Friday, April 29, 2016


I would like it if you would walk with me for these for moments of your time that I have, and allow me to say something that I have yet to say in fullness of that which it deserves to be said. I have spent a lot of time in these past four months in tears and brokenness, trying to pick up the pieces from decisions I have made. Grappling with my utter inability to provide for myself in any meaningful psychological and spiritual way has been incredibly humbled. What I mean is that the answers that I have been seeking, those to fill the empty spaces, have been outside of myself and my attempts at insular self-realization to bring enlightenment in my life and overcome this angst and frustration has only amplified those feelings. I think it may be that insularity reinforces, or at very least maintains, the pain we feel because there is something very real about allowing your burdens to be carried by others.
            So it this, that I care to write: Thank you. To those over the past months have been, at the right time and moment, listened and pestered me when I refused, I am so grateful. My gratefulness extends as far as the support I have received; at no moment has anyone had to bear the burden of my mess, but friends and mentors have at their moment provided what was needed. To the mentor who reminded me that I wasn’t a failure, your words have not left me. To the friend who pestered me with piercing questions and unwavering conviction, you have loved me when I’ve been unable to reciprocate that outpouring of grace.
            I do not wish to downplay the difficulties that this time of transition has brought in my life, but let it be known that my life is not altogether challenging. I get to show up to two wonderful jobs in which we seek to live out the biblical mandate for justice, and during the evening, my life transitions to full-time student and I have the opportunity to learn at a place that Calvin where curiosity is encouraged. It is in these places that I have not only hung on this semester, but I think that I have truly been able to thrive.

            This has been a trying time in my life and have often felt lost. In being lost, I have experienced frightening vulnerability that has provided for me space to feel more alive than ever before. It has been a year of incredible moments of exhilaration and raucous laughter intertwined with thorns that cut deep and cause bleeding. Living faithfully in between the mess of exile and the jubilee of the restored city requires of me to avoid the optimism of human progress and the pessimism of human limitations, but rather work and wait in the dichotomy of hope and reality; a hope that doesn’t ignore the filth and a reality that will not remain in brokenness.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Love and Transition

The change from life in utero to life outside the womb is a time of one of the greatest, most complex physiological changes in the life of a human being. The first 6 hours after birth are when the newborn’s respiratory and circulatory systems, her most important systems, become stable. This period is called transition. 

But transitions don’t cease as life goes on. I’ve discovered that relationships, their forming and ending, provide endless opportunity for change. This time, the effect is not physiological; it is deeply psychological, emotional, and spiritual. 

Each of my now three years at Calvin I’ve been deeply shaped by the people I’ve lived and shared life with. Living in Harambee this year has been no exception. Amidst many, many things, I’ve learned a little bit about the kind of love that doesn’t distinguish between family and friends and neighbors and strangers. 

In his book appropriately entitled The Four Loves, there is a passage where C.S Lewis captures the formation of that love. He sets up the passage with an example. He explains how the mark of truly having a wide taste in books is not being able to read and appreciate any book from your own personal collection. The true mark is being able to read and appreciate a book off the cart of a bookstore’s reduced-price sidewalk sale. He goes on to write:

“The truly wide taste in humanity will similarly find something to appreciate in the cross-section of humanity whom one has to meet every day. In my experience it is Affection that creates this taste, teaching us first to notice, then to endure, then smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate, the people who ‘happen to be there.’ Made for us? Thank God, no. They are themselves, odder than you could have believed and worth far more than we guessed.” 

And worth far more than we guessed.

[Kind of a side note—he follows up that paragraph with this:

“If we dwelled exclusively on these resemblances we might be led on to believe that this Affection is not simply one of the natural loves but is Love Himself working in our human hearts and fulfilling the law. Were the Victorian novelists right after all? is love (of this sort) really enough? Are the ‘domestic affections,’ when in their best and fullest development, the same thing as the Christian life? The answer to all these questions, I submit, is certainly No.” 

I agree. Affection is not enough (having affection for my neighbor or having affection for my enemy doesn’t really fly), but it is a prerequisite, a sort of training wheel that teaches us how to love well.]

Soon, our house will transition to life apart. It’s a weird transition. These 8 people who have played a distinct role in the rhythm of my daily life will soon play a not as distinct role. Any type of ending that I try to envision to make the transition seem natural and smooth still feels abrupt and inadequate, uncomfortable and painful. 

With love and heartache, I’ll end with as painless a goodbye as I know:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

--Mariana Pèrez

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What Does Martin Luther King Jr. Have To Do With Charles Darwin?

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it leans towards justice.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Through my scientific course material, I have reached the conclusion that the Natural World, or all living and non-living things besides humankind, are essentially morally-neutral. The phenomena of homeostasis within an organism, self-sustaining ecosystems complete with decomposition and fertilization, and natural selection are all evidence that the Natural World maintains itself in true-neutral fashion. There is no partiality, nor is there evidence for consciousness rivaling humankind (there is more and more evidence that consciousness is a spectrum that reaches far down into the animal kingdom, but this is beside my point).

Humans, however, are most certainly conscious, and to varying degrees, maintain first-person perspectives. This allows us limited agency (I prefer this term over free will). There is potential for destruction (namely negative interference with the Natural World) and potential for construction (like repairing the negative interferences of the past). Additionally, a Biblical worldview suggests that we are to be stewards of the earth and of all living things, and Christians must decide what that entails. There are disagreements, such as whether burning fossil fuels is included in our call to stewardship. Given all of this, human activity is a wild card.

Despite this ambiguity, Dr. King asserts that what emerges out of human activity is a “moral arc”, and that arc has a predisposition for justice. And given what we know about human agency, this would appear, if nothing more, entirely possible. True, it is an introspective and extrapolative claim, but so is any claim about human nature. Dr. King focuses on a feeling inside himself which informs his place in the moral universe, and he also utilizes his first-person perspective to amalgamate his experiences with others, generating a “moral arc” from his perspective. Of course, I’m doubtful that Dr. King or anyone else consciously performs these introspections or consciously assembles “moral arcs”. On the contrary, I think humans can’t help doing it. It is part of our nature. Perhaps it falls outside our limited agency. Yet the fact remains that humans have moral agency, and thus contribute to a moral arc, one which Dr. King suggests has a curve.

As for the veracity of Dr. King’s statement, I know it is held in high regard by many in this office, the Service-Learning Center. What is my opinion? I would take Dr. King’s words a step further. I believe that every day has a moral arc. From the first break of dawn to the last light turned out, humans are going about their everyday business, exerting control over what they can in their limited agency, and pressing up against the barrier beyond which humans have no control. It is a humbling experience, being a human, and more importantly, each day is strangely new. This flies in the face of the cliché that each day is a blank canvas. On the contrary, we wake up each day to a world that’s a mess. We create this mess each morning as we walk out the door. Each day starts with an infinite number of goals and possibilities, and at the end of the day we have accomplished a finite number of them, usually a poor reflection of our original intent. And yet I, and perhaps others, feel like the world leaned ever so slightly towards a conclusion – towards a whisper of a resolution, a revolution. Perhaps Charles Darwin could get on board:

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death . . . the production of the higher animals directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
― Charles Darwin

-Johnson Cochran