VDS Voices

My First Year Experience

by Kimberly A. Goins, MTS1

As I reflect upon my first year experience at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, I cannot help but think what I wrote in my personal statement:

I want to pursue the master of theological studies degree because I have a myriad of ideas about the connections among politics, racism, social justice, the law, feminism, spirituality and Christianity. I want to learn more from an academic standpoint about Christianity. I would like to attend Vanderbilt Divinity School so that my beliefs can be challenged and refined so that I will grow spiritually. Scripture states, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). I want to gain more knowledge so that I can eagerly engage in theological inquiry.

After having experienced almost a semester at VDS, I can honestly say that I have met many of the objectives of which I wrote. For instance, I have learned more about Christianity from an academic standpoint, and I have grown spiritually while also finding outlets for my ideas about social justice. I find myself gaining new perspectives on Christianity as I take my elementary Hebrew class and the Hebrew Bible course, and I examine verses in the original Hebrew. I have been inspired in my formation of Christian traditions course as I read and write about desert fathers and mothers who practiced asceticism in order to grow closer to God. I have found myself discussing and writing about social justice in my religions and cultures of the Ancient Near East course when I wrote a paper about laws and ethics for Ancient Near East cultures.

Although I have only begun my journey at VDS, it has already surpassed everything I was hoping it would be, and I know that much more is in store for me and my family (my spouse and daughter), as I continue to experience Divinity School.



Posted by Michelle Bukowski on November 25, 2015 in First Year Experience, , , , , , , , , ,

The First Year Experience—An Extended Welcome

by Amy E. Steele, MDiv’00; PhD’12
Assistant Dean for Student Life

Over time, a group of concerned faculty, staff, and administrators at the Divinity School discussed in the hallways and between meetings about how to enhance the orientation experience for new students. We were asking questions about strengthening writing and research skills, developing more stated opportunities for spiritual practice, and understanding the bricolage of community life. In these conversations and later committee meetings, the First Year Experience was reborn.


The First Year experience offers new students an intensive exploration of the spiritual and financial cost of a theological education. It provides new students exposure not only to various spiritual disciplines that we hope will grow organically or manifest naturally from theological study and reflection—mindfulness, Lectio Divina, and embodied prayers—but we hope also that it will inspire new students to become smarter financially by taking out fewer loans and living simply and cooperatively with others. These and other sessions aim to assist students in adapting to the ethos, culture, purpose, and commitments of the School—one step at a time.

The First Year Experience is an extension of the New Student Orientation week. The rationale behind extending orientation throughout the first semester correlates with the Association of Theological Schools Self-Study conducted during the academic year 2014-2015. In that study, the School was challenged to articulate accreditation benchmarks related to spiritual formation and vocation and a more precise understanding of the separation of degree programs. The First Year Experience has given us space and time to address these challenges.


This additional time with students has given me, as dean of students, an opportunity to understand and appreciate the dynamics first-year students bring as a group. Along with the other faculty and staff who facilitate these sessions, we have become keenly attuned to layers of personality, intelligence, religious and philosophical belief, social entrepreneurial spirit, and frontier fervor! The glimmer in the eye of the neophyte, whose dreams are laden with so much grit, is reassuring. Our professional and academic degrees are rigorous programs of study; hence, we rest a little better knowing that not only will our students be graduated with analytical tools to read sacred texts, cultures, and people; they will leave having practiced spiritual and financial disciplines as a particular moral commitment to justice— all this in the tradition of the Schola Prophetarum—VDS, School of the Prophets!




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

Alumni/ae Tuesday – #GivingTuesday

Our monthly Alumni/ae Tuesday Guest Post has expanded! We’re proud to present #VDSGiving. We have invited VDS and GDR alumni/ae to write about what their Divinity School education meant to them, and to also write about the impact of the scholarship assistance they received. Our goal is to demonstrate how scholarship support has a lasting impact on our students, and to highlight the importance of giving.

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, #VDSGiving post 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.

by Lora Andrews, MDiv’14

A mentor of mine saw an ad in a magazine for the Turner Leadership Scholars program at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and he said, “Lora, I don’t know much about this school, but this sounds like an amazing opportunity at a quality academic institution.” With his encouragement, I applied for the scholarship. I got on a plane for the first time in my life to visit the school, and in that one visit I felt challenged, inspired, and was confident that I would receive an academically and spiritually rigorous education that would prepare me to do the work of ministry.

I discerned a call to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church my senior year of college while studying English Education. I grew up United Methodist in a conservative, Mennonite town in Kansas and had never studied theology academically, so I felt clueless when it came to discerning which school I would choose for my theological education.

One of the scariest parts of pursuing the master of divinity degree was trying to figure out how to pay for it.  My heart felt heavy as I balanced the weight of the dollar signs of divinity schools with this weight-lifting affirmation I received from God and those around me as I began this journey toward becoming a pastor.

When I learned that I received one of the Turner scholarships, I was absolutely overwhelmed. A full scholarship and stipend in addition to the United Methodist leadership component of the program were beyond my wildest dreams for my time in divinity school.  Being able to complete my education without the burden of debt weighing on my shoulders absolutely changed my experience at Vanderbilt. I was able to immerse myself in the community, spend more time studying, and embrace my work with my Turner church placement in a deeper way knowing that my finances were not dictating my time and energy.

My time at Vanderbilt opened my eyes to a whole world beyond rural Kansas. I learned to think critically about my faith and to open my mind to how others make sense of the world. My professors inspired me as they shared their knowledge and nurtured me as they listened to my questions and hopes for the world. When I encounter injustice in my community, I hear Professor Melissa Snarr’s encouragement from Religion and Social Movements class that even in rural Kansas there can be a faithful witness of pastoral and prophetic activism.  When I sit with the college students I mentor, I channel my inner Professor Viki Matson as I help them to imagine the thinking, being, and doing of ministry that she taught me to do in field education.  As I navigate the United Methodist Book of Discipline, I remember Bishop Joe Pennel’s caring wisdom as he revealed the best of the church that I love so much.  The collective generosity of the faculty and staff at VDS was an added bonus to a financial scholarship.

My time at Vanderbilt Divinity School taught me more about generosity and stewardship than any other experience I’ve had. Cal Turner’s giving as a witness of his faith in funding my education has taught me what it means to be generous. I don’t know if Mr. Turner will ever realize the extent of his generosity.  His support allowed me to develop a cohort of friends, be in continuous relationship with my outstanding Turner mentor, the Reverend Judi Hoffman, and it has provided me with a network of professors and staff at Vanderbilt who have become an extension of my own family and faith community.

What I never expected when I began at Vanderbilt Divinity School was how much the support I received there would then inspire me to be generous in return. I can give to my church, non-profits, college students I mentor, and back to VDS with a spirit of gratitude for the example my scholarship offered me.



Posted by Michelle Bukowski on November 17, 2015 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, Giving Tuesday, , , , , , , , ,

Alumni Tuesday, Erin Guzman, MDiv’15

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.


He said to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” – Luke 14:12-13 (NRSV)

After graduating from VDS this past May, I found an incredible job opportunity in working with Luke 14:12, a non-profit soup kitchen that feeds hungry, homeless, and working poor folks in Nashville. I work as the volunteer coordinator and administrative assistant, and I could not have asked for a better role or a better organization with which to work.

Luke 14:12 was founded in 1983 by a woman named Miss Laura McCray, whose heart and compassion for sharing meals with those who were hungry became the inspiration for weekly meals served out of Edgehill United Methodist Church. Although Luke 14:12 began at Edgehill UMC (but was never a part of their ministries in any way), it quickly outgrew the space. After years of serving out of different churches and venues, weekly meals are now served at Room In The Inn’s Campus for Human Development off of 8th Avenue near downtown.

Meals are served at noon every Tuesday and Friday, as well as the 2nd and 4th Mondays of every month with the help of individuals and volunteer groups from more than twenty different faith communities and businesses around Nashville. At each meal, Luke 14:12 serves an average of 250 guests, many of whom are disabled or homeless veterans, but we also see families with children, migrant working poor, and many others. No matter what the circumstance of the individual(s), we don’t ask questions. Anyone and everyone is a welcomed guest at our tables. There are no requirements for admission. No particular faith must be proclaimed. The banquet tables are set, and our guests are invited in for a hot, nutritious meal.

When I’m at Luke 14:12, I see community and hospitality, sharing and receiving, joy and warmth—actions I have never seen in the same way in any church I’ve ever attended. Regardless of context, our guests come. They share. They mourn and grieve. They laugh. They are thoughtful. They eat. And most of all, they are seen and heard. Our community of guests reflect the Eucharistic and eschatological realities of the Kin(g)dom breaking in, disrupting—if only for a moment—the criminalization of poverty and homelessness. VDS taught me to think about these circumstances, broadly speaking, but it’s something completely different to see Eucharistic and eschatological moments right in front of you. Time and space are created for our guests – time and space that may not be available in other parts of society because poverty and homelessness are not tolerated in hyper-capitalist, imperial economies. In this respect, I hope I’m not being overly romantic when I say, that Luke 14:12 is a special place where important work is happening, not just because we’re meeting basic human needs, but because seeing our guests, hearing their stories, and helping make this organization run has made real for me why my time at VDS matters. I am seeing my education—a long, three year journey—do something meaningful in the world.

I realize that Luke 14:12 cannot solve all of the complex problems and realities of poverty, homelessness, affordable housing, hyper-policing, racism and mass incarceration, lack of access to education and resources for veterans and disabled folks. But we do our best to make small steps where we can. Through our G.R.O.W. program (Grace, Respect, and Opportunities through Work), we employ folks experiencing chronic homelessness and pay a living wage for part-time work preparing meals, which hopes to offer job skills, mentoring, and work experience so our employees can find stable work and housing. Although this is a small effort, it is a mighty one that models possibilities for ending poverty and homelessness. It sets the tone for the work we do: We’re not just feeding, but we’re helping people grow and live better, too.

In that way, the G.R.O.W. program urges me to consider: What happens after the guests have been invited to the banquet in Luke’s gospel account, chapter 14? Where do we go from here? How else are we being called to help those who are marginalized and excluded from the table? I don’t have answers yet, but I am beginning to dream.

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on November 10, 2015 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, , , , , , , , , , , ,


Each month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our November recommendation is offered by Mark Miller-McLemore, Dean of the Disciples Divinity House and Associate Professor of the Practice of Ministry.

In some congregations, the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage equality made no difference at all. But in many others, despite what their denominations might have said, the decision last summer forced conversations that have been difficult, threatening, and avoided. Host and perform same-sex marriages, or not?

How can pastors lead in the face of deep divisions, when people try to subvert hard conversations and tough decisions out of fear of splits or threats of people leaving; when congregations’ faithfulness and thriving might seem to be at odds—and, honestly, pastors’ livelihoods might be at stake?

I’m teaching a class called “Prophetic Ministry in Mainline Churches.” My friend and colleague Don Beisswenger asks, tongue in cheek, “Is that possible?” I hope it is. This week we’ve just finished reading Ronald Heifetz’s 1994 classic, Leadership without Easy Answers (Belknap/Harvard University Press). “This is an argument about the strategies of leadership most suitable to a democratic society… and for other institutions that need to inspire intense commitment of members … rather than mere compliance.” (8) Sounds like church to me.

Heifetz draws out the concept of “adaptive challenges.” Like most helpful interpretive concepts, it’s deceptively simple and often misused.

A technical challenge is one someone knows how to manage. We live in a world that values the quick fix and rewards mastery (think: grades, degrees), in which we like to believe that there are answers to everything. So people assume (and leaders often fall for it, too) that if we simply apply a little charismatic leadership mojo or the right programmatic fix, everything will be all right. You can almost hear Donald Trump: “I know how to make America great again.” But in an adaptive challenge, it doesn’t work.

An adaptive challenge is one we don’t know how to address. We don’t even know the right questions to ask. Adaptive challenges are hard to identify. They involve conflicts between internal values important to a community, or between long-held values and a new reality. There must be change; something must be done. And something will need to be left behind in order to move ahead. People must give up something dear in order to retain something else even dearer—and they’d rather not. Disequilibrium begets loss and resistance. Again, sounds like church.

Instead of avoiding or reaching for an off-the-shelf response, effective adaptive leaders keep asking “What’s really going on here?” Instead of trying to bluff or perform their way through, they risk their authority and acknowledge that they don’t have the answers or know how to get people where they need to go—because it’s not just their problem, it belongs to the whole community. Using the idea of the “holding environment,” Heifetz shows how effective leaders refuse to downplay the challenge or mask its complexity or do the work that the community needs to do for itself in facing the differences within. Instead they also help the community use its gifts, find positive ways to stay focused on the challenge at hand, and “play fair” with one another in the face of distress and conflict. They protect voices from the edge, where creative new responses often emerge. They work to keep the community from escapist distractions while not becoming overwhelmed with too much challenge at too fast a pace. Heifetz uses the metaphor of temperature with a pressure cooker: too little temperature and nothing happens; too much, and it explodes.

He draws out engaging cases to show leaders in action, including the dance between Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr., over Selma and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s a good read.

But more, this book offers helpful ways to think about living in and leading communities that are deeply divided over something important. Moving forward has a cost; which is the best cost for this particular community to incur now and in the future, and why? How can we help lead communities where we discern they best need to go? Especially in churches, Heifetz offers “a practical philosophy of leadership—an orienting set of questions and options for confronting the hardest of problems without getting killed, badly wounded, or pushed aside.” (9)

Many leadership and ministry books are trendy, trivial, or time-limited. Not this. If you haven’t read it and you care about helping communities and organizations face into tough choices faithfully, boldly, lovingly, wisely, and well, read this book.




Posted by Michelle Bukowski on November 8, 2015 in Read This Book, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Imagination Grant – the Appalachian region

The Imagination Grant seek to advance global learning, theolog­ical reflection, and leadership skills and support creative, non-credit bearing projects proposed by students.  The funds can be used to cover travel and expenses for global immersion experiences, and are typically utilized during summers.

As 2015 eased its way into being, I began pondering which pursuits would guide my time and energy for the summer. As a biologist-turned-divinity-student, I have intentionally navigated my studies at VDS looking at theology through a biological lens. So, the idea of climate justice work in the context of understanding congregational responses to climate change in at-risk areas this summer appealed greatly.

My journey began by spending seven weeks looking at the effects of climate change on the South Pacific/ Oceania by way of Fiji. This was an intense immersion experience as I vividly observed the effects of climate change in Fiji. As I returned to the States, I wondered how my observations in Fiji would coalesce with my upcoming Appalachian trip.

Because of the Imagination Grant’s generous funding, I set out from Nashville to understand faith community responses to climate change in the Appalachian region of the United States. I intended to travel to rural congregations to interview pastors about congregational responses to climate change and to tour earth literacy centers and faith-based, creation-care nonprofits.

A straw and stucco home under construction.

The journey took me to an earth literacy center in East Tennessee, where I was given a tour of a carbon neutral, off-the-grid camp which is focuses on inviting folks to see houses built from straw and stucco, compost toilettes using peat, passive hot water heaters, natural burial sites, etc. Next, I visited a Catholic parish in Asheville, North Carolina, that is raising funds to place 150 solar panels on the church’s roof; then I traveled to another parish in Johnson City that is working with Interfaith Power and Light to engage in more sustainable energy and land practices.

VDS student Kate Fields with Allen and Debbie Johnson (co-founders of Christians for the Mountains)

Next, I traveled into Mountain Top Removal (MTR) and gas fracking areas of West Virginia where I was warmly welcomed into the home of Allen and Debbie Johnson who are founders of the evangelical earth care group, Christians for the Mountains. I learned about their work as we ate freshly harvested blueberries and toured their extensive gardens. As I headed into Charleston, I met with a seasoned Episcopalian priest who has worked tirelessly against the devastation of MTR and been arrested multiple times for doing so. I learned about the dying coal industry and fast growing gas fracking industry and how West Virginia has become a sacrifice zone where many natural resources go out and little money comes in. Next, I met with a Methodist minister who works hard promoting creation care among the West Virginia Council of Churches. And finally, I visited with a Presbyterian minister in Huntington, West Virginia, who is organizing around preventing the commencement of nearby oil fracking.

All told, this ecumenical trip was formative as I learned about the devastation of climate change in Appalachia. It was a privilege to meet incredible folks who are resisting with their time, energy, voices, and very bodies.

Kate Fields, MDiv’3


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on October 14, 2015 in Feature, Imagination Grant, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Alumni/ae Tuesday – Khette Cox, MDiv’09

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.

Khette and Lewis

I come from a family of sitters. We sit…and talk, and sit some more. As a child, I sat and watched as adults snapped beans. I watched my grandmother and great-aunts painstakingly choose quilt pieces that would be stitched together for Dutch dolls. I don’t remember much conversation.

There was a time in my life when my mother asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to sit and talk to people. “Are you planning on getting paid for that?” she’d reply.

Well, actually Mom, now I do. As a hospice chaplain, I sit; I listen; I talk; I laugh—the “ministry of presence” as many of us call it. I always hope it’s non-anxious, but some days there is so much anxiety it can’t be held. So I play basketball with a grandson, cards with a patient, can beans with a wife, pick okra with a sister, sing with a brother. Maybe, if I’m really lucky, play golf with a patient. Oh, and eat lunch—fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, rhubarb cobbler, ham smoked in the smokehouse on the farm.

And we talk. In the midst of dying, there is still much to be said. I ask patients to tell me their stories. I think of Jesus’ ministry which was filled with stories: “The kin-dom of God is like…”  It is like the farmer who left me heirloom seeds from his tomatoes that I’ll grow in my garden. It’s like the homeless man who taught me that “not one person can take my spirit.” It’s like the veteran who has nightmares and only feels safe when he imagines himself in the belly of his plane so long ago. It is like these and so many others who remind me that we are called to witness the gospel in front of us.

One patient told me she was tired of taking care of everyone else; after all, she was the one dying. All of which is true. Dying takes a lot of work— mental, physical, and spiritual. Caring for the dying? Well, that all depends on how long you can sit with it.

It’s not a comfortable place to be, yet it’s certainly real. And it gets real, really quickly.

Khette and the "porch sitters", Diane, Sarah and Jamie

We used to do yoga in advanced field education. I used to laugh because “I don’t do yoga”.  I didn’t then. It was hard to be quiet and still. Frankly, it was scary. It still is. “Be still and know”… knowing is being present. Being present is sometimes, well, sitting. So I breathe. I find my feet. I sit.

A professor once said, “This is a safe place to do dangerous work.” I never thought sitting was dangerous, but you never know what trouble you’ll find there—confession, anger, brokenness, pain, vulnerability, laughter, tears, scary stuff.

Yet, we do it together—my patients and I.

Yes, Mom, I found that job. And I found me in the process.

Thanks be to God.

Khette Cox, MDiv’09
Chaplain, Alive Hospice


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on October 13, 2015 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, Feature, , , , , , , , , , ,

READ THIS BOOK – October 2015

Each month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our October recommendation is offered by Paul DeHart, Professor of Theology and Chair, The Graduate Department of Religion.

Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (Princeton University Press, 2012)

We are often startled by the pace of urban change, and by the feebleness of our memories of even the most familiar neighborhoods. Just two years ago a building was there, a building that had stood perhaps for fifty years. Yet we cannot for the life of us remember now what it looks like. Imagine you had to return to some area you knew well twenty or forty years ago; you might arrive confident that your memories would guide you to all the old familiar places, but soon you would find that a map has become indispensable. When we translate this experience to the realm of history, we get a pretty good sense of the challenge facing historians: the past, the saying goes, is a foreign country. We may think we know it fairly well, but when we get down to details we realize all too quickly that the random collection of dates and images we associate with a period do little if anything to guide us in learning how the society actually worked and what the people of that time and place took for granted in their thinking and acting (and hence, also, what we take for granted).

Peter Brown has written a magnificent book about a period in history that sometimes we think we know a bit about, 350-550 C.E., when the imperial structure in Western Europe petered out, or rather was taken over by the successors of Peter in a transition to something like early medieval society. Perhaps we have read about the “fall of Rome” and its military and economic causes; perhaps we have read a few sermons by Ambrose, or a few letters of Jerome; many will know Augustine’s lively Confessions. But these bits of the past, which seem familiar at first, need historical contextualization to be grasped fully, and this is where our uninformed imagination fails us. We think we know what we mean when we say that the “Roman Empire collapsed”, or that “the Catholic Church rose” to become the dominant cultural force. But Brown is here to teach us how much we have to learn, and also that much we think we know is not quite right.

The focus of his book is on wealth; for it was not the conversion of Constantine that marked the real point of transition toward a recognizably “Christian” society, but rather what began to happen some sixty or seventy years later: the large scale migration of the elite social strata into the church. Brown looks at a series of figures, some familiar like the Church Fathers named above, some less so (Symmachus, Ausonius, Paulinus of Nola) in order to track the varied stances of leaders in this period toward money, poverty, and the relation of Christian faithfulness to the mechanisms of governance and the stratification of classes. Brown is immensely learned about this era, yet writes in a delightfully clear and vivid style. When Christians speak in this period about “wealth” and “poverty” we may think such terms have a timeless meaning, but Brown gives us different eyes, conducting us through the “foreign country” of late antique Rome in order to see how differently these writers thought about these matters than we do. Along the way, he raises some intriguing questions about the role of Christianity’s rise in the fall of Roman society. But also, for me at least, his book invites us to think anew about the nature of faith as a historical and social force, both in the past and in our own day.

Paul DeHart



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

Imagination Grant: Community Engagement and Religion in Yaxhachen, Yucatán, Mexico

The Imagination Grant seek to advance global learning, theolog­ical reflection, and leadership skills and support creative, non-credit bearing projects proposed by students.  The funds can be used to cover travel and expenses for global immersion experiences, and are typically utilized during summers.

by Chelsey Overstreet Hedglin, 2nd Year MDiv

Photo by Chelsey Hedglin

This summer, I was given the opportunity to travel to Yaxhachen, Yucatán, Mexico, through funding from the Imagination Grant. The purpose of the Imagination Grant is to advance global learning, theological reflection, and leadership skills and support creative, non-credit bearing projects proposed by students. Through interviews and participant-observation, I researched religion in Yaxhachen, specifically, the impact that religion has on daily life in Yaxhachen and if and how indigenous Maya religion has any impact on the present-day religious practices.

My relationship with Yucatán, Mexico, spans many years. My undergraduate institution, Millsaps College, owns a biocultural reserve about a mile outside of the town of Yaxhachen. I have been going to Yucatán with Millsaps College since I was a junior in high school. Upon entering Divinity School at Vanderbilt, I knew that I wanted to continue learning about Yucatán’s rich culture, thinking about religion and continuing to building wonderful friendships. Without funding through the Imagination Grant, I would not have had the financial means to travel to Yucatán to continue my relationships there.

We all approach various times in our lives with different lenses. I have travelled to Yucatán now seven times throughout my life. In a way, each time I travel to Yucatán, I switch lenses and grow and develop as a student and as a person. I am grateful for my educational experiences that have allowed me to return to Yucatan time and time again. In a way, I have been able to track my educational growth from my experiences in Yucatán.

Part of the reason I was able to go to Yucatán this summer is because of an incredible non-profit organization called Ko’ox Boon (pronounced “co-osch bone), which means “let’s paint!” in Maya. Ko’ox Boon was started by three incredible friends and alumni of Millsaps College. “Ko’ox Boon supports local artists and harnesses the joyful, creative spirit of youth. Creative projects, like mural making and collaboration with the embroidery collective, promote community fellowship, cultivate economic development, and explore indigenous heritage and folklore.”

It was a special experience to be able to see first-hand all of the meaningful work that my friends at Ko’ox Boon create. This summer, they hosted art camps for the children in Yaxhachen and renovated a community center that will form opportunities for community engagement. They also have an embroidery brand that has brought sustainable economic growth to Yaxhachen.

Read the entire article here.


Posted by Michelle Bukowski on October 7, 2015 in Feature, Imagination Grant, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wild Goose Festivities

The Wild Goose Festival is a community creating a festival at the intersection of justice, spirituality, and art. The first festival took place in June 2011. We take inspiration from many places, such as Greenbelt, Burning Man, the Iona Community, SXSW, and others. The festival is open to everyone; we don’t censor what can be said; we invite respectful — but fearless — conversation and action for the common good.

During the summer, I attended the Wild Goose Festival with my daughter, Zion, and one of my dear friends and VDS alumna, Jennifer Lane. We did not know much about the festival, outside of being told that there would be music, theology, and nature. In short – our kind of trip! So Zion and I loaded the car with a four-sleeper tent, snacks, water, and bug spray, and hit the road on Friday, July 10. It took us a little over four hours to get there, but it was definitely worth the drive! The first thing I noticed when entering the town of Hot Springs, North Carolina, were the mountains (cue one long deep and appreciative sigh): The blessed and beautiful mountains! The festival location is snuggled, and I do mean snuggled, comfortably in the hills of the Appalachian Trail, and is even one of the go-to towns for Appalachian hikers who are taking a quick break from the trail or swinging by to pick up packages.

The festival is surrounded by the Western North Carolina Mountains and is situated alongside the French Broad River, which motivated me to find the perfect camping spot. I am happy to report that I was able to secure a riverside location. So at night, we went to sleep listening to the babbling water as it scurried across river rocks. And in the morning, we awoke to sunlight and the water’s continuous and peaceful chatter. The impressive landscape, as coupled with the many and diverse speakers throughout Friday-Sunday, are what made this experience truly remarkable.

VDS alumna, Jennifer Bailey, leads Interfaith Partnerships For The Common Good

Jennifer and I not only attended the Wild Goose Festival because of the scenery and the speakers, but also because we were happy to represent VDS and share the stories of our theological education with interested folks. We met many other seminary students, together with having the great fortune of experiencing thought-provoking theological workshops. VDS alumna, Jennifer Bailey, led my favorite workshop: Interfaith Partnerships For The Common Good. I went thinking I knew a little bit about what interfaith means, and left learning more about the global religious world and my responsibility within and alongside it (faithmattersnetwork.org). Jennifer, a military chaplain, attended Zachary Moon’s speaking event: Ministry With Veterans and Military Families. Jennifer purchased his book and was able to speak with him about her ministry, The Veterans Chapel (www.theveteranschapel.org). I also ran into Andrew Weitze, currently a student in the Vanderbilt Graduate School’s department of religion and a buyer and assistant manager for Books and Bibles at The United Methodist Publishing House, along with two other VDS alumni: Alba Onofrio, contributor to the newly published anthology, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on The Front Lines, and Andrew William Smith, preacher AND teacher! What a whirlwind of theological voices and encounters!

As Sunday approached, Zion, Jennifer, and I made sure to spend a few hours wading in the river. We also enjoyed participating in a Beer & Hymns group and visited Hot Springs, located directly across from the festival. Throughout this time of community, old friends, and new friends—coupled with nature and retreat—God was among us. God, in all God’s fluid forms, was found in the mountains, the river, and the people. The Wild Goose Festival is theology, religion, and spirituality – alive.

by Sherri Person, MDiv’15




Posted by Michelle Bukowski on September 30, 2015 in Feature, , , , , , , , , , ,


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