Lenten Reflections – Ash Wednesday

Scripture: Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning God created…” is one of the best opening lines ever written. It sets up our understanding of the world, and our understanding of God. In other religions the origins of the world are often described as violent, brutal, and focused on the anger or the desire of the gods. The Judeo-Christian story is different. The epic hymn in chapter one of Genesis celebrates a God who cares deeply about the world and everything in it. It celebrates a God who speaks life into every aspect of creation and calls it “good.” 

On the first day of creation God created light and dark, day and night. Through that act God set in place a rhythm for our lives. It’s a rhythm that all of creation experiences along with us; periods of activity and sleep, of work and rest. As we approach this next week, think about the ways God has created rhythms in your life that sustain you and help you flourish. 

Remember also that God created us from dust taken from the earth, breathed life into us and placed us in this world. We are connected to it and part of it. We are a part of God’s good and incredible creation.

Suggested action: Make this week a special focus on learning more about the world around you. Find out what watershed you live in. Go for a walk and see how many different birds and trees you can identify. Watch an environmental documentary or read a book or article about creation care.  Visit the Climate Caretakers Resources page for some book and movie recommendations: https://climatecaretakers.org/resources.

Suggested resources: A Netflix series, “Our Planet” https://www.netflix.com/title/80049832 , and the book “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Steven Bouma-Prediger 

Action suggestions are from: “A Fast for the Earth: Lent 2021 a resource created by The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care Diocese of Toronto”

All film suggestions are from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: Winslow Homer, “Moonlight, Wood Island Night”

Lenten Reflections

During Lent we often give up significant things to help us remember Christ’s sacrifice. This Lent we hope you’ll join us in doing more than just giving things up  – and instead choose to engage in a variety of activities and changes that will help sustain God’s good creation. Each week – starting tomorrow with Ash Wednesday – we’ll post a new scripture, reflection and suggested action on the Campus Edge blog to help you think more deeply about how to care for the various aspects of our created world.  You can also access them via our Instagram and Facebook accounts.

However, if you would like to sign up for weekly Lenten Reflection reminder emails, please email: info@campusedgemsu.com with the subject heading “Lenten Reflections”


The suggested actions come from: “A Fast for the Earth: Lent 2021 a resource created by The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care Diocese of Toronto” and All film suggestions are from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/.

Liminal Spaces by Dara Nykamp

This year has been one of living in liminal space for me.  The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word liminal as “of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition: in-between, transitional.” That concept of “in-between-ness” has marked my year. Transitioning from my job doing prison ministry to joining Campus Edge. Transitioning from life in Kalamazoo to life in Lansing. Even transitioning from life as we knew it to life during a pandemic and its associated adjustments. This year has been a year of waiting, transition and change. 

Transition used to be something I avoided at all costs. But lately I’ve grown to value transitions. New semesters, new classes, new places to live all provide a chance to make new decisions. They allow us to create new patterns in our lives. There has been a ton of speculation on how the pandemic, this year of waiting for things to reopen and normalize, will shape our decisions and lives moving forward. Will the patterns we created become part of our new routines? Will we jump back into all of our roles, activities and habits from before, or will we make new choices after having lived in this liminal space?  

We see people faced with that same set of questions over and over in the Bible. When the Israelites left Egypt they made a new choice to follow God. When they came to the promised land they renewed their relationship with God.  In living in exile, returning from exile and waiting for the Messiah to come – the nation of Israel lived with liminality for centuries. The prophets even encouraged them to live in that liminal space, Jeremiah told the people to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (Jeremiah 29:5) while waiting to come back from exile. God wanted their lives to flourish. God wanted them to thrive. Sometimes the people managed to follow God, to change their lives. Sometimes they fell back into old patterns. 

Even Christ’s description of his Kingdom has a liminal aspect. When the disciples decided to follow Jesus they stepped into the “already-but-not-yet” nature of Jesus’ kingdom on earth. Jesus was on earth showing people a glimpse of his kingdom and pointing them to an even more glorious future marked by the Spirit’s dwelling in believers’ hearts and the eventual coming of the New Heaven and New Earth. He was living and leading in liminal space. 

So, what does it mean for us as Christians to live in liminality? It means we realize that the world we are living in is not perfect, but that we can catch glimpses of God’s kingdom right here and right now. For us today God’s kingdom is in every act of love and kindness, every action we take that is Spirit lead and faith driven. It is here when we gather together as Christians and when we pause to reflect with thankfulness on everything that God has given us. The year has held grief and loss and been one full of transitions. But it can also be full of hope as we look toward the choices we make as things “get back to normal”. 

Trying to organize things for God

Over a year ago, the main chaplain for the CRC campus ministry at the University of Toronto (U of T) made known his plans to retire. As a fellow CRC campus minister, I’d become friends with some of the U of T staff team and hoped they’d find a new staff member who was a good fit for the ministry. And, because I’d like to see more female campus minister colleagues, I also thought it’d be great if they could find a female to take on the position. 

When it became known that the campus ministry was indeed looking for someone to fill the position full-time, I started reaching out to people who were qualified. I brainstormed with Sara, a friend of mine who used to work as part of the staff team in Toronto, about all of the qualified females we could ask, trying to help arrange things for God.

And then in February this past year, Sara and I were wondering again how we could help out the ministry (and God) with filling the position, and she suggested again that I apply. When she’d suggested this previously, my answer had always been a quick no, sometimes with a laugh at the absurdity of the idea. I loved my job with Campus Edge, and besides, if/when we moved again, it would be back to Europe. 

When Sara asked again if I shouldn’t apply, what had once seemed an obvious ‘no’ felt differently. So I wondered if perhaps the Spirit was prodding me to look again – might God have even been using my intense interest in arranging things for the ministry as a preparation for being open to the idea of applying to the position myself? But it still felt absurd to contemplate moving to Toronto, and so when I asked my husband about his thoughts about moving to Toronto, I assumed he’d respond negatively. But he was enthusiastic about the idea, and I had a stronger sense of what chaos God might be asking us to enter into the coming months.

And then the pandemic hit, life truly turned chaotic, and I was in a position to provide needed encouragement and pastoral care to folks connected to Campus Edge as we navigated this new season. And still, sensing God’s hand on the whole process, I applied to the position at U of T. I was hired and accepted the position and thus made plans to leave Campus Edge. I worked part-time for both ministries this past fall, gradually shifting more of my time from Campus Edge to Toronto. I have experienced God’s help throughout the process: everything went well with selling our house, we had tremendous help in finding housing in Toronto (and were graciously welcomed), and Campus Edge has found a new pastor.

Not surprisingly, God answered my prayer (for more female campus ministers), just not in the way I expected. I will stay in campus ministry, albeit in a new place, and my experience with Campus Edge will be a gift to the ministry at the University of Toronto. And there will be one more new female campus minister with the Christian Reformed Church: here at Campus Edge!

Lab Girl (2016) by Hope Jahren

I found Lab Girl (by Hope Jahren) helpful for understanding the experience of academics in the sciences, both graduate students and faculty, especially those involved in labs. I wasn’t sure, though, what to make of the interspersed chapters on plant biology, as fascinating as they were. They did provide a metaphor for understanding the rest of the book: “People are like plants: they grow toward the light. I chose science because science gave me what I needed – a home as defined in the most literal sense: a safe place to be.” (18)

At times, though, these interspersed chapters on biology felt like they got in the way of the story I wanted to hear more about, even as much as Jahren’s telling us of the biology of trees is as much a part of her story as all the (mis)adventures that she had. Her story was unique: “there’s still no journal where I can tell the story of how my science is done with both the heart and the hands.” (20) Nor can she speak fully of all the non-successes that obviously don’t make it into journals. Instead she notes that “I have become proficient at producing a rare species of prose capable of distilling ten years of work by five people into six published pages, written in a language that very few people can read and that no one ever speaks. This writing relates the details of my work with the precision of a laser scalpel, but its streamlined beauty is a type of artifice, a size-zero mannequin designed to showcase the glory of a dress that would be much less perfect on a real person.” (20)

The book was also helpful in providing insights into some of the unseen challenges of academic, especially that of science professors (and those who direct labs). She notes how, while we might expect knowledge and research to be the hardest questions that scientists face, funding is actually the biggest stress:

“Next time you meet a science professor, ask her if she ever worries that her findings might be wrong. If she worries that she chose an impossible problem to study, or that she overlooked some important evidence along the way. If she worries that one of the many roads not taken was perhaps the road to the right answer that she’s still looking for. Ask a science professor what she worries about. It won’t take long. She’ll look you in the eye and say one word: “Money.” ” (124-5)

She also talks about the challenges and loneliness that she experienced, particularly as a female in her profession. Despite being someone who won some prominent awards (and was on the tenure track at 26 already!), funding was a significant problem for at least ten years. She also speaks about being taken advantage of by another lab in the building, of being yelled at a conference presentation, of being ignored socially at conferences by the senior scientists in her field. She also notes about how hard when her life went against a lot of societal norms, especially what is expected of females:

“I didn’t know if I was crying because I was nobody’s wife or mother – or because I felt like nobody’s daughter – or because of the beauty of that single perfect line on the readout. I had worked and waited for this day. In solving this mystery I had also proved something, at least to myself, and I finally knew what real research would feel like. But as satisfying as it was, it still stands out as one of the loneliest moments of my life. On some deep level, the realization that I could do good science was accompanied by the knowledge that I had formally and terminally missed my chance to become like any of the women that I had ever known. In the years to come, I would create a new sort of normal for myself within my own laboratory. I would have a brother close than any of my siblings, someone I could call any hour of the day or night. . . I would nurture a new generation of students, some of whom were just hungry for attention, and a very few who would live up to the potential that I saw in them.” (71-2)

Despite all the challenges, there is a lot of hope in the book: the community that she builds, the grace and acceptance that she presents, and the quiet presence of God:

“My lab is a place where my guilt over what I haven’t done is supplanted by all the things that I am getting done. . . My lab is a place where I can be the child that I still am. . . . My laboratory is like a church because it is where I figure out what I believe. The machines drone a gathering hymn as I enter. I know whom I’ll probably see, and I know how they’ll probably act. I know there’ll be silence; I know there’ll be music, a time to greet my friends, and a time to leave others to their contemplation. There are rituals that I follow, some I understand and some I don’t. . . And, just like church, because I grew up in it, it is not something from which I can ever really walk away.” (19)

Pastor’s Update

The following is the pastor’s report from the December 2018 newsletter

Looking back over the past semester, I’m deeply thankful for the insightful conversations about the Bible and other spiritual topics we’ve had at our studies and pub theology. Although numbers have been a bit low (about 20 people), I’ve been thankful for the relationships I’ve developed with those who come regularly. We’ve all grown deeper in understanding how we might serve God faithfully now and in the future, both in our disciplines and our lives.

I’m also excited that we’ve tried a couple of new initiatives this semester: first, we hosted Wine Before Breakfast, a brief service of communion at 7:33 on Wednesday mornings for most of October and November. We joined with University Lutheran Campus Ministry, and hopefully we’ll be able to do something similar together during Lent (albeit a bit later in the day)! I’ve also been able to participate in (and co-organize) a prayer group for faculty and staff. It’s been encouraging that there are regularly 10+ people there who clearly care about students, the university, and are following God faithfully. I was encouraged by our recent conversation about how to show compassion to students, especially when so many people are absurdly busy, many struggle with mental health issues, and the university focuses more on rules than on grace. Yet, all of us want to be seen and heard, whether student, staff, or faculty. Compassion can be shown in different ways: a gracious email after a bad grade, being present before or after class for extra questions (or with colleagues), an offer to pray for students (right now!), or simply listening to someone’s story in order to understand the need and together find resolutions that are compassionate and good.

Thank you for all your support of what we do, especially your prayers for the students and faculty. Pray especially that people who are struggling with faith would find Campus Edge.
– Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink, Campus Pastor

 

December report from the CEF Board

Taken from the December 2018 newsletter: a bit late, but still relevant.

Dear Friends,
December is a busy time for the graduate and professional students of MSU, whether they are preparing for final exams, getting ready to defend theses or dissertations, or just pushing forward day after day on their research. And in the background, the decorations and celebrations associated with the Christmas season multiply. No doubt some students regard Christmas as do we on the Campus Edge Board – a time to remember with joy God’s great gift of love, His coming to live among us. And they wish they had a better understanding of God, and of the meaning and implications of His actions. Others are not so sure that the events we celebrate at Christmas really happened as we think they did or mean what we think they mean. We are grateful that Brenda has made Campus Edge Fellowship a place where both types of students can feel welcome and can take a break among friends from the demands of their disciplinary studies to talk about the spiritual questions that they sometimes find creeping into their minds.

It has been an interesting semester at Campus Edge, with Bible studies on the parables of Jesus and Pub Theology discussions on a variety of intriguing topics. There was also the annual trip to Art Prize in Grand Rapids, and the annual Halloween party. And for part of the semester, Campus Edge hosted an early morning, on campus, outdoor Communion service.

Earlier this month, the Board organized a “Farm to Pizza” fund raiser, for which one of our Board members (Dirk Oudman) and his wife Kjersten (a Campus Edge Alumna), put their knowledge of local agriculture and their cooking skills to work to prepare pizzas using locally grown ingredients. The event was a big success, and we are grateful to those who showed up to support Campus Edge by collectively consuming over 40 of Dirk and Kjersten’s unique and freshly made pizzas. Campus Edge depends on fundraisers like this to help support and expand its mission to the MSU campus. Other ways of supporting the mission can be found on our website (https://campusedgemsu.com/donate/). I ask you to prayerfully consider giving to Campus Edge in the coming year and wish you a joyous Christmas season.
– Jeff Biddle, Campus Edge Fellowship Board President

Time to reflect

In the short break between semesters, and as we enter into a new year, I encourage you to reflect on what it might look like to live more fully trusting in God’s abundance in our lives. This includes wondering what seasons it might be appropriate to work “too much,” while also challenging the length of those seasons and even the unspoken assumption that grad school (or academia) implicitly involves always working too much.

Heather Walker Peterson wrote a helpful reflection questioning what assumptions we make when we work all the time:

I’ve come to believe that when I had lived attempting to do all things well, ironically I was treating God as a God of scarcity instead of a God of abundance. By not following God’s command to rest, I was like the children of Israel trying to collect manna on the Sabbath when I needed to have gathered a little extra the day before. If God is a God of scarcity, I am required to do more and do it well for him (and me) to look good, but if he’s a God of abundance, then I must trust that I can take risks, listen for discernment, and focus on what I discern as the most important.

What might it look like to live into God’s abundance this coming semester/year?

Advent mourning for Michigan State

Near the end of the fall semester at MSU, news has come out about how Michigan State handled allegations of abuse. Sadness and anger seem to be the only appropriate response to the news: how can our world be so broken? Why did so many people not listen well when informed of problems? Why did people not want to listen? Why was MSU’s reputation more important than the well-being of those (potentially) hurt?

As we have been remembering all through Advent, the world is not how it ought to be. This is why we desperately need a Savior – this is why Christ came to earth in the first place and why we need to continue to long for Christ to come again: so that all things might be made well (including judgment on those who have harmed others).

Please pray. Pray prayers of lament for all that has gone wrong; prayers of lament and healing for all those hurt and still hurting. Yet pray also that God will work in the midst of these revelations to bring about change and that Michigan State might become more of a place where people listen to those who are hurting and advocate for justice and good.

End of semester compassion fatigue

As the semester ends, your prayers for those (still) grading are requested. Having compassion for students, while also being fair and gracious and challenging students to be responsible and held appropriately accountable, takes a lot of wisdom and strength.

The Well recently highlighted an article that presents the challenge of end of semester compassion fatigue:

It’s the second-to-last week of the semester, which for many professors is the most intense stretch in the academic term. . . Almost exactly one year ago, while trudging through the very same sense of exhaustion, I found strange encouragement when I happened upon two articles acknowledging the existence of this experience for faculty. One piece appearing in Inside Higher Ed includes boundary-setting advice from a former faculty member who admits to having struggled between feeling “like I wanted to be the professor” and caring “so deeply about my students that I wanted all of them to feel seen, heard, and supported in their growth.”

In a related Chronicle of Higher Education piece, an anonymous faculty member details how students’ and colleagues’ appreciation of her willingness to listen often results in expenditures of her time and energy that go unnoticed by her institution. . . The author is quick, though, to emphasize the very problem I felt as my tired eyes read her words: “Listening, empathizing, problem solving, and resource finding take an enormous amount of time and energy.” And, as I seem to re-learn every year, the intense exhaustion many faculty feel is more than physical — it’s emotional, mental, and even spiritual. It’s compassion fatigue. . .