Read This Book is a new, monthly book review/recommendation by members of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty. New reviews will be posted on the second Sunday of each month. Our first selection is by John McClure, Charles G. Finney Professor of Preaching and Worship.
I strongly recommend my new book, co-edited with Ronald Allen and O. Wesley Allen, to our alums who are wrestling with the question: How can my congregation be faithful and grow in wisdom in an increasingly pluralistic world of often competing interests. In particular, how can my congregation make its way through situations of potential or actual conflict between world views, attitudes, and religious understanding? Under the Oak Tree: The Church as a Community of Conversation in a Conflicted and Pluralistic World suggests that thinking of the church as a community of conversation can help. Conversation has a particular meaning in this book by referring to the act of pursuing the gospel of Jesus Christ by opening ourselves to others with the possibility that we may be changed and come to know Christ better in the process. The other could be a person, a group, a movement, a social situation, a written text—such as a book or a poem, an expression in the media or almost anything in life. This book places every aspect of church life from education, preaching and worship, to mission, social witness, interfaith dialogue, and evangelism into this conversational perspective, showing how a commitment to this kind of conversation can transform congregational leadership and mission.
For regular blog posts oriented toward working preachers, see John McClure’s blog: Otherwise Thinking at www.johnsmcclure.com
 People in the church—including ministers and scholars—sometimes use the word “conversation” in a more limited way that presumes the trustworthiness of Christian tradition (or some piece of tradition, such as a biblical text). The church might then engage in give-and-take to clarify the meaning of the tradition and how it applies to today, or seek to clarify the meaning of something outside the church from the perspective of how Christian tradition leads the church to interpret that phenomenon. A preacher, for instance, often prepares a sermon under the presumption that a biblical text has a message that is applicable to the life of the church and world today. By assuming the validity of Christian tradition, a priori, the church is not truly open to the possibilities presented by the other. While such give-and-take often helps the church enlarge its understanding of tradition or of issues or situations, it falls short of the kind of conversation sought in this book: openness to the other that can lead to fundamental reassessment
The VDS Office of Womyn’s Concerns hosted a dialogue with feminists/Womanists/&Mujeristas about #selfies and how important it is for people of color to see themselves refelcted in selfies througout the internet. Further, it is an intentional movement that embraces the “radical politics” of the selfie to dare ourselves to love ourselves and feel good about others affirming us.
Religion and spirituality always have been central aspects of my person. I grew up in a conservative Christian environment. I loved it. It was one of the greatest driving forces in shaping the person I was. I was especially passionate about Christian Scripture. This love led me to want to build a professional career out of religion. With that thought in mind, I attended the university owned by the church I belonged to at the time. I studied the Bible, its history and archaeology, and the languages of the ancient Mediterranean world. I was fulfilling my dream; however, I felt like something was lacking in my studies. I loved what I was learning, but I realized that I wanted to be able to apply it in some practical manner.
As I applied to graduate school, one of my professors suggested that I apply to Vanderbilt Divinity School. I had not considered it before because it was a progressive institution. The more I thought about it though, the more it made sense. I love the focus on social justice within society that VDS strives to create. I applied and was blessed to be accepted. My time at VDS was stimulating and ultimately, life-changing. I know that may sound cliché, but in my case it is true. I left the conservative Christian denomination I belonged to because of my collective experiences at VDS. The faculty and students showed me that there are a myriad of ways of living a spiritual and justice-driven life.
VDS literally opened an entire new world to me. Upon being graduated, I have been working to put that new-found perspective and knowledge to good use. I am working currently as a case manager for the YWCA Weaver Center, one of the largest and most cutting-edge domestic violence shelters in the country; furthermore, I am working on their new Engaging Men program which is seeking to change the cultural understanding of masculinity in order to prevent violence against women and girls before it begins. I am especially focused on reaching out to spiritual communities in Davidson County. I am more grateful for my experiences at VDS than I can relate with words. It has changed my life for the better.
Seth Kohrman, M.Div. 2012
Case Manager, YWCA of Nashville & Middle Tennessee
Bishop Joe Pennel opened the Community Breakfast with a prayer on Tuesday, February 11, 2014. Professor Bruce Morrill presented “Evangelization and Social Justice: Fundamentals of Pope Francis’s Mission.”
Visions: A Community Art Show opened on February 13, 2014 with a reception. Nineteen artists, including VDS faculty, staff and students are represented. Visions will run through April 2014.
These days, I leave too many Divinity School discussions in exasperation. My blood pressure can’t take it. Just the other day, a dispute about climate change nearly lost me a friendship. I should eat more spinach, or perhaps dark chocolate, to help decrease anxiety.
I suppose I could learn also to accept that we all see the world differently and through a particular lens. But that is not the nature of ideology: Ideology longs only to prove its right-ness or suffer the affliction of everyone’s wrong-ness.
Vanderbilt Divinity School, in many ways, provides the perfect battleground for a great clash of ideologies. The champions of queer theory cross swords with reformed theologians. The trebuchets of process theology burst apart the carefully erected walls of the systematics. Womanists break rank with the feminists only to realign against the dreaded Barthians, and so it goes.
The conflict, of course, is essential as we grow into our vocations. Like rough diamonds girdled against one another, our conflicting ideas continuously shape and re-shape the beliefs to which we have clung for so long. I wonder, though: How far do the academic debates take us? At what point does the seminar table cease to be useful, merely reinforcing preconceived ideas?
I ask because, as I read the great movers and shakers of culture and theology, I am impressed not by the ferocity of their argument but by the poetry of it. These thinkers craft a lifetime of experiences, ideas and relationships into a work of art that expresses more truth than ten thousand dissertations. I am talking about the Zora Neale Hurstons and the Dr. Kings; the Annie Dillards and the William Faulkners. Yes, their poetry is political but only insofar as it unearths a truth that transcends any single ideology.
I first read The Color Purple as an undergraduate. To this day, no theological or political treatise has ever matched the potency of Shug Avery’s formidable words, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” There is beauty in her story and in her words, and no matter our ideology, we all recognize beauty when we see it. Shug’s wisdom could never be reduced to an academic argument, for its truth eludes the meddling hands of a politician or theologian.
By all means, let us continue to debate and theologize and grow; it is the only way we will ever unearth deeper truths. But let our conversations be always in the service of beauty. Let us transform knowledge into art. Let us know the songwriters, the painters, and the storytellers for what they are: Voices of truth in a world yearning for something beautiful.
It would certainly help keep my blood pressure down.
Gabriel Horton, BA’11, MDiv3
The 26th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change took Houston, Texas by storm on January 29 through February 2, 2014.
Nearly 4,000 people from all over the country attended the five-day program that featured over 390 workshops, training sessions, meetings and events. Plus there were four unbelieveably spectacular plenary sessions, including the opening plenary featuring the one and only Laverne Cox.
Vanderbilt Divinity students Darria Hudson, Caroline Leithner, Alba Onofrio, Alex Salfer-Hobbs, and Asher Kolieboi, alum Carlin Rushing, and Assistant Director of the Carpenter Program, Lyndsey Godwin, attended. Vandy’s attendees presented workshops, engaged in-depth discussions, and networked with activists, educators, and faith leaders from across the nation, particularly in Creating Change’s “Practice Spirit, Do Justice” track. This track of workshops is sponsored by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the same foundation that supports our Carpenter Program and through which our attendance was made possible
After graduating from VDS in 2011, I pursued a ministry in clinical chaplaincy, or what has also started to be known as spiritual counseling. I’m writing to those of you considering the field and even to those of you who aren’t. I am incredibly happy with the work that I do, even though I had once assumed it wasn’t for me.
During my first year at the Divinity School I never considered chaplaincy. And maybe this isn’t something I should admit, but I really didn’t know what a chaplain did. I guess I assumed they prayed or something. Don’t worry, I’m only half kidding. I knew the ministry had a lot of depth to it, but to be a chaplain you need to be an ordained minister, something I’m not sure I can ever become.
It’s not that I don’t want to be ordained; it’s really the question of how?
I do not belong to a church. Truthfully, I hardly ever go to church. I did grow up in a church; however, the organization does not ordain women, even for field ministry. Also, I wouldn’t consider myself religious. When people ask what I am in terms of religious background I answer “spiritual but not religious,” and I feel very comfortable with the SBNR label/idea.
For work purposes, I tell people that I function as an interfaith chaplain or a spiritual counselor. Playing with this identity made CPE very difficult for me. I was lucky that I was even let into a program after verbalizing during my interview that I wasn’t sure how I’d get board certification since I wasn’t affiliated with a church. I completed my training, nonetheless. CPE was incredibly challenging, inspiring, and transformative. For those of you going through it now, a good self-care program is essential for perseverance! I practice yoga and meditation daily to recharge and reconnect.
After CPE I was worried. How was I going to get a job if I couldn’t get ordained? I kept questioning whether or not all of my training was a waste of time. Even though I had a passion and a calling for the field, the bottom line was that I am not an ordained minister. All I could do was apply for jobs and see what came up. At the end of 2012 I was offered my first job in hospice care. While working in the hospital during CPE I had naturally gravitated towards oncology, palliative care, and end-of-life, so I was very happy and excited to accept the job. I was also relieved to find that a lack of ordination was not going to be an impediment. In fact, I have found that being unaffiliated cultivates a certain amount of freedom and openness with my clients.
Something I’ve been learning is that offering spiritual care at the end of life is not usually focused on church. Clients who are interested in rituals and blessings often have a connection to a pastor of their own, and daily devotionals can be read on paper. Most of the people I see have a desire to explore what they imagine may happen when they begin to transition from the material world. Many struggle with issues of forgiveness and finally letting go of anger. Pragmatically, I’m finding that people generally benefit from having a space to process their spiritual self. This is why I will most often use “spiritual counselor” when introducing my role on the hospice team. I want my clients to know that I am inclusive and open to any space they are coming from and any space they would like to explore with the time they have left.
Every day I serve as witness to another soul, another idea of God, another kind of love. I feel grateful to be working in a ministry of compassion. End of life care is an absolutely beautiful ministry, and I feel I owe great thanks to Dr. Larry Churchill, with whom I had many conversations on the ministry of death and dying and who also encouraged me to try hospice chaplaincy. Becoming an ordained minister is a unique calling and is worthy of respect, but it is not necessary for spiritual care at end-of-life and neither is holding a solid position on the spiritual spectrum.
I currently work for Vesper Hospice located in Pasadena, California, and I am very happy working with a team of incredible professionals. For those of you considering chaplaincy, or would like to talk about SBNR ministry contact me; I always appreciate the conversation.
Jill Schock, MTS’11
Members of the crowd show their excitement as they greet President Barack Obama after his speech he delivered at McGavock High School on Tuesday, Jan 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. Vanderbilt University Divinity School alumna, Tera Lentz (MDiv11), center, was among his supporters.
Photo credit: George Walker IV/The Tennessean
The Academy of Young Preachers has become a sacred and special space for me. As someone who has continually questioned my own call to ministry as a young Black woman, there are many times I feel that we do damage to ourselves and to our faith when we don’t live fully into our calls. Yet, the National Festival of the Academy of Young Preachers provided a place in which to see myself in the passion, power, and preaching of other young people. This year’s theme of “Questions of the Soul” could not have been more fitting in that for many of us, questions of the soul are the precise precursors to how we answer our calls in the first place. I am still humbled to have been a part of such a beautiful ecumenical setting in which there was true friendship, fellowship, challenges, and critiques. I pray that all of us continue to push each other to walk boldly in our own faith traditions and continue to proclaim the gospel of Truth.
Shantell Hinton MDiv1
Sermon Title: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
Sermon Text: Genesis 4:1-16
Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I my brother’s keeper? No matter how you ask this question or how you bring it up, there is an automatic association with Cain and Abel. Without even opening up a Bible, I surmise that most people are aware of this question as the audacious response of a jealous-driven, murderous Cain. Cain and Abel have certainly found their place in the minds and hearts of many as a folk-tale. It seems that this age old story of murder has been printed indelibly on the brains of our society almost as if it is a nursery rhyme rather than sacred text. Christians and non-Christians alike reference the story of Cain and Abel in music, books, and poetry. And while I am not one to look down upon Biblical stories and themes being communicated to the masses, I am yet very concerned with how much we, in the body of Christ, have allowed cliché caricatures to overshadow the transformative truth of the Gospel of Christ. I agree that the story of Cain and Abel includes the consequences for sin, jealousy, anger, and murder. Yet, far too often I believe we look at this text as the smoking gun proving Cain’s culpability for murder as result of his jealousy rather than experiencing the text as the parts of a puzzle piecing together Cain’s capability to be human in the face of rejection. I believe that we must peel ourselves away from the surface of merely seeing Cain and Abel as the story of the first murder. Instead, we must treat this text as if it is a murder mystery. Not because we don’t know what happened, but because we want to see and feel and understand how it happened. We must place ourselves, our own vulnerabilities, and livelihoods at the center of this text and put our pre-conceptions and critiques on the periphery.
Click here for the complete sermon.
Vanderbilt Divinity School is pleased to announce:
Herbert Marbury has been granted promotion with tenure from Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible on the tenure tract to Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible with tenure effective the beginning of the spring semester 2014.
Paul DeHart has been granted promotion from Associate Professor of Theology with tenure to Professor of Theology with tenure effective the beginning of the 2014-2015 academic year.