Spiritual Probation — A Novel

To forget whatever was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.

~George Orwell

Some stories from college, like love stories, have a universal appeal that connects with a general audience. But so many of events that we BJU alumni share are just inexplicable. Even inscrutable. And always peculiar.

Those of us whose life partners are not among BJU alumni give up trying to explain that world. A friend of mine had her Vietnam-vet husband turn to her one evening to state this epiphany, “You. . . . You have PTSD!” It was a revelation for both of them.

Our never-attended friends just blink and listen kindly. Sometimes they strain to comfort us with us with a word of praise about BJU’s “stand” or their lovely concerts or that wonderful resource there in “the Mall.” It still leaves us stymied. There’s so much darkness. Too much to communicate in polite company.

A dear pillar of our current church, after we had signed her guest book thanking her for a lovely Sunday meal, wrote next to our names our new anti-Infoman code, “F for friendly,” she said. She had no idea, I don’t think, how important that felt.

I remember stuttering to my fellow grad students at IU, “Look. It’s just . . . you can’t. . . . I can’t explain it.” And shrugging. And giving up. Shaking my head.

When there is no friendly connection, however, often we survivors get a caveat-emptor-inspired “You chose to go there!” or a flippant “You should have known better!” It’s a pretty effective “shut-up.” Those assumptions are too knotted together to unravel in an acquaintance-level conversation.

So a description of that world goes unspoken. And the world lives on. People assume it’s like every other college experience and the handbook is like every other conduct code. Just because we don’t have the words.

Rich Merritt, I believe, has given us new words and good ones. He has published Spiritual Probation: A Novel which just begins to describe what is too often indescribable. It’s a must-read for any BJU alumni and BJU-satellite alumni. And it’s a good book to show our well-intentioned friends who think we’re more than a little quirky.

And it’s an indispensable book for the civic sphere at large to understand this former Republican campaign stop and Greenville political powerhouse.

In his novel, where Jones is now Johnson and Greenville is now Guerneville, Merritt offers a very human story–with bright, promising young people caught in an oppressive, intrusive ideology and thrown into the most senseless tragedy. Rich based the story on Dayne Baker‘s tragic plane crash and the civil court case that followed, Baker v. Bob Jones University. If you’d like to see all the court documents themselves, you can read them hereBJU’s main defense brief is a document so typical of the ones I’ve discovered in my research from the last 100 years.

19921000Defendant’s Trial Brief MainDoc

Rich’s novel is fun too. We BoJos can’t resist giggling at Rich’s parody of the University Hymn:

Power of God, Thy Word is how we learn;
Command our ways, ’tis for Thy will we yearn.
Reason of mankind, in the end will fail;
Thy Holy Word will till the end prevail.

And he nudges us with the memory of that former Executive Committee member (the Bob Wood of the 20s) who must be forgotten:

Greaves Auditorium, the venue for Twelfth Night, was named for a former governor of Alabama, an early supporter of Dr. Bob Johnson Sr.

But Rich’s painful description of Chapel is far from fiction.

When Dr. Bob stood in chapel criticizing the news media’s treatment of him and his university, no one considered that to be griping, and if they did they kept that opinion to themselves. In fact, complaining about Dr. Bob’s complaints about the media would most likely be considered griping and the griper would be punished. Basically, you were expected to gripe about the world, but not about BJU. That was the tacit understanding.

When Merritt comes to the “Becker” court case and the Notwork-wide excommunication of an extended family, our worst fears hit us right in the gut.

“The university is trashing one of their students . . . a dead student’s memory! . . . And how convenient for BJU that he is dead and not here to dispute their version of what happened.”

It happens. We all remember it. And it still happens. The anti-Truth gets repeated with such ire and hate that disbelieving it is more frightening than correcting it.

“From this day forward,” Dr. Bob proclaimed, “Grace Baptist Church in Bethany, Illinois, is off-limits to BJU students, faculty, and staff. Anyone attending any services at Grace or even stepping foot on the property will be asked to leave this university immediately. The only exception is that we will allow Grace members who are students here to complete this semester. Beginning next fall, however, if you wish to continue attending this university, you must resign your membership at Grace.”

Few have endured plane crashes and law suits, but we on this side of fundyland have consistently survived public humiliation, veiled threats, and metaphysical “probations.” This story is our story, and it demonstrates how the so-called “choice” to go to BJU was initially not ours to make and our “foreknowledge” of our own abuse was limited at best. And the never-to-be-spoken darkness must be brought to light.

Thanks, Rich. Your novel rings true, and it helps us all. God bless.

Get your copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. If you’d like to save some trees, Spiritual Probation: A Novel is also available for Kindle and Nook.

Comments & Responses

4 Responses so far.

  1. Hi Camille! Just logged on your blog for first time in a while. Your explanation of how people ‘just can’t understand, just don’t get it” what you mean re ‘what you went through’ with BJU, so rings true. People who have ‘not been there ‘ ( not a criticism here, just an objective statement!) they really ‘don’t’ get it, Camille. And to be fair we do need to throw some of them a little slack about it. however the ones who really ‘aren’t’, interested in listening, don’t want to…. and unfortunately also ‘don’t care’, ‘they’ are the ones who can injure us with thoughtless words, when we’re still healing. And some of their words really hurt! Insensitive words that sting like salt in a wound, and that scratch at wounds. It’s like this: we used to be in a strange kind of ‘darkness’ of oppression, where we can remember how we came to a point in time, where, sometimes, not always thank God, ‘we couldn’t seem to think straight’ anymore, because of whatever was going on that we couldn’t put our finger on to even identify it. Well, only us who have really ‘been there’ can describe it. And boy oh boy, the coming out of that, experiencing the light, the Grace, the breath of fresh air, the being able to have normal conversations with people again, people who seem able to converse rationally and normally, OHHHHH how good that is! I have some new language which I now enjoy using to ‘make a point.’ When people get embroiled in their infighting and back-stabbing, blame-shifting / territorial / ego / protective behavior, they really do say things about us or to us, that we can’t believe people could say. Because their words lack logic and rational common sense and are ‘so off the wall!’ Camille, here is my new language. And I’m having such fun using it when I feel frustrated with the people I like to call, ‘the crazies!’ It’s called THE VIRUS OF STUPID! And I have observed that, people with whom we cannot seem to have ‘a normal conversation with’, have ‘got it.’ It’s only catching, however, among the ‘birds of a feather who flock together.’ And one of the best defenses against the virus of stupid, is to have a YES heart with God, and choose to live and walk in honesty. We may not be popular with the ‘crazies’, but, we will sure be a lot happier. still hard to believe, how an entire university population would give BJ such ungodly influence over their private lives, , as to tell them where they could NOT go to attend a church! Unbelievable. Keep exposing the darkness!

  2. Christa says:

    A note about the law firm that did the BJU defense: they are a well known firm and practice “employment law” ie defend companies in workers comp & related cases. So that brief is the kind of thing they do frequently. (In college I was a legal secretary for a firm representing workers, and we had several cases where Nelson Mullins was the opposing counsel.)

  3. Orville says:

    I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but BJU is cutting back on its aviation division, though I am unsure if it’s due to legal reasons, a shift in focus for the school or for some other reason. I was recently up at the hangars, one of which (Maintenance) is already under new management, though they kept the old staff. (The old staff sort of bought it up.) They are hoping to take over pilot training by next year. I helped provide security of sorts for the recent donation of a 727 from FedEx. (If you want to take your kids to the playground near the Runway Cafe, you can see the plane across the way.)
    Back onto the topic, this is a book I need to read. I’m not a part of the BJU culture as much as others, but in some cases I have to deal with similar stuff. Thanks for the resource!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>