Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Henry David Thoreau on Marion

I get a sinking, sad feeling often as I make my way around Marion, where I live. Don't get me wrong, IWU is an island (or perhaps bubble) of brilliance. The typical reaction of visiting academics to IWU is "What is all this??? I didn't even know this place existed and it is massive, new, and very, very exciting!!!!" The typical reaction of the prospective student is, "Yep, I'm coming here--for the buildings and student life alone if nothing else."

But once you leave the campus and venture out a bit, the feeling is quite different. I had the sinking feeling last night as the middle aged custodian grandmother with her two grandchildren had to leave her bags behind at the grocery store because she didn't have the money in her account. I had the sinking feeling this morning as I looked at the distant, hopeless look of the lady at the door of Walmart stacking carts together.

Then Thoreau hit me, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." But this time I finally felt the pathos of the quote.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

It becomes frustrating when there are monies available, like there were at IWU for "empowerment", but are unused. Motivation is an issue that needs addressing. What motivates one to get education?

A friend recently told me of her "encounter" with the mother of a teen at Marion High School that was dropping out. This friend offered to meet with her and/or the girl, but never heard back from her after trying several times. You cannot MAKE someone do what you think will benefit them...They do have a choice and some choose poverty and ignorance.

That does not mean that IWU should discontinue connection with the community, but it does mean that being a "world changer" in a place like Marion takes more commitment than it does in other places.

What it does mean is that IWU should also continue to expand areas of scholarship for students, so that "world changers" is not just a "marketing tool", but a real reality!

Ken Schenck said...

I think IWU is reaching out a little more than it used to. But with the plant closings and the depressed economy the rest of the town is getting worse and worse, I think.

An important consideration even from a completely secular standpoint is that when people of any location are desperate, hopeless, or unfulfilled, bad things are going to spill over into the whole community. Either we make other people's problems our problems or they will.

The AJ Thomas said...

So what's you plan of action?

Jonathan Parsons said...

I confess that while I was a student at IWU I would sometimes wonder why the school wasn't "doing more", but then I would think about how much worse the town would be if the school wasn't there. I am sure Marion would have gone under long ago if it wasn't a college town.

Ken Schenck said...

AJ, you raise exactly the right question, and as usual I have no answer on the really important questions... Jobs and diversions are my basic thoughts. Create jobs for depressed adults and create diversions for kids with miserable lives.

Keith Drury said...

Marion was certainly a poor choice to locate a Christian college in if the founders wished to avoid the students and faculty seeing desperate human need... the founders would have chosen a sexier town, maybe something like San Diego. I don't know if they intentionally chose a place with need, but in the coming JoAnne Lyon led move to address these sorts of issues we might be strategically placed even if it was an accidental decision? (from the Continental Divide in Wyoming)

Anonymous said...

Wow Keith, do you expect JoAnne Lyon to work the same magic in Marion and the Wesleyan Church as Barak Obama will do in America and around the world. These people must have messianic capabilities. I hope you are not disappointed.

::athada:: said...

And will IWU continue to issue Wal-Mart credit cards to all the staff and leadership, encouraging the bypass homogenization and the destruction of any possible local culture? Who actually cares about the bypass? NO one, aside from the cheap labor, cheap nutritionless food, and cheap plastic stuff from China that they can extract from it.

One bright spot is the Splash House - brand-new water toys and lifeguards everywhere, within walking distance of the center city neighborhood. Just visited the other week.

Burton Webb said...

Hmm... we are an educational institution; not a government agency. What can we offer? How about education?!?! I think we could afford to "give" several full-tuition waivers to x-number of Marion residents each year. What number you ask? I would not presume to know - I don't know what the budget can bear. but I know the need is large.

Or how about this - offer certification courses on special topics - like CNA, accounting, or laboratory technology? What if a company offers to come to Marion if we have a trained work-force? Then, let's work with the Mayor to offer that training. The university could surely cover some training costs as a give-back to the community.

Maybe we could offer some competitive business start-up funds for budding entrepreneurs. Maybe students, maybe community people - then we could help them get going by encouraging students to buy from them. How? Letting the students use points instead of dollars.

Maybe we could set aside some land as a local retail zone, maybe even build the retail spaces - where students could use points. I am thinking of something like the village in Muncie (sans-bars of course).

I'm with Keith. Maybe we are here for a time such as this.

I'm not sure many people choose poverty though. Many people make choices that result in poverty, but few choose it out-right. Even more have no real choice; or at least that is their perception.

Not sure "world changers" is much of a marketing tool. I can think of 20+ institutions that use it... and we were not the first. I think it just falls into the category of honorable goals that colleges try to attain. To the extent that we can encourage our students to engage the world and impact it, in real and meaningful ways they will be world changers. Sure, we will have a few superstars that dramatically change the course of history, but most of our "quite" alumni will notice the "desperation" and hopefully a few will try to offer hope in the name of Jesus.

We are engaged in an enterprise that does not necessarily require more academic programs (we will do that anyway and for other reasons) but it does require an intentionality about our instruction and our example. Angie is right about being a world changer in Marion - it takes commitment.

Ken - When Jesus said "the poor you will always have with you" was that a statement of fact, a prophecy, or both? Is poverty simply an insurmountable result of the human condition? One that we must ALWAYS work to overcome knowing we never will?

::athada:: said...

Just within the last week or so, we've seen a flood of migrants at our agency, requesting food & clothes. Given the shaky start agriculture had this spring, work has been scarcer than usual, and folks have come hundreds of miles to Marion just for work. Most of us are at least marginally familiar with the chronically & working poor in town - black, white, young, and old - but these people are often hidden. Many don't speak English. They work in the hot sun among razor-sharp corn leaves, they handle tomatoes covered in herbicides & pesticides, they live crowded in(without A/C) with family and neighbors trying to find work. There are lots of issues to consider here - immigration, capitalism, labor conditions, what it means to love one's neighbor - but often we don't even give them a passing thought of any sort.

Something to think about over the background hum of air conditioners...

Burt -
Coach and I had a lovely coffee discussion about the "the poor always among you" statement. Would be nice to trangulate with you sometime this fall!

Burton Webb said...

Well said Adam, well said. Love to get together.

Ken Schenck said...

I take the statement, "The poor you always have with you" first as a statement of Jesus to a first century Palestine audience. In other words, although it does seem to be a fairly timeless description of human culture, it was a statement to them and not to us. It is generally descriptive of human culture.

It would be wrong, however, to take it as 1) prescriptive or 2) absolute. Everything about Jesus and the gospel screams that it would be wrong to take this statement in any way as an excuse to be complacent about poverty. The point of Jesus' statement is that a uniquely significant event--his death--was taking place. And I suppose, Jesus is ultimately more important than the poor.

Secondly, it is wrong in general to take biblical statements as timeless absolutes. There are timeless absolutes in the Bible. But the normal operating mode of biblical discourse is contextual rather than timeless and it is general rather than exceptionless.

My thoughts...

::athada:: said...

Burt -

One interpretation that I heard the author of the latest World Changers book say was that the poor will always be among you - you, the God-community. He looked around his church and couldn't find the poor, so he went to the poor and found God there.