Letters to the Editor 2011 Winter


Winter 2011

Remembering Coach Z

Yesterday I received my copy of Spark and was saddened to read about the death of Coach Zuidema (“In Memoriam,” Fall 2011).

During my four years at Calvin (1970–1974), I was on the MIAA soccer team for four years; co-captain (with Don Buchholz and MVP in my final year). As an African studying at Calvin, Coach Zuidema was one of my mentors and one of the many people at Calvin who had a positive influence on my life. Unfortunately I’ve lost touch with many of the friends I made at Calvin, but that never meant I forgot them. Please extend my regards to Don and ask him to kindly convey my greetings to all the lads who made up the varsity soccer team of 1970–74.

James Johnson ’74
East Sussex, England

Calvin’s next president

Here’s hoping that the next president is a faculty person who respects faculty traditions and procedures (“The ninth president,” Fall 2011). Presidents William Spoelhof and Anthony Diekema are worthy models for the presidential search committee. Their years, though hardly problem-free, generally were marked by a healthy level of faculty trust and collaboration. Spoelhof, in 1960, supported six professors who announced they planned to vote for John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, for president. In the face of vicious radio attacks by radio preacher Carl McIntyre, who hosted an anti-Calvin rally in a packed Civic Auditorium, Spoelhof stood up for his profs. Later, Diekema supported the academic freedom of physics professor Howard Van Till, whose book The Fourth Day held that the universe is billions of years old, not the 6,000 that many preachers and church folks asserted. Pressure from young-Earth advocates was intense, including a series of full-page ads in The Grand Rapids Press by Leo Peters that excoriated Van Till and the college.

Come on, search committee, do us proud!

Tom Ozinga ’60
Grandville, Mich.

Studying magic?

After the dramatic events related in Acts 19:11-20, many magicians, fearing the power of the Holy Spirit, burned their books of magic arts in a bonfire. Prof. Winkle (“The King, His Ring and the Temple,” Fall 2011) is studying magic lore from this era with an interest in “the relationship of magic to the divine.” Who shows more wisdom and godly fear?

Mary Keessen Bruinsma ’68
Indianapolis, Ind.

Jeff Winkle responds:
Our summer project is in no way an endorsement of ancient magic practices but rather recognizes that the religious history of the first centuries A.D. and the context within which early Christianity developed is extremely messy with a polyphony of voices, competing beliefs and philosophies. As such, the Testament of Solomon is an important piece to a very complex puzzle.

The human origins debate

What a great issue of Spark. Kids doing legitimate research! During the summer! Hauling garbage and chasing living artifacts in downtown Chicago was how I spent my summers. Now, if only some of those students would once and for all help put to bed on behalf of us dolts living in the hinterlands of pseudo intelligentsia our silly conversations regarding “origins” (“Origins Conversation,” Fall 2011). Chasing after the scientific truthiness in Genesis 2 and 3 is somewhat akin to chasing after the archaeological data in the land of Oz. It just ain’t there, Dorothy. Don’t get me wrong. I believe everything important God has to say to us is wrapped up in Genesis 1-3. And it wasn’t the science of origins God was talking about; it was the grit that goes into perennially significant issues such as meaning, purpose, human maggotry, and hope along with a thought or two thrown in about a cultural mandate if only to keep us interested.

Bill Lenters ’63
Rockford, Ill.

Unfortunately, too many of the “Christian principles” involved in this controversy are mistaken. Any discussion that insinuates the conventional idea of “original sin” or the authenticity of the biblical narrative of our first parents requires their ancient understanding, that is, looking at the matter from the traditional—yes, the scriptural; but also patristic—point of view:

Adam and Eve are types of Christ and the Church: Christ is the “second Adam.” He is the new beginning as the old Adam was the first. The “mother of the living” was Eve; the mother of the “new living,” the “new creature,” is the Church. Our first-parents brought death, our new parents life.

“Original sin” is the ancestral transgression by which death came into the world (“the wages of sin is death”). There was no death in nature before the Fall. In other words, Adam’s progeny (and nature of which man is the crown) inherited death, not guilt. Christ died on the Cross not to pay the penalty of human sin, but to battle the devil and conquer death and recover the human race by His ransom. As the Paschal hymn of the Orthodox Church proclaims: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down / death by His death, and upon those in the grave / bestowing life.”

Remember that we would not sin if we did not die: the immortal cannot sin.

Anyone who teaches that there was death before that tragic and historic moment in Paradise abolishes the divine Economy. The Darwinian vision is simply anti-Christian unless some syncretist can reconcile it with Christian cosmogony (creationism) and the divine Plan of Redemption.

Fr. Michael Azkoul ’54
St Louis, Mo.

I read with interest the article about Drs. Dan Harlow and John Schneider and the origins conversation. I was somewhat amused. My half-brothers Col. (ret) John Hoogland and the late Dr. Marvin Hoogland raised the question of the historicity of Adam and Eve back in the 1950s and were nearly prevented from receiving their Calvin Theological Seminary degrees on this account.

Given the 50 years since, and much more archaeological, genetic, cultural and anthropologic data, I am astonished that this discussion has not been put to rest.

On my personal road to atheism, one of the reasons I could not continue to be Christian was the rejection of science in evolution solely because this branch of science generally contradicts Reformed teaching. Being expected to continue in Christianity by a church that rejects scientific method and resultant truth in this area (and this area alone—not in medical technology for example) casts into doubt the reliability of the church in other areas of teaching. This has been referred to as a “Galileo moment”; I agree.

Esther Hoogland Rehmus ’77
Peninsula, Ohio

How sad that a professor lost his job for asking questions and saying that physical evidence suggests that the Genesis account might not be literally accurate in describing how God created the earth and its inhabitants. It reminds me of the story about the church forcing Galileo to recant of his belief that the earth revolved around the sun, and not vice versa. He is reported to have said “OK, I don’t believe that the earth orbits the sun. But it does!”

My former pastor once said that the why of the creation story is much more important than details of the how. Though divinely inspired, the Bible was written by and for people with much less understanding of the physical universe than we have today. Would the Bible have even survived for us to read if the penners had written “In the beginning there was a big bang. Billions of years after that, the sun was formed, and billions of years later yet, life began on the earth, culminating in Homo sapiens?”

I’d like to think that a college with the wonderful motto “Minds in the Making” would welcome any serious inquiry into our orthodoxy. As for me, a Christian who had a career as a “rocket scientist,” every new scientific discovery increases my awe of God our creator.

David Fleming, husband of Beverly Stiemsma Fleming ’66
North Olmsted, Ohio

In the last chapter of his Confessions, St. Augustine considers the controversy over the meaning of the early chapters of Genesis. He argues that only an allegorical interpretation fully reveals the majesty of God; those who insist on reading the text literally are, he says, like “little children.” That was at the end of the fourth century. It is, to be frank, preposterous that in the early years of the 21st century, Calvin College is pretending that there is still a serious intellectual debate to be had about whether Adam and Eve “really” existed. I have long been proud of the education I received at Calvin, but the treatment of Professors Schneider and Harlow feels to me like a tipping point: the moment when the institution (as distinct from the faculty) at last embraces marginalization and irrelevance.

Colin Jager ’94
Plainfield, N.J.

I think any new presidential candidate should make a statement that he/she is appalled at the treatment of a faculty member (John Schneider) over the discussions regarding historicity of Adam and Eve. Sounds like John Calvin and Servetus.

Ronald L. Dirkse ’64
Tokyo, Japan

Tolerance is a myth

I find it incongruous that Calvin religion professor John Schneider must leave over a historicity discussion of Adam and Eve, yet panders to the Muslin outreach and appeasement of philosophy professor Kelly Clark (“Faith-Based Hate,” Fall 2011). Calvin appears to miss the larger threat to “scripture as interpreted in the Reformed confessions that guide the work of Calvin College.”

First, Islam is not an Abrahamic religion nor descended from it. It is a totalitarian ideology that aims to control the religious, social and political life of mankind in all its aspects. Any Christian high school senior can see the Koran’s cribbing and false use of Jesus, the prophets and mixup of biblical figures. The Christian God and the Muslim God are simply not the same.

Islamic tolerance is a myth. Islam has eradicated the national identities of all the peoples it conquered. The Coptic identity of Egypt, the Buddhists and Hindus in Pakistan, the Zoroastrians in Turkey, the Armenians in Iraq, Christians in Iran and the Middle East; they were all wiped away, cracked down upon or discriminated against until this very day. It now spreads to Africa and Europe. This is because Islam seeks the “Ummah”; the common identity of the Nation of Islam to which all have to be subservient and into which all national and individual identities have to vanish. The implied comparison and moral equivalence of Tennesseans not wanting a local mosque to the destruction of tens of thousands of churches in the Middle East is insane.

Clark naively believes Islam might come to “respect” other religions. Islam’s 6,000-plus rules as outlined in “The Reliance of the Traveler” divides mankind into two groups: Muslims and non-Muslims. The Lands of Islam, the “dar al-Islam,” is roughly the 57 Islamic nations already governed by Islamic jurisdiction, where no Bibles or new Christian churches are permitted.

All other lands are “dar al-Harb,” by definition the Land of Warfare (the rest of the world) where the only ones considered innocent in them are Muslims. All acts of war are permitted against non-Muslims in dar al-Harb until they are converted or conquered. All Muslims in dar al-Harb must fight, strive and kill in the name of (their) God until non-Muslims are subdued.

Islam is only a “religion of peace” if all in it are Muslims. Islam would quickly destroy Calvin and the West if given half a chance. Identifying your potential destroyer is not hate, it’s realism. The question is did the wrong professor leave Calvin?

Frederick Fleischmann ’72
Caledonia, Mich.

Kelly Clark responds:
I’m not sure what you think I’ve denied in the Reformed confessions by working with Muslims for liberty. I don’t claim that we have equal access to God. The project I’m working on concedes that we have deeply divergent and even contradictory beliefs but, nonetheless, can work together for peace. Moreover, it encourages Muslims, Christians and Jews to find within their own traditions the resources for principled tolerance.

As I’ve worked on this project I’ve met mullas who desperately fear Islamic fundamentalists, imams who are leading a national blood drive to show their opposition to 9/11 terrorism, and Muslim NGOs who are fighting for the lives of Christians in various countries. I don’t know if Islam is per se intolerant. I know lots of admirable Muslims who are. If you find you just can’t wait for the publication of my Abraham’s Children, I’d recommend reading Mustafa Akyol’s Islam Without Extremes in the meantime.

I would hate for Christianity to be judged by the worst of us. Sadly, your letter judges Islam by the worst among them (while I concede that there is a minority of Muslims who are bent on our destruction and that require our vigilance). But it’s just such prejudice that creates the climate of intolerance that my book seeks to address.

Let me conclude: the Jesus we both claim to follow blesses the peacemaker, bids us to show compassion to our neighbor (Jesus’s example involves those of decidedly different faiths), and to take the plank out of our own eyes before attending to the splinter in the eyes of others.

Football feasible?

My initial responses to football at Calvin (“Is Football Feasible?” Fall 2011): 1. Calvin has had football since the 1960s—the epic games between Les Jacques de Chimes and the Faculty Fumblers. 2. Wow, yet another opportunity to beat Hope! 3. Ironically, Spark came in the mail the same day as Atlantic Monthly, with its lead article “The Shame of College Sports.”

Granted, Calvin and the MIAA are DIII; yet the prospects of a high-maintenance sport, the pressure to succeed to justify the investment, and the initial costs being underwritten by donors, among the other campus issues anticipated, bring a lot of caveats. I’m glad the task force has done its homework; I invite others to visit the website and to especially read the FAQs. Read the Atlantic article while you’re at it.

4. Finally, I remember my older brother’s decision to forego football at Wheaton hinged on the excellence of a competitive program: Calvin’s history department. Good call, Joel.

Jeff Carpenter ’77
Palos Heights, Ill.

The article on football at Calvin has an easy answer. The question should be posed, “Is football desirable at Calvin?” Is it practical? We do not need to “… gather the necessary data to make an informed decision about football, one way or the other.” Does an intercollegiate football program advance our Mission Statement? Can our college, supported by grateful graduates, fortunate to have alumni who can afford generous donations, known nationwide as a superior liberal arts educational institution, squander financial resources for an intercollegiate football program?

I do hope the Planning and Priorities Committee will carefully consider the following: costs of a stadium and ancillary facilities, costs of stadium maintenance, costs of capable coaches, NCAA III scholarship restrictions, costs of insurance premiums to cover liability claims, and that they will seriously consider inviting Hessel “Bud” Bouma to present cogent material from his file on “Football and Health Risks.”

I do hope that alumni will respond with their views on this issue. The conclusions from 1969, 1976 and 1985 are powerful precedents. This is not an issue to be decided by current students. Our board of trustees and committee chairpersons have more important work to do than to consider an intercollegiate football team.

Roger Slater ’52
Indianola, Wash.

Memorial Church revisited

I was pleased to read the letter from Loren Hoekzema and support him completely (“Harvard hospitality,” Fall 2011). Your commentary on the concert at Memorial Church was difficult to read and made me very angry.

I attended the Gospel Choir concert that evening and enjoyed the music and message very much. I attend Memorial Church on a regular basis. It was in the church that I first heard about the upcoming concert. I attended the concert to enjoy the music and to support a choir from the college I graduated from. I left the concert with a sense of pride. However, I was disappointed that there were not more Calvin alumni in attendance. Maybe that was because the notice to the Calvin alumni in the Boston area arrived via e-mail just a few days before the concert. That should have been out much earlier.

The attendance that evening was about average for a midweek event at the church. I think the choir actually drew a larger audience than a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who spoke a few weeks earlier. I recognized regular members of the congregation in the audience.

Mr. Hoekzema’s suggestion that you visit the Memorial Church website is an excellent one. The services are spiritually based with an anchor in scripture. Jesus Christ, God, sin and redemption through our relationship with Jesus is central to the message. Additional communion services are being added this year at the request of the congregation.

Memorial Church also conducts morning prayers (chapel) six days a week, a tradition continued from the founding of the college.

You took the statement of someone who is not a regular member of the Memorial Church congregation who decided to make a “general” comment not based on her personal experience. Your attempt to further defend what you put in writing did not correct your error.

What you should do is issue an apology to the clergy of Memorial Church for quoting an uninformed source.

I would like to invite anyone who is in the Boston area who is seeking a weekly spiritual worship to attend Memorial Church. One does not need to be associated with Harvard to attend. The “Welcome” mat is out to all. Services are at 11 a.m.

Susan Bouwma Grefe ’68
Milton, Mass.

Professors recalled

Remember Calvin’s coach and phys ed guy, Barney Steen? Well, in my word studies I came across the Dutch word for amber, the solidified resin found in the shallow waters of many turpentine pine forests along the shores of Northern Europe. Amber was cherished as a decorative piece because it could be easily cut into shapes, often held and preserved small bugs 100 million years old (remember Jurassic Park?), and the stuff had a wild quality of a strange attractive force the Greeks first called hlektrikoj. It was apparently the first known carrier of an electric charge (called static, since it was pretty constant), and was soon observed in metals as well.

Well, the Germans called this stuff “burnt-stone,” which came out Bernstein (as in Leonard, the musician), and the Dutch called it “barnsteen!” So I wonder if Barney’s nice Dutch parents knew they were naming Barney Steen for the amber? And he must have been baptized “Barnhard Steen,” which makes the “burnt-stone” even harder (for enduring harsh weather?).

Andrew Tempelman ’60
Nashua, N.H.

I was a political science major at Calvin, and the recent debate brought back fond memories of Professor Charles Strikwerda’s course on Congress.

Susan Lacey ’82
Miami, Fla.