January 07, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Students reflect on the January Series

Every year at this time, a group of students attends each January Series lecture and writes daily journal entries about the speakers. It's an interim class titled "An Inside Look at the January Series," taught by professors Ralph Honderd and Karen Saupe. The students from this year's class will be sharing their insights on News & Stories.


January 26: Jessica Jackley—"Harnessing the Power of Perspective: the Kiva Story"

Kyle Schaap, junior

I was very excited going into the presentation on Friday. I have been a Kiva lender for a couple of years now, and have absolutely loved being a part of it. I first heard about Kiva on Oprah (yes, I sometimes watch Oprah), and I fell in love with the idea. I logged on that day and made my first loan. I had never heard much about the beginnings of the organization, however, and was very interested in hearing the story of Kiva from the mouth of the co-founder herself. I was very impressed by what I heard.

One of the things I found most interesting about the story of Kiva is how it began. Jessica and Matt didn’t set out to create the largest microloan website in the world. They simply saw a need that they were passionate about and set out to do something about it. They weren’t overwhelmed by the numbers or paralyzed by the scope of the problem; they simply decided to do what they could for who they could. It was inspiring to see people who didn’t get caught up in the fact that they couldn’t help everyone, and simply attempted to help those that they could. Jessica was so honest about her journey- how she was overwhelmed by the scope of global poverty, how she slowly came to understand that she could do something about it, and how she did something about it with Kiva. Her story of creativity, compassion, and determination was truly inspiring. It showed me that I don’t need to be paralyzed by the size of the problem; I simply need to do what I can about it and leave the rest to God. 

January 20: Cal Ripken, Jr.—"The Keys to Perseverance"

Gillian Morris, junior

Earlier this week, to the shock and chagrin of many of my classmates, I announced that I did not know who Cal Ripken, Jr. was. Peers would try to explain his accomplishments by saying things like, “He’s the ‘Iron Man’ of baseball,” or “He played 2,632 consecutive games,” neither of which contextualized his fame for me. I blame this ignorance on my innate Canadian lack of knowledge concerning baseball, a primarily American sport, but, surprisingly, my ignorance did not impede my enjoyment of Ripken’s lecture. The content of his talk was highly motivational and applicable to all listeners, whether or not they happened to be baseball fans.

If any person was qualified to speak about perseverance, it was Cal Ripken Jr. When I realized the incredible endurance required to play essentially one game per day for 162 days over the course of 19 years, I was dumbfounded. I struggle to attend classes for that many consecutive days, let alone physically exert myself! Ripken’s credibility in the area of endurance piqued my interest in his speech topic, namely the eight requirements to being successful. These requirements seemed commonsensical and included things such as the right approach, the will to succeed, passion, competitiveness, consistency, conviction, strength, and life management.

What I did not expect from Ripken’s talk, however, was his affability, humor and apparent passion for the game. It was clear that he truly believed in the principles he professed and was not merely interested in receiving some cash and accolades from a multitude of former fans. Another aspect of his lecture that surprised me was his focus on life management. He said something that I do not think I will ever forget, “Some people say that you shouldn’t worry about things that are beyond your control ... . I  would like to challenge that. What can you do to help control things?” He then followed up with an example of a situation in which he took preemptive action in his life to manage unknown circumstances. This subject greatly encouraged me. Often I become disheartened because of unknown future outcomes or situations in my life, and I try and tell myself, “Don’t worry about it.” But Cal Ripken Jr. provided me with an alternative —to rather ask myself, “What positive actions can you take instead of worrying?” Immediately after the lecture I began thinking about graduate school preparations and I remembered this advice; already I feel as if I have benefited from Ripken’s motivational speech.

Despite my lack of knowledge about baseball, consecutive games, or the Iron Man, I thoroughly enjoyed Cal Ripken Jr.’s presentation. It seems that sports provide an excellent metaphor for the struggles and victories of life.

January 19: Donald Worster—John Muir and the Religion of Nature

Chan Young Ahn, senior

I am not much of an eco-environmentalist person, but since last semester I have been a little interested in respect of the environment and the sustainability of it. I had quite a bit of in-class discussions in my biology class last semester about these topics. I believe that human beings have exploited (nature) a lot and sooner or later, it will not be able to function properly and we will have to face the consequences. People have mass-produced agriculture and animals such as cows, tuna, chicken and others. Many are genetically modified food products and, honestly, I am not sure where I stand in respect of this. Science has evolved so much that much of the food that we consume is genetically modified, and we as consumers are not even aware of it.

It was interesting how Worster emphasized kinship with nature in his lecture. The fact that made it interesting is how Father Greg had talked about kinship in his lecture, but in a different context. Kinship that you develop with the gang members and the kinship you develop with nature. I think it was interesting how Worster pointed out that people now do not interact with nature as much as they used to. And I do agree that nature is an area where you can see God’s creativity and (grandeur). One may say that one does interact with nature. However, honestly, how much of nature have we seen in our lives other than the pictures from our science books, man-made parks, or the campsites that we’ve gone to? ... I was encouraged to take a deeper look into nature and find God’s creativity in there.

In regards to his question, by the end of the lecture, “Is nature a fetish?” I think I’ll have to give it a longer and deeper thought. Yes, I do believe that nature’s beauty is a way to see a part of who our God is. However, it is important not to fall too deep in to worshipping it for its beauty, failing to see God in it.

January 18: Jackson Kaguri—Education for AIDS orphans

Abigail Mindling  

One dollar from the U.S. equals fifty No. 2 pencils, and one of those pencils provides the ability for up to five children to go to school. It makes you think twice before you throw out a pencil because it has gotten too short for comfort, or the lead is gone, or the plastic is cracked.  

People in Uganda and other developing countries survive on so little. They live in tiny mud and thatch houses, leaky roofs, only enough money for one uniform for each child, barely able to afford a pencil stub for their child to go to school.   They have a loaf of bread that has to last a week between four kids, there is no garden because there has been a drought, there is no running water, so the girls have to go collect water from the small stream two kilometers away. Only the boys can go to school, and even then, they have to drop out (in the sixth grade) because they need to help provide income so the family will survive.  

This picture that I just described is so typical of developing countries.  Many other countries in Africa, Central Asia, areas of the Middle East … . What is the common denominator? I don’t think that I could answer that, but one problem that is seen in every developing country is lack of education.  If people can be educated, they will be successful, provide assurance and hope for the afflicted and downtrodden. In the words of Kaguri, children are the social security and retirement plan that parents plan for.  They invest in their children, try to send them school, provide them with the opportunities that they themselves never got to try or experience. 

 Holistic education—I love the idea!   Providing food, clean water, work, vocational skills, physical education, healthcare, and the list goes on. Taking a nutrition class about a year and half ago, I realized the importance of eating properly and regularly.  Many of these students at Nyaka School didn’t have regular meals, if ever, at home.  At school they were offered a balanced diet of protein, vegetables, fruits and carbohydrates AND they grew everything themselves in their community gardens or on Desire Farm. 

I think it is a powerful witness to the determination and steadfast dedication by the teachers and female students when 100 percent of the girls who started in the school all graduated with flying colors—simply because they were offered feminine sanitary products which enabled them to come to school was huge ... .

Kaguri mentioned a phrase when referring to the stigma that comes with AIDs is that “it is not our place to judge why someone is suffering.” As a nurse, this is especially true.  Many times I will not know the circumstances that someone may be suffering, but I certainly cannot judge them by what I see; I need to show them love. 

A challenge that I found powerful was Kaguri’s answer to a question about how to give to organizations such as Nyaka.    He said ‘you need to give your time.”  Time is the more important because it shows that you are willing to open yourself up to experience new things, and at the same time you will meet new people and have new relationships.   This is all about giving your time. 

January 18, 2011: Nikki Toyama-Szeto—Beyond Multiculturalism to True Community

Jessica Henry

Since coming to Calvin, my interest in race and racial reconciliation grew, as I became aware of my racial identity and what that meant for me on a predominantly white campus. Nikki Toyama-Szeto’s talk was therefore of particular interest to me and I was satisfied by the insight she had to offer from her own experience as a Japanese American as well as in her field of study and work.

Moving to America was the first time I began to realize that my race was important. Never before had I felt different or out of place simply because of my physical features.  Nikki’s talk for me, therefore hit home. I enjoyed hearing about her personal journey in discovering her ‘Asian-American-ness’. However, a few things stood out.

First was a point she made during the interview. She said that she had to learn to “navigate stereotypes.” This for me was interesting because I find that stereotypes about Asians tend to be for the most part positive whereas stereotypes about black people, like me, tend to be negative. How do I navigate negative stereotypes? What opportunities can I grasp simply because of my race? For me, being black hardly been an asset.

On a different note, I did like the analogy she gave comparing the process of building true community to that of polishing rocks in a rock polisher. I am learning more and more that when God called us to love our neighbor as ourselves, this was by no means a simple or easy command. In fact, as many of the January series speakers have emphasized, loving our neighbor is about sacrifice, humility, and kinship. This is a difficult process. Racial reconciliation and moving towards true community is part of the process of loving others. This is not an easy task.

I ask God to break my heart for the things that break his but at this point, I am not sure I can handle that. Because the kind of love that God expressed moved him to send his son to die on a cross. This process of loving is something I am still learning about, but I am encouraged by each of the speakers that this is possible.

January 14, 2011: Ensemble Galilei—"First Person: Seeing America"

Solita Hoogendam, senior

I love the musical style of the music that Ensemble Galelei played. Mixing medieval, classical and Renaissance music with a more contemporary Irish, Celtic, and Gaelic feel, provided great art to listen to.  The music was full of emotion and extremely communicative. It was apparent that the musicians were all living and breathing the music ... .

The photographs were quite powerful and comical at times too. I liked how the pictures, music, and spoken word all worked together to tell little segments of American history.  Focusing on specific individuals such as Frederick Douglas was particularly interesting as well ...  .

As I was experiencing the work of Ensemble Galelei, I could not help but think about what Andy Crouch spoke to us about creating culture rather than consuming culture, and I believe that he would agree that Ensemble Galelei was creating culture through their performance at the January Series.  I found it particularly enjoyable to travel alongside Ensemble Galelei as they worked to create culture.   

January 13, 2011: Glenn Geelhoed—"Mission to Heal"

Jeff Brown, freshman

Before I met Dr. Geelhoed, when someone mentioned medical missions, I would immediately think of the extremely high cost of elaborate medications for strange diseases—and building hospitals. What I learned from him shifted my thinking completely around about this subject, so now I actually know something quite important like the number one killer of human beings is diarrhea, and it is one of the easiest things to fix. I also found out that more than half of the world’s health problems could be fixed with justice, not always medicine. I think the largest hurdle to jump in this race against death around the world is understanding ... . I asked some friends what they thought the top five causes of death around the world are and none of them got any of the top five and I don’t think I would have either before Dr. Geelhoed came to class. I got answers like stroke, heart failure, cancer, AIDS, and hunger. If people knew that the top reasons why people die in this world could be cured from pocket change and not millions of dollars of research, then I think people would be more likely to lend a hand.

January 12, 2011: Father Gregory Boyle—"Tatoos on the Heart: The Power of Compassion"

Andrew Luth, senior

Father Boyle presented a form of Christianity that I found very appealing.  Rather than getting caught up in theology and speculation, Father Boyle demonstrates a very results-oriented faith.  Instead of trying to define abstract concepts like love, faith, or charity, he lives them.  Perhaps only through loving we can come to understand love’s divine nature.  Father Boyle does not directly address theological or philosophical questions, but focuses on concrete, visible results.  This theme has been particularly prevalent among this year’s speakers so far.  To most of the presenters, religion and religious people should be measured by the good they do in the world … .

Far too often, we human beings overcomplicate our reality.  We construct ideologies, definitions, and theories to help rationalize our existence.  Father Boyle and many of the other presenters demonstrate that although these abstract constructions have their usefulness, they have minimal bearing on one’s ability to do good work for Christ.  Introspection may be good, but as Robert Pirsig writes in his classic book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”  Father Boyle is a powerfully illustrative person who, starting small, improved the world with his own hands by embracing the gang members others condemned.  His is now the largest gang intervention and rehabilitation program in the world.  Rather than wasting time debating opponents or naysayers, Father Boyle simply started making the change he was looking for.

January 12, 2011: Andy Crouch—"Playing God: Creativity and Cultural Power"

Kyle Schaap, junior

Before his lecture today, I had heard of Andy Crouch; that he was good speaker, was a thoughtful intellectual, and was a prophet for the next generation of Christians. All of these reviews could have easily created bloated expectations and resulted in disappointment. This, however, was anything but the case with Andy Crouch today. If anything, I was still blown away by his charisma and insight ... .

One insight of his that I found particularly enlightening was his conception of injustice and idolatry as the same thing. His definition of idolatry allows this to be the case. Crouch makes the case that idolatry is to be thought of as acting as, and believing in, a false god (Mammon, sex, fame). In this paradigm, injustice is a logical outcome of idolatry, ... because it is the direct result of one person claiming to be god over another person. When someone commits or perpetrates an injustice, it is a result of their acting toward the one they oppress as if they are god, or as if the system that oppresses them is god. I found this insight incredibly interesting. The connection between God’s concern for justice and for fidelity seems clear; God desires justice because it ensures faithfulness, and vice versa.

January 10, 2011: Temple Grandin—"All Kinds of Minds"

Joella Ranaivoson, sophomore

I am fascinated by Dr. Grandin’s ability to express and describe the way that she thinks and the way her mind works to people who think differently from her. And I know many people with other forms of autism may not be able to communicate so well or effectively about the way their minds function ... .The film about her life opens with Clare Danes as Temple Grandin saying, "I think in pictures,” and I thought, “Oh cool. I wonder if I do?” The extent, degree and completeness of the way Temple Grandin thinks in pictures astounds me.  I’ve never known of anything like it before. Of her thinking, she said, “No picture, no thought. I don’t have any abstract thinking.” This blanket statement astonishes me. I can’t imagine not having abstract thinking. This means that everything that she knows or understands has to be associated with a concrete, solid example—a visual example. I remember growing up and reading books with a concept or even an object that I had never heard of or seen before, but based on description, I could imagine or conjure up an image of it or more, an understanding. If a mind thinks in pictures, this just wouldn’t work—one would have to see a picture of that thing described before one could understand it. It makes me wonder about the essence of the things or ideas that I generally understand as being abstract or associate with abstract thought—like love or God or compassion. But as I understand it, it’s not that Dr. Grandin is incapable of comprehending these concepts, but instead, when she thinks of them, she has a concrete, visual example giving meaning to these words. For example, were she to think of love, she may think of a person who has shown her love in her life, or with compassion, perhaps she sees it as an act, something done that is compassionate. To a degree, I think that’s an advantageous way of viewing such things as love and compassion—it isn’t all ... drab abstract thinking or discussion on what is love or debates on the meaning of compassion, but is straight actions, visible things—“getting things done,” as Dr. Grandin put it. I do agree with Dr. Grandin that most people get caught up in the debate and discussion of an ideology and forget or simply bypass the actual living out of the ideology, which I think would be a much more compelling argument in the first place, if we would just do it.

January 7, 2011: Theary Seng—"Reconciling Peace and Justice in Cambodia"

Jessica Henry, senior

Theary S(e)ng gave an inspiring talk about her life journey, surviving genocide and returning to her home to aid in the healing process of her nation, Cambodia. She reminds me to be thankful for God’s amazing grace in each of our lives and of God’s power to heal and transform no matter how difficult our circumstance may be ...  

It was also interesting to hear about the story of Cambodia, because while there are unique features of that story, it was a story I had heard many times before about many other nations. For example, just this past semester, I studied Latin American politics. In this class, we explored Chile, and its period of military rule (during) which there were many imprisonments, human rights abuses, and disappearances. Chile, like Cambodia, struggles to heal as a nation, and risks forgetting its past despite the deep pain felt by the generations who endured the suffering. This reminds me that conflicts of this nature are of a human kind; and so, none of us are ‘safe’ from these kinds of situations.

 I also appreciated the simplicity of Ms. S(e)ng’s talk. She brought a lot of legal talk “down to my level” and I really appreciated that. She also offered important insight. I especially liked how she described the human need to know in order to heal from something. Equally, her explanation of symbolic versus perfect justice was very insightful as well as her emphasis on the need for civic education and building a “culture of memory.”

Overall, I was honored to be able to listen to someone like Theary S(e)ng, who has overcome so much in her life but is still able to fight humbly against injustice. She also offered wisdom on healing, forgiveness, and perfect justice. I am grateful to have heard her speak.

January 6, 2011: Kelly Clark—"Faith and Freedom in Contemporary China"

Kristin Vanderwell, junior

I must admit that I’m not a big fan of philosophy. The only way I got through my philosophy class at Calvin was by taking good notes during class and memorizing them for the test.  I didn’t understand much of the material; my brain just doesn’t think that way! I was a little skeptical going into today, wondering if I would be able to get much out of the sessions by a philosophy professor, but my concerns were put to rest. I found Dr. Clark to be very easy to listen to.  I appreciated his admitting that he knew nothing about China when he first went to China or when he first taught his interim class on Chinese philosophy.  His discussion with our class and the January Series lecture were very informative ... .

One thing that really impressed me after talking to Dr. Clark during our classroom session and hearing the January Series lecture is how he is taking his education, his profession, and using it to make a difference in the world.  As a nursing student interested in missions, I think I fall into the mindset of “I’m learning these skills, such as how to perform health assessments or start IVs, so I can help others”, but I think it’s important to remember that God can use all types of skills, including philosophy, to make a difference in his kingdom.  Through his discussions, I began to understand what he meant when he said that philosophy should be practical because it has the power to shape lives.  I admire his goal of making China safe for religion.  It seems really overwhelming to me, but I really appreciate his work ... . I appreciated Dr. Clark’s reminder during our class discussion that we should not only be praying for the Christians in China, but for all religious believers in China.  Many people are suffering at the hands of this regime, and they all deserve our prayers, not just those who believe the same that we do.  I also appreciated his repeated reminder, while sharing with us the struggles that some in the house churches experience, that not all of China is like this.  It’s easy to think of China as a dark, evil place, but he doesn’t view it this way. 

January 5, 2011: Krista Tippett—"Einstein's God: Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit"

Christine Kim, sophomore

Krista Tippett was the perfect start to the month-long January Series and I must say, it was a very personal experience for me. This is my third year at Calvin College, I have mainly been taking biology and chemistry classes—natural and social sciences—and I found that I had merely been swallowing and memorizing what information I had been given, rather than questioning even the most fundamental theories and facts. It just struck me yesterday, during the speaker's interview and discussion during class, and I was horrified. Had the professors, wonderful in their many ways and in the various disciplines, not emphasized digging deeper into God's creation enough? No, I knew for sure that could not be the problem. Had I been so keen and blind on just achieving good letter grades that I had failed to going beyond the minimum requirement to really learn? I found myself feeling foolish and even come-over with an almost empty feeling when realizing this because when Krista Tippett questioned our individual and fundamental beliefs, my mind was blank and I was so ashamed to be identified as a Christian. If I could not clearly and confidently define where I stood with God and what He has showed me, how could I expect myself to know and do God's work? By identifying myself as a Christian, what message about God was I showing off to others around me? The whole point of her radio show was to explore and observe the faith of individuals in every aspect of their lives, despite the different disciplines they were in, how it shaped the person's religious perspectives, their overall attitude toward life and how it defined their daily actions and words. And here I was, attending a leading liberal arts Christian college, and I could not manage to back my own beliefs or even clearly define them. Sure, I know what I have been taught while growing up and what Christians are supposed to do and say but did I really know God's Word? I had not come to the point in which I meditated and knew God so that the words that I said and the actions I showed were reflections of His. Krista Tippett really made me question myself and what I believed to be true and what I stood up for. I wondered if I could confidently explain and justify my reasons and ideas behind my faith if I came across individuals of other religions.  

Jessica Jackley

Cal Ripken, Jr.

Jackson Kaguri

Ensemble Galilei

Father Greg Boyle

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