Lamenting Las Vegas: An Alternate Approach to Tragedy

By: Kristen Borgdorff

Lament: [luh-ment] - noun, “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow”

- verb, "to mourn"

 

"About five feet from me, you could see a guy with a bullet wound right in his neck, motionless, from there on . . . people just started dropping like flies," Taylor Benge reported to Fox 4 News as a witness of the shooting in Las Vegas on October 1st.

That evening, 58 people were killed and 546 injured when a lone gunman opened fire on Jason Aldean concertgoers at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

After hearing the news of this devastating shooting, I found myself feeling frustrated and helpless. What can I, a student at Redeemer University, do to make a difference in an event like the Las Vegas Shooting? Would my prayers actually change anything? What more can I do? Where was God in this event?

Sitting down with Dr. Naaman Wood, a professor in Redeemer's Media and Communications department, proved to be a helpful start in seeking answers to these bigger questions.

One of the first things Dr. Wood said after I expressed my feelings was this: “It’s okay to feel helpless and powerless . . . generally speaking, [we’ve] been trained to think about the world as filled with problems that we can solve. There are these things that are bigger than us . . . when you stare into it you just don’t know what to do because it’s so overwhelming.

The good news, as Christians, is what the crucifixion is for us: it’s the gaping abyss at the center of history where God says, ‘I’m going to enter into this.’ Every other abyss that we look into, God is already present and in the center of it.”

Many people respond to an event like the Las Vegas shooting by saying that we should all pray. “The bad thing [about this response]," explains Dr. Wood, "is it turns prayer into a band-aid. Just put this band-aid on it and everything will be fine. No. There are dead bodies in the street. A band-aid is not going to fix that. Prayer as a band-aid is a part of the imagination that says that all problems are fixable, that all you need is a little bit of prayer and everything will be fine.”

Next came the idea of prayer as a positive response, specifically when we pray from a position of lament. “I think one of the things that I’ve been persuaded of is that Christians, white Christians by far, have lost our ability to lament.

"Lamentation is not foreign to the Christian experience," says Dr. Wood, "but most of us haven’t been taught or trained to pray laments. For a lot of people, a lament feels like heresy. God, why have you abandoned me? Well, I [feel like I] can’t pray that because God can’t abandon me. But what if you feel like God has actually abandoned you? What do you do then? God already knows that you are going to experience that, and He’s given a slew of prayers to voice that.”

Psalm 22 is an example of this, where the psalmist writes, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Ps 22:1).

“Part of that helplessness you feel," Dr. Wood proposes, "is because no one’s given you the equipment to deal with that helplessness, and the laments are part of the equipment that God gives us to deal with that sense of helplessness. One of the first things to do is prayer, but not prayer as a band-aid — maybe one of the first things you need to do is just lament.

“If we’ve been trained to think that we can solve every problem that we encounter, the idea of lamenting for a period of time without coming to a solution seems wrong. It’s okay to lament for a while on that. It’s probably a really good thing to do, to just sit with the powerlessness for a while.

“And the reason we can sit with the powerlessness for a while is because we believe in a God who’s eventually going to put everything to right. We may not see that putting to rights on this side of the veil — it may be after —but that’s why we have hope. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus.”

Part of the problem may be the commonly held expectation of finding a solution in the here and now. Elaborating on this idea, Wood entailed how the history of Western progress — the fact that humans have achieved so much in such a short amount of time — often tells us that we, as humans, are capable to solve our own problems. However, this is not a reality we should accept. “Sin and brokenness are just that powerful; they cannot be overcome by us," we're reminded. "God needs to overcome them.”

Two of the things we should keep in mind as we live in this tension and press into the many problems of our world are these: “Number one, you might not be able to fix it. Number two, your solution might actually make things worse.”

At one point in the interview, a comment was made that initially raised red flags in my head. When asked where we can find God in this situation, Dr. Wood replied, “Jesus is a number among the dead . . . Jesus identifies with the weak and the poor.”

After hearing this, I voiced my unease. As Christians, we proclaim Jesus’ resurrection and that He is alive. Doesn’t numbering Him among the dead therefore contradict this core belief?

Dr. Wood agreed that, yes, this often does make us uncomfortable. “I do think that God is a God of the living, not of the dead," he clarifies. "Again, the thing that plagues us is that we want the resurrection without the crucifixion. So death and life you could say are contradictory. But part of what I think imaginatively holds things together is what we are constantly called to do. So we have to hold together crucifixion and resurrection. Because if you just hold the resurrection, then you’ve kind of lost the entire point of being a Christian — both of those things must be held together.”

When a tragic event such as the Las Vegas Shooting occurs, it can leave many of us feeling helpless and frustrated. We live in a society where we are taught that we can fix any problem that we encounter, when realistically, we need to recognize a world of sin that will only be wholly “solved” when Jesus returns. One thing we can do until then is turn our helplessness to prayers of lament, and discover in our powerlessness the constant need for God.

Love, Henri — The Letters on the Spiritual Life

By: Emma Roorda

Henri Nouwen, in the words of Professor Ken Herfst, is a man who showed the importance of the human “need to love and be loved … in a way that gives genuine hope.” It is because of Nouwen's deep love and passion for God, others, and society that the The Henry Nouwen Society has made it their aim to extend Nouwen’s legacy, helping to broadly share and promote his deeply spiritual writings.

Last Tuesday, October 17, Redeemer’s Religion and Theology Department brilliantly teamed up with the Henry Nouwen Society to present a very moving and dramatic performance based on the archive collection of Nouwen’s personally written letters, accessed by historian Gabrielle Earnshaw.

 Earnshaw, a highly acclaimed archivist, has dedicated the last 16 years of her life to “finding the gold nuggets” of Nouwen’s ideas in order to share them with others. Through dialogue and reflection on her published conglomerative book of Nouwen’s 205 letters, Earnshaw gives light to Henri Nouwen’s main ideologies and theological insights.

 Last week, Redeemer students were able to witness these reflections, paired with a stunningly emotional drama presented by actor Joe Abby-Colborne, who brought the fascinating sentimentality and wisdom of the late Henri Nouwen to new levels. In addition to the insightful presentation, talented pianist and vocalist Krystyna Higgins accompanied the dialogue with her personal musical expression of Nouwen’s letters. The overall result was spectacular.

 Prior to diving headfirst into dramatic readings of the letters, written throughout Nouwen’s 64 years, Earnshaw provided the full auditorium with a concise overview of his life. This was a helpful addition to the drama-focused schedule for the evening, especially for the many young university students in attendance — an age group who would not have been alive at the time Nouwen's writings were originally produced.

Earnshaw briefly explained that Nouwen was a Catholic priest, born and raised in the Netherlands, who, after obtaining a doctoral degree in Holland, officially began his professional career by teaching at various Ivy League schools including Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard University.

Later, he selflessly abandoned his life as a prestigious professor to work alongside a group of physically and mentally handicapped individuals through a program called L’Arche, located in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Throughout his life, Nouwen used both his professional training and unique life experiences to witness to people though emotionally heartfelt writings and intelligent rhetoric.

 Out of the 205 letters that Earnshaw accessed in her research, five specific letters were chosen to be highlighted in the presentation. These letters were those which she thought accurately outlined Nouwen’s main beliefs, lifestyle, and ideologies. Aforementioned, these letters were theatrically presented by Joe Abby-Colborne. The following five excerpts from these spoken letters only begin to give positive testament to Nouwen’s character and compelling life story that, as Earnshaw described, give his readers “new life, inner peace and freedom.”

Letter 1: The Letter to Richard — “The many hours for prayer and meditation, the chance to read, study and write without interruptions […] it all has been very revealing to me and made me aware that being a priest is what I really want to be in an authentic way and that in the deepening and strengthening of that vocation I find real power and joy.”

Letter 2: The Letter to Jim — “The first and most important task we have is to keep our eyes on God and Him alone. We will never overcome the demons by analyzing them, but only by forgetting them in our all-consuming love for God […] demons like to be analyzed, because that keeps our attention directed to them. God wants to be loved. I am more and more convinced that the first commandment indeed needs to be first: to love God with our heart, all our soul, and our entire mind.”

Letter 3: The Letter to Mark — “When I think about my life and my work, I think about it more as a way of being present to people with all I have. I have always felt that the center of our faith is not that God came to take our pains away, but that He came to share them and I have always tried to manifest this divine solidarity by trying to be as present to people in their struggle as possible. It is most important to be with people where joy and pain are experienced and to have them become aware of God’s unlimited love in the midst of our limited abilities to help each other […] To witness for Christ means to me to witness for Him with what I have seen with my own eyes, heard with my own ears and touched with my own hands.”

 Letter 4: The Letter to Marcus — “Once I stood looking at the Grand Canyon, and when I saw the billions of years carved in stone in front of me, I felt as if the heaviness of heart left me. Somehow, I felt very small and insignificant at the same time my introspection in my own pain turned to adoration.”

Letter 5: The Letter to Mr. Chisholm — “The book [Return of the Prodigal Son] could have never been written if I had not been part of a community of handicapped people. Although life in that community is not always easy, it continues to be a great source of energy and vision.”

Following the fervent enactment of these five letters, along with the heartfelt corresponding musical numbers, Karen Pascal, director of the Henry Nouwen Society, shared a few final thoughts regarding her appreciation for the fact that Redeemer had chosen to partner with their association.

Not only was this evening an opportunity to share the message of Henri’s collective writings with a wide audience, it was particularly a way through which young university scholars could relate to Nouwen’s works — a chance for the “next generation of seekers” to benefit from his wisdom. One such student, Sydney Sequillion, stated afterward that the performance was “very powerful.” She continued on to say, “I was able to relate to Henri Nouwen in a way that I can't even relate to with my own friends.”

 Johanna Benjamins, Student Body President, found the presentation refreshing: “Nouwen brings a personal and emotional view of faith, which we need more of.”

Throughout the performance, there was an obvious intrigue from Christian students and elders alike, both learning to appreciate the wisdom of this famous educated Christian thinker. The evening's loving, intergenerational atmosphere was one in which Henri Nouwen himself would surely have been pleased to partake. For more information about the Henry Nouwen Society or insight from any of the Henri Nouwen collections, please visit henrinouwen.org.

The Saving Power of Vulnerability

By: Noah Van Brenk

I think it’s fair to say that watching the news this past summer felt akin to being forced to ride a very fast roller coaster in complete darkness against my will.  Twists and turns seemed to materialize out of thin air, and at times the news coming from the United States seemed almost too bizarre to be remotely true. And yet, despite the plethora of media attention devoted to unpredictable matters south of the border, there is a singular image which has remained in my mind from the summer’s events, and it might not be what you expect. In my attempts to keep up with world events, I stumbled across a VICE News video reporting on the campaign to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS control. The last shot of the video, the shot which continues to lap at my thoughts, was of a man crouched against the wall of a cemetery, almost hidden from view by large mounds of dirt. He was weeping. He had just buried both his uncle and his father who were both killed when a mortar strike landed in their backyard, and was preparing to cross treacherous territory to return to and care for his family. This scene suddenly and horrifyingly seemed to embody for me the stark report of Genesis 6:11 that “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” The Hebrew word translated here as “corrupt” literally means “destroyed” – in other words, the earth and all its inhabitants are so wicked that we render ourselves self-destroyed. Viewed through this lens, it was as if that man was weeping not only for his slain relatives, but also for all of humankind. What image of human self-destruction is more apt than a graveyard where people exterminated by other people are buried in droves? His tears seemed to whisper, what have we done? What do we continue to do?

Moved, and more than a little disturbed, I began to reflect on the gravity of our wickedness as humans and how our inherent self-destructions manifest themselves. I thought of Yehiel De-Nur, an Auschwitz survivor called to testify at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who broke down when he saw Eichmann in court. When asked why he fell apart, Yehiel replied, “When I walked in and saw him I suddenly realized he was no demon or superman, he was an ordinary human being exactly like me. And I suddenly became terrified about myself, I saw that I am capable of the very same things.” How often are we afraid of ourselves, of what we’re capable of? How often, when we feel threatened, do we turn on those around us, violating others with our words and actions in order to protect ourselves? Worse yet, how can we ever expect to break our cycles of self-destruction?

And yet, in the midst of all of these difficult reflections, I am reminded that the person of Christ presents the solution to our despair, albeit a counter-intuitive one: vulnerability. His willingness to make Himself helpless for our sakes is what ultimately saves us from our fallen conditions. What’s more, the cross demonstrates that the Lord’s vulnerability is both limitless and completely effective in its purpose – He was willing to subject himself to torture, humiliation, death, and even separation from Himself in order that we might be reconciled to Him and freed from our self-destruction and self-contradictions. What could be more vulnerable than such a sacrifice? What could be a better triumph?

It seems to me that if we are to have any chance of living life to the full as Jesus promises, we must follow His example by working to be vulnerable with each other and with God. I will admit, I find this as sobering and daunting as anyone, and perhaps even more so — to be vulnerable is to risk being wounded, and possibly even destroyed. Crucially, however, this destruction is by no means inevitable; Genesis 6 makes it clear that the non-vulnerability of self-seeking violence guarantees destruction, while the risk of destruction in vulnerability can very well lead to restoration and healing.

Thus I am becoming increasingly convinced of the utter essentiality of vulnerability for living, a conviction that is ever so slowly overcoming my fear. We live in an age where angry rhetoric has reached intense heights, and violence of all kinds erupts across racial, intellectual, and social lines. It is brutally difficult to be vulnerable. Yet I am comforted by the thought that Christ was raised wounded, meaning that He continues to suffer and be vulnerable on behalf of the world. Just as He fulfills our human side of the covenant agreement for us, so too is He vulnerable on our behalf when we can’t be. The psalmist recounts how the Lord collects each of our tears in a bottle and records them in his book (Ps 56:8) — plainly our vulnerability is precious to him.

So as you continue on in your studies or work this semester, I encourage you to make attempts to be vulnerable with God, with yourself, and with others, even if it seems impossible or incredibly perilous. I have no clear idea what this kind of vulnerability looks like for each of us. We certainly do not need to submit to crucifixion — Christ has already done that — but I have some sense that it involves sharing the depths of our hurts with each other instead of lashing out in anger and self-protection. Christ promises that if we lay down our lives for Him, if we make ourselves vulnerable, we will find our lives more liberating and filled with joy than we could ever imagine. It’s because He has been so limitlessly vulnerable for us that we can begin to be vulnerable with ourselves and each other, and in doing so experience and enjoy abundant life. Let’s attempt to be vulnerable — what do we have to lose?

Inktober

Eight years ago, a man by the name of Jake Parker challenged himself to draw using ink as his sole medium for the month of October. This challenge has now become a worldwide fad, changing the face of artisans distributing their work in the media world today. Three highly skilled art students here at RUC (Bethany Boville, Jocelyn Boville, and Emma Vanderploeg) have followed in the footsteps of Jake Parker and hopped on board the INKtober initiative this month.

 

“You can do it daily, or go the half-marathon route and post every other day, or just do the 5K and post once a week. Whatever you decide, just be consistent with it. INKtober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better. That's it! Now go make something beautiful” (Jake Parker).

Bethany Boville (@beth.b.artist) I call this “The Huntsman” — I've been following a series of fantasy character inspiration prompts this October. For this piece, I was thinking a lot about what a huntsman looks like in different magical works, but also the Canadian hunter. So in the end I have this sort of mythological Canadian huntsman who carries magic wands and wears an oxygen tank. The prompts are always hard because I want to create a new way of interpreting classical characters. Working in black in white was also a challenge because it really changes how you make a composition.

Bethany Boville (@beth.b.artist)

I call this “The Huntsman” I've been following a series of fantasy character inspiration prompts this October. For this piece, I was thinking a lot about what a huntsman looks like in different magical works, but also the Canadian hunter. So in the end I have this sort of mythological Canadian huntsman who carries magic wands and wears an oxygen tank. The prompts are always hard because I want to create a new way of interpreting classical characters. Working in black in white was also a challenge because it really changes how you make a composition.

Emma Vanderploeg (@emmascreative) I like to call this drawing “The Happy Hipster” because really, what hipster isn't happy with a fancy cup of coffee? I found the biggest struggle with this drawing was where to place the coffee and the hands. That's really why I'm doing the INKtober challenge, so I can work on improving my drawing composition skills. It’s not to try to draw every day, I already do enough of that on my notes during class!

Emma Vanderploeg (@emmascreative)

I like to call this drawing “The Happy Hipster” because really, what hipster isn't happy with a fancy cup of coffee? I found the biggest struggle with this drawing was where to place the coffee and the hands. That's really why I'm doing the INKtober challenge, so I can work on improving my drawing composition skills. It’s not to try to draw every day, I already do enough of that on my notes during class!

Jocelyn Boville (@penofjocelynboville) This year I followed a set of prompt words from #mosseryinktober and the word for the day was “write.”  I wanted to illustrate how writing can bring life, growth, and flourishing. One of the hardest parts about drawing with pen is that the artwork can feel very flat, so I am trying to push myself this year to add depth to my work. I've also been thinking a lot more about the meaning of the daily prompt words and striving to create interesting and thought provoking artwork.

Jocelyn Boville (@penofjocelynboville)

This year I followed a set of prompt words from #mosseryinktober and the word for the day was “write.”  I wanted to illustrate how writing can bring life, growth, and flourishing. One of the hardest parts about drawing with pen is that the artwork can feel very flat, so I am trying to push myself this year to add depth to my work. I've also been thinking a lot more about the meaning of the daily prompt words and striving to create interesting and thought provoking artwork.

Hipster Music, DIY Ideas, and Fancy Potatoes

By: Kristen Borgdorff, Reporter

From coffee shops to stages, from basements to booths, from garages to fryers — Supercrawl 2017 was a great chance for local artists to get their names out into the world and for Redeemer students to see a bit of Hamilton’s downtown core. Every September since 2009, Hamilton has closed James Street North for a weekend to welcome local artists, musicians, food trucks, and hundreds of festival goers. Many Redeemer students know that this is an event that should not be missed. It is a perfect opportunity to master the bus system while creating memories with new friends. If you missed Supercrawl this year, do not fear — after reading this short article you will be caught up to date.

Supercrawl is known for its lineup of “hipster artists” — musicians that only your cool friends have heard of but that you pretend to know because you just want to fit in. Donovan Woods, an artist from Sarnia, is a prime example. Before his performance, he shared a story about how he was once paid in coffee beans at a local coffee shop because the shop could not afford to pay him. This inspirational story entertained a large group of fans (as well as some people who were pretending they were fans because their friends wanted to watch). The mixture of his cheeky humour with his angelic voice was an engaging experience for everyone listening.

Although the musical performances may be what draws so many people to the festival, booths displaying the work of local artists line the street. I had the opportunity of speaking to three of these local artists.

Aimee Cline is the owner of Vintage Charm, a store on James Street whose motto is “ReFresh, RePurpose, ReLove” — Cline does this by selling antique furniture, home décor, and gifts. To draw Supercrawlers inside her store, she had set up a booth just outside for the weekend. It was one of those shops that a Redeemer student would go in, take some mental notes, and then go home and recreate something they saw after a quick trip to Talize. Cline mentioned how Supercrawl is one of the busiest times of the year, but, unlike many other artists, Supercrawl is not her primary source of income. Rather, her primary income is from online orders, mainly from customers throughout the GTA. You can find Aimee’s store at 233 James Street North, or you can visit her website at vintagecharmhome.com.

Tracey, an employee at Homecoming Goods, was eager to discuss how her Supercrawl experience had been both overwhelming and positive. This was Homecoming Goods’ first year being at Supercrawl — they had heard the interest in local artists is rapidly growing in the Hamilton area, and they knew that this was their crowd. Their potted succulents, array of popular pins, and other miscellaneous fads would have spiced up any first year dorm room. Coming from Toronto, they were not sure if Supercrawl would meet their expectations, but they were amazed to have their expectations exceeded. For more information about Homecoming Goods, take a look at their website: www.homecominggoods.com.

At another booth I found Geek Trappings, a group of four friends that had taken their separate talents to create a brand that sells anything “geek,” from tutus to snow globes. These ladies have been at Supercrawl for the past four years and are constantly amazed by how many people come through. “Rain or shine, people come and it’s always busy.” The ladies were excited to share that this year’s business was even more successful than last year’s and that the geek culture is now more popular than ever. See? Supercrawl has things for everyone! Geek Trappings can be found on Facebook with a quick search of their brand name.

While Supercrawl was overflowing with art, music, people, and lights, I must say that my absolute favourite part was the food. The countless trucks, the endless opportunities, and the $10 I had in my backpack made for a challenging decision. Picking between powdered donuts, cotton candy the size of my head, steaming poutine, and countless other mouth-watering delights was not easy, but I eventually decided on a Potato Tornado. What is a Potato Tornado? It’s only the most wonderful treat you may ever be given the opportunity to indulge in (also known as a spiralled potato on a stick).

Supercrawl 2017 was the perfect weekend to pretend to sing along to music I didn’t know, steal ideas from local artists, and have a taste of some sacred food. If you missed the opportunity to attend Supercrawl, do not fret — Hamilton has monthly art crawls that you can attend for a similar experience! Dates for these events can be found at tourismhamilton.com.