Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Reflections on Solidarity with Ferguson



Yesterday, on Christian campuses across the country, students organized demonstrations of solidarity for the family of Mike Brown, the Ferguson community, and people of color across our country for whom the possibility of police violence is always a concern. I attended the event at Calvin College, and marched with staff colleagues, faculty, administrators, and most importantly, students. 

This was a valuable opportunity, especially because it created a space for people of color in our community to share with us their experience. It was so important to listen to these voices.

Notably, no white members of the Calvin community spoke during the event. On the one hand, I appreciated that the event did not need a white voice from Calvin to legitimate it. The stories and reflections of people of color are valid and bear truth. On the other hand, we will not see a better approximation of justice in our country unless white folks enter the conversation. I wondered what I would say, if I stepped forward.

A providential fluke of schedules allowed for my father and my youngest son to join me for the march. I reflected on the fact that my father never had a conversation with me about how I should act around the police, nor will I need to have that conversation with my son. I will not worry that either of my sons will be a victim of police brutality because of the color of their skin. This is a privilege that all parents should share, and I should not rest in my privilege while my peers of color cannot.

I also reflected on the idea that the lack of indictment last week legitimates in me, as a white person, any fears I may have of black men. It spoke to my subconscious, “Yes, black men are scary. You should be afraid of them. And if you act out of that fear in violence, you are right to do so. The law will take your side.” And that is not good for my soul or for the lives of young black men across our country.

I am so grateful for the students of “We Are Calvin, Too” who organized this event. I’m grateful to the strong showing from Calvin’s cabinet at the event, and for President LeRoy who encouraged them to attend. I’m grateful for each person who spoke and shared their story. I’m grateful for the Wheaton College alumnus who prompted these gatherings at CCCU schools.

Lastly, I’m grateful for this advent season, and the reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world, and that we have hope that one day his peace will reign.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

Posted by Noah Kruis, Interim Director/Associate Director

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Reflection on the Characteristics of Christ


On Friday night, after my first week of exams and continued acclimatization to the hyperactive schedule of school life, I took a break to watch a movie at home with a good friend of mine. While searching through Netflix, we happened upon the title “That’s What I Am” and, egged on by a review of the coming-of-age flick that neither of us had ever heard of, decided to watch it on a whim. The film is set in Southern California in 1965 and tells the story of 12-year-old Andy Nichol, a student trapped in the typical middle school social hierarchy complete with the school bully and his cohorts, the cool-and-only-occasionally-cruel characters and their cliques (including Andy), and the outcasts. There are two stand-alones, however, who form the emotional backdrop to the story as a whole.

The first, Mr. Simon, is the mentor and teacher for most of Andy’s class. He wins a car in the beginning of the film by entering a competition in the local paper to write a framework for world peace in 25 words or less. He wins with only four, submitting the phrase “HUMAN DIGNITY + COMPASSION = PEACE.” He later gives the car away, claiming that it is “not his style.” He is kind, soft-spoken, and recognized by all to be a man who truly loves the kids he teaches, willing to reach out and support them in everything.

The second, Stanley, is a student in Andy’s class who has been mocked and teased for his entire life. Called “Big G” because of his flaming red hair (“G” stands for ginger), he’s easily a foot taller than the rest of his classmates, with “a head too big for his body, and ears too big for his head.” He’s the archetypal nerd, incredibly bright but disliked by everyone for his sense of otherness.

But Stanley exemplifies Mr. Simon’s call to peace. He’s a gentle giant, uninterested in fighting back against the kids who viciously beat and tease him; he knows any retaliation will only lead to more violence. He protects the other outcasts, standing strong for them even after one of the girls is attacked and beaten for spreading “cooties” to a more popular classmate. He quietly, without drawing any attention to himself, lives into a message of tolerance and peace that goes far beyond his years.

Stanley was convicting.

We have a culture that loves a good underdog story, but people still hate being the underdog. In reality, we only like the underdogs after they win. It’s only after someone’s rise to glory that we decide to cast in our lot with them, only after they’ve become one of the favored that we start to associate. In this, Stanley felt a little Christ-like, really, an underdog without a victory or a defining moment of triumph. Like Christ, he’s almost too humble to be real, too unrestrained to be human. He pursues peace, but he doesn’t force it on anyone. He simply asks people to take him and his friends for who and what they are.

Human.

Human dignity is a tricky subject. In a world full of indiscriminate death at the hands of viruses like Ebola and incredibly discriminatory death under ISIS, where nation fights nation as a matter of principle based on a violent past, we need to remember the idea of dignity. We need to remember the call to compassion. We need to pray. We need to recognize that, at a fundamental level, human beings are human beings. We’re motivated by rage, lust, greed, etc., but we’re motivated by a deep desire to belong. We crave a sense of connectivity. So if violence begets violence, so too does peace beget peace. So too does compassion create and sustain compassion. Like Stanley, like Christ, we must demand humility, but not from those around us. We must demand it from ourselves.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Evans Lodge

ABSL, Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Focus On Humility

Two weeks before Calvin reconvenes, the S-LC student staff assembles for a two-week intensive training. During this training we spend three hours crafting a covenant which reflects our hopes and commitments for the year.This year the staff focused on the responsibility we have to each other and to the rest of the community with an added emphasis on identity and humility.Through this covenant we hope to understand ourselves and our community better. By doing this, we can become better student leaders and better neighbors.



A FOCUS ON HUMILITY

With mutual respect, we commit
to struggling with and asking these
questions of ourselves and others:

Who are you?
What identity have you been given?
What identity have you chosen?
How have I harmed you?
How can I love you?

How can I love myself?
How have I harmed myself?
What identity have I chosen?
What identity have I been given?
Who am I?





Monday, July 14, 2014

Thoughts on Work and Prayer for the 50th Anniversary

Here is the text of the devotions that I shared on the evening of the 50th anniversary banquet for the S-LC last month:

In the Service-Learning Center, the professional staff begins each year sharing a list of hopes and expectations we have for our student employees. One of those hopes is that they develop “responsible habits of acquiring new knowledge and incorporating it in a life of active prayer and civic engagement.” This is, in typical Calvin fashion, a mouthful of carefully chosen words expressing a deep conviction that looks great on paper. We have to unpack it and enact it for it to be any good.

When introducing this to students we acknowledge that much of the new knowledge students are acquiring in our line of work is about the miserable state of our world: racism, inadequate housing, lead poisoning, under-resourced schools, blighted neighborhoods, food insecurity. That misery can quickly feel overwhelming. We are all too often tempted to cordon off this knowledge from the rest of our lives, occasionally thinking piteous thoughts about those whose lot is worse off than ours. Alternatively, we can dwell on the disparities in our world with despair, loudly spewing cynical rants. But these are not very responsible habits for dealing with the knowledge we’ve acquired. We instead suggest a twofold response: incorporate it into a life of active prayer and civic engagement.

The Reformed tradition provides some helpful language to support this—God’s good creation has fallen into this miserable state, but through Christ, all the world is being redeemed—but as you can see by the luminaries after whom we have named our tables this evening, (Wendell Berry, Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Wangari Maathai, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., Rachel Carson, Cesar Chavez, John Perkins, Mother Teresa, Jane Addams) the S-LC appreciates the opportunity to learn from other faith traditions as well.

The motto of the Benedictines is “Ora et Labora:” Pray and work. St. Benedict viewed prayer and work as partners, and believed in combining contemplation with action. The phrase expresses the need to balance prayer and work in monastic settings and has been used in many religious communities from the Middle Ages onwards. The Benedictines also take a vow of stability, committing their lives to a faithful presence in a specific place. These Benedictine values have found new life in the New Monastic movement that birthed, “Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals,” a daily prayer book with which we have opened our S-LC staff meetings for the past several years.

This book invokes many of those whose names are on these tables and many others who live into the idea of “Ora et Labora” in response to the misery in the world. Each day among other patterns includes a joint praying of the Lord ’s Prayer. But before we can pray and work, we need to have a vision to pray for and work towards. 

We need to imagine Shalom, another idea that is not foreign to the S-LC, a state of well-being and right relationship between humanity, creation, and God.

I often pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as a sort of mantra as I walk through the Creston neighborhood where I live. I ask myself, “What would it look like for God’s kingdom to be present here? for this place on earth to seem more like heaven?”

Then I imagine Christ’s return and a ripple effect miraculously transforming the cityscape around me: the weeds sprouting from the cracks in the sidewalks disappear and the pavement is whole again. The vacant mom & pop grocer is once again selling fresh, healthy produce to neighbors. The candy wrappers and grocery bags that litter the street vaporize before my eyes. The third grader who is about to be held back due to his illiteracy becomes an engaged learner. The porn shop is replaced by an art gallery.

But as I continue to pray, I realize that God’s providence for this neighborhood includes the hands and feet of his disciples. We must pull the weeds and rebuild the pavement. We must invest in the small business owner who is willing to risk a small-scale grocery store on the street corner. We must opt for more sustainable packaging for the products we purchase, and dispose of what hasn’t found its way to the dustbin. We must read weekly with the kindergartener at the local school so that by the time she takes the standardized tests in third grade she is proficient and excited about learning. We must pray for the Spirit to change the hearts of people who produce and consume pornography, such that they come to a respectful view of human sexuality and appreciate true beauty.

We pray to ask God for the imagination to see shalom in a place, to see where it is already coming, to see where we can add to it, to see where we’re standing in the way and to confess that. We will get there by praying for it and enacting it…how does God’s kingdom come? It is through his people, the church who were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

In short, we must bend our will to that of God our father, who has a plan for his creation, and we must step up to fulfill our vocations within that plan if we are to hope to see the fruit thereof. As we do this, the line between Ora et Labora begins to fade.

Jan and Sharon met with the principals at Sigsbee and Henry Elementary to set up tutoring. Jonathan and Jane supported students who initiated the moving service for evicted Grand Rapidians without the resources to move themselves (we still get calls about that service even though it was discontinued years ago). Katie VanZanen encouraged her tutee to finish high school and attend college. Many of us spent the afternoon planting a bioswale. In a way, those actions are prayers in and of themselves: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. Here on earth, just like it is in heaven. Give us what we need today.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, after walking alongside Martin Luther King to advocate for Civil Rights mused: “when I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”

Now, before we enjoy the bounty of this meal that has been prepared for us to celebrate God’s act of renewal through our prayers and work of the last fifty years, I’m going to ask you to join me in praying the Lord’s Prayer. We’ll leave enough space for any variation you may have learned, as has become our tradition. Then I’ll encourage to continue praying with your feet and hands in the next fifty years.

Let’s pray:

Our Father…

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Seeds of service, turning 50

In 1964 a seed was planted.  It was a seed of service, of sharing, and of learning, and now fifty years later, a forest of relationships grows all around the Calvin College campus, the city of Grand Rapids, the State of Michigan, and indeed more recently there are buds opening in places around the world like Americus, Georgia; Houma, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Budapest, Hungary; Accra, Ghana; Arequipa, Peru; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  The first planters of this seed formed it as a student club, and they called it K.I.D.S., for Kindling Intellectual Desire in Students.  Later the movement became known as the Student Volunteer Services office, and then finally the Service-Learning Center at Calvin College since 1993.  It has been my deep privilege to serve as the director of this place since 2002.

One of the things I love about this 'movement', as I like to call it, is that there are so many stories of hope, and of love, and of friendship.  I read and learn about lots of things in the world that can make me want to cry, to lament the depth of evil in the world, and that leave me feeling helpless and in despair.  And nearly every day in the work that I do I encounter stories of courage, of justice, of reaching out, of connection - stories that counter the other stories.  I think of former students working hard to make the world better in places like Thailand, Cambodia, Honduras, Toronto, Chicago, Phoenix, Ann Arbor, Washington DC, and nearly every corner of the city of Grand Rapids - and I am inspired.  These alumni use the skills and knowledge and passion that they learned at Calvin College to join ambitious and thoughtful people all over in service and community-building.  You can read about some of them here.

Partnership with schools is still our primary activity, with tutoring and mentoring and homework help happening at multiple locations every day after school, but the work has expanded too.  Deep, reflective work on the Plaster Creek watershed, in which the college resides, includes research, oral histories, upstream and downstream relationship building, and the involvement of schools, college, churches and community organizations.  History, Social Work, Chemistry, Biology, Spanish, Engineering, Art, Kinesiology, Nursing, Political Science, Music, Geography, Geology, Psychology, and many other departments have regular involvement in academically-based service-learning projects and assignments.  Study abroad in Ghana, Honduras, Peru and Hungary, as well as Spain, Cambodia, India, Haiti and France, among others, all include elements of service-learning and community engagement regularly.  Spring break trips take more than a hundred students to ten or more locations within driving distance to partner with Christian community development organizations in thoughtful and reciprocal service.  New students have been welcomed to Calvin with a day of service-learning every year since 1993 through StreetFest.

Soon, on June 6 and 7, many of the leaves, branches, flowers and trunks of this original planting will gather to celebrate fifty years of growth, and I would love to invite you to join us.  There have been hundreds of student staff members, and ten or so directors and associate directors.  Nearly all of the directors will be on hand, and dozens of former student staff members and volunteers.  Everyone is welcome.  Let’s get your name on the list.

You can register for one or more of the four events at this link:


See who is already planning to be there here:


And I hope you will especially consider joining us on Saturday evening, June 7, at the Kroc Center in Grand Rapids, for a banquet with dinner, and plenty of time for stories and gratitude.

Please let us know before the Memorial Day weekend ends though, our catering staff is asking us for a final number by Tuesday, the 27th of May.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line at slc@calvin.edu, or call us at 616-526-6455 . 

The current staff of the Service-Learning Center opens all of its weekly meetings with words from the Common Prayer as follows:

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.

I like to think of this anniversary celebration as an opportunity for some of us to pass once again into those doors of rejoicing, if only for an evening together.

I hope we’ll see you there.



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thoughts on Mountains Beyond Mountains

Although I could write on any number of intriguing ideas presented in Tracy Kidder’s book, the constant return to Paul Farmer’s own character is the most convicting story being told. If you’ve never read Mountains Beyond Mountains, it’s the tale of an American doctor and infectious disease specialist named Paul Farmer, “the man who would cure the world.” Although his work has come under critique by various public health officials and organizations throughout his career, his goal remains the provision of “first-world” medical care to people in the “third world.” Mountains Beyond Mountains chronicles this work in rural Haiti, the slums of Peru, tuberculosis-ridden areas of western Russia, and any number of destinations in between. Again, however, the most surprising narrative that Kidder writes isn’t necessarily the work Farmer does; it’s just Farmer.

“Here was a person who seemed to be practicing more than he preached, who seemed to be living, as nearly as any human being can, without hypocrisy. A challenging person, the kind of person whose example can irritate you by making you feel you’ve never done anything as important, and yet, in his presence, those kinds of feelings tended to vanish. In the past, when I’d imagined a person with credentials like his, I’d imagined someone dour and self-righteous, but he was very friendly and irreverent, and quite funny. He seemed like someone I’d like to know, and I thought that if I did my job well, a reader would feel that way, too.”

Practicing more than you preach. Living without hypocrisy. Making others feel that they can do likewise. I’ve never met Farmer or even talked with anyone who has, but his reputation remains the same. He is a man passionate about justice, about equality in health care access, about the responsibility that the healthy have to the poor. Farmer himself constantly reaffirms his confusion about the general pushback to such a simple idea. The healthy should help the unhealthy; “I mean, everybody should have access to medical care,” says Farmer. “And, you know, it shouldn’t be such a big deal."

There is deep profundity in claiming a simple truth.
            
Working in the Service-Learning Center is a pretty fluid gig. I have a job description that defines certain expectations and tasks to complete, but the more time I spend working, the more I recognize my position as one centered around the sharing of ideas and not the finishing of a work list. Conversations on the kingdom define my job life. We talk about segregation in our schools and systemic racism in our justice system. We talk about socioeconomic divides and Christ’s call to justly distribute wealth. We talk about ourselves, the fact that we’re college students and professionals from all over the country (and world) and, through such a blessing, have enormous responsibility to actually act through our education and work. We don’t have any answers, but we’re full of questions.
            
This, too, is a simple truth. I have no idea how long it will take for this country’s terrible racial and socioeconomic divides to pass, and I’m sure that I contribute to them even as I try not to. But talking about the fact that they’re here is much better than hoping they’ll disappear without anyone recognizing they’ve gone. “Everyone deserves justice,” we think and pray. “And, you know, it shouldn’t be such a big deal.” This is an essay of lament because, well, it is. It’s a big deal that the computer I’m typing these words on was pieced together with mineral wealth stolen out of the hands of slaves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s a big deal that Ukraine is in shambles. It’s a big deal that people have to stand on the corner of the street at 28th and the Beltline to put food on the table.
            
So let’s practice more than we preach. Let’s live without hypocrisy. Let’s help other people do likewise. You and I are characters in the story of Christ, and that, too, is a pretty big deal.

Peace,
Evans Lodge