Warthogs: Why professor Farnsworth didn't go to chapel

Professor Farnsworth is, well, fascinating. I think the reason she's not married is that she's already joined at the heart to Jonathan Edwards, William Bradford, Anne Hutchinson, and most of American Puritan history. She's a kick. She really is. When she starts in on one of the Puritan leaders, she gets in a zone, and it doesn't seem to matter whether there's anybody in the chairs in front of her. When that second hand sweeps past 11:00 a.m., something in her goes into gear and pushes through the class like a minesweeper.

The students love her. Sara and I are both in that class, and sometimes we come out stunned, really stunned, as if there's no way we can play back all the smarts that woman imparted in fifty minutes.

Anne Hutchinson? Who ever heard of Anne Hutchinson, right? If Professor Farnsworth had her way, we'd all have Hutchinson's face on our T-shirts, her statue would stand in the square in front of the commons, and no kid would graduate from Westminster College without being able to write a fourteen-page essay delineating Hutchinson's value for our time. I'm not kidding.

"It's not that she was a woman," Farnsworth said a month ago. "I'll grant you that those who opposed her were men, but the issues were deeper than gender, much deeper."

She doesn't raise a finger like a preacher, but a whole hand—both of them in fact. "What Anne Hutchinson brought to the first-generation Puritans was a test they couldn't handle. She told them the Holy Spirit spoke to her, told her what was right and wrong, and spoke often." She pauses, smiles hugely "Hutchinson looked right into their eyes and told them their righteousness—Puritan righteousness— was manmade, not God made." Then she looks around to make sure we're catching on. "Manmade righteousness was not righteousness at all, she said. And she claimed to know because, after all, God's Spirit spoke directly to her.

OK, it's interesting, but we're still not getting it exactly, and she can tell. She stops to look in our eyes to make sure the current is on. "The reason Anne Hutchinson made life so difficult for the Puritans was that she preached a new and dangerous doctrine just fifteen years after Plymouth Rock, and that doctrine was, essentially, that faith is primarily experiential."

She steps back behind the podium, nodding. Both hands come up, and she smiles hugely again. "Is faith primarily experiential?" She looks around, and I've got to admit I'm not sure what she's talking about. But I know she's on to something.

"Is faith primarily experiential?" she says again.

Nobody says a thing.

"Does God speak to us?" she says.

And I'm thinking, "Well, of course."

"Think of it this way," she says, "Anne Hutchinson looked right in the face of Puritan fathers—and they were all male—and said they weren't believers because none of them had the experience of the Holy Spirit. Was she wrong?"

Silence. The whole class, I swear, has this sense that Farnsworth has her finger on something big, but we're not sure we can get our arms around it.

That's where class ended. She loves to let those questions stew. Backpacks get hoisted, and we're on our way out.

I like Farnsworth and so does Sara. And the fact is, we haven't seen her in chapel for a long time. Not that 1 make it a big deal to run down faculty rolls to see who's there and who's not, but Farnsworth is someone you see, and I hadn't seen her. Maybe I want her to approve of what we're doing, you know?

Sara and I are both on Chapel Committee at Westminster. Sara does keyboard brilliantly, and I'm usually lead guitar for the praise team. Sarah and me, Alex and Faraqh and Anne-Mary and Sherman— we've all been together for awhile so we know what we're doing and we do it up good. Chapel attendance, Pastor Tom told us, has never been higher at Westminster than it is right now.

Basically, we've moved exclusively to a praise and worship format with a five-minute meditation, We've got all the computer gizmos we need, thanks to Pastor Tom, and we're good enough musicians to pull it off. Chapel rocks, all right? Kids love it. And it works. People come—that's the thing, right? People come.

Except Farnsworth.

So I asked her. One day I went up to her office, and I knocked on the door. She's in, She smiles when she sees me. "Clark," she says.

"I'm wondering if I can ask you a personal question," I tell her.

She sweeps her hand toward the chair beside her desk, and 1 walk in about three steps. "I'm wondering," I say, and then I don't know how to say it. "I'm wondering," I start again, like a dork, "I'm wondering why I never see you in chapel."

I sound like the thought police, so I say, "It's not that I question your faith or anything, but I really admire you and sometimes I learn so much in your class that if half of it sinks in, I think I'll be doing myself a favor."

I know I'm tripping all over myself, but I can't back out, so I try again. "We do chapel, you know," I said. "And I just wonder how come you don't go?"

She smiles, hugely—like she always does. "I'm being reprimanded—"

"No," I say. "I'm no Nazi."

"But I really should go, shouldn't I?"

"Why don't you?" I say. "You don't like praise and worship maybe?"

"Sit down," she says. "Back in September, a student took part in chapel. I don't remember her name, but she sang this really fine solo—recorded background. The tape starts and the whole chapel starts jumping—fine syncopation, really intricate beat, sort of reggae."

I don't have a clue who she's talking about.

"She had a Bible on stage with her."

Bingo. "Sure, I remember—Grace Simmons," I tell her.

"You remember the song?" she says.

What I remember is the beat. The minute that tape started blowing out of the speakers, the whole chapel started moving.

"I remember Grace," I tell her, "because it's not every chapel that somebody interrupts a solo to read right from the Bible."

"You remember the lyrics?" she said.

I shrug my shoulders. "I remember the beat, and 1 remember she sang very well, and I remember her reading about going up in the clouds."

"You believe in the rapture, Clark?" she says.

I don't think so, but I haven't really stopped to think about it much.

"You buy the idea that the Lord is coming any day now to take back his own, draw them all up in the clouds, and leave all the sinners behind?"

What do I know about theology, right? I want to be a youth pastor.

"Did you get any grief about that song that time?" she says.

I don't remember any. "No," I say.

She shakes her head.

"You don't come to chapel because some kid sang about the rapture?" I say.

She laughs, brings up both her hands, like she does. "Think it makes a difference?" she says.

"Your not being there?" I say.

"No—the rapture," she tells me. "Think it makes a difference—what we believe?"

"Grace Simmons loves the Lord—I know she does/' I tell her.

"I'm sure she does," Farnsworth says, "but does it make a difference? The theology of that song?"

"People loved it," 1 tell her. "We got Grace on again because some people asked for her."

"I'm sure," she said.

"Do you think it makes a difference?" I said.

"Yes," she says. "I think it makes a huge difference, When believers buy the theory that the rapture is tomorrow, this world means much less to them—and that's understandable, right?"

"Sure," I said.

"Well, 1 don't buy it," she told me.

"So you don't go to chapel with the whole college because some girl sang a song that went against your theology?" 1 said.

"Not exactly," she says. "I don't go because I don't need to worry any more than I already do about you."


"My students," she said.

"I don't get it," I say.

"Bless her soul, when Grace sang that solo, I wondered if anybody at Westminster cared one bit that the theology was so far afield of the view of God and his world that most people here believe. I wondered, and when nobody said a thing, I told myself that I was an old warthog. Maybe I shouldn't care either."

"Maybe you should care," I said.

"I do," she said.

"So you don't come—"

"I don't come to chapel because when something really runs against the grain of everything I believe and nobody seems to care but the warthogr,, then I think I'm better off staying in my office and reading Jonathan Edwards." She looks up at me, "But I should come—you're right about that, Clark."

And she has come—not all the time, but ever since I talked to her.

What do I know about the rapture? Not much. It's hot stuff, and there are plenty of books about it at your local Christian bookstore.

Some guy named LeHaye is making a mint and maybe bringing a multitude to the Lord. It can't be all bad, I figure,

But Grace Simmons sang again last week at chapel. Same song, different verse, you might say, She's from an Assemblies of God background, different from most kids at Westminster. She's into that stuff, you know? It's what she really believes.

Farnsworth was there too. I saw her in the back row. I looked for her. But you know, this time I listened to every word Grace sang, really listened, and I didn't get into it as much as I did the first time. I didn't.

So who won and who lost here?—Grace Simmons or Farnsworth or Jonathan Edwards or Anne Hutchinson. Or me? All I know is that song wasn't as big a thrill. What I don't know is whether that's good or bad. Sara says, "Just shut up and play."

OK, but I can't because my mind is in it now. Maybe I've got Farnsworth's disease. Just call me a warthog.

What I want to know is, have I lost something or not? That's what I want to know.

James Calvin Schaap (jschaap@dordt.edu) is a writer and professor of English at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.

Reformed Worship 55 © March 2000, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.