Students from the "An Inside Look at the January Series" class share their insights on News & Stories.
Every year at this time, a group of students attends each and every January Series lecture and writes daily journal entries about the speakers. It's an interim class titled "An Inside Look at the January Series," taught by professors Ralph Honderd and Karen Saupe. Continuing the tradition from last year, students from this year's class will be sharing their insights on News & Stories.
January 24: N.T. Wright—“How God Became King: Why We've All Misunderstood the Gospels”
Hannah Brenton, junior
Often when Christians read the Bible, it is easy to truncate the Gospel message. Some focus solely on Christ’s birth and death, believing that all that matters is knowing and professing the correct creeds, being theologically correct in issues of Christ’s incarnation and saving work on the cross for our sins. Other Christians truncate the Gospel message in a different way, putting aside the theological creeds and being concerned mainly with Christ’s life. These Christians will focus on his great moral teachings or social activist works while caring less about his incarnation or atoning work on the cross.
N.T. (Tom) Wright focused on bringing together a holistic reading of the Gospel message, focusing on four melodic strands that run through the Gospel. Two of these strands are played too soft by most Christians, and two are played much too loud. The first strand that is too soft is the truth that all four Gospels tell the story of Jesus being the climax, the fulfillment of Israel’s history. I really appreciated this point; so often, it’s easy for us to break up the Scriptures into a story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Reconciliation while completely ignoring God’s work through his particular people Israel between the fall and the redeeming work of Christ. But Wright shows how God had called Israel to be the people through whom the whole world would be rescued and that Christ, enthroned as King of the World, is the fulfillment of God’s work through Israel.
The second strand that is too loud is that of the Gospel being a story of Christ being the divine incarnation of God. While Christ is the incarnate God, many have a skewed idea of who God is, believing that Jesus must be some incarnated Deist or Epicurean God who really is not concerned with the daily occurrences of the created world. To focus on Christ being God incarnate is to focus on Christ being the God who is fulfilling His promises to come back to his people Israel, the God who had been faithful to His people Israel, who had tabernacle among them, and who now desires to tabernacle among them again as King of the world.
The third strand that is also too loud is that of the Gospel being a story of how the Church was founded, believing that Christ came solely to be the founder of a movement and to start a new ethic. But Christ wasn’t just founding a church – Wright points out that God’s people had been around for a while! But Jesus’ ethical teachings were a part of a new agenda of renewal: a renewed covenant, a renewed community.
The fourth and final strand that is too soft is that of the Gospel being a story about how Jesus defeats the powers of the world. So often we try to separate the religious and political aspects of life, saying that Christ’s work is all about atonement but that politics lie outside of his reign. Wright says that this atonement theology lies inside the political theology of Christ – Jesus was constantly talking about his kingdom, truth, and power which stands in contrast to the powers of this world, and that in his life, death, and resurrection, Christ overthrows the powers that keep us captive.
In all, what I most appreciated about Wright’s talk is that he brought together all aspects of the Gospels. I often become very frustrated with the popular Gospel message that I hear which is all about “Accepting Jesus Christ into your life, believing that he died for your sins, so that you can go to heaven when you die.” This escapist mentality is not the Gospel message, and in some ways, I think it prevents people from daily taking up their cross and following Jesus in the here and now because they are constantly thinking about the perfect life to come away from this sin-corrupted earth.
While the incarnation and atoning work of Christ are important aspects, we’ve emphasized them in the wrong ways. Wright made a brilliant point that the incarnation of Christ “is the key in which the music is set and not the music itself”, and that we shouldn’t focus on the atoning work of Christ “so that we can have comfort about escaping into a platonic heaven” – we are not saved simply for our own sake to be with God forever; rather, God’s atoning work is all about God saving us so that He can continue to work through us, His Royal priesthood. God loves and cares for all of his creation, He wants to make his world right, and He wants to work through human beings who are designed “as angled mirrors to reflect God into the world and to reflect the world and its praises back to God.” That is what the Gospel is all about – God’s kingdom is already at work in this world and we can have huge comfort knowing that God is constantly at work, using even us to do His kingdom work!
January 23: Deborah Lew—“Stories and Songs from the Broadway Stage”
Mary Van Poolen, sophomore
I had the privilege of hearing Deborah Lew speak and perform at Calvin’s January Series. Right before Lew’s performance, I gave a presentation to my January Series class on Lew and on Broadway in general. I began my presentation by giving some background information about Broadway for those who have not grown up with it as I have. Along with some basic info, I was able to share my own passion for music and theatre. Hopefully, I prepared the class to listen to Lew with an open mind and an open heart ready to be moved.
By the end of Lew's presentation, the whole class was ranting and raving about Broadway, and I think I overheard a couple people mention moving to New York and getting a day job at a steakhouse and working on their singing skills by night! However, Lew probably didn’t need any help from me to get this reaction from the audience. I found her to be extremely personable, kind and humble, but at the same time she had a stage presence that commanded your attention.
Once she opened her mouth, the audience started smiling. She sang some of her favorite songs from South Pacific, Sound of Music, Amour, Beauty and the Beast, and much more. Even for some of the songs that I had never heard before, I felt like I could visualize the Broadway performance happening right before my eyes. Deborah Lew sang with passion that she was able to draw from real life experiences. She mentioned a couple times in her career where uncertainty became her best friend. Uncertainty about the level of her talent, uncertainty about where her next paycheck would be coming from and even uncertainty about the utilities in her tiny apartment in New York City working. Because of her struggles and the necessity for reliance on God, famil, and friends, she was able to better connect to a lot of the roles she played on and off-Broadway.
She also mentioned how becoming a mother added a whole new aspect to being an actress. In the Q&A time after her lecture a man asked about how being a mother impacted her performance as an actress/singer and she said that it gave her the ability to connect on a deeper level to the characters that she was portraying. I truly enjoyed Lew’s sincerity and wise advice that she gave to the audience.
Another aspect of Lew that I appreciated was her obvious commitment to her faith in Jesus Christ. She approached questions about being a Christian and living the lifestyle of an actress in New York with confidence and joy. She seems to thrive on the challenge of being a Christian in a place that some deem to be “un-Christian.” Her love for adventure mixed with her confidence in the LORD inspired me. And let’s not forget that voice. Lew’s control and range gave me the “shivers” (as I would say to my friends). It made me want to quite my day job and move to New York! Let’s be reasonable though. Although my calling may not be to Broadway, I’m sure glad that Deborah Lew’s is.
January 20: Ralph Edmond—“Real Solution's for Haiti's Future”
Carlos Erazo, junior
Ralph Edmond is a young man who, since getting involved in business, has had a vision to rebuild Haiti’s economy and society. As aa Haitian, he has a passion for his own people and a devotion he pursues as he speaks to others about the real solutions to rebuilding Haiti’s economy.
He mentioned in class, and during the Q&A, how many people have tried to kill him back home and have kidnapped many members of his family. However, he still decides to go back home and teach Haitians how to do business. He called Haiti an “unfaithful woman” that he loves too much to abandon.
I can totally relate to Edmond’s passion for his own country. As an international student from El Salvador, I can relate to him because I am aware of the negative preconceptions people have about my country. I know my country is not perfect because it is a developing country; there is violence, and it’s affected by poverty. However, I do feel love for my people back home. I feel like I am burdened not just for Salvadorans but also for Spanish-speaking people all over Latin America. Just because I am far away from home, I cannot forget about them. Many Salvadorans that have been able to become eminent world leaders go through what Ralph Edmond is going through. They feel the responsibility to use what they have to serve their own country and their own people who need their help.
Even though I was a little tired during his presentation at the CFAC, I thought he gave several good points of advice for those of us wanting to make a difference. His mission of rebuilding Haiti’s economy is not an easy one. He knows that there is still a lot of work to be done until Haiti reaches a stable economy; however, he’s not willing to stop now. Edmond said that “we need to change at a human level first; first change then act.” I also liked when he spoke about “going to action. Business is gift and should be major factor in implementing change.”
What many people are doing to help Haiti is sending food and many workers to help out, especially after the earthquake. Edmund argues that this method might help momentarily but that in the long run, it is ineffective. The only way that, in the long run, we are able to help Haiti is by showing them how to do real business. This is the only way that the country will thrive economically. We later started talking about mentoring during the Q&A. He said mentoring was very important. It is through the experience of others that we are able to learn the most, and this was another one of Edmond’s tactics to rebuild Haiti. I really appreciate the different approaches that Edmond is offering to serve his country better. I admire his passion and serious commitment to his country and how he strives to serve them as best as he can.
January 19: Reza Aslan—“The Future of the New Middle East”
Kaitlin Huissen, junior
The tensions of the Middle East often confuse me, and I find them hard to understand because I am not familiar with the region’s history or religion. To be honest for that reason, I was not really looking forward to this lecture. Yet once again, the January Series pulled through, and I was quite nicely surprised to not only follow what Aslan was saying, but to understand it completely. He is obviously very knowledgeable about his home region of the world and is good at explaining it to the Western world. Aslan’s knowledge of the subject matter and current events was great, but another aspect of his lecture that I thought was better was his knowledge of personal stories which were helpful examples. I am very certain that not many Americans have heard the story that sparked the first uprising during the Arab Spring. Last spring when outbreaks were happening all over the Middle East, I had no idea that one man who was so wrongly disadvantaged started a movement that would shake the earth. We have talked about media biases before, and this is just another example of the whole truth not being exposed.
I was also completely shocked with the five myths that Aslan presented. The reason being that the little I have heard and understood about the Arab Spring has been about all of those myths disguising the truth. I was taken aback when Aslan made the connection that all of the uprising is about wanting to be heard. These people have never had a voice, and here I sit in America and forget that I have a voice. I vote, and I think that is good enough. I get intimidated to write a letter to a state representative, yet continue to complain out loud when I am dissatisfied about something. I cannot even begin to put myself in their shoes, risking their life to go out and peacefully fight for something that is important enough to make education, economics and infrastructure pale in comparison. I do take my rights for granted and I know there are many others around the world who have grown up with democracy and do not realize what a blessing it is in our lives.
Another insight I appreciated was the fact that the nonviolent Arab Spring acts have done more to slow down Al-Qaeda than bombs have ever done or will ever do. To grasp the idea that a movement started by students and young people has done more in six months than Al-Qaeda has done in 20 years shows how powerful nonviolent and democratic actions can be. A question that I did have for Aslan was how are we as Americans supposed to support the people in the Middle East? He stated himself that it is easier for America to control and get along with a dictator than a democratic nation, but in the long run democracy in the Middle East will benefit all. Aslan suggested that we help the fire that was started by one man, and that if we put it out, we will be the ones to get burned. So how do we make sure that the fire is still burning brightly even if our leaders may not feel the same way? I guess Aslan would say that like the brave souls in the Arab Spring movement, if our government wants to extinguish the flame in the Middle East, we should take to the streets, or take up some other form of nonviolent protest and exercise our democratic rights.
January 18: David Gergen—“The 2012 Elections: Issues and Answers”
Narshil Choi, sophomore
David Gergen worked in the White House for four presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton) and now is a television analyst for CNN and other news reports. He is also known for sharing information in an unbiased way. He said that journalism is intended for people to understand what is going on, but these days it is too much about entertainment. News is a business after all, so they will present selective information that will lure as many people as possible. He said that they are appealing to peoples’ emotions rather than their head. When I read the news I often believe everything that it says and forget that they present it with bias.
Gergen gave us examples of great people who exemplified his point. Marcus Cicero was a great orator who presented arguments very well by presenting both sides equally and then stating his position. When asked about leadership, he spoke of Peter Drucker, who was often sought out by business companies for management advice. Gergen said that we have to fix weaknesses that are disabling, but that we do not have to excel in everything that we are mediocre in. He said that we have to take things that we excel in and continue to refine our knowledge in that because that will ultimately lead us to happiness.
Gergen said that good leaders allow themselves and others to be free and creative. Also, a sense of play opens people up which allows for better collaboration and team work, which is crucial to the leaders. A lot of the people working for the president are leaders themselves so they not only need to lead up but also lead down by giving advice. Figuring out how to give appropriate advice the right way, or good individualized communications skills, is also an important quality of leadership.
Edith Mirante, Pedro Noguera, Michael Gerson and Joel Salatin all mentioned briefly or in depth that political changes needed to be made, and some had the underlying tone that policy makers were not making the right choices and did not want to get involved in politics. On the other hand, Adam Taylor encouraged us to be advocates and that public opinions make a huge difference. Gergen said that politicians do listen to the public opinion but they need to discern what is genuine and how many people are concerned. I did not realize that false letters and phone calls are sent out to the public and politicians to manipulate them. Currently, people are opposing SOPA and PIPA antipiracy bills that were very close to getting passed until there was a huge protest online. Wikipedia and WordPress are blacked out and Google has a black banner across its logo today. I have never been interested in campaigns but now I want to look further into what sets apart successful campaigns to learn how to be able to influence the public and government.
I appreciated Mr. Gergen’s underlying view today which was that different political parties had to work together and not continuously oppose and bash each other. As the elections are coming up for the US at the end of this year, I hope they will live up expectations as global leaders to be an example of how to run campaigns with truthful information. A lot of information and statistics can be twisted but I hope they will show the full picture to help the American people to understand the political, economic and social situations. Gergen said, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
January 17: Joel Salatin—“Dancing With Dinner”
Alyssa Van Dyk, sophomore
Food isn't just something to eat. It nourishes our body and our spirit and is necessary for a healthy attitude just as much as it is for a healthy physical state. That is why Salatin instructs us to dance with our dinner: dancing requires an intimacy and visceral understanding of one's partner. We've broken this relationship by bastardizing it with processed foods, chemical combinations and misuses of agricultural techniques. Because our culture is defined partly by how we treat our food, we need to start treating our farms with respect.
Climatology and seasons are very important to the farming culture. There are certain foods which should only be grown in certain climates. However, we ignore these norms. For example, an otherwise unnecessarily large amount of water is pumped to the deserts of Southern California, so rice can be grown there. This is not natural. Some foods are harvested during spring, others summer and others fall. We've come up with different holidays to celebrate the different seasons, and food is often the hallmark of the holiday. For example, we eat lots of fruit, specifically watermelon, during the summer holidays, because that's when it's the ripest, whereas apples and cinnamon are traditionally a fall food. This is natural.
I have a great respect for Salatin, because he stressed that it's not bad to eat meat. It seems like many people who support animal rights go vegetarian because they think it's immoral to eat meat. That's not how it should be, according to Salatin, because everything is eating and will be eaten. Even plants need nutrients and eat their own kind of food (this is my main and personal argument against vegetarianism). But it's in how we treat the animals whom we'll end up eating where the morality sets in. Salatin's example of how the pigs, cows, and chickens work on the farm with him, helping him cultivate the soil without misusing any parties involved, is a terrific example of healthy farming: free of chemicals. Don't get me wrong, science and chemicals have their places in this world, but we should not be putting chemicals in our food. If we want our people to be natural, what we consume should be just as natural.
Salatin dropped a comment that was something along the lines of, "You don't have to say it right, just say it fast. Then everyone will think you're so smart." All too often, we are swayed by what others say just because we think they sound smart. With every January Series lecture I attend, I realize more and more that everything people say is an opinion, or influenced by one. Every speaker has a bias, and it's up to the audience to see through that. I'm not doubting their expertise; I'm just cautious of how easily swayed I am. This applies to speakers, professors, friends, and random people I overhear. The January Series has caused me to be more…and as much as I hate to use stale-from-overuse-at-Calvin-it's-become-cliché vocabulary…discerning.
January 16: Adam Taylor—“Mobilizing Hope: Faith Inspired Activism for a Post-Civil Rights Generation”
Taek Kim, junior
Living in this fallen world filled with problems and injustice, I often feel defeated. Facing poverty, discrimination, violence and moral depravity, I am overwhelmed and don’t even know what to do. However, Adam Taylor brought me back to the true reality that I have power to change for I am fearfully and wonderfully crafted by God. And most importantly, God is the Lord of all creation, including politics.
As a social work student, I have had interaction with advocacy work and social activism. I witnessed people on the street shouting out slogans for education reform, and I saw people getting plowed by water guns back home in Korea. Throughout all my life, the activism has never occurred to me as an appropriate response to the fallen system; it was just the burst of anger that withers away with insignificant change. At the same time, I have lost the hope in politics thinking, “What could a person do to change the politics?” I saw individual service and a personal level of interaction as the only hope for the changes.
Adam Taylor disproved my premise that one person cannot do anything to change politics. We, as a collective being, have the power over politics; we have to take ownership of it. Politician takes careful notes of what people are really interested in. If he/she receives one or two letters, it might get neglected, but if she/he received hundreds and thousands of letters, it simply cannot be ignored. Without the change in societal level, the same problem will be created over and over again. I mean, how could I say that I love my neighbors, when I am not ready to stand up for my neighbor’s cause? Because the prophets of the Old Testament loved the Israelites, they kept on shouting for the voiceless of the society to bring justice.
Just as faith is dead without deed, love without action is dead. It is important to love someone, but without willingness to bring changes, that love seems quite empty. It could bring some discomfort for my life, but that is what love is. However, it is important to realize that we are not called to be all perfect and amazing. We are awfully broken; being perfect seems a bit alienating to us. It is reoccurring theme: we are called to be faithful. We are called to dream and hope for God’s kingdom, and we relentlessly work to bring that kingdom of God a little bit closer to the earth. Things seem a bit tough and overwhelming, but God will prepare us with pebbles to shoot right into Goliath face. For God is the King and Lord of all nations, and he called us as His children; what father would give his child a snake, when a child asked for a fish. God will provide. Let’s be faithful in His love.
January 13: Jennifer Pharr Davis—“Adventures on the Appalachian Trail: True Stories of Lightning Strikes, Stalkers, and World Records”
Atticus Getz, sophomore
This was an excellent talk. I was not overly excited to hear Jennifer Pharr-Davis give her talk about her journey on the Appalachian Trail, thinking that it would be a lot of talk about records being broken. When Jennifer came to the classroom, however, her talk ended up being less about records and more about the experiences she had on her journey.
There were many wild and terrifying things that happened to her when she first set out to conquer the trail at age 21. Physical incidents include getting struck by lightning and having her eyes freeze shut in a snow storm. Other occurrences include getting stalked by another hiker for a week and coming across a young man who had hung himself and committed suicide. All of this took place over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine. I found myself mind boggled at these stories finding it hard to imagine myself, one year from now undertaking the same task alone--much less as a woman. She had other hikers near her, but she did not initially know them when she started out.
She then talked about her husband who is obviously a huge part of her life. When she went back to the Appalachian Trail seven years later to try and break the women's world record, he was her biggest supporter. In a way, the biggest lesson I got out of this talk was how successful relationships work. They have to involve good communication, fairly similar interests, the ability to reach compromises with the other, and most importantly-- love. Jennifer and her husband sound like they have a very healthy and fruitful relationship with each other, something I long to have one day with my future wife (whoever she may be). This lengthy hiking trip brought them together and taught them teamwork. It goes to show that experiencing both difficulties and great moments can strengthen a marriage.
In the end, I was even impressed with the record that she set. The (Calvin) science professor who told the audience about his experience walking the same trail said that he was able to finish in 141 days. Jennifer Pharr-Davis completed it in only 46 days. She was burning about 6,000 calories a day by walking nearly 50 miles from early morning to late at night. These stats are mind-blowing and just go to show that humans are capable of a lot more than we often think they are. I walked five miles a day over the summer, and I felt drained afterwards. I can't begin to imagine walking that length ten times a day.
This was a great talk. My only regret was that they decided not to have an Inner Compass interview with her. I understand that there are limited interview spots available, but I thought that she had a lot of very important and interesting things to say ...
January 12: Michael Gerson—“Religion and Politics in a New Era”
Hoon Hoi Kim, sophomore
Politics is a study of governing one country with prudent thinking and action. And politics is a major determinant for the relationship of one country with others. Today’s speaker, Michael Gerson was very active in the political field as an assistant to the United States President. As I am more interested in politics recently, I was really excited to listen to Gerson's lecture.
I think Michael Gerson is very prudent Christian politician. I was able to observe his prudence while he answered questions from the audience. Whenever he answered a question, he took about five minutes for each question. For me, he seemed to explain and help the audience to understand the content clearly. Through his discretion, I was able to recognize how politics should be seriously dealt with.
Gerson also mentioned the fact that Christians do not step forward to act in politics, because they think “proper relationship between politics and theology is very difficult." However, Gerson emphasized faith-based politics and made this comment: "There is one question and that is why are human beings valuable?" The answer for him is that all people are created in God’s image. In other words, there are lots of categories of people in politics, but the Christian who knows the answer to such a question should step forward and engage in political issues.
As I am perhaps making further steps into the political field, I sincerely wish that I could completely rely on God, not on myself. It is because if I rely on myself, I would likely to distort the way to be a true Christian in politics.
January 11: Gabe Lyons—“The Next Christians: How A New Generation is Restoring the Faith”
Megan Dickens, junior
Lyons, who worked on the books UnChristian and The Next Christians, did a fantastic job illustrating his views about perceptions of Christians in America today. He seemed to embody a sense of peace and gentleness. Early on in our interactions with him today, I was intrigued by this man who was very interested in authentic Christianity.
Part of Lyons’ message talked about terms we are very familiar with here at Calvin: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. At one point he pointed out that these themes remind us that our Christian lives are not all about the afterlife; life here matters. Relationships here matter. Honestly, it is a blessing to be reminded of this. Even though salvation for the people we are talking to is extremely important, if we make it the only focus, we have missed something huge, and have left an enormous gap. For me, one of the most exciting things that he talked about was when he described the difference between a "separatist," who fixates on Fall and Redemption, someone "cultural," who focuses only on Creation and Restoration, and then "restorers," who tell the entire story from Creation through Restoration. He said that, if we are separatist, and start at The Fall when we are sharing the Gospel, it is “incoherent” to those we are trying to reach. He said: That’s the kind of Gospel we’ve been telling.
Wow! This sure struck a chord in me! I thought of myself. Where do I start when I’m sharing the Truth? Fall. While most often not in these terms, I don’t ever remember telling someone about Christ, His love, grace and forgiveness, by starting with what I now see is essential: Creation. When I think about why I do this, I am confronted with reasons of not knowing exactly what I believe about this part of the narrative. Did God originally create us to be perfect? Did He first mean for each relationship I have to not be corrupted by jealously, anger and grudges? While these might sound like doubtful or rebellious thoughts, I simply don’t know. I sure am excited to dig more and see what people think Scripture says about this and what God has showed them about this.
Lyons explains that, as authentic Christians, we should be "restorers." We should have “Christian interaction with current culture.” By believing and telling the full story, we should, in working for restoration, become “culture makers,” creating good things in the world that we live in now to the glory of God. He believes, and I believe with him, that every sector of our lives should be devoted to Christ, and in each sector we should create positive environments, attitudes, projects, products and so on.
Throughout the different times I have heard Gabe Lyons speak today, one concept that came across was being faithful to God. We need to build relationships with those that don’t know Christ, bring restoration to the Earth and our culture, and create. Each of these should be done not solely for the interest of having the people who don’t know Jesus, become saved. This reminds me of a talk I went to last night on sustainability. Dave Warners and Gail Hefner spoke, and Warners said: “Let’s not focus on doing things to make a difference, but to be faithful.” I think Lyons would say the same.
January 10: Pedro Noguera—“A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education”
Katie Eiten, junior
The lecture today by Dr. Noguera was my favorite so far. Because I come from a family of educators, this topic is very dear to my heart. It is also an abstract concept for me. I come from DuPage County in Illinois, which is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. As such, I don’t really know what it is like to be in a failing school, and how that manifests itself into the knowledge and prospects for the students. I do know that the way the government is restricting education policies is often paradoxical and completely ineffective.
How ironic that I lived in an affluent society with some of the best-funded public schools, and yet my high school was considered a “failing school” because they consistently underperformed in standardized testing. The reason for this was that we had a large special education program and an outstanding ESL program, but the district only allotted a certain number of special tests per school. As such, the school was required to have many students who weren’t prepared to take the normal test. In this respect, we were being punished for taking the kids that no one else wanted.
I was most struck by the part of the lecture in which Dr. Noguera spoke about the effect of poverty on schooling. I already knew that poverty goes with lower performance in pretty much everything, but I didn’t realize that there has become a greater gap between public and private schools further separating the upper and middle classes from the poor and impoverished. This increased gap seems to me an extension of the “separate but equal” concept from the Jim Crow laws. We are all equal in that we are entitled to education, but only the privileged have the access to a quality education. It is a different kind of segregation, only instead of actively seeing another group as inferior, it is an abandon-ship-to-save-ourselves sort of attitude.
One thing that is important to remember is that every person has a desire to learn, to grow and to make a difference in the world. We learn that we can do that through our education. The purpose of an education is to develop the skills needed to explore, ask questions, formulate answers and make decisions. As a Christian, I desire this for people so that they can live a fulfilling life in Christ. As a citizen of this country, I desire this for the future as we seek to make the world a better place.
One question I still had after Dr. Noguera spoke was the question of resources and how that can help. It’s true that throwing money at a situation doesn’t fix the problem, but it does usually help in some small way. What do you do when there are simply no resources, such as the Grand Rapids school where they didn’t even have a paper budget? Nothing will ever replace a devoted teacher committed to shaping well-rounded, independent human beings, but how can you do that when you have nothing to shape them with? As much as Noguera filled me with hope and excitement for the future of education, he also made me realize how monumentally colossal the problem of education reform is, and how much work it will take to help our teachers and students.
January 9: Eric Metaxas—“Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy”
Jacki Sikkema, junior
"Blessed to be a blessing." Those are the words that remain after hearing Eric Metaxas speech today. I don’t know much about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, other than the articles I read before class, but I can’t help but feel inspired and compelled after hearing more about his life story today. Metaxas did an eloquent job in delivering tiny pieces of this great man’s story and legacy. He was very straightforward in saying that his success with the book he has written has nothing to do with him, but has everything to do with God.
Metaxas spoke to us about how he so badly wanted to do God’s will in writing this book about Bonhoeffer. He made a little comment during the Inner Compass interview that he spent a lot of time in prayer and tears, trying to do just that. After hearing that, I wondered to myself, "What our lives might be like if we fervently prayed for God’s will to be done in our work and in our lives just like Mr. Metaxas did in his." A quote I had read from Metaxas said: “Are you living what you say you believe?” I was curious what he had learned while writing his book and how that has shaped how he lives out what he believes. He told us that he was forced to ask the question of what it means to be courageous. He has found that being courageous means that we must listen for God’s calling and then do God’s calling, despite the burdens that may come along with it. On top of this, we cannot be sluggish in living out that calling, because there isn’t enough time. He also spoke about how Christianity is 24/7. It is our whole life, and that means prayer and reading the Bible must play an essential role in our lives. Through these spiritual practices, we can discern God’s call in our lives.
Something that I, and I think especially other Christian college students, struggle with is what does God want me to do with my life? What is His calling for me? I think that many times we say that the calling can be different and change throughout our lives, at least when you think of that calling in an occupational sense (e.g. teacher, doctor, engineer, etc.). I completely agree that those things do change, but I thought that Metaxas made a great point that in order to discern our calling we need to realize that we don’t have our whole lives to waste away. The time to be in a relationship with God and to discern His will in our lives is now. The will that God has for us may change throughout our lives, but by praying and spending time in the word, I can more readily discern where God is leading me.
Also, for myself, I need to spend time in prayer and in the word because I am a Christian. And not just a “Sunday Christian,” but I am a 24/7, every day, and all the time, Christian. If I want my life to reflect what I believe, and I do, then I need to start putting into practice the things that God tells me are important and that are essential for being in a relationship with him. When I am able to practice the things that are essential for being in a relationship with God, then if success comes my way because of God’s calling in my life, I know that this success is not because of me. It is not based off anything good that I have done, but it is based off the good that He has done. My calling is not really “my” calling. It’s God’s. The blessings he has given me, are not merely my own, but are meant to be used to further his kingdom among the people of our world. I am blessed to be a blessing. I think that God has blessed Eric Metaxas through the success he has had with his new book about Bonhoeffer. And I felt that Metaxas certainly was using those blessings God has given him to be a blessing to us at Calvin College through the story he told of his own life and that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s.
January 6: Edith Mirante—“Burma on the Brink: Can a Southeast Asia Disaster Zone Achieve Democracy and Environmental Justice?”
Daniela Garcia, senior
Everything from Mirante’s personality to the content of her speech was inspiring. I have had a little experience interacting with Burmese immigrants; therefore listening to the history behind their situation was fascinating. The way in which she spoke made it easier to understand the otherwise complex events that surrounded the civil conflicts in Burma. I also really appreciated the humility with which she presented, and recognizing all of the positive things she had experienced with the Burmese. The fact that she was an artist, as opposed to a politician or a missionary, also gave her talk a different direction. She felt more human.
I did know some of Burma’s history … however, my mind was still spinning long after the talk ended as I tried to comprehend what it would feel like to live in the midst of such brutality. One of the first things that struck me from her interview was when she said: “There is a responsibility that comes with knowledge.” This relates to a topic that I am personally very passionate about. I have had countless discussions with different friends about what we believe are the appropriate responsibilities that come with the privilege of education. As middle- to upper-class college students are we responsible for keeping up with current events that occur in the world, and actually caring? As Christians are we morally called to care and act for issues of social justice? If we are, then I do not think we do a very good job at this. However, that is a topic for another time.
I also enjoyed hearing how she used the information she received from the Burmese. She specifically explained that she did not intend to speak for them, but rather helped their voices to be heard. They had their own voices. Another part of the interview and lecture that I found very interesting was the story about the monks vs. the military. I had not heard about it before, and listening to it really moved me. There is something that I have always admired (and maybe even envied) about the lives of those dedicated to their spirituality, such as monks or nuns: a certain solemnity and peace that is not found in our hectic everyday lives. I tried to picture this image of peace disrupted by massive violence, and it disturbed me. Human nature is so incredibly distorted, however, with brokenness comes grace.
January 5: John Varineau—“The Uses, Misuses and Abuses of Music”
Hannah Brenton, junior
I have always thought that the difference between musicians and non-musicians is that musicians put music in the foreground, studying and appreciating it for its own beauty while non-musicians place music in the background, using it to complement other aspects of our daily experience. And while this idea may contain some truth, I was intrigued by John Varineau’s point that we all use music in some way, and often it becomes the wallpaper of our lives, musicians and non-musicians alike. I had almost expected that his lecture today would be on why we shouldn’t make music just wallpaper and that he would give us good tips and steps to better appreciate music as an art form. But rather than condemning this wallpaper approach to engaging with music, Varineau seemed to accept this reality. From his lecture, I felt most compelled to uncover the original contexts of the music that naturally wallpapers my life.
I think I was most intrigued by the point that a lot of the famous classical pieces we listen to today were written in contexts of battles won or lost, in times when emotions and passions were high. It’s no wonder that these pieces have stood the test of time and that they are replayed over and over again in films to help capture those moods of tension, anticipation, sorrow or victory. I do wonder, though, is it really a misuse of music to divorce it from its original context? If film directors first acknowledged a piece’s original context and then went on to use it in the film anyway, would that be any better? Or should modern films, TV shows, and commercials discontinue playing “juicy” blurbs of famous classical pieces all together?
Another thing I wondered about was how far we should let music manipulate our emotions. Varineau talked about how music does work like a drug, releasing dopamine into our bodies, making us very happy; other times music brings us to tears! But when does this manipulation go too far? Varineau mentioned that an abuse of music is either not letting it move us at all (so basically not allowing ourselves to be manipulated), or letting it move us in wrong directions (like how it was used in Nazi propaganda). How do we escape these two extremes?
While I am not a musician and don’t have the full answer, I do have a hunch that part of the answer relies in the context. We must ask where, when, and why a piece was made. We must consider the composer’s original intent and evaluate if we are using the music in a context that is consistent enough with the original. Yes, music is flexible— Varineau talked about how music can “morph easily among uses … be taken out of its original setting and still bring satisfaction” However, I do agree with him that we need to be careful not to reduce these complex pieces with complex contexts into juicy sound clips for our personal uses. When we begin to recognize the richness and complexity of music, perhaps we can be moved in the right directions.
January 4: Sherry Turkle—“Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other”
David Kim, sophomore
“Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.” That was one of the statements that stood out to me when Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT and the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, mentioned it during her presentation. When I first heard about the statement, I was rather puzzled. As she kept on going through her speech, it seemed like she was trying to portray that the “social networks” we have in the world today can act as anti-social networks, providing us with so called virtual relationships. However, I was still confused. How can these social networks created by technology actually act as anti-social networks? Weren’t these instant-messages, e-mails, Facebook, and other robots created to advocate and broaden social networks? A moment of oddness swept passed me and it seemed like I never thought about it or encountered this matter before.
Luckily, throughout the presentation, Sherry Turkle clarified by mentioning that these technologies actually change us by acting as substitutes for connecting among ourselves “face-to-face.” Instead of talking to people, most of us now tend to text people. We also prefer to interact with people through Facebook or online games rather than getting together. Most importantly, I was really intrigued when Sherry Turkle stated that in the end, we might feel “utterly alone,” after spending time within virtual community. It was surprising to hear that technology was making us more isolated than connected as it enables people to use smart phones and laptops when interacting among themselves. It seems actually true as I look back through my experience. There are times when I feel disconnected or experience no sense of communication going on after hours and hours of Facebook-ing, e-mailing, and online chatting. Another intriguing moment was when she mentioned that we now prefer to make messages shorter and simpler, altering the way we communicate. That also seems true since when texting or online chatting with people, we tend to use abbreviations or shorten the sentences by getting rid of unnecessary letters. In fact, we now have this so called “chatting language,” which is generally the cutout version of the actual, original words.
Surprisingly, after meeting Sherry Turkle and listening to her presentation, it seemed like my daily doings started to change a bit. It is funny to see myself feeling guilty whenever I pull out my cell phone while eating with my friends. In fact, I now try not to use any electronics when I am with my friends. I think the talk with Sherry Turkle somehow inserted this kind of policy inside me, stating that I should try to interact with people face-to-face, and cherish the moments when I interact with people, rather than through technology.
Additionally, while thinking about the presentation throughout the day, a question popped up in my mind randomly. Sherry Turkle explained how we might feel alone even though we have this virtual community within our lives. She further stated that although it is not necessary to get rid of technology, it is time to put technology in its place. However, I am still curious and somewhat confused of what putting technology in its place actually means. Does it just mean using technology with good intention and in good, rightful way, or does it also mean limiting amount of interactions with the technology itself?
Moreover, I believe Sherry Trukle mostly talked about how people are changed through technology as it enables them to broaden their social network without face-to-face interactions among people. However, it might also interest the audience and myself if she talks about the solutions to the problem. In this case, maybe about some ways we can find equilibrium between technology and people, if there is such a way.