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The Pasadena College Experience


A recent discussion with one of my brothers has led me to put on paper a testimony that has, for some strange reason, never been recorded officially in the history of our community.  It is similar to the article about miraculous intervention that saved our lives in India many years ago, which we called "The Great Escape", in that it is a bit longer than most other articles we have written, and it also constitutes a "testimony" rather than "teaching", which often confuses people into thinking that they need to experience something similar in order to be considered "Christian".  But, with the understanding that this is not something that everyone needs to experience, I will tell that story now.

During my final year of high school (1961-1962) something happened at Pasadena Nazarene College, in Pasadena, California, that went down in the history of the Nazarene Church as spiritually significant.  A group of freshmen (first-year) male students at that institution had been praying for "revival" for a number of weeks, and it had built up serious tension between the "believers" and the "non-believers" staying in the freshman dorm, a very old building on campus which was affectionately known as "the cardboard palace".  Some non-believing students living there had opposed the prayer meetings that were being held there over a period of several weeks, and they had taken to taunting the participants during those prayer sessions.  However, toward the end of that period of concentrated prayer, those same non-believers had experienced strong feelings of fear about the meetings, and had taken to locking themselves in their rooms while the others were praying.

On one particular night (and I do not know the date, or even if it was in 1961 or in 1962) something momentous happened.  The students who were locked in their rooms upstairs, felt an intense attraction toward the meeting being held downstairs, and they slipped out of their rooms and down the hallway toward the stairs which led to the ground floor.  Leaning over the railing and straining their ears toward the sound of many male students praying out loud and all at once, they crept down the stairs one at a time and walked toward the door opening into the freshman lounge, where the praying was going on.

As each of them entered the room, the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong in that lounge that they fell, one by one, onto the floor and cried out in prayer for mercy and forgiveness from God for their actions.  Some of the young men who had been praying there gathered around to pray for these new arrivals, and it was not long before these newly transformed young men left the room through a door at the other end of the lounge, and went to tell others on campus that something unusual was happening in that lounge.

All through the night a spontaneous sharing of people who had experienced the "revival" spread across the campus, as other male students were awakened and taken to the same door through which those first non-believers had passed.  They too, would fall to the floor or experience some other physical manifestation of spiritual impact, and go through a powerful emotional experience which then led to them also going out the door at the other end of the room to bring in someone else.  There was a steady flow of this nature throughout much of the night
By morning, much of the male population of the campus had been through "the Cardboard Palace" (officially "East Dorm") experience, and they were each wondering exactly what it all meant.  At chapel in the college auditorium the next morning, the experience spread to female students at the college, as a great outpouring of God's Spirit on the student population of the college took place.

I had two personal contacts with that revival.  My older brother, Ron, was a part of it, and so was my good friend Gary Enos, after whom my youngest son was named.  Gary was one of the members of the initial prayer group, and Ron was an older (third-year) students who came to East Dorm sometime during the night.  However, for me personally, 500 miles away, going through my final year of high school near Sacramento, California, it was frustrating to have come so close to what appeared to be a genuine "revival" in our denomination, without personally having the opportunity to experience it.

The next school year (1962-1963) I boarded in that same dormitory, and quickly joined a new prayer group that was asking God for a repeat of what had happened the previous year.  Together we prayed and prayed for weeks and months, with what appeared to be no significant results.  However, my own experience of those weeks and months were extremely significant, and that is what I want to tell about here.

Initially, I was hoping for the same spontaneous outpouring; but before long, I realised that what was most important was just that I personally experience something that was genuinely spiritual, and not just religious hysteria.  I was studying psychology for the first time, and was deeply challenged by what I read.  It seemed, through what I was reading in my psychology textbook, that everything I had experienced as a "born again, saved, sanctified, and satisfied" (Nazarene) Christian believer, could be explained away by simple appeals to psychology.  I was the product of my parents' "faith", and if I had been born in a Hindu or Buddhist, or even an atheistic communist country, it was almost certain that I would have been just as dedicated to the beliefs of others (especially my family) in those countries.

Because I had felt, when I was only six years old, that God wanted me to be a "missionary", it was deeply important for me to know that what I was planning to do with my life was, indeed, based on genuine faith in God, and not that I was going to just become an ambassador for the denomination, culture and values of a very human society into which I had come by accident of birth.

I went over all of this in my prayer sessions, making it clear to God and myself that I really did not want to be guilty of preaching something that was not genuine.  Some nights I would pray until I experienced something which might be called an emotional breakthrough.  Other nights I would pray until I experienced some new thought or "revelation" about God or about myself.  But on all such nights, I would step back, put on my "psychology" glasses and examine all that was happening inside my head.  Over and over I had to confess that it could very easily be explained away.  They were valid thoughts and valid emotions, but the bottom line was just that this could be ALL that they were... just my thoughts and my emotions.

I did not even know what it was that I was praying for; but I knew what I was NOT praying for.  I was not praying for something that could be explained away through appeals to psychology textbooks.  Surely an infinite God could work out what that would be without my thoughts or emotions playing a part in it, since those were the things standing between me and Him at that time.

Finally, it all came to a head one night, as I knelt on the floor in front of a seat in the East Dorm lounge, praying out loud at the same time that others around me were doing the same thing.  As humbly as I knew how, I was presenting my official resignation to God as a missionary.  I simply could not do an effective job as a missionary preaching something which I felt may or may not be real.  I wanted truth and reality more than a superficial show of religious fervour.
Yet, somewhere in the middle of that prayer of resignation, it happened.  The heavens opened and I saw God.  I don't mean literally that I saw God... that was too much, but I had a vision of God holding me in his hands and me trying to tell him that I was leaving, that I was walking out, that I no longer believed in him.  And he was smiling down at me as though I was just some stupid, inferior being that had been deluded into believing that his decision to walk out had anything to do with anything.  I saw God in that way, and it overwhelmed me to the point where I thought it might kill me.  What I experienced was definitely emotional.  It definitely was an astounding revelation of a relationship that I had previously viewed as one based on my cultural and family biases.  But it was more than that.  Deep down within my own soul, in a way that would be inexplicable to anyone else, it was God revealing himself to me in a way that made me feel that my whole body was going to explode with gratefulness.

At some point in the proceedings, I remember asking God to turn down the volume on what was happening before it killed me.  I literally could not contain it all.  But I also remember promising, through my tears, "God, if you never give me another emotional experience or spiritual revelation again for the rest of my life, I could never stop believing in you after what I have experienced here tonight."  By that point, I don't even know if I was saying those words with my lips, because I had so totally lost control of my voice; but I do know that I was saying them in my mind, and I remember them very clearly today.  I meant it then, and I have continued to feel that way in the 47 years from that time to the present.  I have had emotional experiences and doctrinal revelations over and over since then, but none of them ever compared to what happened that night... the night when I "saw God".

It was literally years (maybe decades) before I could speak verbally of the Pasadena College experience without breaking down in tears, it was just so powerful.  For weeks afterwards, I walked around the campus as though I was in a super-strong impenetrable bubble, so aware was I that the presence of God was all around me.  I remember one day, as I started to come ever so gradually down from the high, thinking that it was actually quite dangerous what I was going through, as I had this genuine belief that even trucks would bounce off me if they came near.  Surely, if such a strong confidence had persisted, (I thought) one day I would step in front of such a truck and put the belief to a test which maybe even God himself did not want me to do.  Of course, with hindsight, I feel that even that feeling of indestructibility, which might be called a delusion, was totally under God's control.  Surely, if he could have given me the experience which created my superman-like feelings, then he could also protect me from hurting myself while I adjusted to my new-found faith.

Now, let me make some more general observations about that experience.

One of the first things that crossed my mind was the possibility that what I had experienced was something that Nazarenes called being "sanctified".  There had always been talk in that denomination about "revivals", and I had always been frustrated at not having personally experienced such a thing.  Evangelists and other preachers in the denomination would often give "altar calls" where members of the audience were invited to come forward and either get "saved" or get "sanctified".  I embarrassed my family as, week after week, I would go forward, praying for such an experience.  They did their best to explain to me that I had put a little too much faith in the glowing descriptions of what was supposed to happen when "going forward", and to convince me that I had already done enough to qualify as being "saved and sanctified".  But now I had clearly experienced something that stood miles above anything I had ever experienced before.  Had I been genuinely "sanctified"?  Or was it something completely different?  Surely I had a responsibility to explain to others how they too could find what I had found... IF it was a valid experience that anyone else could have.

But that is when I hit an impenetrable barrier.  Quite apart from the fact that I could not control my emotions sufficiently to talk about what I had experienced, the thing that appeared to have triggered my life-changing encounter with God was that I had handed in my membership card as a Christian.  How do you tell people that the way to find God is to try to bluff God into believing that you don't believe in him anymore?  No, that was just not going to happen.  Far better, in my reasoning, for others to struggle on faithfully doing their best (as my parents had encouraged me to do) than to risk them becoming atheists just for want of an experience such as I had gone through.  I concluded that such an experience probably was not necessary for everyone. And I also concluded that there must be some valid reason why God had chosen to lead me to take such a dangerous step as to have let go of all that I had previously believed.
My mother, who had always had a very special relationship with me, claiming that God had revealed to her before I was born, that he was going to use me in some special way, was, around that same time, experimenting with pentecostalism, much to the chagrin of our local pastor.  He eventually took the extreme step of relieving my mother of her membership in the church, on the grounds that she had erred into heresy by saying that the experience of "speaking in tongues" was a valid experience for Christians today.  This same preacher could sense (and I'm not clear how he sensed it, since I felt that I was being both vague and quiet about what had happened to me down in Pasadena) that I had experienced a powerful spiritual experience.  Although my father disagreed with my mother's pentecostal experiments, he was furious that the church had seen fit to expel her from the denomination because of her beliefs.  My older brother, Ron, who had been through the East Dorm revival the year before, agreed with my father and disagreed with my mother.  He spoke to the local preacher and then came to me, assuring me that he had convinced the pastor that whatever had happened to me at Pasadena College had NOT led to me speaking in tongues, and was, in fact, totally consistent with Nazarene doctrine.  He was right about speaking in tongues, but I deeply resented him jumping to such a conclusion, and so I refused to put his mind to rest on that one, saying that it was none of his business whether I had spoken in tongues or not, nor was it the business of the pastor.  Nevertheless, for our various reasons, our whole family all pretty much ended our official membership in the Nazarene Church around the same time.

That more or less ends my testimony on the Pasadena College experience.  However, I want to explain further why I have chosen at this time to tell it, and that could end up taking nearly as long as what I have written so far.

It's Christmas here in the U.S. at the moment.  I am visiting one of my younger brothers, Erwin, in Texas.  Erwin has wrestled for years over the strange transformation that took place in my relationship with my mother, who recently went on record as saying that she thinks I am evil, and pretty much that I have been so since I was quite young, that I have, from my youth, always caused problems in churches, and that I have delusions about wanting to be more popular than Billy Graham.

Erwin asked me, quite seriously, when did I think that this change first started between me and my mother.  He badly wants to believe that both I and my mother are genuine Christians.  My immediate answer was that it started after Cherry and I married, and then moved to Australia, where, after a couple of years, we started to experiment with taking a literal approach to the teachings of Jesus.  I had enthusiastically tried to share (by mail) my excitement about having discovered the teachings of Jesus with my mother at that time, only to have her totally snub me in response.  Even to this day, she refuses to discuss the teachings of Jesus, and to regard them more or less as a heresy... i.e. a serious threat to her understanding of the "person" of Jesus, which she says is all that we need.

"But there were problems even before that," Erwin pointed out.  He was correct.  I had never been asked to pinpoint where the problem arose, and so Erwin took me backwards in my mind to find any earlier source of the tensions.  I recalled how, just before Cherry and I moved from the U.S. to Australia (and that is a story on a par with "The Great Escape") my mother had pleaded with me to read a book on how to know whether you are a fanatic.  Yes, definitely, there had been problems over Cherry and me believing that God could speak to us, even though they had not caused the dramatic turnaround in my mother's attitude toward me that came about much later.  I had to agree with Erwin, that there was an earlier source of the turnaround on the part of my mother.

I have often described the extremely negative assessment that I have received from my mother in recent years (including statements from here that she curses the day that she ever gave birth to me) as having come from the fact that she lost that special relationship she had with a little baby who was going to be used by God in a special way, when she no longer ruled as the puppet mistress in that ministry.  She had her own very specific restrictions on how virtually everyone must behave in order for her to regard them as "saved", and they have caused problems between her and other believers/relatives for decades; but this was especially true of her relationship with me.  She had this overpowering belief that she was to be the one to dictate exactly what form my "special ministry" was going to take, and she had, at some point, totally lost that.  I concluded that the thing Erwin was looking for was where that point was.

I now believe that what happened at Pasadena College had marked that break, even though it was not immediately apparent.  As a result of my seeking for something more than what I had learned from my family and my culture, I had moved into a relationship with God where I could simply direct my prayers to him and be totally confident that he would hear.  My mother was no longer my mediator.  She no longer dictated what was right or wrong for me.

While Alice and I had, around the same time, both had spiritual experiences, hers did not seem to liberate her in the same way that mind had liberated me.  I have never thought about it in exactly those terms before, and so I had not recognised the Pasadena College experience as the turning point in my relationship with her or with anyone else, but I now think that what happened to me in my relationship with her would happen to anyone who found an intense and deeply personal relationship with God.  The world seems to be full of people and organisations that want to act as mediators for such people, and when they sense the overwhelming freedom of people who have that vital link with their Creator, it scares them.

As I said earlier, I do not think that it is necessary for everyone to have such an experience, and I would not even begin to profess that I know how they could get such an experience; but I do believe that to the extent (whether miniscule or infinite) that each of us works on and develops that personal relationship with God, it is going to influence our relationships with others, often in negative ways.  People who are afraid to think outside the box/system, are afraid of people who do not share their fear.

While my mother herself was being referred to as a fanatic because of her pentecostal experience and her unwillingness to cave in to the interrogations of her pastor, she had felt deeply threatened by me having something similar that seemed to have changed my life even more significantly.  My experience led, of course, to me concluding (years later) that the teachings of Jesus are the cornerstone on which to build our lives, our denominations, and our theology.  Certainly my mother's steadfast refusal to even discuss the teachings of Jesus with me or other members of our community (and the almost universal fear that our detractors have to enter into similar discussions) does indicate that what made all the difference was our commitment to the teachings of Jesus.  Nevertheless, we cannot escape the importance of that personal relationship and commitment to Jesus which started it all for me, and which eventually led each one of us Jesus Christians to make such a commitment to his teachings... a commitment which ultimately transcends family ties, church ties and even national ties.  And for those who do not share such a commitment, our freedom in Christ is a threat even before the teachings of Jesus come into the equation.

Those are my conclusions on re-thinking the Pasadena College Experience.

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