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'Flashback' stirs memories
My wife, Norma Jean, and I really enjoyed the fall Spark. "Flashback" was of special interest to me because of the reference to President Schultze. I found Dr. Schultze to be an interesting, kind gentlemen. I applied for admission to Calvin in 1949. Since I was not associated with the Christian Reformed church, I was required to have an interview with the college president. I was nervous about the interview but he quickly dispelled my fears. We spent most of the time talking about our boyhood farm experiences. When we did get to the purpose of the meeting, he needed to know why I wanted to attend Calvin and, if admitted, would I be a "good boy." I appreciated his confidence in me and, except for one parking violation, stayed out of trouble for the next four years. Later, I was able to earn a master's degree, an Educational Specialist Degree and a Ph.D. I became an educator and was a public school superintendent for 28 years. I often wonder how my life would have unfolded if President Schultze had vetoed my admission. God does work in mysterious ways!

Frederick J. Schmidt '53
St. Joseph, Mich.

More reflecting
As I left Calvin—the Franklin campus—in 1942, I remember Dr. Schultze going up the long stairs to the "old main building." There were very few then left on campus; the "stalwarts" were in full control. When I came back from medical department service, I was in the accelerated program—pre-sem. That meant courses in Dutch, history, Dutch art, Latin, Greek and church history. It was a very full load of studies. The following year I was enrolled in the seminary. We studied many languages all at once. The following semester "the dragon of Hebrew" threw me over "the temple wall." I had to leave the seminary, but all in all it was a great life to be a student at Calvin.

Ted Vanvliet '45
Oak Lawn, Ill.

Classmates unknowingly reunite
My husband Lavern and I are both Calvin grads of '63 and this is an incident regarding a fellow Calvin grad of '63 that occurred in April, 2000. I guess this tells what Calvin is 'about'…or what God is doing!

Vern was working in the public library in Evergreen, Ala., a small town in a county that has only four traffic lights total. A couple walked in to the library looking very distraught. Vern asked if he could help them; they answered, "no." It was obvious something was wrong, so after a few minutes, he asked, "Can I help you find something?" The man shared that their car broke down on the highway. It had been towed into town and the mechanic suggested they wait in the library while he assessed the situation. Soon the mechanic called with bad news. The part he needed had to be ordered. This was Friday morning; the car would not be fixed until late Monday. The couple asked Vern where they could rent a car. Unfortunately, that would have been 100 miles to the north or south. By then Vern asked where they were going and through a few more questions found out that they were going to Gulf Shores on Spring Break and that the gentleman was a teacher in a Christian school in western Michigan and furthermore that he also graduated from Calvin in 1963. Vern and he didn't know each other but had mutual acquaintances.

"As the plot thickens," shall we say, Vern offered them his car for the weekend, in fact, Vern said, "My wife is going to meet me in Pizza Hut at noon with Melanie, our daughter in-law and two grandchildren who are visiting from Jackson, Mississippi." They hesitantly agreed, mentioning, "be sure to check with your wife."

When Vern drove up he had two extra people with him so I went out to greet them. They were introduced as a Calvin grad and his wife who were on the way to the beach when their car broke down. Vern stopped. So I said, "let them use your car." They just stared at me, so I continued, "Well, that is if you want to!" So I explained to Melanie and our waitress to wait a minute, we had to take some things from Vern's car and put them into mine.

Melanie and our son, Chad, met at a Christian college and Melanie is a devout Christian; however when we came back into the restaurant both she and the waitress said, "You will never see that car again." Both told us being a Christian is one thing, but giving your car away is another!!

However, we explained how we felt and though not convinced, the waitress wanted to stay with us while we asked the blessing.

The car returned on Monday and we felt it enjoyed going to the beach a few hours away—even without us!

Karen Boerman Steenwyk '63
Brewton, Ala.

Harry is a good read
In the article "There's Something About Harry" (Fall 2001), I was particularly interested in the comments of Gary Schmidt. He comments that critics usually bring three charges against the Harry Potter books and I wish to address those since I feel that they are the questions raised most often.
The first complaint is that the Harry Potter books are "full of hate." The word hate is not a very descriptive word. It leaves a lot of gray area and makes us wonder, "What is hate?" Webster tells us that to hate is to "dislike violently." So, the Harry Potter books are full of "to dislike violently?" What does this mean? Do they mean to imply that the characters go around saying, "I hate you!" to each other? Is there an overall atmosphere of violent dislike in the books? It leaves me in wonder as to what is really meant, so I will do the best I can to explain my point of view. I'll admit that there is no perfect love, everyone being chums, in the Harry Potter books. But think of other books. Think of the Bible which certainly has love, but also hate is shown through actions and words of people. Does this make the Bible full of hate and therefore evil? Certainly not. Although the Harry Potter books were not God-breathed as it was, it is not evil simply because it is not the word of God and contains "hate" as we see it.

The second charge is that the books are brutal, particularly when Harry's parents are murdered. Okay, I understand and I have an idea. Let's never talk about the truths in our sinful world. Let's pretend that people never get murdered. Let's sink back and hide in our churches and our homes, hoping that if we ignore things they'll go away. Never. Turn your head on your rebellious child and you can bet they'll be out the door before long. The books are not saying that brutal death is right. They are merely implying that it does happen and that there is evil (and for Christians, we see it as sin) in our world. Brutal death is not a pleasant thing. It is perfectly acceptable for some parents to not want their children exposed to it. But it does not make the books bad! If you have read Frank Peretti's wonderful book called Piercing the Darkness, you will recognize the violent death by the cutting of one's throat. And I can assure you that that does not promote brutality or cruelty.

The third accusation is one of the most controversial topics in the past few years since Harry Potter hit it big. Do the Harry Potter books promote witchcraft? Many people believe that they do. I have never heard anything more ridiculous. But there are other views. The books have been banned from several schools. People seem to be pushing them from fantasy books to witchcraft books. I know that Christians each have their own views but I can't, for the life of me, see how some who have never read the books can condemn them. Certain books aren't for everyone. We're all created to be different people with different likes and dislikes. That may be one reason why some don't like Harry Potter. Also, people already skeptical, tend to read into the books more and pick out the bad points.
When you read a book, you read to get lost in another world, to entertain or to further your knowledge. The foremost is the reason that I read the Harry Potter books. They are not a "Witchcraft for Idiots" manual. They are not inspiring me to become a witch. In the Spark article, Valeri Shafer makes a very good point. She comments that for certain kids, these books may not be appropriate. Maybe non-Christians would get the wrong ideas. But, as a Christian, it is possible for me to come back to God's world. I can, in all honesty, say that I don't yearn for witchcraft to be real. I don't hope for magic. God did not create things that way and there is no changing that. His way is perfect. Because I read the books does not mean I am alert every moment, hoping for magic, or that I am disappointed at the lack of it in the world.

What I have to say next might shock you. I have not joined a cult. Neither do I plan on doing so. I am not planning on crafting a wand out of wood and attempting to levitate things. I won't worship the devil. But I will read the Harry Potter books.

As it has been argued, the books show good morals, even though not Christianity. Friendship, life lessons and decision-making are only a few things that we can learn. Voldemort and followers can be seen as "evil" in our world such as the White Witch is in the beloved Narnia series. Harry and company may be seen as the children who stumble on this new world among evil and good. Lessons are learned; mistakes are made. Evil is not shown as a good thing. It is despised though magic is incorporated into the books. So now the question is why is magic bad?

Witchcraft was definitely a sin in the Bible. It was not a good thing and in most cases was essentially worshipping the devil. This being said, I feel that Harry Potter is not promoting witchcraft. It is a book. What people choose to make it is up to them and some will hate it for that. However, as a Christian, I could look back on the Harry Potter books and say, "They were funny and well-written. They made me laugh and made me cry. They made me excited and enticed me to read. It was fun." But at the end of the day, we will be who we were before: God's children. And I pray that we will stay that way always. If we let a mere book written by a fellow human sway us in our faith, I am ashamed of us all. (Please I mean no offense to anyone when I say this. This is what I truly feel!)

I, for one, will enjoy the books—the great adventure, the mystery, the excitement. I may even learn a few things. No matter what people say, I believe that reading the books is not wrong. There is no perfection. We are all human. Maybe the Harry Potter books aren't right for you, but I feel that they're all right for me. And no matter what my preacher may try to tell me, or the media screams at me, I will remain a normal kid having fun reading a good book.

Elizabeth (daughter of an alumnus)
Brookfield, Wis.

Just say "no" to Harry
I would like to write in response to the article "There's Something About Harry." I have a few thoughts about the article. I was shocked that an English teacher in a Christian school would make the comments the article reported and have a "Harry Potter Book Club" at the school. I am appalled that a Christian school would allow this kind of a club.

The first statement I read that struck me was: "We need to expose our kids to what's in the world." A teacher said we are in the world so we need to expose our children to it. Really? For kids to get to know Satan we need to introduce them to Satan? Do we give your children drugs so that they get to know drugs? Our kids see the world first hand without any help from us. Romans 12:2 says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,…" Matthew 5:16 says: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Yes, I am in the world but not of this world. By living in the world and reaching out to the needs in the world are we not exposing our kids to the world and teaching them about God?

The teacher also derided censorship. As a mother of two middle schoolers you can believe I censor what they read and watch. It is our duty from God to raise our precious ones by teaching them His commandments and laws-His only Word of God. Deuteronomy 11:19 commands: "And you shall teach them (God's commandments) to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house,…" I am not saying the authors need to be censored but as God's child with the responsibility of raising children parents must monitor their activities and entertainment. There are a whole lot of other books much more God-honoring than Harry Potter. Critics say that Harry Potter books promote an interest in witchcraft. Another comment from the article was that the evil figure in the Harry Potter books is never who you thought it would be (pretty deceitful—sounds like Satan).

Another comment was the one about the fantasy aspect of the witchcraft and magic in these books. Some in the article said that they could read the Potter books and not be affected by the witchcraft and Satanism involved in the books. I think we are selling Satan very short—this is not fantasy. Satan is very much in this world and using the fascination with "fantasy" to attract people. When you go to high schools and college campuses you will find witches who are active, not "fantasy." Ephesians 6:11-12 says: "Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

Valeri Shafer, the English teacher/sponsor of the book club, said that "My key point in defending the idea is that kids are reading the books anyway," so do you support handing out clean needles to drug addicts and condoms to young girls because they are going to do it anyway? She stated that the argument "whatever is good, whatever is profitable" (Phil 4:8) isn't profitable in teaching discernment, I think this is a very strong verse about our minds. What should be going into our minds as children of God?

I feel that these statements needed to be addressed and are Biblically wrong. Probably one of the biggest problems of Christians today is that we are tolerant of everyone and everything. We need to fear the One and True God, the Creator of everything. And we need to stand up against what is not God-honoring. John wrote in Rev 3:15-16 to the church at Laodicea: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."

There was also a comment about being Reformed. "It's about staying in the middle and either seeing if something fits your world view or transforming it so that it does." What is this all about? Being God's child means seeing everything through God's eyes and putting "things" through His view not ours. God and the Bible should be our only standard, and that's where our "Reformed" predecessors set their standards and creeds.
Finally the teacher said "For certain kids, I would recommend that they not read these books. But for the rest, we, as Christians can't run away from the world. That says we are weak." Isn't it a much stronger person who doesn't follow the world but stands up for God and His standards?

Karen Noble Neutel '82
Jacksonville, Fla.

The 'Harry' teacher responds
In response to the above letter of Ms. Karen Neutel regarding Harry Potter I would say the following:

First, I would like to praise her for saying that she, as a mother of middle schoolers, censors what they read and watch. Oh, that all parents were such as this! If that were the case, there would be no need for a book club in our school or all of this public debate about Harry. Having said that, let me point out a critical element of our school's book club last year. This club was an activity, one of many, offered to our children once a week. It was devised in response to our school's concern that too many children were reading the book unsupervised, either by teachers or parents.

It was not a required participation, but rather an elective discussion offered to our students. Neutel quotes Ephesians 6:11-12 well. What was omitted, however, was that before putting on the "full armor of God" and going into battle, one needs to be aware of the enemy, as was always the case with the Israelites in the Old Testament. Satan does work in subtle ways, and is very alive and well in our society. Teaching children how to discern this, whether in Harry Potter, television shows, movies, styles of clothing or language, is vital.
This is key to her second point that she made when she wrote, "Our kids see the world first hand without any help from us." This comment scared me. It is only a half-finished thought, I am sure. The very reason that we offered the club, and the reason that I, as a Christian and a teacher, feel that it is vital, is due to the fact that just the opposite of what she said is true; our children must have help from us as to how to view the world. The Bible urges us "...therefore, brethren, be ignorant of nothing..." It does not ask us to be knowledgeable only about that which agrees with our Biblical/ Christian philosophy, but about all.

Furthermore, we are called to be equipped to be able to "rightly divide" the word of truth. This is a math lesson we cannot ignore. In order to do this division, we must be knowledgeable of both factors in the equation. We cannot know what is wrong with Harry Potter if we do not know what is in it.

I admittedly say this: let me not be a stumbling block to anyone. As I was quoted in the article, these books are not for everyone. I would not offer these books for children to read. However, so that I know I have done all I can as a teacher to be sure that I have addressed what is both wrong and right in the books, I will continue to talk with students who are reading them, so that they are aware of any type of undertone in them. I take very seriously the biblical charge that "it is better to tie a millstone around your neck and throw yourself into the sea than to mislead even one child." (Luke 17:2)

I cannot let the reference to me as a "lukewarm Christian" pass, either. Believe me, born into an Assembly of God family, raised in a Baptist school, and attending a Reformed college, I have not considered these issues lightly.

Our vision, then, is to take the world and establish (transform) Christ's kingdom here on earth to the best of our abilities. Now that is true reformed transformation and the whole purpose for having a Harry Potter book club!

One more thing. I was misquoted by Neutel when she wrote, "She stated that the argument 'whatever is good, whatever is profitable' isn't profitable..." What I said was, "...isn't teaching discernment profitable?"

Valeri Shafer '90
Winfield Park, N.J.

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