Wednesday, March 17, 2010

S-LC Spring Retreat

Three times a year the Service-Learning Center staff embarks on an overnight retreat. Two weeks ago we had our spring retreat in Chicago. We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday and stayed at an International Team ( community house in the Lawndale area. Over deep dish pizza that evening we heard about International Team’s ministry in Lawndale and then spent the rest of the evening playing games and laughing. The next day we stuffed newsletters for an organization called GRIP ( and in the afternoon headed home in two mini-vans.
Sometimes it’s hard to pull ourselves away from the homework we’re supposed to be doing, the friends we want to hang out with and the sleep we’d like to be getting in order have a retreat, but after each one, I’m reminded of why we have them.
Although a little cheesy, when I was pondering the reasons for our retreats I thought of three more “re” words besides “retreat” that describe well some of the great parts of our retreats.
First, the retreats are a time of reconnecting with other staff members. Because we’re a student staff we’re only in the office a couple of hours a day between our classes and can go a long time without having a conversation. For this reason the time in the car, during meals and relaxing is great for catching up on each other’s lives and processing our work together at the Service-Learning Center. This retreat we had a good time discussing some of the speakers we’ve had in past staff meetings and thinking about our roles as Service-Learning Center employees.
Second, through the activities we engage in during our retreats we are also able to remember the reasons that we do the work we do. This retreat we got to talk with Noel and Ashley from International Teams. They live in the Lawndale neighborhood working alongside members of a local church in youth development. Their philosophy of working with and learning from the people they are serving is central to what we hope to do at the Service-Learning Center. The time we spent with them was a good reminder and challenge for the work we do. In addition, we got to spend the morning helping out at a local Chicago agency, GRIP, which works to match mentors with Chicago teens. Often we at the Service-Learning Center coordinate service-learning opportunities for other students but don’t get to service-learn ourselves. Having the opportunity to do so on this retreat reminded us of some of the “nuts and bolts” of what we do; we experienced an agency orientation, got instructions to do our work and spent the morning helping out. It is good for us to remember the types of experiences our students have on an everyday basis so we can make them as helpful and applicable as possible.
Finally, the retreat is a great time for us to rest and be restored after many weeks of work. I always seem to forget how important it is both personally and as a staff just to have fun with each other. Time laughing, playing games and eating together is so important for our own mental health :) and for the productivity of our office.
Although it’s sometimes difficult to get the gumption up to go on a staff retreat, every time we do venture out I am thankful I did.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Christian Student at a Secular University: Who Is My Neighbo[u]r?

This entry serves three purposes: 1) A break from reading some arcane 18C court judgments, 2) an opportunity to process the question on my mind since day one of my being at a major state university (note: ambiguity is necessary to avoid defamation lawsuits), and 3) an excuse to blog since I last blogged as a staff.
So what does it mean to be a Christian at a secular university? I have to get used to the idea that my worldview is the (lone) minority position. I suspect my experience might be very similar to those before me—especially those who are experiencing/have experienced the transition from Calvin to a state university. The only Christian voice, however, need not be silent. I just have to learn how to present myself in a language that the others understand. That’s not too bad. Sunday—according to my peers—isn’t a day of rest spent in worship. Sundays are used to recover from hangovers.
The Cupps mug equivalent over here is a booze mug. Granted it might be a cultural thing, yet many drinkers can’t hold their own. End result: missed lectures, and desperate visits to the doctors for screening, counseling, and scheduling medical procedures. If only condoms came with gospel tracks, or cars could detect alcohol. Not that such cases do not happen at Calvin, but it’s definitely fewer.
When I first set foot in a beautiful, prominent church one Sunday morning, I was surprised that there weren’t any more than 30 in attendance. Choose any two members of that church and their combined age would be greater than 120. Where are the younger people, I asked myself. Maybe I was at the wrong church. No, they are still in bed.
Calvin is truly a unique environment. I find myself in many conversations where I could talk about my faith, even challenge it.  It’s also somewhere where I hear people ask themselves such hard questions like “what’s my purpose in life?” and “why do good people suffer?” Calvin is a place where one’s intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual dimensions dovetail to receive some real prime-time attention for some imminent center stage action.
This morning in the bathroom, the janitor came in to collect the trash. I acknowledged his presence but he only came in to do his stuff. I thanked him for his work as he made his way out; he didn’t even make a sound. He came back in a few minutes later, “It was nice of you to say ‘thank you’.” That moment—a moment where the two-dimensional reading from a senior’s capstone seminar became alive in the very world that we have being wanting to reform and serve—made me realize that my neighbors are those whom I cross paths with. It’s that missing “u” in my “neighborhood.” Everyone is my neighbor. Ah, it’s so easy to associate with and stay close to those who share my worldview. Such brief moments, like the one with the janitor, might never come again, and any one of those moments might just be my last chance to love that neighbor.