November 16, 2007

Christian group stirs campus with chalking

[img id="80277" align="alignleft"] This week, students with heavy backpacks and bowed heads trudging into Regenstein Library might have noticed a strangely relevant verse chalked on the sidewalk outside the entrance: “Come to me all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.”

The quote, from Matthew 11:28, is part of a larger campus-wide chalking organized by the Asian American Intervarsity (AAIV) that started as a one-time proposal and has since developed into a weekly project.

Sam Park (A.B. ’96), the staff worker for AAIV, a branch of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a national evangelical campus ministry, said that originally a couple of members had planned to write some verses from Psalms during third week for the beginning of the midterm crunch, hoping to give confidence to struggling students.

However, that week, a response appeared on the sidewalks quoting Marx and referencing the “myth of Christ,” Park said.

“Right after the response appeared, the [AAIV] student leadership met and we asked ourselves, ‘Were the verses offensive?’” Park said. “We decided that we didn’t write anything offensive, that it was pretty neutral. And the feedback that we got from the community of faith and belief was that people were surprised and excited to see something like that.”

As a result of the positive feedback, AAIV decided to continue chalking and to expand from six chalking locations to over a dozen.

According to Park, the chalking was not intended to be specifically religious.

“If you weren’t Christian and you were walking, hopefully it would be uplifting and spiritually encouraging,” Park said. “If you don’t believe in God but maybe believe in a higher power, then you might find it a message of rest and peace.”

Park said that someone who was an atheist might find the quotes offensive, but called the Marx quotation response “a little bit polemic.”

“We were initially surprised because we weren’t trying to convert people,” he said. “The quotes didn’t say, ‘You’re all going to Hell,’ for instance.”

However, Park said he would enjoy discussing faith and belief with whomever chalked the Marx quotation.

Second-year Muhammed Khan, a Muslim, said he found the chalking “very offensive.”

“You’re taking something with an image of holiness for some people and you’re putting it on the floor where people can walk on it or step on it,” Khan said. “It’s in the wrong place.”

Fourth-year Marcus Peterson said that he thought the quotes were “well fitted for the U Chicago student.”

“I’m not very charged either way, but I think it’s fascinating the way they’ve been springing up one day to another,” Peterson said. “I think it’s good that people who have strong opinions can express them.”

Park said he viewed the sidewalks as “an open forum for opinions.”

“The Bartlett Quad is out of control,” he said. “We can’t really take credit, but maybe we’ve given people the freedom to write their thoughts and opinions. At the U of C especially, students shouldn’t be afraid to engage in discussion, not just about Marx or Durkheim but about their personal beliefs. Some people have strong faith backgrounds but they don’t always feel safe to talk about it.

“If we chalk a verse and someone writes something in response, that’s sparking a conversation about ideas,” he said.

The verses will continue this quarter, but members are unsure whether they will be able to chalk with snow on the ground. Park said AAIV might talk to the administrators about the possibility of writing on buildings instead.

“As long as there is an open sidewalk, we plan to keep going,” he said.