You Mustn’t Die Unsaved

Like many of you, I was a victim of Christian dogma abuse. Lots of fear, control, punishment, oppression, guilt for simply being. And then I had to take responsibility for all the fear and guilt I would never have felt without this oppression. A kind of vicious self-feeding trauma cycle.

(If you don’t consider yourself a Christian, welcome. I hope you will read on. If you do call yourself a Christian and are already offended, please read on anyway.)

In 1971 I joined the faculty of a Christian college. Back in my day, much of the faculty affirmed how Jesus had dramatically altered the consciousness of many, had challenged the assumed laws and status quo of the day, had placed people over policy, had shifted choice of behavior from obeying orders to following values like mercy, love, hope, compassion, forgiveness. We understood who should be throwing the first stone. And more.

Jesus didn’t punish people. He admonished people sometimes, sure. Even with the money changers, he angrily moved them to where they belonged — admonishment, not punishment.

While teaching at the college, I remember being admonished a few times. Some of those times, I admit, were deserved. But I was never punished.

Over the course of many months, more than a year, the administration and board of my old school severely punished several beloved music faculty members. The charges are refutable or minor. Ongoing investigation will perhaps bring this to light.

But some of these good souls are no longer teaching there. The music students have voiced their protest, their affirmation of their teachers. The Student Congress aligned itself with the administration. (The Student Congress?!?) After damaging these lives cruelly and forever, the powers and principalities continue to maintain the school is Christian.

I say no.

These punished professors, some of the lowest paid professors in our collegiate association, lost tens of thousands in legal fees. How did the college administrators pay for their legal counsel? Was it paid for by the parents and students who paid tuition, from donors? With or without their approval?

45 is seeping into our little local lives. He has been doing that for longer than he’s been president. His patent phrase, “You’re fired!” from his reality show changed the norm, the tone and tenor of collegiality from college classrooms to corporate offices to small businesses. The way we treat people now, blaming and culling first, working out our differences later, or never, has turned our culture into one where differences cannot contribute to a whole, much less be tolerated.

And at my little college, many (most?) of the faculty are left in trauma, afraid to speak, afraid to be who they have been trained and grown to be.

Is this paranoia? Nope.

We must hold to what we value: our care for one another wherever we see his attitude acted out, whether those who do so vehemently deny it. Those college administrators may say they disagree with 45, that this is different, that they acted on their own, according to policy.

Policy above people. What would Jesus really do? I mean, really?

You Mustn’t Die Unsaved

Reverend Kirk came to town,
lured us
from the playgrounds
to the church,
turned us into Christian jocks.
We carried Bibles, picked off sinners,
won them back to God.
We began to pray,
four, five times
every day, and memorize
key passages
to keep our noses clean
and pick apart the enemy’s defense.
God we were good.
Every other day, we met
with him for breakfast,
Bible study, prayer.
Before he came to town,
we’d all been up and out
each day to play
some ball and make enough
to take our girls out
after pick-up games we played
behind the high school gym.
But Reverend Kirk sure
set us straight. He taught us
ball, a summer job, and
four good friends were not enough.

For Rev. Gerry Van Heest who knew “Where two or three gather together . . .”

–Jack Ridl

First published in Samisdat
Subsequently published in Between (Dawn Valley Press)

Coming Up…

Saugatuck’s D.R. James has a new chapbook coming out! Click here for a pre-order discount!

Jack Interview, February 22 on WMUK’s Art Beat. 12:30pm.

Workshop on March 30. “Poetry Trauma: The Way to Recovery.” This will offer a fresh way to be nourished by a variety of poems. It’s FREE. But you MUST reserve a seat.

When: March 30, 10am-1pm.
Where: The Douglass UCC church Friendship Hall.
Click here to reserve your seat online, or sign up at the church hall one of these Sunday mornings.

Party Time: Book Reception, April 5 for the release of Saint Peter and the Goldfinch.

When: April 5, 6:30-9:30pm
Where: The Douglass UCC church.
There will be a reading at 7pm. Then we party. Books on site for sale and signing.
Click here to Read all about it and RSVP PLEASE

Writing Your Personal History Workshop, April 6Grace Episcopal Church. 10am – 1:30pm

Reading with Lisa Lenzo (whose new book, Unblinking, will be released in May!) on May 16 at Michigan News Agency Bookstore in Kalamazoo.. 7pm

Wonderful news for those of you who know or want to meet the beloved Kathleen Markland.
She has been named the Honoree for the celebration of and fundraiser for The Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency  in Saugatuck, Michigan. Ox-Bow is more than 100 years old and is a part of The Art Institute of Chicago. Stay tuned for that fundraiser date!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

33 thoughts on “You Mustn’t Die Unsaved

  1. I have struggled with this a lot–I recently left the Catholic church for the same reason. I thought Christianity was all about loving one’s neighbor, but it sure doesn’t feel that way anymore. Thanks for this post. In solidarity, Kelly

    • Oh Kelly, thank you. Solidarity for sure. You ‘n me and
      all the others. Your work embodies what deeply matters.
      And what thanks we have for all you have done for and given
      to our dear Rebecca.
      XX from Julie, too

  2. An article from INSIDE HIGHER ED, regarding Hope’s Music Department, is getting a bit of traction on FB. It certainly doesn’t explain the whys and wherefores but has been passed around a time or two to call attention. I suspect it’s too little too late and yet…

    • Yes, we read that this morning. I can tell the truth easily by
      recognizing the names of those quoted. Alas others don’t have
      that way of recognizing the truth.

  3. Wow! This brings back memories, including one when I was 6 in 1950 and imprisoned in the kindergarten Gulag in the basement of the NW Pres. Church. Four of us (including the son of the football coach) made our escape during nap time ~12:30 –1 pm by putting a chair on the one table in the room and climbing out the ground-level window. We pooled our nickles and went to Isalys’ for ice cream. But dam it they found us and returned us to incarceration administered by folks w/ Master’s degrees from Auschwitz. Been in escape mode ever since . . . and Jerry K!! Nice piece, so resonant. Thanks, David

    • Our home town. Alas, but so damned funny, your story, that I’ll not
      forget it until I forget everything. I’m sooo glad you sent this
      to me, David. Oh my, Jerry. I wonder how many good souls he’s
      harmed over the years?!?

  4. What “religion” has done to so many of us is so sad. I have struggled with it my entire life. What is going on at Hope College makes it a much less desirable college to attend.

    • How I wish there could be a place where all of us who have been so
      deeply harmed for life could gather in one big embrace. I know
      you are out there. It is a healing feeling.

  5. When I was 10 or so, I was going to Catechism on Saturday at Sacred Heart Church, where I was learning (among other things) that only Catholics go to heaven (this was a LONG time ago). At the same time, I was going to Brighton Avenue Bible Chapel, where I was learning that John 3:16 was the only way into heaven. Even at 10, I knew that both these things couldn’t be true. Precociously, my Dad said, I realized that if they could not both be true, it was quite possible they could both be false. I was much older before I named that knowledge; when asked my religion, I respond that I am a polytheistic wavering agnostic. As one might imagine, my years at Hope (1971-1975) were often uncomfortable, sometimes contentious, always interesting (in that Chinese curse sort of way). I don’t ever remember being punished for my views. I’m fairly sure that, in today’s environment, Hope would not be as welcoming to me now as it was then. And that’s too bad. I learned a lot. Some of it from you, Prof. Ridl.

    • P.J., what a joy to hear from you! You were such a great student to get
      to be with, always ready to cock your head and offer an authentic,
      “Well, hmmmmmm.” I can see it right now. You were precocious all right,
      marvelously so. And tough in the very best of ways. I love your response.
      We share the polytheistic and the wavering. A guy in the UCC church we
      belong to says he’s a Christian atheist. And he’s a member. I love that
      church’s stance of being open and affirming and that it’s symbol is a
      comma. No use of a period allowed!! : ) And I ain’t Prof Ridl.
      It’s Jack. Knowing you are “out there” being P.J. is sustaining.
      Thank you sooooo much!!

      • Wow! You just made my day. I am pretty much always gobsmacked when people tell me how memorable I am or what an effect I had on their life – who, me?? And I echo the woman who said your Thursday e-mail was always a high spot in her day; it is in mine. I don’t know how religiously you read the Alumni News; I have taken my English Lit from Hope on-line as a long-time reviewer of mystery fiction and am totally chuffed to be the Fan Guest of Honor at the Malice Domestic Conference next May in Bethesda, Maryland. Apparently I can still do a pretty good, “Well, hmmmm . . .” when it’s appropriate. I’m pretty sure I’ll be keeping in touch –


      • What a joy to learn that the Thursday post matters to you, P.J.
        That means a lot, a whole lot.
        And CONGRATULATIONS on being honored at the conference. So very
        happy for you!!!
        Julie knows her mystery stuff. We, like many, admired Louise Penny.
        And K.C. Constantine is an old college classmate
        Keep that “Well, hmmmmmm” well honed.

  6. Your poems arriving in my mailbox each Thursday are often the highlight of the morning. This morning was no exception. Thank you! ❤️

    Smiles, Laughter and Happiness,

    Debra Carr


    • Debra, only us members of DUCC could find that poem a highlight of their morning!
      I love it.
      Here’s to the joy you give to one and all of us.

  7. Hope College treated my faculty wife like trash. She was highly qualified, and as a graduate student had received the highest T.A. evaluations at a major university. Her teaching methods were proven and innovative. After moving 800 miles to teach there, and after her first day in the classroom, the department chair heard complaints from a couple of students who said she was too hard. She took them totally at their word without accepting one comment from the instructor. It was then we knew it was over. Later, when my wife braved coming in to work hours after she had suffered a miscarriage, her department chairman said coldly, “next time just time your pregnancy better.” Next day, my wife was in the hospital. Whoever or whatever God is, He, She, or Them could do a much better job without people.

    • Alfred, I never knew this. It doesn’t surprise me, but it sure enrages me.
      I am sitting here wordless and feeling an ache of horror. Inhumane?
      With deep care,

      • Thank you, Jack. Jane got over it and ultimately it prepared us for dealing with clerics in a large Catholic school where we taught. I still think that church or no church, Michigan is a great place and so was your classroom. By the way, our daughter remains smitten by your work.

  8. Thank you for your insight, Jack. I’m left to ponder, sometimes with another Holland expat with campus ties, the goings on at the college. Something sinister, but never clear. I think I may have previously shared falling into the clutches of Campus Crusade for Christ while in high school. The RCA church my mother raised me in left no scars, but the Crusaders told me that my kindly Sunday school and catechism teachers were going to hell if they hadn’t read the Four Spiritual Laws! Still recovering. Your wonderful poem tells the story well.

    • Oh Betsy, my Friend, my stomach knotted at your “Still recovering.” It’s true. I am too.
      In a sad and good way, it’s sustaining to know we are out there together in this struggle.
      Julie has never been able to believe how horrid those who inflicted this cruelty on us. Or
      I should say that she believes it as true, but well, you know. I am sorry. Achingly sorry.
      You are such a gentle, kind, loving soul. Sigh.

      Thanks so much for telling me that about the poem. That means everything. It sustains.

  9. Thank you for writing and sharing this beautiful piece. In such a hurtful time for all involved and the college .
    Pauly Housenga
    Tower Mn

  10. so sad…so very very sad. Getting the Sentinel digitally so saw the huge article they printed. And yes…religion…so sad…so sad…


  11. This is such a heartbreaking story. I’m beyond words in sorrow—but grateful that you spoke, raised your voice to honor those whose voices have now been silenced forever in what once was a nationally-known and respected liberal arts college. How we teach and mentor our young defines the future of our communities. This lesson—played out for all those associated with Hope—is not one that adds light into the future. And for flame bearers such as yourself, it makes the journey harder.

    Thanks for persevering. I am with you and the music professors. Mary


    • If anyone is a Saint of Perseverance, tis you!!

      Will Hope heal or is it trying to be the new Hillsdale.

      Some of the hurt are coming here on Sunday evening. Can’t heal
      them, but can comfort.

  12. Thank you for this. Church of Christ…every night from age five I asked for forgiveness….please please don’t make me burn in hell forever. I won’t do that, say that, touch that ever again. But I did. I was a good kid.

    • And that good kid became a gentle, quick to smile, graciously loving soul.
      My first “boss,” when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, answered, “Kind.”
      That’s you

  13. Back in 1978-1980 I was very active in National Organization for Women in Chicago fighting daily for the Equal Rights Amendment. Our main adversary was the Catholic Church as well as most other churches. I figured if they weren’t going to stand up for women, I didn’t need them. I have never looked back.

    • Sandy, this is so inspiring, especially that firm resolve in “I have never looked back.”
      So grateful for all you do and give,

  14. Very interesting and thought provoking read, until you brought politics into it. People have been nasty towards one another long before 45, and it seems you are blaming the events on him rather than the lack of grace and mercy shown by the school administration. Pushing partisan politics further divides this country and helps foster the atmosphere for the type of response shown by the school administration. RELIGION (not faith) has a long history of diminishing the value of those who do not share a a particular belief or act in a specific manner. Until we all live a life truly worthy of John 13:34-35 we will never move forward.

    • Couldn’t agree more.
      Of course this blog is meant to bring politics into every single entry.
      And also, everything is political. Your comment certainly is. And no one
      was more political than Jesus. Our UCC church proclaims that spiritually
      each moment.

  15. As an atheist attending a Christian college back in the early 80’s, I faced a few challenges. In my small and insulated world, I never thought that the professors were subject to the same principal-agent problem. Shame on the college. And, humble grace to you for sharing your thoughts on this matter. Admonishment not punishment. Indeed. I sense an alumni letter and an emancipation from future financial contributions. This is all wrong. I appreciate your poetic influence.

    • Hi Maggie,
      I so appreciate your affirmation. It sure helps keep the project going!
      And I also sense that certain alums will no longer support or support only jazz.
      This is not over, not at all.

Leave a Reply to Jack Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s