Letters to the Editor

Lessons in children’s lit
Thank you for a terrific cover on Gary Schmidt, a master writer and teacher, and, all by himself, a reason to love Calvin College. Two days from now, for the sixth time in three years, Gary will lug cartons of children’s books to a seminar at Calvin Theological Seminary on “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching.” Student preachers will sit with the books, moving through their lights and shadows and yearning for the beauty that shines in them. Gary, following George MacDonald, will remind us preachers that great children’s literature is never just for children, but always for the childlike. We will all wear a look of wonder. Gary, too.

Neal Plantinga ’67
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Called to business
Thank you for the Director’s Desk column on “business as a calling.” I will tell you that the faith, ethics and the liberal arts education at Calvin have served me well over the past 15 years. The ability to have a well-rounded Christian background within the business environment helps me to be successful and, in turn, helps others to be more successful. It has helped me to communicate more effectively, to hold to my faith and to exhibit Christian values on a daily basis.

I’ve had the pleasure to work for a large multinational company whose values mirror the Christian values that we strive to achieve on a daily basis. However, even if I hadn’t, the ability to think and evaluate critical business issues from the Christian standpoint has a wonderful effect on those decisions and the people affected.

I have felt (from Calvin) exactly as you have depicted that the “business world” is somehow less important than the “academic world.” I can’t tell you how motivating it is to read this article. We can make a difference in God’s world through business on a daily basis.

Tim Fennema ’91
Caledonia, Mich.

Correction
The death of Evangeline Grosheide ex’82 was incorrectly reported in the winter issue. Spark apologizes for the error.

Chimes spoof issue
This spring, the annual Chimes "spoof issue" was disallowed to be published by a committee of faculty, students and staff appointed by the Student Life Division. It was a parody of the "Today" devotional booklet put out by the CRC-based Back to God Hour and called "Cliche." The main reason for the conflict was the choice of a devotional book for the spoof format, which meant using scripture and prayers on each page, which some felt over-the-top. The review committee was not unanimous in its vote not to print, but the end the conversation with Chimes was "no publishing." Chimes didn't officially publish the spoof, but staff members teamed up with some Chimes alumni and published it on the web. Due to copy deadlines, a news story about this topic won't be printed until the Fall 2006 (September) issue of Spark, but we are posting current correspondence here.

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Dear Ms. Hoogstra (copied to spark@calvin.edu):

On the Calvin Student Life website, a staff member—speaking, I presume, on your behalf—writes of feeling "sad and betrayed" at the decision of Chimes staff members to leak this year's censored spoof issue. You and I should commiserate, as I too feel sad and betrayed. I feel sad and betrayed because the school that gave me a great education, irreplaceable friends and mentors and—yes—a spiritual compass, is proving utterly hostile to the intellectual development and well-being of its students.

Calvin, as I and (I hope) you are aware, is an amazing school—a well-kept secret. Our professors are excellent people who inculcate wisdom and critical thinking, stay on top of their scholarly fields, and take time to care for their students qua people. Our Student Activities Board and other cultural events (I might mention the Festival of Faith and Writing) foster a much-needed distinctly Christian aesthetic and intellectual culture. Moreover, and most importantly, Calvin attracts smart, unusual, talented kids—and nothing exemplifies this more than the history of Calvin's student newspaper, the Chimes.

I don't need to remind you of the great novelist, three famous filmmakers, and plenitude of fine writers who have emerged from Chimes. I will, however, point out that at the much more prestigious Catholic university where I am now studying for my graduate degree—a big Catholic school with lots of big Catholic bucks behind it, which attracts the cream of the rich suburbs of Chicago—the well-endowed weekly student newspaper has yet to publish a single issue that compares to the Chimes at its very worst. Look around: read the newspapers of comparable schools: the Chimes is, and for a long time has been, very, very good.

This year's staff is no exception. I had the opportunity to meet them during my recent visit home (yes, I still think of Calvin as home) for the Festival of Faith and Writing. They exemplify every quality Calvin claims it wants to instill: intelligence, critical-mindedness, passion, an awareness that ideas matter deeply, and, after all the steam is blown off, genuine piety. I have read the Cliché in its entirety, and am, accordingly, not surprised to find that it is excellent work—right up there with Calvin For Dummies, the spoof admissions packet of 1997, and The Bananer. I never found Cliché to be blasphemous—and I am as sensitive to genuine blasphemy as you are. I did, however, encounter more profound thinking and insight than could be distilled, probably, from a visit to the average Christian bookstore. The target of satire in Cliché is never the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the pervasive lack of love for the widow, orphan and alien in our midst. The takedowns of Focus on the Family, anti-immigration sentiment, and gay-bashers are all consistent with the promotion of Christian charity and common decency. Also, it's funny. It's like the truth—with jokes! There's got to be a book title in that.

In short, this year's spoof shows that a Calvin education instills exactly that outspokenness, critical-mindedness and concern for ideas that it claims to. You should be proud of these kids. Instead, you've prevented their excellent work from seeing the light of day, because the spoof failed to clear some committee that you created in a fit of pique at the 2002 Chimes staff. But good writing, Ms. Hoogstra, does not please committees—if it did, we would all be lining up to read each others' dissertations. It is passionate and messy and it makes some people mad. (For an example, you might consult the works of John Calvin, passim.) The very idea of a spoof-censoring committee betrays a deep and troubling unfamiliarity with the concept "spoof."

What is this silliness, that seeks to punish precisely those students that take their educations most to heart? However well-intentioned, it cannot have originated from the impulse to take your students' minds seriously, or to treat them with respect. And make no mistake—they have deserved your respect. They worked hard to create something that would delight and instruct the Calvin community, for free, in the midst of busyness and stress. However much fun it is, I can attest that the creation of something like Cliché (no puns, please) is serious business. In my years writing for Chimes I enjoyed regular anxiety attacks owing to the late-night work sessions and looming deadlines. I saw my friends wear themselves out much more thoroughly than I did. If all we'd cared about were sticking it to the Man, I'm sure we could've found a way to do so that didn't involve tightness in the chest and shortness of breath.

I would understand (though not condone) your committee's actions if the Cliché were simply another example of that free-floating South Park/Family Guy spirit of contempt that passes for satire in contemporary America. Even in that case, I would blanch at the brutality with which some members of your committee have handled the situation—threats of expulsion and such. Still, I recognize Calvin's moral right to withhold funding from pointless, directionless invective (if not to expel those who create and publish such invective on their own time and dime). Cliché, however, is invective with a target, and more often than not, it hits that target. I only wish there were a regularly-published Christian satire magazine this good.

And you feel betrayed because, having poured heart and soul into making a spoof issue that sits right up there with the great ones, some of them couldn't stand not to share their work with readers? You feel betrayed? Imagine how they feel. What is writing for, if not for readers?

One George Bush visit could never have put me off of loving Calvin. What the worst president in history didn't accomplish, you may yet. But Ms. Hoogstra, I hold out hope that you will soon realize that you are running a Christian school, where people learn to honor their creator by thinking for themselves—a school, and not a Christian summer camp. You could signalize such knowledge by immediately disbanding the Spoof Committee, loosening Student Life's grip on student media and learning to assume that maybe these students you claim to love—and I believe you do love them, or I would not have written you—are capable, given free reign, of making something good. I live on that hope!

Yours,
Phil Christman, Jr. '01
Milwaukee, Wis.