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Essay

Neighbor/Enemy

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It seems like there’s been a lot happening lately and thus, many possible subjects for today’s blog. The old president at the University of Virginia got to come back, and a new president got to begin at Calvin College; figs are the most “under-appreciated” fruit of the season (or so I read—what else we are “appreciating,” I’m not sure); and Frederick Buechner celebrates his 86th birthday next week. I’ve had the Andy Griffith theme, whistling in my head all day. And what with Canada Day this past Sunday and the Independence Day today, it’s sort of mega-patriotism week too. And there were other available topics too:

  •       Record heat and storms (global warning? creation care?). 
  •       Katie and Tom’s divorce? 
  •       The announcement (and cover unveiling) of J.K. Rowling’s new book for grown-ups, The Casual Vacancy (a.k.a. not a Harry Potter book). 
  •       A Reformed perspective on the seeming increase in the cultural phenomenon of male stripping as evidenced by Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Magic Mike (I’ll need to see that one for “research” before I write about it here).

In all seriousness, though, I’ve been following with great interest the conversation among my colleagues here at The Twelve around the recent RCA Synod. Though I teach at Calvin, I have been a member of two RCA congregations now. But it is not my denomination in the same way that it is for so many of the others here. Certainly, I greatly love the Reformed tradition, but in both its RCA and CRC expressions that love stems from an intellectual attraction, not the warm love of childhood. Still, as someone who has come to treasure this family of believers, I worry about the way ahead. 

Others here have been more eloquent than I and, no doubt, have more insight into real solutions that the RCA and CRC might pursue. Actually, my question is really broader than any one divisive issue. Instead I want to ask: what is the Church’s witness? Even in the midst of asking hard questions and facing tough decisions. From within: what happens when our “neighbor” becomes our “enemy.” How do we really love them? Externally: how do we ensure that folks see the tender grace of God, even when we are at odds with each other? Can we argue well? How do we show the winsomeness of a savior who cares for the “least of these” when we are being disagreeable with one another or asserting power? How do we testify to the Spirit’s leading when it is clear that we already feel we know the truth—and those opposed to us obviously don’t (and probably aren’t smart enough to ever will).

I don’t have any good answers, only one basic principle.  I lived in Japan for several years when I was in high school, and every time you left the base, you were greeted with this sign: 

You are now leaving the Base.

You represent America.

Act accordingly. 

I wonder if we need a similar reminder at church: of the God we serve and the actions and attitudes that that demands.  Maybe so. 

 

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

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