STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 04/09/2015

The Wittenberg Window, and the Day It Was Stolen

Long before electronic social networks were common, we did our soapboxing by tacking pieces of paper onto a large wooden shutter called “The Wittenberg Window” (after Martin Luther). Salvos, responses, criticisms, rude remarks, calls for civility and the like would be posted, or appended by tacking new pieces of paper onto the old ones. Especially heated discussions resulted in long daisy-chain trails of documents.

Some of us were more active in this space than others. I defined the “campus leadership” portion of my A. J. Gordon Scholar obligations, in part, by being a significant voice both in The Tartan and “on The Window.” My view that these ways of being a campus leader were just as valid as heading up a ministry team or joining student government was novel and controversial, especially since the perception was that at times, discussions on The Window got out of hand.

One morning, I made my way to Lane for breakfast, my latest Window post in hand, and detoured downstairs to the mailroom, where The Window was bolted into the cinderblock wall.

Except it wasn’t.

Just a bare spot on the wall. And a single piece of paper declaring that a group of students had taken it upon themselves to impose civility onto the conversations by removing the medium. All this accomplished, of course, was an argument about censorship, free expression, whether vigilante behavior was consistent with a Christian world view, the validity of correcting our brothers in Christ out of love for the truth—and the use of a lot of tape and “Fun Tak,” because there was no longer anything to mount the paper onto except the wall itself.

Eventually the perpetrators returned The Window when it became clear that the spot would continue as a venue for discussion whether or not the wood was there to tack things onto.

Based on the explosion of the Internet over the next handful of years, I can only assume The Window fell out of use and was replaced by digital systems. I’ve made much of my career working in the new digital economy and I have nothing specific against these modern virtual communities.

But I do think there was something very special, and very Gordon, about both The Wittenberg Window, and the day it was stolen.

Jim John Marks lives in Houston, where he serves as a chanter at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, collaborates in the music and art collective Cenobimono, and is team leader for the cardiovascular structured reporting division of Agfa Healthcare.