Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Stuff Christian Culture Likes

#210 Mandatory chapel at Bible college

chapelturnstile1.jpgMost Christian colleges require students to attend chapel
services. Chapel is not an option, it’s part of the curriculum. If you don’t
fulfill your chapel quota, you don’t graduate.

Though Christianity purports to operate under the auspices
of grace and generally claims that church attendance isn’t something God grades you on, Christian
culture doesn’t see it that way. All that Christ-given freedom could get out of
hand. That there freedom needs some good old-fashioned, Torah-caliber parameters.
They can’t just let those students roam around free, pointing their bodies
wherever it seems like a good idea.  Leave
it to religious institutions to take something wildly esoteric and beautiful (such
as as the gathering of believers in worship) and then find a way to monitor people’s
performance and grade them on it. Christian colleges know they can’t actually
make you worship, but they can make you appear to worship, and that’s good
enough for them.

So how exactly do you appear to worship? You just have to
get your arse into chapel. If they could read your mind or inventory your heart
they would, but they must settle for counting your presence in the chapel. In spite of all this chapel enthusiasm, you don’t have to attend every day. Some schools require 3 chapel attendances a week, some say seventeen per semester, etc. This of course engenders criminal mischief as students seek to evade chapel attendance. At schools where video imaging is used, seniors pay the freshmen to go to
chapel in their stead (a camera in the ceiling records who is sitting in which
assigned seat, so as long as a body is in your spot you are absolved) or if they have a card system they do
the Slide ‘n Glide, where you scan your student ID at the chapel entrance and
promptly bail.

The chapel services themselves start with some introductory praise
‘n worship with three-chord songs which are led by one of the three hottest
guys on campus and his pained expressions. He likes to look up at the vaulted ceiling
and intermittently close his eyes while singing, and every straight girl in the
building prays again to be the future Mrs. Sexy Guitarist as a way to sublimate her lust.

Chapel is also where you assess the spirituality of your
fellow students. If you are right with God or would like people to think you
are, you will stand while you are singing and sway around and maybe close your
eyes and lift up your hands a little bit, especially if your friends are. If you
aren’t right with God and feel terrible about it (chronic impatience with your roommate, repeated helpless making
out with the guitarist, not having consistent quiet times or not witnessing
enough), you’ll sit down and lean forward and radiate
humility. Sometimes your friends who know your struggles pat you on the back
while they sing or they’ll sit down and put their arms around you (and boy do they
look like awesome friends when they do that). If you aren’t right
with God and you don’t care, or if you are right with him but you think mandatory chapel is a crock of shit, you might remain sitting and whisper to your
friends just to make the people who are standing feel uncomfortable, because you’re
pretty sure that if you are judging them then they are judging you.

After praise ‘n worship
you have either liturgical prayers or Scripture readings, depending on how
reformed your school is, and then the Dean of Chapel delivers a message or
homily (so named depending again on degree of reformation).  It is a rare homily in which sports are not
the primary analogical inspiration. Most people nod off or do homework at this
point. Guest speakers frequently give the chapel homily. These speakers are usually balding males who are running for some kind of Republican office or assisting
someone who is running for Republican office, and the message is on how God is
using their campaign to make America more godly. Other times the message is
given by students. These messages always feature a slideshow from a recent missions
trip and an accompanying tale of the difficulty they had at first to keep the
right attitude in the intense heat with no running water, and they always conclude with
how much the trip changed them. There aren’t very many female guest speakers at
chapel, come to think of it.

Time passes quicker if you can manage some light petting, as
James Dobson calls it. Whenever you are in a university chapel you are
surrounded by couples with perfect clothes and hair snuggling and holding hands
and rubbing each other’s backs and playing with each other’s hair. Then there’s
always a mad rush to get to class once the service is over. If you went to the
trouble of going to chapel you would like for everyone to know it, so while
waiting for class to start you will discuss the chapel speaker with what you hope is intensity and
dissect the theology in the message while using as many big words as possible.
You can tell which people didn’t go to chapel that morning because they’re the
ones keeping quiet.  Also, they’re already
seated and they aren’t out of breath.

If you haven’t fulfilled your chapel quota by the end of the
semester, you are placed on Chapel Probation. Depending on your school you are
then required to attend make-up chapels, pay a fine, or do a report on a
Christian book for every mandatory chapel missed. On top of mandatory chapel,
some schools require you to attend church as well. Church attendance is harder for
them to monitor so it operates on the honor system, and you are exhausted and
bored to tears from all those mandatory chapels, so you usually don’t go and say you did.
This of course has the side effect of extra guilt, as if you didn’t have enough
guilt already at Christian college.

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posted February 11, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I was an honor student in bible college, minored in Biblical Literature, was the editor in chief of the school newspaper, directed half of the drama productions we had during my four years as a student, and had pretty poor chapel attendance, what with the full-time studies and extra curriculars I had, as well as the multiple on- and off-campus part time jobs I had to attempt to pay for four years of private tuition. They attempted to expel me three of the four years I was a student there as a result of my chapel attendance. Rad priorities, there.

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Ben F

posted February 11, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Yikes, it still sucks that this is required among students who are (usually) adults. I did go to a Lutheran college myself and I took it for granted that chapel was completely optional (I did go a few times).
We did have to take two religion courses as part of our course requirements, but they were academic and didn’t require us to worship or to believe in any ways. One of them was actually a great class, and the other one was at least thought provoking and rigorous, even though the lectures went far over my head.

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posted February 11, 2011 at 8:33 pm

My Bible College/University totally didn’t have mandatory chapel attendance and I was shocked to hear that some schools did. The whole chapel credit idea is ridiculous! Chapels at my university were generally well attended (except during midterms) and most people enjoyed them… probably because you could choose whether you wanted to go or to use the free time to catch some sleep or cram for a quiz.
But then again my Bible college/university is perhaps one of the more liberal ones… we don’t require a community covenant that says you won’t consume alcoholic beverages and our laundry rooms are open on Sundays. The idea of an on-campus pub has even been put forward.
My friends at more conservative institutions are earnestly praying for our salvation.

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posted February 11, 2011 at 8:33 pm

My Bible college required chapel every weekday. I think we were allowed 14 absences per semester, and we had to scan in using a barcode system. Of course we could scan and bail, but that was extremely frowned upon by everyone. There were a lot things that required the honor system in Bible college, and the whole community really took those things seriously: “God knows.” Chapel was half an hour each day but Fridays were usually “praise chapels,” which were allowed to run past the time limit for those who wanted to stay. And yes, the worship leaders were mini-celebrities on campus that everyone looked up to and wanted to marry.

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posted February 11, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Just wondering, did you go to a bible college? We had weekly chapel sessions at my Christian school I attended from 5th grade through high school. It was kind of nice during elementary school, although I remember it being pretty boring. There were a lot of bald pastors…I had no idea about this mandatory chapel thing where they slide your id card..ew

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posted February 11, 2011 at 10:48 pm

We had to attend 2/3 of the chapels offered each semester at the Christian college I attended. I generally went, so I don’t know what the consequences were for non-attendance. The most popularly attended chapels were the praise and worship ones, but I ended up avoiding those ones like the plague during my last two years there. I couldn’t stand the lack of depth in the music, the repetitive lyrics and the status it gave the two (mostly male) worship bands. Or all the manipulated piety and emotion I saw in the students.
Interestingly, there were chapels that didn’t “count” because they had controversial topics or communion (so as not to offend anyone who had a different understanding of communion than the church that the college was affiliated with). We had a guest speaker on different Christian understandings of homosexuality and that one was NOT required, and you couldn’t even scan in to get credit for it. They talked all of the time about developing inquiring minds and being engaged in the real work of faith in the real world, but that didn’t extend to having to learn about other views of homosexuality, apparently.
BTW, I like the term “slide and glide.” We called it “scan and scram!”

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posted February 12, 2011 at 12:07 am

Oh, my god, that’s my college chapel! This takes me right back…
We couldn’t scan and scram at my college, because we were given perforated bar-coded paper cards at the beginning of every semester, one card per required chapel. Once everyone was seated and the opening prayers started, the chapel staff would come to the end of every row and we would pass in our chapel cards. It was harder to sneak in and out that way; they wouldn’t take your card if you were really late, and leaving early was super obvious and most people didn’t bother (unless they sat in the last rows in the transepts, lucky bastards — those seats were first to go among the non-bullshit-buyers).

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posted February 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm

This goes along with “my mother sent me to college to find a husband and all I got was an education”. I managed to stay home and go to a community college, my sister went to an SDA college and never goes to church anymore. :)

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posted February 12, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Normally I think this blog is too harsh and condescending, but this post hits the nail right on the head. I’m a senior at a Christian college and I can’t stand our chapels. There are a few occasions when there’s a really great speaker worth getting up in the morning for, but usually it’s some shallow, uninteresting sermon from a middle aged man or woman who has no idea how to relate to college students. Worse, the good speakers are becoming even fewer and farther between since our school had to make budget cuts and the budget for chapels to secure engaging guests took a big hit.
In the fall, they instigated what we like to refer to as the chapel Gestapo in order to counteract sliding and gliding, which probably half the students who scanned in every day would do. They’re mostly Music in Worship majors who stand guard at every door in the gym (like the locker rooms or doors to the pool, because that was where most people slipped out). If you intend to go out one of the doors, you have to leave your ID with them to ensure you’ll come back, or be descanned, and boy are the descanners out for blood. A friend of mine had an asthma attack in the middle of one chapel, and I had to go through the Spanish Inquisition before they’d let me leave to walk her to the health center.

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posted February 12, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I went to a Christian school from pre-school to grade 12 and was forced to dress up and attend chapel at least once a week, prayer before every class and before lunch as well as mandatory trips, “spiritual renewal weeks”(basically a week long chapel service) and missions work.
These Bible College kids have it EASY! :P

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posted February 12, 2011 at 10:08 pm

I just love to laugh laugh laugh at the little details in your explanations of what Christians do.
Same school as Melanie, and followed a similar pattern to hers. I kind of liked being in such a large place with a beautiful organ and SO many talented musicians and singers (showcased on the non-“praise and worship” days). I liked talking with friends about the things I disagreed with after chapel.
I never scanned even though we supposedly had to. When asked, I explained that I was attending the required chapels as per our student contract, and that was that.
Thanks for the post.

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posted February 12, 2011 at 10:29 pm

A few years ago I interviewed for a professor’s position at a “Christian” College in Northwestern Iowa (you’ve got the name of the school hidden there). Students were required to attend chapel, though interestingly, faculty weren’t.
At the seminary I attended, chapel was not mandatory, and attendance could certainly be spotty–both by the future preacher students and by the faculty, the majority of whom were clergy!

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posted February 13, 2011 at 10:03 am

Taylor University for the win! Here, students and faculty are encouraged, but not required, to attend chapel three times a week. There is no chapel Gestapo and no card scanners. It is purely on the honor system, and it works out quite well. Chapel will often be packed out, despite the lack of police! It just goes to show what a little trust and treating-students-like-adults can do.

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posted February 13, 2011 at 11:09 am

If you don’t like it, don’t go to Bible college. It’s pretty simple.

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posted February 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I teach at a Christian school that requires daily chapel. Woe to those who come late and have to sit in the rear of the auditorium! With the advent of technology, students don’t just read, have whispery conversations, or do homework as in days of yore when forced to go to chapel. Now, they are on Facebook, updating their blogs, or making a quick purchase on Amazon–all while they’re texting their BFFs. It’s like Lord of the Flies back there. It is extremely distracting for anyone who has a shred of interest in what the speaker is saying.
But for ours and other schools, mandatory chapel is the huge sacred cow proving we are not heading down the slippery slope of liberalism. Unfortunately, it gives the chapel planners no motivation to think outside the box of middle-aged, suburban-raised men doing yet another infomerical for a church camp.

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Paul R

posted February 13, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Does sliding and gliding lead to backsliding?

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posted February 13, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I don’t know where to send photos in to this blog, so I’ll just post a couple links on here (These may not be new to you, but just in case they are…)

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posted February 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Seems like you’re becoming more bitter as time goes by. Seems like the first 100 entries (most of which I have enjoyed very much) were more light hearted.

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posted February 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm


posted February 13, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Kevin FTW! Perfect.

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posted February 14, 2011 at 12:37 am

Now I kind of wish I had gone to a Bible college, just to know the transgression of being on “chapel probation”!

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posted February 14, 2011 at 3:25 am

Scan-n-Jam baby!! We had the unfortunate occurrence of a moderate earthquake occur one day around the moment the pastor was talking about scanning and jamming…. didn’t help things… lol thanks for the flashbacks. ;-)
The reality is… you know it’s required when you register…. no one forces you to go to school there… so like it or not you’ve agreed to requirement and at that point, right or wrong theology, you can either be honest and follow the rules, or not.
Tough pill to swallow for many.

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Still Breathing

posted February 14, 2011 at 6:43 am

Nelson, If you knew the damage done to the author of this blog in the name of the church you would join us in rejoicing that she still has any faith left.

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posted February 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Jane, your comment doesn’t make any sense. The fact that services are mandatory speaks to a profound schism between the intended and actual experience of bible college. Nothing is “pretty simple.”

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stephanie drury

posted February 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm

It gets even less simple when your parents threaten to disown you if you don’t go to Bible college.

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posted February 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Which leads to a whole bunch of questions that the idea of “choice,” (as in, “if you don’t like it, don’t go”) is deployed to obscure. Some people don’t have the choice to go. And if someone did make the choice to go to a bible school, why would they need to be forced to go to chapel? If someone is forced to go to chapel, in the context of a bible college, does this indicate that they are some kind of cultural christian and not a christian-christian (I know that this is a piss poor way of phrasing this question). We could go on and on.

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posted February 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

My Fundie Dad got this right. He didn’t make me go to Bible College. He really wanted me to go to some kind of fundamentalist education. The Military seems infinitely better than Bible College suddenly. That is at least my take on things after reading about Bible College. Thanks for sharing your experiences Stephanie and Co..

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posted February 14, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Just to play the contrarian (is that even a word!?), I went to one of the above institutions (on my own free will), yet I was still tempted to “slide and glide.” I’m sort of glad for the rule because in my immaturity, I probably would have missed out on a lot. Perhaps I’m a bit defensive of this rule because one of my best “chapel” experiences came because I had to make up chapel credits. I had the best times listening to old chapels on tape; that’s where I discovered Tony Campolo.

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posted February 14, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I admit I had to google Tony Campolo. I’m glad you found someone so progressive and who also happens to look a lot like Telly Savalas.

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Kari Ann

posted February 15, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I went to such a college (now a university), and they had assigned seats and “chapel checkers”… students who worked for the school, and would sit in the balcony with a chart, and check to make sure we were all sitting in our assigned seats.
When a friend of mine and I decided to switch seats one day (we were bored), he got marked “absent” b/c the Checker saw that a girl was in his seat. When I went to the attendance office to explain the switch and tell them that he was, in fact there, I was told that we were not allowed to switch seats and doing so was an automatic absence.
And for those of you who say “If you don’t like it, then just don’t attend that school”, Stephanie is right… for some of us, there’s just not that option. My parents told me that that school was the only one I was allowed to go to, so it was either go there, or continue to live at home. (And even with all its restrictions, the conservative liberal arts college-now-turned-university was MUCH more liberating than living at home!)

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Abby Normal

posted February 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm

@Kari Ann: “…it was either go there, or continue to live at home.”
As conservative as I thought my parents were when I was growing up, they never went along with this–my siblings and I were all expected to leave home when we got to be college age (and the affiliation of the college didn’t matter as long as you were able to get a job when you finished.) (They actually got some guff from the occasional “well-meaning” church lady about the fact that I went to school out of town and rarely came home to visit.)
The tendency of some of these very conservative families to keep their kids under such strict control seems to me to do nothing but stunt proper development–how can you expect your kid to ever become a functional adult if you never let them leave your house (or have the only alternative be an institution that treats them like children)?
Seems like a good way to breed a whole mess of little Norman Bates’, in my opinion.

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Emilie Esther-Ann

posted February 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm

This post is absolutely phenomenal.
When I was college shopping I on tours of the “Christian” colleges I had to attend a few of the chapels, and I immediately decided I would not be attending those schools. (Of course, that’s not what I told my parents.) Somehow or other I did end up going to a religiously-affiliated school, but it’s Catholic, so that doesn’t count, right? Now I just don’t go to church at all…

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posted February 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I went to a CCC where chapel attendance was mandatory, and this post is spot-on. Our IDs weren’t scanned until the end of the service, so as to prevent “slide and glide.” At least there was no assigned seats. But you did get judgmental looks if you did homework rather than listen to the speaker. Near the end of my college career, I started sitting in the balcony with the other slackers (and it was quieter up there).

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posted February 15, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Jesus broke lots of the rule-makers laws…and it got him killed.

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posted February 16, 2011 at 6:40 pm

First – I consistently love this blog, and don’t mean this as an attack on anyone. But what’s this stuff about choices being limited to Bible college or staying home? There are other *less attractive* choices, such as launching out on your own. I don’t make this claim lightly – as a gay person I’ve many times had to choose between family (or employment or church or education) and being true to who I am. I can’t say I’ve *always* made such choices with integrity, but I can say I usually have. And when I have, being true to my own character has always been better than sticking to the comfortable choices. I make this point not to belittle anyone’s past choices, but to speak to any readers who thinking sticking to safe choices is less “dangerous” than making the principled ones. Lost jobs and relationships have proven less soul-sucking than lost self.

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posted February 16, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I went to Cal Baptist. They had mandatory chapel. To prevent swiping your ID and bailing, they did not let you go to the bathroom unless the outer doors to the gym were closed, and guards were positioned outside those doors to catch anyone trying to escape. If you got “violently ill” during chapel, they would un-swipe you in and that chapel did not count. When I started working at a church I scheduled my office hours on Wednesdays and Fridays so that I could get a note to get out of chapel.

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posted February 19, 2011 at 12:42 pm

This post really hits me close to home. See, I went to a private Christian elementary school that had daily Bible lessons. The stories themselves never changed, of course, but the lessons to be learned from them are different for children of different ages.
I expected something like this, or perhaps a typical church service, when I enrolled in a certain Bible college. I was dead wrong. It was tepid, unimaginative, uninspired, drivel. Singing “Lord I Lift Your Name On High” and never getting into anything actually relevant to our own lives and struggles does not a fulfilling church experience make. I was able to stand it maybe 3 times. Since the school had safeguards against signing in and bailing, I just skipped the rest of the chapel meetings. This caused me to get an F in what was called “Experiences” and they wouldn’t take me back for a second term.
It made me even madder, because the nearest church of my own denomination was a good ways away, and I felt like they were implying, through the aforementioned “Experiences” grade, that their stupid chapel “service” was somehow superior to the church service I drove so far to get to every week.

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posted February 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Oh hey, that’s my school! Cool.
And we don’t fit all of these stereotypes, but there’s definitely a lot of truth in that, from the worship team led by one of the hottest guys on campus, to mandatory book reports in order to graduate if you don’t hit your 16 attendances per semester.

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stephanie drury

posted February 21, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Jesse, if you only knew!

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posted February 28, 2011 at 9:39 am

I went to a Christian university “back in the day” (think Vietnam era) where chapel attendance was mandatory. I met the requirements, but only out of obligation. Many of the “chapels” were not “spiritually” oriented, but rather were entertainment or informational or political. I resented that they were called “chapel” when they had nothing to do with God unless it was a crude joke. I hear that this university has made a radical turn-around to be very conservative. While I think I would chafe under that also, at least they’re being more nearly true to what they tell the “little old Baptist ladies” who have supported them through the years.

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David Story

posted March 4, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I didn’t know you went to Indiana Wesleyan, too!

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Jeremiah Warren

posted March 5, 2011 at 11:42 am

I agree with Jane: Don’t go to bible college.

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posted March 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Christian colleges are too often tyrannical. If you’re 18-22 and they instinctively treat you like a 12 year old, then it’s best to bail.

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Kari Ann

posted March 18, 2011 at 11:56 am

@JosephJ- I would’ve loved to have tried and “launched out” on my own… but my parents were very controlling. I literally had NO way of leaving home. I wasn’t taught how to drive or allowed to get a permit until I was 19, (we lived in a semi-rural area with no public transportation), I could only get jobs they approved of and go to their church, and I had almost no money. I had NO one I could’ve turned to for help to find a place to live, get a job, learn to drive on my own, etc. Pretty much everyone in my social circle knew my parents and wouldn’t or couldn’t step in to help. It wasn’t a matter of me not being true to myself, it was a matter of literally no other option. Attending that college was the ONLY way I had a chance of getting free, so I took it.
@AbbyNormal- You’re totally right; my parents are still very controlling w/my 3 younger sisters. The oldest (19) still doesn’t know how to drive, hasn’t finished high school (she’s homeschooled, of course), shares a room with her 2 younger sisters, has a 10:00 bedtime… and THINKS THIS IS COMPLETELY NORMAL. My sisters are so naive, it’s actually scary. I’ve let all my sisters know that when/if they ever want to move out, get a job, learn to drive, etc., they can move in with me and my husband and we’ll help them. It’s all I can do, because at this point, I think my parents learned their lesson with me; my sisters aren’t even being offered the option of college!

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posted March 30, 2011 at 12:42 am

Dishonesty. Why lie to yourself and God? I’m guilty, too, of empty praise. Here’s a warningthat came through Amos to Israel:
Amos 5:21-27 (TNIV)

“‘I hate, I despise your religious festivals; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, house of Israel? You have lifted up the shrine of the king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god–which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,’ says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty.”

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posted April 26, 2011 at 6:43 pm

This sounds EXACTLY like mandatory attendance at chapel in Catholic high school and Catholic colleges. We even had a dean in charge of liturgical worship. The politicians and activists generally showed up in religion class, though.

And you are so so RIGHT when you say that chapel is boring and that being forced to attend doesn’t make you like it one bit better.

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posted April 18, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Hey, that’s Harbison Chapel at Grove City College! I’ve spent a lot of time in there…

I loved the Christian atmosphere at Grove City and the good things that came of that during my time there, but the chapel program was about as stupid and useless as you’ve described here. We didn’t have any way to “slide ‘n’ glide” because our cards were scanned at the end of chapel, but we also only needed to pick 16 of the roughly 50 offerings each semester to attend, or about one chapel a week. While the worship period (non-mandatory) was often heartfelt, the College-directed chapel sermons could best be described as “vaguely Christian” most days.

As a result, spiritual posturing at Grove City tended to find other outlets besides chapel attendance. As a student body we mostly didn’t kid ourselves that chapel attendance was anything but an arbitrary extracurricular requirement, since even the faculty didn’t mind admitting that this was true. The only people who were fooled, it seems, were the college president and the chapel dean.

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posted June 27, 2012 at 5:00 am

I appreciate a Christian woman who isn’t shy to discuss sublimating her lustful desires. It demonstrates that you are real person with actual thoughts, willingness to blog truthfully, rather than just a talking right-wing blog head. Good on you.

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posted October 15, 2012 at 10:24 am

I have been going to Catholic school all my life. When I heard the possibilities about going to an online bible college, I jumped at the chance. As much as I don’t mind going to chapel, I think it’s easier to go when I want, instead of having to go. Thanks for the post.

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