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John Calvin's Birthday: 2005

Two minute birthday speech

De fruticibus (On the Shrubbery) - Prof. Mark Williams

Prof. Mark WilliamsBrothers and sisters in Christ, fellow-citizens of the saints of Geneva:

Thank you once again for inviting me back from the dead to celebrate my birthday. It is indeed a pleasure and an honor to be with you. It is good to be remembered.

But what is this that I hear about this place lately? As I was walking out the door this morning, my dear friend and colleague, Abraham Kuyper, hinted darkly at some strange goings-on here at the campus you have named for me. Something about the shrubbery or bushes.

Now, I have never given Abraham particularly high marks for disambiguation (and, to be fair, he says the same thing about me), but this was especially hard for me to understand. I have always considered your campus to be superbly landscaped; could some odd notions about the campus greenery have taken root suddenly? Are you going to pave over the central lawns, thus depriving faculty and students alike of the joys of that most reformed pastime, frisbee golf?

Or are there to be no more tulips in the spring? Although, granted, we French have never quite understood the Dutch mania for tulips, preferring instead hillsides full of vinyards, but passons.

And then I heard rumors of advertisements in the local press protesting the presence on campus of a certain type of bush. I looked among the newspaper ads for the plant nurseries but found nothing having to do with your shrub problem.

I can only conclude that some of you feel that your campus has become host to a certain invasive species of plant that, once rooted, can take four or even eight years to eradicate, but that others of you believe that these bushes should be made to feel welcome, as being part of God's world.

How ought you to deal with this?

Well, for one thing, I would not recommend the burning bush treatment. It has been done before, and spectacularly. I am afraid that your physicists, chemists, and botanists, clever though they are, are not quite up to the business of burning bushes. Besides, you will recall that the burning bush was not consumed but remained in place, and you also have to go round barefooted once you have a burning bush because the ground is holy, and the winters are just too cold around here for that, except for the occasional kid from Alaska or the Yukon. And I can never figure them out.

However, there does appear to be a solution to your bush problem. As my friend and predecessor Augustine said (you will have noticed that I am wearing a tee-shirt honoring him, no?), Fecerunt itaque civitates duas amores duo , or in your vulgur speech, “ And so two loves made two cities: love of self even to contempt of God made the earthly city; love of God even to contempt of self made the heavenly city.”

You know the passage well, I am sure. But what has all of this to do with shrubs? You may well ask. Shrubs and bushes are, for all their merits, part of the city of the love of self—not necessarily in contempt of God, since the burning bush story shows that God holds at least some bushes in high regard. So we esteem and love ourselves and, as Aristotle noted, a proper regard for others arises out of a proper regard for oneself. And so we plant bushes and shrubs to delight ourselves and others, as anyone who has walked through a pleasant garden—or this campus—will have long since learned. In God's scheme of things, even a noxious weed may serve a divine purpose.

So, my Calvinist friends, do not worry about the landscaping. Shrubbery, trees and flowers are things that, as Jesus taught us, God will take care of.

And now I see what can only be a birthday cake. Curious custom! But I think a corner piece is predestined for me...