VDS Voices

READ THIS BOOK Roundup April 2015

    Each month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Here is a roundup of the faculty and their recommendations from the 2014 – 2015 academic year.







March 2015
Evon Flesberg, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Theology and Counseling
Alone Together:  Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

February 2015
ames Hudnut-Beumler, Anne Potter Wilson Distinguished Professor of American Religious History
Weird John Brown: Divine Violence and the Limits of Ethics by Ted A. Smith

January 2015
Phillis I. Sheppard, Associate Professor in Religion, Psychology, and Culture
A Womanist Pastoral Theology Against Intimate and Cultural Violence by Stephanie M. Crumpton

December 2014
Herbert Marbury, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible
Eighth Century Prophets: A Social Analysis by D.N. Premnath

November 2014
Ellen Armour, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair in Feminist Theology, Director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality
God, Sex and Politics: Homosexuality and Everyday Theologies by Dawne Moon

October 2014
David A. Michelson, Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity, Affiliate Faculty Member in Classics and Islamic Studies
On Asetical Life Saint Isaac of Nineveh translated by Mary Hansbury

September 2014
Paul Lim, Associate Professor of the History of Christianity, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Affiliate Professor, Department of History
Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddarth Kara and Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

August 2014
Bonnie Miller-McLemore, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture
Writing Methods in Theological Reflection by Heather Walton

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on April 12, 2015 in Read This Book, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Alumni/ae Tuesday: Jane Ellen Nickell

Our monthly Alumni/ae Tuesday Guest Post series on the VDS Voices blog highlights posts written by VDS and GDR alumni/ae. Hear firsthand about their important work in the community, collaborations with other alumni/ae and faculty, and much more.

Be sure to also check out the Divinity School Instagram feed every Tuesday for our Alumni/ae Instagram Takeover Day. Each week, we will showcase a different alumnus/a as they document their day in photos. Follow @VUDivinity on Instagram today!

If would like to contribute a post to the Alumni/ae Tuesday Guest Post series, or participate in our Alumni/ae Instagram Takeover Day, please email Addie Sullivan (addie.sullivan@vanderbilt.edu)  in the Vanderbilt Divinity School Alumni/ae office.
My recent book, We Shall Not Be Moved: Methodists Debate Race, Gender, and Homosexuality, is the product of both an academic inquiry and more personal questions that have been with me since 1984. That year, the United Methodist General Conference passed a prohibition on the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” and my gay friends began leaving the denomination. Division on this issue ran deep in my local congregation and even my own family, leading me to wonder, how could such loving Christians exclude others in God’s name?

At Vanderbilt I began to study the issue, taking Lloyd Lewis’s class on Homosexuality and the Church, and I continued that research in graduate work at Drew University. There I examined the writings of conservative United Methodists, and I was struck by their fearful tone. Of what, I asked, are they so afraid?

An explanation began to take shape in a seminar on French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who describes power dynamics that are so deeply entrenched that we are unaware of them.  Humans create social institutions such as religion, which in turn shape us. This socialization process predisposes us to recreate the authority structures of previous generations, and those in power resist any challenge to their leadership.

The fear in allowing ordination of gays and lesbians, then, is that social structures that have defined our lives would change radically. Furthermore, challenges to authority structures tend to occur during periods of social change, amplifying that sense of disorientation.

Now I had a new question: Did the church face similar challenges to the leadership of African Americans and women? I examined transcripts from Methodist General Conferences when these conversations occurred, looking for evidence of such opposition. Surprisingly, I did not have to read between the lines to find out; instead, resistance was stated overtly, as many in the 1920s claimed, for example, that the time for women’s ordination “was not ripe.”

Instead of yielding a solution to the UMC’s current impasse, this project demonstrates what a long and painful process change is. Women first applied for ordination in 1880, and were finally granted full clergy rights in 1956. Black Methodists were restricted to serving black congregations until 1968. Even with institutional barriers removed, female and black clergy still face resistance to their leadership.

My hope is that this look backward can help the church navigate its current tensions around sexuality, and whatever issues it faces in the future.

By Jane Ellen Nickell, MDiv’00



Posted by Michelle Bukowski on April 7, 2015 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, , , , , , , , , , ,

Three Questions with Daniel Siedell

Daniel A. Siedell is an art historian, critic, and author of God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art. Mr. Siedell will deliver a special lecture, “Thinking Theologically about Modern & Contemporary Art”,  at Vanderbilt Divinity School on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. For our readers to become acquainted with Mr. Siedell, we asked him to respond to three questions.


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

First, I do practice some form of spiritual and meditative disciplines; second, an important part of those disciplines is in their privacy. But, I will say that I get up very early and spend time alone. I live right next to the Atlantic Ocean in south Florida, so I try to walk on the beach regularly, often with my wife as a way to reconnect outside the busyness of life. An important realization for me was that the spiritual cannot be separated from the physical—and so eating, drinking, exercising, etc. are just as important spiritually as prayer, meditation, reading, etc.  And lastly, I try to spend a lot of time in art museums. In the New York Times Sunday paper last week, the Project Runway star Tim Gunn was featured in the “Sunday Routines” Series and it describes how he spends the entire day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a means of healing. I deeply empathize with that. [Here is the profile link, btw]:

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

Although I live with my family in south Florida, I teach in New York City, and so I spend an inordinate amount of time with my students at art museums and art galleries. The Museum of Modern Art is very special to me—as a young kid from Nebraska in graduate school in New York City, it became a magical place, both comforting and discomforting in the best possible ways. It filled me with hope—hope that I would be able to devote my life to art in a way that would make MoMA an important part of it. And so, when I’m in town and have some time alone, I’ll go there just to be alone with the building, the old friends that hang on the wall, and express gratitude that my prayers were indeed answered. And over the years it’s become an important place not only to me but for my family as well, especial my wife and daughter, who attends college in New York City.

3. What was the last movie you saw in the theater? Did you like it?

The last movie I saw was Birdman. It was a powerful expression of the faith and risk of and for art. I was deeply moved by it and in some ways found myself described, interpreted, challenged by several of the characters.


The lecture is sponsored by VDS Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture. For more information, click here.


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on April 1, 2015 in Feature, , , , , , , ,

Carpenter Stands with Dr. Harris and American Baptist College

by Lyndsey Godwin, Assistant Director, Carpenter Program Religion, Gender, and Sexuality

The Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality at Vanderbilt Divinity School expresses its support of and admiration for Dr. Forrest Harris, our colleague and President of American Baptist College. Dr. Harris’s decision to invite Bishop Yvette Flunder, Dr. Allen Boesak, and Pastor Delman Coates to speak and preach at this year’s Garrnett-Nabrit Lecture Series at American Baptist College has provoked controversy.

American Baptist College has a history of training leaders and ministers to seek justice and engage difficult questions critically. This tradition continued with an invitation of Bishop Flunder who is both an expert in the impact of HIV in faith communities, particularly the Black Church, and as a visionary leader of faith and justice.

Understanding that human experiences of faith are complex, the Carpenter Program fosters the deepening of academic, ministerial, and communal understandings of the roles of religion, gender, and sexuality in our lives. Sexuality and gender are inextricably linked to what it means to be human, and how our cultures are structured and maintained. While many religious conflicts are debated with regularity, those over gender and sexuality are often avoided.

We stand with American Baptist College and Dr. Harris in working to develop leaders of faith who thoughtfully engage controversial issues and foster deeper discussion.  This labor requires thoughtful engagement with controversial issues. American Baptist College, Dr. Harris, and those who are part of the Garrnett-Nabrit Lecture series continue to lead us in this ongoing endeavor—for that prophetic leadership, we are grateful.

Last week, the Carpenter Program, and the Divinity School, continued its In-Forming Communities of Healing programming and partnership with Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop.  In the fall we connected In-Forming Healing Communities with the Living Memorial and Teach-In on racialized violence, and we are doing the same now, by partnering with S.H.A.D.E.S in support of Womanist Week, and combining with S.H.A.D.E.S and Black Seminarians to shift our programming to support ABC, Dr. Harris (and his work both at ABD and VDS, as the Director of the Kelly Miller Smith Institute), Bishop Flunder, and all those involved. Dr. Mount Shoop explains:

The criticism that Dr. Harris is receiving surfaces many of the dynamics around power, bodies, and the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and identity that are the heart of the work of the In-Forming Communities of Healing Initiative…[This] has created an opportunity for us to improvise and respond to what is happening right now in terms of power and bodies in our midst.

Last Tuesday members of the VDS community gathered for food and conversation to explore the ways that power is used to harm, condemn, and divide. We then went to American Baptist College to worship alongside our colleagues and to hear and support Bishop Flunder.

You can learn more about American Baptist College, learn more about the Garrnet-Nabrit lectures and this recent controversy, and read other letters of support here: http://www.abcnash.edu/

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

My Chonga Manifesto

by Priscila Dorcas Mojica, MDiv3

While at VDS I, like many of us, have been forced to think critically about myself within my context.  Amidst this I reclaimed this racialized slur that I had been called before but never really understood why I tried hard to distance myself that said identity, other than to appease others.  My academic journey at VDS led me to write about this aforementioned reality, and ended up writing about chongas for my M.Div. thesis.

You see, I am a chonga and it explains everything about who I am and how I move through the world.  A chonga is a Latina who does not endorse societal norms of respectability imposed on brown female immigrant bodies.  We utilizes our bodies, aesthetics, and comportment – whether intentional or not – to disrupt assimilation within the imposition of white culture.

Chonga is a racialized term precisely because we are Latinas, who also tend to come from a barrio/working-poor context, which means that we are the darker shades of Latinidad.  We tend to speak Spanish fluently because we are either new immigrants or our “parents” are.

Chongas tend to be seen, through our hypervisible, hyperfeminine and hypersexual clothing, as contrasted with the larger USA “appropriate attire” narrative.  Chongas do not wear the recommended clothing of respectable young girls: pastels, looser fit, very little to not makeup, and straight “kept” hair.  Instead chongas usually wear: “sexy” clothes, only defined as much because it is form fitting or shorter skirts, dresses, or shorts and/or tight blouses.  We also tend to look cheap, and are categorized as “hood” because we are functioning with our class and social location – and what is available for our monetary access.

Aside, from aesthetics, chongas comportment is also hypervisible.  Chongas tend to be louder, meaner, and more aggressive when compared to more “respectable” immigrants and/or people who have acquiesced to white culture.  Chongas speak at a volume and with a tone that reflects a particular class, which is rejected as crass by outsiders.  This rejection however, is a reflection of a deep societal desire to locate ourselves as close as we can to whiteness, and further away from poor brown people.  It is important to note that in the communities we live in, however, we are not considered loud, mean, and aggressive.

The bulk of my work is in upholding this subculture because I want to know what would happen if we dared to call these working poor brown female immigrant bodies important due to our political social resistance?  What would happen if we bring to the center these marginalized bodies and as a society allowed them to exist – not that we would not otherwise – but what would happen?

As I am soon to graduate VDS, I am aware that the scholarship that needs to come out of me is still developing.  Currently, I have been accepted into an MA in International Development and Social Change, where I seek to specifically address the global impact of bodies of resistance like these.



Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 18, 2015 in Feature, , , , ,

READ THIS BOOK – March 2015

Each month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our March recommendation is offered by Evon Flesberg, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Theology and Counseling.



This Month’s Book:  Alone Together:  Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle, (New York:  Basic Books, 2011).

Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together:  Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other will get under your skin. It will simmer on the back burner of your mind and will provide juice for lively discussions with folks of all ages. “Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and a licensed clinical psychologist” according to the book’s cover; however, her impressive credentials need not create the impression that this text will not be easily read. Quite to the contrary, Turkle’s experience in teaching and skill in writing create the feeling that one has sat down for coffee and is having a satisfying conversation about ubiquitous, but not inconsequential, realities of our shared lives.  Turkle says she “tells two stories in Alone Together:  today’s story of the network [Internet], with its promise to give us more control over human relationships, and tomorrow’s story of sociable robots, which promise relationship where we will be in control, even if that means not being in relationship at all.” (17)

We are drawn in by Turkle’s engaging narrative style as she relates the development of robots that are “alive enough” for us to be captivated. We are willing not only to be taught by smart machines, but we are enraptured by machine “creatures” that evoke emotions of attachment and the desire to nurture. What does it mean that we work to create robots that will nanny the children and care for those of many years, or custom create the perfect intimate companion? [I just wrote robots “who” and my computer program noted it should be “that”! How long will it be before robots will be the human “who” and the computer will insist on it?] Dr. Turkle was discussing with children the development of robots that will care for people. The children asked, “Don’t we have people for these jobs?” (108) Don’t we have people . . . . ?

Alone Together also shares findings about how we are shaped by online life–whether it is immersion in complex game playing, a virtual life, creating and tending a social media site—or by communication that takes place via digital print. When Turkle was discussing the primacy of soundless print with her friend, the friend responded: “We cannot all write like Lincoln or Shakespeare, but even the least gifted among us has this incredible instrument, our voice, to communicate the range of human emotion. Why would we deprive ourselves of that?”  Even then, a student in my seminar pointed out that most communication is non-verbal. Turkle responds, “The beginning of an answer has become clear:  in text, messaging, and e-mail, you hide as much as you show. You can present yourself as you wish ‘to be seen.’ ” (207)

Turkle’s gift of Alone Together is an invitation to stop and consider our connections. Are they real or virtually real? Who is behind the text that appears on our screens? Are we intentionally or unintentionally being deceived?  Do we have the courage to risk deeply knowing others face to face in the fullness of each person’s life and suffering? Will we open ourselves to be more authentically known or will we settle for being a constructed self, guaranteed to garner envy or admiration rather than risk the possibility of radical acceptance of the self we, embodied and flawed, really are? We text or convert voice to type “I love you”s and keep our eyes on the screens—alone we are together. What are the ethical implications of excluding millions from communicating because they lack the privilege of having the devices or skills to use them? Do we really believe that it is right for sites we visit, or create, to own–and profit–from our data, our lives?  What is the meaning of forgiveness in an era of permanent digital records? Is “efficiency” the highest value when connecting with other human beings? Robots for ministers, psychotherapists, caregivers of the vulnerable, perfect intimate companions, and virtual friends—with the children we might ask, “Don’t we have people . . . ?”










Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 15, 2015 in Read This Book, , , , , , ,

Why I Went to Prison

This post is written by Eric Brown, an alumnus of Vanderbilt Divinity School who works with the Nashville office of The Children’s Defense Fund where he addresses the challenge of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline and serves as an active member of the Re-Visioning Justice Working Group facilitated by the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions. This group convenes local academicians and activists to consider the problems that attend mass incarceration and the death penalty and to develop ways to address them. Eric will be speaking on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline at the “Re-Visioning Justice in America” conference, April 17-19, 2015.

Why I Went to Prison

I was a good kid. I did not have any priors, yet still ended up in Riverbend Maximum Security Prison. I did not want to be there, but I did my time. I watched the clock’s tortoise-like speed, waiting for my freedom.  Come 8PM, I was able to see freedom and opportunity again.

I’m different from the many who are incarcerated at Riverbend. I volunteer to go. It is mandatory for the guys on the inside to do an extended amount of time to pay a debt to society. I did not go to prison because of a crime, but because of this nagging white lady named Janet Wolf.

Where Janet saw a sickening atrocity of black, brown, and poor bodies placed in cages and stripped of their humanity, I saw thugs and criminals doing time they deserved for their crimes. I never talked about this feeling much because somewhere deep inside, I knew I sidestepped being in one of these cages myself. I am conditioned to think that prison is only for those who do bad things, and not for those who really may need a special needs facility instead. I thought prison was for bad people not realizing that courts too often lock up a person who looked the part, but never played the part. I never took into consideration people doing life sentences for non-violent crimes involving twenty dollars worth of a drug. Most importantly, I did not realize the reason I did not want to be in prison is because most of the people looked like myself; young, male and black.

Too often, being in prison is synonymous with being black. No one saw the intellect of these guys on the inside. They saw only convicts. People did not see the behind the scenes stories of drug abuse, violence, or innocence. They saw only “guilty as charged.” At Riverbend, no one saw men made in the image of God. They saw delinquents who must constantly pay for their crimes, even after their release.  Not enough people asked, was there a support base or a listening ear hearing a cry of plea before ending up in this place?  Not enough people understand the impact on the families of the incarcerated, who already live paycheck to paycheck and now pay more to stay in contact with their imprisoned loved one?

Many do not know because this topic is hidden from the consciousness of people living in the busy-ness of their lives. What does this have to do with me? Being pressured to come to prison forced me to deal with the reality of knowing that people of my faith know little about our faith. If I am called as a Christian to go to those who are held captives, either I am not a good Christian, or I am a very good oppressor in my complacency. Being forced to go to prison caused me to ask this question at my church, “Who in this service knows someone in prison?” When I saw around 80 to 90 percent of the membership raise their hands, I knew they were lying to other people saying their family member went to college, I saw the shame that is assumed by the black race. God is calling us to see that this injustice in our society is lucrative for some, while being a financial, spiritual, and mental burden for others. But are we listening?

I went to prison, not as one who is bodily incarcerated, but as one mentally caged from seeing complexities. Now, however, I go to prison as a student learning how prison is a microcosm of the outside world. My fear is that my organization’s work for children’s rights means nothing when the prison business is booming with a fresh crop of young black and Latino males ripe for the picking. I continue to go to prison, to keep younger ones from falling through the cracks and landing in brand new cages that strip humans to commoditized animals.


From Nashville, TN, Eric Brown is the Lead Organizer of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Nashville Team. He is also the assistant to the pastor of Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church. He was graduated from American Baptist College, and earned master’s degrees in theological studies and ethics from Vanderbilt University. Follow Eric on Twitter @ConsiderEso


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

Refusing to be Comforted

By Teresa Kim Pecinovsky, MDiv Candidate

(Originally published in Theology of Ferguson December 27, 2014)

A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, for they are no more. —Matthew 2:18

“I want to know what happened to my baby! I want to know what happened to my son!”

These are the cries of Toni Martin-Green on Christmas Eve as she stood at the scene where her 18-year-old son, Antonio, had been shot and killed by a police officer in Berkeley, Missouri, a small city close to Ferguson. As I saw pictures of Toni on Twitter and listened to her cries in video clips, my heart broke for her—a mother who had to plan for her son’s funeral over Christmas.

Tomorrow is the fourth day of Christmas, the Feast of the Innocents, a day set aside on the liturgical calendar to mark the slaughter of all the baby boys, two years old and younger, by King Herod after learning about Jesus’ birth from the Magi. Despite its two thousand year old history, we are all too familiar with the slaughter of children today, particularly in the light of the recent deaths of black souls in places like Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York. In St. Louis, residents live in a veritable police state that increasingly reminds me of Roman-occupied Israel. Again, children are being killed by the hands of the state, and mothers are weeping for their children—refusing to be comforted, for they are no more.

Children are being killed by the hands of the state and mothers are weeping.

The verse from Matthew 2:18 is a passage I have continued to come back to as I visit Ferguson, listen to wailing mothers, and witness a movement crying out for justice. I have seen and been a part of marches, rallies, highway shut-downs, mall die-ins, and protests led by fierce and courageous young women and men who refused to be silenced. Yet I have also witnessed different moments of resistance, like when an elderly woman at Christ the King UCC crocheted 75 hats and scarves as an act of solidarity with the Ferguson protesters. She told her church that while she physically couldn’t march in the streets she saw each stitch she crocheted as one step, and by the end she had walked five miles in yarn with the protesters. Although this woman was limited by her physical circumstances, she found a way to protest and practice resistance. So when I reexamine the mourning mothers in Matthew, I realize that their grief has transformative power. These mothers had no political power in their scenario, no means to seek legal justice for their murdered babies. They did, however, have the power of lament. Refusing to be comforted is a form of resistance. It is a means of making people acknowledge a mother’s grief, a child’s humanity, and an unquiet spirit in the midst of injustice.

Refusing to be comforted says, “I will not allow you to forget my child. My child was made Imago Dei. My child’s life matters.” Refusing to be comforted is how mothers have forced the hands of powerful rulers to seek justice for their murdered children. In 2 Samuel 21, we read the story of Rizpah, a concubine of Saul, whose two sons were murdered along with five sons of Merab. These sons were given up by King David as payment for the sin of Saul against the Gibeonites in order to end a three-year drought. The sons were impaled by the Gibeonites at the sanctuary Gibeah. For five months a grief-stricken Rizpah set herself upon the rock of Gibeah to keep their bodies from being devoured by beasts and birds of prey. When David heard about Rizpah’s actions, he finally took the sons’ bodies and buried them in the royal family grave. After that the Lord brought rain upon the land. Rizpah refused to be comforted for the deaths of her sons, sons who had been given as political ransom. Her presence at Gibeah was so powerful that although David had avenged the Gibeonites, rain did not fall. The bodies of Rizpah’s sons lay impaled, their blood crying out for justice. Rizpah’s refusal to be comforted moved the Lord to hold back the rain until David did the right thing and buried the bodies.

The bodies of Rizpah’s sons lay impaled, their blood crying out for justice.

Tomorrow, as Christians observe the Feast of the Innocents, I remember the many Rachels of history who have mourned their children’s deaths. I pray that the spirit of Rizpah dwells deeply in all mothers whose sons and daughters have been violently killed. As believers who are to ‘weep with those who weep’, I pray we will never stop mourning, never stop protesting, never stop resisting, until justice pours down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

This poem is for Rizpah, and all of her daughters.


teach us how to weep

and wail

for all the sons

whose lives have been stolen

by state violence.


spread out

your sackcloth

on the mothers of Bethlehem

who refuse to be consoled

For their children are no more.


The harvest season has just begun,

The rain has not yet come,

And Michael Brown’s body lies

in the streets

in a pool of blood.


Send your Spirit to stay with Michael’s body

For four and a half hours.

Shoo away the vultures and beasts

That come to devour his honor and dignity.


Rise us up as your people

To lament

To weep

Transform our tears into words

Speaking truth to power

Seeking justice

for every murdered child

until the rains of peace

water our weary land.


Teresa earned the master of education degree from the University of Houston and is a second-year master of divinity student at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is currently serving as an intern at Open Table Nashville, a homeless outreach nonprofit. She is married to her best friend, John Siemssen. They live with their crazy cat, Mercury, in an intentional community at the Disciples
Divinity House in Nashville. Teresa is passionate about exploring the intersection between theology, pastoral care, social justice, and education. You can follow her on Twitter @tkpsky.




Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 4, 2015 in Feature, , , ,

Alumni Tuesday: On Becoming a Missionary

Our monthly Alumni/ae Tuesday Guest Post series on the VDS Voices blog highlights posts written by VDS and GDR alumni/ae. Hear firsthand about their important work in the community, collaborations with other alumni/ae and faculty, and much more.

Be sure to also check out the Divinity School Instagram feed every Tuesday for our Alumni/ae Instagram Takeover Day. Each week, we will showcase a different alumnus/a as they document their day in photos. Follow @VUDivinity on Instagram today!

If would like to contribute a post to the Alumni/ae Tuesday Guest Post series, or participate in our Alumni/ae Instagram Takeover Day, please email Addie Sullivan (addie.sullivan@vanderbilt.edu)  in the Vanderbilt Divinity School Alumni/ae office.

On Becoming A Missionary

I recently asked a group of young Christians what images or words come to mind when they hear the word “missionary.” The answers varied: starving black children in Africa, Bibles smuggled into China, Spanish Conquistadors, the Jesus Film, and martyrdom, to name a few. I sat and wondered how these answers would vary based on context. Would the images change if I asked someone in South Sudan, Uganda, or Hawaii? Would the image point less toward adventure, sainthood, or foreignness and more toward oppression, syncretism, and colonialism? When the term “missionary” is used, do we think of Belgium missionaries in Rwanda or missionaries in the line Bartolome de las Casas?

I am a missionary. I graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2011 and now call Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, home. And I’ve struggled with accepting this vocational call. The bleak history and close connection between western colonialism and missionary endeavors taints my reality. I fear that another’s presupposition of what missionary means to them will gloss over the life-giving work of discerning God’s presence in context. I fear being misunderstood by both progressives and conservatives, yet I embrace my role as a missionary-pastor with Kona Coast Nazarene.

Augustine once wrote that “the one who begins to love begins to leave.”  Love propels a giving over of the self, an abandonment that only the Spirit prompts and turns one toward God and our neighbors. In this sense, love involves the motion of ‘leaving’ marked throughout scriptures by the liberating act of God in the Exodus and practiced in baptism. This sending love does not narrate a story of the heart but is lived in the concrete visible reality of neighbor and community. In this way, a missionary always mediates the tension between belonging and foreignness for the sake of life and health of one’s place.

Over the past year, I have been learning to ask this one question, a question that every good missionary asks: What does Good News look like for this people and for this community? It’s a question that requires attentiveness to context, to inter-personal, social, economic, political, and spiritual relationships—skills, that frankly, I would not have learned without studying at Vanderbilt Divinity School—but it also means that the Good News of a dead and risen Jesus Christ might take on a different expression in Hawaii than it would in Tennessee, China, or Germany. A missionary develops the faith and skill set necessary to contextualize and discern Good News for one’s community and those that call that place home

So as a missionary, I have become an extension of the local church in our neighborhood. I am developing a keen awareness of our community’s passion, gifts, and hopes as well as our community’s struggles, pains, and hurts.  We believe the church is a community for healing, reconciliation, and redemption and a life-giving body equipped to transform neighbors and neighborhoods through grace and justice in the pattern of Jesus Christ. And this looks a number of different ways: reclaiming unused land for farm production, participation in community open-mic nights, creating and connecting young adults to needed apprenticeships and jobs, joining the local social service networking group, emphasizing discipleship and individual transformation, training local leaders for ministry, and planting multiple ethnic church plants. So our local church is calling missionaries to contextualize the Gospel on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Eric Paul, M.Div ‘11
Missionary-Pastor, Kona Coast Nazarene


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 3, 2015 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, , , , , , , ,

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, , , , ,


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