The following letter is the first installment in what will be a series of letters to John
Calvin. These “Dear John letters” are meant to speak for those who are wrestling with
whether to stay in the Christian Reformed church or divorce the church that they’ve
loved. Rather than trying to solve theological mysteries, these letters are intended to be
a place to live into the questions themselves and wrestle with the joys and challenges
(and let’s just say it: trauma) that can come from being part of a reformed church body
I will sign the letters under the pseudonym “Jane Calvin”, not as a way to hide my
identity, but as a symbol of a new voice in reformed theology – one whose purpose is to
speak for those who feel their voices have been left out in reformed circles since the
Reformation. It’s also intended to unearth the softer side of John and Calvinism.
Maybe together we can discover that although he had a lot to say, John Calvin left some
room for mystery too. Dare I say he would be considered a Christian Reformed Mystic?
By “mystic” I mean someone who had powerful personal encounters with the Holy Spirit
even while wrestling himself with his faith? Let’s find out.
Lisa A. DeYoung, DMin student
a.k.a Jane Calvin
I was sitting in the women’s bathroom stall today on the 5 th floor of the library and saw in
the “Privy News” an announcement about you on an old coin. That’s right. There are
women studying here and we have our very own indoor privy! I wonder what you would
think about indoor, separate bathroom stalls, nonetheless ones that are advertising your
face! But I imagine many people throughout the ages have pondered interesting
questions from that pose. It got me thinking about the other thing around here with your
name on it, like the University logo.
Originally, it was a heart in a hand with the words, “Cor Meum Tibi Offero Domine
Prompte et sincere” and it included your signature. It has since been updated and
translated to English, “My heart I offer to you Lord, promptly and sincerely.” And
although it has been preserved as the school’s motto, the logo no longer includes your
name. That doesn’t so much irk me, John, because in my opinion the fewer names on
buildings around here the better.
But the newer University logo looks to me more like it belonged in your era than in ours!
When I see it, I can’t help but think of knights and kings, conquering lands and staking
claims. Is that really the image we are still going for in 2023? I’m curious what you’d
think of it.
Some of us in the church feel that we are losing our balance. A name and a logo may
seem like small details in the grand scheme of things, but when you are wondering
whether to stay or to leave the Reformed church, its things like this that can be “the
straw that breaks the camel’s back”. There has been a long line of smaller actions
throughout the history of the Reformed church (as well as some not so small like
pushing people off their lands, for example) that have caused people to question why
they are still here. We want our church to reflect the heart and hands of Jesus Christ.
I’m pretty sure that’s what you wanted too, isn’t it John?
The original Calvin logo placed emphasis on the heart and the hand to obviously mirror
the great commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart (and soul and
mind and strength) and to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:29-31 NIV) But
sometimes it feels like we’ve traded the heart and hands in for a brain on a stick. That’s
the perennial danger of higher religious education, isn’t it? To try and think our way to
God? Did you find it difficult to balance your own brain, full of all of those theological
ideas, with your love and devotion to God? What were your hands and feet doing in the
16 th century when they weren’t reading and writing? Did you know widows, orphans,
immigrants and persons in chains? Did God lead you into places where your
community was suffering? Were you able to balance your intellect and conclusions
about God with the mystery of God? Inquiring minds want to know!
John, if you had to choose a logo for the buildings with your name on it, what would you
choose? I know which one I’d choose, but I don’t have that kind of authority around
here. That’s okay. I’d rather not. But it is kind of fun to think about after a hot cup of
In your prayer at the start of your work day you say:
“My good God, Father, and Savior, grant me aid by your Holy Spirit to now work fruitfully in
my vocation, which is from you, all in order to love you and the people around me rather than
for my own gain and glory. Give me wisdom, judgment and prudence, and freedom from my
besetting sins. Bring me under the rule of true humility. Let me accept with patience whatever
amount of fruitfulness or difficulty in my work that you give me this day. And in all I do, help
me to rest always in my Lord Jesus Christ and in his grace alone for my salvation and life.
Hear me, merciful Father, by our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.” (Prayer of John Calvin, adapted
by Tim Keller) 1
What would “true humility” look like when it comes to buildings and logos John? How
about when choosing a school mascot? What about in regard to other contentious
issues in the church? Maybe instead of arguing about names and logos or (insert
controversy here), we could better use the time in solitude, whether in a library
bathroom stall or a Seminary prayer room, or a bench in the nature preserve to pray for
our neighbor…especially that stinker that would have the nerve to choose the logo that I
despise! Wow, sorry. That didn’t sound very humble now, did it? But, then again,
sometimes our contemplation is for the purpose of gearing up to fight the GOOD fight.
John, it’s too bad you’re not here to advise on the matter. But then again, I might not
agree with you either.
I wonder where I’ll see you next, John, if not on the face of a coin in the other room that
is named after you. Ha! Wish we could ponder that one together over a cup of Joe.
Okay, enough dad jokes for now. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?
P.S. For your reference since it’s been a while since you were around and our language
continues to evolve. (Could this be true of religious language as well? I’ll save that for
21 st century lexicon:
Straw that breaks the camel’s back – an idiom describing that last thing in a series of
bad things that happen to make someone very upset; or a minor action that causes an
unpredictably large and sudden reaction because of the cumulative effect of these small
Brain on a stick – an intelligent person who lacks emotion or social skills
John – besides your name, also the name of the Privy or bathroom, the first flushable
Peet’s – the name of the coffee shop inside Calvin’s library
Joe – the boy next door, cup of coffee
Dad joke – the kind of joke that makes you moan rather than laugh
My apologies if it seems like I’m making light of a difficult and painful situation in the
church. What I’ve learned over the years, John, is that sometimes we cope with humor
to mask our deepest hurts because, well, it just is too overwhelming to face. I’m curious
if you joked with your friends over a beer at the end of a long hard day. You must have,
but unfortunately that’s not the kind of stuff that got published.
P.P.P.S. I’ve included some photos of the things I referred to in my letter, to help you see what I see: