What to expect at MSU this fall

Masks, social distancing, and a lot of encouragement to keep yourself and others safe are all part of what we can expect as we move back to campus in a little over a month.

MSU has put together a compact that they are asking all those who are part of the MSU community to agree to. It begins with the acknowledgement that, “In return for being part of the MSU community, by this Compact, I am taking personal responsibility in order to protect the health and safety of myself and others.” Furthermore, “I acknowledge the risks of COVID-19 and returning to campus, and I acknowledge that I will do my part to protect myself and others.”

Playing our part means wearing masks, both inside and outside, physical distancing, self-monitoring for symptoms, and practicing extra hygiene and healthy safety measures. Further details on what exactly that all means are found online as part of the MSU Initiative of ‘Together We Will’ and ‘Keeping Spartans safe.’

Please pray for all those affected by the university’s plans for the fall:

  • Students who are making decisions of whether they will be coming back to campus or learning remotely (if that’s even possible – and if not how to do so in a way that’s best);
  • Administrators making decisions about what is good for as many people as possible
  • Professors pondering how best to teach – online, in-person, and everything in between;
  • All of us anxious about the well-being of everyone in the MSU community, whether that be physical or mental health, or even managing the challenges of so much uncertainty.
  • All those of us who minister to and encourage those at the university.

Providing meaning in the classroom

A recent article about an MSU professor, Lorelei Blackburn, presents a great picture of how a professor helped students see, in a very practical way, why what they were learning and doing matters. As the article notes,

“From the first day of class, Blackburn emphasized the world-changing potential of rhetoric and writing. She informed students they would be collaborating directly with local and national nonprofits, and applying rhetorical practices and analysis that could help organizations achieve their missions. Even more, she set the tone by running her class like a professional creative agency, allowing students to make choices, work in teams, and interact with clients through student liaisons.”

I’m thankful for the work that Lorelei does (and her connections to Campus Edge).

Anticipating a challenging fall

There remains a lot of uncertainty about the coming fall semester: the only certainty seems to be a consensus that it will be challenging. To get a sense of what fall might look like, I encourage you to read the communication(s) from MSU as well as to check out several Inside Higher Education articles that envision what an average day in the life of an undergraduate student might look like as well as for a faculty member.

If you’d like a slightly different experience for envisioning what the fall might look like, a graduate student, Cait S Birby, simulated several scenarios for what the fall might look like for people who are often marginalized: people who have disabilities, live with people with significant health challenges, and/or identify as LGBTQ. There is both a scenario for an undergraduate student, faculty, and graduate student. The scenarios give a sense of how overwhelming being on campus might be this fall.

This past Monday we hosted our first hybrid study – some of us were at the house while others joined the study online. While it was very good to chat with folks outside the house after we finished, the study itself was disappointing. It took us an extra 15 minutes to set up, as the original plan of being outside didn’t work. We then set up a computer attached to the television, which meant that those of us at the house no longer had access to communal chat. Because of social distancing, all (4) of us in the house were seated far from the computer microphone and not all of us could be seen by those online. With the added challenges of wearing masks, it was hard for those online to hear us. The need to speak unnaturally loud, the sense that those online were not hearing us well and that those in the house were not as easily able to participate, plus the seating arrangement that felt less conducive to building community, all of these things contributed to making it disappointing.

Even as I was disappointed in the study, I was very glad to have tried it. Next week, we will try again – and hopefully work out some of the difficulties so that we know how and if hybrid studies can work for us before school starts in the fall. Most importantly, seeing the challenges that we as a small group faced in trying a hybrid study, I became more aware of how hard the fall will be for all those trying to meet in person.

Please pray for all those who are now making plans and working through the challenges to allow people to meet in a way that is most conducive to learning while also taking into account each other’s safety and well-being.

Added August 4, 2020: For another perspective on the challenges in teaching online and in-person, see this article from Inside Higher Ed.

Uncertainty for International students

On Monday, the ICE announced that, despite the current pandemic, international students would not receive a visa if their programs/colleges had primarily online-only instruction. This announcement is causing a lot of stress and uncertainty for international students and the universities themselves.

With this new ruling, students do not know if they can finish their programs or if they can even start a program and enter the country. Students are not sure if staying where they are means they might risk being deported, irrelevant of whether they have a lease for the coming year, whether they can even travel back to their home country, or whether it’s logistically feasible to attend online classes in a significantly different time zone. On top of this, this ruling is one more factor affecting the decision universities need to make regarding opening up their campuses. Universities are now forced to temper their decisions about what might be the safest for all involved with what possibilities might allow international students to remain at their institution. Losing these students would be hard for the individual students themselves but the university would also feel a significant loss, as international students contribute significantly to the university, including financially.

Please pray for the students and all of the administrators who have been impacted by this decision.

For more information on this situation, a recent article in Inside Higher Education outlines some of the key concerns of this announcement.

Update: 27 July 2020: While it thankfully looks like things have changed so that this ruling no longer applies to international students who are already in the United States, it does still apply to incoming international students. For more information, see this article from Inside Higher Education.

Prayer for MSU, universities, and the world

MSU stopped in-person classes yesterday, has been encouraging students to leave campus and return to their permanent residence, and has been cancelling gatherings of large groups of people. Most of us are a bit overwhelmed and still processing the concrete implications of this for our lives, while also being uncertain of what will happen in the next few weeks.

In thankfulness for and solidarity with the prayers that people are already offering throughout the world and in response to everything related to the coronavirus, I lift up this prayer:

Almighty God, we pray

  • ​For those who are sick. That they might have knowledge of their illness, courage in isolation, healing, and the means to limit the spread of the disease.
  • that you might sovereignly move in mercy to spare lives. May there be effective measures to limit the virus’s spread, the quick development of a vaccine, and may You guard against mutations.
  • For wisdom for leaders on our campus and throughout the country and world. May all those who are responsible for cancelling events and/or closing schools, at any level, have the courage and strength and help in making hard decisions requiring much wisdom.
  • For Christians to walk in tangible faith and love, and be ready to share the good news of hope. For wisdom for faith communities as they know how best to respond and take care of people’s physical and emotional well-being.
  • For a spiritual hunger, especially among those who do not know Jesus, during this time of social distance (and Your hand in guiding people and resources to them).
  • For the vulnerable elderly, due to both the danger of the virus itself and the isolation they must endure.
  • For all those in health care and research of disease, that they might have strength and wisdom. May they stay healthy.
  • For those whose livelihoods are significantly affected, especially those in hospitality, the travel industry, and retail, where they bear some of the brunt of people’s anxiety.
  • For professors (and staff and students) who are facing the daunting challenge of switching their classes online.
  • For students whose lives and plans have been disrupted, especially ​those who will face difficulties in finishing their programs (e.g., because of cancelled recitals/shows) and ​seniors whose in-person college experience has suddenly and unexpectedly ended. We pray especially for students with complicated living and food situations or for whom it is unsafe to ‘go home.’
  • For those who are no longer able to travel to check out grad programs or interview for a job; and the departments/programs as they find creative solutions to people not being able to travel;
  • For those who have cancelled their trips, whether conferences or holidays. ​
  • For those who are currently in a country that is not their home and unsure of where they ought to be.​
  • For those facing social isolation: we pray especially that families might grow through more time together and that there might be creative ways of helping those living alone deal with loneliness.
  • For those facing discrimination as people take out their anxiety about possibly becoming sick.
  • For those with unexpected time on their hands (especially those who were expecting to watch sports or travel), that they might use the time to be creative and to rest.
  • For children and parents, and all living in close quarters, that we might have extra grace for each other, and appreciate and love each other.

With thanks to Chris Ahlin (who helps lead the MSU faculty and staff prayer gathering), for many of the words above.

Justice, Forgiveness, Restoration, and Truth-telling

This past year, we’ve spent some time talking about justice and forgiveness. The Bible shows that God loves justice (Isaiah 61:8; 16:7-8) and that Christians ought to forgive (Colossians 3:13). Yet, how forgiveness and justice relate to each other is not always obvious, as too often people (including and especially Christians) understand justice as an unnecessary part of forgiveness.

However, Rachael DenHollander, wisely argues that forgiveness that ignores justice denies who God is (and denies a bit of our worth as human beings, especially as people against whom injustice has happened). In an interview with Christianity Today, DenHollander, notes:

“I worked to get to a place where I could trust in God’s justice and call evil what it was, because God is good and holy. One of the areas where Christians don’t do well is in acknowledging the devastation of the wound. We can tend to gloss over the devastation of any kind of suffering but especially sexual assault, with Christian platitudes like God works all things together for good or God is sovereign. Those are very good and glorious biblical truths, but when they are misapplied in a way to dampen the horror of evil, they ultimately dampen the goodness of God. Goodness and darkness exist as opposites. If we pretend that the darkness isn’t dark, it dampens the beauty of the light.”

I agree with DenHollander that acknowledging injustice is an important part of recognizing who God is and how things ought to be. It is only in recognizing that God loves justice that we can truly forgive. When DenHollander speaks of forgiving Larry Nassar, she says:

“It means that I trust in God’s justice and I release bitterness and anger and a desire for personal vengeance. It does not mean that I minimize or mitigate or excuse what he has done. It does not mean that I pursue justice on earth any less zealously. It simply means that I release personal vengeance against him, and I trust God’s justice, whether he chooses to mete that out purely eternally, or both in heaven and on earth.”

Perhaps another way of looking at justice and forgiveness is through the lens of restoration and/or truth-telling. Both justice and forgiveness are about restoring the wrongs that have been done, especially in terms of restoring relationships between humans and in relationship to God. Truth-telling is about acknowledging that it was truly evil; forgiveness can’t exist outside of that acknowledgement. Nor can any restoration of relationship happen without acknowledging that something truly horribly happened (that deserves punishment.) Or as DenHollander puts it,

“It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church. Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.Obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.”

To hear more about Rachael DenHollander’s understanding of justice and forgiveness, you can watch her presentation at Calvin College’s January Series in January 2019. You can start at minute 6 if you’d like to skip the part of how she met her husband.

May report from Campus Edge Board

Dear friends,

As this academic year ends, and we on the Campus Edge board begin to look to the coming year, there are good reasons to be enthusiastic. Brenda has gotten more closely involved with a group of Christian faculty on campus, helping to coordinate their monthly prayer meetings and forming connections that should help Campus Edge in pursuing its mission. She has also begun to brainstorm with the student leadership team about ways to work with other churches and campus ministries to enhance the shared mission of Christian outreach to the graduate and professional students of MSU.

We feel very fortunate in particular to have Hannah Lee joining Campus Edge as the new assistant Pastor. Hannah is impressively well qualified for the job, with an M.Div. from Calvin Theological Seminary and experience in several types of ministry work, including Campus Ministry.

Also encouraging as we look to the future is the success of our Spring Fundraiser, “An Evening of Gospel.” The event featured a program of Gospel and folk music, made possible by several members of River Terrace Church who generously contributed their musical gifts. It also provided an opportunity to spread the word about the mission and the activities of Campus Edge Fellowship. Those who came enjoyed the music, and also gave generously to the ministry. We are very thankful for that, and I am thankful for the considerable labor donated by my fellow board members to make the event come off as well as it did.

Jeff Biddle, Campus Edge Fellowship Board President

Hoping for Change at MSU

Satish Udpa, the new interim president at Michigan State, apologized to survivors at a recent MSU board meeting. Upda spoke the following “on behalf of the university I love, as acting president and an executive officer, and as a former dean and faculty member:”

“I am sorry you were subjected to the pain and humiliation of sexual assault by somebody you should have been able to trust. We failed to comprehend and acknowledge your injuries. We were too slow to grasp the scope and enormity of the offense you endured. And we failed to treat you with the respect and care you deserved even as we sought to make amends.

Upda committed to “listen more closely, ask more caring questions and act more thoughtfully as all of us work to advance the culture of this campus to one focused first on safety and respect.”

I pray that all of us connected to MSU might have the courage and strength to indeed make it a place where people are listened to and cared for.