bible study, and of course listening to Clark as he “waffled” – extemporaneously expounding on just about everything. To cadets in the army of God, regimented in body and spirit, this could be shocking.
During one waffle shop, Clark quipped: “If Jesus Christ was a student at AC today, we’d kick him out.” We had strayed too far from the original precepts to be tolerated by the original teacher. It was that heretical thought, and a thinly veiled reference to some WCG ministers as “con artists” that spurred the “gestapo” into action. A senior who had attended the gathering, a leading upper-classman, went to the Dean of Students (Ron) Kelly the next day and reported what distressing things he had heard. The waffle shops were officially banned.
Unlike most of the faculty, Clark lived off campus, away from the bosom of the institution. Students began filtering out there, alone or in small groups, to sit in his office and listen. Rumors of a “heretical underground,” a “free thought movement,” began to circulate. People felt threatened. But Clark was not attempting to undermine AC. His main point was that we were all individuals before God and that we must truly cultivate independent minds. But that was not necessarily good for the cohesiveness of the army.
In the meantime, we were buying books-under the counter. Clark recommended The Faith of a Heretic by Walter Kaufman, and one of the students who worked at the college commissary ordered a few copies and kept them discreetly out of sight, far from the Louis L’Amour westerns. If someone specially requested a copy, he would slip it into a bag and quietly had it over. The eyes of the true believers were everywhere; this was not an acceptable book for God’s students.
On page twenty-two, Kaufman had written: “The aim of a liberal arts education is not to turn out ideal dinner guests who can talk with assurance about practically everything, but people who will not be taken in by men who speak about all things with an air of finality. The goal is not to train future authorities, but men who are not cowed by those who claim to be authorities".
These were not words that Chapman would have us memorize, especially since one of the conceits of AC was that it was providing us with a liberal arts education. My friend Gerry, who was on the staff of the college newspaper, once neglected to perform some small task that the faculty advisor expected him to have done.
“I thought (so and so) was going to do it,” Gerry told the man. “That’s your problem,” replied the journalism instructor/ordained minister, “you don’t think!” He then told Gerry that he wanted him to be a robot, and, to demonstrate; he walked stiffly and jerkily around the room. It was a sincere performance, devoid of irony.
Yes, Virginia, there were good ministers. But not nearly enough.