I Might Be Peter (writes Ben Hoekstra)

Recently in church, my pastor gave a sermon on John 18. He talked about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, and of Peter’s denial. He talked about how Peter didn’t really know who Jesus was, he didn’t really know why Jesus came, and he didn’t really know the kingdom Jesus was bringing.

Peter, like usual, got the bad rap. He is loud, brash, and quick to act. He says what he thinks, like that one student in class that always raises his or her hand for every question. Then he has the gall to deny being one of Jesus’s disciples not once, not twice, but ​three ​times. And he even denies it to a young servant girl, who in that context had no power to bring about consequences.

There is a level where blaming Peter for his actions is fair. He messed up.

But the scary thing is that we are more like Peter than we may like to admit.

I’m sure you’ve heard that before… Sermons or talks echoing with phrases like “When have you denied Jesus?”… “When have you not talked about Him with your friends or coworkers?”… “When did you not speak up for Him?”

These are not what I’m talking about, though they are also valid points.

I was struck as my pastor talked by the earnestness of Peter. His ​misguided ​ earnestness. He is the first disciple to tell Jesus that they know He is the Messiah, the Son of God. He is the first disciple to rise to defend Jesus when the soldiers come. He runs to the tomb when they hear Jesus has risen.

It isn’t as though Peter has bad intentions. He confesses Christ boldly, but then he wants Jesus to run from death and suffering even though that is the very reason Jesus came. When the soldiers come to take Jesus, Peter draws his sword in a moment of supreme idiocy and bravery, prepared to fight insurmountable odds to protect his Master. He even follows Jesus after Jesus is taken, though he then denies being a disciple of the Messiah.

By now, perhaps you are admitting a grudging respect for Peter, even in his pre-restored state of the brash disciple.

But do you see how like him you are?

I do. I can be loud and brash, quick to speak because I think that I have something of value to say. I want to be the one to voice what those around me believe, to tell the Master that we believe in Him. If I were in that lucky group of Twelve, I would say what Peter said.

And if soldiers came to take my Lord, I would do the same brash, pig-headed thing Peter did. I would fight. I would look at it as a brave and principled stand, to die on that wooded hill called “of Olives.” You see, that’s what Peter does. He is taking a bold and dangerous stand for Jesus. And how often do I do that? How often do we? We choose a hill to stand and die on, be it gay marriage or Calvinism or male ordination. And we pull out our sharp tongues and battle any who would come against, believing that if we do not stand here, all will be lost. It is not though Jesus was not worth defending, nor that these things are not worth defending. But this violent, aggressive stance did not gain praise from Jesus.

In this time of Peter’s Braveheart-esque stand, Jesus rebukes him. Can you imagine? To take such a bold and dangerous stand and to see the Lord you have believed in tell you no? That your sword and your life are not meant for this patch of ground.

It would be devastating. Then to follow Jesus, terrified and confused and ashamed. And as people ask you if you are a follower of Jesus, you juxtapose your weak “I am not” with His “I AM” that floored hardened soldiers. You say it because you are afraid, but maybe you say it too because you are beginning to believe it. You don’t know if you really are a follower of Jesus, because when you thought you were doing what was right, He showed you that you weren’t. And you are so scared, both because you don’t want to die and you aren’t sure if you deserve to be a part of Jesus’s band of disciples anymore.

This way of looking at Peter does not divorce his denial from its stark sin. It does not excuse his abandonment of the One who would never leave us nor forsake us. But maybe, just maybe, it shows us that we are a bit more like Peter than we’d like to admit. We are eager to please, we lash out in violence while claiming to take a stand, and we deny the One who bought us.

So there is more to Peter than a fear of death. He is loud, he is proud, and he is brash. But the more I look at him, the more I realize it.

I might be Peter.

Listening for Things We Don’t Want to Hear

The foundations and first year experience faculty, staff, and administration spend considerable time and effort to invite freshmen and incoming transfers into a space that is hospitable. Over the years I’ve found that using a Trinity buzzword like “hospitality” could earn me an eye roll and may occasionally be used in jest because of the frequency with which it is used on campus, but there is a depth and a seriousness about it that I’m not sure I understood until I had opportunity to apply it off campus. As a part of the Chicago Semester program I participate in weekly arts events in the city in various forms and with a variety of purposes. A few weeks ago the group attended a play written and produced by an artist who had been sent to Middle Eastern countries in order to interview Iraqi refugees. She performed the resulting theatrical work solo, accompanied only by a musician to provide sound effects and background music. After the show they had a time for questions with the performers and two representatives from humanitarian workers who interact with Iraqi refugees on a regular basis. In that conversation the four speakers mentioned their frustration with how the media is portraying the conflict in the Middle East and the people involved. They were especially upset with the message of the movie American Sniper.

I spent some time that night and in the following days thinking about and talking with others about why the performance had made us so uncomfortable. One person I spoke with was turned off to the play because of the inconsistency in tone and the speaker’s negative views on a movie he enjoyed and whose message he appreciated. After explaining the production to someone else they replied, “There are some people who are going to be against anything that had to do with Bush.” I realized that I wanted to see the movie in order to understand story that had people up in arms on both sides. When I told people in advance what I was doing or thinking of doing I continued to get mixed responses. One person told me not to go. “It’s racist.” Another said it was good. When it came up in another conversation a friend told me they would not be seeing it because it glorified the things the U.S. does overseas, and he did not approve. To an extent, these fueled my desire to make my own decision.

My own conclusion after seeing the movie, though, is that I cannot give it a review. Like the play about the Iraqi refugees it was an artistic representation of one family’s experience with war. Their pain was real and showed war through one man’s eyes. What has become more obvious to me through this experience is the importance of allowing ourselves to listen well, even, and especially, when what we hear may not be easy, fun, or familiar.

In FYF we talk about hospitality as creating a space where people could come and be who they are without pressure to be changed. At first, my very opinionated 18 year-old self chafed at this. “If people are going to be in my space then the rules of right and wrong are going to apply to them too.” I thought. I was and am confident that there is absolute truth in the Word of God. Where I fell short was in understanding that there was more to that truth than my fairly narrow experience of it. In my very conservative “Jesus is a republican” upbringing I had never thought about how much God cares about the pain of the Iraqi refugees in the Middle East. I had assumed for the most part that war stayed where it was and that I didn’t have to worry about the soldiers who made it home. I became very good at not talking to strangers in order to avoid the need I saw on the street and assuming that all my friends at the private Christian college and Chicago Semester programs would think, for the most part, like me. But that wasn’t the whole truth.

The truth is that God is close to the brokenhearted and in order to be where He is we have to allow our hearts to become a place that welcomes these stories, allows them to be told, and responds with the love of God spoken through the Gospel message.  We must become hospitable, and often, uncomfortable.

Learning too, Kathryn Woodside

Seeking God Amidst a Cloud of Disappointment

Disappointment is a concept that I – an Honor’s student, athlete, friend, daughter, child of God – do not readily accept. The notion that I simply cannot be successful in all things is a difficult pill to swallow.

I feel pressure to excel academically, athletically, socially, even spiritually. When my efforts fall below this standard of excellence, I define myself as a failure. I strive for high academic achievement, to break records in sprinting and jumping, to be the best friend possible, to honor God in every little thing I do.

But, where does this pressure come from?

Will my professors mock me if my work falls below an A standard? No…

Will my coaches yell at me if I don’t jump farther or ran faster in every single track meet? No…

Will my friends leave me in the dust forever if I make one too many sarcastic remarks? No…

Will God smite me with his mighty hand each time I sin? No…

I am the one setting these all too lofty expectations on myself. No one expects constant perfection from myself, except myself. My pride blocks my ability to be content and joyful in the Lord because I focus on creating an unblemished image for myself. My pride causes me to shy away from unsure situations – situations in which I cannot imagine the ultimate outcome. I ignore God’s steadfast love as I seek affirmation from those around me.

Recently, I applied to be a part of the Chicago Semester’s new summer program. In doing the summer experience rather than the traditional semester-long program, I wouldn’t have to miss a track season or cramp my class schedule with so many advanced classes. I was excited about the prospect of living in Chicago during a season of the year with a myriad of fun opportunities as well as working in an electrifying downtown business.

But, I was rejected.

My potential workplaces felt that I was underqualified with too little experience and too few advanced courses.

I was devastated. I felt incompetent and anxious because I had only a couple short months to find a summer job that did not involve babysitting or fast food.

My anger at Chicago Semester and disappointment in myself turned in to frustration with God. I knew God had a perfect plan for my future but I yearned for clarity. I yearned for my path to be fully illuminated.

As greatly as I desired complete transparency, I had to accept (and I am still working to accept) that this is not how God works. God requires me to trust him day by day and step by step. He won’t illuminate my entire journey, but he certainly will remind me daily of his glorious presence.

Although an exciting door is closed, I am comforted knowing God’s grace is sufficient for his power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I am not perfect, but God – and my coaches, family, and friends – love and accept my anyway.

I found a verse that has been serving as my motto as I endeavor to dwell in the Lord’s presence each moment.

“Look to the LORD and his strength,

Seek his face always.”

Psalm 105:4

-Erin Wessels

Be Still And…

KnOOOw.  (pronounced no-o.)  Definition: to really truly know, with complete certainty; most commonly used in phrases such as, “Yes, but how do I knOOOw?”

You know the word I’m talking about.

I happen to think that this could be an accurate dictionary entry for the average college student.  College is a time of transition, and it is in those times that we most often find ourselves questioning what we know, if we know anything at all, and how do we really reach a point of not just knowing, but knOOOwing.

Honors students in Dr. Reppman’s Honors Philosophy course are exploring the idea of knowing with Ester Meek’s book, Longing to Know.  She questions the process of knowing with certainty and tries to pave a way for us to be certain in our knowing.  Confused?  You’re not alone.  The kinds of things Meek and our colleagues in HON108 want to dissect take a lot of energy and processing before any kind of understanding develops.

But today in HON108, the class did something different.  The class integrated philosophy with theology by joining Dr. Starkenburg’s class in their discussion about Augustine.  This conversation allowed for a new level of clarity in understanding how our everyday lives, the rhythms and patterns that we carry out each day, are what really allow us to know with certainty and to come to know God as well.  Honors student, Elizabeth VanderWall, said that this kind of integrated conversation brought more credibility into the discussion already unfolding in their class.

I would like to suggest something, friends.  This “Honors Way” of living can extend beyond the classroom.  If the cross discipline method of engaging philosophy and theology in the classroom setting to expand a conversation of knowing, bring more clarity and more certainty, then a similar pattern would surely help us in our everyday living.

Allow me to explain.

When we as students (or professors) are struggling with the ability to really know the calling the Lord has for us, I want to echo Michael Kunnen’s chapel last week and challenge us to engage in community, seek the Lord in our fellow brothers and sisters, and know Him more fully through these conversations.  Sometimes we get so focused on one way of being that we forget that a huge part of knOOOWing is seeking.

So SEEK, friends.  Seek out knowledge.  Seek out joy.  Actively engage in conversations within this community and be blessed by the gift that it is to be living and learning alongside in a Christian academic community, especially that of our Honors community.

Be wrapped up in the Lord’s love this week and rest in the knowledge that you belong to Him.  There need be no doubt in your minds.  If there is one thing we can knOOOw, it’s that we belong to God.  And when we trust that, everything else seems to fall into place.

Grace and Peace.

Hannah Huisman

A Few Too Many Words About Life and a Play

Over interim, I saw a lot of plays. This was my third time taking Dr. Sebestyen’s interim course on Chicago’s Role in Contemporary American Theatre, and each time I have come away with a greater understanding of what theatre is capable of. This year, however, was my first time seeing a play that literally felt like a poem, and that play was The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl. Needless to say, after seeing this play (hey, that rhymes!), I immediately ordered every play by Sarah Ruhl that I could find on the inter-library loan catalog.

To give a brief synopsis, The Clean House involves a Doctor (Lane), her Brazilian maid (Matilde, pronounced Ma-chill-gee; also a comedian), Lane’s sister (Virginia), and Lane’s husband (Charles) who leaves her for a patient (Ana). We get a whole host of lessons about life and love being messy businesses through a slew of cleaning metaphors. I could go on and on about the themes in this play, but I’m going to talk about Ruhl’s form instead: the play is written like poetry. Seeing the play produced, even though I could not see the script (until later, when I read the play) or tell that the lines were written in poetic form (which they are), I could feel that the play ascribed to the rules of poetry – and I loved it. The play does not feel the need to follow traditional rules of structure or of time. In that, it carries all the beautiful clarity and ambiguity that characterizes poetry. This, combined with the fact that the play is clever and full of skillfully crafted aphorisms, made the English/Theatre double major in me really geek-out; it satisfied both of my passions.

Speaking of passions, Sarah Ruhl started off to be a poet! But after taking a class in college taught by some famous playwright lady, she switched to writing plays. I learned this about her in my interim class and it really fascinated me. As college students, we’re in the stage of life where we’re supposed to be making decisions about our future. For many, that involves switching majors five times, taking a random elective and loving it so much that you switch for a sixth time. I think Sarah Ruhl serves as a good example of Proverbs 16:9: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” Ruhl started out as a poet and ended up writing plays, but that doesn’t mean she picked wrong when she tried poetry; her background in poetry played a role in making her plays what they are. So let that be an encouragement to you in your own college career. Don’t be afraid of picking the wrong major, or feel bad about switching. You never know how the steps you take now will affect the steps you come to later. And also read all of Sarah Ruhl’s plays.

Esther Sullivan

From Ethan’s Desk

And the Lord God said, “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”             -Genesis 3:22

We regularly attempt to define “life” in our society (both at its beginning and end) in material terms. A man or woman being shaped in the womb is “an embryo” until they develop all their parts, and a human-being on a hospital bed is “alive” as long the heart can be made to pump. These definitions leave the meaning of “life” (literally, the meaning of the word) in fuzzy terms, yet we still struggle toward making it an eternal condition for those who have it now and cry out “tragedy!” when, in our minds, it ends too early. We suspect there is something worth cultivating and preserving in life, but it is something we’re more concerned and excited about keeping for ourselves than we are about the potential to give life as it has been given to us. This is the curse of the sinful heart: we believe we can snatch out of God’s hand and hide His gifts from others, when—even in our sin—God is freely offering life and knowledge of Him to all.

I’m thinking about this for many reasons, but it is prompted in this case by an article in The Atlantic called The Fallacy of ‘Giving Up’ by James Hamblin. It has to do with the necessity for change in our relationship to death in medical practice. The article’s title is a reference to the long-standing tradition among medical professionals of treating death itself as an enemy to be fought, and labeling anyone not fighting death as having ‘given up.’ In treating a dying patient, success has traditionally been measured by the material circumstances. Conversations about the success of a particular treatment for a terminally ill patient would look something like this:

(Two doctors enter a room. DOC 1 looks over a patient’s chart.)

[DOC 1] Doctor.

[DOC 2] Yes, doctor.

[DOC 1] Is your patient dead?

[DOC 2] No.

[DOC 1] Good work.

(They shake hands. Curtains.)

The life of the person doesn’t come into the conversation. The question is, “Is the patient dead yet?” and as long as the answer is “No,” then somehow we’re winning. If the person him or herself is essentially a vegetable, sustained only by a complex of machines operating their organs independent of the flesh itself, the patient–we are assured–is winning. If the treatment is destroying the cancerous growth, it doesn’t matter whether or not the person is being destroyed along with it, because we’re defeating the enemy, and if we’re defeating the enemy the patient must be winning. That’s how the field of medical science saw it for a long time, but Hamblin’s article brings attention to an increasingly undeniable reality that we are not winning, and fighting (at least in the case of those near death) isn’t helping. Medical professionals, specifically those serving in clinics, are being forced to ask whether they’re fighting the right battle with the right weapons or if what they’ve made their enemy is the real Enemy at all.

I don’t have a great deal that is worthwhile to say in my heart and probably even less that you’d like to hear, but the one thing I can say in this moment that feels like the fruit of the slow, painful process of sanctification I find myself going through is this: life is not a secret that must be snatched from God’s garden by the power of our craft, so please do not, at any point, let the methods, models, plans, patterns and procedures set forth to you by those in your field distract you from the way, truth and life around which all things are organized, within which all things are held together and through which death is defeated / life comes into the world. There is nothing more powerful than God’s Word. Know that, and you will not lose sight your enemy, wherever it arises, in whatever form.

The Theory of Everything

Here we are, almost to the end of the semester. So what better time to read about a movie? I was asked to go see a new movie and then review it for all of you honorees. I chose to see James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. There were many strong and weak points of the movie, but I will share my perspective with you on the overall themes, characters, and artistic representation.

We have all heard of Stephen Hawking. We know he has Lou Gehrig’s disease and that he’s a brilliant scientist, but usually our knowledge usually ends there. The Theory of Everything allows us to know more about the actual life of Stephen and the people who supported him. The movie is actually based on the autobiography of Jane Hawking (Stephen’s wife), so we get an informal perspective of him.

The theme of time was extremely important throughout the Hawking family’s life. With the presumed shortening of Stephen’s life, theories about time consumed him. The viewer is thrown into a time warp during the movie because the story is a progression over about thirty years. We watch as his physical abilities disintegrate, but they are so gradual that we are not distracted by it. At the end of the movie, the viewer has two chances to see him before his diagnosis, and it is shocking to see what time has done to his body. It is also amazing to see time wear his ego down to a more human level, as well as his total denial of God’s existence move towards an acceptance of God’s hand in creation.

Jane Hawking is definitely the hero of the story. Despite Stephen’s determination in the face of discouragement, he is not an entirely likable character. He is painfully self-centered throughout the whole movie, and Jane receives the brunt of it. Through that, however, she demonstrates an amazing balance of strength, loyalty, tenacity, and grace. She showed what it means to choose to love someone. Stephen loved her, but often did not (or could not) show that love. Many people would show obvious discontentment and impatience with a lack of reciprocation and appreciation; but she had chosen to love Stephen, and she did not waver from that decision. That’s such a beautiful lesson to us today. We are often told that love is what makes us 100% happy all of the time, but that just isn’t the case. The Theory of Everything gave its audience an incredible love story, without romantic love as the “be all and end all”.

Even with its refreshing perspectives and solid overarching themes, my favorite part of The Theory of Everything was definitely the artistic aspect. The camerawork was brilliant. The lighting was captivating. The editing was flawless. The director made crucial shots look so artistic and beautiful without sacrificing any of the needed information. Being set in England, one would assume that cool lighting would be primarily used. However, the cinematographer would juxtapose cool and warm lighting from shot to shot, and it flowed really well. With time being such an important theme, certain shots of objects or people would move clockwise or counterclockwise depending on the subject matter surrounding the shot. Also keeping with the theme of time, the editors played around with reverse video. I absolutely adore reversed video, so I thought that it made the movie particularly strong. The writers and editors used it in such an artistic and symbolic way that I was left in awe.

This is a movie that needs time to sink into your brain and heart. If you watch it, you will come away with a new appreciation for those who choose to love you, those you choose to love, and determination in the face of hardship. It shows that hard work and intelligence are valued, and that may be something that you need after finals. I would like to leave you with Stephen’s ending quote for the movie: “There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. However bad life may seem, while there is life, there is hope.”

All best,

Olivia Winkowitsch