Friday, April 29, 2016

[untitled]

I would like it if you would walk with me for these for moments of your time that I have, and allow me to say something that I have yet to say in fullness of that which it deserves to be said. I have spent a lot of time in these past four months in tears and brokenness, trying to pick up the pieces from decisions I have made. Grappling with my utter inability to provide for myself in any meaningful psychological and spiritual way has been incredibly humbled. What I mean is that the answers that I have been seeking, those to fill the empty spaces, have been outside of myself and my attempts at insular self-realization to bring enlightenment in my life and overcome this angst and frustration has only amplified those feelings. I think it may be that insularity reinforces, or at very least maintains, the pain we feel because there is something very real about allowing your burdens to be carried by others.
            So it this, that I care to write: Thank you. To those over the past months have been, at the right time and moment, listened and pestered me when I refused, I am so grateful. My gratefulness extends as far as the support I have received; at no moment has anyone had to bear the burden of my mess, but friends and mentors have at their moment provided what was needed. To the mentor who reminded me that I wasn’t a failure, your words have not left me. To the friend who pestered me with piercing questions and unwavering conviction, you have loved me when I’ve been unable to reciprocate that outpouring of grace.
            I do not wish to downplay the difficulties that this time of transition has brought in my life, but let it be known that my life is not altogether challenging. I get to show up to two wonderful jobs in which we seek to live out the biblical mandate for justice, and during the evening, my life transitions to full-time student and I have the opportunity to learn at a place that Calvin where curiosity is encouraged. It is in these places that I have not only hung on this semester, but I think that I have truly been able to thrive.

            This has been a trying time in my life and have often felt lost. In being lost, I have experienced frightening vulnerability that has provided for me space to feel more alive than ever before. It has been a year of incredible moments of exhilaration and raucous laughter intertwined with thorns that cut deep and cause bleeding. Living faithfully in between the mess of exile and the jubilee of the restored city requires of me to avoid the optimism of human progress and the pessimism of human limitations, but rather work and wait in the dichotomy of hope and reality; a hope that doesn’t ignore the filth and a reality that will not remain in brokenness.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Love and Transition

The change from life in utero to life outside the womb is a time of one of the greatest, most complex physiological changes in the life of a human being. The first 6 hours after birth are when the newborn’s respiratory and circulatory systems, her most important systems, become stable. This period is called transition. 

But transitions don’t cease as life goes on. I’ve discovered that relationships, their forming and ending, provide endless opportunity for change. This time, the effect is not physiological; it is deeply psychological, emotional, and spiritual. 

Each of my now three years at Calvin I’ve been deeply shaped by the people I’ve lived and shared life with. Living in Harambee this year has been no exception. Amidst many, many things, I’ve learned a little bit about the kind of love that doesn’t distinguish between family and friends and neighbors and strangers. 

In his book appropriately entitled The Four Loves, there is a passage where C.S Lewis captures the formation of that love. He sets up the passage with an example. He explains how the mark of truly having a wide taste in books is not being able to read and appreciate any book from your own personal collection. The true mark is being able to read and appreciate a book off the cart of a bookstore’s reduced-price sidewalk sale. He goes on to write:

“The truly wide taste in humanity will similarly find something to appreciate in the cross-section of humanity whom one has to meet every day. In my experience it is Affection that creates this taste, teaching us first to notice, then to endure, then smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate, the people who ‘happen to be there.’ Made for us? Thank God, no. They are themselves, odder than you could have believed and worth far more than we guessed.” 

And worth far more than we guessed.

[Kind of a side note—he follows up that paragraph with this:

“If we dwelled exclusively on these resemblances we might be led on to believe that this Affection is not simply one of the natural loves but is Love Himself working in our human hearts and fulfilling the law. Were the Victorian novelists right after all? is love (of this sort) really enough? Are the ‘domestic affections,’ when in their best and fullest development, the same thing as the Christian life? The answer to all these questions, I submit, is certainly No.” 

I agree. Affection is not enough (having affection for my neighbor or having affection for my enemy doesn’t really fly), but it is a prerequisite, a sort of training wheel that teaches us how to love well.]

Soon, our house will transition to life apart. It’s a weird transition. These 8 people who have played a distinct role in the rhythm of my daily life will soon play a not as distinct role. Any type of ending that I try to envision to make the transition seem natural and smooth still feels abrupt and inadequate, uncomfortable and painful. 

With love and heartache, I’ll end with as painless a goodbye as I know:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

--Mariana Pèrez

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What Does Martin Luther King Jr. Have To Do With Charles Darwin?

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it leans towards justice.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
               
Through my scientific course material, I have reached the conclusion that the Natural World, or all living and non-living things besides humankind, are essentially morally-neutral. The phenomena of homeostasis within an organism, self-sustaining ecosystems complete with decomposition and fertilization, and natural selection are all evidence that the Natural World maintains itself in true-neutral fashion. There is no partiality, nor is there evidence for consciousness rivaling humankind (there is more and more evidence that consciousness is a spectrum that reaches far down into the animal kingdom, but this is beside my point).

Humans, however, are most certainly conscious, and to varying degrees, maintain first-person perspectives. This allows us limited agency (I prefer this term over free will). There is potential for destruction (namely negative interference with the Natural World) and potential for construction (like repairing the negative interferences of the past). Additionally, a Biblical worldview suggests that we are to be stewards of the earth and of all living things, and Christians must decide what that entails. There are disagreements, such as whether burning fossil fuels is included in our call to stewardship. Given all of this, human activity is a wild card.

Despite this ambiguity, Dr. King asserts that what emerges out of human activity is a “moral arc”, and that arc has a predisposition for justice. And given what we know about human agency, this would appear, if nothing more, entirely possible. True, it is an introspective and extrapolative claim, but so is any claim about human nature. Dr. King focuses on a feeling inside himself which informs his place in the moral universe, and he also utilizes his first-person perspective to amalgamate his experiences with others, generating a “moral arc” from his perspective. Of course, I’m doubtful that Dr. King or anyone else consciously performs these introspections or consciously assembles “moral arcs”. On the contrary, I think humans can’t help doing it. It is part of our nature. Perhaps it falls outside our limited agency. Yet the fact remains that humans have moral agency, and thus contribute to a moral arc, one which Dr. King suggests has a curve.

As for the veracity of Dr. King’s statement, I know it is held in high regard by many in this office, the Service-Learning Center. What is my opinion? I would take Dr. King’s words a step further. I believe that every day has a moral arc. From the first break of dawn to the last light turned out, humans are going about their everyday business, exerting control over what they can in their limited agency, and pressing up against the barrier beyond which humans have no control. It is a humbling experience, being a human, and more importantly, each day is strangely new. This flies in the face of the cliché that each day is a blank canvas. On the contrary, we wake up each day to a world that’s a mess. We create this mess each morning as we walk out the door. Each day starts with an infinite number of goals and possibilities, and at the end of the day we have accomplished a finite number of them, usually a poor reflection of our original intent. And yet I, and perhaps others, feel like the world leaned ever so slightly towards a conclusion – towards a whisper of a resolution, a revolution. Perhaps Charles Darwin could get on board:

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death . . . the production of the higher animals directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
― Charles Darwin

-Johnson Cochran

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What's the Point?

I cannot help you fully comprehend what is on my mind because I’m not the best at articulating my thoughts, but I’ll try.

     As much as I loved the idea of volunteering and service-learning, I was also just as skeptical of the whole concept. Why did people even participate in service-learning? I mean, what percent of the world’s individuals actually sets aside their time to truly volunteer out of the purity of their hearts? Through the service-learning center, numerous students put in their hours because it is required for their class, whether it is for social work, Spanish, education, or nursing. Some students participate in service-learning for volunteer hours on their transcript, some for their résumé. Some individuals do it for the praise, or to feel better about themselves for their “good deeds.”

     There is nothing wrong with the list I gave above; in fact, what the service-learning center and other individuals are doing is marvelous! But I cannot deny the cynical side of me that wished that I could look into the hearts of other individuals and call out their hypocrisy. As for myself, I was no different from the way I imagined the rest of humanity to be. I struggled with the question of my own agenda behind serving (and of course, learning).

     But now I know that’s not the point. The point is how an individual develops through the process of engaging in service-learning.  It’s that point of transformation we go through where we are no longer spending two hours to go help the poor and marginalized, but are going to visit a friend. I think everyone is capable of experiencing a turning point in their service-learning, where they find their hearts in the right place—without a selfish agenda. Or somewhere along that continuum. For me, it was through meeting a particular refugee family.

     I’ll be honest. In the beginning, I wanted to visit the family in order to have a sense of responsibility of making this world a better place. I was satisfying the parts of my heart where I felt helpless and disconnected to the rest of the world.

     But it was something about that raw human to human interaction. Cooking with them, eating with them, playing card games with them, reading to them, and sharing stories with them… It was no longer me versus them. This is going be suuuuper cheesy, but “WE” built this deep bond that I cannot quite explain. It’s the feeling of wanting only the best for them. It’s also the feeling of wanting to show them around Grand Rapids. It’s the feeling of joy when you notice their immense progress in English skills. It’s the feeling of wanting to mourn with them, as well as rejoice with them. It’s also the feeling of wanting to fight injustice in this world for them. I know that I have experienced the true reciprocity of the meaning of service-learning by befriending this family.

     I am not saying that my actions are purely pure from the purest of my pure heart. I’m a sinner, too. But I feel like I can now say that I am slowly walking closer to the way I want things to be.

-Sarah Lee


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ver Beek J Series

January at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan is blustery, grey, and more often than not, freezing. However, the weather does not deter the large crowds that gather for the January Series, Calvin’s annual conference of speakers who share their knowledge of and research on a wide variety of topics, including race, justice, autism, creativity, journalism, technological security, poverty, and God’s call for privileged people.
On January 22nd, Kurt Ver Beek, a Calvin alumni who has spent over twenty five years living in Honduras with his wife, Jo Ann, spoke about the justice work in which they have invested. With a Ph.D. in development sociology, Kurt has always been determined to better the lives of the poor. However, when he and Jo Ann attempted to enrich their communities through development, they were confronted with the vicious violence that tore families apart and the pervasive corruption that threatened the wellbeing of their neighborhood. Kurt and Jo Ann became convinced that Honduras’ systems had to be altered for its citizens to live safe lives.
            Comprehending the difference between charity, development, and justice is central to Kurt’s thesis about the importance of security. Charity is the short-term alleviation of hunger or cold, and is necessary for immediate aid after disaster has struck. Development, however, entails long-term betterment and investment in a system. Many development organizations provide education, skills, and business loans for those in poverty. Kurt and Jo Ann were aware of the benefits of development over charity, but as they watched hopelessly as friends were gunned down by drug lords and corrupt policemen, they realized that beyond development, justice must be secured for Hondurans. Justice is the ultimate righting of systems. It is the all-encompassing healing of wrongs, and overcomes the fear brought about by violence.
            Kurt and Jo Ann began to enact justice by pursuing security and founding the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. AJS hired Honduran investigators who took on the dangerous task of looking into homicides and uncovering the antics of corrupt policemen. Slowly, homicide rates dropped as Kurt and Jo Ann’s neighbors began putting their trust in AJS and testifying as witnesses in court. Despite the risk to their own lives and a few tragic causalities to Hondurans within AJS, sections of Tegucigalpa became safer. One of these sections includes Nueva Suyapa, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa and Kurt and Jo Ann’s home.
            Along with seven other Calvin students, I studied in Honduras from January to May 2015. Our host families lived in a beautiful mountain town called Santa Lucia that overlooked Tegucigalpa, which sprawled below. Perched in our lofty mountain home, we would venture into Tegus for school, after a forty-five minute ride on an old, rusty school bus that chugged its way up and down the steep slopes. During some of these visits, we would attend a class taught by Kurt and Jo Ann, entitled “Poverty and Development (or more accurately, Justice).” Kurt and Jo Ann used their extensive knowledge of Honduras and its people to describe the economic and political state of the country. We learned about the messy stuff, the hidden stuff, the mundane, and the dirty. We studied food distribution, immigration, the impact of policy, orphanages, maquilas (loosely translated as “sweatshops”), waste management (sewage, basically), and the influence the States wields in Honduras.
            Kurt and Jo Ann’s class was one of the highlights of the semester not only because of the content, but mostly due to the sense of justice that roused our spirits every time we had class.  Kurt and Jo Ann’s lectures exuded genuine compassion for their fellow Hondurans. Not only did we learn about the many obstacles Honduras faces; we were also set afire with passion for justice work in the United States. We focused on the inequitable American education system that supports some in success while allowing other students to drop through the cracks. One of the classes permanently etched in my mind was when we wrote down all of the social issues we cared about, and formulated steps to address them. As I fervently wrote mine down, I realized the scope of my social concern was too broad, and that I’d have to simplify so that I didn’t get overwhelmed and lose all hope. The classes inspired and united us as young students, still inexperienced but nonetheless determined join the pursuit of justice.  
            My seven Calvin peers and I were drawn together over discussions about social justice. We shared our individual passions, delighted when they coincided and willing to learn from each other when they didn’t. Of course, simply discussing issues was not always enough; once, when we were in Nicaragua, I broke down and bawled, in front of several perplexed onlookers, over the weight of injustice and my inability to solve it. My Calvin friends were gracious, comforting me and listening to my weepy ranting. Justice isn’t always about doing; it often involves dwelling in pain over the situation, and oftentimes, only the support of your friends allows you to grasp at hope.

            Over a year has passed since my group and I arrived in Honduras. When we heard that Kurt was coming to Grand Rapids, we made plans to attend his talk together. We joined a mass of Kurt and Jo Ann’s students, who wore AJS tee-shirts and cheered loudly when he walked on stage, one of my friends waving a gigantic Honduran flag. The small, fiery community of Calvin students who had spent time with Kurt and Jo Ann in Honduras represents the young people who have been set aflame with passion for justice. We are united by a force that encompasses the pain, hope, indignation, guilt, joy, weariness, and communal spirit of justice work. Although we cannot save the world, we have been seized by a thirst for justice, like Kurt and Jo Ann, and the hope that we can start to make a dent in the wrongs that plague our societies. 

-Anna Lindner

Thursday, February 4, 2016

On Flint and Terror

                It was already a week and a half ago that the first group of Calvin students loaded up trucks with water and headed to Flint. While time has passed, the problems that the citizens of Flint face because of their lead-leeched water, of course, have not. 
                As I continue to reflect on my brief time in Flint, one sentence by someone we met comes to mind.
My group was sent to a large warehouse in Flint that was the hub for receiving and distributing shipments of water. Upon arriving, we met Sergeant Keschtner, “Sergeant K,” who broke us into groups and instructed us through unloading water, filters, and test kits, counting the supplies, putting them in respective places in the warehouse, and then loading up the trucks with a certain combination of supplies from the stocks in the warehouse. At a low point in the work, Sergeant K explained her role in the National Guard. Reminding me of a superhero, by day she works at Planet Fitness selling memberships, but she is also a part of the Michigan Chapter of the National Guard, called on at any time to “respond to domestic emergencies, overseas combat missions, counterdrug efforts, reconstruction missions and more.[i] ” Each state’s National Guard is mostly called on by their governor, although on rare occasions, during a national crisis the President can send out a call. In fact, to illustrate the severity of the situation in Flint, Sergeant K talked about this: “Guys, the last time the National Guard was called on by the President was 9/11. Flint is the second time since you were in preschool.”
My mind couldn’t let this sentence go, and I thought: “The last time was a terrorist attack… wow.”
At first glance, these crises seem different—9/11 was a relatively isolated act by non-American religious extremists. The Flint water crisis is the tipping point of a crisis that has been going on for over a year. It’s a home-grown problem born of governmental neglect; the media-captured result of systemic injustices over time.
While different, terror is at the heart of both of these national emergencies. This past summer, after the attack of Emmanuel AME in South Carolina, the New York Times ran an important article with new research findings: since 9/11, almost twice as many terrorist attacks have been due to white supremacists and other American extremists than outside terrorists[ii]. The attack on Emanuel AME was an act of white terrorism.
While not fully white terrorism, the privilege and power of white supremacy has its fingerprints all over the Flint water crisis. America is a state built off of the enslavement of a people… and after slavery was abolished, racist economic and social systems developed under white leadership that contributed to the concentrated poverty and violence that Flint knows all too well.
~
I’ll stop here, because I know the context but not the details of what I’m talking about… After a long day loading water, the work of service might have been done (for that day), but the work of service-learning was not. Service-learning gives us a context and launching point for asking questions. As this reflection points out—I want to pay attention to the racialized nature of the current problems of Flint—from governmental neglect to the distribution of demographics in the city. It’s my (our) job now to fill in the details.
The Latin root of the word terror is terrorem, meaning, “fear, dread, the cause of alarm or terrible news[iii].” Maybe the goal of all of this—everything from bringing water to asking questions that begin to uncover the roots of the issue—is to stand with Flint and say: we don’t want terrorem anymore.




[i] "Legacy | National Guard." Legacy | National Guard. United States Army National Guard, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.
[ii] Shane, Scott. "Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11." The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 June 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.
[iii] "Terror (n.)." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 206.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Wasteful Nature of Doing Worthwhile Things

I wish I was a better writer, which is almost the dumbest thing a college student could say, considering I live in one of the few places where writing classes regularly meet only a few hundred yards from my bed. On a more general level of irony, I attend a liberal-arts school, which includes by definition a mission to equip its students with the tools to communicate ideas effectively. It’s my own fault that I’m not a better writer. The explanation is quite tidy: the combined effect of coming to Calvin with English credits and choosing biochemistry as a major conveniently removed English from my curriculum. For three years, I was both relieved and slightly proud of this convenience. Only recently has my evasion of English come back to haunt me.

I am guilty of wasting time, which, I have discovered, is not a victimless crime. I’m awkwardly committed to finishing the things I started at Calvin, which don’t include becoming a better writer. They include taking science classes, captaining the swim team, playing in three bands and working in the Service-Learning Center. Not a waste of time, per se, but one can question the feasibility of it all. I can’t shake the fact that I’m only a passable biochemistry major, an often-aloof captain, an often-passive bandmate, and an often-exhausted-lying-on-the-floor Service-Learning Coordinator. I have chosen to divvy myself up optimistically. The pieces fail to satisfy. Each one screams for more of me.

I am fully aware that I have changed markedly in almost every aspect of my life. Swimming no longer keeps me at Calvin, though it was once the deciding factor to staying here. Though I used to consider grad school in neuroscience a foregone-conclusion, now I plan to pursue a life creating and performing music. Through a growing phase abroad in Hungary, I found a new interest in social justice and a call to be faithfully present in my particular place in society. My semester in Hungary, with its fermenting cocktail of countercultural ideas and people, ultimately led me to the Service-Learning Center.


I know that I will better understand and appreciate my time at Calvin in retrospect, but it provides little consolation right now. The sea-change that occurred about a year ago (while in Hungary) may have reversed my course at Calvin, but there is a lot of ground to be made up. I feel myself hurtling towards the end of my Calvin education, but I don’t feel any conclusions coming into focus. My life is accelerating, but, as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states, the current moment is too short to accurately determine the direction of change.