Meet the blogger: Five things you need to know

Jason Friesen at CMU on the bridge to Marpeck Commons

Whether you’re a student, staff, alumnus, or friend of CMU, welcome to another school year at CMU.

My name is Jason Friesen, and I’m the primary blogger for #myCMUlife this year.

Some of you may know me, but some of you likely don’t. This seems like a good chance to introduce myself, so here are five things you probably want to know about me before you start reading my blogs.

1)    Who the heck is this guy?
Well, I said my name already. But on top of that, I’m a proud Winnipegger, have grown up in the Mennonite tradition, and I’ve got one older brother.

2)    How well does this guy know the CMU community?
I’d say I know it pretty well! I’m now in my fifth and final year at CMU. Though I was a commuter student for my first four years, I found ways to stay connected to the community, such as playing on the men’s volleyball team (which I still play on). But I now live on campus, so I’ll be spending plenty of time around the CMU community by nature of where I live this year.

3)    Is this guy even good at writing?
Well, I suppose you can be the judge of that. But if it comforts you at all, I’m a Communications and Media student at CMU. Most of my degree has consisted of classes that focus on things like journalism and communication theory.  I’ve had the opportunity to put the skills I’ve learned in these courses into practice by writing for The Doxa, as well as working as a journalist for the Winnipeg Sun this past summer. So hopefully I’ve learned some things from those experiences.
 
4)    What does this guy like to do in his spare time?
Jason Friesen at the mens volleyball final.I’ll be honest, I’m a huge sports fan. I love to play sports (particularly volleyball) and I love to watch sports (particularly the Winnipeg Jets). But I like to think I’m not one-dimensional. I also love music. Though I wouldn’t consider myself a fantastic performer of music, you will probably see me singing along in chapel, or singing to the radio in my car. But I sure do love to listen to it!

5)    What’s been the biggest thing I’ve learned through my CMU experiences so far?
Everybody has a story to tell, and everybody has a story worth telling. I truly believe that if told well, anybody’s story can be intriguing. So many of us think that our stories are not unique, or not worthy of sharing. But if you look at them from the proper angle, and use the right words, you can turn what you might think is an ordinary story into something people can’t wait to read or hear!

A year of living monastically

Sarah Moesker, a year of living monastically

I spent this past year living with The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine [SSJD] is an Anglican, Benedictine-style monastic community located in Toronto, Ontario.

The Sisters are an open community, welcoming people to join them for their chapel services, occurring four times daily, typically followed by a silent meal. They run a Guest House ministry, providing a quiet place for a variety of individual and group retreats. Some Sisters also provide spiritual care to the patients at St. John’s Rehabilitation Hospital next door to the convent.

The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine [SSJD]

“Why,” you ask? Now that is a great question!

Truth be told, I think I was beckoned to the convent by a God who called a timeout on my somewhat floundering efforts to do life.

God was like, “Yo, Sarah…” and there was a bunch more, but I had some trouble hearing it. I did manage to catch the gesture toward SSJD when I found myself pensively gazing, back and forth, between two things: a feeling of “You are not returning to CMU next fall” in one hand, and the emptiness of the other hand. 

Seated in the ambient sanctuary of St. Benedict’s Table’s evening service, the list of songs and announcements found its way into that empty hand, and I came across an advertisement from SSJD, calling young women to join them for a year. I sat holding those two things in my hands for the next two weeks, though the setting changed sometimes. Cue the cataclysmic word: Yes.

As for what I learned, in Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis offers a perspective on what it is like to let God into one’s life, where the life is the house and God the renovator:

At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of.”

So I guess I learned pretty quickly that there was a lot more on God’s agenda than on mine.

I learned a lot about how prayer is not just a thing one does but a way one lives. I thought, “oh la dee da, I will just go there and learn how to pray more regularly”. God responded, “Your whole life is a prayer. Come; let me show you how to be attentive to that reality.” Stepping into contemplative prayer has been like coming home to myself—the way God intended me to be, on my own, in prayer, and in relation to others.

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Through simply living the lifestyle of the Sisters, I also learned things about self-compassion, time-management, self-discipline, and the healing mystery of having structure. I developed a better sense of what a balanced life of prayer, work, leisure, and rest feels like—now I just have to remember to apply it.

There was also the healing experience of living in community, which normalized a lot of the elements of socializing and relationships that used to provoke tremendous anxiety.

Another area of growth and learning was my work as a Spiritual Care Provider at the rehabilitation hospital next door, visiting patients and helping out with the services in the hospital chapel. This experience provided some insights into not only the sort of work I would like to do but might also be good at.

These inchoate learnings are some of the things I will be taking back into my life as a student at CMU and into the community I will be living in this next year. 

Sarah Moesker returned to CMU this fall for her fourth year of a Biblical & Theological Studies major, with a minor in Psychology.

Praying for rain: the politics and symbolism of water

I’m in the air right now, on my way to an old friend’s wedding in Edmonton, but I’m thinking about water. I’ve been thinking about water since Christmas Eve, actually, when I listened to a podcast about clean water while driving through a snow storm. I just didn’t expect the thinking to last this long.

Water: A beautiful river scene in BC. Photo courtesy of Marnie Klassen.

In the spring I wrote and presented a speech at the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest about water pollution as a form of violence. I also donated my birthday money to Charity:Water, an NGO bringing clean water to communities in developing countries. This summer has been all about water as well, despite the pervasive drought here in BC.

Two of my summer goals were to canoe more, and to start overcoming my fear of sailing. I’ve somewhat accomplished these goals, with excursions such as canoeing Widgeon Creek and sailing to Gabriola Island on my parent’s Catalina 34, Elysium.

Water: CMU student Marnie Klassen worked for A Rocha Canada this summer in BC.

And, of course, there’s my summer job. I’ve spent the summer working for A Rocha Canada, a Christian conservation organization that focuses on watershed stewardship as a form of creation care. This means that I’ve spent my summer piecing together a video about salmon in the upper Bulkley River, and counting western toads in a pond while wearing hip waders.

I’m struck by both the politics and the symbolism of water, inextricably linked in my experience.

In early July my mom and I participated in the Paddle for the Peace Solidarity Paddle in Vancouver, protesting the proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River. Though I no longer live near the Peace, paddling a canoe that has traversed much of its length in solidarity with those who remain near it, was a profound expression of connection and commitment.

And still, it remained a political act. While rivers connect us, defying political borders, they also seem to divide us. Those of us paddling were clearly doing so spurred on by hope that we had because of political transition in the province. And the onlookers? Who knows. Perhaps some of them endorsed us, perhaps others remain more comfortable with the story the previous government told, about job creation at the expense of a river nobody cares about anyway.

Water: Marnie Klassen wanders through the wilderness of BC.

As the smoke clears, I don’t want to forget about the wildfires. With the change of government, I don’t want to assume that the story’s over. As I finish my job, I don’t want to lose my love for the western toad and the Little Campbell River.

Instead, I’ll pray for rain – for fires and farms and fish.

Marnie Klassen began her first year at CMU in January 2017.

Facilitating peace education in Virginia

Laura Carr-Pries at Brethren Woods camp in Keezeltown, Virginia.

As a student, I always try and find ways to connect what I’m learning in class to “the real world.” So, when I received a job description for the position of Peace and Justice Director at Brethren Woods camp in Keezletown, Virginia, I realized that this was not a job I could turn down.

While I knew that I wanted to explore peace education, I was afraid that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, going to an area of a country that I know carries a wide range of perspectives on peace and justice.

Despite my hesitation, I decided to go for it. I had the opportunity to create a peace education curriculum, where I taught conflict resolution skills, and explored what the Bible says about peace.

We read stories, played co-operative games, and asked questions about why we act with violence. We made peace quilts and brainstormed how we can become peacebuilders in our own communities.

I quickly realized that I would not be able to do what I did without all of my CMU experience.

The hands-on learning that I experienced in my classes taught me how to engage different learning styles and the content of classes gave me ideas for different topics I could teach.

Over the course of the summer, I worked with campers to create a Peace Path. Each camper had a stone which they painted with one step they could take to make the world more peaceful, their stepping stone for peace.

Laura Carr-Pries at Brethren Woods camp in Keezeltown, Virginia.

Their answers ranged from smiles and friendship, to tolerance and generosity. After the stones were painted, each camper laid their stone on the path with a recognition that peace is not the responsibility of one person, but is dependant on many people working together. 

These stones now line a path, where there is a prayer for peace in the world and in our communities.

In light of recent events in Charlottesville, which is an hour away from the camp I worked at, I am hopeful that our world is not stuck in pain and violence.

Throughout the summer, campers asked me about the situation in Charlottesville, and questioned why people respond to hate with more hate. These young voices shared their hope that people with differences would have conversations and recognize their common humanity.

I feel honoured to have walked with these children as they have learned a language of peace and I am hopeful that they will become agents of positive change in their communities.

This fall, Laura Carr-Pries enters her fourth year of a PACTS and Theology major at CMU.

Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU

portrait of Christina Waldner for post - Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU
When I started going to CMU in 2006 (yes, it’s been that long), I was so nervous.

I had many reasons to be uneasy, one being that I had a physical disability. You see, I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a chronic degenerative disorder. SMA is a complex condition but can be best summed up in the phrase, “The mind says go, but the muscles say no.”

Since the age of three, I have been in a power wheelchair and need physical assistance in carrying out daily tasks. I struggle a lot with fatigue but have been chipping away at my BA one course at a time.

Instinctively I knew I had an uphill battle in terms of professional opportunities, and thus became laser-focused on my education.
 
To me, attending university wasn’t about my social calendar or dorm life. It was about my GPA, the skills I would learn, and studying as much as I could. I felt the need to work twice as hard to open doors in a competitive job market. (Does it sound like I was fun at parties? Nerd alert!).

Perhaps similar to the experiences of international students, first generation students, or students with financial responsibilities, I felt enormous pressure to succeed.

That being said, the faculty and staff at CMU have been nothing but supportive, from helping me find note-takers, to advocating for accessibility on campus, to always offering a word of encouragement.

Once some of the staff found out I was an artist, they were quick to offer support and someone even suggested I sell my cards in the bookstore. Feeling overwhelmed, I turned the offer down. After all, university is strictly about academics, right?

Cristina Waldner with a friend and classmate at CMU. Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU

It wasn’t until midway through my time at CMU that I realized how misinformed I was about my university experience. I came to a crossroads where the pressures of perfection were pulling me under.

Recognizing that I had created an idol of my education, I surrendered my academics to God. In this surrendering, I found a peace that was as liberating as it was transformative.

My perspective shifted as I began to appreciate CMU in a more holistic way. My eyes were opened, and my heart was ready for new friendships and new opportunities.

I approached the manager of CommonWord about selling my artwork and to my amazement, she said yes. My cards and paintings are now sold in the bookstore and I’ve been blown away by the positive response.

samples of Cristina Walder's cards on sale now at CommonWord Bookstore. Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU

Soon after, Sandra Loeppky asked if I would share about being a student with a disability at forum. Feeling emboldened, I agreed and the morning turned out to be an incredible blessing. Other students shared their experiences as well and I began to realize the power of storytelling.

No longer feeling like I was just “that girl in a wheelchair” on campus, I was now in charge of my narrative. Recently, I started a blog to bring awareness to SMA and build a community-like space where people can relate to my experience in some way.

While health concerns have forced me to take more distance education courses as of late, I’m still a CMU student at heart. I am nearing the end of my studies but have cherished my time on campus.

To every freshman out there, know that there will be stress and probably more exams and papers than you know what to do with. Yet, there will also be experiences that will enrich your life in profound ways beyond the pages of a textbook.

New year. New semester. New opportunities. Let’s get started!

Cristina Waldner is completing a 4-year Bachelor of Arts in Counselling Studies, as well as a 3-year Bachelor of Arts in English.

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