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The courage to be vulnerable

Jason Friesen - The courage to be vulnerable (Portrait of Jason Friesen on the Marpeck bridge wearing a grey long sleeved t-shirt with the CMU logo across the chest.)

Most of us don’t like to be in vulnerable spaces. The uncertainties of those spaces leave us with butterflies fluttering around in our stomachs. Conceding power is uncomfortable. Yet CMU is a place that exemplifies and guides us into those vulnerable spaces.

Let’s start with the classroom. One of CMU’s largest selling points is the small class sizes, which allow students to interact personally with their professors. This is completely accurate, but just saying that to a prospective student at a campus visit day doesn’t fully capture the connection between professors and students.

CMU students are not only treated to professors who interact with them, but professors who make themselves vulnerable.

I still remember taking Interpersonal Communication in my second year with sociology professor Rod Reynar. The very first class, Rod told us some of his life story. Hearing about Rod’s chronic back pain caused by inflammation around his spinal cord, and how that kept him bed ridden for years sent a strong message on its own. But his actions sent a message that would set the tone for the rest of the semester. The classroom was to be a space of sharing, where personal experiences were a valuable asset to learning. How could we students not follow suit and share of our own lives as well?

Students seated at a desk in small classroom at CMU, engaging with a professor across from them.

That invitation to make those kinds of connections is not isolated to a class focusing on Interpersonal Communication. It quickly becomes something we expect in the classroom at CMU no matter the course. Here, professors constantly ask students to connect what they are learning to their own lives, and to share those connections.

If you stick around CMU beyond class times, you become familiar with another place of vulnerability – the many student council events on campus, from the GOlympics, to coffee houses, to Film 60. Though these events are definitely aimed to provide student entertainment, there is something else going on in these spaces. It’s obvious when you see student Zach Stefaniuk perform at a coffee house, as he pipes up on a goofy song, and brings a room to a roar of laughter like only he can.

And then there are music students: they start out understandably timid in their first Thursday recital, and blossom into fine, expressive performers by the time their grad performance rolls around. 

At coffeehouses, recitals, and everything in between, students are opening themselves up to potential praise and critique. Yet students keep signing up and showing up!  They seem to like making themselves vulnerable and equally appreciate it when others do the same.

Not all acts of vulnerability are as public as the classroom or CMU events though. A space where I have seen the most vulnerability is on the volleyball team.

Jason Friesen - The courage to be vulnerable (The CMU mens volleyball team line up for a team photo after winning the MCAC championships for the second year in a row.)

This past year, our team committed to doing weekly Bible studies. We read scripture, watched videos of athletes like MLB pitcher Clayton Kershaw and NHLer Mike Fisher tell their faith stories, and shared of our own experiences. And I know for a fact that we were not the only group of students doing this on campus.

Whether through fellowship groups or late night discussions in a residence lounge, signs of this type of vulnerability are scattered throughout campus, sometimes hidden in spaces most will never see.  

What is significant about these examples is that only the first scenario involves CMU faculty or staff directly. The other examples show students choosing to put themselves in vulnerable spaces. The culture of the classrooms at CMU encourages students to be vulnerable and to walk alongside others as they do the same. This culture fosters that type of living throughout students’ lives!    

We live in an age with many examples of strength associated with power and dominance. But CMU is a university that cultivates students to challenge the norm, to think critically about what we see in the world, and to draw our values from scripture rather than popular culture.

The Theologies of Power course with Irma Fast Dueck, and a reading from theologian Walter Wink’s “Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence”, follow that trend. The belief that the ends can justify any amount of violent means surrounds us in films, TV shows, and almost every story we encounter. But not the narrative of scripture. Jesus lived a life full of courage and strength, yet none of it revolved around the type of power we are used to. Instead, he showed strength through coming to earth as a child and living a life of service, and he showed courage through sacrificing his life for us. I can think of no better examples of courage and strength, and at the same time can’t fathom any greater displays of vulnerability.

Author and theologian C.S.Lewis perhaps puts it best. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” My hope is that as each of us branch out from CMU into the world, we would take the risk that Lewis is talking about.

We come to CMU as vulnerable newcomers, and when it comes time to leave, we will walk into many more situations that need vulnerable people. A friend of mine, accompanies her email signature with a quote that reads,  “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

Are you willing to be uncomfortable? Are you willing to grow? Because that’s exactly what courage, strength, love, and vulnerability call for.  Embrace that and continue to create those vulnerable spaces.

Jason Friesen wearing his black graduation cap and gown on the day of his graduation from CMU's Communications and Media program.Jason Friesen is a 2018 graduate of CMU’s Communications and Media program, and this year’s Valedictorian. He was also the lead blogger for #myCMUlife in the 2017-18 school year, and this post was adapted from his valedictory address.

Economic justice: Even small changes make a difference

Zach Stefaniuk on fair trade economy - Economic justice: Even small changes make a difference

Use your imagination for a second. You are a young Canadian. You have recently graduated from high school and feel inspired to travel the world. During your travels you come upon an intriguing building. You go closer to investigate. As you approach the building you see it is unusually unstable. There are next to no windows, but you manage to find one. On the other side of this window are bars and endless lines of tables which locals are working at. The locals seem very tired and unhappy. It almost seems as if you recognize what they’re making. Then you realize they’re making your favourite brand of t- shirts. How do you react?

The building I just described is a factory.

Do you know where your clothes are made? Most people don’t know where their clothes or other possessions come from. It wasn’t that long ago that people were more dependent on their local community and their own skills to survive. Now, most everything is made internationally.

The Bible tells us that God wants everyone to be part of an equal economy. In the Old Testament, that meant helping your neighbour with harvest when need be. In the New Testament, the radical teachings of Jesus known as the Beatitudes, say that the Kingdom of God is for the poor – those who are not of high economic standing. 

So what can we, as part of the wealthy western world, do to change this? Becoming aware of our surroundings and how we interact with them, is one step. Understanding how our economic choices impact the environment and people in our community, allows us to rethink which brands may be best for ourselves and other people. 

Many big box stores have a policy to try to match the lowest price, which is great for our immediate needs, but is it great for the long-term needs of the workers in foreign countries?

An alternative is to shop fair trade. Organizations who sell fair trade products, ensure the workers receive a wage that they can live on. When we buy products from fair trade companies, we make a difference. It may be a small difference, but God cares when we make a positive difference.

We can also use more locally sourced products or make more of our own products. There was a time when people would simply make what they needed. These days, many of us have lost these skill, and depend on the rest of the world to supply absolutely everything.

Zach Stefaniuk on fair trade economy - Economic justice: Even small changes make a difference

If you live in a small town, it’s a safe bet that you can find most of the food you need within your community. The same is true for cities. In Winnipeg, there are many family-run businesses, we can support, and probably gardeners and small scale farmers that would be more than happy to share their produce.

Our relationship with products should be more personal. Once these relationships are more personal, we can start to connect with those who make them. There is no doubt that when we build a relationship with the growers and makers of our food and clothes, and other products, we will treat them with more care. Knowing how much work goes into them makes a difference. 

Use your imagination again. How can you impact this change? How will you welcome people into God’s economy of equality?

Zachary Stefaniuk is a second year Biblical and Theological Studies student from Hague, Saskatchewan. This blog post is adapted from a speech Zachary presented at the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest at CMU.

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