And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32
The large brown envelope addressed to me arrived in the mail at the Maranatha House on December 20th, 1978 during Christmas Break.
It lay there with its University of Auburn postal markings in the mail bin.
I was a nightmare come true for me.
And it would take me ten minutes to work up the courage to open it.
The Auburn MCM leadership, since I was such a “new baby” Christian, thought that it would be best if I stayed at Auburn during Christmas break. This rather than going home to work at my normal United Parcel Service (UPS) Christmas job in Birmingham.
This was the Christmas UPS student work program that paired students with regular UPS deliverymen to get all the Christmas packages and goodies out on time. It was an 80/hours per week job for three weeks in between fall and winter term.
The $ 8.00/hour pay was equal to $ 20/hour in 2006 dollars which was good money for a college kid in the US. I had gotten the UPS Christmas job two years ago after my Big Brother in the frat, Bill, with UPS connections, had recommended me and you might imagine that these Christmas jobs were coveted by students. I could clear almost $ 1,200 or about the equivalent of $ 3,600 in 2006 during the break.
It was a nice way to replenish my usually depleted bank account.
But, nonetheless, I walked away from that lucrative UPS job during the 1978 Christmas break to stay at MCM in Auburn in order, in the words of Marty, my shepherd, “To strengthen my faith.”
My shepherd, Marty, had then prayed with me about finding work to pay my way at Auburn.
You may remember that I had lost, or left (depending on your view of things), my frat job in early November. It had provided me with free room and board and was worth about $ 2,400/year in 1978 or about $ 8,000 a year in 2006.
It had been decided by my shepherd, and two of the older single brothers, that one of the jobs I had applied for in early December, slinging pizza, was a good once since I could work all day Saturday and every weekday night.
This work schedule meant that I could make all the MCM meetings and services (which occurred on Tuesday nights, Thursday nights, and Sunday morning and Sunday night) with little outside interference.
The pizza job hours were from 9:30 pm- 12:30 am five nights, from Monday to Friday, each week. I would get home about 1:00 am each weekday night.
On Saturdays I would work eleven hours from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm. Sundays I would have off.
I would work about 25 hours per week.
I could study early in the afternoon and Saturday morning, or so this theory went. I would go to school during the day as usual.
The pizza job paid $ 2.25/hour (minimum wage in 1978) or about $ 5.75/hour in 2006 terms. Plus all the pizza I could eat and a red doughboy hat.
It meant that I was pulling down about $55 a week in wages.
With all that on my mind, there I was after “mail call” looking at a brown envelope with my name on it from my scholarship source “Tau Beta Pi”. My chest felt heavy. I already knew what it contained.
And this took no gift of prophecy on my part.
I opened the large brown envelope and looked at the letter inside it.
It was the kind that got blown out by the old fashioned “clackety clack” main frame teletypes of the 70s.
“Dear Scholarship Recipient:
We regret to inform you that the Grade Point Average (GPA) you earned in the core engineering courses taken during the FALL QUARTER 1978 fell below the minimum 3.0 GPA requirements for scholarship maintenance.
Because of your failure to meet this GPA minimum requirement your scholarship has been temporarily revoked for Winter Quarter 1978 and your scholarship is now placed on probationary status.
In order for your scholarship to be reinstated you must achieve a GPA of 3.0 greater during Winter Quarter 1979.
If a GPA of 3.0 in core engineering courses is not achieved in Winter Quarter 1979 your scholarship will be permanently revoked.
Please be advised that a minimum core course load of 15 hours, excluding laboratory work, must be maintained each quarter for scholarship eligibility.
Please contact the office of admission and scholarships at the School of Engineering if you have any questions or if you think that this notice has been sent in error.”
I sat down in a chair with my head in my hands.
That scholarship paid tuition and books and was worth about $ 2,400 per term or $ 4,800/year in 1978. That would equal about $ 15,000 per year in 2006 dollars.
This was not an insignificant sum for a poor college student like me.
Not only had I lost my free room and board job at the Frat, now I had also managed to lose the other hidden part of my income at Auburn: my scholarship.
I was being bankrupted and my grade point average was being destroyed as an added bonus.
I am not ashamed to admit, that although I knew that this letter was on its way to me, I started crying.
I could not see my way clear. My finances and grades were both disasters now. There had never been room for much error in either; my shoe string finances, and the heavy course load required in engineering school, made my scholastic existence problematic at best.
On the financial side my new pizza job would clear about $ 200/month after taxes. The rent and food at the Maranatha House cost me about $ 180/month and I would tithe another $ 20/month.
Just enough money would come in to get by if I worked a double job in the summer, and, rebuilt my savings during that period.
Of course I could only make it if I contributed nothing to the routine and ongoing Maranatha special offerings (more about that later) that were above, and beyond, the required 10% income tithe that I was expected, and required, to contribute to the ministry.
Fortunately, I still had about $ 400 in the bank despite the fact that I had blown about $ 125 at MLTS last month. I had also thrown another $ 100 into the offering plate of the Auburn Ministry during November for some special request from MCM HQ; what it was now eludes me.
Perhaps I could land yet another job, a second job, to pay tuition. But then when would I study if I did this?
Oh, and apart from the time required for my pizza job, there was the time required for all of my assigned duties MCM and the official MCM meetings. [Please see the appendix at the end of this Part for my “official” MCM schedule for the first week of January 1978].
The total hours of official MCM meetings and duties ate up about 18 hours of my time per week.
My assigned duties would rotate weekly; perhaps I would have to clean all of the bathrooms, or perhaps I had to do the lawn and rake the leaves, perhaps I had to clean all of the common areas, or, perhaps it was my turn to set up and take down for the meetings. It was all the same: about 18-20 hours of labor for MCM per week as a single brother.
But just looking at this schedule of “official MCM duties and meetings” did not really tell the whole tale.
Why? Because it excluded the following types of requests which happened weekly, and even daily:
“Brother we have two sisters moving in can you help load and unload the truck?”
“Brother I sense you are having a tough time and need some deliverance- let’s get together” [Get ready for a two hour deliverance session” hootah”-the thought of these deliverance sessions alone would keep us “on the reservation”, so to speak]
“Tik, This brother needs some deliverance are you available?” [this meant two hours of praying and casting out demons but at least some other poor sucker was on the hootah session hot seat and not me]
“The Band is going on a gig can you load the van up?”
“This week we are going to do the service on the front lawn of the student center lets load all of the chairs and equipment, oh and could you run back to the house we forgot the programs and flyers?”
“We need these posters put up in all of the male dorms and frat houses, can you do it?”
“We are sending a SWAT team in to help open up the South Carolina/Florida State/GA Tech ministry- can you miss a weekend of work and drive back all night Sunday so you can start the week with no sleep?”
“As a gift to the leadership lets imitate Jesus and wash and wax all their cars or give them a special gift to honor them”
It was almost impossible to say no to these requests without being labeled as “selfish”, “world centered”, “putting yourself above others”, “not having a servants spirit”, or being labeled has having a “spirit of laziness”, or being infected with “worldly concerns”, or the other phrases in MCM’s special language.
Not doing this stuff would retard whatever chance you might have of going into the ministry full time, or at the very least, of being seen as an over-comer’ by the leadership.
Well I’ll stop this line of writing before I start retching up my lunch.
Okay, I am back and feeling a bit better now.
Yikes…I now see that I was in such a hurry writing the last paragraph that I forgot to include other optional things like the campus blitz days on Saturdays where we would go two by two witnessing, handing out tracts on campus for a couple of hours;
standing outside the arena before, during, and after basketball games handing out tracts;
starting front clubs at the university such as the Fellowship of Christian Students that was really a bait and switch scheme to get students into MCM;
the one thousand and one other things that helped market and sell MCM to the unsuspecting and ensnare fellow students; things which I have, thankfully, blanked out of my mind.
When you add in all of this busy work the time commitment for MCM was 50 hours/week.
All right; enough already. I am about to start going crazy again.
As I said, the work at the pizza shop would consume 25 hours per week of my time.
And, of course, lest I forget, there was that little bitty thing we called engineering school.
I was scheduled to take 17 hours of class next quarter in engineering school.
As I have told you, the rule of thumb was about 1.5 hours of studying for each hour of class work. Total time for school and study should have been about 45 hours a week if there was any hope of making my grades.
So if one was brave enough to add it up the time required for school, work, and MCM activities totaled close to 125 hours per week.
For those of you still with me that is about 18 hours a day. Was sleep required?
I hoped not because this schedule showed I was running out of time to do even that.
And like I said I was running out of money too.
So I went to see the Marty, my shepherd.
He was my spiritual guardian, right?
The person who was my overseer, my big brother in the Lord, the one who would supply me advice and prayer and counsel and hold me accountable for the things of God and my Christian walk in this world.
Yeah, him. That one. As you can see Christ is still working on my attitude towards him.
I don’t claim to be perfect.
So I got with Marty that afternoon and laid out my time and finance problems. I showed him the letter from Tau Beta Pi putting me on probation, taking away my winter quarter scholarship, and threatening to permanently cancel my scholarship if my grades did not get back on track.
I also explained the time problem of 19 hours a day in a 24 hour day, the 19 hours to keep up with work, MCM requirements and school.
“Marty, I can’t see how this is going to work I am just overloaded,” I said, sniffling back tears.
“Brother, you are caught up in the concerns of the world, God will supply everything if you will lay it all before him, lay down your cares.”
He continued, giving me his over the glasses quizzical, “I know best, just relax,” look that came naturally to him.
“Perhaps, Tik, God is speaking to you. I think that maybe He is telling you that you need to lay down your ambition to be an engineer. And we (who was the “we” he was speaking of????) think that you have a ‘spirit of ambition’. This spirit needs to be broken. One way to break it would be to take a couple of quarters off from school, spend time building your faith, perhaps get a second job to get on your feet financially. You are being burdened by this worldly spirit of ambition. You may need to lay it aside for God.”
“Besides, we know that God has you destined for full time ministry,” he said as he sat back and waited for my reaction.
His tone of voice was very warm as he put his arm around my shoulder.
He continued to look over his glasses as we sat there for a minute in dead silence, side by side.
Truthfully at that point Marty’s suggestion of dropping out sounded appealing.
The money was not there to go back to school; at least not right now.
And the time was not there to go to school AND hold down two jobs. Not with my commitment to the activities and kingdom work for MCM.
And there was that issue of the worldly spirit of ambition.
I really did want to be successful in all that I did. I was always stretching myself and overreaching- or so it seemed. Maybe I did need to, “Lay down,” this, “worldly ambition,” this desire to succeed.
BTW: “Lay it down translates” into give it up as a show of submission to MCM. [More on MCM’s special language and the purpose of such a language in sociological cults will be written about in a future post by Tikie: the Editors]
Besides, hadn’t I heard a prophetic utterance from the head prophet Joe Smith, the main prophet of MCM himself, that I WOULD go into full time ministry and lead many thousands into the kingdom just last month?
God Himself had spoken directly through Joe Smith that I would be one of the mighty men of God, right?
If that meant laying down the spirit of ambition, in order to achieve this worthy goal of being God’s man, shouldn’t I do what Marty was suggesting and drop out of school for a while?
All of the pressure I was feeling would go away if I dropped out of school.
Juggling the studying, the working, the keeping up with my MCM duties and my study of the faith would all become easier if I did this.
If I dropped out of school I could concentrate on nothing but the kingdom and earning money. It would almost be a “spiritual sabbatical; giving it all over to God and the leaders of MCM, wouldn’t it?
But the old Tik, the Tik that is writing this blog, that old Tik, was stirring.
Well guess what?
Despite everything that had happened over the last three months he was still struggling to keep me, the New MCM Tik, from completely destroying my life and my future.
Oh the Old Tik was hardly conscious at this point, bound and gagged in that little closet in the back of my mind. He, the Old Tik, the real Tik, was surrounded and tied up and gagged by a bunch goofy doctrines, weird sights, and strange utterances I had heard, and seen, over the last three months.
So far I had been able to almost completely ignore him and my doubts.
But somehow that rotten old Tik, that sinning worldly Tik, that Tik that had begged me not to walk away from Sheila, on that bitterly cold December afternoon, shook off the bonds that had him tied and gagged in that closet in my mind.
And that rotten old Tik through a gargantuan effort of will, managed to get his hands, temporarily, back onto the controls of my life that day.
And I thank God Almighty that somehow that rotten old worldly ambitious Tik got loose and ran amok that afternoon.
Now, I had already learned already that it was not wise to disagree straight away with any recommendations of the leadership, especially those of your personal shepherd.
Despite Marty’s concerned manner and warm tone that afternoon, I knew that if I disagreed with him openly, or challenged him at all, he would immediately harden his positions and could make me do whatever he was suggesting.
But I also knew that the particular MCM phrase Mike had used that, “Perhaps God is telling you,” meant that Marty, at least for the time being, had not decided on the final course I should take.
Not yet anyway.
It was a small opening and I had to act quickly to take advantage of it.
Now to be sure if he had uttered the phrase, “God is speaking to me,” or , “God has given us/you/me a word,” then any argument to the contrary, no matter how rational, was useless.
For then I would risk being labeled rebellious and seen as possibly being influenced by some sort of spirit or demon if I challenged him on this word or direction for my life.
And if I continued in my resistance to this word then I would be hauled before Mike and Missy Caulk our pastors for the MCM crime of rebellion against God. It was clear that those sheep who engaged in such arguments with their shepherds, or who exhibited any signs of independent thinking, apart from the advice of the leadership, would be hampered in their spiritual growth.
It would signal that they were not ready move up in God’s Green Berets and take on more responsibility. This, by the way, was especially true for women. [Editor’s note: We have a post coming up where Tikie writes about the hierarchy and the treatment of women in MCM]
Any challenge or resistance to the leadership could even lead to expulsion, apostasy, shunning, and being given over to Satan.
Looking back on this twenty plus years later it is really hard to believe that this is how things worked at MCM- but it is the truth!
So, knowing that any DIRECT disagreement with Marty would be counterproductive, I said the magic words, in MCM’s special language that I was mastering.
The words used by sheep at MCM when they were cornered, “Brother let me pray about it.”
This phrase was the equivalent of saying, “Abracadabra ala kazam,” because it was like a special spell that would temporarily halt a MCM shepherd, or elder, in their tracks.”
But it only would engender a temporary halt.
Now I knew that he would not, and could NOT, come after me after I uttered those words. Nor could he force a decision on me, well, not immediately, anyway. Because I had said I was seeking God’s will for my life. No one could argue with that. At least not right away.
After our counseling session I walked outside into the cold windy December afternoon.
The sun was setting in the cobalt blue winter sky as I plopped down on a bench across the street from the Maranatha House on East Magnolia Avenue.
Now the old Tik, reveling in his temporary freedom, was thinking, “Now let’s see…exactly WHY are you here at Auburn? And what is the PRIMARY purpose that brought you here?’
Well the answer was pretty obvious to the old Tik :
I was not at Auburn to work in a pizza joint.
I was not at Auburn to be in a frat.
I was not at Auburn to socialize.
My primary purpose at Auburn was NOT to proselytize for MCM and build Bob Weiner’s Kingdom.
I was PRIMARILY here at Auburn for ONE thing:
I was at Auburn University to get an education and my degree and improve my situation so I could provide a good living and home for my future wife (whom I had not met) and my, as yet, unborn children.
Makes me a genius, huh?
Well I can tell you that many MCMer’s never figured that out. They did not graduate from college, and post MCM blow up, or after they crawled away from MCM, or were given the boot for some sin, they had nothing to fall back on.
Well that day the Old Tik was thinking through all of this very carefully. I knew very well what had happened to my friends and frat brothers who had gotten in trouble and dropped out for a quarter or two.
Vic, one of my good friends had done so last year. He had gotten a job with AlaGasCo as a utility man making $ 15,000 a year ($ 40,000 in today’s dollars) for just a term or two.
But once a person got used to that kind of money it was hard to go back to being a poor student. Vic never returned to school.
In fact, with the exception of Ricky, one of my converts to MCM (and a former frat brother), I had never known anyone to come back to school and complete their education once they bailed out…. even if they thought they would leave for a short time to get their head back together.
Sp there I sat on the bench, shivering in the December cold wind, thinking this all through.
I had no one to talk to about this my financial and academic problems, not anyone who could offer me advice, other than Marty; or the leadership of MCM at Auburn.
And I, the Old Tik did not like the line of MCM thinking regarding my schooling if you haven’t figured that out yet.
But who else could I turn to?
I had pretty much told my parents to shove off. There was no way I was going to reach out to them. I would not have them see me crawling back to them.
Mom [my Frat RA] and I had parted ways… Sheila… nah, I had destroyed that relationship…my Big Brother in the frat, a graduate student in chemistry, Bill, would have been a good choice; but I had sissy slapped him and called him hell bound… Chris at the BSU- no way could I talk to him…not after calling him a “pretend” Christian and basically telling him to stick it. Going to him would be as bad as crawling back to my parents. Maybe worse.
Except for the brothers and elders at MCM I had no one to turn to, it seemed.
Then who else could help me?
For about ten minutes I sat there in the whistling December wind, and despite what I had told Marty earlier, you can see that not much praying happened.
Only hard thinking, problem solving thinking, if you will, on my part.
Then I had a thought.
It was one that both scared me and also gave me hope.
I thought of the one person I could seek out for advice and help.
My engineering professor and advisor.
Sure, he was a real hard ass, and pretty much an all-around jackass (what you saw was what you got) but he was a straight shooter, and, I knew in my heart, despite all of his efforts to appear hard and gruff, that inside he really cared deeply about his students and graduate assistants.
He had talked me into coming into the particular major I had chosen two years ago. He had helped me get that scholarship that kept me in school.
And I knew he cared about me.
School was out, but Dr. Carl had a couple of grant programs ongoing, and I was pretty sure that he and his grad students would probably be working on these projects during the break.
Life takes many turns and twists as you know.
There is a great book called the Tipping Point which discusses how the big things in our lives, and in our society, many times hinge on what, at the time, appear to be small and insignificant decisions.
One example of a small decision that changed the course of my life, and the lives of at least one hundred and fifty other people, was my decision to spend time with Ellen and Randy and to invite the Praise Band and Bob Weiner to my frat House in October 1978.
And another example of this was the decision I made, on that cold December afternoon in 1978, to seek out Dr. Carl for advice.
It was a decision that reverberates in my life even today as I type this on my Dell laptop, sitting in an American Airlines Boeing 737, winging my way cross country on this warm sunny May afternoon in 2006.
Consciously or not I (the “old Tik”, that is) was seeking guidance from someone who had nothing to gain or lose from the decision I was facing.
I was looking for someone who would counsel me impartially; someone who I knew would try to give me advice that they believed would best for me and my future.
I should mention, by the way, that Dr. Carl was, and is (for we still talk on occasion), a self- proclaimed agnostic.
Not quite an atheist, but almost one.
As I headed up the steps of Ramsey Hall I knew I was in luck. Because I could see the cheap florescent lights on in Dr. Carl’s office. It told me he was working that afternoon.
Dr. Carl was a genius and had been one of the lead engineers, right out of grad school, on the US Apollo Lunar Program in the late 1960s. When that had dried up he had gotten his PhD from Purdue University and had now been at Auburn about ten years.
His specialty was now nuclear structures.
He was at his desk wearing his favorite green cardigan sweater. Yes, the kind with leather patches on the elbows that you see profs wear in the movies.
He looked up at me as I walked in.
“Mr. Tok, what are you doing here? I thought you would be in Birmingham helping Santa and his elves deliver Christmas goodies (he knew about my usual Christmas gig with UPS).
“Dr. Carl. I have a serious problem.”
“I should say so after your surprisingly abysmal academic performance this past quarter. Pull up a chair Mr. Tok.”
He said this while brushing his long hair out of his face. He closed the book he was taking notes in and his pony tail swung behind him as he turned to face me.
“Well, I am not here to talk about the problem with my grades last quarter… but another problem,” I said.
He put folded his arms into a prayer position and cradled his chin in his hands.
“Okay- shoot… tell me what’s the matter?”
“I have a sudden money problem. I left the frat and lost my free room and board that went with it.”
“Good decision,” he said, “nothing but a nest of rats in that frat house anyway. Terrible place to live and too many distractions for a good student like you. Well done.”
“And now I got this.” I pushed the letter about the scholarship loss across his desk.
He looked at it for a moment.
“Hmmmmmmmm,” he murmured.
”You have to get your grades up…and you can…if you apply yourself.” he said looking up at me, his bangs hanging down just over his eyebrows.
He pushed his hair back over his forehead ; crossing his arms behind his neck and cradling his head with his hands.
“I know, and I am going to do better next quarter, but… well, I am out of money… and I can’t pay tuition in January. It’s that simple.”
“I see, let me think about this for a second Mr. Tok.”
He sat there for a moment and leaned back. He then turned in his chair and stared out of the second floor window to the street below where the last leaves of autumn whirled down Magnolia Street like dervishes.
After a moment he turned, picked up his telephone, and dialed a number.
“Bertha, hey it’s me Dick down here in Nukes. Hey, I have a good student of mine, a good kid, who is in a bit of trouble and can’t pay tuition, scholarship trouble, you know what I am talking about… eh?”
He paused listening into the handset.
“Okay, how do we look on those DOT grants that came through last week?”
“No, he is here, yep, uh huh…Tik Tok is his name…no I have a couple of forms here…uh huh… yep… okay then… what time?…okay, thanks Bertha.”
He hung up.
“Okay Mr. Tok, it’s your lucky day. That was Bertha in the bursar’s office. We have three DOT engineering grants that just came through last week. Two are already spoken for but one is still available for any student that we choose to recommend.”
“What is a DOT grant?” I asked.
“Free government money… courtesy of the Department of Transportation and Uncle Sam,” he said as he laughed. “Graft, handouts, hell; call it want you want… I call it tuition money for the needy!”
“Now these grants don’t have the cache of a Tau Beta Pi scholarship, nor are they guaranteed (my scholarship was backed by the Tau Beta Pi Endowment and as long as I made my grades I got the money). They just come in over the transom, so to speak, usually at the end of the term, if they come at all.”
He reached into his drawer and pulled out a triplicate form.
“We just got three grants each for the winter and spring terms and one has not been spoken for. Like I said I don’t know when and if we will get any more… and in fact we may never get another one!”
He continued, “It works like this. You have to get two faculty members in your college to recommend you. I have a form here and Ralph (he meant Dr. Jenkins in Hydraulics, another one of my profs) will sign this with me. Our signatures on the form will approve you for the DOT grant. You get your transcripts from the registrar’s office and take them with this signed completed grant application to the bursar’s office to Bertha Jones. And, voila, you get your tuition paid, courtesy of Uncle Sam.”
He paused, “As long as you maintain a “C” average your tuition is at least covered for the next two terms.”
I could not believe it.
This hard ass of a guy, and one of the toughest profs in the school of engineering, was doing me the favor of a life time.
And he wasn’t even a Christian. Note my thinking with the word: even.
“Dr. Carl, I don’t even know what to say… thanks, thank you, THANK YOU!”
I stood up and walked over to give him a hug I was so overcome with emotion.
“That’s Okay, Mr. Tok.” He waved me off. “Just consider it a Christmas present.”
“Merry Christmas Mr. Tok!”
“Merry Christmas Dr. Carl.”
Tik”s Schedule for the first week of January 1979 with regards to MCM “official meetings” and duties assigned by Marty his shepherd and administrator of the Auburn Church:
am- Meeting set up
am-single brothers Bible Study
am- morning worship service
pm- evening worship service
pm-service take down and clean up
am- Dicipleship group
pm- kitchen cleanup
am- Dicipleship group
pm-kitchen clean up
pm- evening worship service
pm-service take down and clean up
am- Discipleship group/victory group on campus
pm- kitchen cleanup
am- Dicipleship group
pm-kitchen clean up
pm- evening worship service
pm-service take down and clean up
am- Discipleship group/victory group
pm- kitchen cleanup/witnessing on campus
am- Discipleship group/witnessing on campus
pm- kitchen cleanup