Going to Seminary | Part 5
Fall 1973. Every now and then I become aware of something I’m lugging around, unopened and unexamined. It has something to do with my childhood and teenage years. Something about harsh punishment and humiliation, though I don’t understand it yet.
This is my first year at seminary. I’m 30 years old. D and I have two young children at home. We’ve been married 8 years, and are just beginning seminary studies at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. I haven’t been an academic student for nearly 9 years.
During those years I experienced two episodes of depression. One the first year we were married; the second the year following our second child’s birth. Each episode came, descended, sat around like a cloud of despair and inertia, then left. They seemed to have departed.
The seminary was on a quarter system. In my first quarter, I took two evening courses to find out whether I could do this. D stayed home those evenings to take care of our children.
The first course, Christianity and Mental Health, was taught by a theologically trained member of the school of psychology faculty. It was a fairly benign course. Not difficult, though interesting. It challenged me to think about psychology as a potential friend to Christian faith, not the enemy my family and church background had labeled it.
The second course had a catchy title—The Ethics of Sex. It was taught by the professor of ethics on the theology faculty. He was well-known, a superb speaker, always interesting, and always challenging.
About half-way through the course he announced an assignment I’ll never forget. In fact, this assignment is the only thing I remember from that course! I don’t have a copy of the syllabus, and I can’t find any papers I wrote.
The assignment was simple.
Before the class meets next week, each of you is to visit the adult book store in Pasadena. Walk around the store and look at all items for sale. Then go to the rear of the store and look through magazines for sale. Take them off the rack and flip through the pages.
Find one magazine you would call pornographic, buy it, take it home, look at every page, read at least one article, and then write a personal response to this exercise.
In your responses, include what you did, and your reasons for deciding this magazine is pornographic. Then describe your personal responses to what you saw and what you read.
Bring your written responses to class next week. We’ll discuss your findings and then I’ll collect your written reports. I’ll comment on each report and return yours to you the following week.
I could scarcely believe my ears, much less picture myself completing this assignment. There was only one other woman in the course. She also had two young children at home. We had become friends, and sat next to each other each week, near the front of the classroom. A silent show of solidarity.
We consulted with each other several times. This is a shocking if not inappropriate assignment. We hate it! No, we loathe it!! She was furious. I was speechless. At first we said we would refuse to do it. Yet after several discussions, we agreed to a plan that would just get it over and done with.
I don’t remember who the driver was, but a friend from the seminary (also in the class) agreed to drive us to the front door of the adult book store. It was smack in the middle of the main business area in Pasadena–as pictured above. He dropped us off, then circled the block until we came out onto the sidewalk. We jumped in the car, and sped away! My heart was pounding furiously.
To be continued….
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 December 2015
Photo from flickr.com