Pierce VanDunk

About Pierce VanDunk

I'm a Junior at Nyack College studying Bible and Theology. I love Jesus, which is why I want to be a Bible professor; my goal is to learn as much as I can about Him and teach others what I learn. My favorite teams are the Mets, Celtics, and Cowboys (don't hate me New Yorkers!). I also enjoy playing guitar and reading. Connect with Pierce on Google+

My First Time at the Pulpit

The Brick ChurchI have been attending my grandparents’ church, the Brick Church in West New Hempstead, during the school year since my second year at Nyack College. My grandparents live somewhat near Nyack, and I enjoy going to church with them while I am away from home. This past Sunday I was invited by their pastor, Reverend Thomas E. Johnston, to preach in his church one Sunday. He wants to give me the opportunity to experience what it is like to deliver a sermon. I have never preached before, so this would be my first time at the pulpit. I was honored by his offer, and I ultimately said yes, but at first I had one major reservation about accepting this opportunity: I am not affiliated with the denomination of the Brick Church.

The Brick Church claims the Reformed Church in America, or the RCA, as its denominational affiliation. I grew up Pentecostal. As far as Protestant Christianity goes, these two denominations are almost polar opposites. Reformed churches and Pentecostal churches disagree on many subjects, such as the miraculous gifts of the Spirit and worship styles. It is very unusual for someone of a charismatic denomination like mine to be a guest preacher at a Reformed church, and vice versa. I don’t think I have ever seen it ever happen at my home church or in any church that I have visited. It made me a little uneasy that I might be breaking the unwritten rule that these two denominations cannot cross.

Very quickly I realized that I felt this way because of what I had seen and heard, not because this denominational segregation was right. I am a big proponent of dialogue and cooperation across denominational lines. Sometimes it seems as though we forget that whether Pentecostal or Reformed, Baptist or Lutheran, Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, we all serve Jesus Christ. It is alright to disagree on certain issues, but it becomes problematic when these disagreements cause enmity between different Christian groups. I have an incredible opportunity to practice what I preach (no pun intended) by serving a congregation of a different denomination.

I will be preaching for the first time in my life on Sunday, November 17th, at the Brick Church in West New Hempstead. I still don’t know what subject I will be preaching on or what I will say, but I will definitely let the Lord lead and guide me in what I should preach. Even though I don’t plan on making a career out of preaching, I look forward to having the experience. I was reserved about preaching in a church of a different denomination, but after thinking about it more I am actually glad that this is the case. This is a small step toward dialogue and cooperation between different denominations.

My Visit to the Cloisters Museum

Cloisters 1Last weekend Dr. Amy Davis took some members of the Bible Department to the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan. The Cloisters is a museum of religious and church-related art from different cultures that is managed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A cloister is an enclosed part of a monastery or nunnery which borders or leads into the courtyard or the garden. The museum is named the Cloisters because it contains structural parts of five different cloisters from around the world. Being that a cloister would normally surround a garden, the museum maintains a garden filled with plants used commonly in the medieval time period. In this picture the group is seated in front of the garden while listening to the guide of the garden tour explain the origins and uses of some of the plants contained within. The tour guide for the garden tour also showed us some of the plants depicted in the museum’s works of art and explained their significance. Some of the dyes used in the paintings and tapestries were growing in the museum’s gardens.

Cloisters Museums

Here the group is enjoying the incredible view of the Hudson river from outside of the Cloisters. The museum sits on a hill at a high elevation above the surrounding area, and from the balconies you can see for miles. This view is also visible from one of the gardens, which is outdoors.

Cloisters 4

 

 

This image is contained within a collection of stained glass windows that depict everything from the Passion to Purgatory. This window depicts the angel of death plunging his arrow into the back of a peasant, a prince, and a pope. While I found this image amusing, I also found it sobering. It was funny to me because of how cliché the depiction of the angel of death is, but it also made me think about how death comes for everyone, no matter what a person’s status is. Art like this makes me appreciate life even more.

Cloisters 6

 

This is a painting of the Archangel Michael  defeating a demon. In Scripture Michael is a warrior and the defender of heaven. In this depiction he is clad with ornate medieval armor and holds a long spear. He stands triumphant over a disturbing image of a demon. I have never thought of Michael appearing this way, but it is interesting to see how he was thought of by the medieval artists.

The Cloisters is an incredible museum filled with beautiful art. There are paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and other art forms that depict Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, and numerous other religious subjects. Our group spent hours in the museum, but I was not able to view and read about everything I passed by. I would love to get back to the Cloisters one day, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in art.

My Visit to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church

St. Joseph'sA week after my visit to St. Anthony’s Eastern Orthodox Church I furthered my exploration of different Christian traditions by attending Catholic Mass. I visited St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which is located in my hometown, Middltown, New York. Growing up, I was told a lot of negative things about Catholicism, so I had a few biases going into this experience. I had heard that their services were dry and boring, and that their beliefs were wrong and silly. I did my best to silence these voices and enter the cathedral with an open mind and an open heart.

St. Joseph’s tall steeple is visible from all over downtown Middletown, and I always wondered what the inside of the building looked like. I was not disappointed. The inside of the cathedral was lavish with stained-glass windows, sculptures, and other beautiful pieces of art. Above the altar there was an enormous figure of Jesus on the cross. I have always been taught that depicting Jesus still on the cross is like sacrificing him again. As I researched the Catholic tradition further I learned that Catholics would agree with that statement, though they would not consider it a negative thing. The central theme of the Catholic Mass is Jesus’ sacrifice, and they believe that they re-sacrifice Christ repeatedly through Communion. This concept is very difficult for me to grasp. I am not sure how I feel about it, but it is interesting all the same.

I really appreciated the sermon preached by the one of the priests. He preached about being shameless about your faith, believing in God for healing, and making your life a sacrifice to God. The priest was passionate, and at times his shouted almost like a Pentecostal preacher! This was the complete opposite of what I had been told about the energy level of Catholic services. It was loud and exciting, and I enjoyed it. I found nothing wrong with the sermon logically or theologically, and it blessed me a lot.

Although there were a few things about Mass that didn’t sit well with me, I was able to appreciate the Catholic way of worshiping God. I can definitely see that Catholics are just as active and intentional about bringing God glory as Protestants are. There are some things about Catholicism that I agree with, there are many things that I am not sure how I feel about, and there are a few things that I simply disagree with. In spite of the differences between Catholics and Protestants, we need to realize that although we disagree on certain things, we are all serving the same God.

My Visit to St. Anthony’s Eastern Orthodox Church

St. Anthony's

 

 I recently attended a service at St. Anthony’s Eastern Orthodox church as a part of an assignment for a class that I’m taking this semester. Stepping into this church was almost like stepping into a new world. The way that these Christians worshiped was unfamiliar to me, but it was very interesting to honor God in a new way.

The appearance of St. Anthony’s is unlike anything I am accustomed to. The walls, ceilings, and windows are covered with beautiful artwork depicting events from the life of Jesus and many of the Orthodox saints. Situated in the front of the sanctuary is the iconostasis, which resembles an embroidered set of doors, decorated with elaborate icons. The iconostasis represents the separation between the holy place and the holy of holies. Behind the iconostasis are the bread and wine for Communion and a jewel-encrusted Bible. At no point does the congregation go through the doors of the iconostasis; only the priests are allowed behind it.

When I entered St. Anthony’s, the church was already filled with song. A worship service in an Eastern Orthodox church is already in progress when the congregation begins to arrive. The priests and singers arrive well before the time the service is scheduled to start. They sing praises to God, and the congregation joins in as it arrives. This is done to reflect the fact that God is being worshipped continually in heaven, and as Christians worship they join an activity that has already been going on. Much of the service consists of singing. The priests sing chants, prayers, and readings from Scripture, and the congregation sings responses in unison.

After the hymns are complete, one of the priests preaches a sermon. During my most recent visit to St. Anthony’s the sermon was preached by a young adult instead of a priest since October is youth month in this church. The young woman’s words were sincere and heartfelt. She preached about her experience volunteering with youth at a camp that many of the youths in St. Anthony’s attended. Next, Communion was served. After the priests blessed the bread and wine, they broke the bread into small pieces, put it into the wine, and used a spoon to flick it into the mouths of those taking communion.

I enjoyed my visit to St. Anthony’s. It showed me ways to worship that I was not familiar with. The different sights, sounds, and smells made me appreciate God in a new way. This visit made me want to explore other Christian traditions as well. I hope to learn more about the Orthodox tradition and other Christian groups.

L’chaim! Learning the Hebrew Language

A Reader's Hebrew BibleYou’ve probably heard this Jewish toast before, and you probably have no idea what it means. It can be heard said at Jewish celebrations where drinks are served, such as weddings and birthdays. I had no clue what meant either, even though I have been learning the Hebrew language for more than a year. There are two parts to the one-word toast: the prefix l– meaning “to” and the word chayyim, which translates to “life” (literally “lives”). I was aware of the meanings of both of these components, but it was not until Dr. Stephen Bennett, my Hebrew professor, pointed out the connection. It is small but significant realizations like these that make learning the Hebrew language a fun and exciting endeavor.

In my first semester of Hebrew it was interesting to find out how much Hebrew I already knew. Words as common to Christians as amen and hallelujah come from the language of the Old Testament. Hebrew is written from right to left, and in Hebrew script, amen looks like אָמֵן and hallelujah is written הַֽלְלוּ־יָהּ. Amen is a word of affirmation, meaning “truly” or “so be it.” Hallelujah is composed of two words” hallel and Yahweh, translating to “praise” and “the Lord” respectively.

It is also intriguing to note the meaning behind many of the names that originate in the Old Testament. For example, the meanings of names that involve El or Jah usually have something to do with God (El and Jah are derived from names for God). Notice the El in Eli and in Emmanuel. Eli means “my God” and Emmanuel means “God with us.” Notice the Jah in Adonijah and Jahleel. Adonijah means “the Lord is my master” and Jahleel means “waiting on God.” Elijah combines both, meaning “the Lord is my God.”

CTA button for Blog UGThe most meaningful thing that I am learning from studying the Hebrew language is the thought behind the Old Testament Scriptures. As is true with any culture, a lot of the Hebrew thought process is revealed in its linguistic tendencies. Certain English words have no direct Hebrew translation and vice versa. For example, the Hebrews believed that God held rain and snow in the sky using a solid barrier, called a raqiya in Hebrew. The King James translates this as “firmament,” but this does not convey the full meaning of the Hebrew understanding since English speakers do not usually think of precipitation being held back by a solid structure.

Several connections between the language that modern Christians use and the ancient Hebrew language can be made. There is theological significance to many of the Old Testament names that are still used today. Understanding Hebrew contributes to my understanding of the Old Testament. I look forward to continuing to learn more about the Hebrew language and gaining a better understanding of the Old Testament.

Israel

IsraelLast Friday I went with the Bible Department to the Imax Theater to see a documentary entitled “Jerusalem.” The film gave a brief overview of Jerusalem’s history and detailed the city’s current situation. For me, it brought back a lot of memories from when I took a trip to Israel with my grandmother’s church when I was in ninth grade. The documentary showed a lot of the sites that I visited while I was there, but my group went to many places other than Jerusalem. The two-week trip was an amazing experience, but I was not nearly as well versed in Bible history then as I am now. I would love to go back and visit again with the knowledge that I now have about the places I visited more than five years ago.

Three of my favorite attractions in Israel are Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Dead Sea, and Masada. Hezekiah’s Tunnel is mentioned in 2 Kings. It was dug under Jerusalem during Hezekiah’s reign in order to provide the city’s inhabitants with water during a siege by Assyria. Water continues to flow through the tunnel to this day. My group had the opportunity to walk through the shin-deep water from one end of the tunnel to the other.

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on land on the earth. Sodom and Gomorrah were located next to this body of water. The water has an immensely concentrated level of salt and minerals, which makes almost anyone whom swims in it buoyant. I am usually completely unable to float, so it was fun to be able to lay back and stay afloat with no problem. The mud surrounding the Dead Sea is said to be good for the skin.

Masada is a site not mentioned in our Bible. It was a fortification on top of a plateau that was used by the Jews in the Jewish-Roman war in the first century. Before it was used for a fortress, Herod the Great constructed a palace on the plateau. Originally, the only way to the top of the plateau was a long, grueling passageway, which remains there today. We had the option of taking a cable car to the top, which almost all of us opted to do. The view from the top of Masada was outstanding.

Since the ninth grade I have learned so much about the people and places of the Bible, and I have also learned significant history about Israel that is not in the Bible. I would really enjoy revisiting the places that I have already seen, but I would also love to see the places that I didn’t get to see. Most of all, I would like to learn more about the current situation of Israel and see more than just the tourist attractions.

God’s Work

imageI am taking a class with Dr. Orlando Rivera this semester called the Theology of Work and Vocation. In all honesty, I enrolled in this class because I need some theology electives and, and this one fit with my schedule. I am very glad that my schedule worked out this way, though, because so far this class seems like it will teach me things that will change the way I think about the world. I have always viewed work as a duty that needed to be performed in order to have a stable and enjoyable life, but until now I had never stopped to consider how God views work. For my first paper for Dr. Rivera’s class I have done a lot of research that has made me do a lot of thinking about how I view work, vocation, and calling (and how I should be viewing them). I would like to share the main ideas of my research here.

From a modern perspective, work is most commonly viewed by believer and nonbeliever alike as nothing more than a means to support oneself and one’s family financially. From a Christian standpoint, believers often do not view their vocation as a call from God unless they are employed in some area of vocational ministry. This is largely the result of the false dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular” in which ministerial employment is considered God’s work and other vocations are viewed as regular work that is not called by God. Scripture does not support this dichotomy. The Bible presents all work as both a gift to humanity and an opportunity to emulate God. The common modern worldview of “secular” work as laborious and arbitrary is a perversion of God’s original intention for honest work of all types to be meaningful and righteous. The Bible also presents “calling” as encompassing more than paid employment, including any duty or responsibility that is deemed by God to be righteous.

CTA button for Blog UGInstead of letting the reading I have been doing be nothing more than research for a paper for a class, I am opening up to the truths of God’s Word and letting them alter how I view the world I live in. If work is God’s gift to me, then why should I look at it with contempt? If my part time job is a calling from God, then why should I view it as nothing more than a tiresome means to a monetary end? Having a proper theology of work and vocation means changing your attitude towards your work and viewing it as an opportunity to practice righteousness and be more like God.

Wow, You’ve Lost Weight!

imageThere are a lot of people that love to hear these words. They put a lot of effort and time into losing weight and getting into shape, and for them, the ultimate affirmation and validation is for someone to take notice and say “Wow, you’ve lost weight!” For me, this is not the case. Since leaving Nyack for the summer break in May I’ve lost a significant amount of weight, but I did not even notice for myself until every other person who saw me said something about how much thinner I look. Most of the time my response is to tell them that I wasn’t trying to lose weight. For those of you reading this and wondering what my secret is, I wish I could tell you something profound that would make getting and staying in shape easy. All I did was eat right and run a lot. I think I look a bit too skinny, but I feel the best that I have ever felt.

CTA button for Blog UGI have been working in a medical office for a few months now, and complications resulting from unhealthy eating and lack of exercise make up a large portion of the problems that our office encounters. To be honest, it makes me fear for my own future. Anyone who has known me long enough and well enough to have eaten a meal with me knows how much and how often I can eat. With my previous eating habits I should logically be very overweight, but because I am an active, young person with a fast metabolism I have always been in good-enough shape. But from what my elders tell me, when you become a certain age your metabolism slows down and your unhealthy habits catch up with you. I decided to be proactive instead of reactive; instead of trying to fix my habits after they become a serious problem, I am changing them before they start to have detrimental effects.

I could not tell you how much weight I’ve lost since I changed my unhealthy habits. I didn’t keep track of what I weighed before hand, and I don’t keep track of it now. In my opinion, the scale is the wrong place to go to judge your progress. Your health and well being is much more than a number. What has worked wonderfully for me is to judge my progress by how I look and how I feel. If you are trying to lead a healthier lifestyle, don’t do it to reach a number on a scale. Do it to improve your enjoyment of life, to reduce stress, and to lengthen your future.

Living Off Campus

Pierce's New RoomI will be living off campus during my final year at Nyack College. Thankfully, my grandparents, who live within a reasonable distance of Nyack, have opened their doors to me for the next two semesters. Over the summer I acquired a car, which makes transportation between the house and the school possible. I also have a job off campus in addition to my job at the Writing Center on campus, which would not have been possible while I was still living in Moseley or Dunbar. I have not lived, worked, and gone to school in my current living situation for enough time to give an educated synopsis of the positives and negatives of being a commuter, but my speculations and my brief one-week stint of being a commuting student make for good insight into the life of someone who lives off campus.

CTA button for Blog UGMy primary reason for choosing to live off campus is to save money while I finished my degree. Before making this decision final, though, I had to consider whether or not the amount of money I was going to save outweighed the experiences and accommodations that I would miss out on by not living on campus. I would have to give up things like wandering over to friends’ rooms when boredom strikes and being within walking distance of classrooms and the library. I would have to spend less time with my friends in order to avoid paying for room and board. It was a hard decision, but I decided that the perks of living on campus were not worth turning down a more affordable option. That means that this year I will have to put more of a conscious and intentional effort into spending time with my friends, which I am very willing to do.

My secondary reason for becoming a commuter was to make money. By taking only twelve credits, six of which consist of two independent studies, I have made my schedule more free: I only need to be on campus in Nyack three days a week. If I had two weekdays and a whole weekend of nothing but rest, I would not know what to do with myself. So, I went out and found another job. In addition to working in the Writing Center at Nyack College, I also work at a medical office on the days that I am not on campus. This gives me something to do with the time that I am not in class, and the extra paycheck adds to the positive effect of saving money on room and board.

Living off campus is both a privilege and a sacrifice. I am granted more freedom and I benefit financially, but I suffer socially in that I am less frequently surrounded by the people, activities, and fun of Nyack’s residential life. It remains to be seen whether or not the outcome will be truly worth the sacrifice. I hope and pray that I will be able to maintain closeness with my friends on campus even though I will not be as close to them physically.

Why I Write

Writing Center StaffBetween school, working at the Writing Center, and blogging for Life at Nyack, I spend a lot of my time writing. It is one of my strongest skills, and I frequently find ways to use it outside of an academic setting. The way I write is something that has developed slowly over time; when I was in elementary school I thought that five-paragraph essays were simply impossible to complete, but my love for writing has grown so much over the years that I actually enjoy writing long papers. The fact that I like to write even when it is for school or work is confusing to many people, so I often have to explain why I write.

When I was in high school one of my English teachers spoke a word of wisdom to the class something that stuck with me. She said, “Writing isn’t just for English class. It isn’t just for high school or college. Good writing skills will be useful to you for the rest of your life.” She went on to give numerous examples of reasons to write in the professional world and elsewhere, and she closed by saying, “No matter where you go or what you do, there will be some reason for you to write. And if you write well, you will succeed.” At the time, I didn’t believe her. I thought that after I was finished with school, occasions to write would occur rarely, if ever, but I learned everything that she taught us in order to get a good grade.  As time went on, though, I was faced with more and more situations where I needed to exercise the skills that I reluctantly picked up in school. As I applied for jobs, colleges, and scholarships I found myself using and developing my writing abilities.

It would seem as though I became a good writer because I enjoy writing, but the opposite is true; my love for writing is resultant of my becoming a good writer. When I first started to write out of necessity, I needed good grades so that I wouldn’t get in trouble with my parents, so I worked hard at creating my compositions. At first, the hard work didn’t help at all. My writing stunk, and I hated doing it. But, as I did it over and over, I became better and better. Once it became easy for me to write well, I started to like to write.

For me, writing relieves stress, helps me to excel in my classes at Nyack, and earns me money. What My teacher said to the class has repeatedly proved to be true in my life; I have found reasons to write in every area of my life. I never imagined choosing a career path like college-level education, where writing is such an integral part of the occupation, but I am a few years away from becoming a college professor. For this and many other reasons, writing will be a huge part of my life for as long as I live.

Like Looking into a Mirror

Pierce with PrestonClasses start later at Nyack College than at most other schools, so I am usually home to see my friends off for their first day of college. This year my younger brother, Preston, was one of the people leaving in late August to begin his secondary schooling. He is going to the University at Albany and majoring in computer science. My parents and I drove him to the campus and helped him move in last week. Seeing Preston settle into his room made me remember what it was like when I did the same thing at Nyack  College two years ago. For more reasons than our similarities in appearance, watching Preston’s move-in day was like looking into a mirror for me.

Preston and I are only eighteen months apart in age, so he has always been more like my younger twin than my little brother. This had its positives and negatives while we were growing up. Having a brother close to me in age was a good things because we always had each other to play with and talk to. It became a hassle, though, because we were in each other’s presence too often, which caused us to get under each other’s skin. We went from laughing and playing to fighting and bickering in an instant; Preston could be my best friend and my worst enemy all in the same day. All of this changed when I left home for Nyack. Once he and I had some distance between us we were able to realize how pointless our arguing had been and how alike we are. Now, when I go home for a weekend or a vacation, he is one of my closest friends.

Since I have two years of college under my belt and Preston has yet to experience college, I am in a position to truly be a big brother to him. I have the opportunity to be an example to him in areas where I have succeeded and guide him in areas where I have failed. This summer we have had some great conversations about what to do and what not to do in college, and I feel that I have really been able to give him some good advice and positively influence his future. I have realized that part of my responsibility as an older sibling is to encourage my younger siblings to do things better than I was able to do. As the oldest child in my family I will usually experience things before my brothers do, so I am looking forward to mentoring and guiding them as they experience things that I have already gone through.

Beachcomber

Pierce on the BoardwalkWhen my mother was nine years old, her father bought a pop-up camper. His wife thought that the idea of camping for fun was insane, but she and the rest of the family decided to give it a try. One of the places the family took the camper that summer was a campground in New Jersey near the ocean shore called Beachcomber. It was that summer which began a family tradition that has lasted decades. I have gone to Beachcomber every summer since the year I was born, and so has every member of my family. Last week we took our annual ride down to the southern tip of New Jersey to meet my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and spend a week enjoying ourselves and making memories.

Beachcomber has a number of attractions in and around the campground. The most popular place to be is the lake, which is surrounded by sand, giving it the feel of a beach. People can swim and fish in the lake or rent canoes and paddle-boats. Next to the lake is a pavilion in which dances, bingo, and other events are held. I go to the pavilion because it is the only place in the campground with free wifi. Situated in the sand are a playground, volleyball net, basketball court, and set of pegs for horseshoe games. My brother and I spend much of our time on the basketball court, and my entire family likes to gather and play a few rounds of volleyball. My uncle and I are the reigning champions of horseshoes; we went four and one this year. Near the arcade and campground store is a place to play shuffleboard, which is a surprisingly fun game. My nine-year-old brother is a shuffleboard prodigy. There are many days when no one leaves the campground because there are so many entertaining activities.

On days when we do venture out of the campground, we like to go to the beach and the boardwalk. The waves at the beach are just strong enough to be thrilling without being dangerous. We boogie-board and build sand-castles with the younger children to keep them entertained. Attractions on the boardwalk include a variety of stores, food vendors, games, and rides. Thankfully, neither the beach nor the boardwalk was damaged by hurricane Sandy. There is also a bike trail and a marina which we like to use. The bike trail is two-and-a-half miles long and makes for a smooth, flat, straight ride. At the marina we can rent a small boat and go crabbing. There are more than enough things to do around the campground to keep us entertained for the week.

More than anything, Beachcomber is the venue for a yearly family reunion. For some of us, that one week is the only time we get to see each other. A few family members even fly in so as not to miss the occasion. Now that I am older and have more responsibilities it has become more difficult to clear my schedule for a week at Beachcomber, but I find a way to get there every year. I hope to continue the streak and make the camping trip at Beachcomber for years to come.

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