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Anonymous Bosch

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Dear Anonymous,
I was on the Calvin campus recently to meet someone for lunch in the staff dining room. There was a modestly long line that day, and I had the good fortune to wait patiently behind several administrators who were engaged in shoptalk even as they waited. It was interesting talk to overhear: learned and/or passionate commentary on exotica such as budgets, committees, boards, Machiavelli, deconstruction, 401k options, snow in April, and the heartbreak of male pattern baldness. But what really got my attention was a topic that these women talked about in hushed tones: "safe sects" at Calvin College. Tell me, Anonymous, if you can, everything about so-called safe sects at Calvin.
— Worried in Worchester

Dear Worried,
Please observe how carefully I am avoiding a comment about the perils of eavesdropping; there's no need to mention what is so obvious. But I, too, am shocked to learn that some administrators at Calvin apparently find this a topic for public conversation, even if it takes place in the relatively safe confines of the staff dining room. And although I think that I can shed some light on this topic, I'm pretty sure that I can't tell you everything about safe sects at Calvin.

For those of you out there who are already smiling about the provincialism and parochialism of worrying about this problem at Calvin College, allow me to assert immediately that we are not talking here about the differences between the CRC and other denominations. I hate to disappoint any of my loyal readers, but I will not be drawn into an anti-ecumenical feeding frenzy; readers hoping to witness a little denominational ultra-violence should stop here and take their bad selves somewhere else. There is no need to dredge up all the dirt on the theological presbyopia of other denominations represented at Calvin, nor is there any need to wash the CRC's clean linen in public. We're talking sects here.

Safe sects, that is. This strange term, which meant very little to me until I read Worried's letter, apparently describes those odd little gatherings of people in organizations which deviate from orthodoxy and orthospraxis in several fundamental ways. People who belong to such sects commit themselves to strange beliefs, practices, and leaders; this commitment, however, need not eventuate in noticeably bad behavior. It is, I guess, one of the saving graces of a safe sect that it does very little public damage. Typically, the damage can be corrected without great cost or catastrophic therapies. This is, I think, the import of the word "safe," but all my discerning readers should realize that this description is relative. No sect is safe; in fact, risk is the wrong category to employ when it is the truth of belief, practice, or devotion which is in question. Risk is another thing to consider, but it is not the first or best evaluation to make, in my humble opinion.

Here are some of safe sects I've become aware of; my list, of course, is incomplete, provisional, no more than a progress report. But it is marginally better than nothing, especially for all those alumni out there who need to know:

Calvin College Young Republicans: I know that some of you think that "young Republican" is an oxymoron, but this is one of the more dangerous safe sects at Calvin, primarily because it is given to pragmatic triumphalism.

The Progressives: although this group was founded to promote thoughtful dissent from regnant Republicanism, it is susceptible to bouts of moral triumphalism, not always a great improvement on other kinds of triumphalism.

The Dystonia Society: this is more nearly a secret society, an umbrella group which provides shelter for all those who suffer from periodic involuntary sustained muscle contractions as a result of Calvin stress. Their afflictions range from blepharospasm and torticollis to rhinotexxilonmania, trichotillomania, nail-biting, and writer's cramp. Their number is legion, and they need a support group, no doubt, but they have inexplicably excluded those afflicted with bruxism, an exclusion which gives me an involuntary muscle contraction.

The Whole Child Foundation: this para-church group is very troubled. It was originally intended to give shelter to a variety of inner-child groups, including some of the "adult-survivors-of" variety. But lately there has been very bad blood between the inner-child and the inner-warrior factions. And quite a few members recently discovered that they could not legally claim the inner child as a dependent for income tax purposes. This group is dysfunctional.

There are many more safe sects at Calvin, I'm sure. I'll bring you up to date as soon as possible. But we're late for our Doppelganger Codependency Group.

— Anonymous Bosch

This article was printed in the June 1992 issue of Spark.

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