Creative Nonfiction Inspirational

“I will not drink alcohol while here as a student.” That’s easy to agree to as I don’t like the taste of alcohol. 

“I will not smoke while here as a student.” That’s easy, I can’t afford cigarettes.

“I will not gamble. . . swear. . . play cards. . . go to movies. . . play pool. . . etc. etc.

It seemed to me, a seventeen year old, that I could agree to everything on this long list of negative behavior. While other teenagers would be enjoying “free love” and unbridled pleasures of the 60’s, the only joys in life I could look forward to on a weekend night was bowling, roller skating, and eating pizza at Ginos. But I considered this a small price to pay rather than staying home in Florida and working for a drywall construction company amongst workers who would ridicule me for my faith. I couldn’t afford to go to a regular college, so this was the next best thing.

Moody Bible Institute is world-renown as the leading Fundamentalist Evangelical Bible School in the nation/world. Being a “Bible School” 50 years ago, it was not a college as it did not grant degrees (but now it does) nor offer regular college courses. Moody’s three-year program was the perfect place for someone who was preparing for the ministry as a pastor, religious ed director, religious music director, and of course, most importantly, missionary where degrees were not important. Moody offered Bible courses such as Biblical Geography, Homiletics, Hermeneutics, and not only the Old Testament and New Testament but also the Minor Prophets, the Gospels, the Pentateuch, and, most importantly, the Pauline Epistles. They did not charge tuition – just room and board. Because my father had died my senior year in high school, I was entitled to Social Security Survivor Benefits as long as I stayed in school, and this was just enough to cover my cost at Moody.

Moody was located near the Loop in downtown Chicago and so students were encouraged to stay on campus rather than go out into the “dens of iniquity” - unless they were going out to evangelize. It seemed that there was a network of “spies” such that whenever a student frequented the wrong place, they were reported to the powers that be in the administration. Moody alumnae, pastors, assistant pastors, Christian education ministers, sacred music teachers and musicians, and people looking for samples of “hypocrisy” formed an army of eyes eager to inform the administration of those straying from the fold. The best way to motivate the students to toe the line was to keep them in line by employing their “motivation by fear” campaign. This campaign had been honed to perfection since Moody started in 1889 by the “hell and damnation” evangelist Dwight L Moody.

As Moody students, we were to be “in the world but not of the world”. We were to be conservative in our appearance with required dress codes at all times and our demeanor was to be circumspect at all times – especially outside the four walls of the institution. I remember bristling at the emphasis of the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. There would be “greeters” at the dining room door every night who would not allow men without the required coat and tie. Three of us decided to dress up very neatly with color coordinated turtleneck sweaters and jackets and another three of us had mismatched colors and striped shirts with plaid ties and coats whose colors didn’t match anything we wore. Sure enough, the smartly dressed three of us were refused entry. 

Like any college-age youth, weekends were considered by students as times to relax and have fun. But since avenues of fun in the city were so limited by Moody’s rules, the administration found that they preferred to supply the fun on campus. Every Friday night, after dinner in coat and tie, the students would meet in Torrey Gray Auditorium for Friday Night Fellowship. These fun nights were actually organized by the students and included lectures, “singspirations”, and an occasional filmstrip from Moody Institute of Science. As I learned later in life, fun isn’t so much determined by the subject of the experience but rather by the sharing of the experience with friends having fun. It could have been boring readings of the phone book but if we were with our friends and away from studying in our solitary rooms, we would be having fun.

Moody Institute of Science had developed shortly after the war and was originally videos of “Sermons from Science”. These were described as “films” rather than movies to differentiate them from the Hollywood movies and the sinful lifestyles of the Hollywood set with their multiple marriages and almost as many divorces. Because these films were considered tools to evangelize the viewer, and to promote the ideas of creationism, they were acceptable at the Friday Night Fellowships even though they were “preaching to the choir”. 

“One thing I have learned in growing up in a strict environment,” I said to my classmate, Lynn, “is that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Lynn had become my best friend, confidante, sounding board of unorthodox ideas, cohort for pushing the boundaries at Moody and bike-hike buddy during the civil unrest of 1968.

I had taken over the leadership of the Friday Night Fellowship and I was trying to think out of the box in sponsoring these weekly events. One can only take so much singing of religious songs to usher in the weekend, I thought. 

One of these successes was when I sponsored a debate on the Viet Nam War. It seemed that over 95% of the student body (and 100% of the teachers and staff) were for the war as they followed the creed of “My country, right or wrong”. This freed them from having to think through the moral dilemmas and their moral implications. Ironically, it was easy for me to find four participants to argue against the war among the 5% and extremely difficult to find anyone who would argue for the war among the 95%. [MS1] 

My freethinking attitude against the Viet Nam War were shown in my secretly getting involved in an underground newspaper, The Seed, while still a student. Had my involvements been recognized by the Moody administration, I would have been asked to leave.

Later, Lynn and I decided that we would try to get a movie for Friday Night Fellowship. Rather than get a “Hollywood” movie, I decided to get a movie of the production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” as produced by Bob Jones University – a Bible College more conservative than Moody as it promoted segregation of black students and even longer dresses than Moody did. I figured that if this movie was acceptable to the citadel of conservate religion, it should be admissible by Moody. I made a bet with Lynn that they would keep the line “Out, out damn spot” as spoken by Lady Macbeth and Lynn bet that they wouldn’t dare use the word “damn” even though it was in the original Shakespeare play.

I paid Bob Jones University the $75.00 rental fee myself from my clothing allowance and got the film delivered to me personally. However, two days before the grandly announced and eagerly anticipated showing of the film, I was called into the Dean’s office and told that I wouldn’t be allowed to show this movie. I never did find out how the “Out, out damn spot” line was treated.

The mission at Moody was for all of us students to learn how to evangelize and then to just do it. Every week, we were required to fill out tally sheets as to how many gospel tracts we had passed out, how many people we had “witnessed” to, how many people we had “led to the Lord”, and what we had done for our Practical Work Assignments (PCW). These weekly PCWs were where a group of us would get together and hold religious services at Pacific Garden Mission, or at the Cook County Jail, or the only tuberculosis sanitarium still operating in an urban setting, or Open Air Campaigners holding evangelistic services on the street corners in Old Town or among shoppers in the Loop. I was so thankful that I played the accordion because that meant I never had to preach at these Assignments.

We were encouraged to evangelize anyone and everyone that we came in contact with – even the derelicts on skid row on Clark Street just one block East from Moody. We were told not to give them money lest they spend it on alcohol, but rather, we were to invite them into the restaurant at Clark Street and Chicago Avenue, buy them a meal, and then try to convert them and have them repent of their sinful ways.

It seemed to me that the more I “witnessed” to people, whether on Skid Row of successful business people, or whomever, I felt hypercritical because I was engaging them with a hidden agenda. I would appear to be friendly and would want to talk to them and get them talking, but then I would take control of the conversation and try to convert them. I found myself revolting against this approach of evangelism. 

“Do you see that man up there?”, Lynn said to me one day as we were walking to catch the “L” train a few blocks down. “He can hardly stand up straight.” His pants and shirt looked like they had been worn for at least two weeks – but at least he didn’t smell bad. 

We were going to walk past him but as we approached he talked directly at us and asked us for food – rather than money. We both agreed to take him into a nearby restaurant, but this was to be an act of compassion rather than a potential tally on our weekly PCW sheets. Seated at the Formica table, we were asking John questions about his background, and what he was doing at that time. We found out that he had had a very interesting and challenging life filled with more downs than ups, but the only challenge now was to get enough food so that he could think of things other than food.

“I am trying to give up drinking, and I am working at the Clark Street Mission from 5:00 am to 9:00 am”, John told us. “I do that to pay for my staying overnight at the Mission and for my breakfast every morning. That also gives me a chance to shower every day which is a privilege that a lot of my friends don’t have.” We asked him what he did after 9:00 am when the Mission would force everyone out as they were only prepared for sleep-overs and were not a temporary residential shelter. “I don’t have anywhere to go, so I just hang around with my friends on the street,” he said. “That is the problem – all of my friends are still drinking and it’s difficult for me to remain straight when I’m around them.” John said all this while looking down at his meal and eating ravenously rather than looking at Lynn or me.

Lynn and I looked at each other and in our eyes we could tell that we were both in accord with what we should do. “What if we were to meet with you and do things with you rather than your hanging around your drinking friends?” Lynn asked, hoping that John wasn’t going to ask for an expensive dessert. And so began a mission of compassion of working with a person to try to develop his human potential with much-needed dignity and not necessarily just to save his soul from eternal fire. 

About two weeks later, Lynn asked me, “What are we going to do today with John?” Because of John’s alcoholism, he had lost his sense of coordination so we couldn’t even take him roller skating or bowling so our options besides eating were few. I knew that Lynn, although not a scofflaw, was enough of a maverick that I felt comfortable suggesting that we take him to a movie – a real movie. Lynn warned me of the consequences if our transgression was discovered, but he didn’t need to as I already knew.

That night, we asked John if he would like to watch the movie “Around the World in 80 Days” at one of the nice theaters in the Loop. His eyes lit up but he warned us that he might fall asleep during the show – and he did.

The theater was one of those great, restored vaudeville theaters with box seats and plush armchairs. There was a giant velvet curtain that was pulled back as the movie began. This was considered a “grand production” movie in a “grand palace theater” and it even had an intermission in the middle of the movie. Out in the lobby during intermission, John wanted a glass of water from the water fountain. When we asked the person behind the counter for an empty cup, he was adamant that he wasn’t allowed to give us empty cups because by counting the cups the management knew how many drinks had been bought. We wound up buying a Coke, dumping out the Coke, and then filling the empty cup with water from the fountain.

It was during the second half of the movie that I was stunned by an observation: Lynn and I were performing an act of compassion for an unfortunate man and yet, if we had been spied upon, we would have been kicked out of Moody Bible Institute. 

After saying “Good night” to John, Lynn and I walked back to Moody feeling good for the good that we had performed that night. It was obvious that John was not used to being treated with dignity and trust. The next night, Lynn and I talked about how hypocritical it was that we should live in fear of being found out. We realized that if we were to exhibit “Love” to other people, it would be by treating them with dignity, apart from any rules, listen nonjudgmentally, and without the intention of “converting” them by insisting that “We have all the answer to their lives”. We had done some good for another person by watching a wholesome movie with him and we did not deserve to live in fear of being spied upon and reported to the authorities. 

It was then that we both agreed that we would drop out of Moody – one semester before graduating. Neither of us were willing to be considered Moody Graduates for the rest of our lives.

October 16, 2021 00:45

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John Hanna
21:59 Oct 27, 2021

Hi David, First submission? Wow! Keep them coming! I joined the critique circle and was assigned your story and I am glad of that. I usually wade through each line looking for errors but I got so engrossed I forgot to look! Heh! Also, I don't think there were any. For that, Moody did provide you with a good general education. I like the way you deliver the details. Even though your feelings were abundant you kept them doused with a dissertation free of bias. You didn't abandon the remunerations of a strict creed but posed the question of the...


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Beth Jackson
09:20 Oct 23, 2021

David, I really enjoyed this story, thank you for sharing! :-)


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