Monday, June 25, 2012

"Voluntary Simplicity"

I love Grand Rapids. I've become quite comfortable here. The hot summers filled with fireflies and beach visits make up for the spiteful, stinging winters. There's something about comfort, though, that allows me to start thinking, "Yeah, I'm pretty awesome." In places of comfort, I often fool myself into a kind of blissful complacency when it comes to evaluating my own character. However, I've found I'm never allowed to remain happily ignorant for long...

More than one person has told me that I don't deal with change very well. In all fairness, I've experienced more than my fair share of "big life changes" moving back and forth from Colorado to Japan to South Korea. I would say I adapt pretty well, but those people are right; change in my life is usually met by great resistance and a shocking volume of tears. I'm moving into my senior year at Calvin, and as though I weren't facing enough change, my nineteen-year-old sister has moved in with me. Suffice it to say we have never gotten along.

At the Service-Learning Center, we have a summer reader filled with insightful articles that introduce old and new staff to service-learning as pedagogy and life philosophy. This week's article was titled "Preparing the Way for Justice." Lofty, right? "Here we go..." I thought as I dove into the reading. After skimming my way through a discussion of Kant's Metaphysics and Morals, my eyes and mind slowed down to read about the application of these metaphysics and morals through the lens of Thomas Merton's Life and Holiness. The spiritual discipline of "voluntary simplicity" especially caught my eye. Bradford Hadaway, the author, was presenting spiritual disciplines like voluntary simplicity as a teaching method for introducing students to a deeper understanding of service-learning. As always, such practices just as useful outside the classroom as inside. The author writes that, "simplicity expressed as a spiritual discipline is first and foremost an attempt to clear away things that clutter both our inner and outer lives." My mother, ever-ready with her piercing insights of my character flaws, told me yesterday the reason I don't get along with my sister is because we have inherently different value systems. Over 20+ years, she noticed that I value materials, while my sister values relationships. Both have their benefits and pitfalls, she told me. I take good care of my possessions but cling to tightly to them sometimes. My sister takes good care of her friends but sometimes can't see when helping them is hurting them. Needless to say, the fullness of both our personalities clash when my stuff is scratched, broken, or otherwise carelessly strewn around. I'm person that likes explanations more than coincidences, so as much as it makes me cringe to admit it, sometimes articles, conversations, rainbows, or what-have-you catch me at just the right moment and make me think hard about the space between who I am and who I'm called to be.

With all this change happening, I've had plenty of opportunities to be reminded that I'm not nearly as good, patient, understanding, and generous as I sometimes think I am. Hadaway writes, "The practice of the spiritual disciplines in their thick sense can develop the moral imagination necessary to break out of our narrow and limited perspectives about how the world operates and what people are like." Service-learning is all about discomfort. It's about the life-value-changing, world-rocking, headache-generating activity of making ourselves vulnerable enough for our flaws to be exposed and to be reminded that things aren't always as they seem. I honestly may never get along swimmingly with my sister, but her presence reminds me that I'm called to "lay up treasures in heaven" and not cling to desperately to my "stuff." As for being a senior, I still dislike the prospect of leaving the comfort I've found in Grand Rapids in less than one year, but maybe I can welcome the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of God's work in other cities.


StreetFest Coordinator

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In a Just World

Reflections on 'Vision,' in the document From Every Nation

Today, I read a section of the From Every Nation (FEN) document, which was released in 2004 as a "comprehensive plan for racial justice, reconciliation, and cross-cultural engagement at Calvin College."  The particular section I perused is called 'Vision,' and focuses on a vision of shalom in a multicultural community.

Each day as I stroll into work, I pass a poster representing the Multicultural Student Body of Calvin College.  There are faces in shades of peach, tan, olive, and golden-brown smiling widely at the camera, attached to bodies with arms wrapped around shoulders and waists.  They are unfailingly happy, perfect in community with one another.  What I'd like to tell you is that in this poster, I see a realized vision of the Kingdom of God.  Instead, I see an attempt to portray a Calvin College that does not exist.  We are not a community in which every person, no matter their ethnicity, culture, race or background, is accepted without difficulty.  Calvin is just like any other human institution: even with good intentions, it cannot achieve the perfection portrayed in that poster without a considerable amount of dedication to a goal, and the determination to complete it. 

In order to work toward the Kingdom of God, in which justice and shalom reign, we must first see ourselves not as we wish to be, but as we are.  By our nature as human beings, we are flawed.  Sin corrupts all we do.  Knowing this, we can address the conflicts, tensions and negative emotions that arise within the diverse community at Calvin College.

There are two ways to address tensions within a community.  The first is in the relationship between two individuals.  Even sincere and wholly self-aware Christians can fall into racism or prejudice when they fail to let go of pride in favor of cherished personal identities.  For some, this is due to a feeling of cultural superiority.  This feeling leads to prejudice against those perceived as 'inferior.'  In order to heal this prejudice, we must learn to take each person as they come.  This does not mean that we ignore the color of their skin or the background from which they have emerged - it simply means that we set aside preconceived notions in order to have an unclouded lens through which to see another person.  For others, a sense of injustice due to racism or other forms of prejudice plays into an inability to work toward shalom between individuals.  In both cases, these feelings must be put aside in order to truly engage with people from every tribe, language and nation.

The second way to work toward a just community is to grapple, as a unified group of believers, with the conflicts that arise.  We must together affirm the strengths of diverse traditions and cultures, and work to strengthen the weaknesses of the community in hope and preparation for change and renewal.  No single person or ethnic group can fully represent the Kingdom of God, and so we must become a diverse yet unified community always working toward a more just society.

Julia Hawkins
Summer Office Intern