The Neutral Zone, the bulletin board I spend a good portion of my free time on has its own subculture with its own blend of characters. Several of us go to UM and so have unusual conversations that people around us must think quite odd. We are a Motley crew that socializes despite the odds. I don’t think I would spend much time around any of them if it were not for the common bond of the BBS. For the following conversation to make sense, you must first know something of the participants. Even though we deal with each other in real life, we still address each other by our handles. I am Jonah, of course. There’s
younger brother of the Neutral Zone sysop.
is his friend with whom I am playing a game of e-mail chess.
is a senior who just started up his own board, Ragamuffin BBS.
is in my Russian history class, is a quadriplegic, a non Christian, and an all around interesting person with whom to debate philosophy. We also play chess.

I came out of Russian history from the classroom in the library and started walking across the grass over to my car. Actually, it’s not grass it’s clover, so I bent my head down and shuffled along looking for four leaf clover. Someone called out to me. “Hey Jonah!” I looked up. Kanji, Dick, and Shocka had just pulled up in Kanji’s car. “Did you lose something?” asked Dick leaning out the front window. “Have you lost your mind?” asked Kanji. “I’m looking for four leaf clovers,” I said, abandoning my search to approach them. “Are you a dichotomist?” asked Kanji. “Clover is dicot,” I responded. “What?!” Shocka exclaimed from the back seat. He says that only 50% of what I say makes any sense. This must of been one of those times when it’s the other 50%. “There’s dicots and monocots,” I started. “Oh, a biology nerd!” cut in Dick. “The difference is in vascular bundles.” “I mean your shirt,” said Kanji, looking up from my chest. I was wearing my green shirt with all the different theologies on the front of it. “Oh,” I said realizing what I was wearing for the first time that day after putting it on, “I’m none of those. I’m what it says at the bottom, a plain simple Christian.”

I stood leaning on the car door talking to the three of them about the nonexistent Ragamuffin BBS party that had been planned while Kanji was out of town and subsequently vetoed by him since he was working the night it was scheduled. Kilroy, who was waiting in his motorized wheelchair for his grandfather to come pick him up after Russian had been let out early, was nearby. I beckoned him over and occasionally directed comments to him about the discussion going on inside the car. Kanji eventually cut the car off, ceasing Kilroy’s inhalation of exhaust fumes.

Shocka leaned forward, “We’ve been wondering something,” he enunciated each word like he always does, “Is it more polite to say, ‘May I feel your breast?’ or ‘May I feel your tit?’” I laughed, “Someone asked me once whether it was more polite to call a female a chick or a woman.” “Call ’em a babe,” Dick interjected. “So I said that it depended on who you are addressing,” I continued, “I guess it’s sort of the samething.” “What would you rather be called?” “What do you call me?” I asked. “Jonah.” “That’ll work,” I said. “I never call you by your first name,” Shocka pointed out, “All I know is thatyour middle name begins with E.” “He’s been trying to guess my middle name for the past two weeks,” I explained to the other occupants of the car, “So he’s going to start calling me ‘E’. Like in James Bond? there’s ‘Q’ and ‘M’? Well, I’m ‘E’.” “What is your middle name?” asked Kilroy. “I think I told you once,” I said, “but I can’t tell you in front of Shocka; he’s trying to guess.” “All I have to go on,” continued Shocka, “is Beethoven and ‘fur’.” “It’s a piece by Beethoven,” I explained again, “and it begins with ‘Fur’.” “Fur, fur, fur,” Dick mused. Kanji looked at me blankly. I began to whistle. “I know that!” Dick exclaimed identifying tune emanating from my lips, “Fur Elise!” I nodded. “So, Elise? That’s what it is?” Shocka wore an expression of disgust mixed with relief. “How do you spell that,” inquired Kanji. “Uh,” I had to think for a moment before telling him.

I looked up over the roof of the car to see Chris Shiver and Leo, both attendants of my last day of being a teenager party last year, standing at Chris’ truck. “Hey,” I called to them, “Vote for me. I’m running for vice president of the sophomore class!” “We’re going to be juniors next year,” Chris called back, “But, sure, I’ll vote for you for the sophomore vice president!” “Who’s running for president?” asked someone inside the car. “Cris Hyatt.” “Oh, she’ll win, she’s popular.” “We’re not running for popularity,” I insisted, “We want to change things,like getting Witness to do chapel.” Kanji nodded slightly. He’s a member of Witness, an evangelical music and drama team. “Hey, get coed dorms and I’ll votefor you,” offered Dick. He’s a freshman, so he can’t vote for me anyway.

After a while, Kilroy departed in his specially designed minivan, and the guys invited me inside the crowded car as it started raining. We sat in the middle of the library parking lot discussing body hair.

“Jonah, you always wear jeans,” commented Dick. “They’re cheap, I know, I wear them, but why don’t you ever wear a dress or something?” “Why?” I asked. “We want to see your legs,” he answered bluntly, “You need to live a little.” “I’ll wear a dress on Wednesday,” I said. “Really?” Dick perked up. “I’m a panelist for the Spring Forum,” I said, “I want to look like I know what I’m talking about.” “How long is it?” inquired Dick. “Hour, hour and a half,” I guessed. “I mean the dress,” said Dick. “Oh, it’s long.” Dick looked disappointed, “Why don’t youwear a miniskirt?” “I want to look like I know what I’m talking about,” I repeated, then offered, “I’ll come up to the computer lab with my dress on.”

Last fall Dr. Berry, my religion professor for Intro to the Old Testament called me over after class one day and handed me a sheet of paper. It began, “Theta Alpha Kappa Spring Forum Proposal: Whose Image? Christians and Government. A Panel of 2 students and 2 faculty members will discuss the Christian’s role in government. This includes such issues as Christian citizenship, civil disobedience, and church-state relations.”

“Theta Alpha Kappa, the religious honor society, is having a spring forum in March,” said Dr. Berry. “I’ve asked Dr. Mashburn and Dr. Schaefer to be on the panel. Clark Cameron is a student and has also agreed to do it. Would you be interested in being the other student on the panel?”

Dr. Mashburn is my philosophy teacher, and Dr. Schaefer is my political science instructor and personal advisor. They are two of my very favorite professors at school, and to be on the same panel with them would be a great honor. I agreed.

The weekend before the panel as I pondered what to say, I got a call from Clark Cameron, who I realized was also a member of my philosophy class. He asked me for information about the forum and what I planned to say. On the Tuesday before the forum, Clark, Dr. Mashburn, and I met and discussed what we were going to say. I said that I wanted to discuss the most recent manifestation of the church/state issue–the proposed school prayer amendment.

On Wednesday I arranged for someone else to turn in my chemistry homework since I was skipping because my psychotic professor doesn’t believe in ending class at ten till. That wouldn’t leave me enough time to get over to where the forum was taking place, so I spent that hour practicing my speech and playing the piano in one of the practice rooms in an attempt to calm my nerves.

Finally, it was time to start. I went over to the auditorium where the forum was beingheld. There were several people there already, mostly religion majors. I took a seat in the back near them. Thenwhen it was time, Dr. Berry directed us to the front. Dr. Mashburn, Dr. Schaefer, Clark Cameron, and I took our seats at a table up on stage along with Dr. Berry and the student president of Theta Alpha Kappa, who introduced us. As he was, Mom walked in and took a seat.
I went first. I had worked out what I wanted to say on the computer and then transfered it to note cards like I learned to do in speech class. I probably should have just read what I’d written. I was really nervous. My face was hot, and my hands shook. But I managed to get through without sounding too stupid. I lost track of what I was saying a couple of times. Here’s what I prepared and roughly what I said:

A federal court recently ruled that a picture of Jesus cannot hang in the hallway of a Michigan high school. Just last week the Mobile Press Register reported that prayer still cannot be allowed in public schools. Even student initiated prayers are, as one attorney put it, illegal. All across the nation religion is being censored by the government. What happened to the country which at its birth acknowledged a creator who endowed men with certain unalienable rights? Our motto is “In God We Trust.” The United States was founded by men who knew the importance of religion in government. Benjamin Franklin said, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth–that God governs in the affairs of men.”

In the three decades since the Supreme Court ruled that prayer in schools was unconstitutional,the rates of crime, illegitimate births, reported cases of child abuse, and suicide have skyrocketed. It seems that morality has been suppressed along with religion.

The Supreme Court has ruled that prayer, the Ten Commandments, and even God are unconstitutional. Why? Because of the First Amendment’s stipulation that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This supposedly erected a wall of separation between church and state. The founders intendedthat the first amendment protect religion from the government by prohibiting it from establishing a state church. Yet the court turned it around and instead attempted to use it to protect government from religion. The Court used the first amendment as an excuse to remove religion fromthe government.

Now that Republicans control Congress, many people feel that Americans want to return to traditional values to replace the values our culture seems to have forgotten. A great step in this direction would be a Constitutional amendment to once again allow prayer in schools.
There is no good reason why prayer shouldn’t be allowed in schools other than the court fearing religion’s influence on students. And who knows? Prayer in schools might even bring about a reversal downwardtrend of morality in this country.

Yet I don’t think a prayer in schools amendment is a good idea. I don’ think it goes far enough. It doesn’t address the problem of our courts
view on religion in government. Instead, I suggest an amendment that would clarify the issue of religion and the state, returning the Court
s idea to that which the founding fathers held. It should be government’s job to protect the free practice of religion, not to protect itself from religion. The stateshould allow religion to exist, not stifle it.

George Washington said, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

After my little shpeel, Clark spoke, then Dr. Mashburn, and finally Dr. Schaefer, who advocated requiring students to take four philosophy classes while in college. It was then opened up for questions. My mom asked one of the first ones. Most of the people who spoke up were professors. It was great to argue with them from up high on the stage while they were down below. Our roles had been reversed. We also discussed things amongst ourselves. During a little spat about authority, Clark unwisely asked, “Would you support your pastor if you disagreed with him?” It’s funny because our church doesn’t even have a pastor. Clark didn’t know that I’m not a Baptist. I didn’t want to get into that since it was off the subject, so I just replied that it would depend.

We laughed about it later when I revealed the truth about my denominational preference in philosophy class one day. Dr. Mashburn was talking about people who prefer to be called simply “Christian,” and I said, “That’s me. I’m not a Baptist.” The room got very quiet. Then from across the room, one of the guys said, “Burn her!” Everyone laughed. I guess I’m the only person in there who’s not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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