Letters to the Editor

Remember the war
I found the article on Calvin history through the eyes of the yearbooks very interesting (“Prism: A Colorful Reflection,” Spring 2008). I noticed that during WWII many students left campus to go fight. Men in uniform were frequently seen on campus. During the Vietnam War, there was graffito and a search to find meaning in a new era. The Prism editor for ’71, Paul Stoub, said, “It was unusual because those were very unusual times. The whole society seemed like it was on the verge of coming apart.”

I was astonished to learn this. Even though I graduated in 2000, I returned to campus part-time in 2004. Since I returned to school during a time of war I was expecting to hear or see something about the war on campus, especially since I was fresh out of serving in the Army. I found no mention of the war or the events of 9/11. Sadly, it seems as though Calvin, like the majority of society, carries out its daily occurrences without much thought of the war.

During WWII there was rationing and gold stars. People went off to war and the people at home supported them and kept the home fires burning. Vietnam was a war with different implications and causes, but there was still a lot of commotion or discussion about the times and the war.

Now, people go on as if we are not at war. It seems as though they do not care about the war unless it affects them economically. People are divided about this war, yet there are no great discussions and debates. We are not probing the issues and finding out what is the best course of action and then working towards it.

Additionally, many are turning a blind eye to or are blaming our soldiers. Instead of the heroes of WWII, they are the lonely, ignored doers of dirty work. No matter what your opinion of the war, please do not blame or neglect the soldiers. They are patriots and lay their life down to serve. So, please pray with me for the lives of our soldiers and their families and the wisdom of our leaders to do what is right. You do not need to support the war in Iraq to love the forsaken soldier.

Nikki Vega ’00
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Professor fits Reformed profile
When affirming Calvin’s Reformed identity and mission in response to Professor Denise Isom’s request that she be allowed to hold membership in Messiah Missionary Baptist Church, the college shouldn’t hide behind a canard of guilt by association. We hear from President Gaylen Byker how “nearly all Christian colleges and universities that distanced themselves from their founding denominations and theological traditions eventually also drifted away from being Christian in any meaningful way.” That is, Calvin doesn’t want to lose its Reformed identity, the way Princeton University did.

After graduating from Calvin in 1969, I spent a decade at Princeton Seminary in three degree programs. I studied the history of the university as excellently recorded by my former Calvin professor George Marsden in his book, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief.

Son of a Presbyterian minister and an accomplished lay preacher, Woodrow Wilson, as early as 1896, wanted to bring historian Frederick Jackson Turner on faculty. This request was denied because Turner was a Unitarian. Later, when appointed president at Princeton, Wilson abolished religious tests for hiring faculty by inviting the first Jew to teach in 1904.

Professor Isom is neither Unitarian nor a Jew. She is a Christian affiliated with an evangelical black church. The guilt by association tactic, linking Calvin’s potential fudging on its Reformed identity with what happened at Princeton, simply doesn’t work.

Last year at the seminary, I asked Princeton’s President Iain Torrance what were the distinctives shaping the Reformed heritage. He answered, “I’d rather speak about Reformed aspects or tendencies.”

Isn’t the Reformed theological legacy compelling because it unites heart and mind, passion and discipline, personal renewal and social transformation—all interpreted through a biblical lens in which Jesus Christ is the focus?

Since this is the heart of what it means to be Reformed, Professor Isom fits the profile. She is a Christian. She is of Reformed conviction. And she witnesses to her Reformed understanding of the Christian faith in a Christ-centered congregation that epitomizes the black experience of worshiping Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Jack R. Van Ens ’69
Arvada, Colo.

Encouragement to grads
In 1961, I had just finished writing a blue book for Dr. Walter DeVries’ political science class, my last class at Calvin. As I had handed it to him, he asked me if I was interested in working for Congressman Jerry Ford. He knew of a job opening as Ford’s legislative assistant.

I had planned to try getting a copy boy job with The New York Times, but a job in hand was worth two in the bush, so I said, “Yes.” As I had been quite involved in politics, he asked me to take another blue book and write everything I had done for the Republican Party; I filled a good bit of the blue book.

That afternoon I received a call from Ford’s office asking if I could fly to Washington, D.C., for an interview. I did and was hired to work in D.C. as well as back in the 5th congressional district. I worked for Congressman Ford for six years before he became vice president and president.

I thought this account might encourage those graduating as they search to find their life’s work. Being able to find such an opportunity that was so unlikely, I feel God must have had a hand in it.

Jim Bersie ’61
Villa Park, Ill.

Keeping CRC ties strong
The winter issue of Spark was full of interesting articles, particularly several dealing with Calvin’s relationship to the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). The cover story on the Jubilee Fellows programs (Winter 2007) described the efforts to encourage young people to consider ministry in the church as a career option.

Another article, by John Witvliet, addressed the mission of Calvin as an institution of the CRC. Written as a reflection of the 150th anniversary of the denomination, the article laid out the important relationships between the denomination and the college and the need to continue and strengthen those ties. But, he also briefly mentioned the “awareness and attitudes” of students and questioned whether Calvin’s students see healthy CRC congregations as a part of God’s plan for them.

Serving on the alumni board recently heightened my awareness of the challenge Calvin faces to not only maintain enrollment, but to become more diverse and appealing to other-than-CRC students. Spark recently noted that over 53 percent of new students were other-than-CRC, even though 40 percent were children of alumni. Both could be considered as positive trends. But if the CRC continues to shrink in numbers, the pool of CRC high school students will shrink as well. And so the question arises, if the CRC wanes, will Calvin maintain its close ties to the denomination, as Witvliet seems to encourage? Or will the college increasingly distance itself from the CRC in order to continue to attract students from outside the denomination?

From my perspective in Denver, I notice that many, if not most, of the recent Calvin grads who come here do not choose to worship in a CRC. While the simple response is to blame the local CRCs if Calvin grads don’t find them appealing, I wonder if the college is doing enough to help students see that they can and should play a role in helping the CRC maintain its attractiveness to the next generation. I know that hundreds of students leave campus on Sunday mornings for church, but many leave to worship in other-than-CRC churches. Could this be part of the reason why so few Calvin graduates who migrate to Denver end up attending a CRC? Does this concern Calvin? When the CRC-administered Sunday morning campus worship services were discontinued, did anyone foresee a negative impact for the denomination? Is anyone at Calvin encouraging students, particularly CRC students, to stick with the denomination?

Barry Meyer ’75
Denver, Colo.

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