catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 17 :: 2011.09.30 — 2011.10.13


Connecting the dots

In those thick, dog-eared coloring books from my childhood that accompanied me on every family road trip, I usually skipped over the connect-the-dots pages. I preferred to give the kittens purple spots or scribble green over the princesses’ hair. The connect-the-dots weren’t as interesting to me at the time, for some reason. Math has never been my thing — was it all the numbers that put me off? Maybe.  And as I grew up, I could more easily see the shape that the numbers formed without having to draw the lines between them. Duh, it’s a sailboat. Next page.

But, perhaps I haven’t realized their value until now. As an infant grows into a toddler, an elementary schooler, and beyond, the neurons in her brain are creating connections at an immense rate. All different sorts of input — speech, motor skills, emotional experiences, social interaction — help her brain develop into a cohesively functioning unit. In school, she draws lines between the grass and the rabbit, and the rabbit and the coyote; arrows complete the circle around the raincloud, the ocean and the water vapor squiggles. Learning basic mathematics will form a foundation for her to grasp algebraic formulas later on. At home, she learns that bad behavior garners her a sharp look, but good behavior earns her smiles and praise. At church, she learns that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are connected to each other in such a way that they are One. She learns that Jesus’ humanity and divinity connects people to God.

Thinking back on my education, I’ve noticed that learning to “connect the dots” has been a consistent theme throughout, and I have my parents, teachers, professors and friends to thank for that. Forgive me if I’m stating the obvious; I know that I’m not the first to make these rather elementary observations, and I certainly hope that others have had similar experiences. But what follows are a few sketches of some, to me, rather profound connections that these people in my life have taught me.

The mandatory hikes through the mountains of beautiful Arizona, on which my sisters and I trundled along between my mother and father, helped establish the connection in my young mind between peaceable family interactions, physical fitness and environmental appreciation and awareness. I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, as evidenced by my whining and dragging feet, but, looking back, I realize how formative those hikes were. Also, two high school teachers of mine, a married couple whom I still admire, were two forces in my life who modeled for me the concept of thoughtful, intentional environmental stewardship, beyond recycling and hugging trees: in Mr. Monroe’s New Testament class, I learned that the environment matters theologically, and that theology matters environmentally.

As a part of the curriculum for reading My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok in Honors English, Mrs. Monroe taught us through “right-brain journals” that literature has to do with art and faith and creativity. (I’ve since learned in my psychology classes that, while the right brain-left brain dichotomy is useful for its simplicity, a better understanding is that there are few things humans do using one hemisphere exclusively.) She encouraged us to approach literature not just as paper-writing students, but as artists, poets, musicians and faithful believers. Creating art based on what I had read in Potok’s story was a joyously mind-opening experience for me, and comprised part of what became my favorite English class.

Through my years singing in choirs, directors have shown me that music is so much more than reading notes, getting the right pitch and being on key. Once, when rehearsing a gospel piece, one director stopped us and begged us to consider what the words actually mean, and to put that into our own voices. “Just imagine the feeling of oppression of these slaves, singing about heaven and about Jordan, where they’ll finally be free! Can you feel it at all?” On that day I learned that the power of that piece isn’t just in the vocal cords; its power comes from the history of the people who sang it before me and the contexts in which they found themselves. In that way, as I sing that song and the songs of many other peoples, my life connects with theirs.

The capstone classes that I took at my alma mater (strange to call it that, seeing as I graduated approximately four months ago), a Christian liberal arts college, explicitly call for integration of fields of study. In these classes, students “connect the dots” between their faith, their studies and other areas of life. This is hopefully an underlying theme throughout the college courses, although, it could be that that sort of integration ought to be emphasized more along the way, rather than being stockpiled until the very end of the academic career. Nonetheless, these capstones attempt to draw together all the lessons from years of study and contextualize them within a larger picture. Encircle the given field — say, “environmental studies” or “psychology,” my two areas of focus — in the center of a chalkboard and draw spokes coming from it; draw it within a larger circle, and an even larger one. (Jack Black’s flow chart on The History of Rock comes to mind.) We asked questions like, what does X have to do with Y? What does it look like in reality to live out psychologist David Myers’ assumptions about humanity? In what ways does an understanding of the Sabbath affect how we interact with creation? Borrowing a catch phrase from my college, “All things,” which is emblazoned across much of the website and many brochures, is fitting: all things matter because all things will be redeemed and renewed. Christians are to be a part of that renewal, here and now, by asking those kinds of questions and drawing those connecting lines. Call me Reformed, because that’s what I am.

My education is continuing even now, and I hope it will continue long after exams and final papers are still fresh in my memory. I live and work in Three Rivers, Michigan, with *culture is not optional, and I’m learning something every day from people here about connections between art, community, music, faith, stories and spaces. Little revelations come to me from the work being done at Huss School, the fundraising events taking place and seemingly mundane daily occurrences. I’m learning about the linked nature of non-profit organizations, money management, conflict resolution and group dynamics. I’m seeing connections between education, income disparities, racial barriers and neighborhood development. I knew before I got here that all these sorts of things are related in some capacities — obviously, a thriving community center in a low-income neighborhood can lead to lots of good things — but now, new arrows are being drawn in my mind between areas of life I never thought were so closely linked. Perhaps it’s living in a small town for the first time in my life that brings these into focus more clearly.

These “connect-the-dots” lessons that I’ve gathered over the course of my short life make me grateful for my teachers, those in the classroom and those in daily living, those from years ago and those from earlier today. They have taught me to draw from all different sides of my brain when considering an issue. The older and the wiser of those teachers can already see the picture of the sailboat on the page, and they’re helping me connect the 1 to the 2, the 2 to the 3. Others are holding a pencil alongside me, and we’re working together, drawing the lines that make up the greater picture, whatever it may turn out to be. I hope that I’m able to pass on that pencil to others.

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