VDS Voices

Woman to Woman

Originally posted on Scarritt Bennett blog on December 12, 2014 (http://www.scarrittbennett.org/about/blog/)

By Chandra Allen, MDiv ’09

Today, I’m excited to share about one of our programs for women: Woman to Woman. It is one of the most exciting components of my work at the Scarritt Bennett Center. The Woman to Woman program began as a unique partnership between Scarritt Bennett Center and The Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership at Vanderbilt University. In March 2010, a program panel about women’s leadership was organized by The Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership and sparked conversation about how women’s mentoring programs might better cater to women’s needs. The Cal Turner Program and Scarritt Bennett Center carry the conversation forward in early 2011 with a diverse steering committee with the hope of envisioning a new mentoring model.  We knew we wanted to establish a space where women could form small group relationships, encounter different life experiences and stages, and enjoy honest conversation. We desired a program that would honor the complexity of women’s lives. Ultimately, we wanted to create a new opportunity to re-imagine leadership from a woman’s perspective in a way that was creative and empowering. We thoughtfully crafted our mission: We are a diverse community of women who commit to gather and give voice to the re-imagination of the relationship between creativity and the ways women lead.

Over the last two years, over 48 women have participated in the Woman to Woman Program. We are currently in our third year of the program, with a group of 32 women. We seek to create a community that is inclusive, diverse, eclectic, energizing, and fun. During our monthly meetings (we call them Circle meetings), we make space for topics and activities including but not limited to the following:

–        Leadership: What does it mean to be a leader?

–        Intentional creativity: How may we imagine and give expression to that which is generative, different, and exciting?

–        Family/Relationships: How do we negotiate the challenges of work, love, intimacy and purpose?

–        Justice: How can we create institutions that seek justice for all?

–        Embodiment: How do we enjoy, honor, and take care of our bodies?

–        Play/Fun: How can we explore new activities and experiences together?

–        Stewardship: How do we use our time effectively? Our gifts and talents? Our own personal narratives?

–        Self-expression: How can we find our voices and amplify them?

Together we seek to re-imagine traditional models of leadership, allowing our creativity and unique experiences as women to inform how we lead our lives and express our voices. Our group is eclectic and testifies to our commitment to celebrate the diversity in age, experiences, backgrounds, and self-understandings among us. The Circle meeting format, which combines structured activities and informal conversation, frees participants to form relationships and enhance contemplative introspection by listening to and discussing experiences with others.

Over the last two years, diverse groups of women have gathered at the Woman to Woman Circle Meetings to learn more about themselves and each other. They have taken risks, challenged themselves, challenged one another, experienced growth, learned from their strengths and growing edges, experienced frustrations, created collages, written poems, made significant changes in their lives, made new friends and much more. Woman to Woman is a place where we celebrate the diversity and breadth of experiences among us. We affirm that leadership looks different to everyone and by considering leadership together; we gain new insight about what leadership can look like. Woman to Woman is a unique space that encourages women across different ages, backgrounds, and experiences to share and learn from one another. I am so excited that I get to journey with these amazing women and witness the power of connection and authenticity. I have learned so much from the women who have participated in the Circle meetings over the last two years and I have learned a lot about myself in the process as well. I am always amazed and grateful for the insight and honesty that is shared at the Circle meetings. It is also encouraging to see the relationships and self-discoveries made during the course of a meeting and over the length of the 9 month program. Woman to Woman creates a space for women to bring their wholes selves and reimagine leadership in community. We still have further to go as we continue to re-imagine new models of leadership that are empowering and inclusive. Woman to Woman is a place where the conversations about creative leadership models and practices are happening. This is empowering and uplifting work!

Our 2014/2015 co-hort is currently underway. This program meets on the 3rd Tuesday of the month from 6pm-8pm and the location alternates between Scarritt-Bennett Center and Vanderbilt Divinity School. We are not currently accepting new participants, but please contact us if you are interested in being part of the 2015/2016 Woman to Woman group. To learn more about Woman to Woman and keep up with what we are doing please follow us on Facebook. For more information please contact Chandra Allen: callen@scarrittbennett.org. You can also check out our program’s website: http://vanderbilt.edu/womantowoman/index.php

Chandra Allen is a native Nashvillian.  She earned a Bachelor’s degree in German from Davidson College in North Carolina and a Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt Divinity School.  She is currently an Assistant Director of Education, Programs, and Connections at Scarritt-Bennett Center where she plans programs focused on women’s leadership and women’s empowerment.  Chandra is passionate about creating an authentic environment where women and men gather to explore and awaken the strength of their voices, experiences, and creativity to effect positive change in their communities and for themselves.


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on February 25, 2015 in Feature, , , , ,

In-forming Communities of Healing

by Marcia Mount Shoop, MDiv’96
Surviving sexualized violence resonates with surviving violence of many kinds—especially violence that is personalized, violence that penetrates our flesh, our self-understanding, and our ability to connect with the world around us.

Survival skills are idiosyncratic, and they are often wise in ways we can only understand fleetingly.  These survival skills can deaden and disconnect us. They can leave our nerve endings raw and exposed. And these survival skills permeate and help shape a world—a world that sometimes re-harms, sometimes supports, and oftentimes wants to move along as if everything is as it should be.

The ubiquity and idiosyncrasy of these survival skills means that anyone can be triggered by anything at any time.  This statement may be jarring. We are more often told something different about trauma healing: to compartmentalize it, label it, and keep it separate from the “normal” modes of operation that we are supposed to embody

And this startling statement is also a truth that needs increased audibility in the spaces we want to claim as sacred, as healing, as transformative, and maybe even as “safe.”

As a survivor of sexual violence, safe space is something I no longer anticipate.  As a theologian I want to explore other kinds of spaces and languages for what we need as human beings and human communities for healing to be a living, breathing reality.  Safety may not be possible for many of us, or for any of us, but vitality, connection, and trust can be.

This embodied dynamic is the locus and focus of the work we are engaged in together at Vanderbilt Divinity School in the In-Forming Communities of Healing Initiative.

The truths that bodies have to tell hold great promise for a community like Vanderbilt Divinity School—a community who yearns to practice its aspirations of being a liberative, empowering, and healing space in response to the realities of violence.

These bodies of ours are portals into life-giving habits for communities of faith in a world where violence leaves its repetitive marks.  And yet, our bodies have not been invited into such prominence in most ecclesial and academic spaces. And such neglect diminishes our lives and communities; and this neglect renders abusive patterns of power more stealthy and harder to extract.

And being attentive to bodies in new ways creates redemptive possibilities that I am seeing emerge in many different ways at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

»      Improvisational collaboration and power sharing cultivate connection and generosity.

»      The courage of survivors willing to share stories that are untellable surfaces potent truth.

»      Experiences and gifts being added together to give birth to art, to poetry, to body sculptures, and to new worship forms narrate stories words can’t touch.

»      Dissonant voices and experiences can connect and practice what it means to hear, to speak truth, and to inhabit unresolved spaces in ways that heal.

No doubt, these are but the birth pangs of a beautiful and redemptive unfolding in our midst.

Vanderbilt Divinity School is partnering with theologian, author, and minister The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop (MDiv Vanderbilt 1996; PhD Emory University 2003) to explore the how this community can becoming more intentionally attentive and healing around sexual violence and other kinds of abuses of power. Rev. Mount Shoop returns to VDS Feb 17 – 19, 2015 with a series of events that can be found here: In-forming Communities of Healing













Posted by Michelle Bukowski on February 11, 2015 in Feature,

READ THIS BOOK February 2015

Each month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our February recommendation is offered by James Hudnut-Beumler, Anne Potter Wilson Distinguished Professor of American Religious History.







This Month’s Book: Weird John Brown: Divine Violence and the Limits of Ethics by Ted A. Smith (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2014).

When I was in my first academic position at a school of public and international affairs, I was approached by some of my program’s undergraduates who were interested in combining their interests in policy and their commitments to religion. Specifically, however, they were concerned that one of their professors was absolutely closed to any such combination or consideration and they wondered if I, a person with an academic background in the study of religion, might have more success in talking to their professor. I approached my colleague, who was of Indian and Muslim dissent and quickly learned that for him religion was the source of conflict, and not the source of the deepest values that might resolve domestic and international conflict. Given where he came from and given our recent history now nearly 30 years later with religious-tinged violent conflicts, we might be tempted to agree. Clearly, however, I’ve never forgotten the conversation or the basic problematic, and for those reasons I particularly enjoyed Emory professor Ted Smith’s new book Weird John Brown, that contests the idea that banishing the divine from our politics is any guarantee of a reduction in violence.

John Brown, the villain or hero of the 1859 assault on the armory at Harpers Ferry, has been alternately depicted as a fanatic or freedom fighter in subsequent history, which has rendered Brown in terms of the ethics in what Charles Taylor has called the “immanent frame” of this worldly concerns. Brown, of course, saw himself doing God’s work, setting the captives free. For Smith, this disconnection between how we do ethics in the political realm, and what Brown was up to (and maybe what God was up to) is a problem. Religious claims are seen to be the source of problems in modern thought, so we do our ethics and our politics on this side of heaven as though there is no God, or by theorizing that a secular state makes the culture safe for people to have religious lives on their own time and in their own spaces–thank you very much. The modern Western state maintains a monopoly over all forms of violence (army, police, surveillance, etc.) so that it may maintain its sovereignty. Theoretically it is doing it for the people who gave it their sovereignty is an improvement over God who gave Kings the right to rule over people, but the case of Brown and the institution of slavery (together with more proximate cases of wars and drone attacks to end terrorism and spying on citizens to secure their liberties) raise, for Smith, the troubling questions what happens when the preservation of the state becomes an end in and of itself, and what happens when the state’s rules (law) violate divine law? Smith writes: “For the rule of law to be able to contribute to the legitimacy of the political order, the law must be something other than rules made by the people who happen to have the greatest capacity for violence when the laws were made.” (55)

Smith’s book is an extended reflection on the limits of continuing to do political ethics within the framework of unchallenged state sovereignty. Christians arguing the preferabilty of deontological, virtue, or consequentialist ethics under these conditions are engaging in an argument insufficient to the scope of the problem when the state is truly corrupt from a divine point of view. Smith would prefer that we see Brown as neither freedom fighter nor fanatic, but rather as what Walter Benjamin called a Great Criminal, someone who broke a real law “do not kill” which remains valid for a purpose that we can see as part of divine violence–that is God working (in this instance)  to overturn the violent regime of state sanctioned slavery. Slavery in America was violent law. The Civil War and the continuing story of emancipation is an often violent case of the divine will being done, but as we sing at this time of year, “His truth is marching on, Glory, Hallelujah.”

Ted Smith’s book is richer in its implications for ethics, statecraft, and our moral imaginations than a short review can encompass. Nevertheless, for all of us who had begun to fear that the practice of ethics had devolved into a parlor game of about how best to defend what we human beings were determined to do anyway, Smith is to be thanked for bringing the higher law and the eschatological purposes of the divine (familiar to both Weird John Brown and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), back into the conversation of how deep religious commitments might actually temper our human politics. Whatever you think of John Brown, his words before dying 155 years ago still have the power to haunt us:

You had better–all you people of the South–prepare yourself for a settlement of this question. It must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for, and the sooner you commence that preparation, the better for you. You may dispose of me very easily–I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled–this Negro question, I mean. The end of that is not yet. (175)

The questions morph—Do black lives matter? By what right do we kill using drones in other countries?– but the divine asker does not depart, nor does the higher law go away by refusing to acknowledge it.

James Hudnut-Beumler

February 1, 2015


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on February 9, 2015 in Read This Book, , , , , , , , , ,

Three Questions with Sonya Renee

Sonya Renee is a Performance Poet, Activist and transformational leader Sonya Renee is a National and International poetry slam champion, published author, and transformational leader. Ms. Renee kicks off the first night of the second annual Art, Advocacy and Action Symposium on Wednesday, February 11 at  Vanderbilt Divinity School. For our readers to become acquainted with Ms. Renee, we asked her to respond to three questions.

1. Name one or two places (events, etc.) that were formative influences in your life.

Being the child of a military person affected my life view.  It made me flexible and at home anyplace. I still have a predilection for moving every 21 months and it also gave me an early critique on under what circumstances we should employ violence and risk loved ones lives.

2. What are your work practices?

I wake up at 8:30, brush my teeth, go downstairs with my Yorkie, make coffee, turn on my computer and start working. I am trying to learn when to STOP working.

3. What type of music do you listen to? Why?

I love all sorts of music but right now I am feeling this neo-soul jazz fusion that artists like Robert Glasper are doing.  It feels sensual and creative.  It is light some candles music and I love my candles!

For more information about Ms. Renee and Art, Advocacy and Action: This Is My Body: Exploring Gender and Sexual Equality, click here.


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on February 4, 2015 in News

Three Questions with Professor David Michelson

David Michelson is the Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity, Vanderbilt Divinity School. Professor Michelson leads our next Community Breakfast titled, Who are the Christians of Syria and Iraq? on Thursday, February 5 at 7:30 a.m. For our readers to become acquainted with Professor Michelson, we asked him to respond to three questions.

1. Name one or two places (events, etc.) that were formative influences in your life.

Two places would be my parent’s library and Romania in the last days of its Communist dictatorship. I count my parents as the most important intellectual and spiritual influence on my life. Being raised by academic minded parents meant that I had the unusual blessing of a large library at home. Those books opened doors of conversation with past generations of humanity that continues to drive my curiosity in the present. Another formative event was being able, with my family, to observe first hand and in some small way participate in the Romanian revolution of 1989 which overthrew the dictatorship. Seeing these events up close focused my attention on the place of humanity’s social and spiritual needs in history.

2. What spiritual/meditative disciplines, if any, do you practice?

I have several disciplines that I fail at regularly, especially reading Christian scripture and prayer. Currently I follow the 19th-century reading calendar of Robert Murray M’Cheyne as adapted by Don Carson. In prayer I have found the eastern Christian practice of prayer without ceasing to be humbling and sustaining.

3. Are you on social media? Do you have any blog/social media, journal, newspaper recommendations?

I post infrequently on twitter (@davidamichelson) but really just as a way to communicate with a small group of people about shared scholarly interests. Information about some of my research can be found on the blog of a project I co-direct, www.syriaca.org. I actually recommend not spending too much time on social media or any other highly mediated streams of rapid or instant communication which may reduce the range of what is possible in our inter-personal interactions with others.

Register for the Community Breakfast here: http://divinity.vanderbilt.edu/news/breakfasts.php


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on January 28, 2015 in News

Authorial Intentions

By Chris Benda, Theological Librarian
Authorial Intentions, the Divinity and Graduate Department of Religion faculty interview podcast, turns 5 this year. Thanks to faculty participation, we have 25 podcasts archived.

The podcasts give faculty an opportunity to talk about recent publications – typically, a book. This past November, however, Dave Michelson discussed the digital humanities project, Syriaca.org, the Syriac reference portal. The audience includes those who may not know about these publications, as well as Divinity and GDR faculty who wish to keep up-to-date with their colleagues’ scholarship.

The questions I ask come out of a reading of the publications —sometimes more than one reading! That’s why there isn’t a new interview every week. (I’m also a slow reader.) I’m looking forward to three new interviews over the next several months, and I invite Divinity and GDR faculty with a recent or forthcoming publication to schedule an interview. After all, a conversation is only interesting if more than one person is involved!


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on January 21, 2015 in Feature, , , , , ,

Honoring the Life of Design

by Katy Scrogin, MTS’03

I ditched my car when I moved to Chicago. Living in the middle of things, right next to a subway and bus hub, there’s no need to bother with it. And even during the city’s challenging winters, I walk the twenty-five minutes to work every day; I stay sane by moving, and I’m privy that way to little changes– a new piece of graffiti, a new soapbox orator on the corner– that I wouldn’t be otherwise. Whether on foot or via public conveyance, getting from one place to another entails interacting with a constantly changing flood of people, in milieux whose surfaces shift almost imperceptibly every day.

While at Vanderbilt, I took a seminar with Peter Hodgson, in which we read Graham Ward’s Cities of God. It was less the theological assertions that pulled me in, and more the thoughts on and use of urban planning and theory that caused me to sit up and pay careful, even intense, attention. If this was what religious study could encourage and lead to, then I was definitely in the right place. The book and its thoughts about un/just urban geographies– who has access to transportation, to housing, to food, to education, to clean air and safe streets, and how location and design fit into the availability of those privileges– has accompanied me on a weird path. Thinking I would end up teaching, I made heavy use of Cities of God in a dissertation on democratic reform– and even after I realized academia wasn’t for me after all, I carried the insights in Ward’s book with me into a career in media. Along with fellow Vanderbilt grad– and participant in Hodgson’s seminar– David Dault (MA’06, PhD’09), I’m not only making podcasts that delve into how people live out their religious commitments, but am also producing documentaries that investigate issues faced by Chicago residents, as well as the faith communities that address those issues.

When I arrived in the city, I got in touch with friends of friends, usually community activists, religious leaders, and theater people who were kind enough to take me on walking tours through their neighborhoods. They agreed to set me down in and introduce me to the lived contexts of unique communities and the challenges, celebrations, businesses, support groups, and everyday human relationships to be found there. I went on walking tours, took advantage of open houses. I used public transportation as a means of research, confronting the cumbersome reality of running for a bus in a snowstorm with a couple of bags of groceries, or figuring out how to craft my day around a train schedule in a transportation-poor neighborhood. It was Ward who first made me explicitly aware of the fact that if I didn’t know the city firsthand, beyond the official accounts I received from newspapers, TV, and radio– if I couldn’t trace the lived shape of a place– I had no business telling stories about it.

It wasn’t the British theologian or our discussions about him, that got me walking and hopping onto packed trains; I’ve been an oddly enthusiastic fan of public transportation for most of my life. But those conversations more than a decade ago in Hodgson’s office did get me to start looking at the built environment and the people moving through it as more than a neutral collection of walls and lawns and closed or open space, an environment on which neither I nor any other average person could have any influence. And as I’ve kept returning to a book I never would have predicted would have had such a determining impact on my life, I’ve also realized that if you want to know people– their beliefs, their habits, their hurts– well enough to have the right to tell their stories, you have to know their geography, too. I’ll keep walking, then. After all, better knowledge, and the better stories that result, might just trigger some change for the better.

About Katy:

Katy Scrogin is Vice President for Programming for the Chicago Sunday Evening Club in Chicago, IL. Prior to her appointment at CSEC, Katy worked as a translator and editor. She also continues to serve as the senior producer for the podcast, Things Not Seen: Conversations about Culture and Faith.

Katy received a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University, where her work focused on ethics. Her Master of Theological Studies is from Vanderbilt University, and her Bachelor of Arts in German and Spanish is from the University of Texas at Austin. Katy’s interest in media has included work with Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic in Austin, TX, and with The Peoples Channel in Chapel Hill, NC.


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on January 20, 2015 in Feature, , , , , , , , ,


Each month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our January recommendation is offered by Phillis I. Sheppard, Associate Professor in Religion, Psychology, and Culture.

A Womanist Pastoral Theology Against Intimate and Cultural Violence by Stephanie M. Crumpton, Palgrave Macmillan (2014)

This past Fall I had the pleasure of teaching the course Womanist Thought in Psychology and Religion and was absolutely delighted that Stephanie Crumpton’s book A Womanist Pastoral Theology Against Intimate and Culture Violence, was ‘hot off the press’. Stephanie Crumpton, Th.D. is assistant professor of Pastoral Theology at Lancaster Theological Seminary.  She trained in psychodynamic pastoral psychotherapy and is an ordained clergy in the United Church of Christ denomination.  Prior to her faculty appointments, she was a court advocate for victims of domestic violence.  In her book she has skillfully, passionately, and pastorally grappled with the psychological and spiritual devastation wrought by the betrayal of violence in intimate settings—settings where love and care are to be expected.

I found her book to be a powerful ethnography where she gives ample space for these women to tell their stories in their own words. These are narratives of black women who not only share their experiences of violation but their various paths of recovery and healing that have helped them reclaim their bodies and lives—and their sense of agency.

Stephanie Crumpton argues that these women have been subjected to intimate violence as well as to the cultural violence committed in the broader representation of black women’s embodiment. Both forms, combined, normalize the exploitation of black women, the violation of their bodies, and violence as a part of their lives.  The healing that these women pursued required them to name their abuse but also the sources of their abuse in cultural and religious settings as well as in intimate situations. She stresses that a significant aspect of these women’s recovery involved interrogating their received spiritualties, and challenging the internalized negative messages about black women.Therefore, religion and spirituality as sources of healing, care and community are not assumed but, in safe and caring settings, are integral to recovery.

In A Womanist Pastoral Theology Against Intimate and Cultural Violence we find a rich theological anthropology informed by psychology.  Furthermore, Stephanie offers a womanist pastoral care perspective that redefines the nature and site of care to one where black women’s experience is the starting place meaningful pastoral response.  The shift from care and recovery situated primarily in the clinical or pastor’s domain to care situated in community and culturally informed rituals makes this first book by Crumpton a important contribution to Pastoral Theology and to Womanist Thought.

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on January 11, 2015 in Read This Book, , , , , , , , ,

“We’ve got a problem.”

by Graham Reside, Executive Director, Cal Turner Program in Moral Leadership in the Professions

I’m a middle-aged white guy, who grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada.  The son of a minister, I went to church every Sunday, and I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my life.  Growing up evangelical, I know the Bible pretty well.  So I was well familiar with Matthew 25, and Jesus’ discussion of sheep and goats.  Sheep are those who visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison.  Goats don’t.  I’ve been a goat for most of my life.  But this past year I met a sheep, who invited me to join him.  His name is Joe Ingle.  He took me to death row, and he has introduced me to a bunch of other sheep.  And because I’m an academic, those sheep recommended a few books for me to read. The first one was Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  My new friends and that book taught me painful truths that I had too easily neglected to see for most of my life.

My favorite poem is “A Ritual We Read to Each Other,” by William Stafford, and in it, Stafford writes: “I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.”  The witness of Reverend Ingle and friends, along with Alexander’s book forced me to recognize some difficult facts.  Just one fact should be enough to get us to re-think how we do things in this country: One in every three African American males born in this century will be incarcerated in their lifetime.  And the social and psychological effects of this simple fact are cascading and profound. Here’s another one: The United States incarcerates 2.2 million of its citizens—more than any other nation in the world.  And finally, our crime rates do not account for our incarceration rates.  What, in God’s name, are we going to do about that?

At Vanderbilt Divinity School, I direct the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions.  Our program is dedicated to developing leaders who have a strong moral purpose.  For me, this means developing in ourselves and others the capacity to recognize the truth in its fullness, and to do something about it.  Fortunately, there are a lot of strong moral leaders in Nashville, including folks here in our Divinity School, who work the problem of mass incarceration.  For example, Dan Joranko has long been involved at Riverbend prison, and oversees our program there.  Before him, Harmon Wray served as a strong theological voice for the imprisoned and organized our program here at VDS.  Many students and faculty have followed in his footsteps over the years, regularly going into prisons to learn from and with inmates.   Other students and faculty have worked in prisons, visiting, ministering, and bringing the gospel to and from those places.  And there are people here and around Nashville working tirelessly to make us more aware of the simple fact: when it comes to incarceration in the United States, we have a big problem.  It is a problem of injustice in the very structure of our justice system—2.2 million people are in prison.  And they have families.  If you are black or brown, you are much more likely to suffer the consequences of this system, which is dehumanizing and debilitating.  Prison is hell.  Crime and punishment are not aligned, nor fairly distributed.

The Cal Turner Program wants to do something in response to the leadership we see here at the Divinity School and in our community, to help address the problem of mass incarceration.  We don’t have any expertise, but we do know how to get people together, so we are doing what we can.  We organize lunches, convene working groups, and strive to listen to those who work more closely on the issues and in the prisons.

As part of this effort, we are organizing a conference, entitled Re-visioning Justice in America.  It will be held April 17-19th.  It will bring people from across the country and provide opportunities for learning and sharing best practices around issues of mass incarceration, race and new possibilities for justice.  Keynote speakers include:

Michelle Alexander, JD, a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar, and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Bryan Stevenson, JD, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, professor at New York University School of Law, and author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

Howard Zehr, PhD, pioneer in restorative justice, professor at Eastern Mennonite University and author of Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice.

In addition, we will be offering several presentations, panels and workshops, addressing a variety of topics, including racial discrimination in sentencing, the business of mass incarceration, the Cradle to Prison Pipeline, the possibilities and challenges of education in prisons, advocacy for the incarcerated and their families, post-incarceration discrimination, theological resistance to the death penalty, and reforming public policy.

Here at Vanderbilt Divinity School, I am learning anew what it means to read the Bible and to pay attention.  I feel fortunate to work with faculty and students who see in our religious traditions a call to advocate for justice and to act on behalf of the disadvantaged.  The prison industrial complex, which has emerged over the last 40 years, has created grave injustices and a clarion call for moral leadership.  Please tell us your own stories of leadership around injustice and consider joining us in our efforts to confront the problem our nation faces.  It’s too easy to read our sacred texts, to observe the signs around us, and not recognize the fact.  Sometimes, just paying attention is an act of moral leadership.   It’s time for the sheep to show up.




Posted by Michelle Bukowski on December 31, 2014 in Feature, , , , , , , , , ,

VDS Feature: ‘Tis the Season, . . . Hallelujah!

Originally posted on December 25, 2013.

I am sure I will awaken on this sacred day in awe of God’s glory in humanity through Christ.  As I contemplate my unfolding re-awakening through our Advent celebrations, my awe expands in my hopeful but inadequate spirit.  For many of us in Divinity School and in churches, Christmas marks one of those few times of ultimate divine revelation.  It becomes so hard to fathom the violence and confrontation between faiths when the pursuit of revelation and the Divine is our shared pilgrimage.  Is it possible this very season of sacred celebrations among so many peoples of faith can expand, without threat, our faithful visions of divine revelation in Christ?  My own celebration of God’s incarnate love and care for humanity is inspired further by the sacred beauty of such diverse celebrations of the Divine—enlarged by Jewish celebrations of Ḥanukkah commemorating the recovery of Temple worship in the Festival of Lights; extended by Islamic honoring of ‘Ashura, remembering Muhammad fasting in unity with creation and Moses‘ fast for liberation; expanded by Bodhi Day of Buddha’s enlightenment, seeking freedom from the roots of human suffering; intrigued by the approaching Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti in pursuit of wisdom illumined by light over darkness; strengthened by Chalica in the Unitarian Universalists’ principles of human dignity, compassionate justice, acceptance, searching truth, conscience, world community, and interdependence; and profoundly deepened in Kwanzaa’s principles of divinely inspired black life in unity, self-determination, collective labor, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.  This sacred season should move each of us from our faith traditions to transforming visions of one another celebrating the Divine’s relentless pursuit of humanity.  My Christian faith need not be threatened by the many diverse sacred celebrations taking place this season, vying for ritual space in our shared lives.  Our celebration of Christ’s birth is a celebration of God’s in-breaking, of God’s out-breaking, of God’s unbreakable love for humanity.  On this day in my Christian faith, I am driven to my knees in joyful celebration of God’s unyielding providence to restore humanity—to rekindle the Divine spark of creation, to breathe again and again the Divine breath of life in humanity, to revive life with the flame of God’s sustaining Spirit.  Christ’s unyielding love restores humanity and turns our faces toward a vision illumined by God’s Spirit, however dimly perceived through our glassy eyes.  My faith in God through Christ is not weakened by the faiths of those who gather in this pilgrimage for the sacred embrace of humanity and the Divine.  They strengthen me, not in resolve to conquer them, or with entrenchment in fear of contamination or unfaithfulness, but with inspiration for this journey together.  Our shared pursuit of God and one another is God’s own gift to creation.  Christ is that gift confirmed and restored, again and again.  I am grateful that Vanderbilt Divinity School is an intentional community of sacred celebrations embracing God’s gifts in mindful study.  Christ leads me with Divine love and sacrifice in this sacred embrace, teaches me, and frankly compels me to embrace God and humanity, . . . though with broken arms, no less.

Blessings to you in your sacred embrace!  Ashe. Selah.


Dale P. Andrews, PhD’98
Distinguished Professor of Homiletics, Social Justice, and Practical Theology


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on December 24, 2014 in Feature, , , , , , , , ,


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