Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Snippets.

The last couple of months I have been reading "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis for my devotions, and since there is often a severe lack of engagement as I read, I tried to highlight passages that I felt expressed something important. My intent now is to copy some of them over so I can expand on them a little bit. There are quite a few, so I will try to spread them out over a few posts. This process is mostly for my benefit, but hopefully some of the quotes strike you as interesting. I covered my feelings on C.S. Lewis's writing style (and the first of my highlighted quotes) in a previous post, so feel free to go back and check that out.
love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god
This is actually a quote from the author M. Denis de Rougemont that Lewis uses to put his treatment of the concept of love within the book into context. This line makes little sense initially, but there is actually a lot of truth to it, though not necessarily a truth we want to believe. I spend as much time thinking about "love" as a concept as anyone else, often to the point of placing it on a pedestal above my relationship with God. It is easy to view love as the highest honor. Romance and brotherhood and friendship seem to be infallible ideals, concepts that cannot be wrong and must be protected at all costs. The human loves are good, but not purely so, and it is important to realize that at some times they stand in the way of more important things. Lewis reiterates this fact when he says:
The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love. No less than that: but also no more
Lewis breaks up the human loves into four categories (hence the title of the book): affection, friendship, eros, and charity, but he also categorizes different types of love as need-loves, gift-loves, and appreciative love, which he describes as follows:
Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: "We give thanks to thee for thy great glory." Need-love says of a woman "I cannot live without her"; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection--if possible, wealth; Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never have seen her at all.
I find it interesting how each part of those types of love is good, and provides pleasure, in its own way.

One final passage, which actually does not talk about love at all, but expresses something I have always known to be true without being able to put into words:
If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn;
The temptation to look at a beautiful sunset or landscape or flower and search for some specific insight is a fruitless exercise. Lewis expands on this idea saying:
Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you.
I spend too much time urgently looking for meaning and inspiration, causing me to miss all of the meaning and inspiration that constantly surround me.

That is all I have for now. There are another dozen or so passages I have highlighted, so I will get to those as I have time. Questions, comments, concerns? Feel free to leave me a note.



Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's Rare.

If it bothers you when I talk about Michigan football, even just a little bit, most of this post will likely make you sick to your stomach. I make no apologies for that, however. You have been warned.

Also, on a completely unrelated not, I normally make a point to try to avoid contractions (Thanks Mrs. Wierenga!) in my writing because it's technically a bit more professional and contractions indicate laziness. (Which I possess in great quantities, but would prefer not to put on display.) That doesn't work quite so well when I'm in full-on stream-of-consciousness mode, so I'm throwing it out the window for this post. I do apologize for this.

I have been watching Michigan football for quite a while. I don't know exactly when I started, but I do know it was probably before I was potty trained. I wish I could recall more of the great games and performances of the past, along with the players that have been enshrined in Michigan lore.

I remember vaguely watching the 1997 national championship game (I was in Arizona visiting family during Christmas break of 4th grade) and how I was confused about how there could possibly be two champions at one time (Pro-tip: there can't. We won. Sorry Nebraska.), but I can't for the life of me recall anything about Charles Woodson's dismantling of Ohio State that season.

I remember leaving to go trick-or-treating with Michigan down two touchdowns to Michigan State, only to discover through garbled Nextel Direct Connect messages from my dad that Braylon Edwards was doing the unthinkable. I got back to a friend's house just in time to catch the third overtime and the umpteenth miracle play of the game. I was elated.

I remember Mike Hart playing through pain and defenders, refusing to stop moving forward, refusing to let go of the ball, until he had gained enough yards for a first down or a touchdown.

When these things happened, I felt happy. I never have figured out why, but maybe that's the point. I'm hooked. Michigan football was dangled in front of me and I bit. I didn't get snagged through the lip, I swallowed the hook whole. Sports are strange like that, and it's not explainable and I don't care.

This season is different though, and for once, I can pinpoint exactly why. It's not the fact that I'm a student, although that helps. It's not that we've won a couple of games, though that also helps. It really all comes down to Denard Robinson. Shoelace. Number sixteen. Dilithium incarnate.

In an email exchange with my Dad this morning, I passed on the following link: http://umichedme.blogspot.com/2010/09/all-wine_14.html. If you're a Michigan fan, read it. If you're a football fan, read it. If you're a creative writing fan, read it. Really, if you're a fan of anything, read it. Whether the topic is your cup of tea or not, you'll understand. It was hard for me to get through because the author says exactly what I feel, and in a way I am completely incapable of.

Over the last few weeks, we've seen Denard Robinson do a lot of things. He's run a lot. He's thrown a lot. He's been on NBC and CBS and BTN and ESPN and a dozen other acronyms. School children and grandmothers and college athletes and businessmen know his name.

But what he hasn't done says more about him than what he has. He hasn't gloated or called for praise. He doesn't like to be interviewed, and he certainly doesn't want to hear your Heisman predictions.

I concluded that email exchange with my Dad by saying: "I have never been so purely happy for someone I've never met than I am for Denard Robinson right now." That's the truth.

The closest I've ever come to this feeing before was also related to Michigan football, but didn't involve a player. When I saw Lloyd Carr carried off the field after defeating Tim Tebow and the Gators three years ago, I was happy. I was happy because he was happy, and that's how I feel now.

The thing is, a person like Denard Robinson is rare. He wears his faith on his sleeve without being pushy. He kneels in the endzone after a touchdown without making a show of it. He doesn't taunt the opposing fans or players, he goes and finds them after the game to congratulate them on a good fight. He deflects questions about himself in order to praise his teammates. His heroes are his offensive line, his receivers, his running backs, his defense, and anyone else on the team not named Denard Robinson.

He says things like: “I mean, uh, when they call my number, and the offensive line is blocking like that, and it’s God willing, and God engineering, I mean, I can do whatever.”

Who knows if he'll stay healthy all season, or if he'll win the Heisman, or if Michigan will win 10 games? All I know is that Denard Robinson and people like him are what sports should be about, and it makes me proud to be a Wolverine.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comfort Food.

I have only been in Ann Arbor for a short time, so I am just starting to learn my way around and meet a few people. While I have avoided homesickness, I still enjoyed going home last weekend and going to my own Church and having dinner with my family. This past week has been a little more hectic than most as I get settled in all my classes and start to figure out exactly what will be required of me, who I need to talk to for help, which students will be in my project groups, and so on and so forth. My roommate decided to head home for the weekend to spend some time with his fiance (fair enough) but I decided to stick around and maybe get some things done (which I have absolutely failed at so far...).

Yesterday was a blast, even though my head cold was still nagging me, due to the thrilling Michigan win over Notre Dame. The phone calls and texts I received during and after the game were fantastic. I have never heard my Grandpa so out of breath in my life, and he told me he was strong and refrained from turning off the TV in disgust after Notre Dame's go-ahead touchdown with a few minutes left! It will always be those little things that make me feel connected to home even though technically I am "away" from it. Much like a home-cooked meal, those moments snap me right back to Cutlerville.

My other "comfort food" moment came during Church this morning. I attended the Campus Chapel with a couple of friends, and it was amazing to me how similar services can be regardless of where they are held. The Campus Chapel is a reformed ministry right near the university's central campus, and the pastor is a graduate of both Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary. This means that all of the nuances of a CRC service remained intact, regardless of the fact that the building is much smaller, the congregation almost entirely consists of students, and it is located in a city that is completely different from Grand Rapids. (Ann Arbor is like one gigantic Eastown.) I felt entirely comfortable as I recognized the following service elements:
  • A bulletin, complete with asterisks indicating to the congregation when they will be expected to stand
  • A slightly awkward pause as the liturgist decided unilaterally that one asterisk had been neglected and the congregation suddenly had to decide whether to trust him or the bulletin
  • Singing that starts incredibly soft as the congregation feels out the room and gauges what the final, "acceptable" volume will be.
  • And many more
Each of these aspects of a CRCish church service are relatively inconsequential, and I cannot say whether they are good or bad, they just are. They are the quirks that make me feel at home.

I look forward to checking out at least one or two more churches in the area to see which ones fit with the worship and preaching style I find most engaging, but I know that if I ever need to feel completely comfortable, there is at least one church that can accomodate me. (I have heard that Ann Arbor CRC may be even MORE similar to my home church, but we shall see about that.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Complaints.

This post won't just be me whining for 2000 words. In fact, I won't be whining at all. Thought I should let you know that before you decide to leave.

I spent a little bit of time as I registered for my three CSE classes this semester checking out my professors on RateMyProfessors.com.

My professor for Introduction to Artificial Intelligence had no reviews, but he is my academic advisor, and his father taught at Calvin some time ago, so I'm sure he's a nice guy. I have heard he is a bit dry, but I can handle dry as long as his grading is fair and the workload avoids being over the top.

The professor teaching Microarchitecture had only one rating, but it was generally positive. I think that should be a pretty interesting class regardless of who teaches it, but hopefully he turns out to be a positive force in the classroom rather than an obstacle to be overcome.

That brings me to my final professor, teaching Introduction to Operating Systems. Reading through his reviews, it quickly became evident that students have really appreciated his style and his desire to help them learn.

At this point I ran across several reviews that caught my eye. Both mentioned that their single complaint with this professor is that he talks about Christianity and his faith in class. Needless to say, I am thrilled about this complaint on a personal level. It will be exciting to see how he manages to work his beliefs into the curriculum.

There is another issue at hand, however, and I am still undecided on exactly what my stance is. The University of Michigan is a public school, and we have all heard about the separation of Church and State at some point. What is, or should be permissible for a professor to do or say as an employee of the state within a classroom setting? Maybe it is helpful to look at some possible actions to attempt to determine where the line between what should and should not be allowed.
  • Forcing any kind of religion on students - obviously a bad thing. It should never affect someone's performance or grade in class.
  • Conducting prayer time, devotions, etc. before class probably falls under this umbrella as well. I would be incredibly uncomfortable if someone with religious beliefs different than mine did this.
  • Bringing up your beliefs and mentioning your faith is fine, as long as it isn't presented as "course material."
It should be interesting to see how much this professor brings up the subject of his Christianity and how he does so. I look forward to chatting with him about it at some point and picking his brain about how he decides what to say and what not to say. I have never experienced a public school environment, so it would be difficult for me to gauge how tough it is to walk the line between witnessing by example and being pushy.

One thing I do think is very important is the fact that he at least mentions that he is a Christian. This disclosure opens the door for his actions, regardless of whether they are strictly religious or simply actions indicating how he conducts himself on a daily basis, to be a witness and a positive force.

Classes start tomorrow morning at 9am, so I need desperately to get some sleep (spent Saturday night on the floor and Sunday night on a couch). Time for all of this to get shockingly real!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Gettin' Started!

Alright, so I've been in Ann Arbor since Saturday, and it's been really slow with a few interesting moments thus far. Since I'm stealing (with permission) some internet from friends in an apartment across our creek until ours gets installed, which won't happen for two more weeks (dumb.), I'm going to just throw together a quick-hits bulleted list to get the details down.
  • Ann Arbor is awesome. Our apartment is pretty sweet as well. Out of the way enough that I don't have to go through any ridiculous traffic to get to it, but close enough that I can bike anywhere on campus in a reasonable amount of time. It should take me about ten minutes to get to classes on my bike, but I'd really be booking it.
  • Getting my MCard was a bigger hassle than I expected. The process was straightforward, but since I ordered it online and it was pre-printed, I had to go all the way to central campus to pick it up. Once I got there it was all ready for me though, so that was nice.
  • I won't have campus network access until next week Tuesday. I guess that's not a huge deal since I don't have classes until then anyway, but it would have been nice to be able to go hang out on campus and have internet access there.
  • Peter finally arrived, which is great. I was planning on him getting here Saturday, but since he's engaged now he had a bunch of wedding planning stuff to work out and didn't arrive until last night.
  • Since he wasn't here and I didn't have a car, I lived off of Wendy's and brownies for three days. That was awful. We went to Wal Mart last night and now I'm stocked up. Feels nice to have food in the house. I've already eaten a bunch of healthy things like grapes and whole wheat sandwiches and pizza.
  • I met with my advisor today. His dad taught at Calvin, so he was familiar with my engineering background, and he was very friendly and helpful. I was a little nervous about getting some jerk, but it worked out great.
  • My advisor said my three semester plan looked "very well planned out" (Hey thanks, I did it while I was in Wendy's yesterday!) and as long as I get into the classes I was wait listed for, I should be right on track.
  • He also thought that the reasoning behind which classes I'm taking was solid, so that was a huge relief. Now I just need to dominate them and get out with a good GPA and I should be all set to join the real world!
That's about it. Once I have more consistent internet access and some stories to tell I'll check back in.

Also, GO BLUE! BEAT UCONN!