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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Advent Prayer

Advent Prayer

O come, O Come Emmanuel: And ransom captive Israel As Christians, we live between the two comings of Christ. We remember his first coming to be sacrificed and we anticipate his second coming to reign. The two comings of Christ are held together in Christian thought, action, and prayer at all times. They cannot be separated. When they are, it is the end of Christian faith, life and worship. The first coming without the second is a meaningless tragedy. The second coming without the first is an absurd impossibility. Jesus is born to bring God's kingdom. He dies to prove his kingship. He rises to establish his reign. He comes again in glory to share it with his people. Lord, Along with millions before us we eagerly await your coming. Jesus you cannot come again soon enough! Everywhere we look sin seems to be rampant. We know that at you are in control which you made very clear in your first coming, but Lord our hearts are heavy. We your people are exhausted by all the violence, lack of empathy, and downright hatred show by both Christians and non-Christian. We need your kingdom to come now! We want to fully devour the joy that we’ve only tasted. We want to be and your presence and enjoy your grace fully. You have taken us captive with longing for You, O Christ, And have transformed us with Your divine love. Burn up Our sins with the fire of Your Spirit And count us worthy to take my fill of delight in You That dancing with joy, We may magnify Your two Comings

--Evan Kroon

So Many Questions

I think that we are constantly thinking of questions throughout the day, week, month, year, etc. At least for me, I feel like most of my thoughts end with question marks—from simple, shallow questions to mind boggling questions that have been recently coming up that can probably only be answered by God. At times, this is frustrating, because I need answers, but not all problems have solutions.  

I tried to compile a list of some of the countless questions that pop up in my head. This may or may not be representative of the average female 20 year-old Korean college student from China who is attending a private Christian Reformed college in Grand Rapids:

What’s for dinner?
What happens when Jesus comes tonight?
Then my dinner won’t matter anymore, right?
Will I make it to heaven safe and sound?
Oh wait, do I have an exam this week?
What if I die young?
Will this exam really affect my life?
What do I even want to do when I grow up?
Should I graduate early?
Should I study abroad?
Should I drop out and open up a bar by a beach and provide counseling to my customers?
Why does time fly, yet 5 minutes feels like forever in class?
Why is the weekend so short?
Did God really choose who would go to heaven?
Then what’s the point?
Even so, should we care?
Why are some people so selfish?
What happens if I get deported?
Why is the sky blue?
How big is the universe?
Are we the only ones in the universe?
What if I am the only real person in my world and everything/everyone else is a figment of my imagination?
Should I watch a movie or start on my project?
How long can I survive without my phone?
Can I sneak in a nap today?
Why doesn’t God make himself visible and tangible so that we can have a conversation the same way I talk to my friend?
What is the function of cockroaches?
Will people notice my pimple?
How do people know when they are adults?
Do tyrants feel shame?
Did they have the potential to grow up to be good, but were nurtured the wrong way as a child?
Why do people fear the unknown?
Does my breath smell like pickles?
Will I be able to find a ride tomorrow?
Why do I feel like my life is constantly being chased by assignments, tests, and projects?
Are we meant to be living like this?
Will I concentrate better at a cafe?
Where should I live in the future?
What if I become homeless one day?
If our average lifespan was 40 years, would we be living differently?
Why am I so privileged?
How could I be blessed excessively, yet some individuals lack the basics, such as safe shelter?
Why don’t adults get summer vacation?
Why do I stress?
Why can’t people be more like me?
How can I be more humble?
Should I grow out my hair, or keep it short?
Why are some individuals such haters?
Would he have been able to say those words he wrote directly to the individual it was targeted towards?
When I get old, will I look back and say that I’ve lived a successful, fulfilling life?
Why am I writing these questions?
Why are you reading this?
Do you have questions, too?

 --Sarah Lee

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Being With

I have felt at a loss for words, I have not known what to say. With Paris, with San Bernardino, with the refugee crisis, with the nasty conversation, if it can be called that, among presidential candidates, and with the recent events at Calvin. I feel stuck between two equally uncomfortable places. One is to care, the other is to not care.

Let me explain the struggle with both those choices. First, if I let myself care, if I don’t turn that switch off, I find myself in a place where I can’t actually do anything. I can’t actually act on that decision to care, and if I’m not able to do that, I’m stuck in a place of sentimentality. I try to avoid sentimentality.

On the other hand, I could try to not care. I could choose to believe I can’t do anything anyway. Why cause myself distress in caring? I didn’t know the 14 people massacred in San Bernardino. I didn’t know the college student from California who was studying abroad and died in the Paris attack. Why not just let it go? Swoosh. Done. Forgotten.

Now, I’m not as binary and elementary as that--I know the world is not black and white, and I have more choices than to care or not to care. But I can’t quite figure out what the intermediate would be.

I’ll also say that among classes, homework, work, and studying, this question does not consume my time and attention. However, it has been persistent, popping up enough times that I can’t ignore it.

So, what to do?

Well, I prayed, kind of. It was not without feeling uncomfortable, inadequate. It’s easier for me to give prayers of thanks than prayers of supplication. I struggle to not feel cheap in saying “help them, be with them, Jesus.” It feels like I'm saying it more for my own benefit than for theirs. With my head, I know that it’s not like that, so I keep on.

The article Jeff gave us before Thanksgiving ( was encouraging. It said “don’t express gratitude only when you feel it. Give thanks especially when you don’t feel it. Rebel against the emotional ‘authenticity…’” Rebel against the emotional authenticity. And isn’t that what we should do? “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances,” says 1 Thessalonians 5:16. Pray constantly.

I do want to throw out this disclaimer, a tidbit from my mental health nursing rotation: feelings are important, and should not be ignored. Rebelling against emotional authenticity does not mean ignoring your feelings. On the contrary, it means being aware of your feelings, and deciding to act apart from them (because sometimes feelings are not facts. Another tidbit).

So, I was sad when I read an article on “prayer shaming” ( I was sad because, well, prayer is already hard to begin with, and I can’t say that I hadn’t thought about arguments against prayer myself. I can see why people would think them. "Your 'thoughts' should be about steps to take to stop this carnage," "Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing — again," read some tweets.

The article ends with this paragraph:

I think a lot of people who pray don't think of it as a replacement for deeds, or an occasion to utter a gift list of desires. They pray to open their minds and hearts. They pray when words won't come, and emotions overwhelm. They pray to mark a loss, and to try to make a moment of peace in a landscape of turmoil. They don't see prayer as a substitute for action, but the beginning. The merit of prayer is what people do after we say Amen.

Generally, I was glad the article ended this way. I was glad Scott shared that, and I mostly agree. But I would change the last sentence. The merit of prayer is not first the action, my action, that results from it; that is secondary. The merit of prayer is that I am giving up my prayer to Jesus. I am surrendering, placing it not in my control. It is an act of faith and hope.

Also, to care or to not care can be framed in terms of connection or disconnection. To choose to be connected, to care, to pray -- that is a choice that matters, regardless of the resulting action. Prayer is a way of being with, of holding, of connecting with. It is a way to be still in the midst of what is. It helps us to not become desensitized to the tragedies.

On Friday, students, staff, and faculty gathered on Commons Lawn to pray about the recent hate speech incident on campus. We stood in a circle, as a community, and prayed. I left feeling like I had finally exhaled. I left with hope. And I’ll continue to pray, even though I’m not good at it.


--Mariana Pèrez

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.