Outside the Box: Class Evokes Creativity

Outside the Box: Class Evokes Creativity

March 4, 2009

Students at Sioux Falls Seminary are studying Christian Ethics from a new and creative perspective--examining the subject's foundations in Jesus' teaching and demonstration of the Kingdom of God. This new perspective includes an experiential learning project that is challenging students to use their imaginations.

According to SFS Adjunct Professor Andrew Burnett, the course was redesigned in 2007 to get "more Jesus" into Christian Ethics. "From there, it was a natural extension to think about Jesus' teaching method with the first disciples, which always had a major experiential component." said Burnett. "Not that we need to apologize for studying Christian ethics in an academic setting--there are some distinctive benefits of doing so--but the Kingdom itself is always more than words. The Kingdom is about God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven!"

As part of the experiential learning project, students are asked to complete, and journal about, one of the following three tasks: engage with a person or group with different ethical views, live in voluntary poverty, or complete at least eight hours of community service.

The most recent group of students to complete Burnett's class are learning a lot from their experiences. Some chose to spend time with those with whom they don't see eye-to-eye; others slept outside, wore the same outfit for several days, or lived on a food stamp budget; and the rest completed community service projects.

Andy Bartel, M.Div. student, slept outside his house in a cardboard box for a week. Although he did go about his normal activities after waking up, he lived off of the same resources as a homeless person during the night. Instead of putting his experience on paper, Bartel blogged.

"By blogging about my experiences, it was my hope to help others also gain a greater understanding and respect for homeless people. I was actually amazed at the response," said Bartel. "My blog, before this project, averaged 3-4 hits per day. The number of hits steadily grew throughout the week until the seventh day when I had just under 350 hits that day."

According to Bartel, one of the most surprising aspects of the experience was how much time and energy it took for him to maintain the box. "It was frustrating that no matter how much time or energy I put into it, there were still major problems that would develop," he stated. "On account of all the time and energy spent on maintaining, coupled with the lack of a good night's sleep, I can see how difficult it might be for someone who is homeless to find time to look for, much less maintain, a job."

Laurel Buwalda, M.A. in Christian Leadership student, learned about her own attitudes and what message churches convey to the community by wearing the same outfit and undergarments for 10 days. It caused her to ask some tough questions like, "Is my church unknowingly keeping people who don't look or dress like us from coming to know God? Am I standing in the way of someone coming to know Jesus because I have a certain standard of how people should look when they enter God's house?" Buwalda noted that contemplating these questions "was a hard truth to swallow and clearly a challenge for [her] church."

Burnett is pleased with the changes he's made to the course. "The exciting thing I see students doing through the project is stretching and empowering their moral imagination by choosing to experience something themselves that puts them in a greater position of understanding and solidarity with others--particularly the poor, those without power, those different in ways that might separate us," he explained. "Experiential learning also takes place in, and builds, community. Even students who take on what seems like a highly personal, individual challenge often connect with others . . ."

Read Andy Bartel's blog entries on his voluntary poverty experience at: http://unknowntraveler.wordpress.com/.
At the right, select "Voluntary Poverty" under categories.

This article is part of the Spring 2009 newsletter. To download a .pdf version Impact, please click here.