I love reading yearbooks. They're curious anthropological documents that capture certain elements of a subculture, allowing some degree of "backstage" information to seep through, while simultaneously being constrained by the idea of what a "yearbook" should be: that is, a collection of memories that everybody can supposedly relate to, giving tribute to the institution and its people, and also usually some really terrible poetry.
Imagine my joy when I discovered a heap of yearbooks that a nearby church was throwing out! But these weren't just run-of-the-mill highschool yearbooks...these were for the Emmanuel Bible College.
I had no idea that our twin cities contain a thriving, long-standing bible college, and I'm anxious to take a bus out there just to look at it. Other than looking at the slick website and fantasizing about what the dorms must be like, how could us secular folk ever know what a bible college is really like?
By reading the yearbooks, spanning the years 1966 to 1991, and finding all the little gems of culture: the things that you'd find in ANY yearbook, and the things you'd ONLY find in the yearbook from a bible college.
First off, the similarities. The usual tributes to the institution's president, the pictures of the students with special attention given to the graduates, the pages given over to clubs and teams (and the egotistical editorial by the yearbook editor), the myopic cafeteria ladies, followed by a dry list of advertisers. And don't forget the candid pictures of goofy campus life! Yes, even in the Emmanuel Bible College yearbooks you will find men in drag with balloon breasts.
But what's different? First, lots of pictures like this.
That's not a bomb drill, it's a time to make personal contact with your multi-denominational saviour. Myself, already breaking the commandments, I covet that girl's leopard jacket.
Next, many of the students are quite old. Ex-farmers from a myriad of itty-bitty Ontario towns seem to come to Emmanuel when they get the calling. Here's Harry Habel from the graduating class of '66, and one of the little poems that the yearbook staff banged out for the graduates that year.
As somebody who was once a member of my highschool's yearbook staff, I vividly remember the torture of having to write upbeat and personal blurbs about people I disliked and barely knew. I'm pretty sure that Mr. Habel -- in between doing a spot-on Jimmy Durante impersonation -- got on everybody's nerves in the cafeteria. Inka dinka doo!
What's disappointing about the books is the constant focus on God's authority. It's to be expected, obviously, but simply EVERY piece of text must lead into a parable or a scriptual quote of some kind, which reduces all of the activities -- even badminton -- into a Thin Tasteless Gruel of God. I can't help wondering if these students -- who so happily write "God is GREAT!" on their dorm murals -- secretly wish the message was toned down a little bit. It's not like everybody who goes to bible college is exactly the same as everybody else.
But besides the emphasis on two aspects of evangelicalism that I find particularly horrible -- missionary work and the Crisis pregnancy center -- there's very little in these books to offend or to cast the college in a bad light. These folks seem intelligent, diverse, passionate, and fun. Granted I'm getting that impression through the rosy-coloured yearbook lens, but even so I find myself wishing I could spend a day or two there, just to experience the comfort and solidarity of a bunch of people who believe very strongly in what each other are doing.
Hey, is there any chance I can get a scholarship? And if so do I REALLY have to learn Greek, and why?