Update from Karin Boonstra

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.



Nick's update...

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



$100 project update: Final report

[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?



Al's 8-8-07 Post cont...

The face of racisim, Sept. 27, 1962, Oxford, Mississippi

More on Paul Hendrickson

When he's at ACU (see my previous post), Paul Hendrickson will speak about his book that won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2000, Sons of Mississippi. In this book he delved into the lives of seven Southern sheriffs who were shown in a famous Life magazine photo gathered around one of their number who gestured with a billy club. The shot was taken the day before James Meredith with federal protection enrolled at Ole Miss in 1962.

This book is a beautifully written extended meditation on the photo, fleshed out with research. You can read it for the quality of the prose alone. Yet it is the story that matters as Hendrickson travels through Mississippi on a mission to find out what's changed and what's not changed between the races. It's in part the story of civil rights told from the oppressor's side, as appalling as that is at times. What comes through again and again is that evil is never total darkness through and through, nor is it walking around sprouting horns from its head. Evil actually goes to church and takes care of town widows (white ones) and bails people out of debt (fellow whites) and is well thought of in the community (white). Evil is a part-time profession that has full-time effects and, more than ever, I think any one of us but by the grace of God could be engaged in it.


Well, I've been a blog hog, so let me duck out of here before I take up more time and space. I do look forward to reading about the experiences the rest of you have been having (new baby! Flannery O'Connor's old home! cancer free!). This is fine stuff that's been posted so far and I look forward to more to come...



Catching a Breath, Catching Up

"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…

to be continued...



Joonna's update after one year

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.




As of August ...

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.



news from Doug Walker

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

Doug Walker