Delirious joy, eager hope: reflections of a sexagenarian chaplain
(Editor's note: Chaplain Cooper wrote this reflection as a statement of gratitude to the college. We are printing it here in hopes that all students of Calvin will indulge in the propriety of Christ, in full measure. We print this not as a doctrinal creed for this publication, but as a humble and warm expression of the life which we are all called to live. We couldn't say it any better than Coop, and we are grateful to be his publisher.)
No few words of mine are adequate to say a proper thanks to the Calvin community for pausing to celebrate my 60th birthday. Christians generally, and Calvinists in particular, rarely over-celebrate anything. But November 28 was an exception. What a gift you gave my family and me!
The celebration brought special joy to my 89-year-old father - my hero - in what proved to be the closing days of his life (my dad died on Christmas eve). When I brought him some of the Calvin birthday cake and showed him a copy of Chimes, he exclaimed, quite ungrammatically but with obvious delight, ``My boy, them is some special people at Calvin!''
How true! So thanks again, dear friends.
For all its liabilities, becoming a senior citizen does have one or two benefits, too. By this time, one has had some considerable practice at trying to sort out what's really important in life from the merely trivial and passing. Knowing that life is short, you try a little harder to major in majors, and to keep the little things in their proper place.
By now you've come to recognize, too, as Madeline L'Engle once remarked, that you are ``a very small bit player in a much larger drama written by Someone Else.'' However much in earlier days one may have dreamed about being able to change the world single-handedly, by 60 that vain thought has long since vanished. None of us is a big deal, really - certainly not I! Only God is. God alone.
Then too, old age helps one to recognize how precious is the gift of belonging to a company of people - to a Christian community. It's the community which matters far more; and each person within it, far less.
The character of our life and work as a Reformed Christian college is not so much individual as communal. We're not simply a collection of separate scholars, each doing her or his individual work. No, the project in which we're engaged is common. It is bigger than any one of us. Each person contributes her or his own small share to it. We have ``different gifts according to the grace given,'' as Romans 12 says; and each person is ``to use his [or her] gifts to serve and enrich the others'' (Heidelberg Catechism #55).
The longer I am here, the more I am struck by the immensity of the gifts our Lord has lavished upon our Calvin community. And by the variety of those gifts, too. Some of us can sing or play musical instruments, while others write thoughtful books and articles. Some cook excellent food, and present it beautifully; others govern this college well. Some are skilled at writing grant proposals or in requesting financial gifts; others play soccer, run bases, or throw the discus. Some preach and speak powerfully; others offer academic support and help. Some keep our buildings and grounds clean and in good repair; others pray, offer counsel and comfort, and extend hospitality. The list goes on and on.
You get the point, I hope. No single person is more important than any other. We belong together. We need one another. It's not simply the case that if one of us were absent, the rest could get the job done by carrying a little more weight. Our community would become poorer by far if one of us weren't here, or failed to use her or his gifts.
While I'm on this point, let me pause to declare publicly how richly this community has blest me. So many people have been angels of God to me. I'd be sinful if I were anything but grateful.
My wife, Marcia, and I were present in Salem, Virginia when the Calvin men's basketball team won the national championship in March, 2000. We had traveled there in class-as part of a little party of ten on a private jet. President Spoelhof was part of the group.
En route back to Michigan, the alwaysn quick-witted Spoelhof was in top form. He was still wearing his Knight Club T-shirt, and was reveling in the Calvin victory with childlike delight. At one point someone asked the president what was his best moment at Calvin College. Without missing a beat, the 90-year old President-emeritus responded with glee: ``Right now!''
That joyous outburst aptly reflects my own feelings as I think back over my years at Calvin. When I joined it in 1976, never could I have imagined the blessings that would flow to me through the years.
As elderly folk tend to do, I find myself thinking more and more about the future of this college. Our God-given blessings are obvious. But we do face challenges, too, not the least of which, I believe, is the lavish success we have enjoyed for so long.
Historically, the more Christians tended to prosper and flourish externally, the more they foolishly tended to act as though they needed God and one another less. With the wind at their backs, they thought themselves quite self-sufficient.
Given this perennial tendency, and given the fact that we at Calvin have been flush with success for so long, it strikes me that we ought continually to be asking ourselves two central questions:
1. What must we do to keep our sense of God's presence and power alive among us, and to remain keenly aware of our dependence upon Him?
2. What must we do to keep our sense of community - of dependence upon one another - healthful and well? What can we do to build one another up and not to tear one another down? Envy, bitterness, competitiveness, and vindictiveness have tarnished so many other academic communities, and smothered their joy. What can we do to prevent it from happening here?
Others may offer their own responses. Modestly and humbly I offer my own - a manifesto of what, with God's help, I pledge to do in the days ahead.
Our college's motto is Cor Meum Tibi Offero, Domine, Prompte et Sincere. In response to this and in dependence upon Christ's Spirit to do so, I believe that I am called:
1. To cultivate love for God in Jesus Christ daily
Our God is not so much a doctrine to be understood as a personal God who loves. In turn, He longs also to be loved. Amid all the busyness and hurriedness of my life around here, I pledge to recall how much this God loves me in his Son, Jesus. And then to tell and show him, in response, how much I love him, too.
2. To build others in this community up, and not to tear them down.
The Heidelberg Catechism reminds me that to belittle, to insult, to hate, and kill others by my thoughts, my words, my looks, and my gestures, is to do a little murder on them. Doing so tends to destroy community. I must resist my natural impulse to build myself up by knocking others down.
3. To give my best - my absolute best - to this community.
Excellence, not mediocrity, ought to mark the life of one who belongs to Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this community deserves a lot from me more than a passionless spirit of half-heartedness - doing only enough just to get by. I vow to offer it my best.
I'm 60. I own an AARP card. I qualify for old-age discounts at restaurants, hotels, and theaters - even for a special parking spot at D&W.
But I vow not to slow down nor to slouch toward retirement. I love the Calvin community too much to do that. What is more, my spirit wholeheartedly affirms the words of that second-century Christian, Irenaeus: ``The glory of God is a person fully alive.''