Campus Crusaders Pt 10: Methodist Madness

Islamic Madrassa Students Burn DVDs And Music CDs In CapitolIf you read my last post, then you’re probably wondering why I went off on a tangent about the Methodist church in the middle of series that’s supposed to be about my Campus Crusade Bible Study. I did that for a couple of reasons:

1. I wanted to establish that I was living in two very different Christian circles at this time. Even though I hung out with the Campus Crusaders, I didn’t even attend an evangelical church service until I soured on the Methodists (more on that later).

2. I wanted to contrast how Methodists viewed me versus how my Campus Crusade friends viewed me. Because there were good reasons why I didn’t just ditch the Campus Crusaders and embrace the Methodists.

Both groups diagnosed me with the same illness: pop culture had corrupted my worldview, and my fondness for secular TV, movies, and music was getting in the way of my relationship with God.

Believe it or not, the Campus Crusaders were much more reasonable about this than the Methodists were. The Bible Study gang tried to get me to like Christian rock. They’d play the latest CCM hits with the hope that I’d enjoy it enough to throw out all of my Nirvana cd’s. They showed me brightly colored charts geared towards young people looking to make the jump away from secular rock  (i.e. “If you like Pearl Jam, try DC Talk…”). It was a Christianized version of Amazon’s recommendation list.

In spite of their obvious distaste for secular music, I often exchanged mix tapes with them, and they’d listen to them with me or give me feedback about the music itself. While they found the songs I gave them “too depressing”, I give them credit for taking the time to listen to them frequently enough to form opinions on specific tracks.

Things got more awkward when it came to movies and TV, though. I’d always end up suggesting movies that had ended up on Focus On The Family’s blacklist of stuff to avoid, and they’d always get whispery and nervous when I made an inappropriate suggestion. Sometimes, they’d come out and tell me why a movie was dangerous (usually it was because of a sex scene). Other times, I’d go back home and rewatch the movie in question and try to figure out which scenes had flipped their red alert switches.

The Methodists, on the other hand, wanted to do an intervention. I remember one particularly haughty couple who kept advertising their desire to go into my house and scour it for inappropriate media that they would then throw out or burn. They couldn’t fathom why I declined their offer.

So the difference between the Methodists and the Campus Crusaders was twofold: the evangelicals assumed that my taste in media was evidence that I wasn’t a Christian. They wanted me to choose to toss out my secular stuff. Tossing it out would be evidence of my desire to cast aside worldly influences and devote myself to Christ. The Methodists, on the other hand, didn’t really think in terms of getting me born-again or saving my soul. They approached me as if I had a psychological affliction – some invasive pop culture surgery was necessary to heal me and help improve my spiritual outlook. Even though the Bible Study’s assumption about my spiritual state was more extreme, their approach was much more diplomatic.

And for what it’s worth, the Methodist church’s library had all of James Dobson’s books in its library.

Campus Crusaders Pt 9: Methodist Misery

financesAside from Campus Crusade’s operatic dysfunction, I had a few other things going for me that prevented me from fully assimilating into the evangelical subculture. One of them was the Methodist church. In contrast to Campus Crusade, the Methodists were refreshingly apolitical, although they did seem a bit more preoccupied with the culture wars than you might expect.

I had become a regular attendee at the Methodist church a few months before Kaitlyn first invited me to join her Campus Crusade Bible Study.  So early on in my churchgoing adventures, my energy was focused on establishing a home with them. This was not an easy task. I wouldn’t find out until much later, but there ‘s a weird dynamic in town where the closer your church is to the university, the more hostile your congregation is to college students. I was a few years older than the 40,000 kids that swarmed Penn State for nine months each year, but due to my youthful looks, the Methodists had me pegged as One Of Them. And since the church was located right across from campus, the animosity against college students ran long and deep.

My first clue that the Methodist Church might not be the best fit was my brief stint on the church’s  financial committee in the winter of ’93, right before I joined Campus Crusade. I’ve always been the kind of guy who’s eager to volunteer. Whatever your church needs, sign me up. I didn’t mind the church’s skeptical reaction to my desire to offer my time and talents, because I was still getting acclimated to church services. Hell, I still hadn’t learned that drawing funny cartoons on the church bulletins and passing them on to the bored kid in front of me was bad form.

It took a bit of nagging before the pastor finally said that the finance committee needed volunteers. I could by his harrumph that this would not be a pleasant assignment. But I was eager to help, and now I was plugged in!

I went into my first meeting wide-eyed with optimism. My biggest worry was that I sucked at math. Instead I got sucked into a vortex of nihilism and resentment that soured my enthusiasm for my newfound home in a hurry.

The only thing the finance committee hated more than their miserable lot in life was the church itself. Every meeting was full of gossip and pessimism. And it wasn’t even interesting gossip. It was all about who didn’t tithe, who’s marriage was a sham, and how church’s latest project was always doomed to failure. If the project defied their expectations, then it was horrible idea. But they saved most of their ire for the pastor. He struck me as a nice guy: aloof but well-meaning. This was when I learned that Methodist Church has a policy of shuttling pastors in and out of churches every few years to keep things from becoming too hidebound. Even though he had a few years left on his term, the finance committee was counting the days until the guy left.

And the funny thing is, they didn’t really have any reason to hate the guy. There were no lurid backstories or shocking revelations that turned me to their side. They were the problem. They just plain didn’t like anyone, and it was easy to see why they had been annexed off to the finance committee. By the time Kaitlyn asked me to join the Campus Crusade Bible Study, I was dying to make a quick exit from the finance committee without feeling guilty about it.

Campus Crusaders Pt 8: Drop A Bomb

526x297-hyDA few months before I joined Campus Crusade, I started taking a drug called Felbatol for my epilepsy. In an ideal world, I would still be taking Felbatol. For me it was the much-coveted Happy Pill that our society has pined for. Yet if you skim its list of potential side effects, it’s the usual stuff: depression, drowsiness, rashes, etc. It doesn’t sound fun, does it? But there’s a little blurb at the top of the list that mentions “trouble sleeping.”  That’s a gigantic understatement.

I didn’t just have insomnia with Felbatol. I had Energy. And it wasn’t the hyper-caffienated energy you get with Red Bull or a listless “darn it I can’t sleep!” insomnia. It felt like an organic High On Life energy, like you just couldn’t wait to start your day. And it was like that all the time. Every day. No crashes, no nodding off, no lows. I stayed awake with my mind racing and my energy cranked at 10 for 24, 48 hours straight. For days on end. When I did sleep, it was never for more than an hour or two, and then I’d pop out of bed (and I always popped!), get something to eat, and find something to do. When I wasn’t painting a storm, I rearranged furniture, cleaned my house, jogged, shopped – all without a break. And I was Happy. All of the time, like the scene in Ruby Sparks (great movie, by the way) where Paul Dano makes Ruby so relentlessly upbeat that everyone gets annoyed by her.  I knew the drug was dangerous – after all, if you don’t sleep,  you go insane or die – but I was like Tyler Durden crossed with a Teletubby.

I felt like I could accomplish anything, and I got a hell of a lot done. I submitted dozens of applications for gallery exhibits, got in touch with old friends, and I also made a concerted effort to advertise my talents for potential clients who might want to commission me. That was an angle on my art career that I knew I needed to pursue, but for years I couldn’t get up the nerve or the motivation to make anything happen.

So first I made up a bunch of business cards. I got way more printed out than I could ever hope to use, but that was my unrelenting optimism at play. I could do anything! Surely I could find a few hundred people who’s want my business card! One of the other things I did to nudge things along was write to a few people in town I admired. Not only did I offer my wares, but I also heaped gushing praise upon them even though I only knew them by their reputation or their status as a public figure. I wasn’t dishonest with any of them; I only wrote to a handful of people, and I didn’t hold back in my enthusiasm for them.

Even though I knew Felbatol was probably slowly killing me, I didn’t want to quit it. I kept quiet about it as long as I could, hoping that I could stay on it as long as possible. I wasn’t normally the joyful extrovert I had become, so a lot people picked up on the change in me. But I kept the insomnia secret for a few weeks, until my mother noticed that I was not sleeping at all. She pressured me to go back to my doctor, and begrudgingly I did. It was the practical thing to do, but boy I still miss those days of unfettered happiness.

So months passed. Soon after my Felbatol saga, I was back on a crappy drug that left me drowsy, unmotivated, and it sent me back to the depression Felbatol had saved me from. January came and I joined the Campus Crusaders, and aside from getting a few paintings accepted for group exhibits at NYC, most of my career efforts were unsuccessful. No one wanted my business cards or responded to my letters until I received a call in late March of ’94.

I remember the day clearly. I was halfway through the new Pink Floyd cd, working on a painting as I  grabbed the phone. It was a woman. I vaguely recognized her voice, and she sounded a little nervous. Then she announced who she was, and my eyes bugged out. She was one of the people I wrote a letter to. I turned my stereo down to zero. Once we both got over our initial awkwardness, she thanked me for the kind letter and said she would like to meet me to talk more about painting her portrait. Holy Crap, I’m thinking. This is going to happen! We agreed to an April meeting at my studio. I  could barely contain myself. Not only was she was one of the public figures I had reached out to, but she was also the one I was really hoping to meet.

That night I met my Bible Study group at the local Christian coffee shop. It was a nice enough place and the owners were very pleasant people, so I didn’t mind supporting their business with my money. But the owners had an annoying habit of booking amateurish Christian musicians who’d sing well known rock songs with Christianized lyrics (like changing Nirvana’s All Apologies to: “What else can I say/Jesus really saves”). Ugh.

But that night I din’t mind the guy strumming his acoustic guitar in the corner and singing bad praise songs. I was knocked silly by the news I had to share, and I realized that my Felbatol-fueled energy had masked a full-blown crush on my soon-to-be client.

The Campus Crusaders only had one question for me: is she a Christian? I can’t say I was surprised by their reaction. That was the default question whenever anyone expressed interest in someone the Bible Study didn’t know. But I was dumbfounded by their decision to go straight to that question first. Even though I was as happy as I was the day I started Felbatol, I knew that my new client was just that: a client. I had no dreams or expectations of anything more than a brief but professional relationship. But it felt good to wallow in my exuberance, so their question barely fazed me. I answered honestly: I didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. She wasn’t a girlfriend or even a prospective girlfriend. Hell, she was probably married.

Jason appreciated my enthusiasm more than the others did. I was amazed that he still willingly hung out with the gang even though he despised Dwight and resented Kaitlyn’s rejection of him. But I admired the fact that he kept his resentment hidden from them. As he put it,  Kaitlyn clearly wasn’t in God’s Plan for him, so he had to get over his grudge.

Kaitlyn, on the other hand, had the most bizarre reaction of all. She insisted that I was wrong when I admitted that I was holding a candle for my new client. I had a crush on her, she insisted, and I was overjoyed because I was excited to see her at the coffehouse. Mind you, Kaitlyn always showed up  at our coffeehouse meetings. Aside from the fact that she was a little bit nicer to me than the other women and we both went to the Methodist church, we had a little in common. What’s amazing is she had this argument with me while Dwight – her new boyfriend- was sitting with us. Dwight never said a word, and Kaitlyn barely acknowledged him.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking: duh! Kaitlyn wanted you! That thought ran through my mind, too. But I didn’t want to put her on the spot because of the whole drama about me using the Bible Study as a meat market. So in private Jason confronted her about it. She insisted that not only was she not attracted to me, she looked upon me as her Project. In other words, she had designated herself the person who would lead me to Jesus. Her proof that I liked her consisted of the following: I often talked to her one-on-one at church; I tended to make small talk with her at Bbiel Study when the guys were busy talking to other people; and, of course, the dozen roses I sent to her house the night I gave all of the women flowers.  But I didn’t feel like arguing with her. I found myself more amused by her insistence than anything. Besides, now I had someone to really pine for.

Campus Crusaders Part 7: Love In The Air

HellblazerIt took me a few months for people to figure out my role in the Campus Crusade Bible Study.  Aside from Jason (who still defended my character and my faith to the other Campus Crusaders), I had been pegged as a Seeker.

In Christian lingo, a Seeker is someone who is genuinely trying to figure out who God is or if God even exists, and they’re open to hearing the Gospel. Many evangelicals like the idea of Seekers more than they like Seekers themselves. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of evangelical Christians who truly care about and respect Seekers wherever they’re at, but there’s also a very lopsided dynamic in the Believer-Seeker relationship. It’s assumed that anything a Seeker has to say indicates the status of their journey towards accepting Christ. As a result, no one really takes a Seeker’s opinions seriously. You get a nod and a figurative pat on the head for your contributions, but Believers are convinced that you have no spiritual insights to offer. The irony is that Believers listen very closely to what you have to say. This creates the illusion that they respect you. But Believers listen to you because after you’re gone they’re going to dissect your comments and determine their next move.

I actually enjoyed my role as a Seeker. It gave me room to play contrarian and offer unpopular opinions and thorny theological questions. Intellectually it was invigorating, because I found myself reading and studying books about the Bible to bone up on my theology. It also motivated me to read more scripture.

I found that I really didn’t care whether they thought I was saved. I gave up trying to defend my faith because I realized that their understanding of God was a lot more dysfunctional than mine was. So I’d show up at Bible Study wearing a John Constantine t-shirt, knowing that it would mess with their heads. When they’d point to my shirt and ask why I was wearing a shirt with a blonde guy standing in front of demons and skeletons, I’d proudly and politely explain the Hellblazer comic book to them.

But as the semester neared its end, I began to hear more and more about Laura and Fred, the couple who normally ran the Bible Study. Even though the members of the Bible Study still didn’t seem to like or trust each other, I was wary of Laura and Fred’s imminent return. I learned that a lot of the decisions made by the Bible Study were actually made by Laura and Fred from afar. On one hand it was nice to see how quickly they squashed the animosity over my knee incident with Marcy. In fact, at this stage any lingering suspicions regarding my supposed sexual motives had virtually disappeared. But on the other hand I got the strong sense that Laura and Fred wouldn’t tolerate Hellblazer t-shirts at their Bible Study.

But spring also brought love. Not for me, of course. (I was about to get walloped by cupid’s arrow in a few short weeks by a woman traveling well outside of evangelical circles.) But the Bible Study members were developing crushes on one another, and like the song Love Stinks, everybody was pining for someone who didn’t give a rip about them.  Oddly enough, Kaitlyn – the mousey, nervous woman who first invited me to the Bible Study -was at the center of most of the drama. Two guys- Jason and Dwight-  had approached her in secret. She rebuffed Jason immediately and strung Dwight along for weeks. Kaitlyn wasn’t anywhere near the most attractive, confident, or friendly woman in the Bible Study, so it was strange to see her become the center of attention. But she was desired because she fit the model of a Strong Christian Woman. And in spite of my insistence otherwise, she was still convinced that I longed for her.

I will give Kaitlyn credit: even though Bible Study had become one big, tangled mess of unrequited love and growing animosity between Jason and Dwight, she handled herself well. Anyone who was out of the loop would have no idea what she was dealing with.

Things came to a head when Kaitlyn finally agreed to go out on a date with Dwight.  Now in normal social circles, the two of them would just go out on a date.  But for the Campus Crusaders this was a major problem. Dwight, Jason, and Kaitlyn were the leaders of the Bible Study. Someone had to rise to the occasion to make unbiased decisions for the group, so a sweet but boisterous woman named Monica became our default leader in the absence of objectivity among the other three.

So one night Monica announces that she consulted with Laura and Fred to find out whether she should give Dwight and Kaitlyn permission to date. Keep in mind that this took place before I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the courting craze. So while the evangelical neurosis about sexual relationships wasn’t as rigid and legalistic as it is now. Laura and Fred gave Monica permission to green-light Dwight and Kaitlyn’s  budding relationship.

The amazing twist to all of this is that no one minded Monica’s presumptive decision to contact Laura and Fred except for Jason – the guy who was about to be left out in the cold! Everyone else thought that Monica’s proactive intervention was a sign of maturity and responsibility, and Dwight in particular was thrilled to receive an official blessing from Laura and Fred. But Jason and I stood alone in our protests that nobody had the right to decide who dated whom.  And unbeknownst to us, Dwight and Kaitlyn had sown the seeds of destruction for the Campus Crusaders.

Campus Crusaders Pt 6: 1001 Reasons Why I Wasn’t Saved

Kurt Cobain picture I Hate Myself And I Wanna DieKurt Cobain saved my life.

Back during my days with Campus Crusade For Christ, I kept the above poster in my studio. People who saw it were always unnerved by the stark declaration under Kurt’s grinning face, and they’d worry about my mental health. The Christian line on a poster like this was that it was the devil’s influence, and I needed to get it out of my house asap. But that poster kept me sane. It was a constant reminder of the consequences of suicide: the horrible things people said about Cobain, the silencing of his voice, and the commodification of his death. Every day, I would see that poster and regain my incentive to live another day.

The Campus Crusaders had me pegged as unsaved long before they got an eyeful of that poster. Back in the 90’s young Christians were more concerned with pop culture than politics. What movies you watched and what music you listened to was a stronger gauge of your standing with God than your testimony or even your political beliefs. Being a liberal was a major red flag for them of course, but a true believer was supposed to purge themselves of any secular influences. The act of throwing out your old CD’s and movies and buying only Christian media was  supposed to be the first step on the path to ridding yourself of your old heathen ways. Anyone who was still listening to secular music ten years after getting saved hadn’t been truly saved.

To give you a sense of the comic proportions of this mentality,  my friend Jason was a metal head. He loved Metallica and 80’s hair bands. But when he became  a Christian he tossed his CD’s into the trash and got into Christian metal. But Jason didn’t like Christian metal. In fact, he found a lot of it painful to listen to. But they sang about Jesus, and that was more important to him than whether he actually liked the music. So he’d buy gobs of Christian CD’s by artists he didn’t really like because their sound was the closest he could get to the secular songs he was trying to avoid.

He wasn’t alone. The Christians I met were constantly trying to find Christian equivalents of the music I listened to. Everywhere I went, I’d see these charts that were sort of like Amazon Recommendation lists: if you like Led Zep, listen to Stryper instead. If you like Nirvana, then listen to DC Talk. I tried to appreciate their efforts, but the stuff I heard all sounded plastic and phony to me, and it bothered me that this wasn’t a case of sharing their favorite tunes with new friends. They wanted to convert me to the virtues of the Newsboys as much as they wanted to get me saved.

And even within their Christian rock conclave, they were constantly arguing over whether a given artist was a true Christian. Amy Grant was the Devil Incarnate to them because she dared to get a divorce and sign with a secular label. U2 gave them fits, and they could go deep into the night arguing whether Bono was saved. The case against him usually resided on two points; he never said Jesus’s name in his songs, and he dressed like Satan for their ZooTV tour. I quickly learned that it wasn’t enough to be a Christian artist. You had to include Jesus’s name in your lyrics, and the more didactic the lyrics were, the better. Ambiguity left room for wandering minds to go astray.

Campus Crusaders Pt 5: It’s Just A Flesh Wound

tumblr_mj5r97sDch1s2b58zo1_500In my last installment about my adventures with Campus Crusade for Christ,  I tried to describe my Bible Study’s dysfunction. I think it’s only fair that I also share my own eccentricities.

I’ve always struggled with depression, and in the 90’s it was so pervasive that I got used to it. I know that sounds strange, but at a certain point it becomes the norm and the incentive to try to overcome depression diminishes. I don’t wear my depression on my sleeve the way a lot of people do. I can play social butterfly and engage people and enjoy life and friendship, and in 90’s I got very good at it.  So in a strange way, Campus Crusade was a big help. Granted, it added to my misery, but it gave me a chance to connect with people, and it also gave me great anecdotes to share.

In hindsight, my willingness to endure the unpleasantries of people who clearly wanted me to vanish amazes me even more than their dysfunction. Even at my lowest I’ve always maintained a perverse optimism about connecting with new people, so back then I ignored signals that I wasn’t really welcome. Although I almost always came away from a Bible Study meeting feeling aggravated or baffled, I kept going back. And when I commit to something, I go in all the way.

As a way to make up for my past transgressions with the women in the group, I offered to help prep for meetings. The leaders wanted to keep me far, far away from any lesson planning, so I was appointed the cookies-and-chips guy. And I was a shopping zealot; I always kept track of who liked diet soda, who wanted caffeine-free coke, and so on. And I always bought more than we needed.

How dedicated was I to my newfound role? Well, one night before Bible Study, I clipped my scalp while I was walking downstairs. I grabbed my head and doubled over, cursing myself for being so clumsy. When I removed my hand, it was covered in blood. I tried putting a wet washcloth on it, but more blood lapped up each time.

A sane person would have gone to the hospital. But I didn’t want to miss a night of spirited debate, so I headed off to the meeting with my bags of chips and soda and hoped for the best. I spent the whole meeting periodically touching my head and checking my hand. I could feel the blood tickling my scalp, and I had to wipe my fingers very carefully so people didn’t see the blood on them. I didn’t want to cause alarm, plus I figured I’d find out fast if any blood dribbled down my forehead. At the end of the  night, I politely said goodnight and got four stitches at the emergency room.

Campus Crusaders Pt 4: Why I Stuck Around

The Breakfast Club movie image

Before I begin the fourth part of installment of my Campus Crusade adventures, I encourage you to peruse my earlier posts for context. In Part 1 I shared  how my unfamiliarity with evangelical culture impacted my attempts to befriend the women in the group. In Part 2, I described the disastrous repercussions from touching a group member’s knee. And in Part 3 I described how Singles Bible Studies in general are dysfunctional by design.

At the end of Part 3 I said that anthropological curiosity was a big motivator in my decision to stick with Campus Crusade. I admit that sounds pompous, so I’ll try to give it some context.

I’ve never identified with a group of any kind. It’s not just that I’ve never been a joiner; I’ve never even identified with societal outcasts. If you ask me which clique I belonged to in High School, I’ll scratch my head and say I have no idea. On some level I was friendly with a few members of each clique, but  I was too chummy with the popular people to be accepted by the lowest castes, and vice versa.

To use The Breakfast Club as an analogy, I had Ally Sheedy’s personality, Anthony Michael Hall’s vocabulary, Emilio Estevez’s fixation on sports, Judd Nelson’s sense of humor, and I got crushes on the Molly Ringwalds of the school.  To answer Anthony Michael Hall’s question at the end of the movie, I’d be the kid all of the members said hi to in the hallways, but I wouldn’t be friends with any of them. I used to think of myself as a satellite roaming around all of the cliques without entering the orbit of any of them.

I knew football better than the jocks did. I could rattle off the names of third string players on NFL teams they never paid attention to and correct their misconceptions about the 46 defense. But I talked about football the same way the geeks parsed Star Wars mythos, and since I didn’t like any other sports and sucked at them, the jocks weren’t eager to bring me in.

By the time I turned 15, my favorite movies were Ordinary People, The Killing Fields, Raging Bull, Terms of Endearment, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. You try and find a teenager who had even seen heard of those movies, let alone seen them. I liked Star Trek and Godzilla movies, but not enough to hang out with the geeks, and I couldn’t stand Star Wars or other science fiction shows.

My favorite novel was Great Expectations, but I wasn’t crazy about most other classics, so I couldn’t hang out with the bookworms. I loved classic rock, but I didn’t know a single soul who was into it like I was. My favorite album was Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but no one in my school had even heard of Pink Floyd outside of a few people who knew “Money” or “Time.” Imagine how strange it would be to love an album about emotional isolation, knowing that no one else knew the songs. Talk about reinforcing the album’s themes!

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the Campus Crusade Bible Study was my very first experience joining a group of any kind.

And these people did not like each other. I cannot emphasize that point enough. Our Bible Studies almost always erupted into a debate of some sort, and it wasn’t always the usual controversies. I remember one night when Jolene (not her real name) stated that all Presbyterians were going to hell because their church was led by a committee of elders rather than a single pastor. Rachel was furious. It turned out that her dad was a Presbyterian elder. Jolene said that if she didn’t see what was wrong with that, then Rachel was going to hell, too. Mind you, Rachel herself didn’t identify as a Presbyterian. She bought into the same “mainliners are unsaved” beliefs the others shared. But merely defending her dad raised doubts about Rachel’s salvation.

But that night was just Rachel’s turn at being the outcast. With the exception of Kaitlyn and Dwight, pretty much every member found themselves on the receiving end of the group’s lectures at some point. Given my politics and my interests, I spent a lot of time on the hot seat, but I quickly learned to guard myself.  I think part of the problem was that the Bible Study was leaderless for those first few months. With the couple in charge of it on sabbatical, old resentments came to the forefront more easily.

And the animosity between them wasn’t just my impression. The worst thing you could say to them was to identify any pair of them as friends. As a group they’d give thanks for friendship and fellowship, but outside the confines of the Bible Study they’d take deep offense if you referred to “your friend Kaitlyn’ or “since Dwight is your friend.” A lot of them shared apartments and hung out together, but they didn’t get along.  Don’t get me wrong: they wouldn’t gossip about each other. All I knew was that this person or that person had a long-running disagreement. They’d confess their contempt for one another to me without giving me the backstory. Like High School, my personality made me easy to confess to since they knew I wouldn’t go running to the other person.

So week after week I showed up full of my anthropological curiosity. I had never joined a group before, and I didn’t expect it to be such a volatile environment. Without prior experience, I figured that maybe this was just how groups functioned.  The friendship between Jason and I was growing, and that gave me something to look forward to.

More than anything, the group kept together because they idolized the idea of Christian fellowship. Meeting together was something Christians had to do, and it was supposed to a be delightful experience. When it didn’t work out they tended to blame themselves. And given that many of them roomed together, it was hard for members to defect to other ministries. It also helped that a lot of the members were carrying a flame for someone else in the group, although for a long time no two people shared their longings. Since the meat market mentality was frowned upon, crushes could last unrequited for a long time.