I have been thinking about our seminar and the people in it frequently of late. I love reading about the projects people are working on and I am often humbled by their achievements
and their wit.
Last fall I returned to teaching at the christian high school here in Ontario with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. That feeling has not abated.
I told my brother (who is also an English teacher in my department)that the seminar was transforming. Our discussions filled me with a sense of opportunity and possibility in my work with teenagers. At a time when I had lost some direction and enthusiasm our big picture discussions made me hungry to teach.
I came up with an awesome plan, I thought. I was going to organize a drama group that would serve children in our community, through hospitals and schools, by focusing on storytelling and literacy with drama as our medium. My students would write their own adapted scripts and we would take our stories and our affection into our community where paying for the arts is so often a struggle. Our group was to be called "Play It Forward."
The plan was to speak to the school in an assembly about my experiences in the seminar and the $100 project I had undertaken. Interested students and I would then meet and create a vision for how our group would operate. Shortly after I came up with this plan, I found about the money mixup. No matter, I thought, it never really was about the hundred dollars anyway. I just needed a new angle.
Then basketball season started (I coach jr. girls bb), and auditions for the school play I was codirecting (West Side Story) got underway, and one of my children started struggling in school and acting out at home.
It was around then that I realized that my most valuable currency right now is time, and finding a hundred dollar bill under my pillow won't change that. Perhaps that is why I am so in awe of the people in our seminar. They, like me, are busy professional people with families, and aging parents, and church obligations, and... How do they do it all? Are my priorities different? They must sleep less.
So, I stand committed to the vision. I'm still going to do it because it's an idea worth doing. I'm going to try again this year. And I'm going to forgive myself for not getting it done last year. And I'm going to be the most passionate, loving, knowledgeable, exhausted, smart-ass teacher I know how to be.
I have been thinking about our seminar and the people in it frequently of late. I love reading about the projects people are working on and I am often humbled by their achievements
Hi, friends. Thank you to Debra for inviting us to contribute an update to the blog. Great to hear about Doug’s health. I feel we all had such a beautiful time together during our course on […..whatever it was about….]. I think of each of you quite often.
“When you have met at depth, you have met forever”. (Henri Nouwen).
I think that quote captures our two weeks.
A few small developments, then, with regards to myself...
My oboe playing is improving quite significantly. I have now been learning for two and a half years. Whereas I used to be able to practice only five minutes before my lips would hurt too much, I can now manage about 20 minutes. I have still been too stubborn to do what most oboe players (allegedly) do, namely, practice playing notes without sounding them. I feel it is so absurd to play notes without making noises that I just cannot stomach the idea. But I realize I will have to do this if I wish to improve technically. It will likely still be years before I can practice an hour a day with real sound.
An interesting addition in my life is that my father in law has given me his Canadian Stamp collection. I am extremely proud to be a Canadian, so I love this gift. It is a kind of “advance” on his Will. He has two copies of every Canadian stamp ever issued, namely, both new and used. He also has other very unique items, such as samples of the envelopes that were on each of the first airplane flights in Canada in the 1920’s that first carried mail to remote communities. (And there are many remote communities in Canada. But Toronto, however, is not all that terribly remote.) And he has, for example, envelopes stamped at each different post office in the province of Nova Scotia that ever existed. Many of those rural shacks have been dismantled. There have been over three thousand different postal outlets in the hinterland. This is a real nice stack of old envelopes.
I will not become a stamp collector like he has been, but all I really need to do is buy the new stamps as they are issued each year and simply add them to what has already been accumulated. This is the easiest kind of collecting. It could be called “gathering”. But I am also searching for stamps with errors or flaws, since that was a field within philately that he did not explore. The more I procure those blemished stamps, the more complete his original collection will become. E-Bay is fun for this. But those defective stamps can easily run into many thousands of dollars. A single stamp with a mistake on it can easily be worth 15 grand. May the Lord bless the owners of all these little scraps of paper!!
My little church is doing well (in my obviously biased opinion). I still love making and delivering sermons, but it is getting both harder and easier. Easier, in the sense that sometimes I literally write a sermon in two hours. On the other hand, afterwards I sometimes feel drained for two days and can hardly move. Furthermore, I often dread the actual event of preaching and would sometimes be willing to pay one thousand dollars to get out of it.
And then, naturally, there is the pastoral visiting and the administration. I have a very nice congregation, especially when they are all singing off the same page, which is the one where they claim (unanimously) to be in favor of individuality and diversity and to not be demanding unanimity. We are to tolerate even people who are intolerant of tolerance, said Jesus in one of his more intolerable comments.
I am reading a lot, which helps feed the preaching too, but that is not why I do it.
I recently read about the Christians who were against vaccination for small pox in the Netherlands in the 1800’s. The Scripture verse they kept quoting was “And Jesus Saith unto Them, It is not the Healthy who Need a Physician.”
My wife and my two teenage daughters are all doing well, but I am sure they would not appreciate being presented on what amounts to someone else’s “FaceBook”, so I will leave them out of this discussion.
May each of you have a great Fall season and a wonderful Advent and Christmas.
- Nick Overduin
Labels: Nick Overduin
[Hi, friends! I posted the following on my blog.]
Last summer I participated in one of Calvin College's Seminars in Christian Scholarship about writing as Christian proclamation. We mistakenly thought that we each had $100 of funding to use however we decided. (Turns out that we had already used our allotted $100 for reimbursement of books for the seminar.) But we went ahead and decided to embark on a $100 project, in which each of us would do something creative and constructive with $100 and then write about it.
My $100 was "funded" by an interview article that I had worked on during my Calvin seminar, and I spent much of the following months wondering what to do with the money. Got some nice suggestions from commenters on this blog, with ideas for helping youth or elderly, sponsoring an essay writing contest, coffee for strangers, facilitating a community garage sale, environmental stewardship and the like. I definitely wanted to do something related to my suburban community, and I thought it would be appropriate to do something writing- or book-related, given the nature of our seminar.
I thought about ways to grow the money first. Something I do fairly routinely is sell used books on Amazon; I always get a kick out of finding a book at a thrift shop for a quarter that I can sell online for ten bucks. Last winter I was browsing a used book store and found a number of Anchor Bible Commentaries for six or seven bucks each. I sold some of them online for thirty and fifty dollars apiece. Should I calculate that into my $100 amount and declare that I had grown the money to $160 or so? But what about the inventory of books that I bought that haven't sold yet - do I need to deduct that from the balance? And shipping costs, etc.? After thinking through the accounting details, I concluded that I didn't want to mess with the potential entrepreneurial investment growth aspect of the project and would just keep it to a simple what-could-I-do-with-$100.
Something that occurred to me while reading The Kingdom Assignment is that people often used their $100 in ways consistent with their natural interests, gifts and opportunities. So I thought about the various community organizations and institutions that I interface with, and the obvious thought that came to mind was our local public library. We go to the library several times every week and always have dozens of items checked out and stacked up on our nightstands.
So I talked with folks at the library, explained the $100 project and asked if there were any ways I could use the money for some sort of special volunteer project or donation. I didn't want to just donate it to the friends of the library foundation or buy a brick on the sidewalk; I wanted to do something a little more personal and specific. I mentioned that I work at a book publisher and could purchase books to be donated. They talked it over at some meeting and got back to me, saying that they'd like the donation of books. So I gave them some current catalogs, and they looked through them and gave me a list of requested titles.
Because of my IVP employee discount, the $100 was able to purchase $250 worth of books (retail price), which in this case was 15 books, four of which I had worked on as project editor. And I was also able to donate another dozen or so overstock/slightly hurt books that were available for giveaway. The library carries numerous Christian books and even already had a few IVP titles (including my suburbs book), but I was glad to make more IVP books directly available to the collection.
So my $100 project flowed out of my work in Christian book publishing and benefited an institution in my local suburb that serves as a "third place" for the community and promotes literacy, reading and knowledge. I'm hopeful that random browsers will pick up these books on the new arrivals shelves and experience some degree of spiritual ministry through the content. I've always loved the fact that our books are like little missionaries that can go many places that we can't. I think it's theologically significant that Christians can work through existing community organizations (like public libraries) to be salt and light in our communities. We can work counterculturally through the church and other Christian organizations, but we can also work transformatively through society's own institutions.
So that's what I did with my $100. What did you do?
More on Paul Hendrickson
"He was having his third cup of coffee as he wrote this..." - Editor
A year has passed. Another 365-day long comedy with this homo sapien (who has the initials A.H.) installed in his bit part in which he dances awkwardly around God. During the dance I shout my conceptions, misapprehensions, praises and doubts, love and annoyance, and many other thoughts and emotions inspired by Him.
It’s not a one-way street.
Over the course of my circuit there has been the usual raining down of insights, changes, curveballs, slip-ups, rescues (some of them softly and without my knowing it, others coming with a thunderclap).
Another year has passed. And I am trying to sift through the accumulated theological detritus, which is dizzying enough on daily basis without trying to look back upon the whole of it and ask, “Now what just happened?”
A year has passed. Something amazing occurred. But that’s been the story line from the beginning. Something amazing always happens. All of us have made another journey around the sun. By definition this seems to be a cosmic adventure...
Canine or Divine? Lessons from "Ugly Dog"
Just consider. We got this dog in March, at Joyce’s insistence, not mine. He’s the only pet we’ve ever owned except for an ill-fated alpha fish that Cole named Azul who one night committed suicide by leaping out of his bowl and becoming dry as toast and thin as paper on the tile floor.
Our dog had been at Rescue the Animals his whole life when we paid his ransom and took him out of his cage. Into our lives. One look at him and you knew why no one had ever adopted Bullwinkle. He was total mutt, always will be. There is no beauty in his outward appearance. The above photo hints at a coyote mixed with water rat with a touch of terrier just for laughs. Really he is road kill on four feet. But who is Bullwinkle? A kind, smart, gentle creature who never barks, seldom whines, communicating mostly with his soulful eyes and avid tail. He is the one who will patiently wait for you all day and wants only to be petted and petted and petted.
I’m not a sentimentalist or an animal person, I never even harbored a hamster as a kid, but I feel this ugly dog could be an angel in disguise. Bullwinkle teaches me something. Stop judging by appearances. Look for what lies deeper. Then laugh at the incongruity. How great beauty can be housed in such poor packaging. From now on I must make it a habit to throw away (mentally) the packaging. Find the diamond in the wuff… (couldn’t resist).
Behold a Bird
Another moment of cosmic amazement was at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers poetry workshop which I attended last month up by Lake Tahoe. The moment didn’t come in writing my required daily poem or workshopping said poem in the presence of an esteemed staff poet like Sharon Olds or Robert Hass while hoping he/she would love the poem and lean forward confidentially at the table and anoint me as the Next Great Thing in Poetry (it didn’t happen).
The moment occurred on one of the daily nature walks in early morning when naturalist David Lukas took us only a hundred yards behind the lodge and into the forest. A bird flew over, straight line, fast, sure of itself, and David looked up and said, “Oh, that was a Clark’s Nutcracker.” An impromptu lecture followed...
How the bird was identified by William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. How it collects upwards of 33,000 pine seeds during a brief window of time in the High Sierra summer. How it stores the seeds in caches of 5-10. How the Nutcracker can find all these seeds six months later as winter comes. How it tunnels to reach a cache beneath three feet of snow. How in some fashion— that no one can understand— it “remembers” where the seeds are and can “do the spatial math” to tunnel at the necessary angle (tunneling straight down would cause tunnel collapse) to intersect with the hidden seeds. How the seeds stolen by squirrels from the Nutcracker or never claimed by it often sprout into new Jeffrey pines, allowing the forest to flourish and extend its domain. How it is a perfect dance between the small bird and gigantic trees. How you can read about this in Made for Each Other: A Symbiosis of Birds and Pines by Ronald Lanner.
And I’m standing with my son beside me and a bunch of cotton and nylon garbed poets bumped up along the narrow trail and the light is filtering through the pine-needled branches above and the sky is blue the way all of California used to be, all of America used to be, from sea to sea, and the air smells clean enough that one notes that too, and I’m thinking all this for a bird and for a tree? Then what about me? What kind of miracle must I be? And I know then that all of us are involved in something far more profound than realized previously, and this is worth many poems indeed.
Quickly, Three Highlights...
In April I found myself graciously invited as the visiting writer at Dallas Baptist University where I gave a lecture on the state of Christian writing. My visual aids began with that photo of us standing outside of the Calvin library in July '06. Revealed to the world: “The secret summit”! Then I told of developments we’d discerned in genres and of some of the specific books we read together and our reactions to them. As I spoke, I hoped that our time together lived on for the benefit of others (and maybe somebody out there in the audience would read some of those great books Debra picked out for us…).
Also in the spring semester I was able to teach a new course, Christians and Creativity. (Funny how an odd book entitled Post-Rapture Radio ended up on the syllabus.) I required the students to exercise what a jazz musician friend of mine would call their creative “chops.” They had to respond to works of art in the local art museum, not with an analytical paper, but with something creative of their own. Called “A Night at the Grace” the project is described on-line with a posting of the films, stories, songs, paintings, sculptures, poems, etc. the students created. See: http://www.thegracemuseum.org/childrens/night_acu_2007.html Perhaps “Christian” and “creativity” is not an oxymoron after all?
Right now I’m working on setting up the on-campus visit of journalist/writer Paul Hendrickson for this October. He will be in Abilene to talk about an exhibit of photos from the Library of Congress. The significance of these pictures taken for the Farmers Security Administration from 1939-43 (the same project that funded Walker Evans’ famous work) is that they are in color. Indeed, they are the first color photos ever taken of America and they were lost for many years. There’s a coffee table book, Bound for Glory, of the work, with an introduction by Paul Hendrickson, and I recommend it highly. I’ve found that a sort of epiphany takes place when the history one has always thought of as iconic black-and-white is viewed for the first time in full color. Suddenly, I realize these were people just like me and the people I know today. The women wear red dresses. The men’s jeans are blue. Their children have canvas shoes with brown mud stains…
Joonna's one year update.
I have just returned from a wonderful conference in the mountains of Colorado with AEPL--an organization which promotes "expanded perspectives" on learning, including spirituality. It's a great group and it was lovely to spend several days with Peter Elbow and others. From there I traveled to Milledgeville, GA, for an NEH Institute on Flannery O'Connor in her home town. Huge impact on me! I'm hoping to teach O'Connor in the Spring. I also have three people recruiting me for jobs at their respective schools from that institute.
I'm thinking of going on the job market this year. I'm a bit heartsick by some things that happened at our college last year, and I'm finding that I'm not getting over it. I wonder if it is time to go? I would miss the Christian College world, and I doubt that I would make a switch to another Christian college--although one never knows....
Sarah Gordon, former editor of the Flannery O'Connnor annual listened to my book project and actually became excited. She says that she will recommend it to U of Georgia Press if I can pull a proposal together. So, that's my next big thing. I do have a deadline of Sept. 1 for my Octavia Butler article. And I have to pull together a paper on Comenius for a conference at Calvin this fall.
At the Institute, I read one of my short stories and had the crowd laughing their heads off. That was nice. I'm thinking of applying to be editor of a journal in my field. It's hard to know what to do...
Most of all, I miss our interactions and think of you all often. My best to everyone.
Andrea and I are the parents of the most beautiful little boy, Benjamin William. Two nights ago, at 14 weeks old, he had his first 8-hour sleeping night! (Then, just to help us exercise the spiritual discipline of patience, last night he was up for a little while at 4:00 a.m.)
Here at CICW, we're celebrating 10 years since the founding of the Institute, whose work God has expanded and blessed far beyond anyone's expectations except his. I continue to help develop and manage our website, and do a variety of writing and editing projects for our publications series. I've also enjoyed starting a series of meditations on the Psalms.
I'm still trying to get a collection of my "On Language" columns published, with some encouraging signs.
My course in historical linguistics at MSU was a mixed experience, making me question whether I really want to pursue a degree in linguistics. I think I'm going to take the biblical languages at the seminary across the street from me and see if that's a better fit.
I still hope to do my seminar project idea someday, but I also hope somebody beats me to it.
Last summer's seminar continues to have a positive impact on me. For
one, my wife says the Alaska book chapters I've written since I attended
the seminar have been noticeably better than the ones I wrote before it.
For me, that's good and bad (it means more revisions await), but it's a
great reflection of how I benefited both from the extensive reading and
from our time together. Thanks to each of you for your part in that. I
hope to start looking for a publisher in the next year.
My last cancer checkup in April was positive, for which we thank the
Lord and many friends who have supported us in prayer. I did have an
apparently unrelated hernia surgery in March, so I've been to the
hospital more in one year than in the previous 20. But, I'm very
thankful that I can be active again now.
One result of the recovery times involved in both surgeries is that I
was slow to get my seminar/class project underway. However, God has
given me a deep interest in the process of business microloans and the
ways they can be used to transform the lives of women and others in
poorer countries. So, I made some contacts in Haiti to try to find
someone who would journal about the impact of a microloan (in this case,
my $100 gift as per our class project) on her life. Through a couple of
contacts I had some initial interest, but it's not happened yet despite
several emails. Part of the challenge is that many of those who would
receive such a loan are illiterate. However, I'm still hoping that this
will work out and that (better late than never) I can report on it
sometime in the next year.
I am serving as the Media Communication department chair at Asbury
College this fall semester. Our regular department chair is in China for
the semester, but I'll gladly return the title to him when he comes
back. During the year, we will be preparing 50+ of our students to work
in broadcast-related positions at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. At
this point, I am scheduled to work in one of the positions as well.
I would again like to thank many of you for your encouraging notes
during the year. I look forward to reading what others are doing as
On Thursday, April 26, I dug up the $100. [See my October blog entry for an explanation of why it was necessary to access an earthen vault to retrieve the money.]
I considered claiming the funds somewhat earlier, but during the winter some fire ants built a mound atop the burial spot, and I had to wait for the poison bait I sprinkled to bring an end to their hellish activity.
Then we had snow on Easter morning.
This is not what the Easter Bunny normally brings to West Texas. It was still too cold to motivate myself to go outside and dig for dollars. Finally, spring arrived for real. The flowers in the garden where I’d placed the money back in the dry twig days of autumn began to bloom quite nicely. No longer could I excuse further delays.
With the money now in hand, I can look back and see that I’ve learned some things during the seven months it was in the ground. Here they are in ascending order of importance.
■ When burying money, especially cash, always protect it well. The Zip-loc bag I used was a good start, but… The bag should have been put inside some kind of metal or plastic box. Something mysteriously sliced a hole in the bag (a money grubbing grub?) and water got into it. The money that emerged 210 days later was dirty and damp and spotted with mold. There is abundant biblical truth in this. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy…” Matt: 6:19. It was a good object lesson to see the money so degraded. It made me feel almost physically ill as I tried to wipe off the currency and in my mind contrasted it with the crisp bills that had gone into the bag. What had I done? I had almost wasted everything.
■ The longer your money, your gifts, your opportunities are deferred, the easier it is to forget about them. For the first few months, not a week would go by without my thinking, “The money! I need to do something about the money.” This thought irritated me. It prompted me to scan possibilities for ways to spend the funds with something akin to divine wisdom. I thought (mistakenly) that hiding the money would function like having a rock beneath my pillow. I ought not be able to ignore it if I ever wanted to get a good night’s sleep. Instead, as I should have realized, the most human thing happened: I habituated to the money’s absence. Several months into my experiment it might occasionally come to mind, and then I would realize with a start that I hadn’t thought about it in weeks and I had been sleeping very well, thank you. If this continued, I might soon forget that shallow grave altogether.
■ What you do for God isn’t nearly as important as just doing something. Most of the time I’ve been involved in this project I believed that the only form of “success” would be to spend the money on some original idea that would somehow become self-perpetuating as it inspired others to do likewise. Just as Joonna and others expressed, the last thing I wanted to do was simply hand over the money to a homeless person or donate it to a charitable cause. Truthfully, once I read their accounts on this blog, I wanted to be like Debra and Nick and Al Hsu. I wanted to generate excitement and service to others and unexpected twists in the rendition of my plan that made it even better than anything I could have strategized. However, my wishing only led to a deep-valleyed procrastination as I insisted on doing things at a particular level of attainment that I now see was all about making myself feel good and important. Of course, I planned to give God credit, but everyone else would see that He had chosen me to do this great thing and…what hogwash.
■ Working together at this awkward thing known as the “church” often means supporting others who have already stumbled upon or been granted great ideas. I now believe a worthy way to spend the stash of money would be to shamelessly copy Debra and recruit students to teach poetry to disadvantaged kids. Or I could purchase Nathan’s book as Nick did and start a book study in our adult Sunday school class. Or I could play “tag” like Al. The point is that I don’t need to come up with anything new. All I need to do is find someone else who is already doing something brave and loving that “salts” humanity in places where people need it. [See my next and final revelation.]
■ The best thing that happened to this unfaithful-by-choice servant while the money was in the ground: God made me sensitive to what His people are doing. It was remarkable how often I began hearing of good works that others had already set in motion. Each time I would think, “Maybe I should invest in that.” Then, still enslaved to the misconception that this project was entirely about my imagination, my originality, I would say, “No, just giving them money is too easy.” Here are some entities I thought about directing the money toward:
Sanctuary Home ( http://www.sanctuaryhome.org/ ) This orphanage for children abandoned on the street in India was started by Amanda and Ray, a young couple in Abilene who learned about the need through Amanda’s email exchanges with an Indian minister. They began raising money to help the orphans, relying mostly on email and word of mouth. Soon they had enough funds for a building to be acquired, and the children were brought in. These are children whose parents have died from AIDS, heat stroke, cancer, cholera, snake bite, car accident, suicide, and the tsunami. Amanda and Ray finally made a trip to India in December and were amazed to see what has come to pass in less than two years, all of it set into motion by their working from the comfort of home.
Mission Lazarus ( http://www.missionlazarus.org/ ): Several years ago a young ACU business alum went to Central America intent on taking advantage of financial opportunities there. Instead, he saw the poor of Honduras and ended up moving to a small village there and putting all that he had into a place that serves mountain people by providing medical care and sustainable agriculture opportunities. As for his high powered business degree that was going to make him a bundle, he’s using that expertise to become a formidable fundraiser on the behalf of the Hondurans.
Dry Bones ( http://www.drybonesdenver.org/ ): This is a ministry to kids living on the streets of Denver. Some are runaways, some are homeless. Several of my students have worked with these kids during the summer and plan to return.
Eternal Threads ( http://www.eternalthreads.org/ ): This organization was started by a woman in Abilene who retired from being a flight attendant on international flights. Using her lifetime flight privileges, Linda Egle has been able to travel frequently to India and organize the importing of totes and lace crafted by village women. These attractive and useful goods are sold at church bazaars and fundraisers. The money raised is 100% returned to the women who use it to send their daughters to school. Without this ministry, most of these girls would become child brides in exchange for the dowry the poor family would receive. Some would be forced into child labor. Others would become prostitutes.
In addition… During these seven months, I also heard about 1) a woman at church whose house was burned down in a suspected case of arson by her husband and his girl friend; people at church were helping her, including offering her employment as a house cleaner; 2) wife met (and tried to help by offering rides) an immigrant family from Sierra Leone who came to Abilene to escape civil war; and 3) my eight-year-old told me about a family his class “adopted” for Christmas who had lost all that they owned in a fire.
Again, being among the dullest of the dull, it took all of the above to help me understand that there’s no need for me to start something grand from scratch with some kind of elaborate plan or hope to make it grow. There are people right in front of me that I can help out of my surplus which (if I’m honest about it) goes well beyond the $100 involved in this experiment.
This project has made me aware of how much I tend to err on the side of caution. If I don’t know what to do in life, then I “play it safe” (a misnomer if there ever was one), and do nothing. I don’t think God ever plays it safe. Safety is not the issue because whatever mistakes occur in the process of leaping into action can always be compensated for or corrected in some new dynamically divine fashion (case study: the Apostle Peter). The only thing that can’t be redeemed is stasis. It remains what it is. To be inert is to be dead to life and to the God who gives life.
So I’m going to take this money—plus more that I have in savings—and offer it to Sanctuary Home and a couple of students who are going to work with Dry Bones and two others who are going on an Intervarsity trip to work with the poor in India this summer.
Hi, everybody. In honor of the roughly one year anniversary of when we received our invitations to the seminar, I have a request for you. Last summer the seminar occurred right before I started several months of preaching at my church as a sabbatical replacement. The readings that we did were extremely helpful and made their way into my sermons in several different ways.
We're in a pastoral transition now and I'm about to start an eight month stretch of preaching and I could use some fuel! So I wonder ... if you were to put together a list of Really Important and Provocative Books about the Christian Faith, what would be on it? What would be 1-5 books that you have found most influential/interesting/creative/entertaining? And a sentence or two about why? I don't want to define this too narrowly. I would not want to exclude, say, a biography about someone who was not particularly religious and yet whose story says something profound about the human condition. The same for fiction.
The Old Testament lectionary passages, to which I usually gravitate, are almost all drawn from the prophets, especially Jeremiah. The Gospel texts are from Luke, and the Epistles cover Colossians, Philemon, Timothy and Thessalonians. But I can find the commentaries.
What do you think?
Type the rest of your post here.
One of my colleagues, a blogger whom I tagged with the $100 idea, just stopped by my office. He showed me an anonymous letter that he had just received that said, "TAG! You're it!" Along with a $100 bill. So he's going to use it for the food pantry he blogged about.
I am very encouraged. God is multiplying our efforts.
This is a question I have for Joonna, but you're all welcome to listen in. My family and I have been speculating furiously about the next Harry Potter book, due out on a yet-to-be-announced date that is by definition far too long in the future.
Since we've been talking so much lately about what we think will happen in Book 7, I went back to look at some notes we took during the summer of 2005 when some seminary friends (including our own dear Jana) got together and we had a private symposium on HP. (To read those speculations, go here and scroll down to the post dated Sept. 5, 2005.)
So, Joonna, here's my question: Do you agree with Jana, who believes that the Malfoys are vampires??
All of you brilliant minds are free to comment on our speculations, some of which have already, I'm sorry to say, been declared false by J. K. Rowling in other venues.
Type the rest of your post here.
I'm either doing much less or much more than I planned.
Instead of $100, I'll be spending (approximately) $847.63 on my new "project": My wife Andrea and are expecting a baby, our first child, in June! (The 847.63 figure was at one point the supposed average cost per month of raising a child, and so that's what flashes on the cash register in the Simpsons introduction when Maggie is accidentally scanned; see www.snpp.com/other/papers/gs.paper.html). Call that a cop-out (am I "burying" my $100?), but soon I'll be too sleepy to argue with you.
I was tempted to symbolically put some money toward a writing- or reading-related investment for my child: maybe a complete set of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or John Calvin's Institutes, or at least the Berenstein Bears. But I think I've already learned something from this pregnancy (or maybe I've just learned it from Debra's marvelous book, Great With Child, which has taught me much recently): writing, as a vocation, is secondary to living life itself.
For a while now, I've thought of myself as a writer first and everything else second. (Not necessarily in time and priorities, but in my identity--how I see myself.) I need to do something I've never dreamed of for the last 10 years -- be something else first, and a writer second. Of course, you can never shed the latter, and of course I'll keep writing, and of course if I don't write something about the child (especially about language) I'll feel incomplete. But this child needs me first as a father and only second as a writer; it needs me to approach its crib not with a project, but with the provision of its most basic human needs. My Plan B 'project,' accordingly, reflects a slight reshuffling of my ambitions.
However, I would really like for someone to steal my original idea: take a homeless person to a five-star restaurant. And then write a reflection on FEASTING. What does this feast mean to this person? How *impractical* is it to spend $100 this way, instead of donating it to a soup kitchen? What virtue or vice is there in our notions of what's *practical* in this case (teach someone to fish...) ? What does the Wedding at Cana tell us about Christ's lordship over feasting? (see this sermon MP3) (One person I mentioned this idea to asked if it was nutritionally OK for a homeless person to eat such rich food--I don't know!). Insert references to "beggar's feast," "Babette's Feast," and (careful of any messianic overtones) the extravagant perfume being 'wasted' on Jesus' feet. I really wanted to do this, but right ! now the only food cravings I'm attending to are my wife's. So I'd love to see someone pick it up and run with it.
I'm also delighted to see how Al Hsu's blog is spreading the $100 idea!
And finally, I can't even begin to say how humbled I am by Nick's post and project, and how determined I am to get to Toronto before the baby is born.
It was good to see a few of you at Symposium, and the rest of you remain in my thoughts and prayers.
“Buy Bierma’s book. I’ll even pay for it if you’d like.”
That, in essence, is what I did with my 100 bucks. Almost my entire congregation therefore decided to buy and read the new 2005 book, Bringing Heaven Down to Earth: Connecting This Life to the Next, and there was also widespread impact outside the immediate community.
If you like short stories, you can quit now...
However, the longer tale is actually even more interesting.
The author of the revolutionary approach to the upper realms had kindly volunteered, at the conclusion of a 2-week course we both participated in, to come to Toronto some far off day in the future and speak to any people in my congregation who would read his new tome.
My initial reaction was timid and cheap. I immediately worried about how my church could possibly pay for mileage from Grand Rapids to Toronto, for example. Or would there be a speaker’s fee? My congregation is small, about 100 regular worshipers. I did not spontaneously and enthusiastically appreciate the depths of Nathan’s generosity. I was like people often used to say of my dad: “He always sees bears on the road.” We do revert to form, don’t we? A counselor once said to me “The apple never falls too far from the tree.”
Anyways, eventually I said “Sure, I’ll see what I can do to get people interested in your book.” (I had not read it yet. Poor Nathan – I sure took the fun out of his unguarded initiative!)
When I got home I read the book and found it scintillating and insightful, and also formative for world-view. Like an Emily Dickinson poem, it could literally change your general approach to life. I felt it was extremely worthwhile and well-written. I even quoted it at length in a sermon soon afterwards (something about the environment, if I recall correctly).
I had told my congregation that I was going to receive 100 free dollars from my course sponsor to randomly dispense with as I chose. “Does anyone have suggestions?” There was a bit of buzz about this, but not many ideas were generated. Eventually I decided to use my pot to subsidize the purchase of Nathan’s book for any congregant who desired help. Subsidies large and small would be completely confidential, I declared. This monetary backing had the consequence, which I had not fully anticipated, that it magnified in people’s minds the extent to which I was enthusiastic about the book. “Look at that, he’s even throwing money at it.” Even though I stressed it was not actually my own money!
Then, alas, I received the discouraging news that we actually would not be receiving one hundred dollars after all! I contemplated sabotaging the very doctrine of heaven, but decided against that alternative.
Instead I determined, along with my 16 colleagues in the course who were all pursuing projects of their own, to put my own personal money into the equation and replace my lost loot. It was also, in my unique career situation, pastorally important that I not reveal to my congregation that the money supporting my cause was now actually coming out of my own pocket. I felt that this revelation would corrupt the pastor/parishioner relationship and confuse all the normal parish dynamics. People might feel sorry for me. People might feel I was overinvested in an idea. People might worry that Nathan had bribed me to be his publicist. Whatever. I decided that true giving meant just keeping my mouth shut and supporting the project unselfishly. Like many of my classmates, I also seemed to have a sudden miraculous influx of one hundred dollars in my life, due to some ridiculous coincidence (in my case, a publisher remorsefully paid for an article they had posted on a website without my permission). So I genuinely didn’t care about the money. I kept up the pretense that I had been deluged with an unexpected handout.
Lo and behold, 42 people proceeded to order the book!! In such a small place, when you consider multiple readers and extended families, etc., that is basically the whole church. (“Who’s all on your list? O, I see my dad already ordered one, I’ll just read his, thanx”).
It took a long time for all the books to come dribbling in. They arrived at the massive bookstore two or three at a time, because they had to be requisitioned from remote warehouses all over North America. (“It is probably not a very common item” said the bookstore dealer to me with a tinge of embarrassment.) Eventually they got to know me in person, since I was constantly coming back to pick up a few more copies. They were leaving messages on my voice mail and eventually my email. This huge bookstore at a major Toronto intersection now knows the pastor from the church six blocks away. They also suspect his church is a cult that is very interested in heaven, but the pastor swears the book is not what you would think! I encouraged all the sales clerks to read it.
Because I ordered such a large quantity, and because I have a membership card at this store, I got a big reduction in price and cheap shipping. I put it all on my credit card, $647.64, achieving extra Air Mile points as well. (I deserve to keep that perk, I figured.) The final result was $15.20 Canadian per book. I did not feel like fooling around with quarters, dimes, or nickels, so I told my church “Pay me either 15 dollars, 16 dollars, or 20 dollars.” (Sixteen works in Canada because we have “toonies”, which are two-dollar coins.)
Many people paid 20. They wanted to be as nice and carefree as I seemed to be. There were also various people who quietly asked for diverse subsidies, including the total price. (I did not relate any personal disclosures even to the Deacons!)
Honestly? I don’t think I lost a single penny out of my 100 dollar investment.
I have scribbled messy lists all over the place, who paid what-when-where, but I have no desire to total everything up or collate my lists.
I’m a big picture person. I don’t care about details. I’m not like my dad, who always used to see bears on the road.
I used the constant flow of cash as a riotous petty fund. It was really cool to not withdraw any money from the bank for a long time. I paid off the credit card bill like I always do every month (my dad taught me that), and I stopped withdrawing cash. I think I got ahead, actually.
People are still coming up to me and saying “I don’t think I paid you yet”. I am too lazy to confirm. I think some people have paid me twice. (“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, declares the Lord.”)
I think that sometimes husbands and wives paid without knowing their partner had already coughed up. I could double-check that, but I prefer to store it as a mental pastoral note. (Visit them some day. Their communication may be off. Vice-versa, they may be really happy and not care too much about details.)
>A long-range benefit is that the congregation has discovered that it likes the idea of book-clubs. We might form a few of those. We might even invite the authors sometimes. Maybe we can even do something for the mileage. A lot of authors live right in Toronto.
Another long-range benefit is that friends and relatives from other cities have now read the book because my parishioners are excited by the practical insights and invigorating perspectives offered by the book. Readers have resonated with the ideas of hope, glory, earthiness, affirmation of urbanity, a cosmic sense of redemption, and many other features. One elderly relative far away, recently bereaved, reportedly was disappointed when she was about half way through because she was only looking for a comforting answer to one single question: Where’s my husband? Nathan writes about that very pastorally after page 122, so she must not have arrived at that section yet, which deals wisely with what theologians have often called “the intermediate state”.
A few visitors who ordered the book have not returned to church in the past four months and have left no contact information. I explained to my council: They may have gone to heaven.
One member of the church told me that an atheist friend of his had read the book because of all the excitement that had been stirred up in our church. Perhaps the visitors who have disappeared from our radar screen will meet the atheist in Moses’ library some day.
Lay up For Yourselves Treasures in Heaven.
I am having only one problem. Nathan hasn’t given me a date yet. He seems very vague about the particulars. Perhaps he is not coming at all. Perhaps it was a scam. More and more parishioners are asking me, “When he is coming?” I tell them honestly, “I don’t know.” I am concerned about the delay of the parousia. Maranatha, “come, dear Nathan.”
I just found out that several other blogs picked up on my blog's invitation to join us in the $100 project. The Point, which is Prison Fellowship's blog for BreakPoint, calls it "The $100 Challenge": http://thepoint.breakpoint.org/2007/01/the_100_challen.html
and then Boundless Line, the blog for Focus on the Family's Boundless.org site, picked up on The Point's post with this one, "The $100 Experiment": http://www.boundlessline.org/2007/01/the_100_experim.html
Pretty wild. And each of these have spurred on further links and blogs with
people's ideas and suggestions.
Al (Haley), look what you started!
I should be working on my book chapter that has to be mailed to France on the 31st. But I don't wanna. Instead, I curled up and finished reading Al Haley's book Exotic. In the spirit of his review of Anita's book, here's some comments on Exotic.
It is one of the most surprising novels I've ever encountered. I especially enjoyed the pic of Al on the back inside cover--he's still our Al, but young, a full head of sandyish straight hair (sorry Al), and best of all--attitude. I love that picture.
Written in the early 80s, the novel is full of echoes and gems that recall the 70s to me--that time of hope, despair, love, hate, honesty, deceit, and a host of other contradictory emotions. The main characters of the book have little to identity with or even like, but I do. Like them, I mean. Butch and Rebecca Miller have few aspirations and many fears to match their primo educational opportunities. But they learn to lean on each other, to love each other, to enlarge their sympathies. Tresh, the sneaky and brilliant drifter who rarely thinks of anyone but himself is also compelling. And the Christian themes and ideas are as sneaky as Tresh himself, but they are there to help the reader make sense of the tumbling plot.
Al's descriptions are really vivid. After reading of a huge crowd gathered to listen to rock and roll, I left the book hot and sweaty, feeling as if I had been fondled and stomped by thousands. After reading of a journey through a dense jungle, I realized that the very tactile experience had again left its impression on me.
There's a scene in the book toward the end in which Butch begins to imagine what he wants to do when he gets out of the jungle and back home. He imagines giving a lecture tour with photos about "The Human-Rights problem in Manaya: A Personal Odyssey." But in his imaginings, he never thinks of the people and helping them,;it's rather about self marketing, appearing in People Magazine, movies, etc. This scene for me encapsulates what makes this book fun and rewarding intellectually. Gradually, the sad human condition of the oppressed and poor is revealed through this book, and gradually the reader realizes that Butch's attitude of indifference or exploitation is our attitude. We'll leave the book, put it down, and go about living in our little Christian world contributing to the devastation of others, all the while we live fairly well. The dedication of the book is to "everyone who visits Manaya this year." Everyone who visits the "Christian" country of Manaya would be anyone off on a self-serving trip or journey (even in the mind) who is oblivious to all the atrocities around them. Hopefully, the visit to Manaya will help wake us all up. But my guess is that we'll just "sleep on it" as Rebecca and Butch do in the epilog.
I won't soon forget this book, nor should I. Thanks Al. I'm so happy that this novel is now a part of me.
Labels: Readings and comments
I was inspired by Deb's post to blog about her experience, and as I did so, I realized that one way I can multiply the effect of my $100 is to invite my blog readers to do the same thing and join us in our $100 project. Here's an excerpt from my post:
I'm very impressed with how concrete Deb's project was and the potential impact on young students. I still remember my first published work as a first-grader that appeared in my school district's "literary magazine," a poem that read, "Red is fire. Red is chalk. Red is like a finger talk." This was then followed by my third-grade contribution, when I was aspiring to be an astronaut:
In the solar system there are nineOf course, now Pluto is being demoted from planethood and other objects are now understood to be part of our system . . . but I find it significant that I still remember these poems, and somehow I've followed my vocational calling into Christian publishing. Anyway, kudos to Deb and her Calvin students for their initiative, and I hope they continue the effort in the future! And I'm still looking for something creative and missional to do with my $100. Any more ideas out there?
Planets born at the same time.
Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars,
Jupiter, Saturn, still far from the stars.
Uranus, Neptune, Pluto is last,
These are the planets, moving fast.
Actually, would anybody else be interested in doing this along with me? I was realizing that one simple way that many of the people at Stacey's church multiplied their money was to enlist friends and family members to join them in their effort. I didn't offer an invitation on my last post about this, so let me do that here, with every eye closed, every head bowed - if you, dear blog reader, feel the call of the Holy Spirit to use $100 strategically and intentionally for the sake of the kingdom, take the plunge and join the movement! Take this up as a new year's resolution or challenge. Let me know that you're going to do something along these lines in the next six months or so, and blog about it on your own blog. And invite others to do the same. Let's see what happens!
I'm deliberately hitting "reply all" as I want to go on record with everyone sitting around our virtual seminar table.
I think what you and your students did with the $100 is truly inspiring. It's exactly in the spirit of our two weeks this summer -- it was creative, it was faithful, it brought people together. It even involved a bit of risk taking.
Those poem excerpts! My compliments to the young poets.
Creating a printed booklet of the poems was the perfect conclusion to the project. For the kids to go home from school and show their parents or caretakers something they're proud of doing can't be beat. And years from now those kids will be adults and perhaps they'll find their work in a box in an attic, their first "publication", and who knows...?
I've lived with my hole in the ground long enough. Since it so happens, I'm teaching a "Christians and Creativity" course, I'm going to take advantage and try to make a comeback from my own four-month failure of the imagination. Our first class meeting is tomorrow and guess what homework assignment no. 1 is? Figure out something for your poor ol' prof to do with his buried money. Maybe one lesson we're learning from this project is that we don't have to generate ideas all by ourselves. We shall see.
Thanks again for the blog post and the shot of encouragement - al
PS: I like the idea of making the blog "open".
Hi, everybody. Hope you are all surviving the end of the year rush in church or academia or whatever. It's been a busy semester for me and I still haven't figured out the blog thing so I'm sending it this way and my apologies for some of you who may get multiple copies. Not much computer savvy in my brain. IF you are interested and need some extra reading material (HAH) my sermons from this fall are on the church website. www.hopechurchrca.org Click on worship services and sermons and scroll down to Aug-Nov 2006. Sermons feel flatter in print than in delivery (at least I hope they are better delivered!) but just wanted to prove to Debra and the money givers that I did something useful out of the seminar. :)
Merry Christmas to everybody ...
That's one of the wilder poetic lines my hundred dollars produced.
Here's what I did: I obliged my class of poetry-writing students to come up with an idea for how to spend the money. The first suggestions pretty much missed the spirit of the deal: "Let's throw the money at a homeless person. The sheer waste of it would be so poignant." "Let's build a zipline on campus." That's about when I shut down the class discussion and asked people to think about it and e-mail me later.
The next week, two women in the class independently came up with the same idea: to do a poetry workshop at a local elementary school. Now THAT, I thought, could be good.
So I worked with the Service-Learning Center at Calvin and contacted a teacher at the Montessori public school downtown: multi-ethnic student body, good share of at-risk kids, lower socio-economic profile, and not much funding for the arts. My students and I visited the school for two one-hour sessions on separate days. Each of my students worked with two or three fifth-graders. We had lesson plans and everything. After the two sessions, we took the "manuscripts" back to Calvin and turned them into a pretty nifty chapbook. We used the hundred bucks to make plenty of copies for everyone. The copy bill came to $106.25.
When I brought the books to the teachers, they were so entirely thrilled. I suggested that we have a "coffee house" day so the kids could perform their poems for each other, and the teachers loved the idea. They're planning the event for later this month. They're inviting parents, serving cocoa and cookies, asking everyone to wear black turtlenecks and berets.
Honestly, I'm amazed how well this all turned out. My students went into it rather reluctantly. They were scared and uncomfortable, and ever so slightly resentful that I was requiring this of them. I worried too: what if this is all a disaster and my students decide it was a waste of time? And am I really doing service here? Or am I making my students do it, using them as a buffer between me and my own fears?
As it turned out, I did wind up working with the kids myself as one of my students couldn't make it one of the days. And I had a good time. My students did, too. Some of them wound up loving it. Others didn't like it, but had to admit that it was a good thing. Not every fifth grader was into it, but overall they did great. In the end, they just wanted us all to come back again.
Meanwhile, the teachers are so proud and pleased they can't stop thanking me.
So all in all, I'm just humbled. What we did was not that big a deal, but we made a little difference. Maybe, for some kids, an important little difference. Everyone--me and my students and the kids-- came out of this with a new (or renewed) sense that being able to say something in poetry is a kind of power, and that feels good.
I could have done all this without the money. And I probably will do it again, and nag my colleagues to do it, too. But the money got me to bug my students, and they got an idea, and that got us all moving. Spending the money to actually create the books was a smart decision, I'm glad to say. Having something to hold and show others makes it REAL. All of you know the sly pleasure of seeing your words in print.
Here are a couple of the poems I especially liked from our "collection."
Dear Mr. President
by Shanice Alexandra Steele
Dear Mr. President, I have to talk to you.
Dear Mr. President, why can't kids drive?
Dear Mr. President, why can't I go to the stars?
Dear Mr. President, when I get into office I will rule the world.
Dear Mr. President, soon it will be Mrs. President.
Dear Mr. President, can I get a call?
Halla, Mr. President, Halla to all.
(3 weeks later)
Dear Mr. President, why didn't you write me back?
by Jayla Cage
Talent w/o singing
A party w/o dancing
School w/o teachers
Music w/o singers
Boys w/o girls
Hair w/o curls
Soap w/o dove
A heart w/o love
Okay. So I posted recently about how pleased I was about the use of my hundred bucks. Today as I prepare the financial report for the organization I donated to, I feel like I copped out. You know? So here was this new organization that I cared about without any funds--it seemed right. But, now, I think it seemed easy.
Now as colleges are sending us memberships and we have a thousand bucks in the bank, I am thinking I took the easy way out. I didn't do "the assignment." Why didn't I send the money to my students in far away lands who are always writing for extra money? Why didn't I give it to my colleague who struggles to make it on one salary? Why didn't I donate it to our food bank? Why didn't I take it to New York with me and give it to a beggar?
Is this the way it always goes? Do we always second guess ourselves and find ourselves unworthy?
But honestly, my hundred bucks isn't going to make any big deal to this organization. Why didn't I buy a bunch of songbooks so that I could host acapella singings at my house? Why not donate it to the barbershop chorus I'm in--we are strapped for funds, and we do lots of good things in the community. Arghghghghghg!
Why do I suddenly feel like Charlie Brown. Why is the Christmas tree I always buy such a runt?
I'll be eager to here what everyone else is up to. I wish this had an alert function so that people would know that someone posted......
Why am I so whiny? Is it because school begins in 4 days?
By the way, I'm reading Al Haley's book Exotic and loving it. Interesting novel so far. I'll write more later when I'm finished.