Thursday, November 19, 2015

Service-Learning for the History Student

Anna Lindner
November 18, 2015

The Relevance of History in Service-Learning

This semester, I am taking Spanish Capstone and four history classes. It’s a good thing I’m a history major, because that’s a lot of history, and it’s sometimes overwhelming. I will admit, I tend to be a person stuck in the past. Rather than the future, I think about how the past has impacted our current realities. For me, history isn’t some abstract discipline. It’s strikingly relevant to my life, and every day in class, I get to connect historical events to our world today, which I find inspiring. As an ABSL coordinator, I engage with the academic aspect of service-learning. I try to have an interdisciplinary approach to my job and my academics, which, of course, means relating service-learning to history. I have been the liaison for African history this past semester, so I wrote the following description of service-learning as it pertains to history.

Service-Learning in the History Department:
The history department, by virtue of its nature, could and, I believe, should have a close relationship with the Service-Learning Center. History is not merely the study of the past; it is also an investigation of humans, the way they perceive and then try to interpret the world around them. In order to learn about history, we as students engage with readings, listen to lectures, and write papers. I personally find these processes to be, when I’m not too stressed out, life-giving.
But is there a way to render the study of people in their cultural contexts more fully, more creatively, more humanly? Perhaps we can learn not only from written texts, but active, living texts as well. Meeting people in both our local and global communities could connect the knowledge saturating our heads with what is currently happening in the world.
I study history because I care about classism, racism, and sexism; I care about justice because I study history. For me, the two are inextricably intertwined: interdisciplinary, and mutually giving. Studying history reminds me of the world surrounding me, but engaging in the surrounding world reminds me why I care about history. The problems of classism, racism, and sexism are not some abstract topics detailed in thick books and locked away in a vault of dusty tomes. No; they actively shape the world in which I live. They intimately affect my neighborhood, my classmates; they affect me.
Service-learning has been essential in my growth as a student and as a person. It allows me to step out of myself, to (literally) step out of the world that has been carved out for me, simply by virtue of my wealth, privilege, and caring family. During those ventures out of comfort, I’m forcibly reminded that this is the real world, full of pain, sorrow, and desperation. But at the same time, there exists remarkable wisdom, hope, and amazing resilience. As I get older, I hope to learn more deeply and fully how to service-learn not to assert my own superiority, but affirm the worth of others. If at all possible, we struggle to put ourselves out there purely because we have discovered invaluable lessons to be learned from those whom we originally assumed we were trying to serve. After many awkward and even painful interactions during service-learning, I receive something invaluable: not the feeling that I helped someone, but that I connected to someone as a fellow human, and thereby gain a genuine friendship and the wisdom they share with me.

For me, Service-Learning has become merely code for another idea: human connection. We purposefully enter an uncomfortable space and inadvertently learn way too much about ourselves. As history students, we are privy to the wisdom of centuries of philosophers, theologians, rulers, scholars, and revolutionaries. But it’s not only the greats who make history. It’s also the common people who contributed to the history we have today. And so we, as common people privileged with the opportunity to learn, should crave the opportunity to connect with other common people who may just one day form the history that future history students will one day study. 

Monday, November 2, 2015


By: Lauren Anderson

The elephant in the room
Evident to all.
Celebrated by some
Disgusted by the rest.


Color within the respective lines.
No mixing.
No blending.
Whites here.                         The rest there. Step no further!


What if       what if
    I step outside those limiting lines?
And befrien--neglect, disdain, up-turned noses
As far as I can see.

You know that I see you.
Your empty threats don't scare me.
I see your fear-filled eyes.
Your desire to live in--within
   the "safe" red tape of what has been
   generations past.

I can't stay here.
I need to keep walking
Head held high
With my brothers and sisters and Lord.

Come join us if you wish
These are your siblings too, you know.
There are stories to tell, hurts to mend, and celebrating to be done.

Try as you might
Nothing will keep me from my brothers and sisters.
Even your arguments cannot not keep me from
Loving, celebrating, and lamenting
With my precious brothers and sisters.
My Dad is the King
Of Love and Justice.
Of Love and Justice
I will live.

I need to celebrate my brothers and sisters.
To live and be with them each day

THAT is beloved community.
Don't you see?

To live and be
All of us and He.

The Holy Great I AM.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

ArtPrize 2015

Hi, I am Peter Ye, the new Academically Based Service-Learning (ABSL) Student Coordinator for the Natural Sciences and Mathematics. I want to talk about the seventh ArtPrize event. I went to ArtPrize on October 10th, one day before the three-week event ended. I started at DeVos Place Convention Center’s Art Prize venue with four friends at around 7pm and stayed there for about two and a half hours. I am really not an expert on art, probably because I am an engineering student. I have been to ArtPrize before, but this time I actually tried to learn something. I realized that there was such a variety of art, ranging from different topics, themes, presenting mediums, and methodologies.

The first few art entries I saw were outside, near the La Grande Vitesse sculpture (French, meaning “the great swiftness” or “grand rapids”). One entry is “Raising the Flag,” 20 ft. by 12 ft. “American flag made up of 6850 acrylic dog tags in memorial of the soldiers who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. (ARTPRIZE)”

Near the flag was the “Port of Entry,” a 12’ X 12’ x 12’ structure made of Jarritos (colorful and iconic Mexican soda). “It was built with the help of volunteers from the Hispanic Center and the community. It symbolized the community’s strength through unity. It is a tribute to Michigan’s migrant workers. (ARTPRIZE)”

One more entry I want to point out is an oil painting of Calvin’s bridge, “Beltline,” by a Calvin graduate student. “This work can be considered a metaphor for the journey of life. The pathway with the strong one-point perspective is a literal depiction of a place that was extremely formative for the artist. (ARTPRIZE)”

There are so many entries which I didn’t get a chance to see. The entries that I did get to see are so varied. As you can see from the entries mentioned above, some focus on diversity issues, some focus on social justice, some are reflective of life experiences, some are actual material representations, some use the process of the constructing the work to express the theme, some are literal, and some are abstract. ArtPrize is a good learning experience for me. It gives me access to so many areas which I hardly have any knowledge of. The skills and complexity of the artists also amaze me. ArtPrize can be a good experience for people who don’t know much about art, especially for an engineering student like me.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Snapshots of the CPC Retreat

I've always been a lover of pictures. When I was young I would lie out photo books on the floor and just look at pictures...for hours. So, while packing for the Community Partnership Coordinator retreat last weekend, with the fourteen college kids I lead and mentor, I was planning on taking loads of pictures.

How many did I come away with?

The problem is when I'm in beautiful moments that I want to savor...the last place I want to be is looking at the scene from behind a camera lens. Our retreat this past weekend was full of so many beautiful moments...that I forgot to take a single picture. An annoying reality for creating keepsakes...but also a beautiful blessing.

Although I do not have physical pictures, I have several moments, snap shots in time from the CPC retreat that I would love to share with you.

Our retreat last weekend was at the Navigator House. A ministry started by Henry and Jacquline Bouma in the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood. This couple's story is amazing. They have mentored and walked alongside people in the Roosevelt Park community after moving from there from their suburban home. They have been sharing God's love and helping build up what was once broken in the neighborhood. 

When we first arrived at The Navigator House my first snapshot moment was watching Katie and Cami, two of my CPCs, play a game of pick up basketball with the local neighborhood kids. Cami even scored a basket! Watching these two young women effortlessly join street ball with the neighborhood kids was simply beautiful to me.

Then came dinner. Sitting around the table eating white chicken chili (made with salsa from the local market) salad, and chips and guacamole with the CPCs I have grown to love and felt like a sacred place.

Next, Janvier and Walter, two young adults who have been mentored by Henry shared their stories with us. Through Henry, and staff members at The Potter's House, these young men found a place in this community after leaving their home countries of Guatemala and Burundi. By the end of our conversation, we were all laughing and conversing like we had met before.

 When I woke up early Saturday morning to make a whole mess of eggs of ham for fifteen people, the sunrise was shining through the single kitchen window. Another snapshot moment.

This sunshine coming through the window reminded me that God's love, hope, and redemption are real. It's are all around us. In Grand Rapids. In Roosevelt Park. In the small beautiful moments I was really hoping I would put into picture form. And although there is still brokenness, and a deep aching in me for justice...I saw glimpses, snapshots if you will, of God's kingdom during our retreat last weekend.

I'd take that over the physical pictures any day.

-Kelsey Stark
Residence Hall Community Partnership Coordinator

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Reflection on "The Inner Life of Rebellion" by Maaike Muude, GR Walks Research Coordinator

So, I've been encouraged to write a reflection on the podcast, "The Inner Life of Rebellion, " which kind of feels like someone saying, "Do the impossible." This, and the fact that it enlivened my childhood dream TO BE NPR'S KRISTA TIPPETT. (Or Lakshmi Singh. Either one, I'm not going to be picky about it.)

Anyways, the podcast is a dialogue between two social justice activists, Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin, with Tippett narrating and facilitating the conversation. (Or, if we wanna get specific, the titles of the two guests are "Quaker elder, educator, and activist" and an "author, entrepreneur, and speaker." Real casual, Krista.)

I flip through the transcript of the podcast to see my underlines, highlights, and exclamation points, all written using a silver marker which somehow makes them that much more emotive. 

Quotes like,

"It's an act of rebellion to show up as someone trying to be whole."

"If this generation does rebellion differently, generatively, I think it will be because of a redemptive commitment... to connect inner life and outer life, inner work and social change; to be reflective and activist at once; to be in service as much as to be in charge; and to be wise in learning from elders and from history while bringing very new realities into being for this age."

"You should trust your own outrage. Being able to honor that anger is one of the most important muscles of a rebel."

"I've had moments in my life where I've felt totally paralyzed, but there's such a powerlessness in that. You have to have this robustness around holding complexity, and being able to acknowledge that it's kind of beyond our comprehension, and yet you still have to keep trying to do it, and do it in the most ethically, honorable way."

"Empathy becomes a liability because of what is laid upon it (we are bombarded by the dark complexities of the world... especially by the news)."

"You need the chutzpah to know that you have a voice worth speaking, and things worth saying, and you need the humility to know that it's vital to listen, because you may not have it right at all, or only a very partial grasp on the truth." 

"We need to grapple with the relationship between discomfort and wholeness."

"You know, we really need to be talking with each other about these things (depression and mental and emotional health struggles). We need to go public with it because we are each other's health care workers."

"The modern violence of overwork."

"I think a lot of very powerful people have no time to pause. They don't create those spaces. I think some of the most unethical things happen in the world because of that cacophony. 

"The kind of rebel I want to be... is someone who learns in public, and not have my ego be so tender that it get bruised into silence."

Amidst these quotes, the two activists discuss, among other things, our society's obsession with efficiency, "living online vs. living on land," joyful giving, creating safe spaces, and using one's power. 

And because a list of quotes is not a reflection, I'm feeling like I'm coming up a bit short.

And so then I just think about this past weekend and the week ahead. 

I think about my GRIL students who I saw this weekend and who I simply adore, because, although cliche, they have taught me so much. I think about how I'm going with them to the Ash Wednesday service at St. Francis Xavier this week. 

When we were together this past weekend, we were studying Philippians 3:7-11. 

And then I see a connection. 

These verses are Paul (whom I also adore) talking about knowing God and that as we come to know God, we come to know pain as well. Verses 10 and 11 read, "I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead."

Basically, this verse squashes a lot of flowery Christian encouragement cards. 

This verse tells us that to say "I'm going to follow Christ" is to say, "I'm going to subject myself to hardship." 

As Christians, we might try to avoid this verse. I know I do. 

But then I flash forward to Ash Wednesday. 

According to my (brief, internet) research, the significance of the ashes during Wednesday's service will be twofold: one, reminding us of our human mortality, and two, as a symbol of sorrow and repentance for our sins. 

And then I think of the symbols of Christianity: ashes, the cross (which yeah, it's an instrument for torturous murder which we wear as jewelry), and, my personal favorite, eating human (and divine!) flesh and blood as a weekly ritual. 

And then Philippians doesn't seem so weird, because this religion isn't exactly "feel good." 

It feels like some morbid cult. 

So anyways, at the end of the overwhelmingly profound activist podcast is a poem. It's written by Victoria Safford, who by my (brief, internet) research is a minister. (Although, she's a minister of the unitarian universalist church--perhaps she couldn't quite stomach the blood and guts of Christianity--but I do think she has wisdom to share with us here.) 


Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope--not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of "Everything is gonna be alright." But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.

And there it is again, first in Philippians, and now in this poem. The word suffering (or struggle). And these two texts bring to memory this moment in high school when I was talking to my friend Amber. Amber and I had grown up together on the soccer field. In fact, I was the goalie and she was the sweeper (if you know anything about soccer, you know that this is a very special relationship. We were buds). 

In the fall seasons of high school, though, I ran cross country and she played volleyball. And we were talking about our sports, and I remember saying to her, the day of a meet, "The feeling before a race is so strange. It's different than anything I've felt before a soccer or basketball game. Because while those sports are indeed taxing, with cross country what you are essentially doing is choosing to go through about 21 minutes of intense pain. You know racing is going to hurt. And yet, you do it almost weekly. The day of a meet is a day of knowing that tonight, I will suffer with and for my team."

I think this feeling is similar to what people experience as they prepare to be baptized, or make profession of faith, or simply get up another day and whisper yes to Jesus. It's this feeling of willingly choosing to suffer, with and for your brothers and sisters. With and for Christ. Like cross country, this struggle is both individual and communal.

And this might be where the life of rebellion and the life of the Christian are one. We willingly choose to suffer, because to suffer is to know God, and to know God is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope--daring to hope might just be one of the most rebellious (and courageous) things we can do as fragile humans on this earth. 

And so. As the priest thumbs ashes onto our foreheads this Wednesday, and we bow our heads in repentance towards the cross, we hope that Jesus really is our saving grace, and that when we get up in the morning and whisper yes, he hears us, suffers with us, and, if we listen closely enough, whispers back. 

A Reflection on "The Inner Life of Rebellion" by Mariana Perez, ABSL Coordinator for Languages, Literature & Arts

At our staff retreat last weekend, Evans and Jess explained our staff covenant to the spring semester newcomers, including myself. Influential to the writing of the covenant was the poem "With That Moon Language." The next day we listened to a podcast entitled The Inner Life of Rebellion. The following is a reflection on that podcast, our staff covenant, the poem and the warm conversation that ensued.

I’m still holding on to the idea of balancing talking and listening.

One of the speakers said that we all have a voice worth speaking, and things worth saying.

A voice worth speaking, things worth saying.

I was taught to listen and learn, which is good. But I think that at some point, I, we, also need to speak. A voice worth speaking, things worth saying.

 Worth speaking, worth saying. Worth. Value.

It’s not just that we should say something, or that it is a duty to stand up and speak up, although sometimes it is. The emphasis is that what we have to say has value, we have value, worth.

The first conscious instance that I felt frustrated with not saying something was at work. In the summer, I work as a nursing assistant in a nursing home. Well, it’s not the best place to work. I love my job, I love working with the residents. But working with co-workers is difficult. And the nurses smoke a lot. They drink a lot of Mt. Dew. They’re not very nice. And no one (that works there) sees this as a problem. I mean, they do, but they also see it as something that just is. That’s how things are done. That’s just how things are.

It feels like the people that are actually trying to do their job well, treating residents with respect, dignity, are the ones that get screwed over. Respect, dignity, that doesn’t get residents to the dining hall on time. It doesn’t get them to bed “on time.”

And it seems that it’s like that for a lot of things. People that work “efficiently” without necessarily taking the time to think, to listen, to weigh, to question, are the ones that have the louder voice.

It’s hard to compete with that. But I think that it’s possible. And necessary.

Because we have a voice worth speaking, and things worth saying.

I, and people that question, should not shrink away from the fact that we question. It should be acknowledged and embraced. And I think that we, I, should be the first to do the acknowledging and the embracing.

I also think that this posture

A voice worth speaking, and things worth saying

is what is behind moon eyes.

There is chutzpah, and idealism, with having this perspective. Some would interpret this as naivete, greenness, inexperience. But mostly naivete, I think. Such silly hopes, to think you can create systemic change. To think you can keep the Sabbath. To think you can sustain your “idealism.” To think you make a difference. To think that what you are doing matters. To think you can be happy.

Such silly hopes, to think you can get from the bad simple, through the complexity, and to the good simple, to the wholeness.

I’m not even talking specifics yet. I’m not even being “excruciatingly specific” yet. [Insert your own hope here]. I’m just talking about the concept itself, the concept of moon eyes. We are met with so much more resistance, so much more criticism, when we actually do what we’re talking about.

But we shouldn’t shrink away from this. We shouldn’t shrink away from the criticism because then we get screwed over (perhaps this phrasing is not quite creates too much of an us-them dynamic. But, I’m speaking generally, without the nuances of a specific situation, so I’ll keep it).

We shouldn’t shrink away from the criticism becausewe have a voice worth speaking, and things worth saying.

Believing this, and knowing this is true, is what characterizes an inner life of rebellion. And, hopefully, eventually, an outer life of rebellion, too.

I have a voice worth speaking, and things worth saying.


The power of one. That’s another thing. Recognizing the power of one is part of inner rebellion. I mean, squirrels prevented humans from domesticating oak trees. That’s just kind of incredible!

But with the chutzpah, there has to be humility. And this balance is so hard.

But community makes it a lot easier. It diffuses the weight of the high and mighty labels of humility and rebelliousness.

Which brings me to another point: labels. This was mentioned in the podcast briefly, how labels are dangerous. I agree. What is interesting is that what is considered “rebellion” is simply how things should be. We talked about this. Martin Luther King Jr. can be labeled as being rebellious. But what he demanded for a people, the hope that he had, that’s how things should have been! Jesus was countercultural, he was a rebel. But what he lived and preached is how things should be!

We can’t put too much weight on labels. We can’t make them be too special. We can’t paint the thing (rebellion, truth, honesty, humility, whatever else) to be so rare that it seems exotic to us. We can acknowledge that the thing is rare, but we also have to acknowledge that it is ordinary. Rare-exotic is bad. Rare-ordinary is good. Rare-exotic is distancing and alienating and othering. Rare-ordinary acknowledges that something is not very common, but also that it should be common, and that is why it is ordinary. It’s how things should be.

So. I have a voice worth speaking, and things worth saying. Moon eyes. Chutzpah. Rebellion. Squirrels. Humility. Community. Labels. More humility. And I’ll throw in more community, too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Introduction: GR Walks

[Author's Note: Last semester, I was asked to write an introduction to the work that I do in the S-LC. Later, we decided it might be a helpful piece for the blog--so here it is.]

Hi, my name is Maaike Mudde and I'm a sophomore at Calvin studying psychology. In the S-LC, I help with the development of the phone application, GR Walks. 

So what is GR Walks?

First, let's back up. It is 2013, my senior year of high school. While making my college decision, I was perusing the Calvin website. I came across an article about GR Walks, a smart phone app featuring self-guided walking tours of Grand Rapids neighborhoods. I read about such names as Josh Leo, Noah Kruis, and the Service-Learning Center.

I remember thinking that GR Walks was really cool.

Fast forward. It's a year later, and I'm a freshman at Calvin and working in the S-LC. In the office, we were talking about the jobs that students could do for next year, and Noah mentioned GR Walks. I jumped at the idea. 

On the GR Walks website (, Josh Leo, the founder of the app and alumnus of Calvin, wrote the following: "GR Walks all started with an idea in 2010 for an easy way to walk around the city and learn about what you were seeing." In his travels, Leo had experienced audio tours in Europe and wondered if he could create something similar for the city of Grand Rapids.

From the beginning, Leo was looking for help with the project, and found a partnership with Noah Kruis, associate director of our Service-Learning Center. To help with the app, Noah has secured grant money through the years for students to research and find pictures for the tours.

So here I am, joining a short legacy of S-LC amateur local historians, researchers, and enthusiasts.

GR Walks currently has 2 tours, the Eastown and East Hills Tour and Heritage Hill North Tour. Last spring, Professor Du Mez of Calvin's History Department integrated the app into one of her courses. Students researched and created content for two or more tours: a Riverwalk Tour along the Grand River and Ramona Park Tour along the coast of Reed's Lake. So far, my job has been tying up loose ends for the research of these tours and finding pictures to go along with them.

What I love about the app is that it has multifaceted value and purposes. To Grand Rapids citizens, it's a way to learn about and affirm their neighborhood in a new way. To those participating in service-learning, it's a way to give context to the community in which they are serving and learning from. To Calvin history students, it's a way to develop their research skills and apply their knowledge in a practical way.

To me, I just think it's really cool.