Monday, May 26, 2008

Music for Justice: Flobots release an incredible album, Fight With Tools

What happens when you mix a violinist, trumpeter, and groove rhythm musicians with a pair of talented emcees able to spin and wrap words and sounds in a package of progressive rap music? You get an up and coming musical group called the Flobots from Colorado that you should be listening to.

By now, perhaps, you are wondering "Why a music review on the Service-Learning website?" The answer is that part of the work that is done in the Service-Learning Center is to equip students, faculty, staff, and community members with the tools to repair relationships and seek a deeper understanding of one another as we serve and learn with and from each another. In short, in the Service-Learning Center at Calvin College, we are about the business of seeking justice . Flobots' new album, called Fight With Tools, is an innovative blend of sounds driven by thoughtful lyrical rhymes and rhythms that bear witness to the work of justice in the world.

Set to the tone of urgency and outrage, the lyrics from the Flobots album exhort us to reflect and think critically about the status quo and systems that prop up our society. On a mission for peace and restoration, hope and faith remain key themes laced throughout the album. In this society filled with noise and sound bytes, the Flobots album is distinctive for its intelligent use of social commentary for the purpose of change. A popular song from the album is called, "Handlebars," which juxtaposes the path of greed and materialistic violence against that of peace and justice. But digging still deeper into the track list reveals a wealth of sound and commentary that will challenge and refresh those committed to critical thinking. With such an incredible lyrical ballad to introduce the album listeners are primed for a meaningful experience.

"There's a war going on for your mind
Media mavens mount surgical strikes from trapper keeper collages and online magazine racks
Cover girl cutouts throw up pop-up ads
Infecting victims with silicone shrapnel
Worldwide passenger pigeons deploy paratroopers
Now it's raining pornography
Lovers take shelter
Post-production debutantes pursue you in nascar chariots
They construct ransom letters from biblical passages and bleed mascara into holy water supplies

There's a war going on for your mind
Industry insiders slang test tube babies to corporate crackheads
They flash logos and blast ghettos
Their embroidered neckties say "stop snitchin'"
Conscious rappers and whistleblowers get stitches made of acupuncture needles and marionette strings

There is a war going on for your mind
Professional wrestlers and vice presidents want you to believe them
The desert sky is their bluescreen
They superimpose explosions
They shout at you
"pay no attention to the men behind the barbed curtain
Nor the craters beneath the draped flags
Those hoods are there for your protection
And meteors these days are the size of corpses"

From first to last this is a great album. If you are concerned about the work of justice and critical thought, and looking for some truly original and talented musicianship, then this is an a album that you need to check out. Click here to preview some of the Flobots' music.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Summer is Here

So the academic year has ended, what will become of the blog conversation in Bryan's absence? Hopefully Bryan will continue to add to our discussion for at least a few more weeks, until his June wedding at least.

Meanwhile, an update. There are several summer projects underway in the Service-Learning Center, including important but tedious work on recovering un-recorded placements and hours served over the last several years, developing a new strategic plan and potential mission statement (!) for the office and its work, following up on contacts with recent agency partners, and recruiting partnership for the next year, particularly for our StreetFest kick-off in early September, and maintaining communication with student staff who are far-flung around the US and the world. We will be reading a series of summer articles, and hopefully having some discussion of these on the blog.

I gave an address this week to the annual conference of the Christian Reformed Campus Ministry Association. There were 40-50 campus ministers from around the US and Canada, and they heard about how service-learning is part program, part philosophy, and part pedagogy.

I am also preparing for my participation in a panel discussion next weekend at the bi-annual conference on Faith and Service-Learning at Messiah College - the panel will be on the topic of International Service-Learning.

And I began reading an interesting article today on service-learning and its use as a way to enable a set of helpful dispositions toward justice in students. The article, by Brad Hadaway, argues that the spiritual disciplines of historic Christianity provide a set of practices that work to either block unhealthy pre-existing dispositions in students that mitigate against the development of a disposition toward justice, or they work to provide a kind of on-ramp in the development of this disposition toward justice. The reading is a part of a larger project in which I will participate this summer, on the relationship between Christian practices and the art and vocation of college teaching. More on this as the reading continues...

Friday, May 9, 2008

Students of Our Surroundings

In the wave of crime scene investigator shows on television, the message has been communicated loud and clear: human beings always leave traces of themselves wherever they go. This is true in both a physical and spiritual sense. Whether it is our fingerprints, traces of hair or other physical relics of ourselves, our presence is written like a text on the landscapes that we travel. But we also leave ourselves behind in the intangibles like ingenuity and creativity that we apply to the spaces and buildings that we create. Like artists that have a unique style and approach, so also do all human persons as they craft and carve out the space of their lives and affect this world that they wrestle with existence in. I wonder, though, do the places and spaces we live in also affect us in turn. That is, are we merely creators of the architecture of this world, writing a story about ourselves, or do we also assume the position of students and open ourselves up to being affected by buildings, rooms, communities, and neighborhoods? Do we not only write the stories of our lives into this world, but also read from some text outside of ourselves, and seek to learn and grow from it?

In one week I will be graduating from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As I reflect on my time here, I consider the ways in which I have contributed to this community with papers, discussions, and other labors. But I am also drawn to thinking about how I am the product of a very specific kind of place and community in a certain design and time. Explicitly I have been shaped by fellow students, professors, staff, administrators, and friends. But more subtly I believe that this physical space, this collection of buildings, the dynamic movement of people throughout, have also affected me. When I first arrived at Calvin, I was disoriented by the layout of the campus because there was no central building. Instead, campus architects had designed the commons lawn to be the center of campus. Over the years I have grown to be comfortable with this arrangement, even regarding it as second nature. I sometimes have to remind myself that when visitors ask me where places are on campus that it in fact is not an easy place to navigate. I wonder though, has this particular example of structure and design affected me in significant ways. Has this campus taught me to be comfortable with ambiguity, and how the absence of physical buildings can in fact make room for the presence of people and all the wonder that that entails?

If it is true that we not only affect and inscribe ourselves on the places we create, but are also affected by those places and spaces as well, then this should give us pause as we consider our building endeavors, where we live, where we work, and where we play. These are not insignificant decisions. There are myriads of things in life that are outside of our control that will undoubtedly affect and shape us, but we can give some thought in advance to the environments in which we place ourselves and also give ourselves up to being affected by.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How do we "read" neighborhoods and communites?

As a media production major, I have learned to "read" films in an entirely different way than I did prior to my studies. Where once I would have payed particular attention to the dialog and actions that compose any given film, I now take special notice of camera angles and camera movement, lighting, set design, the different layers of audio track, and the list goes on. In short, media production studies have immensely enriched film viewing for me, and more especially, have given me some new and powerful tools to analyze films as I discover new meanings that were previously hidden to me. This has led me to reflect some on how people might "read" communities and neighborhoods.

When we enter a new neighborhood or community, what do our eyes travel to, our ears tune into? How do we process the information in such a way as to deduce certain conclusions about the neighborhood or community? What structures exist already in our minds that direct the information that we take in towards certain conclusions? Do we process different neighborhoods and communities differently? That is, do we ever take in less information because we already have developed certain conclusions or assumptions in our minds?

I wonder, just as my film viewing experience was limited prior to my engaging in media production studies, could the same kind of thing take place in how I interact with a community. That is, is there a simplistic way to read communities as well as an enriched way to interact with neighborhoods and communities? If so, how can I develop this enriched way to understand new communities and neighborhoods? Media production is pretty straightforward, you take a series of classes with good teachers, and you are on the way to developing an enriched view of films. But what kinds of classes are there for living well in neighborhoods and communities? If not formal classes, then what?