Why Finish College?

ShipOfFools_web_07292016“Jesus said to him, No one who puts his hand to the plow
and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

Why Finish College?

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

During my sophomore year in college (1973) I held some interesting jobs and it was not altogether clear that I would continue my studies as I explored quitting school to take full-time work.

In my work with the Indiana Public Interest Research Group (INPIRG), I worked as a community organizer attending local groups in the western side of Bloomington—on the other side of the railroad tracks—which did not get a lot of attention from local politicians.

The example of this work that stands out in my mind was a house that burned down in a neighborhood which stood just over the city limits. The structure was left in the condition that remained after fire-fighters put out the blaze—the basement was flooded and local kids were using the place as a informal pool, floating inner-tubes in the debris and generally using the property as a playground. I took photographs of the place down to city hall and spoke with officials about it one day. Hiding a tape-recorder under my jacket, I recorded a city attorney who said nothing could be done because the place had been abandoned by the owners and was in any case outside the city limits; he then proceeded to lecture me about the need for better childcare among concerned parents. I later led a community demonstration in front of city hall and brought a delegation to testify before the next city counsel meeting.

My life as a community organizer came to an end later when I interviewed unsuccessfully for a position as a local community organizer.

Another attempt that I made to find work brought me to respond to an ad in the paper for a job as a telemarketer for a local police organization. The job involved sitting in a room at a table with a bunch of telephones and calling everyone in the telephone book, one after another. With each call, we were instructed to ask for the man of the house, perhaps, with the logic that men would be more inclined to offer donations to the policy organization. However, this instruction proved to be difficult to implement because many men over the years had died in accidents working in local rock quarries. When you would ask for the man of the house, the man’s widow would just break out in tears right there on the phone. After about a week of tearful phone calls, I quit.

At the end of my sophomore year, I returned to Virginia to work in construction for a month to earn money to attend summer school and, after my attempt to transfer to William and Mary College did not work out, I returned to construction work while I waited for Iowa State University’s winter quarter to begin in December. During the months of September, October, and November I worked in at a number of sites—I helped lay pipe in the McLean House (McLean, Virginia), I did general labor build the Mitre Building (torn down a couple years back to build the Capital One building) in Tyson’s Corner, I picked apples for a couple weeks in Vermont, and I worked both as a helper to a finishing carpenter and a painter, also in McLean.

At most construction sites in McLean during this period, my co-workers were mostly colorful transplants from West Virginia. My boss at the Mitre job, for example, played poker on Fridays until all the paychecks of those foolish enough to play with him disappeared—I am sure that he provided the beer! One weekend he ended up in jail for having shot up a trailer. His idea of having fun was passing rumors about me with some of the young toughs just to see what might happen, which certainly freaked me out. Still, he had a heart and after the job was done he advised me on how to find a better job, which I did that same day. In this way, I graduated from day labor to become a carpenter’s helper.

The only co-workers that I had who were not from West Virginia were two African American guys from Washington DC—one was noisy and the other quiet. The noisy one used to brag loudly about being a kind of Leroy Brown—I thought that his performance was a hoot and I teased him to the point where he would pull out a razor and chase me around the room. The quiet one never said anything, but one morning we came to work and the police had surrounded the entire building—apparently he had robbed a bank overnight at gunpoint and the police came by to pick him up.

Violence was always a veiled presence on these construction sites. When I worked as a painter, for example, my co-worker was a young fellow from West Virginia who refused to horse around with me. When I asked him why he treated me with such deference—because he routinely horsed around with other guys—he said that it was okay to fool around with the drop-outs, but the college guys (like me) were too quick to escalate into gun violence when a real misunderstanding would arise. By contrast, our boss was more cunning in his gun talk—he always brought a pistol to work on paydays. After he cheated me out of 50 cents an hour one week, I figured out why.

By November of that year, I had earned enough pay working construction that I was able to buy my first car—a baby blue, 1967 Volkwagen beetle. In December, I packed that beetle full of clothes and drove to Iowa State University where I began studying economics like my dad. After my work experiences the prior year, I never again gave any serious thought to dropping out.

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Chase and Jacobs Debate War and Peace

Violence_review_06012016Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs (Editors). 2003. Must Christianity Be Violent: Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company (Brazos Press).

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

We live at a time when peace is illusive and violence is on everyone’s mind. Peace is illusive because modern media reports crimes and violence from every corner of the earth saturating the mindset of news followers. If real violence were not enough, simulated violence dominates book sales, films, and electronic games stimulating copycat crimes and potential secondary trauma [1] in the real world. Against this cultural obsession with violence, real acts of peace whether by individuals or presidents[2] are frequently deconstructed by critics to a point that makes ethical reflection difficult.

Taking seriously the need for ethical reflection, during March 15-17, 2000 the Center for Applied Christian Ethics[3] hosted a faculty conference at Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois whose papers were collected and published into this book, Must Christianity Be Violent, edited by Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs.

In his introduction, Chase writes:

“At its most elementary level, Christianity celebrates peace. Jesus promises to give peace, he advocates forgiveness and mercy, he instructs his followers to be peacemakers and to love enemies, and he died so that we might have peace with God.” (9)

The early church clearly got Jesus’ message of peace and pacifism characterized Christ’s followers’ response to institutionalized war for four centuries after his death and resurrection. The “just war” doctrine, first articulated by Augustine (354-430 AD) and later expanded on by Aquinas (1225-1274 AD), and Calvin (1509-1564 AD), gave theological justification for Christian participation in war, but only in limited circumstances, such as war in self-defense (32).

Chase sees Christianity’s critics as focusing on two main points of contention: a pragmatic criticisms focused primarily on historical events (such as the Crusades, anti-Semitism in Europe, and support for slavery), and, and criticisms focused on problems inherent in Christian doctrine (such as aspects of exclusivism and divine judgment; 10-12).

In view of these criticisms, Chase and Jacobs divide the 13 essays in the book into three broad sections—history, practices, and theology, as follows:

Section one: Histories

  1. The First Crusade: Some Theological Historical Context by Joseph H. Lynch.
  2. Violence of the Conquistadores and Prophetic Indignation by Luis N. Rivera-Pagán.
  3. Is God Violent? Theological Options in the Antislavery Movement by Dan McKanan.
  4. Christians as Rescuers during the Holocaust by David P. Gushee.
  5. Have Christians Done More Harm than Good? by Mark A. Noll.
  6. Beyond Complicity: The Challenges for Christianity after the Holocaust by Victoria Barnett.

Section Two: Practices

  1. How Should We Then Teach American History? A Perspective of Constructive Nonviolence by James C. Juhnke.
  2. Christian Discourse and the Humility of Peace by Kenneth R. Chase.
  3. Jesus and Just Peacemaking Theory by Glen Stassen.

Section Three: Theologies

  1. Violence and the Atonement by Richard J. Mouw.
  2. Explaining Christian Nonviolence: Notes for a Conversation with John Milbank by Stanley Hauerwas.
  3. Violence: Double Passivity by John Milbank.
  4. Christian Peace: A Conversation between Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank.

These 13 chapters were preceded by a preface and introduction and were followed by an afterword and lists of contributors and notes.

In reading through these many contributors and insights, it is clear that a summary is impractical because each essay is highly nuanced and contextual. Some insights, however, stand out as unique and can stand on their own in a short review. For example, David Gushee[4] in his essay, “Christians as Rescuers During the Holocaust”, summarized the religious motivations of Christian rescuers in these categories:

  • Those having a special religious kinship with Jews.
  • Those remembering the experience of religious persecution.
  • Those recognizing the incompatibility of Nazism with Christian faith.
  • Those honoring the dignity of human life.
  • Those with special Christian piety (72-77).

Gushee notes that Christian faith was neither necessary or sufficient motivation for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust; citing Nechama Tec, he observed that only a “certain kind of Christianity” felt compelled to intervene (77-78).

Another essay that stood out in my mind was James C. Juhnke’s “How Should We Then Teach American History?” which cited a number of historical accounts of alternatives, other than “triumphalism” or “radical criticism”, which he described as “constructive nonviolence” (108). Historical accounts of “triumphalism” basically chronicle the rise of “America’s rise to greatness” while accounts of “radical criticism” critique what this rise to greatness did to African American slaves, Native Americans, women, and other minorities (108); accounts of “constructive nonviolence” focus on honoring roads not taken that might have been successful had they been taken. Juhnke highlights these themes:

  • Honoring the survival and strength of Native American cultures, especially the peacemakers that made survival possible.
  • Honoring nonviolent alternatives proposed but rejected.[5]
  • Honoring the Antimilitary idealism of the founders, exhibited in the constitutional restraints.[6]
  • Honoring the human conscience against killing.
  • Honoring the role of voluntary communities.[7]
  • Honoring the opponents of total war (109-117).

Obviously much more could be said just about these topics in American history.

As someone deeply concerned about the future of America as well as our values and image in the world, I firmly believe that war should not be the first option or the only option considered when international conflicts arise. We need to know what other options can reasonably be considered because, as it is, the United States is increasingly in a perpetual state of war for lack of those options and the political will to consider them. As Christians, we should be willing to debate these issues openly and with an eye on how our options form our characters both as citizens and as Christians. Kenneth Chase and Alan Jacobs’s book, Must Christianity Be Violent?, is helpful resource in framing conversations about the issues of war and peace that we so desperately need to have.

[1] Secondary trauma occurs when an observer to trauma begins to experience the same (or related) symptoms as the trauma victim themselves. It is especially a problem when the observer has repeated exposures or catastrophic exposures to trauma, as might occur in a combat zone, plane crash, or bombing where multiple victims are affected. It is well-known among care-giving professionals, such as medical personnel and chaplains. See, for example: http://www.nctsn.org.

[2] On May 27, 2016, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima in Japan, the site of the first atomic bomb attack by the United States on August 6, 1945, to advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons (http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/27/politics/obama-hiroshima-japan).

[3] http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE. (@CACEWheaton)

[4] David Gushee, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation, (Paragon House, 2003). (https://theology.mercer.edu/faculty-staff/gushee/)

[5] For example, Philadelphia agreed with Boston that they would not accept British tea during the pre-revolutionary war period. But instead of dumping the tea as was done in Boston (the Boston Tea Party), they sent the tea back to England (and paid the freight) thereby avoiding conflict (110).

[6] The prohibition against standing armies in the Constitution prevented early American elites from developing a “military industrial complex” as developed in the twentieth century (112).

[7] For example, the resistance to removing Indians from Georgia in the 1830s failed to prevent their removal but paved the way for abolition of slavery in the years that followed (115).

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Prince of Peace

Life_in_Tension_web“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and
over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time
forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isa 9:6-7 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002) is divine attribute and mostly out of reach in the Old Testament. More typically, conflict was the norm.

In the Books of the Law, conflict between brothers is a theme repeated over and over. After the conflict between Cain and Abel, we see conflict between the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, over the birthright and inheritance (Gen 25:26-34). Later, Jacob’s sons are so jealous of the favoritism shown to their brother, Joseph, that they sell him into slavery (Gen 37:2-28). This brother’s theme clearly points, like the sublimated violence in our own time, towards an absence of shalom and the need for God.

Interestingly, when Stephen recites the Story of Israel in Acts 7, he lingers over the story of a young Moses attempting to reconcile two of his Hebrew “brothers”, but without success:

“One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, Why do you strike your companion? He answered, Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? Then Moses was afraid, and thought, Surely the thing is known. When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.” (Exod 2:11-15 ESV)

In effect, Moses tries emulate God’s reconciliation between Cain and Abel by making peace between his brothers, but his own sin gets in the way and his reconciliation fails—a murderer cannot easily make peace!

In the Books of the Prophets, peace remains out of reach. Two dominant types of conflict emerge.

The first type of conflict is between the Nation of Israel and God. The covenant with Moses, summarized in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and reiterated in Deuteronomy 5, is repeatedly forgotten. Nevertheless, God offers a promise:

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” (Deut 30:1-3 ESV)

In other words, peace with God will be restored if you obey the commandments. Here is the invitation to pursuing holiness. But the destruction of Israel and the scattering of the people of Israel is also anticipated. God repeatedly sent the prophets to remind people of the covenant and to chasen the Nation of Israel to prevent this from happening.

The second type of conflict was internal to the Nation of Israel. King Solomon may have been a wise man, but he was an opulent ruler who laid a heavy tax burden on the nation. When he died and his son, Rehoboam, became king, the tribes of Israel sent delegates to the king asking him to go easy on the taxes. He asked his father’s advisers and his friends how to respond. His father’s advisers counseled lower taxes; his friends counseled higher taxes. Rehoboam decided to listen to his friends—implicitly rejecting both his father’s advisors and his father’s relationship with God. When he raised taxes, the tribes rebelled and the kingdom was split. Two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, remained loyal to Rehoboam (Judah); the other ten northern tribes rebelled to form a new kingdom (Israel). The leader of the rebellion, Jeroboam, became the king of Israel. Jeroboam was fearful that people visiting Jerusalem for religious worship would eventually return to Rehoboam so he set up alternative worship sites and recast new golden calf idols (1 Kings 12). These actions were later referred as the “sins of Jeroboam” (e.g. 1 Kings 14:16) [1]. The split of the kingdom was eventually followed by the destruction of both kingdoms and exile of many of the people.

The counterweight to conflict in the Old Testament is the emergence of messianic texts, such as Isaiah 9:6-7, that link the Messiah and heaven to the idea of shalom: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. We place a higher value on things, like shalom, that we normally lack. In the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of heaven he sees:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isa 11:6 ESV)

The outbreak of shalom—an end to predation and the play of a little child—is a sign of God’s mighty work among us.


[1] Animosity between the Northern and Southern kingdoms continued until New Testament times when Jews openly discriminated against Samaritans—part of the Northern Kingdom.


BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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