Monday, September 29, 2008

A Better World

September is quickly wrapping up, with just a couple more days left. Many initiatives by the office are already happening, or completed. Some of these events include the successful completion of StreetFest, the first blood drive of the academic year that concluded last Thursday, the continued cultivation of community partnerships between residential dorms and their respective agencies, and students doing their Academically-Based Service-Learning at various neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. We sure have lots of real people doing real service.

I thought it would be a good idea to marry our two themes for this month, technology and communities, through this post. Announcing its latest program on the CNN last Wednesday, Google has put in place a $10 million program to fund ideas that have the potential to make this a better world. Check out this YouTube clip.

The “Community” category fits best with what we have been discussing this month. Maybe we should all sit down and proposal an idea?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Technology: Our Friend or Foe?

Technology brings people together. It shapes the way how we, of this (privileged) generation, interact with one another. Phrases like “Google that” or “Facebook me” pretty much grew up with us. We probably didn’t realize such phrases gained meaning only recently. Ask Shakespeare or Aristotle. Then ask your 4-year-old niece. Consider where you are right now on this planet, reading this blog. You probably don't know who its author is. In a way, technology unites people of common interests and promotes community. If online communities do exist, how should such online communal relationships be cultivated? Can technology function like strong and deep roots to keep relationships growing? Isn’t technology amazing and scary at the same time?

Technology can keep people apart too. Some people would rather text or Facebook message their friends even though they live just down the hall. Could this be a cause of many people's fear of public speaking? If so, how are advocacy and lobbying affected? For its powerful society-shaping potential, those before our generation either have to learn how to keep up with technology so to keep up with their children or grandchildren, or they are left sitting on the sidelines.

Thanks to technology, human communication received a facelift. Shakespeare could have been a billionaire when he was alive; Aristotle could have started an online school. Wow.

CAVEAT: I have nothing against Facebook. In fact, I occasionally use it to ask people to lunch... and perform counter-intelligence on identified stalkers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

For the Kingdom

So I went to hear Jim Wallis on campus last night and my dad came along with me. It was a refreshing talk with a couple of great jokes about Washington (I'll put them at the bottom, just for fun) and more seriously, a broad challenge and prediction that this generation may be the one that clears up the confusion about why people think negatively about Christians and positively about Jesus. He was referring, of course, to the research by David Kinnaman (coming to Calvin in January) and Gabe Lyons, in their book, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why it Matters. In their polling research both inside and outside the Church, Kinnaman and Lyons discover the painful reality that followers of Jesus are perceived as huge hypocrites that bear little resemblance to the one they follow.

Wallis suggested, as he has been doing for decades, that citizenship for Christians is not and never should be about getting in the pocket of any political party. Faithful Christians will vote for Barack Obama and for John McCain (more likely Sarah Palin, but that's another post...), and neither of these votes is the point. So what is the point?

Wallis' larger point last night was that without a movement among citizens to "change the wind," it won't matter who gets elected. The single most important political fact for Christians is that 30,000 children died yesterday, many from "stupid poverty," or preventable causes. That our society has the technology and the resources, but lacks the will, to reduce this number and lessen, or eradicate, extreme poverty, makes all of our bluster about Christian influence in politics ring hollow.

So the hope in last night's talk, and in my everyday reality in working with students at Calvin College, is that the wind seems to be changing. Even as I sat waiting for the Wallis event to begin last night, I overheard conversations among Calvin students that were profoundly aware of the need to connect our faith practices with our politics, to get beyond the simplified platforms of past elections and wrestle with complexities that require the hard work of living in neighborhoods, worshiping with broken hypocrites, studying policy and history and health psychology. I left with new hope, and work to do. The connections between service-learning and joining movements for change, because of our Kingdom citizenship, abound.

So your reward for getting all the way down here is the two jokes:
First, the religious one:
Two senators, a republican and a democrat are arguing over their parties ability to "get" religion. The republican said to the democrat, "you democrats just don't get it, and you never will," to which the democrat disagreed. The republican then threw down the challenge, "I'll bet you $20 can't recite the Lord's prayer, right here, right now." The democrat rose to the challenge, and boldly prayed, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep..." "Incredible," said the republican, handing over the $20, "I didn't think you could do it!"
Second the political one:
A person falls into the Potomac River and is drowning a hundred feet from shore. The republicans rush to rescue him and throw a 50 foot rope, shouting, "The rest is up to you!" When that doesn't work, the democrats throw another rope, this one 200 feet long, and then they let go of their end of the rope.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


“Places” is a key idea that the office has been discussing and thinking about over summer, the staff training last week, and also especially during this period of StreetFest. The theme for this year’s StreetFest, to embrace fully, projects the hopes “aimed to promote care for place, located within a context of personal relationships and focused on attentiveness to particularity and otherness.”

I think a “place” is somewhere where its residents have a sense of belonging, somewhere where reciprocal and organic relationships between the residents and their environments grow together. People shape places. Some people decide to live in a specific place with no intention to leave, while some people move from place to place.

If places reflect the people within them, then transient people and returning residents are “windows” to that place. These “windows” bring life, new perspectives, and an air of energy from the outside. A place without “windows” is locked within, sinking slowly into a comatose state. Reflectively, if places influence people too, then would non-vibrant “window-less” place suffocate its residents? What do you think?

What does “place” mean to you? Is it any different from “space”?