Letters to the Editor

Bioethics—another view
We read Doug Diekema’s Q&A on bioethics (Winter 2007) with interest, as our daughter Kathryn Ashley Venema is also severely disabled. Kathryn has Aicardi Syndrome, which seems to affect only girls. Aicardi girls have severe seizures, holes in the retinas of the eyes and severe mental disabilities.

Kathryn is now 13 years old and has the mental age of a 3-month-old child. Like Ashley (whose case Diekema discusses), Kathryn cannot walk, talk or dress herself and will always wear diapers. Like Ashley, our Kathryn will always need her parents to dress her, bathe her and feed her. She is now about 4½ feet tall and weighs about 105 pounds. She is a teenager now, and so she does indeed menstruate and is growing breasts.

We do know that Kathryn does hear and see. Along with these gifts, she often has several grand mal seizures in a day. We do, however, consider Kathryn to be perfect. She is an angel sent by God to teach, not to learn.

Doug Diekema is right to point out that bioethics is a sensitive area with roads that no one may have gone down before. There are no obvious answers. This is why we write to express our opinions and not to accuse anyone. In that spirit, here is our opinion.

We were amazed at the “parent-centered” focus of Ashley’s case. It seemed so “all about the parents,” and what things they would face if Ashley were to grow in stature and mature as a woman. As to the hysterectomy, the likelihood of Ashley being assaulted seems remote indeed. The breast bud removal also seems like a step too far. As the article mentioned, many Christians agreed that “you guys did the right thing for this little girl.” We don’t agree. But that’s just our opinion. In bioethics, nothing is black and white, is it?

Ted ’77 and Laura Venema
Kitchener, Ont.

Wearing Calvin
Here’s a great story of Calvin serendipity! Judy and I were traveling (with Jay and Nancy Milkamp) on a Europe tour last fall and were spending the day in Rothenburg, Germany, an old, walled medieval city. As we were walking along, I, wearing my Calvin hat, heard a yell, “Hey, Calvin College!” We walked over and met some fellow Calvin grads from Chicago who were on a completely different tour but spending the day at Rothenburg also. This is yet another reminder that wearing Calvin gear when you travel greatly increases the likelihood of meeting interesting, good-looking and highly intelligent people!

Bernie Winkle ’66
Jenison, Mich.

An unplanned reunion
While cruising through the Eastern Mediterranean, I struck up a conversation with a guest at my table while in port at Istanbul, Turkey. Turns out I was seated across from Vera Liem Woon ’62; we were classmates who hadn’t seen each other in more than 45 years! I couldn’t believe it when she said she had gone to college in Grand Rapids at Calvin. I could have gone that whole cruise without ever meeting her. It’s amazing that we ended up at the same table.

Twylla Vander Molen Nieboer ’62
Jenison, Mich.

Hymnal use a sign of keeping faith
I have read John Witvliet's article “The Institutional Church and the Mission of Calvin College” (Winter 2007) several times. I think it always leaves me wondering what he is trying to convey.

Early in the late spring or beginning of summer 2007 there appeared in The Banner an article which basically challenged the way local churches should be focused: less monies going to support denominational causes with more power to disperse at the local church level. There was debate, but the answer which I remember printed in a later issue of The Banner concluded that the denomination and denominational enterprises were in good order and in the words of Mark Twain did not reflect a demise, which had been greatly exaggerated.

Fast forward to the 150th conference of the CRC held at Calvin College in the fall of 2007. Here participants were greeted with statistics which confirm that almost all mainstream denominational American churches are suffering losses due to factors such as breakdown of the family, mobility of our society, and changing times in which social pressures to conform no longer function with any degree of effectiveness. This is not to mention the mega church movement which has taken membership from established churches. Somewhere between these two extremes is, I suppose, where most of us in the pew find ourselves in relation to the CRC Church in Canada and North America; that is if we are still seeking active participation in the life of the CRC Church.

We are now 150 years in the making, we Christian Reformers. Perhaps this is the perfect time to take account, look back to see the prodigious way in which God has blessed us and do some productive thinking about where we might be going in the next 50 years. Our own efforts will in large measure determine where this might be, God helping us.

Within this 150 years period of God's great blessing among us, there are two factors which I think have not come up for addressment or assessment, but nonetheless have impacted, greatly impacted and altered the face of the church.

The first is the influence of the sixties and the influence which the sixties generation had on society and more particularly the institutional church in North America.

The other or second consideration, very closely related to the first, is the rapidity with which the CRC Church is deleting or changing the hallmarks of the church which up until recently have made us different and unique, hallmarks which have given us BACKBONE, STABILITY, and a sense of UNITY. Here I am referring of course to the Scriptures and the denominational hymnal and our Reformed faith as reflected in the creeds, catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dordt. In many churches the Psalter Hymnal has been disappearing or is being supplanted by that friendly, benign overhead or some diverse form of alternate musical venue apparently also benign.

In the first instance with reference to the sixties generation, much of the emphasis on "me" and the narcissism which this implies founds its way into the church because of the consumer consumption appeal which it had highlighting the "me and Jesus" experience, meanwhile filling the pockets of supposed Christian musical enterprises. Never mind that people were hired to churn out these ditties (many of them) to the ca-ching of the cash box. And while the emphasis on "me" and "my experience" edged out four-part singing, other related areas were affected as well. Have we not been instructed to corporate worship and corporate worship experiences that reflect most adequately that the church in unity is the Bride of Christ?

The pipe organ (or a respectable captured pipe sound) most adequately suited to accompany hymn singing has never been formally adopted as the "instrument of choice" by the CRC Church, not in any statement concerning the doing of church music, at least that is known to me. Never having been formally accepted in this regard it now finds itself not under-girded or augmented by additional instruments but supplanted by them. Additional instruments are often a delightful addition to worship music and to singing as well, but I defer to musician David Cherwien, who makes a case for continued use of the pipe organ in worship (see Let the People Sing!) and states that no other instrument has the capability or range of voicing which can inspire congregations to "make a joyful noise."

Amplification of other instruments often drowns out the qualities of the human voice, while organ tones only seem to act to intensify and solidify the sound of human voices, most likely because when played well the pipe organ has a great ability to inspire singing. Add to this the very prominent position the organ has had historically with relation to the music which has been written for the church, but more particularly for this instrument, and I think we can see the need for concern lest this entire valuable historical portion of church development be washed away.

Are we just going to give it all away? The wonderful four-part singing of our denomination, much of which still exists, something which binds us together giving a musical voice to a common faith? Careful attention to detail, a sense of historic continuity and a legitimate sense of the importance of building and maintaining tradition could dictate quite a different outcome here if we are willing to take some measures which ensure that we do. As Dr. Plantinga said at the chapel exercise at the convention, "God is in the embers."

Shouldn't the hymnal remain the bedrock of our church life with weekly reminders of creed usage, our common commitments voiced together, and shouldn't we hold dear to that which gives reflection of our strong tradition of Reformed preaching which signals our redemption in Jesus our Savior and all that includes?

Use of our hymnals should not inhibit or eliminate other musical inclusions but it should dictate some degree of sobriety in careful selection with regard to these matters.

Let's encourage one another to return to full use of our denominational hymnbook, not only for the rich context of Scriptural reinforcement and reflection and the moving textual content of human emotion and experience which dates back to the early historic Christian Church incorporating the Psalms themselves, but also keeping the lovely four part harmonies which have characterized Christian Reformed singing for so many decades. Perhaps dialogue with other parts of the Christian world would convince us to treasure more deeply what we seem so willing to jettison.

As for those who suppose we ought to lose our "wooden shoes" so to speak, I would agree completely if by this is meant the clannishness and sticky ethnic glue which still keep some from full enjoyment of other ethnic groups and realities.

But deleting those areas which made us unique and deserving of a rightful place of heritage is not only unwise, it is unjust! Becoming one with other ethnic entities should not mean having to give up or dismissing those legitimate differences which have given us a salt-like quality, and made us a unique and growing entity in the American fabric!

Engendering a spirit of love versus a spirit of worldly competitiveness and a spirit of availability and eagerness to work cooperatively versus a sense of wanting to remain above the fray, might enable five denominational colleges to effect great gains within the institutional church known as Christian Reformed.

Lord Jesus, let it be so!

Carol Schemper Kamp ’59
Palos Heights, Ill.

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