The ring is a precious commodity for couples

Smeagol clasped the ring in his gangly fingers and with a glint in his pale green eyes, uttered, “My precioussssss.”

This often joked-about representation of how much one object can turn into the idol of one’s passions can be a beacon of truth to Christians. Smeagol wanted nothing more than to have his “precious,” and the absence of his precious tormented him.

While the nature of the “One ring” in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was inherently evil, the lesson is more transcendent.

Christians are coveting a ring of their own. The most sought-after piece of jewelry for a Christian female is that diamond engagement ring. This ring symbolizes that all is right in the cards of love and that the girl is truly loved and cared about.

Often accompanied by a romantic proposal, this ring should be the end result of all relationships. Failure to obtain a ring, be it a “promise” ring or the official engagement ring, would thus lead to a wandering piteous single life much reminiscent of Smeagol’s.

We heard Dr. Langan in Windows testify that those who are engaged are in the minority and most of the campus falls into the single category. And speaking from the standpoint of being recently engaged, I find this whole obsession with gooey romance a little disturbing.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – I got engaged Christmas Eve to my boyfriend of four years. He does not go to Eastern and everyone here probably thought I was one of those unattached girls who never had or never wanted a significant other.

As I watched numerous couples get engaged over the years, I was tormented by my “just-dating” status. I’m wondering what all the fuss was about. Being engaged did not change our relationship – we still fight and I’m still an hour and a half away.

Others’ perceptions of me changed, as I was no longer seen as an individual, but as another half of a whole. Since my engagement, I have thought deeply on the nature of marriage, our society’s obsession with romance and how younger Christians view the institution of marriage. Some fear the ring as a life sentence of commitment to one person, the metaphorical ball and chain. The ring threatens to define them and to steal their individual identity.

And like Smeagol, being known by two names and never fully identifying with either. For a woman, once she accepts the ring, she also accepts a new identity as “Mrs. So and So.”

Some women fully embrace the duality of marriage life and are satisfied with picking companionship over independence. They give all of themselves into the role of wife and mother. This affinity is not wrong, but it should not be the only sanctified viewpoint.

Another facet of the issue reveals that the modern-day woman is being encouraged to buy herself that diamond ring (worn on the right hand) and transform it into a symbol of fierce independence and freedom from male domination.

These women chart their own course and sail their own path. The bigger the stone is, the stronger the woman’s commitment to herself.

When seen in this context, the ring also whispers lies. It becomes a symbol for decadence above simple living and measures love by the carat.

Then there are those of us who refuse to fully align with either of the above identities these rings promise. We see the ring as powerful and representing a partnership that should be highly respected and cultivated. We do not believe that we should lose ourselves, but grow into ourselves by the union to our future husbands. We see the ring not as the final goal of a relationship, but a new chapter in our lives.

We see motherhood not as a trap or safety net, but as a challenge and a privilege. We do not come to college seeking an MRS degree but to better equip ourselves to provide for our families. We see the role of wife, not as simply a servant of the house, but as a partner in life.

The true nature of the ring was intended for good things, but as the world stole it away, its intent was twisted. The ring is a symbol of love, not a coveted object that becomes the indication of love.

The measure of its carat does not quantify the measure of commitment or love. We should hide our rings away from the world and keep close the true intent of its meaning.

Otherwise, we will always be identified by our wedding rings, and therefore always be under scrutiny and susceptible to those dark forces that wish to break the bond of “true” love.

Only when Frodo let go of the ring did he find peace, and only when we abandon the world’s meaning of marriage and engagement will we find the ability to be fully content in whatever station of life we are.

When God is the ultimate yes-man

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling”(Psalms 2:10,11 NIV).

Yet when I reflect on the speeches and conduct of President Bush, fear and trembling are probably the last things I find in them.

I have little doubt that President Bush considers himself a Christian. He probably prays nightly and attends Church regularly. However, I question whether his faith is beneficial to his conduct of the presidency. I fear that it may actually be detrimental.

Much good fruit can come from Christianity grounding a leader’s political vision. Moral clarity and courage, hope in the midst of darkness and a sense of providence come immediately to mind.

But I think its most important contribution to politics is the overwhelming sense of humility brought about by a genuine understanding of human frailty and our need for grace and mercy. A true Christian leader realizes that while called to work for justice and peace, he or she must not identify attempts at justice as Justice itself.

They must not confuse the country’s interests with those of God, as if salvation and his country’s prosperity go hand in glove. Most importantly, they must realize that due to sin, humans are most likely to do wrong when acting out of good intentions.

The medieval inquisitors, the supporters of apartheid, the leaders of the French Revolution all believed rather strongly that they were doing the right thing. Nothing is more terrifying than a fallible man wielding tremendous power, except for a fallible man wielding tremendous power who believes that God is on his side.

I fear that George W. Bush is such a man. I fear that instead of being humbled by his faith and spurned to greater acts of grace and love, President Bush draws on Christianity for confidence and self-righteousness. For him, God is the ultimate yes-man.

My evidence in this lies in President Bush’s own actions and thoughts. The original name for the operation against Afghanistan was Infinite Justice, a rather blatant deification of America’s abilities.

Our barbarous treatment of terrorist suspects and prisoners of war has been continuously justified by the argument that America’s just cause far outweighs our own constitutional heritage and universal human rights (to say nothing of Christian duty to neighbor).

The rhetoric of the war on terrorism paints us as defenders of Freedom itself, saying nothing of our sordid involvement in most of the third world since World War II.

The administration has also never questioned the justness of its war against Iraq, despite its initial justification for it being almost completely refuted.

Lastly, western-style democracy is acquiring dangerously messianic overtones, as if its spread and defense justifies almost any action.As much as it pains me to write it, I would rather have a non-believer with a social conscience as president than a believer who is assured that God is on his side.

President Bush would do well to study the humility of his party’s first president, who, in his second inaugural address, said nations must conduct their affairs “with malice toward none, with charity toward all,” standing firm in what they believe to be right, while ever humbly asking God for more light to better see what is right.

For “the Almighty has His own purposes” which, while “righteous and true”, are never the same as those of any nation.

Letters From Abroad

Mukono, Uganda: Feb. 8Hey friends and family! It’s been a while, I hope you’re all doing well. The subject of this email is: The Worst Week in the History of Mankind (cue lightning bolts and thunder). You’ll understand as you read. This is how the last week and a half has gone.

1. Last Saturday, I got a blistering sunburn because I went to a basketball tournament at the last minute and was there from 11-2. So that hurt, and I’m sorry, but I will learn from my mistakes.

2. Just about the time that the pain of the burn was wearing off (and the blisters were starting to peel), I fell and, guess what, I tore a ligament in my stupid ankle. This may not surprise some of you (Read:Eastern friends), but it sure surprised me. I took a picture of my “elephankle” so you can all see it.

3. I went on a retreat to Entebbe this weekend and, on the first day, went to the Botanical Gardens, where our guide cheated us.

We didn’t know what to do, so when we met up with the group, Vincent, the driver, went down, screamed, yelled, threatened to call the police, blocked the entrance to the gardens and stole a bike in order to get our money back. It was awesome!

4. The next day, I went swimming in Lake Victoria, which you may have heard of as either the second biggest fresh water lake in the world or the dirtiest and most disease-ridden lake in the world. Either way, I won’t know if I have snails until six weeks from now, but I did watch my cousin almost drown (I’m not kidding; I cried when she and Nik finally made it back to land). (Mom, do not forward this to Aunt Vickie).

5. While at Lake Victoria, I got another blistering sunburn and this time, the blisters were on my lips. Ouch!

6. We got back to campus yesterday and I woke up sick to my stomach, so after taking some medicine, I went down to the internet cafe in Mukono town.

I sat down, felt dizzy and almost passed out. I ended up walking out, laying on the sidewalk outside and sweating for a few minutes until Bethany came up with some water for me. I don’t know what was wrong…dehydration?

7. We tried to get the Superbowl on Sunday night, and we were guaranteed that it would be on, so we all woke up at 1 a.m. to watch the game. We got there just in time to see the pre-show. The announcer said, “And we’ll be right back with the kickoff!”

And then, ESPN Uganda pre-empted the biggest sports game of the year (arguably) to show the finals in the World Series of Poker. So…we went to bed at 3 a.m. pretty angry. And Eastern friends, I’m sorry the Eagles lost! Especially for you, Tarik.

8. Finally, I lit my mosquito net on fire last night. I was trying to put out a candle, using my mosquito net, which I later found out is doused in flammable pesticide to kill bugs and…well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing I have a powerful lung capacity, and hopefully the mosquitos won’t find the gaping hole right next to my face. Okay! I hope you laughed at my expense!

Lots of love, Andrea

Andrea Priest is a junior at Eastern who is currently studying abroad in Mukono, Uganda. As a former editor, she has agreed to send updates of her journey.

Unpacking the challenges to Social Security, Medicare

Before we panic over Social Security let’s get the facts straight.

The current situation: Employees have 6.2 percent taken out of the first $90,000 of their pay for Social Security and 1.45 percent taken out of all their earnings for Medicare. This is matched by their employer (self-employed persons pay 15.3 percent total). With our “pay as you go” system the payroll taxes of today’s workers finance the retirement benefits of today’s senior citizens.

While we have fallen from 16 workers per retiree in 1950 to 3.3 today, the Baby-Boomers are still a large bulge in the labor force and the money paid into the Social Security trust fund annually exceeds expenditures.What’s coming? The Baby-Boomers are soon going to start retiring which means falling payroll tax revenue and rising Social Security benefits. By 2018 the payroll tax money paid into the trust fund will fall short of the annual expenditures.

From 2018 to 2027 the interest on the Treasury securities in the trust fund will cover the annual shortfall. Thereafter, the shortfall will come out of the trust fund’s principle until the principle is exhausted in 2042. (And there will be 2.1 workers per retiree.)

This is the “Intermediate” and most likely scenario. The driving assumptions are conservative: stable fertility rates (slightly below replacement level-perhaps we regret all those abortions), annual inflation of 2.8 percent, annual growth in real wages of 1.1 percent, unemployment of 5.5 percent and annual net immigration of 900,000 (hug an immigrant because he or she may be your retirement future!).

What does it mean? First, without any change in payroll taxes Social Security benefits will have to be immediately cut 27 percent in 2042 with more cuts thereafter. Second, even before the cut in benefits, the liquidation of the trust fund’s principle (Treasury securities) will have to be covered through higher federal taxes or higher federal debt or decreases in federal spending on other programs.

What can be done? A 15 percent bump in the payroll tax rate from 12.4 percent (employee and employer combined) to 14.3 percent will make the system solvent.

Alternative policy choices are to: a) raise the maximum earnings taxed (already being done but could be sped up); b) raise the eligible age for benefits (already being done); c) increase the percent of social security payments to the elderly to which Federal income taxes are applied (currently starts with 50 percent of all benefits for household income over $25,000) and d) change the benefit formula so it just keeps pace with inflation but not with rising real wages (proposed by the President, and ultimately means a 60 percent reduction in benefits for you young persons).

Is that all? Well, just one small item. The Medicare fund’s expenditures have exceeded payroll tax revenues as of 2004 and the fund will be exhausted as of 2018. To keep the Medicare fund solvent will require either a 108 percent increase in taxes or a 48 percent decrease in benefits (hospital insurance).

Where does it all leave us? If both funds are kept solvent then Social Security outlays will rise from 4.3 percent of GDP today to 6.6 percent in the lifetime of you students and Medicare outlays will rise from 2.6 to 13.8 percent of GDP.

So, if you favor increased government spending as a proportion of the economy, your wish will come true. And all of that is before anything is done about the 45 million Americans who currently have no health insurance (71 percent of whom are employed full-time or part-time).What about personal retirement accounts? President Bush has proposed letting young workers put a portion of their retirement into personal accounts since Social Security earns little more than inflation.

Given that the annual return on stocks over the decades has exceeded inflation by 6.5 percent, it sounds like a better deal than having government managed retirement funds. But it will be hard to sell politicians on removing tax revenue from a trust fund that is headed toward deficit.

Can we do nothing? Not until I’m dead, then you can do what you want. But also we should recognize that for one-third of Americans over 65 Social Security constitutes 90 percent of their income. The elimination of Social Security benefits would increase the elderly’s poverty rate from the current 10 to over 50 percent. Reductions in Medicare (and Medicaid) would be equally disastrous.

So, the sky is not falling, but a storm front is definitely approaching, and Henny Penny has every right to squawk…..

John Stapleford is a professor of economic development.

Library renovation results in fewer faculty offices

While students and library books are being promised more living space, faculty are losing elbow room as they continue to grow in size.

The Warner Library addition and renovation, while it creates plenty of new study and classroom space, is less helpful for the office situation.

According to provost David Fraser, the original plan would have increased the number of faculty offices. But now it has become apparent that three offices will be lost.

“Students have trouble parking their cars,” Fraser said. “We have trouble parking our faculty.”

At the same time, new pressures on office space come from the large numbers of adjunct faculty who need space and from newly hired staff. Next school year will bring additional New Testament, sociology and biochemistry professors to Eastern, among others.

“The faculty is groaning, as much as we love the changes to the library,” said Sandy Bauer, head of the social work department.

Besides the lost office space, those with offices that will remain in the library will be displaced over the summer. Further renovation of the old parts of the building will include the addition of sprinklers and the elimination of some multi-use space for faculty in the library.

“Not only will we have to finish our classes and decide our grades, we have to pack our things and move out by graduation,” said Mike Roberts, sociology professor and chair of the sociology, anthropology and missions department, headquartered in the old library. “Faculty usually do a lot of work during the summer that students are not aware of, and our offices are our workshops.”

The plans for the library were first created under former provost Harold Howard, when the college was not expected to grow as quickly as it has.Fraser said that there is the possibility of the addition of a few offices to make up for the lost ones.

There is space in the Curriculum Lab for another office, he said, and the new classrooms created by the library could allow for one of the McInnis classrooms to be transformed into an office suite.

The current architectural plans, however, appear to call for full-time professors to share offices in Warner, Roberts said. That would create a whole host of problems relating to office hours, phone calls and confidentiality.

“It’s always nice when facilities are upgraded,” Roberts said. “It keeps you feeling good about the place. But it’s a good thing to pay attention to people too, like the faculty.”

But for now, it looks like the people who will become more crowded will have to learn lessons from those who are already crowded.

“We’ve got eight people in one office,” Bauer said of the social work adjuncts. “But we’re managing.”

Space limits inspire new dorm, faculty tensions

As a new fall semester draws closer, incoming and returning students are scrambling to secure spots in Eastern University’s residence halls. But due to the limited space on campus, many will have to find alternative housing or be placed in Pennswood. In order to remedy this situation, plans are in the works to build a new residence hall by 2007.

“There’s no reason to believe it’s not going to happen, [though] no papers have been signed,” said Bettie Ann Brigham, vice president for student development.

The Housing Department allocates 450 beds for incoming students and 600 beds for returning students. However, the number of enrolling and returning students for fall 2005 is higher than expected.

Over and above the 1,050 residents Eastern has the capacity to accommodate on campus, 150 students have been put on a waiting list due to lack of beds this year.

The new hall would be built near North Campus Hall and Heritage House. The first floor would consist of offices and classrooms and the remaining floors would house resident students. The building would hold student apartments and a mix of doubles, triples, singles and quads.

This would add 160 extra beds on campus and eliminate the need for overcrowding rooms and sending overflow to Pennswood, where Eastern currently has 58 students living. An additional parking area would be built near the hall to accomodate residents and professors.

Brigham, President David Black and development officer Richard Eisenstaedt are discussing the possibilities for building the residence hall with an investment company.

The way the company works, Eastern would not have to pay for the construction of the building. Rather, they would lease land to the company and in return, the company would lease the hall to Eastern upon its completion.

The building would not only provide more space for residents and undergraduate academics, but also for the Department for Graduate and Professional Studies.

The department now rents space at Valley Forge, but if the building is completed, they will have primary use of the offices and classrooms on the first floor.

Inclement weather shuttle service to McInnis opens for business

Eastern University Security has added a security van to its lot to provide the commuting community with safe passage from the Heritage Lot to the main campus when the McInnis lots are full and inclement weather comes. “There is a wide spectrum of people when it comes to the weather,” campus security director John Sheehan said.

“There are members of the Eastern community who will walk without a problem in a foot of snow. There are others who panic at the sight of one flake,” he said.

The security officers will keep an eye out when bad weather does pay a visit to Eastern. If they feel that there is enough snow to send the shuttle out, they will do so.

This new project sprouted from the addition of two part-time security officers to the staff this past summer. Sheehan said that a project like this has never been tried before due to a lack in equipment and people.

“The real focus of the use of the shuttle is parking,” Sheehan said. “If McInnis lots become full, as they often do, student and faculty travel on foot from Heritage lots is dangerous in snowy and icy weather.”

Sheehan said that this shuttle is only for commuters.

The Heritage lots are the only lots, besides the McInnis lots, for commuters to park.

The shuttle can hold up to five people per trip.

More commuter-friendly changes may be coming soon. Sheehan said that vice president of student development, Bettie Ann Brigham, has asked for initiative from campus services to build a path from the Heritage Lot to the sidewalk of North Campus Hall to make travel on foot easier.

Crosswalk to Cabrini opens

A crosswalk now passes over Eagle Road to connect Eastern’s campus to its neighbor, Cabrini College. Betty Ann Brigham, vice president of student development, sent an e-mail to the student body that read, “There are a variety of reasons for the crosswalk. The most important is to provide safe passage for our community members and campus guests as they cross from one campus to the other for classes and other activities.”

It extends from the parking lot of Kea Hall directly across the street to a set of steps which lead up a slope to Cabrini.

Charles Schaffner, head of security at Cabrini College, said that the initial request for that site was simply a streetlight to increase the safety of the crossing. However, installing a streetlight did not meet with PennDot requirements, so the plan was changed to the crosswalk lines and pedestrian sign.

Accompanying the lines and sign are three new warning lights, one on Eastern’s side and two that lead up the slope on the adjacent side of Eagle Road.

Schaffner said that an emergency phone will be put in on the Cabrini path as soon as the weather allows.

Meghan Capers, head of conferences and special events at Eastern, said that this walkway provides safety and convenience primarily for summertime guests, rather than just students.

According to Capers, Eastern hosts a number of conferences and summer camps.

Many times, there is not enough room to house everyone involved and many of the participants end up staying in Cabrini residence halls due to its close proximity.

The idea of a crosswalk is not a new one. It has been discussed ever since students have been traveling to take classes at the neighboring school, and as the need for it grew, so did the discussion that led to its arrival, Capers said.

According to the registrar’s office, there are approximately five to seven students from each school traveling across the street to attend regular classes.

The cost of the crosswalk was split evenly between Eastern and Cabrini

Jamaica missions team offers hope, love to local youth

When the Eastern missions team left for Montego Bay, Jamaica in December, they expected to help with hurricane relief efforts, according to trip advisor Doug Trimble. Instead, they encountered life-changing experiences.

The trip, lasting from December 11-19, included Trimble, ten Eastern students and Joan Litvin, another adult from the area.

The trip was organized by Andy Horvath, and the Short-Term Evangelical Missions in partnership with a local Jamaican church called Fresh Bread Ministries International.

The team’s ministry included doing physical labor and putting together a program to be performed for various churches and schools, according to senior Laura Fafoutis.

The personal ministry however, stood out most for Fafoutis.”I felt we could reach people better that way, rather than just saying ‘Oh, here’s a song for you,'” she said.

A memorable place for several team members was the West Haven Children’s Home for physically and mentally disabled children.”There were always kids running up to the van, holding their hands out, waiting to be received and loved,” said junior Nepheterie Easley. In some cases, friendships were formed immediately.

“As soon as I got out of the bus, this little boy came over and held out his hands,” Trimble said. “He just wanted to be held. I couldn’t put him down.” Trimble said he believes the team’s ministry to the children imitated Jesus’ ministry.

“Just hugging them, playing with them, I felt that’s what Jesus wanted us to do,” he said, using as his example Jesus laying hands on the children.Another memorable place for team members was the Granville Girls’ Home of Safety for troubled and abused girls aged 8 to 18 years, according to team leader senior Julie Reger.

“We connected on a very intimate level with all the girls there,” Reger said. “We’ll always remember them.”

It was also there that the team encountered one of their toughest challenges, the inability to relieve the suffering present, according to Reger.

“We couldn’t physically change anything,” she said. “Even the home wasn’t safe. Some of the older girls would abuse the younger girls and steal their stuff.”

However, the team learned to stay strong in their faith even in the midst of the suffering, according to Reger.

“A lot of times our faith was questioned [by other people],” Reger said. “We just had to stand by our faith, even if we couldn’t fix anything.”

For some members, the trip also served as a lesson in servanthood.

“I had to define what a mission trip is,” Easley said. “Did I come here with expectations or ready to do anything?”

Reger agreed the trip taught her servanthood.

“What needs to be done, you do,” she said. “We knew we were there to serve them.”

Despite the challenges, the team made a difference, including at Granville, just by spending time with the people, Easley said.

“They just needed love, and I was there and I was willing, and I was available to give it to them,” she said.

Fafoutis also said the trip made an impact in Jamaica.

“I really saw Jesus working in people,” she said.

Adverse weather slows construction of library

Since Eastern received roughly a foot of snow two weeks ago, construction workers have brought shovels and constructive precautions to the Warner Library addition site. Although the work has been delayed, the addition is still expected to be finished on schedule for the beginning of next year’s classes.

Besides making the site’s appearance messy, the snow and ice capped the metal skeleton structure of the addition and made any kind of movement on it dangerous.

“It is really like an ice rink up there,” said campus services director Rob Smith.

Smith said the ice and frigid weather combined to prevent workers from putting the wood decking up and pouring concrete for the east wall facing McInnis. Besides using a shovel to tear down the walls of snow, construction worker John Fairfield with his fellow workers put in overtime to makeup for the schedule setback. Fairfield said thawing the ice is just a matter of time.

Working in brisk 25-degree weather on ice covered ground, construction workers have layered themselves with snowsuits, thick gloves, scarves, ski masks, heavy boots and then some to keep warm and safe.

“I keep warm with lots of layers and long underwear,” Fairfield said. Since the start of the construction, cars have been able to exit Eastern’s Fairfield Drive entrance but not enter through it, changing a two-way street to one-way. The change was made so that construction workers could easily move their machinery.

Despite this inconvenience, the Eastern community has voiced little or no complaints.

“Eastern has been very accommodating with this whole process,” Fairfield said.

While winter weather has set back construction a mere couple of days, Fairfield said that the rainy summer coupled with this recent blizzard has left his team a couple of weeks behind. Smith agreed, but said that the completion date for construction of the addition still stands for August 2.

“It’s not a major set back. It is just a matter of melting,” Smith said.