VDS Voices

WATCH THIS FILM: March 2017

Perkins_DavidEach month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book or other artistic or literary work they are currently engaging in their scholarship. Our March recommendation is offered by Dave Perkins, Associate Director of the Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture program. Dr. Perkins recommends The Mill and the Cross (2011).

Polish director Lech Majewski described his 2011 film The Mill and the Cross as “art imitating life, imitating art, imitating life.”  As the painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder—played by Rutger Hauer—works on his painting “The Way to Calvary” (1564), the painting comes to life. If the film Girl With a Pearl Earring is a painting inside a movie, The Mill and the Cross is a movie inside a painting, a “living painting film” as one reviewer described it.  The true star of this film is Bruegel’s masterpiece. In Majewski’s hands, “The Way to Calvary” comes alive not simply as setting and backdrop, but as actor and story.

The Mill and the Cross is a challenge and a gift. Majewski (himself a painter) conjures a cinematic beauty that is immediately arresting and, ultimately, unforgettable.  The film’s aesthetic scope is both sweeping and, with the help of technology, finely articulated.  In an era where films are taken to task for their overreliance on computer generated content, The Mill and the Cross is a model of the creative partnership now possible between theatre and technology.  In the present cultural climate, it is meaningful to me that such a forward-reaching, experimental film be one with strong religious subject matter.

MillandCross

Along with its aesthetic merits, The Mill and the Cross presents a challenge; it resists casual viewing.  To begin, the film has two narrative tracks.  The first involves the stories depicted or implied in Bruegel’s painting.  The second track pivots on the actions and words, as spare as the film’s dialog may be, of Bruegel, his friends, family, and community at the time of the painting’s creation.  Majewski stitches the two narrative sources into one cloth, blurring the lines of where one ends and the other begins.  Weaving another color into their narrative cloth, both the painter and the filmmaker bring Jesus, the only character not dressed in era-correct attire, into the amalgam as a third narrative element.  Departing from what movie audiences have come to expect, in few ways could this film be called movie entertainment.  However, to those willing to meet the film’s challenges, it is a gift.  Especially to a viewer interested in the creative transposition of Biblical themes into new, fresh contexts, the film can be rewarding.

From the opening, the viewer is thrown off balance by the unsettling quiet of Bruegel’s pre-modern countryside.  The ambient noise of our world is jarringly missing.  Further complicating the viewer’s unease, Majewski takes a minimalistic approach to music and sonic enhancements, deepening the aural void. These qualities, along with an atypical scarcity of dialog set the viewer adrift without a compass.  Majewski places the burden on the viewer to develop the eyes and ears necessary for a full experience of the film.  At first, this burden is an annoyance; as conditioned moviegoers, we resent being made to work.  However, as the richness of the film’s visual poetics increases in weight, the desire to fully participate in the viewing experience takes hold.

The action begins with Bruegel preparing his models—dressing them and staging them as they will appear in “The Way to Calvary.”  This is happening in real time, but, also, in situ, against the painting’s dramatic landscape.  Towering behind a grassy expanse is an inaccessible craggy mountain peak.  Incongruously perched upon the peak is a mill with sails motionless but ready to catch the wind.  Bruegel explains to his patron, Nicolaes Jonghelinck (Michael York), “The mill is the axis around which the people circle between life and death.”  “The miller is the great miller of heaven grinding the bread of life.”  Dispassionately, the miller looks down upon Bruegel’s characters—the good and the bad.  Life goes on. In the foreground, the townspeople are occupied, singularly and in groups, with the activities of daily life, which, on this particular day, includes a crucifixion.

In another scene, we watch over Bruegel’s shoulder as he works on an incomplete iteration of the painting.  Scattered over the grassy foreground are sparse groupings of the painting’s characters.  Most of them stand fixed as Bruegel painted them.  Barely noticeable at first is subtle movement—a peasant in the foreground, two horses in the distance. It is at this moment that we enter into the life and action of the painting. We meet several of the painting’s characters such as a young couple waking with the first light of day.  Their living space is rustic and cramped and shared with a lovely spotted calf.  Calf in tow, the couple arrives at an open-air market on the edge of town where they purchase a loaf of bread.  No sooner is the bread blessed and broken, than the young man is arrested by cavalry soldiers. The sound of saddle leather and spurs accompanies the wife’s wailing.  The young man is whipped, beaten and lashed to a wagon wheel on which he is hoisted high in the air atop a “tree of death.”  Crows circle to feast on his undead flesh.

The young man’s execution foreshadows the film’s climax, the crucifixion of Christ transposed to 16 C. Flanders during Spanish occupation.  Majewski creates a dramatic tension that disallows the viewer to let go fully and surrender to the film’s beauty.  In the absence of dialog, the friction between the serene and intoxicating beauty of the setting and the threat of violence becomes the film’s most effective dramatic element.

With his patron observing, Bruegel sketches Mary (Charlotte Rampling) as she weeps in anticipation of Jesus’ death.  To depict the crucifixion, Bruegel has chosen the moment when Simon of Cyrene is conscripted to carry Jesus’ cross.  Bruegel’s onlookers are more interested in Simon’s inconvenience than with Jesus’ plight.  Bruegel: “I must hide him (Jesus) from the eye.”  Patron: “Why?”  Bruegel: “Because he is the most important element.”  Here is the artists’ (Bruegel’s and Majewski’s) contention that much of the truly significant is often missed in the course of what seems a relatively typical day.  Majewski is about to show Bruegel performing one of the roles artists perform most uniquely.

The patron asks, “Do you think you can express [all of] this?  How?”  In what, to this viewer, is the film’s most memorable scene, Bruegel responds to his patron’s query “How?” by slowly raising his right hand toward heaven.  Seeing the artist’s raised hand, the miller follows suit.  In obedience to the miller’s charge, the mill’s sails stop turning, its gears slow to a stop, grain for the life-sustaining bread of life stops streaming forth. The world comes to a standstill.  This is for the benefit of us, the viewers.  With time at a standstill, we are able to sift through the world’s chaos, to parse the flux of the many layers of activity depicted in “The Way to Calvary.” The filmmaker gives us both time and perspective through which to find meaning.  This scene is Majewski’s commentary on one of art’s great contributions—to freeze events and bodies, which would otherwise dissipate in the mist of time, lost to future eyes and minds.  Majewski brings “The Way to Calvary” to life only to stop it for our moment of reflection if we will take the time to grasp what it offers.

When Majewski’s work is done and cinematic action fades to black, light slowly returns revealing that we have leapt forward five centuries and are standing before Bruegel’s painting where it hangs, day-in-day-out, in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.  Seeing it surrounded by other works, one among many, smaller than I would have imagined, the painting is humbled.  Yet, as I gaze at the work I know, somehow, that I share with it deep secrets.

Director: Lech Majewski
Writer: Michael Francis Gibson, Lech Majewski
Starring: Rutger Hauer (Pieter Bruegel the Elder), Charlotte Rampling (the Virgin Mary), Michael York (Nicolaes Jonghelinck, Bruegel’s patron)

Posted by on March 16, 2017 in News


Exploring Faculty Scholarship: Seven Years of Interviews

We invited Christopher Benda, a theological librarian at Vanderbilt Divinity Library, to reflect on seven years of his audio interview series “Authorial Intentions.” Chris first joined the Vanderbilt Library system in 1997 and joined the Divinity Library staff in 2007. He and his colleagues are invaluable resources supporting student and faculty scholarship and research.

This May will mark the seventh year of Authorial Intentions, a series of interviews with Divinity and GDR faculty about recent or forthcoming publications.  The inspiration behind doing these interviews came from the interview series Entitled Opinions, which I enjoyed listening to while taking walks or doing household chores.  Robert Harrison, the Stanford professor of French and Italian who hosts Entitled Opinions, talks with his guests about all sorts of topics, from African and Caribbean Francophone writers to Wittgenstein.  My enjoyment of Harrison’s show led me to think about doing something similar with Divinity School faculty.  Desiring a bit more structure than an extemporaneous conversation, I decided to focus on new faculty publications.  I would read faculty books, generate a list of questions, and use them to guide the conversation.  And that’s how I’ve mostly conducted the interviews.

The interviews are all audio rather than video – partly because of my experience listening to Entitled Opinions, partly because someone I consulted on campus asked, “What will video get you that audio won’t?” or words to that effect.  Nothing that I could think of, so audio it was.  Anyone can get to the interviews:  they’re on the Divinity Library Web site as well as in DiscoverArchive, Vanderbilt’s institutional repository.  A few are in iTunes U; at some point, I’d like them all to be there.

Last year, I started a second series of interviews, this one called Open Exchanges.  Also available on the Divinity Library Web site and in DiscoverArchive, this interview series focuses on (typically) shorter faculty publications that can be made available online for anyone to read.  The impetus for this series is both practical and philosophical:  practical in the sense that folks who listen to the interview don’t need to go out of their way (or spend any money) to read the item that the interview is concerned with; philosophical in the sense that many libraries and librarians are advocates of open access publications, and this series is a small way of advocating in that direction.

The interviews have been helpful for me to get to know faculty work and the faculty themselves.  I hope they’ve also been helpful for listeners.  Generally speaking, the actual interview process has been uneventful, though one particular interview stands out:  it was with a faculty member who was in France at the time, and I was still doing interviews using a Mac laptop (I’ve since moved to a small recorder that’s easier to tote around).  We decided to use Skype, and I found some free software to record the interview.  Things were going well until the thunderstorm started (on his end).  We needed to truncate the interview, and, instead of trying to pick up where we left off, we started all over again.  (I only released the finished version.)  So far, that’s as exciting as the interview process has gotten – but I’m hoping that all of the interviews, in their own ways, have been exciting to listen to and learn from.

Posted by on February 6, 2017 in Feature, , , , ,


Alumni/ae Tuesday: VDS Alumni @ Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt Divinity Alumni serve in churches, organizations, and institutions across the country and around the world. Some, however, choose after they graduate to make a transformative impact right here on campus. This series features VDS alumni who work at Vanderbilt, showing the range of work a theological education can prepare one to do. We hope you’ll enjoy getting to meet them!

Nancy Parker Oct. 2016 (1)Nancy Hawthorne Parker, MDiv ’13
United Methodist Affiliated Chaplain / Wesley Fellowship

How is your work at Vanderbilt shaped by having pursued a theological education?
Theological education plays into most of what I do allowing me to help students explore their own faith formation and questions.  I see my role as equipping and inspiring students to live their faith so that they can share and lead others.  For this work, my best experiences were with Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Religion and the Arts in Contemporary Culture.  The music and poetry events, art galleries, certificate coursework, and conversations in which I engaged through this program helped widen my understanding of spiritual practice, strengthen my love of expressing my faith through art, and build on ideas of how we are spiritual formed through beauty and creativity.  While not every student on campus resonates deeply with poetry or a piece of visual art, this training helps me to explore their questions with them and inspire them to find a way to express that journey.

In what ways did your time at VDS prepared you to become a pastor?
During my MDiv curriculum at VDS in Field Education coursework, we spent a lot of time discussing our theological tools.  The discussion usually begins highlighting the problematic nature of using the hammer as a primary tool.  When we bang, bang, bang, our ideologies, despite good intentions, we can do more harm than good.  Yet, if the hammer is deconstructed from my hands and then I am given a belt full of nails and a charge to build a house, I am overwhelmed with inadequacy and the colossal task. Thankfully, there was opportunity in the MDiv curriculum for me to reconstruct my theological tools through the Religion and the Arts in Contemporary Culture coursework and events by exploring the many tools within the Christian tradition, as well as create and imagine new tools to do ministry.  The task is no less colossal, but using the creative process, visual art, performing art, improvisation, and imagination my colleagues and I became theologians who can lead a whole community to build together.

 

Posted by on January 31, 2017 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, News, ,


Reflections on the Women’s March

Over the Inauguration Weekend, many Vanderbilt Divinity students and alumni participated in Women’s Marches across the country. We invited participants to reflect theologically on their experience and how it connected to their experience at VDS. If you have photos or reflections from the Women’s March that you’d like to share, send them our way at divinity-admissions@vanderbilt.edu.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 11.08.57 AM

VDS Alumni Jennifer Bailey, Megan Black and Student Brittney Jackson Brown at the Women’s March in Nashville, TN

Lauren McDuffie
“I participated in the Women’s March in Lexington, Kentucky, about an hour from where I serve as the Associate Pastor of a Baptist church in Morehead.  The picture is of my pastor’s daughter. Her shirt says ‘My name means feisty,’ and the full text of her sign says, ‘If you build a wall, our girls will grow up and tear it down.’ As a VDS student I learned that speaking truth to power is about a lot more than what I preach from a pulpit. It’s about where I, as a person with many privileges, am willing to stand.  This weekend, I stood in the streets of Lexington with strangers, neighbors, and friends, including this smart and strong little girl, to say to the powers that be that we will stand in the way of oppressive systems which must be changed.”

Lauren McDuffie, M.Div. ’14
Women’s March on Lexington, KY

 


 

Jenaba Waggy (1)“This soldier near the Capitol building was answering a question about where to find the march. ‘You’re in it!’ he said in exasperation.  How often do we think we’re still looking for faith, for action, for God’s response when we’re right in the middle of it? VDS ‘is committed to assisting its community in achieving a critical and reflective understanding of Christian faith and in discerning the implications of that faith for the church, society, and the lives of individuals.’ At that march and in subsequent conversations, I’ve realized that I am part of that commitment in that I have the language and tools for a critical and reflective faith–when someone asks me where to find faith or what to do next, I must not shy away from answering.”

Jenaba D. Waggy, M.Div. student
Women’s March on Washington, D.C.


 

Lora Andrews“I marched to live out my baptism: resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. My third year at VDS, I took Religion and Social Movements with Dr. Snarr and consistently critiqued activism for being so urban-centered, wondering what it would look like to implement this work practically in rural Kansas. However, on Saturday, I marched alongside lay people in my church marching for the first time ever, clergy colleagues, and thousands of Kansas strangers in Wichita while wearing a rainbow stole … VDS affirmed God’s call in my life to do this work and gave me the courage to live out my baptism unapologetically, a network to keep me aware of my own privilege and mistakes, and the grace and expectation to keep learning.”

Lora Andrews, MDiv ’15
Women’s March on Wichita, KS

 

 


 

Molly Lasagna

 

I’ve never seen anything like it. It was really encouraging to be with so many people who took to the streets to show our new president what democracy looks like. The future is black, brown, female, immigrant, Muslim, queer, trans, and beautiful. I am full of joy, hope, anger, and love.

Molly Lasagna,M.Div. student
Women’s March on Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

LillianLammers“Words can hardly capture the spirit and emotion of that day. I participated in the Women’s March on Washington with the acknowledgement that I am a person who is likely to remain personally unaffected by policy changes in the new administration. I marched as a white, straight, cisgender, married, educated, insured, relatively affluent woman. In the days since the election, I have felt the heaviness of knowing that women in those same categories were the deciding factor in allowing fear, selfishness, and intolerance to win the day on November 8th, 2016. Yet, as my VDS days taught me, we are all in this together in all times. I recalled my divinity school studies on the Ubuntu Theology of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which reminds us of our interconnectedness. As I gathered with family members and marched, I felt a common spirit among the attendees; one that said that women, particularly women of color, immigrant women, poor women, Muslim women, differently-abled women, and women in the LGBTQI community must have the freedom to live their lives free from violence, oppression, poverty, and persecution. The crowd was overwhelming, but unbelievably hospitable and affirming. The intersection of issues represented by the speakers and the marchers present was astounding and inspiring. As I headed back to my home in Nashville, TN, all I could think was, ‘Wow! That was the ultimate pep rally! Now, it¹s time to get to work!'”

Lillian Hallstrand Lammers, M.Div. ’09
Women’s March on Washington, D.C.


 

VDS Students at the Women’s March in Nashville

 

Posted by on January 25, 2017 in News, Photo of the Week, , ,


Alumni/ae Tuesday: VDS Alumni @ Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt Divinity Alumni serve in churches, organizations, and institutions across the country and around the world. Some, however, choose after they graduate to make a transformative impact right here on campus. This series features VDS alumni who work at Vanderbilt, showing the range of work a theological education can prepare one to do. We hope you’ll enjoy getting to meet them!

Mark Forrester Head ShotMark Forrester, MDiv ’83
University Chaplain and Director of Religious Life

How is your work at Vanderbilt shaped by having pursued a theological education?
Because the work of a university chaplain encompasses the complementary—and sometimes conflictual—tasks of being a pastor, prophet, mentor and religious administrator, the VDS educational model of “minister as theologian” that informed so much of my academic and vocational formation nudged me always to think broadly, yet clearly as possible, at the intersections where sacred reasoning could enrich individuals and institutions in need of an alternative imagination.

Who was your favorite professor (or what was your favorite course) at VDS and why?
I had so many professors who shook and enlarged my world! Still, the one teacher who made the most profound and lasting impact was Sallie McFague. Her lectures were lyrical, dense and soaring. Her writing was impeccable. Her expectations were merciless. I was willing to risk taking four courses under Sallie, so perhaps my favorite was her trademark “Religious Autobiography” class where we read classic and modern memoirs of St. Augustine, John Woolman, Malcolm X and Will Campbell. That course engrained in my mind a theological maxim, “biography precedes theology,” that still serves to remind me that we don’t apprehend the Divine somewhere “out there,” but from within our narratives that wrangle with transcendence in the grit and gristle of life’s work.

What advice would you share with prospective students?
While this is a simple suggestion, I would encourage any prospective student to plan to engage academic rigor, interpersonal growth and vocational curiosity. As a United Methodist clergy for thirty-four years, I had no intention to seek ordination when I first enrolled as an M.Div. candidate. And while VDS was, and is, an excellent environment to envision and test alternative and non-traditional paths, I would highly recommend the variety of VDS field education opportunities that, for many like me, provided the necessary context and quality of discernment to walk more confidently into a future that will nurture and reward your natural gifts.

Posted by on January 24, 2017 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, News, , , ,


Alumni/ae Tuesday: VDS Alumni @ Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt Divinity Alumni serve in churches, organizations, and institutions across the country and around the world. Some, however, choose after they graduate to make a transformative impact right here on campus. This series features VDS alumni who work at Vanderbilt, showing the range of work a theological education can prepare one to do. We hope you’ll enjoy getting to meet them!

Karasheila Jackson, MDiv ’16
Program Coordinator, Development and Alumni Relations

How is your work at Vanderbilt shaped by having pursued a theological education?

VDS was my first formal introduction to preferred gender pronouns and the need for inclusive language. I believe that I have become much more aware of language that can be perceived as derogatory and harmful to others on a broader scale than I was before I attended VDS.

Who was your favorite professor (or what was your favorite course) at VDS and why?

I think my favorite course was Exodus in America: Black Christians & White Jews in Interreligious Dialogue with Dr. Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas. This course made me take a hard look at my own racial prejudices and how my biases have aided in my self-isolation at times. I was introduced to people who helped to organize and finance the Civil Rights Movement that I was unaware of before.

What advice would you share with prospective students?

If at all possible, come and visit VDS before you make a final decision as to where you would like to dedicate the next few years of your life. By visiting you will not only get a feel for the school, you will be able to get a small glimpse of what Nashville has to offer you as well.

 

Posted by on January 17, 2017 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, News, , ,


Alumni/ae Tuesday: VDS Alumni @ Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt Divinity Alumni serve in churches, organizations, and institutions across the country and around the world. Some, however, choose after they graduate to make a transformative impact right here on campus. This series features VDS alumni who work at Vanderbilt, showing the range of work a theological education can prepare one to do. We hope you’ll enjoy getting to meet them!

Norton-JonesKitty_smKitty Norton, MDiv ’98
Assistant Dean for Development and Alumni/ae Relations

How is your work at Vanderbilt shaped by having pursued a theological education?
Because I have a theological education from Vanderbilt, I am able to relate to alumni at a deeper level. My experience is similar to their experience. We often have had some of the same professors. Many of our alumni share the same passion for justice and I am able to tell them that VDS is more passionate about ministry and justice than ever before.

Who was your favorite professor (or what was your favorite course) at VDS and why?
I didn’t have one professor that I thought stood out. I learned something from all of them. Viki Matson, Evon Flesberg, Sallie McFague, Dale Johnson, Forrest Harris and David Buttrick stand out in my mind. Each shaped my ministry in different ways. They taught me different things and different ways to see the world.

What do you like best about Nashville?
I like that Nashville has a lot to offer people of all generations. It’s a city that has vibrant pockets of diversity. Nashville has become a city that welcomes strangers, and takes in refugees. And, Nashville has great places to eat, hang out with friends, hike, bike and practice yoga. There is, in addition to music, a vibrant art scene and some young entrepreneurs.

Posted by on January 9, 2017 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, News, , ,


READ THIS BOOK: January 2017

photo of Joerg Rieger (Vanderbilt University / Steve Green)

Professor Joerg Rieger

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 Joerg Rieger, Cal Turner Chancellor’s Chair in Wesleyan Studies and Distinguished Professor of Theology. Professor Rieger recommends Transcending Greedy Money: Interreligious Solidarity for Just Relations by Ulrich Duchrow and Franz J. Hinkelammert (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

For good reasons money and economics are much-discussed subjects at present, but why should scholars of religion and theology join the conversation? Ulrich Duchrow and Franz Hinkelammert, one writing in Germany and the other in Costa Rica, are part of a small but growing minority who understand that money and the structures of the economy are shaping us all the way down. Affected are not just the obvious matters of business, budgets, and pocket books but also matters of society, culture, relationships, and religion and faith.

As the goal of the maximization of profits has become more and more widely accepted in all realms of life, linked to historical developments that reach as far back as the eighth century BCE, relationships with other human beings, the earth, and even with God suffer. Duchrow and Hinkelammert even discuss the socio-psychological effects of these dynamics, resulting for instance in the spread of depression, which is poised to become the second-largest disease in 2020 according to the World Health Organization. This rarely-observed connection of economics and depression has most recently been studied in greater detail in a new book by Vanderbilt Divinity faculty member Bruce Rogers-Vaughn, published in the same series, titled Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

Nevertheless, Duchrow and Hinkelammert, like Rogers-Vaughn, are not merely presenting deep analyses of our age that transcend the common trends to moralize and to assign blame to individuals. The authors seek to introduce genuine alternatives that are rooted in various religious traditions, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity. While each of these traditions has distinct contributions to make, they share in common a profound understanding of the interconnectedness of all of life and various commitments to justice. In some of these traditions justice is explicitly tied to taking the side of the exploited and oppressed, and this is also where God is found. Religions, in order to avoid becoming part of the problem, must give an account of how they benefit humanity.

Solidarity is thus key for Duchrow and Hinkelammert. All major advances in the history of humanity are linked to cooperation, they observe. Democracy can no longer be merely a matter of politics; it now becomes a matter of economics as well. Religion, too, needs to be examined in this light. What would it mean, for instance, to love one’s neighbor as oneself in this perspective?

The authors understand, as most of us do, that true change is not easy to come by. As a result, they put their hope not merely in ideas, noting that rehearsing religious and philosophical insights from our various traditions is not enough. Change happens when these traditions are alive in social movements that are on the rise all over the world where solidarity is practiced with the least of these, both human and non-human.

 

Posted by on January 8, 2017 in News, Read This Book, , , , , , ,


Alumni/ae Tuesday: VDS Alumni @ Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt Divinity Alumni serve in churches, organizations, and institutions across the country and around the world. Some, however, choose after they graduate to make a transformative impact right here on campus. This series features VDS alumni who work at Vanderbilt, showing the range of work a theological education can prepare one to do. We hope you’ll enjoy getting to meet them!

Adam McKeever-Burgett

Adam McKeever-Burgett, MDiv ’11
Associate Director of Academic Services for Vanderbilt School of Engineering

How is your work at Vanderbilt shaped by having pursued a theological education?
Each day I speak with several (sometimes many) students in varying circumstances – some in academic or personal distress, some who simply need someone to encourage them, occasionally some at crisis level.  The ability to serve as a non-anxious, nonjudgmental presence that I practiced in Pastoral Care courses, as well as the ethos of inclusion that pervaded all of my other courses are learnings that I draw upon daily.  I can’t think of a better training for the work that I do than a theological education; I could not do my work without it.

In what ways do the Divinity School’s Purposes & Commitments inform your work at Vanderbilt?

I am lucky enough to speak with nearly every student who comes through Vanderbilt School of Engineering at some point during their undergraduate career, and speak with many of them frequently.  VDS’ commitments to combat, oppose, and confront  racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, homophobia are commitments that became ingrained in me through discussions with my classmates in ethics, theology, field education, and history of religion classes.  That I can draw upon the experiences shared by my former classmates to educate, empathize, or make my students feel more safe is a vital part of my role.  The VDS community that challenged me daily to see all people as worthy continues to challenge me to make sure that all undergraduates I encounter – many of whom are in vulnerable places at some point during their time here – feel safe, respected, and cared for.

What advice would you share with prospective students?

Use some of your electives to explore areas of interest.  One of the great things about VDS is that it’s just one of ten schools that comprise Vanderbilt University.  I used elective hours to take an education course at Peabody that helped me further discern exactly how I would be able to use my theological education in the real world.  Being able to take a course or two outside of the Divinity School can strengthen your vocational discernment and efficacy.

Posted by on January 5, 2017 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, News, , ,


Advent 2016

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2015 and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

The long quiet has settled in the halls of the Divinity School. Students depart to visit family and friends across town and around the world. Faculty retreat to cozier spaces to grade papers and prepare for the new term.

Around our building, the staff is keeping the lights on, holding our steady vigil over daily tasks not beholden to the academic calendar. We know this silence well. In the summertime, we crack jokes about the ease of getting work done when there are no students around. But in the winter darkness, the mood is more somber, the silence aching to be filled with sound and life.

This is the season of waiting.

We read in the Advent story of a young woman whose body holds a secret treasure. From the dark and quiet stillness of her womb, Light and Life are about to emerge. She bears within herself the great mystery—that God will upend the status quo—not with princes and armies, but with a helpless babe, in a ramshackle stable, in a backwoods town. She waits to meet the one who will redeem a broken and brokenhearted world.

In our present time, my colleagues and I in the Office of Admissions are waiting, too. Who is even now walking the path that might one day lead them here? What gifts will they bring? What hopes? Fears? Possibilities? We wait to see how our small corner of God’s kingdom is about to be transformed.

In our wonder, we find pieces of our own story inside the stories of those who have waited in wondrous expectation before us. With thrill and fear, we are Mary, leaning into the “not yet” of the next stage of our life’s journey. We are Joseph, seeking to be faithful despite his surprising role in a story he could never have anticipated. We are God’s people, longing for the One who will bring plenty into a world that declares there is Never Enough.

We are all waiting to see what God will do next.

Perhaps the good work that God is about to do is in you, or in me. What might my small influence do to move the waiting world toward greater justice and compassion? Will I sing the song of Zechariah, praising the God who calls us toward greater mercy and peace? Will I shake up Bethlehem, dismantling its lies about who should be welcomed, and who is excluded? Will I welcome the refugee child and call him Son of God, God With Us?

In the stillness of the season, may our words and works declare that light will outshine the darkness, hope triumph over despair, and new life emerge in the most surprising places.

by Katherine H. Smith, Assistant Dean for Admissions, Vocation, and Stewardship

Posted by on December 19, 2016 in Feature, News


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