Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why College? What is Service-Learning?

While Transitions, the orientation program, winds down, I thought it might be good to record some of my remarks from this morning's introduction service-learning and the Service-Learning Center for new students. I tried something new with this approach.

First, what is college for? Why would new students choose Calvin out of the many thousands of available college and university options? And then what is Calvin here for?

My contention, after 25 years of pondering these questions, is that it has something to do with learning to think, to love, and to do. And in so saying, I am defying conventional wisdom, which argues that college is to get people ready for work and citizenship. I say ok, but more. This college finds itself in a tradition that yearns for transformation - for that which is not, to be made right again. And it tries to prepare people to contribute to that "making right" by helping them to think about what they know, what they love, and what they should and can do. Calvin College has a vision for transformation.

Next I suggested that the path from that which is not right, to a transformed reality, one in which things are as they should be, includes three preparatory tracks, all necessary. Around here we often refer to them often in terms like knowledge, skills, and virtues. Our core curriculum is set up around these three core goals, and this is one of the things that sets Calvin apart.

To understand service-learning at Calvin, a little history helps. In 1964, just a few months after a young idealistic president was assassinated in Dallas, two young undergraduates at Calvin, with help from a key professor and a key administrator, formed a new student program called KIDS, Kindling Intellectual Desire in Students, a program aimed at providing tutoring support for children in Grand Rapids' core city schools, while also providing opportunities for Calvin students to experience life outside the often too-protective bubble that makes up college life. The program thrived, and soon became the largest and most successful student organization around the college, and by the 1980s had expanded widely into multiple areas of service-providing, including an emergency moving services, construction and technical support for homeowners, spring break service trips, poverty awareness retreats, big-brother, big-sister mentoring relationships and much more. In the early 1990s, the academic division joined the movement, and soon had incorporated dozens of course assignments designed to actively teach through the pedagogy of service-learning, in partnership with some of the by-now hundreds of local community partners. Which brings us to the present day efforts. We offer multiple opportunities for Calvin students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends to participate in thoughtful, reflective, creative service activity that fits into the reciprocal dynamic suggested by our motto - "Serving to Learn- Learning to Serve."

And to what end? Not simply a detached, triumphalistic, save-the-world end that fulfills a Christian duty but ignores our call to Biblical justice and relationship. But to the ends of a true Christian liberal arts education - Knowledge and learning, Skills and active doing, and Virtue and love. The end of our service-learning is God's shalom, when that which is not, is made right again, and things are as they once were and should be again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Transitions in... 3 Days?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the 3-day orientation (called TRANSITIONS) for transfer and first-year students joining Calvin come spring semester. I don't know if Transitions would be as fun as Quest (the Fall semester edition of orientation) but I am pretty sure Saturday will be great. Why? Because the office is going to bring our new friends around the city to do service-learning!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Want to Blog About Sex... Can I?

Someone once told me that Americans don’t talk about politics and religion with strangers. One can, however, talk about sex because it is a sure way to open a conversation. I don’t know if that’s true so I want to test it.

I read CNN yesterday morning and this article, “What is virginity worth today?”, caught my attention. If you read it, too, or are going to read it, what do you think?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dinner and Human Organs

Human organs donation was mentioned at the meeting last Thursday and I am still thinking about it. It amazes me that God has given us, most of us at least, a functioning set of organs that works tirelessly 24/7. The organs never complained nor asked for a time-out. Think about our kidneys, they do all the dirty work pumping out all those chemicals we consume. Think about our hearts, which hydraulic pump in the world would work for 70 years without any maintenance? Any company that promises this kind of guarantee is definitely not doing its math right. Our organs are gifts from a God who never asks for anything in return. So when we expire from this world, the least we could do is to pass on whatever organs that are still working to those who might need them. OK, it’s the Sabbath day and so I better get going to church.

By the way, cease fire in the Gaza strip for one week. Hallelujah.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gaza Strip

As he shaves and checks his to-do list for the day, he wonders what to do with the Gaza issue. No political leverage, no political will,… no, that person isn’t a global leader, it’s just me.

Serious stuff now. The Gaza issue is not pretty. Just this morning, Secretary-General Ban came out furious that the UN relief agency’s HQ in Gaza City’s shelled by the Israelis. Reason? It was a mistake.

The Gaza issue is not pretty. Some quarters view the situation a holy war out break. Many are making their way to Gaza to fight the Israelis, many more are planning to go.

The Gaza issue is not pretty. Osama, still breathing somewhere after 7 years on the run, urged Muslims to step out and stand up against the Israelis.

The Gaza issue is really not pretty. Three weeks of intense shelling from both sides—who’s paying it ? Who’s paying for it?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thoughts on Poverty

I just returned to the S-LC after spending a semester studying in Honduras. As a part of my studies there, I took a class on Poverty and Development, which was by far my most interesting class. Our professors, Kurt and Jo Ann, raised a lot of tough questions that really forced us to think about our lifestyles as Americans and the way our country affects the rest of the world. I’m still thinking through a lot of the things I learned in that class, and will probably be sharing more of those with you all in the near future. But first I’d like to share with you an excerpt from an e-mail that I sent to my mentor after my first class with Kurt. Here goes…

“For our first class, Kurt gave us some statistics on poverty, which can often times seem so scientific and hard to really picture, but one that struck me is that
50% of the population of the world lives on less than $2 a day,
and 22% lives on less than $1 a day.
On average, Americans have $120 a day.

A friend and I discussed how it's so easy to feel poor living in the U.S. as you compare yourself to everyone around you, but we're so rich compared to the rest of the world. Of course I knew that, but I think those numbers really surprised me. Especially since $1 a day is really the minimum that people can live on healthily, so that 22% who has less is malnourished, doesn't have clean water, and has no access to health care. It seems like we should just be able to spread out the wealth that we have, and according to Kurt, if we wanted everyone in the world to have food tomorrow, we could do it, we just don't want to. I guess I'm not completely convinced that it's that easy, but maybe it is. Isn't that exactly what people try to do with child sponsorship programs and the like? I'll give a little bit of my money to this other person, and thus spread out the wealth. Granted it's not much money, but it's the same basic idea. But I don't think any child sponsorship program will solve the problem of poverty in the world. Obviously a solution would have to be on a really big scale, thus the difference between charity and justice. I, personally, could feed a child in a third world country fairly easily, but I personally can't solve the problem of poverty in the world. But the whole country of the United States together with other wealthy countries could.

I guess I'm struggling with the whole "overwhelmingness" of the situation of our world. It's so broken that a solution seems impossible. And poverty, of course, isn't the only problem we're facing. The governments of the world are selfish, if not corrupt, so sometimes solutions seem far out of reach. We visited the American Embassy here last week and heard from a few of the employees. They told us about how their job is to pursue what's best for the U.S., even if it isn't in the best interest of the Hondurans. Well on the one hand, that makes sense. Of course their job is to get what's best for our country and our people. But on the other hand, that seems so selfish. We're never going to solve problems of poverty and hunger if we're not willing to sacrifice anything. We happened to be born in a very wealthy nation which gave us a lot of opportunities. We don't work any harder for our money than the people here in Honduras do for theirs, yet we have more of it. If we, as a nation, aren't willing to do anything that gives other countries more opportunities to be successful (without increasing our success as well), the gap between rich and poor will only continue to grow.”

Most of the things I realized in this e-mail are not revolutionary. They weren’t completely new to me and probably aren’t to you either. But they did strike me in a new way as I was living in Honduras, and they still warrant some thought from all of us.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

It's a New Year!

The staff meeting/dinner last night was both a time of reunion and a time to get acquainted. Like the half-time of a team sport, the introduction of new staff members promises an interesting change in office dynamics: Four staff members will leave to work or study in Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, and Thailand in the Far East while four return from their semesters abroad in Egypt, Honduras, and Ghana. Together with the returners are 3 new staff members who bring fresh perspective and energy. Well, technically it should be 2 because Christina has being helping out in the office last semester.

Like any sport, those who are leaving or have left the office are not people whom the office groomed and “lost.” Rather, the office has produced change agents to serve others in other locations. Look at David Beckham—his move from England to the States a few years ago created new excitement and interest in soccer. The same for the S-LC Beckhams around the world, they too are introducing hope to places in which they are serving. Speaking of which, an S-LC alumni page is a work in process to highlight some of our Beckhams addressing real social problems. Hopefully these stories will inspire and encourage us in this dark and sad world, and instill in us a sense of urgency to not only be consumers of other people's kindness but also be producers of kindness to others. That's why I particularly enjoyed the Skype meeting we had with Heidi, an S-LC alumna, last semester. That's why it is always nice whenever Beckham shares what he knows with young recruits at the football academies because everyone needs a role model, a mentor, and a sounding board.