Today we’re happy to share a second example of recent exam essays in GES130 Christianity and Western Culture, in which students explained a lesson they thought contemporary Christians could learn from their medieval forebears. This essay comes from Maddie Sumners, a freshman at Bethel who hails from Victoria, MN and graduated from Chanhassen High School.
One important lesson that would help us in the 21st century comes from St. Benedict, an Italian monk who lived between the 4th and 5th centuries. He formed the version of monasticism known as the Benedictine Order, the rules for which are outlined in The Rule of St. Benedict. He calls Christians to live according to a set of rules that are not meant to be burdensome or oppressing, but gently guide them toward holiness. Also included in this version of monasticism is the idea of living one’s life to glorify God through work and study. What humans in the 21st century can really learn from the Benedictine Order, however, is the idea of living in community with other believers.
Modern culture is increasingly individualistic, with the rise of the internet and technology, people today rarely feel the need to interact with others. In fact, many people do not even leave their homes to attend church. They simply watch sermons online. This individualistic attitude, however, is in opposition to God’s call for Christians.
God calls Christians to join together as communities of faith, so that each person in the community may grow in their own faith journey throught he process of working through personal struggles with others and helping others through any struggles they may be experiencing. It is this mode of sharing one’s life with others that Benedict modeled so well through building monasteries for monks to live in.
Christians should respond to God’s call and live (metaphorically) as St. Benedict and his followers did. In doing so, Christians will form stronger, healthier relationships with God and others, an invaluable benefit of community. Though Benedict lived centuries ago, his model of faith is one that Christians today can learn much from, and his ideas on community should be applied in the 21st century, so that Christians can grow in their faith and come closer to God.
We’ve occasionally published student work from upper-level History courses like Modern Europe and Senior Seminar, but this week I thought I’d share some writing by Bethel students who aren’t necessarily majoring in History… but are studying the past in Christianity and Western Culture, the multidisciplinary first-year course that is a foundation of Bethel’s gen ed curriculum. Taking some inspiration from our former colleague Chris Armstrong, we asked CWC students to conclude their second exams with a short essay sharing “one important lesson… we can learn from medieval Christianity.” We’ll start with this wonderful piece by pre-nursing student Lynsey Zeng (Plymouth, MN).
When Dante Alighieri wrote his way to heaven, he was putting into words what the Medieval mind already knew: that the world, nestled within concentric, crystalline spheres, was little more than an abyss — a hollow pocket to faintly echo the symphony of the cosmos. Beneath the earth, the wintry crater of hell juxtaposed the swift revolution of the planets with its stillness, and the human being, caught at the center of the universe, was given the choice to either ascend or be drawn under. The heliocentric universe, with its conviction that it is outer space which is silent and the world which is a cacophony, would have been ridiculous to the medievals. To them, heaven was paralleled in the order of the universe, and God was just beyond the rim of the stars. For centuries, they built cathedrals like causeways and constructed and constructed towering scholastic arguments in an attempt to peer beyond the physical. Above all, the paradox of the Sacraments was a startling reminder that the Christian must contradict the world in order to be oriented towards God. Modernists may scoff at the primitive science of the “Dark Ages,” but it is telling of our spiritual state that we are often content to live comfortably within the world while the medieval was always trying to climb out of it.
Heliocentrism is correct; human ears cannot perceive sound in the vacuum of outer space and so we have filled the earth with endless distractions. In the 21st century, it is a rare and uncomfortable thing to experience silence, but to the medieval, it was essential. It is what the Christian would have confessed his sins into, and hearing them apart from himself in the quiet, they would have appeared alien and ugly. Silence is what the mystic needed to envision, the scholastic to rationalize, and the monk to reflect. Modern Christians need not believe in geocentrism, but there is something admirable in the medieval attempt to turn culture into a compass towards God. From the Middle Ages we are reminded that we are between heaven and hell, that the distractions of this world are ephemeral, and that perhaps only in the silence can the symphony of heaven be heard.
It’s the first week of the new year at Bethel, but before we get too far into the fall, we thought we’d look back at what the people of AC 2nd did with their summers. We’ll hear from some students soon enough. But let’s start with a few members of our faculty:
Amy Poppinga: It is hard to believe we are already back to school. I had a wonderful summer that consisted of research and writing, quality time with my immediate and extended family, and some personal time with friends. It started with me traveling with my closest friend from Bethel on a trip to Costa Rica to celebrate our 40th birthdays. We attended a week-long women’s surfing camp. It was hard work but I loved it! We met as students in the History department, and I am grateful for our enduring friendship despite many moves, job and life changes.
Then along with my good friend and colleague, Sara Shady, I received two grants to work on creating a new course for Bethel’s Pietas Honors Program. The course centers on community, spiritual identity, and interfaith engagement. Keeping with my continued interest and research in the field of Interfaith Studies, I just co-authored an article, “Building Bridges Across Faith Lines: Responsible Christian Education in a Post-Christian Society” with Marion Larson and Sara Shady for the Journal of Christian Higher Education.
Charlie Goldberg: I was thrilled to have been selected to travel to Greece for nine days to participate in a seminar on fostering an appreciation for the classics in undergraduate education. The seminar was run by Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies in conjunction with the Council of Independent Colleges. Along with nineteen other college professors and trip leaders Greg Nagy (Harvard University) and Kenny Morrell (Rhodes College), I toured the Peloponnese and spent time in Delphi and Athens. The group discussed strategies for raising appreciation for the classics and ancient history at small colleges, shared lesson plans, and made plans for future collaborations. I also shared my experience launching Bethel’s new Digital Humanities major with others interested in similar efforts at their home institutions, and will forever appreciate the lifelong professional and personal relationships I forged on the trip.
Sam Mulberry: I spent this summer getting back up to speed with normal Bethel work after my Spring 2018 sabbatical. I had two major projects on my plate. First, I worked to build academic schedules for incoming students who will be new to Bethel in the Fall. This included both building their initial schedules as well as meeting with students throughout the summer to make changes and adjustments to their schedules. Secondly, I taught CWC (GES130) online with Chris Gehrz and Amy Poppinga. This was my sixth straight summer teaching this class. Although everything in the class went really smoothly, I did spend a chunk of the summer starting to think through how the next iteration of the class might look.
Chris Gehrz: This summer break was incredible! I spent the first five weeks of break out east, mostly doing research for my new Charles Lindbergh biography. I started at the Library of Congress (holding an impromptu alumni reunion along the way) then spent a month back at my graduate alma mater, Yale University, home of the Lindbergh Papers. While I was in the Northeast, I also had the chance to preach at three churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts, as a follow-up to my 2017 book, The Pietist Option. Meanwhile, I found time to walk the Freedom Trail in Boston, see my first game at Fenway Park, and visit Plymouth Rock. But the true highlight of my summer came in mid-July… On my way back to the Midwest, I detoured to southwestern Virginia for a week to take part in the celebration of my dad’s retirement, after 45 years of service as a pediatrician and medical researcher.
Prof. Sam Mulberry is the latest member of our department to be featured in Bethel’s Meet the Faculty video series. In his interview, Prof. Mulberry explains the connection between empathy and historical study in courses like GES130 Christianity and Western Culture: “History, when it’s taught well, can help us approach events, ideas, controversies from multiple perspectives. It challenges us to think about things from different points of view.”
Part two of our brief series sharing summer plans from Bethel’s history professors. (Read part one here.)
This summer, Sam Mulberry be working at Bethel on three major projects. First, he’ll help build academic schedules for incoming students who will be new to Bethel in the Fall. This includes both building their initial schedules as well as meeting with students throughout the summer to make changes and adjustments to their schedules. Secondly, Prof. Mulberry will be teaching Christianity and Western Culture (CWC) online with Chris Gehrz and Amy Poppinga — his fifth straight summer teaching this class. Finally, Prof. Mulberry will be working on several major video production projects: a series of digital study skills workshops; a new online Tutor Training for Bethel’s Academic Enrichment and Support Center; a video archive of exit interviews with students of color who have recently graduated from Bethel; and a short interview film with faculty who were on Sabbatical during the 2016-17 academic year.
Amy Poppinga is off to Montana in early June with her family for ten days of touring, horseback riding, fishing, and white water rafting in Glacier National Park. Upon her return she will be working to implement a grant she and colleagues Marion Larson and Sara Shady received along with faculty from the University of St. Thomas and Augsburg. The campuses will be working together to host an interfaith leadership conference for students in February 2018 at St. Thomas. In the meantime, Poppinga, Larson, and Shady are waiting to hear news regarding another grant for interfaith competency training for faculty and staff at Bethel. They are also working to submit a proposal for the CCCU International Forum in 2018. She will also be resuming edits on her dissertation, and teaching online Summer CWC with her colleagues, Sam Mulberry and Chris Gehrz. When she’s not working on any of the following, she can be found watching her sons play baseball or spending time on her paddleboard at the family cabin in Alexandria, Minnesota.
In addition to co-teaching online CWC with Profs. Mulberry and Poppinga, Chris Gehrz will be developing a fall section of Bethel’s new Inquiry Seminar, a first-year gen ed course that introduces students to the Christian liberal arts and helps them develop critical thinking, research, writing, and speaking skills. His section will focus on how Christians strive for unity in the midst of a polarized society. Then he’s also excited to get started on a new research project: a “spiritual but not religious” biography of Charles Lindbergh. (Look for the finished product sometime in 2021, on whatever new platform has taken the place of Amazon.) In his spare time, he’ll chauffeur seven-year old twins kept busy with a schedule full of baseball practices/games and Roseville parks and rec programming. Then there’s an August road trip to Colorado — during which Prof. Gehrz will (finally!) see Mount Rushmore. (Unless his wife decides that they’ll fly. In which case his childhood wish will remain unmet for another year.)
“The Things They Carried” is not only the title of a short story collection by Tim O’Brien but also series of articles in Foreign Policy Magazine. In these articles, a writer at Foreign Policy profiles a person with a unique job in the world of international relations by creating a photo spread of the items that they carry with them as they perform their duties. This series was pointed out to my by my colleague in the Political Science department Chris Moore. It seemed like an interesting way to use physical objects to tell a a person’s story and to profile who they are and the job they do. He challenged me to create a similar series on our departmental blog to highlight the people in my department and the work that they do. I agreed. As a guinea pig to test how this would work, I started with myself. Among other things, I am one of the people who teach Bethel’s Christianity and Western Culture (CWC) course. These are the things that I carry to when I go to give a lecture.
1. Paper Box Lid – I am often seen walking around campus caring the lid to a paper box filled with the items I need for class or meetings. People who see my at a distance think that I’m carrying a pizza or a box of doughnuts. I end up disappointing them with the in-edibility of the items that are actually in the box. In my office I have a stack of eight extra boxes for when my current box begins to break down.
2. Class Announcements – One of my jobs in CWC is to coordinate the team of Teaching Assistants(TAs) for the class. At the beginning of each lecture one of the TAs reads the announcements to the class. This is both to let students know about upcoming events and to get the TAs comfortable speaking in front of 130 students.
3. Lecture Notes – When I first started lecturing in CWC, I would write out the text of my whole lecture. Now I’ve moved to starting my lectures by building my PowerPoint and then writing out my lecture talking points on a printout of my slides. My goal is to not have to make reference to my notes while I’m giving a lecture, but it is always helpful to have them with me when my mind inevitably goes blank.
4. Zoom Audio Recorder – For about a decade I have been audio recording CWC lectures – both the lectures give and those given by my colleagues. We use these lecture recordings to help orient new faculty to the course as they are writing new lectures. I also listen to a recording of my lecture from the previous semester in morning before class to help me review the content that I need to cover.
5. Printouts of PowerPoint Slides – It is part of my job to manage disability accommodations for the students in CWC. I bring printouts of the PowerPoints to give to the students who require this as part of their accommodations.
6. Dry Erase Makers – When CC313 – the lecture hall where CWC is taught – was remodeled in the summer of 2015, the chalkboards were removed and replaced with whiteboards. I am not a huge fan of whiteboards largely because I have anxiety about the markers dying on my in the middle of class. For this reason I bring a box of black dry erase markers for specific CWC use in CC313. I put blue tape on the ends of the markers to label them as CWC markers. The ones that are bundled in the rubber band and brand new, while the un-bundled markers have been used. Once a marker starts to fade, it needs to be recycled.
7. Diet Mountain Dew – I am both addicted to caffeine and not a fan of coffee. So Diet Mountain Dew is pretty ever-present as my caffeine deliver system.
8. iPod Touch – I don’t own a cell phone, but my iPod Touch is a necessary piece of my daily routine. I rely on in for e-mail, texting, and as my timepiece. I don’t listen to music much, but I do listen to lots of podcasts. I also use by iPod to listen to recordings of my old lectures in order to prepare for future classes.
9. Keys – My keys are actually an important item to have in class, because inevitably I will forget to bring something to class and will need to run back to my office at the last minute. There are more keys on this key ring than are necessary. I actually only know what four of these keys are for. I’m not even sure where the others came from, but I’ve carried them around for over a decade.
10. “To Do” List – Every morning I start my day by writing a “To Do” list. It includes all of my daily appointments and all of the tasks that I need to complete. I carry it with me throughout the day and check off tasks as they are accomplished. I’m pretty certain I’d me unable to do my job without this regular routine.
11. Pens – I am never without a number of pens, and most of them are green. I do all of my grading in green pen and ask the my TAs do so as well. This was something that I inherited from my mentor and predecessor Virginia Lettinga.
12. Clicker – I move around quite a bit when I teach and I use a significant number of timings and animations in my PowerPoints. Having a clicker keeps me from being tethered to my laptop. I got my first clicker as a gift from Mike Holmes. Although that clicker eventually broke, I still carry keep it in my computer bag because a gift from Mike Holmes is pretty cool.
13. Laptop Computer – I typically bring my computer to class and hook it up to the classroom projector. I do this because I’m kind of picky about my PowerPoints and I like to use specific not standard fonts at times. If I run the slideshow off my my computer, then I feel more confident that everything will work. I also use my computer as a portable podcast and movie studio for other aspects of my job.
This morning, our own Profs. Sam Mulberry and Chris Gehrz hosted a special presentation in the Bethel Library in honor of the 30th anniversary of GES130 Christianity and Western Culture (CWC). If you missed it, you can find video of the event on the Library’s YouTube channel:
Mostly, the event consisted of Chris interviewing CWC faculty from different eras: Mike Holmes (BTS), one of the course’s four founders; late 80s/early 90s faculty Dan Ritchie (English) and Paul Reasoner (Philosophy), who went on to teach in the Western Humanities program; and current faculty members Sara Shady (Philosophy) and Amy Poppinga (History). Live on tape, we also heard from former history prof Neil Lettinga and his wife Virginia (long the coordinators of the course), plus philosopher David Williams. There was also a brief tribute to Stacey Hunter Hecht, who taught CWC during most of her career at Bethel and passed away last December.
The presentation concluded with Chris performing a rare live, unplugged version of his updated version of the “Augustine Rap,” originated by Dan Ritchie and then-CWC instructor Greg Boyd back in the first decade of the course. (Of course, there’s also a music video version of that rap — Chris said he found it less embarrassing to rap live than to show that video, but there’s nothing stopping you from clicking here now.)
If you want to dive deeper into the history of this foundational course, Sam has worked with digital library manager Kent Gerber to create a significant, growing collection of media and digitized artifacts from CWC. In addition, earlier this year Sam conducted an oral history project among some of the course’s many former teaching assistants, including five former History majors and minors. It’s available via a digital timeline. (click on the image to see the full timeline)
I’m writing from CC 313, a room number familiar to every Bethel student who has taken GES130 Christianity and Western Culture (CWC) during its nearly thirty years of existence. As I tap away, University Professor of Biblical Studies and Early Christianity Mike Holmes is lecturing on the history of European imperialism.
Mike has been filling in for a colleague on sabbatical, and will probably not return to CWC before he completes his time at Bethel. So this makes his imperialism lecture rather historic: not only Mike’s last bow in CWC, but the last lecture given by one of the course’s four founders — Neil Lettinga (History) having left Bethel in 2003 and Kevin Cragg (History) and Dan Taylor (English) having retired in recent years.
It’s been a pleasure and an honor to teach with Mike — and a relief to find that he feels that the course he helped to create is in good hands. It says a lot about Bethel in general and CWC in particular that first-year students not only can learn about the Bible from one of the world’s leading experts on the New Testament, but that they can hear him as part of a multidisciplinary team, teaching on the chapters in history that — as Mike likes to put it — fill the space in his Intro to Bible syllabus between Acts and Revelation.
And as a younger professor, it’s wonderful to get to learn from a senior colleague who remains engaged and encouraging even while teaching outside his field of expertise so late in his career.
Joined by about ten former CWC professors, we took a few minutes at the end of lecture to applaud Mike and his contributions to one of Bethel’s signature courses. If you’d like to join us in celebrating our colleague, please leave your thanks (and perhaps favorite Mike Holmes-in-CWC memory) in the comments section below.
On Wednesday morning professors treated their teaching assistants to breakfast to kick off Study Day.
Later that day, two of our TAs gave presentations on special projects they completed in Prof. Amy Poppinga’s course, HIS212U Introduction to the Muslim World: one shared her research into Muslim-Christian interactions at various points in history (here’s the blog she produced on that subject), and the other reflected on her experience working as a volunteer at a Muslim private school in the area.
Then several of our faculty attended the second annual installment of West by Midwest, an informal festival of innovating teaching. Sam Mulberry talked about his new podcast, Autobiography; Chris Gehrz offered a preview of our department’s new Introduction to History course (HIS290 — debuting next spring as a requirement for all new majors and minors); and Amy Poppinga talked about joining Sam and Chris this summer for the second year that GES130 Christianity and Christian Culture will be offered online. (Learn more at Chris’ blog this morning, where he collected his live-tweets from “WxMW” and wrote about Intro to History.)
Here are some images of the festivities so far. Look for more after Commencement on Saturday, with our students and faculty participating in the 9am ceremony.
From left to right… Front: Sarah Herb, Sarah Ouverson, Tyler DuBois / Back: Prof. Chris Gehrz, Bob Johnson, Kelly Van Wyk, Paul Flowers, Fletcher Warren, Mike Vangstad
A bonus feature of Senior Sem night: an impromptu reunion of half the group that went to Europe in January 2013 on our World War I trip! Front: Matisse Murray ’13, Sarah Ouverson, Sarah Herb, Gretchen Luhmann, Annie Berglund ’13 / Back: Prof. Chris Gehrz, Prof. Sam Mulberry, Mike Vangstad. Michaela (Anderson) Sperl ’13 was there most of the night as well, but had to leave before we could take the picture.
Our 2014 TA Appreciation Breakfast… Clockwise from front-left: Prof. AnneMarie Kooistra, Daniel Rimmereid, Prof. Amy Poppinga, Jacob Manning, Sarah Ouverson, Fletcher Warren, Prof. Ruben Rivera, Gretchen Luhmann, Sarah Herb, Kelly Van Wyk, Prof. Katie Thostenson. Hidden by Kelly’s hair: Prof. Diana Magnuson.
Our colleague Sam Mulberry offered these words on Monday and Tuesday, as a benediction for the last meeting of the fall in GES130 Christianity and Western Culture (CWC). May they bless and challenge you as you continue your own education…
You made it to the end of CWC. There are a lot of different reactions to that. Some of you are happy to have got the grade you wanted and be done. Some are just happy to be done. Period. Some of you are watching the clock, wondering how long until this is over.
And then there are some of you — maybe only a small few of you — who were maybe really impacted or affected by what we have done together here. Maybe some people who have at least part of them who don’t want to see this end.
For those of you in the first group… It is OK: we are almost done. I won’t talk for long. Just keep watching the clock. Soon you will have the rest of your life to celebrate not being in CWC.
But for those of you in the second group — who really found themselves connecting to something in this course — know that you are among friends and kindred spirits. Eighteen years ago — half my life ago — I sat right here in this room and felt a little sad that it was over. Eighteen years and thirty-one semesters later, I still feel sad. Why?
Let me read to you one of my favorite stories in all of Scripture… in all of literature, really. It comes from the book of Genesis:
Jacob is preparing to meet with his brother Esau. They have had a tumultuous relationship, to say the least. But it is late at night, and Jacob is preparing to confront and come to terms with his brother.
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peni′el, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penu′el, limping because of his thigh. (Genesis 32:22-31, RSV)
What does this have to do with anything?
Throughout this course, we’ve tried to argue that God reveals himself to us through our stories — both our individual stories and our collective story. In this course, we have examined part — just a sliver, really — of this story. And as we’ve experienced this story of some of the people of God in history — their lives, their ideas, their flaws, and their faith — I hope and pray that at moments you have encountered God, in the people you’ve studied and the people you’ve studied with. And like Jacob on the shores of the Jabbok River, you’ve probably realized that some of these encounters are difficult and challenging things. Most good educational and religious experiences are. Most things worth investing your life in are.
But there are two things, I think, to learn from Jacob’s story as we approach our own wrestling matches with God and those difficult moments when we look at God face to face.
First, Jacob leaves this night of struggle and striving with not only a blessing, but also a limp. In the same way, we are blessed to have these experiences together and we are blessed to have this education. But I kind of hope that we are wounded by it, too. I hope we realize that we are affected by it… that it changes us… that we are not allowed to just be the same.
I hope that we can pay attention to these wounds and scars from our education and our experiences. If you find yourself affected deeply by history, philosophy, political science, theology, or literature, make sure to chase those feelings down. (Or as much as you can chase them down with a limp.) Go find professors and other students who have been affected and wounded in similar ways and know that you are home.
The second lesson from Jacob’s late-night encounter with God is that Jacob took the time to recognize that the place where this wrestling match happened was holy ground. He names the place Peni’el, which means “the face of God.” To him it was holy ground.
Maybe it’s a sign that I’ve been involved with CWC for too long, but at the end of each semester I can’t help but think of the thousands of people — students, professors, and TAs — who have met in this room over the last twenty-eight years to read, and to listen, and to learn… To encounter God, to wrestle with God, and maybe — just maybe — see the face of God. For me, this place is holy ground.
So as each semester ends, I feel a bit sad… Sad that this time that we have together is over.
But I’m also proud. I’m proud of those of you who got the grade you wanted and now are done. I’m proud of you who are happy to just be done. I’m even proud of you whose only thought right now is the realization that I’m clearly wrapping up my thoughts. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m proudest of all of those of you that I see exit these doors today with the slight indication of a limp.
Heavenly Father, Please help us to be wounded and healed Wounded and healed Wounded and healed Teach us to long for and find our rest in you.