Out and About

October 22, 2003. The Ad Hoc Society for Religion & Aesthetics.

It did not take long to feel comfortable with Dr. Calvin Seerveld, the guest speaker for the Ad Hoc Society luncheon meeting at the home of George and Frances Reid. Ad Hoc attendees included Bob Elde, Dean of the College of Biological Sciences at the U of M, Jim Gertmenian, Senior Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis, and Joel Gibson, former Dean of Saint Marks Cathedral, Minneapolis.

Calvin grew up playing sandlot baseball and working at his dad’s fish market on rural Long Island. The hard-playing, hard-working Dutch lad graduated from High School with honors and went to Calvin College in Michigan to study, run track, and pursue his religious and philosophical quest.

The title of his talk was “Footloose Country Boy Among the Arts: God, Judo, and the Psalms.” Seerveld’s life embodies the best qualities that I associate with rural hard work, clean living, honesty, spiritual and intellectual curiosity, and fun. It was a treat to listen to descriptions of great theological figures like Rudolph Bultmann and Karl Barth with whom Calvin lived and studied. These names do not come up in many conversations on an ordinary day.

This kid from the country worked and studied virtually day and night. To read and study the Bible, he perfected his Greek and Hebrew. If he decided he wanted to understand the work of a particular thinker, he learned that thinker’s language so he could read his or her actual words. This meant late nights and early mornings for a graduate of Calvin College studying in Europe.

I appreciated Seerveld’s careful respect for others. For example, he spoke of the Older Testament and the Newer Testament and thus did not diminish the Hebrew Scriptures.

Seerveld is a prolific writer. He has written books on Biblical interpretation, on the arts, and on Christianity and the arts in particular. Here is a partial list: Benedetto Croce's earlier aesthetic theories and literary criticism; A Christian Critique of Art & Literature; Take Hold of God and Pull; and The Greatest Song in critique of Solomon. If you can, go to http://www.seerveld.com/tuppence.html and play the video clip.

Calvin Seerveld is motivated by a deep desire to understand. To understand his life, to understand others, to understand scripture and faith, and to understand art. He reminded us of the satisfaction that comes from understanding. — PJ

Report from Lisa Machado in Angola

[Eduardo and Lisa Machado and their two young sons, Elliot and Ian, now live in Angola, Eddie’s homeland. Lisa is starting a Cyber Café and Community Center. Here she responds to questions her friends and family in the United States have been asking. — Ed.]

What are the people like in Angola? Do they accept you as an American?

People are generally very friendly here. You greet everyone you see (Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening) and to people you know you give kisses on both cheeks. It gets to be quite an ordeal at family gatherings. It can take us a full half hour to make it around the room greeting and kissing everyone—even if you saw the person just a few hours earlier! The society here has a strange fascination with America and all it has to offer. So I am very well accepted as an American. Anyone who can speak a few words of English tends to try to get my attention so they can talk to me. Actually, sometimes I feel like a celebrity. But that is kind of how it was when I was in the Peace Corps in Botswana, too. But there it was because I was white, not because I was an American.

What is crime like there?

There is little violent crime here. There is no real concern about allowing kids of all ages—babies even!—to run and play where ever they want. There are no real crimes against children—kidnapping, rape, molestation, etc. And no real crimes against women either. You seldom hear about murders except in the cases of war. The biggest crime is robbery which typically does not involve guns. Most businesses have security guards to prevent break-ins but houses are vulnerable. The houses of people who make only a couple hundred dollars a month are robbed as well as the houses of the elite. There is much extreme poverty and I think people get desperate to support their families.

Are the people happy? What about jobs? Are there jobs other than jobs like a driver, nanny, etc.?

I think people are happy generally. There is strong faith here—many, many churches and people express their faith openly. The popular radio station prays the rosary every day at noon. But jobs are few and far between. There are a fair number of companies here, but banks and other professional organizations have a hard time finding qualified employees. The education level is very low. I’m sure the largest percentage of people have less than 8th grade education. So most people end up doing domestic work, sales clerk work, or have their own small business on the street—beauty salons, shoe repair, tire or car repair, selling foods or other things. The average salary is less than $100 a month.

Are there colleges there or are most of the educated people educated outside the country?

There are colleges here—a few private ones and the national one. They are very cheap—only a few hundred dollars a month. But when that’s all a family makes, it is impossible to go. Most educated people received their degrees outside Angola. Many go to Portugal or South Africa or even the U.S. But now it is very difficult to get a visa to the U.S. Student visas are being denied to people who got their undergraduate degree there and want to pursue a masters. Sometimes it is very embarrassing to be an American.

Where do the people who are selling things from the tops of their heads get the goods they are selling? Are they poor?

They get the goods from various places. Some comes from regular stores but most comes from wholesalers at the port who ship things to the street sellers. Some people grow food to sell. Many vendors buy bread from wholesale bakeries to resell. They make very little on an item and are typically quite poor.

You mentioned that you had a boy who eats from the garbage, is this common?

I know a boy who eats from the garbage—many people actually. They are my “Community Center” people. Whereever there is garbage, there are people sorting through it. There are many homeless people and children who survive by begging and by sorting through mounds of garbage. Every day I say to myself, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” Love and peace, Lisa Machado, Luanda, Angola.