Jan Kaarsvlam has just been appointed head chapel sponsor at Western Michigan Christian in Muskegon, Michigan. The three bands that he would most like to see play in chapel at his school are “Bruce Boxleitner and the Reasonable Substitutions,” “ Spoiled Meat,” and “Vomitorium.”
It was time for chapel at Bedlam Christian School, and math teacher Jane VanderAsch was in her assigned area, making sure that her pre-calc students were behaving themselves. As she waited for the chapel to start, though, she saw several unsupervised classes where students slouched in their seats; a few, beating the rush, were already sound asleep.
Jane wasn’t necessarily a chapel booster (she often wished she could skip the students’ clumsy attempts to articulate their faith), but that wasn’t the point. The absent teachers were not living up to their responsibilities. Jane herself was not the sort to leave her charges unattended, but the anger welling inside her finally moved her to rashness. As she stood and moved up the aisle, she heard one of the chirpy members of Bedlam’s chapel team introducing Jimmy Ray and the Little Church Dogies. A shudder ran up Jane’s spine as she headed for the staff room.
When she flung open the door, she saw Christina Lopez, one of Bedlam’s English teachers, John Cloudmaker, a Bible teacher, and head custodian Ed McGonigal, who was regaling the other two with a joke. Jane caught only the last few words.
“. . . use both hands, lad,” Ed said, slamming his coffee mug to the table. “Ye’ll get more in.” Christina and John roared with laughter, wiping tears away as Ed’s whiskered cheeks blushed modestly.
“Aren’t you supposed to be supervising chapel?” Jane asked, perhaps a bit more shrilly than she intended.
Christina smiled. “Yes, we are—well, John and I are, anyway.”
Jane stood momentarily, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. “Then why aren’t you?”
“Well, this is the fifth country music praise team to play in chapel this semester. Nashville has apparently become the seat of the high priest and our only channel to God.” It was Christina’s turn to be a bit more strident than she intended.
Cloudmaker and McGonigal, quite content to remain spectators, like the crowd at Wimbledon, snapped their faces back toward Jane.
“Huh?” Jane said. Cloudmaker surreptitiously grabbed a pen, wrote the women’s initials on the top of a notepad, and marked a tally beneath the letter C.
Christina lobbed the ball back into play. “My point is that this school is myopically ethnocentric. Do you know almost 10 percent of Bedlam’s student population is African-American? How come we don’t ever have any gospel choirs come and perform for us?”
The gentlemen swiveled toward Jane, who was ready this time. “You may teach rhetoric, young lady, but I recognize a red herring when I hear one. The subject under debate is whether you are shirking your duties, not whether God prefers country and western or rhythm and blues.”
“Ooh!” muttered McGonigal to Cloudmaker, who was marking a tally beneath the J on his notepad, “I dinna ken aboot God’s musical praeferences, but ye doon’t have to have sich a gret donnybrook o’er et.”
“Huh?” Christina said. Cloudmaker quickly scrawled the initials EMcG and the top of his notepad and placed a tally beneath it.
Jane snorted. “He said, ‘You ought to be in that auditorium, watching your kids instead of passing judgment on the chapel committee.’”
Ed said, “Huh?” Cloudmaker’s pen danced back and forth between Jane’s and Ed’s columns, but in the end, he made a mark in neither.
Christina ignored the whole last exchange. “It’s not a matter of what God prefers. We ought to be more sensitive to the people who make up our community. When we ignore the cultural gifts of our members, we devalue them and force them to outsider status.”
“Aye, lassie,” McGonigal said, his voice trembling, his eyes taking on a far-off look. “It’s bin a lang time since I’ve heard th’ sweit soond ay th’ fife an’ pipes. T’was anither warld.”
The women looked at each other, then Cloudmaker, who just shrugged before making a mark beneath Ed’s initials. Jane arched an eyebrow, then cleared her throat.
“I think what’s really at issue, Christina, is what YOU prefer. You don’t like country music, so you create this cockamamie argument to justify your skipping out on chapel duty.”
Jane watched as Cloudmaker made a mark beneath her initial, and pounced. “What is this, John, some sort of little game to you?”
Christina, noticing for the first time the score sheet (where the tally stood Ed–2, Jane–2, Christina–1), was flabbergasted. “Do you mean to tell me, I’m losing to . . . to Ed? He hasn’t made a comprehensible point yet!”
“Noo who’s ignorin’ cultural gifts an’ makin’ me feel luik an outsider jist coz Ah wish tae hear a wee bit o’ bagpipin’ noo an’ ’en,” Ed said, visibly crushed. “Ah hiner it makes ye feel better abit yerself, girlie.”
At that point, Maxwell Prentiss-Hall, the younger member of Bedlam’s counseling staff, ran into the staff room. “Hey, everybody, wasn’t that band in chapel great!”
Christina’s look was so sharp that Maxwell winced. “What?! Jimmy Joe and the Country Fish, or whatever they are called?! I have pretty much had enough country music to last a lifetime. Why can’t anyone understand that there are other ways to worship our God: gospel, hymns, rock and roll, hip-hop, Peruvian charango folk music? I mean . . .”
Somehow Maxwell had worked up the courage to interrupt. “But, Christina, what’s wrong with country?”
“Nothing, if all you want to cater to is white people.”
“But . . .” Maxwell began to protest, but he paused, unsure how to go on. “Were you in chapel?”
“No, she most certainly was not!” Jane shouted triumphantly. “This brings us back to the point I was trying to make to begin with.”
Christina stood up. “I don’t have to listen to this. Jane, you are not my boss. And Maxwell, I don’t want to talk any further about Billy Bob and the Chicken-Pickers. I’ve taught the Howell triplets. That’s enough rednecks for a lifetime.”
On the word redneck, the door opened. An African-American man dressed in a fringed, buckskin coat and chaps entered. Behind him were three similarly dressed African-Americans.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” asked Jane.
Then, behind them entered Bentley VanderHaar, principal of Bedlam, who immediately turned to Jane. “Say, Jane, I noticed that you left your kids unattended during chapel. Please don’t let that happen again.” Jane’s mouth felt dry and puckered and her face flushed. She made a point not to look toward Christina.
“Say everybody,” VanderHaar continued, turning to the others. “I’d like you to meet Jimmy Ray and the Little Church Dogies, finest country and western praise band east of the Mississippi.”
This time Christina averted her gaze from Ed, who was beaming. He turned to Jimmy Ray and asked, “Dae ye tak’ requests? Ah’ve bin knoon tae play a wee bit ay pipes, an’ a body ay mah favorites is ‘Naethin’ but th’ bluid ay Jaysus.’ Coods ye play it fur me, lads?”
In unison, Jimmy Ray and the Little Church Dogies said, “Huh?”
At that, Cloudmaker tossed his pen in the air, rose from his seat, announced, “Game, set, and match—Ed McGonigal!” and left the room.