New Cultures

Since being at Westfield House and living in Cambridge I have been immersed in British culture and the education system. Besides just British culture I also experience many other European and even African cultures daily and through my travels. Dr. Gunjevic, my main professor at Westfield, is originally from Croatia, and I have gotten to know him and his style of teaching and humor in comparison to my professors at. I am living in Westfield’s housing, Luther Hall, with four pastoral students from Ghana. This provides an additional cultural experience I never imagined. Each cultural encounter has been a learning experience with some awkward moments of misunderstanding, but all open my eyes to the norms and habits of cultures from across the world.

Before leaving for Cambridge, Kate Larson from the C.A.L.L. Center encouraged all students studying abroad to do some research into the culture of the country they would be living. At a glance, British culture does not vary much from American culture. Obviously the language is the same (but I get tripped up with slightly different words and phrases much more than I thought I would!), but there are still some social norms important to the British that are less prominent in America. On the whole, Brits are quieter than Americans (except when they have been drinking) and much less direct in matters of personal opinion and critique. Another huge part of British culture is the queue (line). The importance of not cutting the queue was on every website I read about British culture and while I did not think this was something I would encounter a lot I was wrong. Brits queue up for everything, even things I would never consider forming a line for. Where the British are polite, quiet, and indirect, the opposite is true or Dr. Gunjevic, my professor from Croatia. Dr. Gunjevic is very intelligent but very direct, loud, and sarcastic which has caused some unintentional hurt feelings. It took a few weeks for me to adjust to his teaching style and personality, but we get along well now and I can tell when he is joking and when he is being serious. The cultural experience I did not expect to have in England was living with students from Ghana. These pastors are so kind, and I have been learning some things about Ghanaian culture. At times, I feel ignored or unimportant because women have a different role in their society. I have learned their actions are not meant to disrespect or ignore, but simply reflect their culture. On the other hand, women handle most things related to food in Ghana so I have been able to help them with some cooking things such as how to use the microwave and toaster and showing them which things should be kept in the fridge or cupboard.

I have had my fair share of awkward encounters and moments of blank stares and misunderstanding due to cultural differences between the various cultures I have encountered and the American culture I am used to. These experiences have taught me the importance of approaching every situation with an open-mind, patience, and self-awareness. I have learned a lot by living every day in these cultures and by doing some research into the cultural norms of the places I visit. Just a little bit of research and observation can make potentially awkward encounters go much more smoothly (and eliminate any tricky situations – in France it is advised not to make eye contact with a man too many times as this may suggest something other than friendliness). America, often called the “melting pot”, is home to people from many different cultures. My experience abroad has shown me even more the importance of learning about and respecting the cultures of everyone I encounter, both while abroad and after I return home to the United States.

Reminders of Love

It is wild to think I have been in Cambridge for two months, and I am half-way through my time abroad. I have been blessed with so many memorable experiences and have many more planned for the next two months. My first month-and-a-half were spent mostly exploring cities and churches, but at the end of February and beginning of March I had the chance to explore of the beautiful scenery in Scotland. My friends and I took a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland and the Highlands at the end of February. The most memorable part of the trip was climbing Arthur’s Seat, an inactive volcano, to watch the sunrise over the ocean and the city of Edinburgh. At the beginning of March a smaller group of us spent the weekend in Ireland and saw the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher on the western coast of Ireland. Each of these places was so different yet strikingly beautiful in its own way.

When visiting each of these unique and beautiful locations I was struck with the beauty of God’s creation and love in a different way. At Arthur’s Seat my friend Jasmine and I discussed how the sunrise, a part of creation most people do not see and take for granted, is one of the most beautiful parts of the whole day. After being battered ruthlessly by the end at the Cliffs of Moher I was stressed and tired as the skies quickly grew darker with the promise of a storm. Suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds and a double-rainbow was clearly visible in the sky. God provided an unmistakable reminder of His love and faithfulness right when I needed it most. At Arthur’s Seat and the Giant’s Causeway I was blown away by the beauty but what took my breath away was not the beauty but knowing the God who created these beautiful locations looks at all of humanity, looks at me, and sees something even more beautiful than the sunrise or the ocean, and willing gave up His life for a sinner like me. This love amazes me and yet humbled me to think of all the care we take of these locations and yet disregard we can have for humanity. We are quick to preserve these natural locations and yet we brush past and ignore hundreds of people every day.

Since being in Cambridge I have had a hard time feeling “spiritually fed”. Unlike Concordia, Westfield does not have chapel services every morning and night. I am outside the community I am familiar with and away from the people who encourage me most in my faith. In the last few weeks I have struggled with feeling inadequate in classes and missing family and friends. Arthur’s Seat, the Giant’s Causeway, and the Cliffs of Moher were exactly the reminder I needed of God’s love and faithfulness. No matter where I am in the world, God is already there and loves me despite my sin. While I love being in cities, these weekend trips in nature were the reminder I needed of God’s love. Not only did these sights strengthen my faith but they challenged to me truly see humanity through God’s eyes. Not as another person in my way but as a beautiful creation, even more breathtaking than the sunrise, in need of Christ’s love.

Exploring Barcelona

This past weekend I took my first trip outside of the United Kingdom! I went to visit Hannah Cornes, another Concordia student who is studying in Barcelona! I only had about thirty-six hours in Barcelona so we did a long day of all the highlights in Barcelona. By the end of the day we had walked over fifteen miles and travelled pretty much all over Barcelona. Hannah and I visited the beach, Parc de la Ciutadella, the Arc de Triomf, Sagrada Familia, the Olympic Arena, La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, watched the sunset from Bunker del Carmel, and checked out a light festival in the Clot district. The weather in Barcelona was not much warmer than Cambridge but it was sunny and so beautiful for hiking around the city. My favorite part of the trip was the gorgeous Sagrada Familia Basilica. Sagrada Familia is a basilica near the center of Barcelona designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudí. The church has been under construction since 1882 with a projected completion date of 2026 or 2028. The outside of Sagrada is primarily three façades: the Nativity façade, the Passion façade, and the Glory façade, still under construction. The inside is filled with pillars designed to look like a forest and beautiful stained glass. Because Sagrada Familia has been under construction for over one hundred years it is interesting to see the different styles of architecture. Unlike the many churches I have visited in England, Sagrada Familia has an almost timeless feel because it incorporates so many architectural styles instead of being set in one specific style as the English churches are. All in all, I had such a fun time spending time with Hannah and exploring a new part of the world!

One thing I was a little nervous about traveling to Barcelona was the language barrier. I had talked to Hannah before coming and she said her biggest struggle so far is communication. I have a very basic level of Spanish knowledge but did not know how much I would need to communicate effectively with locals. However, likely because we spent most of the weekend at tourist locations, language was not as much of a barrier as I expected. Almost all the signs are in English and many of the locals speak at least a little English. Barcelona is a tourist destination and many of the places Hannah and I went are the most popular tourist destinations in Barcelona, but I was reminded again and again how so much of the world has been designed for the comfort of English-speakers.

Many native Europeans speak at least two or three languages and can partially understand three or four more. While I have studied a variety of languages, I am in no way a master at any except English. This weekend showed me how privileged I am simply for being a native English-speaker. At times I feel almost ashamed that I cannot speak other languages and am still planning to travel all over Europe. I know I will most likely be able to get around because almost everything is in English as well as the native language. Most of the world truly is designed for English-speakers. As I continue to travel I would like to do my best to learn basic phrases in the native language and be respectful of the cultures while also recognizing my privilege.

“Can I Help You, Dear?”

Saturday, January 26 marks three full weeks of being in England. I have now started to get into a regular schedule with classes, and I am settling into life in Cambridge. I am getting more and more comfortable with the layout of Cambridge and finding places on my own. Many of the stores and cafes are on the main street that runs straight through Cambridge, which conveniently is the street Westfield House is located on. This week I also went on my first solo trip outside Cambridge to Bury St. Edmunds. When I first arrived in England our orientation and first few weekends were filled with group trips around and outside Cambridge to help us all become familiar with Cambridge and travelling around England. Now as we have been here longer, we are independently travelling and navigating public transportation. I am excited to continue travelling and start planning some trips outside the UK!

As I have started travelling by myself more I have noticed something. When travelling in a group of about fifteen people and visiting tourist attractions, it is fairly easy to tell our group is not from this area. However, when I am by myself running errands in Cambridge or exploring a new place, I would like to think I blend in with the locals and it is not as easy to tell I am from the United States. In some ways this has made me very self-conscious about speaking because I know as soon as I say anything the people around me will immediately know I am not a local. This has never resulted in a negative situation; in most cases, especially when I am alone, people are very willing and excited to explain about the area or building I am in or are patient and helpful in explaining where I need to go or what I need to do.

One of the primary goals of studying abroad is to be able to fully experience and engage in a culture and learn how to “be a local” where you are. In many ways I thought integrating into the Cambridge and British culture would be fairly easy. The language is (mostly) the same, my appearance is not unusual, and there are not a lot of prominent behavioral and social differences. For the most part this has been true, but my accent singling me out was something I guess I had not considered. There have not been many situations in my life I have walked into knowing one specific thing about me would immediately set me apart from everyone else. While I would never equal my experiences to the discomfort and discrimination many have faced, I have gained a greater appreciation for the discomfort and uncertainty of entering a space knowing you are different and there is nothing you can do to hide that difference. This is something I will continue to feel my entire time in England, but it is also a lesson I want for the future. Having known what it feels like to enter a space being an outsider, I want to be more aware of the people around me and providing a welcoming and kind environment wherever I am.

Church Reflections

One week ago I was preparing to leave for a semester abroad in Cambridge, England and more nervous and anxious than I have ever been in my life. Now I have been living at Westfield House for a whole week! Classes started on Wednesday, January 9, but most of y time has been spent on various tours and familiarizing myself with Cambridge and different elements of British culture. Cambridge is largely a university town as it is home to the famous Cambridge University which is made of thirty-one different colleges. In my first week our group of fourteen students (four students from Ghana, nine students from Valparaiso University, and me) has gone on various tour of Cambridge and spent a day in London. Some of the highlights so far are seeing the King’s College chapel in Cambridge and Westminster Abbey in London.

As I mentioned, Cambridge University is made of thirty-one different colleges. Many of these colleges, such as King’s College, have their own chapels, meaning Cambridge is filled with chapels and churches. Each of our tours has included at least one of these churches. The churches we have toured so far include St. Edward’s, where the English Reformation started; St. Bene’t’s, the oldest church in Cambridge; King’s College chapel; Magdalene College chapel, where C.S. Lewis attended and taught; and Westminster Abbey in London. Each church is filled with its own beautiful architecture and stained-glass windows.

Amidst all the things I have been learning and seeing, it is the churches that stick out to me the most. The things that have struck me in each church are the politics attached to each church and how much impact it has on the design and history of the church. For example, St. Edward’s was given to Trinity College by King Henry VI meaning St. Edward’s is not under the jurisdiction of the Catholic church or the Anglican church, part of the reason it played such a key role in the English Reformation. Like many of the churches in England, the original stained-glass windows were destroyed during the time of Henry VIII when England broke away from the Catholic church. King’s College took five different kings and seventy years to complete. Henry VI originally intended the chapel to be very plain but that is not how the chapel was completed. Henry VII added the stonework which includes symbols from the Tudor monarchy, but nothing religious. Henry VIII designed all the stained-glass windows in which Biblical scenes and characters are designed after Henry VIII’s court. Westminster Abbey, while a beautiful building, almost seems to be more a monument to British royalty and achievement than a place of worship. Westminster Abbey is the resting place of many monarchs and others significant in British history such as scientists, artists, musicians, and soldiers. The thought of worship amidst so much beauty and achievement can easily be lost.

I do not think I truly understood the separation between church and state in the United States until seeing and learning about these various churches. Of course, churches across the world feature artwork done in the regional style of the times which often means the characters are portrayed as natives to the region in both their features and their dress. In my experience, most churches have a long and cherished history but the histories of the churches I have seen so far in England are filled with political intentions and statements. Westminster Abbey is obviously a very famous church and the church of the royal family so it makes sense to have political connects attached to this building, but even a small church like St. Edward’s in Cambridge has connections to the royal family which impact how the church is even functioning today. Even just a few short days in England has shown me the differences between a church largely controlled by the state and a church separated from the state. In the next four months I am excited to continue exploring new places and learning more about British history, politics, and theology.

Callings: Dorothy Day

As part of the final readings from Callings, the Honors class read selections from The Catholic Worker a magazine written by Dorothy Day (Callings, pg. 413).  Dorothy Day was a Catholic convert who was born in 1897.  She, along with a Franciscan monk named Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker Movement (Callings, pg. 413).  In the selection read, Day described the “voluntary poverty” she and her companions chose to live in (Callings, pg. 415).  Day, who had many radical beliefs, thought “without brotherly love there can be no love of God” (Callings, pg. 415).  This “brotherly love” meant “voluntary poverty, stripping one’s self, putting off the old man, denying one’s self, etc.” (Callings, pg. 417).  Much of Day’s writing focused on this idea of “voluntary poverty” and how it was to be lived out.

Poverty is a very real thing and something people I know and love have experienced.  This semester through the service learning component of Honors I worked with many children living in poverty.  I volunteered at a nearby school where many of the students were home-insecure, meaning they lived in a shelter, their family moved around a lot, or they lived with family or friends other than their parents.  I cannot imagine experiencing this type of instability at such an early age.  As part of the literature review for this semester I did some research on the negative impacts poverty can have on children.  Without the routine of meals and a secure home, children are often delayed in behaviorally, socially, and emotionally.  Last spring semester, the Honors class also spent some time talking about poverty, specifically relating to former inmates, and the relentless cycle they are often thrown in and cannot escape.

While I disagreed with Day’s overall theme that “brotherly love” of the poor can only be genuine if we embrace poverty, her emphasis on “voluntary poverty” really challenged me to think about my life.  God has blessed me with a comfortable lifestyle and the opportunity for a college education.  This is much more than I deserve.  My family does not have excess amounts of money, but God has always provided for us, and my parents have taught me to be financially smart.  Understanding how richly I am blessed and knowing the multiple negative impacts poverty has, Day’s belief in “voluntary poverty” seems illogical.  In one sense, it seems a bit pretentious to choose to live in poverty while many are born into it and cannot escape it.  On the other hand, God has called us to care for the “widows and orphans” and those in need (James 1:27).  I do not want to simply throw away the things and opportunities God has blessed me with, but I also do not want to be selfish and ignore God’s command to care for those in need.  What is the balance?  This is likely I question I will be wrestling with my entire life, but I can rest in the promise of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection knowing it is thankfully not my actions that control my salvation.

Spring into Dance 2018

From April 19th-22nd, 2018 Concordia’s Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance performed the sixth annual Spring into Dance show.  Spring into Dance is one the best advertised, and highly anticipated, shows done by Concordia each year.  The styles this year include ballet, hip-hop, and everything in between.  The pieces were choreographed by students of all ages, along with several alumni choreographers and two pieces by Professor Puffer.  Many of the choreographers were new this year and brought a different energy and creativity to Spring into Dance.

For the service learning aspect of Honors this semester, I volunteered at a dance school called Spirited Feet and at a class called Storytelling in an after-school program at a local elementary school.  I chose to work with these two programs because they both incorporate dance, something I am passionate about.  Dance has been such a huge part of my life, and I want to share the joy it has brought me with others.  By working with these programs I was able to get a better understanding of ways to incorporate dance into activities for children, as well as some ideas should I want to run a dance program of my own someday.  I believe God has given me a gift and a passion for dance and it is one of my vocations.  Spring into Dance is a truly unique way many students can live out different vocations of being creators and artists.

Since first looking at Concordia, Spring into Dance was one of the things admissions counselors, students, and staff encouraged me to attend and participate in.  I love dancing and performing, so Spring into Dance quickly became one of my favorite parts of Concordia.  I think the opportunity for students to both perform and choreograph is very cool.  This year, besides dancing, I also choreographed a dance, which was a new experience for me.  I have choreographed for myself, but never a full-length piece to be performed by others.  I had so much fun creating a very lively, silly piece and being able to choreograph specifically for my dancers using their strengths and personalities to make the dance the best it can be.  This was a new part of dance I am excited to continue exploring during my time at Concordia.

Callings: Soren Kierkegaard

This week the Honors class focused on post-Reformation writings from the 19th century.  One of the readings was a selection from Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard.  Fear and Trembling was written under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio, someone who admitted to not being a Christian, but admired the faith Abraham demonstrated in Genesis 22.  This chapter is a narrative of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.  Kierkegaard begins by commenting on the ethical versus religious implications of this story.  For Christians, Abraham’s willingness to kill his only son is called a sacrifice, but in any other setting this would be called murder and have serious legal consequences (Callings 339).  The other main point Kierkegaard pulls from this narrative is the extreme faith and trust in God Abraham demonstrates.  He makes the point that faith is not rational; it requires taking a leap of faith, not knowing where one might land, but trusting that God will remain faithful.  “But Abraham had faith and did not doubt; he believed the preposterous” (Callings 337).

Honors this semester has focused on our different vocations.  This week of Honors touched on vocation, but focused more on calling.  Calling and vocation are closely related because whatever one is called to is an aspect of one’s vocation.  It can sometimes be difficult to determine what one’s calling is and if it is from God.  This is what Kierkegaard described in his writing on Abraham.  Abraham did not doubt that God would remain faithful to His covenant with Abraham even though it may have seemed impossible.  When following one’s calling, it is sometimes necessary to take a leap a faith and following God’s calling, even if the outcome is unknown.

Some of the other Honors students expressed dislike or confusion about Kierkegaard’s writing, but I truly enjoyed it.  I thought it was very thought-provoking and while I did not fully understand everything Kierkegaard wrote, it challenged me to think of the story of Abraham and Isaac differently.  This story has always been through-provoking for me because I cannot imagine how much faith and trust it would take to sacrifice my only child.  I hope God never calls me to do something as challenging as what He called Abraham to do, but I know that no matter how or where God calls me, He will remain faithful.

Callings: Jonathan Edwards

As part of the last session on Reformation-era writers, one of the authors read was Jonathan Edwards.  The Honors class read Jonathan Edwards “Personal Narrative” a short auto-biography focusing on Edwards’ faith journey.  Edwards was the son of a Congregationalist minister in New England and started a revival that led to the Great Awakening in the American colonies in the 1740s (pg. 310).  Edwards described how as a child it “was my delight to abound in religious duties” (pg. 311).  As he got older, Edwards strayed from his faith.  Eventually, Edwards returned to his faith, but this time his focus was more on inward struggle and self-reflection.  Through this more personal approach to faith, Edwards grew closer and closer to God, and began to “have had a more full and constant sense of the absolute sovereignty of God, and a delight in that sovereignty, and have had more of a sense of the glory of Christ, as a Mediator revealed in the gospel” (pg. 315).

Edwards wrote about how he felt and saw God’s presence in nature.  The Honors class covers multiple topics, all of which are related back to faith in Jesus.  It is often through things like nature, science, art, music, service, etc. that people encounter God in very real, tangible, and more personal ways.  This is what makes Honors unique from other general education classes, because all the subjects studied are approached from a Christian perspective and related back to that Christian perspective.

I almost immediately connected with Edwards writing, because he is pastor’s kid, just like me.  Although I did not like the language Edwards used of becoming a “better” Christian, I did enjoy the way he wrote about experiencing God through nature.  I am fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time travelling in and out of the United States.  Visiting the Great Lakes, the ocean, the mountains, or the Grand Canyon, I do not understand how some people can look at creation and not see God.  I see God working everyday in my life and the lives of the people around me, but it is in creation that I am reminded of how big and awesome my God is.  “God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature” (pg. 313).

Callings: Ulrich Stadler

One of the movements that evolved out of the Reformation is sometimes called the Radical Reformation.  This included the Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Hutterites.  The Hutterites were an offshoot of the Anabaptists and located in Moravia.  Their goal was to create a community of pure Christians modeled after the early church described in Acts 4:32. Ulrich Stadler was one of the leaders of the Hutterites and wrote Cherished Instructions around 1537.  In this work, he describes how Christians should live in community.  “They have one mind, opinion, hard, and soul as having all drunk from the same Fountain, and alike await one and the same struggle, cross, trial, and at length, one and the same hope in glory” (pg. 228).

This semester of Honors has been centered around the idea of vocation.  Stadler’s writing focuses on the more general sense of vocation which is simply to be a Christian.  However, the Hutterites focused on this too much and forgot some other important parts of Christianity.  By secluding themselves into a community with only Christians they were neglecting God’s call to “go and make disciples” much like many of the monastic communities (Matthew 28:19).  Luther also stressed living one’s life in service to one’s neighbors and living out the vocation of being a citizen.  The Hutterites exemplified living in service to one another, but only inside their own community.

Unlike the monastic writings we read from earlier in the semester which I did not enjoy, I did not mind Stadler’s writing.  While I do not agree with the Hutterites practice of secluding themselves from the world, I admire their striving for an ideal Christian community.  When I was reading this, it struck me as how powerful it would be to think of the entire church body as united.  Although the entire church is united by faith in Christ, it is not this that is generally focused on, but the divisions amongst the church.  I recognize that many of the divisions in the church are over important doctrinal matters but imagine how much more the church could do if we were all united instead of segregated.  This unity can never be achieved on this earth but it makes me more excited for the unity that we will all have in heaven.