catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 10 :: 2003.05.09 — 2003.05.22


College and culture


College or University: Trinity Christian College; Palos Heights, IL

Years attended: 2002 fall semester-2003 spring semester

Effects of college on my approach to culture:

Though I know I am just beginning my college experience, I have grown and changed a lot since high school. I guess my ideas and concern about culture began my senior year of high school. My high school, Illiana Christian, started a brand new class for juniors and seniors as an advanced version of a class that had started the year prior called RPOC, Reformed Perspectives on Culture. I came into this class my senior year while I was also taking the most advanced art, government/international relations, and English classes the school had to offer. I began to see what was actually going on in the world and how we not only must respond to culture, but we must have an active part in culture.
Then I entered college. It was, and in some ways still is, still a totally new world. First of all, I am isolated and with homework and life in general, I hardly ever leave campus or see the news. So in a way I am insulated from the world. Though in the same vein, I hear and see many things because I am on a college campus that I wouldn't otherwise.

Trinity does a great job of dealing with Christians in culture from a Reformed perspective. Every class seems to have Kuyper's quote as its motto. "In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, That is mine!" Every class except for theology it seems. I guess that theology isn't something God claims? Pardon my joking. But seriously, in every class from art to history to philosophy we talk about how a Christian should relate to and participate in and understand culture almost as much as we learn about the subjects taught.

But as no school is perfect, no student is either and therein lies the truth. It seems to me that however much a school or institution can try to influence a student, it is, in the end, up to that student to take it further, to respond and expand upon what they learn and have been taught. College is a great place to do this, but it is much more up to the student than up to the institution.


University or college attended: Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH

Years attended: 1996-2001

Effects of college on my approach to culture:

I changed in so many ways during college that it's hard to isolate the ways in which it helped shape my approach to culture. A major influence was seeing professors who had a profound love for God and who seamlessly interacted with culture through their work (writing, teaching, acting, business, etc.)

Other experiences that affect my approach to culture:

My love for literature. Reading literature I discovered there is so much "Christian art" that is also aesthetically and beautifully done. We should look to the examples of Lewis, Chesterton, Tolkien, Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Milton, and many more.


College or University:1998-2002: Dordt College (1998-2002), Nizhnii Novgorod State University in Russia (Spring 2001), University of Illinois at Chicago (2002-present)

Effects of college on my approach to culture:

For me, it is impossible to separate my Christianity from my ideas about culture—the two are necessarily fused into one. My Dordt experience laid the fundamental groundwork for this view. My four years at Dordt taught me a theoretical approach to being involved in culture, one that stressed the necessity of making a visible and bold contribution to culture occurring around us. I came to understand that every role in culture I had, no matter how big or small, was a great task, a responsibility that would have far-reaching effects. Where I believe my Dordt experience was lacking was in the practical carry-through of this perspective of building up whatever aspect of culture of which I was a part (not to discredit Dordt, however, because this foundation is the basis of the way I live my life).

My semester in Russia gave me a good sliver of the practical side of being a Christian in culture. Going to the university in Nizhnii Novgorod made me feel the way I think every culture-conscious Christian should feel at some point in his or her life: tiny and humbled. In terms of "high culture," (if that's an acceptable term) the Russian students I was with put me to shame—not only with their knowledge of their own rich culture, but also with their knowledge of North American culture (they knew more than me! even of Canadian literature—I was so embarrassed!). I suddenly realized that if I was to interact with these people, I needed to become as culturally-involved as they were, not just in knowledge, but in the ability to dialogue. I also realized that the Reformed worldview, as worthy as it is and as beneficial as it's been in my life, is only a very small segment of what is going on in the world! If I was going to have any meaningful relationships with people outside of my circle of experience, I needed to recognize this fact. I did,
retaining the worldview, yet transcending it at the same time.

My transition into graduate school at University of Illinois at Chicago was both shocking and affirming. My being a student from a small Christian college with little formal training in poetry writing now in the middle of a Creative Writing program at a big secular university speaks volumes about my ideas of the importance of a Christian being involved in culture, I feel. There are two major lessons I've learned in this first year at UIC. The first is the value of having an attentiveness to nuance. I'm in a program that focuses exclusively on words—arranging, creating, molding, making meaning. And yet it's my words that call for the most attention to subtlety, where I need to be the most careful. In my poetry-writing workshop this semester, the professor made a scoffing comment about a well-known contemporary poet: "Oh, once she converted to Christianity, her tear-ducts dried up." I suddenly understood that if I were to proclaim outright that I was a Christian and that I had something to contribute to culture, my credibility would immediately diminish. So through the subtle use of language in my writing, through a reflection of truth and of my worldview (which is NOT automatically simple just because I'm a "naive Christian"), I've felt the need to quietly yet boldly assert my faith. Not in outright language, but implied. The second lesson I've learned is that I'm being watched every single minute, silently or obviously. I've realized that the way I involve myself in culture, the way I demonstrate that I'm open-minded and think carefully about the way I live life, has had a profound impact on the people around me. From my atheist roommate to my Muslim student from India to my Quaker classmate to my anarchist neighbor from Chile….the way I conduct myself and move about in society is affecting people. This is both scary and affirming.


College or University: Humboldt State College in Arcata, CA

Years attended: 1957-1963 on and off; finally left with a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management.

Effects of college on my approach to culture:

I'm like those people who can't talk without using their hands; I can't answer a fill-in-the-blanks question without some prelude. If you just want the final answer, skip to the end.

I came from a line of working class people, many of whom in previous generations had completed high school, but I was the first to go on to college. (Since then, my son is the only one of his generation among his sibs and cousins who has gone to college—Masters degree in American Studies.) My family read a lot (fiction), but their outlook on the world was very limited (family and job). Their opinions were those of the class within which my father worked.

My desire to go to college was mainly occupationally oriented. I wanted to work with wildlife, but I didn't want to be just a laborer. I needed a science degree to advance in the field. At college, it would have been very easy to stay with my clique (as most "wildlifers" did), and graduate with few interests other than hunting, fishing, and "science." My college time could have resulted in my being no more "educated" than my father; i.e., we were both good at our jobs, but without any broader interests.

But I was different than most of my family, in that I had considerable (but undeveloped) interest in literature, languages, etc. What college did for me (beyond giving me the credentials for a career) was expose me to a variety of other people and interests. I got interested in drama and journalism, ran for student body offices, joined non-science clubs, got mildly interested in politics, etc. College for me was a very positive time, during which I made lifelong friends and saw that there was a lot more to life than just a job. Because I had the diploma to show that I was formally "educated," I was able to pursue a career in which I came in contact with many more types of people and situations than were available to my parents.

My Christianity came after my school years, and I had no formal religious education. For me, that was good, because my Christian life is not based on "knowledge of the trade," but is experiential, based on Holy Spirit-guided Bible study and prayer. I am more likely to make decisions and react to situations by "feel" rather than from a religious academic standpoint.

So, now, the "fill in the blanks" part: I see much evidence that, for a Christian who accepts the Holy Spirit's guidance, culture IS optional. A person with very little education, interest in outside pursuits, or awareness of the world around can be very discerning of right and wrong, and very open to the needs of family, community and world. That's because the Holy Spirit can give us all the "education" and "culture" we need. Having said that, I find life very full and much more interesting because I am intrigued with the beauty and diversity around me. I enjoy being "in the world" because it's God's world, and the variety is fantastic. I read all kinds of books; listen to all kinds of music; go to plays and concerts; listen to news that isn't all from the United States' perspective, etc. Because I'm "in the world" but led by the Holy Spirit, I feel compelled to sample many aspects of it, so that I can "understand" better what are the needs of the world, and better understand how other people feel and think. Because I'm not "of the world," I don't need to worry about being corrupted by the non-Christian elements, and I don't need to be in constant fear that Harry Potter will ruin my grandkids and homosexuals will take over the world.

I think Christians need to be exposed to a wide variety of cultural input and experiences so that, with the interpretation of the Holy Spirit, they can really understand what they are part of. We hope Jesus is coming tomorrow—or, hopefully, yet today—but the truth is that it could be ten years, 100 years, or 1000 years. We are a part of this world, for better or worse, and we better read the whole owner's manual.

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