In Simone Weil’s Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God, she argues that focus and attention for prayer can be improved through their use in school. Students need to be able to dedicate their full attention to the subject being taught. Through the practice of dedication to a topic, the ability to focus on prayer improves. A second characteristic that can be developed through school is humility. A student must look at their missteps squarely and figure out where they went wrong. This forces the student to accept their lack of perfection, which results in an increase in humility.
Many of the Honors students enjoy receiving feedback and critiques on homework. They said that they prefer to know what they have done wrong so that they can improve. However, I find looking over papers and projects to be nerve-racking. While I enjoy improving my work, I don’t enjoy looking at my mistakes and knowing that someone else has found faults in my work. Without the humility to acknowledge mistakes and fix them, no student would ever improve. For this reason, Simone Weil’s argument that school increases a student’s humility is accurate.
I enjoyed reading Simone Weil’s portion of this week’s assignment. Through reflection on my own prayer life, I can see the differences between distracted prayer and focused prayer. For me, focused prayer draws me in closer to God and it becomes equal parts speaking and listening. I have grown the most through periods of attentive prayer, with some guidance from reflecting on Bible passages. This realization makes me want to spend more time devoted to solely prayer, without distractions from other people or from technology.
On April 6-7, Concordia University St Paul hosted the Seventh International Conference on Hmong Studies. One of the sessions on April 7 was titled Religious and Cultural Changes in Vietnam’s Upland Hmong Christians 1987-2017. Presenter James F. Lewis from Bethel University shared information on the sudden shift in religion among a large population of Hmong people in Vietnam in the last 30 years to Evangelical Christianity. Lewis covered religious changes, spiritual changes, ritual changes, social culture changes, and civil culture changes. An interesting point in the spiritual changes section was the shift in views of the spiritual world. The spiritual world was unpredictable, arbitrary, and continually demanding things from the Hmong people prior to Evangelical Christianity. Once the Christian religion was adopted, the spirit world was less frightening because it was under the control of God who “protects, saves, and lovingly cares for Hmong.”
As we study church history in class, I found it interesting to learn about how a large group of people have converted to Christianity and the effects of that. Lewis shared how the government of Vietnam has not been very accepting of this shift in religion. He also noted that within the Hmong community in Vietnam, there are divisions on what pre-Christian Hmong traditions can continue to be practiced. This is similar to the divisions among the Christian groups that we have read about for class, especially when there are disputes on Christian practices, such as infant baptism.
As a person with very limited knowledge of Hmong studies, this session was entirely new material for me. I was unaware of the fact that Hmong people in Vietnam had a dramatic shift to Evangelical Christianity thirty years ago. It is awe-inspiring to learn about this massive shift in culture and religion and to see God at work in the hearts of these people. I am thankful that the Honors program made me move beyond my zone of comfort and go to this session because I had no knowledge of this major religious shift prior to yesterday.
This week Nan Hackett made a guest appearance in the Honors’ Monday night session to discuss poetry. The poem, “The Collar” by George Herbert, contained intricacies in its grammar and structure that Nan was able to pull out. The beginning of the poem has an irregular rhyming pattern. This lack of pattern points to the real emotions of anger and frustration that Herbert was feeling at the time of writing the poem. The ending of the poem falls into a littler bit more patterned rhyming, which could be a signal of the intense emotions from the beginning resolving. The title itself hints at the restricted feeling that Herbert works to express. “The Collar” can make the reader think of a clerical collar, an animal collar that binds them to their work, a feeling of anger (choler), or God giving a call to someone. These things work together to elicit feelings of an internal struggle for Herbert as he ponders and questions his calling to a small country church.
The class was able to dig into what a call from God can mean to different people. Many students could relate to the feeling of being in the public eye because of church work. Along with this, the students were able to process the difficult feelings that might come along with a calling from God. The feelings can range from excitement to despair and a feeling of being trapped. This poem offered an interesting way to examine the personal side of a calling and the struggles that are not normally considered in the classroom.
I appreciated Nan coming to class and spending time with us looking at the details of the poem that I missed while reading it. As I read it by myself, I was able to detect the feelings of frustration at the beginning, but I didn’t know why. Nan was able to show how the rhyming scheme, the use of exclamation points and question marks, and the lack of alliteration created an authentic feeling of anger. I think that without Nan’s expertise in poetry, this poem would have less of an impact to me than it has thanks to her.
The 2018 Poehler Lecture was titled “Labels and the Death of Free Speech: What does this mean?” It was given by Professor Thomas R. Hanson and centered around the ways that he thought labels could be broken down. He began and ended his speech with this statement: “Treat people fairly, even generously, and with respect.” He went on to explain how travel experiences, critical thinking, and understanding the value of free speech can help people overcome labels. Overall, being civil to other people and looking for what unites us instead of what divides us will help dissolve labels.
This lecture on labels can relate to this semester of honors. Through working with people from different backgrounds and experiences, the labels that are generally put on these people can fall away. Working one-on-one with people allows for deeper connections, which can show the similarities between seemingly different people. In this way, the service learning project this semester has helped dissipate labels and increase connections.
I had a difficult time understanding the point Hanson was trying to prove. He brought up many different topics without elaborating on how each can help lessen labels. However, each point individually was very interesting, and I enjoyed his stories about his personal experiences. Overall, I found this lecture to be more of a sharing time for Hanson rather than an educational lecture.
For class this week, a passage from The Spiritual Exercises, by Ignatius of Loyola, taught the reader how to make good decisions. Ignatius began by explaining the goal that all decisions should fulfill: “I must look only to the end for which I am created, that is, for the praise of God our Lord and for the salvation of my soul” (239). This end goal is what Ignatius keeps in mind later in the reading as he explains some methodology on how to make good decisions.
The class discussion around this reading focused on Ignatius’s goal for all decisions and his thoughts on the “means” that Christians use to achieve certain “ends.” In general, the class agreed with Ignatius’s goal of serving and praising God, but did not like the decision-making process that was laid out. The ends versus means conversation caused the class to reflect on the order in which they have been doing things. The example given in the book, to illustrate what I mean with this terminology, is this: “My first aim, then, should be my desire to serve God, which is the end, and after this, to seek a benefice or to marry, if it is more fitting for me, for these things are but means to the end” (240). People will often get the order of these confused and seek marriage or church offices/benefices prior to seeking God.
I found the observations that Ignatius made about the order that people seek things to be very accurate to current situations. I know many of my colleagues, and sometimes myself, are searching for love or a good career and will put those things above service to God. As a church-work student, it should be easy to keep serving God at the forefront of my mind. However, I have found it easy to think more about the logistics of my future, such as internship, where I will be called to, and who I will work with, over serving God. I also find it easy to focus more on school work than spreading the Gospel and serving others. This reading from Ignatius of Loyola has been beneficial to me while I reflect on my actions and goals.
On Tuesday, March 6, 2018, the Concordia St Paul band concluded its spring tour with a concert at Concordia. The band consists of 45 members and has a wide range of instrumentation, from oboe to tuba. Personally, I play the clarinet with the band. The band played eight pieces total, with commentary by conductor Aaron Isakson in between pieces. The pieces were a mixture of fast-paced, technical pieces and traditional hymns. The concert began with a literal bang, as the audience was hit with a wall of noise produced by the first piece, “Invictus.” The concert concluded with a tribute to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
The concert and tour gave the performers an opportunity to use their gifts and talents to serve God. The tour consisted of a multitude of concerts, which contained hymns that praised God and allowed the listeners to experience a full band. However, the tour also gave the students a chance to build relationships at each town they stayed in. Through interactions with host families, the students were able to fulfill the vocation of being representatives of Concordia. This builds up the school and the network of people with positive interactions with Concordia.
I think the concert last night was a great conclusion to a tour that introduced me to some fabulous new people. The tour also gave the band students time to get to know each other outside of rehearsal and bond as a group. This is why I can’t blog on this concert without some mention of the relationships built up on tour. The relationships, to me, are the most important part of tour. The concerts are just a way to facilitate the growth of these relationships between students and the people at the church. I loved being able to stay with a new host family every night and being able to get to know their stories. The concerts also offer the band a way to bond with people over the joy of praising and serving God.
This year’s global convocation focused on being fearless global citizens. The global convocation is a day for students to learn about the different study abroad opportunities CSP offers and the benefits of travelling. The three student presenters, Anthony Herr, Brooke Steigauf, and Chelsea Wolf, shared their experiences with studying abroad. They discussed how they got outside of their comfort zones through leaving their families, exploring new places, and learning about new cultures. After sharing how study abroad creates fearless global citizens, the travel seminars for the 2018-2019 year were presented.
The global convocation emphasized being fearless in experiencing the world and experiencing new cultures. With the Hoffmann lecture still fresh in my mind, these travel opportunities are another way to seek out the wisdom that other people have. Travelling offers opportunities to discuss new ideas and experiences. These types of discussions are a key focus in the Honors Program, because they allow the learner to expand their worldview and be more empathetic to other peoples experiences. Understanding the experiences of others is an important part of being able to best serve them.
The travel seminars look like a wonderful way to experience new cultures and learn while doing it. I am especially interested in the Israel seminar because I am a theology minor. I think being able to see the places that are mentioned in the Bible and have theological significance would be beneficial to my studies. Visiting these places would be helpful for my learning, since I enjoy learning through experience. Experiencing new places and cultures would be an awesome way to supplement my current knowledge of biblical historical contexts.
The 2018 Hoffmann Lecture was titled “The Provisional Nature of Truth” and was presented by Pastor James Wetzstein. Pastor Wetzstein is the current LCMS campus pastor at Valparaiso University. He presented his theory that all current knowledge, hope, and faith are provisional. This provisional, temporary nature of knowledge leads him to think that everything should be evaluated, challenged, and changed when necessary. He continued to say that if this is the case, it should dictate how Christians interact with people with different worldviews. He proposes that in all discussions, people should be listening for wisdom, even if it is different from what the listener typically categorizes as knowledge. As people listen for and seek out wisdom, the fissures caused by competing orthodoxies shrink.
This lecture focused on how Christians can effectively and comfortably interact with people outside of the faith. In the spring of 2017, the Honors Program worked to understand and listen to the voices of the marginalized. Through listening and seeking wisdom, the differences between people can seem less and less like a barrier for relationships to form. Another phrase that has been used in other classes is “Acceptance is not a prerequisite for understanding.” This phrase also points to listening to and looking for wisdom in other people’s worldviews. All of these concepts point towards learning about others, and from that knowing how best to serve them and connect with them.
I found Pastor Wetzstein’s idea of provisional knowledge and his application of it to be particularly interesting. I am familiar with this concept of ever-changing and growing knowledge in the context of science, but I had never applied it to other aspects of life. However, I think that this new knowledge and application of the concept will be helpful to me. One of my objectives with coming to a university in an urban setting was to expand my understanding of people who have different backgrounds than me. Seeking the wisdom in other people in conversations will help me understand them better and be more open to different ideas and worldviews.
As the readings continue to focus on monastic life in the medieval time period, the clearer the three lessons for today become. These three lessons are “rhythms of life,” “cultivated simplicity,” and “wonderful impracticality.” In the reading Chronicle of the Crusade of St. Louis, the idea of cultivated simplicity came shining through. St. Louis was a king who was not a part of a monastic community, but had monastic practices. These monastic practices led him to scheduled prayer and worship, simple food and drink, and generosity towards his poorer subjects. His generosity led him to be favored by all of his subjects.
This cultivated simplicity that St. Louis maintained allowed him to be more generous towards the poor than he could have been able to had he lived a life of luxury. Reading about St. Louis made me think about vocation and serving others. Often, to serve other people best, we need to sacrifice something that would benefit ourselves. In this way, I think St. Louis exemplifies serving the neighbor.
These readings about the history of Christianity challenge my thinking every week. When I initially read these stories, I think that the monastic life is inherently weird and bad. However, this week in class we discussed how we are reading these through the Lutheran lenses that we have. To be able to fully appreciate and learn from these readings, we need to try and get into the mindsets of people who practiced monasticism. This way we are able to learn and grow from these seemingly irrelevant stories.
Kingdom Come is a musical theater piece that is running from February 15 through February 18 at Concordia St Paul. It focuses on listening to different stories of people from what they remember of 9/11. The people recounting their stories range from a third grader to a lady who has her grocery routine down pat. Not only did the age range vary, but the emotional impact that 9/11 had on them varied too. Some were not effected, other than a slight change in their routine that day. Others lost loved ones in the attack. In the end, the musical conveyed a theme of listening to other people’s stories and working towards understanding.
This musical made me think about how different people process a crisis in their life. While 9/11 effected an entire nation, there are small crises that happen daily and effect a smaller number of people. When I encounter a crisis, I try and process it through logic, emotion, and revelation. However, everyone thinks in different ways and has different ways of knowing truth, which is a topic that we studied in the fall of 2016. Different people will rely more heavily on different ways of knowing, whether it is through observation, revelation, logic, emotion, or art. This musical focused on using art to process the different impacts that 9/11 had on people.
I found this musical to be very well done. The actors and actresses all portrayed their various characters wonderfully. This musical caused me to think more critically about how people process tragedies and the privilege it is to be able to process tragedy in a healthy way. People in areas of constant crisis do not have the opportunity to recover from a specific tragedy before the next one strikes. This thought makes me thankful for the opportunity we have in the U.S. to express our thoughts and emotions through art.