Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Top Ten Reading List for Service-Learning

A friend wrote to ask me last week if I could come up with ten key resources that have most shaped my thinking on my work in service-learning. Below is what I came up with - I'm sure there are many more:

1. Nick Wolterstorff's 1982 commencement address at Wheaton College: on the mission of the Christian college at the end of the 20th century - all the theological/philosophical groundwork is here.

2. Deb Rienstra's wonderful book, So Much More: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality has a nice little chapter called, "The Work of our Hands: Serving God and Others" that provides great insight into the Christian virtue of service.

3. Richard Mouw's books When the Kings Come Marching In, and He Shines in all that's Fair provide great theological grounding for the idea that the now connects to the not-yet, and for common grace.

4. Gail Gunst Heffner and Claudia Beversluis edited a collection of essays in 2002 called Commitment and Connection: Service-Learning and Christian Higher Education. Both of their introductory essays lay out important frameworks for the conversation about service-learning for Christians and Christian colleges.

5. I reviewed a book a few years ago called The Spirit of Service: Exploring Faith, Service and Social Justice in Higher Education written primarily by faculty at Gustavus Adolphus College in MN. It was in important book for me to read because a few of the chapters were excellent ("Faith, Social Justice, and Service-Learning in Environmental Studies: The Struggle for Integration," by Mark Bjelland, and "Ora et Labora: Prayer and Service in an International Study Abroad Program," by Jenifer Ward) and most were not, at least to someone with Calvinist/Kuyperian sensibilities. It helped me figure out some of the differences between Lutherans and Calvinists in this area.

6. Charles Marsh's book, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today has been tremendously helpful with some theological accounts that connect social justice movements with the church over the past 50 years or so.

7. A short article called "Educating for Citizenship," by Caryn McTighe Musil that appeared in the journal Peer Review in 2003: - it has a nice taxonomy that shows one way of thinking regarding how students develop through community engagement.

8. Kurt Verbeek and Jo-Ann VanEngen have each written important pieces that have helped me think more broadly about service in the international context. Jo-Ann's article on The Cost of Short-Term Missions,, has been broadly read in Calvin and CRC circles, to good effect I think. And Kurt's chapter in Heffner and Beversluis's book, International Service-Learning: A Call to Caution has gotten less attention ( ) but is worth pondering, particularly for its caution regarding power and reciprocity in international contexts.

9. The best source for helpful thinking from the mainstream academic world is the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, based at UM in Ann Arbor. And both Campus Compact ( ) and the National Youth Leadership Council ( ) have excellent general resources.

10. I have also recently dabbled in the literature on Christian Practices and Christian Teaching and Learning, and have a number of very valuable resources in this vein - including the work of Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass (Practicing our Faith, Growing in the Life of Faith etc) and the Journal of Education and Christian Belief ( ).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Surprised by Hope - Book Review

I was drawn to this book when I saw it on a table at a lecture a year or two back. The image of a lone tree on the side of a dirt road is captivating, but so is the title. What do I think about the resurrection, heaven and the mission of the church? These are all somewhat vague ideas to me; all somewhat distant and ethereal. And where do those ideas come from? I guess there were always some Biblical scenes that spoke into my understanding of these: Easter, the rich man and Lazarus, the great commission. Things that I've learned and experienced in my lifespan have wanted for something more tangible related to these ideas.

Since seeing the book on that table, I've heard it referred to by many folks who I respect a great deal. A sermon by a Calvin Chaplain Nathaniel Bradford just after the new year referred to the book when speaking of hope, something of which our church is in short supply. So, as a member of the worship planning team, it was decided to transform our evening service into a book discussion group with this book as the focal point.

It probably would have been a good idea to read the book in whole before suggesting it, but having finished the book now, I don't think I would have chosen against it. I did realize early on that I was in a bit over my head, with a deeply theological book that I had to summarize for the gathered congregation. It ended up being a rather enjoyable if time-consuming task.

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect as it relates to Wright's theology compared with the Reformed theology I've been raised in. It turned out to be pretty spot on in my read of the book. There was a nice strong emphasis on the good old Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation rubric, though not necessarily such a focus on the heavy-handed T.U.L.I.P. framework that also courses throughout the Reformed perspective.

Fellow congregation members were concerned with Wright's lack of definition for hell, punishment, and sin; but I really resonate with his focus on the joy of God's kingdom building as the motivation for discipleship and evangelism. Some balked at his insistence at the goodness of creation and its persistence at the time of Christ's return, but I'm happy to step clear of that border-line gnosticism and embrace the idea that "God so loved the cosmos."

I loved Wright's persistent encouragement to a fuller celebration of Easter and resurrection, the central tenant of our faith. The idea of "taking something up" in the forty days after Easter leading up to ascension to counter balance the "giving something up" of Lent was a refreshing challenge. I'm not sure what exactly that will be for me, but it may be connected to the image Wright used to explain this concept: that of uprooting and weeding in Lent not with a purpose of blank soil, but a garden to be sown with seeds that will one day blossom and bear fruit.

How exciting, yea surprising, to be invited into the work of justice, beauty and evangelism as kingdom building; God's work done through the Spirit's power in our lives and communities; reclaiming our geographic space, God's gift of time, and the matter of our lives for his glory. I can see how one might declare this as slipping towards a social gospel, but if that's so, it is one that is firmly supported by a Biblical reading of the New Testament that centers on Christ resurrected, allowing for a retelling of the Old Testament in light of God's story of restoration made reality through the people of Israel.

If the dense theology scares you, I'd recommend starting with the last chapter and working your way backwards. I think that if I'd done that, knowing the climax of the book, the earlier chapters would have held more meaning. I may have to go back and read them after letting the final chapter settle in my heart for a while.

I'm re-energized by reading this book. Excited for kingdom work. Surprised by hope.